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At Work And Play In Europe Long Before The Euo

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I first visited Europe years before the Euro was the accepted coin of the realm. In fact, there were many coins of many realms, and all that money caused a fuss. This was partially rectified by using Traveller’s cheques. And though Traveller’s cheques are still available, their use is not recommended, as so many places won’t even take them.

I kept a daily diary of this trip, and plan to make it a part of any memoirs I might write. So I’ve hauled it out and will make some blogs from it. But they will be greatly abridged

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May 28

Berlin, a city (to say the least) that I had heard about, once upon a time. It’s most noteworthy fame, in my opinion, the capital of Hitler’s Germany. And the present, the only city cut in twain by a wall – that infamous wall which causes so much consternation. And I was landing there – and walking into history.

We eventually arrived at the Youth Hostel, or Red Cross building, or whatever it really was. It was a cold, grey, imposing stone structure that reminded me of a second-rate castle somewhere in the Alps. It was plain and simple, there was never any hot water. I was very tired and dead feeling, so I grabbed a bottom bunk and rested/slept for a few hours. I eventually roused myself and went to take a shower. I do not know how the Germans managed to do it (they manage to do many things), but they were able, by some device, to get their water straight from the head ponds of Siberia.

I went out for a walk after my shower, not so much to sight see as to thaw. I didn’t go very far, just looked in some store windows, and went down to the end of the road, a short distance really, for it ended quite quickly with an old, decrepit-looking wall. I thought to myself, that if this were all the East Germans had to get over, there wouldn’t be much trouble to do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gap Year Sets You Loose Upon The World

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I was pleased as punch when I realised the other day that I had taken a Gap Year many years ago. And I was surprised to find that ‘Gap Year’ is a term which started in the 1960s. I rather thought it was from Academia in England from centuries ago.

I was correct to associate Gap Year with travel to new places, or a time to do good deeds. But also – happily – it was also a year between high school and university for students to take a turn in the real world through gainful employment.

The latter was me – admittedly edged forward by the fact that my Algebra marks were deplorable. I got an almost immediate job as an Apprentice Plate Maker in a printing shop. I doubt such a job exists anymore.

My job was two-fold. I placed negatives of photos and text on a metal plate, that had a mixture of chemicals hardened to its surface. Then I placed the metal plate, with negatives, in front of two burning pieces of a substance I no longer remember. They looked like two large and thick pencils. I believe an electrical current set the pencils alight, and the resulting, concentrated fire, burned all the chemical surface off the metal plate, except for the part covered by the negatives. The end result was a metal plate with nothing but the required image upon it.

The metal plate was then coated in ink, which only adhered to the raised image. The image was then transferred to paper and cardboard, making logos (we did many spice labels) plus photos and text. There would be a separate metal plate created for each different colour.

Thus went my Gap Year, which lasted fourteen months. No travels of the world, and no altruistic attempts to make the world a better place.

But I did help sell spice.

(image)https://capricornreview.co.za/wp-content/uploads/sites/71/2015/12/shutterstock_1104332271.jpg

In The Heat On The Way To Dachau

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This heat (which seems to be a stubborn fixture) takes me back to my university days, when I worked on a farm in Germany in lieu of getting into a Goethe Institute. It was a particularly hot summer, and much was made of it. I am very glad I am not working there this summer. It was not particularly taxing farm work. I could describe how I painted apple trees with a chemical compound to keep foraging sheep at bay. Or how I escaped from the midst of a herd of bulls after breaking my whip on one of their backs – but I won’t.  However, if ever I  get to my memoirs . . .

After the farm I travelled through Germany and parts of Europe,  mostly by train.  One of my stops was Munich where, as often as not, I stayed in a Youth Hostel. And there I met the Jewish gal on her way to Dachau. She was from the US and not on a work experience as was I. Dachau was a specific destination. She either borrowed postage stamps from me, or I from her – I don’t remember though I know we exchanged them.  We had the part of two days together (no – no night) and then she was on her way. I don’t remember if she asked me to accompany her to Dachau, but I think not. Although I was on my way to Britain to visit relatives, I believe I could have taken that extra day.

As it was, we exchanged addresses and upon our return home we wrote letters. And, as it was, we arranged a visit to my New Brunswick home from her New England home.  That was quite a leap for less than twenty-four hours together. And, she must have been a bit concerned when, as I drove her through thick New Brunswick woods after sunset  after picking her up at the airport, I stopped in the middle of nowhere for two hitch hikers. I remember the deep smell of pine from their clothes, as they had been working in the woods.

She stayed with my parents and I four days (no nights there, either – though there were a couple of parked car intervals). She told me that when her mother was talking to her grandmother on the phone about the trip, she heard her grandmother bellow across the room “IS HE JEWISH?”

Thus does memory flow from a post card.

I don’t, alas, remember her last name (this being some years ago). At the time she was studying to be an air traffic controller. Whether she  became one and whither she went I do not know. When I last communicated with her she was attending Brown University. She did not discuss Dachau with me.

Trump And A Nazi Walk Into A Bar

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~ Willkommen, Mein Führer.

~ Now cut that out.

~ But we are at your service.

~ You good old boys are giving me a bad name.

~ We support you in your Holy Crusade.

~ To make America great again?

~ If those are the code words you want to use.

~ The words are broad … and vague.

~ You should be more exact.

~ Like ‘living space’?

~ The Volk liked that phrase – they understood we needed land.

~  Old times. Today they understand ‘the wall’. Believe me.

~  We’ll help you build your wall.

~  By driving cars into people?

~  There’ll always be the crazies.

~ Don’t I know it.

~ We can’t keep tabs on everyone.

~ Don’t I know it.

~ We’ll sacrifice the schmuck.

~ Yeh – but. Tell me this one thing.

~ What?

~ Torches?

~ What?

~ Did you morons really have to use torches?

DE

(image)https://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/styles/article_small/public/thumbnails/image/2017/08/12/09/virginia-torch-protest-salute.jpg

Memoir Of The Chickens And The Nazi

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An Oldie Rock station just played Spinning Wheel by Blood, Sweat And Tears. This always – always – brings back my memories of working on a farm in Germany during my university days. It was a hit of the time.

And, since I am currently well into reading Alan Bennett’s new Memoirs, Keeping On, Keeping On, I did what I have not done for years. I excavated my Journals about my three month summer in Europe, and turned to the day which mirrors this.  And, since it proved to be a notable day, I’ll transpose it verbatim (well, except I’ll clean up the spelling).

18 June

An interesting day, in a rather strange way. I got to work some of the morning with the hired hand, Herr Steiner, alone. He could speak no English and I was surprised that I could converse with him as well as i could (we had lots of time and I could speak slowly and I could think things out. We were, as a point of interest, filling wool sacks.


He told me that he  did not care for the place very much and was planning to leave soon. I can not say that he gave me ideas. I already had them.

And then the other interesting queer occurrence. I am tempted to drag all the dramatic interest I can out of this episode, but I may as well tell it in a simple manner, for it happened in a simple way.

I was going into one of the egg houses to collect the noon-time eggs, and as i stepped through the door, I saw it. Now, I had been collecting eggs there twice a day for two weeks, and had never once noticed what i now saw.

There was a swastika scrawled on one of the walls. It was covered in dust (like everything else) and something beside it has been scratched over. I suppose one can not think of Germany without thinking of the Hitler era, and I had wondered what I would do or think if I came across something like this. I had made jokes about the Bunker on the back forty, or the tattered painting of Hitler in the attic.

I put the thing down to its most logical explanation, the imitative scrawl of a six or seven year old child. Even so, rather bigger thoughts went through my head every time I saw someone use a whip rather forcefully.

DE

(image) https://i.cbc.ca/1.3995470.1487856081!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/racist-grafitti.jpg

Birthdays Bring Thoughts And Pictures From The Past

 

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Birthdays make me (surprise) ponder the past.

My great friend and writing mentor, Nancy Bauer, as wise as the ears she sometimes writes about, in the past had mentioned the Past on Facebook. One of the responses to her comment spoke about our mutual times with a fluid writing group, in the gathering place fondly known as The Ice House.

That reminded me of this past blog of mine. It is centred around The Ice House and the passage of time. I’m sure Nancy, who writes a weekly newspaper column and has, occasionally, some trouble thinking of topics, will allow me to modify and steal from myself.

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I came across an announcement today about a memorial reading for the Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan. One of my claims to fame is being mistaken for Alden – sadly three years after he died. Perhaps I had had a rough night the night before. At any rate, at this memorial reading a number of the readers are known to me and come from my ‘era’. One of the things some of us shared was that we were members of the same writing group. This group met on Tuesday nights for two to three hours, reading and commenting on each others work. Save for one Master’s Thesis that I know of, not enough has been written about this long-lasted group. And much could be written. Many notables passed through the door and many eventually-established authors emerged.

Although the building where we met had the proper name of McCord Hall, it was in fact the very old converted Ice House of the University of New Brunswick. It had been turned fancy with wooden beams and high windows and a long impressive wooden table. The Ice House is in current use as I speak, designated as an English Graduate seminar room. There is even coffee.

 

Indeed, just recently I wrote a brief story about the Ice House for a CBC contest. It went, in its entirety:

When the august Ice House Gang was in its writing heyday at the University of New Brunswick, the saintly Nancy Bauer was looked upon as our revered Mentor. She was calm and fair, even to the untutored and raunchy. Once, while one of our more seamy members was reading out-and-out pornography, I began to rub my foot against her leg. A look of confusion crossed her face and then, with a voice etched in acid, she loudly announced: “That Estey is feeling me up under the table.”

 
I did not win.

However, perhaps the reason is because of the following. This is part of the description of the memorial reading for Alden:

Along with Nowlan, former University of New Brunswick professor Bob Gibbs was a member of the “Ice House Gang”, a group of faculty members and writers who would gather in an old stone hut on College Hill.

I know much is in the eye of the beholder, but…

DE

Beavers And Lord Beaverbrook And a Coat of Arms

Yesterday I wandered the campus of my alma mater, The University Of New Brunswick. A beautiful autumn day of sunshine and warmth, encouraging much walking and sitting. I also went into some of the buildings, one of which was the Harriet Irving Library, where I studied and also worked. The library is greatly changed, but one room remains much the same. It is the Lord Beaverbrook Room, so named because the personal library of that Lord and benefactor is housed there. Winged leather chairs and wood panelling. Foot stools.

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I sat in one of those red leather chairs and picked a book solely because it was shelved upside down. It happened to describe the trial and execution of Charles I. I read a good half hour. It was only as I was going to put the book back that I noticed Lord Beaverbrook’s Coat of Arms on a sticker on the inside. And then I was taken by the fact that there were two anemic and mink-like beavers depicted, each holding a fish in its mouth. Beavers are vegetarian.

I can find no illustration of this coat of arms, but have found this description:

Arms: Argent two barrulets wavy Azure between in chief two maple leaves slipped and in base thistle eradicated Gules a bordure Sable charged with eight bezants.
Crest: Upon a drum Proper a cock [cockerel] Gules wattled armed and legged Or.
Supporters: Or either side a beaver reguardant holding in the mouth a fish Proper.

All this put me in mind of an encounter with real beavers that I had a few years ago. Perhaps the creator of Lord Beaverbrook’s Arms should have been walking with me.

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. For me an experience of a lifetime.

DE

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