François Dominique Séraphin, Bourbon favourite and reputedly the father of ombres chinoises (shadow puppetry), began operating 15 years later than is generally thought, and may have copied his techniques from an itinerant Italian or a London Alsatian. Featuring the memoirs of the valet to the later Louis XVII, early descriptions of the delights of the renovated Palais Royal (including a pygmy show), jolly old Baron Grimm on the lamentable state of French opera, shadow plays, and marionettes, and William Beckford’s favourite designer of theatrical perversions.
François Dominique Séraphin (1747-1800) was an entertainer who came to prominence before the Revolution, and whose successors are said to have continued his show until the establishment of the Third Republic. Three errors regarding his early career have led to his being regarded as a key figure in (audio)visual tech innovation:
- the date when his show started at Versailles,
- the date when it was patronised by the royal family there, and
- the date of its transfer to the Palais Royal and public acclaim in Paris.
The conventional Séraphin chronology is a nonsensical, late-19th-century creation
A new book from University of Chicago Press by Deirdre Loughridge, Haydn’s Sunrise, Beethoven’s Shadow: Audiovisual Culture and the Emergence of Musical Romanticism, claims that:
The acknowledged inventor of the ombres chinoises, François Dominique Séraphin, opened his show in Versailles in 1772. By the time he moved his show to Paris in 1784, it had already been copied by enterprising showmen and spread to other parts of Europe.
She has two sources for #11:
- Feu Séraphin: histoire de ce spectacle depuis son origine jusqu’à sa disparition, 1776-1870 (1875), which gives:
- 1772 for the show’s opening in Versailles – no evidence;
- April 1781 for granting of the title Spectacle des Enfants de France – no evidence, the subsequent playbill being apparently undated;
- 1784 for transfer to the Duke of Orléans’ speculative development in the gardens of the Palais-Royal – no evidence.
- Bordat & Boucrot, Les théâtres d’ombres (1956), which I haven’t seen, but which, since it doesn’t alert Loughridge to the error, probably uses Feu or similar.
This and similar chronologies, with similar late 19th century sources 1 or worse, are to be found on Wikipedia 2 and in several dozen other popular and academic publications in the field. Yet a moment’s reflection casts doubt:
- If Séraphin was so good, would it really have taken the royal family nine years to discover him in Versailles, population < 40,000? I’d have thought that the typical trajectory involved playing provincial venues for a couple of years, and then blowing one’s savings on one season’s hall rental at Versailles in the hope of striking Bourbon.
- Why would the king have honoured the show in the name of the French Royal Children (plural) in April 1781 when Marie Antoinette’s second, Louis Joseph, wasn’t born till October, presumably with no great and immediate interest in the theatre?
- How could Séraphin have transferred to the Palais Royal in 1784 when the buildings in question were still under construction? The 1784 edition of Luc-Vincent Thiéry‘s celebrated guidebook doesn’t mention Séraphin, and Thiéry’s brochureware description of the Duke of Orléans’ residential and retail development makes clear that this is a project in progress.
Contemporary sources show that Séraphin became known in Versailles in 1786/7, was contracted by the royals in 1787, and moved to Paris in 1787
Jean-Baptiste Cléry (“Cléry”) was valet de chambre to the infant Louis-Charles (later Louis XVII) and served voluntarily as Louis XVI’s valet in captivity until the latter’s execution in 1793. His diaries, published posthumously in 1825 as Journal de Cléry, are sensational, but of less interest to us than the memoirs of his younger brother, Pierre Louis Hanet-Cléry (“Hanet”), who also served the Bourbons in a personal capacity and wrote memoirs (Mémoires de P.-L. Hanet-Cléry, ancien valet de chambre de Mme Royale (1825)). Valet de chambre to Marie Antoinette’s first child, Marie Thérèse, from her birth in 1778, Hanet says that the royal family’s first acquaintance with Séraphin’s work was during carnival when Louis-Charles was two. LC was born on March 27 and Easter was April 8 in 1787, so Hanet (“n’ayant encore que deux ans”) seems to be indicating 1788, although he might instead mean the run-up to LC’s second birthday in 1787, but is quite unlikely to have meant 1786:
The queen, one day attending her daughter’s dinner with Madame de Polignac [Marie Antoinette’s favourite and her children’s governess], asked me if I had seen the Chinese shadows of which she had heard much talk. Yes, Madame, I replied, and this spectacle seemed to me so well calculated to amuse the royal children that I proposed talking to the governess about it. That lady, thus informed, instructed me to go and negotiate with the director for three performances a week during carnival.
Mr. Seraphin, endowed with very small pecuniary means, but with a very large bump on his back, 3 thought it his duty to raise his pretensions; first he asked me for 1,200 francs per performance, then 1,000, and finally 600; but Mme. Seraphin, more modest, or perhaps more ambitious, at once contemplated where this could lead her, and reduced the price to 300 francs, which I granted her.
This spectacle afforded the greatest of pleasure to the royal children, especially to the Duke of Normandy [Louis-Charles], who, being only two years of age, enjoyed himself in a most remarkable manner. Their Majesties, who wished to be witnesses of the happiness experienced by their children, attended these performances, and soon all the princes of blood royal came with their young families. The king was personally so satisfied by this that he wished to testify as such to the inventor: “Your little tableaus,” said he, “are well drawn, and your pyrite fires are charming.” 4
Seraphin and his wife, filled with joy and hope, shared with me their intention to ask the king for permission to open their show in Paris without making the customary payment to the great theatres. I encouraged them; they presented their proposal, and obtained the authorisation they desired.
Installed at the Palais Royal, they accumulated a very large fortune; it was due, they often repeated to me, to the pure and simple tastes of Their Majesties, whose presence had created the fashion for Chinese shadows.
Thiéry’s 1787 guidebook describes Seráphin’s show, thus ruling out 1788, and says that the buildings are new, probably making 1786 more improbable:
The Chinese Shadows, nº 127
This Spectacle, established by Mr. Seraphin, awarded a patent by the King, 5 is situated on the first floor of new buildings of the Palais Royal, and is entered via arcade No. 127.
There you can see arabesque fires of a new kind, and transparent tableaux, in which new and amusing scenes take place. The Chinese shadows, produced by various combinations of light and shade, show plainly all the attitudes of man, and execute rope and character dances with astonishing precision. Animals of all kinds go through their paces, and also perform all the motions proper to them, without any thread or cord being seen to support or direct them. 6
Reasonable conclusions: Séraphin launched his show in winter 1786/7, but even if it took two seasons for his show to be noticed, the earliest conceivable Versailles launch date is 1785; and he triumphed with the royals during Carnival 1787 and moved to Paris soon after.
Feu deceives deliberately, quoting several paras from Hanet without mentioning the dates which contradict its invented chronology. Why? Every publisher goes to market with the most remarkable ragbag he thinks he can sell, and natural commercialism may have been exacerbated by revanchism and a search for national heroes following France’s defeat by, and loss of Alsace and Lorraine to, Prussia in 1870-1 (Séraphin was from Lorraine, although his birthplace remained French) – make France great earlier, if you like, a sentiment that led to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
Séraphin’s ombres chinoises were simple and unoriginal, and may have been imitated from the itinerant Italian Sanquirico or the Alsatian Londoner Loutherbourg
Thiéry’s description of the puppetry is improved on by Kotzebue, a German emigré writer, in Meine Flucht nach Paris im Winter 1790:
Since today [Christmas] all the shows are closed, except the Ombres Chinoises in the Palais Royal, we went there, but couldn’t bear it for more than a quarter of an hour. I expected to find this little spectacle at the peak of its perfection, but I was mistaken. The paintings were very gaudy and bad, the little figures stiff and graceless, and even the threads used to pull their arms and legs were visible.
Among the scenes depicted was one in which a Russian woman complained to her girlfriend that her husband no longer loved her, since he hadn’t beaten her for three days, at which the husband appeared, begged for forgiveness, and excused himself on the grounds that he had left his stick somewhere, but had just found it, and, at last, as proof of his contrition, let loose on the woman.
“Typically German!” said someone behind us. Dear God, I thought for my part, typical French ignorance, which still believes in the old fairy tale that Russian woman prefer to be beaten than kissed by their husbands.
The orchestra consisted of a boy, who drummed on a dulcimer 7. The hall was very small and lowly, crammed full with people, the air suffocating. We drew a deep breath when we got to the door.
In technical terms, this appears to be simple shadow puppetry. Some key timeline moments:
- Huygens’ use, perhaps in the 1650s, of a projector described by Kircher with a local light source and for entertainment.
- Such a device was shown and commercialised for the elite in Western Europe by Walgensten in the 1660s.
- Leibniz’s thoughts on marionette shadow puppetry in the 1670s.
- Common(ly understood) and applied by the mid-18th century – for example, Guyot’s Nouvelles récréations physiques et mathématiques was immediately translated into English and German on publication in 1769.
- A realisation mid-century – which I haven’t seen discussed, then or now – that the exploitation of projectors to enable the use of marionettes instead of humans in shadow plays (rather as actors were replaced by marionettes in the Italian commedia repertoire in the same period) enabled a substantial reduction in operating costs.
Who might Séraphin have imitated? Loughridge has a candidate:
In London, the ombres chinoises made their debut in 1776 under the auspices of Ambroise, an Italian (born Ambrogio) who had likely encountered Séraphin’s show in France the previous year.[Altick, The Shows of London] The same showman, now going by the name Ambrosio Sanquirico, brought the ombres chinoises to Germany in 1779, where he advertised his “never before seen here LES OMBRES CHINOISES.” 8 By the 1780s, other traveling showmen too performed “ombres chinoises” throughout Germany.
The Czech Theatre Encyclopaedia has more on Sanquirico, none of which I have fisked:
- He was originally a painter, but no relationship to the contemporary Milanese painter and set designer Alessandro Sanquirico has been demonstrated, let alone to Giorgio de Chirico.
- In autumn 1776 he showed Chinese shadows in Petersburg to acclaim.
- In autumn 1777 he appeared in Prague with a Chinese shadow show, which he had allegedly shown to the royals of France, Britain and Russia.
- Some of this appears to have been automated, but my Czech fails me. 9
- His 1779 shadow theatre shows in Nuremberg (this is the playbill cited by Loughridge; he also visited Braunschweig in 1779) featured banditry, Spanish daggers, a compassionate enchantress, animals from the four continents of the world, and “beautiful dances” that even a “living person would not naturally perform.”
- He posed for official purposes as a scientific investigator but actually focused on foreign freakery and comedy – which Feu Séraphin‘s descriptions of repertoire suggest was also Séraphin’s line.
Séraphin may also have seen a nominally Germanic Alsatian called Loutherbourg (bios) who revolutionised the mechanics of London theatre for David Garrick in the 1770s and in 1781 launched his masterpiece, the Eidophusikon:
Described by the Public Advertiser as “various imitations of Natural Phenomena, represented by moving pictures,” it was the fruit, Philippe claimed, of twenty years of experiment (Altick, Shows 119, 121).  Inside his Leicester Square house he’d built an opulent miniature theatre-cum-art salon. Here, for a fee of five shillings, around 130 fashionable spectators sat in comfort to watch a series of moving scenes projected within a giant peephole aperture, eight feet by six feet. The darkened auditorium combined with skilful use of concealed and concentrated light sources, coloured silk filters, clockwork automata, winding backscreens and illuminated transparencies created a uniquely illusionist environment.  Audiences watched five landscapes in action. Dawn crept over the Thames at Greenwich; the noonday sun scorched the port of Tangier; a crimson sunset flushed over the Bay of Naples; a tropical moon rose over the wine-dark waters of the Mediterranean; and a torrential storm wrecked a ship somewhere off the Atlantic coast. Between scenes, painted transparencies served as curtain drops, and Mr and Mrs Michael Arne entertained the audience with violin music and song. (Iain McCalman, The Virtual Infernal: Philippe de Loutherbourg, William Beckford and the Spectacle of the Sublime (2007))
Was Séraphin celebrated under Louis XVI because the rest of French popular theatre at that stage was pretty backward?
I’m asking the question, not providing an answer, but I do wonder whether a royal retreat to Versailles, suffocating theatrical regulation, and economic crisis meant that there was a lack of excitement in the decades leading to the revolution. In 1770 the satirist Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm, describes French excitement re human shadow plays:
I remember being singularly amazed in my childhood by the noble play called schattenspiel in German, which was performed by ambulant comedians with great success. Well-stretched oiled papers or a white canvas are hung in place of the theatre backdrop. A candle is placed seven or eight feet behind this curtain; by putting the actors between the candle and the stretched canvas, the light behind them projects their shadows onto this stretched canvas or onto the paper transparency, and shows them to the spectators with all their movements and gestures. I know of no spectacle more interesting for children apart from French Opera; 10 it lends itself equally well to enchantments, marvels, and to the most terrible catastrophes. If, for example, you want the devil to carry off somebody, the actor who plays the devil has but to jump with his prey over the candle behind, and, on the canvas it will seem as if he has flown up into the air with him. This fine genre has just been invented in France, where it has been made an social amusement as spiritual as it is noble; but I fear that it will be smothered in its infancy by the enthusiasm for playing guess-the-proverb. 11 L’Heureuse Péche, a shadow comedy, with changes of scene, has just been printed: the title tells us that this piece was performed in society towards the end of 1767, epoch of the invention of the genre in France. It is to be hoped that we shall soon have a complete repertoire of such pieces. (Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique de Grimm et de Diderot, 1753-90) 12
So perhaps we should turn to the French more for creative PR than for theatrical innovation, although the French are certainly not the only addicts to this vice: at a Lebanese Maronite kebab shop on the Dutch border, where I sheltered for several days some time ago, it was impressed on me that it was the (Ottoman) Turks, not the Italians, who invented the pizza.
- Le Roi’s Histoire de Versailles (1868), also popular and evidence-free, downgrades Séraphin from inventor to the “true founder of perfected Chinese shadows,” and says that he began at Versailles in 1780, that the Spectacle des Enfants de France was granted in 1781, and that he moved to the Palais-Royal at the end of 1781. Les pupazzi noirs, ombres animées (1896), used by some, gives a ben trovato but baseless description of a 1784 opening, apparently featuring Mozin Senior (born 1769) on harpsichord. ↩
- English: “developed and popularised shadow plays in France. The art form would go on to be copied across Europe… Séraphin is seen as the most important figure in the development of the art form.” Etc. ↩
- I think this refers to the (theatrical) tradition of elderly hunchbacked misers chasing gorgeous young things – e.g. Pantalone in the commedia dell’arte – rather than to any physical infirmity. Unfortunately no portrait of Mrs. Séraphin survives.
Mid-18th century Doccia porcelain Pantalone from the V&A. ↩
- Feux pyrites, a malapropism for (the tautologous) feux pyriques, Pyrrhic fires, aka feux arabesques: images projected using a magic lantern, and animated, perhaps by moving one painted glass slide in front of another fixed one, or perhaps by using a hand-cranked version of this convection-driven apparatus from around 1800. Mathurin Régnier‘s 1613-ish Satire XI suggests that image carousels had been revolving around light sources for some time:
a bright lantern
With which some confectioner amuses children,
Where trussed-up geese, small monkeys, and elephants,
Dogs, cats, hares, foxes and many strange beasts
Run, one after another
une lanterne vive
Dont quelque pâtissier amuse les enfants,
Où des oisons bridés, guenuches, éléphants,
Chiens, chats, lièvres, renards et mainte étrange bête
Courent l’une après l’autre
19th century incarnations, sometimes combining kaleidoscopy (keyword: chromatropy) with shadow puppetry, persisted until the beginning of cinema:
Some German rambling on the this and other optical illusions:
- Sacre bleu! He didn’t even invent it, and watch him trying to use the state to kill off the competition! ↩
- The preceding pygmy spectacle also sounds good. More Gallic dwarves some other time. ↩
- Zackebrette: “What modern Jews call [a psalterion] we call a Zacke-Bret” (Curieuses und Reales Natur-Kunst-Berg-Gewerck- und Handlungs-Lexicon (1731)), so I think it’s a Hackbrett, a kind of hammer dulcimer. ↩
- The playbill cited in Loughridge’s #13 may have meant that such shadow puppetry had never been seen before in Germany, but is more likely to have referred to Nuremberg. ↩
- Altick, The Shows of London (1978) says that Séraphin’s USP was the use of clockwork. Unfortunately I can’t see his source, and Kotzebue and other 18th century sources don’t support the notion. ↩
- Jouer des proverbes: a society game where the party has to guess the proverb played out by one of their number. ↩
- Grimm’s satire on French operatic decadence, Le petit prophète de Boehmischbroda (1753), is also justly famous, and contains a chapter on marionettes. ↩
Daffy-down-dilly has been and fled / Her yellow-green gown all stained in red. Featuring Google Translate’s transliteration service for unfamiliar scripts.
Here’s the Yiddish original of an Abridger’s Confession quoted (and translated) by A.Z. Foreman:
דש דוזיג בוך אין וועלשן שפרוך
דש שרייבט גאר לאנג אין אלן עקן
איך וויל אים ניט מין שרייבן נוך
וויל אויביריגי ווארט לוש איך נוך שטעקן
זוישט וואורד מיר מיין בויכֿלן צו הוך
אונ׳ דיא צייט וואורד מיך דרצו ניט קלעקן
דרום ווער עז הוט גילייט בֿור אך אין וועלשן
מאיין ניט דש איך עש דעהרום וויל ועלשן
I was interested in the literal original and the translation process, but I can’t read Hebrew. here‘s the Google Translation:
Flap doozy book in which entitlement
Flap writing extremely long in aln ends
I wish him no kind writing nukh
Wants aoybirigi word Lush I nukh staff
Cleaner wards me my boykhln to hukh
And Dia times wards me moreover not suffice
South who EZ hat gileyt majority but in which
My not flap I Esche dehrum wants uelshn
A case of madness beating method. But anyone who knows a bit of German should be able to understand Google Translate’s transliteration:
dsh duzig bukh in velshn shfrukh
dsh shreybt gar lang in aln ekn
ikh vil im nit min shreybn nukh
vil aoybirigi vart lush ikh nukh shtekn
zoysht vaurd mir meyn boykhln tsu hukh
aun’ dya tseyt vaurd mikh drtsu nit klekn
drum ver ez hut gileyt vur akh in velshn
meyn nit dsh ikh esh dehrum vil uelshn
One curiosity: Foreman translates velshn/uelshen as “Italian” in line with historical linguistic theory:
*Walhaz … is a reconstructed Proto-Germanic word, meaning “foreigner”, “stranger”, “Roman”, “Romance-speaker”, or “Celtic-speaker”. The term was used by the ancient Germanic peoples to describe inhabitants of the former Western Roman Empire, who were largely romanised and spoke Latin or Celtic languages. The adjectival form is attested in Old Norse valskr, meaning “French”, Old High German walhiskbarrick, meaning “Romance”, Modern German welsch, used in Switzerland and South Tyrol for Romance-speakers, Dutch Waals “Walloon”, Old English welisċ, wælisċ, wilisċ, meaning “Romano-British”, and Modern English Welsh.
However, it is common knowledge here in Bala, Gwynedd, Wales that all other incomprehensible tongues in fact spring from Welsh, in which tongue proto-Calvinistic Methodist dogma was being preached long before the Shemites shtarted shquabbling, and whose speakers have dominated European government for centuries by the subtle use of leeks. A fearsome language and a fearful people, of whose death-dealing daffy-down-dilly Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote:
When a daffodil I see,
Hanging down his head towards me,
Guess I may what I must be:
First, I shall decline my head;
Secondly, I shall be dead;
Lastly, safely burièd.
The Welsh appear in a notorious poem by Ernst Arndt (1769-1860), which on a particularly slow day Mr Foreman might translate as follows:
That is the German fatherland,
Where foreign junk is fiercely banned,
Where every Frenchman is condemned,
Where every German is your friend.
So shall it be! so shall it be!
So shall be all of Germany!
Das ist des Deutschen Vaterland,
Wo Zorn vertilgt den welschen Tand,
Wo jeder Franzmann heißet Feind,
Wo jeder Deutsche heißet Freund.
Das soll es sein! das soll es sein!
Das ganze Deutschland soll es sein!
But this, pace Bala, is actually about the Welsh, not foreigners in general. A precocious talent, Arndt is recalling his attendance, at the age of 18 months, at Cardiff City’s best ever showing in European competition: the second leg of its 3-4 aggregate loss against Hamburger SV in the semi-finals of the 1768 Cup Winners’ Cup:
Why not simply learn Hebrew script? Because I have discovered from overheard conversations in Yiddish that the Stamford Hill Haredim are less interested in world domination than in what’s for tea, so the chance of Hebrew script becoming more widely used and useful seems unacceptably small.
Any proto-ecologists don’t seem to have cared very much.
A reminder from Simon Winchester in Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire (1984):
The little gang of Rock apes—Macacus inuus—are the only monkeys to be found in Europe. Theories about their having swum across from Africa, or having arrived drenched, clinging to Moroccan logs, have long been discounted; zoologists believe these are the relict clan of a great tribe of Macaques which once frolicked in Germany and France, and came as far north as Aylesbury. The last Ice Age forced them steadily southwards: Gibraltar was their final peninsular refuge, the closest they ever would come to their native home. Had the blizzards and hailstorms swept through Spain they might have been driven into the Straits, and drowned.
A birdwatcher on the Lea Navigation this morning told me that there may be some more serious culling of London’s 15,000-odd ring-necked parakeets. This seems not to be because they are regarded as alien, but simply because, like Barcelona’s monk parakeets before them, they have begun to affect crop yields in the urban periphery.
Given perceptions of Ye Olden Dayes, I expected to find more straightforwardly xenophobic concerns about damn foreign monkeys in the pre-C20th writing in various languages I’ve been trawling for organ-grinding references. But nothing yet, apart from C19th health officials worrying about transmission of diseases such as tuberculosis across the species barrier, and cartoonists suggesting that the species barrier between Italians and monkeys was based on Schengen.
There certainly weren’t very many of them to worry about, but I wonder whether a more positive view of globalisation also played a role.
Anyway: not only did we evolve from monkeys, but they may have been gambolling on the Lea when Neanderthals drank at the Anchor and Hope (“What can I say?” is not the worst reason to keep going).
In cylindrical terms the monkey was preceded by the marmot, which also seems to have been viewed more as a charming curiosity than as a threat to our precious ecosystem. I’m rather fond of Goethe’s 1778 parody of a Savoyard at an annual fair in his little-known Das Jahrmarktsfest zu Plundersweilern:
It’s many a land I’ve travelled through,
Avecque la marmotte,
And always I found some thing to chew,
Avecque la marmotte,
Avecque si, avecque la,
Avecque la marmotte.
I’d have liked to do something with the verse, but some lightweight called Ludwig von Beethoven stamped his branding iron on the rodent’s rump first, and his op. 52 no. 7 in modern times tends unfortunately to be served up in an atmosphere of quasi-religious gloom to evoke infant migrants:
… or the Plain People of Wherever:
I was unable to find an animated version featuring singing marmots, so here’s Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:
The organ-grinding guild’s List of Prohibited Books includes Simon Winchester’s because he refers to the Gibraltar monkeys as apes, and we grinders know that’s wrong. But his nostalgia for times when posh British boys like himself ruled the world simply extends to English vocabulary as it was before the introduction of the word “monkey” in the 16th century:
I wol no lyf but ese and pees,
And winnin golde to spende also,
For when the grete bagge is ago,
It comith full right with my japes.
Make I not wel tomble mine apes?
(Chaucer’s late 14th century Romaunt of the Rose in the 1782 edition)
And so say all of us.
- Elderly French for avec, and still heard in some Occitan dialects. ↩
Impossible automata for my street organ this holiday season. Featuring Georg Büchner, Ignaz Bruder, German Christmas pyramids, dancing Hasidim, Lieutenant Kijé as you’ve probably never seen it, Le Tigre, and a crustacean.
The other day someone sent me some of the excellent light verse produced at Theresienstadt, the Nazis’ photogenic waiting room for Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Doing a bit of backreading, I met up again with the barrel-organ metaphysics (more another time) of Reinhard Heydrich, Butcher of Bohemia and Moravia. That same someone then sent me the source of that story -Lina Heydrich, Leben mit einem Kriegsverbrecher (“Life with a War Criminal”, 1976)- and located in the final chorus of Heydrich Senior’s sentimental opera, Das Leierkind (“The Barrel-Organ Child”), 1 the quote in question:
Ja, die Welt ist nur ein Leierkasten,
den unser Herrgott selber dreht,
und jeder muss nach dem Liede tanzen,
das grad’ auf der Walze steht.
An alternative translation:
Yes, the world is but a barrel-organ
Which our Lord God himself doth grind,
And all must dance unto the song
With which the cylinder is tined. 2
You can’t (always) blame fathers for their sons. Heydrich Senior is merely echoing the blows of fate/fateful bellows attributed to organ-grinders in 18th and 19th century romantic fiction – Büchner’s ballad singer’s quasi-Lutheranism announcing Marie’s betrayal with the drum-major of Woyzeck (1837), for example:
Auf der Welt ist kein Bestand,
Wir müssen alle sterben,
das ist uns wohlbekannt.
Topical lyrics of this type had their visual counterpoint in ballad busking in a) proto-PowerPoint illustrations, and/or b) social and occasionally political automated tableaux which, along with bellows and barrel, ran off the crank on many Black Forest organs. The latter seem to have developed from the the region’s weight-powered flute clock automata, and Ignaz Bruder of Waldkirch (1780-1845) is their best-known manufacturer:
They offer more wide-ranging but less precise theatrics than my splendid organ-god – none of them beat 4/4 or 3/4:
But let’s cut to the chase. Automations seen this Christmas which I might try to add to the organ if I were a rich wastrel:
- I met a nice small candle-powered Christmas pyramid/Weihnachtspyramide at the German Deli in Hackney Wick. Here‘s a similar one:
I’d go for a triple-decker cranked version populated with home-made figures representing farmers, warriors and priests, or promotors, policemen, and bureaucrats, crowned by an organ-grinder. Say no to electrically-powered Star Wars scenes:
Large municipal executions have also become popular over the last couple of decades. Like the one above, to eliminate draughts and working people they are usually mains-powered and use decorative lightbulb candles and recorded music:
I think I recall seeing a very large hybrid incorporating a carousel ride at a fair I played at once in Germany, but I can’t find anything on YouTube and I was probably tipsy.
- A bunch of (male) Haredim hand-in-hand, observed dancing around in a circle outside a house on Stamford Hill, London, humming a song. They were rather like this:
- Everyone knows the sleigh ride/troika from the Prokofiev’s orchestral suite:
… but the virtually unknown eponymous film (1934), with its Hitlerian Emperor Paul I, is quite marvellous, and the robotic servants of the machine society -how un-Soviet!- are simply dying for recycling:
Work is said to be underway on a device that will coordinate music playback with video in order to enable me to (write music for and) accompany (suitably edited) films.
- “Deceptacon” by Le Tigre (ta, SG), which, like the Fellini / Rota partnership, surely owes a lot to the Kijé generation:
- A lobster. Robert Conquest’s paraphrase of Shakespeare’s take on the ages of man in As you like it:
Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
The path to the pot is plagued by good purpose. The DG’s splendid adjunct auntie S has a pet herring gull, rescued as a broken-winged chick, and loves animals. 4 Having plied the organ-grinder with champagne and milk-based vodka, the DG announced to her that the organ-grinder had a pet lobster, rather like Gérard de Nerval:
Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? …or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don’t bark, and they don’t gnaw upon one’s monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn’t mad.
“Oh, how wonderful,” she exclaimed. “And where do you keep it?!”
But the organ-top would be a more impressive and in many ways satisfactory location.
- Anyone got a score? ↩
- Tined? Wassat? ↩
- I like Motton’s first line -I was looking for a two-syllable noun meaning permanence- but I’d also like to hang onto the Bestand/bekannt rhyme. Motton says Leierkasten is a hurdy-gurdy, which is quite reasonable, and the BBC turns it into a simple violin, which is pretty naughty given their wealth. ↩
- Though she was enjoying her beef stew. ↩
- Milton says (Samson Agonistes (1671)) that seraphim can play trumpets in between singing the old “Holy, holy, holy!” or whatever else they get up to:
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row
Their loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow,
And the Cherubick host in thousand quires
Touch their immortal harps of golden wires
Iain Sinclair wrote of when “global warming rolls a warm sea [up] the course of the old Hackney Brook.” The flow’s going to be the other way. Let me explain.
Olympic creativity didn’t extend to watercourses west of the Lea Navigation, 1 and Hackney Brook – still submerged and redirected – continues to mole along more or less as shown in the cover art of Sinclair’s Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: at the end of Morning Lane it diverges from its natural course down Wick Road and travels under the higher ground of Kenton Road and Gascoyne Road past the People’s Park Tavern into Victoria Park, where, still heading roughly southeast, it follows the path past the tennis courts, exits by Montessori on the Park at St. Mark’s Gate, traverses Cadogan Terrace, and drains into the Hertford Union Canal just below Old Ford Middle Lock, which flows slowly northeast to join the Navigation just south of the German Deli and Crate Brewery.
Things weren’t ever so. Diamond Geezer accompanies his posts on Hackney Brook with a handy map of its original course:
What once was cannot be again, but (with apologies to Baron Haussmann) if as well as a Hackney agrandie and a Hackney assainie you want to see a Hackney embellie, then the vertebra provided by a revived Hackney Brook might help dispel the impression that Hackney Council’s urban strategy consists solely in facilitating the construction of investment objects.
So here’s my seven-point guide to restoring the course downstream from the Mare Street/Amhurst Road/Bohemia Place/Narroway junction to the River Lea Navigation, adding a tentacle to the Hackney Council octopus as well as encouraging citizens to stroll down from Hackney-on-High to Hackney-on-Sea on a Sunday morning:
- Wage war on Islington to recover our stolen water
- Run the brook between a new bus station and Bohemia Place
- Kayak to the Paradise Garden: Mehetabel Road and the Chesham Arms
- Simpsonlandia: Cardinal Pole School and Flanders Way
- Well Street: regenerated market framed by Jack Cohen memorial & hydraulic organ
- Wick Road: sea battles and scampi
- Hackney Wick: the delta
Wage war on Islington to recover our stolen water
The mighty torrent with bridge and St. Augustine’s tower in 1791, viewed from the site of the subsequent railway bridge on Mare Street:
Image: Clapton Square Conservation Area Appraisal, Hackney Archives
… and the pathetic present-day piddle into the Hertford Union, even during the monsoon:
Apologists mutter about storm drains and managed outflow, but the truth is that Islington is stealing our brook at source in Holloway, and probably shipping it to the United Arab Emirates. And look at how they’re benefitting: apart from house prices that are even more absurd than ours, they have Arsenal, while we no longer even have Clapton FC, who play in Forest Gate because Hackney is too arid for grass.
This is bigger than the Netherlands vs Germany re traffic and flood management on the Rhine 2, this is bitchier than the squabbling sons of Shem, and we of Hackney have more guns than them. So let’s annex Holloway with the calming promise of free boat trips to Westfield, thus safeguarding our water supply, and then one evening I’ll be able to present a second plan for the restoration of the brook from its source in Holloway, via Clissold Park, Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington Common and Hackney Downs to Mare Street.
Run the brook between a new bus station and Bohemia Place
The St. John-at-Hackney conservation and management plan says that the brook currently runs in a drain under Arriva’s Clapton bus garage (allocation: 100 buses), so having the brook flow along Bohemia Place is the simple option. We suspect, however, that Hackney Council, TfL and St John-at-Hackney will prefer to redevelop the bus station, and it is the counsel of our lords that will stand. Given that, we will build a smaller garage on the north side of the site using some simple variant of VW Wolfsburg’s vertical stacking:
The brook will flow between Bohemia Place and the new bus station, which will be skinned as the back of a bus, from the exhaust pipe of which the brook will emerge.
Proximity to St. Augustine’s tower will be to our intellectual and moral advantage. Like the barrel organ’s conversion of boundless sound into a revolving mess of pins, Augustine’s Confessions are a meditation on infinity where time is short – in Flann O’Brien’s Dalkey Archive, the best commentary on the Confessions, time being represented by aqualungs in a subaqueous cavern:
Then Mick saw a figure, a spectre, far away from him. It looked seated and slightly luminescent. Gradually it got rather clearer in definition but remained unutterably distant, and what he had taken for a very long chin in profile was almost certainly a beard. A gown of some dark material clothed the apparition. It is strange to say that the manifestation did not frighten him but he was flabbergasted when he heard De Selby’s familiar tones almost booming out beside him.
– I must thank you for coming. I have two students with me.
The voice that came back was low, from far away but perfectly clear. The Dublin accent was unmistakable. The extraordinary utterance can here be distinguished only typographically.
– Ah not at all, man.
– You’re feeling well, as usual, I suppose?
– Nothing to complain of, thank God. How are you feeling yourself, or how do you think you’re feeling?
– Tolerably, but age is creeping in.
– Ha-ha. That makes me laugh.
– Your sort of time is merely a confusing index of decomposition.
The barrel organ has one of its roots in the kind of simple automated clock (said to be late 16th or early 17th century) found in St. Augustine’s tower. Though Flann’s Augustine claims that “Book Two of my Confessions is all shocking exaggeration,” he might have appreciated the early use in Dutch brothels in the 1680s of mechanical organs, mechanical musical instruments like carillons having been driven out of the churches by the Calvinists, who made the grievous error of introducing religion in their place.
This section’s water music from the Singing Organ-Grinder is therefore Cool Water, which seems to have been inspired by Psalms 42:1 (As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God):
Dan’s feet are sore, he’s yearning for
Just one thing more than water,
Like me, I guess, he’d like to rest
Where there’s no quest for water,
Cool, clear water.
Keep a-movin’, Dan, don’t you listen to him, Dan,
He’s a devil not a man
And he spreads the burning sand with water,
Dan, can you see that big green tree
Where the water’s running free
And it’s waiting there for me
Kayak to the Paradise Garden: Mehetabel Road and the Chesham Arms
The fashion hub under the railway arches on Morning Lane has no space for a brook or the watercress beds of old:
Image: Ian Scott International
… and so the next section depends on the residents of the south side of Mehetabel Road being prepared to trade the damp end of their garden, up against the railway wall, for a (generally non-navigable) stream. Were they to say yay, then an annual performance could be held of Delius’ A village Romeo and Juliet:
At a local fair [Narroway], Sali and Vreli buy rings. Sali mentions an inn, the Paradise Garden, where they can dance all night, and they go there. The Dark Fiddler and some vagrants are drinking there. He greets the lovers, and suggests they join him to share a vagabond life in the mountains. Instead, Sali and Vreli decide that they cannot live such an existence, and they resolve to die together, uncompromising in their love for each other. They leave the inn and find a hay barge, which they release from the dock to begin to float down the river. As the Dark Fiddler observes them, Sali removes the plug from the bottom of the boat, and Sali and Vreli sink with the boat.
The Singing Organ-Grinder has made a version of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde for barrel organ, so Delius should also be feasible.
Singing Organ-Grinder water music? Let us recall the words of an Irish friend at the Eagle, on being asked at which track the horses on which he was betting were racing: “I haven’t got a facking clue.”
Simpsonlandia: Cardinal Pole School and Flanders Way
Between Link Street and Ponsford Street the brook stays north of the railway, passing south of the estate, and then crosses the railway at the bridge, perhaps flowing along the railway through the grounds of Cardinal Pole School and then entering Flanders Way.
Flanders Way is the southern outpost of Simpsonlandia – Springfield Park, Homer-town, the parish (church) of St. Bart and Lisa Star Nails on Stamford Hill, St. Maggie’s at St. Saviour’s… Here the brook will host a population of three-eyed fish in tribute to Blinky:
Well Street: regenerated market framed by Jack Cohen memorial & hydraulic organ
Well Street needs a well again in some shape or form, partly to provide a focus for a regenerated market. We’d like this to be between Tesco and the excellent butcher. We’d like a smaller version of Barcelona’s Agbar tower, which was built by the local water company without the functionality attributed to it in (gay) urban legend – a spout of water emerging from the top:
Our version will include this functionality, and will be cut in such a way as to evoke Jack Cohen, who started his Tesco empire on this spot.
Reduced traffic flow will enable Well Street to extend beyond its current junction to meet the clump of trees on the corner of Flanders Way, and a small circular polyphonic hydraulic organ, driven by the brook, supplemented by the small stream flowing down Well Street, will terminate the market:
Water music from the Singing Organ-Grinder: Little Boy Billy, a maritime take on Sweeney Todd:
Wick Road: sea battles and scampi
Traffic. You only need a tiny fraction of today’s cars when they can drive themselves and be waiting for you within 5 mins of booking, and that’s just round the corner. For now Wick Road can manage with a single calmed motor transport lane alongside a brook taking up equivalent space. Most traffic currently using that route can be taken up Kenworthy Road, and Homerton High Street can be made essentially one-way westward for the extremely dangerous stretch between Kenworthy Road and Ponsford Street (contraflow for public transport and bicycles), complementing and forming a ring with the one-way eastward traffic on Cassland Road on the other bank of the brook.
This space lends itself to theatrics. In an annual event commemorating a mashup of Battle of Lepanto and the Spanish Armada and Tromp and De Ruyter, or some such, the children of St. Dominic’s Catholic Primary will row up the brook and engage in battle the ferocious meat cleaver wielders in the excellent Kuzu shish bar and others along Well Street, with fearful and quite unpredictable consequences. For such events, seafood and other kiosks will line the tall blocks along the increasingly estuarine promenade that is Wick Road – like Venice, before Venice became a rancid tourist hellhole.
Water music from the Singing Organ-Grinder: a censored version of Barnacle Bill the Sailor, sung by the Caribbean pirates at the Prince Edward:
Hackney Wick: the delta
From the Tiger on the corner of Kenworthy Road we’d take the brook down the middle of Wick Road, with a simple bridge at the junction with the A12, and then down the southern side of Chapman Road. From this point, given sufficient current we’d like to split the brook into several less strictly defined courses draining via rice paddies (more Lower Lea Flood Plan washland…) into the navigation respectively north and south of the railway. But we now must depart to watch and eat bangers, and cannot elaborate this eminently sensible proposal any further.
Water music from the Singing Organ-Grinder: the German beach classic, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Honolulu Strand Bikini:
Ah, rainy Saturdays.
- Doc dump: GLA Olympic Legacy doc; Mayor’s Olympic Waterways Strategy; 2009 LRAP Plan; last Thames Rivers Trust news update is from 2013 & their link to the River Restoration Centre leads to an estate agent of the same acronym – but no doubt all Olympic money was well spent. ↩
- Alex van Heezik, Battle over the rivers. Two hundred years of river policy in the Netherlands is good, full Dutch version (Strijd om de rivieren) is very good. ↩
Kasper Lutz in German (occasionally), nameless in French and English?
Abraham Moses Tendlau’s German-Jewish proverb collection, Sprichwörter und Redensarten deutsch-jüdischer Vorzeit (1860) evokes Kasper Lutz, a hurdy-gurdy man who, with his barrel organ, 1 visited the great Frankfurt fair with a repertoire of songs of woe:
1030. Nix als Kasper Lutz!
Nichts als Unglück, z. B. “Mer hört jetzt nix als Kasper Lutz! -” (Vergl. 749 [Nix als Schlimm-Massel!]) “Der waaß das ganze Jahr nix zu erzählen als K. L.”, hat seine Freude daran, Unannehmlichkeiten zu berichten. Kasper Lutz war nämlich ein Leyermann, der mit seiner Drehorgel die Frankfurter Messe besuchte und stets nur Unglücksgeschichten absang.
But in the proverbs our singer of schadenfreudes of beasts and beastliness is both messenger and message: like certain rugby referees, and like the anonymous organ-grinder in Madame Bovary, he brings and he also is bad news. Modern partial postmen, smirking black cats for the Inquisition’s flames: the smiling short-seller, the catastrophe communist, and yes, the sadistic postman (a genre you may not wish to google at work, or anywhere)…
Any proverbial candidates comprehensible to an English-speaking audience? I’m not sure that Cassandra works – she may not be much fun, but neither is she having fun – there is no profit motive in her misery:
Woe, woe, woe! O Apollo, O Apollo! … Apollo, Apollo! God of the Ways, my destroyer! Ah, what way is this that you have brought me! To what a house! … a god-hating house, a house that knows many a horrible butchery of kin, a slaughter-house of men and a floor swimming with blood… Behold those babies bewailing their own butchery and their roasted flesh eaten by their father!
And no one apart from you has heard of her anyway. And she hadn’t got a barrel organ.
- Sic: form is similar, but function has changed, and cranked musical boxes are confused with one another across Europe. ↩
But were organ-grinders really complicit in the 1817 killing at Rodez of the French politician Fualdès, as the translation suggests, or were the vielles hurdy-gurdies, as you’d expect?
I’m quietly looking out historical examples of street organs in society, but Fualdès was a serendipity. North/Nord, 1944, and Céline, wife Lili, cat Bébert and an actor are escaping into Germany to avoid retribution:
In La Rochelle I had to resist the French Army that wanted to buy my ambulance! It wasn’t mine! me, the soul of honesty, nobody can buy anything from me! the ambulance belonged to my dispensary in Sartrouville … you can imagine … I took the lousy bus back where it came from! and the two grandmothers, my passengers, with their bottles of wine, and three newborn babies … the whole shebang in perfect condition! Did anybody show me the slightest gratitude? Hell no! Abominations, that’s all I got … enough to fill a penitentiary! Twenty Landrus, Petiots, and Fualdèses!
Hmm, don’t know those names. Translator Ralph Manheim’s note:
FUALDÈS (1751-1817). French magistrate assassinated in 1817. An accomplice of the assassins played the barrel organ outside the ill-famed hotel to which he had been lured, in order to drown out his cries. The incident was the theme of a popular song.
The Wikipedia article on the affaire Fualdès identifies the instrument as a Barbary organ:
Au matin du 20 mars 1817, le corps d’Antoine Bernardin Fualdès, ancien procureur impérial du département de l’Aveyron, est découvert, flottant dans l’Aveyron, la gorge ouverte. Il a été sauvagement assassiné dans la nuit, à l’autre bout de la ville, au son d’un orgue de Barbarie destiné à couvrir ses cris.
Its source is a 1922 article by the critic Camille Pitolet in the Mercure de France, which cites memoirs of Rodez to the effect that several organ grinders played all evening, covering the cries of the victim:
Des joueurs d’orgue, qui “disparurent”, avaient joué toute la soirée dans la rue des Hebdomadiers pour qu’on n’entendit pas les cris de la victimes.
But Pitolet doesn’t add “de Barbarie”, and the idea that a couple of proper street organs -expensive technology at the time- would have been playing in the red light district of a country town like Rodez is too good to be true.
Fortunately the French had by this stage already got sensational but high-quality court reporting down to a fine art, and we can turn to the Histoire complète du procès instruit devant la cour d’assises de l’Aveyron, relatif à l’assassinat du Sr. Fualdès; Avec des Notices historiques sur les principaux personnages qui ont figuré dans cette cause célèbre, in which it turns out that the instrument in question is the loud and loathsome, but comparatively cheap and indestructible, vielle, the hurdy-gurdy:
Des joueurs de vielle y étaient aussi placés, et firent entendre pendant environ une heure le son de leurs instrumens, et disparurent le lendemain de grand matin.
Brast, tailleur: Un joueur de vielle joua sans discontinuer, près de la maison Bancal, depuis huit heures du soir jusqu’à neuf, le 19 de mars. Vers les huit heures et un quart, il entendit marcher dans la rue plusieurs personnes qui paraissaient porter un paquet ou balle; elles s’arrètèrent devant la maison Bancal. Une porte s’ouvrit et se ferma, mais le son de la vielle l’empècha de distinguer si c’était celle de Bancal.
Ces joueurs de vielle qui disparurent le lendemain de l’assassinat reparaîtront un jour, et avec eux ou sans eux apparaîtra la vérité.
The 1818 Complainte de Fualdès is one of the finest examples of a genre which we call ballads but which the French have never really managed to name – see Robert Paquin “Ballad: Ballade, Complainte, Chanson Tragique, Chanson Lyrico-Épique ou Chanson Narrative?” Credited to the limonadier, which is to say publican, M.J. of Toulouse, but said to be by a Occitan dentist called Moreau et Catalan, the Véritable Complainte, arrivée de Toulouse, au sujet du crime affreux, commis à Rodez, sur la personne de l’infortuné Fualdès, par Bastide, Jausion et complices, available from “all the sellers of ballads of Paris and abroad”, still has hurdy-gurdy men grinding away:
Et des vieilleurs insolens
Assourdissent les passans.
So that’s that. Or perhaps vielle and orgue were interchangeable at at some point in (pre-)revolutionary rural France – I have found no evidence. I think it more likely that modern and metropolitan writers used the expression orgue (de Barbarie) as a comprehensible functional equivalent for the moribund and marginal vielle. Fualdès, a five-acter supposedly by Messrs. Dupeuty and Grangé premiered in Paris in 1848, has one André driven to organ-grinding, with an orgue, by rural landlessness. And a rather more tenuous link is established in a tremendous bucolic 1833 Lucrezia Borgia parody, Tigresse Mort-aux-Rats, allegedly by Messrs. Dupin and Jules, in which an orgue de Barbarie is heard off-stage playing the Fualdès ballad.
I have started singing the plaint as part of my forays into the genre. With lines like the following, there is no way I could have remained indifferent:
Écoutez, peuple de France,
Du royaume de Chili;
peuple de Russie aussi,
Du cap de Bonne Espérance,
Le mémorable accident
D’un crime très conséquent.
However, I am quite sure that no one will want to listen to even a comparatively short example like this, let alone a full programme. Tom Lehrer hits the bull’s-eye in his Irish ballad:
My tragic tale I won’t prolong,
My tragic tale I won’t prolong,
And if you do not enjoy my song,
You’ve yourselves to blame if it’s too long,
You should never have let me begin, begin,
You should never have let me begin.
There is a lesson in all this: if we wish to prevent a return to the law of the jungle, then amplified or naturally noisy buskers need to be hounded mercilessly. Hmmm. I don’t feel particularly comfortable reading Céline in the same week as the mob attack on the Stamford Hill synagogue, but Mort à crédit / Death on the installment plan is required reading for those who hope for a future in organ-grinding:
After his terrible accident Courtial had taken a solemn vow that he’d never again, at any price, take the wheel in a race … That was all over … finished … He’d kept his promise … And even now, twenty years later, he had to be begged before he’d drive on some quiet excursion, or in an occasional harmless demonstration. He felt much safer out in the wind in his balloon …
His studies of mechanics were all contained in his books … Year in year out he published two treatises (with diagrams) on the development of motors and two handbooks with plates.
One of these little works had stirred up bitter controversies and even a certain amount of scandal. Actually it wasn’t even his fault … It was all on account of some low-down sharpers who travestied his ideas in an idiotic money-making scheme … It wasn’t at all in his style. Anyway here’s the title:
An Automobile Made to Order for 322 Francs 25. Complete instructions for home manufacture. Four permanent seats, two folding seats, wicker body, 12 m.p.h., 7 speeds, 2 reverse gears. Done entirely with spare parts that could be picked up anywhere! assembled to the customer’s taste … to suit his personality! according to the style and the season of the year! This little book was all the rage … from 1902 to 1905 … It contained … which was a step forward … not only diagrams, but actual blueprints on a scale of one to two hundred thousand. Photographs, cross-references, cross sections … all flawless and guaranteed.
His idea was to combat the rising peril of mass production … There wasn’t a moment to be lost … Despite his resolute belief in progress, des Pereires had always detested standardization … From the very start he was bitterly opposed to it … He foresaw that the death of craftsmanship would inevitably shrink the human personality …
“Barcelona, London and Tilligte” didn’t fit on my business card.
The new one: this rule is not inflexible, but in general Barcelona summers are impossible because of the heat and the burns victims, London winters because of the cold and the Santas -their livers already recovered from Barcelona- content and collapsed on the pavements.
Re seasonal migration: though my friend upstairs has assigned them roughly the same task, the swallow does seem more romantic than the chiffchaff …
… but it goes all the way to southern Africa, tricky in a Piaggio Ape 50.
Nevertheless, the organ is of course nothing more than an excuse for a wayfaring stranger:
… and I’d be very happy if I could travel with it regularly within the territories that formed the Belgian Empire in 1990.
With this in mind I’ve been working recently on my Italian, which in written form seems beautiful but simple, like all state-driven languages:
In una caverna sotto terra viveva uno hobbit. Non era una caverna brutta, sporca, umida, piena di resti di vermi e di trasudo fetido, e neanche una caverna arida, spoglia, sabbiosa, con dentro niente per sedersi o da mangiare: era una caverna hobbit, cioè comodissima.
Aveva una porta perfettamente rotonda come un oblò, dipinta di verde, con un lucido pomello d’ottone proprio nel mezzo. La porta si apriva su un ingresso a forma di tubo, come un tunnel: un tunnel molto confortevole, senza fumo, con pareti foderate di legno e pavimento di piastrelle ricoperto di tappeti, fornito di sedie lucidate, e di un gran numero di attaccapanni per cappelli e cappotti: lo hobbit amava molto ricevere visite.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats—the hobbit was fond of visitors.
La Costituzione della Repubblica Italiana seems like a good idea.
Italian-subtitled or -dubbed westerns are also good for me – simple but beautiful. (The Federal Republic of Germany had daytime television before the Netherlands, so many older Dutch people have a vague suspicion that cowboys and Indians speak German.) The best ones were made on the line to the west of Madrid, Arturo Barea’s line (La forja de un rebelde):
Poco dura lo bueno. Mi madre ha venido anteayer y mañana nos vamos, yo a Navalcarnero y ella a Madrid a seguir trabajando.
Como el tren para un cuarto de hora en la estación arrastro a mi madre a ver la locomotora. Es una locomotora belga pequeñita, pintada de verde, casi cuadrada. No vale nada. Yo he ido en una locomotora grande. El tío José tiene un primo que es maquinista en la estación del Norte [Madrid] y lleva el expreso de París. Un día nos llevó al tío ya mí en una máquina sola hasta Segovia. Una máquina tan grande que me tuvieron que subir en brazos para llegar arriba, donde van el maquinista y el fogonero. Y desde allí salimos corriendo solos con el ténder, sin pararnos en ninguna estación. El fogonero echaba carbón por la boca abierta del hogar, que soltaba llamas, y atravesábamos el campo con la vía delante y detrás libre, sin nadie, brincando sobre los rieles, y a veces, corriendo sobre ellos, sin sentirlos, como si fuéramos por el aire. Mi tío contaba que, una vez, un maquinista, para no chocar contra otro tren, le dio vueltas a la manivela tan fuerte que se metió la manivela por la tripa. Salvó el tren, pero se quedó muerto, clavado allí en el freno. Hay también termómetros y manómetros y tubos de nivel con grifos pequeñitos y la cadena de pito, una cadena de hierro que se tira de ella y el vapor silba que se queda uno sordo del ruido. Todos los grifos escurren agua o aceite. Había uno que goteaba mucho y yo le quise cerrar. Salió un abanico de aceite caliente que nos manchó a todos. Cuando cruzábamos un puente de hierro, todo bailaba: la vía, el puente y la máquina; y yo quería que corriera más para que pasáramos el puente antes de que se hundiera. Después volvimos en un tren, pero me aburrió el viaje dentro del vagón.
El tren es también pequeñito, como la máquina. Los vagones son «cajas de cerillas» con asientos de madera sucios, llenos de gente de los pueblos que lleva alforjas, cestas, gallinas atadas por las patas a las que tiran debajo de los bancos. Llevan a veces conejos, con la tripa abierta, enseñando los ríñones morados, y barrilitos de vino o cestas llenas de huevos metidos en paja. A veces, cuando llegamos a una estación, vemos por el camino que viene del pueblo a los viajeros corriendo por la carretera y haciendo señas para que espere el tren. Y el jefe de la estación les espera. Entran con los bultos y se dejan caer en los asientos, sudando de la carrera, con sus cestas y sus alforjas.
Navalcarnero es la estación más importante de la línea. Tiene un muelle con el techo de cinc y tres vías para hacer maniobras. Al lado de la estación está la fábrica de harinas, y un trozo de vía sale de la estación y se mete en la fábrica, haciendo una curva y pasando por debajo de la puerta de hierro. Cuando la puerta está cerrada, hace un efecto raro. Si se equivocaran de aguja, nosotros entraríamos con el tren y todo a través de la verja y nos meteríamos en la fábrica.
La abuela Inés está en la estación esperándonos. Hemos venido la Concha, mi madre y yo. Hasta fin de mes mi hermana y yo nos quedaremos aquí.
Was: How pleased I am to find both the Zarah Leander and the Nina Hagen versions of “Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n” on the line.
Someone now on another side used to put on a wobbly Zarah cassette when we did leather gigs over in the Federal Republic, and her sombre timbre recalls dark drunken nights on the way home, swerving back and forth over tree-lined moon-dappled country roads in the minibus to get rabbits for Sunday lunch:
She’s by far the most compelling singer in German from the second half of the 30s, partly no doubt because of Hitler’s curious decision to guarantee American domination of the entertainment industry by exiling half of Germany’s creative class in a westerly direction and murdering the rest to the east. But I’ve no doubt she’d have shone amidst better than the following appalling rubbish, posted by my good friend the ex-president:
I believe Nina Hagen figured she was what Zarah Leander could have been:
Even when she was on Planet P-Funk:
Let’s be honest: Madonna was so utterly, hopelessly inadequate:
In 1981, Hagen her daughter Cosma Shiva to the world. The father is the 1988 late Dutch guitarist Ferdinand Karmelk . in 1987 married Hagen in a “punk wedding” on Ibiza the then 17-year-old musician “Iroquois” from the London squat scene. After only one week separated the pair again. In 1989, she was romantically involved with the Frenchman Frank Chevalier, from this relationship comes a son. In May 1996, Hagen married the 15 years younger than David Lynn. The couple separated in 2000 In January 2004, Hagen married the 22 years younger Danish singer Lucas Alexander Breinholm. The separation took place in January 2005 From 2005 to 2010 Hagen was associated with a 28 years younger physiotherapists in Canada. Since 1982, Hagen is a vegetarian. She settled in August 2009 in Schüttorf of Pastor Karl-Wilhelm ter Horst reformed Protestant baptism. .
Post-war was pretty grim for reasons already outlined, but in the 60s came the spaghetti versions of the Wild West novels of Karl May (the German Zane Grey – he didn’t actually change his name to match, unlike Francisco González Ledesma aka Silver Kane, the late, Spanish equivalent). Older Dutchpersons tend to think of cowboys and Indians as German-speaking, because until quite late in the 20th century there was no daytime Dutch television, so they all watched the German channels:
And then, at long last, with Beethoven and Goethe getting restless in their graves, Zarah Leander’s old employers signed Siggi Götz, the Bavarian Benny Hill (does that make him the fastest milkman in the East?), to return German culture to pre-Hitlerian heights:
Fassbinder’s Lola, a distressingly brilliant swords-to-JCBs film, is also up there, again courtesy of Richard:
I sing Capri-Fischer, whose message from the Wirtschaftswunderbar is: why send troops to [Italy|whatever] when you can buy it:
Although I’m probably a bit more like a bovine Gracie Fields: