Top Ten Tuesday—Fave Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday, formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is favourite book quotes.

1. Just about anything from Monsieur l’Abbé T. in Thérèse Philosophe. This radical priest is on fire every time he opens his mouth! Lines like:

“Everyone agrees that God knows what will occur throughout eternity. But, they say, even before he knows what the results of our actions will be, he has foreseen that we will betray his grace and commit these same acts. Thus, with this foreknowledge, God, in creating us, knew in advance that we would be eternally damned and eternally miserable.”

2. Pistorius in Hermann Hesse’s Demian. “Don’t talk shit, man! One doesn’t hear of Abraxas by accident!”

3. “Pablo would be waiting for me, and Mozart too.” (Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf.)

4. “(I still have that suitcase, and even now when I chance to come upon it, I run my fingers around the hole torn in it. It is a wound which cannot heal as wounds heal on bodies or on hearts. Things have longer memories than people.)”—Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (may his memory be for a blessing), Volume II of The GULAG Archipelago.

5. “Rosy-fingered Eos, mentioned so often in Homer and called Aurora by the Romans, caressed, too, with those fingers the first early morning of the Archipelago.”—Ibid.

6. “To taste the sea all one needs is one gulp.”—Ibid.

7. “Mama, I make this vow to you:  I will teach my sons to love life, respect man, and hate only one thing—WAR.”—Isabella Leitner, Fragments of Isabella.

8. “….You can rarely decide for another that he or she should not do this or that. How can anyone forbid you to love when Christ said that there is nothing higher than love? And he made no exceptions, for love of any kind whatsoever.”—Aleksandr Isayevich, November 1916.

9. “The voice lost in a faraway village church had found me again and filled the whole room. I spoke loudly and incessantly like the peasants and then like the city folk, as fast as I could, enraptured by the sounds that were heavy with meaning, as wet snow is heavy with water, convincing myself again and again and again that speech was now mine and that it did not intend to escape through the door which opened onto the balcony.”—The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski.

10. Last but not least, my love Dante:

Midway life’s journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal, and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes now into my breast.
So bitter it is, death is scarce bitterer.
But, for the good it was my hap to find,
I speak of the other things that I saw there.
I cannot remember well in my mind
How I came thither, so was I immersed
In sleep, when the true way I left behind.

Advertisements

IWSG—Poor wordcounts continue

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of every month, and lets participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

I decided to take part in JuNoWriMo again after all, knowing I’d mostly be doing creative non-fiction in the form of blog posts. For most of the month, I doubted I’d crack 10K, and then I decided I’d consider it a win if I got 15K.

My total was embarrassingly low by my standards, though I didn’t have a desk for almost the entire month, coupled with stress, moving (NOT to my desired location!), and having very little privacy.

I set my July Camp NaNo goal even lower, a mere 10K. Not only are those other factors continuing, but some me-me-me jerk ruined my car on July first when I was on my way to synagogue. (Unfortunately, I’m trapped in a housing development in suburbia, and thus no longer have the option of walking to shul.)

This jerk zoomed right into my lane and tore the entire front bumper clear off. It’s a miracle no one ran into it after it flew into the road. He claimed he thought there was plenty of space to get in front of me, though he was right next to my car and squeezing me out of my lane!

I can’t believe my ten-and-a-half-year-old car survived a journey of over 900 miles from NY to SC, only for some negligent driver to get me into an accident a month later.

I went to a used bookstore recently, and finally found a much more updated translation of The Divine Comedy and La Vita Nuova. The hardcover in the back (which was cheaper) is an older version, but I loved that it has the classic Gustave Doré woodcuts.

My first and foremost literary idol and inspiration will always be my favorite writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, but Dante is a very close second place. His intense otherworldly journey, a reflection of how he’d lost the way in his own life, is a constant reminder to me that no matter how far we fall, how badly we’re lost, there’s always hope of finding our way out of that dark forest and towards “the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.”

*******************************

I’m trying to work on my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, for my July Camp project. I wish I’d begun it right when the passion struck and I wrote out my rough draft of chapter-by-chapter notes in the summer of 2015, instead of saving it for that year’s NaNo, but it is what it is.

Hopefully, the first draft will finally be finished within two more years. I did spend eight and a half years on my first Russian historical, over three major working periods, and then took about three and a half more editing, revising, and polishing it a decade later. I’ll be doing some more light revisions on it in the near future, to go along with an updated cover.

How has your summer been treating you in regards to writing or life?

Basilica di Santa Croce

b

1024px-Santa_croce_facciata

Copyright Sailko

La Basilica di Santa Croce (The Basilica of the Holy Cross) is one of the landmarks of Florence (Firenze), and the world’s largest Franciscan church. It contains 16 chapels (many resplendent with frescoes by the famous Giotto and his pupils), and many tombs and cenotaphs of famous Florentines, such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Enrico Fermi, Guglielmo Marconi, and my love Dante.

1024px-FlorenceSantaCroceUp

Copyright Bkwillwm

Construction began 12 May 1294, to replace an older church, and was financed by some of the wealthiest Florentine families. Arnolfo di Cambio may have been the starting architect. Construction was completed in 1385. Pope Eugene IV consecrated it in 1442. Prior to the completion and consecration, this piece of land was a marsh outside the city walls.

800px-Santa_Croce_-_Façade

Copyright RicciSpeziari~commonswiki

Over the years, the basilica was modified many times. The bell tower was rebuilt in 1842 after a lightning strike; the interior was rebuilt in 1560 upon the removal of the choir screen; a neo-Gothic façade was built from 1857–63; and several decades of repairs followed the disastrous 1966 Arno River flood. There’s a Magen David on the façade because architect Niccolò Matas was Jewish. Unfortunately, due to religious prejudices of the time, Matas was buried under the porch and not with his peers inside.

800px-Florentone_Santa_Croce_high_altar_RB

Copyright Radomil

Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce is mostly located in the refectory. In the cloister is a statue of Florence Nightingale, who was born in and named after Florence. The Franciscan friars’ former dorm today houses the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School), and visitors get to watch while artisans make all sorts of leather goods. These goods are sold in an adjacent shop.

Michelangelo's_grave

Michelangelo’s tomb, Copyright Wknight94

800px-9919_-_Firenze_-_Santa_Croce_-_Tomba_di_Michelangelo_-_Foto_Giovanni_Dall'Orto,_28-Oct-2007

Detail of Michelangelo’s tomb, Copyright Giovanni Dall’Orto

The back of the basilica houses old orchards and gardens. Its trees include Himalayan and Atlas cedars, and hackberry trees. It’s a giant super-complex, with many smaller structures within, not just an ordinary church.

1280px-Santa_croce,_cappella_medici_11

Medici Chapel, Copyright gaspa, Source Flickr

1024px-Chiesa_di_santa_croce,_sagrestia_2

Sacristy of Rinuccini Chapel, Copyright Sailko

1024px-Chiesa_di_santa_croce,_sagrestia1

Sacristy wall, Copyright Sailko

On the left side of the basilica piazza is a statue of my love Dante, erected in 1865 to mark the 600th anniversary of his birth. King Vittorio Emanuele II was there when it was inaugurated. Originally, it was in the centre of the piazza, but it was moved in 1968 to allow for the city’s historic costumed soccer games. The statue also contains the Florentine coat of arms and Marzocco lions, which symbolise the people’s power.

Santa_Croce_da_Palazzo_Vecchio

Copyright Giulio1996Cordignano

Santa_Croce_FI

Copyright Lorenzo Testa

My character Caterina attempts to hide behind Dante’s empty tomb in November 1943. Since the Italians refused to hand over their Jewish community or discriminate against them, the Germans stepped in and did it for them after Italy joined the Allies in September 1943. Caterina had several offers of help, but she wanted to hide where she always felt safe and peaceful.

Florence_Italy_Remote-view-of-Santa-Croce-01

Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

2874FirenzeSCroceInside

Pulpit, Copyright Geobia

Caterina was caught, and tried climbing further up the tomb, her arms locked around Dante’s neck in a death grip. A priest came to see what all the commotion was and begged the Nazis to respect the rule of sanctuary, but it wasn’t to be. Caterina had to be pried off of the tomb by three Nazis.

1024px-Torre_di_arnolfo,_veduta_santa_croce_38

Copyright Sailko

S._croce,_cenotafio_di_dante

Dante’s empty tomb, Copyright Sailko

The day Caterina and her friends leave Florence for Paris in December 1945, they visit the Basilica, with Dante’s empty tomb their final stop. The figure on the left represents Italy, and the figure on the right represents Poetry. The inscriptions on the sides were added in 1965, on the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth.

Caterina feels a special relationship to Dante because she was born on his 600th death anniversary (called a nachala instead of a Jahrzeit in the Sephardic world), the very end of 13 September 1921.

Santa_croce,_absidi_03

Back view, Copyright Sailko

Dante’s tomb was built in 1829, though Ravenna has consistently refused to give back his bones over all these centuries. The inscription, Onorate l’altissimo poeta (Honor the most exalted poet), is hauntingly missing the next line, L’ombra sua torna, ch’era dipartite (His spirit, which had left us, returns). I believe Dante’s spirit rests with this tomb, even though his bones are in Ravenna.

800px-Dante_santa_croce_florence2

Dante watching over the basilica, Copyright Bruno Barral

Reviewing old books and films with content which unsettles you

I’ve doubtless read more old books and seen more old films than I have from the modern era. As such, there are times when I run across things which can make me uncomfortable as a modern reader/viewer, even offend me. It’s not that I don’t know certain attitudes were prevalent, but rather that it’s kind of hard to just dispassionately take it in without reacting, thinking, “That’s just how things were then.”

We’re all going to experience books and films differently depending upon our socialization, background, personal experiences, values, and beliefs. I, as a Jewish, working-class woman, am bothered by things that wouldn’t bother an upper-middle-class Methodist man. Things that might merely make me uncomfortable in passing might outright anger an African–American, a Catholic, or a Cherokee.

Things to keep in mind while watching/reading and writing your review:

How much of a focus is the material in question? If there’s, e.g., a three-minute scene of racially-motivated violence in a 20-minute short, or a brief scene with a stereotyped Jewish pawnbroker in a 73-minute movie, there’s no reason to obsess over it and make that the entire point of your review. Say it made you uncomfortable, and then move on.

Were these attitudes overtly racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, anti-Catholic, etc., or were they such an ingrained part of the culture as to seem matter-of-fact to the average person in the original audience? A lot of old cartoons accused of being horribly racist have struck me as more a product of their time, not going out of their way to offend people. It’s like the difference between celebrating a lynching vs. a blackface scene.

Was this something that couldn’t really be helped given the era? For example, as much as I wish non-white actors had been able to play major roles outside of so-called “race movies,” that just didn’t happen. White actors played characters of other races, or minorities played servants or minor roles. That didn’t mean a white actor in makeup couldn’t play a character of another race with integrity and sensitivity, or that a servant character was automatically pathetic.

If it’s more than a minor aspect of the story, take some time to explain your discomfort, but don’t go on some long-winded rant. The treatment and so-called slut-shaming of unmarried mothers in films like Faust and Way Down East really does upset me, but there are so many other things in these stories to talk about.

If you point-blank admit you don’t care about the historical, social, and cultural context, you’re not the right person to be reviewing old books or films! You have every right to feel genuinely uncomfortable with certain things, but you need to subdue your 21st century values and viewpoints when you’re dealing with bygone eras.

The normally awesome Rap Critic and his annoying SJW girlfriend Lady Jess totally dropped the ball when they reviewed The Jazz Singer last year, and they likewise missed a golden opportunity in their recent four-part series on Warner Brothers’ Censored Eleven. Instead of placing these cartoons in their appropriate setting, they did almost nothing but rant about how racist they are by modern standards.

If stereotypes are present, are they the only thing about a character, or just one of many traits? For example, the easily-spooked Trohelius Snapp in Midnight Faces seemed to have been included primarily for cheap, racially-motivated laughs. He wasn’t some deep, complex character who just happened to be easily-spooked.

If there’s truly enough material to do a full critique through, e.g, a feminist, class-based, race-based, or Jewish lens, why not do that in a second post? That way, your review proper stays on topic and addresses the actual story within its historical setting.

Was this based on popular beliefs of the time and not intentionally meant to be offensive? As much as I love Dante, he was still very much a product of Medieval Catholic Europe. So, yes, he was under the false impression Prophet Mohammed was a schismatic even though he was never Christian to begin with. Dante also subscribed very much to other Catholic doctrine. At least give him some credit for being evolved enough to question certain things he considers unjust or puzzling. He tends to accept Church doctrine in the end, but he doesn’t blindly accept it.

Words that seem dated now were the de facto words then. Words like Negro, Oriental, sinistral (left-handed), Mosaic (Jewish), Sapphist (lesbian).

Above all, consider the context and intent! Going on a huge rant against, e.g., blackface or the Mrs. Husband’s Full Name convention just makes you look immature and historically ignorant. These people weren’t including this material just to offend your 21st century special snowflake SJW self.

Italy’s first feature film

background_2

I had the privilege of adding Italy’s first feature film, L’Inferno, to my list of silents seen as #1,117. I can’t believe I’d never had a chance to see it before, given how famous and important it is, and how in love with Dante I am. I went back and forth with a few versions before finally settling on the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. It seemed the most appropriate, as jarring as it was to occasionally hear singing.

Released 10 March 1911 by the Teatro Mercandante in Napoli (Naples), this film was over three years in the making and a huge international success. In the U.S. alone, it made over two million dollars. Since it was over an hour long, theatre owners felt justified in raising ticket prices.

L’Inferno is not only widely considered the first true blockbuster of film history, but the finest film adaptation of any of Dante’s writings ever. I wish they’d gone all the way and done Purgatorio and Paradiso as well!

linferno_1911_film

1910s films have always been kind of hit-or-miss for me. They remind me of a gangly preteen or teenager with growing pains, in process of finding an established place in the world. Films had evolved beyond short snippets and one-reelers, but the medium couldn’t jump right into fully-blown perfect features and longer short subjects. Everyone was still learning how to tell stories via moving pictures, and that included acting techniques, camera movement and angles, and scripts.

This excellent 105-year-old film isn’t one of those 1910s films which disappointed me. It does such a wonderful job of bringing Dante’s otherworldly journey to life. The scenes and characters are based upon the famous 19th century woodcut illustrations by Gustave Doré, which were very familiar internationally.

image

If you’ve read The Divine Comedy, you’re probably familiar with the general outline of the story. On Good Friday in the year 1300, Dante wakes up in the Wood of Error, no idea how he got there or how he lost the way so badly. He takes heart from the rising Sun, and begins climbing the Delectable Mountain.

Dante is ambushed by a leopard (lust), a lion (pride), and a female wolf (avarice). He turns back in terror and encounters his idol, the great Roman poet Virgil. Here the film takes a turn from the book by showing Beatrice summoning Virgil to rescue Dante.

linferno-1911-judge-minos

The film does such a wonderful job at bringing Dante’s rich imagination to life, and depicting each Circle and Ring of Hell. Along the way, several famous stories are told in flashback, such as the stories of murdered lovers Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, and the unfortunate Count Ugolino. Some scenes from the book are left out, and some of the geography is altered, but overall, it’s really faithful to the source material.

Some arrogant modern-day folks who can’t think outside of CGI might mock the special effects and otherworldly creatures as lame and outdated, but I really loved them. There was so much effort put into making this film, and Doré’s illustrations really are brought to stunning life.

Some of the creatures are still just as terrifying in the modern era, like Bertram de Born holding his own severed head, the giant head of Lucifer eating a person, and thieves transmogrifying into snakes.

inferno2

L’Inferno contains one of film’s rare few depictions of Prophet Mohammed. His chest gapes open and his entrails hang out. Dante, like most Medieval Christians, was under the false impression that Prophet Mohammed was a schismatic, though he was never Christian to begin with!

I’ll have a future post discussing how to handle and express discomfort with things like this when reviewing older books and films.

linferno-1911-acheron-meets-dante

There’s really no substitute for reading the book (all the way through, not just Part I!), but the film does a masterful job at showing many of the scenes and conveying the essence of this great work of literature. However, since film technology wasn’t yet equipped to film in the dark, we don’t get to see the stars Dante and Virgil behold again when they climb out of Hell at the end.

tumblr_lsz0dkp5fs1qaze7ro1_500

It’s hard to put into words just how very, very much Dante means to me, how much I love and admire him. He represents the best the human race is capable of, a beautiful antidote against all the evil, ignorance, and cruelty that exists. No matter how far we might fall, how badly we’re lost, there’s always hope of finding our way back.