Posts Tagged ‘Zygmunt Malinowski’

Signs of hope in New York City? Take the train to Greenport…

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020
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Puppeteers in a time of pandemic – with masks. (Photo: Zygmunt Malinowski)

The Book Haven’s roving journalist-photographer Zygmunt Malinowski sees signs of hope in New York City, “a return to what remains.” It couldn’t come too soon: “I just read part of Daniel Defoe‘s description of London during the plague – how similar to desolation of New York City!”

It’s a hard time for our footloose photographer – he can’t hop on a plane as he’s done here and here and here. However, he writes: “During this time when travel options are limited one can always take advantage of visiting local places. It is said that many New York city’s apartments are half empty with its residents moving to the suburbs and surrounding countryside, some even permanently. Not that surprising since small towns offer many benefits including a sense of community, safer environment and closeness to nature.”

In a stroll through New York’s Greenport Village, a historic site on Long Island’s North Fork, he found puppeteers in protective facial masks entertaining passers-by – including a curious photographer.”Greenport is a popular Long Island summer getaway, easily reached by car or train. Even though a lot less crowded as expected during this time of pandemic, the mood in this town seemed to be more cheerful as individuals, families and small groups of folks enjoyed a summer day.”

With author Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt on the Baltic: “Literature teaches us how elaborate and intricate the human heart is.”

Saturday, November 16th, 2019
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Sopot on the Baltic. Czesław Miłosz Square at left. (All photos by Zygmunt Malinowski)

Our New York City based reporter/photographer Zygmunt Malinowski reports on literary events from Sopot, a city on the Baltic Coast. (Czesław Miłosz lived there at war’s end – Zygmunt documented that history here.) Our correspondent wrote to us earlier this fall, so we’re late getting this summertime post up. But on the brink of winter now, maybe it’s time to imagine yourself in the warm summer breezes off the sea… listening to a conversation with a writer not much discussed on this side of the Atlantic. (All photographs copyright Zygmunt Malinowski, of course.)

Schmitt with interviewer Katarzyna Janowska and translator

Summer on the Baltic is much cooler than in the States, and it’s very relaxing to spend a couple of hours with feet in the sand, in the shade with a light alcoholic drink, pleasant music, and a view of the beach and the sea in the background.

On the way to an open-air beach café in the Polish city of Sopot, I stopped to take a look at a gazette that I picked up at a kiosk. Literacki Sopot (Literary Sopot) featured a cover story about Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, a very popular European writer who lives in Belgium. Schmitt has written over fifty novels, short stories, and plays in French that have been translated into forty-six languages. He has been awarded the prestigious Prix Goncord.

He was scheduled for an onstage conversation that very day, within about half an hour. I immediately changed my plans. When I got to the town square and the National Gallery of Art where the interview was to take place, there was already a line of people waiting to get in. By the time I walked up the stairs, the spacious hall was filled.

His most famous book, Oscar and the Lady in Pink,  is part of his Cycle de l’invisble series, about a terminally ill boy who is encouraged by a hospital volunteer to live out his last twelve days as if each day were ten years long, is part of school curricula and has been adapted into a film. Among French readers, some place Oscar and the Pink Lady among the influential works, along with the Bible, Three Musketeers, and The Little Prince.

The line for the book signing at the National Gallery of Art

His latest book, Madame Pylinska and the Secret of Chopin is partly autobiographical. When Schmitt was nine years old, he discovered Chopin, fell in love with his music, and took piano lessons.

In later years,  an eccentric Madame Pylinska (a fictitious name based on a real person) tried to enlighten him about the mystery of Chopin. In one of the lessons, she instructed Schmitt to go to Luxemburg Park in the morning and pick flowers in such a way that the dewdrops would not fall off the petals. Chopin’s “own performances were know for their nuance and sensitivity,” she said. Schmitt’s pursuit and struggle of how to play Chopin did not make him the musician he envisioned but he learned instead how to be a better writer.

After a short introduction at the National Gallery, the interview turned to the obvious question about the author’s new book, although on a broader terms: What is the secret of art and where is its mystery?

Said Schmitt,  who has a PhD in philosophy: “Philosophy tries to explain life, art celebrates life. Paintings teach us how to observe the world; music how to listen to the world. Literature teaches us how elaborate and intricate the human heart is – our soul.

“In general, art does not help us to understand our world because there are matters that do not need to be understood. We need to learn how to interpret this life.”

Then he circled back to his book: “When I ask Madame Pylinska at the end of the book what is the secret of Chopin, she replies that it’s not possible to explain all of the secrets. We need to experience them because they are capable of enriching our lives. A beautiful life is a life where there are mysteries, and we need to live with these mysteries. We cannot resolve them all. It’s a bit dangerous for us, for interpretation of our life. Life is a mystery, every person is a mystery, to love is a mystery. We should live with these mysteries, be with them. Whenever we live in the illusion, the desire that we should understand all, than our life becomes very flat. If we accept its mysteries then life is full, people are full.”

“The beautiful life is not a life where there is no sadness,” he said.

The National Gallery of Art where the onstage interview happened.

A happy Easter from New York City! Photographer Zygmunt Malinowski reports.

Sunday, April 21st, 2019
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Defiantly pro-Easter for today’s parade. (Photo: Zygmunt Malinowski)

It’s been a sobering Easter – beginning with Monday’s castastrophic fire at Notre Dame, and concluding today, with the church and hotel terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka. But New Yorkers were, as always, ebulliently defiant. Photographer Zygmunt Malinowski writes: “It was unusually crowded at the morning service celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral by Cardinal Dolan, with a joyful atmosphere on Fifth Avenue, which was closed to traffic to make way for the Easter parade. Folks dressed up with their own creations: women with colorful headgear with flowers, bunnies, eggs, or other seasonal themes; children in their very best outfits. Men were decked out, too – see above.”

Bergen holds its first-ever international literary festival – and we’re in Norway for it!

Thursday, February 14th, 2019
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Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf. Norway 2012 (Photo: Zygmunt Malinowski)

The Book Haven has just arrived in Norway for the first-ever Bergen Literary Festival – tired and hungry and footsore and jetlagged, but delighted with the lovely city. For example, the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf pictured above which dates back to Middle Ages is on UNESCO world heritage list.

We just returned from listening to a riveting onstage conversation between award-winning Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of The Sound of Things Falling (2011), about the Colombian drug wars, and now The Shape of the Ruins (2018), about two defining political murders in Bogotá’s past, and Spanish writer Edurne Portela. “Memory is a moral act,” said the Columbian author who spoke about the way we manipulate memory and history so we can go on. “History lies.”

“The truth of the novel is that there is no truth,” he said.

There will be more news on the inaugural festival, but meanwhile – Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bergen, the view from Mount Floyen (Photo: Zygmunt Malinowski)

Reykjavik for book lovers? Who knew? Now you’ll know why…

Monday, December 31st, 2018
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Our well-traveled journalist-photographer Zygmunt Malinowski, at Solheimjokull glacier.

A guest post from our roving photographer Zygmunt Malinowski, this time reporting from Iceland, which he visited over the summer. (All photos are copyrighted by him, of course, and used with permission.)

Who knew that Iceland’s cosmopolitan capital is designated as a UNESCO “City of Literature”? UNESCO looks at several criteria for the tag: quality, quantity, diversity of publishing; the range of libraries and bookstores; its literary events.

Jules Verne’s Snaefellsjokul volcano.

During the cool mostly drizzly summer of 2018, Reykjavik’s main street, Laugavegur, is full of strolling foreigners and locals stopping at one of its many cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. Several chain bookshops are available here, too. Many of the visitors are backpackers heading out to experience this exotic land of “Ice and Fire,” In fact Jules Verne’s well-researched 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earth was inspired by this region’s volcanic landscape. Its characters descend into the bowels of the earth.

One way to see Reykjavik is to take a literary walking tour. I booked the one offered by the City Library called “Dark Deeds.” Its theme was crime fiction and ghoulish stories (i.e., Scandinavian Noir). The intention “was not to give an historical overview of literature in Reykjavik but rather to give a small sample of the varied works set in the city…. This walk takes the participant to several locations in the city center for viewing a world connected to both older and contemporary Icelandic literature, although the emphasis is on recent compositions.”

Gathering for “Dark Deeds” next to Gröndal House.

We visited eight sites, and two young men, Salvar and Guttormur, gave a brief introduction and a short reading from each author’s work at each stop. A visit to the harbor revisited a story of a luxury yacht with no passengers crashing into the harbor – a mystery thriller and international best seller, 2014’s The Silence of the Sea by Irsa Sigurðarsdóttir (translated by Victoria Cribb). A nondescript building, formerly a hospital during the 1918 Spanish flu, recalled a detective, a young inspector “drawn into the underworld of the city” in 2015’s  Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason (also translated by Victoria Cribb). At Briet Square, we learned about Gerður Kristný an award-winning author, a former journalist and editor-in-chief of literary monthly, who wrote “Drápa” (a form of skaldic poetry) about a senseless murder based on a real crime. Its an epic novel in verse, which takes its form from old Norse poetry and its mood from modern crime.” An excerpt from the 2018 book:

Snowflakes floated
onto the pavement

The city vanished
overcome by night
into drifting snow

Rabid winds
besieged the town
sent downpours down
to its very core

The winter war
had begun

City-dwellers
ran for shelter

(Translated by Rory McTurk.)

Benedikt Grondal’s notebooks

A more cheerful site was the home of Benedict Gröndal (1826-1907) – a writer, poet, teacher, illustrator of Icelandic birds, translator of Iliad, autobiographer, and natural scientist. His love of nature was one of his strongest characteristics. He was one of the founders of Natural History Society of Iceland and became its first director. His autobiography Dægradvöl (Pastime) is considered one of the classics of Icelandic literature known for it historical value, satire and sincerity.

Inside renovated Gröndal House which was relocated and now is open to the public, on one of the panels there is a quote. The author muses about his legacy when he addresses the future reader:

“I hope dear guest that you will give yourself time to dwell at this window into my life and works. What you will see here is of course no proportion to my body of work, but I hope you will at the end send some warm thoughts my way and give praise to the works I so exerted myself to creating. Many of them were never appreciated by certain people during my time.”

Info column at Grondal House.

One of the amusing poems read at the home, “To Bother,” was popular as a song several years ago. In English translation’:

 

To Bother (Nenni)

I don’t always read I can’t always be bothered to read
I do n’t always bother writing I can’t always be bothered to write
I don’t always paint I can’t always be bothered to paint
what do I bother then? so what can i be bothered to do?

I always love to love I always bothered to love
I always bother to drink
I always bothered to drink I always bother to dream I can always be bothered to dream
something I bother then so I can be bothered to do something

 

Gröndal House in Reykjavik.

According to statistics, Icelanders are avid readers and it is said that one in ten here is an aspiring writer. Having seen only a few folks reading books, I asked the librarian and the National and University Library located at the nearby University of Iceland campus. He confirmed that Icelanders are readers – but mostly at home. Then he added that he also would like to write a book.

He also pointed out that Icelanders can read the ancient Viking sagas in the original language. Because of Iceland’s isolation their language did not change as much as it did as in other Scandinavian countries. The sagas – narrative prose – have an important role in Icelandic literature and are still widely read. They are valued by literary experts for their clear style, originality and uniqueness, which was hundreds of years ahead of its time in Europe (the Gaelic language would be a notable exception, however).

 

Reykjavik across the city lake.

At Gröndal House (his illustrated book of Icelandic birds is in the case)

National and University Library at University of Icelabd.

Holiday greetings from the world, and one from Virginia Woolf: “at this one season, the Heavens bend over the earth with sympathy…”

Monday, December 24th, 2018
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…at this one season, the Heavens bend over the earth with sympathy, and signal with immortal radiance that they, too, take part in her festival.”

A quick holiday message from your exhausted correspondent at the Book Haven – and a better one from Virginia Woolf, from her novella Night and Day The passage comes to us courtesy Book Post, Ann Kjellberg‘s subscription-based book review, offering a “bite-sized newsletter-based book review delivery service, sending paying subscribers high-quality book reviews, by distinguished and engaging writers, direct to their inboxes.

We’ve enjoyed greetings from around the world in our own inbox, and thought we’d share a few from senders who have appeared in the Book Haven pages: Swedish author and translator Bengt Jangfeldt, and his wife, the Russian actress Jelena Jangfeldt, writing from Stockholm; Swedish poet Håkan Sandell sends his julekort from Oslo; cat-loving Russian scholar Valentina Polukhina sends a few felines from her London home; and an Upernavik, Greenland, winter image arrived from Polish photographer, and regular Book Haven contributor, Zygmunt Malinowski in New York City. We’ll be hearing more from him in a few days.

Meanwhile, have a wonderful holiday with family and friends with plenty of good cheer!