Searching for locations: Florence, Italy

Florence is littered with endless statues, and we managed to see quite a few,

If those statues came to life I wonder what they might tell us?

Like castles on the shores of the Rhine, there are only so many statues you can take photos of.  Below are some of those I thought significant

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Michelangelo’s David directs his warning gaze at someone else.

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The impressive muscles of Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules from 1533. The worked-out demi-god is pulling the hair of Cacus, who will be clubbed and strangled.

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Achilles with Polyxena in arm, stepping over her brother’s body

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Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, in the Loggia dei Lan

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Statue of Hercules killing the Centaur by Giambologna in Loggia dei Lanzi. Piazza della Signoria.

On the back of the Loggia there are six marble female statues, probably coming from the Trajan’s Foro in Rome, discovered in 1541 and brought to Florence in 1789

Figures of speech

I found this explanation on the internet: ‘a word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect.’

We as writers should not use these in our writing because most people might not understand their use.  I think it sometimes adds a degree of whimsy to the story.

I remember some years ago when I working with a Russian chap who’d not been in the country very long, and though he had a reasonable use of English, it was not quite up with our figures of speech.

And made me realize when he kept asking me what they meant, just how many I used in everyday use.

Most of these figures of speech use descriptions that do not necessarily match the word being described, such as ‘I dance like I have two left feet’.

And that pretty much sums up how good I can dance.  But …

‘Like a bat out of hell’, not sure how this got into the vernacular

‘Like a bull in a china shop’, describes a toddler let loose, no, you had the securely in their pram but somehow they got loose while you weren’t looking

‘More front than Myers’, as my mother used to say, but in context, Myers is the Australian version of the English Selfridges or Harrods or Paris Galleries Lafayette.  It refers to the width of street frontage of the stores, which in fact stretched for a whole block

‘As mad as a hatter’, though not necessarily of the millinery kind, but, well, you can guess, it’s from Alice in Wonderland

‘As nutty as a fruitcake’, provided your fruitcake has nuts in it

And, ‘I haven’t heard from him in donkey’s years’ which means you haven’t heard from someone for a long time, or perhaps as long as it takes donkey’s ears to fully grow.

Yes, someone made a minor adjustment and added a y to ears, because it used to be ‘donkey’s ears’, believe it or not.

You can see, if you get the references, they are somewhat apt, and, yes, they sometimes creep into my stories.

 

Writing about writing a book – Day 21 continues

I’m still working on Bill’s backstory, and how he got mixed up in the war, and as a general background to his situation, and life before Davenport.

This is still in his own words:

 

But whether we were stupid or naive, or completely mad, we were all eager to get into battle, filled with the sort of hate only Army propaganda films could fill you with.  They were our enemy, and they deserved to concede or die.

A fresh face in a hardened platoon, I was eager to get on with it.  They looked knowingly, having seen it all before.  No idea of the reality, and no time to tell us.  Have a few beers to celebrate, and then, the next morning, go out on patrol.  No problem.

There was camaraderie, but it was subdued.  We walked single file, the seasoned campaigners in front and at the rear, treading carefully, demanding quiet, and a general cautiousness.  In the middle of nowhere, where only the sound of rain, or the animals and birds for company, we were naive enough to think this was going to be a doddle.

Then it happened, six hours out, and just before we reached a small clearing.  I thought to myself it was odd there should be such a clear space with jungle all around it.  There must be a reason.

There was.

We had walked into an ambush, and everyone hit the ground.  I was bringing up the rear with another soldier, a veteran not much older than myself whose name was Scotty, a little farther back from the main group.  Bullets sprayed the undergrowth, pinging off trees and leaves.  I buried my face in the dirt, praying I would not die on my first patrol.

We became separated from the others, lying in a hollow, with no idea how far away help was.  He was muttering to himself.  “God, I hate this.  You can never see the bastards.  They’re out there, but you can never bloody well see them.”  Then he crawled up the embankment, gun first.

He let off a few rounds, causing a return of machine-gun fire, spattering the dirt at the top.  Next thing I knew he was sliding down the hill with half his face shot away.  Dead.  I threw up there and then.  What an initiation.

Then one of the enemy soldiers came over the hill to check on his ‘kill’.  I saw him at the same time he saw me and aimed my gun and shot.  It was instinct more than anything else, and I hadn’t stopped to think of the consequences.  He fell down, finishing up next to me, staring at me from black, lifeless eyes. 

Dead. 

I’ll never forget those lifeless eyes.  I just got up and ran, making it back to the rest of the group without getting hit.  No one could explain how I made it safely through the hail of gunfire, from our side and theirs.

Back in the camp later, the veterans remarked on how unlucky Scotty was and how lucky I was to shoot one of the enemies, and not be killed myself.  They all thought it was worth a celebration.

Before we went out the next day to do it all again.

I spent the night vomiting, unable to sleep, haunted look on his face, one I finally realized that reflected complete astonishment.

 

There will be more, as the story develops.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Short story writing, don’t try this at home (5)

This is not meant to be a treatise on short story writing.  Far be it for me to advise anyone on the subject.  I prefer to say how it is that I do it so you can learn all of the pitfalls in one go.

Now, there’s this thing called continuity, but it covers a whole range of writing sins, most of which I eventually get caught out.  Films sometimes miss a few items, like back in the roman days, there are plane trails in the sky, in a 1920’s period piece, there’s a mobile phone sitting on a desk.

Like one minute the hero has a gun, and the next he’s fighting for his life with a knife, and, hey presto, there’s that gun again.  The error might not be that big but you can’t pull out a weapon you don’t have or wasn’t there in the first place.

Similarly, the hero pulls out a mobile phone, but there’s only one problem, it’s 1980, and there are no mobile phones.  Our problem might be that we are so used to doing and using certain things that we might forget, for a minute or two, that were not available in the past.

The same goes for the fashion of the day.

And my all-time favourite, getting the right make and model of car.

Oh, and just for good measure, back in the old days they used acoustic couplers to attach to phones via a serial port to dial-up not a server, but a BBS, Bulletin Board Service, at a rate of 300 baud, or a little while later, 1,200 baud.

There was no internet in general use.  If you wanted to call the office when out, use a telephone box.  Or carrier pigeon.

And the use of language, there’s a lot of stuff relevant today that was not used back then, and there was a lot of stuff back then that isn’t tolerated now.  Some of it might be hard to get your head around.  It isn’t for me, because I can remember the 1970s and 1980s, but I’m not too sure about allowing some of what happened then to creep into my work.

So, you get the picture.  Try to use the past as the past, or leave it in the past.

Unless it’s a book about time travel, then all bets are off.

In a word: Port

So, I wonder if it’s true, any port in a storm, except perhaps Marsailles

Or, if you are a lothario type sailor, you would have a girl in every port.

Yes, the most common definition of a port is a place where ships dock.

And, while talking of ships we don’t call the sides left and right, we call them port and starboard.  Just in case you didn’t know, port is the left side of the ship when facing forward.

And of course, ships have portholes, ie windows, traditionally round and rather small.

 

It could be an alcoholic drink, imbibed mostly after dinner with coffee and cigars, though no one seems to smoke cigars any more.

There is still coffee, for now.  No doubt sometime in the future someone will link it to death and dying, and it will fall out of favour, like sugar, weedkillers and asbestos.

The best port seems to come from Portugal, strange about that.

 

You can port a program (app in phone speak) from one platform to another, which basically means from Android to Apple IOS, but not without a reasonable amount of work.

It can also be an outlet plug on a computer that accepts cables from other devices (USB) and many years ago, a printer port, and a serial port.

 

In certain places in the world a port is a child’s schoolbag, a definition I was not aware of until we moved to a different state.

I’m still having a problem with it 30 years on.

Conversation with my cat – 82

This is Chester.

It’s been a long summer, and it’s not only the heat that’s been bothering him.

It’s been school holidays, and along with many households where it’s not possible for parents to go on holidays, it falls to the grand parents to mind children. It’s a job I take seriously, and also a time to be spent with them before they grow up and disappear into the adult world.

Chester, however, only sees it from a cat’s point of view. To him, they’re trouble, but perhaps not without reason. They did torment him something terrible when they were young.

Of course, what he fails to realise is that children when young don’t quite understand animal etiquette, that is they should be treated with care.

But, I said in their defence, when you were a kitten you were an absolute monster, sinking your claws into everything, ruined lounge chairs and curtains, unravelled balls of wool, and, this was the cruncher, refused to chase mice.

Of course, as usual, when the arguement goes against him, those eyes close, and he pretends he’s asleep. It doesn’t fool me. But once that happens, no one scores any points.

And something else I’ve noticed, his memory is fading.

Of course, I didn’t tell him that they don’t officially go back till Wednesday, so he’s in for a surprise tomorrow morning.

A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 25

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination with what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

Rolf Mayer had always had a dream to travel to other planets, and when he heard that the government was putting together a team of scientists with the express intention of building rockets, he gathered up his few belongings and traveled to Pennemunde to join the group being led by Werner von Braun.

At first, he had been turned away, but a chance meeting with von Braun changed his fortune.  

But, when Adolf Hitler came to power, it seemed that quest to reach the other planets became a quest to build a military weapon that would devastate an enemy city.  He had expressed his opposition to the project, but that was silenced when some Nazi party officials came from Berlin to give those scientists with reservations an ‘attitude readjustment’.

From then on all of the scientists knew when their allegiances lay and that there would be no time for traveling to the stars, even though, secretly, he drew on the experience and knowledge of the rockets they were building and testing to design his own rocket.  One day.

Then, as if only weeks had passed, the war had been declared, and the scientists had to work harder on creating a weapon which, in its first instance became known as the V1 flying bomb.  V, of course, stood for vengeance.

Later, when the enemy had bombed Pennemunde out of existence they moved to Nordhausen.  This place was different, underground where it could not be bombed, but there was something rather sinister about it.  Slave labor, prisoners from a local concentration camp were forced to work there, and the souls that he saw were not fit for work, or for anything else.

At Nordhausen, they worked on the V2 rockets, rockets in the true sense of the word, and it was abhorrent to him that they should be used for wholesale murder rather than their true purpose.  A promotion to Haupsturnfuhere in the SS and making him responsible for the horrific crimes being committed against humanity was the last straw.

He had enough information to create his own rocket based on the success of the V2, and it was time to leave, get away from this place before it killed him too.  There was only one problem, the real SS was watching, everyone and everything.  They trusted no-one, not even their own fellow officers.

Mayer was one of the scientists lucky enough to get a billet to the town nearby.  It was quiet enough, but he believed everyone living there knew what was going on, and worse, they knew about the concentration camp and the evil that went on inside.  Worse still, he knew everyone was watching everyone else, and reporting back to the SS anything out of the ordinary, including newcomers.

One such man came into the town, dressed as Obersturnfurer with one other SS officer in a car.  Everyone knew how impossible it was to get fuel, or if you had a car, a permit to use it except for essential services, or if it was requisitioned.

They were SS, so no one questioned why they were there.  But that didn’t mean that whispers of their presence didn’t filter around the town.  Just the very mention of the SS gave most people cold shivers.

Mayer heard about the two mysterious visitors when he arrived downstairs where he was lodging.  

“They were asking about the people staying here and wanted to see their papers.  I think they’re looking for someone, someone from the factory.”

“Nonsense.  They’re probably here to see some of their friends up at the camp.”

With that, he dismissed the visitors from his mind and went up to his room.  He unlocked the door and went in.  A moment later he realized his room had been thoroughly searched, and the mess left as a warning.  Had someone told the SS of his discontent.  He hadn’t said as much, but attitude and body language would have told a different story.

Then the door closed behind him with a bang, and the moment a hand touched his shoulder he jumped in fright.

There’s been a man behind the door.

“I suggest you do not speak or do anything that might bring attention to us.  Am I clear?”

Mayer nodded.

“Good.”

Another man, dressed in the uniform of a SS Standartenfuhrer, stepped out of the shadows in front of him holding a folder, the folder that contained his drawings and specifications for a more advanced V2 rocket,

Condemning evidence of him being a traitor to the Reich unless he could put a different spin on it.  He waited to see what the Standartenfuher had to say.

“This is damning evidence of your traitorous behavior.  We received information that you were stealing secrets from the Reich?  For whom, Mayer?  The British or the Americans?”

“I did not steal anything.  I work on the plans here in my spare time, away from that place.”  He realized the moment he said it, it might not be the best idea to be critical of anything, because it was always taken as a criticism of the Reich itself.

“Are you displeased with your working environment.  No one else has raised such issues.”

“No, no,” he added hastily, “it was not what I meant.  It’s just difficult to think clearly on problems when we’re under so much pressure.”

The Standartenfuhrer shook his head.  “Enough Mayer.  You are coming with us to explain yourself.”

“You need to clear this….”

“We don’t need anyone’s permission, Mayer.  We walk out of here, into the car, and not a word to anyone.  Any trouble I will not hesitate to shoot you.  Understand?”

Mayer nodded.

This wasn’t good.  Arrested by the SS.  There could be only one outcome.  It wouldn’t matter what he said, it would be the cells and then the firing squad.  He’d heard the rumors.

The other SS officer went first, the Mayer, then the Standartenfuhrer, down the stairs and past the owner of the boarding house.  The Standartenfuhrer stopped, and said, “This man’s papers, now.”

The owner stepped back into a room and came out a minute later and handed the Standartenfuhrer the document.

“No one is to be told what happened here.  Not unless you want us to come back and arrest your family.”

“Yes sir,” the owner said, very scared.

The proceeded to the car, got in, Mayer in the back with the Standartenfuhrer, and they drove off.  Only two people saw the whole event, and because it was by the SS, they were not going to tell anyone.

“Where are we going?” Mayer asked.

“Headquarters.  You will be wise to sit, be quiet and say nothing under any circumstances.”

Headquarters was in Berlin, at least that’s where he went to be made an officer of the SS, as a Hauptsturmfuhrer to give him the necessary authority to take charge of certain aspects of the production process of the V2 rockets.

And that included work on improving the guidance system.

But, he noticed they were not going north, but south.

© Charles Heath 2020