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If Kafka Welcomes Spring, Can Summer Be Far Behind?

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In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

08 April 1917

I seem to end in the most absurd situations. This afternoon, before Sunday dinner, Ottla took me away for some gardening. Rooting around in the earth, with the frost barely gone. Only Ottla could find such a plot of ground in Prague, or expect me to grub about in it like some hungry animal.

It was obviously some sort of communal land – such places are popular during this war. There were even families at work. Children also. One small boy was caught between his interest in the garden, and his desire to be a small boy. And what a dilemma it was. He’d work in the ground for awhile, following the example of his mother, then suddenly race around, exploring like a small boy. He came over to Ottla and me, and hunkered down beside us. He shook his head with a sigh of exasperation, and reached over to put his hands on mine. “Mummy says that’s wrong,” and with great patience and determination, began to show me how to prepare the earth. I thought there could be no better proof to Ottla of how inept I was.

I followed the movements of his hands, and between us, we dug quite a hole. At last the little fellow stood, obviously satisfied. “I go now,” he said, and ran away to see some other entertaining oddity. Ottla hadn’t laughed for fear of offending the boy, but she didn’t show such restraint when we were finally alone.

It fell to me to find the flowers.

Such things prove God’s sense of humour, for I have no interest or understanding for flowers. There was a fellow at university who could talk about flowers for hours. Otherwise, he was quite pleasant to be with. So it seems a joke that I would find them, between a pile of rubble and the wall of a house.

I had been exploring, much as the little fellow had done. In fact, he was running past when I found them, so I showed him also. They were white, with frail leaves close to the ground. Quite nondescript. But the boy was fascinated. He put his face close, although he didn’t touch them.

“Can I tell Mummy?” He obviously thought they were my flowers. “Yes,” I said, and he ran to get her. She followed him as he chattered all the way, and then she too hesitated, looking at me cautiously. “Perhaps your wife would like to see them,” she suggested. It took a moment to realize she was referring to Ottla. The flowers had become my possession. “Yes,” I said, “And tell anyone you like.”  “The first flowers of Spring,” she said, and she went to tell the others, taking care to stop at Ottla first.

Tiny white flowers.

I can still not believe the looks upon their faces, as they crowded around. Even the children were silent.

The relief they showed.

 

(Image)https:/farm5.staticflickr.com/4122/4807642892_042ac4d5f9_z.jpg

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Mother and Son inThirteenth Century Europe

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Excerpt from: China Lily

Matzerath’s mother rarely shared her thoughts with anyone. She is as elusive now as when he was a small boy being raised within the shadow of the religious buildings where she still works as a cook. Bishops and abbots come and go, and red-robed Princes of the Church make their visits, for which she must dress appropriately – but she remains. At least Matzerath assumes she is still there, though he has not been back for five years.

Matzerath is small in stature and taken to be younger than he is. At thirteen he is treated as seven. He allows this because he finds there are more advantages then penalties. He knows far more than is expected of him, and avoids many pitfalls through the guile no one expects he has. He also achieves more than is expected from him, and is given much leeway for a child. Had his real age been obvious, he would be perceived as dim-witted. Because he is thought of as a child, he is considered gifted.

Matzerath’s mother is aware of how her son is tolerated – she even encourages his guile. He is treated better than most children, whose father is absent months at a time sailing the North Sea.

Matzerath is also getting an education of sorts, which is generally restricted to the children of nobles and the wealthy. He has learned how to read and write, along with the rudiments of mathematics and geography. He also pokes his nose into the stables, and the smithy, and the carpenters, picking up their basic skills.

He follows his own mother with interest, and can chose, prepare and present many of the dishes she serves at the Monastery. For the notables at the cathedral, and other clergy, she is expected to produce more sophisticated fare. Matzerath has even acquired some of these skills, but a puny child is forbidden to appear near the high table. He does get to nibble the leavings but notes – as he also does at the Monastery – that very little is ever left.

Matzerath does not possess an abundant affection for his mother – not for anyone – but he realizes that regardless of the amount of work she extracts from him, she generally does what is best for him. He pays attention to her instructions and her observations and her warnings. She also encourages him to tell her what he sees and hears. As he becomes older, she also wants to know what he thinks about the things he sees. Matzerath realizes she is using him as a spy, but he does not mind. He knows his mother sometimes manipulates the information he brings for her own well-being, but these rewards also come to him.

Matzerath heeds the warnings his mother gives about some of the priests and monks and their interest in boys. He discovers this himself upon a couple of occasions, and even satisfies one priest just to see what it is like. He shares this with his mother because he knows she sometimes does the same.

(Image)https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/media/k2/items/cache/9cdc2dad23ccaada3b0603e247aaeed6_XL.jpg

The Ghosts Make Room For Me

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There are ghosts behind the ghosts.

There are legions of the dead,

Lined up to peer

Over my shoulder.

They breathe with satisfaction,

Upon the hand

That writes the word

Ghosts.

The millions of departed,

Disturb the air enough,

To stir the hair,

On my moving wrist.

They keep a place in line,

Patiently waiting,

For me to join them.

(Image)Z.bp.blogspot.com/-T5btFt_b_uA/VHJG5Q5FV-I/AAAAAAAAz9w/wZmX3qRC8vA/s1600/White_Lady_by_Keyacko.png

A Bird Digs The Earth For Earth Day

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I saw a sight that I believe I have actually never seen, though it is fabled the world over.

Standing on the front stoop to test the air I saw a robin on the grass. Robins are rather skittish and usually, when a human presence is so close, it will make them hop (and they truly do *hop*) away. But this one stayed put.

My understanding is that birds ‘hear’ the worms under the earth – that is how they detect them. I assume that is why they so often have their head in a cocked position. However, for this robin, the listening part of the chase was over.

As I watched the robin made a strike into the earth with its beak. It was then that an almost cartoon-like image occurred. The bird had a portion of the worm in its beak and began to pull. It pulled and pulled and the worm stretched and stretched. It made me think of someone pulling a threaded needle from the fabric they were sewing. The length of the worm became even longer than the robin’s body. With this constant and slow tug, the worm finally popped out of the earth.

Then the robin had a go at it.

The bird took at the long, brown earthworm and began to snip off pieces with its beak. It could not have been more effective if it had a pair of scissors. Substantial, beak-sized pieces which it swallowed quickly. The long earthworm became shorter and shorter, giving the robin less to hold on to. In under two minutes the worm became one remaining morsel hanging from the robin’s beak. It was only then that the robin began to hop across the grass. The last piece of worm disappeared inside the robin and the robin quickly took off.

One satisfied predator.

One less worm.

(image)1.bp.blogspot.com/-da07hMgESEs/VT1Y9cNgOCI/AAAAAAAAMIs/DVG3oaeFGME/s1600/American-Robin.jpg

Whistling Past The Graveyard With Death

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I had an invitation which I won’t take too personally. Well – on the other hand – it is as personal to me as it is to any one, so I’m sure that’s OK, too.
The event is Death Expo 2019. I’m assuming they don’t know something that I don’t know – but you never know. I assume that not only are they the experts, but it is – after all – their business. However, I can take comfort (you know, as much as possible) that the topic will … eventually … be as interesting to everyone who is – you know – alive.
Still, even though we all approach closer to Death with each minute of life, and it is really no surprise, I was a bit surprised to find an event dedicated to the fact. And I was a bit bemused by the Free Admission. I mean, don’t they have a captive audience? Still – live and learn.
And it all seems quite sensible, from ‘wills’ to ‘End of life at home’. I was, admittedly, taken quite aback by what I first read as “Death Dracula”. But, even as various images were skirting though my head, I re-read the word. It was “Doula”. Which I had to look up. A Doula is a type of midwife, helping one to exit, instead of enter, this world. As I said – live and learn.

A Gypsy Instructs Kafka About The World And Truth

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In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

08 June 1917

A Gypsy confronted me today, and I was in the mood for a bit of sport. Her age was difficult to tell – certainly a decade older than me. In her swirl of shawls and dangling jewellery, heavy make-up on her face, she could almost have been in disguise. She peered at me with an intense sigh, attempting – I am sure – to penetrate my own disguise.

“You are a Jew,” she said.

“And you a Gypsy,” I replied.

She seemed pleased with my response, for her professional smile became real.

“You state the obvious,” she said. “As becomes a Doktor of Laws,”

I replied. “But to your eyes, do you not state the obvious?”

“Are you going to banter with a poor old Gypsy woman, instead of barter? That would make you suspiciously like one of us.” She said this with a growl in her throat.

“The Gypsy and the Jew,” I said, feeling the challenge which I so miss. “Perhaps an opera – but I think it’s been done to death.”

“They will try to do us all unto death,” she said harshly, and turned away.

I had the fear she was going to leave me without another word, but what she did was to spit fulsomely onto the street.

“They can’t kill us all,” I said, but I knew she heard the doubt in my voice.

She slowly faced me again.

“So. Even a Doktor of Laws can have hope. That is refreshing – but foolish.” She took my hand and felt my palm roughly with her thumb, although all the while her eyes never left my face. “You are going to travel.”

“Travel is a vague word. One can go on many types of voyage.”

“And reach many destinations,” she added, still holding my hand. “If you take away my vagueness, you take away my trade.”

“Then let me pay you for your services right now.”

This transaction would make her loose my hand, which is what I wanted most of all. She had frightened me, for her eyes and face were full of truth. I know the truth. I know it when it presents itself, stark and unobscured. I search out truth endlessly, yet still can flee at its approach. As in her eyes. But she gripped me more fiercely, and pulled my hand up.

“The coin, Herr Doktor.” Her voice was now soft. “The coin can wait.”

She at last lowered her eyes and looked closely at my palm. She rubbed the lines and whorls of my skin. She touched her finger to her lips, and spread the moisture along my hand.

“Your lifeline, Herr Doktor,” she took a quick look in my eyes, “of Laws. You deceive with the youth upon your face. Is that not so?”

“If your eyes stop at the mask, then no, the years have not etched themselves deeply.”

“Not on your face, Herr Doktor of Laws.” Her grip was intense. “But on your palm…” She hissed. “You will soon embark upon that final voyage.”

She released my hand, rubbed her fingers across her sleeve.

“But you will not go in haste. There will be many stops along the way.”

Suddenly her face was full of the most beautiful smile, and her laughter was genuine.

“I see you do not complain of vagueness now.” She held out her hand. “The coin, Herr Doktor of Laws. This time I have truly earned it.”

I dug deeply into my pocket, and feared that I may have overpaid her. But, perhaps, that is not possible.

(image) https://thegraphicsfairy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Gyspy-Lady-Bird-Hat-Image-GraphicsFairy.jpg

Going Up And Down In Montréal

 

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(Place Ville Marie)

At one time I shared a whole house with four other people. Two were in the process of becoming lawyers. I noted that most of their stories did not contain much whimsy. The following is a story one of the fellows told us. I, of course, make up the dialogue but, though fiction, it is based on his facts.

*********************

“I don’t mean to stare – I apologise. I’m not in the habit of doing this, but you remind me of someone. That has to sound like a line – the look on your face. But I’m not after ….

“Have you ever been in the train station at Place Ville Marie in Montréal? The escalators that come up by the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.  I had a lot of travel to get to work when I lived in Montréal, and made train and bus connection.

“No, thanks. I don’t want another.

“One morning – a Thursday – as I was going up the escalator, I saw a girl coming down from the street. She had short red hair – that’s the main reason I’ve been staring – and a green skirt with a white blouse. Coming down that escalator, with that wide space between us. She was looking at me the way I was looking at her – interest and excitement and whatever potential that leads to. We stared into each others eyes as we came level, and craned to look back as we passed.

“I guess I’ll have another of the same, after all.

“That was stupid enough. I should have jumped that barrier, or at least gone down after her. But I had a job, and was young, and things like that just don’t happen.

“Next morning, even though I was looking for her, and hoping so much, I couldn’t have been more shocked by a ghost when I saw that red hair. She had that same look – of shock.

“God, to be so unsure of what to do, and stupid to the ways of the world, and even to have that stabbing thought that it can happen again tomorrow. We stared and stared, you could almost feel electricity between us. At the top I waited as long as I dared, hoping she would come up. I had to get my bus, and just jumped it as it was pulling away.

“That was a Friday. I sweated through the weekend, full of grand plans about telling her to wait, or to come up to me, or yelling my phone number. She wasn’t there, of course, on Monday or any other day. I looked the rest of the summer, then it was back to university.

“I mean, to be given one chance like that and waste it. But two. I’ve never forgotten, even now with a wife and kids, I wonder what might have been. It can make my hands shake, seeing someone like you, and with too much drink in me.”

Is My Past Tying Up Loose Ends?

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I was in the City Market, looking at produce. From the corner of my eye, with my back turned, something familiar twigged about a person passing. It was a woman with long, shock-white hair.
In this day-and-age it is unwise to start trailing a woman shouting “Hey, you.” Plus, this lady did not look the type to appreciate any unusual approach. As she was moving at quite a clip, I also wondered how wise it might be to give any sort of obvious chase.
However, she popped into a craft shop. With this delay, I thought I could take at least a further look. As it was, I was staring through a window just as she was staring out. Her brow did indeed furrow, and her facial expression was more of annoyance than curiosity. But, then, her face did change, and I saw recognition at about the same time I confirmed to myself who it was.
I believe it has to be twenty years since I last saw her.  As we were saying the usual “I thought you looked familiar” type of thing, a young woman appeared at her side. I – who never remembers names – recognised her daughter, and even called her by her name.
They were in town for a family funeral. In fact, the interment had been that very morning. They were heading to the airport in an hour or so. The last she knew of my whereabouts was when I lived in a different city. We only had a few minutes of chat – nothing about writing, other than that she asked if I was still writing. I admitted I was now down to five days a week, and not daily. Then they were away.
It has been a strange year for the old times popping up.
One friend (whom I haven’t seen for six years) was in town for a family reunion. Another friend, (whom I hadn’t seen for three years) drove in for an afternoon.
I went to a Memorial for a colleague with whom I had no dealings for nearly thirty years. And I went to a cousin’s Funeral Parlour visitation (whom I had not seen for eighteen years).
However, from the Funeral Parlour experience, emerged a more-than-unusual episode for my latest novel, where I am following the exploits of Alison Alexandra.
It almost seems as if my past is tying up some loose ends.

TWO BEAVERS ON THE LEFT BANK

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I was walking along the river and heard the strangest noise. It was one of those noises which, when I found out what It was, sounded exactly as it should. A beaver was chewing at a branch on the bank of the river. First there were small rolling noises as the branch went through its hands, and then the ‘gnaw gnaw gnaw’, and then the turning noise and the cycles were repeated.

This went on fifteen minutes or so, then the beaver and I both heard noises in the water. We both saw another beaver approaching. The beaver-at-gnaw quickly went in her direction (though I can only guess which sex was which). They swam toward each other, then rubbed faces. The approaching beaver made small bawling noises like a young calf. They rubbed bodies and seemed to sniff each other, then they swam in different directions. This performance – the swimming away, the languid circling, the approaches – went on for twenty minutes. A couple of times the ‘gnawing’ beaver clambered over the over beaver’s back, but this lasted just a few seconds. The beaver which approached rubbed noses once again, and made the bawling sounds one more time.

I never appreciated how large beavers are until one of them came up on the bank. The water was clear enough to see their feet and tail move underwater (I wonder if the portion out of the water might have the 1/10 proportion of an iceberg). The sun was setting and they became difficult to see. However they decided to part anyway. One began to go down river toward the harbour and one headed to the other shore.

But I bet they were going to meet the next day.

(image)https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/4830728e976abc86eb61c42be56b80bf12a60879/c=0-75-3000-2325&r=x408&c=540×405/local/-/media/Salem/2015/04/07/B9316892033Z.1_20150407140501_000_GQHAEJP35.1-0.jpg

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