Cultural Summary 25 March 2018

An extrovert week is followed by a more introvert one, perhaps also coloured by the tumultuous events at work. Students occupied part of our building and impeded access to workspace, training rooms and even fire exits, and we had all the excitement of megaphones, human chains, trying to reason with them and then being evacuated and finding refuge in the library. While I have every sympathy with their fear that universities are becoming too similar to businesses, I am not fully clear what their aims are or how we could help them achieve those. But it does bring back memories of idealistic younger days when we protested against Communism and (sort of) won that battle, and of course there are parallels with the March for Our Lives movement in the US. I hope that this younger generation will achieve something before they get too disillusioned by the inertia and selfish interests of the older generations.

March 20th was the International Day of the Francophonie, so I spent the evening reading some French poetry, which was perhaps my first poetic love (Verlaine, Rimbaud, Baudelaire). I have a slim volume which is a good introduction to more modern poetry published by Gallimard: Mon beau navire, ô ma mémoire: Un siècle de poésie française (1911-2011). Gallimard has equivalent anthologies for each century, and this one features both well-known poets (such as Apollinaire, Paul Eluard, Aragon) as well as many poets that I am less familiar with.

This week I discovered the Norwegian crime series in 6 episodes Eyewitness on Walter Presents/All 4. Two teenage boys witness a crime at a sand quarry just outside their town and vow to keep it a secret, with all sorts of repercussions on their community and on themselves. It’s got great build-up of suspense and pacing throughout and manages to also be a love story, a tender mother and son/foster parents and child story, and to show how fallible and flawed even police detectives can be. Recommend, if you can access it. I very seldom binge watch, but I watched all 6 episodes over the course of just 2 nights.

I also succumbed to some bookish temptations. Upon hearing the sad news of the death of Philip Kerr, I borrowed one of the post-WW2 Bernie Gunther books from the library Prussian Blueto see how Gunther copes with a post-Nazi world. I stuck to Germany when I ordered another novel by Jenny Erpenbeck, whose Go Went Gone I so enjoyed. This time it’s Heimsuchung (translated by Susan Bernofsky as Visitation), about a century of German history seen through the ‘eyes’ of a piece of land outside Berlin and the people who lived on it. Last but not least, the Japan Society left a comment on my review of Japanese novellas, and drew my attention to a dual language anthology of contemporary Japanese writing that they have just published. Heaven’s Wind is translated and edited by Angus Turvill and might help me get back into reading Japanese in the original once more. There will be a Book Club meeting dedicated to this volume on the 9th of April at the Japan Society headquarters in London.

There will be a break in my cultural events for the next two weeks, as holidays and the mountains beckon. However, if you are in France and not skiing, then you really should go to the wonderful Quais du Polar crime festival in Lyon, which this year takes place between 6 and 8 April. It will be my first time since 2012 that I won’t be able to make it, but I am sure Emma from Book Around will tell us all about it.

Happy Days in Lyon

France, Norway, Germany and Japan (plus I’ve just finished reading a crime novel set in South Afrida): where have you been ‘transported’ this week?

20 thoughts on “Cultural Summary 25 March 2018”

  1. I couldn’t agree more about the young people and their passion, Marina Sofia. I hope they keep their determination to make things better. I’m glad you took some time to read some French poetry, too. Going back to first loves like can be good for the soul. Thanks for the TV recommendation, too. I haven’t seen it available where I live, but I’ll watch for it.

  2. I suspect the students are supporting their lecturers who have been striking, ostensibly, about what is happening to their future pensions. The academics are now giving voice to a great deal of discontent about the shocking overwork that pervades the sector. My partner is currently off work because of that. The students at his uni have been very supportive of the staff.

    Enjy those mountains!

    1. call me jaded: I rather doubt they are supporting their lecturers. More to do with costs against loans, I imagine. The English system v Scottish system. With Kerr, you’ve reminded me of a different sort of crime tradition that works in exploring history. The present paradigm – at least in the UK/Europe – is to describe/market crime novels as “noir” and to explore the gritty, highly geographical present. There must be a way of experiencing crime from another angle – an alternative grouping to the current crop of “Tartan” and “Nordic” noir; dealing with other emotions, and plots which are built into the paradigm. As Baudelaire might say the paradigm must lose its halo. Any alternatives that challenge this?

      1. There are plenty of alternatives to noir (cosy crime, historical crime, police procedurals). In fact, I think truly noir crime fiction is relatively rare – it’s more the tropes of film noir, the dark moodiness and unreliable characters that they display, rather than the view of the world. (Because they do all tend to have a resolution, while a noir attitude would see it all as hopeless.)

  3. I’ll definitely follow-up your Eyewitness recommendation, my life is lacking a foreign language drama at the moment. I’m watching Below the Surface but it’s not really captured me. This meant I downloaded Midnight Sun but the opening scene was so gory that it put me off. Eyewitness calls!

    1. Yes, I was not particularly gripped with Below the Surface (and after the news about the hostage-taking in France, it became quite unbearable to watch it.)

      1. Lord knows. Seeing Dr. Zhivago as an impressionable teen and then studying the Russian Revolution in history. Something about Russia just spoke to me and I’ve been stuck with this obsession ever since…

      1. I’ve looked into the program and as usual, there are many interesting panels.
        Yes, I will attend one or two with Italian writers.

  4. Two friends who have visited Germany recommended Go, Went, Gone. I wondered if you had read it, but I see it’s in your reading plan. Look forward to reading it. They raved about it.
    I have it on library hold and will check in for your review.

  5. I just read the review you wrote. Very good. I want to read this but I know I’m going to cry frequently as I did when I watched the fine movie, “The Visitor,” about an elderly, lonely man who finds immigrants in his apartment. It cures his loneliness and they become friends. Then disaster strikes. It tooks me weeks to recover.
    The refugees crisis is not of the migrants’ own making — not the wars and not the poverty or unemployment. And they have to pay the price. Here, there are enough jobs, but the right wing keeps attacking the immigrants who are working or going to school. And it’s deporting people at record numbers, separating families. It’s horrible.
    And for no reason.
    One friend read this book in English; her spouse is reading it in Germany. They both suggested it and the library has it so it’s on hold.
    My grandparents and great grandparents were immigrants from different countries. One side fled repression and pogroms; the others fled poverty and unemployment. Nothing was their fault. That is true today. What happened to kindness and generosity?

    1. Couldn’t agree more. I am an immigrant myself. After going to an English school in Austria, I felt torn between three cultures and I never really belonged in Romania. I thought I would belong in England (I grew up knowing more about British history and literature than my own), but I had a bumpy start, then settled in for a while, and am now feeling unwanted all over again.
      And it sounds like maybe I should wait to be in a really good frame of mind to watch The Visitor.

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