Miss Austen Regrets . . . What?

Given the present interest in Jane Austen, the person and her fiction, BBC One is likely to attract a sizable audience tonight with its biographical drama Miss Austen Regrets (previously broadcast in the US). According to the current issue of the Radio Times, which declares it to be the “Drama of the Week,” the film is concerned with Austen’s final years, which should leave many of those tuning in to this “Whatever Became of Jane?” tale rather less than elated. As such, it is a laudable project that stands apart from the Becoming Jane stories preferred in Hollywood. What might she have to regret, though, that Doris Day of the literary world? Surely not the fact that she remained what used to be termed a “spinster”?

While I rather prefer the more robust novels of the Brontës, or the Schadenfreude of Fanny Burney, I was only too pleased to be going on a literary tour in search of Austen’s homes in the south of England. Shown here are three of the author’s residences I have visited (or merely walked past) since moving to Britain in the fall of 2004. Chawton, in Hampshire (above), Bath (center), and Austen’s final home in Winchester (below).

Miss Austen may be unable to lunch these days; but at Chawton, the exterior of which is featured in the film, you can gawk at cups and spoons that may (or may not) have belonged to her family. Traveling, to be sure, is no substitute for reading; nor, for that matter, is listening to dramatizations of her works, of which there are many.

Although she is particularly popular in these early days of the 21st century, Austen has long been considered a most adaptable novelist. Her lively dialogue renders novels like Pride and Prejudice ideally suited to the stage and screen, while, on the radio, even the epistolary form of her earlier, posthumously published Lady Susan constitutes no impediment. The novels adapted for US radio during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s are Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey (NBC University Theater, 15 October 1950), as well as Pride and Prejudice.

On this day, 27 April, in 1941, Jessica Tandy was heard in a Great Plays production of Pride and Prejudice, subsequent adaptations of which starred Joan Fontaine (Theater Guild, 18 November 1945) and Angela Lansbury (University Theater, 20 February 1949). In whatever truncated form, the story was also presented on Studio One (12 August 1947), Romance (first on 13 June 1944, numerous times thereafter, and shared online here), the James Hilton-hosted Hallmark Playhouse (8 July 1948) and the syndicated 1940s program Favorite Story.

Would Austen have made a good radio writer? This is a question once posed and answered by William Morwood, a writer who scripted episodes of series like Murder at Midnight, The Shadow and the daytime drama Road of Life. In an article written back in 1986 for Persuasions, the Journal of the Jane Austen Society, Morwood quipped that “Austen had a real potential as a daytime serial writer.” In the case of Pride and Prejudice, however, she made the fatal error to bring the story to a “happy ending” after what would serve as material for no more than perhaps three years on the air. In daytime there could be no final and happy endings short of a cancellation.”

The ending that Gwyneth Hughes, the writer of Miss Austen Regrets, conceived for the novelist’s personal story fully justifies the title. I am still not convinced, however, that Austen should have had anything to be remorseful about. We, on the other hand, would have reason to feel sorry for ourselves if Austen had married and raised a family rather than giving up for adoption the issue of her mind and heart’s imaginings.

The “greatest Hungarian sculptor of our time”: A Memo to Blanche Devereaux

You don’t derive much comfort from a musty expression like “let a smile be your umbrella” when you are walking around Óbuda on a wet and gloomy afternoon. It was pretty much wet and gloomy throughout our second stay in Budapest, and even the statues seemed to be putting up their defences against the elements. I was cheered nonetheless by Imre Varga’s “Women with Umbrellas” (pictured here); and when we walked around the gallery dedicated to the work of the greatest Hungarian sculptor of our time,” a scene from The Golden Girls came to my mind, which tends to operate that way.

In an episode originally aired on 19 December 1987 (about a year and a half before I first caught sight of the gals from whose exchanges I learned American English), Blanche, Rose, and Dorothy all agree to pose nude for a sculptor. A Hungarian sculptor, that is. Aside from the thrill of being immortalized in art, what is most on the minds of the three is that Laslo is a bachelor, and a virile specimen at that. They are all pretty much smitten with the self-assured man with the magnificent voice who, as played by Tony Jay, comes across like a cross between Monty Woolley (radio’s “Magnificent Montague”) and Mischa Auer (briefly known as “Mischa the Magnificent” on the air).

When the artist’s work is done, it remains to be seen whether he is interested in pursuing one of them:

Blanche. Laslo, before you make your choice, just let me say what a privilege it has been for me to come here and work with the man whom I consider to be the greatest Hungarian sculptor of our time.

Dorothy. Yes, and just let me say that if Blanche can name two other Hungarian sculptors of any time I shall eat that statue.

I’m getting close, Blanche, should you ever choose to “phone a friend” (even though, as you soon realized, Laslo is a “friend of Dorothy’s”). Imre Varga is a magician who can make sheet metal seem like sheer silk or imbue it with the weight of human suffering, who can make dead matter sway and sway us into believing that the dead matter. His work, which has withstood the political upheavals that relegated many of his contemporaries to the scrapheap (or the ghetto that is Statue Park), is a chronicle of a people and the individuals among them who influenced the course of its history (like St. Stephen, pictured above). Through his portraits in metal, Varga will make you look up names and never let you forget his own . . .

The Starburst Galaxy

“Your name doesn’t mean anything to me, but I’m happy for you that you’re somebody around here.” That is not what I said to popular British television actress Michelle Collins when I met her backstage at the Shaftesbury Theatre in the winter of 2006 (as I mentioned here, in passing). I had been living in Britain for over two years already and still felt like a party-crashing amnesiac among a group of strangers absorbed in a game of Trivial Pursuit, the edition of which appeared to be Mesopotamian. Relocating to another country, however culturally related it may be to the universe you left behind (in my case, the microcosmopolitan hub known as Manhattan), is not unlike the sensation of tuning in to a serial that, unbeknownst to you, has been running for several successful seasons on a cable network to which you have just gotten access. You try your darndest to get into it; yet looking on only leaves you with the impression that the rock you dwelled under is not even the third one from the sun but orbiting another solar system altogether. So you lay down the telescope at last and, unless you meet them in person, give up on identifying the luminaries begot in a galaxy light-years beyond your sphere.

Tonight, the glamorous Ms. Collins returns to UK television to head the cast of Rock Rivals, a new pulp drama set in the world of reality showbusiness, its creative forces, its performers, and its followers. The eight-part series airs on ITV, home of reality programs like The X Factor, the British revamp of American Idol. As with the shows it feeds on, Rock Rivals lets viewers decide who wins the fictional singing contest by choosing one of two possible endings.

Satire or satellite, it is another commentary on the kind of starburst galaxy the entertainment industries insists we inhabit. Starburst galaxies are the kind of systems with a particularly high star-formation rate. Who can keep up with all those newly created celebrities? Sometimes, stars have to fall or catastrophically explode before I take note.

There’s one born every minute—along with the adoring crowd on whom such upgraded gaseousness exerts its gravitational pull. As paradoxical as it might sound, that is probably why I leap at the chance of catching a star in the process of being formed. Presently, the only satellite-dished up treat I take in is American Idol, to which I keep coming back for another helping until David Archuleta is being unaccountably voted off by folks who wouldn’t recognize a rising sun if it hit them in the solar plexus.

Watching reality television has its comforts. It gives you the impression—or should that be “creates the illusion”?—that you are no mere stargazer but a starmaker with powers equal to the vast industry whose well-oiled if by now antiquated machinery is working against time, odds, and YouTube to produce the kind of temporary radiance that passes for stellar. The aging medium turns them out fast for a reason: with all those puffed up somebodies insisting on making stars or asses of themselves, the gas in this galaxy is just about used up.

Lemon in My Tea

Well, make that Liz Lemon. I don’t watch a lot of television these days; but I sure get a kick out of 30 Rock. Not since Seinfeld have I followed a situation comedy with such enthusiasm. Never mind that Fey’s nod to Jerry and his gang turned into just another plug for the stingless Bee Movie. It’s great to see SNL alumni like Tracy Morgan and Chris Parnell in something worth my while (that is, something other than SNL). Rachel Dratch’s Hitchcockian cameos in season one were inspired. For once, even the guest appearances (Carrie Fisher!) do not smack of desperation.

Apropos Lemon (still with a capital L): the BBC hit a new low last Saturday with the premiere of The One and Only . . ., a new reality show in which amateur impersonators of iconic performers like Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, and Rod Stewart battle it out for a chance at a contract in Vegas. Nothing terribly wrong with the concept (unless viewers under forty were expected to call in their votes); but the so-called talent appears to have been dragged in straight from a deserted street corner or a low-rent shopping mall . . . in Andorra. It would make for a stellar 30 Rock episode.

Let’s see, Madonna, in her by now long-faded Material Girlishness, has a German accent to which American audiences are sure to thrill. And Lionel Ritchie? He’s a white guy in blackface. That’ll have them dancing on the ceiling over at the NAACP! You’d think the current WGA strike would encourage broadcasters in Britain to fill in the blanks smartly instead of shooting them . . .

"Well, excuse me for living, Anita Bryant"

Most of us have what in common parlance is known as baggage. If you were to rummage through mine, you’d come across a few reels of film. Moving images that get pushed around like a burden too heavy to carry, celluloid that somehow came to deposit itself under the by now leathery skin of my much travelled case. One such movie, to me, is Robert Wise’s I Want to Live (1958). Few moments in film made a greater impression on me than Susan Hayward’s final scenes in this hysterical nightmare of a melodrama, which I first saw when I was a child of seven or eight (we have so few accurate records for experiences such as watching television).

I was staying with my grandmother who saw it fit to sit me in front of the tube all day, flicking between the two available channels, and letting me “gorge and guzzle” like an Augustus Gloop picking the plate of Mike Teavee until I had to be taken back to my parents after developing a fever from the exposure to all those images flashing before me. I have not watched I Want to Live since. Since last night, that is.

Violent and brash, I Want to Live is hardly what you might call family fare; here in Britain, it still carries an advisory label suggesting the age of fifteen as the appropriate time for exposure. How terrifying it was for me, the boy I still know, to witness the execution of a human being, the slow death by poison staged with minute precision. There was that phone that would not ring, that call that would not come. After all these years, I was convinced it would be ringing, after all, if only too late to save the life of Barbara Graham (played by Susan Hayward, pictured above).

As I said, I had not seen this film since that first time. Along the way, I heard it mentioned, gradually realizing it to be an iconic picture, a title in scarlet lettering, the kind of incendiary pulp to which the likes of me are drawn. I knew early on what “the likes of me” were; but I was as yet unfamiliar with the secret language shared among my kind, something understood.

Years later, living in New York, I caught a rerun of the Golden Girls, the sitcom to which I, a non-immigrant German studying in the US, owed much of my colloquial English. There was Sophia Petrillo, locking herself up in the bathroom, upset that her daughter Dorothy does not approve of her wedding (to her Jewish boyfriend, Max Weinstock). The caterer storms in, overhearing the reconciliation of elderly mother and grown-up child. “This is more moving,” he breaks out, “than Susan Hayward’s climactic speech in I Want to Live.” “You’re ready to fly right out of here,” sneers Dorothy’s roommate Blanche at the sight of this Pangbornian display. “Well, excuse me for living, Anita Bryant!” the insulted caterer fires back.

I am with the caterer. In fact, I have been with the caterers since I was about five. Perhaps, this is why I responded so strongly then to what the film claims to be a wrongful sentencing, the incarceration and sacrificing of an exuberant outcast. Not that I am trying to hand out psychoanalytic cheese puffs here.

Still, it was strange to revisit Graham’s final moments last night, so many decades later, seeing myself watching an old movie, still recognizing that boy. What was my grandmother thinking? It struck me that this was the woman who, years later, told me that she knew about the concentration camps and the gassing of the Jews. The same woman who refused to talk to or correspond with me after it had become clear that I was to remain a caterer and would never have that wedding. There she sat with me, watching a woman going into the gas chamber. Was she reminded of the many deaths she had condoned? Was there a secret chamber of her heart into which no poison could rush? Would she have turned the switch on me and my pink triangular kind?

As if any underscoring of such melodramatic excesses were needed, Graham went out with a bang. Not just metaphorically. The lamp of our movie projector (one of those $500 bulbs) imploded just before she was led to that chamber. There won’t be any screenings for a while, except for those pictures that keep flickering on the back of my eyelids, reels in the baggage to be pushed around until it is time for me to push off . . .

Amazons and Old Lace: Cranford Televisited

Well, this was one to watch out for. Not that I could have missed the announcements, given that the new five-part television adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford stories is the cover story of this week’s Radio Times. A grand production it is shaping up to be, judging from the first installment, which aired tonight on BBC 1. The television series borrows from several of Gaskell’s works; aside from the Cranford papers (published in serial form between 1851 and 1853), writer Heidi Thomas also draws on incidents from “Mr. Harrison’s Confessions,” the story of a young physician (serialized in 1851) and the novella My Lady Ludlow (serialized in 1858) to create what the Radio Times refers to, using that most horrid and hackneyed of adjectives, a “unique universe.”

Quaint or daring, Gaskell’s world is certainly uncommon in its Cukorian selection of characters. “In the first place,” we are told, “Cranford is in possession of the Amazons.” As is often the case, the version-maker of the current series chose to forgo the contrivance of voice-over narration, at a considerable loss of clever prose. That said (and however much there is left unsaid), the opening line is soon rendered visible to the televisitors of this fabled community, which, albeit, not entirely devoid of male bodies, is dominated by formidable females. Foremost among them are Judy Dench and Eileen Atkins as the sisters Jenkyns (pictured), ably supported by Imelda Staunton, Julia Sawalha, and the ever compelling Francesca Annis (last seen on UK television in the latest Marple mystery).

I was anxious to learn how my favorite moment would be dealt with, whether it would be told or dramatized. Surely it is too hilarious a scene to be omitted. I am referring, of course, to the aforementioned “pussy” incident. The treatment was, shall we say, rather graphic and indecorous, which is not to say that it was not wildly amusing.

Miss Deborah Jenkyns, that advocate of “[e]legant economy” who much preferred Dr. Johnson to the young author of the Pickwick Papers (then newly published), would no doubt have objected to the sound effects employed to dramatize pussy’s response to the “tartar emetic,” not to mention the shot of the piece of lace thus extracted. In the hands of the producer, this “anecdote” known only to a circle of “intimate friends” so civilized and reserved as to be “afraid of being caught in the vulgarity of making any noise in a place of public amusement,” becomes an attack on the Victorian fabric of Cranford that the worthy Amazons might have been spared.

“Isn’t she nice?”: Laraine Day (1913-2007) on the Air

Well, the first thing I thought of when I heard about the passing of screen actress Laraine Day on 10 November 2007 was this remark by Alfred Hitchcock, who directed her in Foreign Correspondent (1940): “I would have liked to have a bigger star.” He could not have been faced with a brighter one. Best known in the 1940s for her recurring role of nurse Mary Lamont in a series of Dr. Kildare movies, Day (seen left in a picture taken from my copy of the 3-9 January 1942 issue of Movie-Radio Guide) was as bright as her name suggested. There seemed to be no edge from which to push to her into more ambitious performances. She was just so darn nice . . . at least until she was forced to give back that pretty Locket.

In The Locket (1946), Day’s cheerful personality is being cleverly exploited to make audiences wonder whether her character, Nancy, is really as charming and uncomplicated as she seems. “She is nice,” a woman attending Nancy’s wedding observes. “She’s lucky,” another guest replies. “If you’re nice, you have to be lucky,” the first one counters, only to be dealt with the riposte that “[i]f you’re lucky, you can afford to be nice.”

Nancy can afford to be nice, however little happiness being a good girl managed to get her as a child; but is she just Mrs. Lucky to have landed such a well-to-do husband, or has her not being quite so nice something to do with it? The Locket, in which Day stars opposite Robert Mitchum, Brian Aherne, and Gene Raymond, is Hitchcock’s Marnie without the sex angle. It is a dark, labyrinthine thriller that casts welcome shadows on the brightness of Ms. Day.

Before making her frequent US television appearances, hosting her own program, Daydreaming with Laraine (1951), and starring in a number of Lux Video Theater productions, Day was heard on the Lux Radio Theater in recreations of her screen roles in Mr. Lucky (1943) and Bride by Mistake (1944). She was also cast in a number of original radio plays produced by the Cavalcade of America (such as in “The Camels Are Coming,” opposite her Foreign Correspondent co-star Joel McCrea).

On Biography in Sound, Day let listeners in on the home life of her husband, Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, with whom she also appeared on Tallulah Bankhead’s Big Show (4 February 1951), in which Day’s clean image was contrasted with that of her irascible husband:

Bankhead: Well, I must say, Laraine, that being the wife of a stormy baseball manager doesn’t seem to have changed you very much.  You still have that fresh, lovely, scrubbed look.

Day: Why shouldn’t I look scrubbed? Every time we have an argument, Leo sends me to the showers.

Considering that Day’s projected identity resembles an ad for toilet soap, it is not surprising that she made several return visits to the Lux Radio Theater. Introduced as “ever lovely” by Mr. DeMille, Day enjoyed a rather more interesting vehicle than her own comedies in the mystery “The Unguarded Hour” (4 December 1944).

In that adaptation for radio (of a movie based on a stage drama that itself was an adaptation), Day plays a valiant wife who tries to protect her husband from a scandal of which he is unaware. His words, uttered by co-star Robert Montgomery, capture what is the Laraine Day persona:

How do you think I came to worship you? Because you’re so pretty? Because you win large silver cups jumping horses or play good bridge? No, darling.  You have what’s called quality.  It’s kindness, it’s generosity, that makes all the rest of us feel just a little shoddy.

Memorials War; or, Names Are Dropped Faster Than Guns

Well, is anyone else having a hangover? This, after all, is the day after. All over Britain, people of all ages could be observed last weekend pinning poppies on their apparel, in observance or remembrance of . . . what? War? The end or the ends of it? The heroes who fought battles or those who forged peace? Or did they simply try to remember to bin that doubtful ornament of imitation flora once Remembrance Sunday had made way for another week of everydays? The period of oblivion has set in as scheduled. No doubt, the swastikas splashed days earlier on the local cenotaph here in Aberystwyth have long been expunged.

It seems that, instead of looking around, we tend to look back, probably without learning a thing about our present selves. As I tried to express it when last we were through observing Armistice Day, I am ill at ease about those fixed periods set aside for collective reflection. Not that there are any memorials in Germany, where I grew up, an absence of tributes that serves as a reminder to me that what is to be brought chiefly to mind here is national honor, not international horrors.

I am uneasy, too, when faced with responses to war as expressed by one of the readers (of this recent journal entry) with whom pride seems to go before considerations about those who fall on the other side. As the current conflict in Iraq demonstrates, blind followers are still falling for the kind of arguments for which thousands must fall, determined to stick to their guns no matter how devastating their discharges have proven to be.

Here in Britain, big gun names are being rolled out for the occasion, dropped like bombs whose aim it is to awe rather than make a political impact. Such, at least, is the rationale behind the decisions of those who stage the ratings war. Daniel Radcliffe, for instance, who is best known for having landed the title role in the Harry Potter series, appeared last night in the television drama My Boy Jack, playing the teenage son of Rudyard Kipling, the patriotic author who used his pull to push his offspring into battle, despite the young man’s visual impairment. Private Potter did not even have to drop his trademark eyewear.

Now, I chose not to follow this televised memorial on ITV. I decided instead to screen Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), which, rather than seeming dated or coming across like a costume drama, has lost none of its documentarian urgency, couched as its pacifist message is in symbolism. Unlike “Armistice Day,” a sentimental radio play of the same period (brought to you courtesy of OTRCat.com), All Quiet still asks the questions we must insist on asking ourselves: Why and what ought we to remember? What are the agenda of those who recall, those who call on us to hear roll calls?

Too apt to look upon history as representations of what is dead, gone, and past restoring, we fail to take note of the dying of our days, the necrology of our present lives, and the deaths that are owing to our blindness and silence.

Passport to Ridicule

Well, who needs fun house mirrors? When it comes to deriving amusement from staring at distorted reflections of yourself, there is nothing like the jack-in-the-box of old photographs. However familiar, they still manage to surprise. Sometimes, those snapshots of your past take on lives of their own as, in the eyes of others, they begin to resemble the faces of strangers. It becomes rather trying when you begin to think of your former self as a latter-day Frankenstein who, attempting to create life in his image, unwittingly gave birth to something monstrous beyond his control.

Owing to a current television program, I am the subject of much joshing here at Ty Newydd, our home (“ty” being Welsh for house). Once again, we are tuning in to The X Factor, one of those illegitimate, hyperactive offspring of the aforementioned Major Bowes so eagerly adopted these days and brought into the homes of an adoring public. And until such time as the show’s televoting devotees decide they have had their fill and be rid of him, I must expect to be mocked each Saturday evening for allegedly resembling the decidedly odd Rhydian Roberts, one of the two Welsh contestants in this year’s competition.

Each week, Rhydian is making a spectacle of himself as he appears before a panel of judges (the cocky Simon Cowell, the confidently second-rate Dannii Minogue, the feisty Sharon Osborne, and the amiable Irishman Louis Walsh) to take on a duet from The Phantom of the Opera or take the stage like an ice-sculptured Liberace in sequins and faux furs, belting like Welsh pop icon Shirley Bassey to the bewilderment of the British people who never beheld anyone quite like him.

Remote and humorless, Rhydian seems to come to life only on the stage. Thus far, he has remained an impenetrable mystery. Too straight for camp, he has a discipline and drive more chilling than the ambitions of Eve Harrington. He is a regular storm-trouper. It is no less disconcerting to be likened to him. Fortunately, the theatrical one can carry a tune, which is where any comparisons between us two, unwarrantable as they are to begin with, must most assuredly come to an end. In the words of frustrated blues singer Eve Peabody, “mine is strictly a bathtub voice.”

No, I don’t mind making a display of myself (as I have done here on numerous occasions). In fact, before I made up my mind that one journal was quite enough of me, I briefly contemplated dedicating one to the history of my hair, an autobiographical venture I intended to call The Shoulderpadded Atlas (for which this picture might have qualified). It would have been another argument for the non-visual arts, no doubt, which is better put forward here on broadcastellan. That said, it is just as well that I share my life here, given that the past preserved on my old computer seems to have been lost in yesterday’s crash.

Since then, I have had as much reason to cheer as I have sense not to burst into song. It was determined this morning that I shall have to dig up my passport again. Another trip to the old haunts of Gotham is in the offing. Considering that the above picture has changed more accurately to reflect my present exterior, I shall probably get through immigrations without suffering much ridicule (let alone comparisons to a man as yet unknown stateside). Of course, that also means I am going to miss the season finale of X Factor. Not a void a bottle of Aqua Net can’t fill.

Digging the Mole: Language, Memory, and the Dirt of Native Soil

Well, I am back in Wales after a week in the Czech capital. And, as is always the case following such travels, I seem to have left behind some part of me that keeps spinning, endlessly and unclaimed, like a piece of luggage on a carousel forcing it back into view with every turn. Retrieving some of its content piecemeal—and in full view of anyone around me—I am devoting the next few entries in the broadcastellan journal to the grabbing at that stubbornly revolving case and the spreading out of whatever I might snatch from it for all to see.

Traveling to Prague was not simply a matter of going on a trip to me—unless, you might say at the risk of sounding like some hideous pop tune, it was a matter of going on a trip “to me.” It was the closest I have been to walking on what my German passport claims to be home turf in about seventeen years (apart from a subsequent stopover in Amsterdam, during which we took the train into town for a meal and a walk along the grachten).

If that nearness to what I have been trying to get away from weren’t enough to cause anxiety, Prague is full of reminders of the cultural contributions of my forebears, from the writings of Franz Kafka to the attempt at exterminating Jewish culture, impressions to be shared in subsequent entries. I was relieved, amid “collective guilt”-ridden visits of the Jewish Quarter and the angst-fest that is the Kafka Museum, to come across Krtek, the mole. Perhaps it was a matter of closing my eyes and ears for a while (moles, unlike Krtek, being short-sighted and hard of hearing) and of not resurfacing for a while, getting so close to being home-soiled.

I grew up digging Krtek, a cartoon character created by Zdeněk Miler. Former Czechoslovakia was a chief purveyor of children’s television entertainment both in Eastern Europe and Germany during the 1970s. As it turns out, Krtek is celebrating his fiftieth birthday this year, which is why he was prominently on display in the shopwindows of Prague. I could not resist sharing my rediscovery by donning above t-shirt. Never mind that I look like Mr. Magoo avoiding the glare of an otherwise welcome sun.

To me, Krtek will always be “Der Kleine Maulwurf,” which is how I got to know him during my childhood. “Maulwurf”! What a wonderful word. Literally, it means “snout throw” (or “muzzle toss”). The German language is marked by a directness largely lacking in Latin-quartered English, an openness and simplicity I did not come to appreciate until I dug a hole out of the place I chose not to call Heimat and picked up the works of Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, whose to English ears mannered idiolect (termed “Carlylese”) comes alive in metaphors and loan-translations.

A number of poets and novelists living in Prague in the early 20th century circulated their thoughts in the linguistic isolation cell of German, a marginality so keenly felt by Kafka. Being already in a heap of clay dug up by Krtek, I am currently reading Gustav Meyrink’s Der Golem (1915), the famous legend of the clay-made aider of the Jews, about which and whom I will have more to say in the near future.

Having lived outside Europe for so long, I am sometimes overwhelmed (and not always pleased) by the memories tossed back in my face at the mere sight of something like a little mime of a mole, memories that come to life chiefly in images but, when recalled in words, insist on sticking out my native tongue at me.

I know. It seems as if I were making a mountain out of one of his hills; but watching Krtek in this charming little movie, I am reminded how much he, too, dug the radio, and how this love for foreign sounds brought about his isolation . . .