Monday, 30 October 2017

Read in 2017 - 34: Those Extraordinary Twins

Every now and then, I remember how much I actually like Mark Twain. Most people know his name in connection with books that have become classics: Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. They were the ones I associated with Mark Twain (i.e. Samuel Clemens) all during my childhood and youth, and only much later (in my forties, really) did I learn more about Twain and his work.

Sometimes you come across questions such as "Which person (from past, present or future) would you like to have dinner with?". Mark Twain would definitely be on my guest list!
There are two more reviews of books he wrote on my blog; simply type "Mark Twain" in the search box at the top left corner of my blog, if you want to read them.

Back to "Those Extraordinary Twins": This was a typical Mark Twain story. Absurdly comical in places, but with a sad undercurrent, and of course absolutely NOT politically correct for the average reader in 2017.

The book is mentioned in this wikipedia entry here. From it (and also from the story's own foreword), we learn that it is a spin-off of another story, Pudd'nhead Wilson.

Wikipedia says that "Twain originally envisioned the characters of Luigi and Angelo Capello as conjoined twins, modeled after the late-19th century Italian conjoined twins Giovanni and Giacomo Tocci [real-life conjoined twins]. He planned for them to be the central characters of a novel to be titled Those Extraordinary Twins.

During the writing process, however, Twain realized that secondary characters [...] were taking a more central role in the story. More importantly, he found that the serious tone of the story of Roxy and Tom clashed unpleasantly with the light tone of the twins' story. As he explains in the introduction to "Those Extraordinary Twins":
The defect turned out to be the one already spoken of – two stories on one, a farce and a tragedy. So I pulled out the farce and left the tragedy. This left the original team in, but only as mere names, not as characters.
"Those Extraordinary Twins" was published in 1894. For me, it was (of course) a free ebook at Amazon's Kindle store. I enjoyed the rather short read as a good example of Twain's way to express complex themes, not forgetting his humour, but I must admit there were some bits I expect a modern reader may find offensive. Seen in the light of when it was written, and taken with a pinch of salt (as you should always do when reading Twain), it is well worth some of your time.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

September Holiday: Black Forest, Day 4 - Late Afternoon

By late afternoon, we were back at the car. The weather was so beautiful and we knew we had to leave the next day, so we wanted to make the most of our time in this area while we could. So after coffees at a charming wooden kiosk in the sunshine, we drove to Schluchsee, a town and lake. What a difference the wide open sky and smooth water surface made to where we had been all day, clambering up and down narrow paths between high rocks deep in the gorge!

We even rented a small boat and had a little cruise on the water - we were the last to get one that day (still talking about the 21st of September), as the man owning the boats was closing up for the evening.

This panorama picture is O.K.'s; I have his permission to use it:

Schluchsee (the lake) is a reservoir at roughly 3,000 ft (930 m) above sea level. There was a smaller glacier lake there until a dam was built between 1929 and 1932. You can find out some more facts about Schluchsee here on wikipedia.

I am going to do a "wrap up" post about our September holiday soon. For now, I haven't go the time - my suitcase wants packing, as I am going to spend the weekend and the first half of next week at O.K.'s (there are two public holidays in Germany next week!). Let me end this post with a picture from one of our hikes around Zurich; it looks rather Halloweenish, doesn't it? But those of you who have been reading my previous posts will know that it is nothing spooky at all :-)

And for a cosy Saturday afternoon, here are coffees and cakes for you! 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

September Holiday: Black Forest, Day 4 Continued

Let's go back to our hike on the 21st of September. This post continues right where the next-to-last one ends. After the former mill, the path went round a bend and lead us to the last of the three gorges we wanted to walk in: Enge Schlucht. The name means "Narrow Gorge", and narrow it was!

Of all the hikes we had been doing, this last part was the most challenging, and after a while, we did not meet a single soul anymore, and did not wonder why - the path was very narrow, rather slippery, sometimes steep, and at times one really had to consider every single step. It slowed us down quite a bit from our usual pace, and even though I still took pictures, I really had to be careful and focused all the time and so fell back quite a bit behind O.K. The bits of the path you see in the pictures are the best bits - I did not dare to stop for pictures on the difficult stretches.

The woods grew more and more silent around us, the water became a mere trickle until it stopped altogether. You could only hear our steps crunching on the leaves and pebbles, or squelching in the mud.

The last 2 1/2 km felt "harder" than the entire hike of the day before! But it was great, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

When we finally reached the end of the gorge and came upwards "into the light", it was almost as if we'd won something!
We walked along the sunny country lane with hardly any cars coming along until we reached the parking lot again.
And the day was not yet over, as you will see in one of my next posts.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Read in 2017 - 33: Gefangen in der belagerten Stadt

"Gefangen in der belagerten Stadt"
by Alfred Bekker

The title of this book means "Trapped (or captured) in the Besieged Town".
It is a book aimed at children of about 9 - 12 years with an interest in history and all things Knights.
Set in and around a medieval castle and town, it tells the story of two boys of noble descent who help a poor peasant boy - and ultimately an entire region by stopping a war.

In medieval times, it was the custom for noble families to send their young sons to other aristocratic families, in order for them to be educated as knights.
The education took years, and to become a knight, a boy had to start as a humble page first, serving his master, the family and guest.
Riding and fighting were also part of the education, and by being always around their masters and other important people, such boys learnt a lot about politics and what was going on in their vicinity.

The two boys who become the heroes of this story are friends, serving at the same castle.
One day they witness a young peasant boy being brought to the castle and locked up in the dungeon.
They enquire about his crime and learn that all the boy did was trying to get to the nearest town, where he hoped to find someone who would take him on as an apprentice.
He saw this as the only means to escape a very sad (and probably short) life as one of many children of a poor family.

But... in those days, one could not simply decide where one wanted to live and what one wanted to do for a living.
Peasants were as much the property of their lords as the land they worked, and if permission to move elsewhere was not given, acting against this was considered a crime.

One of the page boys is sent to bring the "criminal" his food, and after he has talked and listened to him for some time, he decides to help. The peasant boy does indeed manage to escape, but the two page boys' attention is soon directed towards something else: War!

The nearby town ("near" was relative in those days, when most people had only their feet for transport, or a cart and horse, if they were lucky) comes under siege when the townspeople demand more rights to administer their own affairs.
The page boys' lord has no choice but to support his war-lusty count, and all the able-bodied men have to go with him.
Soon, the town is besieged, but nobody really wants that war, except for the count.

One night, our page boys manage to find their way into the besieged town - but now they are trapped inside...
They meet with the peasant boy, and then one of them has a great idea how to avoid the war without making the count lose his honour.

This made quite a change from most other books I have been reading lately. It was the second book in German that I have read this year, I think.
It is clearly aimed at young readers with plenty of things explained which would not be necessary for adults, but I enjoy history and other subjects presented in a way that is easy to understand.
I liked the story, and the typos were not too bad (especially not for a free ebook).

Thursday, 19 October 2017

September Holiday: Black Forest, Day 4

Our fourth day in the Black Forest (the 21st of September) saw us back at the Wutachschlucht for one more hike. This time, the tour we had chosen from our guide book was called "Drei-Schluchten-Wanderung", three gorges hike. And three gorges they were: the Wutach gorge first, then the Gauchach (I'd like to hear one of you pronounce "Gauchach-Schlucht" :-) ) and last but not least the Enge Schlucht ("narrow gorge").

Here are the pictures from the first part. As before, you will get to see plenty of trees, rocks and water - if you find this boring, simply skip this post :-)

This building used to be another mill; there are several along the Wutach. The stream's power was used for saw mills and flour mills, but none of them is still in use. This one had a small restaurant next to it, catering for hikers. We passed it and soon reached the Enge Schlucht ("narrow gorge") which you will see in one of my next posts.