Today, I present to you the first Italian song in Eurovision history. Of course, following the language traditions of old Eurovision, it is in Italian. A rule to impose languages was only introduced in 1965. The song appears to be a straight forward hymn of spring and love.
Sometimes it seems hard to ascribe meaning to something beyond the surface level. This song is one I can’t find any deeper meaning to at all. The writing behind this song is a surface recantation of tropes about spring and love that have been culturally present in Europe for centuries. But hey, before I get too much into the weeds, how about you try and take a listen?
To my eyes, the lyrics are very inoffensive. And I think it’s supposed to be that way. It certainly isn’t the only shamelessly inoffensive song of the competition. It more so fits into a pattern of inoffensive post-war texts. Designed to please an audience only too well accustomed to the trouble, life in tumultuous times can breed. In this sense, not the inoffensive songs are the exception of early Eurovision, no the ones that have a deeper message are a meaningful exception. I don’t want to praise some of the songs I’ve reviewed and found meaningful too much, but for an interesting take on post-war beauty, I would recommend you to take a look at what I already wrote about Luxembourg’s first entry.
Franca Raimondi’s take on the tropes of love and spring is definitely flatter than Michèle Arnaud‘s. After all, it is lacking any pretence of societal criticism, but there will be many inoffensive and strikingly uninventive songs to come in Eurovision history. We’ve already heard inoffensive songs, like De Vogels van Holland and I don’t think every textually inoffensive song is a bad one or not worth the time of a listen. There’s more to songs than their apparent meaning, and often it is we the listeners that can ascribe more meaning to a song than any line of text. After all, the author is dead is in the case of 1956 Eurovision almost certainly a literal truth and not just a paradigm of criticism.
And if only to spite me and my rant about the blandness of its lyrics, the songs melody actually makes me happy. I can’t really fault this song for its lack of meaningful lyrics. The melody, actually, hits a nice groove for me. It is light, reminiscent of a blue band fluttering through a spring breeze. And the Italian lyrics, I don’t understand without translation anyhow, just add to, my desire to feel the breeze of spring on my skin, to feel the sun and see its light hit the fresh flowers in a way that produces an incredible glow of colour.
Anyhow before, I fall in love with spring to much, here’s the playlist of all Eurovision songs from 1956 I’ve reviewed so far:
“So yeah, I’ve started questioning my gender too. I don’t know. Sometimes I doubt myself. Maybe I’m just a copycat, but then again, the whole concept of being a man never clicked with me, but I don’t think I feel like a woman either. I just need a space where I can safely experiment with this stuff.”, Dennis continued. “I mean, welcome to the queer community, I guess. I’m glad you’re taking the time for finding yourself or, well, at least a way to yourself. Can I hug you?”, Laura replied while Dennis was wiping a tear off his left cheek and smiling that weird and distorted smile one smiles while being in tears of relief. Dennis nodded. Laura walked around the small table in one step and hugged them, “I definitely didn’t expect that” she mumbled to herself, but she could feel Dennis shed a long-held tension in her embrace.
As she settled back down into her seat, she asked, “Have you told anyone else yet?” “No, you are the first person, I trusted enough to tell. I mean you’ve been the reason I started to even question my gender in the first place.” “I don’t know if that should make me feel honoured or not. I’m just glad you’re closer to the person you want to be”, she smiled, “I hope your parents deal with it better than mine if you should ever tell them.” “I guess, but it’s still making me nervous. I know my parents have been awesome with you from the beginning, but I’m still scared about how this might affect my relationship with my parents.” Laura fell silent for a moment, churning over thoughts in her head. After a while, she smiled awkwardly: “Do you mind if we go to yours and — I don’t know — drink a cup of tea? I could deal with a bit quieter environment.”
Space was quiet, insanely quiet. There was no air to carry a sound. You were alone, alone with your breathing. It was a sensation that caused existential dread in so many space dwellers and travellers, but Laura enjoyed the silence, the loneliness. Here she could be just she, just a person without judgement. Under her spacesuit, no one from the outside could discern her features anyhow. It could have been anyone in the bulky white and stiff uniforms of all those who dared to step outside their vessels out of curiosity or out of pure necessity.
Technically, this was a spacewalk out of necessity, but Laura enjoyed the silence of space too much. It was weird. Usually, she was so distractible, so easily bored, but the tranquillity of space just captivated her. It enveloped her in a soft blanket of calmness. The wide-open space in front of her just made her feel like she found herself without societal expectation without pressure. Calm.
“Krchzz … The battery pack is in section C-12b, you need to anchor yourself and then check the connections!”, the voice out of her headset screamed. “Oh well, here we go again”, Laura thought. This wasn’t the enjoyable part of a spacewalk, but what had to be done had to be done.
Dennis took a deep sip out of their teacup. They were sitting cross-legged on the big cushion in the corner of their room. Laura was sitting across Dennis’s childhood bedroom, leaned against the radiator underneath the window, with her own teacup. She was inhaling the sweet steam of her tea. It smelled of cinnamon. She like cinnamon. It reminded her of Christmas and she like Christmas.
Laura looked up through the window above her. All she could see was a star-filled sky. A blueish glow at the ceiling of her world, the milky way a striped band across her firmament. Would she ever leave this earth? She really wanted to see what was beyond this pale blue dot, but she couldn’t see herself as an astronaut. There was too much wrong with her. Hey, wait, this wasn’t about her. They were talking about Dennis… Where were they? She had lost track.
“You seem distracted.”, Dennis remarked with the smirk of someone who knew what was up with their friend of many years. “Oh I’m sorry, I was just thinking about the stars, and how much I would enjoy being out there, out of this world, away from my parents.” Dennis looked down at their teacup, “I guess it would be nice, though, well, I think I would miss you.” “Oh, I didn’t mean it like that, you can come with me if the chance should arise. Though honestly, this is just a dream, just like me ever becoming a real girl.” “You are a real girl!” “Look at me, I’m an awkward boy, I don’t even have the right clothes, just these awkward wide jeans and this hoodie. I feel like a husk.” “Your clothes are not who you are, Laura, you are a real girl, and as soon as you’re away from your parents you can live that.” “Oh, how I wish I was away from my parents.”
Dennis untied their legs and stepped over to her. They took their half-full teacup into their other hand and sat down next to her, leaning against the free spot on the warm radiator. “I know this world isn’t easy, but we’re going to figure it out together”, they said as they leaned their head on Laura’s shoulder.
Manoeuvring in space isn’t easy. Unlike on earth there really isn’t anything that would stop you once you are moving. It takes care to not just fly off into space on a somewhat random trajectory. That’s why space dwellers for centuries used varying techniques to tether themselves to their space ships. To Laura said tether felt like a dog leash. She wanted to be free; she wanted to be enveloped by the blackness of space, by nothing. The tether kept her close to her craft. It had made sure she came back inside on every mission she had participated in. And it would probably do so now after she had fixed that goddamn battery connection. Who designed these things?
She turned around for a moment and looked back onto earth on her way to the battery connection. This time she wouldn’t return. There at the south pole, she could already see it, something was amiss. These weren’t normal clouds these were pure destructive energy. The lightning-bolt-like connections within made the whole cloud tinged in a weird neon magenta. She didn’t really want to know, what this cloud would do if it reached more than the barren landscapes of Antarctica.
They had been nice enough to walk her home. She enjoyed walking next to Dennis through the empty streets of this night. They hadn’t talked much, but she could see their smile. They still seemed like a burden had dropped from their heart and she was glad about that. As both turned around the last corner, Laura stopped, “Do you see that magenta glow, over my house?” Dennis stuttered, “What the hell is that?”
A Review of Micheal Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
This is a special book for me. It’s a book that accompanied me for some troubled months of hardship, turmoil, and uncertainty. It’s a record holder. It is the book that took me the longest to finish. I have laboured longer on certain books. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen comes to my mind, but I’ve never laboured this long on a book and not put it away unfinished. Putting a book away is not a failure, but there’s a difference to having to put a book back in its place with the knowledge that I won’t come back to it for a long time or potentially even forever. This book was different.
It never managed to excite me enough to finish it quickly, but it also never bored me enough to not want to read further along. In a way that was torturous, but in a meta way it was also a very interesting experience. Of course, that experience was contingent on my shaken up mental health, but we don’t need to get too far into that right now.
I got to this book through John Green‘s internet bookclub Life’s Library. It was read and talked about there throughout June and July 2019 and it was at a point where I could jump in after Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost had made me miss two reading periods. (Maybe that too is a book I could talk about in future.) Anyhow, I started reading it about 10 days into the reading period, and it took me on a now 5-month ride, I want to tell you about.
The Physical Book
To my shame, I have never been a paying member of Life’s Library but had always worked to find the book in question through other means, sometimes in a German translation. To my further shame, my lingering depression made it seem the easiest to ignore my intentions to patronise the local bookstores and to order it on Amazon.
The copy I ordered, is the UK paperback edition of the book published by 4th Estate, London in 2010. And its cover struck me with its noirish tones and imagery. Two detectives facing each other, cigarettes stuck in each face, framed by a fedora and an opened collar. I quite enjoy that kind of punchy design, though I don’t think it’s my favourite book cover I could find in my collection of mismatched books.
The Story & The World Behind IT
TheYiddish Policemen’s Union is a strange book that in its own way defies categorisation. It is a mystery thriller, maybe with a dollop of the political set in a world that deviated from our current political world sometime around 1948. It hits on everpresent Jewish themes like life in the diaspora, blatant antisemitism, but also on finding and building a new home and personal trauma.
The plot unfolds in cyclic circles, expanding into the world, gaining greater reach, and then folding in on themselves hitting closer to home again. Though for the first part the book reads to me like a frankly crawling and cliched police procedural just with the odd flair thrown in here and there. The world-building gains more importance in the second part where the plot picks up on speed and twists. Frankly, that is where my reading speed picked up considerably too.
The Characters & The Writing
The Protagonist Meyer Landsmann is fleshed out to be a broken man. He’s the divorced and alcoholic police detective who doesn’t care for the rules too much. Through unfortunate circumstances, he came to work with his ex-wife as his boss and she very much enjoys the rules Landsmann doesn’t care for. But here the biggest problem of Chabon’s writing looms. He doesn’t write female characters that well. Throughout this book. Female characters even more so than male ones fall onto trodden tropes, become at times even just golden calves to drive the action, but they don’t feel lifelike. Their decisions feel at times unmotivated or ill-conceived.
I don’t think Chabon’s male characters in this book are amazing, but they are considerably more well-rounded than the women that surround them. There’s some room for a favourable interpretation of some of the flaws around female characters. Certainly, the story’s point of view character Landsmann doesn’t have favourable views of women. In a sense, the narrator’s bias against women fits in with the noirish tropes of a brooding and hurting detective. A question remains: are Chabon’s female characters in other books any better?
As much as the female characters in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union are flawed, that doesn’t detract much from the story, Chabon tries to tell, largely through the regrettable fact that the women in this story, for the most part, play a role on the sidelines of the action. They are witnesses, judges hovering above the action but they aren’t directly and emotionally involved until the book hits its finale.
There’s a fool of a devil in him that wants to feel the thrum of current, there’s a current in him that wants to feel the devil in the wire.
What fascinated me most about Chabon’s writing is his command of similes and rhythm. His descriptions of the world enthralled me at times, they showed his research and they showed an inventiveness that was very enjoyable to me. Though this talent of style doesn’t necessarily extend to talent in crafting suspenseful arcs. Especially the first half of the book felt like a slow drag. Like an investment needed to get to the faster-paced and tighter written second part, when the circles widen from a pure provincial crime procedural to a wider and wider conspiracy.
Another uniqueness of this book is its slang. Chabon took it upon him to at least develop a rudimentary form of local slang for the colony of Jews in Alaska. It is heavily influenced by Yiddish as the title would suggest. Switching languages, especially between English and Yiddish, remains a constant occurrence in relationships to the outside world. The reader doesn’t have to follow these switches, they are fleshed out only in the dropping of certain slang words, the reader can either pick up on or look up in the glossary some editions provide. To me, the allusions to Yiddish didn’t assume the role of a big obstacle, as Yiddish is more closely related to my native German than to many other languages, but it certainly makes reading a bit harder. Especially in interaction with a full list of names and their variants, it can at times get confusing.
I am conflicted about this book. On the one hand, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union casts its feathers and becomes a suspenseful read somewhere around the midpoint; on the other hand, the first half is a bit of a drag. On one side, the book offers a rich world and an interesting conundrum, on the other side, the writing and characters are hard to get through at times. I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t super interested in alt-history and crime, but then I don’t think this is the best these genres have to offer.
On to other books, my next projects in this department are Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers. The first of which has been waiting in my to-be-read-pile for about 2 years now. It was a Christmas present made by my then-girlfriend. And The Gallows Pole has been started and unfinished since a trip to London in the summer of 2018. Buried behind work and more exciting or pressing books to read. Maybe I can finally make a dent in it.
This is my first book review on this site, many more might follow, but they aren’t here yet. If you enjoy my reviews, I’d like to direct you to my reviews of 1956’s Eurovision Song Contest entries: for example: Speaking like a German Melancholist.
Don’t believe it, but this is another first in Eurovision history. I mean, of course, it is Luxembourg’s first entry into the competition, but no, that’s not what I had in mind. This is actually the first up-tempo song in the competition. It is, however, a trade-off between speedy delivery and length of the song. It is with regret that I have to inform you that this short break from drawn-out chansons is not even two minutes long. Listen to it for yourself:
This, of course, is Michèle Arnaud with her rendition of Ne Crois Pas. For once it delivers a break from all the slow chansons the competition offered so far. Wikipedia makes me hopeful it will at least not remain the only up-tempo entry, but I don’t know yet if, “In contrast to most of the other entries of this Contest, the song is an up-tempo number […].”, is just the authors hedging their bets.
The song’s fast tempo might be fitting with its general message of the vanity inherent in beauty. The song is a plea to a lover to disregard their beauty because it would be meaningless in the long run. In a way, this topic reminds me of German baroque poetry. Vanitas and evanescence, beauty as a temporary good, are all things that crop up in German poetry of the 17th century. Germany as a state didn’t exist by then, but the general area of what would once become Germany was thrashed by the turmoils of the Thirty Years War then. There’s a parallel to Luxembourg only 11 years after the end of World War II.
Similar to the Thirty Years War, the Second World War was a pointer to the evanescence of life, beauty and safety and showed the depths humanity could descend to. Ne Crois Pas in itself isn’t a reference to said turmoil but it’s a mirror towards society’s ingrained believes about evanescence. A young lover could have very well been drafted into a war and have lost his beauty within months of fighting, perhaps, through injury, perhaps, just through the ceaseless trauma of war laying its creases on their face.
But there is a twist to the baroque motifs. While the poets of the 17th century put their fingers up and warned of the fleetingness of beauty and in the same breath extolled a veritable form of nihilism, Michèle Arnaud’s song gives more practical and less philosophical advice: Use it while it lasts!
My take on this song is probably deeper than the author of the song ever intended, but I am of the strong opinion that for every medium there’s one important adage: “The author is dead.” I don’t mean that literally, though at least for this piece it’s probably the truth. At least Arnaud died in 1998 already and I don’t think the composer Christian Guitreau is still alive.
If we come back to the surface. I can, but agree, that this song could also just be a story about vanity and jealousy. Vanity not in the sense of baroque vanitas but strictly speaking as a negative personality trait. Though a look at both words alone should hint you at a deep etymological link between the two.
I don’t enjoy this song enough to put it in any of my personal playlists, but I very much enjoyed the variety it brings to the 1956 lineup of songs. I hope up-tempo songs get a second chance for this first Eurovision year. I’ll leave you with the current playlist of reviewed ESC 1956 songs:
“Inktober is over”, you can almost hear the sigh of relief artists all over the world are letting out. My sigh of relief, however, is tarnished by slight regrets. While you might not have seen anything on here beyond Day 4. I managed to do a bit more. Well, I at least managed to go through half of Inktober. You could have seen that if you followed me on Instagram or Twitter. Hint, Hint.
I felt the need to debrief and reflect on my experiences during my first Inktober, I participated in. I’ve never considered myself an artist or even talented, but the most important thing Inktober showed me, is that I can draw relatively well, and most of all that I enjoy drawing. The habit of daily drawing, Inktober establishes, is genuinely helpful, especially to someone like me who has trouble with habit formation. But as I have trouble with habit formation, that also meant that as soon as I hit the first major roadblock my habit died down.
Unfortunately, that major roadblock came up at Day 7 already, when I got a serious case of the tiny chickens, or as normal people like to call it, the common cold. My cold forced me into drawing hiatus, and while I knew the second half of the month would be exhausting anyway because of the stressful circumstances of my life, I didn’t expect the backlog of prompts I had accumulated to impede my motivation as much. I still produced some of my favourite pieces after my cold, but I knew I couldn’t catch up to 31 drawings. The last finished drawing is for Day 15 and it’s actually one I’m particularly proud of.
I have a rough draft for Day 16, but it’s quite unfinished. That being said, I don’t want to torture you more with my own reflexions, so without further ado, here is a gallery of all my Inktober drawings:
Anyhow, that’s it, isn’t it? Well, I still have a few things left to say. The first thing is to say, I might still finish Inktober with a delay. I already said, how much I enjoyed this experience and I hope I can at least try to think something up for all the other prompts. The second thing, I need to talk about is: Where does this leave me for National Novel Writing Month? Well, the answer is short, I don’t think I want to participate. At least not this year. There’s a bit too much on my plate right now, even if I could do with some motivation to write more. This isn’t a final decision, but it’s my gut feeling now at 2 am.