Organ grinders and monkey and marmot migration

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:

Ich komme schon durch manche Land,
Avecque 1 la marmotte,
Und immer ich was zu essen fand,
Avecque la marmotte,
Avecque, si, avecque, la,
Avecque la marmotte.

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.

Stuff

  1. Elderly French for avec, and still heard in some Occitan dialects.

Christmas carousels

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.

Gregory Motton:

On earth we can’t abide,
We all must die
As everybody knows. 3

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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:

    … but actually reminded me more of vlöggelen/vlöggeln at Easter at Ootmarsum in the (Roman Catholic) eastern Netherlands:

  3. 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.

  4. “Deceptacon” by Le Tigre (ta, SG), which, like the Fellini / Rota partnership, surely owes a lot to the Kijé generation:

  5. 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.

Stuff to avoid: Google’s winter solstice doodle, which is a perpetual motion con (no candle or crank needed) and a blasphemy – their logo replaces the Christmas pyramid’s seraphim. 5

Stuff

  1. Anyone got a score?
  2. Tined? Wassat?
  3. 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.
  4. Though she was enjoying her beef stew.
  5. 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

There’s so much brilliant German shit on YouTube

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:


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