Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Woe from Wit

I avoid making controversial political statements on my blog, but feel safe in saying that little good ever came from Adolf Hitler and his trans-Alpine ultras.

I'm also sure that Catholic priests' chosen way of life rules them out as sources of emulation. Cardinal Newman was right to say that a liberal education is its own reward, but would have been more honest to note that it is its sole reward. One glance at the sort of stuff Newman enjoyed -being unhappily celibate, not eating much, arguing with the Pope - suggests that his advice was an introit to woe.

Indeed, a steady theme of this blog and therefore my life is how knowing things has constantly frustrated my mojo. A splendid series of articles by former colleague, literary colossus and all-round Spaniard Jason "De Vere" Webster on visiting Hitlerian holy places recently reminded me of another such missed opportunity.

I always felt sorry for historians of Nazi Germany. Scholars of less lurid eras display their professional envy with the odd sneer: "Don't worry, I'm sure you're purely interested in post-Gleichschaltung welfare policy, and aren't at all turned on by the shiny boots and pederasty, old man."

However much they protest, academic specialists on the Third Reich get lumped in with Colin Wilson and people who "research" serial killers, not helped by their high profile on TV strands ostensibly dealing with history but in fact entirely devoted to archive film of Himmler signing death warrants.

Jason brings out the awkwardness of having your genuine interest in some of the most significant loci of recent history mistaken for an obsession with skull shapes, department-store ownership and moving Poland around the map once every generation.

One part of Europe where people are refreshingly relaxed about mentioning the War is the Baltic States.

"Rorschach-blobby countries
With a dodgy Nazi past,
They disappointed Stalin
And left the Jews aghast"

as I once dubbed them, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had a decidedly mixed 20th century. A scattering of squat peasants teetering above a wintry sea, the Balts speak abrupt archaic languages and annoyed the Tsars so much with their dour folk songs that Alexander I subcontracted their government to the local German squires.

This made the Baltics easily the best-administered and most developed part of the Russian Empire, which was otherwise as baggy, inept and truculent as the "Madchester" music scene. It also meant that the suicidal Tsarist combination of idleness and cruelty reconciled the hitherto hostile freeholders and Junkers in an anti-Russian bond that holds true to this day.

Lenin had the novel idea that millenarian mumbo-jumbo and killing all the smart people would somehow improve Russia's condition, but should not have been surprised when the Balts opted instead for 20 years of frugal independence.

That lasted as long as it took for Hitler to elope with Stalin. This gruesome couple, despite their rapid falling-out, managed to scupper the Germano-Baltic alliance by respectively repatriating the Junkers to the Reich and setting up East Germany, a one-pot meal of a state that reduced the worst flavours of Prussian and Soviet bombast to a lignite jus rancid enough to repel even the squarest-headed Lett.

Nonetheless, the consistently beastly behaviour of the Soviet served to keep the Balts' Germanophilia simmering away under the tight lid of the Socialist saucepan until the whole Communist kitchen collapsed in 1991. Since then these new European Union colleagues have proudly rediscovered their Hanseatic and some other less edifying Teutonic ties.

I found this out on a visit to Estonia organised by the Soviet Ministry of Public Enlightenment in 1986. The Soviet Union would grudging allow a couple of dozen British students of the Russian language to spend a year in their string-vest satrapy, but worked hard to retard our linguistic progress by penning us in a crypto-Cossack backwater called Voronezh.

They'd let us out on the odd trip to places like the Baltics, Azerbaijan and Armenia, where speaking Russian usually earns you a kick in the pods. With this in mind, I prepared an Estonian phrasebook in cooperation with the Tallinn-born girlfriend of Young Young Aherne, whom we have met before.

Earnest analysis of Estonian society and intimate knowledge of my fellow-students helped me strip the required phrases down to a pair: "Vabandage, ma ei oksa eesti keelt" ("Excuse me, I don't speak Estonian") and "Neli õlut, palun" ("Four beers, please").

This proved to be an outstanding success. Deploying the first phrase melted the average Esth's features from a frosty furrow to an almost mollified maw of gold teeth and onion breath, while the second christened our new-found friendship in the amber dregs of State Brewery No. 17's sphincter-sapping ale.

It also helped to break the packed ice of prejudice between us and a group of ten East Germans whom the Soviets had also sent to Tallinn. The Politburo thought that bolting some Brandenburgers onto our party would comprehensively poop it. The Soviets were convinced, largely through study of our war films, that we shared their disdain for all things German.

Not so. Jerry always buys his round, for one thing, and is grateful in an older-mistress manner for any overtures from non-Axis chaps.

As usual, what really annoyed the Russians was a fault of their own making. East Germans were taught to see themselves as heirs to the Valiant Communist Resistance Movement, and so felt no guilt about Hitler and his chums. And what the average Russian really likes, next to a dead German, is a contrite one.

It didn't help that the East Germans had made a better fist of Socialism that the Soviets, and rather rubbed it in with their non-laxative beer and functioning cameras.

Moreover, the Russians underestimated the common ground between the British and the Germans. Apart from awful clothes, overcooked pork and talking about cars, we share a suspicion of the French, to whom life seems to come far too easily.

On the overnight train to Estonia, we and the pared-down Prussians decided that our Russian hosts were indeed no better than Frenchmen. True, their wine and weather scarcely recall Bordeaux, but they have a certain Gallic gift for all-day drinking, haughty women, toxic diplomacy and smoking through their rare ablutions. By the time the Baltic Express pulled into Tallinn Central, our carriage sounded like an pilot episode of "Meet the Bismarcks".

Our North-Sea Alliance was strengthened by the absence of the East Germans' "scharfe Hund" Stasi minder, who had gone too far in parading his pro-Soviet sympathies and actually eaten a Moscow railway station packed lunch.

One of the first Leipzigers to leap the psychological Anti-Fascist Defence Wall was Beata. The two of us hit it off together, as she combined a bürgerlich fondness for tailored tracksuits (as good as East German fashion got, believe me), unpermed hair and being photographed lounging on the bonnets of BMWs with a scholarly knowledge of German history. She also had a name full of southern light, unlike the crowds of Heidruns and Edeltrauds.

One morning a group of us were ambling towards the Kadriog Palace art gallery. I asked Beata whether she was also planning to join the afternoon jaunt to the Kilingi-Nõmme Experimental Synthetic Fabrics Plant.

She gazed out across the field-grey sea and mused "My room-mate Margit will go, as she has an interest in nylon tricotage. This alas I do not share. I shall rather spend the afternoon in our hotel room, examining the Hungarian lingerie that I purchased yesterday at the flea market. Are you interested in lingerie?"

I mimed that I was very interested in lingerie. "Good. Maybe you will join me?" Further Noh theatre gestures indicated my consent as we stepped, me bent nearly double, into the gallery.

The Kadriog Palace had, I heard, briefly been the residence of Estonia's interwar heads of state. So modest was Estonia's political class that it had taken until 1938 to appoint a president, and then he had had to seize power and appoint himself.

Welsh nationalists of the time were great admirers of the Baltic states, seeing their rude agrarian independence as a model, and m'Lord President of Wales and the Marches Dafydd Elis-Thomas later championed their captive cause through the long Soviet twilight.

This Quaker cult of simplicity lives on in Jan Morris's "A Machynlleth Triad" and, like everything Quaker, is doomed. It doesn't even have the random, redeeming élan of the Jacobites and Carlists. Mad-hatted feudal Poland survived the war against all odds, as did Regency Hungary and kleptomanic Romania. But the humble, horse-hoeing Balts spent 50 years as an insanitary shopping mall for Leningrad fishwives.

I should have been content to nod at a few "Girl Meets Tractor" efforts in oils then rush back to the hotel and help Beata sort her new purchases with my teeth. Instead I decided to try out my languages and ask a few edgy questions.

In the Soviet Union all checkpoints between the public and sources of fun were patrolled by leathery female War veterans who'd never needed such bourgeois baubles as weapons to dispatch the enemy. Restaurant lobbies, hotel floors, art galleries - each had its attendant Gorgon, her hydrae hidden by a mauve knitted beret.

I approached the Modernist Room Medusa with a caution born of Classical learning and numerous midnight flights from hotel balconies. "Excuse me, I don't speak Estonian," I opened.

"Wha'?" she stirred.

I tried again in Russian. "Can you help me? Is this the room where the Estonian presidents used to live?"

"Deutsch?" she ventured.

"Ja!" I replied, meaning that, yes, I do speak O-Level German.

"Good! You know, I remember during the War when you lot were here. My mother worked as a maid for the Generalkommissar, and he used to review the troops from that window over there. They were so smart! Everything was good, then the Russians came back and ruined it all."

I backed away, smiling, towards the door as she muttered to herself in German. I gave a final wave, which she again misinterpreted.

"Heil Hitler!" she beamed. I grinned like a chimp with rictus right arm as the East Germans filed into the room, turned smartly on their Cuban heels and filed back out again. And like the man queuing for tea in British 1950s horror flicks who's the first to see the monster slither out of the Thames, I could only stare open-mouthed at Beata as she marched past with no word spoken.

Still, the Vinalon alloy socks from the Kilingi-Nõmme goody bag have lasted me to this day.


Anonymous said...

Dorogoi Nyet Dobre Malchik, In Estonia all the bar tenders and waiters are Russophone. As to misinterpreting the past when I was at the Warsaw ghetto (with my O level German) a Pole said "Oh yes the Jews, shot our boys in the back when they brought bread". Muck fee, not very clever of them, eh? Obnimayu i tseluyu! Kirill Rehillovich, 7th Partizans Troop, attached Mebion Glyndwr.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

I know precisely two words of Estonian: Eesti Pank, which is printed on their banknotes, one of which is in my collection of worthless currency. Riveting despatch, as ever, Boyo. Have the Germans ever let you see your Stasi file?

No Good Boyo said...

I can but salute your indefatigability and move swiftly on, Ciaran, but will pause to recount a beery afternoon down the bar of the Hotel Olümpia in Tallinn.

My second phrase ("Neli õlut, palun") had gone down a storm with the demure Estonian barmaid, so Filthy McMillen decided he'd give it a go. While he praticed the phrase a new, Russian battleaxe took over the bar duty.

Filthy gave her a broad grin and asked for the four beers in good Estonian. "Are you drunk or what?" snapped the dragon, and refused to serve him. Charming.

Daphne, Estonian is a most peculiar language. Like many minor tongues it is poor in curses, and I noticed how Estonian youths on the streets of Tallinn would season their slang with chunks of very demotic Russian. It sounded like this: "Eksibeksi hattabattlainin ulibuli fucking twatibailen". Cool.

Gadjo Dilo said...

It's the sequel to The Marriage of Maria Braun! "Grateful in an older-mistress manner for any overtures from non-Axis chaps" is ofen how Germans are, or were, bless 'em, but I suspect their confidence is getting up again now that The War is seen more as a sitcom and an important page in the history of German automotive engineering than anything else. Kleptomanic Romania: "The Land of The Gypsies will fall after 700* hundred years" says Nostrodamus, and my Hungarian acquaintances.

* Don't quote me on the number, but it's something in hundreds....

No Good Boyo said...

True enough, Gadj. The inability of the rest of Europe to count properly has left the Germans in charge by default.

I suppose you know the interwar joke: Mania is stealing. Kleptomania is madness for stealing. Romania is madness for stealing applied to an entire nation. Most unfair, of course, and I speak as a Welshman.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Hmm, that's a Hungarian joke :-) I'm sympathetically perched on the fence in this particular matter, but feel constrained to give the Romanian position at this particular moment. The allies were grateful that the Romanians had tied up some Central Powers battalions during WWI. The only notable publicised statement of war aims during WWI was Woody Wilson's Fourteen Points, which emphasised that successor nations be drawn up according to the nationalilties of the people living there, and with their inate abilities to not learn the Hungarian names and language forced on them and to raise families of 10 or more in a one-room shack, the Romanians had ensured that they'd been the majority population for as long as there'd been censuses. Et voilà! Oh, and that Bela Kun had to go. That's enough, it's a Saturday.

No Good Boyo said...

Gadj, I always backed my mate Filthy's contention that Transylvania would be better off without these Magyars and Dacians as an independent vampire republic.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

A technical remark re "So modest was Estonia's political class that it had taken until 1938 to appoint a president": A Russian would have explained this differently. You see, Estonians are famously slow. Russians have a trove of jokes on the subject, like "eternity is when Estonians count the Chinese" or "the slowest catastrophe is when an elevator falls down the shaft in Tallin" etc...

No Good Boyo said...

True enough, Snoop. My favourite Estonian joke:

A farmer is riding his horse-drawn sled home across the snowbound fields of Estonia with his two grown-up sons. One son looks down and mutters "Fox tracks". Twenty minutes later the other son shakes his head and says "No, badger tracks". Half an hour later their father says "Will you two hotheads keep it down?"

sackcloth and ashes said...

Highlights of a visit to Lithuania and Latvia in June 1994:

(1) Observing the sadistic glee with which a Lithuanian border guard tore apart a Russian babushka's luggage in search of 'contraband'. I am pleased to say that the presentation of a British passport and a stern glare from myself ensured that said flunky was more servile when dealing with my own baggage.

(2) The drunk sprawled in front of the urinals in the public toilet at Riga train station. I had to step over him to ease springs.

(3) The ceremonial guard outside the War of Independence memorial in Riga looked most disturbing. I could have sworn that they were in brown uniforms, jackboots and wore stalhelms.

(4) My hosts in Vilnius were a couple of very charming Poles, and I'm not entirely sure they were reconciled to the fact that 'Wilno' wasn't actually in Poland, and that Zeligowski's act of territorial brigandage did not exactly stand the test of time.

(5) Lithuanian beers taste like Felinfoel.

No Good Boyo said...

Indeed, Sacky. I remember the hordes of beggars in Riga about that time, overwhelmingly Russian too.

As for the Poles of Wilno, I recommend this memoir of mine:

"The Polish national anthem includes the line 'Bonaparte has shown us the way to victory'. Indeed, we all have much to learn from his fate."

sackcloth and ashes said...

NGB, I do remember that post, amongst many others. In particular I recall your description about the Marszalek as 'a man who escaped German captivity in the Great War by feigning insanity with the greatest of ease'. I will ensure that when I use that quote in future I will not do a Hari, and I will attribute that quote to its original source.

I did spend five months in Poland in 1994. I got to like the place and its people, but I did think that they were a bit fucking mad.

No Good Boyo said...

Spot on about the endearingly deranged Poles, Ashes.

My favourite story is the incredulous reaction of the German "defenders" of Monte Cassino when they found their fortifications breached by troops of a nation they thought long vanquished.

Also worthy of note is their last pre-war leader, poet and cryptic crossword clue, Marshal Rydz-Śmigły. He was a pretty useless political and military leader, but earned respect by smuggling himself back into Nazi-occupied Poland and taking them all on as a private soldier. That's literal atonement.

Tim Newman said...

I'm planning a completely unplanned trip through the Baltic states in October. I'm thinking maybe I should blog the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

HjhOof [url=]ugg australia [/url] OvzEcw WgzWps [url=]UGG アグ ブーツ[/url] RecPkm MqcCks [url=]ugg[/url] PyrPgw XpsLza[url=]ugg メンズ[/url] XajHyx IouAwo [url=]アグ ブーツ[/url] JyhHrd XdrMiw [url=]australia ugg[/url] QlfOlx HmtEqt

Anonymous said...

MjwWcc [url=]ugg ブーツ[/url] EnyJgq HesEpv [url=]アグ[/url] RshQek RpwTgn [url=]ugg アグ ブーツ[/url] QncLlo UfeJln [url=]UGG AUSTRALIA[/url] KerEkl HypHdq [url=]UGG メンズ激安[/url] RyqYew ZhqNld [url=]ugg ムートンブーツ[/url] FsgWns KjtLbk

Anonymous said...

Come bene come con riguardo a tutto ciò una offerta eccezionale di più non convenzionale, un solo tentativo che è veramente assolutamente trapuntato che trasporta un ripieno meravigliosa felpa. In realtà moncler vest intemperie invernali, in circostanze non hai ottenuto il tuo maglione invernale personali ordinati ideale ora. Si è ottenuto di intraprendere un moncler doudoune rapidamente! Si incontra fuori stili per tutti i tipi di maschi adulto e donne.
moncler in truth an huge and fast collapse
Apple acclaimed brand, Moncler Jackets Women never go out of appearance and they are warm, durable , around-the-clock and consistently looks classic. Moncler anorak is balmy and comfortable. It bendable and ablaze provided a lot of fun. If you want to help encourage On the website your own individuality, then you certainly need to increase these kinds of moncler males overcoats in the armoire. Together with a whole lot decision, you can be confident of seeking the fantastic DIRECTED Airport taxi driver coat for yourself. Unlike in the west the purchase price, you'll need possibly not be anxious in any way regarding you will discover so many Moncler at wholesale prices you could quickly get inexpensive moncler guys jackets sometimes by on-line buy as well as classic stores, after all, It is best to acquire moncler adult males outdoor jackets coming from online moncler go shopping, cheap and moncler outlet also convinent..

Anonymous said...

This design is steller! You most certainly know how to

keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to
start my own blog (well,

almost...HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than

that, how you presented it. Too cool!
Feel free to surf my website ::

Anonymous said...

Good write-up, I’m normal visitor of one’s web site,
maintain up the

nice operate, and It is going to be a regular visitor for a long time.
Also visit my homepage ;

Anonymous said...

Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers?

My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing a few months of hard work due

to no back up. Do you have any methods to prevent hackers?
My web-site ...

Anonymous said...

The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.

5lFqj 8rBfj 6mLmo 6zAnf 1gHhr 9mJts 3dIgu 0wDko 4hTpv

Anonymous said...

I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post
was great. I don't know who you are

but definitely you're going to a famous blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!
Feel free to surf my blog :安藤裕子、6年の軌跡を集めた初のベスト盤が好調-野比的日韓瘋-

Anonymous said...

We're a bunch of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme in our community.

Your website provided us with helpful info to paintings

on. You've performed a formidable process and our whole

group can be thankful to

Have a look at my blog ::

Anonymous said...

The very crux of your writing whilst appearing reasonable

originally, did not really sit well with me personally after some time.
Someplace throughout the paragraphs

you actually were able to make me a believer unfortunately just
for a very short while. I still have got a problem with your
leaps in logic and you might do well to help
fill in those gaps. When you can accomplish that, I could definitely end up

being impressed.
Feel free to visit my web-site ;

Anonymous said...

The next time I read a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one.
I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I

actually thought youd have something interesting to say.
All I

hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you may fix when
you werent too busy looking for attention.
My page ::

Anonymous said...

The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to

see if it can survive a thirty foot drop, just so she can be a
youtube sensation. My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.
I know this is totally off topic but I

had to share it with someone!
Look at my website ;

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Los angeles! I'm bored to death at

work so I decided to check out your website on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the knowledge you present here and can't wait to
take a look when I get home. I'm

surprised at how fast your blog loaded on my mobile .. I'm not
even using WIFI,

just 3G .. Anyhow, superb blog!
My site :

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all
of your post's to be exactly what I'm

looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content in
your case? I wouldn't mind producing

a post or elaborating on many of the subjects you write

concerning here. Again, awesome website!
My webpage ...

Anonymous said...

You are a very clever individual!
my web site -

Anonymous said...

When I initially commented I clicked the "Notify me when new comments are added" checkbox and now each time a

comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment.

Is there any way you can remove

people from that service? Cheers!
My webpage >

Anonymous said...

Hi there! This is kind of off topic but I need some

guidance from an established blog. Is it tough to set up your own blog?
I'm not

very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I'm thinking about making my own but

I'm not sure where to start. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Thank you
Take a look at my site ::

Anonymous said...

I’ve read several good stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting.
I wonder how a lot attempt you

place to make one of these excellent informative website.

Here is my site ...

Anonymous said...

It's a shame you don't have a donate button! I'd certainly donate to

this outstanding blog! I guess for now i'll settle for

bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
I look forward to new updates and will talk

about this blog with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

my web site ...

Anonymous said...

Damaging your site . the nearby enticement shops will area
sportfishing certificates. You want your posts to middle
round the fairly same concept, together with also
be very connected. Make an effect on your well acquiring
these days. Awareness patrols by Surfboard members are a good thought and
should be continued.

My homepage - air max cheap

Anonymous said...

After looking into a handful of the blog posts on your web page,
I truly like your technique of writing a blog.
I book marked it to my bookmark website list and will
be checking back in the near future. Take a look at my web site too and tell me your opinion.

Here is my blog :: ルイヴィトンアウトレット

Anonymous said...

Utilizing my review of the Kindle Fire, I would personally
happily recommend unit to anyone. It goes from being a major trauma to a maximum new exciting mission.
Person involved in campaign must make very clear
related to these issues. Both stress flexibility, functionality and

Anonymous said...

I like it whenever people get together and share views.
Great site, keep it up!

My web site; クリスチャンルブタン

Anonymous said...

Thank you a lot for sharing this with all of us you actually understand
what you are speaking about! Bookmarked. Please also talk
over with my web site =). We could have a hyperlink change contract between us

My web blog :: ルブタン靴

Anonymous said...

An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been doing a little homework on this.
And he actually ordered me breakfast simply because I discovered it for him.
.. lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thanks for the meal!
! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this matter
here on your web page.

Also visit my web-site: クリスチャンルブタン靴