A Good Story…

A number of years ago I sat with my granddaughter, age 4 or 5, while we watched “Zootsuit” with that electrifying El Pachuco performance by Mr. Olmos. In fact the entire film was electrifying.

Pretty heavy stuff for a little kid, you may say, but I didn’t see any reason she couldn’t see the film. Since I was the babysitter, I had little choice. Either not watch, send her to bed, or let her watch. I’m easy.

We both sat entranced throughout the entire film, but at the end she suddenly burst out crying.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Why are you crying?”

She wiped her eyes and took a moment before she said, “Because I didn’t want it to be over.”

That got me thinking about my own feelings. Some stories make you want to stay with them all the way. You’re really not ready for them to “be over”.

I’ve read some of my favorite books several times, I suppose because that’s as close as I can get to having them not “be over”.

This morning I read a comment about how tedious Moby Dick is, and how the commentator couldn’t get past the first few pages. I remember my own yeoman struggle to get through the entire book. My thinking was that if it’s so damned famous, it must be worth reading. So I read it. It is a powerful story set against a strange and wonderful background. But tedious, yes. Tedious? More like absolute murder. Especially for today’s reader.

But continuing my wandering thought processes, I thought of other books that are considered classics. They mostly have one thing in common: they’re long and meandering. But then it occurred to me that readers of a hundred or so years ago, having no radio or TV or movies, spent a lot more time reading. And I believe they wanted their money’s worth when they picked up a book. They wanted a book that would engross them not just for an hour or two, but one that would be a companion for perhaps a week or more. Life was slower in those times, and there were fewer distractions for the average person. Reading obviously provided the best part of a person’s solitary amusement and education. Small wonder then that when people in those days got their hands on a good book, they didn’t want it to “be over” too soon.

These days, if we wrote in those dated styles, we’d get a rejection that would out speed  a Voyager spacecraft.

Today you have to start with a “hook” to get the reader involved, and then you’d better keep going. No pulp fiction padding these days when being paid by the word is meaningless. At one time a penny a word could bring in $50 which wasn’t peanuts. Today, too many outlets are wise to the fact that they don’t have to pay anything at all.

There are always exceptions to the good story rule however.

Like many kids, at one time I thought it would be great to join the French Foreign Legion. After all I’d seen “Beau Geste” and “Flying Deuces”. I seem to remember some French film where Jean Gabin hid out in the Spanish Foreign Legion which was patterned after the French model.

Well, I just finished “Legionnaire” by Simon Murray. This romantic 19-year old joined La Légion Etrangère and spent five years undergoing torture that makes Guantanamo Bay look like an expense-paid vacation in the Bahamas. Luckily for us, he kept a pretty close diary. Imagine walking for hours with a bag of rocks for a backpack with wire shoulder straps, digging a “grave” and lying in it beneath a tarp in the Algerian sun all day long without water. How about a twenty-five mile march wearing full gear in the heart of the Sahara summer and coming back to find that while you were gone, everything in the barracks had been thrown onto the floor, including taking the beds apart, throwing soap powder over the entire mess and soaking it in water. Then your company was told there would be inspection in two hours. How about letting a tank knock you down and roll over you without getting smashed, or parachuting into the unknown in the middle of the night. These were but some of the toughening episodes Mr. Murray survived during his five-year stint. Sure, life in the Legion had its moments, but they were few and far between. I have to admit that while I really lived that adventure, this is one in which I was glad for it to “be over”.

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History repeating itself (again)?

I just viewed the television film, “Louis XVI, the man who did not want to be King.”

Louis was only twenty when he found himself the unwilling king of France. Immature, anti-social and awkward, he is at a loss at what to do. He relies on a succession of advisers, who pull Louis to and fro in confusion, while at the same time other factions are determined to profit from his lack of acumen.

All through this film I continued to think of how closely it parallels our economic and political problems in the United States today.

We have a leader who clearly wants to do the right thing by his people. Yet he sometimes appears indecisive, conciliatory, and continues to change counsel. He is faced with a parliament (congress) that stubbornly rejects everything and anything he wants to accomplish, and an increasingly frustrated and unhappy public,effectively demonstrated by our messy Occupy Wall Street manifestations throughout the country. And while our president should not be blamed for all our problems, it is upon his shoulders that the blame ultimately falls.

We have the tea party idea so neatly expressed in the picture, that there are three groups, or estates. The first estate is the church. All the high ranking clergy belongs to the nobility which is convenient. This estate is important and necessary in that the clergy is necessary to crown a monarch and also to pray for the monarchy. That is the church’s contribution to the welfare of the country.  The nobility (read the rich), comprise the second estate and their value is in that they oversee the welfare of the country. It is the third estate, the rest of us,whose beholden duty it is to support the first two estates through our loyalty, our labor, our taxes and our donations.

France’s financial situation at the time is so bad that, in searching for more income, someone actually mentions the heretical idea of taxing the church. Taxing the church is immediately cast aside as too ridiculous for serious consideration. That leaves the princes of blood (the rich) and the working class. The nobility isn’t about to give up any of its income or power. Ridiculous idea. They are God’s chosen leaders.The way the system is set up is.the natural order of things. That’s God’s plan. That leaves the working classes, if they can find work.

And lastly, as the picture points out, the court at Versailles lives in a bubble, completely isolated from the reality of the world around it. Our representatives and senators appear to be living in the same sort of impregnable bubble. They will not or cannot hear the voice of the public. When an adviser points out to the king the excess of one prince who used over 160 horses for a little personal visit to the countryside, the king can only say, “But we have over 2,000”.

The man who did not want to be king is a beautifully produced film, well told and beautifully photographed. If I’m allowed one little complaint, I personally felt Louis was a little on the thin side. I always picture him as a bit on the chubby side. (Think my personal favorite, Robert Morley). Besides, although I won’t mention his name, Louis XVI looks a great deal like a popular American comic (to me at least.).

Louis’ weakness and lack of self-confidence, however, are well-expressed in his facial and body language, as well as in his speech.

King Louis XVI found himself in the unfortunate position of being at a total loss in his new position. Indecisive and insecure, he allowed himself to be pushed and pulled from every side, a matter of too many cooks in the kitchen. The cooks came and went while the country simply went.

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