Posts Tagged ‘1937’

The Deep

May 26, 2018

As we grow older in this world, we gain a deeper understanding of  what is going on here. But it can be discouraging. In many ways, what we find is not pretty, and it makes no sense.

The disconnect between the way the world is and the way we think it should be becomes an existential crisis for those of us who are sensitive to such issues.

Attached to this dilemma we find a long historical trail of people attempting to deal with the problem. Along that path we find tragedy, depression, pathos, melancholia, despair, existential crisis, schizophrenia and a myriad of other assorted travesties.

But there’s a favorable output that sometimes arises through this conundrum. It’s called art.

And music, and literature.

I’ll not get into the specifics of it; but we discern, threaded through our long, strung-out history, an overwhelming human opus of emotional and soulful profundity. It  has been woven through the sad, dysfunctional and tragic tapestry of our apocryphal struggle for meaning. It has been sounded forth and sculpted continuously even as our very survival is perpetually  called into question.

The depth of this existential crisis is expressed by the poet when he desperately cried out:

“O my God, my soul is in despair within me;

therefore I remember you from the land of the Jordan,

and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls unto deep at the sound of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves have rolled over me.”

From the mountaintops of human awareness, and from the turbulence of many wanderous shore epiphanies, we homo sapiens somehow manage to  bring forth as offerings a cornucopia of creative endeavors; they are birthed in desperation, and they are often borne in desperate attempts to somehow attain hope.

You catch a hearing of that struggle to which I allude, in this music, composed in Spain in 1939 by Jaoquin Rodrigo:

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9RS4biqyAc

You can catch a glimpse of it in Picasso’s mural, composed in Spain in 1937, after the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica:

  GuernicaPic

But in my exploration of these matters, the most profound expression of the pathos curse is manifested in the life of one person who, by his laborious struggle, imparted the purest and most enduring message of love ever etched upon the parchment of human history; but his great gift was rejected through our judgmental travesty: a sentence of crucifixion.

ChristCruc

Yet out of that most extreme humiliation there arose an even greater opus of creative, persistent love : resurrection.

If you can even believe it.

Smoke

No Time for Melody

March 20, 2016

Symphony

These moments in a grand concert hall before the orchestra performs are like no other. Onstage, a half-hundred or more musicians dutifully make last minute preparations while the assembling listeners anticipate the unveiling of their symphonic presentation.

There are, it seems to this viewer, as many ways of making musical preparation for such orchestral events as there are musicians. Violinists are fine-tuning their instruments; many of them dance their fingers rapidly across wooden neck boards, rehearsing that difficult passage in the allegro or that five-measure solo transition in the andante. Beneath bright stage lights, brass-blowers sit together in the back row busily manipulating key-stops on gleaming metal; in the middle of this instrumental world oboes, clarinetists and bassoonists blow into their various tubed configurations with steadily progressing precision. Over in the back corner, percussionists tap, turn and tinker on this, that or the other big drum or little sound-making something-or-other. Polished wooden basso fiddle bodies shine under the lights; soldierly stand-up stringists stand beside them thumping and thinking very hard about that bottom line in the booming rondo or overture that is yet to come. The flutists’ silvery cylinders glint with theatrical brilliance as their masters breathe virtuosity into them. A lovely harpist plucks perfectly strung-up sounds.

Observed all at thece same time, the assembling orchestra appears to be a cacophony of disparate confusion. But as the moment of musical inception draws near, a subtle decreasing of the noise begins to take hold; the senseless soundings wane. A violinist stands, setting his bow to the instrument; then from somewhere inside the collection of sound-contraptions, a solitary musical oboe tone rises above it all, commanding the vacant air with a single, sustained A note. Immediately, as if they were waiting for some specific sound leadership, all the other members respond with their uniquely-voiced A-notes. As the volume of their first unison builds, harmonic thirds, fifths and octaves high and low emerge through the thick air of audience anticipation.

For only a brief moment this preparatory approach to harmony is heard. Then silence.

From behind the side-curtain, the bringer of Symphony walks into the midst of what had been quasi-musical confusion.

He is smiling. So are most of the audience. The thousand-or-so seated congregants express, with applause,  their approval of what is about to happen, implying also with their enthused ovation polite appreciation of what has happened in this large hall many times before.

A symphony. Tonight. March, 2016.

A moment later, in the midst of breathless silence, the Conductor raises his arms, lifting the baton high. Then abruptly he lowers them. And the chaos of sounds that had dominated the stage only a few minutes before has been instantaneously transformed into music, coordinated and arranged in order to express thoughts or feelings about the world.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, the music composed for such an event as this was not the same as it is today. Mozart’s skill, for instance, plucked melodies out of thin genius-air and worked them into intricately woven musical masterpieces that beat through the air with perfect precision, like a clock on a Vienna tower.

In the 1700’s Mozart wrote music for an emperor. Emperors and empires imposed a certain kind of order on the world. Mozart’s music expressed that order in an exquisite way. His music was precision and perfection manifested in orchestral form.

A few decades later, Beethoven came along and rearranged all that preposterous musical order, catapulting thunderous innovations into it. Orchestral music, having found intricate construction in the hands of Bach, Vivaldi, Handel and others, had found its fullest precision under Mozart’s imaginative mastery.

But when the European world was shaken to its roots by the American revolution, French revolution, Napoleonic bluster and God-only-knows what other political and military juggernauts that were rolling like thunder across the civilized world at that time, a new kind of music was called for. A music that expressed not order, but disruption and passion.

And so there was Beethoven. The first eight explosive notes of his 5th symphony blew a hole in the old order and proclaimed a jousting field of new ideas, new forms of government, and new music. It was a revolutionary age. Even Mozart could get lost in the cataclysm.

Great Music captures the spirit of the times in which it is composed; it captures that spirit and interprets it as  audible, lyrical art.

Last night, we were in Charlotte listening to the Charlotte Symphony perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor. This interesting piece of music was, to my ear, a musical experiment. While a few of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos are widely acknowledged as masterful expressions of his musical romanticism, this third symphony communicates a timely, profound disturbance, more-so, I think, than compositional perfection. Sergei Rachmaninoff the early-20th century Russian composed in it 1936.

I call it an experiment because it seems to be a series of dynamic, instrumentally dissonant thrusts; they mount up in rhythmically disparate crescendos, but never  fully resolve in a way that I can thematically identify. In my ear,  it is a tensioned symphony in search of a theme. In search of, perhaps, a melody.

So I was trying to explain to my wife as we left why there’s no way Rachmaninoff could have absolved his musical angst in 1936 by resolving it inappropriately with a catchy melody.

He was living, for crying out loud, in Stalinist Russia; and not only that, half a continent away Hitler’s Third Reich was assembling, under the radar of the Versailles treaty, a massive wehrmacht war machine. In a few years the whole damn world, or half of it anyway, would erupt up in full-blown war. The only order that was emerging in 1936 was the construction of destructive war machines.

It was no time to celebrate an inharmonious world with pleasantries such as harmony and melody.

Here’s a YouTube of the Russian Novosibirsk Philharmonic performing the piece:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h44ZGVe4zCQ

Perhaps my cynical assessment of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 is shaded by my own artful projections. A few years ago, I wrote and published a novel, Smoke, which is all about the year 1937. That writing project was also an experiment, albeit a literary one, in telling the story about a young American who might have sojourned through Europe during that same time of imminent disaster foreshadowing World War II.

Smoke

The River of History

March 15, 2015

About ten years ago, our daughter Katie was traveling through Europe when she snapped this picture:

ParisGarg

The scene is Paris, as viewed from atop the cathedral of Notre Dame.

That creature in the foreground is unidentified, but there is something about him that I don’t like. Even though he has managed somehow to position himself in a panoramic aspect on the pinnacle of a classic sacred building, I suspect he is up to no good. Nevertheless, in spite of his sinister presence in the photograph, I will just ignore the guy for now, because I want to tell you why I am thankful that my daughter captured this scene, and why I was amazed when I encountered it yesterday.

I was wandering around in the old Dell looking at photographs from years gone by.  Encountering this stark image launched my mind into a series of personal recollections.

Pat, Micah and I had sojourned through Paris during the summer of 2002. We visited the cathedral of Notre Dame, but we did not climb up to this high perch. We did, however, have a great time traipsing around in the grand old City on the Seine that you see here.  Alas, that trip, as vividly entertaining as it was, has begun to fade somewhat in mind. It was thirteen years ago.

But at about this time last year, 2014, I was writing the last few chapters of a third novel, Smoke. And it just so happened that a sizable chunk of the story took place in the area of Paris that you see pictured here.

Notice the Eiffel Tower in the background. Just below that steel-framed landmark people from all over the world were gathering, in the year 1937, for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques. In my story, a young American businessman, Philip Morrow, has a rendezvous with Lili Eschen, a German refugee. Lili is disturbed, however, by the looming facade of the nearby German pavilion. She tells Philip that she would prefer to leave the Exposition and go to a different place.

Long story short, the next day they are ambling on a bridge, looking out over the Seine River. In the photo above you see two bridges. Notice the further-away one, the Pont Saint-Michel. That’s not the one on which Philip and Lili are standing in my novel, but it looks very similar to the Pont Neuf, which is the next bridge downriver, around the bend. Imagine the scene. They are gazing at the river below, and Lili is worried because her family has fled Germany hurriedly, and now (in May 1937) they are in between a rock and a hard place, and faced with some hard decisions. Philip is speaking:

“. . .It’s a whole different world in the country I come from; we really don’t have a clue about what is going on over here in the old world. This Europe, this, well, France itself . . . Germany. It’s almost like a different planet. And Shirley Temple is just . . .” He was shaking his head and chortling at her naiveté. “You can’t take this Hollywood stuff too seriously. I mean, your brother is locked up back in Germany. That’s reality.”

She looked at him with a kind of fierce resolve, but a hint of the smile was still on her lips. “I can dream, can’t I? No law against that, no verboten on dreaming, hoping . . .”

“Sure.” He touched her hand tenderly.

A few minutes later, Philip and Lili complete their stroll across the Pont Neuf. They are on the île de la Cité, in the very heart of Paris; their next stop is an ancient chapel, the Saint-Chapelle. You can see its dark steeple in this photo. On the right, its ascending structure parallels the distant Eiffel Tower of the far background.

ParisSteepl

Gone from this pic is the ugly critter who had been lurking in the foreground of the earlier photo. I’m glad we got rid of him, although I have no clue where he got off too. But I fear he is still hanging around, and we may have to cast him out again before its all over with.

Smoke

Roosevelt’s dilemma

March 18, 2013

In the novel I am writing, Smoke, the Eschen family–Hezekin, Helene, Hannah, and Lili– have just arrived in eastern France. The year is 1937;  the Gestapo have recently arrested their son, Heinrich, and imprisoned him at Dachau.

Under a pall of Nazi-induced fear, the Eschens have decided to risk losing everything–their business and home–by leaving Munich to flee Germany, even though they do not know what Heinrich’s fate will be.

In chapter 14 of Smoke, the refugee family have been taken in by a French family who live across the Rhine border, in the province of Alsace. Now they are sitting at a well-appointed table to share a meal with some newfound friends. We enter this scene at the supper table of the Ravel family and a few of their companions. Helene is describing the Eschens’ situation with the group:

       Helene wiped the tears from her cheek. “What we seek, Madame Leblanc, is a young man, a good man in the very flower of his youth; but he is locked inside Dachau prison—our son, Heinrich. And now it is so very hard to decide what is to be done. Should we stay or go?”

       “Even if you must go. . .somewhere. . .must it be to America? Why not wait here, here in Alsace. You are close here, close enough to respond quickly, if Heinrich were to be released. If you were all the way to the United States, your help for him would be almost impossible.”

       “Our travel visas here are good only for two weeks. But we have relations in New York—they are our people, Jews like us—who are working on our behalf. They are even willing to deposit thousands of US dollars in the banks for us, and send affidavits to endorse for our immigration, so that we can obtain visas to enter the United States and start a new life there.”

      The host, M. Ravel, at the head of the table, inserted, “Peut-etre . . . your temporary visas here can be extended. We may be able to find some help for you with that. Although there is no consulate in Strasbourg, we do know some people are well-connected. Other refugees, like you, have come from Germany and have been able, with a little time, to make better arrangements, to stay in France. Now that you have gotten out, you should slow down and get your bearings, form a strategy to establish communication with Heinrich, if that is possible; there may be more resources here in Alsace that you realize. You really do need to stay close to Germany, Hezekin.” Cartier looked directly into the man’s face, then at his wife. “You do need to stay nearby until Heinrich is released, or at least until you have heard some definite news, or until this whole damned Nazi thing blows over.”

        Henri Leblanc then spoke excitedly, “The Third Reich is not going to go away! They will inflict their German hatefulness on Jews and some others as long as they can! They will not stop until they are forced to stop. Hitler and Goebbels have railed against the Jews since the beginning, even since ’33. It was their intention all along to rob you of your business and then run you out of Germany. But our leaders, Petain or—we need another Clemenceau, or Poincare, maybe that young man, DeGaulle—somebody needs to rise up and intervene la-bas. Every since Hitler waltzed into the Saar last year, with no resistance whatsoever from us, those Nazi brutes who salute and follow his every command without question have been frothing at the mouth to run the Jews out of Germany. That is what the Gestapo is assigned to do, and the Third Reich will not cease its campaign against the Jews—especially the prosperous ones such as you.”

       “But do not despair!” said Henri’s wife. “You have come to the right place. We can help you. We’ll give you sanctuary as long as we can.”

But the Eschens were not the only ones in such a situation as this. There were many others who were fleeing, and would flee, from the tribulation of being Jewish under Hitler’s Third Reich. As the terrible tide of Nazi oppression filled Germany during the next three years, and through the years of World War II, there would be many, many more who sought to leave, and find a new life in places such as Britain, the United States, South America, Africa, and Israel.

What to do with them all? This was only one of many complicated dilemmas that President Roosevelt, as well as Mr. Churchill in Britain and the leaders of the French Third Republic, faced in those tumultuous years before, and during, World War II.

It was the worst of times, even worse than today. May it never happen again to any people group on our planet.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Smokefree

February 24, 2013

In the novel that I am presently writing, the young American, Philip, has just arrived, via train, in Strasbourg, France, very near the German border. The year is 1937. A young lady, Lili, who has recently left Germany, has arranged for her father, Hezekin, to drive Philip out of Strasbourg and into the Alsace countryside of easternmost France.

In chapter 13 of Smoke, the novel, we hear Philip Marlowe and Hezekin Eschen converse, as Hezekin is driving the Renault to a farmhouse in the country:

       “Konzentrationslager,” said Hezekin.

“They are special prisons for Jews, where they are concentrated in camps to do slave labor,” said Lili.

Philip’s American mind could not fathom it. “What is so special about you Jews that—“

Hezekin raised his voice: “From ancient times, God has called us out of slavery, and we will never, never submit to it on this earth—not from Pharoah, not from the Fuehrer!”

“What slavery are you talking about now, in 1937, with you a businessman, providing for your family?” Philip retorted.

The voice lowered. “Philip, the Nazis are building slave camps now!” His voice was tense with urgency, eyes flashing with offense. “The SS has built one at Dachau, and they have taken my son, my one and only son, and they have locked him in there with barbed wire all around the camp. What do you call that?”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Now you have, my friend. You are not in America now. This is the old world, the world from which your ancestors—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln—the world of tragedy, and hope, from which they sprung, the world from which their ancestors fled!”

“If this is true—“

“It is true, my friend!

Disturbing video, 1936

January 1, 2013

In my present writing project, a novel named Smoke, the protagonist is a young American, Philip Marlowe. Living in London during the year 1937, Philip finds himself drawn into a terrible vortex of European political currents.

I find that writing this story, which takes place mostly on another continent, and seventy-years ago, is a challenge. Some may think I’m crazy to have undertaken it. We shall see.

For this endeavor, every hour of writing requires, oh, ten or so hours of reading and research to substantiate it. Otherwise the story that I concoct would be implausible and unrealistic. My theory is that search tools on our worldwide web enable new possibilities for global storytelling that are unprecedented. So I’m  forging a sort of historical fictional frontier. We shall see, in the next year or so, if I can pull it off.

Anyway, since the whole thing happens in the year 1937, maintaining a credible level of authenticity in the story is a constant challenge, and requires a lot of work.

My character, Philip, although originally a simple fellow from the mountainous region of North Carolina, is nevertheless representing a worldwide tobacco company, and working accounts in London. The story begins May 12, 1937, the day that King George VI, the stuttering sovereign, is crowned in Westminster Abbey.

Out in the crowded streets of London, Philip and his friend Nathan find themselves suddenly witnesses to the untimely death of an old gentleman. One thing leads to another, and a week or so later Philip finds himself on an unusual mission on the Mediterranean coast of France, after a journey that skirts the Pyrennical edges of the Spanish civil war. In the background and underneath it all are the immense political tectonics of communism and fascism that are slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, catapulting the nations of Europe toward a terrible war.

With my meandering plot lines having brought Philip to the southernmost tip of France, and him having an inclination to travel from there all the way to Belgium on the North coast, I am now researching France in 1937. This is hard to do, because most of the documentation readily available pertains to the war which started two years later, in 1939.

I am more interested, for purposes of this story, in learning and writing about what caused that war than about the war itself.

The main reason World War II happened was one evil megalomaniac, Adolf Hitler, who duped the good German people into following down a perditious path of antisemitic racial hatred and obsessive vengeance against the French and other Europeans, most notably the Russians.

After the first WorldWar had ended, the victorious Allies got together and wrote up a treaty, the Treaty of Versailles,that, as time went by, put a severe crimp on German rebuilding of an economy and society. By the early 1930s, Hitler was able to, in his fanatically diabolical way, take advantage of a resentment that had been mounting inside Germany. He absconded what had formerly been a proud Prussian military tradition, and subverted its nobler aspects with hateful plans for genocide and war.

In 1933 Hitler and his band of national socialist radicals came to power. In taking over the German government, they broke all the rules of law and decency. Because of the dearth and extremities of the times, they were able to get away with it.

In spring 1936, Hitler made an arrogant military move that–probably moreso than any other historical event–set the stage for the terrible destruction that followed during the next ten years–the German reoccupation of the Rhineland. This was an area between France and Germany that had been disputed in earlier times.

Because France had been weakened by its war weariness, still hungover from 1914-1918, and also its debilitating internal contention between socialist and nationalistic factions within its own government, France did not prevent, nor resist, the German reoccupation of the Rhineland. There was, in fact, a sizable German population in the disputed area. There was a similarly problematical situation on the other side of Germany–the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.

The choice of the French Third Republic to not stop Hitler and his goons at that point turned out later to be a fatal mistake.

But who knew?

History in the making is only explicable when viewed in hindsight. There were a few who could see, in the midst of what was happening at the time,  what was coming–Churchill, perhaps DeGaulle, an American congressman or two.

During my present search to ascertain the character of France during that vulnerable period, I found a very disturbing propaganda film from 1936 Germany. It captures images of that fateful, though bloodless, German advance into the Rhineland, and also the words of the diabolical genius who had ordered it.

It’s creepy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w_8ReKlFVI

Nevertheless,  here is a lesson in history now viewable in 2013, but obtained originally from old 1936 film.

Think about this: What is it that is happening now in our world that will inform our grandchildren, watching utube or whatever, decades from now, about the failings of this present generation?

We cannot know until, if human nature remains the same, it is too late to do much besides talking and writing about it, and watch old videos.  But that is life and death in a fallen world of 21st-century perplexity.

Glass Chimera

Recovery as Idol

December 6, 2012

My present reading (for novel research) of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reichhas revealed a surprising, though very disturbing truth–mainly this:

Under Hitler’s hyperactive dictatorial leadership, Germany achieved, during the mid-1930s, what appeared to be a miraculous economic recovery. By 1933 Hitler had deceived his way into being elected as Chancellor of Germany. From that year 1933, to 1937, unemployment in Germany plummeted downward–from six million unemployed to one million unemployed.

In only four years!

How did Hitler and the Nazis pull off this amazing turnaround? They put people to work building up their war economy. But it was a bellicose accomplishment that would later prove to be their tragic undoing.

Furthermore, on page 262 of the Simon & Schuster edition, Shirer includes this statistic: “The heavy industries, chief beneficiaries of rearmament, increased their (profits) from 2 percent in the boom year of 1926 to 6 1/2 percent in 1938, the last full year of peace” (before Hitler launched his mad plan to enslave Europe, ed.).

And this: “. . .most firms reinvested in their own businesses the undistributed profits, which rose from 175 million marks in 1932 to five billion marks in 1938. . .”

But then consider where that impressive recovery eventually took them–to an agonizing, ill-fated national destruction a few years later.

This history lesson, courtesy of Mr. Shirer’s prodigious research–and his first-hand witnessing of life in Nazi Germany during that pivotal time– should serve as a warning to us.

Do not make of economic recovery an idol. Much more important is the retention– among a free and inquisitive nation of people such as we are– the retention of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for all of us. To that list I would add: the general preservation among us of a decent respect for the rights of all persons and people groups.

Do not make of economic recovery an idol. Freedom and dignity is much more valuable.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Allegorical vs. Real Characters in Fiction

June 29, 2012

Now I’m writing a third novel, Smoke.

My son said my fictional characters are formed too heavily upon allegorical concepts instead of real people. I think his assessment is correct. What am I going to do about it? That is the question.

As if that wasn’t enough, my dentist was drilling away on my novel bridgework as well. A few weeks ago, he remarked that the first novel had “a lot of characters.” That’s true. I’m all over the place with these imaginary people, which renders my novel narratives, it seems, too complicated, or scattered, opaque, and therefore not easily accessible to mainstream readers.  All true, as I am discovering. I probably knew it all along, to tell the truth, just too stubborn to do anything about it.

But hey, what about the wild-penned luminaries of the past who were venerated, yeah I say unto thee, even catapulted to bookish success, for their obscure story-telling style? I’m talking about Faulkner, Joyce, and. . . well you know the type. Novelists who would cloak all their rambling opi-opuses in arcane symbolism, subtle literary allusions, and stream of consciousness genius run-on sentences which, when read  aloud by contemporary poets, always end each phrase with a rising voice intonation as if the speaker had just declared or questioned the most profound literary utterances ever laid out bare and naked for all the world to read and all the New York editors to puzzle over to their hearts’ content.

Not to mention their protagonists, who are really dysfunctional savants whose character developments reflect societal manifestations of every misfit’s compulsion to prove to the world that the deepest desire of modern men and women is simply to go crazy, flinging off the envelopes and tethers of slavish conformity/morality, and then post the video on Utube.

Speaking of which, video images are taking over the world of communication. Text is dead, unless you want to be one of the elite who actually think. I suppose this very rant is evidence of our literary degeneracy. I’m a drowning man here.

But I digress. Need to get back to the heart of the matter.  I need to make my fictional characters more like real people, less like allegorical constructs. I’m working on it.

And good story-telling–I need to work on that too, which is why I just read Robert Louis Stevenson’sTreasure Island–a great story by a master storyteller.  Its a book that steadily intensifies suspense from beginning to end while cultivating reader involvement all along the voyage.

I have learned something valuable from Mr. Stevenson.  Maybe now the Europe-crushing clash of 1930ish big ideas (as my son calls them) that I’ve taken on in the new novel, Smoke, can artfully fade into back story support; then Philip, Nathan, and Tabitha will navigate, in a very believable tale, the perils of a world  hung upon the edge of communo-fascist disaster in 1937.

We’ll  see if I can sail this ship back into the trade winds of reader accessibility. Have a nice day.