Genre of the Week: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

A Christmas Memory.jpg
Photo taken in December 2014

When learning about American culture and literature, there is a canon of authors, whose most popular books, in the eyes of non-native speakers of English, are highly recommended to read. One of the authors mentioned in this canon is Truman Capote. When looking at his life in general, it was marred by family crises while growing up, mental illness and drugs and alcohol. All of them contributed to his downfall and untimely death in 1984. He was a sad person but one who looked for the truth in writing, no matter how painful. This was seen in his most prized work, In Cold Blood, published in 1965 and based on a true story about a family murder in Kansas, and his collaboration with his best friend, Harper Lee, who later became famous for her two major works, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman, the latter of which was published in July 2015, seven months before her death.

Yet even though he started writing at the age of eleven, not all of his works were of doom and gloom. Many of them were based on his positive experiences and memories as a child, as well as some creative ideas based on stories of others.

While Breakfast at Tiffany’s (published in 1958) is the most popular Truman Capote story on the European side of the ocean, he wrote a Christmas memoir based on the tradition of fruitcake for family, friends and neighbors. Entitled A Christmas Memory and published in 1956 as part of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s Short Story Trilogy and NovelLa, the story focuses on a close bond between the narrator named Buddy and his cousin, both of whom are living in a house with several other relatives who don’t care much about them.

The setting is in late November in the 1930s,  when the two embark on a journey to pick nuts, dried fruit and later, whisky, flour, sugar and butter to make a total of 31 loaves of a traditional fruitcake. Getting the ingredients wasn’t easy, as they had collected barely enough money from their odd jobs just to get the basics from the store. They had a hand-me-down baby carriage to haul the dried fruit and nuts and were accompanied by the cousin’s dog, Queenie.

Despite the adversity and the lack of attention that the other relatives had towards the two cousins, whose age difference spans two generations, the main themes of this holiday classic deal with creativity and closeness. Creativity because despite their lack of resources, they found fashionable ways of creating presents with whatever nature gave them. This was seen as the two made kites for each other and they went kite-flying as they were celebrating with relatives. It also showed as the two found and trimmed the Christmas tree for the family, much to their dismay, as Capote wrote.

It also showed in Buddy’s distaste for materialistic items as he received a dress shirt, writing set and a year’s subscription of a religion magazine. The lack of taste in religion and family morals reflected Capote’s life, as drugs, alcohol, homosexuality and self-liberation were themes in his life, those that even the Pope would have disapproved of.  The cousin was a bit more content with her gift of a woolen sweater. But their gifts toward each other- the fruit cake and the kites represent the other theme in this book. While the relatives never really cared much for Buddy and his cousin, the two made sure they kept their bond to the very end. The kites served as this symbolic theme, especially in the end, when the older cousin succumbed to dementia but not before Buddy was forced to live with other relatives after that memorable Christmas. This segment runs parallel to Capote’s childhood, for his mother had two separate divorces while he grew up, and he had a close attachment to a distant relative, who ensured that he salvaged the rest of his early days before he moved on as a writer.

If there was a main idea in this book, it would be this: Christmas is not just about finding creative ways to showing love and appreciation, it’s about closeness and how you care about the other one. It matters not what you think the person should have but it matters how much love and appreciation you have towards the other one, especially when you listen to the other’s stories and wishes in life. These two traits seems to be missing in today’s world, yet when reading Capote’s book, the Files’ Genre of the Week for the holiday season, you will see why, with every tradition, ritual and creativity presented in the story. This goes well beyond the fruit cake, the kites and the Christmas tree.

Like In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Christmas Memory was later adapted to film several times. However the oldest one seen below is the closest to the book. Have a look at it and compare it to the book and the other films that have surpassed it over the years. What is the same? What is different?  Enjoy! 🙂

flfi-holiday-logo

Genre of the Week: A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg

christmas-tea

Author’s Note: It’s that time of year again. The holidays are approaching and with that comes the Christmas market tour. This year’s series will focus on Christmas markets in Saxony in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) as well as some in Schleswig-Holstein. At the time of this posting, a pair of Christmas markets in “Hohen Norden” have been visited and the tour guides are being put together even as we speak. Included in this year’s series will be some true stories of love and courage, which you can see in the Files’ facebook page. And lastly, some literature and videos pertaining to the holiday seasons will be profiled here.

Including this first installment, consisting of a poem by Tom Hegg entitled A Cup of Christmas Tea.

Published in 1982, Mr. Hegg’s poem looks at reunions with loved ones and the importance of maintaining a good relationship despite many years’ absence. The main character is a father who is entangled in the conventional Christmas season, filled with shopping, credit card debts and gifts with little or no meaning. The main character receives a letter one day from his great aunt, inviting him to come and visit her. Hegg states that she had suffered from a stroke and many of his relatives were persuading him to visit.  Despite much hesitation, stemming from the fact that he lost touch with her for a long time, the main character gives in and pays her a visit. Hegg believes that this had to do with his fear of what she would look like when he saw her. These fears are subsided when he rings the doorbell and she smiles and sees him. Yet Hegg argues that it was not all that causes him to put reality to the side and embrace the past. The main character’s interpretation of his great aunt (being old, frail and unable to walk), the houses in the neighborhood (being old and dilapidated) and a bygone era that seemed to slip away in favor of progress gave way to memories of his childhood and his time with her, with the neatly decorated Christmas tree, Dresden china and the smell of Christmas tea. By catching up on old times and finding out how things went, the discussion over Christmas tea, whose ingredients Hegg doesn’t mention in the poem, makes amends between two close relatives, whose lives had been separated by a life full of obligations and modernity.

And without further ado, here is the poem in full length. Enjoy! 🙂

FF new logo1

The Electoral Vote in the US: How It Works.

us-d

fast fact logo

The US Presidential Elections is one of the most complicated forms of democratic elections in the western world. Since the signing of the US Constitution, which led to the country’s establishment in 1787, the President is elected based on a system that fosters equality among states, known as the Electoral Vote. There, the voters elect their president through a set of electoral votes, a process that is much different than the popular vote, which is the more universally chosen approach to electing the leader of a country. Even the election of the political parties to rule the country- either solo or with a coalition- a practice that has been used to elect their chancellor in Germany since 1949, is considered a popular vote as the people vote for which party should rule the country.

However, people in the United States are pushing for the abolishment of the electoral vote and replacing it with a popular vote system for several reasons. Two of which include its antiquity and the change in demographics. Originally designed to favor smaller states, the shift in population towards metropolises along the coastal regions and the Great Lakes Region has made the system quite ineffective, especially when dealing with swing states- states that alternate votes between a Republican and a Democrat pending on voter preference. Furthermore, with a candidate winning the electoral vote but not the popular vote, the system seems to be unfairly favoring regions with a minority population that are sometimes ill-informed of how the system works.

This was the case with the latest elections in 2016, when Donald Trump won solely by electoral vote but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, as seen in the map below. Even interesting is the fact that even though the elections in November have passed, there is one more hurdle for Mr. Trump to jump through, which is to occur in December, according to law.

electoralcollege2016
Results of the 2016 US Presidential Elections based on the Electoral Vote. Source: JFG via Wikipedia

Confusing isn’t it?  🙂

The Electoral College is a complicated system which is best served with a quiz. Have a look at the following questions below- all of which are true and false- and decide what you think. Click on the results once you have completed the quiz and if you are still not so sure about it, check out the links below.  You’ll be surprised at how the system works. This quiz is for all involved- from people learning about American culture and politics to those who deny the fact that there is no other process other than the Presidential Elections. There are enough people in both camps to go around. 😉

In either case, enjoy and feel free to use it in your class or in any discussion to learn more about this unique system America has to elect its leader of the country.

IMGP6328

Link:  Electoral College via wiki;  Electoral Voters

flefi-deutschland-logo

RB Leipzig Atop of the German Bundesliga in Soccer

Stadium woes

FC Bayern Munich dethroned of top spot for the first time in almost one and a half years.

FleFi Sportsflyer Header

DORTMUND/LEIPZIG- Before this weekend, two questions were burning in the hearts and minds of soccer fans in Leipzig, Munich, Dortmund and Leverkusen. The first one is how long the team of FC Bayern Munich can stay on top, having conquered the top spot for 39 soccer matches and 425 days. The second one is whether the team’s closest competitor, RB Leipzig would overtake Munich, given its record-breaking debut in the German Bundesliga. After all, the team had previously set a record for winning the first six matches and being undefeated after ten matches (the three ties included) as a newcomer from the second league.

Both questions have been answered thanks to Leipzig’s victory over Bayer Leverkusen on Friday and Borussia Dortmund’s victory over FC Bayern Munich a day later. Leipzig became not only the first team since Dortmund to take over first place, but also the first East German team to reach the top since Hansa Rostock did that in 1991.

The highlights of the game in short:

Leipzig   3:2    Bayer Leverkusen

Leipzig and Leverkusen were deadlocked during much of the game, with the latter taking the lead twice until the 67th minute, when Emil Forsberg tied it up. 14 minutes later, Willi Orban sealed the deal with a shot of his own. It was then the defense and the team’s goalie that made sure the lead was never relinquished. Leverkusen had the ball for most of the game, but it shear luck and strategie that has now kept Leipzig the lone undefeated team left in the Bundesliga. Details here.

Bayern Munich    0:1     Borussia Dortmund

As expected, Bayern Munich came out aggressive and played the black and gold team as if they owned the game. However it was Dortmund that figured them out and came out attacking during the game. While the game ended in a 1:0 victory in favor of Dortmund, it was a relief for many, including coach Thomas Tuchel who explained that it was a narrow-escape. After Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the lone goal in the 11th minute, it was up to the rest to keep the red-white-blue team in check, as it could not find any answers. Details here.

With Leipzig now holding the top spot in the Bundesliga, the question now is will they be there to stay or will Munich take revenge and reclaim the top spot? There’s still a month left until they meet for the first time on 21 December. In the meantime, there is still a lot of soccer left in this season.

frage für das forum

This latest development in German soccer has led to a pair of questions for you to think about before 21 December:

The last time Leipzig won a national league soccer title was in 1903. But this record may fall after this season. Therefore…..

 

FF new logo1

Supermoon in Germany

j16m

FlFi Newsflyer Logo new

JENA/ KIEL/ BERLIN/ CHEMNITZ/MANNHEIM-  Hundreds of thousands of people armed themselves with cameras, telescopes and Smartphones to capture this moment in time. On Tuesday, the supermoon made its visit to the European part of the world, including Germany. Between 5:00pm and 8:15am Berlin time, people had a chance to watch the moon rise and set, looking 20% bigger than it usually is. While many people were awed by its shades of red, peach and dark yellow color luminating the sky at moonrise and at moonset, its brightness- which was 30% more than normal- provided many photographers with a chance to take some pictures of the scenery, as the skies that evening were brighter than what it is with a normal full moon. This unusual phenomenon, which last happened in 1948, occurred when the moon was only 221,524 miles away from Earth. Its next such occurrance will happen in 2034- 18 years from now.

In Germany itself, much of the country was able to take advantage of at least the rise of the moon, as seen in the films taken below in Kiel, Berlin, Chemnitz and Mannheim. However, as the weather system bringing mild temperatures and showers started moving in, it became very difficult to take some pictures of the supermoon at its brightest. In my case, being stationed in Jena (Thuringia), I was lucky to get some grand opportunities and take some pictures of the moon- close-ups after moonrise at around 5:30pm, and when it was shining at its brightest while biking at around 9:30pm. A gallery of the pics are towards the end of this article. The pics included scenes with the landscape and the bike, including some sillouettes. Clouds started moving in shortly before 10pm, which was followed by rain a couple hours later, yet for those who did get the chance to do that, it was  one of a lifetime. But sometimes luck comes in twos, which means the next supermoon, for those who missed this one, will be here sooner than you think.

Enjoy the following film scenes and my pictures below! A link to another gallery of supermoon pics, courtesy of National Geographic, can be seen by clicking here. 🙂

 

(Source: Chemnitz Free Press)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

FF new logo1