Wednesday 25 May 2022

The Master of Chaos

The Master of Chaos travels the world as a professional gambler. "Gambling, contrary to public perception, was for my grandfather a way of controlling his own destiny. The decisions were his and his alone. Gambling does not care about the past. No game depends or builds on the previous one. Losing is bad but there is always another opportunity, that fresh start, the optimist's clean sheet, the new dawn and undiscovered Eden." What a philosophy! Love it! The gambler's wife, by the way, is also quite a character who thinks all politicians should be put on an island, without water, food or electricity. Couldn't agree more ...

After the Master of Chaos keeled over in a bar in Peckham, his coffin was shipped to Guyana for the burial. "When the funeral was over she (his widow) instructed the undertaker to check the next day to make sure grave-robbers had not taken the body out and stolen the ornate coffin." I've never been to Guyana but my hunch is that this description gives me a pretty good idea of the place.

The cover story of this tome of fables is told by the fifteen-year-old grandson whose aunt is about to go see perform Antonio Velasquez but the widow tries to stop her. "Well I'm goin'. I ain' missing one of the few international events that ever comes to this country just because father choose to bury himself on the wrong day. " She eventually doesn't attend and opts instead to go gambling ...

A Nobel prize-winner is struggling to find a fitting suicide note; an involuntary advisor to a dictator ("It is a dictator's duty to get up in the morning and make sure he looks exactly the same as the day before."), who does not believe in superstition, makes a miraculous escape from Surinam; a guy locked up in a clinic is able to simulate the symptoms of a paranoid schizophrenic; a European bureaucrat in Moscow believes she might be instrumental "in turning that great ship of state, Mother Russia, in a new direction that would avoid corruption and embrace moderation and tolerance." – an array of pretty unusual characters that I thought hilarious.

In order to give you a clue, here is an example: "Egor had a chip on his shoulder about his name. He was convinced that his name was only suitable for a village idiot. A talented cartoonist, he made his life carving tombstones. The cemetery business was booming, with the new middle class favouring black marble headstones. Every day, Egar Dudnik resented having to inscribe names more impressive than his own."

From the Amerindian village of Pakuri where some of the the elders still speak Arawak, "a language that harked back to the days before Columbus" to the Syrian desert and a copy of "The Dream of Ocalan" to Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary discussing their suicides – Pauline Melville's originality and wit are simply unique.

A scientist, returning to Buenos Aires after many years  ("Unwilling to pick up the threads of my former life I told no-one I was coming back."), discovers the appalling truth about boyhood acquaintances and is reminded of David Bowie's fascist phase, "the period when he said that Britain could do with a fascist leader." A visit to a prisoner on a Caribbean island that the Americans once branded a hot-bed of communism. A Jewish writer in Prague who, during the Nazi and the Soviet occupation, cannot get his stories published – Pauline Melville possesses a sharp eye for the absurdities of life, a seeming absence of illusions, and astute insights into human nature.

In short: Immensely funny, heartwarming, clever, and wonderfully instructive. A joy to read.

Pauline Melville
The Master of Chaos
and Other Fables
Sandstone Press, Muir of Ord, Scotland 2021

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Im Giessenpark in Bad Ragaz

Copyright @ Blazenka Kostolna

Aufgenommen am 18. Mai 2021, heute vor einem Jahr. Es kommt mir vor, als ob dies schon viel weiter zurückliegt und fast gleichzeitig habe ich den Eindruck, es sei gerade eben gewesen. Ein eigenartigeres Ding als die Zeit ist mir kaum vorstellbar.

Von diesem Tag ist mir vor allem in Erinnerung geblieben, dass Blazenka völlig aus dem Häuschen war, weil sie den Park so toll fand. Was mich erstaunte, da wir schon vor einigen Jahren am selben Ort Fotos aufgenommen hatten. Doch jeder Tag ist eben neu. Und ohne die Fotos würde ich vermutlich ganz anderes erinnern, denn Fotos heben nicht nur hervor, sie blenden auch aus.

Wednesday 11 May 2022

In Chiavenna

End of April 2022, I visited Chiavenna. The photographs I took on a whim. In regards of the one above, it was the colours and the light that attracted me. Or so I believe for this is what my mind told me afterwards.
Early morning, garbage waiting to be collected. I felt impressed by the disciplined manner it was placed there.
Early morning light. The guy on the bike was almost too fast for me.
Next to the stairs leading to my residence. I talked to the flowers while taking their picture.

Wednesday 4 May 2022

Nothing but Vanity: The Media-Theatre

In 2004, I wrote an op-ed that ended with this statement about the Pulitzer-prizewinning cartoonist Art Spiegelman: "He has banned himself from watching television  it makes him too angry." It is a sentence that recently has come to mind rather often and needs to be extended – I feel it should include all media as well as all other vanity platforms, from politics to the theatre, from sports to literature. I find it depressing to take note of all these egos being celebrated. 

Arthur Schopenhauer opined that old age teaches us that all our human undertakings are basically nothing but a display of vanity  and this is precisely what I increasingly experience. All these performers make me wanna throw up ... In my view, people who depend on what others think of them shouldn't be trusted, shouldn't be listened to, and shouldn't be respected.

Photography has taught me that what we see in a picture we bring to it. Exposing myself to the media has however also taught me that to listen to what approval seeking men and women say is an exercise in distraction. A distraction from what? From enjoying the miracle of the wind, the sun, the rain.

Sure enough, the mantra of Me, Myself, and I is nothing new. Also, that man is driven by his ego, we find not only normal but healthy. I think, I believe, I doubt  in all of the three an ego is required. Likewise for I am right, I am mistaken, I failed miserably. Whether something is judged good or bad, the judging is done by somebody with an ego. Most do not doubt this ego, the Buddhists however do – they believe there is no such thing.

It is madness to imagine that there are millions of galaxies and then to act as if we were the masters of the universe. Strangely enough, we think this to be an expression of a sound mental state. Well, we are nuts, all of us. But there are also the ones who are bit more nuts that the rest of us   the ones who take themselves seriously.