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Kafka Braves An Ice Storm

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I follow Franz Kafka in my Kafka In The Castle, filling in his lost diary entries. I have him only where he really was, imagining his days. For a number of months he lived, with his sister, Ottla, in the village of Zürau, a couple of hours by train (in those days) outside of Prague. So, if I could actually see out my ice-covered window, past my ice-drooping fir tree, I might see him passing by.

Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle:

05 March 1918

Ice storms the last two days.

It clatters into the chimney, which is quite a startling noise if one happens to be up the stairs, and going about ones usual business. The rattle and ruckus of the ice is an abrasive encounter. More so even than when it beats upon your face as you go along the road. At least there it is expected, and you can be muffled against its intrusion.

Ottla saw to my protective gear, although she did not want me to go out.

Procured, from somewhere, a wide-brimmed hat. Swathed me in scarves up to the eyes. Insisted I put on an outer leather jacket, from which the ice drops merrily bounced. But, she had nothing to offer to assist in the walking. It was, as far as I can compare, like walking through a field of fine salt.

It is not even accurate to say that I slide, for it was actually the ice underfoot which did the sliding. I would find my foot being grabbed and held. I’m sure it was what walking through purgatory would be like.

Spaghetti Before The Storm

pot-619785_640

I was going to make spaghetti for the weekend but an ‘end of the world’ freezing rain storm is (literally) on the horizon, so …

Spaghetti tonight.

And since I did not have enough spaghetti noodles (nor redred wine) I had to brave the mean little snow flakes that felt as if they were cutting my face, and get both.

Happily, all the other ingredients were already in place, and the process began.

Two cans of prepared tomato sauce (with roasted garlic). Two large onions. Two stalks of celery. Five cloves of garlic. Chop everything that is to be chopped, with no piece larger than your thumbnail. Put them into the pot of prepared sauce. Put on low heat.

Take as much lean hamburger as you think is healthy (I stop at a kilogram/two pounds). Put some of the chopped garlic and onion in a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Cook them up until the kitchen smells wonderful. Add the hamburger. Let it all cook as you stir them up. Stop when the meat is brown.

Add the meat to the pot. I never drain. And a half cup of whatever wine you are going to drink with the spaghetti.  And two tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Add a quarter teaspoon of sugar. Bring to a bubbling boil while stirring. Reduce heat and simmer for two hours, stirring a few times per half hour.

Pour on cooked spaghetti noodles.

Sprinkle on an outlandish amount of Parmesan cheese

Drink a glass or two of the wine.

My father, who helped liberate Italy in the Second World War, told of the time he was invited  into a farmhouse to share a meal. Spaghetti sauce was simmering away in a cauldron in a fireplace. He was told that same sauce had been simmering for decades.

[image] https:/cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2015/02/01/16/23/pot-619785_640.jpg

Is It Santa Claus, Or Is It Me, For Christmas?

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Although I am no fan of having the Santa Claus story take such a bite out of Christmas, I’m not against Santa Claus. In fact, we’ve had quite the relationship.

As a child, I had two ‘encounters’ with Santa. I can’t place the years, but I remember them from the houses I lived in.

The first time I would have been no older than five. I was going to the outhouse on a dark Christmas Eve. The outhouse was a couple of minutes walk from the house. On my way, I heard the bells on Santa’s sleigh. Don’t try to dissuade me, I know what I heard. I even remember the direction I had to turn to see if I could see anything. I was right quick about doing my business.

The second time would have been a couple of years later. On Christmas Day I saw the marks from Santa’s sleigh runners on the snow beside the house.  Never mind your smiles, I know what I saw.

And, a few years after that, I was with some younger friends who questioned me about the reality of Santa Claus. Now, by then I did not believe that Santa existed. But, I didn’t want to tell the “children” that. Neither did I want to lie. I don’t know how long it took me to think of a way out, but long enough (obviously) for it to remain strong in my memory. My answer was: “Well, there must be a Santa Claus. How could your parents afford all those gifts?”

In the years when I did a fair amount of house-sitting, I did so for one couple where the husband had a perfect resemblance to Santa Claus. Thus, for many a Christmas, he was the hit of local gatherings. And he had a beautiful suit and hat and – of course – a real beard.

I also know a poet whose first book was about Mrs. Claus. She is also known to dress up the part (even with a Christmas bonnet) and read at Christmas gatherings.

As for myself, one day I entered my financial institution around Christmas and got into line. As we snaked forward, I came opposite a mother and father with a young child. He looked at me and screamed (literally) “Santa Claus!” Then he burst into tears. I don’t know what troubled him (maybe I was out of uniform).

A few years ago, (and this was not around Christmas, though it was Fall) I was walking in a park. A family approached, two parents and three children. One of the boys (and he looked five or six) dashed ahead and stood in front of me. “Santa Claus,” he said. I thought it was some sort of joke, but he turned excitedly to his siblings. “It’s Santa Clause.” He was quite happy. The father said “Maybe not.” but did not really try to dissuade him. And neither did I.

Finally, a few weeks ago, as I was seated beside a very early “Visit Santa” display, an old codger, with whiskers of his own, approached, pushing a walker in front of him. He stopped and looked down at me.

“When do you take the chair?”

“What?’

“And get the red suit on?”

“What?”

“At least ya got the padding for it.”

I think it is fair to say that the twinkle was in his eye, and not mine.

(Image) https://slm-assets2.secondlife.com/assets/8867706/view_large/Santa_Chairs_003B.jpg?1386456018

Who Gets The Bottle Of Wine At The High School Reunion?

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I am putting my hand-written manuscript, There Was A Time, Oh, Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth, into the computer. I was coming to the end of my main character’s (Alison Alexandra) high school reunion.

When I type I aim, at the end of day, to be at the end of one of my hand-written pages.

The folk at the table where Alison Alexandra sat, had all trooped up to get the buffet food. When they returned, there was a bottle of wine on the table, with a bow tied around it,  And a card. I was at the bottom of a page.

But I wanted to know who got the wine. So onward I typed.

I’m guessing (hoping)  if it interests me so much to know who got the wine, the reader will give a “Hoot! Hoot! (as did the folk at the table) when the card is read.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

When they reach the food tables, there is not the curiosity from others concerning who is who. Most are intent about filling plates and returning to their tables.

Everyone at their table is getting steak except for Betty, who has opted for the salmon. She also opts to carry Allan’s plate as she sends him on to the bar to get another round of drinks. She looks at Ed and Lee.

“Are you two satisfied with tea and coffee?  Those drinks they are going to bring to the table, carried by sadly inexperienced students.”

“That’s fine with us,” says Lee. “And we can always snag some bottled water.”

Plate in hand they return to their table. In their absence a plate of rolls and butter has been deposited in the middle. There is also a bottle of red wine, with a bow and a note attached.

“Well, well,” says Betty, wanting to immediately open the unaddressed envelope. “I’ve never seen the like of this.”

“A modest but decent bottle,” says Alison Alexandra.

“Maybe you have a secret admirer,” says Betty.

“Maybe you do,” says Alison Alexandra.

Betty Dragger is taken by surprise at the idea and snorts. She then sees Big Stakes Gamble approaching, and clears some space for the drinks he is carrying. He is fast at a sip of his beer before he speaks.

“Who got the wine?”

“We don’t know,” says Betty.

“Then someone should open the card.” He picks up the bottle and hands it to Ed.  “And that sounds like a job for an officer of the law.”

Ed is not sure if a joke is being played, and if it is being played on him. He is as curious as not, so he takes the knife beside his plate and slits open the envelope. He reads the card and laughs.

(Image)https://static.vecteezy.com/system/resources/previews/000/000/624/non_2x/red-wine-bottle-vector.jpg

Winter In Canada With Bear And Dog And Snow

After a late winter snow storm, Grosvenor Park, North Bethesda, MD, USA.

I post this winter tale  when the snow decides to storm and the wind shakes the trees and there in nary a bird to see. It happened a few years ago, and hints at the rougher side of Nature, which is so often just around the corner in Canada.

Some years in the past, I looked after a dog whilst her owners went out of town.

Tibbit is a big, friendly dawg who likes inspecting piles of leaves. She has a long lead which her benevolent human allows to go as far as possible. She knows (better than her accompanying human) that there are treats at the end of each walk.

On Saturday I didn’t get Tibbit out until after dark. We skirted the university (where her masters work) and went up a street bordering the campus. We both liked the Christmas lights. Near the top of the street we met an inebriated gentleman warning us of a bear in the surrounding woods.

“Flush him out,” said he, “And I’ll get my 3 aught 3.”

“Get the rifle first,” I replied, and we went our respective ways.

Now Tibbit and I doubted the veracity of the gentleman, so when we came to a trail through the woods, we took it. I will admit I did peer more intently into the gloom than usual, but one trail led to a larger trail which led back to the university. We advanced without incident.

On Sunday I again walked Tibbit toward the university, though from a different direction. It was a crisp, clear day and she gamboled (as much as the leash allowed ) through the new fallen snow. Sunshine gleamed. This time we were on the other side of the campus, but our walk eventually led to a position about half a mile away from where we were the previous evening.

We followed another trail into the woods and admired the sun through the fir trees. The path was wide and sloped. It came to turn some distance away which would lead us even closer to where we were the day before.

At the top of the slope Tibbit stopped dead in her tracks. She stared and stared. She glanced briefly into the woods but mainly kept staring along the trail. I saw nothing nor heard anything (and I was intent upon both).

Tibbit did not move and made not a sound. She just kept staring.

After a solid two minutes of this I started to backtrack and she made no complaint.

You betcha she got her dog treats.

(image)buckscountyandbeyond.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Winter-Storm-1-26-15-1024×770.jpg

The Baby Jesus Worked Overtime

Grand-River-Valley
I am not, and have not been for decades, a great fan of Christmas. It is more of a chore than a snore. But I don’t blame Jesus.
However, as I wended my way westward for the season, I was given a Christmas gift I would never have expressed that I wanted. It was a rustic blend of the old times and the old ways, which I’m led to believe is – in great part – what Christmas is all about.
For part of the trip, the bus took the *old* route. I imagine I had not been along that stretch of rural road for a quarter of a century. I later queried the driver about this change in the usual way. I was told that, at this holiday time of year and night, traffic on the major highway in and out of the city was massive. The roads avoiding the main highway were a time-saver.
It was a back, country road, after dark, single lane in both directions. Many of the country, rural, and village houses were alight  with Christmas decorations. Poor and rich alike. External and internal Christmas trees, with multi-coloured lights, or of a solid hue. Flashing, twinkling, changing colour, or one solid block of light.
The outside lights were festooned on everything. In addition to trees, they outlined windows, eves and chimneys. They were strung on shrubs, bushes and hedges. They adorned mailboxes, carts, rows of chopped wood, outbuildings and barns. There were a couple of waggons and one vintage automobile with their own outline of Christmas lights.
In addition to the festive additions, just being on the back roads was a memory adventure. There was no (admittedly efficient, but boring) straight highway with, across a grass verge, two streams of vehicles going in the other direction. No uniform band of trees across the uniform ditch to the side. No seemingly endless Endless.
No, this road had dips, and hills, and curves. You could see if a car was approaching by noting their lights shining on the telephone wires (I had forgotten that). There were wrought-iron bridges going over streams and small rivers, that rattled and rumbled as the heavy bus crossed them. There were pastures without their cows, vistas to darkened hills beyond, and actual forest where wild animals prepared for their sleep.
It took me back to my distant youth, it did. I do so enjoy driving at night (as long as I’m not the driver).
See – it’s already a Merry Christmas.

Kafka Settles Into December from “Kafka In The Castle”

Franz-Kafka-em-Praga-1922

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.

In these entries, the chill of winter begins to settle over the chill of his life.

10 December 1916

My father is so suspicious, he rarely suspects what is really going on around him. He has no idea that Ottla has rented this house, or that I come here like a thief in the night. He would think that it is another plot against him. And, he is right about the plots – but he’ll never realize they are done solely for defensive purposes. Which is a shame, for he fully appreciates self-preservation.

Of course, even I do not fully know Ottla’s reasons for renting this tiny house. I suspect a young man is involved, but I will keep my queries to myself. It is not the place to bring Felice – but is nice enough to set out on new adventures. I’ve had adventures in less suitable surroundings. The shop girls. The hotels with their chilly rooms.

12 December 1916

Max wants me to publish more. He may even wish upon me the horror of his own proliferation. His novels, and stories, and all his comments and reviews about the “arts”. I do not tell him this, for I think he would be greatly offended, but much of the time my opinions do not even interest me.

 

14 December 1916

Overheard a woman talking to Max today – complained of being lonely. But what it sounded like to me was that she was only tired. She had children at home, family in the neighbourhood, and friends (obviously) whom she could talk to. Yet, she chooses to feel lonely. Yes, her husband is in the war, but a partial loss does not make one lonely. Perhaps alone – but that is entirely different. Being lonely is waking from a nightmare, and realizing there is no one to wake you.

Interview With National Radio Some Years Ago (But Most Answers Remain The Same)

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I came across a transcript of this at the end of last year. It’s not that I forgot it, but it took me some time to remember it.

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

1. What unique challenges do you face when writing about serious
non-fiction issues such as religion?

I WRITE about spiritual matters and leave religion to others. The spirit and its quests drive religion – religion just interprets. The biggest challenge I faced in THE ELEPHANT TALKS TO GOD is that the Elephant started asking questions I could not answer. Thus endeth the book.

2. You wrote The Elephant Talks to God in 1989. Why did you decide to
re-release it with the added stories rather than write a sequel?

THIS WAS the decision of the publisher, Goose Lane. When they approached me for a re-issue they were unaware of the additional stories. It was decided the marketplace would prefer one longer book over two shorter ones. Having just one book also reduced production costs, which in turn reduced consumer cost.

3. Why did you decide to become a writer?

“I WAS born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” This quote from Leonard Cohen sums it up. Not “born” this way exactly, but within one month in grade eleven I went from ‘no writing’ to ‘continually writing’. I have no explanation. I had no previous interest nor inclination toward the arts, or writing. I was not a reader, and only after university deliberately read such children’s classics as Black Beauty and Alice in Wonderland.

4. What books or authors have most influenced your life?

POSSIBLY P.G. WODEHOUSE was the most influential author in my formative period. I even sent him a fan letter and received a response. In university I experienced Franz Kafka, and I believe I have read everything of his in print. Much later I visited Prague to research a novel I have since written about him. There are reports of ‘missing’ stories and diaries of Kafka still in Berlin, which I would dearly love to find.

5. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good
writing?

SURPRIZE, HUMOUR and reality. ‘In context’ (it doesn’t matter what the genre) I want to be surprized by what is happening, yet fully believe in the reality created in the book. And somewhere, at least once, every character in every novel should make me laugh at least once.

6. What are you reading right now?

“WICKED” BY Gregory Maguire. His abilities as a writer astound me. I am a slow reader, and seemingly getting slower. Soon (?) to be read will be Alice Munro’s “The View from Castle Rock ” and John LeCarre’s “The Mission Song”, both requested Christmas presents. I also do a lot of research for my novels, and will embark upon histories of China in the near future.

7. What advice would you give to writers starting out?

I HAVE two steadfast rules, one put into rhyme. “When in doubt/take it out.” Regardless of the wonder of the poetic line, or the awe of the slice of dialogue, if you have any questions about its effectiveness, that is reason enough to remove it.
The other concerns the physical writing itself. At the end of your writing day, and you know what the next line of dialogue is, or the description you are going to write, or the next line of the poem – DON”T write them down. Start with them the next day, and you will quickly get back into the writing. I find this works 90% of the time.

8. Describe your writing process.

I’M A morning writer, roughly from 9:00 until 15:00. There’s a meal in there, and research and email and such, but I will generally complete two pages a day. I generally write seven or eight days straight and then take one off. At the start of a novel I have a well developed outline and characters, though I rarely write such things down. I find that at the end of a novel I spend an additional third of the writing time editing what is done. I usually complete a novel in two years.

9. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome
it?

THREE MONTHS of writer’s block during my second novel has (so far) been my experience with this curse (knock knock knock on wood). I sat at the desk literally for hours per day attempting to continue. I think I wrote five paragraphs in that time. I know of no way to overcome it other than attempting to write each day. My number two tip in question #7 will help in avoiding writer’s block.

10. Naturally, most writer want as many people as possible to read
their work. Who did you have in mind when you were writing this book,
the “believers” or the “non-believers”?

BRITISH PUBLISHER Joseph Dent introduced “Everyman’s Library” in the early 1900’s (which is now published by Penguin Random House UK). As my mother was from England and my father was a proud UEL, there were many of these books when I was growing up. Everyman’s Library had a motto at the beginning of each book:        “Everyman, I will go with thee/and be thy guide,/ in thy most need/ to go by thy side.”     This is what came to mind when thinking of who I write for. I did not write for either believers or non-believers. I wrote for everyone, and my job is to make them accept that the The Elephant believes. 

DE

The Dog and The Bear

One Christmas season some years ago, I looked after a dog whilst her owners went out of town. Tibbit is a big, friendly dawg who likes inspecting piles of leaves. She has a long lead which her benevolent human allows to go as far as possible. She knows (better than her accompanying human) that there are treats at the end of each walk.

On Saturday I didn’t get Tibbit out until after dark. We skirted the university (where her masters work) and went up a street bordering the campus. We both liked the Christmas lights. Near the top of the street we met an inebriated gentleman warning us of a bear in the surrounding woods.

“Flush him out,” said he, pointing at the dog, “And I’ll get my 3 aught 3.”

“Get the rifle first,” I replied.

We went our respective ways. Now Tibbit and I doubted the veracity of the gentleman, so when we came to a trail through the woods, we took it. I will admit I did peer more intently into the gloom than usual, but one trail led to a larger trail which led back to the university. We advanced without incident.

On Sunday I again walked Tibbit toward the university, though from a different direction. It was a crisp, clear day and she gamboled (as much as the leash allowed ) through the new fallen snow. Sunshine gleamed. This time we were on the other side of the campus, but our walk eventually led to a position about half a mile away from where we were the previous evening.

We followed another trail into the woods and admired the sun through the fir trees. The path was wide and sloped. It came to turn some distance away which would lead us even closer to where we were the day before. At the top of the slope Tibbit stopped dead in her tracks.

She stared and stared. She glanced briefly into the woods but mainly kept staring along the trail. I saw nothing nor heard anything (and I was intent upon both). Tibbit did not move and made not a sound. She just kept staring. After a solid two minutes of this I started to backtrack and she made no complaint.

You betcha she got her dog treats.

DE

(photo) http://cwf-fcf.org/assets/images/resources/newsletters/wildlife-update/2009/sep09/black-bear-480.jpg

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