Sunday, May 25, 2014

Berowne's 221

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "T" is for tourism)

I just stumbled across a news item.  The hotel Lutetia in Paris is going to close for three years for renovation.

That meant something to me because for a while I lived there.

For over a century it was just another good Paris hotel; they now want to make a stab at turning it into a fabulous hotel de luxe, as good as any of the other great European establishments.   

(“Lutetia,” by the way, was what the Romans called Paris.)

I stayed in that hotel while working in Paris in the sixties.  And I became fascinated by its history, especially the part they didn’t like to talk about.

Back in 1940 the Germans knew a good place when they saw one so as soon as they occupied Paris they took the hotel over.  It actually became the headquarters of Abwehr, the Nazi intelligence operation.

This was the outfit that dealt – rather harshly as you can imagine – with sabotage, counter-espionage, security, etc.

One aspect of this that you don’t read much about is the effect this had on the citizens of Paris.  The city was flooded with gray mice.

You see, along with the German army came busloads of young German women to work for the occupying force.  They wore special uniforms, sort of gray in color, and there were so many of them about in town that the Parisians called them “souris grises” – gray mice.

It was a different kind of tourism.  For these girls, the several years beginning with 1940 were a kind of paradise.  They got to go to Paris, not only with all expenses paid, but also with a salary.
 For quite a while it was a huge party.  For many of them, their home was the Lutetia.

They did the usual tourism things; sight-seeing, shopping, etc.

They went out of their way to avoid being feisty or argumentative; they carefully paid the asking price for everything they bought. 
Hitler wanted to “woo” Paris; he had dreams of a post-war empire with Berlin, Paris and London as key parts of a new Europe – with Berlin on top, as you might guess – so his orders were to make nice to the local population.

Years later I was at a tourism conference in New York and met a German woman and we began talking about Paris.  She was pleased to learn that I had stayed at the Lutetia.  “I stayed there too, for several years!” she exclaimed.  “During the forties.”

I suddenly realized that I was talking to a gray mouse.  I didn't want to be meddlesome so I diplomatically didn’t ask her what it was like to work for the Nazi security organization Abwehr.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

220 Quiz Answer

Madame Defarge is a fictional character in the book A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "S" is for "special")

There’s been quite a lot in the news lately about executions.

What has set it off, of course, is the famous botched attempt to do away with someone legally in Oklahoma on April 29. 

For many years there have been those who are in favor of the death penalty and those who are against.  My guess is that even those solidly for executions might be against the procedure if they knew it was to be a lethal injection attempted by non-skilled types using questionable drugs, obtained questionably, like the three-drug cocktail they tried using in Oklahoma. 

As soon as those involved realized what a massive botch it was becoming, what a strain it was for everyone, they tried to stop the execution.  Evidently no one had thought much about how you can stop killing someone once you’ve started. 

But I didn’t really want to talk about lethal injections, ruined or not, today.  I got to thinking about the folks for whom executions are a kind of entertainment.  They are execution junkies.  They want to be on the scene as the deed is done.

They try to be on the list of the spectators, mostly media types, who carefully watch the procedure, recording all that’s happening. 

I became especially interested in a woman who became known for this proclivity, showing up at executions so often she achieved a sort of fame.

Now you’d think that anyone who had such a passion to witness legal killings would be a special person.  She was special.

In fact, to come right out with it, she was odd.

You see, what was strange about her was this: she was a hobbyist.  She knitted.  No matter where she was she would always have with her yarns and needles; especially if she was lucky enough to attend an execution.

In spite of any problems the executioners might have with the executionee, she would go on knitting away, avidly taking in all the action, creating another pair of socks for some more or less lucky relative.

Oh, and one other thing about her.  She wasn’t just special, she was totally a work of fiction.

I’ll bet my best pair of hand-knitted sox that quite a number of you remember reading about her.

What the Dickens was her name?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

219 Quiz Answer

In the dramatic arts, The Method is a group of techniques actors use to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances.

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "R" is for "real")

It happened back in the 1950s.  There was an earthquake in Manhattan.
(Odd, because they almost never had earthquakes in New York City.)  But this was a different kind of seismic event.

A young actor named Marlon Brando was appearing in a play and was sort of shaking the earth, or at least his audiences, with a hugely different style of acting.  It was raw, vivid, real.

What was the theatre like before, say, World War II? 

Well, the art of acting in America then emphasized diction, fencing, dancing and singing.  And the business was very successful: there were a great many productions – mysteries, musicals, classical dramas and drawing-room comedies (“Tennis, anyone?”).  But in dramatic terms it was all rather weak; the school of realism of Ibsen and Zola had not impacted Yankee actors and directors.

This new type of dramatic presentation required the actors to use what was called “emotional memory.”  They had to find within themselves the means to express the emotion they were trying to portray on stage.

If the script called for a murderous rage, the actors should look deep in their pasts, into their emotional memory, to find a moment when, maybe as a child, they had felt this same murderous rage against another kid who was tormenting them.

An interesting idea.  It had literary justification.  Surely you’re familiar with Marcel Proust, who dipped the little cookie known as a “madeleine” into his cup of tea and experienced a whole world of – emotional memory.                                

It was an American thing.  The great actors of the United Kingdom, Sir Laurence Olivier and others, for example, looked with amused condescension on these strange Yankee rituals.  They believed that it was training, technique and talent that made for great acting, not necessarily personal emotional involvement.
The story is told of a famous British actor who played a tempestuous scene and was later asked by an eager drama student what he had been thinking about during his shouting and groaning in that wildly emotional moment on stage.

“The size of the house,” he replied; “how many tickets had been sold.”

But there must have been something to the American deal.  For quite a number of years, thanks to Brando and other such stars, this was taken up by thousands of American actors who adopted this style and would take it to a point where it was a bit absurd.  They had to have time out to dig deeply into themselves before they felt they were ready to deliver their lines in a play or a film.

Starting back in the Fifties, this way of doing things got to be well known; it entered into our national consciousness.  It had a name.  What was its name?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

218 Quiz Answer

Last week's "Cleopatra" question was a tough one; only three correct answers.  This week's, "Acme," just about everyone got right.  My thanks to those who took part.

This is a Roadrunner, a bird of the genus Geococcyx, a member of the cuckoo family.  (He’s called a member of the cuckoo family because the whole family is a little odd.)

In recent years, there have been attempts on the part of some to suggest that the renowned Roadrunner of cinema fame was never anything more than a cartoon character, but the facts belie such accusations.     

The motion picture series that was popular for so many years, featuring the Roadrunner and his adventures with a Coyote, were an early form of reality programming.  It can now be stated that it was no cartoon; the Roadrunner existed and the Coyote, of brownish hue, also was real.  The important point about the film series is that the Coyote was quick but the Roadrunner was quicker.

Doctor Nestor Vogelsang, who holds advanced degrees in chronic ornithology and bird psychology at the eastern campus of the University of Northwestern South Dakota, has studied the bird – specifically the Roadrunner who stars in the Roadrunner-Coyote film series – for several decades.

“No question the creature is real,” Dr. Vogelsang reports.  “As is easily verified, it has feathers, and to the scientific community feathers often indicate a bird.”

In addition, the Coyote on the screen was always hungry; coyotes usually are.  (The latin name for coyote, according to the movie series, is “Appetitius Giganticus.”)  And the Roadrunner would have provided a decent meal, along with a suitable white wine, if it could ever be caught.

But that, of course, was the problem.

The Roadrunner, whose name originally was Runroader, always managed to burn up the roads to evade the oncoming Coyote, even though the latter employed various hi-tech devices to effect a capture.  All of these hi-tech instruments were developed and marketed by a certain corporation of Tipover Junction, California.

There are other malcontents who loudly proclaim, without the slightest shred of evidence, that this corporation also didn’t exist, that it too was just part of the cartoon presentation.

That is manifestly absurd.

The highly moral company is known throughout the barely civilized world as the firm that markets such highly successful products as Earthquake Pills, Portable Holes and Jet-Propelled Roller Skates.

Which brings us to our weekly quiz question: What was the name of that corporation?  [No googling, now. J]

Blog designed by Blogger Boutique using Christy Skagg's "A Little Bit of That" kit.