Biographical Log of Michael Furstner - Page 119

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Wednesday & Thursday, October 21 & 22 2009 (diary)

E M Forster A single simply idea is like a seed, from which new thoughts, discoveries, awarenesses can grow into different directions like the branches of a tree.
Here is such an idea from E M Forster as expressed in his (1910) novel Howards End :

"Under cosmopolitanism, if it comes, we shall receive no help from the earth. Trees and meadows and mountains will only be a spectacle, and the binding force that they once exercised on character must be entrusted to Love alone. May Love be equal to the task."

For centuries populations, communities, families, lived generation after generation after generation in the same place, sometimes even in the same home. Life was determined and individual "character" was formed by the so familiar, surrounding landscape, not merely a backdrop but rather the backbone of the community.
From the days of Columbus however this gradually started to change. First by trickles of emigration to the Americas, later Australia, and by the administration of conquered colonies in the underdeveloped world. Then, during the industrial revolution, came the exodus from the country to the cities, and finally after the two World Wars the massive movements over international and global distances facilitated by cheap air travel.

I have experienced this shift (from "place" to "Love") in my own personal life too. From my childhood up to my 29th year Martinshof was always my home base, my "anchor" to the world. I knew every rabbit track, blackberry bush, mushroom spot, chestnut tree in our woods and was on intimate terms with several trees I loved to climb in.

Just arrived in Australia, 1966 Then (in 1965) I lifted anchor and with my wife and young daughter migrated to Australia. Instantly Martinshof became a distant memory and my new anchor in life truly became my family (after a few years extended to 4 through the birth of our son). We became a tightly knit loving unit, and as long as we were together that was "home", no matter where we were at the time. During the next 15 years of our marriage we shifted half a dozen times over huge distances and into wildly different environments. We enjoyed all these new places, because we were together.

"Cosmopolitanism", as Forster defines it, is here to stay. But have we really abandoned the earth and rely on Love alone to nourish our character ? I don't believe so. Rather than tightly holding onto (tying ourselves to) one small spot on earth, approaching the stationary existence of a tree, we have changed our lifestyle of a nature halfway towards those of migratory birds, or whales which roam the world over vast distances.
Rather than exposing our "character" to just one relatively small area on earth, we are now able to be influenced by as much of the world as we desire. In the process we are becoming the wiser and more aware for it, as well as becoming more reliant on the "love" for our fellow man. That will ultimately become a good thing for all of us.

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Friday, October 23 2009 (diary)

Back in the 1940s and 50s, when smoking was as yet not recognised as a health hazard (although I privately sometimes wondered), there was etiquette and much romance surrounding cigarettes and tobacco. Just after the war (WW2) cigarets (together with American chewing gum) were a prized luxury much in demand by just about everybody.
Cigarets had magical names, for us in Holland especially English (Craven A, Players, Senior Service, Pall Mall) and American brands (Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, Camel), but these overseas brands were very expensive and I always stuck to the more mondain local brands (Roxy, Peter Stuyvesant) or rolled my own from the (sailor's favourite) strong, dark, stringy "haar van de weduwe" (the widow's hair) manufactured by Douwe Egberts.

Stories from Galicia 2 continues from October 21, 2008
Later, at Leiden in our University Students Corps, we were taught etiquette rules about smoking with stringent DOs and DON'Ts which could make or break your image amongst your peers.

  1. Never light a cigarette with a lighter, always use matches.

  2. Never place burnt out matches back in their box, always throw them away.

  3. Never hold a cigaret in your mouth while lighting someone elses cigaret.

Spanish version of the French Gauloises As a Geology student in Spain I thoroughly enjoyed the shear romance surrounding cigarets.
The cheapest Spanish brand on the market was Celtas, cigarets of very roughly cut tobacco (frequently including tobacco leaf veins) rolled in yellowish paper (like these Gitanes on the adjacent photo).
I quite liked these, smoked them most of the time, and once caused considerable consternation and commentary from my fellow students when I offered one to our Professor Emile den Tex when he visited us on his annual inspection tour in Galicia.
Next in hierarchy were Gitanes (in either white or yellow paper), the Spanish equivalent in style and taste to the French Gauloises. The up market Spanish national brand was Bisonte contained in a glossy, American style package, quite acceptable in taste.

The ultimate in smoking ecstasy in Spain however were American cigarets (Chesterfield, Lucky Strike and Camel), not imported through the regular channels but smuggled in as contraband by the numerous vessels arriving at the various small ports on Spain's North coast. These were exclusively sold "under the counter" in every self respecting pub in the country (and much cheaper than in Holland).
For me there was no greater joy than to casually lean on the bar counter, wink at the bar man with a knowing look and then whisper behind my hand "Chester por favor". Upon which the barman, after a cautious quick look left and right, would reach under the counter and, covered under the palm of his hand, offer me a packet of Chesterfield.

Lucky Strike cigarettes But wait, there is more !!   If buying a packet of "Chester" or "Lucky" was Heaven, lighting a cigaret in Spain was almost as good.
The two most prized possessions (in those days) of any country Spaniard and us Geology students alike, were his botta and his labourer's lighter (Spanish name ?? I forgot).
Bottas then were the genuine pigskin article (not those horrible plastic tourist ones you buy today), the skin turned inside out, with the bristles tarred. You needed to cure the inside with red wine for a week or so before the tar taste had disappeared and the wine was drinkable, but after that the botta would last you for a lifetime of pleasure (provided you kept it filled and not let dry out).

The labourer's lighter was a magical instrument. It consisted of a thin hollow brass (?) rod, just over half a centimeter in diameter and 5 cm (2 inches) high. On top of it, on the side was a 1cm diameter toothed wheel, which, when struck with a flat hand, produced a spark from the metal flint underneath that ignited the top of the wick protruding from the hollow rod. You blew on the wick to increase its ember with which you then lighted your cigaret. The wick was typically 50-60 cm (2 feet) long and encased in a tight yellow mashed "stocking". You rolled the wick in a special way in a coil so that it did not extend longer than about 8 cm (3 inches) from underneath the lighter's metal rod. As you used the lighter the wick (and coil) would reduce in length over time.

My road labourer friend Peppe (who was in charge of a 7 km stretch of dirt road halfway between Carballo and Santiago de Compostela) always proudly called his lighter contra viento y marea ("against wind and weather"), which indeed it was.   Back in Holland us Geology students would always carry our contra viento in our pockets at official balls, and, dressed in immaculate black tails, light our ladies' cigarets with it with great showmanship and pride. Our contra vientos were always considered well above the otherwise strict etiquette rules.

For over 20 years I carried with me from those days the cover of an empty packet of Lucky Strikes on which (in 1959) a lovely and very attractive Spanish young lady which I met at a Fiesta in Caión, had written her name : Maria Luz Pet Morales. After that wonderful Fiesta (now 50 years ago) I never met her again.
Stories from Galicia continues on November 24, 2009

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Saturday & Sunday, October 24 & 25 2009 (diary)

Brooch by Chris Steenbergen, 1950s Yesterday's story was brought on from reading another one of Arturo Pérez-Reverte's adventure novels, The Nautical Chart, in which he refers to Celtas cigarettes as well as the labourer's lighter I attempted to describe in my Blog.

One of the secondary characters in the book is an old dyed in the wool sailor, El Piloto, who at several instances in the story expresses his wisdom about women, largely based on his experiences in the numerous bars and brothels he had visited throughout the world during his life.

Nude, by Malveen White, 

2009They are of a crude sailor's humour and of course over generalised in nature, but they do reflect some devastatingly bold thoughts worth contemplating.
I will give you two of El Piloto's observations, made by him as well as by me now here, with feelings of goodwill, love and (often) awe for women in general, without any ill intention. Here is the first one :

"There aren't any bad women. Just like there aren't any bad boats . . . . It's the men on board who make them one way or the other."

There is (in my view) certainly considerable truth in this statement. In humans, like most animal species on earth, it are by nature and evolution the males who dominate the females and as a consequence can have defining influence and effect on the building and nature of a female's character.   The interesting question I immediately ask myself then is :

"Where do bad men come from, are they born that way ?"

In general I certainly don't believe that is so. Instead in nature (within the natural force field of species propagation and evolution : "survival of the fittest") it are the males who compete (and where required) fight with one another for the right to mate with females. This creates inherent deep rooted insecurity in many males, which in turn makes them prone (influenced by living environment or male peer group) to become bad bullies or (physically, sexually or mentally) abusive of females.

Here is El Piloto's second (sorry, very crude) observation : "There are women," he maintains "who have strange ideas in their head, like others have gonorrhea.   And what they do is come along and give it to you."

Once you have recovered and can look beyond the coarseness of El Piloto'sstatement, you may perhaps become aware of an example of its fundamental proposition. I, for one, have no farther to look than, surprise surprise, my very own mother.
My mother, early 1930s After my father's sudden death in 1981, my mother on several occasions repeatedly impressed on me that it had been she (and not my father) who had had the political National Socialistic ideals prior to and during World War 2.
My father (she said) had largely out of solidarity and love for her joined the Dutch National Socialist Party (the NSB), resulting in imprisonment in concentration camps immediately after the war and subsequent social retributions which to some degree continued for the rest of their lives.

My mother grew up as a young woman amongst the German euphoria and regained National pride under Adolf Hitler's National Socialist rule during the 1930s. It was, especially for young people, a wonderful time full of ideals and National purpose. My mother, as captain of the local women's hockey team, traveling all around the country prior to the 1936 Olympic Games, felt, I am sure, an integral part of it.

My father, through his lengthy stays in London, Paris and Germany, must have seen the difference between the still depressed UK and France and the bustling and thriving new Germany. But, after long contemplation over many years, I now do believe that my mother was right, and that it was she (above all) who induced him to take sides in 1939. My father, although idealistic in nature, was never a very politically minded type of person.

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