Rebecca West on Education

A while back, I read the Paris Reviews interviews of modern writers. Here’s the 90-year-old Rebecca West on her education:

We had large classes, which was an ineffable benefit, because the teachers really hadn’t time to muck about with our characters. You see, the people who wanted to learn, sat and learned, and the people who didn’t, didn’t learn, but there was no time, you know, for bringing out the best in us, thank God. I had some magnificent teachers, actually, a Miss MacDonald, who taught me Latin irregular verbs.

Name this Sculpture

Sorry to interrupt the debate, but here are a few photos I’ve taken that I wanted to share with the world. This is the ‘British Private Prep School’, which I found not in Albion, but in a strip shopping center off Fry Road in suburban Katy, Texas:


Coming Soon: ‘Elite Liberal Arts College’, Sunnyvale Bargain Center, Waukegan, Illinois; and ‘Tradition-Steeped Ivy-League Research University,’ Rural Route 95, Ponca Lake, Oklahoma.

Now for an obscure cultural trivia quiz. This is a funky piece of folk art by a Houston artist. A friend of mine named George owns it. The question is: what is it called?

Hint: When I tell you, you will immediately say, ‘of course!’ I promise.


Questionable German Word of the Week – Confirmation Sought

Ed Philp trying valiantly to pick up the slack and prevent reader stats from plummeting.

The German Word Of the Week is Brotzeit, and it needs your input. Specifically, I mean the convenience stores / corner stores in Munich, run by independent proprietors, which I seem to recall often call themselves Brotzeit.

This doesn’t seem to be a company name, like 7-11 or Macs, but instead, just a local variation. Düsseldorf euphemistically has Trinkhallen, Berlin has blunt little Spätkauf; I think these corner stores are just efficiently called Kiosk in Frankfurt.  In Rottenburg am Neckar, Durlach or Eisenach, these places are part of the Lokalbahnhof chain, and also conveniently offer regional train service. But Munich appears to have Brotzeiten. Can anyone (perhaps from Munich) confirm this? And explain where this designation comes from?

Or was I taken in by a bunch of seedy stay-up-late bakers who have diversified into magazines and beer?

And are there different names in Hamburg, Dresden, Stuttgart, Nürnberg, etc.?

Thanks in advance for any clarification!

Ed Philp: Quo Vadis Small Freedoms?

[Hello everyone. I’m off for a vacation for about two weeks or so. The posting will become intermittent. In the meantime, here’s valued guest-blogger Ed Philp, expounding on his theory of the Small Freedoms. I hope he’ll contribute even more while I’m gone, but he’s got important things to do, so we can only hope… Take it away, Ed!]

In the past short while, Germany’s coalition government has sought to strike at some of the “small freedoms” in Germany I noted here (somewhat in jest) almost two years ago.

These initiatives relate to the liberal attitude to smoking in Germany, which Andrew revisits here, the lack of maximum speed limits (G) on the autobahn and the age of legal beer and wine consumption (16), which may now be raised (G) to 18 (although technically, this isn’t a coalition proposal, coming from the CDU and the Greens). In the past few months as well, we have also seen efforts to ban or further restrict the sale of violent video games. In my comment from 2005, I commented that Germany’s small freedoms seem to counterbalance limitations to ‘big’ freedoms, in contrast to the United States, which takes the opposite approach.

I’m now in agreement with Andrew on the proposed restrictions regarding smoking here and regard these as timely and legitimate. I suppose my reaction to speed limits is knee-jerk and resentful – powering a German sports car at 160 down a stretch of scenic German highway is still a visceral thrill for me that is somewhere on my Top 29 list of reasons to enjoy living in this country.

As for an increase in the legal age of alcohol consumption, I’m not in favor of this at all. First, the age of 16 strikes me as largely natural. That age is spent testing one’s limits anyway, and alcohol will play a part in this, whether legal or not. Take a look at the large numbers of alcohol consumption and possession offences in the USA or Canada for proof that 16 year olds will always find a way to beg, borrow or steal a six pack.

Second, by raising the age of legal consumption, this younger consumption is simply criminalized and driven underground and German 16 and 17 year olds will start drinking under bridges or at unsupervised house parties. Making alcohol consumption illegal increases its mystery factor and for many teens, will render it that much more attractive. The societal framework that can help to assist teenagers who consume too much alcohol evaporates. My German high school class spent most Saturday evenings at a bar called K5, which was filled with other sixteen year olds. Bartenders, bouncers and police were all watchful and intervened where someone couldn’t control themselves, and parents were well aware of what their kids were up to. By the time these people reached the age of 18 or so, they had learned about the effects of alcohol in a generally healthy social environment with lots of checks and balances and they used it in a largely responsible manner. The guy who couldn’t hold his beer at 16 had a gross story to tell; the one who was still ‘blowing his groceries’ every Friday a year later was a bit of a freak. Contrast this with an American high school graduation dance or university ‘orientation week’, where surreptitious alcohol consumption is common, and often results in vomiting, fights and – in the worst case – criminal convictions. The attraction of the illicit makes it that much cooler to promiscuously indulge.

Finally, perhaps most crucially, in Germany the driving age is also 18. Right now, this means that young people have two years to consume alcohol and find out how much it dulls your reflexes and generally turns you into a reckless fool before they ever sit behind the wheel of a vehicle. That seems to make good common sense. Offering an 18 year old both car keys and a beer bottle on her birthday, is, well, like offering money and power to government.

And how is Germany ever going to convince North American exchange students to spend a year over here without dangling the lure of legal access to liquor in front of them?

I’m going to speculate and say that in these initiatives, apart from smoking, the government is seeking regulatory solutions to ‘problems’ that were never defined as such before. Thorough and careful German driver training, as well as broad driver compliance with rigid rules (overtake on the left, get out of the way of faster vehicles, etc) made unrestricted highway driving safe enough for most. Open environments in which to experiment with alcohol, coupled with the expectation that teenage drinking is a fact of life, made for a generally safe environment for teens to consume alcohol. One of my classmates managed to ride his bike into a parked boat after excessive drinking fifteen years ago. Binge drinking occurred well before alcopops and ‘Koma-Saufen’ parties. Have these things really changed? I don’t think so.

As well, I think it is worth asking whether, in trading away some of these small freedoms, larger ones are at least being proportionately increased in turn. I haven’t seen a lot of this happening in the past two years, but maybe I am missing a coalition forest for the trees. Any comments here?

* I note that I can still ride on the streetcar here with an open bottle of beer (I am over 18), and can still expect gratuitous second-rate prime-time nudity (G – the link is to a site about a German show called "The Student and the Post-Woman"!) on television (even in sterile documentary format – warning – contains lots of nude Germans (mpg) frolicking in surf on the island resort of Rügen). Even if these particular aspects don’t interest me, that level of liberalism toward social freedoms does.

German Joys Mini-Review: ‘Fucking Sheffield’

I don’t care who knows it: I love arte, the French/German television channel. It’s the most unpredictable, adventurous, uncensored television Drainguy1blogchannel any human will ever see.

Switch it on, and you might see anything from a 2-hour performance by a Taiwanese dance company to a documentary about salt caravans to a docu-soap about French girls auditioning for a job at a cabaret to a performance of Pierrot Lunaire to an interview with Emanuel Levinas to a debate on the French headscarf ban to a feature on Slinkachu, an artist who attaches tiny figurines like Drain Guy to the streets of London.

What do I see last night? Fucking Sheffield. That’s name of the film: Fucking Sheffield, a documentary by Kim Flitcroft about the crumbling South Yorkshire town of Sheffield and its least upwardly-mobile inhabitants:

Cassi is a Lap Dancer at the Blue Minx Gentlemans Club, but her dancing days are numbered. Cassi wants to be a singer. Mick is a junkie who has lost everything to his heroin habit, everything except his beloved Vespa scooter. Stevlor is a photographer on a mission to prove that Sheffield is filled with beautiful girls. Glen returns home to Sheffield after ten years in life’s darkest places. There isn’t a bridge that Glen hasn’t burnt. With humour and tenderness the film follows these four characters as they face their crises and chase their dreams.

The only thing more brilliant than this documentary was the fact that it had German subtitles. I could barely understand a fookin’ syllable any of these people said, and I’m a native speaker. Where they found a German who could understand South Yorkshirese — often being slurred by drunks or junkies — is beyond me. Maybe the subtitler just guessed half the time; I certainly wouldn’t know how to double-check a translation of "Fim ye minge doon at the nairgle poontray fer me vespa, since ye’s got layens on the tiebee, ye fuck."

In Fucking Sheffield (perhaps the name comes from the fact that "fuck" or a permutation thereof is said at least fucking twice in every fucking sentence every fucker in Sheffield fucking says), Flitcroft films these friendly, funny, fuck-ups being themselves, with seemingly total access. No dopey commentary or voice-over.

All of the characters were interesting, though you wouldn’t necessarily want them living next fucking door:

Cassi was actually kind of sweet, a talented stripper and not a half-bad singer, even though she drank a bit too much for a woman who was 2 months pregnant at the time of filming.

Stevlor the photographer lured fresh-faced Sheffield Roses to his council flat and took quasi-artsy nude pics of them. My favorite prop was slices of bread with holes cut out of the center to accommodate one model’s perky, pierced nipples. At the end of the photo session, Stevlor asked her whether she’d like to take the bread home; "No, me boyfriend’s allairjick te yaste." Stevlor had books of his photos printed privately and smuggled them into bookstores, where they all sold despite having no bar-code or price on them.

Glen the ex-junkie tried to get a job in a porno video shop, but apparently lacked persuasive dildo-marketing capabilities. He ends up doing very hard landscaping work, and very hard drinking afterward. He has two children, but isn’t allowed to see them anymore. Still carries pictures of them in his wallet, though.

Mick the not-so-ex-junkie was constantly roving around Sheffield on the hustle; he reminded me of Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, except less psychotic. You feel a sense of relief when he finally gets accepted to the methadone clinic. It’s too late for his teeth, though — because junkies can’t feel pain, they don’t know when they have a toothache and their teeth go all rotten. Mick gets three of them yanked out of his mouth in the dentists’ office.

Just one of the many parts of Fucking Sheffield that you want to avert your eyes from but somehow can’t. An intense, human, intermittently howlingly funny film, and yet another splendid choice by arte.

Bruckner and the Belgians

Some composers are worldwide, others are a bit more regional. Brahms is in the former category, but Bruckner seems to be in the latter.

On Saturday, I listened to a concert (G) of Brahms and Bruckner works for chorus and orchestra on DeutschlandRadio Kultur. The interviewer asked Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe Brucky how the extremely Austrian Bruckner was received in Belgium and Amsterdam.

In the big cities, no problem, Herreweghe said. However, in places like Brugge, he noted a bit of skepticism. The Brahms works (Alto Rhapsody and Schicksalslied) they knew well, but Bruckner’s F-minor Mass was a bit new. Nevertheless, the initial distrust evaporated during the concert, and everyone recognized Bruckner’s shaggy, sprawling paroxysm of Catholic fervency for the locomotive-like masterpiece it is.

Before we go pointing fingers at those Belgians, let us not forget that German concert programs have lacunae as well. May I bitch about the informal Sibelius ban? Jean Sibelius is cruelly neglected here, apparently because Adorno hated (G) the glorious Finn (one of Adorno’s many questionable musical opinions). As an obsessive Sibeliusphile (I even spent 20 Euros in Slovenia to buy an out-of-print CD of Neeme Jaervi conducting Sibelius’ stage music (G) to ‘Scaramouche’), I say German concert programs have far too much Shostakovich, and far too little Sibelius. In this one respect, I say: ‘Fuck Adorno’.

But I digress.

Back to Bruckner. As far as I know, Herreweghe is relatively new to Romantic terrain. He’s better-known for his Bach recordings, done almost exclusively with the Collegium Vocale and a group of trusted soloists. These are all fine recordings, especially the B Minor Mass (my favorite recording of the 8 or so I own) and the almost as wonderful pairing of the Oster-Oratorium and the cantata ‘Erfreut Euch, Ihr Herzen.’ Both CDs I’d kill for, if I didn’t already own them.

For the Brahms and Bruckner, Herreweghe played with the Orchestre de Champs d’Elysees, which uses authentic instruments and 19th-century performance practice. I found the result magical. Bruckner can get kind of cloudy and bombastic in the wrong hands, and even in the right hands it’s the reddest of orchestral red meat. Herreweghe trimmed the bombast and kept the tempos crisp. The 19th-century horns are much quieter than their modern counterparts. This keeps the texture much more transparent than one usually hears in this music. I hope these concerts are being recorded, because I heard some brand-new Bruckner that I’d like to hear again.

Plus, Herreweghe’s Dutch-accented German was extremely amusing during the mid-concert interview.

Reason Magazine on the ‘Red Elvis’

His name was Dean Reed. He was an American who became a Communist, settled in East Germany, and became a minor rock ‘n roll star. They called him the ‘Red Elvis’, but I prefer the moniker ‘Socialist Cowboy’, since he acted in East German cowboy movies (cowboys rapacious capitalists, Indians peace-loving naive socialists). This is the genre known as ‘Westerns From the East‘.

Reggie Nadelson has now written a book about Reed called ‘Comrade Rockstar,’ and Michael Moynihan reviews it in Reason (a libertarian magazine). As you might imagine, Moynihan is not very fond of Reed:

After a short and largely unsuccessful stint with Capitol Records, Reed abandoned California for South America, where, inexplicably, his singles were outselling those of Elvis Presley. Possessed by his newfound ideology, he underwent a transformation among the bitterly impoverished natives: He shed his "false consciousness" and subsumed the artist’s prerogatives beneath those of the Party. After a few years, Reed was expelled from Argentina for agitating against the government and moved to Italy, where he landed a string of minor film roles, including the lead in Karate Fists and Beans, billed as the world’s first western/kung fu cross­over film.

Nadelson’s account offers few details of what motivated Dean’s political journey. Like many radicals of his generation, he claimed to have been inspired by that common inventory of 1960s grievances: Third World poverty, the Vietnam War, CIA machinations in Latin America. So when, in 1966, Reed was approached by a friendly Russian apparatchik offering a truly socialist variant of fame, he boarded a plane for the Soviet Union as an Officially Approved Rock Star-the genuine American article, playing ersatz rock ‘n’ roll.

Moynihan distrusts Ostalgie and therefore has his suspicions about why Reed was considered an appropriate subject for a book. The review’s worth reading, however. [Hat-tip: SK, a Liberty-Loving Slovene].

Does God Live in Duesseldorf?

So a while ago I complain about how my measly visitor numbers decline whenever I don’t post actively for a few days and Veronique (sorry, can’t do the accent aigu) comments:

I advise you to post a few classical recipes: people will look for them whether you post something new or not, and it will stabilize your statistics. Or what about reviews about Roman restaurants?

Excellent suggestions, were I not completely cooking-impaired. (Really, all I do is read and write all day long, and deep into the night. It’s a sickness. A beautiful, corrupt sickness.) Plus, I don’t visit many restaurants in Rome, because (1) I don’t have much money; and (2) my friend’s wife is one of the most gifted cooks on the planet.

Anyway, I decide to hop on over to Veronique’s blog. Veronique, it would seem, can also cook like a demon. Page after page of colorful recipes. (Although I confess that I find the green goo in this post frighteningly ectoplasmic). But what really caught my eye was the little flickr photo that serves as her blog’s symbol: it’s a neon-red sign that says, in French, "God Lives in Duesseldorf."


I saw these signs when I visited Paris last year. I found it kind of freaky to see the name of pedestrian old Duesseldorf plastered all around Paris in red neon. As far as I could tell, the signs were advertisements for a play of the same name.

I remember reading some review that suggested the play was about the amusing culture conflicts of a French-German pair: something about how the Frenchwoman has to visit her partner’s parents in Duesseldorf, and finds the Krauts polite but stuffy, or something along those lines. These are very vague memories. I wanted to see the play, but I couldn’t get tickets. Anyway, I probably wouldn’t have understood much of it, because the French have this pesky habit of slurring all their beautiful, feathery words together instead of inserting. crisp. pauses. between. them. like. Germans. Especially. Swabians.

Veronique, have you seen the play? Has anybody else? Can anyone explain the title? Can someone put a review in the comments section? This could be the biggest thing in French attitudes toward Germany since Madame de Stael visited Deutschland and praised Germans’ "independence of intellect, the love of loneliness, and the peculiar selfhood of the individual." (to quote Paul de la Garde).

Who Wants to Live in der Donk?

The blog will be dormant for a few days while the author visits a friend in Rome. Check back Wednesday for new posts. Unless, that is, Ed Philp decides to have a go, which he is hereby invited to do.

In the meantime, a little story about a man who has more time than money. I’m waiting for the streetcar last night at the University stop, and a fellow walks onto the platform. He’s got longish hair, a patchy beard, deep-set, thoughtful eyes, and wears reasonably trendy, but not expensive glasses. He’s wearing a somewhat threadbare leather jacket, black denim pants, and scuffed leather half-boots. He could be in his late twenties, but also his late thirties. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s a psychology or sociology graduate student who’s been working on his dissertation for some goodly amount of time.

He carefully extracts a sheet of graph-lined paper from his backpack. On the top, it says, handwritten in big red letters, "Rooms for Rent Near the University: Hassels/In der Donk" (Other fun local place names: An der Piwipp and Esperanto Street). The rooms are described in all-caps with a ball-point pen, in clipped German: "Each with balcony. Kitchen and bath in common." The bottom of the paper is cut into about 15 small tearaway sections, with the same phone number laboriously hand-printed on each.

Our hero puts down his worn canvas knapsack, takes out an old-looking cellophane tape dispenser, and carefully attaches the top two edges of the paper to window of the streetcar shelter with pieces of tape, aligning the edges carefully. He then pauses for a minute: "Should I attach the bottom of the paper to the window, even though this would mean making the two exterior tearaway strips harder to remove?" No, he decides, but only after some contemplation.

The entire procedure took about 10 minutes. I found it all soothing: the hand-written advertisement, the careful thought that went into the description of the rooms for rent, the painstaking process of attaching this labor of love to the tram stop window just so. I couldn’t help speculating about why he didn’t use a computer. Perhaps he can’t afford one. Perhaps he doesn’t have a computer on purpose, because computers reify and commodify human work, further advancing the colonization of our lifeworld. Perhaps he decided to hand-write his apartment advertisements just to kill a few lonely hours with a soothing activity.*

Whatever the explanation, that scruffy little philosopher somehow made my day.

* He looked like the tea-drinking type, so I imagine he had a few steaming cups while working on the rough drafts.