Monday, 31 December 2012

The End is Near – Thank Heavens!

It’s New Year’s Eve. It was meant to be a peaceful and quiet day for me like every year, but life doesn’t always give you what you want.

I had to go out. That’s because I wished to post a letter and needed a stamp that I didn’t have at home. Unfortunately I hadn’t noticed in time. Bad mistake! What a hustle and bustle there was in the shopping centre just before noon! The post office, too, was packed with people, stressed women, impatient men. All counters were open, but there was a queue all the same. It didn’t matter to me. It never does. I can wait – others can’t. Mind you, I had hardly arrived there and people in front of me started quarrelling! What for? To be at the counter thirty seconds sooner? It was ridiculous. I bought my stamp and away I was. Altogether I passed no more than five minutes in that madhouse. Enough to put me out of temper for a while.

The end of the year always makes me feel annoyed with people. I turn downright misanthropic! I use to stay at home alone and no, I don’t feel lonesome. I enjoy it! As a matter of fact, I’ve never been cut out for big parties. They exhaust me too much. When I’m surrounded by a group of chatty people – even such I like – I virtually drown in a sea of impressions. Faces, voices, perfumes melt into a viscous mass jamming the nerve connections of my brain. What wonder that my mind goes blank! It takes time to process so much information. Moreover it’s all so overwhelming that I’m getting depressed instead of cheerful. Try to explain that to someone who enjoys celebrating! For me it’s just an ordeal that I avoid whenever I can. Without explanation because it would be in vain.

There’s something else that drives me crazy at the turn of the year: the fireworks. I hate them. To me they are a noisy waste of money and natural resources. Put fire to a bundle of banknotes, throw it from the top window of your building and you’ll get the same effect! You may argue now that fireworks are a beautiful sight. They are colourful and shining, that’s true. However, what I see isn’t what disturbs me. The banging and hissing that start already days, even weeks before New Year’s Day hurt my ears. They also scare small children, people in need of rest and senior citizens, not to mention all those poor animals around who must feel like Armageddon were in full swing. None of the amateur pyrotechnists in my neighbourhood seems to waste a single thought on them. And what about the smoke and the smell? No way that you can take a deep breath of fresh air during a firework or the hours after. It makes me feel sick and the odds are that I’ll have a migraine tomorrow. Well, others will have a hangover, so I won’t be so much worse off really.

My plans for tonight? Keep my windows closed and try my best to be fast asleep at midnight. If everything works out fine, I won’t even notice the fireworks. And tomorrow most of the hubbub will be over. 

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Shadow of Wealth

On Christmas morning
Colourful paper and ribbons
Go to the dustbin.

25th December – for me Christmas is over at last! Our unpretentious family dinner and the following distribution of presents were yesterday. That’s because tradition has it that in Austria celebrations start already on Christmas Eve at nightfall. That’s the time when the Christkind comes loaded with a richly decorated tree and with heaps of presents. Nowadays!

Until the second half of the past century it used to be quite empty under the often self-cut spruce or fir-tree with apples, nuts, straw stars, bows, and a few beeswax candles in the twigs. Presents were scarce and consisted of things that were desperately needed like a handmade scarf, a knitted hat or woollen mittens. In a good year a warm pull-over, a winter coat or a pair of shoes might have come out of the simple wrappings. People rejoiced at their presents because they knew that it hadn’t been granted that they would get anything at all for Christmas. In our small corner of the planet things have changed a lot since.

I grew up in the 1970s, at a time when the Christmas mania was already in its first or maybe second swing. For me it was natural to have everything that I needed in daily life and I could count on finding more than just one parcel for me lying under the tree. Yet, my presents were a great source of joy (also anticipated joy) because it was unthinkable that I would have been given any of them without the special occasion. Of course, I cared more for the toys and board games than for the occasional clothes that I received. After all, I had never felt a shortage of clothes!

These days many people, especially children expect to be showered with expensive toys and electronic gadgets that they could as well have at other times of the year. Often it’s a competition between the recipients of presents, too. Who will get the better, thus more expensive stuff? There’s nothing extraordinary about Christmas anymore and thus the joy is moderate. After the celebrations quite some of the presents disappear in a hidden corner, are traded in, find their way into internet auctions or are simply thrown away into the dustbin together with the glossy wrapping material.

For me Christmas has lost most of its magic: the happy smiles of those who unwrap a present and find something unexpected that they had yearned for and might never have had otherwise. Those smiles mean more to me than any object I could ever receive. Every year I’m disappointed and I’ve come to the conclusion that, economic crisis or not, most of us are too wealthy to appreciate the love and care behind every present.

In a nutshell: we don’t deserve Christmas if we continue to limit it to the number and value of our presents!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Oh, what fun it is to write…

… but for heaven’s sake not in a one horse open sleigh! That would be too cold and too shaky for me and my computer. Besides I can’t stand snow-covered roads and landscapes. There isn't often much snow in Graz, but in the weeks before Christmas I don't like going downtown any better than a sleigh ride. I definitely prefer my home where it’s warm and quiet and comfortable. Nobody around me rushing to and from in a Christmas or rather shopping mania. No children shrieking because they see Santa Clause or the Christkind distributing flyers and coupons on the other side of the street. No shrill profuse Christmas decorations in shop windows that drive me away from the place. No smell of hot spiced wine enveloping me and bringing me close to the point of vomiting

Instead of freezing and existing in a state of constant alarm, I’m sitting in my chair close by the heating. At arm’s length from me the old cat is sleeping curled up into a ball. My green tea on the table is steaming in its cup while my fingers are flying over the keyboard of my computer. With every letter that I type I dive deeper into the world of the written word, the realm of thoughts and dreams. Mine as well as those of others. Real and made up lives are mixing in my mind. Real and invented places are mingling in my imagination. New events and relations are taking shape on my computer screen. Word for word. Sentence for sentence. Nothing around me still matters. Time is of no importance. I’m not a writer in front of a computer anymore. I am every single word that I'm typing, I am the story that I'm telling. Nothing can stop me. Then my story is told from beginning to end. The very last impression from an old film appears before my inner eyes, two words that say everything: The End. I close the file and run down my computer.

The cat is still lying curled up into a ball, but its head looks to the other side now. My tea no longer steams. It’s cold and bitter. My stomach rumbles and I realize that I’m famished. I have a look at my watch: hours have passed. My fingers are weary, my mind is blank. All those words that flowed from my head into my finger-tips! I feel exhausted, empty... past the finishing line of a creative marathon. A faint smile creeps onto my lips from deep down in my soul. I can feel it glowing, growing. It’s impossible that it doesn’t show. Oh, what fun it is to write!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Book Review: Auto da Fé by Elias Canetti
As I love books so much, I decided to write a review. However, I don’t intend to write a state-of-the-art review, I’ll just put down some of my thoughts.

Elias Canetti was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981. Auto da Fé is an interesting story, confusing, even disturbing at times. If I were asked to use only one word to describe this writer’s only fiction work I’d probably call it weird.

At first, it seems to be a critique of society. On the one hand, there’s the well-to-do people (represented by the sinologist Peter Kien) who exaggerate the value and importance of education and reading to such an extent that it makes them unable to understand or at least cope with real life. On the other hand, there’s the common people who fight for survival every day and who have learned to care a lot about money, so much, in fact, that they don’t shrink back even from murder.

However, I think that the novel’s original German title – Die Blendung which is 'blinding' or 'deception' in English – hints at something else. Each one of the protagonists of the Auto da Fé is to a certain degree obsessed by something: Kien lives for and through his private library of 25,000 volumes stored in the four rooms of his flat; his wife Therese – the former housekeeper, an old maid who deceived the inexperienced and asexual Kien into marrying her after eight years – only thinks of money and property, beauty and sex; the caretaker of the house is wrapped up in his past as a police officer and keeps living out his violent traits in order to press money from the tenants who he’s 'protecting' from bad lots like beggars and door-to-door salesmen; and last, but not least, the crippled Jewish crook Siegfried Fischer, called Fischerle, who is obsessed with chess and with going to America in order to prove that he’s better at that game than the current world champion, for which scope he – of course – needs a lot of money.
The obsessions of all those people result in an inability to see the world the way it really is. They always give information, conversations, and events a meaning which is consistent with their very own idea of a perfect life. So in a way, all of them create an imaginary world within themselves which differs from reality to a certain degree.

But you should see for yourself…

An interesting fact about the background of the story:
Elias Canetti wrote it  in the early 1930s under the impression of rising National Socialism in Germany and of the first auto-da-fé of books on 10 May 1933. Even being Jewish himself he could hardly have imagined then what was still to come … the concentration camps. Heinrich Heine's saying that 'Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings' unfortunately proved right…