Books postsTuesday July 08, 2014
Stefan Zweig's Laments About His Time Speak to Ours
Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was inspired, so the credits say, by the writings of Stefan Zweig, an early 20th century Austrian writer of whom I had read approximately zilch. So during our recent trip to Prague, Vienna and Salzburg, I brought along his memoir, “The World of Yesterday.” Appropriate. Zweig grew up in Vienna and lived in Salzburg, and it was fun reading Zweig's thoughts about places we'd visited the same day.
What caught me by surprise about the memoir, though, was how often his time, and all that was lost by 1941, speaks to ours, and all that we've lost by 2014. Particularly in matters of politics.
There's this, for example:
... even the political and social movements [of the 19th century] were free of the terrible hatred which has penetrated the arteries of our time as a poisonous residue of the First World War. In the old Austria they still strove chivalrously, they abused each other in the news and in the parliament, but at the conclusion of their ciceronian tirades the selfsame representatives sat down together in friendship with a glass of beer or a cup of coffee, and called each other Du.
I've heard the same from many U.S. politicians about Congress after the 1994 midterms.
One did not look down at tolerance as one does today as weakness and softness, but rather praised it as an ethical force.
Political parties (often represented by flowers) sprang up everywhere (like wildflowers). Violence was expected from the socialists (red carnation) but came the German National Party (the blue cornflower), which, weak in the city and strong in the countryside, feels reminiscent of today's Tea Party:
... the German National Party had its followers in the Bohemian and Alpine border districts: weak in numbers, it compensated its unimportance by wild aggression and unbridled brutality.
My favorite bits, though, thus far anyway, tend to be non-political: how Zweig and his gymnasium friends found and adored writers like Rainer Marie Rilke and Paul Valery before the cultural establishment; and how Zweig ignored his dull schoolwork so he could read exciting new writers like Frederich Nietzsche.
John Wayne By Your Bed
Another from Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:
No matter how petulant he could be, his employees stayed with him for decades, the same way the public did. The reasons are best conveyed by a story told by Tom Kane, whose wife, Ruth, was in the Motion Picture Home dying of cancer. ...
One morning at 9:15, Kane’s phone rang. It was his wife, sounding like she did before she got sick.
“My God, you sound great,” said Kane.
“Well, how would you feel if you woke up in the morning and John Wayne was standing by your bed?” She went on to explain that Wayne had stayed for more than an hour talking to her. Before he left, he had brushed her hair.
All Men Want to Be John Wayne But John Wayne Wanted to Be Fred Astaire
Again, from Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:
Wayne told [his would-be biographer Wayne] Warga that he always wanted to be Fred Astaire, and he demonstrated by launching into “Putting on the Ritz.” He danced, remembered the writer, “with all the grace of a freight elevator.”
A Message from John Wayne to Bill O'Reilly
From Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:
“If you had an opinion about something, he wanted you to state it,” said the character actor Ed Faulkner, who made six pictures with him. “He did not like yes-men. Even if he disagreed with you, he’d want to hear your argument. And he might say ‘I don’t agree with you,’ but he would always let you say your piece."
Why America Will Lose the War
I thought of this scene from Joseph Heller's novel “Catch-22” while watching the Swedish dark comedy “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” at SIFF on Sunday night. The discussion is between an old Italian man in a brothel in Rome, and Nately, a romantic, patriotic American:
“America,” he said, “will lose the war. And Italy will win it.”
“America is the stongest and most prosperous nation on earth,” Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. “And the American fighting man is second to none.”
“Exactly,” agreed the old man pleasantly, with a hint of taunting amusement. “Italy, on the other hand, is one of the least properous nations on earth. And the Italian fighting man is probably second to all. And that's exactly why my country is doing so well in this war while your country is doing so poorly.”
“I'm sorry I laughed at you. But Italy was occupied by the Germans and is now being occupied by us. You don't call that doing very well, do you?”
“But of course I do,” exclaimed the old man cheerfully. “The Germans are being driven out, and we're still here. In a few years, you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is really a very poor and weak country, and that's what makes us so strong. Italian soldiers are not dying anymore. But American and German soldiers are. I call that doing extremely well. Yes, I'm quite certain Italy will survive this war and still be in existence long after your own country has been destroyed.”
Review up later.
Nately (Art Garfunkel) and the old Italian man in Mike Nichols' movie version. Sidenote: Garfunkel's casting and filming in Mexico led Paul Simon to pen “The Only Living Boy in New York.”
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard