Don’t go to the Zocalo on Saturday!

23 Oct

 

 

Oh, my, it’s been so long since I’ve blogged anything!  On the one hand this is a good sign, because it means we’ve been so busy having adventures that I haven’t had time to write about them! On the other hand, it means I’ve been so busy putting up shares on Facebook and wasting time in other ways that I have just been lazy about writing.  We have been in Mexico for three weeks now. We started in Ajijic, then travelled by bus to Queretaro–an authentically Mexican town unspoiled by mass tourism that I want to write about!–where we made a side trip to San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, and are now in Mexico City.  I will get back to writing about these places, but our day at the Zocalo was so emblematic of present-day Mexico City that I just need to write all of it down.

First of all, we are staying in La Condesa, a rather upscale neighborhood that now seems to be Hipster Central, filled with cafes, artsy boutiques, and organic food. We had originally booked a place on AirBnB on Avenida Amsterdam–a gloriously elegant street with many intact and recently renovated 1930s buildings–but that apartment had a cave in (literally: the bathroom above fell in to the kitchen below!). Our lovely young hostess Xanath offered us instead this apartment on Calle Culiacan. Thoughtfully decorated and renovated, its only drawback is being on the second floor–a bit of a problem for G’s COPD lungs, but he has adjusted well. The street noise is minimal, and although the back bedroom wall is right up against another apartment, the noise during the week has stopped after 10 pm.

So let’s get to our Saturday, and our plan to go to the city’s main square, the center of Old Mexico, the Zocalo.  On Friday night, we had battled our way from Coyoacan through the city’s horrendous traffic–the poor Uber driver!–having forgotten that it was the beginning of the weekend, so the traffic would be even worse than usual.  Saturday morning, George informed me that the people in the apartment on the other side of the wall had stayed up ALL NIGHT talking and celebrating.  Thank God George took the back bedroom–he can sleep through that kind of thing, I cannot.  Add to this the fact that we are both having the turistas now–Travellers’ Diarrhea–George worse than me, so we’re sleeping fitfully.  But we decided to carry on with plans, not having a clue what was going on at the Zocalo that day, but intent on staying on some kind of schedule of “must sees” in the city–always a mistake for travellers who are experienced enough to know that it’s the serendipitous aspects of travel rather than the “must sees” that are important.  But we did want to see the Templo Mayor, and were excited at the prospect of seeing the very first printing press in the Americas in La Casa de la Primera Imprenta, which was right across from the Palacio Nacional.

But before we got going, we heard a loud bang outside–and then the electricity went out in the whole neighborhood. This meant that we couldn’t shower nor–in our case, most urgently–flush the toilets.  Remember the turistas? Yeah, that part….To our utter amazement, as our hostess was telling us that it would take many hours for the electricity to come back on–it came back on!  A transformer had blown, but apparently Mexican repair services were right on the problem. Everyone was surprised. We were all trying to figure out what we would do if there was no electricity for days….Mexicans do seem to take these things in stride, however.

We have been using Uber to get around–it’s worked like a charm and isn’t that expensive, and much more trustworthy than Mexican taxi drivers–boy, do they have a bad reputation, even among the Mexicans!  Our Uber driver this time was a loquacious one, assuming that we understood completely what he was telling us in Spanish. As we got close to the Zocalo, the crowds and the traffic even surprised our old veteran driver. But he got us there.  While we worked our way over to the enormous Cathedral, it became obvious that some enormous event was taking place on the plaza: along with the usual assortment of vendors, dancers, Aztec healers, and policemen, there were absolute swarms of people and tents and colorful floats. Apparently it was a parade having something to do with Dia de los Muertos festivities, but we only learned later that this event has only been held for two years, and has something to do with scenes that appeared in a James Bond movie! (Look it up on YouTube! It’s true!)

We had no idea!  I truly have never been part of such a huge stream of people who just kept coming and coming and coming–not even Mardi Gras had so many raucous, noisy and jostling crowds.  The photos above of those imaginary creatures floating above people’s heads is as close as we got to seeing anything of the parade, or anything of the Zocalo plaza itself.  We were able to come around the side of the Cathedral, where the traditional host of street vendors and dancers were arrayed, in less of a crowd.

By this time, I was in desperate need of a bathroom–nowhere to be seen. We worked our way along the street where a policeman said we might find a bathroom and found none. Then I saw a sign that said “Museo.” Great, a museum is bound to have a bathroom, and we’re always curious to visit any museum we can.  We went in. It was a building run by UNAM, presenting a kind of promotional story about the history of Mexico’s great university system, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.  The woman at the counter was not going to let us in, even when we agreed to pay the 20 pesos admission. Then one of the curators arrived to tell us there was a little music presentation happening–she spoke English–that we could attend, to which we said fine–anything to get to the bathroom!

And so we left the chaos of the Zocalo, and entered this beautiful 18th-century building, and ended up sitting in a room for an hour listening to earnest university music students playing a lovely bit of afternoon classical music. Through the windows, we could hear the pounding of the drums from the Aztec dancers, and the noise from the parade as well. But it was a delightful respite, and totally unexpected. One thing we found perplexing, and perhaps a very Mexican thing to do:  The program they handed us gave us the names of the composers and the works played, but not the performers’ names. We mentioned this to the organizers at the end of the performance, and they looked surprised; so they asked one of the professors who the performers were, and they told us their first names!  Is it a Yankee thing to expect recognition for performances? Just an interesting little observation.

By this time it was about 1:30, and we needed to eat, despite our delicate tummies. We found the old-fashioned restaurant recommended by our hostess, El Cardenal, and had an interesting if relatively uninspiring meal, then headed out in hopes of finding the Aztec Temple and then the home of the first printing press.  We got to the tremendously exciting site of Templo Mayor, the remains of which were uncovered across from the immense Cathedral when doing construction for the subway in the 1970s.  This is the place where Cortez probably met Montezuma, and it is tinglingly overwhelming, and fantastically immediate. There’s an excellent museum that displays more of their incredible finds, and we were on our way there, when things got hairy.

Remember the turistas? Yep, they struck again.  So we decided we would have to forego the Temple’s Museum, and try to make a dash to the Casa with the printing press, which is what we really wanted to see in any case.

Finding a public WC–strategically placed all over downtown, with a nice matron who for 5 pesos hands you some TP–we then made the error of going back TOWARDS the crowds that were either 1) coming from the parade; or 2) heading for the Saturday markets which, from the full-on shouting taking place from every vendor, must be a regular weekend event. We were swept along in this seemingly endless stream of people. When we got to the Casa–it was closed for renovation!   This fact had not been mentioned in any guide or online site we consulted, although it was obvious this had been the situation for a while.

What to do now?  Feeling a bit queasy already, but determined to accomplish something on this day, we decided to try for the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso–site of some of the earliest murals of the group that became so famous as the Mexican Muralist movement.  This again pushed us back into the crowds, which had not subsided one bit in all this time.  Going at a glacial pace was the only way to proceed, and our turn toward the Colegio placed us on five blocks of unrelenting and deafening spruiking (the Aussie word for street vendors’ calling for customers) and the continuous crush of people.  What was so astonishing to us, as we confronted this maelstrom of humanity and noise, was that the Mexicans seemed completely composed and patient, as if this were perfectly normal. No aggression, no pushing, no bad behavior.  Hats off to these people!  I was having a nervous breakdown! Honestly, I don’t know of any time when I have been in such a crowd of people for so prolonged a period, with a constant stream of humans coming both ways.

We did finally get to San Ildefonso, an old Jesuit college that was one of the first places to commission muralists to paint its walls (in 1922-24). While we weren’t able to see the famous Diego Rivera room–it had another exhibition going on–we did get to record several of the very dark and moving images of José Clemente Orozco, and the less polemical murals by Fernando Leal and Jean Charlot.  So at last, we accomplished one tourist must-see feat!

Getting back to our apartment was another trial for our poor Uber driver–the only time we had to wait a long time for one to get to us–and again, he was one who wanted to talk to us about the failings of the government and the need of humanity to be kinder to each other, all the while assuming that we understood everything he was saying in Spanish.  What I did understand was that Mexican traffic and Mexican crowds are almost always this overwhelming around the Zocalo, although this particular Saturday was especially brutal.

By the time we got back to La Condesa,  we were filled with nervous exhaustion and shaky digestion. But it gave us a real glimpse into life in Mexico City and taught us some things: 1) always check what’s going on at the Zocalo before heading off; 2) be prepared for enormous bodies of human beings no matter where or when in this city; and 3) traffic in the city is impossible.  But we also learned that the Mexican people are tops: kind, humane, helpful, and infinitely patient.  And resourceful! I’ll finish with two images of street vendors, improvising to present their wares: one a woman making esquite, a corn dish, on top of a shopping cart and over a can with a butane burner; the other one of the many traditional “healers” on the Zocalo performing his smoking and laying of hands on a person asking for help.

What an amazing place is Mexico City!

Travelling again!

5 Oct

lylelookingatlouis_day4_aug2018

The photo above is only one of the reasons we’re off again on peregrinations: a new grandson!  Here we see siblings meeting each other for the first time. So happy that Mama Dottie was able to take such a perfect picture of Lyle and new brother Louis Seely Boeck.

UPDATE:  I wrote that paragraph at the end of August, before we had left for our drive LA-Denver. It’s now the beginning of October, and we spent a month in Denver with the kiddos (and stayed at our friends the Redifers’ house–thanks for offering us a bit of space, Cyndy!). We were SO busy being grandparents that I never had time to get back to this writing.  To sum up our Denver stay:  baby has club feet, so we spent each Monday at the EXCELLENT Anschutz Center Children’s Hospital, where baby Louis had his casts changed, something he will have done for several weeks more, then a tiny surgical procedure, then years of bars and braces on his little feet.  The good news: this birth defect is entirely reparable, and Max & Dottie are very grateful that they have such good care available to them in their own town.  Meanwhile we also spent several rewarding if exhausting hours entertaining an extremely loquacious and active two-and-a-half-year old. Like all two-year-olds, it seems, he adores big machines, so finding a digger to watch was the highlight of his visit with Baba.

So where are we now?  We are once again on the road! (Well, actually in the air for this latest leg.) One month in Mexico, then back to stay in Oakhurst near Yosemite for several months at my sister’s house while they go travelling. What we’re doing after Christmas is still a bit up in the air–probably still in Oakhurst, with jaunts elsewhere in California.  Then two-three months in Europe, doing some research on my “Three German Women” book, thanks to the graciousness of our friends Wolfgang and Nora, and the amazing resources available on HomeAway and AirBnb.

For now:  we are briefly back in Ajijic, Mexico, where we spent many weeks last year. (See our fairly comprehensive blogs about Ajijic last year, archived in March & April 2017).  The weather is fine, G. is having problems with COPD at this altitude, we’re staying in a big rambling house that is–you guessed it, as always–right next door to a construction site!  More Americans than ever here–a result of the Trump factor in some cases, and a lot of romantic notions for people our age seeking a cheaper, less stressful lifestyle.  Everyone still seems to be over 55 or 80, and lots of gated communities. The hills behind are gloriously green, with yellow bushes interspersed, as they were not when we were last here.  So far I have seen very few birds worth mentioning but lots of gorgeous butterflies, and the Carretera–the main road into Guadalajara–is still treacherous to cross.  We will go on to Queretaro on Monday, and will finally meet my cousin and his family, and stay in a lovely casita in the historical district. Hopefully, we will also get to visit Guanajuato–where my cousin’s brilliant daughter is at the university–and even San Miguel de Allende.  Then we are off to Mexico City for two weeks–if G’s lungs can stand it. We are so looking forward to visiting Mexico’s magnificent museums, but unlike the last time I was in the city FIFTY YEARS AGO (!), we are now old enough to have to worry about things like air quality, altitude and noise.

Well, that’s a quick summary of what we’re up to now. Alas, so far I have only seen two cats in Ajijic, both of them while attending a meeting, so I couldn’t get a photo of them.  But word is our landlady in Queretaro has cats!  So I promise to conclude with a cat pic in our next entry!  Oh, there’s a gato in the graffiti:

grafitti_ajijic_oct2018

 

How broken will our lives be?

21 Jul

brokenlives_book

As part of my “regimen” of reading to acquire some historical context for my “Three German Women” project, I am now reading Jarausch’s Broken Lives:  How Ordinary Germans Experienced the 20th Century.  While Jarausch focusses on the generation born in the 1920s and only one of my women (Maria) was born in 1920, the stories told by a cross-section of ordinary Germans who grew up in this era do provide some illuminating insights into a time that many of us have too quickly dumped into some “that was then and we know how it turned out for those Nazis” bin, giving little thought to what it was like to grow up in such a tumultuous atmosphere.  He depends on many memoirs and diaries, both published and unpublished, as well as interviews with those still living (their memories, of course, colored by time and hindsight). While I am still focussing on the Weimar years and through World War II, Jarausch is particularly interested in documenting how Germany and the German people, both East and West, overcame the total destruction of their cities and their society and rebuilt so successfully after the war. This fact is another aspect that we as “victors” sometimes gloss over: despite all of the help given by the Allies for reconstruction, it was not necessarily a given that Germany and Austria would become so prosperous, so functional that they are now major players in the global economy and culture.

For my purposes, the book’s greatest strength is in emphasizing what I want to highlight:  that while larger political upheavals were taking place, most ordinary people, and especially young people, were simply living their lives–falling in love, getting jobs, finding enough to eat, going to concerts–without much thought about–or participation in–the conquest of their culture by fascism or, later, by Soviet ideologies.  As one informant writes of being an adolescent in the 1930s,  “The years of my apprenticeship in Leipzig were on the whole quite happy. I hardly paid any attention to politics.” (p. 89)  Sound familiar?

As for the commonly-heard statement, “why didn’t everyone protest against Hitler?” Jarausch presents some harrowing first-hand accounts, and concludes : “The memoirs show that it took exceptional insight and courage to remain aloof, refuse to comply, or actively resist the twisted universe of the Third Reich, since the sanctions were lethal.” (p. 96) Even in those families that were politically aware, Jewish, and/or Communist, peer pressure, for example, to be part of Hitler Youth triumphed over any objections parents might have. The author also finds ample evidence in these memoirs of how EXCITING all of these new actions could be, especially for German youth from rural areas, who for the first time met–through country-wide sporting events and Nazi-organized activities–other young people, all sharing this idea of “making Germany great again” after the shame of losing the Great War and the humiliation of the punitive Versailles Treaty.

And in the beginning, Hitler’s policies DID greatly improve the lives of ordinary Germans: autobahns, free health care, sponsored outings in the fresh air, recognition for healthy living, and guaranteed employment for those who followed the rules.  But when sanctions grew against Jews, when trade unionists were arrested, when militaristic propaganda took over the schools’ curriculum, not having paid attention led to the realization that they were heading toward a war that very few had anticipated.

Much has been written about the fact that after the debacle of the Second World War, the deprivations of the post-War years, the efforts at “de-Nazification”, few Germans have been willing to, as Jarausch writes, “confront their personal responsibility and commit themselves to doing active penance.”  This fact, too, I see as a normal human reaction: one remembers the good stuff, and has a hard time owning up to one’s complicity in evil.  In the sections of the book on the post-War years, both in the GDR (East Germany) and the FRD (West Germany), the memoirists focus primarily on how hard they worked to gain economic stability and eventually, material prosperity. Ideology seldom plays a major role in everyday life, or at least not in an obvious way.

Given that I have been reading this during weeks when the news in the U.S., as well as in other countries around the world, is incomprehensibly terrifying, as we endure a mentally unhinged, probably traitorous, American president, and we watch in helplessness at the rise of autocratic leaders in previously democratic nations,  all of these stories give me pause.  I will not make the simplistic comparison of Hitler and Trump–too many differences, despite some alarming similarities.  But I am struck by reading of the consequences of not paying attention to what is happening on a grander scale as we live our daily, usually banal, lives, and certainly the consequences of not learning from the (very recent!) past.

As Jarausch writes at the end of his worthy book, “[h]eeding the lessons of experience and memory has transformed many Germans into sincere democrats and pacifists who want to prevent a recurrence of earlier horrors.” Will we–our children and grandchildren–be able to prevent more broken lives by learning from the past? So I conclude by once again posting the signs of fascism. The American trajectory may follow different paths determined by different banalities, but the end results may be the same.

fascism_signs_2004

 

 

Where have you been?

23 Jun

A woman dresses a girl while staying at a shelter with fellow members of a caravan of migrants from Central America, prior to preparations for an asylum request in the U.S., in Tijuana

Several friends have written to me, wondering why I haven’t been writing on my blog for several months.  I had no idea that I had such ardent followers!  So let me just say that the last few months have been an arduous mix of surgical “procedures” (all of them relatively minor in execution, but requiring lots of recovery time), some work on the book I am purportedly writing (mostly now a translation of Irmgard Kern’s “Autobiografie einer jungen Frau”–Autobiography of a Young Woman– from 1934), and hours of utterly terrified despair at the political situation in this country.  The photo above encapsulates this mood:  the complete inhumanity of removing helpless, innocent children from their families in the name of a hateful, entirely unnecessary  “policy” and “crackdown” against illegal immigration at the U.S. southern border.

As a born and bred California Girl, I have grown up in a multicultural society from the very beginning. Our neighbors always included Mexicans, whether “legal” or not; it was never a question for children. I went every day to Nellie’s house to eat stacks of her flour tortillas, either hot from the griddle with butter dripping off the sides, or with a dollop of refritos. I have never found that taste again, in all the years of trying–except for a brief time in San Antonio, when the secretary of one of the university departments where I worked shared her lunch with me, including HER home-made flour tortillas.  Mexican food was like mother’s milk to me, as it is for so many Californians and other Southwesterners.

My father was the foreman and chief grower in a flower nursery. Almost all of his workers were Mexican–initially, those who came to California through the bracero program, which allowed them to stay for 6 months a year, then they went home to Mexico, and would come back the next year.  I remember getting post cards addressed to “Estimado Rudy” from some of these workers, who would want to return the next year. They ate at our house, and taught us Spanish words, and told us how much they missed their own children back home.  Later on, when the bracero program ended (in 1964), my father’s workers were either Latinos born in California, or illegals. When I worked in the greenhouses when I was in high school, we sang Mexican songs–I was learning Spanish in school by then–while we debudded chrysanthemums to get them ready for market.  These women were absolute whizzes at doing this job, and could complete a row of plants before I was halfway through.  When the Immigration people showed up unannounced, my father would whistle some signal, and the illegals would jump out the back door, while we played games of interference.

ee&1stgradeclass_crenshawelem1_1956

My first-grade class in Torrance, California, 1955.

Mexicans weren’t the only group of “others” that I grew up with. My father’s boss was Japanese, one of the many Japanese-American flower growers who had established the floral industry in California.  One of my dad’s assistants in the greenhouses was Takako, an issei woman who we loved to visit at her house in Gardena, because she gave us rice-paper-wrapped candies, and laughed when we told her our Norwegian grandmother served us rice with cinnamon and sugar on it, which she thought was the weirdest foodway she had ever heard of.  I took piano lessons with Irene Shinoda, my dad’s boss’s daughter, and I was good friends with Lynn and Linda Nakamura, twins in my 5th-grade class.  These families, all of whom had been in America longer than my family had been, had been sent to detention camps during World War II, and were housed for a time in the horse stables at Santa Anita racetrack.  I knew about this example of America’s treatment of “others” from a very early age.

Perhaps this early exposure to lots of different people is why so much of California (although not all)  is so resistant to these current atrocities.  I am constantly charmed today when going to any “ethnic” restaurant in LA that the clientele will almost always be a mix of all these cultures–Armenians eating Mexican food, Mexican-Americans eating Vietnamese, Afro-Americans eating Chinese.  America at its best is a happy melting pot, ethnically diverse and so mixed that racial categories become relatively irrelevant and hard to pin down.  The warm glow I feel when experiencing tolerance and acceptance just makes the hateful headlines we now read every day heart-wrenching and incomprehensible.  Why would anyone want to support such cruel and UNNECESSARY political actions?

So, my friends, that’s where I’ve been:  sitting on my butt recovering from minor surgeries and stewing in helplessness about the fate of this country because of an aberrant electoral technicality that is now leading us away from our “better angels” toward a surreal fascism that has no happy ending for anyone.  On that happy note, and in lieu of my usual cat photo, I submit this list of the signs of fascism:

fascism_signs_2004

 

 

Image-making

21 Apr

Bear with me as I try to make a point about the media’s construction of “Image” and its manipulation of the visual record–whether aesthetic or historical or both. Theory has never been my strong suit as a thinker or teacher, so I may be reinventing the hermeneutic wheel here in a flat-footed way; and it could be that my comparisons here are stretched beyond persuasiveness, but current events have contrived to bring these ideas together for me right now.

This is the article that began this rumination:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/17/mary-beard-cut-us-version-civilisations-fearing-slightly-creaky/

 

If she is to be believed, the eminent scholar Mary Beard, pictured above, was largely deleted from the American presentation of the ambitious new “Civilizations” series, because, according to her, PBS Boston thought her appearance wouldn’t appeal to an American audience. She tweeted: “Can’t help think that there is something about a creaky 63 year old grey haired lady that doesn’t quite fit the bill. But I am probably smelling a rat where there isn’t one!” Beard also indicated that the American edits veered the narration of the series much more directly toward Christian views, and turned the episodes into an “anodyne” version that critics have noted in a rebuke of the productions’ “value free” approach to the subject.

While Beard may indeed be placing blame for the cuts on the wrong culprit, that such edits were made at all is a dismaying indictment of U.S. media’s interpretation of what American audiences want or should be exposed to–as if we can’t deal with another culture’s approach to history and art. Such micromanagement of what the American public sees smacks of the most egregious kind of censorship:  insulting an entire culture’s intelligence. Personally, as a “creaky old lady” myself, I tend to believe that Mary Beard is right:  her physical appearance doesn’t fit the mold of female talking head in America.  As if anyone watching a series with as lofty a goal as explaining “civilization” would be put off by a female presence not as attractive as the weather girls on local television stations!

The second image (which I don’t seem to be able to edit into place, so will have to place it  at the bottom of this discourse) is a screen shot from the scholar Thomas Elsaesser’s film about his family, “Sonneninsel”, “Sun Island” in English.

http://www.3sat.de/mediathek/?mode=play&obj=72067

As I have written before (https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/a-book-proposal/), Elsaesser serendipitously discovered my blog about Irmgard Rexroth-Kern, one of my “Three German Women”, and contacted me because Kern and her husband H.G. Rexroth figure in his film! (An indication of what a godsend Google can be for researchers!) He quite graciously sent me photos of Fr. Kern, as she appeared in the 1940s, and we have been sharing information ever since.  I was thrilled that he brought his film to USC this week, where we were able to see it yesterday and to meet the man himself.  “Sun Island” is a fascinating documentary based on home movies that tells a complex story of family, but brings up many other intellectual strands, having to do with architecture, the birth of the Green movement, memory, and revelations about everyday German life before, during, and after World War II.

After the film’s presentation and insightful discussion by extremely clued-in film students (they are, after all, at one of the most renowned film schools in the world), one of the faculty members wanted Elsaesser to address the “dilemma” raised by the film showing images of family members in Nazi uniform. The argument seemed to center on the fact that American audiences would not be able to read these images as anything but meaning that Elsaesser’s family were indeed Nazis, and that while Elsaesser does mention the appearance of people in uniforms, he doesn’t explain clearly enough what these depictions “mean”.  There was much back and forth about whether such images should be deleted for an American audience that wouldn’t understand.

Such concerns, to my mind, are exactly why such images of Germans in the 1930s and 1940s should be shown–to give a realistic presentation of what living in Germany at this tumultuous time meant.  Everyday life went on, people continued to make gardens, have friends over for tea, went for strolls in the gardens or swims in the lake.  Just like today, most Germans were, if not apolitical, neither Nazis nor leftists. As the war proceeded, men were drafted and sent off to the front. There wasn’t much they could do about it no matter how they felt about the military forces in charge of the country, unless they were immensely courageous and refused to go. Americans should also try to remember that Germans were not receiving the same kind of news that the Allies received; as far as most Germans knew, they were winning victories, they were fighting for the Fatherland, and life went on.  By the mid-40s, having a family member in uniform was as normal as seeing an American in uniform during the Vietnam war, and the feelings about their presence were as complex and emotional as were ours during that time.

But for the media,  what IMAGE is presented and how it will be interpreted is of utmost importance.  The awareness by professional documentarians and filmmakers of the inevitable self-censorship that happens with any film-making must always, I think,  be informed by film’s educational possibilities, even when dealing with “the market”, as the film-watching public is considered to be. Too often, however, those market forces seem to take precedence over the opportunity to educate.  That Elsaesser has such access to this amazing vernacular footage provides a brilliant opportunity to expand the interpretation of German life, to broaden the expected image of GERMAN that the world has created. As the people in this film reveal, they embraced neither one ideology nor the other; their visualized story presents a much more mundane picture of human beings going about the living of their lives, unaware that they were experiencing what has now become history.  Elsaesser’s desire to eradicate some stereotypes and misinterpretations of this past is the main reason I’m writing my book, too:  each of my German Women had to deal with the exigencies of this miserable history as it was happening, and none of them fit neatly into any of these black-and-white models of politics or ideology.  The concern about “accepted” presentation–whether of the supposedly desired female image for TV or the assumed meaning of a Nazi uniform–is not what is important to me or, I would hope, to most intelligent viewers or readers.  This “creaky old lady” just wants these stories to be told as factually yet evocatively as possible.

 

2018-04-21.png

A screen shot from Thomas Elsaesser’s “Sun Island,” showing a family member sitting in German uniform at a family gathering during WWII.

Book proposal accepted!

14 Mar

cambridgecontract

So my book proposal, Three German Women:  Personal Histories from the Twentieth Century, has been accepted by the press to whom I sent the proposal!  EEEK!  Now I really have write it!  I am excited, and not yet daunted.

Here’s the blog I wrote about the topic:  https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/a-book-proposal/

I have changed the deadline to September 2019, just to be safe, but I hope I will have it finished by next Spring at the latest.

And here’s the “blurb”, as the publishers call it, that I just sent back with the contract:

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

THREE GERMAN WOMEN:  PERSONAL HISTORIES FROM THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

 

This book presents the life stories of three women of the German-speaking realm whose lives inspired the author directly: mathematician Maria Weber Steinberg (1920-2013);  journalist Irmgard Rexroth-Kern (1907-1983) ; and Viennese art historian Fr. Dr. Anna von Spitzmüller (1903-2001).  The lives of these three women serve as emotional mirrors to the cultural transformations and tumultuous history of the 20th century. Their stories tell of the hardships, struggles, and victories of intellectual European women in this era. Each was related to men who played a role in European cultural life, men who received some prominence in history books; these women, in contrast, received very few public accolades for their important achievements. Placing them in the cultural context of the times in Germany and Austria, the author  highlights the traumatic choices imposed on ordinary people by political and social circumstances over which they had no control. Along with the women’s individual stories, the chapters focus on overarching themes: intellectual women’s roles in European society , the fate of Jewish culture in Germany and Austria, and specific historical background describing the incidents affecting their life trajectories (e.g., Irmgard Kern’s involvement in Berlin’s literary world,  Dr. Spitzmüller’s work with the Monuments Men, and Maria Steinberg’s father’s position in the Reichstag of the Weimar era).

As you can see, I simply cobbled together aspects of my original proposal.

And now I put out the call:  anyone who has any information about any of these women and their families–photographs, too!–please contact me, either here in the comments or through email at esauboeck@gmail.com.

Now back to work!  Right now I’m converting Fr. Kern’s “Autobiografie einer jungen Frau,” published in 1932 in a German newspaper in Fraktur, into readable text; then I will translate it.

 

 

 

 

 

Drizzle or sprinkle?

3 Mar

As we sat inside on one of the RARE-and-getting-rarer Southern Californian days when it rained, George and I got into a discussion about which KIND of rain was falling at that moment, and which was the correct term for which kind of rain. I maintained that “sprinkle” is heavier rain than “drizzle,” which I understand as a misty kind that doesn’t cause drops to fall (as in the two photos above). If you can see drops on the ground–as in the third picture above–then it’s a “sprinkle,” but not yet a full-on rain, and it may pass by quickly. G. thought (and still does) that “drizzle” refers to a greater amount of rain over a longer period of time.

When I put this question to my ultimate source of authority–my Facebook friends–the discussion was lively, with arguments on both sides. In the end, the “drizzlers” outweighed the “sprinklers,” but I think only because I framed the question in terms of which kind of rain brought more water. We were particularly swayed by the experts: our friends who live in Oregon and Washington. Here’s what one of them said:  “After 30 plus years in Oregon I have a hundred different words for moisture in the air a sprinkle is light rain for a brief time. A drizzle is a light rain that lasts for hours. Drizzle is the answer!”  And another friend:  ” It’s the weather pattern here in the southern Willamette Valley that I call low hung mung. The sodden blanket of grey that spits a fine mist of wet continuously for days on end.”  So in terms of the AMOUNT of wet, “drizzle” seems to be the correct answer.  

Not wanting to concede defeat, I turned to those other sources of authoritative information, the internet and Youtube. First is another blog entry on terms for rain in that soggy region, the Pacific Northwest:

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/10-words-rain

This one seems to substantiate my feelings about the term “sprinkle”, as does this little video:

Being the diplomat that I am (!), I’m going to declare a tie:  in terms of wetness, “drizzle” implies more water over a longer time, while “sprinkle”  refers to sudden droplets that clear up quickly.

In any case, rain of any sort is becoming an increasingly infrequent, and therefore welcome, phenomenon in SoCal. We’re just thankful that we’ve had some this week, whether “sprinkles,” “drizzle” or steady rain!