Daniel O’Connell in Paris

Daniel O’Connell in Paris

Image: Toulouse-Lautrec (Le Lit)

Dungarvan and some heroes and zeroes of Irish history...

1984

March

Nearby rose the beautiful bourgeois apartment blocks that surround Place Denfert-Rochereau. Beyond them lay Montparnasse and the neon of its cinemas.

Daniel OC in Paris

PS … here is the town’s only Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Walton, sharing his atomic secrets with a couple of local Russian spies …

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Escape from Washington

Escape from Washington

Bertolt Brecht appeared in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on 30 October 1947. Facing him that morning were the Chairman, J. Parnell Thomas, born John Parnell Feeney, who had not only changed his name but also his denomination, to Episcopalian. His political career ended soon afterwards. In 1948 he was indicted and subsequently jailed for defrauding the federal government.

Other members present were Reps. John McDowell (died by suicide in 1957) and Richard Vail (d. 1955). Most of the questions were asked by HUAC Chief Investigator Robert E. Stripling, a Texan who, a year later, assisted Richard Nixon in his pursuit of Alger Hiss. Nixon, though also a Committee member, was not present on the day.

Brecht was flanked by two lawyers, Bartley Crum (died by suicide in 1959) and Robert Kenny, and an interpreter, David Baumgardt, about whom a committee member can be overheard at one point interjecting, I can’t understand the interpreter any more than I can the witness.

The only foreigner called up on a Hollywood list of “unfriendly” witnesses, Brecht left the country the very next day, never to return. He was too clever for them and they ended up thanking him for it.

It was like Kafka’s Trial, but in reverse.

The links below are to parts one and two of the full show, with later commentary by Eric Bentley.

The reader is now directed to the audio link part one above, from 18:22, as follows

STRIPLING: Now, I will repeat the original question. Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of any country?

BRECHT: Mr. Chairman, I have heard my colleagues, eh, and they considered this question not as proper but I am a guest in this country and do not want to enter in any legal arguments, so I will answer your question fully as well I can. I was not a member or am not a member of any Communist Party.

CHAIRMAN: Your answer is, then, that you have never been a member of the Communist Party?

BRECHT: That is correct.

STRIPLING: You were not a member of the Communist Party for Germany?

BRECHT: No, I was not.

STRIPLING: Eh, Mr. Brecht, is it true that you have written a number of very revolutionary poems, plays and other writings?

BRECHT: I have written a number of poems and songs and plays in the fight against Hitler and, of course, they can be considered, therefore, as revolutionary because I, of course, was for the overthrow of that government.

CHAIRMAN: Mr. Stripling, we are not interested in any works that he might have written calling for the overthrow of Germany or the government there.

From the start of part two, above, Stripling asks about a play called Massnahme, which was one of two Brecht adaptations of a particular Noh play from Japan, but Bentley tells us that Brecht’s explanation relates to the second adaptation, not that Stripling or the Committee spotted the difference.

STRIPLING: Now, Mr. Brecht, will you tell the Committee whether or not one of the characters in this play was murdered by his comrades because it was in the best interests of the Party, is that true? Of the Communist Party.

BRECHT: No, it is not, eh, not quite so in the story.

STRIPLING: Because he would not bow to discipline he was murdered by his comrades, isn’t that true?

BRECHT: No, it is not really so in the play. You will find, when you read it, carefully, that like in the old Japanese play where other ideas were at stake, the young man who died, uh, was convinced that he had done damage to the mission he believed in and he agreed to that and he was ready to die, in order not to make greater such damage. So he asks his comrades to help him and all of them together help him to die. He jumps into a… abyss and they lead him, eh, tenderly to that abyss. And that is the story.

CHAIRMAN: Well I gather from your remarks, from your answer, that he was just killed. He wasn’t murdered. (laughter)

BRECHT: He wanted to die.

CHAIRMAN: So they killed him?

BRECHT: No, they did not kill him, not in this story. They, he killed himself. They supported him. But, of course, they had told him it were better when he disappeared (laughter) … for him and them and the cause he also believed in, up ’til the end.

From 09:32 in part two, above, Stripling leaves the issue of party membership aside to press Brecht on whether he ever attended any dubious assemblies. More laughter ensues.

STRIPLING: Eh, Mr. Brecht, since you have been in, eh, the United States, have you attended any Communist Party meetings?

BRECHT: No, I do not think so.

STRIPLING: You don’t think so.

BRECHT: No.

CHAIRMAN: Well, aren’t you certain?

BRECHT: (chuckles) I am, I am certain, I think, yes.

CHAIRMAN: You are certain that you have never attended?

BRECHT: Yeah, quite. I think so (laughter). You see I am here six years, I am here six years, I do not think so. I do not think I attended, that I attended, eh, political meetings.

CHAIRMAN: No, no, never mind the political meetings, but have you attended any Communist meetings in the United States?

BRECHT: I do not think so. No.

CHAIRMAN: You’re certain?

BRECHT: I think I am certain.

CHAIRMAN: You think you’re certain. (laughter)

STRIPLING: You don’t know what a, what it, what a –

BRECHT: No, I have not attended such meetings, eh, in my opinion.

From 27:23 in part two, the final joust plays out, leading to the longest laugh of all.

CHAIRMAN: Some people did ask you to join the Communist Party, didn’t they?

BRECHT: Uh…

KENNY (lawyer): In Germany or…?

BRECHT: In Germany, you mean in Germany?

CHAIRMAN: No, I mean in the United States.

BRECHT: No, no, no.

CHAIRMAN (to Kenny): Now you let, you let him, he’s doing all right, he’s doing much better than the other witnesses that you’ve brought here (laughter) … (to Brecht) You don’t ever recall anyone in the United States ever asked you to join the Communist Party?

BRECHT: No, I do not recall anybody having asked me.

The Chairman then asks each of his colleagues in turn if they have any more questions.

STRIPLING: I would like to ask Mr. Brecht whether or not he wrote a poem – a song, rather – entitled, Forward, We’ve Not Forgotten.

McDOWELL: Forward we’ve what?

STRIPLING: (louder, irritated) Forward, We’ve Not Forgotten.

Stripling then recites an entire lyric lost in translation.

STRIPLING: Did you write that, Mr. Brecht?

BRECHT: No, I wrote a German poem but that is very different… (extended laughter) … from this thing.

STRIPLING: Eh, that is all the questions I have, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Brecht. And you are a good example to the witnesses of Mr. Kenny and Mr. Crum.

A gavel then bangs for a recess until that afternoon.

On the tape Bentley then recalls meeting Brecht a year later near Zürich, when Brecht laughed at a recording of the show. He added that he had chosen to risk disregarding Bartley Crum’s advice to tell them he was a communist party member (though it was not true) in case a membership card was later forged to ensure a perjury conviction.

They weren’t as bad as the Nazis. The Nazis would never have let me smoke. In Washington they let me have a cigar and I used it to manufacture pauses… between their questions and my answers.

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Night in Vienna

Night in Vienna

27 May, 2019

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Had a night to kill in Vienna on the way home from Hungary. It rained in the late afternoon but out later it was dry and pleasant. The sight of the Burgtheater recalled Thomas Bernhard’s at times grotesquely funny 1984 novel Holzfällen, which for a time turns into a rather good play, once the Actor appears, to ramble on and on about Ekdal in The Wild Duck, even while slogging through his dinner party soup. Suicide is a theme – the funeral earlier in the day has been for a woman who hangs herself, in some detail – but by then its treatment has turned blackly comic, as in when the host asks the Actor if working at Vienna’s Burgtheater wouldn’t give someone every reason to do that. Before the end, as if to stress the point, the host also waves his false teeth in the Actor’s face.

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Behind the theatre can be found Harry Lime’s doorway in The Third Man (1949), where Orson Welles first appears by the smooth, sloping cobbles of Schreyvogelgasse. The first time I stood in, there was still daylight but lights shone from scattered windows. They reflected in others. Evening traffic hummed and rumbled on the nearby Ringstrasse, beyond which the university rose in the dusk.

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After the Freyung square, on Herrengasse a drunk American woman (“I’m a human rights defender” blah blah) wanted “twenty or thirty euros for a hotel” (i.e. for more drink). You must be f*cking joking, I thought, before I walked on (“Eh, no”). Looking back I saw her simply waiting for the next man to pass. Thought then of the night in Vienna I met Gabi, a sweet Romanian girl from somewhere near Bucharest who did not ask for money.

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Further down Herrengasse, the Café Central was in darkness for the night. One evening in that café, a young French girl came back to my table, blushing, looking for her annotated city map. I offered her mine but hers had “mes notes”, while another French girl, alone at the next table, read Freud. Trois essais sur la théorie sexuelle. I’d already read somewhere that France had six hundred thousand psychology students.

It was on a New Year’s Eve when I set off to find Berggasse and Freud’s apartment, even though I presumed it would be closed. It wasn’t. It was packed. A mixed French group pushed the street door ahead of me. Upstairs a stubbly Frenchman with a woolly cap didn’t bother going in. His wife turned to him. Tu restes au café en face? He chuckled and nodded. Il y a un sex shop en face.

The people jumping the ‘queue’ to swarm around the entrance desk had been more of an illustration of Alinsky’s key psychological principle – that people only push to get on a bus they think has limited seating – than anything Freudian. Schlange means both queue and snake in German but there, one couldn’t dream of either.

At the hotel that same night I ended up talking to the man from Kiev behind the desk, comparing the death tolls of the Irish and Ukrainian famines. He must have asked me something about Ireland for us to jump on to that topic but in fairness he was curious about Irish dancing as well. He imitated the arms held down by the dancers’ sides, a style I explained was ordained by the puritanical priesthood. Das war ein Befehl von den Priestern. Sonst, zu sexy.

He didn’t want to pin Holodomor on Stalin, just “die Moskau Regierung” (the Moscow government), and I wasn’t going to argue with him about the 1930s. Not on New Year’s Eve. My impression was that he missed the USSR. He was proud of Nikita Khruschev and Ukrainian generals and a nearby monument to the soldiers of the First Ukrainian Front. I’d have guessed he didn’t care much for Jews either, though all he did was express sympathy for the Palestinians. Woher kamen diese Juden? (‘Where did those Jews come from?’)

Though he’d claimed Rokossovsky was Ukrainian, that invited a later check. The Marshal was of Polish origin and spent almost three years as a prisoner of the state from 1937 until his release without explanation in 1940, during which time he somehow never signed any false statement. He later told his daughter that he always carried a revolver so they would not take him alive if they ever came for him again.

From Herrengasse one can get to Graben via Am Hof or via Hofburg and Kohlmarkt.

 

 


For me, the best book about Vienna is the German version (the English version is a travesty) of the extraordinary early diaries of Alma Schindler, before she married Gustav Mahler, who basically drove her cracked, as the Irish phrase puts it.

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Take this example from 24 September 1899, which only appears in the German. Rosa Kornbluh was a friend who had a weird experience with Gustav Klimt on an Italian train, where he terrified her in a tunnel. That much is in Beaumont but on this day Alma details Rosa stalking her Italian fiancé. He had come to Vienna but hadn’t let her know. She ran into him on Graben and followed him into the cathedral, where she fainted. When she came around, he told her he’d thought she was in Budapest. Alma then describes two occasions watching the pair at the opera. The second time she sees them sitting together in a porch during an intermission. ‘He: sulky and silent. She: like a sleepwalker, excited, with glazed eyes. She must be crazy… He has my sympathy now… He cannot save himself from her, from her love, from her jealousy.’ Er kann sich ja nicht retten vor ihr, vor ihrer Liebe, vor ihrer Eifersucht.

Turning back south towards the Ring, I emerged at the back of the Opera House. In doing so I passed the junction of Führichgasse and Tegetthofstrasse. On 15 November 1961 Austrian television broadcast the hour-long dramatic monologue Der Herr Karl. It was set in the basement store room of a Viennese delicatessen. Therein a middle-aged character called Karl talked to an unseen younger colleague while intermittently replying to the voice of his female boss upstairs and helping himself to samples of the stock. The public response to the play about a Nazi Mitläufer (fellow traveller) was uproar but the hour had made the performer – Helmut Qualtinger – immortal.

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Der Herr Karl was no invention from scratch. Another actor, Nikolaus Haenel, had worked in such a deli and with such a character just after the war. The establishment stood on the corner of Führichgasse and Tegetthofstrasse and the chap was called Max, though Haenel forgot his surname. Nevertheless he later drew a picture of a bespectacled and rather thin-faced figure, aged about fifty, with a moustache a little wider than Hitler’s. While going through the motions at work, stocking shelves and mopping the floor, this Man of the Crowd had told Haenel his life story.

Years later, Haenel became aware that Qualtinger was in search of a character with a Nazi past so he approached him with the idea of Max. Though Qualtinger was still in his early thirties and much heavier than the original, he was intrigued and the pair met in a restaurant over three or four days, wherein Haenel told him all he remembered and Qualtinger took copious notes, which he later turned into a script with his writing partner, Carl Merz.

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One of my favourite images from the city’s history is of Qualtinger and Falco having a laugh at a bar counter. The Viennese humour known as Wiener Schmäh has been linked by Georg Markus to Vienna’s ethnic mix. He defines it as including melancholy, sarcasm and a little malice. It’s more than ten years now since my first night in Vienna, when I got talking to two Austrian chaps in a bar. They asked if I spoke any German. It was rusty then. I know the words to Rock Me Amadeus. They said Falco was a hero, in death. He’d undergone a posthumous resurgence in popularity at home, as the things he’d said had come to make more sense. The autumn day I found Falco’s grave in the sunshine and falling leaves of the huge Zentralfriedhof, the main cemetery, it was peppered by the smell of sewage wafting up from the shores on the lanes.

Despite Claudio Magris’ Danube being largely pretentious verbiage, he couldn’t ruin everything with his waffle. Some of the material is just too strong. The funniest part of his book is set in the early hours in the Zentralfriedhof, in the company of one Herr Baumgartner and his shotgun. The weapon is used, for example, on the hares that have a “passion” for tearing up and eating the pansies left by mourners. It is not quite a free-fire zone, though, as Herr Baumgartner has to answer for any graves or offerings damaged or shattered or bloodied or peppered by stray buckshot in the dark.

Wien ist anders. Vienna is different.