27 July 2015

More postcards from Italy (2015)

Nessun Dorma!

Dusk gathers on the Tuscan coast.....


Marina di Torre del Lago is quiet. Some years ago this was a very popular gay resort, but, for some reason, it has fallen from grace, and some of the once-teeming karaoke bars and trendy eateries have closed. The days are busy, with the beaches full, but it seems more family now, and not everyone stays overnight....

Though there are those who like the evening cool,

And some who like to stay on as night falls,

And some who will frolic in the dark,

We wander the almost empty esplanade,

Check out the almost empty restaurants, 

Noting the number of establishments that have closed.  A sign of the times? Economic depression?  

Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà

Tu pure, o Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza
guardi le stelle che tremano 
d'amore e di speranza!

Next morning, life picks up again, with the papers and an aperitivo,

And we visit Giacomo Puccini's residence nearby, on the shore of Lago Massacuccioli, where we meet his granddaughter, Simona, and are gently nibbled by mosquitoes while we sift through the memorabilia of the Maestro.....

A monument to Toscano cigars

Then, driving south, we move across to the island of Giglio

Passing the site of the Costa Concordia disaster (see http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2013/08/isola-del-giglio-revisited.html for more on that....) where, although the wreck has been removed, work continues to remove the structures used in the salvage operation....

Docking in the picturesque harbour of Giglio Porto,

Snorkelling in the crystal clear, fish-filled, waters of Arenella, then climbing 405 metres from sea level to the village of Castello,

Where old cottages have become chic second homes,

And an ancient tower is an airy retaurant, Da Maria, where we drink Ansonica wine, and from whose terrace we enjoy the sunset over the Faraglioni......

Then, next morning, back across the strait to Porto Santo Stefano, mesmerised by the blues and whites of ship and sea,

From where we drive to the green-fringed tranquillity of Lago di Vico (see http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2012/08/tesserae-3.html)....

And then on to our old home village of Trevignano Romano (see http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2012/08/trevignano-romano.html) which hugs the shore of Lake Bracciano, below the volcanic cone of the Rocca Romana.....

Where we have a wonderful dinner in La Grotta Azzura (grazie Nazareno!) with our 102+ yr old friend Truman.....(see http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2012/09/tesserae-5.html for something about his 100th birthday)....

The following day the heat topples over itself, and a storm blows through the evening, sprinkling just enough rain to cause a rainbow to direct me to a pot of gold, not far from where we used to live.....

The wind stirs the lake to gusty violence, causing an evacuation that rivals the last days of Pompeii....

Then it calms again, heat wraps the earth in a blanket, and although perhaps the instruction Nessun Dorma! (Let no-one sleep!) works for me, it's not applicable to dogs. Lola, patronne of Il Poggio degli Ulivi, seems to like this position, day and night.....

And at breakfast time, there is the chorus of male Cicadas, almost deafening in the vibration of their tymbals, but above this rise the fluting calls of Golden Orioles, flitting between the nearby trees.... 

And in the bright Italian sun, tomatoes and basil just about sum up everything that is good,

Though the light can play tricks in the heat of the day, with average temperatures over 36 degrees Celsius....

So, when all is said and done, I like it when the sun begins to slip away towards the horizon, and the mountains rise in the evening light, cool showers heralding the stars.....

guardi le stelle che tremano
d'amore e di speranza!

The Mountains of the Moon (Dante) or the Apuan Alps...

Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò,
quando la luce splenderà
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà
il silenzio che ti fa mia.

12 July 2015

Ich bin ein Berliner - Travels in reunited Germany - 6

Ich bin ein Berliner (I am one with the people of Berlin),


Deutschlandlied: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit (Unity and Justice and Freedom) and all that jazz..... 

I've been looking for Germany.

My prejudices and scant knowledge jumble around in my addled head as if Prince Philip and Alf Garnett were in a tumble dryer with Basil Brush.....

What do I know about Germany?

First there were lots of states, invaded by Romans etc, for hundreds and hundreds of years. Then things began to hang together, but then there was a Kaiser and a Bismark and between them they tried to take over the world and both my grandfathers were damaged. 

Then things went quiet for a while until an insane Austrian painter became unspeakably powerful and tried to build an empire of blue-eyed blonde-haired super-people. But Jesse Owens won the Olympics and my mum and dad were dragged into the fray.

Then Russia and the US of A decided to join in and Germany was scissored.  

At some time Berlin had a Hair Lift. Then someone drew the curtains. No one was friends with anyone and the war went cold.

This led to Ronald Reagan. Then Mrs Thatcher privatised the railways and sank the Belgrano, and lo and behold the Deutsch Mark becomes the Euro and all of a Sudetenland the Germans are getting up early and putting their towels on the sun loungers.....

In 1964, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, Martha Gellhorn asked Is there a new Germany?  She was sceptical.  She mentioned an incurable egocentricity of German thinking.  She observed that There has always been a small minority of Germans who thought of themselves as members of the human race first, and as Germans afterwards; there is still such a minority, she writes, and they are exiles at home.  

She concluded her article by quoting a young student editor from Bonn: The young need someone to show the way.  There is no one.  We have no elders.  Ms Gellhorn added that the new generation needs a New Germany; they can hardly expect the older generation to build democracy for them. And then she asked the question, But have they themselves the imagination and guts required to do the job?

In 1991, in the Rozenberg Quarterly, Bas Senstius published a piece entitled Martha Gellhorn – A Furious Footnote In History which picks up her article: She still has plans. Gellhorn would like to go to Germany. The last time she was there, all her preconceptions were confirmed. ‘That appalling characteristic obedience. They obey the authorities. It’s a fatal characteristic. That’s how you get dictators.’

‘Look, I don’t believe that even without that idiot woman, Mrs. T., the Conservatives can keep England out of Europe, because one way or another England and France have to stick together to counterbalance German domination. It gives me goose-pimples, it’s terrifying. Or perhaps they’ve decided it’s easier to rule the world economically than militarily – that’s a proven fact – so then it’s up to the other countries to sort out within the EEC. But it scares me, a massive country, an enormous workforce, this enormous partiality to obedience.’

She’d like to go back to Germany to see what’s changed. Whether anything has changed, to satisfy her curiosity......

I wonder how she would feel now?

Far be it from me to follow in Martha Gellhorn's delicious feetsteps, but she stirred my interest (first by divorcing Hemingway, and second by living in Wales....)

So where to start?

Zimmerstrasse, Berlin, seems good. 

Czechpoint Charlie and the Trabi Museum, and remains of the wall..... Makes me think.....  {If the Great Wall of China was in a box in the next room, would Erwin Schrödinger have ever existed?

[Stoppit!  Ed.]

When is a wall not a wall?  

[When it's a curtain?  Ed.]

I'm off to the Brandenburg Gate, only to find that someone has left it open..... 

Strange things are happening.  The forces of global interests are present, and there's a mass selfie going on.....

As I write, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor (herself brought up in the East), is faced with the dilemma of whether to abandon Greece and be responsible for pitching that state into the abyss, or to shore it up for a little longer and risk ruining her standing at home and in the world.... 

Times have changed?

I know even less about Economics than I do about History, but a thought has just crossed my mind.....

When the Wall came down, did the former East Germany enter the European Union by the back door, as it were? I mean, did the former DDR automatically become a part of Germany? I mean, just because it was once part of Germany?

Don't move....  As you were....

Well, during the years of World War Two, wasn't Greece a part of Germany? (in a sense, at least?) So, politics apart, [shome mishtake, Ed?] why doesn't Germany just annex Greece and so at a stroke both solve the Euro crisis and provide somewhere for the towels on the sun loungers? [I suspect this is out of order. Cancel subscription.... Ed.]  They could open a Trabi factory and all would be tickety-boo.....

This has gone far enough. Time for some scents.....

Is my kinda town, Berlin-er ist.... 

After all the British Embassy has a pretty impressive façade.....

Though, in a different way, the Russian Federation's face is also impressive....

And the influence of communism is still evident:

Let me take you by the hand, and lead you.....

As are traces of Russian art and literature:

Lilac Time

And as a grand capital city, Berlin has grandeur, and to spare:

Though such antique elements can be scary.....

On the other hand, modern Berlin has attempted to embrace its past and memorialise the atrocities committed in the name of Germany. 

On a 4.7 acre site in central Berlin, between the Brandenburg Gate and the (Norman Foster redomed) Reichstag, 2,711 concrete Stelae form The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

A number of controversies have been aired concerning this monument. For example, in the New Yorker in July 2012, Richard Brody wrote that Berlin is heavy with history, the importance of which is in its specifics, regarding the brazen will and vast exertion to commit murder in the name of race hatred. The mollifying solemnity of pseudo-universal abstractions puts a great gray sentiment in the place of actual memory.

I am not in a position to argue with this view, but, as a passer-by, I couldn't help but think that a state that wanted to forget its past would probably have put a bank on the site instead.....

Meanwhile, in my wanderings in the old East Germany, and in the West, I find other traces of the past waiting for the heavy hand of reconstruction, from this cinema in Arnstadt:

to these houses in Erfut:

from this library in Schwerin:

to this grain store in Wismar:

Which may soon be reborn (if it doesn't fall in the meantime!) like its neighbour:

I've been looking for Germany.

Is it in these images?  Or in the distant past?

Where war and trade went together with the technological skill of boat builders and awesome oarsmen?

Or in the expressive arts and crafts?

Bye, George.  Will you be back for tea?

Or in the master builders of medieval cathedrals?

The sky's the limit....  Well.... Actually....

Which housed so many fine artefacts and mysteries?

Or in its religious controversies and reformations?

Or might it be in the fancies of the pleasure palaces of a different age?

Not the library, Schwerin....

Or is it in memorials to the dead of those who came to conquer or to save?

Eternal fame for the heroes, 1941–1945

Which is the Russian cemetery by the Ilm in Weimar, where 650 young soldiers are buried, but not (quite) forgotten:

My diversions into what is known as Germany have not been systematic, analytical or professorial studies.  I don't really know what I am looking for..... In conversation with two 'West' Germans, who had come to Weimar for a wedding, I learn that the 'East' has smoother roads and better buildings because of post-unification investments that have caused some envy.  

An ongoing tussle.  Wismar.

In my wandering I keep finding unexpected elements of the past that seem happy to remain:

Sign of white-washing?

But, throughout my travels, the constant has been the people - friendly, courteous, helpful, positive.....  Whether of the older generation, not drowning, but waving:

Or the younger, smiling, and reading.....

Full of a sense of optimism, where the six inch perch is really a six pound pike:

Whether alone, with a phone:

Or in two, with some booze:

Or as a trio, making music in unlikely places:

I am inclined to think that (a) Martha Gellhorn would revise her judgement if she were to visit today, and (b) the state of Germany is not in the past, but in the people.

People who live and work and play together, without walls or curtains between them.

Train over the Kiel Canal

One of my uncles used to enjoy conversation, and one of his favourite opening questions was, Are there national characteristics?  Which question he would pursue with energy, so much so that unsuspecting hitchhikers who failed to provide interesting responses would be put back on the roadside in the dust....

I don't know the answer.  And I'm not big on National Anthems. At the risk of sounding faux-innocent I like to think of myself as European rather than belonging to any particular nation-state.  I don't go in for fanaticism, and find flag-waving and debates about whether Murray is English when he loses and Scottish when he wins more than boring and uncomfortable....  

In this line, I used to think of the German anthem as abhorrent, assuming that its chant claimed German supremacy above other countries.

In 1841 August Heinrich Hoffman (who called himself Hoffman von Fallersleben) wrote the words... 

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
Über alles in der Welt,

Wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
Brüderlich zusammenhält.
Von der Maas bis an die Memel,
Von der Etsch bis an den Belt,
Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
Über alles in der Welt!

[Germany, Germany above all things,
Above everything in the world,
when, for protection and defense,
it always stands brotherly together .
From the Meuse to the Memel,
From the Adige to the Belt,
Germany, Germany above all things,
Above everything in the world!]

...while on holiday on the North Sea island of Heligoland, which, curiously, was at the time part of the United Kingdom.  His intent was to encourage various Germanic monarchs to put aside their differences and to unite, bringing together the many minor principalities and duchies that at that time were independent. Hoffman also desired a unified Germany where the rule of law would prevail, which accounts for his insistence on Unity, Justice and Freedom.....

However, the first stanza became indelibly associated with Nazism when it was sung by thousands to welcome Hitler into the Olympic stadium in Berlin in 1936, and consequently the song was banned by the Allies after the war ended.

Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue, 
Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang 

Sollen in der Welt behalten 
Ihren alten schönen Klang, 
Uns zu edler Tat begeistern 
Unser ganzes Leben lang. 
Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue, 
Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang!

[German women, German loyalty,
German wine and German song
Shall retain in the world
Their old beautiful chime
And inspire us to noble deeds
During all of our life.
German women, German loyalty,
German wine and German song!]

In 1990, the third stanza was declared a national anthem by the constitutional court of West Germany (East Germany had its own anthem, Auferstanden aus Ruinen), and the opening line (Unity and Justice and Freedom) is considered by many to be the national motto of Germany....

What is less well known is that Hoffman von Fallersleben wrote the song as a drinking song, that the second stanza is typical of this genre, and that he wrote an alternative third stanza which goes thus.....

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Für das deutsche Vaterland!

Danach lasst uns alle streben
Brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Sind des Glückes Unterpfand;
Stoßet an und ruft einstimmig, 
Hoch, das deutsche Vaterland.

[Unity and justice and freedom
For the German fatherland;
This let us all pursue,
Brotherly with heart and hand.
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the pledge of fortune.
Lift your glasses and shout together,
Prosper, German fatherland.]

Which seems to me to be a much better anthem for a nation - if national anthems you must.....

Keeping track of the Wall

When John F Kennedy visited Berlin in June, 1963, the Wall was a fixture and Germany was divided. His speech resonated then, and, in spirit, should still be resonant:

Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum ["I am a Roman citizen"]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner!"... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner!"

My mastery of the German language is less confident than Kennedy's advisor, and at dinner in Berlin's oldest restaurant (Zur Letzten Instanz [seit 1621] - listed number 809 of 6,213 restaurants in Berlin by TripAdvisor), when I tried to ask for some cheese, to finish our meal, the waiter burst into laughter. 

When asked to explain, he told me that I had just asked him to kiss my arse.....

I would like to be a Berliner..... (but, like so many things, it's a work in progress.....)