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’ne Semmel, bitte … The Star’s Tennis Balls … El laberinto del fauno 10th of February, 2007 POST·MERIDIEM 08:29

An awesome map here, detailing what various regions of the German-speaking world call various small pieces of bread. I didn’t realise that they pretty much don’t say ‚Schrippe‘ anywhere else—it is fascinating (well, to me :-) as you learn a language what ends up being a regionalism and what doesn’t, and what is perceived in some areas to be dying out and what isn’t.

Buy The Stars’ Tennis Balls at Amazon.co.uk.

The Stars’ Tennis Balls, book,  Stephen Fry, 2000: One of the annoyances to growing older and learning more things is that you then become more able to pick holes in the work of people you previously thought were, without question, accurate and exact and generally great. Two such instances from this—diverting, good—novel. From the text:

The following afternoon Gunther paid a visit to the Vier Jahreszeiten and with a ta-da of triumph, produced from his jacket a gleaming German passport. Ned took it greedily, but before he had so much as turned the first page to look at his photograph, he had betrayed his ignorance once more.
   ‘
Germany? But it doesn’t say which one …’

Now, a reasonably important part of the story is that at this point Ned was fluent in German, and part of being fluent in German was and is knowing that the official name of West Germany, in German, was ‚Bundesrepublik Deutschland‘—something which also appears on the front of the post-reunification passport, since re-unification involved the states of the DDR joining the BRD.

Another extract:

   ‘See? www.ihatecotter.co.au. Here’s the welcome page. “Welcome to my parlour.” That’s Cotter in the centre of this web, I’ve made him look like a spider. …’

Any fule no that the Australian commercial subdomain is .com.au, not .co.au; I suppose that this mistake made it into the published book is an indication of the fracturing of wider culture in England at least, such that they didn’t think it worthwhile to have someone with the requisite level of technical skill proof-read it.

And, not a criticism; it’s not a surprise that the sentence from which the title comes harks back to the Blackadder ‘Like private parts to the Gods are we; they play with us for their sport!’ when the book was written by an occasional Blackadder actor.

Buy El laberinto del fauno at Amazon.co.uk.

El laberinto del fauno,  film, 2006, director Guillermo del Toro, Spanish with English subtitles. Set in the Spanish back-country in 1944, the film has the feel of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  with the difference that the adults are concurrently doing interesting things while the fantasy is taking place. A cadre of Republicans is holding out, five years after the end of the civil war, and a captain of the Guardia Civil  is sent with his men to the area to root them out. The captain brings along his wife and step-daughter Ofelia, and the story is told from the perspective of the latter.

The girl arrives at the mill (remember, el molino  isn’t just a windmill, tout comme « le moulin »)  where the Guardia is based, accompanying her mother who’s in the late stages of pregnancy. As they settle in, she follows some fairies she comes across to a well in some Roman or Phonecian ruins, where she encounters a faun—a horrifically ugly faun—who, interestingly, uses vos with her (voseo reverencial,  no habla [kaste'ʃano]) with her. The fantasy part of the story develops from there, while the adults proceed in a not-amazingly-unsurprising way.

The story and the production is very unsympathetic to the Franquistas, in particular to the captain, something which is fair enough—it’s hardly a secret that there was no shortage of arseholes involved on Franco’s side of the civil war. It’s also notably sympathetic to the Republican guerillas, something I’m not as happy with—they’re fighting on hopelessly, five years after the war has been lost, bringing death and destruction to their loved ones, for the opportunity to be a client state of Stalin’s Soviet Union! I can think of few things stupider, and I’m really not interested in the romanticism of it, because, remember, client state of Stalin’s Soviet Union, just like East Germany, Hungary, Romania, all places that sucked—very hard to say that it could have turned out better than it did under Franco.

The film’s atmospherically shot, the Spanish is very Spanish and good exercise for one’s listening comprehension—the /o/ of mano is almost dropped, for example—I enjoyed it lots, catch it if you get the chance.

Word of the day: In Austria, das Sackerl is German for ‘plastic bag’; in Germany, the word is die Tüte.


The Spanish Civil War is one of those conflicts that seems to have been glorified by leftists everywhere, an opportunity for great smugness, as people 70 years after the fact paint themselves in the same light as the volounteers of the International Brigades, in the same way as Sinn Feiners see themselves as modern incarnations of the 1916 volounteers.

I think the International Brigades were generally a good thing, I like the idea of a multi-national fighting force of volounteers where the election of officers and decisions on action to be taken by a unit are made by popular vote.

In fact Stalin hated the International Brigade, his rather half-hearted support of the Republicans was somewhat conditional on bringing the brigades under more conventional military control.

Ideologically siding with Stalin was a terrible decision, but in the face of the Nationalists, with the full support of Germany and the Luftwaffe the promise of Soviet Tanks must have been tempting.

You are right though, victory in Spain for Stalin backed Republicans would probably have changed the shape of European History quite substantially, and not necessarily for the better. A Stalinist spain would have been a great asset to the Allies in WWII certainly, but given Stalin’s expanionist policies, the post war Europe could have been very different.

I think the International Brigades were generally a good thing, I like the idea of a multi-national fighting force of volounteers where the election of officers and decisions on action to be taken by a unit are made by popular vote.
Wasn’t the Red Army arranged something along those lines, before Trotsky took over? The English Wikipedia doesn’t mention it, but the German says this:
Bei ihrer Gründung war die Rote Armee eine Freiwilligenarmee ohne Dienstgrade (Ränge), ohne Rangabzeichen oder besondere Hervorhebung einzelner Funktionsträger, dadurch sollte das Ideal der Gleichheit aller Menschen betont werden. Kommandierende wurden demokratisch gewählt, auch konnten die Befehle der Offiziere durch die Untergebenen diskutiert und ggf. abgelehnt werden. Dies lag in der Organisation der Roten Garden, aus denen sich die Rote Armee teilweise zusammensetzt und besonders der bolschewistischen Friedens-Propaganda vor der Revolution, die die Soldaten der Zarenarmee zu Widerstand gegen ihre Offiziere aufrief, begründet. Um die militärische Effizienz zu steigern, wurde dieses System kurz nach der Gründung der Roten Armee vom Kriegskommissar Trotzki aufgehoben.
At its foundation the Red Army was a volunteer army without rank, insignia or any particular emphasis on individual specialism; this was intended to emphasise the ideal of human egalitarianism. Commanders were chosen democratically, and officers’ orders were open to be discussed among or even refused by those commanded. This organisational ideal came on the one hand from the Red Guards—out of which the Red Army partly developed—and on the other from the pre-revolutionary Bolshevik peace propaganda, which had called on the soldiers of the Tsar’s army to mutiny against their officers. This system was abolished by War Commissioner Trotsky shortly after the army’s foundation, to heighten military efficiency.
If so, it’s not an ideal that has had much success :-/ .

Yeah, I totally understand why one would side with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War—like in the religious wars of the seventeenth century, if you were living there and then, the issue was ‘Which brand of ideology will you support? You have two choices, and they’re both terrible, and there’s no way to avoid the question.’ Which is a shitty situation to be in.

You think a Republican Soviet-client-state Spain would have joined in World War II, then? The reasoning for Franco keeping out was that the country was exhausted, and that would have been the case either way. But then I suppose the internationalist feeling to Communism was still very strong at that point, and Fascism was never remotely internationalist.

Immeadiately after revolution there was a lot of egalatarian gestures in Russian Society generally, I believe at least one Orchestra began performing without a conductor for example.

Things really started to go sour in my opinion during the Civil War, with the introduction of "War Communism", which was supposed to be a temporary measure to ensure the survival of the new government during wartime, but basically ended up providing the model for government in the Soviet Bloc until it’s collapse. As far as I know, the reorganization of the army was part of that trend. Trotskists like myself will tell you that Trotsky would have begun to reverse this if he had taken power after Lenin’s death, but it’s hard to say wether he would have, especially given his role in the implementation of War Communism.

As to a Soviet Spain in WWII, I think given it’s location and the internationalist nature of Communism, (And Stalin’s own expansionist agenda) there would at the very least have been some Russian Troops stationed in Spain, perhaps some Soviet Naval presence in the Mediterranean. Wether or not Spain would have had much involvement as a nation, I think the Soviets would at least have used Spanish Territory as a staging point, maybe even playing a significant role in the liberation of France and / or the war in North Africa.

Although its a bit of a stretch, I have an unshakeable image of France partitioned North to South, with the Southern Half a carbon copy of East Germany.

Sounds rather like a remake of a popular Franquista war film from the late 40s, El santuario no se rinde, which has the Guardia Civil singing fandangos as they fight off those smelly, unbelieving French. I seem to remember divine visitations, too, but that may have been when I fell asleep.

Hah, I’ve a lot of admiration for someone with both the curiosity and stomach to watch Franquista propaganda on their own time all these years later.

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