Sunday, September 27, 2015

First day on our boat. Koblenz to Mainz

This church is unusual in that it contains beautiful art for the worshiper to enjoy and contemplate.  Most modern churches, at least Protestant ones, are spare in their design and decoration.

We visited this church in Koblenz before getting on our boat.

The following photos are of our boat ride along the river.  You can see many churches and medieval castles or forts along the way.  From what I was told these small castles were like early toll booths.  Each local baron had to get paid in order for the traveler to pass through his domain.

As you can see the Rhine is not only the heartland of Germany but also where they cultivate their famous wine.  See how hilly it is.  Some of the villages are built into such steep hills that their back doors are on the second floor of their houses.

I would have liked to have gotten off the boat and explored this castle.  I did get to walk through others.
Does not this castle nestled in the hills make you think of fairy tales?

This is the second day of our boat and bike trip.  Next stop is Mainz to see the original printing press and St. Stephen's Church with Chagall's stained glass paintings.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir edited by William Zinsser

  One thing teaching in a Title One public school taught me was that people are interesting.  Each person I encountered was a story unto themselves and after teaching almost a decade, I encountered a lot of people.  As the years accumulated,  I felt a desire in me to preserve these personalities the way others want to capture moments with a camera.

So I set myself to the task of writing.  I learned a lot about writing simply from the practice of it.  One thing I learned is that real life doesn't run along the smooth lines of a story:  conflict, plot, suspense, action leading to a climax, resolution.  Thus, I decided that to make my stories interesting to both myself and to the reader, they needed to fit the story formula.

This, of course, changed my memoir to fiction.  But I think that everyone who has read my stories would agree that the stories flow more cohesively and are a lot more fun to read.

Upon reading Inventing the Truth:  The Art and Craft of Memoir, I was happy to discover that many writers of memoir stumbled upon the same conclusion.

In this anthology of writers' memoirs, we meet many different sort of writers, journalists, novelists, professors at universities who teach all sorts of things not necessarily related to writing but have all written a memoir of some type or other.

Each writer discusses why they wrote from the angle they chose. Russell Bake decided to narrow his memoir to his relationship with his mother and her impact on his life.  This meant leaving out most of his life,  but allowed a straight line to take the reader from A to B without getting side tracked.

Some writers had interesting childhoods.  Jill Ker Conway, a professor, wrote about growing up in Australia.  She shares what motivated her to write about her complicated, personal relationships and the challenges of rising through the echelons of a University as a woman.

Alfred Kazin writes of growing up inside the Jewish culture in Brooklyn.  His objective is to get the reader to see every stoop, traffic sign and the smells coming from the restaurants and see the people brushing by on the crowded streets.

 Toni Morrison believes everyone should look at their historical self, the actual history and the perceptual as a minority.  She believes black writers have two objectives: to say this is my personal history, but also the history of my race.

Annie Dillard doesn't believe in memoirs but rather that we should use our personal experiences to write our stories, so, according to her, it follows that every story a writer pens is really a memoir on some level.

Each writer offers their own perspective and insight in how to write about one's life or at least aspects of it.

Ironically, when I read samples of some of these writers' books on commercial sites, I didn't find their writing very interesting.  Which goes to show that one can write well about a topic without necessarily living up to another person's expectations of that topic.

This book however will be of interest to anyone interested in writing and receiving the ideas and thoughts of successful, published writers.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Koblenz to Mainz boat and bike trip along the Rhine day one

A few more scenes of Koblenz:  A church and a fountain.

After embarking at Koblenz we proceeded down the river to Mainz, our first stop.  The following pictures are of the scenery along the river.  There were many castles.  Apparently each town had their own Baron who exacted tolls from all who floated by.  They also demanded property, work and crops from the people who lived in the surrounding towns and country in return for protection. 

 Isn't it nice to have a military force to keep us safe rather being extorted by a robber Baron who strong-armed people for secure borders?  I'm glad I didn't live back then.  There's a few people today (I'm thinking of smug, white people demonstrating against the police in certain parts of our country) that I think should be sent back to that time or be forced to live anywhere that doesn't have an effective police force to fight against crime.

BUT....I digress.  These photos show how picturesque the landscape along Germany's heartland is.

Every town had a Baron but also a church.  You can see plenty of both along the river.

This shows typical German weather, grey and cloudy. However, it got rather hot during the day.

You may notice all the vineyards.  The Rhine is known for its wine:  Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Ahr, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen

Some history books assert that European civilization started with the enlightenment period of the 17th and 18th centuries.  I must say the "unenlightened men"of the previous centuries certainly constructed some incredible feats of architecture.

My next post will be our trip around Mainz.  See you then.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Golem by Gustav Meyrink

I can't remember how I ended up with this book....ah yes... I went a searching for one book and found another.  It went like this (I'm sorry this tale doesn't have much of an arc but I want to tell it anyway):

My husband, Josh and I have become addicted to the seventies'  TV show Columbo.  I could devote a whole post to the brilliance of that show but suffice to say, I was looking up background information on the show and discovered that the creator, William Link, who said that his idea for his seemingly bumbling, polite, "obtuse", but actually shrewd detective came from two other fictional characters:  Porfiry Petrovich, the detective in Crime and Punishment, and Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton's priest detective.  Other sources say that he was also inspired by a French Detective, Inspector Fichet in the suspense/thriller Les Diaboliques.

That last novel I had never hear of so off I went hunting it down.  It brought me to a nineteenth century Victorian porn writer, Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, which brought me to The Golem. (On Amazon, it was one of those, "if you like this you will also like this").

Ironically, I went after the wrong book.  The book that was actually being referred to was Diabolique  by Pierre Boilleau.

But it did bring me to a number of other books that are known for their intense psychological drama.

The Golem was one of them.

The Golem takes place in the Jewish Ghetto in Prague two centuries ago.  The story traces the life of a jeweler, Athanasius Pernath. Everything that happens is through the filter of his minds' lens.  He feels as though he is being spiritually kidnapped by someone or something that is taking over his body and making him perform deeds against his will. 

Naturally his friends think he is crazy and he becomes very ill.  There are different characters, who enter into his life, usually coming to his shabby apartment and speaking to him.  They all have pretty strange stories to tell.

One man, Innocence Charousek, tells him how he and another man manipulated a local Doctor into  committing suicide.  They did this because the doctor was falsely diagnosing patients with glaucoma and operating on them for the money.  His test to prove they needed it involved a procedure that often left the patients blind or with  permanently damage vision.

There is another man who lives across the street, Aaron Wassertrum, who is a slimy, conniving cheat and also a murderer.  He has a doll of the Golem and it is suggested that it is he who is kidnapping Pernath's body to do what he wants.  Wassertrum's daughter, Rosina, is a depraved flirt, that drives some men mad with desire, leading to the murder of one of the men by her father.

Or at least Pernath believes so.  Everything we know of is happening inside his mind so it's not definite what has actually happened.

There is a sense of desperation in all the characters.  They are all severely poor and even starving.

One man seems to serve as a beacon of light, Rabbi Schemajah Hillel who is learned in the Talmud and Torah but also heavily ensconced in the Kabbalah.

This book is heavily ensconced in the Kabbalah. A mysticism permeates throughout its storyline.  Pernath ends up going to jail for the murder that probably Wassertrum committed.  While there he meets another man, Amadeus Laponder, who has achieved some kind of mystical union with others while he sleeps and becomes those people.  He has committed murder under this trance like state.

The strangest part of the story is that all of it is really being narrated by an unnamed third party who is living almost one hundred years after all the events take place.  Somehow he accidentally exchanged hats with the elderly Pernath in a bar and had an out of body experience where he was living inside the mind of Pernath during the story.  At the end, the narrator finally comes to himself and seeks to return the hat  to its now very old owner.

Every character, with the exception of Charousek, live in despair and moral lostness.  Meyrink spent his life seeking some otherworldly spiritual existence and this is reflected in his literature. Two silent films at the turn of the twentieth century were made based on Meyrink's book.

What does the story have to do with Columbo?  Absolutely nothing, thank goodness.  I'll stick to loveable self-effacing detectives next time.

However, I plan to read Boileau's  Diabolique as soon as I get the chance.