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As Europe Bakes & Burns, I Look Back To My First Time There

Solely because of the current, hellish weather in Europe, I hauled out my old travel diaries to take a look at what I was doing on this day so many decades ago. July 17.

I do remember some very hot days (though nothing like this week). I also remember the morning a month later, when I was walking through a long driveway, down from a mountain castle where the youth hostel was situated, and noted that Autumn weather had begun.

I obviously had time on my hands, for this day fills three hand-written pages. But since – oddly – it starts with a weather report, I’ll just record part of the first page.

July 17

A beautiful day erupted across the sky this morning blue clear sky and a budding sun sliding with a sultry manner into the waiting arms of the passionate heavens. It was, in other words, a nice day. And I took advantage of the whole majestic harrang** by leaving for the heart of the city around nine o’clock.

First business gotten out of the way was to buy a train ticket to Nurinberg**. It was interesting to return to Hanover Station , for in a way that’s where it all began, isn’t it? The fateful Sunday so long ago where the train was caught for Hamburg and on to the farm. It was much more pleasant being there the second time around, and I even succumed** and bought some plums in the small fruit store. They were the worst plums it has been my mis-fortune** to lay my taste buds on, and I threw half of them away.

I left the station and walked about the Square awhile, looking in the stores and wishing I could buy. But, it was enjoyable just looking around. At eleven o’clock I fulfilled one of the pet dreams which I looked forward to while on the farm. I went to a movie. Why this desire became so strong during these six weeks I do not know, perhaps a movie is a symbol of real civilization. Whatever the reason, I wanted to see one, and I did. It was, naturally, in German, but being a very sexy film, the language barrier did not make a great difference. As it was, I understood a lot more than I thought it would.

[By the by, excuse the writing, but I am on a moving train, and everything wobbles considerably.]

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

** I have edited nothing, and plan also not to edit if I ever do publish these long-ago writings. The “farm” mentioned is where I worked for summer employment.

T

Franz Kafka Did Not Like Vienna, And Visits It With Hate

  In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in **missing** diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. It is estimated Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. I am as accurate as I can be in my timeline. On these July days in 1917, in reality, he travelled to Vienna. He filled in no diary entries, but I have him express opinions he mentioned elsewhere.

15 July 1917

           What pretence have I not endured?

17 July 1917

            Vienna – a city which I hate. The forced gaiety of the people is as cloying to me as the rich desserts which gag my mouth. They live on the borderline with death, and their sweat reeks of terror. It drips onto their ghastly cakes as they peer across the table to see what their companions have. “Shit in; shit out,” as my father would say.

18 July 1917

           I took a night train from Vienna. Not only was it the quickest conveyance available, but I did not have to look at the wretched city in the dark. It’s not a place of dreams, but of nightmares. But, perhaps it was foolish to flee, since my destination is a nightmare.

Alison Alexandra Takes the Train in the Chunnel Under The English Channel From London To Paris

And then – to add to 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.

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!”

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!”

(Image) http://www.jpellegrino.com/img/eliot-mermaidssinging.jpg

Kafka Travels In His Dreams

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Franz Kafka recorded many dreams in his diaries. Thus, I gave him many dreams in my novel, Kafka In The Castle. The novel ‘fills in’ all the days where there are no entries in his actual diaries.

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

04 April 1917

Dreamed I was to take a train journey.

I tried to find my travel papers, but all the drawers were jammed shut. The cupboard doors refused to open. My wallet was stuffed with money – colourful bills worth thousands of marks – yet no passport, no police clearance.

I could find no proof of who I was, and no permission to cross borders. I feared I was going to be late, so I put on an overcoat, grabbed a small bag off the bed, and hurried from the room.

The door led directly to the station platform, and I was quickly caught in lines of people. A man in uniform  harshly requested to see our tickets, but when I explained I had been unable to find any of my documents, he pointed to my case.

Inside were passports and papers from every country in Europe. I handed him one, but over my name was a photo of hog. Another had a picture of a donkey. A third showed sheep. Rodents, insects, and finally an ape, all appearing over my name and signature.

“You are Doktor Kafka?” he demanded.

“Yes,” I answered. I was terrified – what face did I have now?

“You are the veterinarian,” he said, finally satisfied. “Down to the end of the train.” He pointed the way, and I hurried along.

I walked and walked, but the train just became longer. Box cars and cattle cars were filled with the most terrible animal clamour, and reeking of filth. And I wondered, as I searched in vain for the end of this endless train, where would my destination finally be?

[Image] https://farm1.staticflickr.com/145/424520905_d05592a972_z.jpg

Will A Lucious Cake Help Seduce Alison Alexandra?

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Alison Alexandra is back for her second trip on The Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express – and why not? The first led to a supper with three sisters/widows (none of them wearing black) that is as memorable as any Alison Alexandra has had. And that’s saying a lot.

But on this trip, Alison Alexandra dines alone, and piques the interest of the chef. And there is no better sweet talk, than with a sweet dessert.

So, I went in search of a decadent dessert, looking as gorgeous as I am sure it tastes. And up I end with a Fragilité Cake, which I would appreciate having delivered to my door after the sun has set, whether I was on the The Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express or not. And, I would not automatically be predisposed to ignore any other intentions in the eye of the beholder.

Just be sure to bring a fork.

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

The classic fragilité cake with coffee buttercream originates from the same Danish pastry chef, Johannes Steen, who also made The Sarah Bernhardt cookie. And must originate from the beginning of the 1900s, when Denmark was very influenced by everything French.

Fragilité means fragile, and it describes the cake well. It’s made with delicate layers of crispy meringue with hazelnuts, layered with a mocha/coffee buttercream. The cake feels very light and fluffy, but don’t let it fool you, it’s filled with great tasting calories😋

Ingredients:

Meringue:

  • 100 g hazelnuts
  • 200 g confectionary sugar
  • 4 egg whites

Mocha buttercream:

  • 3 pasteurised  egg yolks
  • 100 g confectionary sugar
  • 150 g butter, salted and room temperature
  • 3 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1,5 teaspoons instant coffee

Directions:

Preheat the oven for 400℉ (200℃).

Chop the hazelnuts. I used the mini chopper that came with my immersion blender, and ended up with a coarse hazelnut flour. Mix the hazelnuts with half of the confectionary sugar.

Whip the egg whites, in a stand mixer, until you have soft peaks. Add the sugar and keep whipping until you have a shiny meringue with stiff peaks. You should be able to turn the bowl upside down.

Fold the hazelnut mixture in.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper, spray it and sprinkle with sugar. I used a 9″ x 13″ (20×30 cm) pan.

Spread the meringue evenly in the pan, and level of the top.

Bake the meringue for 2 minutes at 400℉ (200℃), then lower the temperature to 305℉ (150℃) and keep on baking foe another 40 minutes.

Buttercream:

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, and whip the buttercream until thick and fluffy over a double boiler. I used a saucepan with very hot water, and placed my bowl on top of that. I didn’t have it on the stove. It takes some time to get the buttercream nice and fluffy.

 

Cut the meringue in two, and place the one part on a cake stand, spread all the buttercream  on it in an even layer. Put the other half of the meringue on top.

Decorate the cake with some melted chocolate or a sprinkle of confectionary sugar.

(Found At) https://sweetsoursavory.com/blog/2014/2/16/classic-fragilit-cake

(Image) https: //i.pinimg.com/originals/14/b6/49/14b6491cfc731a143c195a3927623c4c.jpg

Travel But No Sex On The Night Train Of Years Ago

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The night train goes between Halifax and Montreal, and Montreal and Halifax. You can’t get there from here in daylight . . . by train. The train chug chug chugs out of Halifax early afternoon, and out of Montreal early evening. The two pass somewhere in Quebec. Arrival in Montreal is early morning (breakfast time) and early evening (supper time).

Although I’ve had some association with trains for decades (the father of a next-door childhood friend was even the conductor on a train) I came to my pleasure and interest in trains from my first trip to Europe. Both in Great Britain, and the continent, I had great pleasure on the trains (much due to the scenery I had never seen). It was really after that first trip that I travelled with any seriousness by train in Canada. And, as I said, any travel from east to west must include the night train to Montreal.

I have been blessed in that I have never had to ‘sit up’ on this trip (though, these days, even that is not too bad). I’ve had berths (upper and lower) and compartments (these days – again – even with their own shower). And I love the dome cars, sitting there for hours even after dark. It is a grand sensation travelling though the darkened forests with often no more than moon light and stars. And the red and green signal lights of the track itself.

Back ‘in the day’ I even almost had a Night train romance.

This was in the upper berths, where nothing more than a curtain flap and a zipper kept the sleepers private. One usually undressed while supine upon the mattress, sloughing off one’s outer clothes.

On one particular journey to Montreal, in the dark of that Quebec landscape, across the narrow aisle, was a beautiful teen-aged gal, not many years younger than myself. And she indicated ‘interest’, with smiles and giggles and some gentle teasing of undress.

However, she travelled with her (I presume) parents, safely ensconced in the lower berths. And Daddy looked as if he:

a) would brook no nonsense

and (more to the point)

b) would cease and desist any interest by me

The sweet lass keep appearing from behind her curtain with smiles and gestures, but finally realized that an athletic leap from my side to hers was neither safe nor wise. We arrived in Montreal as pure as we set out.

*Sigh*

(image)http://www.museumoftheamericanrailroad.org/Portals/0/Gallery/Album/21/Women-in-Pullman-Section-Berths-January-1930-Hulton-Archive-Getty-Images_600px.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.

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

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.”

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