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Posts from the ‘Research’ Category

Planes in London

Here are some photos of Fiona Banner’s marvelous installation of decommissioned fighter planes, Harrier and Jaguar, in the sweeping, heel-clicking vestibules of Tate Britain.  They are strange, improbable, beautiful.  They are not designed for beauty but to kill people, of course.  Nevertheless, we hover around them, creep alongside them, stand below them, gaping up in wonder.   

You can see how the installation came together here, at the Tate Channel: And you can see the work itself until 3 January.

Makes a change…

Well, this makes a change from all that war!

My first novel is looking for a home and I was really pleased to receive some very positive feedback this week.  But positive feedback always means more work, dunnit?  So, I’m straddling two worlds in my head – slipping out of the research I’ve been doing on the second novel (and now a proud 22K in) – and staring at the great lump of pages of the first novel that need to be edited.  And edited.  And edited.

The books couldn’t be more different.  But then I looked at two photos that have compelled me through two books.  Can you spot the difference?  And, more interestingly, can you spot the similarities?

Peculiar Pageantry

One of my characters is most certainly a Nazi.  There is no need for her to be coy about it.  From where she’s standing, she’s in the majority.  Everyone she knows is a Nazi.  For a time.  So, knowing I want to write about a young Nazi girl, I set her in Munich and make her the right age to grow up as a Hitler Youth girl, a BDM – Bundes Deutscher Madel.  Perhaps I have her born at the very instant that the Fuhrer-to-come is yelling in a beer hall Putsch.

She’s probably not old enough to have taken part in The Night of the Amazons festivities that I came across today.  I should say that one particular problem with doing Nazi research is also stumbling into modern fascist sites.  If we ever lose our Freedom of Googling right, I fear for my Cookies.  Anyway.  The Night of the Amazons was a pageant which various sites say is based on the Bread Riots of the French Revolution, but in seeking out footage of this pageant, that didn’t seem to be the story to me.

You can watch footage of the event on the DVD “The Nazis: A Warning from History” as well as various spots on Youtube.  And the audience are certainly dressed for Versailles.  But the performers are nubile young women in various states of undress, jostling on cart and horseback, some with their dignity tucked behind a frond.  A lucky few are clothed; above they look like cocktail waitresses at a Jolly Rogers, while others are veiled to spin as dervishes or wearing a fetching helmut and nappy ensemble.  More remarkable than their nudity, for that shouldn’t be a shock where a Nazi celebration of beauty is concerned, is that the women are costumed for a world of cultures.  There are Indians, Amazons, and slaves of every race.  The woman painted gold is dancing in a vaguely Chinese-fashion; women bang ribboned tambourines in a manic tarantella that brings to mind the gypsies their party was already persecuting.  Freakish, bizarre and, it must be said, strangely intriguing.  These are a people who like their pageantry, however peculiar.

One cultural group is noticeable in its absence.  Perhaps their representation was a step too far, even for Nazis ready to party.

Prostitution in Berlin

One of my characters may have been a Weimar prostitute.  She is cagey on this issue and certainly wouldn’t confirm or deny in a public place like this.  My friend Jo had told me about the colour coding of boot laces in Weimar, and how the colour signalled what you would or wouldn’t do.  It seems a strange twin to the coloured-taxonomy that was to come, when a pink triangle or yellow star spoke volumes.

So, Weimar prostitute – so far, so expected.  But in contemplating prostitution in Weimar, you have to know what you’re looking for.  What kind of prostitute then?  Is there life after Sally Bowles?  There would appear to be 16 types of prostitutes, according to Mel Gordon, whose Voluptuous Panic surveys Weimar erotica.  “Grasshoppers” performed oral sex in the Tiergarten, while “gravelstones” were the physically-deformed sex workers of north Berlin.  “Telephone girls” were children who could be selected by their attributes to modern film stars and ordered by phone.  “Nice girls” were “demi-castors” (Franco-slang for “half-beaver”) who merely hooked part-time to feed their families.

Why so many prostitutes?  This from the book:  Germany’s recent defeat in World War I did its part, encouraging general disillusionment and leaving behind thousands of war widows in Berlin’s populace of 4 million with no means of realistically supporting themselves other than by prostitution. Gone were the Kaiser and the old morality, and in their place was a new liberal republic. And then there was the general economic collapse and inflation. In October 1923, German currency traded at the astronomical rate of 4.2 billion marks to the U.S. dollar. Gordon points out that “the most exquisite blow job” to be had in Berlin never cost an American tourist more than 30 cents.

Tolerated since the Middle Ages as a “necessary evil” and condoned by the police since the 19th century, prostitution even found the Nazis in the pimping business, with women servicing, however unwillingly, every camp.  Having seen this list, I will certainly look at SS boots with fresh eyes….  And it’s certainly legal in Germany now.  Prostitutes even pay income tax and charge VAT.  Wikipedia, every googlers first port of call, cites the German population of prostitutes at 200,000.  That’s a lot of laces.  If you’re so inclined, you can find prostitutes in the bars, Eros centres, apartments, massage parlours, as well as partner-swapping and sauna clubs of Berlin.  None of which strike me as particularly Weimar.  With Weimar we want glamour and decadence, trans-gender chorus dancers, bobbed hair and whips.  How to square any of that with the elegant woman disembarking on the Isle of Man in my third chapter?  Well, that’s the fun part.  Figuring it out.

one small post

Looking for pictures of my characters.  This is Gisela.

new book, new blog

I cut my blogging teeth on Blogger, but something made me want to have more control over how it looked and read.  I’ve had a go at different themes and I’m happy to run with this one, for now, to create a thinking and planning place as I start my second novel.  The picture above is one I took in Port Erin on the Isle of Man when I created a site-specific, promenade performance with a carload of old coats borrowed from the Royal Court, stacks of old suitcases, a steam train opening scene and a lovely, large cast of locals.  It was an amazing year in residence with the Isle of Man Arts Council.  It changed my life in a number of ways, but probably not as dramatically as the island changed the lives of 4000 female internees during WWII, when the tip of the island was surrounded by barbed wire to become Rushen Camp, or the villagers who found themselves interned as well.  It’s the story I can’t let go.  Or rather, it won’t let me go.  It insists I do better, dig deeper, look harder.  It is the call I must answer – or try to.

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