Tag Archives: Before Sunrise

Martello

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So I didn’t get a great picture of the Sandycove Martello Tower, but here’s one of the many others, the one in Balbriggan. Yet again there was a beautiful Sunday morning, though the clouds did appear soon after taking the photo.

We went to see a lovely Irish movie this afternoon called Standby There is a good review here:
http://nomoreworkhorse.com/2014/11/10/standby-movie-review/ .
I had hoped to catch it after work one evening, but it didn’t seem to be in any of the city centre cinemas, which is a shame. Maybe it was only there for one week. I know any time a film consists of two people wandering around a city I just go into automatic Before Sunrise reference mode, but of the two Before Sunrise-ish films I’ve seen this weekend, this was by far the superior. Dublin looked fantastic, although I did find it a bit depressing that it was seen as being the loser route for him to stay and also that there was never any question of her coming to Dublin. Anyway, I’m not saying it’s a classic but it was funny and sweet and just what I needed after Friday’s atrocity.

It stars Jessica Pare (from Mad Men) and Brian Gleeson (forever to be known as son of Brendan). What can I say, I love all the Gleesons. As soon as we figure out what date suits us all, a group of us will be heading to see all three Gleesons in The Walworth Farce in January.

Oh and by the way, on the subject of the Gleeson family here is a video of them messing around as kids and adults. The song, by Squarehead is in aid of St. Francis’ Hospice.

No mention of books….no time for reading today really…

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The Dogs and the Wolves

by Irene Nemirovsky

Bear with me…I’ll talk about the book eventually. I’ve not been very good with this lately. I have been reading, just not jotting down my thoughts and then even when I have I’ve been too lazy to type them up. I’m not really too surprised. Too easily distracted. Too worried about a number of things. Too easy to just switch off and watch TV. And also the need to follow the news in Ukraine. It is so heartbreaking and really just reminds me how lucky I am and how much I take for granted.

Is it bad to admit that you are touched more by happenings in places you can relate to? I think it’s just human, though maybe that’s just my excuse. I know if I read anything about Ethiopia it will touch me in a way that it wouldn’t have before our honeymoon. (By the way, that plane hijacked by the copilot, that was the route we flew back. So it did freak me out a little more than aviation stories usually do.) Having been to Venezuela I am affected by the current stories. I remember way back when, seeing the film ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’ and I was impressed by Chavez. After being there, well, I don’t think he was a monster, but at the end of the day, democracy and freedom of speech are so important. There are good and bad people in politics and then there are people who think they know best and however well-intentioned they may be they can be the most dangerous.

And then there is Ukraine. I do have a long interest in Ukraine. My dad worked there for some time in the 90s and of course, as I mentioned before, I went to Crimea and Kyiv back in 2004. I met one of my Dad’s coworkers and she showed me and my friend around. We had been thinking of just staying the day and taking a night train north but she insisted that we stay the night. She showed off her city. It’s a beautiful city and I’m sure we’d have been impressed in any case but when you have such an enthusiastic tour guide it’s hard not to fall in love with the place. My friend and I then met up with a guy we’d met on the train (another Before Sunrise-esque story) and he suggested we should meet the following summer in Russia and do a tour of the Golden Ring cities. All three of us. Russian guy, Belarusian girl….and Irish girl. Well it wasn’t quite like that, but funnily enough it did inspire me to go to Russia the following summer. I made it as far as Kazan but did not meet the native of Togliatti. At random occasions I do get a text message though and it brings a smile to my face.

Apart from Tania and her family I can’t say that I know too many Ukrainians. (Oh, a coworker in Dublin too…). I do remember being impressed by a pleasantly drunk guy when I was in Crimea, being impressed by his pride as a Ukrainian. I mean I’m not talking about nationalistic fervour, just pride. (Of course that guy wasn’t actually from Crimea, just on holidays there.) I guess if I’m being honest it’s not something I felt very often from my Belarusian friends, it often felt apologetic somehow and I suppose that might be part of the reason why I have such a strong interest in the goings on in Ukraine, it just seems too farfetched to expect something similar in Belarus. And as an Irish person I always feel something for the ‘small country with big neighbour’ I suppose.

It’s become quite popular lately to be self-deprecating when it comes to Ireland, to shoot down what we have done, anything our politicians say or do, even to say, ‘well we’d have been much better off if we’d stayed in the United Kingdom’. I just have to disagree. Yes, a lot of mistakes have been made, but that does not mean we have to throw in the towel. Also, since nonresidents don’t have the vote my interest in getting to know who is who in Irish politics has waned, but in any case I would not like to be a politician nowadays. There seems to be so much hate and so many ways to hear about it. Not that I’d ever have been good at being a politician. Too sensitive. God, things were so much easier when I was twelve and knew everything.

It’s so strange to see a beautiful city I’ve walked through being the centre of pretty much a war. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before and that’s probably why it affects me so much. My dad told me a story of how when he was in Beirut he nearly visited Syria for a weekend but at the last minute he was advised not to. I haven’t yet been to Beirut but I feel a small connection now when something happens there just because my dad  spent so much time there and his enthusiasm about the place remains, even if it is mostly shown through family gatherings at The Cedar Tree in Dublin. And when I was in Minsk Byblos was one of my more regular treats, so of course I brought them there.

When I was working in Vienna for the first time I didn’t really know anybody. I walked into Café Griensteidl and an American held the door open for me so we ended up sitting together. It was a few months after September 11th and he told me that he had been to Afghanistan the previous year for a WHO inspection. At the time all the talk was of ‘the war on terror’. ‘But,’ he protested, ‘there’s nothing there! There’s really nothing there!’

I feel bad when I see what’s happening in Syria, but, and I feel ashamed for saying this, I have no connection. I don’t think I’ve met anybody from there, anybody who’s been there or connected to what’s happening there. I don’t think I am alone in this. I mean I don’t think there should be some fight over what atrocity gets the most airtime, but if you were to look at numbers and statistics I should feel more.

I wonder is this one of the greatest arguments for art, whether literature, film, theatre, painting or anything else. When I met the WHO officer I felt a tiny connection with events in Afghanistan. When I read Khaled Hosseini’s novels they really tore me up inside in a way that straight up journalism rarely can. Though there’s always a time lag…

Irene Nemirovsky knew this. I don’t think there can be too many people out there who don’t know her story. Ukrainian Jew flees the Russian revolution for France, becomes successful author, begins writing epic but is transported to Auschwitz, where she dies. The first two volumes of her epic were found in a suitcase decades later and  published to great acclaim. Suite Francaise is a masterpiece and I hope the forthcoming film does it justice. ‘The Dogs and the Wolves’ was her last published novel in 1940, as after that there was a ban on publication of Jewish books.

Some articles call Nemirovsky a self-hating Jew. It is true that she converted to Catholicism shortly before the war, but I don’t think that means she hated Jews. Or if she wrote about them in a certain way I don’t think that is any different than an Irish person writing negative things about Ireland or its people, something we are very good at doing. I haven’t read David Golder and I understand that the central character is not particularly sympathetic, so maybe I am missing something but from reading this book I wouldn’t make that assumption. Perhaps this novel was trying to correct that somewhat. It’s a pity that it’s not up there with her finest work. Ada frustrated me. She could have been a strong female protagonist but it was as if she decided aged 10 that she liked one guy and the rest of her life was all about trying to get him. I found her relationship with Ben much more interesting. Ok, let’s leave aside the fact that  they are first cousins; some of literature’s great couples have been first cousins and while it just seems icky if I read it in a modern day book, this one is set long enough ago for it to be given a pass.

To summarise; Ada and Ben grow up together in an unnamed Ukrainian city, though it’s most likely Kiev. Harry is a distant cousin living in the rich part of the city. Ben and Ada meet him the day they call at his house for help after trying to escape a pogrom in their ghetto. Ada for some reason falls in love with Harry, though  maybe she fell in love with him first when she was 7 and her cousin Lilla showed her where their rich relatives lived.. Both families, for different reasons, move to Paris. Ben and Ada marry, though for practical reasons on Ada’s part, not for love. She meets Harry again and trouble ensures.

Ben is not entirely favourably written, but comes across as a much stronger character than Harry. Ben has come from nothing and is scraping and planning his way up in the world and doesn’t care what he needs to do. Harry has been handed everything on a plate.

Money is important. Well, money is always important, but the clichéd Jew is always thinking about money. As Nemirovsky writes: ‘Everyone thought money a good thing, but to a Jew it was a necessity, like air or water. How could they live without money?’ In a world where Jews are always outsiders, money is the only way in. Harry’s family have it and are determined to hold onto it. Ada’s father and later Ben see it as the only way to get in and devote themselves to making more.

Ada’s well-travelled grandfather did not seem to know this need and yet is well aware of it. In his spare time he writes a book ‘The character and defence of Shylock’.

 

I’ve been rereading to remind myself, as I’ve read some others in the meantime. Everything Ben related is passionate; you want to shake Ada out of her stupor. What has she seen in Harry at all? For Harry, the most I felt was the scene when he returns to his mother after his French girlfriends’ parents have rejected him. It reminded me of a scene from ‘North and South’, a book I love.

This book is so well written, some of the characters are so well drawn and yet is just does not come together as well as her other novels. But maybe that’s something that’s real and true. In real life people often see something they don’t have and decide that it is the thing they most want even when the thing they need is right in front of them.

I’ll try to type this up before it becomes too dated. Events have moved on in Ukraine . The focus is now on Crimea. Crimea was gifted to Ukraine in 1954 but has a majority Russian population, so to some it would be simplest to hand it back. And yet there is a sad history there of the native Tatars who were deported en masse to far away corners of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Many of them have returned since the breakup of the Soviet Union and don’t want to go ‘back’. Let’s see how it all turns out, but hopefully it will end peacefully.

Stamboul Train

by Graham Greene

Murder on the Orient Express, hasn’t that already been done? Well it turns out that Stamboul Train was published 2 years earlier than its more famous companion. In fact it was sold in the US as ‘Orient Express’ and the Agatha Christie thriller had to be titled the less interesting ‘Murder on a train’.

The Orient Express still exists in some form as a luxury tourist train; although in the era of these books it was a practical method of getting from A to B. I like the idea of train travel and always get slightly excited by the idea of sleeper trains, something I’ve only experienced in Eastern Europe.

I need to check if there is a movie of this book. It is like it’s written for film, in particular when reading the conversations in the dining car after Vienna. It reminds me of Before Sunrise, both on the train itself, before Jesse and Celine meet and also in the café before they ‘phone’ their friends.

I haven’t made it to the Balkans or Turkey yet. When I went to Vienna my plan was to visit so many places, basically anywhere I could get to for a weekend. Bratislava, Budapest I managed. Krakow had to wait for another trip. Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana I haven’t been to yet.

There is something about a story taking place on a train journey. I think there’s also in general something romantic about long distance train journeys. So many stories that can take place there don’t take place on other modes of transport. Plane journeys are usually too short and despite statistics people are still more nervous about flying than they would be getting on a train. Also, there’s not really much opportunity to wander about and meet other passengers, so unless you’re lucky with the stranger beside you… Then you generally drive with people you know (ok, there is hitchhiking, that is a whole ‘nother genre). Buses are just…no…too cramped, can’t do long journeys on them, though I guess they’re not so bad in South America, but still not as conducive to meeting people.

On a train (not a commuter one, though I wonder if anything ever comes of those ‘brief encounters’ sections in the metro), you board,  make yourself at home for whatever distance you are travelling and make the most of it. The landscape whizzes by and you have a chance to muse, philosophise or sleep. The longest train journey I took was that Kalinkavichy to Simferopol trip I made back in 2004. I’ve travelled further by train, as far as Kazan, but while I’ve always wanted to do the Trans-Siberian, I much prefer the idea of taking it in stages, stopping off and discovering a new place. Then again, at this stage I am not sure when I would next have the time to do that. When I was in Minsk I had my Lonely Planet guidebook for Russia and had marked all the places I was going to stop along the way. Whatever about the whole train thing, I really do want to go to the Altai region. A facebook friend went there last year and her photos reminded me how much I want to go there. On my journey back from Kazan to Moscow I had run out of books to read, for once my fellow passengers didn’t want to know me and I kept rereading excerpts from the LP. But it was frustrating, because I was travelling west, away from all of those places. There was almost a moment, when I was in Kazan, when I thought, hey, this is easy, I could just keep hopping on trains and go further east. But then again, Kazan was also the place, pre payday when the ATM refused to spit out 100 roubles (about €2) due to insufficient funds.

Midway through my year in Minsk I realised the major problem. What was I going to do when I got to the other side of Vladivostock, or down to Beijing, how was I going to get back? I wouldn’t have been able to afford a flight and I was hardly going to turn around and do the whole thing again, but all in one go? I tried to join the dots; maybe I could take a train to some point where I could get a cheap flight to Australia and then work there until I could afford to fly back. I went through a phase last year of watching all the Banged up Abroad episodes I could find on YouTube. I was at a friend’s house one day and saw the episode about the two guys kidnapped while trying to cross from Panama to Colombia and I was hooked. (So many Colombia kidnap episodes, I’m glad I didn’t watch the Ciudad Perdida episode before we went! Oh and I must make an obligatory reference to the recent Peru 2 case being exactly like the episode of the two Americans). Some of the episodes show people who talk about not being able to afford a flight home and you shout at the screen ‘Seriously, call your folks, it’s gonna work out a lot cheaper for them in the long run!’ but I suppose there is an unwritten rule that calling your parents to fund your flight home is a sign of failure.

At the end of my time in Vienna I had to do it. I couldn’t pay my rent and there was no sign of getting any cash from the crappy telemarketing job I had. Anyway, my Australian partner in crime had recently made her way to Ireland and was planning on finally going home after two years travelling. But she emailed me to say that first she was going to stop off at her parents’ place in Split and did I want to come join her for a week or so. I had missed out on a trip there with my Erasmus buddies two years before (doing the sensible thing, working until the end of the summer, and then doing the insensible thing of going into hiding for a good part of my final year) and I was really tempted. It was with a heavy heart that I replied saying I didn’t have the money to go and if I got a proper job then I wouldn’t have the time. I mentioned this quite innocently to my parents on a call home. The next day they rang back offering to fund my trip to Croatia if I would just come home. I weighed up the pros and cons and emailed Gabriella to tell her I’d be happy to join her. Alas, she replied a week later from Istanbul, saying she’d changed her mind when she received my original email. I thought some more, then arranged to take an overnight train to Milan and fly home from there.               

I’ve gone on longer then I intended. But I suppose being bailed out by my parents that time did leave me with the sense that I didn’t want to do it again. As one of the eldest in my family I was supposed to be more responsible, the one bailing out my younger brothers and sisters.

I haven’t made it to the Balkans or Turkey yet.

Coral Musker does not have family to bail her out. She is escaping from a ghastly life of landlords, stagedoors, greasy agents and general London chorus girl murkiness. She has been offered a job in a dancing troupe in Istanbul. This seems like a bit of a strange idea now, but maybe it’s not much different to somebody nowadays going to sing at some Med resort, or on a cruise ship. She is making the trip in the lowest class. Apparently Graham Greene wrote this book purely to make money and since money was not something he had much of at the time of researching he was not able to afford the full trip. So some of the descriptions were taken from other travel literature. Maybe I could do that if I wanted to set a novel on the Trans-Siberian, but somehow I think I’d force myself to do the research. I could go platskartny (3rd class), no problem, you still get a bunk.

I’ve checked and there is in fact a movie, though IMDB does not have a single review, which leads me to believe it is not one worth seeing. Or maybe it’s anti-Semitic in a way that was normal at the time but wouldn’t be accepted post WW2? I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll be seeking it out. There is a large cast of characters, some making the full journey, some embarking and disembarking along the way. Coral is probably the character we see most of and the one I felt the most affinity with – the innocent abroad. She faints and is rescued by the Jewish Myatt. Could this be a predecessor of Before Sunrise?

Oh, if only it were that simple. It is unfortunate that Myatt had to be Jewish and it had to be mentioned over and over again, because, while he is not unsympathetic, all of his faults seem to be the stereotypical Jewish ones, mainly revolving around money. It seems like the character could have had all of these issues without having to be Jewish. Or if he had to be Jewish to show the abuse and all of the throwaway comments then he could have been a little less stereotypically obsessed with money. He is not a knight in shining armour, he does not seem to be a very feeling person, but not bad either. And yet, any mention of money, or any reference to how calculating he is, or the importance of business, or anything which fits the old stereotypical Jew, you just have alarm bells going in your head saying ‘I’m not comfortable reading this!’.

But then at the same time it is interesting to read as it is a book of its time. Nowadays we associate anti-Semitism and especially of that era (the book having been published in 1932) with Germany, but obviously it was much more widespread. I thought in the earlier part of the book that there was going to be more relevance to Myatt being a Jew, while travelling on a train crossing a Germany which is soon going to be run by Hitler, but while there are many comments from different people, there is no specific reference to the situation in Germany. I suppose that it is easy to say this in hindsight, but at the time people outside of Germany would not have had much of an idea of what was happening. I remember reading a ‘book of knowledge’ a few years ago, another book rescued from my grandparents’ house. It was published in the 1930s and under the section on Germany they mentioned Hitler, who had recently come to power. It is so strange nowadays to read about Hitler being referred to as a politician, rather than a dictator or a monster.   

There are quite a few other characters, some more important than others. Mabel Warren is an overbearing, alcoholic lesbian journalist who is bidding farewell to her ‘paid companion’ Janet Purdoe. She suspects correctly that Janet won’t be returning, so she is on the lookout for a replacement and Coral fits the mould. Is this what being a paid companion meant all these years and I’ve just missed it? Wasn’t the second Mrs DeWinter also a paid companion before she got married? Or was it not just a respectable position for young unmarried girls and maybe some women took advantage of it?

Then there’s Dr Czinner, the communist returning to Belgrade after 5 years in exile, hoping to lead a revolt. We read a lot of his thoughts, including how he lost his faith and is jealous of the younger generation for not having been brought up in any faith and not having to have any crisis. Which seems like something strange to read now, as I think a lot of people nowadays feel like they are having this crisis for the first time. He does feel the need to confess though, but the clergyman he encounters prefers to talk about cricket. Poor Coral, she gets tied up in his mess and while the story of her and Myatt is very fragile, it does seem like she might have been happy for, oh, at least a few weeks, if things had gone her way. She just seems to be one of those people who never has any luck.

Overall I found it an entertaining read, if not quite what I was expecting. The cover promises murder and there is murder, but it doesn’t happen on the train itself, sorry to disappoint, and it’s not really all that important to the plot in the end.