I found myself in mid-March with a couple of weeks relatively work-free, so I decided to have myself a little staycation. If I were a “real” blogger, I’d have used those two weeks to blog up a storm. But I think we all know by now that I am the merest dabbler in this here art form, so of course I did nothing of the sort.
Instead, The First Husband and I decided to re-decorate a guest-room, of which our empty nest now has four. In the interests of accuracy, I should explain that we did not actually ‘decide’ to take on this job; like Topsy, it just growed. It all began with TFH wanting to repaint a bathroom door, which had been badly painted first time around. While he was at it, I suggested, he should also repaint the closet doors in the guest-room, which were even worse. And, of course, as soon as they were finished, they showed up the all-round crappy paint job on the room itself.
It had been painted by my SIL, as a surprise for me, when I was too busy commuting 90 kilometres a day to and from work and onward to university classes every night to be bothered with it. And when I did have the time to care, I managed to keep it out of sight out of mind, because painting and decorating is one of my least favourite activities, second only to poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick.
My usual MO is to sigh heavily, within earshot of TFH, every time I catch a pained glimpse of whatever room I think needs some work. Eventually, he catches on and, because he’s like the Energizer Bunny, pathologically incapable of sitting still for more than 20 minutes, offers to paint/paper/tile/sand (pick one), if I will pick the colours and let him know what I want him to do.
This time started out no differently, but, in all conscience, I could not let him do it on his own while I blogged or Tweeted, so I guilted myself into working along with him. By the time it was finished, not only had we repainted the whole room, we also replaced the painted trim and skirting boards with oak, which I varnished while TFH rewired the lights, fan and lamps, and I finally got around to stripping and painting white a rather nondescript wooden bookcase that I picked up from a local garage sale a few years ago and filled with books, without bothering to refurbish it as I should have done at the time.
Even if I say so as shouldn’t, I think we did quite a good job.
And I finally assuaged my long-standing guilt over never having lifted a finger to help my father, during his countless papering and painting jobs around our family home in Dublin. My younger sister and her family moved into that house to live with my mother, after my father died, and undertook an extensive renovation. When they stripped the flock wallpaper off the old dining room, they found that previous decorators had left their signatures and dates. My father went one further. He left this message:
This room was repainted and papered from ceiling to skirting, between November and December 1970, by JR working after hours. Unlike [the previous owners], I cannot boast of family help. I got and was offered damn’ all. My wife and daughters ignored the whole job as if it was slightly indecent. Here’s hoping that the patsy who does the job in 1990 lives with nicer people or gets paid for it.
In pursuit of my third New Year Resolution, IÂ have been ploughing through books at a rate of knots since January 1st. Although I’ve been picking them at random from the foothills of Mount TBR, the last three have all turned out to be about anti-Semitism, in fact and fiction, in both ancient and relatively recent history.
Two, The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears andÂ The Spanish Doctor by Â Matt Cohen, are fiction. The third, Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction by Martin Gilbertis fact.
The Pears novel takes place at three different stages in history: the 5th, 14th and 20th centuries. They are connected by a place, Avignon, and a manuscript, The Dream of Scipio. Written in the dying days of the Roman Empire, by a philosopher bishop, the manuscript is unearthed in the years of the Black Death by a poet, and rediscovered in the 20th century by an academic working in Vichy France. The thread weaving through these three epochs is the place of Jews in each society – despised, scapegoated, slaughtered at will by overlords, conniving clerics and frustrated peasants.
Driving through Germany in 2006, I noticed several plaques referring to Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. It took place on 10th November 1938, when Nazi stormtroopers and Hitler Youth rampaged through Jewish neighbourhoods across Germany, destroying synagogues and plundering Jewish homes and businesses. Wanting to learn more about the events leading up to the destruction, I picked up Martin Gilbert’s book, but it was buried in the pile of books until this week.
It’s a horrific read; chapter after chapter of unspeakable evil, occasionally leavened by the courage and decency of ordinary Germans who tried to help their friends and neighbours, only to be severely punished. The behaviour of most so-called civilised countries, haggling and parsing the number of Jewish refugees they would allow across their borders was disgusting. I cringed with shame when I read about the flat refusal of the Irish Free State to grant refuge to any German Jews, including children. It is worth noting that, after the War ended, hundreds of German refugee children were taken in by Irish families, including mine. My foster-brother, Hans lived with us for four years, before returning to his mother in Germany in 1949.
I’m just a few chapters into Matt Cohen’s book, which opens in 15th century Spain, at the beginning of the great era of Jewish persecution. Ironically, given current events, the pogroms follow an era of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Jews in Moorish Spain. As the Moors are driven out, the Inquisition moves in, and unscrupulous aristocrats and merchant-princes deflect the anger of the peasantry onto their Jewish neighbours.
While the two novels are beautifully written, teeming with colour and drama, Kristallnacht is fairly plodding – a bare recitation of names, dates and facts. But they serve to underline the horrors of life for Jews under Nazi rule, making it by far the most affecting read of the three books. In one particularly disturbing passage, a young Jewish man, during his time in a sub-camp of Dachau, overhears a conversation between a German mother and her six- or seven-year old daughter, as they walked past the camp, a few feet from the perimeter.
The child asked: ‘Mutti, was fur Menschen sind die?’ ‘Mother, what kind of people are they?’ to which the mother replied: ‘Das sind keine Menschen, das sind Juden.’ ‘These are not people, they are Jews.’
Years of unrelenting propaganda by Joseph Goebbels and his like, always referring to Jews as ‘scum,’ ‘parasites’ and ‘rodents’ had served to dehumanise an entire race.
Today, I opened my newspaper and read about a Toronto man who has been posting on an Arizona-based website, filthyjewishterrorists.com. In his posts, he calls for “a genocide [to] be perpetrated against the Jewish populations of North America and Europe” and refers to Jews as “diseased and filthy,” and as “scum.”
* The more things change, the more they stay the same.