Berlin

We had three days in Berlin, our first holiday as a couple in more than a decade (we were accompanied by teenage children even on our honeymoon).  We spent a lot of time walking and eating.  We passed on Mustapha’s, a renowned street stall with a half kilometre queue for kebabs, but gorged instead on pork knuckle and sauerkraut.  Here are brief sketches of the dome of the Reichstag seen through trees, segments of the Berlin wall abandoned outside a publishing house, the statue atop the memorial to Soviet soldiers slain in that last brutal battle for the capital and the view from the former American sector, looking up Friedrichstrasse into the what was the Soviet zone.  A double row of cobbles now marks the line of the wall, and otherwise it is hard to see a difference between the sectors.  The longest remaining section, on the East Side of the river Spree, is covered in murals. We also spent time on reflection and drawing at the Holocaust Memorial.

I realise I crossed Berlin first by steam train when I was eight.  We passed through the closed and barricaded stations without stopping on a 2-day journey from Ostende to Warsaw.  Outside the train windows, I saw transports carrying tanks and the ticket inspectors were armed.

Personal reflection, Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

At school we learned nothing about the Holocaust or Nazi Germany.  In the collective psyche, World War II was still current story, not yet history. At school, we used “Jewish” casually, like “Scottish”, to mean parsimonious or tightfisted.  My own first insight into anti-Semitism came watching the television series, The Ascent of Man.  Jacob Bronowski made a pointed aside “Men like me were not around at that time”, referring to some aspect of life in wartime Germany: I had to ask what he had meant.

Later, I learned of my paternal lineage: my great grandfather coming to Britain as a teenage refugee, leaving his Polish village, fleeing successive pogroms for a better life.  Across four generations, in East London and then industrial Glasgow, sons rebelled against and replicated patriarchial violence, disowned their fathers, married out.  My father was the last to grow up with some sense of Jewish heritage.  In the army, permanently estranged from his father, sharing the same, obviously Jewish, handle with the then Minister of War, sick of ribbing and worse, he abandoned his patrimony and took his mother’s name, which I have today.

Without inheriting a mythology, it was in Narnia that I first found a sense of belonging, of struggle, of sacrifice and redemption, of course in ignorance of the author’s propagandist intentions.  However, the core of my spirituality was shaped by the words of Jacob Bronowski.  I wrote his words out, over a drawing of his face, and stuck this on my bedroom wall at home and later at University.

Standing in the ruins of the extermination camp at Auschwitz, this is what he had to say about science:

“Science is a very human form of knowledge.  We are always at the brink of the known.  We feel forward for what is to be hoped.  Every judgement in science stands on the edge of error and is personal.  Science is a tribute to what we can know, although we are fallible.

Bronowski first opened up to me that our reality is beautiful and amazing, to be approached with boundless curiosity, with honesty and clear sight, without dogma, conscious of the influence of our prior beliefs and with our convictions open to challenge. This is the heart of science, and when incorporated into society and personal relationships, it is revolutionary.

Earlier in that same episode, the camera panned across barbed wire fences, lights  and towers.  Here is what Bronowski said of the Holocaust:

“It’s said that science will dehumanise people and turn them into numbers.  That’s false, tragically false.  Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz.  This is where people were turned into numbers.  Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people.  That was not done by gas – it was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance.

“When people believe that they have absolute knowledge with no test in reality, this is how they behave.  This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.”

Taking a handful of mud from the water he said:

“we have to touch people”.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

– These, here at  the edge, are like graves.  Not coffins, they are the size and shape of graves,  Each one at our feet a grave for an individual.

Look, the whole structure rises to the middle like a hill.  The separate blocks build a landscape.

– Then, as you move in, the blocks get higher.  They are not one person. Person on person on person, stacked …

It’s like a hill, but then there is an umbrella, and then a head, then shoulders, and one person and another and another emerges from inside.  And at the same time, people walking and disappearing into the hill.

– Toward the centre, the blocks tower over you.  All those people, all those people … piled …

Have you noticed also, the ground is uneven, it rolls and drops as the stelae get taller?

– Out here, at the edge, there are blocks missing.  They are not placed regularly.  There are wide spaces in between.

At first the blocks seem to be regular, uniform, identical, grey, anonymous …

– As you go further in, they crowd you, stand over you, overpower you.  It becomes oppressive.

…then, look, not one is the same, standing at different heights, erected at varying angles.  Even different patterns of rain on the concrete.  Every one an individual.

– Also, have you noticed, it’s …

Walking into the hill, from the sunshine, the stones standing higher and higher around you, and it’s …

– cold.

cold.

– …

It makes me think of descending into a barrow beneath standing stones. The rock cistern beneath the Senate where captive kings were strangled. The final walk, down, knowing

– All those people

The Woman in the Moon

The Woman in the Moon is a comedy from about 1590, which forms part of a historical repertoire of works to be performed by boys’ companies.  The first woman, Pandora, is created by Nature and gifted with attributes from the heavenly bodies.  The disgruntled planets conspire to control her temperament, each in turn affecting her mood and desires through melancholy, ambition, aggression, romance, lust and deceit until Woman finally finds her natural state in the changeability, verging on madness, induced by the moon.  At the end, Man, as her husband Stesias, is condemned to always follow slavishly in her wake, admonished to never act on his anger in violence.

As such it is an … how can I say this … interesting choice of play for these times, performed and indeed toured by the all-boys school attended by my nephew.  What ever one may think of the play, it was well acted and they are, I am told, to be filmed for the BBC.  I am curious what lessons the boys drew from their participation.  What are we to understand from this contemporary performance?

We arrived late and unable to get seats, watched from a high balcony far back.  This did allow me to draw, albeit small scale and in the dark.  Here are Jupiter, and then my 12-year old nephew, probably the youngest in the cast, as Hermes casting his mercurial influence to induce in Pandora, sly deceits.

The Woman in the Moon is also a poem by Carol Anne Duffy, whom I have long admired.  Perhaps one day I will illustrate her words, having found them by chance for this post.

Post Modern Jukebox

I came across Post Modern Jukebox for their great cover of George Michael’s Careless Whisper (at the time, I was practicing that melody myself, badly, on guitar).  They are a rotating musical collective playing current songs with a 1930s jazz twist, brainchild of New York jazz pianist Scott Bradlee.  My daughter and I got into watching their prolific output on YouTube.  Try  Haley Reinhart singing Radiohead’s Creep or again singing All about the Bass with a three other vocalists.

They are still on a UK tour.  We saw them in snowbound Birmingham on 2nd March.  For me the star was diminutive, understated clarinettist and saxophonist Chloe Feoranzo.   I did not get the names of the guys – the bassist, the trombonist and the tap dancer.  The other singer shown below is Dani Armstrong (the linked video is not official – the best I could find is shot from the audience in another performance).  The unnamed pianist in this performance was not Scott Bradlee (a real franchise this operation!).  Ahead of Dani’s Chandelier, he slowly captured the audience’s attention by building a series of cadenzas, subtly shifting the key with each iteration.  Not pictured here is Emma Hatton, English singer who took on Haley Reinhart’s numbers on this tour.

 

These were drawn afterwards from memory and poor quality shots taken on my phone from far away.

As I say, PMJ is not a band but an ever-changing collective.  I would like it if they gave more credit to the singers and musicians they recruit as they roll through each country on tour.  They deserved the plaudits and I have had to scour the net and twitter to identify those I could.

#PMJtour #PMJofficial

 

Giraffe

Sometimes scientific and clinical experiments need a brand.

I am pre-occupied with writing a funding proposal for a clinical trial whose title includes the words “Gastro-intestinal Immune-RelAted side efFFEcts”.  From this my clever colleagues extracted and highlighted the letters to spell Giraffe which is now the trial’s name.  I drew a quick sketch to serve as the logo, at least for now.  I presented the rationale and scientific design at a national workshop last week – but the name is what grabbed attention first.