Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pure Michigan. On the Road to Lake Medora

After a boring first day of driving across Indiana, we entered Michigan for our next two days of the 900 mile drive to our part of the Upper Peninsula:  Lake Medora, situated in the Keweenaw, about 5 miles south of Copper Harbor.

As our drive progressed, the scenery got wilder, and the season receded.  While it was almost summer in Louisville, we saw spring turning backwards as we went north.

At the end of Day 2, we crossed the Mackinaw Bridge and were on the Upper Peninsula.

Day 3, we headed west and the north, up to the very top of the UP, where everything becomes even wilder and more beautiful still..

Finally comes the drive from Houghton to Lake Medora.

And now we are home, waiting for our second spring.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Glenn Kurtz. Three Minutes in Poland. More Trails to the Past.

Continuing my reading jag. . . .

This is a fascinating book.  In August 1938, Glenn Kurtz's grandparents went to Europe, visiting famous European cities, such as Paris and Brussels.  As part of their trip they also visited a small city in Poland named Nasielsk.  While there, his grandfather shot about three minutes of film, both in black and white and in color, of the people of this town. By the next year, all the Jews in this town will have been deported, first to the Warsaw ghetto and then to the camps.  Of the town's three thousand Jewish inhabitants, less than 100 survived World War II.

Kurts finds this film and recognizes its  potential interest.  He sends it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is able to salvage the film's images.  (Just in time, a few years later and it would have deteriorated beyond repair.)  Kurtz wonders who these people were.  The film is one of the very few home movies made of pre-WWII Poland, and one of the very few in color.

Kurtz wants to find out as much as he can about these people, but it isn't until someone sees the movie on the Holocaust Museum's website and sees her grandfather--whose face remains recognizable over 70 years later.  Once Kurtz meets the man in the movie, now the 80+ year old man named Maurice (Morrie) Chandler of Florida, Kurtz and Chandler try to name as many of the people in the film as they can.

Meeting Morrie, Kurtz begins to find connections and those connections spur further connections.  He travels to Canada, the UK, Israel and Poland.  He becomes, as he admits, obsessed with documenting as much as he can.  But as he eventually recognizes, each connection spins out and the connections almost become infinite.  

When I first viewed my grandfather's film, I imagined it might still be possible to identify a few of the individuals who appeared in the beautiful color images.  But my conversations with survivors quickly spilled over from the frame of the film, from individual identifications into much larger networks. . . .  Jewish Nasielsk  that exists in memory is the chance artifact of those who happened to live longest."

Kurtz recognizes how arbitrary it is that this remembered Nasielsk survived:  arbitrary that he found the film in time, arbitrary that someone happened to see it and recognize her father as a child.  But even more arbitrary, who survived, who lived long enough to tell the story.

Three Minutes in Poland is a glimpse into a lost world and a profound meditation on what makes "history,"  It is a narrative dream.

You can see the move here.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Sarah Wildman. Paper Love. Paper Trails to the Past (A Reading Jag)

Recently I've been reading a lot of books that center around someone's discovery of a cache of papers (or film) that reveals a secret history of a family member during World War II.  The best of these "look back" "memoirs was probably In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi which I wrote about earlier. Another fascinating book is Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind, by Sarah Wildman

Wildman discovers a cache of letters that belonged to her grandfather Karl Wildman. The letters were notable, first because Sarah thought all her grandfather's personal papers had been destroyed, and second because the letters were from a German woman named Valerie (Valy) Scheftel.  Valy was the woman Karl left behind when his family emigrated to the US, shortly after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.  Only Valy's letters remain, but it appears that during the course of the correspondence, Karl promised to love Valy and to help her escape.  As the years went by, the correspondence became more despearate as Valy's circumstances worsened.  Sarah Wildman sets out to discover as much as she can about Valy and, she hopes her grandfather, who--by the end of the war had married an American woman and began a medical practice in the United States.  Sarah Wildman is quite emphatic about how her grandfather's resources were limited--financially (little money and many relatives to support) and logistically (the difficulty of getting exit permits from Germany and entry permits from the US).  However, it is Valy with whom Sarah was becomes fascinated.  And the book becomes the attempt to find out what happened to her.

Sarah Waldman writes for where parts of the book are published.  Thus she has resources the amateur genealogist lacks.  Sarah travels to archives and museums in Europe and the US and visits relatives of people who knew Valy.  She is able to get documents translated and to visit sites in Valy's life.  The book records to an amazingly detailed degree Valy's life, particularly in the years between 1938 and January 29, 1942 when she was deported to Auschwitz and eventually murdered.  Sarah can, in fact, trace her to the very train that carried Valy to the death camp, where the record ends. That is, it's not clear whether she was immediately selected for deathh or died sometime later in the camp.

During the course of her research, an important museum at Bad Arolson is finally opened to researchers.  It includes lists of names and was initially a sort of clearing house by which people could trace the fate of relatives.  As Sarah begins looking at Bad Arolson for traces of Valy, she speaks to one of the major archivists who tells her "It's not a Holy Grail.. . . but it will change the direction of research.  "It's not revolutionary--it's not like Hitler's order to kill the Jews. . . .  [I]t will become a place of instituionalized memory" (106).  Later, he explains that "a list of names takes on a different meaning when it is observed through the eyes of a researcher or someone who knows the history, or through the eyes of someone who wants to understand the dynamics among populations, or what brought survival rather than death" (110).   In other wourds, the "lists of names," the "raw data" must be organized, arranged, and interpreted.  Thus history becomes not simply a set of names or places but a narrative.

In particular, Sarah asks whether the kind of small history she wants to write is important.  "Are small stories important?"  "Yes," the historian immediately answers: "As historians we can describe what happened, Where it happened.  But we can't exactly describe why it happened.  [Or as a historical narratologist would say, we need chronicle and plot, a story and discourse.]. The historian cannot describe the suffering of the individuals.  Therefore, we need  the memorials.  We need the letters, the diaries, the the memories of the individuals,  As the main part of the picture of what happened" (94).

In reading this book, one participates in Sarah's search.  It is a book that I found hard to put down because, like Sarah Wildman, I desperately wanted to know what happened to Valy

(More on my reading jag to come).


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

From My Window: Watching the Spring Come In.

 We have been watching spring and the trees coming in through our window.

 In the middle of all this bursting and blooming, we had a tremendous rainbow,  It arched over the building and was at one point almost a double.  So hard to take its picture.

Then a few weeks later we were treated to another explosion of color.  Every year, two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, Louisville puts on a big fireworks show called Thunder Over Louisville.  We were completely surprised to discover we could see it from our very own window. (Again, very hard to take its picture, but it was definitely another spectacle.)

Now we are pretty much in full green mode.

But next week we plan to leave for Michigan, where spring has barely begun.  Get to see the leaves come in all over again!

(Picture courtesty of the wonderful Jill Burkland, who has a cottage just across the lake.)


Monday, April 24, 2017

A Night at the Opera: Carl Orff Die Kluge/Der Mond at the Prague National Theater

When we were in Prague we went to the opera, mainly because I wanted to see the interior of the National Theater (see below), which is only possible during a performance.  I chose two one act plays by Carl Orff mainly because I hadn't ever seen them (much less heard of them) before, and they were on a good night for us.

Before the opera, the only music I knew from Orf was Carmina Burana.  Reading the probably best program I have ever seen (a 25 academic essay on Orff, the origins of CB,the complex relation of his music with Nazi Germany and more), I discovered that these two one-act operas were sort of fractured fairy tales.  The first one was Die Kluge, which we liked best, and which I will talk about here.  The fracturing comes in many forms.  There is little (if any) psychological depth; instead the action revolves around a series of riddles.  The helpful program points out the relation to 1001 Arabian Nights. All this is enhanced by the set and wardrobe that were made for this performance.

The program says "the aesthetics of our production comes across as a fantasy cross-over of loose inspiration by 1920s constructivism and op-art."  But I also see cubism which was the primary Czech contribution to avant-garde architecture.  For example, the House at the Black Madonna built 1911-12 by Josef Gocar (now the Museum of Cubist Art).

It was a marvelous, and marvelously unexpected, pleasure. And it got us into the National Theater.

The National Theater was important  (like the Hungarian Parliament or the Millenium buildings) in establishing a Czech identity.  It was constructed by publicly raised funds, and its iconography paid attention to the importance of language and literature to the Czeck people.

The National Theater opened in 1881.  After eleven performances of Smetana's Libuse, composed specifically for the event, the theater burned to the ground.  A second collection to raise funds was immediately initiated and was an enormous success: the theater was rebuilt.  How important art, architecture, literature,language was to Czeck identity.

All the ornamentation is allegorical, done to a strict iconographic program.

The interior

The famous curtain.  It represents not only the building of the nation but the building of the theater as well.

And here we are enjoying it all.  Ah Europe!


Monday, April 10, 2017

Desserts. Budapest 2017.

I never knew how much I loved Eastern Euopean desserts before I went to Hungary!  (Sometimes I forgot to take the picture until I was half way through>)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Dozsa Gyorgy ut, Budapest. Another Day, Another Street of Beautiful Buildings.

This is my last post from Budapest (except for a finale with pictures of desserts also to come).  I started it when we were in Budapest, but then I got a really bad cold and pretty much took to my bed for a couple of days.  But I want to finish it because it also offers a kind of finale.  It's just a record of our walk down one street, and its main purpose was to show the richness and diversity one can find scattered through Budapest.  The street Dozsa Gyorgy ut is an important one.  It runs perpendicular to Andrassy (which it meets in about its middle) and eventually parallel to Heroe's Square.  But it's not different from many other streets.  So here we go on a walk down Dozsa Gyorgy ut.

The picture above is of 152 and was built by Lajos Schoditsch and Bela Eberling between 1910 and 1911.  It has the more geometric (rather than floral) decorations of late Art Nouveau. 


Next up at at Dozsy Gyorgy ut 55 is the a synagogue built by Hungary's greatest architect of synagogues, Lipot Baumhorn, Built in 1908, it deteriorated after 1945 and was used first as a warehouse, then a sporting center.  It now appears to be abandoned.

The Dozsa Gyorgy Synagogue resembles Baumhorn's Fabric Synagogue in Timisoara and his Great Synagogue in Szeged (which I must post pictures of).  Like them, the Synagogue has rose windows and is shaped as a square.

After the Synagogue, we stumbled on a school at 136 with amazing tiles depicting children at play and learning.  

The school was built between 1910 and 1911 by Erno Balasz.  The facade and tiles are attributed to Karoly Kernstock, a famous Hungarian painter, but there is some dispute about this.

Next at 108 is a lovely building about which I have no information except that it would have definitely been built in the first 10 years or so in the 20th century.

Lovely gate and interesting details.

The next notable building is Dozsa Gyorgy 102, built by Samuel Revesz and Joseph Kollar in 1914.  It was the home of Jeno Vida whom I wrote about earlier.

Immediately after is Dozsa Gyorgy 100 built by Imre Benes inn 1903.  This lush Art Nouveau villa sits directly across the street from the neo-Classicist Museum of Fine Arts.

Further along is a house I have been watching since I first started noticing buildings.  Each year is becomes more decayed and I haven't been able to find anything about it.  But it must have once been very imposing, sitting as it is directly across from Varosliget, or Central Park.

Finally, or at least as far as we got,  is another building at 64 by Gyula Fodor.  

The facade is somewhat deteriorated.  But it has many interesting details, reflecting Fodor's love of sculptural elements.

But where is the door?  

Around the side, along a kind of alley.

And yes, those windows are stained glass. (Oh how much I want to see the inside!).

On top of the door.

Peeking through the glass.

Wanting to open the door.

I love these buildings so very much.  First because they are beautiful, although sometimes you have to look hard to see it.  But second because there is this thrill of discovery, whenever I find out who built it (and even better who lived there).  I glean this information from used books and internet chases for clues.  Budapest is so rich. Just one street (albeit a large and important one).  It's a mosaic and a kaleidescope all at the same time.