Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong and Leni Riefenstahl!
One day at the American Library in Paris, I looked through the stacks at books and in the margins found one marked up with comments.
It turns out this was a book donated by Marlene Dietrich.
Evidently it came from her estate and I found this New Yorker article which gives the history.
From the New Yorker: The actress Marlene Dietrich spent the last ten years of her life bedridden, in her apartment on Avenue Montaigne, in Paris, refusing to see old acquaintances and avoiding photographers. In her biography of Dietrich, her only daughter, Maria Riva, wrote that her mother’s legs “withered. Her hair, chopped short haphazardly in drunken frenzies with cuticle scissors, was painted with dyes.” She surrounded herself with a hot plate, telephone, scotch—and books.
She coped with isolation by running up a three-thousand-dollar-a-month phone bill and reading everything from potboilers to the pillars of the Western canon. She consumed poetry, philosophy, novels, biographies, and thrillers—in English, French, and her native tongue, German. When she died, in May, 1992, her grandson Peter Riva was tasked with clearing out nearly two thousand books from her apartment, many of which arrived at the American Library in Paris.
Simon Gallo, the library’s former head of collections, told me recently that only a few hours separated Riva’s initial phone call and the arrival of a truckload of books at the library’s back door. A portion of Dietrich’s collection was given to the Film Museum in Berlin, and some items—such as her personal copies of “Mein Kampf” and first editions of Cecil Beaton—were sold to private collectors. Many books donated to the American Library were simply marked with a bookplate and put into circulation. As of 2006, students could still check out Dietrich’s personal copy of “The Collected Works of Shakespeare.”
Dietrich’s books are full of marginalia. She usually scrawled it in English, and with red ink.
Hemingway and Dietrich met on an ocean liner, in 1934, and conducted a thirty-year, sexually charged correspondence, which ended only with his suicide, in 1961. Hemingway sent drafts of his work for Dietrich to read, including his stories “Across the River and Into the Trees,” “The Good Lion,” and “The Faithful Bull.” He once wrote that the two were “victims of unsynchronized passion.” Though their letters were provocative, and Hemingway once detailed an image of Dietrich “drunk and naked,” their intimacy was, according to her grandson Peter Riva, “cerebral.” Her personal German dictionary has only one underlined word—the term of endearment by which Hemingway addressed her in his letters: “kraut.”
Cara - Tuesday
I met Alison Taylor first online, thanks to our mutual friend Mike Linane (who makes a cameo appearance in my Idol of Mombasa, as the Deputy Treasurer of British East Africa). Last year's Icelandic Noir give me an opportunity to spend time in person with both of them. Born in Yorkshire to Scottish Parents, Alison studied at the University of St. Andrews and has taught English at the His School level and as a second language in Finland and Switzerland. Today she is introducing us to the background behind her debut novel. Take it away, Alison.
inspire novels, and this is definitely the case with my first book, Sewing the
Shadows Together. Portobello, the seaside suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland’s
capital city, is the setting for much of the book and is where the idea for the
book first came to me.
Portobello is a
beautiful small town on the Firth of Forth, with a wide sandy beach edged by a
long promenade. When I was a child I spent my summer holidays there because my
grandparents lived in a grey-stone Victorian villa close to the prom. It was a
very special place for me; I loved playing on the beach and learnt to swim in
the red-stone public baths. Later, after university and teacher training, I was
thrilled when my first teaching post was at Portobello High School. Then after
my sons were born I lived up in Edinburgh, but we still visited my granny every
weekend and always walked along the beach, whatever the weather. Looking out
over the water to the huge sky, smelling the salt air and feeling the wind on
my face always made me feel at home.
happened that has cast a shadow over the name of Portobello to this day. In
July 1983 a five-year-old girl disappeared while playing on the prom. Her body wasn’t
found until twelve days later, three hundred miles away. She was one of the
victims of the serial killer, Robert Black.
In the days before
she was found the atmosphere in Portobello was charged with fear and
bewilderment. The whole town was on edge, desperately hoping the little girl
would be found. Rumours and suspicions ran through the community, and even my granny’s
garden and shed were searched by the police,
Like many others I
was deeply affected by the tragedy, even though I didn’t know the family. I could
identify with them so much as my sons were about the same age and we had often
played near the place where she disappeared. I wondered then how her family and
friends would ever be able to come to terms with what had happened.
And so the seeds of Sewing the Shadows
Together were sown. In it the lives of Tom, the brother, and Sarah, the best
friend, of a teenage girl murdered in Portobello are scarred by the tragedy for
many years afterwards.
I didn’t actually
write the book for more than thirty years, as I was teaching, bringing up my
family and I also moved to Switzerland, where I now live. However, the story
was gradually forming in the back of my mind and when I stopped working
full-time I eventually wrote it.
The book opens
with Tom walking along Portobello prom. He has returned to his birthplace after
many years in South Africa, where his family emigrated after the tragedy in an
attempt to escape their memories. At a school reunion he meets Sarah again and
when the man convicted of the murder is proved innocent, they are drawn closer
together as suspicion falls on family and friends in the search for the real
Other places and
events also influenced the story. A few years ago I made a very moving journey
to the Outer Hebrides, the island chain off the north-west coast of Scotland.
The ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered in a simple ceremony on
Bonnie Prince Charlie beach on the island of Eriskay. The memory of the family
gathering silently, silhouetted against the setting sun, is one which will always
remain etched in my memory.
Without my really
being aware of it, this incident became part of my book, as Tom goes to Eriskay
to scatter his mother’s ashes on the island where she was born. The wild beauty
of the Western Isles, with its long beaches, biting winds and empty landscape,
combined with the stoical charm of the people I met there, made a huge
impression on me. The atmosphere there helped me to form the character of Tom,
and this section of the book, where he discovers dark secrets about his
family’s past, is one where the setting perfectly reflects the action.
Whenever I go back
to Scotland I walk along Portobello prom, like Tom does at the beginning of
Sewing the Shadows Together, and even as I write this, sitting in Switzerland, I
yearn to go back to there or to one of the Scottish islands. My heart will
always be in Scotland, but when I’m here in Switzerland I walk the streets and
the shores of the country I love through my writing and reading.
“So, what should I write about this week,” he said.
“The subway,” came bouncing back from his muse.“The new Q-line.”
For what seems a decade we’ve been skirting around the massive
construction project at the bottom of our Upper Eastside street that had
necessitated leveling a couple of classic shops on East 72nd Street,
and destroyed the business of several others.
The plywood barriers, construction trailers, five lanes narrowed to
two, cranes, hardhat worksite dictates, and posted public relations assurances
that the new Second Avenue subway would open on time had become part of the
background to the neighborhood.
Then suddenly, on January 1, it opened!Just as promised and (allegedly) within
budget.The streets were quiet, clean,
and uncluttered again, while through an elegant, unobtrusive entrance streams
of folks went in and out at all times of the day.
Until then, they’d had to march four blocks south and two west to
catch the Lexington Avenue 6 train, a notoriously mobbed line running up and
down the east side of Manhattan.
Now they had an alternative, one connecting the eastside with the
west, as the first phase of construction promised to bring the same sort of
relief to other neighborhoods.
On Wednesday night I had my first chance to use the Q. In two stops,
and fifteen minutes door-to-door, we arrived at Carnegie Hall.Thursday night we had Knicks basketball
tickets and made it to Madison Square Garden in four stops and less than twenty
minutes.If we’d wanted to get off in the
theater district, it would have been but three stops.
New York lost to Washington.
Bottom line: bye-bye taxis and Uber, and hello MTA.Whoever came up with this new line deserves
extraordinary credit for expanding and enhancing mass transit use.
But wait, there’s more. Descent into the bowels of Manhattan at my
stop involves a six-story escalator ride down to the platform below. It’s a
surreal experience, offering an elevator for the vertigo inclined.
It's a long way down...and if you want to ride, click on the film clip below
But what will blow your mind is the artwork adorning the new station
walls (at 63rd, 72nd, 86th, and 96th
Streets). It’s a museum worthy experience.Here’s what the MTA has to say about its artwork.
Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, the Second Avenue
Subway’s Phase 1 artworks together comprise the largest permanent art
installation in New York history. These art installations represent the
vibrance and cultural diversity of New York—a city continually on the move.
Shin– 63rd Street:Elevated, 2017, Laminated glass,
glass mosaic, and ceramic tile
Jean Shin’s installation,Elevateduses archival photographs of the 2nd
and 3rd Avenue Elevated train to create compositions in ceramic tile, glass
mosaic, and laminated glass. The imagery is manipulated and re-configured and
each station level provides a unique focus, palette and material. At the 3rd
Avenue escalator, the view is filled with ceramic tile depicting construction
beams and the cranes that dismantled the El in the 1940s. At the 3rd Avenue
mezzanine, a mosaic reveals the sky where the train had previously been
present, and features images of people from the era in this neighborhood
transformation. The platform level features semitransparent and reflective
materials showing vintage scenes of the neighborhood, while enabling
contemporary viewers to see themselves in the cityscape of the past.
Strangersby Vik Muniz features more than three-dozen characters
created in mosaic and installed throughout the mezzanine and entrance areas,
populating the station with colorful images of all types of New Yorkers. The
main station entrance features a laminated glass canopy at street level depicting
a flock of birds, bringing art and nature to the busy location. Within the
expanse of the mezzanine concourse, the life size figures provide bursts of
color and visual interest and an opportunity for new discovery with every trip
through the station.
Chuck Close inSubway Portraitshas created twelve large-scale works
that are based on the artist’s painstakingly detailed photo-based portrait
paintings and prints. His various painting techniques have been interpreted in
ten works as mosaic, and in two as ceramic tile. The artworks measure close to
nine feet high and are placed on the walls at the station entrances and the
mezzanine concourse. The people portrayed are cultural figures that have
frequently been his subjects, including Philip Glass, Zhang Huan, Kara Walker,
Alex Katz, Cecily Brown, Cindy Sherman, and Lou Reed, as well as two distinct
Sze– 96th Street:Blueprint for a Landscape, 2017,
for a Landscapeby Sarah Sze
profoundly impacts the look of the station as her imagery is applied directly
to nearly 4300 unique porcelain wall tiles, spanning approximately 14,000
square feet. The designs feature familiar objects – sheets of paper,
scaffolding, birds, trees, and foliage – caught up in a whirlwind velocity that
picks up speed and intensity as the composition unfolds throughout the station
with references to energy fields and wind patterns. Each entrance features a
different shade of blue and a blueprint-style vector line design, a visual
theme that is integrated with the architecture.
I guess the bottom line to all this is simply that, despite everything
we sense as wrong with our government, there are some things it gets right. The Second Avenue Q line is surely that. Bravo
New York City.
Is technology making us stupid?
Well more stupid? Not a day goes past without reading something that says
Google is making us daft and the amount of social networking that goes on means
that we have forgotten how to talk to friends.We would rather chat to somebody invisible on the other side of the
world that we don’t know rather than nip round for a coffee. Go into any
restaurant and watch couples out fora
meal together, not speaking just scrolling through their phones as if there
might be something more interesting going on there.
I grew up in a house without a
phone.How on earth did we survive? I can count on the fingers of one hand the
times we really needed a phone- a quick sprint to old Mrs Jefferies and run the
gauntlet of her vicious budgie Polly- or Dad was sent out on his bike to the
nearest phone box.
People were better organised in
those days, you kept to a timetable in your life.Gran always expected us to appear at her door
at two o’clock on a Sunday and we went swimming on a Monday night. Mum worked
late on a Thursday andthat was the
night we got our weekly bar of chocolate ( Fry’s chocolate cream).Nowadays people phone each other from inside
Walmart/Asda and say ‘I’m at the fish I, meet you at the bananas in five
minutes.’Don’t get me started with
people who walk around Walmart/Asda in their pyjamas.
Don’t get me started ( or started
again as I’ve not stopped yet) on folk who walk dogs … well the dogs run around
and the owner stands in the path on their phone, talking crap….
This condition, the angst of what
technology might bedoing to us could be
referred to as ‘neuro anxiety’. Folk like me struggle with new gadgets and like
to take solace in the argument that it’s not good for us.However, in 370 BC Plato used the same
argument saying that the concept of the written word was dangerous because
people would stop using their memories.
So let’s look at a few examples.
Goldfish are now thought to
possess a rather impressive nine second attention span but before we feel smug
about that, the incessant bombardment of information and the need for instant answers
has seriously impacted our ability to focus.We now have an attention span less than a goldfish.And that’s official.
He may be as bright as his shiny scales.
And getting shorter.Microsoft proved that in a 2015 study using
electro encephalograms.I can understand
how they manage that experiment on their Canadian human subjects but how do they manage that on goldfish? I
wasthen wondering if a Canadian on a
mobile phone or a goldfish has a better chance of following the plot of
In last week's episode, the victim was killed by cricket balls
being fired from a bowling machine. The best use of a cricket
ball I have ever seen.
In the US, the centre of disease
prevention has shown that the percentage of children with ADHD has more than
doubled since 1990.I suppose a rubber
stamp on the report card might be in order. ‘They are easily distracted, must
pay more attention.’I got that a lot at
school, I didn’t have SDHD just some boring teachers….so the smart money might
be on the fact that technology might be responsible for this.
It’s also possible that gaming
activates the nucleus accumbens in the brain, the pleasure producing dopamine
centre.Men are now dying after excessive
bouts of gaming.They don’t eat, they
don’t sleep they just game away and die
of dehydration. Their brains on post
mortem show similar signs to any other addiction.
The key word in the above
paragraph is ‘men.’ Couldn’t find any reference
anywhere to female fatality while gaming.So these men who game for days on end, have they ever met or had any
physical contact with a lady person? Any person? Even a Canadian with a short
More interestingly German neuro
scientist Manfred Sptizer has pointed out that with numbers and facts and map
routes only a touch away, the human race is heading for ‘digital dementia’.There is a lack of true interaction with the
subject concerned and that affects the memory. I recall Hugh Laurie saying thatwhile filming House, he was a medical expert
on something for 30 minutes,then he
couldn’t remember a thing once the director had called ‘cut’. I do wonder about
people attending concerts and filming it on their phone (and indeed watching
the filming) instead of watching what they are filming - the show.And that is a different interactive experience.However, on the positive side, it can berelaxing and comforting to know that all that
other stuff, all that mundane detritus of life that nobody can be bothered
remembering, is safely stored away in
adigital recording, ready to ping when
it needs to be brought to your attention. Aha! Who do we have here??
Facebook however, while I am sure
it does work for some people, has a lot of negatives attached.One case study shows that Facebooking between
mother and daughter produces the stress hormone cortisol whereas face to face
reaction between the two produce the feel good hormone oxytocin. And for
mankind there has always been a reaction for a child to turn its head towards a
returning parent.That is now starting
to change with children fixed on their phone or their tablet instead of looking
up when somebody enters the living room. ( good for a plot if you think
about it to a deadly, Hammer horror type of conclusion).That fascination with tablets etc, and the rise of Facebook could be leading to
the human race losing their ability to face read signals, those little nuances
of stress and anxiety, secondary information on how the news you are giving is
being perceived and the early signal thatit might be better to change tack or rephrase before someone bursts into
tears or you get a slap in the kisser.
More interesting to us is maybe,
is the Norwegian experiment which proved
something I guess all authors know – that reading off a screen is a very
different experience to reading off paper.The brain interprets the information differently.Reading a good old fashioned novel, the
reader absorbs it and sees the word on the page as somebody would looking at an
old fashioned map.The shaping of the
word and the lettering is important and it feeds to a very deep understanding
of the text being displayed. The brain
takes time to soak it all up, and retain it. How often has an editor said ‘that
paragraph is too dense and too bulky’, ‘the dialogue is too sparse.’ Not only
is it not reading right, it doesn’t look right.People who read digitally skim read, their eyes tend to hunt for key
words and can very often miss the deeper, more subtle meaning of what the
writer is trying to convey.
So in case this blog is too subtle because you are reading it on screen,
I will summarise.
Men who spend all their money and
time gaming are less intelligent than goldfish. This also applies to Canadians. ( Just to be clear, I mean that rule also applies to Canadians not that Canadians are less intelligent than goldfish!!)
Women who need a feel-good hormone should stay
away from their laptop, eat chocolate and roll up on the settee with a furry
dog and a good book (not on Kindle).That should provide all the endorphins needed.If you want to add a wee bit of adrenaline
into the mix – read a crime novel. Here's one being published in February....