Ramblings: One Friday evening in August

Just a set of ramblings on a Friday evening at home…

I was walking to the shop earlier, listening to Fast Car by Tracy Chapman, and started thinking about how I always dream about getting into a car one day and just driving, no real destination in mind, just driving somewhere different. I don’t mean by that that I would just drive off and never come back, but that I appreciate the idea that I could just go off and explore somewhere new at a moment’s notice. Well, I could if I could drive. Not that the minor issue of not being able to drive has ever stopped me – trains and planes and buses are just as easy to get away on. In any case, all that got me thinking about freedom, and the freedom of being able to do what we want in life. I have that freedom, and I couldn’t imagine anything else nowadays. I always say this is my home, but a day could come when I just decide that I need something different. Maybe a beach house in Central America or Hawaii. A place where the sun shines more often than it rains and where I can walk around barefoot most of the day. Maybe another trip to India, or one to a country in Africa. I don’t know, thoughts like this always help me keep my inner peace in check. Even just the idea of still being able to go off on an adventure of some sort keeps me happy. I should start planning something for when it gets cold here, an adventure to a place where I have never been before and where it will be warm and full of hibiscus flowers. I’m a little obsessed with the beauty of the hibiscus. I don’t even mind going somewhere alone – the idea of not having to speak to people too much for a week or so is quite enticing.

It’s been a year today that I did my disappearing act and walked away from a life I had turned into a prison. What an interesting year, so much has happened and so much has been thought about. I know I will never regret what I did, even on those days when I have done a double at work and when my legs hurt and my brain just wants to sleep. Even when I only have one day off a week, and on that day just feel like staying at home and listening to my own thoughts as opposed to listening to others talk about theirs for hours on end. I love my life, there is no question about it. This is what life is supposed to be about, the freedom to do whatever we want. We are all responsible in some way for how our life turns out, so we may as well make it as fun as possible. On this day last year we were all waiting for a hurricane to hit the city… In a way it feels like so much longer than just a year to be honest. Many many moons have gone by since then. 

I’ve been watching an old English TV show on Netflix from the late 80’s called Wish Me Luck. Every time that I think that I have exhausted the WW2 fiction I always find something else that catches my eye and hooks me in. This series is in three seasons and is mainly about a group of British agents that are sent into France to join the Résistance. It’s pretty well done, although I will always find it weird when characters are speaking in English when you know you are supposed to imagine them speaking in French. Anyway, I started watching the final season when it struck me that it was filmed in the exact location that I grew up in in France. The views were the exact ones that I would see when I opened the shutters of my apartment every morning and the villages were the same ones I used to go through all the time, or very similar to those in any case. It was filmed in the middle of the Vercors, and the story line is basically taken from real life events that happened when the maquis in 1944, when they rose against the Germans and were squashed, as it was deemed more important to send aid to Normandy during the landings rather than to a bunch of French résistants. It’s a story I grew up hearing about and always one that I have been a little obsessed with, so it’s pretty cool to actually see it depicted on TV (and filmed on location). It makes me miss France a lot though… Maybe I need a little French escape soon too. Mountains o’ mountains of things

For the past month I have been wondering whether to give up on this novel for a while, and write more short stories. I’m thinking about a collection of stories on the LES over the past 7 years, more personal ones than fiction of course, just because I’m really inspired by the idea right now. I’ve been writing more poems again, and am quite happy with the compilation I put together a few weeks ago. But I’ve been really procrastinating about the novel and haven’t finished a chapter in over two months. Today I had the bright idea of maybe just using each chapter I have already written as a set of short stories as this would eliminate the worry of making sure the plot flows through each chapter correctly. But then today I read some of the chapters I had written earlier this year and they are better than I thought they were, and it gave me hope that maybe it still is a good idea and I just need to push on with it and finish it this year. I’ll see. I don’t think I can completely give up on it just yet. But in the mean time I will start on the other plans I have in mind and see what they turn in to.

Book Review: Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz

I'm still obsessed with historical fiction, and will always make a beeline to any fictional writing based in the 1930's and 40's. World War Two still holds a fascination for me that I can't explain. I go for non-fiction too, but fiction will always be my main love. There is something about the fact that it COULD be real, because the written story will be based on events that actually happened at some point in time. It helps me imagine myself in the feet of the characters, living the lives that they did, thinking that maybe they did really exist, or someone like them was alive at the same time in the same area. All that to explain that my purchase of Ghita Schwarz' Displaced Persons was yet another random buy that I happened to come across when browsing the through the new book selection at St Mark's Bookstore. WW2 + Europe + survivors? It was a no-brainer, I grabbed it and immediately started reading it.

The story starts in 1945, just after the war and follows a small group of "displaced persons", the name given to concentration camp survivors and general survivors of the Nazi murdering machine, as they randomly find each other and fight to rebuild their lives as best as they can. The main character through the book is Pavel Mandl, and the narration follows him through his life, directly post-war around the Belsen camp and then post-immigration to the US with his new family and friends. The story sometimes skips to other characters, for example Fela, Pavel's wife; Chaim, the young boy who had survived the Holocaust by pure wit and intelligence and attached himself to Fela and Pavel, and Sima, Chaim's wife. You can find a full synopsis of the novel HERE.

I like that this book was written about survivors picking up the pieces and creating new lives for themselves, after losing everything, instead of being about the actual survival during the war. The narrative is written in such a way that you can hear the Yiddish, Polish and Russian inflections in the characters' voices, but it's so well done, that you don't even notice it outright, it just seems natural. The other point that I really liked about this book is that Schwarz focuses on the characters as normal people who have gone through traumatic experiences and continue to be normal people looking to survive and move on with their lives. The fact that they are survivors does not make them into super humans, they are just normal human beings with flaws and hopes and dreams, trying to make the most of what they have, while still trying to come to terms with the tragedies they have experienced.

By the end of the novel you feel as if you have known the characters all of your life and you don't want to leave them. I applaud Schwarz for writing such an emotional and real novel. If I am not mistaken this is her fictional debut so I can't wait to see what she comes up with next! I also LOVE the fact that she added a couple of pages to the end of the novel with titles of books about the subject, as well as a small synopsis for each book. For someone like me who continues to look for WW2 fiction, this is the best thing that an author can do!

More information:
Gita Schwarz official website

Companies apologising for their Nazi past & blatant hypocrisy

So now Hugo Boss are apologising for their Nazi past because a book is being published about it? See BBC News article HERE.
This is the second article I have read about fashion and Nazism this year (I am sure there were more, I just haven't read them). The first one was a few months ago, in regards to the book that was released "revealing" Coco Chanel's flirtation with Nazism (Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War by Hal Vaughan).
If I am not mistaken, Hugo Boss was tried and fined for his involvement after the war, and died not long after... I just don't really understand this need to apologise now, just because a new book is coming out. Sounds kind of like a hollow apology and highly hypocritical in my opinion.
In any case, this opens up a much larger debate. Any person who is slightly interested in this period of time and has a brain knows full well that there were many companies who collaborated with the Nazis. Some who were pressured to, and others who gladly ran to them with their business as soon as they came into power. Anti-semitism and totalitarianism were not born with Nazism, they just became somewhat tolerated as an existing regime. No one in power in countries outside of Nazi-occupied countries really knew or really cared about the extent of the atrocities committed during WW2 by the Nazis, until the war was over. And then, of course, no one had ever been a Nazi, a Nazi supporter, or had ever collaborated with the Nazis.
So, every time a book is going to come out about how a fashion designer/nuclear scientist/railway developer/foie gras provider used to collaborate with the Nazis, anyone associated with these people will feel the need to apologise?
Instead of a hypocritical apology, that is never going to wipe out whatever you or your ancestors may have done in the past, why not set up a fund or a charity that helps the victims of genocide and war today? Instead of just sweeping it under the carpet again, do something to help people suffering today.
Maybe Hugo Boss' war time victims appreciate the apology, and then that's good for them, but I think it's just another cop out. I don't think Coco Chanel ever apologised and her name and designs are still the most famous in the world. Goes to show how hypocritical this world really is, huh?