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One Wedding And Twelve Tuxedos

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Until this month, I would have said the strangest thing I have researched – and written about – for one of my novels, was the chapter in my first Onion novel, where my characters built a bridge over a river in 3rd Century Italy.

Alison Alexandra seems destined to edge me even further.

In There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth, I currently find myself writing about a wedding ceremony where the bride is dressed in a tuxedo, as are all her attendants. She is a fashion designer, and has created a line of female tuxedos. She is unveiling them at her own wedding.

Peaked vs. shawl lapels – to say nothing of all the colours.

One aspect of Alison Alexandra – rarely alluded to – is that in her teens and early twenties, she was a fashion model in Europe. She left the job from boredom after five years, but it is from this enterprise she gained enough sustainable income (via investments) to be left alone, and live the life she lives.

However, her mentor – the fashion designer, Bellissima Isobella – has called her back to do a favour. Bellissima Isobella is getting married, and has created a line of tuxedos for herself and all her attendants. What better way to promote them?

There is the aspect of the tail wagging the dog in this research. And, let me tell you, the Interent is awash with photos of ladies in tuxedos.

Oh – yes.
Alison Alexandra will be in red.
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Christmas Married To A Pagan Feast

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[ABL photo]

“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.”

~ Clement Clarke Moore

 

The first serious snow is falling. Outdoor Christmas lights across the street melt through a cover of snow – a sight I particularly enjoy.  So, I’ll reprint this – albeit edited – from a few years ago. Maybe it will become a tradition.

Christmas is a fake that has taken root like the holly, and it survives tenaciously. It has become a goodies grab fest, and helps keep our commercial society stable. Perhaps reason enough to exist.

The wily Christians conquered the outnumbered Celts, and supplanted their winter festival with the birth of their God. The wily pagans live on in the numerous traditions the Christians stole, so perhaps it is a fair trade. And no doubt those wily pagans chuckle over their cups o’mead, noting that this celebration of reverence has become a surfeit of greed.

I have been no fan of Christmas for decades, but its mixed legacy encourages me not to abandon it. My Christian background enhances my enjoyment of the music and traditions. Most commercial intrusions can be muted or turned off. I do have some personal traditions I follow religiously.

I do not even rail against Santa Claus. I heard his sleigh bells one Christmas Eve, when I was four. I saw his sleigh runner tracks in the snow a couple of years later.

I have even been mistaken for Santa a couple of times. Once, in the line-up in a bank near Christmas, a two-year old pointed at me. Unfortunately, my presence terrified him, and he started to scream and cry. I was wise enough not to go Ho Ho Ho. Another time – but this happened in early fall – a family approached me as I walked in a park. A boy, who looked to be six or seven, stopped in his tracks, then ran back to his parents. “Santa Claus!”  He pointed. Happily he did not cry. They walked past me in silence.

Also, for decades, I lived close to a residence where one of the very first recitations of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas happened. The author of that stirring piece, Clement Moore, who wrote it in 1822, sent a copy to his godfather, the Rev Johnathan O’Dell, of Fredericton New Brunswick. However, the poem was not published until 1837.

To be fair to myself, I’m not a total Scrooge, as I have written some Christmas tales.  Here is a wee segment from The Elephant Talks To God:

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“I want to see you,” said the elephant, and the words raced from his mouth. “I don’t have to see you, you know that. I’ve believed even before you talked to me. But I want to see you, it would mean so much. I wasn’t around for the Baby, but cows and sheep and things got to see Him. I can’t explain but it would … ”

“Go home,” said the cloud.

“You’re not angry with me?” said the elephant.

“No.” The cloud started moving away. “It’s an honest request.” The rain stopped falling. “Thank you for coming.”

“You’re welcome,” said the elephant.

“Sing some carols,” the voice was distant. “I like them.”

The elephant turned and started through the woods. He ignored the tasty leaves within easy reach and the tall grass near the brook. He wanted to get home as quickly as possible so he could join the singing he knew was happening later in the evening.

He turned along the trail, snapping a branch here and there in his haste, when he noticed the stillness, the hush which had overtaken the forest. He slowed down and the stopped in his tracks. He turned his head, his small eyes squinting into the brush. There was movement coming toward him, and when the trees parted, he went to his knees with a gasp. Tears rolled from his eyes, and a golden trunk gently wiped them away.*

*Last line edited from an error in the book.

 

100 Years Ago Love Goes So Terribly Wrong For Kafka

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When I wrote my novel, Kafka In The Castle, filling in all of Kafka’s missing diary entries,  after a few months of writing, I found something very interesting. The day/month/year I was writing about, mirrored the day/month/year in which I was writing.

 

For example, if the 03 of July was a Friday in my writing year, it was also Friday, 03 July in 1917.

 

It was an exciting surprise, and made (I think) for more immediate writing.

When Kafka became so ill he he took leave from his employment, he stayed with his sister Ottla in a village, hours from Prague. The following recounts the visit of his fiance,Felice.

 

Here is 23 &24  September from Kafka In The Castle.

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23 September 1917

The trials of Felice. The trials of Franz. As they are put together in this obscure little village – with animals and harvest and the clatter of waggons without.

Because of the war, her train journey an ordeal of thirty hours. Only to reach this destination. This lover who doesn’t …even have the grace to love another.”

That is something F. can understand.

 

24 September 1917

The two days Felice spent here a trial of misery. A trail of misery. Even – I suspect – when she slept.

It is fortunate that I am ill, for it lets her see me in life, the way I am in spirit. The`me’ she would have to fight against. The `me’ which is always opposed to her.

We shared quiet meals, grateful and annoyed by Ottla’s constant chatter. As good a hostess as possible to this strange, sullen couple.

Ottla must have been thankful that her chores took her away as often as they did. I had no such excuses, yet could offer nothing in their place.

F. and I were truly left to each other, and any thoughts she might still have about us getting married must surely be removed.

When we did talk, it was about the change in seasons, the harvest (she took an interest), her work in Berlin. About my health when I seemed to tire (my weariness not all caused by being sick).

We rarely held hands on our walks – just briefly, in the minutes as we returned.

The few kisses were perfunctory.

Not even for memories of things past.

Kafka In Love – From Letters To The Grave

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(Franz Kafka and Felice Bauer)

Franz Kafka had many lovers in his life. They ranged from Dora Diamant to Felice Bauer.

Dora was his lover at the end of his life. She was twelve years his junior, and had to be restrained from leaping into his open grave.

Felice was engaged to him twice. And, as this excellent article from The Guardian points out, most of their relationship occurred through letters. And those few times they were together were not always filled with bliss.

After The Guardian article are some excerpts from my Kafka in The Castle, also dealing with his relationship with Felice. Poor Felice.

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Franz Kafka’s virtual romance: a love affair by letters as unreal as online dating

His love letters were sent by post rather than email, but Kafka’s affair with Felice Bauer recoiled from reality in a way that has become familiar in the internet age

Looking ahead to modern romance … the statue of a giant rotating head of Franz Kafka by Czech artist David Cerny. Photograph: Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images

Rafia Zakaria

@rafiazakaria

Friday 12 August 2016 12.30 BST Last modified on Friday 12 August 2016 17.23 BST

On 13 August 1912, a summer evening in Prague, a young Franz Kafka was gathering up his manuscripts to take to the house of his friend, Max Brod. His excursion to the Brods’ home late in the evening was not unusual, but this was an unusual night, for two momentous reasons: Kafka was about to send off what would be one of his first works to be published, and that evening he would meet the woman who would dominate his romantic imagination for the next five years.

Felice Bauer, a cousin of the Brod family who lived in Berlin, was travelling through Prague on her way to a wedding. That night, she would meet the intense author at the Brods’ dining table. According to Kafka’s version of the events (and it is the only one we have, since Felice’s letters were destroyed), she did not eat much and seemed reticent when he “offered her his hand across the table”. The few words they exchanged, her demeanour, her slippers, where she sat, where he sat, his invitation that she join him on a trip to Jerusalem, his aching self-consciousness as he (along with Max Brod’s father) walked her home: all of this would form the flimsy foundation on which their relationship was built – one they would conduct almost entirely without seeing each other in person, one that Kafka scholar Elias Canetti dubbed “Kafka’s Other Trial.”.

Despite the relatively short distance between Prague and Berlin, Kafka and Bauer would meet only a handful of times, become engaged twice and never marry. But their correspondence of hundreds of letters – which finished when Kafka wrote the last letter in 1917 and only came to the world’s attention in 1955, when Bauer sold his letters to her – is one of the most poignant chronicles of the human urge to share ourselves, while foregoing the vulnerability that such intimacy creates.

Nothing unites two people so completely, especially if, like you and me, all they have is words

Kafka, in a 1912 letter to Bauer

These days, our world is dominated by the written word more than ever before. While letter-writing declines, in 2015 the average office worker received 121 emails every day, their very own share of the 205bn total sent and received in total. In the second decade of the 20th century, Franz and Felice, toiling in offices in Prague and Berlin, were similarly able to count on correspondence, work and otherwise, delivered several times a day. More urgent messages came via telegram and all of it was routine enough by 1912 to be taken for granted.

Kafka relied on the single medium of his letters to mythologise his romance with Bauer, making it, and consequently himself, far more attractive. (“Nothing unites two people so completely, especially if, like you and me, all they have is words,” he wrote in one letter.) He used the distance between the real and virtual worlds to his advantage, in a way that is familiar today – who of us hasn’t crafted a more perfect version of ourselves, in that separate online world?

Kafka resisted putting their epistolary relationship to the real-life test. After finally agreeing to meet Bauer, he sent a telegram in the morning saying he would not be coming, but went anyway – and remained sullen and withdrawn, later complaining that he had been hugely disappointed with the real Felice.

This was predictable: a month before the visit, Kafka wrote that “if one bolts the doors and windows against the world, one can from time to time create the semblance and almost the beginning of the reality of a beautiful life”. In these words, one could argue, lies a premonition of online romance. What Kafka did in lyrical prose, the rest of us bumble through on social media and dating apps today – enjoying a similar disconnect from reality.

And make no mistake, the virtual nature of their relationship was a deliberate effort on Kafka’s part: his allegiance was to writing, and the love he felt for Bauer was constructed entirely in writing, the content and frequency of which he could control. It was entirely untranslatable into an actual marriage. He’d veer between contradictions on that point, too, at one point gushing that “we belong together unconditionally” only to declare “marriage a scaffold” weeks later.

Reticent or eager, the internet age has made writers of us all, and even if most of us are bad ones, we gather up the small prizes of making ourselves and our virtual crushes look better than we are. Yes, our lusty, emotive missives likely lack the incandescence of Kafka’s prose, but his indulgence of a romance restricted to writing gives email love a useful literary genealogy. Kafka’s fiction has bestowed us with the adjective “Kafkaesque”, pointing to the intersection of the perverse and the grotesque woven into the banalities of modern life. Kafka’s love letters suggest another dimension for the term: that incongruity between who we are and who we want to be, between our desire to share our inner worlds and the fear of experiencing the consequent vulnerability that such exposure would bring into our “real” lives. Connection and isolation each have a cost. Virtual worlds, like letters of old, provide a partition between the two; enabled then by the postal service, and now by digital technology.

Partition, however, is not intersection. In his romance with Felice at least, Kafka found no possibility of merging the two. The intimacy that existed on the page did not translate into attraction in reality. By the time the first engagement was broken, too much had been shared, even if only by letter, so their writing to each other continued regardless.

But by the second engagement, Kafka and Bauer were conclusively forced apart – Kafka’s diagnosis with tuberculosis in 1917 had dashed any prospect of marriage. In his final letter to Felice, he wrote: “If we value our lives, let us abandon it all … I am forever fettered to myself, that’s what I am, and that’s what I must try to live with.”

This was not the end, however, to his penchant for the virtual affair: Kafka wrote his first letter to Milena Jesenska, his subsequent love, in 1920.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/aug/12/franz-kafkas-virtual-world-romance-felice-bauer

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Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

27 February 1917

A letter from F. I am beginning to think that we do not really see the people in front of us. F. has changed from a vibrant companion to a banal drudge. But, of course, she has not really changed. She is neither of these things, but rather a combination. She is a person living through her life, and what I see reflected are my wants and fears. I want F. to share my tiny house, but I am ever fearful she might say yes.

28 March 1917

I have many letters I should write, the principle one being to F. A chore offering little satisfaction, and less pleasure. Except for the relief of knowing it is done. I am an expert in this, since I spend most of my life dealing with chores. The sins of the office will follow me into the third and fourth decade. But what is to be done about Felice? If anything, she is enjoying our correspondence more now, than she ever has. Rarely do we go below the surface of furniture and work. Will this be this, or that be that? If we ever approach the stairway of heaven together, she will be most concerned that the carpeting upon it is expensive and durable.

04 June 1917

Sometimes – with F – a kiss could make me feel I was becoming part of her. And she into me. I retreated.

 

05 June 1917

Had I not retreated, I would have given up myself. This is what is expected from love. My thoughts and emotions would be continually extracted. I have no way to replenish them, so I would eventually be hollowed out. And I would collapse.

 

29 June 1917

Felice is insistent. The heat is intolerable. The Institute drags me in like a bad novel, and smothers me in verbiage. Max threatens to walk out on his wife. Of course, it is to me he gives this threat – I doubt he would ever tell her. Father, with time to think about it, has declared Ottla is too thin and weakened. He was right, he says, the farm work is too much for her. We must all band together to get her back into Prague. “Isn’t that right, Franz?” No `Herr Son’ when he wants something. Bring her back to Prague? After she has escaped? No and never. I would attempt to free the vilest creature crawling in the sewers of Prague.

05 July 1917

I will meet Felice – it is what she wants. It is what must be done. She is coming to Prague, and will no doubt fit in perfectly. My parents approve of her – more, I suspect, than they approve of me. She’ll be insulted by this tiny house – it will be found wanting and crude. Some of those annoying qualities she hints about me.

09 July 1917

We have become engaged for the second time. Joy from my parents. My beaming father. How glad I was that Ottla wasn’t there. I looked around the room and saw what awaited me – overstuffed furniture and mouths full of banality. F. had tea with us, and nibbled on the dainty cakes. And I knew she was taking in each chip of the porcelain to relay to her mother. Weighing and judging.

My father is crude, my mother gushes, but there is obviously money. And, I am a Herr Doktor of Laws, and well advanced up the ladder of bureaucracy. Yes, there are some elements of the brooding author, but that can be restricted to conversations with my friends after dinner on Sunday. Or, a couple of evenings at the coffee house a month. Those should be avenues enough to tend to my funny, little needs. A few hours in the dark, twitching like a timid rodent.

Then, each week could begin anew. We even did our social duties, Felice and I. Visiting friends and relations with the joyous news. In a stiff, high collar which I had to borrow from my father. Much to his delight. We last called upon Max and his wife, as afternoon dragged into evening. Plates of food and platters of words. Max could not take his eyes from my chafing collar, and I knew he wanted to ask about it. But he dared not. Not in front of wife and fiancee. His and mine. He could not contain his smile however. Horror and humour. Mine and his. At least the social niceties were over once we left his house – except, of course, for my walk with F. back to her hotel. She debated whether or not to return to my parents, but I dissuaded her. She might have allowed an embrace on the outside steps, had I but tried. Had I only tried.

But I scuttled away, ascended some other steps, and here I am within this tiny house. The door is open because of the heat, but even had I locked and bared it after me, I fear they all would still enter. Would walk through the walls if necessary. Would scale the castle with ladders, if necessary. They are never going to let me rest. Even as I sleep, they will be lurking in my dreams.

DE

 

Engaged And The Joy Of Marriage From “Kafka In The Castle”

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09 July 1917

We have become engaged for the second time. Joy from my parents. My beaming father. How glad I was that Ottla wasn’t there. I looked around the room and saw what awaited me – overstuffed furniture and mouths full of banality. F. had tea with us, and nibbled on the dainty cakes. And I knew she was taking in each chip of the porcelain to relay to her mother. Weighing and judging.

My father is crude, my mother gushes, but there is obviously money. And, I am a Herr Doktor of Laws, and well advanced up the ladder of bureaucracy. Yes, there are some elements of the brooding author, but that can be restricted to conversations with my friends after dinner on Sunday. Or, a couple of evenings at the coffee house a month. Those should be avenues enough to tend to my funny, little needs. A few hours in the dark, twitching like a timid rodent.

Then, each week could begin anew. We even did our social duties, Felice and I. Visiting friends and relations with the joyous news. In a stiff, high collar which I had to borrow from my father. Much to his delight. We last called upon Max and his wife, as afternoon dragged into evening. Plates of food and platters of words. Max could not take his eyes from my chafing collar, and I knew he wanted to ask about it. But he dared not. Not in front of wife and fiancee. His and mine. He could not contain his smile however. Horror and humour. Mine and his. At least the social niceties were over once we left his house – except, of course, for my walk with F. back to her hotel. She debated whether or not to return to my parents, but I dissuaded her. She might have allowed an embrace on the outside steps, had I but tried. Had I only tried.

But I scuttled away, ascended some other steps, and here I am within this tiny house. The door is open because of the heat, but even had I locked and bared it after me, I fear they all would still enter. Would walk through the walls if necessary. Would scale the castle with ladders, if necessary. They are never going to let me rest. Even as I sleep, they will be lurking in my dreams.

DE

(image) http://static.wixstatic.com/media/ca246f_f0a30bdddff74353b79db12596f98ae9.jpg

God And Death Keep Me From Poetry

(image)
Admittedly,  I had set out later than I should, but the poetry readings were to go from 7-9. Enough time to attend some of them.
However, when I was a few blocks away from the harbour ( I was also going to stop by the harbour first) I heard Latin chanting. I greatly enjoy Latin chanting, so imagine my surprise.
 It turned out there was a large tent set up in a parking lot beside the Roman Catholic cathedral. Six men were chanting a service for a small group. It seemed related (in some way) to the jazz festival happening in the city. They had mics and lights. I lingered by the  fence and listened. Evocative and effective.
I did feel I should go to the poetry readings, so off I went. But I gave in to my temptation of visiting the harbour.
As I sat looking out to sea,  an elderly, white haired man struck up a conversation. A visitor who had arrived by train for a week of vacation. The first vacation without his wife, dead these fourteen months. She was eighty-four. When he said this, he saw the look of surprise on my face.
“Bet you can’t guess my age,” said he.
I answered, with some truth, that I never answer that question.
“Eighty-one,” he said.
I granted I would have shaved a dozen years off his age.
“Married sixty years,” he said. Always had travelled with her. Always went by car. “But it wouldn’t be the same,” he said. So he took the train.
So – yes – I stayed to talk to him.
“Get up every morning to fill the day is my motto,” he said.
I answered his questions about the islands, and if the helicopters flying overhead were military, and if all the ships needed the use of the tugboats we were standing beside, and was there somewhere close he could buy magazines, and how he got this real good travel deal through CAA, and how he talks to everyone.
“Is that really the ocean out there?”
He pointed.
I nodded.
It was.
DE

Kafka In Love

Franz & Felice

Contrary to popular belief, Kafka had a very full love life. He was rarely without a lady friend during any part of his life. When one left, another soon took her place.

This is a letter he wrote to Felice, the woman he was engaged to – twice. I think it fair to say that she was long-suffering. I would think that the sentiments Kafka expresses might have given her second thoughts. Perhaps that is partly why there were two engagements.

Think what one will about Kafka’s romantic abilities, he was a chick magnet. Right to the end. After his funeral his last lover had to be restrained from leaping into his grave to be with him.

DE

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11 November, 1912

Fräulein Felice!

I am now going to ask you a favor which sounds quite crazy, and which I should regard as such, were I the one to receive the letter. It is also the very greatest test that even the kindest person could be put to. Well, this is it:

Write to me only once a week, so that your letter arrives on Sunday — for I cannot endure your daily letters, I am incapable of enduring them. For instance, I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you. I belong to you; there is really no other way of expressing it, and that is not strong enough. But for this very reason I don’t want to know what you are wearing; it confuses me so much that I cannot deal with life; and that’s why I don’t want to know that you are fond of me. If I did, how could I, fool that I am, go on sitting in my office, or here at home, instead of leaping onto a train with my eyes shut and opening them only when I am with you? Oh, there is a sad, sad reason for not doing so. To make it short: My health is only just good enough for myself alone, not good enough for marriage, let alone fatherhood. Yet when I read your letter, I feel I could overlook even what cannot possibly be overlooked.

If only I had your answer now! And how horribly I torment you, and how I compel you, in the stillness of your room, to read this letter, as nasty a letter as has ever lain on your desk! Honestly, it strikes me sometimes that I prey like a spectre on your felicitous name! If only I had mailed Saturday’s letter, in which I implored you never to write to me again, and in which I gave a similar promise. Oh God, what prevented me from sending that letter? All would be well. But is a peaceful solution possible now? Would it help if we wrote to each other only once a week? No, if my suffering could be cured by such means it would not be serious. And already I foresee that I shan’t be able to endure even the Sunday letters. And so, to compensate for Saturday’s lost opportunity, I ask you with what energy remains to me at the end of this letter: If we value our lives, let us abandon it all.

Did I think of signing myself Dein? No, nothing could be more false. No, I am forever fettered to myself, that’s what I am, and that’s what I must try to live with.

Franz

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