Love and Chaos Part 7(C) Chris 1

30th May 2021

The East German punks who helped bring down the Berlin Wall | Dazed
Berlin music Scene. Google Images

Part Seven. Berlin. May 1995

Chris and Richard met Daniel at the small kiosk situated in one of the exit tunnels of Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahn. Daniel was looking at the window display which had miniature bottles of cheap and nasty looking hooch, labels and brands he had never seen before, alcohol he had never seen before.

They greeted and went straight to the club, a slight embarrassment at meeting away from the Czar Bar, as if that were their only common ground. The club was quite small, quite dark, one stage to the right, the bar opposite, and that was where they all headed.

By now, Richard and Chris could recognize many faces. Willem Dafoe was there, smiling broadly at each and every thing. Arizona Al was in another discussion with technicians about sound levels, but came over to say, “Hi,” and to meet Daniel,

“Cool, fresh blood, it’s getting kinda stale around here,” he admitted. ”Oh, Dude, listen, you can’t come onstage and blow me tonight, it’s a more conservative joint, here,” then he was dragged away by Bryan on a matter of the utmost urgency.

Daniel stood with his mouth open, not exactly sure what he was getting involved in.

Again, the room was half full at most when the first act went on. A petite, visibly terrified French girl played guitar and sang to the floorboards. Her between song banter was monosyllabic and mumbled, but she charmed everyone, winning them over with her nervousness and talent which was unmistakable, just hidden by a cloak of shyness.

But it was downhill after that. Singer-songwriters came and went, some bands played, more solo artists. Willem Dafoe played the exact same set with the exact same mannerisms and orchestrated spontaneity as before.

Bryan ‘Moonface’ came up to the bar with a young lady, and was speaking to her about Kafka, specifically ‘Metamorphosis’,

“It’s about a man who wakes up one morning and he’s been turned into a woman.”

“Oh, that sounds cool.”

Daniel exclaimed, “Fuck me,” loud enough to get Bryan’s attention, but ‘Moonface’ was too busy impressing his new friend with his broad knowledge of World Literature.

Richard and Chris played ‘name the influence’ as some bands were ripping off R.E.M., others Nirvana, while one electronic combo tried a reversal of Big Black, by playing a loud, Grunge song on keyboards and drum machines. It was a novelty for half a minute, but unfortunately went on for several.

Daniel wasn’t having as much fun as his companions. He had been expecting a great evening, but, despite the ever flowing beer, he was bored and that made him angry and frustrated. Which, of course, just made Richard and Chris laugh even more.

He got louder with his abuse and thought nothing of talking over an acoustic set. By the time Arizona went on, Daniel had just about had enough, but stayed because Al was the main reason they were there, although the sexualised parting words still played in his mind.

Tonight, Arizona Al announced, he was going to try some ‘mellow, chill-out vibes’. The absence of a guitar alarmed Richard, and Chris had a very bad feeling, which was confirmed by the opening note which continued without variation, while Arizona gradually added more single notes, together with some indistinct sound effects.

Daniel simply turned his back to the stage and ordered three vodkas. Arizona was now on his second song, a variation of the first, with even less going on.

Daniel turned to Chris,

“You enjoying this shit ?”

“Not at all.”

“Czar Bar open ?”

“Yep. Andrei working. And Olga.”

“Olga ?” asked Richard.

“Let’s go,” said Daniel, finishing his beer and walking out. Chris and Richard followed, both giving a wave to Arizona as he played on, with a surprised and hurt look on his face. Richard was already on damage control, telling Chris that they could say that their friend had to get a connection. Chris shrugged his shoulders,

“Or we could just say that he was shit.”

“Yeah, you could.”

Daniel was asking how to get to the bar. Chris explained,

“We’ll take the U-Bahn and change at Alex. U5. Five stops, total.”

Walking to the U5 platform, Daniel put his arms around the two others,

“Right, we need to get laid tonight. Agreed ?”

“Not even a question,” replied Chris.

“Tonight ?” repeated Richard, “anytime this decade would work for me.”

They walked down the escalators and waited on the platform. Daniel took out his cigarettes and passed them around.

“So, pussy action. What’s the deal ? Chris, you must get a nice bit of snatch, working the bar, hey ?”

“Have you been in the Czar Bar ?”

“Yeah, fair enough. Thought they’d be a few more girls in, tonight. Not much doing, was there ? Couple of knackered old slappers. I’d have liked that French bird, but she’d scarpered. ‘Bout you, Rich ?”

“Going through a fallow period. Got the seed, but no where to plant it.”

“We’re both going through an adjustment,” Chris intervened. “I was dumped by my girlfriend and Richard . . . “ the later himself completed the ellipsis,

“Is hung up on a girl who just isn’t interested,”

Daniel turned to him,

“Didn’t you have any other girlfriends ?”

“No. I was saving myself for her.”

“Ah, well, that’s the problem. To get a girl, you have to have a girl.”

“Thanks, Buddha, great advice.”

“Naw, listen. It’s like an auction. You put a piece up, no one’s interested, it gets tossed. Pun intended. But, someone likes it, others get interested. Get it ?”

“So,” asked Richard, trying to follow the logic, “if Lorelei had known I had a girlfriend, she’d have been more interested ?”

“Couldn’t have been less interested,” quipped Chris.

“Oy, shut it, you,” threatened Daniel.


“Oh, I see, he can get away with the insults, but I say something and I get the ‘I can kill you with one fingernail’ shit ?”

“Yeah. He’s not a plonker like you,” clarified Daniel with a subtle wink at Richard.

“He has a point, there, he has several points there,” added Richard. Daniel continued,

“You just gotta get a girl first, any girl. You can do that, can’t ya ?” Richard just shrugged. “Fuck me,” concluded Daniel.

“He may have to. Oh, come on, that was funny. OK, I know, I’ll shut it.” Chris walked off a little down the platform.

On the train, they continued the seminar, Daniel giving advice to Richard, and then learnt why Chris was dumped.

“She heard you say she were shit in bed ? Fuck, that’s hard. Now, tonight; I know that Al’s yer pal and all that guff, but . . . fucking hell, what a stinking pile of shit. I’ve heard some wank in my time, but that . . . “

“It’s part of the Berlin scene,” began Richard. “Anybody can get up and do something.”

“Problem is,” continued Chris, “most people do and most people aren’t overburdened with talent.”

“Not tonight, anyway,” laughed Daniel. “Thanks, guys, for taking me. Load of bollocks, but still thanks.”

They all laughed. Chris, followed by Richard, began to give more sage Berlin advice,

“Never presume that because it’s office hours, offices will be open.”

“Don’t touch Schultheiss beer. I know the logo is real inviting, but your stomach won’t thank you for it.”

Chris picked up the slack,

“Following on from there, don’t ever drink from the tap, despite all the assurances,”

“He’s right. May as well just drink out of the toilet bowl.”

More laughter. Then Daniel returned to the former subject of performing in Berlin.

“I mean, I could do better than that.”

“Well, then,” challenged Richard, “do it.”


“Yeah, but I don’t know any musicians, or anybody, just you two tossers.”

“But we know people,” argued Richard

“Oh, yeah, like that guy with the fucking pumpkin head ? No, thanks. Man turning into a woman. Fucking idiot.”

“No,” said Chris calmly. “The Russians. Andrei is a bass player. Boris is a fucking wild hot gypsy guitarist. Another guy who lives with them, Sascha, is a drummer. They’ve all played in bands, always looking for a singer. We’ll see some, if not all, of them tonight. Time to put up or shut up. Or are you just all talk ?”

“Mouthy little sod, ain’t ya ?”

“Yeah,” replied Chris with a swagger. “I am.”

Love and Chaos Part 6 (H) Descriptions Of A Doctor

14th May 2021

The Life of Franz Kafka - Exploring your mind
Dr Franz Kafka

In an early story, Franz Kafka wrote about two men crossing the Charles Bridge in the early hours of a Bohemian winter night. The acquaintance stops the narrator in front of the statue of Saint Ludmila, to point out the limitless tenderness with which the artist had endowed the hands of a small angel to the Saint’s left. This acquaintance knew hands, for, that very evening, he had taken the hands of a pretty housemaid and kissed them . . . once, maybe twice, maybe more.

Kafka himself had ‘long, ethereal fingers’ which he employed when talking, giving shape to his words. And when tuberculous of the larynx made anything but hoarse whispers impossible, it was the hands, again, that were his means of communications, writing notes to his friends and to his last and perhaps only true love, Dora Diamant.

And the first thing he said to her was, ‘Such gentle hands and such bloody work.’

It was Friday 13th July 1923, in the kitchen of a children’s holiday camp in Müritz, North Germany.

Dora had already noticed the tall man on the beach and had followed him into town, unable to fight the mysterious attraction he held for her.

When he finally noticed her, she was hard at work, scaling fish in the kitchen where she was a volunteer helper. Yet his comments, as well as his acute sense of the suffering of others, and of his ability to offer comfort, put her at ease. Yes, her hands were bloody, but he noticed how gentle they were.

He returned every evening for the next three weeks and they spoke about their past lives and, more importantly, their future.

Dora lived in Berlin and despite his travels, Kafka had never managed to break away from the claws of his native Prague. Dora provided the strength he needed to do it.

She found them an apartment in the Steglitz area, more countryside than European metropolis, and they planned to attend college then emigrate to Palestine, ‘next year in Jerusalem,’ to work the land. Or Dora could cook and Kafka work as waiter in their own restaurant. All the optimist, hope-filled talk of love.

But winter was coming.

The German economy was in an appalling state, massive inflation raising prices weekly. Kafka desperately writing home and waiting for his pension money. His health had made early retirement necessary. The landlady objected to his burning lights at night as he wrote. Dora merely went out and bought an oil lamp. Still the landlady objected, objected, he felt, to his very existence.

Dora found a new place, not so far away and took care of the moving.

To amuse themselves, they read, told stories, made plans and Kafka used his hands to make shadows on the wall.

They had little money, little food or heating, the streets of Berlin were becoming increasingly violent and uncertain, and his illness was getting worse and worse.

It was the happiest time of his life.

No photo description available.
The house where Kafka lived in Steglitz, south-west Berlin
No photo description available.
The Austrian writer Franz Kafka, born 3 July 1883 in Prague, died 3 June 1924 in Vienna (Klosterneuburg), lived in this house from 15 November to 1 February 1924

Historical note: Dr Kafka is now referred to a Czech writer, but at the time of his birth, the Czech lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the state religion was Catholicism, the official language was German. The Czechs saw their language suppressed, as was their Protestant religion. Dr Kafka was a German-speaking Jew, and this sense of alienation is easy to detect in his writing.

Love and Chaos Part 6(A) Chris 1

6th May 2021

Photo by Martin O’Shea 2021

Part Six

Berlin. January 1995

Richard knocked the worst of the snow from his boots and entered the bar immediately seeing, and hearing, Chris and Arizona Al at a far table.

He ordered a coffee as he walked over to them, and began the process of taking off the layers of clothing.

It was only mid afternoon, but all lights were on. The day, seen through the large glass panes, was gray and bitter, people walked along quickly, heads down and wrapped up against the cold.

“Look what I got,” he said, opening his bag and taking out three second hand paperbacks. He put them on the table, Chris taking them straight up,

“Let’s see . . . ‘Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man’, hhmmm, ‘The Trial’, Kafka, and, ah, Dickens, ‘Tale of Two Cities’. Which one you gonna read first ?”

“Think I’ll have a bash at Kafka. You’re always talking about him. You read this one ?”

“Long time ago. Al ?”

“Err, what’s that ? Kafka ? No, who’s he ?”

Richard explained about the Czech writer, as best he could, only knowing what he had read in the introduction on the U-Bahn ride.

“Oh, yeah, cool, could give that a go, yeah, something different. Been meaning to ask you guys about books. Like to maybe borrow some, if that’s no biggie ?”

“Here,” said Richard, offering the Memoirs. “Thought it was something German, name like Siegfried Sassoon, but turns out he’s as English as can be.”

“Yeah, the fox hunting bit may have been a clue, what ?” said Chris with a wink at Al, before asking him, “You read Generation X ?”

“Err, no, no, don’t think so.”

Richard had brought it from London, and they had read and reread it many times between them. Chris was all for going home and getting it immediately, but Al told him that later would be OK.


“It legitimizes our whole existence,” continued Richard, “for example, I’m no longer a hopeless loser, I’m a McJober. We,” indicating Chris and himself, “are occupational slummers. You, Al, are retro, neo, rock star, throwback . . . something.”

“Actually,” corrected Chris, “I’m taking an occupational sabbatical.”

“Yeah, how’s the job hunt going ?” asked Arizona, trying to get the conversation back to something he could understand.

Richard laughed to himself, having heard all of Chris’ descriptions of sordid, Dickensian working conditions.

“I’ve got an interview, meeting thing tomorrow at some pasta restaurant in Yorckstrasse, so at least I’ll get some decent grub. But, fucking hell, some of the places. I went to one, out past Dahlem, and there was no sink in the kitchen. They were showing me how to take the plates and shit out to a big barrel in the yard, and wash them with a hose. Then I went to a brewery bar on the Ku’ Damm. Took one fucking look and thought fuck that. Enormous kitchen and about ten chefs, all screaming at each other and at the Spülers, who just stood there, heads down, as frying pans were flying around, fat was flying, food was flying, bottles . . . lucky not to be decapitated. Lucky not to be employed there.”

Richard enjoyed the embellishments Chris had made since he first heard that anecdote, when it had featured a mere four chefs. He then spoke up, as much to clear his name as anything.

“Of course, I offered to let him go back to Biberkopf . . . “

“Yes, but then what ? I have a much better chance of finding something than you. Besides . . . Monika’s not happy with me being just a . . . “

Arizona waited for the completion of the sentence, but was forced to ask,

“You and Monika not so tight ? I thought you were solid.”

Chris let out a whistle,

“No, sir, not by a long chalk. Trouble at mill.”

He knew that Arizona would have no idea what he was talking about, so he clarified.

“I don’t know, Al. You should know, you’re been around women. What should I do ? First, every thing’s fine, great, she’s the love of my life, next thing, she’s a bloody Tasmanian Devil, a force of destruction. Hurricane Monika. Not a house left standing.”

“Hey, man, can I ask you something ?” then without waiting for permission, Arizona continued, “what was the deal with that Melanie chick ?”

Richard sat up, hoping that at last, he may know the full story.

Chris did in fact look at him as he began, but now didn’t care and was happy to get it all out in the open.

“I don’t know. As you can see, when it comes to women, I’m at a bit of a loss.”

“She was into you like gangbusters, Dude. When you kissed Monika, her face was just pure evil. Queen of death.”

“Yeah ! That’s her. ‘Queen of Death’”

“All that black doesn’t help,” added Richard.

“She some kind of Antichrist or something ?” asked Arizona.

“Atheist,” said Richard, presuming Al has used the wrong word. “We had a discussion about her beliefs one morning. She told me there was no God. But atheists are like joggers; you never see a happy one.”

“And you couldn’t argue with her. She’s always right.” said Chris.

“Especially when she’s wrong,” concluded Richard. Arizona was more interesting in the background than the word games.

“But did you ever like, date or fool around ?”

“Yeah, you ever take her out to second base ?” asked Richard.

“Get to second base, asshole. If you’re gonna go Yankee on my arse, at least get it right !”

Arizona tried to get the answer. Chris refocused.

“No, no, well, yeah, OK, kinda kissed and shit, but I wasn’t really into it. Breaks down like this; I was working in a café, bussing tables ‘n’ shit. OK, I was pouring coffee and working the till, whatever, and Melanie also worked there.”

“And Will was a regular customer ?” interrupted Richard.

“I’ll get to that bloody old nuisance in a moment.” Chris shook his head and took a strong hit of caffeine. “So, we’re both students, Mel and me, but never meet on campus, because I’m doing heavy macho stuff and she’s into waste of time, book reading or flower arranging, I dunno, chick subjects. But, you know, there ain’t much a-happ’ning on the home front, and we get on, and one night we go to the movies. Then, afterwards, as we’re saying ‘goodbye’ she comes up to me and gives me a massive hug, really hung in there, got her moneys worth. That should have been a sign.”

“Oh, I get it. A clingy-thingy.” Said Arizona.

“I hear you, Man.”

“But you were never together ?” clarified Richard.

“No, course not. So we kissed a bit, well, you know, vodka will do that to ya. But then I pulled down the portcullis. Told her I wasn’t into anything physical. Childhood trauma and all. I expected her to run like the clappers, but, oh no, she has to add her own Freudian fuckups. Unable to . . . you know.”

Arizona nodded, slowly, sagely. He knew.

“But she was coming on like you were soul mates an’ all,” Richard explained, “such talk, like you have the best hands in history. Let me see. Hold up those Germans.”

Chris wasn’t exactly sure of that Cockney slang, but held out his hands for inspection.

Richard made a dismissive snort,

“They’re nothing to write home about. Now, Will; what’s his problem.”

“Where do I start ? He’s just some old fart who’d come in, buy one coffee and stay all day. Couldn’t shift the fucker. The sort that works out how much he’s saving on electricity. Sniffing around young students.”

“Male or female ?”

“I don’t think he was even bothered. In fact . . . Yes, sonofabitch, he came on to me. Few times. Cheeky bugger. Thought he was just being . . . ”

“HEY !” exclaimed Arizona, who had been looking at some flyers on the table, “whatdoyaknow ? ‘The Wiggling Kellys’.”

There were a few seconds of silence, as Chris’s story had been prematurely curtailed, and they would have to adjust to the verbal jet-lag, as a new, wholly unrelated tale was going to unfold.

“Ha, those girls. They were my backing band.”

Neither Chris nor Richard were willing to delay the story, so they indicated with their eyes that he should continue, without pause, with Richard holding up his coffee cup, and three fingers, to the waitress, whom he naturally found cute. He had already checked her left hand and noticed the absence of a ring.

“Yeah, they were backing me at the ‘So Was ?’ (So what ?) club in Kreuzberg. Ya been there ? It’s got this long kinda walkway catwalk stage, so it’s great for rocking out on. I’d met these two girls some time before and they’re real hot, groupie types, and they’re asking about venues and how to go about getting a band together, and I’m all, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, just trying to decide which one I wanna connect with, ya dig ? So I told them about this gig and they were asking do I need backing singers, and I’m thinking, well, no, but, hang on here, what better way to turn ’em on, play the rock star card, so I say, well, I don’t know, maybe, let’s see what ya got.”

Laughter and claps of approval.

“Yeah, I’m one one cool motherfucker when it calls for it, I know, so they do a number, in the bar, and, what can I say ? OK, can hold a tune, just, but they start dancing to it.”

“Wiggling ?” asked Richard, with excitement.

“Oh, yeah, they had the moves, you know what I’m saying ? So I thought, hang back, if they sing, they’ll fuck up the songs, but if they dance …”

“Fucking genius ! I’ve got a lot to learn from you,” Chris gushed.

“Sure ’nuff, Grasshopper. So comes the gig, I’m playing, and doing my stuff, I just had guitar and drum machine, and I start to walk up the stage. The girls see this, and next time, they walk with me, one each side, dancing away. So it goes. Every time I move up the stage, they come with me, and the audience are going crazy. I thought it’ld be a tough crowd, lot of biker leather in there. So I play another, and another, each time, loud screams. Then I go over to change a rhythm track and strum a few chords, but the audience are still going wild, even more so, then I look up and see the girls still dancing. Then the fucking PA motherfucka cuts my amp line and starts playing Techno shit, and the girls keep dancing, the audience going even crazier.”

“So . . . what did you do ?” Richard was forced to inquire.

“Just packed up my equipment, took a beer and watched the show. Gave them the name, too. From ‘90210’. You guys get that in England ?”

They both denied knowledge of it. Arizona continued,

“Yeah, I had a lot of afternoons at home in the early Nineties. So there’s this character called Kelly, and in the opening credits, she wiggles off. Man, you gotta see it. OK, gotta split. Oh, shit, Man, nearly forgot. Got a few gigs coming up.”

“Cool !” from Richard

“Rock on !” from Chris.

“Yeah, you’ll be there, right ? ‘Cause ain’t nothing worse than playing to an empty hall.”

“Of course. Even take the night off, if I have to. Chris ?”

“Absolutely. I’m so there. One question . . . “

“No, The Wiggling Kellys will not be there. Got their own gigs. Playing the, hey, check it out, they’ve got another gig at the ‘So Was ?’. Hah. Never asked me back. OK, out of here. Tschüs.”

After he left, Richard turned to Chris,

“I’m glad we know him. Oh, shit, he’s coming back.”

Arizona returned, holding out a cassette.

“You guys still play tapes, right ? Here’s a copy of some of my old stuff. Yeah, you may be into it. Give it a listen.”

He left again. Chris put the tape in his bag and Richard checked his watch.

“OK, gotta split soon, myself. You back at the flat tonight ?”

“Yeah, gotta stay sober for the interview, meeting thing.”

“Why you sweating it ? You’re a sure thing because, one, they really need a Spüler, and, two, they really need a Spüler. Another coffee ? Then I’ll have to go.”

Left alone, Chris read a bit of Dickens, starting in on the introduction, but couldn’t really concentrate. It was only an unskilled job, paying a basic wage, but money went a long way. A full week’s work would cover his rent and travel for the month, and there would be free food, as well.

But the job meant so much more. He still hadn’t told Monika about the studio closing and was terrified of her running into Al and him telling her. He had to get something, or he would certainly get something from his girlfriend who would instantly become his ex-girlfriend.

Pessoa and Kiarostami: The Disquiet of Close-Up

25th February 2021

Fernando Pessoa - Revista ESTANTE
Doc on life of Abbas Kiarostami to go on screen in Tehran - Tehran Times

Serendipity – I only recently became aware of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935) while watching a YouTube video on modernity in literature. The video mentioned some of my favourite writers of the early C20th namely Camus and Kafka, as well as Pessoa.

Despite a lifetime of reading; pulp, poetry, popular, philosophy (OK, enough alliteration) literature and drama, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of authors I haven’t read, authors of whom I’m not even aware. Therefore, when Pessoa was grouped with other authors I’ve read and love, I had to investigate … and what a story. In fact, before one reads Pessoa, one needs to read about him, his lifestyle and writing habits.

Firstly, Pessoa adopted different personalities under which to write. Instead of simply using a pseudonym, Pessoa became these ‘writers’, each one having individual characteristics, and he coined the term heteronym to explain his system. Pessoa wrote poetry under different heteronyms however, his most famous work is ‘The Book of Disquiet’, unpublished for 47 years after the author’s death. This book is credited to the heteronym Bernardo Soares.

Mua The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics) trên Amazon Mỹ chính hãng 2021  | Fado
The Penguin Classics edition

Not unlike his Czech contemporary Dr Franz Kafka, Pessoa spent his working life in an office, burdened by the drudgery of routine, dreaming of writing yet seeing very little success in his lifetime. More information can be found on these Wikipedia sites:

For ‘The Book of Disquiet’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Disquiet

For Pessoa’s life: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernando_Pessoa

So, the plot … there isn’t one. The book, nearly 800 pages on my online version, is comprised of various musings, ramblings, sketches, observations, poetry in prose, diary-like entries and endless pathetic fallacy; it seems to be always about to rain, to be raining or has just stopped raining.

The topography of Pessoa’s Lisbon is also extremely limited; his office, his flat and his local restaurant. This short video encapsulates his environment succinctly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gsOAKWBuuo&ab_channel=TurismodeLisboaVisitors%26ConventionBureau

The style of the book means that one can just open at random, read in reverse order or return to it after reading other books. Personally, I find that I read maybe ten – fifteen pages at a time, although some pages may just contain a single sentence. It’s like poetry, each section is densely packed with meaning and significance; to race through it would be to miss the view and it’s the journey that has the meaning … not simply reaching the destination.

I just wish to add a couple of extracts that appealed to me.

Entry 84 (p. 148 online version), Pessoa quotes the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund (1368 – 1437):

“It is told of Sigismund, King of Rome, that when someone pointed out a grammatical mistake he had made in a speech, he answered, ‘I am King of Rome and above all grammar.’ … Every man who knows how to say what he has to say is, in his own way, King of Rome.”

Entry 269 (p. 387), Pessoa, another vociferous reader, refers to Charles Dickens:

“One of my life’s greatest tragedies is to have already read The Pickwick Papers. (I can’t go back and read them for the first time.)

THE PICKWICK PAPERS (illustrated, complete, and unabridged) - Kindle  edition by DICKENS, CHARLES. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @  Amazon.com.

Coincidentally, I am also working my work through the complete Christmas Stories by Dickens, an author I consider one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Meanwhile, while devoting time to focus on Iranian cinema, I watched the 1990 film ‘Close-Up’ by one of the most famous Iranian directors (possibly the most famous outside of Iran), Abbas Kiarostami (1940 – 2016), a filmmaker who uses Persian poetry in his films, and whose styles employs allegory and symbolism.

Close-Up (1990 film) - Wikipedia
‘Close-Up’, often appearing in Best Film polls, notable the Sight & Sound Top 50 films poll of 2012

As with Pessoa, we have a film that doesn’t fit into a neat genre (fiction, documentary, re-enactment). Allow me to explain, and at least with the film, we have a story, if not a plot.

Abbas Kiarostami quote: The film [Close Up] made itself, to a large  extent...

Hossain Sabzian is struggling to make his way, and escapes into cinema, identifying with downtrodden protagonists such as the eponymous ‘Cyclist‘ (1987) by Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

On a bus ride, a fellow passenger notices that Sabzian is reading ‘The Cyclist’ screenplay, and asks where she can buy a copy. Sabzian gives the book to her, claiming to be the writer and director Makhmalbaf. From here, Sabzian gets to meet her family, and is invited to their home which he says could be used in a future film.

The pretend director begins examining the house and garden, as if setting up shots. He is almost caught out when he is informed that one of his films has just won a prestigious prize abroad, of which he is ignorant. However Sabzian, thinking very quickly, says that the prize was for the music score, and not down to him. Finally, a reporter friend shows the family a photograph of the real director; the police are called and the imposter is arrested.

This is not fiction; it all really happened.

Norman Holland on Abbas Kiarostami, Close-Up, Nema-ye Nazdik

At this stage, Kiarostami became involved, interviewing Sabzian in prison.

Can't Explain: Close-Up (1990)

Then, in documentary style, or news reportage, we see the director asking permission for the trial to be filmed, permission which is granted. What differentiates this film is that Kiarostami then got the real-life protagonists to re-enact the situation, from the meeting on the bus to the arrest.

The Film Sufi: "Close-Up" - Abbas Kiarostami (1990)
The real Ahankhah family in their home

So, it’s not a documentary per se, as the characters are recreating scenes, knowing how they will play out (of course, there are famous examples of documentaries using recreation or the staging of ‘real’ scenes), it’s not fiction or, as is so often seen, ‘based on a true story’ … it is a true story.

To go back to my earlier point, we have story but no plot that is, no psychological motivation for Sabzian’s deception.

One of the sons claims that the fraud was perpetrated in order to ‘stake out’ the house, see what was worth stealing and how to gain entry. Sabzian strenuously denies this. Conversely, there are no doctors to give an evaluation on Sabzian’s mental health. Is he a criminal, acting delusional, or a person in need of help, caught in a delusion that escaped his control ? The audience, like the judge, can only rely on the facts, what happened, not what could have happened.

Thus, although guilty of deception, Sabzian appears contrite and, having no previous record, is pardoned by the Ahankhah family providing he use this opportunity to change his life and become a productive member of society. The film ends with the real Mohsen Makhmalbaf driving Sabzian back to the house to greet the family and apologise.

The Cinematheque / Close-Up

I hope you can pardon this heavily condensed synopsis of a very nuanced and rewarding film. ‘Close-Up’ is an absolute ‘must see’ film for cineastes and, like all works of art, requires repeat viewing(s).

If I have inspired anyone to look for Pessoa’s work, or to watch the Kiarostami movie, then I can consider this blog a success.

Thank you all for reading – please stay safe and well

IELTS 5- 6.5: All you need is love … and relative pronouns

25th September 2019

Tonight I want to focus on forming complex sentences in order to boost the speaking prowess of my students. Being able to speak in long sentences, with subordinate clauses and relative pronouns, linked by appropriate discourse markers, will improve their scores in the speaking tests, along with use of stress, intonation, chunking, and a liberal smattering of expressions and vernacular, thereby demonstrating a familiarity with different uses of English.

So, without further ado … complex sentences. Let’s kick off with some basic information about my friend Pete:

Pete (left) with drummer Kenny Jones of The Small Faces & The Who

Pete’s family are Irish. He was born in Kent, south England. He loves music especially Jazz and he can play saxophone, keyboards, guitar and bass. He is 40 years old. He is bald, and wears glasses. Currently he plays bass in a band called ‘The Deep Six’. They have a video on YouTube. In the photo, Pete is with the famous 60s drummer Kenny Jones. He was in The Small Faces. Later he joined The Who after their original drummer died.

Example:

Pete, who was born in Kent in the south of England, is of Irish heritage. Although he is just forty, Pete looks older, probably due to the fact that he is bald, as well as having to wear glasses. His great passion in life is music, especially Jazz, but his interest is not merely passive; he plays several instruments. In addition to saxophone and keyboards, Pete is proficient on guitar. Having said that, he actually plays bass now in a band named The Deep Six, who have a video on YouTube. Pete is seen here with the legendary drummer Kenny Jones who rose to fame in the 60s as drummer for chart-topping band The Small Faces before joining The Who following the death of their original drummer.

And here is said video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-_u-W_3jWk&list=LLfquznE0joCgmA3v1PIQ0CQ&index=6&t=0s

I am sure if you watch the video, give it a ‘thumbs up’ and ‘like’, Pete will be tickled pink.

Now, a quick practice:

This is Wei Minzhi. She was born near Beijing. She was chosen to be in a Chinese film called ‘Not One Less’. She was 13. She played a substitute teacher but had no experience teaching (and no experience acting). The area is very poor. Some of the children have to leave school to work. The film was shown all over Europe, even at special film festivals. She was famous. She did no more acting. She studied in USA. She lives in Hawaii. Wei is married and has two children.

Students have five minutes to reorganise this information into a style more suited to an IELTS student.

Now – a Socratic activity; students are arranged in small groups, selected by choosing a card (Ace, 2 or 3), given a task and have to collate information and present it to the class, utilising the resources available, namely internet for facts, images or videos. Let’s revisit some old friends; first one of my favourite authors, Dr Franz Kafka:

Image result for kafka

Born: 1883 Prague, Czech Republic (at the time, part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) // Died 1924 in Austria. Never married, engaged twice. Had three sisters. Was vegetarian. Difficult relationship with his father. Famous for writing, but only produced three novels, all of which were published after his death. Most famous of these is ‘The Trial’ which has a famous opening line, “Somebody must have made a false accusation against Joseph K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.” This book is seen as a warning about totalitarian governments. He lived in Prague which is Czech and Protestant, but he spoke and wrote in German, and he was Jewish. He is one of the most influential writers of the Twentieth Century, and his name has become an adjective, ‘Kafkaesque’ meaning impenetrable, convoluted, mysterious and unsolvable. More information can easily be found online, for example:

https://www.dw.com/en/franz-kafka-the-trial/a-45774582

Now let’s turn to John Lennon, seen here with his Japanese wife, Yoko Ono (also an artist, but more avant-garde).

Image result for john lennon

John was born in Liverpool, during World War II, in 1940. Liverpool was a port, so was a target for German bombers. He grew up very poor. At school he was rebellious, but liked art. When he first heard Rock ‘n’ Roll, he knew he had to be a singer. He formed The Beatles. His guitar playing was enthusiastic but basic. He wrote many songs which have become classics. When The Beatles split up in 1970 he went solo. His most famous solo work is the ‘Imagine’ LP. The title track has the lyric, “Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too.” He protested against the war in Vietnam. He was shot in 1980 outside of his New York apartment. He has two sons, Julian by his first wife, and Sean from Yoko.

The third group will get NO help from me – they shouldn’t need it. Their subject is “the father of the Indo-Chinese people, and his name is Ho Chi Minh.”

Image result for Uncle Ho

This task involves the students working together, assigning tasks, then producing and presenting their report. All members of the team have to speak. Furthermore, they should be encouraged to use English during the preparation stage, only resorting to Vietnamese for clarification or translation of new words.

Quick end game: After the book work, which I have to teach, my hands are tied, we can unwind with some speaking practice.

Using discourse markers: I give teams two words which they have to incorporate into a sentence, for example ‘therefore‘ and ‘subsequently‘.

having said that & furthermore

moreover & consequently

initially & eventually

likewise & specifically

meanwhile & notwithstanding

on the whole & instead

What Difference Does It Make ? : I give students a paper with two words or phrases that are related but different. They have to clarify the distinction, for example

teacher / headmaster

educate / bring up

take an exam / retake an exam

do homework / do housework

quite common / ubiquitous

required subject / optional subject

similarity with / disparity between

skim / extrapolate

And to play us out, let’s go back to John Lennon and his iconic song, ‘Imagine’. The music starts around 0:40:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkgkThdzX-8

Nothing to kill or die for … Peace xx

Adult Class, Level 3 (mixed): You practice what I preach.

17th September for 23rd September. AEF 3 pp. 50 – 51

Last week, we covered past tense – simple, continuous and perfect. However, that is a lot to take in, especially for students who are not so confident. Looking at charts and learning the jargon can be daunting and far too theoretical.

This problem has long been identified and addressed; grammar, as theory, reduced to a minimal. Grammar, used in writing and more importantly speaking, maximised.

Therefore, my policy in this block of lessons (four per block) is to reduce book work, simplify the theory and try to allocate at least half the lesson to student-talking time.

Last night’s lesson seemed to work well; the Socratic approach which makes the students collect information and then collate it into a presentation. This was followed by students reading to each other in small groups, with some useful expressions to use … and repeat and repeat and …yeah, you get the idea.

Let’s go to work !

Image result for go to work

But first, back to basics. Some students are not fluent in the three forms of basic verbs:

Grammar – verb practice

Here’s the 15 most common:

infinite \ present // past // past participle (verb 3)

1to bewas werebeen
2to havehadhad
3to dodiddone
4to saysaidsaid
5to gowentgone
6to getgotgot/gotten
7to makemademade
8to knowknewknown
9to thinkthoughtthought
10to taketooktaken
11to seesawseen
12to comecamecome
13to wantwantedwanted
14to useusedused
15to findfoundfound

Regular verbs, just add -‘ed’. However, as you see, in this list only one common verb, ‘want’, is regular.

NOTE: ‘to be’ is different: I am hungry You are hungry She is hungry.

Now, practice: In groups of three or four, they have to ask each other questions in order to feel more natural using the past tense. Lets’s start simply with the simple past:

What did you do today ? PAST SIMPLE

Each student takes turns describing their day. Always give ideas, as some students spent too much time thinking of what to say, whereas the purpose is to speak.

Related image
Related image
Image result for go to school
Image result for easy rider bike
Related image

I will also board: buy / drink / surf the internet / help parents / cook / do homework

To make it more interactive, the students can ask follow-up questions, such as, “What did you eat for lunch ?”, “What time did you start school ?”, “How did you get to work or school ?” etc. Groups can monitor each other to make sure past tense is being used properly.

NEXT: Past Continuous. Subject was doing something in the past ….

Example: Last night I was listening to T-ara:

Image result for T-ar

However, we usually use past continuous to say we were doing something WHEN something new happened.

EXAMPLE: I was listening to T-ara when someone knocked on my door.

The structure is Subject + was or were + verbing, followed by past simple

Try this: dream // alarm clock ring

He was dreaming when the alarm clock rang.

Now – practice: Make a sentence from these pairs of photos:

Image result for reading
Image result for telephone ring
Related image
Image result for rain
Image result for angry teacher
Image result for pulp fiction jules eating
Image result for pulp fiction honey bunny

Finally, the past perfect. Two things happened in the past, one before the other.

Image result for Kafka
Image result for Berlin 1920

The students ‘met’ Dr Kafka last week.

Dr Franz Kafka had lived all his life in Prague until he moved to Berlin in the 1920s.

Subject + has or had + verb 3 then use past simple.

Try these:

John Lennon – in The Beatles / goes solo in 1970

Image result for john lennon beatles
Image result for john lennon imagine

Dali – paint over 1 500 paintings / dies 1989

Image result for dali
Image result for dali tomb

Bringing it closer to home, Bac Ho (Uncle Ho Chi Minh) – work London / meet these young Germans.

Image result for uncle ho in Paris
Image result for uncle ho in russia

Finally, for presentation, the students can be arranged in four groups (draw playing cards so students work with new partners). I will give them ten minutes to work together and make a short presentation, with all members speaking, about the above four historical figures. Those who draw Ho Chi Minh should have an advantage, so I will be expecting more from them.

Presentations should include:

Date and place of birth.

Why there are famous

Give examples of their most famous works or activities

Where they lived

When and how they died.

ALSO – why we should remember them.

Then, I will turn to the books and hand-outs, before returning to some speaking practice before the end.