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Kafka Wants To Light A Fire – Well … Not Really

kafka-brod

Much is made – again and again – about Kafka’s famous request to his friend, Max Brod, that all his manuscripts be burned unread. That included all his fiction, all his letters, and all his diaries.  Consigned to the flames and removed from the earth.

Had this been done, most of the work for which Kafka is famous would never be known, for little was published during his life. His skewed yet realistic outlook on life, now famously known as Kafkaesque, would not be classed in every dictionary. A touchstone, known the world over, would have been lost. Kafka might, at best, been remembered as the man who wrote about the bug.

Brod gets a bum rap about defying Kafka’s direction to burn all his manuscripts. Yes, Kafka did indeed make this request of Brod. He apparently made it a few times, both verbally and in writing.  Each time, Bord told him outright he would not follow Kafka’s request. “It ain’t” – if I might slip into a vernacular the erudite Brod would ever use – “going to be me, chum.”

Another prominent time  Kafka refused to do something that he could have easily done himself, concerned his famous Letter To His Father. Instead of handing (or sending) the letter  to his father, he gave it to his mother to pass on, knowing full well his mother would not be part of causing such discord. And – in fact – his father never read the letter.

If Kafka really wanted all his manuscripts burned, he could have just as easily (indeed – more easily) done it himself. He certainly did burn much of what he wrote. Brod once found him doing it. It is estimated he burned 70-80% of his own work.

Kafka might have renewed his written request near the end of his life, but he made it to the one man whom he knew would not do it.

That was Kafka

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Alison Alexandra Rubs Shoulders With The Golden Globes

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I have had a fascination with the musical instrument, the Theremin, for decades. A Theremin (named after its inventor) is an electronic musical instrument, invented in the 1920s-1930s, that is played not by touch, but by the movement of hands next to metal rods. It produces eerie sounds, something like a soprano at the top of her pitch.

For Christmas, someone I know got a Theremin as a present.  As sometimes happens in my current manuscript about Alison Alexandra, an event in my real life (regardless of how distantly related) will creep into Alison Alexandra’s life. She’s a gal open to many suggestions.

Now, had the present been a guitar or a clarinet, they would have held no interest for me. Although fine instruments both, they would have held no interest for Alison Alexandra, either. They are not exactly common, but neither are they exciting enough. Alison Alexandra has a bit of an edge to her.

But, because I already have some history with Theremins, and Alison Alexandra was embarking on a new chapter, it seemed to be a happy and musical experience.

So, I have done a more-than-usual research blitz on the instrument. Learning things I did not know. Listening to the surprising number of excerpts on the internet. But, as is often the case, also finding a number of contemporary references.

The Theremin was an instrument that fascinated a deceased author colleague of mine.

The son of a friend has actually made a Theremin.

The Theremin is used in the soundtrack of the British Television Mystery Series, Midsomer Murders.

And, most recently, a Theremin is used in the soundtrack of the movie The First Man. This movie has just won the Golden Globe for best Original Score.

Now, I’m not sure if Alison Alexandra is actually going to attempt to play the instrument,  but it certainly is going to hit some high notes in her life.

[Where to learn lots about the Theremin] https://www.carolinaeyck.com/theremin/

In The New Year, Kafka Ponders His Teen-age Lover

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[Kafka’s teen-age lover, Gerti Wasner – The Swiss Girl]

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.

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

03 January 1917

I still have fantasies about the Swiss girl – although not the type one might suppose.

(My father says I already have too many fantasies, and that I deal with them “too long, and too often” – he is certainly right.)

I make a mixture of what I shared with the Swiss girl, and what I imagine we would be like today.

This is certainly more fantasy than not, for what would being together have done to us?

Done to her?

But in this tiny house – could she not join me? Be here by the window, as I write this?

She was so young, and such a girl.

But I fear that I was never such a boy.

Franz Kafka Ponders Death from “Kafka In The Castle”

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(Statue from the Kafka Museum, Prague)

07 June 1917

I wonder what my final thought will be – just before I die. I was moments away from death this afternoon, as I stepped unheeding onto the tram tracks. The motorman’s frantic bell made me leap. Had I been too slow, my last thoughts would have concerned where and when to take my vacation. Not very glorious last thoughts to possess.

But, had I the time granted to me, what would I chose to think about? Perhaps F. Perhaps the writing – I’d like to finish the novel. Would I torture myself thinking about father? Would I accept that my past – now that it was ending – was finally settled. Or would I instead – and this is what I really expect – be wondering what I was going to miss tomorrow?

Getting Published In New York In The Old Days

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Over The Transom

My friend Google tells me that “over the transom” is still a viable term. In this case it refers to a manuscript accepted by an editor submitted cold – perhaps even from the dreaded slush pile.

At any rate, my manuscript for A LOST TALE was accepted “over the transom”, and I was asked to New York to meet the editor. Although I had experienced and appreciated Montréal, Toronto, London, Berlin and other large cities by that time, I had not been to New York. Many events of that trip are memorable, but none more than my “lunch” with the editor.

The editor took me to a dark and trendy place for a late lunch. There were not many people there and, restaurant fiend though I am, the food was not my top priority. Discussion of “the work” and proposed changes was more on the menu for me.

As I sit across the table from my editor, I can not help but notice a man seated by himself beside the wall. He is tieless and shirtless and, though the lighting is dim, what there is reflects from his naked skin. He sits with a beverage and seems to hum to himself.

My editor is discussing both the menu and some confusion he perceives at the beginning of my novel. I note items on the menu unknown to me and am doubly confused.

The shirtless man at the other table increases the volume of his humming and eventually a waiter goes to him and has words. The shirtless man has words back, but they sound like gibberish. At my table the editor suggests something from the menu and I happily comply. There is wine.

Whilst I eat and listen to suggestions, the shirtless man is spoken to by two other waiters. As I (wisely) restrict myself to a second glass of wine, two uniformed policemen enter the restaurant and approach the shirtless man, whose gibberish had increased even more in volume. In the course of a few minutes three other uniformed police officers – one of them female  – arrive on the scene. They are now ranged around the shirtless man and his table. I finally tell my editor what is happening behind him and why I am not concentrating fully upon his suggestions. He turns around.

Two of the officers remove the table from in front of the shirtless man. Two others, one on each side of him, haul him to his feet. It is then that we see his shirtless state continues all the way to his naked feet. The female officer takes the tablecloth from the table and drapes it around him. The four male officers form a circle around the naked, shrouded man uttering his gibberish, and hustle him from the restaurant. The female officer picks up what appears to be a pile of clothes from beneath the table, and a pair of roller skates, and follows them.

I say to my editor that I have never seen anything like that.

My editor concurs.

Kafka With A Father’s Knife In His Back On The Ides of March

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In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries.  There are many days to fill, as he either did not write during these days, or he destroyed the record.

Franz Kafka had his famous conflict with his father. He wrote a book about it.   For The Ides of March,  I imagine how Kafka pictured the will and actions of his father.

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

15 March 1917

Had I been born into a different family  – with other parents – I would be a different person. I was doomed from my first breath to have the father I have. My life is shaped beyond the reach of my choice.

I have lived so much of my life defending myself, that I marvel I have advanced at all. It is difficult to have achievements while continually looking over your shoulder for a knife in the back. Harder still, when you have to stop periodically, reach awkwardly around, and pull out the blades embedded there from childhood.

Cut and bloodied fingers make it painful to pick up the life spread before you.

But, my father is not always content to stand behind. From any alley – indeed, from any room, across any table – my father can charge at me with an outstretched lance, or a sword held high to come chopping down across my neck, with the full intent of severing my head from my body.

That he often strikes blindly makes his attack no less destructive.

(Image) cdn.history.com/sites/2/2017/03/1Eid_Mar.jpg

Italian Onion Meal From The Liver (Not The Heart) of The Fourteenth Century ~Fegato alla Veneziana

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(photo) https://www.zainoo.com/media/medium/4603.JPEG

As I wend my way through my second Onion novel, China Lily, which is taking too, too, long to put into the computer, I approach page 300. The end is in sight.

My intent was to write a trilogy that followed a Fourth Century Italian farm family, as it developed into an International business empire. There was to be 1,000 years between the first and second book, and the third book was to be set in the present day.

I confess, my interest might not be sustained for the third novel.

However, as I soon describe this recipe – and its creation – in detail, I thought it might make someone a nice supper.

Fittingly, this recipe is from Harry’s Bar, in Venice.

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When we visited Venice, we asked the locals where to find the definitive calf’s liver and onions. Everyone said Harry’s Bar, and, after trying it there—and lots of other places—we had to agree. This is Harry’s recipe.

Find this recipe in our cookbook, SAVEUR: Italian Comfort Food

serves 6

Ingredients

2 lb. calf’s liver, trimmed and thin membrane peeled off
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 small yellow onions, peeled, halved, and very thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. butter
12 bunch parsley, trimmed and chopped

Instructions

Cut liver lengthwise into 4 long pieces, then, using a very sharp knife and pressing the palm of your hand firmly against the meat, slice each piece crosswise into pieces as thin as possible.
Heat 4 tbsp. of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Transfer onions with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside.
Increase heat to medium-high and add remaining 2 tbsp. oil. When oil is sizzling hot, add liver and cook, in batches to avoid overcrowding the skillet, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until brown and crispy on the edges, 3-5 minutes. Season liberally with salt and pepper, then add reserved onions and accumulated juices. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring and turning liver and onions constantly while shaking skillet over heat. Transfer to a heated serving platter.
Add butter to skillet and scrape up any brown bits stuck to bottom of skillet as butter melts. Remove skillet from heat and stir in parsley. Spoon butter and parsley over liver and onions. Serve with Grilled Polenta, if you like.
https://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Calfs-Liver-and-Onions

Cheese And Rum Aged At Sea In Ancient And Modern Times

 

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(image) images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large-5/1-sailing-ship-anonymous.jpg

This is not only an idea whose time has come, but it is an idea I have used in three novels starting over three decades ago. In my novels, I have some edible substance aged through transport at sea.

In A Lost Gospel, set in the time of Christ, I have seafarers strengthen an unnamed gruel stored in a barrel that is used to relieve the effects of seasickness. It tastes vile.

In my two  historical “Onion” novels, I have special cheeses aged during the two year long sea trips my characters take for trading purposes. They return tasting right (and ripe) fine.


Here is a current news story set along the same lines.

A Nova Scotia distillery is sending its spirits out Monday on an around-the-world trip on a tall ship, promising it will taste better for the journey.

Four barrels of rum from Lunenburg’s Ironworks Distillery will spend the next 15 months in the cargo hold of the three-masted tall ship Picton Castle.

https://www.halifaxtoday.ca/local-news/nova-scotia-distiller-sending-four-barrels-of-rum-on-round-the-world-voyage-837196?utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Email

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And here is an excerpt from my novel, China Lily.

The storage hold for the cheese is actually a room partitioned from the main hold by thick oak planks. Its back wall is the side of The Pegasus. There is a raised floor to keep the cheese from the bilge, and a barred door with heavy locks. The Cannaras had the room designed, and placed specifically, so it would not hinder the running of the ship through either weight or volume displacement. In addition, the Cannaras paid the other owners an impressive surcharge for the space.

Matzerath steps back as Cepa unlocks and opens the door. The cheeses have not been moved for over two years, except through the motions of The Pegasus itself. They are tightly packed with straw and wax, three to a wooden crate. The crates are kept in place through the use of ropes and webbing that allows them to move with the motion of the ship. If they break loose they can dent, break, or even shatter their thick outer shell of wax. The exposure to air would turn them to rot.

The two and more years of exposure to the sea salt atmosphere tightens the ropes and webbing. They reach a point where it is not worth the effort to unbind them. Cepa begins to use his knife on all the ties.

He is quickly followed by Matzerath, who does not question the reason for Cepa’s actions, but just follows suit. Together they make short work of the ropes and webbing. Matzerath gets by the doorway and takes his place in the human chain. Cepa hands a crate of the cheese to him. He carries it to the first man on the steps who, in turn, takes it up the steps to the next man. In this way the cheeses go from man to man until they are placed in the carts. It is not backbreaking work, but it is awkward and exhausting enough that Cepa eventually calls for a break. They all go up to stand on deck to take advantage of the fresh air.

“How long have you been selling this ‘voyage cheese’?” Matzerath is watching the frenzied activity on the dock.

“Over two hundred years.” Cepa keeps an attentive eye on the cheeses already on deck. “But never any trip as long as this one.”

“Any magic secret in making it?”

“The choice of the onions. But I don’t actually make the cheese – that is for others in the family.” Cepa smiles. “I help create the mystique.”

“Mystique?”

“Yes.” Cepa turns to scan the dock. “Look at those three men on horseback.”

“Yes?”

“One is a priest; one from the noble’s house; and the third leads the cheese maker’s guild.” Cepa holds up his hand to shade his eyes from the morning sun. “Their sole reason to be here is to verify that these cheeses actually come off The Pegasus. They will affix a seal onto each crate.”

“They don’t trust the Cannaras?” Matzerath turns to Cepa in surprise.

“They trust us because this was our idea.”

“Ha! You Cannaras are crafty.”

“There are few questions asked about items brought back from far away. They are so foreign they have to be authentic.”

“But cheese made right here …” begins Matzerath.

“Yes – anyone can make cheese.” Cepa indicates that he wants to walk around the deck. “And it all looks the same once covered and waxed.”

 

The Dance Of Death / Der Totentanz

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In my novel, “There Has Been A Sighting”, sightings of Satan are tracked and confronted. An antechamber to such an encounter occurs in the crypt of the St. Marien church, in Berlin.

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

Excerpt from: “There Has Been A Sighting”

“Mother Ursula certainly expects me to go down into the gloom.” Dorkas is harsh. “Otherwise, why am I here?”

“I don’t deny that’s the way it is now.” Breeze stands beside her, peering into the dark. “I just wonder if it is what we would find tomorrow.”

“I may as well take their kind illumination.”

“Agnes only had a candle.” Breeze gives her the flashlight.

“Agnes could not fear half the terror I feel.” Dorkas shines the light down the stairs. “She expected to come back.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

“If I’m not forever, then I won’t be long.”

As Dorkas descends, the stone walls absorb the light, pockmarking the surface with rough shadows. She pauses before entering the room, perturbed by the dimness. Her light had shone brightly minutes ago, but now its beam seems submerged in water.

“Damn.”

She slaps the flashlight against her open palm.

“I’d do better with – ”

She stumbles on the bottom step, twisting her right foot as she is thrown against the wall.

“Damn.”

The flashlight falls and rolls across the floor. She hears its metal casing scratch over the stones, and watches the beam of light spiral like a demented beacon, until it turns around to shine back into her face.

“I won’t stay if that goes out.”

Dorkas deliberately speaks aloud.

“Whether I’m in Berlin for a night or a year.”

She tests her foot and finds her ankle is slightly injured.   “If I break my leg, what will they do? Leave me down here?”     She bends over to get the flashlight.

“A permanent fixture.”

As she takes the light, she points it away from herself.

“Christ.”

The feet are bare, and dirty, and raising dust as they dance. A cloud of dust rises up their emaciated legs to their knees. Although Dorkas is in a crouched position, she jerks away from the figures, and sprawls on her back.

She starts to cough in the dust, and the ragged, whirling band begins to encircle her. The light gripped in her hand strays across their bodies, and catches the glint of bleached, protruding teeth as they grin down at her.

“A tomb.” Dorkas shouts.

She can not count the number of hands reaching toward her, their flesh mottled from the iridescence of putrefaction. The frayed cuffs of their funeral finery trail strands of unravelling cloth, and she cringes from the touch.

“You want me with you?” Dorkas struggles to her knees. “To end on your wall?”

Bejewelled rings and bracelets rattle against bony fingers and wrists. The sound fills her ears as the hands, extending to grab her, are jostled by the tempo of the dance. They can not stop their own feet, and they can not stop their partners who hurry them ever on.

“I won’t.” Dorkas holds the light in both hands. “Alive or dead.”

Der Totentanz becomes smaller as the figures tighten the circle around Dorkas. A whiff of their decay permeates the dust, and she turns her head, coughing even more. But she can’t avoid their movement, their grasping hands, their stench. Victory is etched upon their faces.

“Dorkas.”

She barely hears her name as she huddles more closely to the floor. She is afraid to stand in case the frenzied dancers graze against her. She fears that the slightest brush – whether from their knees, their fingers, or even their rotting clothes – will lift her to her feet and make her a part of this final procession.

“Dorkas! I can’t turn on the electric lights.”

“You wouldn’t want to see.” Dorkas tries to shout, but her throat is clamped by hysteria. “This is worse than buried alive. I’d rather be in the dark.”

The dust of the dead is filling her mouth as she switches off the flashlight.

“Dorkas! For God’s sake.”

Breeze comes plunging down the stairs, scraping her hands as she steadies herself against the wall.

“Answer me!”

When she reaches the bottom, she stops in the blackness. Her hesitation is brief, and she starts forward at her usual pace, hands outstretched. She strains to hear the slightest sound.

“Dorkas? Did you drop the flashlight?”

“Are you alive?”

“Dorkas?” Breeze turns abruptly, for the voice is behind her. “Of course I’m alive.”

“Then I guess we both are.”

Dorkas gets to her knees, and slowly stands.

“Berlin proves to be as wonderful as I anticipated.” She brushes dust off her shirt. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Did you lose the flashlight?” Breeze starts to move toward the other woman’s voice.

Dorkas is momentarily puzzled, then realizes it is still gripped fiercely in her hand. She switches it on, casting a beam over Breeze’s legs.

“You’re it.”

“I thought you were it.” Breeze looks down at her legs, then follows the light back to Dorkas. “When you didn’t answer, I thought something had gone wrong.”

“I’m in Berlin.” Dorkas laughs harshly. “Everything goes wrong.”

She approaches the younger woman slowly.

“I don’t know where I would be if you hadn’t come to me.” Dorkas strokes Breeze’s arm. “Your intervention won’t make the others happy.”

“I’ll handle himself if you take care of the old girl.”

“Deal.”

“Let’s take a look.” Breeze reaches for the flashlight.

“A look?”

“At the bloody painting.” Breeze is turning the light toward the wall. “I know it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but maybe we can figure how its now in a different place.”

“No.” Dorkas swats the flashlight with her hand. “If you accept that there is God and Satan, then you accept there are things beyond your power.”

She stands close to Breeze, the light between them.

“You do not invite what can destroy you – that is dangerous folly.”

“But you came here.”

“Yes.” Dorkas takes back the flashlight. “I came here. And that courage – and you – enables me to walk out of here.”

She looks Breeze in the eyes.

“I have light, and I have a friend, and I’m not going to be buried alive. Not tonight, at any rate.”

She shakes the flashlight.

“Not here, at any rate.”

Dorkas sighs deeply.

“But I’ve done my part.”

“These are distinctions I don’t understand.” Breeze begins to feel uncomfortable. “Here we are – standing right here. Haven’t you won?”

“If you tempt fate?” Dorkas speaks softly. “No – fate will always win. Fate has all the cards.”

“That sounds fatalistic.”

“Life is fatal.”

“Perhaps I’ll come back tomorrow and be a tourist.” Breeze wants to hear her own voice. “Will a bunch of loud Italians and pushy Americans keep the dancers in the painting?”

“It might make it easier for them to mingle.”

“I’m not going to see them step from the wall,” insists Breeze.

“I suggest you look closely at the mustiest Italian, or the most hysterical American.” Dorkas shines the light toward the exit. “And then keep your distance.”

Dorkas is impatient as she watches the young woman walk through the beam of light, and quickly begins to follow.

“Did you say something?”

“No.” Dorkas answers curtly, but she has heard it too.

It is a sound which stays in her ears, until the door is firmly closed and locked behind them.

The sounds of an interrupted dance, where she knows partners are still being sought.

 

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