The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season — Bonus Entry

Der Weltensammler - Ilija Trojanow  Collector of Worlds, the - Iliya Troyanov

I blacked out my card on Dec. 19 using the “activity” entry for the Kwanzaa square, but since thereafter I did read a book set (partially) in Africa, too, here’s my “bonus entry” post … sorry for reporting in belatedly; blame it on BookLikes posting issues and a surfeit of things going on all at the same time in my life at present. 😦

Not that it still seems to matter greatly to begin with, alas … (sigh).

Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds) is a novelized biography of 19th century polymath and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who traveled widely in India, the Middle East and Africa, visiting Mecca (disguised as an Arab) and seeking — partially successfully, though he didn’t know it — the source of the Nile (he did make it to Lake Victoria, but failed to confirm that the Nile actually does originate from there).  He is best remembered today for his translation of The 1001 Nights.

Interesting, though quite obviously largely fictitious insights into a fascinating life, and a voyage back through time to the Orient, Africa, and British Empire of the 19th century.

 

Snow Globes: Reads
Bells: Activities

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1512708/the-twelve-tasks-of-the-festive-season-bonus-entry

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Foremost of Noble Ladies: Hatshepsut – History of Royal Women

One of the most fascinating historical female royal to research and learn about is the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt: Hatshepsut. James Henry Breasted, American archeologist and Egyptologist, said she was the “first great woman in history of whom we are informed.” So just who exactly was this well-known Egyptian and what did she accomplish? … [Read more]

Source: Foremost of Noble Ladies: Hatshepsut – History of Royal Women

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OUTBREAK

Casualties of War

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” – Aischylos.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In 1989, a secret U.S. Army SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team was called in after an Ebola outbreak among monkeys in a Reston, VA lab; a mere ten miles from Washington, D.C. They eventually determined that this particular strain wasn’t contagious for humans – others, however, are; capable of producing a 90% mortality rate within a matter of days. The Reston incident produced Richard Preston’s bestselling book The Hot Zone, on which this movie is loosely based (another project involving Robert Redford and Jodie Foster eventually folded).

Like the Reston Ebola strain, the (fictitious) Motaba virus at the center of Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak is brought to the U.S. by an infected monkey, caught near a village in the Zairean (now: Congolese) Motaba Valley. Unlike the Reston Ebola it is contagious for humans, with a 100% mortality rate within a single day. And, again unlike the Reston strain, it is airborne, i.e., not only transmitted by direct human-to-human contact.

Officially nobody has any prior knowledge of the virus at the time of its apparent first hit. In fact, once they’ve overcome their shock about its gruesome effects, USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases) Colonel Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and his assistants, Majors Schuler and Salt (Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.) – in Zaire to provide medical assistance – are downright ecstatic to have discovered a new virus; a once-in-a-lifetime event for most scientists, if it happens at all. What they don’t know is that their own superiors, Brigadier General Billy Ford (Morgan Freeman) and Major General Donald McClintock (Donald Sutherland) have encountered this virus before, albeit non-airborne, in a mercenary camp in 1967 … and on McClintock’s orders, firebombed the camp to secretly develop a biological weapon. Now McClintock insists that their knowledge remain secret even after a first Motaba outbreak in Boston, brought about by the Californian animal lab worker (Patrick Dempsey) who has unwittingly smuggled the carrier monkey out to sell it to a pet store; and after another outbreak in Cedar Creek, CA, transmitted through the pet store owner and a lab technician infected by his blood. McClintock’s solution is the same as 30 years earlier: Firebomb the contaminated area and everybody in it, keep your weapon and be done with it.

But unlike 1967, complete secrecy is no longer an option, as not only Colonel Daniels’s team but also his ex-wife Robby (Rene Russo), who is now with the CDC and has helped contain the Boston outbreak, is aware of the virus’s presence. Thus, McClintock opts for the reverse strategy, obtains a presidential OK for his “Operation Clean Sweep” – after a dramatic presentation to the assembled cabinet resulting in the conclusion that the “bug” is capable of spreading to the entire country, including D.C., within a mere 48 hours; and the admonishment “Be compassionate, but be compassionate globally” – and orders Ford to get Daniels out of the way and keep him “in line.”

Daniels, however, who has long earned a reputation for following orders rather selectively, rushes to Cedar Creek, to work alongside Robby and her team trying to contain the virus. In short order Ford and McClintock show up as well, and soon the town is crawling with soldiers, who seal it off to the outside world and implement a curfew, to prevent a further spread of the virus but also in preparation of “Operation Clean Sweep.” A frantic race ensues; pitting Daniels and Salt, who set out to search for the host animal to develop an antiserum, against their own comrades.

The premise of Outbreak is entirely believable; as evidenced not only by the 1989 Virginia incident – after all, it was mere luck that the Reston strain didn’t prove contagious for humans –, but even more so, by the mid-2010 years’ severe Ebola crisis in several West African countries, which claimed the lives of thousands of Africans and also those of a number of North Americans and Europeans who had traveled to the countries struck by the disease.  Moreover, it has long been public knowledge that various kinds of viral strains do exist in the U.S. and other countries; at the very least for experimental purposes. While their military use is banned under the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, there still is no functioning control mechanism in place (which was also a factor in the Iraq weapons of mass destruction debate). And although the U.S. is a signatory to both aforementioned instruments and has previously stated its non-use policy, the Bush government abandoned international discussions on the issue in 2001.

So, Outbreak addresses enormously important concerns; and it does so compellingly and with a stellar cast. Dustin Hoffman imbues his Colonel Daniels with tremendous compassion but also a great sense of humor; and his snappy exchanges with Russo’s Robby Keough and his team are a delight, especially those with Kevin Spacey, who in 1995 burst into movie audiences’ collective awareness with this film, the Oscar-winning The Usual Suspects, and Se7en. Morgan Freeman brings all his sensitivity to the movie’s most intricate role, General Ford, who is caught between being party to McClintock’s scheme and realizing its profound immorality. Then-27-year-old Cuba Gooding Jr. may have been a bit young to play a Major, but he certainly stands his ground; and few actors can portray a villain as menacingly as Donald Sutherland, although the script gives him little opportunity for true complexity.

Unfortunately, Outbreak gets the full “Hollywood thriller” treatment, complete with dramatic score, two-dimensional villain, clichéd ending and reliance on a few coincidences too many. This (and some plot inconsistencies) somewhat reduces its effect, preventing a good movie from becoming a truly great one – although its ‘copter chases are pure eye candy; and it certainly helps that they were shot by Michael Ballhaus, arguably the business’s best cameraman. But for the importance of its subject alone, and its outstanding cast, Outbreak is worth all the notice it has received.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“[The Cedar Creek population] are casualties of war. … I’d give them all a medal if I could. But they are casualties of war.” “Outbreak,” Maj.Gen. Donald McClintock

“[N]o massacre has occurred … no further action is warranted.” Department of the Army: initial investigation report on the March 16, 1968 My Lai incident (Vietnam)

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Warner Bros. (1995)
  • Director: Wolfgang Petersen
  • Executive Producers: Duncan Henderson & Anne Kopelson
  • Producers: Wolfgang Petersen / Arnold Kopelson / Gail Katz
  • Screenplay: Laurence Dworet & Robert Roy Pool
  • Music: James Newton Howard
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Michael Ballhaus
Cast
  • Dustin Hoffman: Sam Daniels
  • Rene Russo: Roberta “Robby” Keough
  • Morgan Freeman: Brigadier General Billy Ford
  • Kevin Spacey: Major Casey Schuler
  • Cuba Gooding Jr.: Major Salt
  • Donald Sutherland: Major General Donald McClintock
  • Patrick Dempsey: James “Jimbo” Scott
  • Zakes Mokae: Dr. Benjamin Iwabi
  • Malick Bowens: Dr. Raswani
  • J.T. Walsh: White House Chief of Staff (uncredited)

 

Major Awards

New York Film Critics Circle Awards (1995)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Kevin Spacey
    – also for Swimming with Sharks, The Usual Suspects, and Se7en
Seattle International Film Festival (1995)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Kevin Spacey
    – also for The Usual Suspects and Se7en
ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) Awards (1996)
  • Top Box Office Films: James Newton Howard

 

Links

THE ENGLISH PATIENT

Ownership, Belonging, and an Earth Without Maps

After the publication of Michael Ondaatje‘s Booker-Prize-winning English Patient, conventional wisdom soon held that the novel, while a masterpiece of fiction, was entirely untransferable to any other medium: too intricately layered seemed its narrative structure; too significant its protagonists’ inner life; too rich its symbolism. Then along came Anthony Minghella, who reportedly read it in a single sitting and was so disoriented afterwards that he didn’t even remember where he was – but who called associate producer Paul Zaentz the very next morning and talked him into bringing the novel to the screen. Two major studios and several fights over the casting of key roles later, the result were an astonishing nine Oscars (Best Picture, Director – Anthony Minghella –, Supporting Actress – Juliette Binoche –, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Score and Sound), as well as scores of other awards.

The English Patient is an epic tale of love and loss; of ownership, belonging and the bars erected thereto. It unites the stories of five people: Hungarian count Laszlo de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes), mistaken as English by a British Army medical unit in Italy after professing to have forgotten his identity; Hana (Juliette Binoche), Almásy’s Canadian nurse; Katherine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas), his erstwhile lover; Kip (Naveen Andrews), a Sikh sapper, and Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), an ex-spy and thief. All outsiders, they are struggling to come to terms with their lives: Almásy, on his deathbed, reflects back to his life as a North African explorer and his affair with Katherine; Hana believes herself cursed because everybody she cares for dies (in the movie her fiancé and her best friend; in the novel her fiancé, her father and her unborn baby), Katherine is taken to an all-male company of explorers in Cairo by her husband Geoffrey (Colin Firth), Kip, like Hana, is far away from home (the only Indian in an otherwise British and Italian environment), and Caravaggio lost his livelihood after his thumbs were cut off in captivity by the Germans, on a sadistic officer (Jürgen Prochnow)’s orders.

Like the novel, the movie’s story largely unfolds in flashbacks: After Hana convinces her superiors to let her stay and nurse Almásy in an abandoned Tuscan villa, she and new arrival Caravaggio, who holds Almásy responsible for his fate, extract the details of his life in Africa and the truth about Katherine, Geoffrey and the events uniting him with the Cliftons and Caravaggio from Almásy in a series of conversations. But at the same time, the story is anchored in the present by Hana’s growing attachment to Kip, which shines a different light on the themes also driving Almásy and his relationship with Katherine. The film’s outstanding cast, which in key roles also includes Julian Wadham as Almásy’s friend Madox and Kevin Whately as Kip’s sergeant Hardy carries the story marvelously: Probably their biggest award loss (besides Fiennes’s and Scott Thomas’s Oscar and other “best lead” nominations and Minghella’s screenplay Oscar nomination) was the 1997 SAG ensemble award, which instead went to The Birdcage.

In his screenplay Minghella made several changes vis-à-vis the novel; the biggest of these doubtlessly a shift in focus from Hana, Caravaggio and Kip to Almásy and Katherine, and the fact that the film is much more explicit about Almásy’s identity than the novel. Both were wise choices: Hana’s inner demons in the novel are largely exactly that – inner demons, moreover, substantially grounded in the past and thus even more difficult to portray than Almásy’s and Katherine’s. Similarly, once the focus had moved to the latter couple, Kip’s back story would have extended the movie without significantly advancing it; and the same is true for the intersections between Caravaggio’s path and that of Hana’s father. Secondly, mistaken national identity is overall more central to Almásy’s character than identity as such; so the novel’s intricate mystery about his persona might well have proven unnecessarily distracting in the movie’s context. Indeed, once Almásy had become the story’s greatest focus, much of its symbolism virtually even required that there be no real doubt about his identity.

But in all core respects, Minghella remained faithful to Ondaatje’s novel; particularly regarding its profoundly impressionistic imagery, as shown, for example, in the curves formed by the Northern African desert’s endless sand dunes, which in John Seale’s magnificent and justly awardwinning cinematography resemble those of a woman’s body as much as they do in Ondaatje’s language, thus uniting Almasy’s two greatest loves in a single symbol.

Doubtlessly the most important image is that of maps: Guides to unknown places like those drawn by Almásy and his friends during their explorations, but also tools of ownership like the cartography of Northern Africa made possible by Geoffrey Clifton’s photos, and ultimately symbols of betrayal, as Almásy surrenders his maps to the Germans in exchange for a plane after he feels deserted by the British. And while Kip, who spends all day searching for bombs but wants to be found at night, guides Hana to himself by a series of tiny signposts in the form of oil lamps – but still never tries to expect her, in order not to get too much attached to her – Almásy, the perpetual loner who declares that he hates ownership more than anything else, gets so attached to Katherine that he claims her suprasternal notch as his exclusive property and later refers to her as his wife, which due to her marriage to Geoffrey she couldn’t truly be in life and could only symbolically become in death. – The final word on maps, belonging and ownership, however, is part of Katherine’s legacy to Almásy; and I still prefer the novel’s language here:

“I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. … All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.”

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Miramax (1996)
  • Director: Anthony Minghella
  • Executive Producers: Bob Weinstein / Harvey Weinstein / Scott Greenstein
  • Producer: Saul Zaentz
  • Associate Producer: Paul Zaentz
  • Screenplay: Anthony Minghella
  • Based on a novel by: Michael Ondaatje
  • Music: Gabriel Yared
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: John Seale
  • Editing: Walter Murch
  • Sound: Walter Murch / Mark Berger / David Parker / Christopher Newman
  • Production Design: Stuart Craig
  • Art Direction: Aurelio Crugnola
  • Set Decoration: Aurelio Crugnola & Stephenie McMillan
  • Costume Design: Ann Roth
Cast
  • Ralph Fiennes: Count Laszlo de Almásy
  • Kristin Scott Thomas: Katharine Clifton
  • Juliette Binoche: Hana
  • Willem Dafoe: David Caravaggio
  • Naveen Andrews: Kip
  • Colin Firth: Geoffrey Clifton
  • Julian Wadham: Madox
  • Kevin Whately: Sgt. Hardy
  • Jürgen Prochnow: Major Müller
  • Clive Merrison: Fenelon-Barnes
  • Hichem Rostom: Fouad

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1997)
  • Best Picture: Saul Zaentz
  • Best Director: Anthony Minghella
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Juliette Binoche
  • Best Cinematography: John Seale
  • Best Film Editing: Walter Murch
  • Best Art Direction – Set Decoration: Stuart Craig and Stephanie McMillan
  • Best Costume Design: Ann Roth
  • Best Music, Original Dramatic Score: Gabriel Yared
  • Best Sound: Walter Murch, Mark Berger, David Parker and Christopher Newman
American Film Institute:
  • Top 100 Love Stories – No. 56
Golden Globes (1997)
  • Best Motion Picture – Drama
  • Best Original Score – Motion Picture: Gabriel Yared
National Board of Review Awards (1996)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche (tied)
Directors’ Guild of America Awards (1997)
  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures: Anthony Minghella, Franco Ballati (unit production manager) (plaque), Lynn Kamera (unit production manager) (plaque), Steve E. Andrews (first assistant director) (plaque), Emma Schofield (second assistant director) (plaque)
Grammy Awards (1998)
  • Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television: Gabriel Yared
BAFTA Awards (1997)
  • Best Film: Saul Zaentz and Anthony Minghella
  • David Lean Award for Direction: Anthony Minghella
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Juliette Binoche
  • Best Screenplay – Adapted: Anthony Minghella
  • Best Cinematography: John Seale
  • Best Editing: Walter Murch
  • Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music: Gabriel Yared
British Film Institute:
  • Top 100 British Films – No. 55
European Film Awards (Felix) (1997)
  • Best Actress: Juliette Binoche
  • Best Cinematographer: John Seale
Goldene Leinwand (Golden Screen) (Germany) (1997)
  • Winner of the Golden Screen
Berlin International Film Festival (1997)
  • Silver Berlin Bear – Best Actress: Juliette Binoche

 

Links

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INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE

Dies Irae, Dies Doloris …

“Libera me, Domine, de vitae aeterna” – “Free me, Lord, from eternal life”: If a movie begins with a choir and a boy soprano singing these words, in a requiem’s style and overlaying the camera’s sweeping move over nightly San Francisco bay, zooming in on a Victorian building’s top-floor window after having followed the life on the street below like a hunter follows its prey – if a movie begins like this, you know you’re not looking at your average flick, whatever its subject. (And if the first thing you catch is the Latin phrase’s grammatical mistake, this is probably not your kind of movie to begin with).

Much-discussed even before its release, due not least to Anne Rice’s temporary withdrawal of support and her no less sensational subsequent 180-degree turn, Neil Jordan’s adaptation of the Vampire Chronicles‘ first part, based on Rice’s own screenplay, is a sumptuous production awash in luminous colors, magnificent period décor and costumes, rich fabrics, heavy crystal, elegant silverware and gallons of deeply scarlet blood, supremely photographed by Phillippe Rousselot, with a constant undercurrent of sensuality and seduction; an audiovisual orgy substantiated by one of recent film history’s most ingenious scores (by Elliot Goldenthal). Although the book only gained notoriety after the publication of its sequel The Vampire Lestat – followed in short order by the Chronicles‘ third installment, The Queen of the Damned –, by the time this movie was produced, Rice had acquired a large and loyal fan base, who would have been ready to tear it to shreds had it failed to meet their expectations. That this was not unanimously the case is in and of itself testimony to Neil Jordan’s considerable achievement (only underscored by the botched 2002 realization of Queen of the Damned). Sure, some decry the plot changes vis-à-vis the novel and the fact that some of the protagonists (particularly Louis and Armand) look different from Rice’s description. But others have embraced the movie wholeheartedly; praising it for remaining faithful to the fundamentalities of Rice’s story and for its production values as such. I find myself firmly in the latter corner; indeed, in some respects I consider this one of the rare movies that are superior to their literary originals – primarily because the story’s two main characters, Louis and Lestat, gain considerably in stature and complexity as compared to Rice’s book.

While both film and novel are narrated by Louis (Brad Pitt), giving an interview to a reporter (Christian Slater) in the hope of achieving some minimal atonement for 200 years of sin and guilt, and while Lestat (Tom Cruise) appears on screen barely half the movie’s total running time, Lestat is much more of a central character than in Rice’s novel; and vastly more interesting. For Anne Rice’s Lestat only comes into his own in the Chronicles‘ second part, which is named for him and where we truly learn to appreciate him as the vampire world’s aristocratic, arrogant, wicked, intelligent and unscrupulous “brat prince,” who although completely lacking regret for any of his actions nevertheless shows occasional glimpses of caring, even if he would never admit thereto. This, however, is exactly the movie’s Lestat; not the comparatively uninformed and, all things considered, even somewhat brutish creature of Rice’s first novel. It is no small feat on Tom Cruise’s part to have accomplished this; and in my mind his portrayal has completely eclipsed the character’s original conception, which was reportedly based on Rutger Hauer’s Captain Navarre in Ladyhawke.

Similarly, while every bit as guilt-ridden as the character created by Anne Rice , Brad Pitt’s Louis regains more inner strength – and more quickly so – than the narrator of Rice’s book, rendering him more of an even foil for Lestat, and equally lending greater credibility to his initial selection as Lestat’s companion, as well as to his actions to ensure his and Claudia’s escape to Europe, and his later decision not to stay with Armand. (Indeed, Louis’s and Armand’s separation after the burning of the Theatre of the Vampires makes perfect sense in the movie’s context; it would have undercut both characters’, but especially Louis’s credibility had they gone on to share years of companionship, as they do in the book.)

Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia was not only this movie’s biggest discovery – not surprisingly, in an interview given a few years later and included on the movie’s DVD, Dunst called this “the most prominent role” of her career so far –: She, too, embodies the novel’s child vampire to absolute perfection; capturing her eternally childlike features as well as her Lolitaesque seductiveness and the ruthless killer hidden under her doll-like appearance. Doubtlessly furthest from the novel’s character is Antonio Banderas’s powerful and charismatic Armand: But while I do somewhat miss Rice’s auburn-haired “Botticelli angel,” I always had a problem imagining him as the leader of the Paris coven, in control even of the quicksilverish Santiago (marvelously portrayed by Stephen Rea in one of his most overtly theatrical performances). Here, too, the movie – if anything – gives the story greater credibility; although it’s admittedly hard to reconcile with parts of the Chronicles‘ later installments, particularly Armand’s own biography.

In interviews, Neil Jordan and Brad Pitt particularly have mentioned the emotional strain that this movie put on all its participants; due its almost exclusively nightly shooting schedule, and even more so because of its incessant exploration of guilt, damnation and, literally, hell on earth. Anne Rice’s vampires truly are the ultimate outsiders; no longer part of human society, they feed on it, can neither be harmed by sickness nor by methods the world has taken for granted ever since Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which are in fact merely “the vulgar fictions of a demented Irishman,” as Louis explains, simultaneously amused and contemptuous) and are thus, if not killed by fire and/or beheading, condemned to walk the earth forever, without any hope of redemption. It is primarily this element which has given Rice’s novels their lasting appeal, and which is perfectly rendered in Jordan’s adaptation. I’m still not sure I’d ever want to meet them in person, though …

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Geffen Pictures (1994)
  • Director: Neil Jordan
  • Producers: David Geffen & Stephen Woolley
  • Screenplay: Anne Rice
  • Based on a novel by: Anne Rice
  • Music: Elliot Goldenthal
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Philippe Rousselot
  • Production Design: Dante Ferretti
Cast

Brad Pitt: Louis
Tom Cruise: Lestat
Christian Slater: Malloy
Kirsten Dunst: Claudia
Antonio Banderas: Armand
Stephen Rea: Santiago
Thandie Newton: Yvette
Indra Ové: New Orleans Whore
Helen McCrory: 2nd Whore
Roger Lloyd Pack: Piano Teacher
George Kelly: Dollmaker
Sara Stockbridge: Estelle
Domiziana Giordano: Madeleine
Louis Lewis-Smith: Mortal Boy

Major Awards and Honors

ASCAP Awards (1995)
  • Top Box Office Films: Elliot Goldenthal
BAFTA Awards (1995)
  • Best Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot
  • Best Production Design: Dante Ferretti

 

Links

CASABLANCA

You must remember this …

Aaaahhh … Bogey. AFI’s No. 1 film star of the 20th century. Hollywood’s original noir anti-hero, epitome of the handsome, cynical and oh-so lonesome wolf (with “Casablanca”‘s Rick Blaine alone, one of the Top 5 guys on the AFI’s list of greatest 20th century film heroes); looking unbeatably cool in white dinner jacket or trenchcoat and fedora alike, a glass of whiskey in his hand and a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Endowed with a legendary aura several times larger than his real life stature, and still admired by scores of women wishing they had been born 50+ years earlier, preferably somewhere in California and to parents connected with the movie business, so as to have at least a marginal chance of meeting him.

Triple-Oscar-winning “Casablanca,” directed by Michael Curtiz, was and still is without question Bogart’s greatest career-defining moment, the movie on which his legendary status is grounded more than on any other of his multiple successes. The film’s story is based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” renamed by Warner Brothers in order to tag onto the success of the studio’s 1938 hit “Algiers” (starring Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr). Building on the success of 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and further expanding Bogart’s increasingly complex on-screen personality, it added a romantic quality which had heretofore been missing; eventually making this the AFI’s Top 20th century love story (even before the No. 2 “Gone With the Wind”), while second only to “Citizen Kane” on the AFI’s overall list of Top 100 20th century movies; with a unique, inimitable blend of drama, passion, humor, exotic North African atmosphere, patriotism, unforgettable score (courtesy of Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By,” Max Steiner, and Louis Kaufman’s violin) and an all-star cast, consisting besides Bogart of Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Renault), Dooley Wilson (who, a drummer by trade, had to fake his piano playing as Rick’s friend Sam), Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Ferrari) and Peter Lorre (Ugarte). And the movie’s countless famous one-liners have long attained legendary status in their own right …

Looking at this movie’s and its stars’ almost mythical fame, it is difficult to imagine that, produced at the height of the studio system era, it was originally just one of the roughly 50 movies released over the course of one year. But mass production didn’t equal low quality; on the contrary, the great care given to all production values, from script-writing to camera work, editing, score and the stars’ presentation in the movies themselves and in their trailers, was at least partly responsible for its lasting success. In fact, the screenplay for “Casablanca” was constantly rewritten even throughout the filming process, to the point that particularly Ingrid Bergman was extremely worried because she was unsure whether at the end she (Ilsa) would leave Casablanca with Henreid’s Victor Laszlo or stay there with Humphrey Bogart (Rick).

Little needs to be said about the movie’s story. After the onset of WWII, Casablanca has become a point of refuge for Jews and other desperate souls from all corners of Europe, fleeing the old world with the hope of building a new life in America. Unofficial center of Casablanca’s society is Rick’s “Café Americain,” where gamblers, refugees, French police, Nazi troops, thieves, swindlers and soldiers of fortune come together on a nightly basis, to make connections, conduct their shady business, or simply forget the uncertainty of their fate for a few precious hours. And presiding over this mixed and colorful society is Rick Blaine, expatriate American without any hope of returning to the United States himself (for reasons never fully explained), officially not interested in politics but only the flourishing of his business, but soft-hearted underneath the hard shell of his cynicism. From Rick’s perspective, everything is going just swell and the way it is meant to be: he is reasonably well-respected, has a good working relationship with Captain Renault, the local representative of the Vichy government (based on mutual respect as much as on the fact that Renault is a guaranteed winner at Rick’s gambling tables and, by way of reciprocation, turns a blind eye to whatever less-than-squeaky-clean transactions Rick may be tolerating in his café, always ready to have his police round up “the usual suspects” instead of the truly guilty party of a crime if that person’s continued freedom promises to be more profitable); and although aware of Rick’s not quite so apolitical past, the Germans are leaving him alone as well, as long as he stays out of politics now. Until … well, until famous underground resistance leader and recent concentration camp-escapee Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa walk into Rick’s café, into his place “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world” – and with one blow, administered to the melancholy tunes of “As Time Goes By,” the carefully maintained equilibrium of his little world comes crashing down around him.

Not only to Bogart and Bergman fans all over the world, “Casablanca” is film history’s all-time crowning achievement, a “must” in every movie lover’s collection, and one of the few films that truly deserve the title “classic.” If it is not yet included in your home collection, that is an omission that ought to be remedied sooner rather than later.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Warner Bros. (1942)
  • Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Executive Producer: Jack L. Warner
  • Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein / Philip G. Epstein / Howard Koch / Casey Robinson (uncredited)
  • Based on a play by: Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
  • Music: Max Steiner
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson
Cast
  • Humphrey Bogart: Rick Blaine
  • Ingrid Bergman: Ilsa Lund
  • Paul Henreid: Victor Laszlo
  • Claude Rains: Captain Louis Renault
  • Conrad Veidt: Major Heinrich Strasser
  • Sydney Greenstreet: Signor Ferrari
  • Peter Lorre: Ugarte
  • S.Z. Sakall: Carl (as S.K. Sakall)
  • Madeleine Lebeau: Yvonne (as Madeleine LeBeau)
  • Dooley Wilson: Sam

 

Major Awards

Academy Awards (1944)
  • Best Picture: Hal B. Wallis
  • Best Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Best Writing, Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 25 Stars (male) – No. 1 (Humphrey Bogart)
  • Top 100 Love Stories – No. 1
  • Top 100 American Films – No. 2
  • Top 100 Movie Songs – No. 2 (“As Time Goes By”)
  • Top 25 Stars (female) – No. 4 (Ingrid Bergman)
  • Top 50 Heroes – No. 4 (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Thrillers – No. 37
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 5th: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”  (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 20th: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes –28th: “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'” (Ilsa Lund)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 32nd: “Round up the usual suspects.” (Captain Louis Renault)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 43rd: “We’ll always have Paris.” (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 67th: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” (Rick Blaine)

 

Links

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Lorenz Books: Around the World Cookbook

Around the World in 350+ Recipes

“Holidays in far flung places have increased our awareness of different foods, and restaurants on every street corner now offer dishes that no so long ago would have been unfamiliar,” the editors of this volume say in their introduction. And indeed: This is nothing less than a lavishly illustrated and marvelously edited culinary trip around the whole world, with stops in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, India, the Middle East, Italy, Spain, France, North America, the Caribbean and Mexico.

All recipes are broken down into small, easy to follow steps, demonstrated in numerous photos. Ingredients are listed with quantities given both in the American and the metric measuring system, thus making the recipes easily accessible wherever you live. Numerous cook’s tips add to the cooking experience and ensure its success. Most of the ingredients are easy to come by, although some may require a trip to a specialty food market. You’ll find plenty of now well-known favorites from the regions represented here, as well as rare and new creations you might not have thought of yourself.

All in all, the book includes more than 350 recipes. If you’re interested in one regional cuisine in particular, you may want to get specialized cookbooks from that particular country or region in addition. But as an introduction and a primer, this volume is very hard to beat.

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Highlights
Regional and International Classics
  • Avgolemono/Aarshe Saak (Greece and several Middle Eastern countries)
  • Baklava (Iran)
  • Boreks (Turkey)
  • Boston Baked Beans (U.S.)
  • Chateaubriand with Sauce Béarnaise (France)
  • Chicken and Prawn Jambalaya (Cajun)
  • Chicken Tikka Masala (India)
  • Chilaquiles (Mexico)
  • Chimichangas (Mexico)
  • Chocolate Profiteroles (France)
  • Chorizo in Red Wine (Spain)
  • Coleslaw (U.S.)
  • Couscous (Morocco; several recipes)
  • Crème Caramel (France)
  • Crêpes Suzette (France)
  • Curries (several recipes from Indonesia, Thailand, Burma and India)
  • Deep-Fried Bananas (Indonesia)
  • Falafel (Egypt)
  • Fried Plantains (Caribbean)
  • Frijoles Refritos (Mexico)
  • Hot and Sour Soup (China)
  • Houmus (Middle East; several countries)
  • Kebabs (recipes from several Middle Eastern countries)
  • Khoresh (Iran; several recipes)
  • Lamb Korma (India)
  • Lamb Pelau (Caribbean)
  • Louisiana Seafood Gumbo (Cajun)
  • Marinated Olives (Spain)
  • Marinated Vegetable Antipasto (Italy)
  • Mole Poblano (Mexico)
  • Mulligatawny (India)
  • New England Clam Chowder (U.S.)
  • Onigiri (Japanese rice balls)
  • Onion Soup (France)
  • Oysters Rockefeller (U.S.)
  • Paella (Spain)
  • Pasta all’ Arrabbiata (Italy)
  • Pecan Pie (Cajun)
  • Peking Duck (China)
  • Penne alla Carbonara (Italy)
  • Pineapple Fried Rice (Thailand)
  • Pizza (various recipes – Italy, of course …)
  • Potatoes Dauphinois (France)
  • Potato Tortilla (Spain)
  • Quesadillas (Mexico)
  • Ratatouille (France)
  • Satés (several recipes from Indonesia and Thailand)
  • Stir-Fries (several recipes from China, Indonesia and Thailand)
  • Sweet and Sour dishes (several recipes from China, Indonesia and Thailand)
  • Szechuan Chicken (China)
  • Tabbouleh (Lebanon)
  • Tacos (Mexico)
  • Tagines (recipes from several North African countries)
  • Tandoori Chicken (India)
  • Tarka Dhal (India)
  • Tiramisu (Italy)
  • Tom Ka Gai (Thailand)
  • Tostadas (Mexico)
  • Wonton Soup (China)
  • Zabaglione (Italy)
Some Unique Recipes
  • Artichoke Rice Cakes with Melting Manchego (Spain)
  • Asparagus with Orange Sauce (France)
  • Baked Fish in Banana Leaves (Thailand)
  • Baked Fish with Nuts (Egypt)
  • Chicken and Pistachio Paté (France)
  • Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey (Morocco)
  • Crab with Green Rice (Mexico)
  • Glazed Garlic Prawns (India)
  • Monkfish Parcels (Spain)
  • Nigerian Meat Stew
  • Salmon in Mango and Ginger Sauce (Caribbean)
  • Sesame Seed Prawn Toasts (China)
  • Stuffed Peaches with Amaretto (Italy)
  • Tanzanian Fish Curry
  • Thyme and Lime Chicken (Caribbean)
  • Tomato and Onion Chutney (India)
  • Veal in Nut Sauce (Mexico)

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Beryl Markham: West With the Night

West with the Night - Beryl MarkhamA British African Amazon

Taken to Kenya at age three, in 1905, Beryl Markham was raised on a farm by her father and a much-hated governess – her mother soon re-abandoned pioneer life for England. And while other girls were groomed to be ladies of society, she learned to ride and train horses, played with the Nandi boys living on her father’s land, and went hunting with their fathers. Barely 19, she became a professional racehorse trainer; at age 24 (1926) her mare Wise Child won the prestigious Kenya St. Leger, beating the odds and the favorite, Wrack, likewise initially trained by Beryl but taken from her weeks earlier by an owner distrusting her experience. After marrying and divorcing again wealthy Mansfield Markham, whose last name she kept, she met pioneer aviator Tom Black (later pilot to the Prince of Wales), who awakened her interest in flying and soon became her instructor. Having obtained her B license – “a flyer’s Magna Carta” – Markham operated a taxi and cargo service out of Nairobi and worked as a scout for professional hunters like author Karen Blixen’s (Isak Dinesen’s) (ex-)husband Baron Bror Blixen. After her return to England, in 1936 she became the first woman to successfully cross the Atlantic from east to west, against the headwinds. (She didn’t reach New York, as planned – technical difficulties forced her plane into a Nova Scotia bog – but her achievement created substantial headlines regardless.) After being lured to Hollywood by a film project involving her flight, and marrying and divorcing again the man who later claimed this book’s authorship, writer Raoul Schumacher, Markham ultimately returned to Kenya and to racehorse training. No less than six of her horses won Kenya’s East African Derby, making her a local celebrity of considerable note. She died in 1986.

“West With the Night” is a memoir of Markham’s life in Kenya until her mid-1930s departure to England. In language rivaling Blixen’s in poetry and Hemingway’s in power and skill, it chronicles her unconventional upbringing, early 20th century colonial society, a racehorse trainer’s anxieties and ambitions, a flyer’s freedom and solitude, and those people who meant most to her: her father, her Nandi friends, Tom Black, and some persons also known to readers of Blixen’s memoirs: Lord and Lady Delamere, Baron Blixen, and Denys Finch-Hatton, for whose attentions she competed with Blixen (who herself isn’t mentioned at all, as Markham isn’t mentioned, either, in “Out of Africa”).

“There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa,” we are introduced to the continent she considered “home:” “Being … all things to all authors, it follows, I suppose, that Africa must be all things to all readers. … It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations.” And the people Markham most respected matched this environment in hardiness as much as in diversity and depth: Baron Blixen, “six feet of amiable Swede,” whose “appreciation of the melodramatic [was] non-existent,” and who was “never significantly silent” and “the toughest, most durable White Hunter ever … to shoot a charging buffalo between the eyes while debating whether his sundown drink will be gin or whisky.” Denys Finch-Hatton, “a great man who never achieved arrogance,” whose charm was “of intellect and strength,” who “would have greeted doomsday with a wink,” could “tread upon inferior men with his tongue,” and was “a keystone” in an arch of lives which fell at his premature death, “leaving its lesser stones heaped [and] for a while without design.” And Tom Black, Beryl’s messenger from Destiny, who taught her that “when you fly … you feel that everything you see belongs to you [and you’re] closer to … something you’ve sensed you might be capable of, but never had the courage to imagine,” but who summed up the effect of Kenya’s growing attraction to amateur hunters (aided not least by his own services) with the simple words “lion, rifles – and stupidity.”

Perhaps Markham’s most poignant accounts are those of her interactions with the Nandi. For unlike Karen Blixen, who came to Africa as an adult and never entirely abandoned a white colonialist’s attitude, Markham’s upbringing enabled her to innately understand their world: “He thought war was made of spears and shields and courage, and he brought them all,” we learn about young warrior Arab Maina: “But [in World War I] they gave him a gun, so he left the spear and the shield behind and took the courage, and went where they sent him. [When he was killed,] some said it was because he had forsaken his spear.” And when her childhood friend Kibii returns to become her servant, now a warrior himself and renamed Arab Ruta, she realizes that what a child doesn’t know “of race and colour and class, he learns soon enough as he grows to see each man flipped inexorably into some predestined groove,” and while Ruta will still be her friend, “the handclasp will be shorter … and though the path is for a while the same, he will walk behind me now, when once, in the simplicity of our nonage, we walked together.”

Like most memoirs – notably including Hemingway’s “Moveable Feast” and Blixen”s “Out of Africa” – “West With the Night” is a selective account; and as in those works, the omissions only enhance its power. Hemingway’s much-quoted lavish praise is both deserved and all the more notable as “Papa,” otherwise so thrifty in lauding contemporaries, intensely disliked Markham as a person. – Authorship of the book has been called into question by the claims of Markham’s ex-husband Raoul Schumacher, and by Errol Trzebinski’s biography (which relies substantially on third-party accounts and merely proves that Schumacher had time and opportunity to write the book, not that he actually did). It’s a great shame that writing as lasting and beautiful as this should be marred by such a controversy. Frankly, though, I don’t hear any voice but Beryl Markham’s own in this account; both philosophically and stylistically, I have no doubt that this is her story alone. And therefore, ultimately … “What matter who’s speaking?” (Michel Focault, “What is an Author?”)

Favorite Quotes:

“We swung over the hills and over the town and back again, and I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know – that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.”

“To venture … close [to a lion] on foot … would mean the sudden shattering of any kindly belief that the similarity of the lion and the pussy cat goes much beyond their whiskers. But then, since men still live by the sword, it’s a little optimistic to expect the lion to withdraw his claws, handicapped as he is by his inability to read our better effusions about the immorality of bloodshed.”

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

“There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo.”

“If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work.”

“The way to find a needle in a haystack is to sit down.”

“To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths, or the blemish of an axe. You know then what you had always been told – that the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks.”

“We fly, but we have not ‘conquered’ the air. Nature presides in all her dignity, permitting us the study and the use of such of her forces as we may understand. It is when we presume to intimacy, having been granted only tolerance, that the harsh stick fall across our impudent knuckles and we rub the pain, staring upward, startled by our ignorance.”

“To an eagle or to an owl or to a rabbit, man must seem a masterful and yet a forlorn animal; he has but two friends. In his almost universal unpopularity he points out, with pride, that these two are the dog and the horse. He believes, with an innocence peculiar to himself, that they are equally proud of this alleged confraternity. He says, ‘Look at my two noble friends – they are dumb, but they are loyal.’ I have for years suspected that they are only tolerant.”

“Elephant, beyond the fact that their size and conformation are aesthetically more suited to the treading of this earth than our angular informity, have an average intelligence comparable to our own. Of course they are less agile and physically less adaptable than ourselves – nature having developed their bodies in one direction and their brains in another, while human beings, on the other hand, drew from Mr. Darwin’s lottery of evolution both the winning ticket and the stub to match it. This, I suppose, is why we are so wonderful and can make movies and electric razors and wireless sets – and guns with which to shoot the elephant, the hare, clay pigeons, and each other.”

“What a child does not know and does not want to know of race and colour and class, he learns soon enough as he grows to see each man flipped inexorably into some predestined groove like a penny or a sovereign in a banker’s rack. Kibii, the Nandi boy, was my good friend. Arab Ruta (the same boy grown to manhood), who sits before me, is my good friend, but the handclasp will be shorter, the smile will not be so eager on his lips, and though the path is for a while the same, he will walk behind me now, when once, in the simplicity of our nonage, we walked together.”

“There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa – and as many books about it as you could read in a leisurely lifetime. Whoever writes a new one can afford a certain complacency in the knowledge that his is a new picture agreeing with no one else’s, but likely to be haugthily disagreed with by all those who believed in some other Africa. … Being thus all things to all authors, it follows, I suppose, that Africa must be all things to all readers.
Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘home.”

“One day the stars will be as familiar to each man as the landmarks, the curves, and the hills on the road that leads to his door, and one day this will be an airborne life. But by then men will have forgotten how to fly; they will be passengers on machines whose conductors are carefully promoted to a familiarity with labelled buttons, and in whose minds knowledge of the sky and the wind and the way of weather will be extraneous as passing fiction.”

“Still, not to be English is hardly regarded as a fatal deficiency even by the English, though grave enough to warrant sympathy.”

 [On WWI:]
“A man of importance had been shot at a place I could not pronounce in Swahili or in English, and, because of this shooting, whole countries were at war. It seemed a laborious method of retribution, but that was the way it was being done. …
A messenger came to the farm with a story to tell. It was not a story that meant much as stories went in those days. It was about how the war progressed in German East Africa and about a tall young man who was killed in it. … It was an ordinary story, but Kibii and I, who knew him well, thought there was no story like it, or one as sad, and we think so now.
The young man tied his shuka on his shoulder one day and took his shield and his spear and went to war. He thought war was made of spears and shields and courage, and he brought them all.
But they gave him a gun, so he left the spear and the shield behind him and took the courage, and went where they sent him because they said this was his duty and he believed in duty. …
He took the gun and held it the way they had told him to hold it, and walked where they told him to walk, smiling a little and looking for another man to fight.
He was shot and killed by the other man, who also believed in duty, and he was buried where he fell. It was so simple and so unimportant.
But of course it meant something to Kibii and me, because the tall young man was Kibii’s father and my most special friend. Arab Maina died on the field of action in the service of the King. But some said it was because he had forsaken his spear.”

“The Old Days, the Lost Days – in the half-closed eyes of memory (and in fact) they never marched across a calendar; they huddled round a burning log, leaned on a certain table, or listened to those certain songs.”

“The only disadvantage in surviving a dangerous experience lies in the fact that your story of it tends to be anticlimactic. You can never carry on right through the point where whatever it is that threatens your life actually takes it – and get anybody to believe you. The world is full of sceptics.”

“Denys [Finch-Hatton] has been written about before and he will be written about again. If someone has not already said it, someone will say that he was a great man who never achieved greatness, and this will not only be trite, but wrong; he was a great man who never achieved arrogance.”

[On Baron von Blixen:]
“Six feet of amiable Swede and, to my knowledge, the toughest, most durable White Hunter ever to snicker at the fanfare of safari or to shoot a charging buffalo between the eyes while debating whether his sundown drink will be gin or whisky.”

“I suppose if there were a part of the world in which mastodon still lived, somebody would design a new gun, and men, in their eternal impudence, would hunt mastodon as they now hunt elephant. Impudence seems to be the word. At least David and Goliath were of the same species, but, to an elephant, a man can only be a midge with a deathly sting.”

“It is amazing what a lot of insect life goes on under your nose when you have got it an inch from the earth. I suppose it goes on in any case, but if you are proceeding on your stomach, dragging your body along by your fingernails, entomology presents itself very forcibly as a thoroughly justified science.”

“It is absurd for a man to kill an elephant. It is not brutal, it is not heroic, and certainly it is not easy; it is just one of those preposterous things that men do like putting a dam across a great river, one tenth of whose volume could engulf the whole of mankind without disturbing the domestic life of a single catfish.

“Like night, the desert is boundless, comfortless and infinite. Like night, it intrigues the mind and leads it to futility. When you have flown halfway across a desert, you experience the desperation of a sleepless man waiting for dawn which only comes when the importance of it’s coming is lost. You fly forever, weary with an invariable scene, and when you are at last released from its monotony, you remember nothing of it because there was nothing there.”

[Quoting her friend Tom Black on an amateur hunter’s injury:]
“Lion, rifles – and stupidity.”

“None of the characters in (the story) were distinguished ones – not even the lion.
He was an old lion, prepared from birth to lose his life rather than to leave it. But he had the dignity of all free creatures, and so he was allowed his moment. It was hardly a glorious moment.
The two men who shot him were indifferent as men go, or perhaps they were less than that. At least they shot him without killing him, and then turned the unsconscionable eye of a camera upon his agony. It was a small, a stupid, but a callous crime.”

“You could expect many things of God at night when the campfire burned before the tents. You could look through and beyond the veils of scarlet and see shadows of the world as God first made it and hear the voices of the beasts He put there. It was a world as old as Time, but as new as Creation’s hour had left it.
In a sense it was formless. When the low stars shone over it and the moon clothed it in silver fog, it was the way the firmament must have been when the waters had gone and the night of the Fifth Day had fallen on creatures still bewildered by the wonder of their being. It was an empty world because no man had yet joined sticks to make a house or scratched the earth to make a road or embedded the transient symbols of his artifice in the clean horizon. But it was not a sterile world. It held the genesis of life and lay deep and anticipant under the sky.”

“It seemed that the printers of the African maps had a slightly malicious habit of including, in large letters, the names of towns, junctions, and villages which, while most of them did exist in fact, as a group of thatched huts may exist or a water hole, they were usually so inconsequential as completely to escape discovery from the cockpit.”

“[This place] presumed to be a town then, but was hardly more than a word under a tin roof.”

“[This town] doesn’t look like anything; it isn’t anything. Its five tin-roofed huts cling to the skinny tracks of the Uganda Railway like parasites on a vine.”

 [On vultures:]
“… those false but democratic mourners at every casual bier …”

“It was … disconcerting to examine your charts before a proposed flight only to find that in many cases the bulk of the terrain over which you had to fly was bluntly marked: ‘UNSURVEYED.’
It was as if the mapmakers had said, ‘We are aware that between this spot and that one, there are several hundred thousands of acres, but until you make a forced landing there, we won’t know whether it is mud, desert, or jungle – and the chances are we won’t know then!

“From the time I arrived in British East Africa at the indifferent age of four and went through the barefoot stage of early youth hunting wild pig with the Nandi, later training racehorses for a living, and still later scouting Tanganyika and the waterless bush country between the Tana and Athi Rivers, by aeroplane, for elephant, I remained so happily provincial I was unable to discuss the boredom of being alive with any intelligence until I had gone to London and lived there for a year. Boredom, like hookworm, is endemic.”

Peter Høeg: Tales of the Night

Tales of the Night - Peter Høeg, Barbara HavelandBridges built out of yearning

“The great systems that inform the world about the truth and life invariably claim to be absolutely truthful and well-balanced. In reality they are quaking bridges built out of yearning.” Thus, the protagonist of this short story collection’s last entry, Reflection of a Young Man in Balance, sums up what he has come to learn about love, and life in general. However, these could also be the words of almost any character in any of the other tales told here: Admittedly or unadmittedly, they are searching for something, for a defining point or experience in life, and all of them see their lives profoundly unbalanced by that experience.

Taking “love and its conditions on the night of March 19, 1929” as his point of reference and as a link between the otherwise unconnected eight stories, Peter Høeg takes his readers from Denmark around the world to Paris, Lisbon and Central Africa. In a language and in settings somewhere between Dinesen (the obvious comparison), Conrad, Hemingway, Wilde and Poe, the author of Smilla’s Sense of Snow (or Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, as it is called in Britain) takes a look at the human condition, society in the first decades of the 20th century, and the dichotomy of science and sentiment, experience and emotion, logic and love.

In Journey into a Dark Heart, a historic train ride in Central Africa turns into a life-changing adventure for a young, disheartened mathematician, with travel companions such as German war hero General von Lettow-Vorbeck, traveling writer Joseph Korzeniowski (a/k/a Joseph Conrad, whose Heart of Darkness provides the obvious inspiration for more than just the story’s title) and an African servant girl with her own surprise in store for the three men.

Hommage a Bournonville finds a young Danish ballet dancer on a tiny boat in Lisbon’s harbor, telling the story of his lost love to a dervish of Turkish origin cast together with him by fate.

In The Verdict on the Right Honorable Ignatio Landstad Rasker, Lord Chief Justice, a father chooses the occasion of his son’s marriage to pass on the story how his own father, a renowned jurist and civil servant, faced up to the demons he had suppressed for most of his life, and which his family thereafter promptly continued to suppress.

An Experiment on the Constancy of Love juxtaposes a young woman of means and great beauty, an aspiring scientist with a sheer endless disdain for life, and the man who becomes her suitor from their first childhood meeting on and follows her from Paris to Denmark and back to Paris, until their ambitions and sentiments collide head-on in a fatal experiment she has devised.

Portrait of the Avant-Garde takes a successful, ambitious painter with ties to the rising Nazis to a nightly boat trip into self-discovery off a remote Danish island.

Pity for the Children of Vaden Town is the story of a city’s self-elected utter isolation, and of the pied piper who has come to the town children’s rescue – with abounding reminiscences to the Grimm Brothers, Robert Browning, Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll.

In Story of a Marriage, a writer discovers that the public image of perfection is often nothing more than that: an image.

And last but not least, in Reflection of a Young Man in Balance, a young scientist discovers the destructively revealing power of a perfect mirror.

Tales of the Night was written and appeared in Denmark in 1990, as Høeg’s second book (after 1988’s The History of Danish Dreams and two years before Smilla’s Sense of Snow), but was published in the U.S. only after the success of his story about the Inuit exile from Copenhagen hell-bent on solving the mystery of the death of a little boy, her only friend. In tone and theme, the two books could not be any more different; yet, like Smilla, Høeg’s protagonists in these tales are loners; outsiders of society, and ultimately, most of them are comfortable in that role and seek solitude rather than social acclaim and popularity. “I learned that it may be necessary to stand on the outside of one is to see things clearly,” the narrator of Hommage a Bournonville tells his Muslim companion, and he could be speaking for many of them. So, while social norms and conventions are an important backdrop for the experiences made by Høeg’s characters, ultimately it is one person in particular, often a loner like themselves, who provides them with the experience that will change the course of the entire rest of their lives.

Peter Høeg tells his protagonists’ stories with as much intelligence as humility, an occasional sense of humor; and most of all, with great empathy, undying even in their most somber moments. Not all of these tales are immediately uplifting (and Høeg’s successor novels continue to explore the dark side of the human existence); but they provide ample food for thought and are not to be missed.

 

Favorite Quotes:

“It may be necessary to stand on the outside of one is to see things clearly.”

“The great systems that inform the world about the truth and life invariably claim to be absolutely truthful and well-balanced. In reality they are quaking bridges built out of yearning.”

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