The shoestrings of the girl sitting next to me on the train are green. The girl has blond hair and her iPhone has pink ears. When she leaves her shoestrings are still open, fluttering green in the wind. In the newspaper they say in Chicago they will dye the river green on St. Patrick’s day. I am not quite sure if it is the Charles River, named after King Charles I., who lost his head in 1649. Anthony van Dyck portrayed him once, riding on a white horse through a wide open gate. The gate is decorated with large green draperies. The green of better days. The neighbor, who is old, remembers the past. The past was maybe not a better, but for him a greener place. He says on the lawns, behind the backyard, where we stand, his mother told him, have been wild tulips growing around 1900. That’s been a while, say I. He only remembers sweet violets standing there, I only know sweet violets from the poems of Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Adelbert von Chamisso and still hear a light, green melody from Robert Schumann in my ear, but the lawn where once sweet violets stood, is not a lawn anymore, but a place where young families live in new-built houses. Only one roof is colored green.
The girls all swear. They swear to god, to their country, they swear to their mothers, grand-mothers and to the Holy Catholic Church. They swear to high heaven. They never, ever would even think of drinking alcohol. All girls are heavily drunk. The boys never swear. The boys are all heavily drunk. The girls wear skirts, that are no skirts anymore. They wear dresses, that have no secrets to hide and shoes higher than anything else I ever saw. The boys wear a sweatshirt and jeans. They wear the same sneakers as I often wear. The girls are vomiting three or four times. The boys do so, too. Both the girls and the boys are very well prepared. The girls tell me a wrong name. The boys don’t tell me a name at all. The girls say their parents are in the US or no longer alive, the boys don’t say a word at all. The girls tell me wrong numbers or mobile numbers of friends. The boys say nothing at all. The girls start to cry. Long streams of tanning sprays run over their cheeks. Long, false eyelashes fall in my hands, by wiping their tears away. The girls save the eyelashes in the back of their mobile phones. The boys don’t cry. They stare at their feet. The girls beg: “Promise! Don’t tell my mother.” I nod. The girls say: “I am a good girl.” I nod. I am not a bad influence.” I nod. The girls say: “Its all group pressure.” I nod. The boys don’t say a word. I nod. I say, shhh and relax and calm down, and sometimes I sing. Then the girls and the boys are vomiting again. Relax, I say. Everything will be good. The girls cry and the boys remain silent. I take their pulse. Finally, the mothers arrive. The mothers wear Prada bags, Valentino shoes and they drive cars with expensive names. In one hand they hold their mobile, they never put their mobile away, with the other hand, they reach for a boy or a girl. They ask for tissues to take with them and sick- bags because their cars are expensive ones. The girls cry while leaving the room, the boys remain silent, but that’s not new. Are you getting paid for this, ask the mothers with their mobiles in their hand. No, say I and the mothers look at me, astonished and relieved that they won’t meet me again, because when this night is over, I don’t leave in Jimmy Choo’s.
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By a fraction of an hair, Gottfried Benn’s shocking collection of verses would have never been published and maybe Gottfried Benn would have stayed a doctor and pathologist in one of the many Berlin hospitals, becoming more and more misanthropic. The one- man publisher Alfred Richard Meyer was close to throw away the manuscript handed in by Gottfried Benn in 1912. But in the very last second he discovered the “Morgue-Zyklus” attached on the document. These verses tell in a drastic language and hardly to overbid way of unadorned intensity from the work in the morgue as well as from every day hospital life, where especially the poor suffered from today nearly unknown diseases. But Gottfried Benn was not only the enfant terrible of the German literary scene but a great writer of love poems and deeply in love with Else Lasker-Schüler. They both became the great provocateurs of sudden plunging statements and provoked the world they lived in till this world fell apart. Benn fancied with the power of the National-Socialist movement till in 1938 he himself were overruled by the power and was not longer allowed to site or to publish. Now, Faber brings into English the work of one of the most touching and most unsettling poets of the 20th century. Michael Hofmann, himself poet and translator, offers a biographical introduction covering under the term “Doppelleben”, the many aspects of the poets life. The wide range of poems selected by Hofmann and translated both close to the rhythms of Benn’s very own language and with an intense precision,which illuminates the directness, the tenderness, the suffering, the search for meaning, the loss of god and the hope for love in Gottfried Benn’s work.
Gottfried Benn, Impromptus, Selected Poems, translated by Michael Hofman, Faber and Faber, 2014, £ 14.99.
Gottfried Benn: Tracing
And in the rain falling on the leaves
I hear an old song-
of forests once crossed
and revisited, but not
the hall where they were singing
the keys were silent
the hands were resting somewhere
apart from the hands that held me
moved me to tears
hands from the eastern steppes
long since trampled and bloody-
only their singing
in the rain
dark days of spring everlasting steppes
translated by Michael Hofman.
I always imagined the Russia of the late 19th and early 20th century as an enormous house, old and massive, a gigantic building, made by an architect long forgotten, with hidden stairs and closed rooms, with chimneys smoking but with rooms remaining cold, only ice flowers covering the huge windows, a house full of empty floors and hidden whispers, a house were many lived but no one was ever seen for sure. From the outside the house had cracklings and not few windows went into pieces, but inside you still could find magnificent ballrooms with candles all over the walls with its golden paper-hangings and where murmurs circulated,that the beautiful Margarita would come for a dance. Even if one does not know, if the house still exists in today’s Moscovian streets or St. Petersburg alleys, and no records exists, there are three inhabitants of this building, who take us their audience through the old Russian house, each of them in their particular way. It was probably Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who brought with his music, knowledge of the hidden house to a wider audience, outside if the Russian borders for the very first time. But despite his immense success within European audiences, the doors of the neighbors were slammed into his face. The ongoing fights against his understanding of music, lead to growing phases of depression and a deep loneliness in the wide, spacious rooms of the house he lived in. And so his Hamlet Fantasy, performed in November 1888 for the first time, shows us not a Hamlet full of desire and self- consciousness but a man who struggles and is full of despair. The oeuvre takes us not to the Danish coastlines but into the streets of Moscow, where light and dark were never easy to differentiate and a dangerous atmosphere surrounds everything and everyone. Alan Buribayev, the chief- conductor of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra works out tremendously the vital Allegro at the end of a troubling night, filled with dark visions. He emphasizes then on the lighter oboes, when the ill-hearted Ophelia appears, while the orchestra the performs the what-if- relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia in full strength. We can follow Tchaikovsky wandering though the high halls, freezing sometimes, turning around if he still hears the screaming and shoutings of his neighbors, being alone,only accompanied by the music. But no one more than Dimitri Shostakovich shows us the dimension of the vast house in a more intense and nightmarish way than he does. It his first Cello Concerto in E-Flat with from the beginning appears as a restless run through the floors and doors of the house, always on a search for a door unlocked an away to escape. It is the outstanding Ivan Monighetti, the last student of Rostropovic who not only masters the technical tour de force for the cello, supported by a nearly invisible playing orchestra, brilliantly but who drags us deep into the house, from the deepest cellars where the cello is to be heard alone in a four-note theme, than hastening faster through the building, to his top where the cello reaches its tempestuous climax, but even on the top of the roof, is no relief to be found and Shostakovich who was declared an “enemy of the people” in 1934, later was made into an hero, who forced by Stalin had to attend a conference in New York, calling out speeches put in front him, denouncing the lifestyle of decadent Westerners, whereas outside of the building protesters urged him to defect by jumping out of a window. Shostakovich remained a life-long prisoner of the vast house. The Cello Concerto is the most precise guideline through this building. And the third inhabitant of the house, was the only one who managed it to get out and it is his Symphony No 1 in D minor, which is mocking and flattering the house, making it look shabby and empty. The humiliating reception of the piece in 1897 led to a deep crisis for the composer but as the performance of the RTÉ National Symphony shows to wrong. Buribayev works out the gentle winds and the woodwinds by precisely leading the oboes and the strings. The contrasts of the piece become extremely clear and he is not missing to show the much more lighter and much more gentle side of the piece. And we can see Rachmaniov for a last time, standing in front of the house, gently waving and finally leaving forever.
RTÉ NATIONAL ORCHESTRA under ALAN BURIBAYEV performing TCHAIKOVSKY, SHOSTAKOVICH and RACHMANINOV, February 13th, National Concert Hall, Dublin
IVAN MONIGHETTI: Cello
Rostropovich performing Shostakovich’s Cello Concert, No. 1 may be heard here.
A little bit too tired, but it is not fatigue alone. Maybe it is February. Maybe it is the endless rain or the wind blowing from the North. Maybe its the women in the shop talking endlessly about great recipes for parsnips. As if ever came something great out of parsnips. Maybe its the darkness behind all the windows I see on my way to work. Maybe it is boredom, because nothing is more common and more boring than listen to people in academia complaining.But maybe I blame the women wrong as well as academia , am unjust to the winter, the rain and the wind blowing from the North and it is just me waiting for a storm bigger and stronger than ever known taking me away to another brighter shore.
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