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Are You Scared Of Halloween? Don’t Come Up The Stairs!

stairway_to_manhattan

I like Halloween, though I am more prone to appreciate its origins and the additions imposed by those wily Christians, than either on its own. This blend with the new, upstart religion actually keeps alive the foundation of the old. Druids became priests and all’s well with the world. Amen and pass the hollow turnip.

I once had an apartment at the top of a darkened, high-ceiling flight of stairs. Even people who knew me, and came to call, commented that the entrance could make them a tad nervous. It was perfect as an entrance for those trick-or-treaters who dared to try.

As the gates between death and life nudged open a bit, I replaced the usual light bulb with a black light. I spaced a few candles from midway up the steps. I had a prominent jack o’ lantern sitting on a chair at the top landing. I placed a speaker  in the vicinity of the grinning pumpkin and favoured loud Satie, Night On Bald Mountain, Gregorian Chants, and like-minded music. I also had a nice bowl of treats at the top of the stairs, and all who reached it were welcome to take what they wanted.

I had few takers.

One year, when the weather was warm enough to leave the top door open, I sat and listened to the passing traffic of costumed trick-or-treaters. At one point four or so teens clustered at the bottom door. They were in conversation.

“OK. That’s spooky.”

“What’s that music?”

“Are there any other lights in the window?” [Actually there were – candles.]

“You going up?”

You go up!”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hell, no.”

And they didn’t.

(image)schoolofthinking.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/stairway_to_manhattan.jpg

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Franz Kafka Prepares For The End Of Civilization

kafka20strichmaennchen

(Image drawn by Franz Kafka)

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries.  Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village where he is living with his sister for a few months. He speaks the truth, and avoids the truth.

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

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skilful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.

 

16 January 1918

I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.

 

17 January 1918

I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.

Classical Music Shakes The Child

Fortissimo

As a child, sometime before Grade One, I encountered a radio/gramophone combination that frightened the music right out of me.

I assume I must have heard the radio before. And I would think I had heard music before. But maybe not to this degree. And certainly not in such volume.

My visual memory is of the odd configuration to the house. We lived in a flat over a commercial garage. There had to be a number of rooms, but I only remember two large connected rooms, going the length of the house. They were each elongated as it was, and were the stuff of apprehension at the best of times. At dusk, or in the evening, there was the feeling of entering some other world. Not a forest perhaps, but a place of shadows where animals and other assorted unpleasant surprises could stalk my passage. And then – presumably – they could leap out, regardless of how carefully one manoeuvred through the gloom. I don’t know if I ever told my parents of this gauntlet I had to face at certain times of the day. But it certainly gave me pause at the best of times. And dusk was not the best of times. Or a weekend family get together after supper. Which is what I believe this was.

I know I was part way through one of the rooms, and getting ready to enter the other. There was still a distance to walk when a loud noise filled the air. I was frightened, but did not run or duck. I froze. It was music. It would not have been an unknown sound, so that is probably why I did not flee.

However, it was music as I had never heard it. I peered the length of the second room, but saw nothing different. I saw my parents seated – as they often were – beside the radio. They were obviously happy and not frightened by the ‘noise’. I was both stock-still and confused. Since they were not troubled I decided to run to them.

I don’t know if the music was in some manner explained to me (I presume it would have been). What they were listening to was an LP of orchestral classical music. My knowledge now makes me imagine it was something wonderfully bombastic by Tchaikovsky. I presume they might have been playing it louder than their usual radio programs. But it made a stirring impression on me, lasting decades.

DE

(image)

Budapest Classical Music Concerts

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