Monday, 16 October 2017


After Kurt Schuschnigg resigned as chancellor of Austria, he was arrested on 12 March 1938 and kept in solitary confinement at Gestapo headquarters.  He married his fiancĂ©e, Vera Countess Czernin, by proxy in June 1938. She took over the care of his son Kurt Junior. The 12-year old boy was forced to leave school and lived with his former nanny. Vera arranged for private tutoring at her own cost. In 1939 she secured for Kurt a place in a boarding school in Munich.

Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 9 Dec 1938 
[I am supporting the boy out of my own funds.] So far it worked out reasonably well because it was an interim solution with relatively cheap assistant teachers. Now however the question of the boy’s education has been settled with the authorities, which was not easy, as you can imagine, since I had to find people who suited both me and them (and since I can’t send him to school here)…We need two teachers, which is rather expensive, even if I economize in every possible way. It can hardly be done under 200 Marks per month. Kurt and I would be immensely grateful if you could contribute something to this amount – something small, whatever you think fit. Any amount will help us.

Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 8 November 1939
I have decided to send Kurtl to a school in Munich. I have achieved that much last week…he attends the gymnasium in Schwabing in the morning and afterwards goes to the Salesianum, a boarding school. For the time being he will be there only during the day because a room is available only as of 15 November…The boy is quite happy, and this solution provided great relief to me. It was quite impossible to arrange anything here [in Vienna]. I did not even get an answer to my petition.

Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 18 April 1940
Today he is still a child. All I want is that he will recognize later on that I never even for a second distinguished [between him and my own children]. I am just as strict with my own when they do anything stupid. In my opinion one can’t be strict enough nowadays. I have certainly been brought up in an old-fashioned way, but I know that’s not the worst education. Without moral and spiritual principles I would never have been able to win through this time of great sorrow, this ordeal, and remain unshattered. And I want to arm all my children against sorrow – happy times are easy to weather!

(Translated from Sofort vernichten. Die vertraulichen Briefe Kurt und Vera von Schuschniggs, 1938-1945, ed. Dieter A. Binder and Heinrich Schuschnigg)

Tuesday, 26 September 2017


Two short novels Murakami wrote them in the 70s. His mode of operation: When I got home late from work, I sat at my kitchen table and wrote. The desire to write felt like something that had come fluttering down from the sky, and I had caught it cleanly in my hands…It was like a revelation. Or maybe “epiphany” is a better word.
The result was a kind of diary/philosophy of life.

BEING COOL.There was a time when everyone wanted to be cool. I decided to express only half of what I was really feeling. For the next several years this was how I behaved. At which point I discovered that I had turned into a person incapable of expressing more than half of what he felt.

UNHAPPINESS.  It appeared as though time had stopped, as if all of a sudden its flow had been severed. He had no idea why things had changed. Nor did he know how to search for the severed end…He was s powerless and lonely as a winter fly stripped of its wings, or a river confronting the sea. An ill wind had arisen somewhere, and it was blowing the warm, familiar air that had embraced him to the other side of the planet.

THE CITY. I sniffed rain. A few autumn birds cut across the sky. The drone of the I was everywhere, a mix of countless sounds: subway trains, sizzling hamburgers, cars on elevated highways, automatic door opening and closing.

PINBALL MACHINE – THE MASTER.  He would insert one of the coins to start the machine, snap the plunger a few times, and then shoot a ball out onto the playfield in a bored sort of way. With that single ball he checked the magnets on all the bumpers, tested all the lanes, and knocked down the targets one by one. The drop target, the kick-out hole, the rotating target. Next, he set off all the bonus lights and then wrapped up the job by dispatching the ball into the exit drain with a look of complete disinterest. All in less time than it takes to smoke half a cigarette.

Saturday, 23 September 2017


Happened to me, that is:

  • A traffic jam on Gardiner Expressway. Pixellated sign says: All lanes closed. For about ten minutes we just sit there, then inexplicably – no, miraculously-- the traffic loosens up and the flow returns to normal. No explanation.  
  • Baby Elias baulks at drinking from a bottle. He prefers the breast. He cries a great deal, but in the end decides to make peace with me and smiles (without however giving in on the bottle issue). Very few people can combine forgiveness with principles! I see a great future for this kid.
  • A fox crosses in front of my car on Lakeshore Boulevard. He isn’t in a great hurry and stops at the curb to watch my car speeding up again. Maybe he was suicidal. Maybe he just got a kick out of challenging cars. Maybe he was a she. 

Thursday, 14 September 2017


This is the story of Dorrigo Evans, a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp working on the Thai-Burma railway. A story of love and death, good and evil, the novel moves back and forth between 1943 and contemporary Australia.

A village overrun by the French: The attack had transformed the Australian defenders into things not human, drying dark-red meat and fly-blown viscera, streaked, smashed bone and the faces clenched back on exposed teeth. When they came upon the broken houses, the dead donkeys and goats, the corpses of their comrades, they smoked to keep the dead out of their nostrils, they joked to keep the dead from preying on their minds.

Fifty years later, Dorrigo is famous and tired of fame. He sensed the coming of a new neater world, a tamer world, a world of boundaries and surveillance, where everything was known and nothing needed to be experienced. He understood his public self – the side they put on coins and stamps – would meld well with the coming age, and that the other side, his private self, would become increasingly incomprehensible and distasteful, this side others would conspire to hide.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


riverun, past Eve and Adam’s, past the whole schmear of history and back and again.  Joyce was forty when he felt the ennui of Solomon --nothing new under the sun. I’m a hundred years old (using a round figure here) and still refuse to believe in the vicus of recirculation. Take the Fall, for example. It hasn’t come around to me yet, and it isn’t inevitable. I knew a man once who managed to avoid The Fall. He was an innkeeper like Everybody in Joyce’s epic, who would not give us his name beyond the normative letters HCE. My man (let’s keep it simple and call him Francis), somehow muddled through and kept upright and wallstrait throughout his life. He left school at the age of ten, thinking once he knew how to count clittering up and clottering down, and  how to read and write (punctuation optional), he knew everything he needed for life, or if there was anything lacking he could pick it up on the way. That little slip (if leaving school can be called a slip) is hardly in the same category as the Primeval Fall unless you turn the classroom into a kind of Eden and reverse the whole biblical story so that not eating from the tree of knowledge is the Great Sin, which I personally believe is true. Starving oneself of knowledge and refusing to ascend from animal to human being is the Great Sin, but Francis can’t be accused of that. He continued acquiring knowledge in his own way and he was human enough, all things considered. Since he wouldn’t go back to school, his mother, Mary, apprenticed him to her brother-in-law who was the owner of a smithy.  In spite of her promising name, Mary was not immaculate, but let it not be said that she abandoned her child to fate. Rather she fitted him out with a new pair of boots to step into his new apprenticeship-life.  The smithy was in an out-of-the-way place. It took Francis half a day’s sturdy walking to get there, by which time his toenails were black and blue, and his heels a bloody mess of oozing blisters because the boots were practically, but not entirely new, having belonged, very briefly, to a child who died of the measles, and whose feet had been a tad smaller than Francis’. This painful state of things was soon remedied by cutting a hole into the upper part of the shoe to make room for Francis’ toes and allow air to circulate very pleasantly on a hot summer’s day. It did occur to Francis that the same hole could become a liability when winter came and the weather turned icy, but he did not wait for winter to come.  He ran away in the month of September because he could no longer stand the drubbings he regularly got from his uncle, and since he had kept the cut-off pieces of leather, he was able to exchange his boots for a solid pair of rubbers after convincing a peddler that the patches might be sewn back on and the boots restored to serve another man with smaller feet. And so he returned to his widowed mother, no longer widowed, who considered both the rubber boots and her son’s return a change for the worse.

(To be continued)