Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Favourite Christmas Movies

That time of the year has come and gone, and I am err... slightly late in this post. But since the yuletide spirit is technically extended throughout the holidays till the new year before it is bottled up again to be reopened during the next year Christmas shopping, I intend to go ahead with this post anyway. :)

When I think about Christmas movies, these are the ones that come to my mind. Being essentially calm and peace-loving by nature, I'm not incorporating films which have nasty gremlins or heavy fighting sequences in this list. I am elated simply to finally be able to make a list of favourite movies on a particular genre where I can neatly bullet and pinpoint the favourites and not have a broken heart over the ones I missed. No wonder I love the yuletide cheer!

1. It's A Wonderful Life (1946): Quintessential Capra. I know that my guardian angel is someone like Clarence Odbody who is reading about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn exactly when I am in one of my stickiest muddles. I do not know if it's a wonderful life, but if a confirmed skeptic like me feels weepy after watching this film, then it surely is a wonderful film after all.

2. The Bishop's Wife (1947): If for nothing else, then solely for the suave and debonair Cary Grant as one of the most attractive angels ever to be seen, and for his falling in love with the bishop's wife (Loretta Young) to show that angels too are not insusceptible to love. Oh, and intended footnote: I am disappointed though, on the film's celebration of the bishop's wife. Loretta Young stays pretty, cries a lot over her plight, and then when Cary Grant comes and takes her to one life-affirming, romantic situation after another, she giggles uncontrollably and moons over him. And, to add insult to serious injury, Cary Grant falls in love with such a specimen of womanhood. Oh the follies of men, and even angels!

3. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): Colourful and vibrant, it's one of those feel-good movies which make you happy unfailingly every time you feel low. Judy Garland at one of her best (naturally), with the vagaries, comforts, innocence and beauties of provincial town life at the turn of the century. I watched it in technicolour, and you too should do likewise.

4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947): When I grew up, I just stopped believing in Santa Claus. It's just one of those things which you suddenly realise you don't feel anymore - like a cure - when you wake up one morning. But this beautiful, sensitive, heart-warming film which you watch when you've all "grown up" (and have a great life, very practical and all) wakes you up with a jolt at what you've been missing. This poster says it all. :)

5. Scrooge (A Christmas Carol - 1951): Yes, there's no Christmas Carol on-screen like the 1951 Christmas Carol (released in the UK as 'Scrooge'). And if you're lucky enough to snuggle up with your family on Christmas, this is the one to watch together after the sumptuous Christmas lunch.

6. White Christmas (1954): I could watch this film only for the Bing Crosby song sung at the beginning and feel nostalgic. But come on, it's Christmas and we have Rosemary Clooney who's not singing 'Mambo Italiano' but rather appearing docile and lovely. A classic entertaining, must-watch Christmas film.

7. A Christmas Story (1983): I am wary of the eighties (not particularly because I was born towards the end of the decade, but because I'm a heartless, mean, biased person). So naturally I steer clear of eighties movies. But then there are eighties movies and there is 'A Christmas Story', which after having braved a watch, I could sit down with it any day of the year and choose it over most nineties movies. Thoroughly fun, entertaining, and if you look closely a vignette of a time past - we just don't have families and moments like that any more. Anyway, no Christmas movie list is complete without this one.

8. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): And you were thinking I wasn't going to incorporate any animated movies? 25 minutes of unadulterated Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Snoopy, Pig-pen, Scroeder, Patty and what more do you want? Re-quoting Lucy in a completely different context, this is the "Charlie Brownest" experience I've ever had. :)

9. The Snowman (1982): BBC's adaptation of Raymond Briggs's story touches the innermost chords of your heart and appeals to that part of you which you'd left behind while growing up. And to top it all, David Bowie introduces this otherwise wordless experience.

10. Love Actually (2003): I usually tag Love Actually with my favourite British comedies, but everything is so Christmassy about this film, beginning with the setting and the time-span. And what can be more fascinating than discovering and rediscovering your love over the holidays? "Love is all around" after all. (whatever)

11. The Holiday (2006): Another classic Christmassy-comedy spin-off with big stars. Thoroughly enjoyable to watch over the holidays and if you've had a bad year you'll find your sympathisers in Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. Totally feel-good, totally worth it. Special mention: Kate Winslet's wardrobe and Hans Zimmer's music (why, naturally!).

So there we go, another year done and packaged to be scrutinised later. Having finished watching all the Christmas movies beforehand (another lesson learnt: keep the Christmas movies pending till the last minute. You won't have any cause for regret), I spent a dismal Christmas eve, watching a brilliant Angelopoulous movie (Ullysses' Gaze, 1995) which is so brilliant that it made me feel suicidal because of my mundaneness. Then P came along, swept me, and we had a rollicking Christmas. A week later, here I am, back on the couch, alone on New Year's Eve, reading a brilliant Calvino (If On A Winter's Night A Traveller), and tomorrow S and I will begin the year with a warm adda. To all my readers and friends (real and imagined), have a wonderful and bright New Year.
I don't want to grow up. I've grown up enough and it's time it stopped. The days merge into one another, especially during this not-so-winter solstice, when I can feel it inside me. I can feel all that I held close to me through the years slide out of me, never to come back. Those glorious years of childhood; the slow, reticent seasons - shy almost; those memories, those experiences. Life is getting too complicated by the day, and childhood and simplicity seems like a dream one had a long time ago, when one planned to stay up all night in the terrace to watch shooting stars; where winters crept in suddenly one morning when you couldn't see the garden wall anymore because of the fog; when it rained incessantly for days and you thought the sky would fall down; when summers meant long afternoons and mangoes. There was crotchet, grannies and knights-saving-damsels on the porcelain plates. And there was always glorious sunshine, exactly when you wanted it, how you wanted it.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What's in a Name, Really?

Nothing much, or maybe quite something. Totally relative and definitely not to be joked about. But then, how would the average Indian, especially the amazing breed called "Bangali" go about their daily fare without poking fun at the names of their brethren? My grandfather had first fashioned his surname into "Bonnerjee". My father readily adapted it, and I was obliged to follow. I am extremely ashamed to accept now that this surname has been a cause of trauma for me over the years. Why? Because the average Bangali thought it was funny that the mundane 'Banerjee' should be spelt with an 'o', forgetting their history lessons, that the first president of the Indian National Congress himself wrote it with an 'o'. Anyway, I was 3, in kindergarten, when the pin-pointing began. And if your first name is something as grand as 'Samraghni', you have to know that you'll be subject to ridicule for the rest of your life. Of course I didn't tell my parents. Of course I always bore it all; patiently telling them that yes it's spelt with an 'o'; it's the same as Banerjee; I don't know why I write it this way; my father and my grandfather before him wrote it with an 'o'; and I swear I haven't made a spelling mistake. As I grew up, I would inform people lightly about the historical figure, but of course I was labelled as precocious.

Days rolled on. I think it was during my late teens that I first started telling people that my surname is 'Banerjee', reserving the 'o' only for official documents. Yes, it hurt. Bonnerjee was my identity, and when you change the name you've grown up in, you become the Namenlosen - the nameless. But I was tired of endless questions and pinpointing. And then came the final blow. I'd gone to the university to receive my MA Part II admit card which were being distributed two days before the exams on a half an hour notice. The queue was winding, the weather very hot and humid, and the temper was already rising. When my turn came, the man at the counter glanced at the admit card he was supposed to hand me, let out a smirk and said, "E ki, Bonnerjee? Hahahaha." Then he lifted the piece of paper, held it over his head, turned round in his chair, and addressed all his colleagues, loudly and in a tone of extreme mockery, "Bonnerjee! Ei bhai, dyakh, Bonnerjee! Jibone kokhono shunini baba, Bonnerjee!" All those government employees who come to office at noon and are always clueless when it comes to matters of work, looked at the sheet of paper, then at me, and laughed loudly. Well, bad for them, I wasn't 4 anymore. I said, loudly and clearly, with my voice ringing down the corridor, "Ota title. Banerjee r e variant. University te boshe achen aar W. C. Bonnerjee r naam shonen ni, eta apnader e murkhota promaan kore. Congress er first president chilen.Jaihok apnader she shob bole toh aar kono labh nei, shomoy noshto. Chi-chi jotto shob murkher dol. Ei College st theke beriye aro ektu uttore jaan. Dekhben ekta asto Raasta ache onaar naame." So saying, I snatched it from his hand, glared at all of them, and marched outside. My Maa tried to pacify me over the phone, saying that that could hamper with my results if not anything else(I had once pointed out to a teacher in class that she was wrong when she'd quoted Burns' "My love is like a red red rose" and tried to pass it off as Yeats. YEATS! I was well, duly penalised, come exams.). I told Maa enough was, well, enough. It was time I stood up against it. It's just a surname, and if you cannot respect the memory of the person who tried to make it famous, at least respect the person who still bears it.

Nevertheless, even after that, when people asked me my name, I spelled it with an 'a', until I finally asked myself, why? If people ask, I'll clarify; if I don't feel like, I won't; if they wonder, let them wonder; if they find it funny, well, I've been a source of some comic relief in their pathetic lives. I had been reading about a woman, my spiritual ancestor, and that was when I understood that I need not be ashamed of myself just because people are too ignorant. There's no need for me to resort to Womesh Babu's brilliance with politics, or Kanan Babu's brilliance with the way he wielded words (my grandfather, who was the editor of the Indian banking Journal among other things, and from whom I learnt the word 'juxtaposed' when 11, since he'd used it in a preface to a new edition in the 50s) every time some random stranger poked fun at my surname. People are what people do, not what their names are spelled as. She made me finally realise that I'm proud of my name, fricking proud. Both the first and the last name. And there's no reason to change it or modify it. I am Bonnerjee, with an 'o', and nothing can make me Banerjee with an 'a'. I just won't feel at home with that one.

And the woman who made me realise that is called Janaki Agnes Penelope Majumdar Bonnerjee. :)   

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Fraumünster's Church

At Zürich, we first went to the Fraumünster's Church.

Even before entering the city, the towers of Frau and Gross Münster could be made out from the distance. Earlier that day, we'd been up at Pilatus. The previous night, Switzerland had experienced its first snowfall this season, and the inhabitants of Luzern had come to the peak and basked on the glorious sunshine falling on the snow. A group of four people had carried their enormous Alphorns up the peak, and played them as a sort of invocation to the snow, the tune being called the "Waldecho" - a Swiss folk tradition, dating back to centuries.

We'd entered the city through the Altstadt, and as S crazily shot pictures of imposing towers and latest car-models, I clutched my camera and walked slowly towards the square. It was a Sunday, with moderately pleasant weather verging on the chilly, and the inhabitants were slowly venturing out to enjoy the evening. The river Limmat flowed gently below, and I carelessly clutched the banister while looking mesmerised at the church which rose ahead.

I've always had a fascination for small churches. Having spent seventeen years of my life in proximity to one, and a further three years of college life overlooking the tiny Victorian church next door, I probably cannot explain the strange thrill and melancholy that runs through me when I hear church bells ringing in a strange unfamiliar town. The Münsterbrücke (bridge) running over the Limmat separates Frau- from Grossmünster. Frau meaning "lady" in German, the church was once a medieval abbess with influential political power. During Reformation, its powers were dissolved, and having survived the centuries, it now serves as a parish church. In the later half of the twentieth century, Chagall had designed five stained glass windows, which though cannot be readily made out from the outside, offers a fascinating experience when viewed from the inside. Each of the windows depicts a Christian story. While this is the official history of the church, local lore says that King Louis II, who founded the church in 853 AD, had a daughter Hildegard. She was once visited in her dream by a stag, who had leapt across the Limmet and landed on the very spot where the church was later built. It had then dissolved into thin air. Taken as a divine intervention, she had urged her father to build the church.

It was nearly closing time when I entered the church. One has to walk past the wrought iron gates through the corridor with frescoes adorning both sides of the walls, and find herself in the hall, surrounded by the dazzling windows on all sides. If you face the windows and are rapt in admiration for them, then immediately behind you would be the chapel. There were a few people inside, some reading the book, some praying, some quietly sitting. I sat in a corner, for I don't know how long. I was taken back to my school days, which being a Roman Catholic convent, had a cozy chapel ensconced in the main school building, where we would often go and pray with our Sisters. There was another impressive painted window in front of us, and with the fragrance of the flowers, the whole atmosphere was rendered sublime. After a long time, I realised it was time to leave. I had some difficulty locating the exit, as often sensitive situations muddle my rational powers of thinking. When I did locate, I found the iron gates closed. I felt like one of the Von Trapp sisters, hiding in the convent from the soldiers, but I had to open it, as if a testimony to the changed circumstances. Out in the square, exactly opposite to the church was a statue of Hans Waldmann, the mayor of Zürich in the fifteenth century.

Photography is prohibited inside the church, and I support it. To me, it seems to protect the sanctity of something so precious, beautiful and personal, from the claws of populism. As I stood outside in the evening chill, I looked at the church and told myself, "You've come a long way, my lady."

St. Peter's Church

The Grossmünster church

Towers of the Grossmünster

As we were opening the iron gates, the tower bells started ringing. S and I stood on the square for a long time, and as they stopped, the bells from the Grossmünster from the other side started chiming. We held our hands together and began walking on the old cobbled streets.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

La Belle et la Bête

When I was in kindergarten, my Maa had told me the story of the selfish giant and his garden. I can still remember the days. I would come home by noon, and during the still afternoon, when Baba would be away at office, my Granma (Thamma) would be in her room, quietly reading the paper after her short siesta, and I would lie awake beside Maa who would be sleeping, looking at the slim book which contained the story. I had barely learnt to read, and I would form the words, not understanding all of them. I would imagine the giant living in our para, with his high-wall surrounding his beautiful garden. I believed that that was the phase when he'd put up the notice of "trespassers will be prosecuted", and so I had to play on the dusty road - which was really covered with stones just like in the story. Being a loner, I would patiently wait for the day when the giant would break down the wall, and I would creep in softly and play.

Sundays were my favourites. Baba was home, and we would spend the mornings together, watching cartoons that Doordarshan aired after their staple Sunday rangoli. That was when Baba had told me the story of Gulliver's Travels and I would spend long hours deliberating exactly how small the lilliputs were, taking my tiny finger as the standard size. It was around that time that I had watched Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast', and by some curious penchant of the child mind (especially mine) to muddle up details, I would eventually grow up to equate the Giant with Belle's Beast.

Yes, as one who doesn't know me personally would've guessed by now - I love fairy tales. Especially at 23, my love for these stories is a testimony to my inherent romantic nature (oh my giddy aunt!). But on a serious note, I would happily trade a magic realist book I own for a good, hearty, old-fashioned fairy tale, with cute princes who have no function other than to look good and be oblivious to the world around them, while inspiring, beautiful young maidens face all travails and hardships for the sake of love.

During my 1st year at the university, when I was neck-deep with reading "important" texts, A, my German teacher was making us read and do exercises on the Grimm Brothers' tales. For me, it was a revisiting of the genre after a long, long time. A, self-confessedly a Disney fan, had also made us do exercises on 'Beauty and the Beast', tactfully translating it into Die Schoene und das Biest, the German of Madame Beaumont's original  La Belle et la Bête. We had to decide which fairy tale was our favourite, and I had made A make an exception in my case, by allowing me to speak on two of them as favourites. Those evening classes after a day of fruitless (and mostly thankless) struggle at the uni, was a respite for me. I had spent long hours deliberating whether to speak on Aschenputtel (Cinderella) first, or on Die Schoene und das Biest. In a fit of enthusiasm, A had also distributed her copy of the Disney classics, but somehow, by dint of the disadvantages of circulation, I never found myself with the CD. That was what had prompted me to finally procure Jean Cocteau's 1946 cinematic version of La Belle et la Bête a couple of years later. With days before my M.A. finals, I'd caught a short glimpse of Cocteau breaking the proverbial fourth wall, and writing about children and fairy tales before the opening credits of the film, before straining my eyes forcefully away from the screen and back to Derrida's concept of decentering.

I finally watched the film last week, and I've been enamored, to say the least. M. Cocteau diverges noticeably from Mme. Beaumont's version. He introduces Jean Marais as Avenant, Belle's suitor, and at the last scene, Avenant, while attempting to steal from Diana's Pavilion, is struck by Diana's arrow and transforms into a beast, while the real beast wakes up as a charming, suave, dainty-legged Jean Marais. There are other slight deviations such as Belle's family, after losing their fortune, continue to live in their mansion, while in the story they move to a farmstead; and Belle, in the story actually has three brothers, while M. Cocteau cuts the number down to one. Nevertheless, these slight differences do not mar the perfection of the film. Josette Day is resplendent as Belle, and her kindness oozes out of the frame and strikes the viewer. Crammed with beautiful gothic set pieces, stunning avant-garde costumes and striking make-up for the beast, La Belle et la Bête creates a haunting surrealist image. Belle's sleepy village town is continuously contrasted with the Beast's sweeping bravado of a castle, as if driving home the fact that he belongs to a different world (and to make the difference more physical and palpable, the Beast says in the scene that the time in his world and Belle's world is different).

One of the primary reasons why this tale is a perennial favourite is definitely because the Beast is a "different" fairy tale hero. When I was young, the very romance of a kiss transforming an ugly beast into a handsome prince was what had appealed to me. But what M. Cocteau shows, and what is at the heart of this tale, is that the Beast is not merely ugly or ruthless. He preys, but he suffers (the scene at dawn when he's covered with blood and Belle confronts him); he loves, but he is helpless; he is kind, and he is tolerant. Therefore, the transformation of the Beast at the end into handsome Prince Charming is a disappointment for the viewers, who have watched with rapt awe, the empathetic scenes between Belle and the Beast. One is thus little surprised when one learns that during the film's screening in Paris, Greta Garbo had reportedly cried out, "Give me back my beast!" after the transformation. As a justification of his vision, Cocteau had written, "My goal was to make the beast so human, so likeable, so superior to man that his transformation into Prince Charming would be for Belle, a terrible disappointment and would oblige her into a marriage of reason."

Lest we forget in such theorising, La Belle et la Bête is, despite everything, a sublime poetry in motion; an alluring and delightful excursion into the dreams and fantasies of one's childhood. Made in the immediate aftermath of the World War II, it offered French (and eventually world) cinema audiences what it most craved - sheer escapism, blessed relief from the painful memories of the Occupation and the penury of Post-war austerity.

I have tried to make a collage of portraits from the film. I'm sure it won't be half as enchanting as the cinema itself.


Monday, December 12, 2011

"Infinitely Calm"

My high-school Bengali teacher had first referred to Rilke's The Sonnets to Orpheus while teaching us a Bengali poem. Unable to find any collection by the poet in Siliguri, I had read some random poems by Rainer Maria Rilke while in college. Recently I discovered a whole bottom shelf at the MMB library dedicated to Rilke's works, and to my delight, most of them were beautiful bilingual editions. I have since been borrowing them and reading them in between other serious readings, moving slowly from the German words to the English translations.

I'm sharing some poems which I liked best, here. They have been taken from the 1906 edition of Das Buch der Bilder, and translated into The Book of Images by Edward Snow in 1991.



Who is there who so loves me, that he
will throw away his own dear life?
If someone will die for me in the ocean,
I will be brought back from stone
into life, into life redeemed.

How I long for blood's rushing;
stone is so still.
I dream of life: life is good.
Has no one the courage
through which I might awaken?

And if I once more find myself in life,
given everything most golden,--
then I will weep
alone, weep for my stone.
What help will my blood be, when it ripens like wine?
It cannot scream out of the ocean
he who loved me most.



I would like to sing someone to sleep,
to sit beside someone and be there.
I would like to rock you and sing softly
and go with you to and from sleep.
I would like to be the one in the house
who knew: The night was cold.
And I would like to listen in and listen out
into you, into the world, into the woods.
The clock shouts to one another striking,
and no one sees to the bottom of time.
And down below one last, strange man walks by
and rouses a strange dog.
And after that comes silence.
I have laid my eyes upon you wide;
and they hold you gently and let you go
when something stirs in the dark.



How everything is far away
and long deceased.
I think now, that the star
whose brightness reached me
has been dead for a thousand years.
I think now, that in the boat 
which slipped past
I heard something fearful being said.
Inside the house a clock
just struck...
Inside what house?...
I would like to step out of my heart's door
and be under the great sky.
I would like to pray.
And surely one of all those stars
must still exist.
I think now, that I know
which one alone
has lasted,--
which one like a white city
stands at its light's end in the sky...



Solitude is like a rain.
It rises from the sea toward evening;
from plains, which are distant and remote,
it goes to the sky, which always has it.
And only then it falls from the sky on the city.

It rains down in the in-between hours,
when all the crooked streets turn toward morning,
and when the bodies, which found nothing,
leave each other feeling sad and disappointed;
and when the people, who hate each other,
have to sleep together in one bed;

then solitude flows with the rivers...



And you wait, await the one thing
that will infinitely increase your life;
the gigantic, the stupendous,
the awakening of stones,
depths turned round toward you.

The volumes in brown and gold
flicker dimly on the bookshelves;
and you think of lands traveled through,
of paintings, of the garments
of women found and lost.

And then all at once you know: that was it.
You rise, and there stands before you
the fear and prayer and shape
of a vanished year.



Slowly the evening puts on the garments
held for it by a rim of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands divide from you,
one going heavenward, one that falls;

and leave you, to neither quite belonging,
not quite so dark as the house sunk in silence,
not quite so surely pledging the eternal
as that which grows star each night and climbs--

and leave you (inexpressibly to untangle)
your life afraid and huge and ripening,
so that it, now bound in and now embracing,
grows alternatively stone in you and star.



Whoever you are: in the evening step out
of your room, where you know everything;
yours is the last house before the far-off;
whoever you are.
With your eyes, which in their weariness
barely free themselves from the worn-out threshold,
you lift very slowly one black tree
and place it against the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world. And it is huge
and like a word which grows ripe in silence.
And as your will seizes on its meaning,
tenderly your eyes let it go...



School's long anxiety with time slips past
with waiting, with endless dreary things.
O solitude, O heavy spending on and on of time...
And then outside: the streets flash and ring
and on the squares the fountains leap 
and in the gardens all the world grows wide.--
And to go through it in one's small suit,
so unlike how the others go and used to go--;
O wondrous time, O spending on and on of time,
O solitude.

And to look far off into it all:
men and women; men, more men, women
and then children, who are different and bright;
and here a house and now and then a dog
and soundless terror changing back and forth with trust--;
O sadness without reason, O dream, O dread,
O depth without ground.

And so to play: ball and ring and hoops
in a garden that keeps softly fading,
and to brush sometimes against the grownups
blindly and wildly in the haste of tag,
but at evening quietly with small stiff
steps to walk back home, your hand firmly held--;
O ever more escaping grasp of things,
O weight, O fear.

And for hours at the huge gray pond
to kneel entranced with a small sailboat;
to forget it, because yet other, similar
and more beautiful sails glide through the circles,
and to have to think about the small pale
face that sinking gazed out of the pond--:
O childhood, O likeness gliding off...
To where? To where?

It is to Rilke that I turn, on this unusually foggy morning. To me he remains the poet of memory, of childhood, of leave-taking and looking back; sometimes the poet of night and its vastnesses, the poet of human separations, the poet of thresholds and silences, and especially of solitude in its endless inflections. His play of images (and so rightly brought about in this book on images) is a way of thinking, and the small cluster of motifs yield paradoxes of life viewed and grasped, possessed and relinquished, lived and imagined, sacrificed and transcended, undergone and belatedly understood. As he himself said in a letter, "I fear in myself only those contradictions with a tendency towards reconciliation..."

Picture: Marc Chagall's Le Violoniste Bleu

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What Happens When A Book-cum-music Lover Listens to Bach While Shopping

So Max Mueller Bhawan is organising their annual library clearance sale and today was the first day. My past experiences have taught me to queue for such an event at least an hour before the gates are opened. I was planning for this one for days on end - ever since J, the librarian told me about the "tedious" process of stacking the books which they intended to "discard" through the clearance sale. I decided to overlook the obvious misnomer, and started hoarding up money; making plans of queuing and jumping queues; snatching up books if it came to that; NOT indulging in books which I wouldn't have time to read within the next five years; still saving enough money for my monthly online-and-college-street book bonanza and so on and so forth. And then I overslept.

I woke up in a state of irritation at the realization that I would never be in time now. I never give up on my morning ritual of reading the paper while sipping tea, or of making compromises on shower-time. Hence for me, a day that begins late, continues to run late. Therefore while the sale began at 11 am, I started from my place at a quarter to noon. And, to top it all, I had to go to College Street first. After what five years of university education on literature has done to me, I'm trying to undo it all, and go back to my passion for literature during my pre-lapserian stage. This winter I'm devoting myself to Dickens. Partly because it's the old man's birth bicentenary next year, and mainly because the man's such a fricking good story-teller! He is the absolute best company during the lovely (and lonely, sigh) winter days and nights. And trust me, David Copperfield is the best Christmas book ever. His very own Christmas-books come a close second to that one. I've already started rereading my Oliver Twist. Martin Chuzzlewit is the only Dickens I don't possess, and since all of Martin's brethren and uncles (what? Pickwick couldn't possibly be his brother, no?) were bought from humble, friendly book-shops on College Street, I decided to take this re-route - for old times' sake - and not order a copy on the net.

Some great woman must have said someday, when having suffered for bad choices at the face of serious decision-making, that "When in a state of emergency, think with your mind and prioritize." After waddling through jam-packed streets, I reach College Street to find the shops closed - apparently a union strike (yes, even post May 2011 they have those occasionally). After calling up S - the staff at the shop where I'd placed my order and who'd promised me to get the book today - and making him say "sorry" a hundred times or so for not informing me the decision taken by their union "at the last moment" in the morning, I finally set sail for MMB at 1.

At twenty minutes past 1, I lunge for the door of Berlin (fancy name of a room at MMB), library books in one hand, bag slinging dangerously on another shoulder. I enter as if I've won a marathon, look around, see a couple of people and near-empty tables. Perplexed, I let my mind clear by itself and then rush to the first long table. I poke A, who was there obviously before me, and ask her what happened. "They were here at 11. They took every thing worthwhile." I let out a groan. I have never been personally acquainted with "they", but if I do, with God as witness...

J emerges from under the table, looks at me with mild scorn and puts on the music. And there, it was there and then mon ami that I was floored. Forty minutes later I would finally ask J what he was playing, and whether it really was Bach as I had imagined. He would say that it was Bach's "Christmas Oratorio", ushering in the Christmas spirit. But then, at that moment, my mind went numb for some time; after five minutes it had cleared itself of every useless emotion, and with a focused gaze I made my way to the tables.

Two hours and three trips to my car parked at the bend later, I had bought - Der Brockhaus' encyclopaedia  on 'Geschichte' (history); Der Brockhaus' encyclopaedia on 'Kunst' (art); a pocketbook on Marlene Dietrich; Kleine Geschichte des Films (a short history on films, from the beginning to 1960); Cambridge companion to Bachmann, Duden and Oezdamar (women writers and national identity); Geschichte von das Leben im alten Rom (a history on the life of ancient Rome); a book on Reise nach Polen (Poland); 'Kunst und Mythos' (Art and Mythology); 'Was Verspricht die Kunst' (What does art promise); 7 issues of the magazine 'Kafka'; 4 issues of 'Art and Thought'; 6 of Der Spiegel. I was given 2 books containing postcards and two huge posters - one of a church in Cologne and the other of the port in Hamburg with the old Fachwerkhauses on the background - for free, for my enthusiasm.

Video: This is just one cantata from what I heard today.