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Onions And Eggs Feed A Crew On A Sailing Ship To China

Excerpt from the novel “China Lily”

In 1293,  Cepa  and Matzerath  were part of the crew of The Pegasus, a ship that had sailed from Italy to China on a trading mission. After a couple of months, they arrived in the port of Zaitun,  where they encountered a local trader, Lu-Hsing.

Lu-Hsing takes the two men to a communal dining hall. This is part of their meal.

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

Compared to others of his experience, the crew of The Pegasus appears content with their lot. They are certainly fitting in well in the dining hall, and even mingling with other diners. Thanks to the Captain’s instructions, they are willing to try any of the dishes they encounter, though it helps that they are ignorant of many of the ingredients.

“You want something other than onions?” Lu-Hsing jabs Cepa in the ribs with his shoulder.

“I want something with my onions.”

“You’ve been looking intently at everything.” Lu-Hsing opens his arms expansively. “What do you wish?”

“What do you suggest?”

“Look at me.” Lu-Hsing rubs his belly with a roar. “I am not a picky eater. I’ll suggest anything.”

“You’ve already warned me away from soup.”

“Not warned.” Lu Hsing points back to the bubbling soup they had been looking at. “You can add a lot to soup and make a stew.” He grimaces. “But you still slurp more than you chew. Lu-Hsing wants to use his teeth when he eats.”

“We can stay away from soup.” Cepa smiles. “And I’d just as soon avoid fish.”

“Me, too.” Matzerath puts his hands up in surrender. “We eat enough salted fish to swim.”

“You boys are in the Port of Zaitun.” Lu-Hsing speaks in an authoritative tone. “Fish a specialty.”

“There must be something else.” Matzerath points. “Look at all the cooks.”

“No soup?”

“Pah!”

“Trouble-making Round Eyes.” Lu-Hsing points to a wok near the end of the aisle and starts to walk. “We’ll try there.”

“What does he have?” Cepa falls into step behind Lu-Hsing, followed by Matzerath.

“Oyster omelette.”

“Eggs?” asks Matzerath.

“As many as you want.”

“That will take a big pan.”

“He can use a high-sided wok.” Lu-Hsing pretends to whisk something in a wok. “Plop it right onto a plate.”

“We don’t have dishes.” Cepa suddenly realizes the fact. “We haven’t been back to The Pegasus all day.”

“Lu-Hsing share you his.” He barks an order at the cook, and then turns back to Cepa. “Stay right here. I’ll get them from my table.”

Cepa and Matzerath stand and watch the cook. Cepa notes he is using wood and not the black rocks for his fire. Some oil is dropped onto the metal and immediately sizzles. The cook holds up his hand and extends his fingers; one, two, three, four, five.

“Will you want some?”

“God – yes.” Matzerath nods.

Cepa holds up five fingers and the cook grins. He takes an egg in each hand and hits them together. The upper shell is flipped off and they pour into the wok. He repeats the gesture and the eggs land on top of the others. The last egg is dispatched on the metal rim of the wok and added to the rest before a hint of cooking has begun. The cook then begins to whisk and slide the eggs along the side of the wok before Matzerath has time to make a comment.

“I’d like to see you do that on The Pegasus,” says Cepa.

“I break eggs all the time.”

“I know.” Cepa laughs. And we eat the shells to prove it.”

The cook now twists and shakes the wok by its two handles over the fire. The eggs slide up and along the sides, and then settle more thickly near the bottom. With a grin and a twist of his hands, the cook turns the wok right over. The eggs start to slide out with a couple of drops hissing into the fire. Matzerath’s mouth falls open as the cook rights the wok so quickly that the eggs drop right back into it, now cooking on the other side. The cook puts the wok back on the fire.

“Bet you can’t do that,” says Cepa.

“Just once.” Matzerath laughs. “But the whole ship was heaving at the time.”

The cook begins to nudge the eggs together with a spatula. With his other hand he sprinkles a few drops of brown liquid. Then he adds some coarsely chopped shoots of a green onion.

“Hah!” Matzerath slaps Cepa on the shoulder.

After a quick swirl of these ingredients the cook plops in a bowl of small oysters. He takes his time with these, spacing them with deliberation over the quickly cooking eggs. Then – with a flourish – he scoops up a handful of flower blossoms and sprinkles them over the whole bubbling mixture.

“What are those?” Matzerath peers into the wok.

“Chrysanthemums.”

“We’re eating flowers?’

“When in Rome …”

The cook adds a further dash of the brown liquid and then folds the eggs neatly in half. He flips the whole omelette to the center of the wok and sprinkles a palm full of spring onion – this time finely chopped – over of the still-bubbling omelette. He presses the onion in place with his spatula then removes the wok from the fire.

“Timing is everything.”

The voice startles them both. They turn to see Lu-Hsing standing behind them, holding a large platter. He barks instructions to the cook, speaking too quickly for the two men to understand.

“Stick to ribs – make you happy.”

The cook divides the omelette in half and slides it onto the platter. He then takes the wicker top off a steamer and starts to add heaping ladles of red rice along the sides of the platter.

“What’s that?” Matzerath sounds suspicious.

Hong qu mi.”

“You can see its rice,” hisses Cepa.

“But it’s red.”

“Fermented with yeast.” Lu-Hsing scoops some into his palm and eats it. “Looks good. Tastes great.”

“Aren’t you having a meal?”

“Lu-Hsing eats later – with family.” He moves his hand over the top of the platter and inhales the aroma. “We eat at home – wife is a great cook.”

“I thought you’d be joining us.” Matzerath is clearly disappointed.

“Too crowded. Too smoky.” Lu-Hsing laughs. “Just the place for Round-eyes who want to make contacts. I already know people.”

Lu-Hsing abruptly steps behind the counter and stands beside the cook. He takes a look into the bubbling pots and lifts the tops off of steamers. He finally points with a barrage of Chinese. The cook gets two porcelain bowls and ladles a heaping amount of food into each.

“Got your spoon?” asks Cepa.

Matzerath takes a spoon from his pant’s pocket and holds it up.

“You?”

“Yes.” Cepa has his spoon on a chain around his neck. He takes it out from underneath his shirt and lets it dangle against his chest.

“You boys prepared – good.” Lu-Hsing takes the platter with the omelette and rice. He then points with his chin. “Take your bowls and follow me.”

Matzerath anxiously sees the platter of steaming food being taken away. He nudges Cepa and they again get into step behind Lu-Hsing, who again clears a path through the crowded eating hall. They approach a raised platform under a row of windows, much like the noble’s section in the Cannara’s own tavern. It is still a crowded space, with ten tables set not far apart from each other. Half are vacant, so Cepa can’t tell if Lu-Hsing heads for his ‘own’ table, or has the use of any that is available. He places the platter crosswise near one end of the table.

“You need drink.” Lu-Hsing unrolls a half dozen chopsticks from a cotton napkin, so they lay beside the platter. “Tea or rice wine?”

“Dear God – wine!” Matzerath plunks his bowl on the table. “It’s been a day.”

“Bring both, please.” Cepa sits across the table from Matzerath. “For both of us.”

“Tea is for thirst.” Matzerath takes his spoon from his pocket. “I want drink for more than that.”

“We can’t have you getting drunk.” Cepa lifts his own spoon from around his neck. “Even the crew has orders not to get drunk.”

You are sticking to tea?” Matzerath begins to wield his chopsticks over the rice.

“No.” Cepa laughs. “Although I am also thirsty, I have no objection to feeling ‘mellow’ as I eat.”

“And it will help you sleep.” Lu-Hsing slaps Cepa on the back. “Like mother’s milk.”

“I wish my mother had had tits of wine.” Matzerath wipes some rice from his chin and sucks his fingers. “I would have been a better child.”

Colonel Bonner Goes To The North Of Canada – Way North

In The Bonner Resolution, Colonel Bonner of Her Majesty’s Canadian Armed Forces, does a lot of work for NATO. A lot. In this novel he begins in the high Arctic. And then he goes – well – pretty well anywhere NATO dabbles their fingers into the pot of intrigue. And that covers the world.

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

The sky is clear and cold.

And blue.

This does not help while watching the expanse of ice. Colonel Bonner thought it would. He thought such a clean demarcation of surface and horizon would accentuate anything appearing between the two. Across kilometers of rippled ice that encourages the winds. The winds that make the Arctic cold penetrate his high tech parka and his thermal long johns. They talk about “wind chill” in the country Bonner is used to. They don’t know nothing.

Before this assignment, Colonel Bonner presumed he had been every place NATO could send him. He has been in war zones. He has been in safe zones where people did not know there is a war. He has been in those diplomatic zones that teeter-totter between the two. Those most of all. He has fought enemies both foreign and domestic. He has averted disaster of massive proportions on his own soil (well – legal sea boundary) that has still managed to remain unexplained.

It was cold there, too.

Colonel Bonner is lying under white camouflage blankets and upon a waterproof mat. He has been in this position for two hours. Any longer and he will be prone to hallucinations. Any longer and he will freeze his balls off – regardless of protective clothing and insulated mat. This is not just his opinion; it is the observation of his guide. His Canadian Ranger companion had nudged him on the shoulder and cupped his own groin and pointed at his watch. If he wants to have babies he’ll move his ass. The cold doesn’t creep up on you, it hits with a wallop. From one minute to the next.

Bonner looks at his own watch. Twenty minutes left though he feels he could have been here either four hours or forty minutes. Time expands and contracts at the same time. This happens during long periods of observation, wherever he has such an assignment. It happens with more force when there is virtually nothing to see. The passage of the sun is the most notable action going on before him. It proves to be of little distraction. And anyway, it is dimmed by his snow goggles.

Bonner adapts to this barren reality by accepting it is not really barren. He pays attention not only to the things the Canadian Rangers teach him, but he watches how they interact to the surroundings. With few humans to deal in an environment that can kill them, they are far more attentive to their senses than he. A creaking of ice, or the slant of shifting snow, tells them more than a manual reveals. They can smell a change coming toward them that is hours away. He makes an attempt to follow their lead. He keeps his mouth shut on the inane observations those from the south are prone to make. He has been shown his restraint is appreciated.

Missed By A Day (slap my wrist) Happy Birthday Franz Kafka

kafkafranz_02a

03 July was Kafka’s birthday.   Imagine all the celebrations running rampant in the world that I missed.   No doubt a hearty rendition of “Hip hip hooray” and the occasional exuberant “Huzzah!”, echo through each major city and every quiet hamlet.  

I have written him a letter (as yet, unanswered).  

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

My Present / Your Future

Still in this World

A Life Away

Dear F:

You would find it perverse to be wished a “Happy” birthday, but your response would be gracious. Such is the reality you understand, and how you deal with it.

I enerally find your reality is actually real.

Although it will give you no pleasure – well, ‘little’ pleasure – you are correct in all your observations.

Governments become the tools of the bureaucracies which run them. It doesn’t matter what type of Government, from the monarchy under which you lived, to the right wing horror of fascists that called themselves socialists, to the inept socialism pretending to be ‘for the people‘. All three governments held their sway over the city where you spent your life. All three oppressed the people they ruled. All three looked after themselves first.

Writers are either writers or they aren’t. The urge to write encircles one like a snake around its prey. Feed it and it won’t quite squeeze you to death. You can not ignore it – even at your peril. It is with you every hour of every day, ever inquisitive and (sadly) always looking for something better.

Love is a see-saw of extremes. Every high guarantees a low. Every low reaches for a high. Every high reaches for a high. When these hills and valleys are eventually levelled, they are still desired.

Sex is highly over rated. The thing of it is, even rated fairly ’tis a consummation devoutly to be had. Yes – I know – you appreciate Shakespeare. On a par with Goethe, even if you can’t quite bring yourself to say the words.

People are just one damned thing after another. Of course, so many people have brought you blessings, you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. And sometimes – some few times – it loosens its grip.

There is no castle with walls thick enough to hide against the perils of being human. Which is why you never tried.

Except the grave, of course.

Except the grave.

Yours,

D

~~~~~~~~~~~

And, in my novel; Kafka In The Castle, I gave him this diary entry.

03 July 1918

The anniversary of my birth.

In celebration of the day, I did not make it my last.

Franz Kafka Thinks About His Father – Perhaps NOT Suitable For Father’s Day

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, (and I more and more want to spell Castle with a ‘K’) I have Franz ponder his father in many of the diary entries I create. There was no ‘Father’s Day’ then, but my Kafka might easily have thought this if there was. I do not have as harsh an opinion about Kafka’s father as he, and contemporary scholars, have.

***********************

10 May 1917

Father says that I will see him into his grave, and “… you’ll be throwing the dirt with gusto.” I was tempted to tell him what I was really thinking – a situation which arises more and more. But I merely mumbled and nodded. Had my mind escaped my mouth however, I would have tried to describe the images which raced in my head. Those immediate and dangerous thoughts.

I saw my sisters and myself, numerous of our relatives, and all of father’s employees. We were impatiently standing in line with shovels upraised, awaiting the order to commence. But the voice I hear yelling to “start, start – don’t waste my time,” is my father’s. Then, with precise movements – and in unison – we dig our shovels into the heap of dirt, and the air is soon full of dust from our vigorous activities. The only way we can muffle his voice is to pile the dirt deep. And, he is right – we do so with gusto.

Kafka Aims For The New Year

gettyimages-2662796-1

In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.

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

26 December 1916

The saints and the sinners can sometimes sing together.

 

27 December 1916

Ottla says I am staying here too late into the night. But she is implying more. I am certain she is soon to tell me that I should stay in her tiny house all night. Sleep here. Have things prepared and ready so I could go directly to the office in the morning. But the office must be more than just distance from this place.

 

28 December 1916

Another wretched letter to F. A response to anguish and accusation. Perhaps Ottla is only half right. Perhaps I should shut myself up into this hovel from morning to night and then night to morning. Let the snow pile to the rooftops, and become as hidden and secure as any mouse in its burrow. And if I dare push my snout through the snow to snuff at the air, they can all be standing with shovels at the ready to pile me in deeper. That would be best.

I can not take love, and I certainly can not give love. Not what is expected, and certainly not what is needed. To express what I feel is indeed like yelling through a mountain of snow. It is absorbed. It is deflected. It is diffused. By the time my love reaches the real world, it is a ghost which – although it can not be seen – can still cause a person to shiver. If I did not know that for a couple of times – especially with the Swiss girl in Italy – my love had possessed a body, I would bar the door forever.

(

Liven Up A Dull Party And Start A Novel

Alison Alexandra had asked her partner, with far more innocence than the result entailed, when people were going to pair off and head for the bedrooms. It was such a lackluster gathering she figured it would take quite a jolt to generate any interest.

And, she had asked her partner. It wasn’t as if she was angling for a tryst.

But, out of the blue – and out of other people’s boredom? – within twenty minutes or so, she had a woman sidle up to her. Drink in hand. Held at a professional tilt, though there was no raised pinky finger. Voice low, though not as low as the woman thought.

“Are you the one who asked if we are going to start to go to bed?”

Alison Alexandra, used to fine drink since her university days away, knew the lady’s finely-tilted glass was but a prop and barely touched. The scent of whiskey came solely from the glass. As for the lady herself, butter would freeze in her mouth.

“Is it making the rounds?”

“Do you want to make the rounds?”

“That was not my intent – no.”

“Then I don’t know if you are successful or not.”  The glass touches teeth. “Your question is making the rounds with alacrity.”

Alison Alexandra likes the word “alacrity”. It sounds like its own action.

“Have there been any answers?”

“Not to me.” There is a fleeting melt of the ice that is not in her glass. “Not that I’ve asked.”

“Have you made a head count?”

“I have not pointed and gone ‘eeny meeny miny moe’ – no.” The woman leans closer to Alison Alexandra, her lips now a conspiratorial distance from an ear. “But I do keep a select few in my vision.”

“Has there been movement?”

“There has been – if not corralling – some sidling up beside, with a ‘nicker’ into an attentive ear.”

“Anything for a pair of knickers, perhaps?”

The woman straightens with enough speed to lose a few drops of her conversational whiskey. She looks at Alison Alexandra in surprise and appreciation. A translucent mask is peeled from her face. She is animated. Her eyes are expectant.

“You are new here.”

“You’re the observer.” Alison Alexandra smiles.

“But I never say what I really see.” The woman finally takes a real drink. “None of us do.”

“But you come up to me – with your observations.”

“In truth -”

The woman stops. She realizes how rarely she tells the truth. She is startled that she is about to do so. She is apprehensive.

“In truth, it is on a dare.”

“Someone has dared you to ask me?”

“Actually, a number of people have put money in a pot to see if this will happen.”

“To approach me?”

“Yes.”

“How much am I worth?”

The woman raises her glass and laughs. “A bottle of Scotch.”

“Good Scotch?”

“Not really.” The woman is apologetic, yet she laughs. “It’s not that caliber of party.”

Alison Alexandra can see a friendship in the offing. So much more important than a partner for the night.

She takes the glass from the unprotesting woman and has a drink.

“Better than this?”

“Not even as good as.”

“Then no one is going to get me out of my knickers.” This does not stop Alison Alexandra from taking another drink. She hands the glass back to the woman. “There. I’ve had my limit.”

“That surely won’t get you into bed.”

“I’ve been looking around.” Alison Alexandra looks slowly around again. “Not even a bottle will accomplish that.”

The woman looks at her glass. It is still nearly full. She takes a deep drink.

“I am not so pure.”

“Oh – purity has nothing to do with it.” Alison Alexandra does take a bit of care with her next sentence. “But I am very picky.”

Not A Ghost Of A Chance In This Time Of Pandemic – Rum Necessary

My crew of characters in my novel, “There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth, have been with me for about five years. When COVID hit, they decided to stay together in one dwelling. To pass the time, they decided to tell Ghost Stories.

Since 29 09 2020, I have been writing nothing but Ghost Stories. Seven all told.

In affect, I have written a complete book of short stories, all stand-alone, for the past seven months. Each story was true to each individual character, but that was not important to the stories themselves. It was important to the novel.

This has been a unique situation ofr me, to wander off in the midst of a novel to do something else. It has been exhausting.

When I returned to the actual novel, my characters had to deal with the Pandemic. They (and I) have been dealing with the Pandemic for over a year. I think I am four or so ‘ordinary’ chapters away from the end of the novel.

Each ghost story was followed by a short chapter where my characters commented about the ghost story they had just heard. This is in part to keep the novel in the forefront, and the type of thing people would do. They always had a meal and and an exquisite tot of rum.

“BOO!” to all

When You Sink But You Don’t Have To Swim

Alison Alexandra Ponders Whilst Under The English Channel

The London platform is abustle, though, in reality, she is boarding a train to take her to a train waiting in Calais. Still, it is under the umbrella of the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express, and she is happy to board and take a very cushy seat.

Two hours and fifteen minutes to Paris. Nice scenery at either end. A glass of Bellini, in a champagne flute, before the actual undersea part. Nothing could be finer.

Alison Alexandra assumes that a quaff of peach infused Prosecco sparkling wine is to ease the anxiety of anyone going not only underground but also undersea. She appreciates the glass of – expectedly – high-toned champagne regardless, but she does not need a drink to assuage any fears, for she has none.

She has always enjoyed the thought of actually moving under streets and buildings and cars and people and parks and dogs and folk in restaurants spooning soup while other folk high up in business towers give power point presentations about the fluidity of market shares or the expert way to niggle a wire into an explicate brain to stop one form of behaviour or to restart another. Thousands of snips of humanity and civilisation wending their way over her head as she wends her way from one underground station to another.

And then – to add the volume of the sea – well, what now floats overhead? How many fish and how much plankton and seaweed and eels and lobsters and oysters and snails and perhaps even whales swimming and eating and probably eating each other in the liquid beauty which is the water which is the ocean which is the sea that slaps against the cliffs that she watches from her prow-of-a-ship windows when she is on the other side.

And the ocean that slaps the rocks at the base of her cliff is full of fish gurgle and whale song and lobster clatter and crab scuttle and perhaps even the mermaids singing. And then there is the screw screw screw of all the propellers of all the ships carrying crew and passengers and cargo of all sorts and conditions, from cases of the champagne she is drinking to the host of automobiles like the Black Ghost that Gabriella drove when she shared some champagne delivered by ship and not aged on the delivery truck two cities over.

And other cargo, floating and steaming over her head, food and drink and oil and bourbon and stiletto-heeled shoes and prayer books and cotton and smart phones and insulin and jet engines and books and railway ties and sheep dip and textiles and spices from the Far east and tongue dispensers and sugar and steel beams for steel bridges and fishhooks and guided missiles and holy missals and buttons and bows and those tiny umbrellas for fruit punch cocktails and things that Alison Alexandra doesn’t even know exists but she has her suspicions.

All over her head and moving the waves and making whales sing their cautionary songs to warn other whales to get the hell out of the way or they will get bumped on their noggin. And they do. Get out of the way.

Alison Alexandra finishes her underwater pilgrimage and pops above ground in France. And although Alison Alexandra has been somewhat offended by having to take an actual bus shuttle under the actual English Channel, she still shouts “Alors!”

There Was A Strange Question On Twitter

There was an odd question
On Twitter.
 
I mean,
Even an odd question
For Twitter.
 
“Can Dragons and Unicorns be friends?”
 
Who thinks up these things?
I mean,
Really,
Who?
 
But, oddly
(That is –
Even odder still)
I have an answer.
 
I wrote the book.
A Lost Tale.
My first novel.
 
Well
You know,
My first
Published
Novel.
There were others
That came before.
 
And in that novel
There was
Certainly
A Unicorn.
Some say
An Unicorn
(With which I
do not quibble).
 
But –
And most readers might
Not know this
As it took up
But one line –
There was also a
Dragon.
 
On a night when
The mysteries
Went beyond even
The Mysterious.
 
And I can state
(Even if it was not baldy
Stated in the novel),
That they
Were,
Indeed,
Friends.
 
And,
If you can’t
Believe
The guy who
Wrote the book,
Then
Who
Can you
Believe?
 
~ DE BA. UE

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