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The Titanic And Her Dead And Long Buried

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The Titanic was recently in the news. The first drive to the sunken ship in fourteen years reveals that it is deteriorating at a rapid rate. It is literally falling apart.

Not long ago I visited the dead from the Titanic, buried in graveyards in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I went to the Mount Olivet Cemetery, where nineteen of the dead are buried. Mount Olivet is A Roman Catholic cemetery, and the bodies had identification, or at least clues, that they belonged to that Faith.

Four of the bodies are unidentified. The listing of the others include designations from first (1) to third class (8);  waiters (3); pastry chef (1); fireman(1);  bass violinist (1).

The violinist, John F. P. Clarke, was one of the ship’s band. The band of the Titanic entered the land of fame and lore for their exploits during the hours of the actual sinking. They played on deck, amid the turmoil of frantic passengers, the lowering of the too few lifeboats, and the outright fear and panic surrounding them, as the Titanic inched closer and closer to its destruction.

I leave him for the last because of what I found at his grave site. Beside his individual burial marker, someone had placed a small red box, that could fit in the palm of your hand.

Inside the box was: “SPECIAL Double Bass Resin FOR Cold Weather” By the Hidersine Co. Ltd – made In England.”

It had not been used.

 

[Image] inapcache.boston.com/universal/site_graphics/blogs/bigpicture/titanic_040612/bp25.jpg

Kafka Never Slept In This Prague Hotel

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When I visited Prague to research my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I went to many of the places that were part of  Kafka’s life. One such place – the small house where he wrote a whole book of short stories – became a setting for a third of my novel.

However,the building where he was employed, The Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague, I only saw at a distance across a Square. It was not a happy place for Kafka, though he was very successful at his employ, and rose to an administrative position of importance. It was not really much of a setting for my novel.

 

That building is now a fancy hotel, and Kafka’s office is a room for rent. It is even designated The Franz Kafka room, and contains mementos. It is where I plan to stay when next I visit. I hope there is not a long list of folk wishing to spend the night there, too. It even includes a restaurant named after his fiancée, Felice.

 

Following is some information about the hotel, and some photos of the room.

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The hotel is situated in the heart of Prague, next to the Old Town Square, where the famous medieval astronomical clock is mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall. The Neo-Baroque building was built in the 19th century by Alfonse Wertmuller, a famous architect in Prague. It was formerly the office of the Workers’ Accident Insurance of Kingdom of Bohemia, where Franz Kafka worked as an insurance clerk from 1908 to 1922. His spirit can still be felt in the hotel, as his bronze bust welcomes guests in the lobby in front of the majestic stairs.
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room
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In addition, this is one of the few diary entries I wrote, set in his office building,

 
Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

16 February 1917

There was a commotion at the office today. It was late morning, and from far below, coming up the stairwell, I could hear a voice bellowing: “Doktor Kafka. Doktor Kafka.” It was a terrible voice, full of blood and darkness.

I got from my desk and went to the door. There were other voices, trying to calm, saying: “He can’t be disturbed.” But the voice was louder, more horrible, close in the corridor.  “Doktor Kafka – for the love of God.”   My secretary wanted me to stay inside, hoped the man would just move along the corridor until the police were summoned.

But – I was curious; the man had my name, and his voice was … terrified.

I opened the door and stood in front of it.  “I’m Kafka,” I said. The man lunged at me, and went to his knees.  “Doktor Kafka?” he said.  “Yes, I’m Kafka.” He reached out, grabbing for my hand.  “Jesus, Jesus, for the love of Jesus – they say that you’ll help me.”

He was a heavy man, and looked as if he had the strength to pull off doors, yet the tears burst from his eyes.  “I can get no work. I fell from a bridge, and my back is twisted and in pain.” He slumped against the wall, looking at my eyes.  “I have a family, Doktor Kafka. A baby not a year old.”  “You were working on this bridge?” I asked.  “Yes.” His voice slid down his throat. “I was helping repair the surface.”  “Then you deserve your insurance. Why can’t you get it?”

He straightened up, and tried to stand. “I have to fill in papers; the doctor can see no wounds; the foreman said I drank; because my brother is a thief, I am not to be trusted.” I held out my hand, and he slowly stood. “I’m telling you the truth, Doktor Kafka.”

“If that is so,” I said, “you’ll get the money due you.”  “I’m so tired,” he said.

I gave instructions to those standing around – no other work was to be done until this man’s case was decided. I took him to my office, where he sat.

He sat – practically without a word – for five hours. I summoned a prominent doctor to look at him. The doctor prodded, and the man screamed. Officials from his village were telephoned. I helped him with the details on the forms. His truth was in his pain. He left our stony building with money in his hand, and his worth restored.

The people who assisted me had smiles on their faces.

A man had needed their help.

Altered History With Hitler And Kafka

 

10

[Kafka’s passport]

There are rumours (none of them started by me) that Kafka had direct dealings with Einstein, Joyce, and even Hitler.

The first two are more than possible. Einstein taught at Charles University when Kafka was a student there. Joyce was in Prague when Kafka lived there. It is quite probable they travelled in the same literary circles. Went to the same coffee houses (which Kafka frequented). Attended the same readings, or literary events, or even book stores.

The Hitler connection is far more tenuous, but based on fact. Hitler was treated, in Munich, by a doctor who had dealt with Kafka’s family in Prague. And Kafka did visit Munich in the right time frame. Kafka did, after all, predict Hitler’s world as much as he did the Communists.

Although I have, in my novel about Kafka,  “filled in” his missing diaries, I never give him such speculative encounters – tempting though it was. All events in my Kafka novel are based on detailed research from his own writings, writings of his friends, and multiple biographies.

I have written one short story that is totally speculative, where Kafka is encouraged to meet “the Austrian with the tiny mustache”, so as to kill him and stop an impending terrible war. And save his sisters from the camps.  But that doesn’t  happen in my fiction, either.

The Naked Man Roller Skates To The Flatiron Building In New York

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After decades, Macmillan, the publisher that produced my two novels, has left the Flatiron Building in New York. I am surprised that this news causes such a pang. But then, those days were exciting and unique

The first description following, is my blog where I describe my first meeting with my editor. During my first trip to New York. Where I first entered the Flatiron Building

The second article is by an editor at Macmillan, describing what it was like to leave the Flatiron Building and move elsewhere.

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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 some 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.

However, 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.

[Image]https://untappedcities-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/featured-flatiron-buildingknyc-untapped-cities1-1.jpg

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Bidding Farewell to the Flatiron Building

Kat Brzozowski, in a photo taken from CEO John Sargent’s office on the Flatiron’s 19th floor.

Today’s the first day that Mac Kids is in our new home at 120 Broadway. We spent the past few weeks packing our work belongings in orange crates, preparing to settle into the Equitable Building in the Financial District, trading our beloved triangle for an H-shaped office (because what would Macmillan be without an unusual layout?). I still remember arriving at the Flatiron Building for my first day 10 years ago. I looked up at the building in awe, thinking, “I can’t believe I get to work there.”

Walking through the Flatiron Building was like traveling through a science museum that showcases different ecosystems—the rainforest, the desert, the tundra. In your office on the 7th floor, you’d be stripped down to a tank top, sweating, with the AC blasting even though it was full-on snowing outside. But travel to the 10th floor conference room, and you’d be covered head to toe, wrapped up in an actual blanket, shivering.

The bathrooms alternated by floor—men on even, women on odd—and we all knew which bathrooms to avoid (the ones so small you’d be bumping elbows with your boss on the way out), and the ones that a friend called “destination bathrooms” (11, with its large waiting area; 19, with a gorgeous view of the city). Those bathrooms were worth the elevator ride. And who knows, while you were waiting—which could take a while—you might run into Jill Biden, or Tyra Banks, or Jim Carrey.

At my first job at Macmillan, at Thomas Dunne Books, I worked on the 17th floor in a sectioned-off area we called “the annex,” but which I thought of as Narnia. No one could ever find me, because my desk was accessed through a door that not every floor had. Yes, every floor was different, giving the building a funhouse feeling as you wove left and right, searching for the conference room or the kitchen anew with each floor.

And each company felt as unique and as special as its floor plan. Mac Kids, where I work now, was a wonderland, with framed art crowding the walls, brightly colored board books packed onto shelves next to classics, and a sparkling energy fueled by employees whose early lives were shaped by books. Walk by one office and you may spy a menagerie of life-size zoo animals, painted freehand by a famous illustrator. Where else but the Flatiron can an artist paint on the walls?

There’s no experience similar to working in the Flatiron Building. We’d bemoan the lack of conference rooms, then brag to our friends that we got to work in that building. We’d complain about the fact that we needed our key cards to get from one side of the floor to the other, then we’d pour out of the doors at lunchtime to get burgers at Shake Shack, or a BLT at Eisenberg’s, or a flat white at Birch Coffee, a plethora of delicious (and affordable) options spread out in front of us like a glorified mall food court. We’d tell our authors, “Don’t get your hopes up, it’s not that nice inside,” then see their eyes light up as they took out their phones to snap a shot from the point office, with views that stretched all the way to Times Square, with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building so close you felt you could reach out and touch them.

That feeling I had on my first day in 2009 hasn’t gone away. I’ve felt it again and again over the past 10 years, the magic of seeing something from a postcard come to life in front of me. Farewell, Flatiron Building. You’re leaving a triangle-shaped hole in our hearts.

Kat Brzozowski is senior editor at Swoon Reads/Feiwel & Friends.

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/80191-bidding-farewell-to-the-flatiron-building.html

“Kill Me, Or You Are A Murderer.”

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Franz Kafka was born in 1883, so he would probably be dead had he lived.

I wonder what Kafka would think about the worldwide communication and information of today. He was a rigid fixture of the staid (he hated using the telephone). He also was a keen observer of the world around him (he wrote the first newspaper report about aeroplanes, and he invented the safety helmet). It was more this deep divide in his personality which caused him his problems, about which he so famously wrote.

He did not fit into his personal world, yet he fit into the real world perfectly. He was adored by his friends and by many ladies. He was respected at his work and rose to a position of power. His stories were published to acclaim in his lifetime.

Kafka lived a Kafkaesque life. He died a Kafkaesque death (he caught tuberculosis because he drank “pure” unpasteurised cow’s milk). He was rigid in his personal beliefs (until proved wrong), yet he was a beacon of compassion to others.

Kafka was always on a tightrope. He looked at things with such accuracy that his comments can seem bizarre. Supposedly his last words were:  “Kill me, or you are a murderer.” They were to  his doctor, as Kafka beseeches for an overdose of morphine.

I have written much about Kafka. This is a diary entry I had him write in my novel Kafka In The Castle:

03 July 1917

The anniversary of my birth. In honour of the day, I do not make it my last.

When Murder Stalks The House Where You Live

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As fodder for a writer, I have had the good luck to have two murderers as neighbours. Well . . . almost. One committed his murder a month before he was to move in, the other committed his murder years after he moved out. But, still – it’s the spirit of the intent.

Murderer Two lived in the apartment directly across the hall from me many a long year ago, and committed his murder last year. With a knife. The other murderer used a knife, also. Small world.

While living across the hall from me, Murderer Two was often a cause of disruption. He was prone to parties with unruly and uncontrollable guests. I arrived home one afternoon to an event of screaming proportions occurring across the hall. I was within minutes of phoning the police when someone else did so. Police cars and vans appeared on the street and in the driveway. Ten to a dozen officers entered the raucous apartment. People in various states of inebriation and addiction were taken away. Murderer Two was found hiding in his closet. He did not return.

Last year Murderer Two was charged with the murder of his room mate. No party, though they were both drunk. He claimed self-defence, though the victim was stabbed twelve times. It was established stab number nine was the death blow. He was found guilty of second-degree murder.

Murderer One was a month away from moving into the apartment across the hall from me. He was going to replace one of the occupants moving out. One evening however, he visited the apartment past mid-night. He arrived in a taxi. He had a dispute with the taxi driver (over what, was never clear, but probably lack of payment). From the back seat he slit the driver’s throat and fled the scene. A couple of hours later other drivers of the taxi company were searching for him. His cab was spotted at two in the morning. The engine was still running.

I awoke at six to the sound of a huge engine on the city street. I looked out my front window and saw a police mobile investigation vehicle, engine running. Police cars and vans and an ambulance and a fire department vehicle were all present. Out my back window – in the driveway, was a taxi, police officers, and a body under a tarpaulin. The man had been killed four or five metres from me. I had heard nothing. The investigation took hours at the scene. The body remained. Mid-afternoon it was removed. The taxi was towed away. The fire truck was used to hose away the blood.

I had seen the murderer a few times before, visiting his friends next door. He was arrested in a restaurant kitchen where he worked as a cook. He reportedly had been drunk, had problems with a girl friend. But the exact reasons he was there that night, or why he murdered, were not revealed. He also was found guilty and sent to penitentiary.

II no longer live in that apartment house – but not by choice. It caught fire and was eventually torn down.

(Image)https://farm6.static.flickr.com/5217/29885646575_62806c67c9_b.jpg

Mother and Son inThirteenth Century Europe

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Excerpt from: China Lily

Matzerath’s mother rarely shared her thoughts with anyone. She is as elusive now as when he was a small boy being raised within the shadow of the religious buildings where she still works as a cook. Bishops and abbots come and go, and red-robed Princes of the Church make their visits, for which she must dress appropriately – but she remains. At least Matzerath assumes she is still there, though he has not been back for five years.

Matzerath is small in stature and taken to be younger than he is. At thirteen he is treated as seven. He allows this because he finds there are more advantages then penalties. He knows far more than is expected of him, and avoids many pitfalls through the guile no one expects he has. He also achieves more than is expected from him, and is given much leeway for a child. Had his real age been obvious, he would be perceived as dim-witted. Because he is thought of as a child, he is considered gifted.

Matzerath’s mother is aware of how her son is tolerated – she even encourages his guile. He is treated better than most children, whose father is absent months at a time sailing the North Sea.

Matzerath is also getting an education of sorts, which is generally restricted to the children of nobles and the wealthy. He has learned how to read and write, along with the rudiments of mathematics and geography. He also pokes his nose into the stables, and the smithy, and the carpenters, picking up their basic skills.

He follows his own mother with interest, and can chose, prepare and present many of the dishes she serves at the Monastery. For the notables at the cathedral, and other clergy, she is expected to produce more sophisticated fare. Matzerath has even acquired some of these skills, but a puny child is forbidden to appear near the high table. He does get to nibble the leavings but notes – as he also does at the Monastery – that very little is ever left.

Matzerath does not possess an abundant affection for his mother – not for anyone – but he realizes that regardless of the amount of work she extracts from him, she generally does what is best for him. He pays attention to her instructions and her observations and her warnings. She also encourages him to tell her what he sees and hears. As he becomes older, she also wants to know what he thinks about the things he sees. Matzerath realizes she is using him as a spy, but he does not mind. He knows his mother sometimes manipulates the information he brings for her own well-being, but these rewards also come to him.

Matzerath heeds the warnings his mother gives about some of the priests and monks and their interest in boys. He discovers this himself upon a couple of occasions, and even satisfies one priest just to see what it is like. He shares this with his mother because he knows she sometimes does the same.

(Image)https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/media/k2/items/cache/9cdc2dad23ccaada3b0603e247aaeed6_XL.jpg

Travel and Dine on The Orient Express With Alison Alexandra

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A few days ago, Alison Alexandra unceremoniously ended my chapter. I had planned another week of work to arrive at the ending. She did away with my ending, put in her own, and ignored the intricate back story I had planned.

So, I sat myself down and wondered what would happen in its place. It turns out Alison Alexandra wants to take a vacation, and the one place where she might just get away from herself (as she seems to desire) is the . She previously had a few pages (literally writing-years ago) on the train.

Sounded good enough for me.

A half hour later, the Face Book page for the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express popped up in my feed.

Full steam ahead, think I.

The following is a portion of Alison Alexandra’s previous trip on the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express.

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In the reflection in the glass of her for-the-time-being-stateroom window, Alison Alexandra notices the glances from people on the platform watching her peering, and she doesn’t want to give them any ideas of turning into spies themselves so she stops and turns from the train and continues to walk its length to the engine. Of course, she is looking for spies herself, as befits the aura of the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. Spies and temptresses and writers and countesses and moustached gentlemen of natty appearance with zee little grey cells working overtime. And criminals and murderers and explorers and adventurers and (no doubt) adulterers and placid businessmen with fettered imaginations and the old wealth and the nouveau rich and folk on the run from the past and folk hoping to run to the past and not once in her complete walk to the engine did she once stop for all those posing to take a Selfie with the Orient Express in the background because – really – if you can’t remember it with your own memory then what’s the point?

She looks up at the engine and realizes that it has never belched billowing smoke and that it never will and she has been prepared for this disappointment – but still. It is a pleasant fantasy as is the whole trip as is the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express itself since the *real* train stopped years ago and even then there had been so many variations with so many destinations that someone could have taken several “Orient Express” trips and travelled on several different routes. In fact, two of the most famous books set on the Orient Express”, Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express and Greene’s Stamboul Train, are set on two different trains, neither of them the “Orient Express”. So Alison Alexandra is not really miffed there is no smoke-belching engine with escaping steam. She can make her own fantasy as others have done before her.

She returns along the platform, rubbing her fingers across the side of the blue-and-gold Waggons-Lits Sleeping Cars. She has kept out of the way of the ceremonial line-ups of the train staff greeting passengers. Enough attention has been paid. She again peers into her compartment window of the S-Series sleeper – slightly smaller and slightly less ornate – more suitable for a sole traveller who plans no assignations. The train is five minutes away from leaving. Alison Alexandra will indeed change for her evening meal. Not all her interests in the fashion of her youth have dissipated. And- after all –she is on the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. She is not present only for the transportation.

Alison Alexandra wants to blend in and not be either a fashion statement nor a fashion disaster. Black is always the new black, so she enters her Waggon-Lit, enters her compartment, opens a travel case much older than she, and slips into spiffy clothing and accessories that would have allowed her to slip into any of the fantasies of the fantastic Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express with nary a comment of discord but with a nod of appreciation.

In the Etoile du Nord dining car, she has the desire to sit with three other people instead of one. She has made her request known, and will be hailed by a seated trio. She hopes for the best but her anticipation is tinged with a trace of concern. She does not want to be bored, nor does she want to spend the meal warding off unwanted attention. She felt it futile to make such stipulations up front. Sometimes you have to go with the flow.

“Hello.” A face turns up to her. “Are you Missy Alison?”

“Alison Alexandra.”

“I told you so.” Another head turns in her direction. “Your black attire will slide right well into a trio of  three widows.”

“Now, Blanche.” The third voice speaks without raising her head. “We’re sisters first, and widows second.”

“Which one of our husbands would have gone on this trip?”

“True.”

“So that’s why we’re here.”

“Is that why you’re here, Alison Alexandra?” The sister who has yet to look at her now does. “Death allowing you to escape into life?”

“No widow me.” Alison Alexandra looks at each face in turn. “Nor wife neither.”

“Do you still want to sit?”

“Oh, yes.” Alison Alexandra pulls out the final chair. “And as I am the only one in black, might I suppose your widowhoods are not recent.”

The Smoke From Notre Dame

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The smoke from Notre Dame

Has crossed the ocean and

Settles on the pre-Easter snow

Of the front lawn.

 

It lies heavy.

 

It is full of Jesus (of course)

And the history of France

And the citizens of Paris

And the ash of ancient trees.

 

It smolders still.

 

It has the art of the ages

And the civilization of humanity

And the aura of the eons

And shards of blackened stained glass.

 

They admit no light.

 

The smoke from Notre Dame

Stirs in the wind

Gathers again into a shroud

Brushes tintinnabulation before it

 

And travels into history.

 

(image)https://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/news/2019/04/15/TELEMMGLPICT000194356479-xlarge_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqwwijwH92GxEXbhOiUOGwc7yif0N6J3waMRLrQv6l0bI.jpeg

 

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