memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘things I’ve read’ Category

An all-seeing God (1)

The idea behind the following little tale I shamelessly borrow from one of my heroes – Roald Dahl.

Once upon a time there lived in Austro-Hungary towards the end of the 19th century a family of five – father, mother and three children.

They lived in a country village near the German frontier, where the father worked as a customs official. The family was staying at an inn, the Gasthof Zum Pommer, with its pretty orchard of apple trees at the back. While the father went to work every day at the frontier post, the three children attended the local village school and the mother, who was very pious, busied herself around the village with good works and worshipped daily at Mass in the church.

HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY – PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

One day the mother found herself to be expecting another child.

In those days Society and the Catholic Church in general, and her authoritian husband in particular, all conspired against her to produce babies – a task to which she was neither physically nor temperamentally suited. She was a thin nervous woman and her previous two pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. She decided to visit her friend the priest at the church and confide her fears and doubts to him. She explained about her abusive husband and trembled lest the birth should be problematic.

–          Put your trust in God, my daughter and let us kneel down and pray for the safety of your unborn child.

So she and the priest knelt in the church and prayed fervently and she derived spiritual comfort therefrom. Before she left the priest blessed her and urged her to say a novena of her rosary each day.

(To be continued)

The Gospel According To Matthew

 The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo) is an Italian film directed in 1964 by Pier Paulo Pasolini.

It is a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ, from the Nativity through to the Resurrection.

I remember how struck I was was on first seeing this film about forty or so years ago. At the same time I was seeing such films as François Truffauld’s L’Enfant Sauvage and Werner Herzog’s Aguirre The Wrath of God.

Raised on a diet of Hollywood pap these films opened my eyes to the European Cinema.

The dialogue of the film is mostly taken directly from the Gospel of Matthew, as Pasolini felt that images could never reach the poetic heights of the text.

He reportedly chose Matthew’s Gospel over the others because he had decided that “John was too mystical, Mark too vulgar, and Luke too sentimental.”

Pier Paulo Pasolini was an atheist, homosexual and Marxist.

When commentators evinced surprise that an non-believer like him could make a film with such a religious theme he replied that anyone who thought he was an non-believer knew him better than he did himself.

The film, shot in black and white, is set in a stark bleak desert landscape. Using amateur actors Pasolini stages a series of set speeches from Matthew’s gospel.

STONY DESERT

STONY DESERT

The film is devoid of the customary sanctimonious sentimentality of the genre.

Jesus is a stern Marxist Christ who endures his sufferings with a stoical formality.

The score of the film, consisting mainly of sacred music by J. S. Bach (Mass in B minor and parts of the St. Matthew Passion) and the Gloria from the Congolese Missa Luba is unforgettable and indeed for most of my life since, whenever I have listened to the St. Matthew Passion I have thought of that film.

A serious and profound film, I would suggest it merits another viewing.

The mysterious case of the uneatable pears

An  inspirational book (for my generation at least) was CATCH 22 by Joseph Heller.

Wicked and hilarious this book with brilliant wordplay brings paradox to an inevitable  Zeno-like absurdity. Published in 1957 it dazzled our generations and spread across the Anglophonic world like a wildfire.

(Now, of course, we have spawned a generation which, not only has not read CATCH 22 but also hasn’t read much else either – poor them, so many lost conceits, so much lost irony).

Anyway there is a scene in the book where everyone on the base is issued with a pill to throw away into the bushes.

STILL LIFE WITH FRUIT - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

STILL LIFE WITH FRUIT – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

So it is in this place. Sometimes we are distributed with green pears so hard and unripe that those of us who still have our own teeth, should we actually attempt to bite into them … but not to worry the pears are not to be eaten but to be put into our pockets or bags and consumed in a couple of days when they are ripe.

That same impulse, the same força de vontade, which is so good for my physical improvement, impels me to be difficult about the pear situation.

I enter the dining room for dinner at 7.00 sharp and notice the small rock-like green projectiles – what’s this, I think, are we going to have a window-breaking contest after dinner or have some of us been distributed with uneatable pears again:

–          Excuse me, I don’t want this fruit because it’s not ripe, is it? I’ll have the fruit pap, please.

–          There is no fruit pap left.

–          No fruit pap left!

–          You have to warn us in advance if you want fruit pap instead of a green pear.

I’m entering The Twilight Zone again.

–          Can’t you just assume that I will prefer fruit pap to unripe fruit …?

Meanwhile someone else has tactfully produced one of the apples that they keep in the kitchen in reserve for difficult cases like mine.

STILL LIFE WITH APPLES - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

STILL LIFE WITH APPLES – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

Eye-catching Headline

I must say one sees some rather odd headlines in our newspaper:

MUSEU DE ETNOLOGIA DO PORTO VAI SER EXTINCTO

(ETHNOLOGY MUSEUM OF PORTO IS GOING TO BECOME EXTINCT)

Due to lack of funding, one assumes.

WINTER TREES – PAINTING – BY THOMAS MILNER

The longest room in England

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

Winston Churchill

blenheim%20palace

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, birth place of Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

Just look at the size of that place, will you!

The story is that Churchill’s Mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, was at the end of what was then the longest gallery in England when her labour pains began, started to hurry down (the longest room in England), got to about half way and had to pop into one of numerous rooms off (the longest corridor in England) in order to give birth to Winston Churchill.

I would take the views on democracy of a man,

Who was born in a small room

Off the longest gallery in England,

With extreme caution,

If I were you.

The last Tasmanian

Certain great crimes stain the pages of history – the Slave Trade and the Holocaust are two that spring immediatly to mind – while others fade with time and are downgraded to mere footnotes in nation-building.

Such a case is the systematic genocide of the aborigines of a small island first called by the Europeans Van Dieman´s Land and later Tasmania off the south-west coast of Australia.

Never before had a race of men been utterly destroyed within seventy-five years.

Destroyed not only by a different manner of life and imported disease but also by sheer hostility and ill-will of the usurpers of the race’s land – colonial militia, home-steaders, stockmen and ex-convicts backed by a sanctimonious Christianity.

At one point they organised themselves to form a human chain from the north coast to the south, armed with guns and knives, and walked from the top to the bottom of the island flushing out the natives (who had inhabited those forests since time immemorial) and slaughtering them. With no defences but cunning and the most primitive weapons, the natives had little chance and by 1876 the last of them was dead.

So perished a whole people.

QUEEN TRUGANINI – THE LAST TASMANIAN

On May 7, 1876, Truganini, the last full-blood Black person in Tasmania, died at seventy-three years of age.

Her mother had been stabbed to death by a European.

Her sister was kidnapped by Europeans.

Her intended husband was drowned by two Europeans in her presence, while his murderers raped her.

It might be accurately said that Truganini’s numerous personal sufferings typify the tragedy of the Black people of Tasmania as a whole.

She was the very last.

Don’t let them cut me up, she begged the doctor as she lay dying.

After her burial, Truganini’s body was exhumed and her skeleton, strung upon wires and placed upright in a box, became for many years the most popular exhibit in the Tasmanian Museum and remained on display until 1947.

Finally, in 1976–the centenary year of Truganini’s death (despite the museum’s objections) her skeleton was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea.

Lest we forget

Another of the great crimes that stain the pages of 20th century history was the Allied bombing of the ancient and beautiful medieval German city of Dresden in February 1945 during the closing months of the Second World War.

The American writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr. joined the U.S. air force in World War Two. Captured by the Germans, he was one of the survivors of the fire-bombing of the city of Dresden.

He was one of the volunteers from the nearby P.O.W. camp to form a work party to go into the city and (under supervision) help the civil authorities in the maintenance of infrastructures etc. They were quartered in a former slaughterhouse under which was a cellar carved out of solid rock to cool the meat.

A character (presumably based on Vonnegut) in Joseph Heller’s sequel to Catch 22, Closing Time, takes up the tale:

That night the bombers came for us. In the daytime American planes flew in low, far apart, and shattered buildings in different parts of the city, and we thought it strange that the bombs should drop so far from each and be aimed at nothing but houses. We wondered why. They were making splintered wreckage for the fires to come, but we didn’t know that. When the sirens sounded again in the evening we down as usual to our meat storage locker underneath our slaughterhouse. This time we stayed. There was no all-clear. Through our rock walls and cement ceiling we heard strange strong, dull thumps and thuds that did not sound to us like bomb explosions. They were the charges of incendiaries… An unusual roar arose, came closer, grew louder, stayed for hours. It was like the noise of a train going suddenly into a tunnel with a blast of wind, except it just stayed … The roar was air, it was a draft miles wide sucked into the city by the flames outside, and it was as powerful as a cyclone. When it finally lessened, near dawn, two guards climbed timidly back up the stairs to try a look outside. They came back like ghosts.

«Es brennt. Alles brennt. Die ganze Stadt. Alles ist zerstört.»

«everything’s on fire,» I translated, in the same hushed voice. «The city is gone.»

In the morning they led us up outside into the rain, everyone else was dead. They were dead in the street, burnt black into stubs and turned by the ash still dropping from the layers of smoke going up everywhere. They were dead in the blackened houses in which the wood had all burned and dead in the cellars.

In his bitter and satiric novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Vonnegut drew on his Dresden experience.

The book used that bombing raid as a symbol or metaphor for the cruelty and destructiveness of war down through the centuries.

FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD

Lest we forget.

 

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