Friday, November 30, 2012

We have a Christmas Market in Ann Arbor, too

This evening, we went to the Farmers Market and Kerrytown for the Ann Arbor Kindlefest or Weihnachtsmarkt -- also known as Midnight Madness. Food booths; hand-made gift items, Christmas decorations, and greens, a wine-tasting at the wine store, sales of all goods in other stores at 10 or 15% off, and many musical groups attracted huge crowds. Downtown, a few blocks away, we saw gallery parties, more musical groups on the street, an Elvis impersonator, and more crowds.

Glühwein, warmed in huge metal urns over portable camp stoves, was made from Charles Shaw wine (familiarly known as 2-buck Chuck from Trader Joe's -- same selection of wine at one gallery where we stopped). Booths offered "Konditorei" and "Würst" with sauerkraut. I don't know if the German names reflect the ethnic German culture that once was a major part of Ann Arbor, or if there's some other reason for the German signs. Of course there was also a booth selling salsa, and others with a broad variety of food types.

Inside we enjoyed some music:

Our favorite group among those we saw was playing hot jazz in a corner of the Kerrytown shops next to a door. We were able to stand on the stairs and enjoy their music for a while.

Outside people gathered around numerous fire pits and even toasted marshmallows. Luckily, it wasn't terribly cold or windy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Walk in the Park

Today we enjoyed a beautiful Sunday afternoon bathed in autumn sunshine. It seemed like a perfect time for a walk. We were diverted by a realtor open house not far from our house. The property for sale had a lot of charm because many of the rooms had not been much changed since the house was built in around 1920. The rooms were quite small, with built-in cupboards instead of closets, and with a number of other retro features including a delightful screened porch which I've often admired while passing by. The furnace appeared to be very, very old. It had a sticker for the company that had installed it, which began NOrmandy 3-... instead of 663-... . Those alphabetic "exchanges" on telephone numbers became obsolete in the early 1960s!

After touring the house from basement to attic, we finally walked over to Burns Park. By this time the light was very vivid. The green grass was almost eerie.

People sitting in the park seemed surrounded by halos from the slanting rays. The school building, with its cupola on top, looks like a chateau at times like this, though from close-up the flagpole gives it away. Too bad they never paint the cupola -- I'm afraid some day it will rot, and then the illusion of the Chateau of Burns Park will fade away.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Franz Werfel: The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

“The most horrible thing that had been done was not that a whole people had been exterminated, but that a whole people, God’s children, had been dehumanized.” – The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, 2012 edition, p. 727)

I found The Forty Days of Musa Dagh – which I had never before read in any form -- amazing in a number of ways. I devoured the dense, nearly 900 page novel in just a few days, unable to put it down. I read the newly-published translation of Franz Werfel’s 1933 masterpiece, which includes about 25% more narrative than the previous English version.

I should write a long review, including some research into Werfel himself, but right now I only want to cover a few generalities about the wonderful quality of the book.

First, I admired Werfel’s research into the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Turks. I think the history of these events was already being suppressed by the late 1920s when Werfel began writing. His description of the ragged, starving, perishing Armenian masses of men, women, and children from the village of Zeitun was vivid. His descriptions of the Turkish authorities and their rationale for the genocide (not yet given a name) were overwhelming.

The day-by-day description of the people of seven Armenian villages near the Syrian coast who hid in the woods on the mountain Musa Dagh and resisted the deportation to nowhere being inflicted by the Turks is powerfully drawn. Each episode is based on true stories, particularly the survival of a few thousand villagers on Musa Dagh and their rescue by French troop ships.

Werfel maintained a remarkable balance between descriptions of collective suffering and of individual agony, so that the reader’s consciousness is drawn in both directions. He occasionally mentions acts of mercy by non-Armenians, but clearly shows that the moral bankruptcy of the Turkish leaders (quite a few directly taken from history) corrupted the common people, who are mostly depicted as looting and then resettling the villages whose inhabitants have been forced out. Also corrupted: the military, civil, and police authorities who directly deprived the Armenians of life and property.

On the political side, I kept thinking: how could Werfel write a Holocaust analogy before the Holocaust began? But I know the tragic answer: he was trying to warn of the terrible future that somehow he saw so clearly. Although he clearly admires the German Pastor Johannes Lepsius, another of the historical characters depicted in the book, he had no illusions about the meaning of the events to the mainstream German observers. While Lepsius begs everyone who will listen to act to save the Armenians, almost no one will listen to him; what aid he musters is too little too late. My very sad reaction to Werfel’s attempted warning was that the main learners who took a lesson from the massacre of the Armenians were the Nazis, not the humanitarians and not any future victims.

On the novelistic side, I was also impressed by the author’s choice of central characters, the French-educated Gabriel Bagradian. While the history is powerful, I thin Werfel keeps the reader’s attention through the depiction of Bagradian, his family, his determination to save his fellow Armenians, and his close relationships. Bagradian’s conflicts between his self-interest and his loyalty to his people, his developing identity from identification with France and Europe to embracing of an Armenian identity, his developing leadership in military and political affairs, and his tragic ending create a perfect story against which Werfel presents the historical themes.