Sunday, August 30, 2015

Belfast, Frankfurt, and Koblenz

I really wish we had had more time at Belfast.  I would have liked to tour C.S. Lewis' home and gone on a walking tour, visiting his haunts.  Unfortunately we only had an hour before returning to Dublin.

Me eating dinner in the park in front of  city hall.  That is not a sign above me but a giant flat screen t.v. providing around the clock news.  Our tour bus, the Paddy Wagon is directly behind.

Scene outside our hostel.
Our flight was scheduled to leave at five am.  Electrical storms canceled all the flights in Frankfort which also canceled our plans to squeeze in a trip to Bitburg, a small town where I spent almost half my childhood.  Wah.  It would have been the first time I had visited since I left when I was twelve.  While waiting for another flight, we canceled our hotel, car rental and reserved a hotel in Frankfurt.  

A mind numbing eight hours later we were able to make our destination via a side trip to London where we waited a few more hours until they were finally able to put us onto another plane.

Scene outside our hotel in Frankfurt.  We had no idea how to get there and finally begged a taxi driver at midnight to drive us there even though he was waiting for someone else.  The next morning showed me that we could have walked to the hotel from the airport.

And what a plane it was.  While the Germans were friendly (we struck up a temporary friendship with a young couple returning from camping around the entire island of Ireland and the man in the seat next to me was from Bitburg which produced some friendly conversation) there was a group of teenage Americans that showed just what kind of donkey's behinds Americans could be.  

Their loud, obnoxious chatter heavily laced with the f-word made an already tiring trip even less bearable.  I don't know who was in charge of these kids but finally a woman turned around and timidly addressed the loudest of the group and said, "April, you might want to remember you're not the only person on the plane."  

That bold admonition had predictable results.  They also seemed oblivious to the fact that the other passengers were turning around and staring at them.  Naturally April was seated right behind me.

Even so, we finally got to our new hotel and had a decent night's sleep before taking the train to Koblenz.

The following photos are of Koblenz.  This is where we were to embark on our boat that would take us down the Rhine.

The naughty boy of Koblenz.  The town's mascot.  At unpredictable times he spews water onto unwary observers.

We took a cable car up to Fort Ehrenbreitstein.  It has a wonderful museum that takes the visitor back to the original settlers in Roman times and traces each time era with rooms filled with contemporary memorabilia, costumes, and furniture.  It also had a gift shop filled with beautiful books about Koblenz and even illustrated Grimm Fairy Tales.

View from the fort

Our boat
After walking around the city and the fort, and eating more than a few bratwursts and currywursts (something not offered back when I lived in Germany-obviously a development since the influx of middle eastern immigrants) we arrived at our boat.  

Our boat and bike trip was about to begin!  Stay tuned...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

 This review contains spoilers.

I had read this book years ago but this second reading brought home its significance for me.  I suppose one has to have accumulated years of experience and wisdom to appreciate what Miller was driving at.

Death of a Salesman is about Willy Loman, his wife Linda, his sons Biff and Happy and some other characters who briefly enter into the story.  Willy Loman is a traveling salesman who has created a myth about his life to his family.

He wants his wife to believe that he is successful and sales are doing great but he's tired of all the traveling.  Linda encourages him to speak to his boss about working locally.  They've got bills to pay and there's a lot of pressure.  He is not the salesman he was.

What mostly torments Willy is that his dreams rested on his sons, mainly Biff, who was going to be a football star.  Biff was on the verge of getting a full scholarship to a big college for football but he failed a final exam in high school thus rendering his dream, no pun intended, academic. 

At the time of the story's opening, Biff has just returned from living out west where he worked various jobs such as ranching.

Willy feels as though he's been handed a raw deal.  He doesn't care that Biff works or can live independently from him.  He wants him to dream the same dream Willy has been dreaming all these years.  He wants Biff to become a big shot success story in New York.

There is constant friction between Willy and Biff because of their opposing viewpoints about life.  Willy wants Biff to recreate the smashed dream and Biff knows it's over.

Miller exposed a profound truth in this play.  There are people who would rather live a lie than face the truth.  That's what Willy is determined to do.  He's determined to play the role of the successful salesman and he wants Biff to play along.  He doesn't bother with Happy because Happy has already made the decision to think no deeper than the next woman to sleep with and bottle to get drunk by.

Biff started out the same way as Happy.  They both grew up selfish and irresponsible, neither believing they needed to exercise self-control, deal honestly with others or show any kind of sense of honor.  When natural consequences followed, so did their rage at the "bad luck" that, in their minds, was foisted on them by other people.

Biff refused to study for his high school exams because he didn't want to.  His cousin, Bernard, tried to tutor him, warned him that he wasn't going to pass.  Biff didn't listen, he was going to be a football star and football stars don't live by the rules lesser mortals abide by.

When Biff failed his exam, he went running to his father to make it right.  What comes next is the turning point for Biff.  He makes the horrible discovery that his father is not the man he thought he was.  He had never  quavered in faith that his father knew what was best.  With this myth shattered Biff runs off.

When he finally returns it is to confront his father and break hold of the lie his father clings to and has wrapped around his sons.  He realizes that his dad is too far gone.  His father cannot accept that none of his aspirations will ever come to pass.  He's a worn out, useless salesman that receives no respect from his employers. Happy is a shallow punk.  Linda is tormented over her husbands unhappiness but he knows he's betrayed her so he is nasty and disrespectful to her to hide from his own duplicity.

Only Biff has awoken and he tries to tell his father the truth.

Biff:  And I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody!

Willy can't hear what his son is saying to him because he's too far gone.  A friend told me once that when we're young we have a choice over how we think or act but when we play a role for so many years we become a passenger on the train.  There's no going back.  That's where Willy arrived.  He could no longer face reality.

But somewhere in the recesses of his mind he must have known the truth.  He decided once for all to make money for his family and get everyone to care about him.

His plan only partly works.  After several unsuccessful attempts at crashing his car he finally manages to kill himself in a wreck.  The insurance pays off his debts.  But it raises him in no one's eyes.  At the funeral his wife asks why nobody came.

The play does not leave the reader completely bereft of hope.  While Happy is determined to live on and "beat this racket" for his father's sake, Biff finally understands and moves on.

The story implicitly asks the question, why are we here?  What is the purpose of our existence?  To become a "success"?  How is that word defined?  If this world all there is, then work hard, make lots of money, use your talents and be the best you can be.

Some religions, such as Buddhism or Hinduism, believe in higher realms and we must stop caring about this world in order to achieve the next level.

Christianity believes that all we do in this world should honor our Creator.  And not only should we honor him but have personal relationship with Him, more than even our spouse, children or closest friends.  We strive to be the best in this world but only as a means to an ultimate destination to live  with God and enjoy Him forever.

That is my perspective and it trivializes any worldly dream.  What I saw in Miller's play was a fear of reality because of the hopelessness it produced.  As long as the characters could chase something they could forget everything else.  Because without God, what's left?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

2nd Day in Ireland: The Northern Irish Shore

The following photos actually come before the last post.  I got my order mixed up.  This is what we saw on our way up to the Giant's Causeway.

 We learned these were Belted Galloways or so the man walking behind us informed us.  He was from New Zealand and was traveling across Europe by working varous jobs.  One of them was as a dairy hand.

We finally checked into our hostel, crashed for several hours, then arose to eat some fish and chips at a shop down the street.  We then returned to our hostel and to bed to arise early and get on a bus to Northern Ireland.

 Coast of Northern Ireland

I can see why the Irish have a  rich history of  myth and folklore.  Truly Ireland is a fairy land.

My husband, Josh, took most of these photos since I left my camera at home.  He likes birds, so they get their fair share of shots in these photos.

Josh with the scenery.

We had to cross a rope bridge to get to this breathtaking place.

This is only the first couple of days.  We haven't even started the main part of our trip which was biking down the Rhine River in Germany.
Hopefully the rest of my photo tour will be in order.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Civil War Stories by Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce was an enigmatic man.  He wrote for newspapers, short stories, and poetry.  His writing was colored by acerbic wit and more than a touch of bitterness.  He traveled to Mexico in 1913.  In a farewell letter he wrote, "If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think it a pretty good way to depart this life..."

That was the last heard of Bierce.  It is assumed that he died in the siege of Ojinaga in January 1914.

This collection of stories are considered some of the best of Bierce's fiction.  They are inspired largely from his own experiences in the war.  However, Bierce's writing isn't worth reading because he is an authority on the Civil War but rather because of his ability to cause the reader to dive into each scene and experience along with the characters the events that take place.

Perhaps he is a little verbose on detail but that seems to be a characteristic of writers of that day.  Another common story technique that Bierce uses is to create a story line that appears to have no arc.  It simply builds until the final paragraph, sometimes the last sentence, where the full force of the story arrives home to astound the reader.  

My one criticism is that in some of the stories the difficulty for the protagonist could have been avoided if he had only employed common sense.  In one such story a man does amazingly foolish things because, as it turns out, some idjit of a woman back home "hoped he wouldn't turn out to be a coward as Captain so and so claimed."  Really?  We counter that with risking our life to the point of finally losing it for nothing?  How about just finding a new girlfriend?

Another story has a Captain so blindly following orders that he knowingly engages in friendly fire because ordered to "shoot ahead no matter what" by a superior who had also told him to never question an order.

But there are also some real gems.  Parker Addison, Philosopher is my favorite.  A Union spy engages in a witty, belligerent repartee with a Confederate General who has him in custody.  The wit and belligerence is all on the side of the spy.  The general merely asks formal questions.  He even smiles at some of the remarks.  The spy apparently has no belief in any kind of afterlife and thumbs his nose at his imminent death.  Until he is unexpectedly faced with it.  The ending is tense and the action lightening-speed paced culminating to a surprisingly peaceful end.  Well, at least for one of them.

Bierce doesn't spare the reader the horrors of war.  There is no romanticism here.  Nevertheless his stories are told with rich descriptions and show the honor and respect due to both sides as they each act according to their convictions.  Probably the most poignant of his stories deal with the dividing of families as each choose the side they serve, sometime with harrowing  results.

Anyone interested in Civil War history and plot twist play in the style of Poe, O Henry or even Lovecraft will enjoy this small collection of short stories by a man who, sadly, lived  through enough of the war to become tired of living.