Smokes, 1994

The summer afternoon thunderstorm left streams between the cobbles. They reflect the acidic green neon of the Hard Rock Cafe sign above my head. This Hard Rock Cafe is not one of the international chain of Stratocaster strewn designer hamburger joints from La Jolla to Abu Dhabi. This is a labyrinthine dinge palace replete with a jukebox playing Aerosmith, Nirvana, Metallica, old Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains. The bartender splashes Hurlimann beer into glasses and hands them to the adolescent customers who otherwise sit on their high bar stools, rolling long Euro-joints of hash mixed with tobacco shaken from eviscerated imported Marlboros.

When I go outside, the smoke follows me; I sit in my own layer of it, tobacco, beer, the heavy sweet hash smell. My first trip to Europe is an exclusive tour of Zürich’s post-adolescent hash bars, concealed park benches and castle ruins. I take a deep breath of fresh air, washed in the rain, the wind and the evening. People pass, earnest and young, in black clothing, everyone, and everyone is smoking.

Although I’m bored and depressed by the scene, by everything, I don’t think of leaving. My ride, my DATE, my LOVER is one of the teenagers inside, and it isn’t like he’s going to drive ME. He will certainly emerge so completely fucked up he’ll demand I drive HIM home. Besides, I have no idea how to get anywhere, either on the tram or in a car. Zürich is a maze, a scary, dark and twisted tangle of identical streets with no landmarks and no horizon. It’s a living Giger painting. Giger even lives here; he’s drawing from life. I sit on a bench and prop my feet on a flower box that has Switzerland’s only dead geraniums.

I stayed inside long enough to beat the local high-scorer on the Tetris game in the corner and then beat my own high score twice. As I played, I wondered what sense it makes to be in Switzerland playing Tetris. There is something very wrong with that. I’ve never been in Europe before.

To my left, down the street, only a little ways, is Zürich’s one McDonalds, a magnet for all the American-culture idolators of the Niederdorf. A Big Mac is about $7 US, fries $3, but the milkshakes are much, much better than any I have ever had anywhere. There is really something about Swiss cows.

A boy and his girlfriend sit down on a bench near mine. He lights her cigarette. She inhales deeply.

“Could I bum a cigarette?” I ask, in English.

“Are you American?” the boy asks, shaking  a Marlboro toward me. I take it and lean forward for a light.

“Yes,” I answer. “Danke.” Smoke rises between me and the green rivulets of light threading down these solemn cobbled channels to the river.

***

Part of a collection of autobiographical episodes, each centered on a cigarette. I’ve had a dozen  cigarettes in my life, each attached to a particular moment that called out, “This is one! Bum a cigarette!” So…my smoking is more in tune with the Native American tradition that treats tobacco as a sacred herb.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/smoke/

Zurigo é una bella citta, no?

“Marta, Zurigo é una bella citta, no?” asked my friend’s father during my first visit to Zürich in 1994.

I shook my head. I didn’t think Zürich was beautiful at all. I thought it was strange and scary like a di Chirico painting. Of course I was jet-lagged and terrified and lost, but…

giorgio_de_chirico_la_strada_d5727139h

La Strada by Giorgio di Chirico

One night in the winter of 1996/97, at the Bodega Española, an old bar in Zürich where Lenin used to go, a professor from the University of Zürich hit on me. His pick up line was bizarre, yet provocative though not in the way a pick up line is “supposed” to be provocative. “What brings you to the crossroads of western civilization; James Joyce’s grave?”

Well, OK. Why would Joyce have been buried in Zürich? What made this grim backwater of a European city the “crossroads of western civilization”? I found the guy creepy, and he moved on. I was with two friends who thought the whole thing was hilarious (they were right), but the next summer, when I returned, I visited James Joyce’s house (but not his grave). Time would show me why Zürich was the “crossroads of western civilization” and the city would wrap itself around my heart and my mind as I finished writing Martin of Gfenn and moved on to writing other stories set in and around Zürich.

Some cities are instant lovers. Chicago was one for me. Shanghai. Beijing. Milan. Other cities seem to need courtship, time spent getting to know them. Zürich was like that. In my recent visit with my friend I felt happy that I still knew the streets, even after eleven years. That I could show her the things I think any visitor to Zürich should see — the ruins of the Roman baths visible through the gratings of the metal stairway in the narrow alleyway of Thermengasse, for example, or a small but excellent chocolate shop.

web_zurich_sightseeing_thermengasse_01_0

Thermangasse, Roman Baths below

It’s not that Zürich hasn’t changed — it’s changed a lot. I have studied maps of Zürich from the 13th century to today and a Zürich resident of even 100 years ago might have a difficult time with the changes to the city. There are no longer any walls. Around the edges of the city, old buildings have been torn down to make way for new. Villages that were once outside the walls are now part of the city and can be reached easily by tram or train. But in the historic center of the city, changes to buildings can only be INSIDE; the old city must remain the same outside. And this is why, after 11 years, I can still find my way around the labyrinth that scared me so much in my first visit.

Zürich fascinates me more than any other city in the world, though it’s not even considered much of an attraction in a country that is filled with attractions. It is not Geneva or Bern; there is no great and beautiful mountain nearby. It’s a serious looking — grim looking — place on a cloudy day. Zürich is banks and business. But for me it has become a sort of home.

When I said goodbye to my friend Rainer — whom I hadn’t seen in eleven years — and his girlfriend, Kirsten, Rainer said, “Come back soon. Don’t wait another ten years.”

I thought, “Wow, in ten years I’ll be 74 or maybe dead.” The thought shocked me. “I won’t wait ten years,” I said. “I love Zürich.”

Rainer looked a little surprised, but then he said, a little nervously, “And Zürich loves you.”

Funny, but I kind of believe that.

IMG_3954

Rainer and I at the Navel of the World, Cabaret Voltaire

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/city/

 Alp Horns

My first visit to Zurich was in 1994 and I did not like the city at all. 21 years later, after many subsequent visits, the city feels like an old friend, even its darker history feels like a poorly resolved and largely forgotten fight between siblings. Just a few years ago, Zurich apologized to the Anabaptists (Mennonites) and even put a plaques beside the Limmar where Felix Manz was executed by “baptism” (drowning) back in the 16th century.

Yesterday we had fewer problems navigating. I drove us over the Uetliberg into the city, parked our car and led Lois through Zurich’s ancient and labyrinthine streets. We spent some time in the Grossmunster, and Lois climbed up the tower. It was a lovely day, a Zurich postcard. There were people everywhere enjoying the sunshine, relaxing at outdoor cafes, kids playing.  


At 5:30 we we to meet a friend of mine, Rainer, and his girlfriend, Kirsten, for dinner. They are both historians, one working in the state archives and the other in the city archives. 

I first met Rainer in 2004 when I was writing Martin of Gfenn. I needed help with the historical accuracy of the story and I found him in a Google search — he had published a paper about Gfenn! When we met that first time, he brought along a map of medieval Zurich. Last night when we met he brought me two more maps — on that is of Canton Zurich (including the tiny village of Obfelden where I’m staying now) and the other showing the Zurich war. They are wonderful!!

Dinner was good, conversation even better, and then, more or less out of nowhere, or so it seemed, four men were standing in the middle of the street playing Alp horns. “For you,” Kirsten said to Lois. I had the same thought. 

I also made more attempts at speaking German and did well enough that Rainer said he didn’t even notice. 

Because the drive home involved a winding mountain road and more navigating, we had to leave while there was still daylight, so we all walked back to our parking structure, stopping on the way outside Cabaret Voltaire for a photo evoking photos we took eleven years ago.


I think most of the time people share elements of their individual experiences. But Rainer and I, eleven years ago actually shared an experience. Meeting last evening we picked up our conversation, returning to those moments while telling our stories of our lives through the intervening decade, here at the “Navel of the World.”

A Leper’s Christmas

Daily Prompt Getting Seasonal The holiday season: can’t get enough of it, or can’t wait for it all to be over already? Has your attitude toward the end-of-year holidays changed over the years?

Christmas Eve morning, Brother Hugo spoke to Martin, “Come with us. We are going to the forest to cut a tree and boughs to decorate the sanctuary. The Preceptor arrived last night.”

Martin had no interest in the chapel though all around him saw it as a great boon, a sanctuary for those banished from all others, but his habit had become simply to go along. He followed Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich outside the gate where a peasant waited with a sled. The sun had finally risen, though fog- bound and dim.

The four lopsided men in long black tunics followed the sled across the frozen fen and into the wood, the ice-covered pine needles clinking like crystal as they passed. Martin felt the forest’s magic pull and filled his lungs with the open air, cold though it was. “Take care, Brother; you are not used to this. You’ll catch your death,” warned Brother Hugo.

They stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pines. With a sharp saw, the peasant cut branches, while the four lepers looked for a fir the right size for the Paradise Tree.

“Will this one do?” called Brother Heinrich a few yards away.

“We may find nothing better.” Brother Lothar was anxious. He and Brother Heinrich were assisting at the mass and he feared they would not return in time.

After a few strikes of the peasant’s axe, the tree fell in a cloud of fresh snow.

***

Martin and Brother Hugo lay the pine boughs around the base of the altar and set high candelabra and large candles throughout the chapel to light the dark corners. The peasant made a stand for the tree, and Sisters Regula and Ursula tied apples and candles to its branches. For this day, the sisters had sewn a new altar cloth of white linen embroidered in white silk thread, with symbols of worship and the Lazarite cross entwined with grapevines. Benches were set near the front for those who could not stand or kneel. Minutes before the midday mass in which the chapel would be consecrated, the dark room had been transformed.

Martin stood in the back against the wall.

Brother Lothar entered first, swinging a censer to purify the air. He wore the white cape with the black cross of a Teutonic Knight. Brother Heinrich followed, in the black robes of the Knights of St. John, Hospitaller. In one hand, he held a branch of hyssop and in the other a silver dish from which he splashed holy water to cleanse the way.

The Master General entered wearing a sword and carrying an ornate silver cross. On the left shoulder of his black woolen cloak was appliquéd the cross of the Knights of St. Lazarus. He knelt before the altar, then stood to remove his sword and lay it upon the altar. The sword lay beside the gleaming silver chalice, reflecting the light from dozens of candles. At first, Martin could not tell if the Master General were a leper, but the wrappings on his hands answered Martin’s questions.

The Master General then stepped to one side, and the ritual was repeated by the Commander who served as Deacon. Brothers Heinrich and Lothar helped the Commander to kneel and then lifted him to his feet. He removed his sword and laid it on the altar, and made again to kneel. The Master General, who had seen his difficulty, motioned him to remain standing. The Commander bowed to the crucified Christ and said his silent prayer. Brothers Heinrich and Lothar, in their turns, laid their swords on the altar.

Asperges me,” said the Master General to the Commander who, in reply, dipped the hyssop twigs into the holy water and sprinkled the Master General. “Domine hyssopo et mundabor; lavabis me. . .”

The lepers spoke, together, those who were able, wheezing and hoarse many of them, “Thou shalt sprinkle me, Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Amen.”

The hyssop was used in the Bible, yes, Martin remembered, for cleansing lepers, but these were the words of Mass when all of God’s world was cleansed of the accumulating filth of human life. “Everyone is unclean,” had said the wandering priest of the Zürichberg.

“Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy on all,” responded the Commander.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.”

Expecting no mercy from God or man, Martin crossed himself in an automatic gesture of pious anonymity.

The Master General offered the Host as a sacrifice to God, and asked for God’s forgiveness. All those around Martin responded, “Amen.”

Ejus divinitatis esse consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus et particips Jesus Christus Fillius tuus Dominus noster…

Martin had heard this in every Mass since his boyhood, that Christ was God humbling himself to participate in the bitter, confusing struggle of man. Martin wondered if being human were not more difficult than being God.

The Commander waved the censer over the chalice to purify it before this first communion, purifying it for lepers. No clean lips would ever drink from it.

The air grew heavy with incense, the scent of fresh-cut pine, wet wool and human breath. It took a long time for the lepers to take their communion, and Martin stayed, kneeling on the stone floor, head bowed, eyes closed, his mind dragged through time on the voices, the singing, the words and the smoke of the incense. Confusing present and past, he listened for Michele’s pure Latin accents. The sun broke through the clouds and sent a bright flash through the chapel’s east window, the body of Christ. Startled by light pressing his eyelids, Martin lifted his head. He opened his eyes, but the sun was gone, and he was surrounded not by bright paintings, but by bare rock. Memory and hope collided, and he crumpled unconscious on the stone floor.

***

This is an excerpt from my novel, Martin of Gfenn.  If you like it, you can read more at martinofgfenn.com. In those days, people did not have Christmas trees as we know them, but they did put up what they called “the miracle tree.” It was an evergreen tree with apples tied to it.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/getting-seasonal/

They Found ME

Writing Challenge Digging for Roots In this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge, tell us about what makes you, you.

I cannot imagine anything more “Twilight Zone” than writing a novel set 800+ years ago and discovering you had written accurately about your own family of whom you had known nothing.

But…

While writing Martin of Gfenn, I became fascinated by one of the characters, the Commander. In 2005 I set out to write a prequel that would tell the story of the Commander’s life before he came to Gfenn.

Anyone who’s written a novel knows that characters have lives of their own and at certain point, a writer must allow the characters to tell their own stories. I had no idea where that would lead me when I set out to write this book. I finished a draft in 2005 and put it aside; other (rather dire) circumstances had captured my life and I had to attend to them. In 2010, when I returned to this novel, I was a different person and a different writer.

In what was going to be the “prequel” to Martin of Gfenn, the Commander was going to be the oldest son of a minor noble, a simple knight, who bred horses and lived…where? I decided he would live in Aargau. I put his castle on a hill (small castle, more fort than castle) and using some interesting information about a ruined castle near Solothurn, I built my character’s childhood home.

I gave him a brother named Hugo, a father named Ulrich, a mother named Anna and a fiancée named many different things I can’t now remember, but her name became Gretchen. The protagonist was named Rudolf.

He and his brother happily went to the Crusades — Rudolf to save his soul and Hugo to have an adventure. At a certain point in my writing, their father’s name, Ulrich, no longer seemed “right” so I changed it to Heinrich (bear with me; I know you feel like you’re in a bad dream with this half-assed plot summary and a Tolstoyan list of changing names coming at you). The family became: Father — Heinrich. Mother — Anna. Sons — Rudolf and Hugo. Fiancée— Gretchen.

Meanwhile, Martin of Gfenn came out. I sent copies to four newspapers around Zürich. Three interviewed me and published reviews of the novel. Martin of Gfenn became a big seller in a small part of Switzerland, and I got a email from a Swiss fan asking if I had Swiss ancestry. I believed I did, but I had no proof. I had looked, to no avail (I looked because my grandmother’s cooking was exactly the same as a few “typical Swiss” dishes I’d eaten in Switzerland), so I gave it another shot and I found…

The earliest known of my grandmother’s progenitors came from the Albis region between Zürich and Aargau. Some of them lived in what is now Aargau; some in Zürich. They were a large family of relatively minor knights in the service of the rising Hapsburg family. My grandmother’s — and my — progenitors names were….

Heinrich, married to Anna, with children Rudolf and Conrad. Heinrich’s BROTHER was named Hugo. Rudolf married a girl named Margaretha which is normally shortened to Gretchen. They lived in a castle on a hill looking over the Reuss and the village of Affoltern am Albis in Canton Zürich. There were visible ruins of the castle until the early 20th century; now there is just this wall (see photo). It was a197a3727-01f3-42aa-a472-131462fe9125 small castle, mostly a fort, and, apparently, judging from the supports and old records, it had had a large tower.

Of Heinrich and  Anna’s two sons, one, Rudolf, lived a very long life (well into his 80s) and the other, Conrad, was lost to time. In my novel, Rudolf survives a significant and bloody battle, while his brother is killed.Once I found all this, I changed the name of  my character, Hugo to Conrad. That was one of two important changes I made to adapt my “creations” to historical fact. The other?

The original ending of the novel really didn’t work, but it seemed to me to fit and to be effective and sufficiently mysterious. It left the door open to possibilities. A big fan of French film, I prefer equivocal endings to those that are neat and tidy, but having learned that the REAL Rudolf lived into old age, I felt a responsibility to him to extend his story, to give him one more chance to fight and win over his demons. The “real” Rudolf had also had children (and so I’m here 🙂 ). I loved “my” Rudolf and I didn’t want to shortchange him of his future. As I thought about it, it seemed more and more that equivocal or even sad endings can be as big a cop out as happy ones.

Though it is impossible, it seems that my ancestor was pushing me as a writer to do something new. I will not say what, as you might want to read the book someday! There are two chapters posted on Rudolf’s blog.

I also Lunkhofen Coat of Armsremembered how, in 1994, on my first trip to Europe, I had been taken into some old hall in Zürich and told to look at all the coats of arms up around the wall. I remember not caring one bit. The Twilight Zone aspect is that the coat of arms of my own family is on that wall. Heinrich’s older brothers (Heinrich was the youngest of three) became very powerful. In Aargau there are towns that bear their name. Over time, “my” side of the family changed its name. That name was Anglicized in the 18th century when some of the members emigrated to America. The last person in my family with that name was a woman. Her daughter was my grandmother’s grandmother. All of my grandmother’s female ancestors (and most of the male) were Swiss (Amish!). That explained her cooking.

Cities and Time and Maps

  • It’s a big world out there — and in here, too!
  • I had been here before, a long time ago — Now I remember. 
  • I was uncertain, but kept going — and ultimately, I died.
  • In my dreams, I envision a place — but the world is wider – and wilder! – than my dreams.
  • Loneliness is an interesting feeling — no, it isn’t.

I like the city picture. It is not as chaotic as many of the places I’ve been… So… 

A city with busy, chaotic streets.
© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos

© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos

All cities are chaos until you know them, until you allow them to teach you who they are. You see, all real cities are living things. Shanghai, for example. 1983 (It’s a different city now). We had only a map of the city in Chinese, none was available in English. For us it was no problem. We had our Fodor’s and we had a year of experience navigating through the labyrinth of Guangzhou using only a map in Chinese that had bus routes. We’d used our skills to get around Beijing and Hangzhou? Small city, piece of cake. So in Shanghai, with my Chinese brother, Xiao Huang, we were fine. And we had only one day… It was our last day in China. A brand new 747 carrying only 11 passengers would take us to San Francisco the next day.

Xiao Huang had been assigned to accompany us from Guangzhou to see we would not get in any trouble and maybe because the “heads” knew we would miss each other. Our “watcher,” Xiao Huang had become our good friend. The flight from Guangzhou to Shanghai was his first plane flight, a rickety Aeroflot. I don’t think he enjoyed it.

727px-Shanghai_1983

“Where did you get that map, Ma Sa?”
“In the hotel bookstore.”  Hotel amenities were alien to Xiao Huang who had learned English from Voice of America while on “political study” in a factory in Dun Huang during the Cultural Revolution. Free soul that he was (and is!) some bourgeois artifacts nonetheless inspired his disapproval. The hotel was one of the great art deco buildings still found in Shanghai, left over from the glittering 30s.
“How can you read that?” he asked, looking at the map.
“It’s OK, Xiao Huang. I have a book, too.” I showed him my Fodor’s (I still have it.)
“Your plane leaves in the morning. I am afraid we will not have time to sight see.” I realized he was scared.
“We have all day! I may never again come to Shanghai!”
We were notorious in Guangzhou for going everywhere. It was all the PLA and the police and the Foreign Visitor’s Bureau could do to keep track of us and protect us (it had happened…). I think Xiao Huang was afraid there would be no one in Shanghai to keep us out of danger. He also thought we would get lost. Of course, we never did. We saw many things that day, especially in Old Shanghai. Yu Yuan, a pleasure garden with a moon gate.

BEI_IP_236

In that old Chinese part of the city we saw men making abacus(es? ii?) with drills that had to have existed in medieval times. I bought one, wishing I could give it to my dad, the mathematician, but as he had been dead ten years already it would have to be a votive offering such as the Chinese made to their ancestors. I couldn’t burn it, so just yesterday, I packed it once more. We walked past the shopping area of Shanghai’s glamorous 20s and 30s on a street where pedestrians had one full lane, bikes another and the few trucks and cars were relegated to a narrow lane in the middle.

Xiao Huang had a great time.

***

Now I look at the cities I’ve visited as not only places navigable via two dimensional maps in languages other than English, but in the way I might imagine three dimensional Tic-Tac-Toe. Chinese cities and European cities are layers of time. Under the streets of Zürich (and other cities) are other cities. In one spot in Zürich you can look down on the excavated ruins of a Roman bath. 34776829

Maps from the past are a big help navigating the time warp of old cities. This map of Zürich was a great help (and a time machine!) when I was working on Martin of Gfenn.  Even though it’s a 16th century map, it’s possible to find the older Zürich and its walls.

 

Chaos is ignorance waiting for light. As Nietzsche said in Zarathustra, “Unless you have chaos within you, how can you give birth to a dancing star?” Navigating the superficial chaos of an unfamiliar city is one of the great things about traveling!

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/build-your-own/

The Amish Are Following Me

Years ago — 1982 — I got married to a guy from Delaware. I had to go back and meet the family. I’d never been back east really, just a couple of short trips to DC and Ballermore. So there I was meeting the Amazons and Vikings with whom my new husband was kin. Nice people and it was eerie, to me, how they had the same books my parents had, the living room was the same shade of green, etc. It was fate, clearly, kismet and all that.

So we went to the beach. I don’t remember what beach — I think it was Rehoboth Beach. The Atlantic surprised me (the only ocean I’d been in as an adult was the Pacific in northern California, brrrrr). But what surprised me most were — the Amish. Amish people were swimming. They were fully dressed and wearing hats. I was dumbstruck and stood there in the ocean wearing my glasses and staring at them. God smote me then and there, hit me from behind with a rogue wave, knocked my glasses off my face and ended forever any pleasure I might have had a couple of days later in New York City.

Time passed (this is going to shock all of you) and the Amish persisted in following me around. I learned last summer that I’m descended from members of the Swiss Brethren (Amish and Mennonite). And then, just three weeks ago, in my visit to the town in Colorado where I think I will be living, my friend and I saw an Amish buggy going down the highway.

I was absolutely NOT going to stare NOR was I going to take photos. My friend both stared and took photos AND she waved! She actually waved at an Amish man. He waved back and I thought that was wonderful. I deplore the Amish way of breeding dogs, but otherwise I like their stance on the separation of church and state. I appreciate their pacifism. I also respect their “non-evangelizing” position, and I respect “live and let live.” Many of their tenets don’t just appeal to me; I’ve always believed them. Did I imbibe them with the plums my grandmother grew, or are they just inherently RIGHT?

So now in my literary endeavors, having learned something of the history of my family, I’m writing about the Reformation in Switzerland in which the poor Swiss Brethren got it from all sides. NO ONE liked them. For some this was OK (there is a thing about it being cool to be a martyr in most Christian faiths) for others it wasn’t. It’s very complicated and difficult to separate my biases from truth (historical facts). Oddly enough, I’m biased against Huldrych Zwingli and ALWAYShave been. First it was because he had all the frescoes ripped off the walls of the Grossmunster, Zürich’s cathedral, but now it’s because he killed “my people.”

Writing historical fiction is time-travel and role plays.

And then…I found a house (I’m hoping it will be my house) when I was in Monte Vista that is being remodeled/repaired. It’s not quite finished (not good as I want to move in by September 21). My realtor was there this past Friday trying to Skype me from the house. Later we spoke on the phone and she said that the seller’s realtor told her that an “Amish guy” was doing the remodel. She thought it was a joke. I said, “No. There are Amish down in the San Luis Valley now. They’ve moved there in recent years because it’s just hard to make a living back east any more.”

I think that’s cool. And, with an Amish man remodeling (what some months ago I thought would be) my house in Monte Vista, I am pretty sure it will be done right (will it have electricity????).

There Is No Time

Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone, by Krista on February 28, 2014 Ever have an experience that felt surreal, as though you’d been suddenly transported into the twilight zone, where time seemed to warp, perhaps slowing down or speeding up? Tell us all about it.

More unique in my case would be an experience that’s NOT like the Twilight Zone. Still, I cannot imagine anything more “Twilight Zone” than writing a novel set 800+ years ago and discovering you had written accurately about your own family of whom you had known nothing.

After I wrote Martin of Gfenn, I wanted to write a “prequel” about one of the characters in the novel. I did write it. In the second novel he was going to be the oldest son of a minor noble, a simple knight, who bred horses and lived on the, on the, on the? I decided he would live in Aargau. I put his castle on a hill (small castle, more fort than castle) and using some cool information about a ruined castle near Solothurn, I built my character’s childhood home.

I gave him a brother named Hugo, a father named Ulrich, a mother named Beatrice, but I changed it to Anna and a fiancee named many different things I can’t now remember, but her name became Gretchen. The protagonist was named Rudolf, but he changed his name after certain important events, to Johannes.

He and his brother happily went to the Crusades — Rudolf to save his soul and Hugo to have an adventure. At a certain point in my writing, their father’s name, Ulrich, no longer seemed “right” so I changed it to Heinrich (bear with me; I know you feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone with this half-assed plot summary and a Tolstoyan list of changing names coming at you). The family became: Father — Heinrich. Mother — Anna. Sons — Rudolf and Hugo. Fiancee — Gretchen.

Meanwhile, Martin of Gfenn came out and I got a fan-email from a man in Switzerland asking if I had Swiss ancestry. I believed I did, but I had no proof. I gave it another shot and I found…

The earliest known of my grandmother’s progenitors came from the Albis region between Zurich and Aargau. Some of them lived in what is now Aargau; some in Zürich. They were a large family of knights in the service of the rising Hapsburg family. My grandmother’s — and my — progenitors names were….

Heinrich, married to Anna, with children Rudolf and Conrad. Heinrich’s BROTHER was named Hugo. Rudolf married a girl named Margaretha which is normally shortened to Gretchen. They lived in a castle on a hill looking over the Reuss and the village of Affoltern am Albis. There were visible ruins of the castle until the early 20th century; now there is just this wall (see photo). It was a197a3727-01f3-42aa-a472-131462fe9125 small castle, mostly a fort, and, apparently, judging from the supports and old records, it had had a large tower. Of Heinrich and  Anna’s two sons, one, Rudolf, lived a very long life (well into his 80s) and the other, Conrad, was lost to time. In my novel, Rudolf survives and his brother is killed. I changed the name of  my character, Hugo to Conrad. That was one change I made to adapt my “creations” to historical fact. The other?

The original ending of the novel really didn’t work, but it seemed to me to fit and to be effective and sufficiently mysterious. It seemed to leave the door open to possibilities. A big fan of French film, I prefer equivocal endings to those that are neat and tidy, but having learned that the REAL Rudolf lived into old age, I felt a responsibility to him to extend his story, to give him one more chance to fight and win over his demons. He had also had children, the “real” Rudolf. I loved “my” Rudolf and I didn’t want to shortchange him of his future. He would have to do the same. As I thought about it, it seemed more and more that equivocal or even sad endings can be as big a cop out as happy ones.

My ancestor was pushing me as a writer to do something new. I will not say what, as you might want to read the book someday! There are three chapters here.

I also remembered how, in 1994, on my first trip to Europe, I had been taken into some old hall in Zürich and told to look at all the coats of arms up around the wall. I remember not caring one bit. The Twilight Zone aspect is that the coat of arms of my own family was on that wall. You can see it at the top of this blog. Heinrich’s older brothers (Heinrich was the youngest of three) became very powerful and their sons even more powerful in Zürich and in Bremgarten. In Aargau there is are towns that bear their name.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/daily-prompt-twilight-zone/

Rod Serling’s got NOTHING on these folks:

  1. Karma For a Lapsed Veggie | AS I PLEASE
  2. Mad Hatter and I | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  3. Ecclesiastical rocket | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  4. Lime Plant in White | Exploratorius
  5. Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone | Incidents of a Dysfunctional Spraffer
  6. Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone- The Psychological Fact of Living | Journeyman
  7. Coffee Neurotics Seem To Find Each Other and The Daily Prompt | The Jittery Goat
  8. The Twilight Zone | Hope* the happy hugger
  9. Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone | Under the Monkey Tree
  10. Wholesale Hot Dogs | the intrinsickness
  11. Surreal journey: Daily Prompt | ALIEN AURA’S BlOG: IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND!
  12. Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone | The Wandering Poet
  13. Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  14. fandom | yi-ching lin photography
  15. DP Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone | Sabethville
  16. IN THE ZONE AND OUT AGAIN | SERENDIPITY
  17. in concert, there ought | y
  18. The Truth About Motherhood | theempathyqueen
  19. Pushing forty, going on sixteen… most of us anyway. | thoughtsofrkh
  20. Drunkenness Adventures | Knowledge Addiction
  21. You will meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger- again | Suddenly Single in Marin
  22. Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone | SURREAL | nomadofwoods
  23. Lisa’s Kansa Muse
  24. Twilight Zone meets Logan | It’s a wonderful F’N life
  25. Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone | A Day In The Life
  26. One Crazy Mom » Living In A Haze
  27. The Santa in Derby UK | Le Drake Noir
  28. For E., With Love and Make-up | Kosher Adobo
  29. 270. Train Rush | Barely Right of Center
  30. Twilight Zone | The Silver Leaf Journal
  31. The Daily Post: Twilight Zone – Revelation | growinolder
  32. Surreal (Short story) | A mom’s blog
  33. The Cruelty of Time | snapshotsofawanderingheart
  34. Chaffinch | Writing and Works
  35. Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone « Mama Bear Musings
  36. Episodes of Serenity | My Musings | WANGSGARD
  37. Daily Prompt/ Twilight Zone? | Sitting on the Porch
  38. Get Transported. How? Finding Awe | Emotional Fitness
  39. Daily Prompt: The Twilight Zone | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  40. DP: Surreal | As I See It
  41. Twilight Moments (Daily Prompt Challenge) | Ana Linden
  42. In the Nick of Time. | jwdwrites
  43. Daily Prompt: Twilight Zone | Indira’s Blog
  44. Time Warp | Views Splash!
  45. The Quickest Way To The Twilight Zone Is By Bus… | Steve Says…
  46. This is Not a Pipe | jigokucho
  47. The Twilight Zone | melissuhhsmiles

Snowball Effect and Zwingli’s Birthday

I write novels about the Bible, people and their faith. It’s somewhat ironic because while I am not a person who has no faith, I couldn’t name it. For me, faith is possibly the most secret, personal and precious fact any individual has. The first two novels are about young men in 13th century Switzerland, high middle ages, a century before the Black Death arrived with ferocity and wiped out at least 30% of the population of Europe.

In writing my first two novels, I had to learn about the Catholic church; not the church today, or the medieval church as we view it through the very smoky lens of 800 years of change and fiction and melodrama, but as close as I could to the way the people saw it roughly between 1190 and 1250. At the time in which my novels are set, there was really no Inquisition — perhaps the seeds of it. While indulgences were certainly out in the marketplace, it was not yet with the absolute absurdity with which they were sold in the 16th century. The Crusades were coming to an end — constant warfare for 100 years designed partly to get the wild-savage young-nobles out of the way so life could go on and society could prosper. Terry Jones did a great kind of documentary on the Crusades which I love because he actually manages to show US something of how THEY would have seen these events. And, it’s fun to watch.

Having been raised Baptist (by default?) with an undercurrent of passionate anti-Catholic feeling, it wasn’t very easy for me to approach that Catholicism. I thought, at first, my Protestant indoctrination was a disadvantage; later, as I became more educated — and went to two beautiful masses in a small church in Little Italy here in San Diego and mass in Latin at the Basilica St. Ambrogio in Milan — I came to really love it. By then I was far back in time in my mind, in a pre-Reformation world, and I had entered, somewhat, the mentality of people whose lives were defined by this faith, who lived at least part of their lives on the plane of metaphor, and who were not angry at the Church. A male friend of mine — devout Catholic — was hoping I would convert and offered to go to Catholic school with me if I chose to. I couldn’t. And from what would I be converting as my own beliefs are absolutely personal and private to me? It would mean conversion from a private relationship with the Deity to a public relationship with a lot of other people and, to me, a compromise.

Once Martin of Gfenn was out in the little world from which he came (little in terms of size, not importance) I got an email from a man in Switzerland who suggested I check into my ancestry. He thought maybe — since so many Swiss had emigrated to America during the 18th century because of their religious beliefs — maybe my ancestors had, too. The only reason I had to imagine this to be the case was my grandmother’s cooking, specifically her way of making macaroni and cheese and green beans, ham and potatoes, but I did check and was stunned to find they had come from the very part of Switzerland about which I’d been writing. They were the very people I’d been “imagining” in my second novel, Rudolf of Apple Tree Village, minor nobility (knights) and opportunists, serving the Habsburgs. By the 16th century, some were Anabaptists.  Over the next two hundred years, they left their town (Affoltern am Albis) in waves for Strasbourg and the Palatinate. In the early 18th century my direct ancestor came on a ship named Hope.

What did that mean? I did not even really know — I knew the general overall history anyone who travels in Zürich will learn, that Zwingli, the great (truly great) Swiss reformer brought about the first killing of a Protestant by a Protestant in the person of Felix Manz, an Anabaptist. To find out who and what my family was I had to learn more. I was stunned. These were people who believed in the separation of church and state; that a man (meaning human) was responsible to God and his own conscience first. I’ve now read many letters and sermons, Michael Sattler’s statements in the Schleitheim Confession. There is a long list of things they believed and, of course, somehow I’d been raised to believe most of them myself. Still, I couldn’t really “like” the Reformation; I love paintings too much and wish I could have seen the inside of the Grossmünster before the artwork was destroyed. And, great though he no doubt was, I couldn’t like Zwingli — or Calvin, either, for that matter.

With screen after screen of family trees in front of me (thank you Internet, the Mormon Church and various people to whom I’m distantly related who care about genealogy) I could see a whole list of characters. I knew where they would live and the historical events that would propel their choices and their actions. I could see a family of brothers torn apart by the Reformation. A baby who is unbaptized because the only one at home at the moment he is born is his older brother who follows Zwingli who, in the early days, stated his opposition to infant baptism (Zwingli changed his mind). This means that the baby cannot be buried with its mother in consecrated ground. A  monk who falls in love but cannot stomach the then-common lie of a secret marriage, so leaves his faith, marries his love, becomes the catalyst for reformation in his abbey and then sees his brother killed by leaders of the new church — all these are incidents tied to family members who had lived in the same place three hundred years before.

That’s what I’m working on now and it’s exciting to write and to learn about. January 1 is Zwingli’s birthday.