Im Westen nichts Neues

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This is the cover of the novel that we had at home, the one I read.  The hand, the barbed wire and the butterfly make an image that has stuck in my memory.  Erich Maria Remarque, born Erich Paul Remark, on this day in 1898.

Remarque is remarkable for three main reasons.

  1.  He wrote of World War 1 from the German perspective.
  2. He wrote the defining novel about a war that is celebrated in reams of poetry.
  3. He began the tradition of war veterans writing about their own experience of war.

Novels about war were not new.  Stephen Crane wrote the Red Badge of Courage in 1893 and it tells of the US Civil War from the standpoint of an ordinary soldier.  It reads like a personal account, but Crane was a novelist, not a soldier.  He was born after the war and based his book on interviews with veterans of the war.

Remarque fought in WW1, and was wounded.  He became a teacher after the war and then wrote the novel in 1928.  In the novel he is particularly hard on teachers who instill mindless nationalism in their students.  Above all it is an anti-war novel.

The Nazis hated it.  Remarque was declared “unpatriotic” and his books were removed from German libraries and added to the bonfires.  He moved to live in Switzerland.  In Germany the facts of his military service were denied by the Third Reich and his citizenship was revoked.  He moved with his wife to the USA before the outbreak of the war and eventually became a US citizen in 1947.

His sister in Germany, Elfriede Scholz, was tried on a charge of undermining morale and was beheaded.  The court stated “Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach — you, however, will not escape us”.

Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting“. (3.42)

 

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Mental Health

Blind

Blindboy Boatclub and Mr Chrome: AKA Rubberbandits

I take my mental health advice from a foulmouthed Limerick goul who wears a plastic bag on his head.  It’s much more convenient than Catholic confession and much cheaper than a shrink.

In the process I get to learn a lot about history, politics, sport (he hasn’t a clue), the artistic process, Limerick, words the Corkonians are trying to steal, cocktails, short stories, how to distract Banshees, vaping and backing Jazz.  And that’s just from the first episode.

Home

https://www.patreon.com/theblindboypodcast

The bit about mental health is not a joke.  Pure serious.

Chainies

Chainies

My mother grew up in Dublin city.  Along with the many street games they played as kids they used to collect chainies.  These were pretty pieces of broken ceramics and pottery.  They were collected and traded by the children like a form of currency.

Ceramics are an amazing paradox because they are at one time one of the most fragile and one of the most enduring elements of human civilization.  Ceramics are man made.  They are almost an integral part of human civilization, occuring all round the world from Ancient Japan in the East to Mesoamerica in the West.  The earliest pottery dates from 30,000 BC.

Pottery developed independently in different human civilizations.  In Asia, Europe, Africa and in the Americas.  I don’t want to write a history of ceramics, but I do want to say that ceramics are integral to archaeology because of the fragile/durable paradox.

Fired clay ceramics can create beautiful vessels.  These vessels are delicate and fragile.  If you drop a bowl, a cup or a vase it will shatter and the vessel is lost.  But the chainies, the smashed pieces of ceramic are not.  They are pretty much indestructable.  Because they are durable they hang around.  They do not rot or crumble.  They don’t wash away or burn up.  They don’t rust or oxidise.  Those little broken shards endure.

And because they don’t go away they are brilliant markers.  If you can read the code of the chainies you can rapidly understand much about a culture.  You can assess the age of the civilization that created the pottery.   You can tell much about that civilization.  Is the pottery made with utility in mind or is it artistic.  Is it plain or glazed?  Earthenware, stoneware, porcelain or bone china?  Is it coloured, decorated?  How?  Are the images scratched into the clay, painted into the glaze or painted and glazed with a slip?  The pottery tells you a tale of the people.

So what do the chainies tell you of the little girls in Dublin who collected them?  At once you have a highly sophisticated society which can produce stunningly beautiful ceramics, and at the same time you have kids who collect stashes of smashed cups and saucers.

Do rich kids collect chainies?

 

 

Harun al-Rashid

Sinbad

Born on St Patricks Day, some 300 years after St. Patrick lived, Haroun al-Rashid is considered by many to be the greatest Caliph of the Islamic world.  He presided over the Abassid Caliphate in its golden age when it was the centre of learing, enlightenment, literature, arts and science.

He corresponded with rulers as far away as France, presenting Charlemagne with a clock that was so ingenious the Franks believed it to be possessed, so many and complex were the chimes it sounded.  A good an generous friend he also proved a stern and powerful enemy.  He brought the Byzantine empire to heel and his name was feared throughout his own empire.

His name may translate as the “orthodox” or the “right guided” and for Sunni Muslims he represented a powerful bastion of the islamic faith.  So powerful indeed that the Christian world suffered the crisis of iconoclasm at this period.  Seeing the success of the armies of Islam orthodox christians questioned if religious icons, images and statues were in fact idols.  Heads were smashed from church altars, icons were thrown onto fires and emperors were dethroned based on their belief.

Legend has it that al-Rashid would don a beggars cloak and walk the streets of Baghdad or Raqqa and eavesdrop on the conversations of the ordinary folk to better understand how they perceived him and his rule.

In the West we know of this great Sultan because of a book.  “A thousand and one nights”, or the “Arabian Nights” is a collection of tales from the Asian world, originating in Arabia, India, China and Persia.  They include characters known by every Western child, The seven voyages of Sinbad the sailor, Aladdin and his magic lamp, Ali-Baba and the forty thieves, magic flying carpets and many many more fantastic and magical tales.

At the heart of the tale is the evil sultan, thought to be modeled on Al-Rashid.  Each night he takes a bride from his harem and after taking his pleasure has her killed.  The interlocutor of the 1001 nights is Sheherazade, the wife who beguiles him with storytelling instead of pleasures of the flesh.  Instead of killing her he spares her for one more night, for one more story.  And so the tales unravel over the course of many years until he of course falls madly in love with her.

From this book we have a wealth of art, music, dance and not a few pantomimes.  It was the inspiration for hundreds of childrens authors from E. Nesbit to J.K. Rowling.  Poetry of Yeats, Longfellow, Tennyson and Archibald Macleish stories of O. Henry, James Joyce and Charles Dickens.  Al-Rashid is a thread that runs trough every weave in the fabric of literature.

Alliteration

Alaric_Alexander_Watts

The alliterative Alaric Alexander Watts

Defined as the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.  A perfect example of alliteration is given in a poem by Alaric Alexander Watts.  Born on this day in 1797 into the world dominated by the Napoleonic Wars.  He died in 1864 at the height of the U.S. Civil War.

In his lifetime Europe was in a constant state of war.  The greatest force for peace in the history of the world is the European Union.  Because of this I find it strange, incredible, that anyone who knows anything about history would want to dismantle the European Union.  But today the British People, the Russians and the USA are all working very hard to dismantle the European Union.

The British are taking themselves out of Europe.  Putin is trying to exert pressure on Eastern Europe to extend Russian influence back into former East European Communist Economies.  Donald Trump has sent Mike Pence on a scouting mission to see if he can tip countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania or Bulgaria out of the Union.  They are trying to find cracks to prize the union apart.

Why?  What is to be gained by a return to conflict and constant war?  Do they all hold shares in Arms Manufacturing companies?

 

The Siege of Belgrade; by Alaric Alexander Watts

An Austrian army, awfully arrayed,
boldly by battery besieged Belgrade.
Cossack commanders cannonading come,
dealing destruction’s devastating doom.
Every endeavor engineers essay,
for fame, for fortune fighting – furious fray!
Generals ‘gainst generals grapple – gracious God!
How honors Heaven heroic hardihood!
Infuriate, indiscrminate in ill,
kindred kill kinsmen, kinsmen kindred kill.
Labor low levels longest, lofiest lines;
men march ‘mid mounds, ‘mid moles, ‘ mid murderous mines;
now noxious, noisey numbers nothing, naught
of outward obstacles, opposing ought;
poor patriots, partly purchased, partly pressed,
quite quaking, quickly “Quarter! Quarter!” quest.
Reason returns, religious right redounds,
suwarrow stops such sanguinary sounds.
Truce to thee, Turkey! Triumph to thy train,
unwise, unjust, unmerciful Ukraine!
Vanish vain victory! Vanish, victory vain!
Why wish we warfare? Wherefore welcome were
Xerxes, Ximenes, Xanthus, Xavier?
Yield, yield, ye youths! Ye yeomen, yield your yell!
Zeus’, Zarpater’s, Zoroaster’s zeal,
Attracting all, arms against acts appeal!

The man behind the music.

Lorenzo_Da_Ponte_by_Samuel_Morse_detail

Samuel Morse portrait of Lorenzo Da Ponte

Who wrote the operas Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni?  Ask that question 100 times and 100 times you will get the answer “Mozart”.  We could as easily say “Lorenzo Da Ponte”.  Born on this day in 1749 Da Ponte wrote the libretti for 28 operas by 11 different composers, including Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Born as Emanuele Conegliano he was a Venetian Jew.  When his father converted to marry a Catholic Emanuele was given the name of the converting bishop, Lorenzo da Ponte.

After converting Da Ponte studied in the semenary, was ordained as a priest and became a teacher.  But he was a bad priest who had children with a mistress and was ejected from Venice for running a brothel.

He found his way to the Italian Theatre in Vienna and bore an letter of introduction to Salieri.  He secured a job translating libretti and secured a patron.  He went on to write the libretti for the greatest operas of his day.

He lost his sponsor in 1790 upon the death of Emperor Joseph II.  Bearing a recommendation letter from Joseph to his sister, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, he headed for Paris.  His timing could not have been worse.  The French Revolution broke out and Da Ponte changed his travel plans taking a diversion to London.  Struggling for a time, forced to work in menial jobs, he evenually secured a job in Kings Theatre.  But unable to clear debts he fled England for America.

In the USA he worked as a grocer, a teacher of Italian and of Italian literature.  He attempted to bring Opera to New York, but was let down by his lack of business skills.  However, the work he began led to the foundation of the New York Metropolitain Opera and the New York Academy of Music.

Da Ponte is buried somewhere in New York.  There is a memorial plaque in Calvary Cemetery Queens, but that is not his grave.

Quod sumus hoc eritis

Bernt_Notke_Danse_Macabre

Danse Macabre in St Nicholas Church, Talinn, Estonia

Danse Macabre, Gather Ye Rosebuds, Ozymandias, Death the Leveller.  For a time we live.  The fleeting glories of our short lives are nothing but the crowing of a cock on a dungheap.  Next time someone puts you under pressure telling you how important the deadline is and how it simply MUST be met just whisper to them “Vitae summa brevis” – brief the sum of life.

What do you choose to leave behind in 50 years time, if your choice is that you stayed in the office for 16 hours to deliver that crucial report, or you sat on your childs bed and read a story?  Who will remember that night in 50 years time, your needy boss, or your nostalgic, well adjusted child?

 

Vitae Summa Brevis; by Ernest Dowson

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam; Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
we pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
our path emerges for a while, then closes
within a dream.