city of a dream

«Budapest», 2009«Budapest», 2009

I first entered Budapest in winter, as the first snow fell upon the city. The night was silent and the lights glimmered as we took the cable car up the Buda hill, gazing through the gauzy snowflakes to the barges on the Danube and the illuminated spires of Parliament below.

In other countries, I had dreamt of the city, conjured its bridges and hills, its poets and failed revolutions, its language vibrating in the streets, an indecipherable stream that flowed invariably to you. So much that even the sight of the forlorn Keleti train station moved me, like the trace of your fingers.

Sometimes, Budapest does not live up to its surnom, Paris of the East. Oftentimes.
One passes the soot-blackened plaster peeling off its abandoned palaces. One walks under its tawdry neon signs, pieces of a dream post-1989. One boards its metro escalators crowded with commuters heading somewhere, plastic bag in hand. One visits its flats for rent and for sale— the sights are too sad to describe.

But during that slow ascent up the hill, the city was a sleeping beauty on the Danube. And the snow that fell softened her imperfections, quilted her in the aura of a dream.

Cat philo

The Real News Paul Jay's motto: “Don’t Roll Over, Take Over”
Cat's motto: “Don’t Take Over, Roll Over”

Where do you stand?

L'Homme révolté

«L'homme révolté», 2010

«La lutte de l'homme contre le pouvoir est la lutte de la mémoire contre l'oubli.»

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against oblivion.

— Milan Kundera, (Le Livre du rire et de l'oubli, p.14, Folio nº1831 / The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)

I remember one day, in a library in Bohemia, putting down Camus’ book and staring into the distance. The image that formed before me was that of Spartacus bound and struggling to free himself from his chains. A year later, in another country, I sketched a model who coincided with this image in my mind.

In support of the current struggle of the Egyptians and the Syrians, of all those past and present who have struggled for freedom.

And... in memory of Václav Havel, a man greater than his small country, face of the Velvet Revolution, who passed away yesterday at 75 in Prague. A man who strived “to live always in truth,” in his words, and whose legacy will be misunderstood, rejected, hijacked, by the powerful he deplored in his writings, in East and West alike...

Slavoj Žižek reviews Václav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts by John Keane
Read Pepe Escobar's Latin America's message to the Arab world

L’Idée d’Europe II – Printen

L.v.d.D. woodcut Printen mold, Cafe Van den Daele, 2011

When in 1890, Leo van den Daele of Ghent opened a patisserie on Büchelstraße in Aachen’s Old Town, he could not have imagined how emblematic the shop would become over a century later. Issued from a Belgian noble family, Van den Daele settled across the border with the idea of developing recipes for a series of sweet delicacies. But his reputation grew from the masterful Printen gingerbread figures he cast from woodcuts and metal engravings and that sold like hotcakes during the Christmas season.

The Fleming was only following the example of his countrymen, copper craftsmen from Dinant who four centuries earlier had preceded him as emigrants, carrying with them the tradition of engraved pastries to the former Free Imperial City.

In every room of the present-day café, in the hallways and stairwell, Van den Daele’s molds hang against a backdrop of red brocade and green satin, wooden panels and Flemish blue porcelain tiles.

The genesis of their forms coincides with the end of Medieval Europe and the dawn of Europe’s golden age of old master prints, issued from the same roots and ushered in by Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press around 1440. For the next few centuries, artists like Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt earned greater renown in their lifetime from their widely disseminated prints rather than from their paintings. Not only did the printing press revolutionize art and letters, it shook up the old coordinates of Europe, transforming and universalizing its science, knowledge, communication, rendering the dream of widespread literacy possible. And from that moment on, information technology sped on the rails of exponential innovation, nothing less.

Six degrees of separation

Burg Katz und Burg Maus«Castles on the Rhine», 2011

What does Burg Katz, a castle overlooking the Rhine, have to do with WikiLeaks? When its looming shadow materialized on the opposite shore before dawn, the passengers of the train thought: nothing. Nothing at all, except when one falls into the rabbit hole of links. The hourglass sand falls, the fern’s shadow crawls. And two names that would never have coincided in real life are on the web interconnected.

Like the legendary Rhine castle of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) where the hero Siegfried meets his doom, Burg Katz was also set in flames, and must have been a formidable sight, a firebrand and its blazing reflection in the twilight. Its destroyer, Napoleon, was riding on a tide of victories in 1806, whose crest was Austerlitz. He bombarded what previous centuries of war between France and the German princes had hitherto spared. That was how the former abode of the Counts of Katzenelnbogen (the first cultivators of Germany's quintessential wine, the Riesling), became ruins until nearly a century later when it was rebuilt as the Burg Neukatzenelnbogen (the New Cat’s Elbow Castle). Decidedly a syllable too long, everyone hence called it Burg Katz, or Cat’s Castle.

But back to the rabbit hole. Burg Katz is the setting of one of comic book character Yoko Tsuno’s adventures, L’Orgue du Diable (The Devil’s Organ). The character is unusual in that she is the product of a Belgian writer’s imagination, who was inspired by a Parisian cabaret dancer and actress, Yoko Tani.

The Asian counterpart of Josephine Baker, Tani first drew the attention of international audiences for her role on the silver screen as a Vietnamese nightclub hostess in the American adaptation of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American.

Set in French Indochina, Greene’s novel foreshadows future American involvement and war in Vietnam. The eponymous American is the bright and idealistic but woefully ignorant Alden Pyle, who has had no real experience in Southeast Asia.

It has been observed that his character may have been based, at least in part, on US military counter-insurgency expert Edward Lansdale, who was stationed in Vietnam 1953-1957.

Lansdale happened to be the direct supervisor of Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers, during the latter’s two years of service in Vietnam. On June 17, 2010, Mr Ellsberg appeared on Democracy Now! in front of Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales to defend the alleged actions of Pfc. Bradley Manning, arrested and thrown into solitary confinement for leaking, among other documents, a classified video of a US military helicopter gunning down unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, to (the final link) WikiLeaks.

So there you have it:

Burg Katz – Yoko Tsuno – Yoko Tani – The Quiet American – Edward Lansdale – Daniel Ellsberg – WikiLeaks

Six degrees of separation1

Burg Katz also happens to overlook the Lorelei rock (see previous post). Curiouser and curiouser, further north of the Rhine is its rival, Burg Maus (Mouse Castle), built in the 14th century to secure the Elector of Trier’s borders against the Counts of Katzenelnbogen.

1Thanks to Wikipedia

Legends of the Rhine — The Lorelei

«Lorelei», 2011

Ich weiß nicht was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin;
Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

Die Luft ist kühl und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fließt der Rhein;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt
Im Abendsonnenschein.

Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar;
Ihr gold'nes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar.

Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme
Und singt ein Lied dabei;
Das hat eine wundersame,
Gewalt'ge Melodei.

Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe
Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,
Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh'.

Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn;
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen
Die Lore-Ley getan.

— Heinrich Heine, Die Lore-Ley (1824)

I know not what it should imply,
That I am so forlorn;
A tale from times so long gone by
From my thoughts will not be torn.

The air is cool and it darkens,
And the Rhine does calmly flow;
The peak of the mountain sparkles
In the sinking sun's last glow.

The most beautiful maiden so
Alights, but wondrously up there.
It blazes, her golden bow,
She combs her golden hair.

She combs it with golden comb
And thereby sings a song;
A seeming wonder-tome
With a melodye violent-strong.

The seaman in his tiny yacht
It grasps with wilding woe,
He looks not at the rock-reefs
as he ought,
He looks only up from below.

I believe the swells do devour,
In the end, both skipper and skiff;
Smitten, in his final hour,
By the Lore-Ley with her riff.

— trans. Robert Clarke, 2001

the skies over Aachen

Gisèle Celan-Lestrange. - «Entreciel», 1979

Parlez-moi de la pluie et non pas du beau temps
Le beau temps me dégoûte et m’fait grincer les dents
Le bel azur me met en rage car le plus grand amour
Qui m’fut donné sur terre, je l’dois au mauvais temps
Je l’dois à Jupiter, il me tomba d’un ciel d’orage

Speak to me of the clouds, speak to me of the rain
Fair days drive me in rage, they go against my grain
The azure skies will only make me blue
For the greatest love to ever fall in my view
I owe to Jupiter and to his thunder coup
On the wings of a hurricane it blew.

Georges Brassens, L'Orage (The Storm)

My love tells me that before the clouds of the Atlantic move inland over the continent, they first relieve themselves over Aachen and the Low Countries. That is why, evening and morn’, the cobblestones of the city glisten romantically and mirror the festive comings and goings of Christmastide.

At 10 o’clock in the morning, while we were seated at breakfast in one of the ornamental rooms of Café Van den Daele, a gust of wind brought a tinkering of rain against the windowpanes. Beyond the prism of hand-blown 17th-century glass, the pine wreaths and their twinkling lights swayed to and fro over the street below. They brightened and dimmed to the fluctuating hues of the lathered sky above. How rapidly the nimbus traversed the atmosphere, and the stratus and the cumulus, now cloaking, now revealing the city.

Dampness is perpetual in Aix-la-Chapelle, with water pouring from the sky and water welling from the earth; the Romans called the place Aquis-Granum or Aquis Villa. Granted, it was in reference to the thermal springs that made a spa town out of a marsh. Of all places, Charlemagne set his sights on Aix to be the heart of his Empire. “For the waters,” it was written. As the Romans had discovered, natural hot springs can be comforting when you are wintering in the company of 12,000 soldiers. And what about Aix-en-Provence rather?

One of the founding fathers of Europe, Charlemagne is called, making Aachen a European city par excellence. By his imperial will, the towering Carolus Magnus, son of Pepin the Short, built and shaped a city’s and a continent’s destiny. Under Constantine’s motto, “One Empire, one God, one Emperor,” he tore down the Irminsul of the pagan Saxons and erected instead an octagonal dome dedicated to the Virgin Mary, his own pillar to heaven beyond the clouds. And water fell in ever greater quantities, and the city prospered and became one of the most beautiful of cities north of the Alps, drawing luminaries and crowning kings and emperors for 600 years. And whereas the clouds take cue whenever they pass over the cathedral of Aachen, the Allied pilots took care to spare it during their bombardment of Germany in WWII.

Gazing out at the warped sky, we measure the fleeting thoughts of Europe and Empire and the Euro crisis….

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L'Insoutenable légèreté de l'être

«Ma rêverie liquide, mon amour liquide», 2005 (acrylic on paper)

Le plus lourd fardeau nous écrase, nous fait ployer sous lui, nous presse contre le sol. Mais dans la poésie amoureuse de tous les siècles, la femme désire recevoir le fardeau du corps mâle. Le plus lourd fardeau est donc en même temps l’image du plus intense accomplissement vital. Plus lourd est le fardeau, plus notre vie est proche de la terre, et plus elle est réelle et vraie.

En revanche, l’absence totale de fardeau fait que l’être humain devient plus léger que l’air, qu’il s’envole, qu’il s’éloigne de la terre, de l’être terrestre, qu’il n’est plus qu’à demi réel et que ses mouvements sont aussi libres qu’insignifiants.

Alors, que choisir ? La pesanteur ou la légèreté ?

Das schwerste Gewicht beugt uns nieder, erdrückt uns, preßt uns zu Boden. In der Liebeslyrik aller Zeiten aber sehnt sich die Frau nach der Schwere des männlichen Körpers. Das schwerste Gewicht ist also gleichzeitig ein Bild intensivster Lebenserfüllung. Je schwerer das Gewicht, desto näher ist unser Leben der Erde, desto wirklicher und wahrer ist es.

Im Gegensatz dazu bewirkt die völlige Abwesenheit von Gewicht, daß der Mensch leichter wird als Luft, daß er emporschwebt und sich von der Erde, vom irdischen Sein entfernt, daß er nur noch zur Hälfte wirklich ist und seine Bewegungen ebenso frei wie bedeutungslos sind.

Was also soll man wählen? Das Schwere oder das Leichte?

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

— Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being / Die unerträgliche Leichtigkeit des Seins)

l'éclat de nuit et le brigand

«Puzzle», 2007

Four years ago it was in December, I clearly remember, the baron’s train arrival at the Gare Matabiau. With a spirit akin to Mahler’s or Poe’s, he stole his way into the heart of the Ville Rose. An ivory cane to fend off the gloom he retained, and to repose his young and restless mind; but a sparkle there glinted, or at least there hinted, in the shadows of his grey-green eye. And he strolled at leisure under festivity’s pleasures, without once ever heaving a sigh. But twilight then fell, and under its spell, notes of jazz and java combined. He fashioned a sonnet and toasted upon it, with cinnamon-and-nutmeg-spiced wine. In the glow of December’s Christmas splendor, I tasted my first mulled wine…

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn —
As the star-dials hinted of morn —
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,*

And in the crystalline light, I did not tarry to uncover, that among the bright-eyed baron’s arts, he was fond most of robbing young girls’ hearts.

* Excerpt from Ulalume by Edgar Allan Poe

a recipe for glühwein aka vin chaud aka mulled wine

Bei mir bist du schön

I discovered Waldeck some time ago while searching for a tango nuevo-adapted piece called "Addicted to you." Since then, the copyright lawyer-turned Viennese DJ and his Ballroom Stories album has been on my favorite dance numbers list.

The mélange of hip-hop, jazz, electro with retro dance variété cannot fail to mesmerize.
Pour moi, tu es belle!

L'Idée d'Europe

Aachener Dom

A voyage to the north this weekend, to the city of one of the founding fathers of Europe...

Milonga on the rails

In the lonely outskirts west of the city, overlooking the rails to Frankfurt, lies a former train depot, covered in ivy. To reach it from the town center, one passes many a nondescript warehouse, many a faded or peeling sign, many a billboard plastered with articles one doesn’t need.

If one were to take the train to the north via Darmstadt on a blue Sunday evening, one perchance might be surprised by a glimpse of lights dancing from glasses, bottles and chandeliers in this same brick depot, and by the shadows of pairs in close embrace. One might even be struck by the notes of red on the walls, without realizing that they are the blooms of amaryllis perched on the windowsill.

One would watch the scene as in a silent film, oblivious to the notes of the bandoneon or the voice of Carlos Gardel, from that train to Frankfurt or Cologne. Inside the depot, the dancing pairs would feel a slight tremor of the passing locomotion, and those waiting at the bar might glance through the windowpanes and meet the fading eyes of a passenger peering curiously out into the night.

Welcome to Weststadt Bar, on special Sunday evenings, when a train depot transforms into a ballroom, and a milonga brings cars from Wiesbaden, Heidelberg, Mannheim, Frankfurt, Aschaffenburg, to such a forlorn part of Darmstadt. What is it that makes people drive hundreds of kilometers for a tango?

Milonga on the Rails, 2011 watercolor digital collage«Un ilôt de beauté parmi les décombres» (An island of beauty among the ruins), 2011 (watercolor and digital collage)

Listen to Anibal Troilo and Alberto Marino's Milonga Triste, 1946 version
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