Alaine Polcz – Hungarian Writer and Psychologist

In her book, “A Wartime Memoir: Hungary 1944-1945,”Alaine tells about a life changing year that instead of being her downfall, became her life’s purpose. Sitting ducks with a changing guard, from Russian to German on an on-going, what seemed like a never ending basis, she travels from Transylvania (then hoping to remain with Hungary) to Csákvár, in Hungary and back again. In the end, you can imagine the frustration in knowing, if she had never left, her life would have remained simple an innocent.

What is beautiful about this book is that she is not talking like a psychologist but instead, goes back in her mind to re-live painfully traumatic experiences at the age of 19, as if she were that age once more. As a psychotherapist myself, I get the sense that she probably never went through her own course of treatment. This is because she continues to repeat over and over “I do not remember…” This is typical of a sexual abuse survivor or someone who was horribly traumatized at a young age and blocks the exact details of the trauma from their mind, for their own “assumed” well-being. Ironic, as she was a psychologist yet even today, people in this profession are closed off to doing their own work. It is important so that they can properly support others without transferring their own pain onto the client or confusing the client’s story with their own. I am not condemning her though because this was more typical of this time period. I grew up with Hungarians (refugees from the revolution), none of whom went into therapy and all of whom went through some of their own harrowing ordeals. Not least of which was fleeing their beloved homeland.

Alaine was born in Kolozsvár, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (at this time known as the city of Cluj-Napoca). Now it is Romania and it was in 1944-1945 as well. This was a time of unrest between the Romanians and Hungarians, power struggles on the Romanian part that included violence and discrimination against the Hungarians who lived there. Alaine’s father gave her this male name because of two reasons. One, he did not know French and so unaware that it was a man’s name but Two, his only purpose was finding a name that was not able to be translated into Romanian.

At the onset of 1944, Alaine, at 19, was married to her childhood sweetheart János. Within a few months into their honeymoon period, he gives her gonorrhea. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it is at this point when he detaches from her and begins to be an emotionally abusive husband. She has the luck of being a strong woman, though terribly naïve. His mother, Mami, happens to work for the Esterházy family, who are of noble origins. It is here that they will go to live and because of him that she follows the family as they escape into Hungary to live and work at another estate, which will be the beginning of the end of Alaine’s life as she knows it. In Csákvar, what seems to bring some peace and safety for a short time, ends up being the front lines, which means constant harassment or torture from either the Germans or the Russians. For women, as with all wars, she and other villagers will be gang raped on what appears to be a daily basis, and at this time, she is under the impression that her husband was executed. The most impressive lines that she writes of her first account of abuse goes like this:

He put the photograph [of she and her husband] on the nightstand and laid me down on the bed. I was afraid he would not give me the picture. When he was done, he took the picture into his hand and showed it to me again…

When she writes, she is not writing like a writer in this book.  She states facts, over and over. There are no pictures drawn and yet there is a story being told. Fuzzy memories are re-told and sometimes they are not even in order, so you have to re-read to catch yourself. It is as if you are sitting with her and she is telling you a story. When I got to the line “When he was done,” it came at me so quickly; I had to read it a few times to let it register. “Oh, okay,” I thought, this is how she is protecting herself and the audience. Even though she is not talking like a psychologist, she is consciously protecting throughout the book.

At some point, days, maybe a month or so later, she is escorted to a cellar, with 79 other Hungarians, who are doing their best to survive. They will go through days or months (you are never sure of the timeline but the book is only one year), of not bathing, very little food and at one point no water, ritual defecating and urinating (they can only go outside to do this during the 10 minutes of ceasefire which occurs daily at the same time), as well as lice and natural body odors. She is only with Mami and her dachshund “Filike,” who she holds at her breast, under a coat which no one notices until the end of her time there.

Alaine does spend a lot of time talking about blood and guts and waste, more than any other writer I have seen when it comes to war zones. One does wonder how people use the toilet during these times. When she mentions herself running away from a gang rape sequence, she talks about running through the snow with a slip on and blood being caked on her body and in her panties. She mentions being in the cellar when she pulls her shirt away from her body and a woman notices the skin of a sore coming with it. She is telling us about how you just keep going, no matter what, becoming oblivious to your own vanity.

The war is at the end, in 1945, when this part of her story comes to a close. She returns to Budapest, still without her husband, to be reunited with family; who will then return to Kolozsvár. She is saved from being labeled a whore, as most women will be in this time period, because her family are good people and she finally denies what happened. By this time the gonorrhea and the life conditions she has just endured have taken its toll on her body. She is hospitalized for some time before she will recover and get some of her life back. The irony is that she will never be able to bear a child and this was the fault of her own husband. The sardonic twist is the realization that all those Russian soldiers had went home to their wives passing on her venereal disease to them.

She and János will part ways and soon she will meet her second husband Miklós Mészöly, who went on to become a famous Hungarian writer. Alaine will go on to become the founder of the first children’s hospice program and win two different awards. She receives the Tibor Déry Award in 1992 (for this book, which was written in 1991) and The Middle Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 2001. Alaine’s husband dies in 2001 and she will pass six years later.

Post-Script: What is horribly frustrating about the book is the writing and translation. Albert Tezla is the translator and having read a great number of translated books from several different countries, this is pathetic. You would almost think he didn’t speak English because the sentences come across as broken and unedited. I believe he is translating word for word, rather than trying to put it together in some organized fashion. It is also possible that Alaine was never edited since Albert was not either. I think this is embarrassing to both the writer and the country itself. While I am not a prolific writer myself and certainly need to be edited, I am self-published and have no professional acclaim to add to my repertoire.  I was disappointed to say the least. However, this story, edited or not, annoying with the redundancy or not, needed to be told. What I have noticed when I find anything about women in history, this is so often the case. It is sad because I can’t recall any time when I have seen the same about men.

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#METOO feels Self-Serving to Me

Back in the mid-80’s, I lived and worked in LA and was trying to get into modeling. I was not naïve to the “casting couch” as I had read the non-fiction “Hollywood Babylon” (published in 1959) as a teenager and knew this was a dirty world. My last time to try and make a go of it was with an agency looking for older models (I was 26-ish by then). They were off of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Blvd. It was in a building across from the famous newsstand which may or may not exist anymore (do people still buy trade magazines and newspapers?). The guy who ran this agency worked with his wife, a beautiful Swedish/Norwegian looking blonde lady who was very pregnant with their first child. He took me and another younger woman to Malibu and we spent the day doing photos for our portfolios. We were in bathing suits and had to endure two Mexican men ogling us from over the side of a cliff we were under. We also had to endure this man/photographer telling us about his days with Playgirl magazine (when he was a model) and the size of his male part and how great he was.

The photos turned out really well actually and when I went to retrieve them from his office, I then had to endure being propositioned. Behind him on the wall was a huge painting of a woman with her legs spread apart (pre-Sharon Stone scene) and I only recall the color red and that the painting was very ugly. Not ugly as in bad artist but ugly woman, it was actually quite a good painting as artists go. As he was propositioning me, his pregnant wife was two offices up on the phone conducting business.  He told me that Brooke Shields and Cindy Crawford had done these things, he was requesting of me, because he had been to parties where he had opened doors and seen things. He had photos in his office of different celebrities with him (I don’t recall if they were the same people he was mentioning or not). The photographs made his statements seem legitimate to me though. It was obvious he knew people. However, I told him that I wasn’t that interested in getting into the modeling business if it meant performing on him to get a job. I said I was pretty surprised to hear that those women did those things but nonetheless, I was not. Naturally, he would not go on to work with me.

As I left the office, pissed off once again for having to put up with crap like that, I kept wondering to myself “Why is it that all these famous women haven’t done anything to protect women in the industry?” Here we are in 2018, the #METOO movement comes out of nowhere, only a few months ago and our country behaves as if they are in shock to know this is happening. This is three decades after my incident that I described above. Three decades of very famous, very wealthy actors and actresses who could have done something so that it would have been dealt with by now. After all, if you are Meryl Streep who has a reputation that will never be tarnished and has been in Washington lobbying one thing or another over the years (nothing to do with women’s rights), you don’t have to worry. If you are Mira Sorvino or Gwyneth Paltrow, whose parents preceded you in the “business,” you don’t have to worry either. Yet, here they are, jumping on the bandwagon that they themselves could have fixed many decades ago.

The “casting couch” has been around since the industry began. We have seen movies about this world; we have read non-fiction books, which include auto-biographies and memoirs and yet nothing has ever been done about this until now. Tyra Banks had a modeling show during this time where she paraded young innocents around in soft-porn situations and kicked a Christian woman off the show because she wasn’t comfortable participating. Tyra’s comment to her was that this is part of being in the industry, which is no different than the kind of thing pimps told our young foster girls that they were grooming for their “business” in Oakland, CA; when I worked there. I am sure there are more women involved in this business, who led these women onto the couch. You haven’t heard anything about this though, #METOO seems only to be focused on men.

Back in the mid-80’s my girlfriend in LA was involved in a women director’s association and I was aware that there were quite a few other associations, specifically for women in this field. There are also unions for all actors, most notably the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG).  Yet up until now, too my knowledge the subject of sexual harassment of women has been ignored in Hollywood.

What was concerning to me about the #METOO movement is that it does not appear to be doing anything but performing a “Witch Hunt” in Hollywood. There were many non-acting women on the #METOO board on Twitter, giving graphic stories about their situations which no doubt caused them to be re-traumatized as they wrote. These other women who are not in Hollywood assumed (I would imagine since they spoke out) that something would be done by telling. Yet other than hearing one more story about some actor/director/producer in Hollywood, we hear nothing about women in general and change being made. What needs to happen is better training that should be mandatory for all police and fire fighters – who are the people a young woman would run to in an emergency situation. I have known plenty of trainers who have worked with these professionals around the country but as I hear stories of people where I live locally (and work as a therapist) I am aware that it is obvious no training has been conducted here. The reason I say this is that I have heard women tell me that they were not offered a “rape kit” that they were told “it is a he said, she said” situation, that were told there wasn’t enough evidence and who were led to believe it was their fault that it happened.

I even heard a story by a young woman who told me her sister was left in a parking lot, in the winter, after a sheriff asked her why she was sitting there in her car with her child. She explained that her husband had a gun and had threatened to use this on them and she had escaped and had nowhere to go. Instead of being given resources to a domestic violence shelter or even being told that she could call 211 for a bed, he just said “Oh, okay” and left them there.

Worrying about damaging Harvey Weinstein’s career is hardly the concern of the average young woman. Having Matt Damon harassed for his opinions by an ex-girlfriend, Minnie Driver, who he broke up with because she sicked the Paparazzi on them while they were on a date is rather hypocritical. It all works though because most of the general public doesn’t remember these things and they like focusing on reality shows which are merely the freak shows of yesteryear that people would view inside of a tent at a carnival.

None of the big actresses in Hollywood, who got on the bandwagon of the #Metoo movement, have anything to worry about. They are rich and powerful ladies. All women, who are average everyday people, who have survived horrible situations by men who aren’t rich and powerful, will continue to have something to be concerned of for the rest of their lives. Those who we need to be worried about the most are the naïve teen girls and young adult women who are fresh, inexperienced, and vulnerable. I too assumed that the #Metoo movement was going to make change and have an impact on women around our country. I soon began to realize that all it was doing was focusing on men in Hollywood. How wrong it was to misinform the public and have all those survivors re-traumatize themselves by sharing their stories online when it was really just a waste of time. I haven’t seen one article about changes being made locally or across the country to help women and girls who have been affected by sexual harassment or abuse. It would have been a great movement, had it actually accomplished this.

There is a big difference between a woman who is making a choice, for her career and a woman who has no choice at all. I am sure there have been some actresses who really didn’t have any choice because they weren’t being propositioned. The average woman never has a choice. When a woman is raped, sexually harassed or abused it is not about a career but about a man (usually) who is asserting their power over a powerless person. We need to focus on abuse to women and girls, not just in Hollywood but in general. Not as a publicity stunt that is focusing on an issue that should have been dealt with decades ago but as a real concern that has only been given partial attention up until now. The only major attention the average woman gets is when the situation gets really, really bad, like when she is killed.

Unfortunately, taking advantage of women and girls is another hot topic that goes in the back seat just like mental health in general and gun control. It is exciting to hear about the first few weeks of the incident and then another scandal comes to our attention or the weeks go by and we all just forget about it and quietly go about our business of living our lives.

 

Incidentally, I sent this recent Hollywood photo to the #MeToo movement on Twitter a couple of days ago. Wondering why it was okay for women to sexually harass people. I was offended by this photo and if we were working together in a business, this woman would be fired for third party sexual harassment. So, #TimesUp #MeToo, Sexual Harassment is not okay, whether it is men to women, women to men, women to women or men to men. 

Abhorrent – the new # in Holywood

Holier than thou Hollywood continues to gain power over our society with their extreme left thinking to over compensate for their anger at the right. Hypocritically speaking out about tolerance and freedom of speech and then firing someone for just that. It is okay for Samantha Bee to disrespect a president’s daughter and call her a F-cking C-nt and for Kathy Griffin to want to decapitate a world leader, or for Joy Behar to trash Christians. All “comedians” but when a well-known, controversial, funny woman Roseanne Barr says something she is fired from her own TV show. Let’s look back at a couple of her more interesting quotes:

“I like to get people talking. I am a provocateur, and I do like getting on Twitter and riling people up. You know what, after a while some sane dialogue and sane conclusions come of that kind of thing.”

“I’m either mentally ill or Jewish. I can’t sometimes tell the difference.”

“I’m a comic, and I’m supposed to outrage and make people laugh, Part of makin’ people laugh is to shake up their thinkin’. That’s what I came here to do.”

Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/roseanne_barr

Whatever happened to “Hey man, that’s not cool?” the person would apologize and say “Okay, maybe I went too far,” or just letting it go because you can’t trash White people and get away with it but trashing Black people means you’re a racist.  You’re a racist whether you are trashing White people or Black people. No excuses as to why it is okay to trash White people. If you want to become a better class of people, you rise above it. I could understand a Christian doing this and using the biblical quote “an eye for an eye,” but most people in Holywood are not Christians, they are just pretending to be when they win an award.

There was a time when it was shocking to nab legendary celebrities for being communists. People lost their jobs, were blacklisted, committed suicide, it was a very horrible time for actors. We look back on this now and are outraged by this time period. People have a right to their opinions, whether we like it or not. Shaking up society with a comment is detrimental yes but telling at the same time. If you put a lock on people’s mouths like women’s chastity were once protected, where is this getting us in a “free country?” It is saner for a person to get something off their chest than to annihilate their voice for doing so.

Be very afraid Americans, not of Trump because he says what he thinks. There is no question about that. Be afraid of the far left that are judging your every move and telling you how to live your life. It is almost as if we need a hotline to call so we can ask a liberal “Is it okay to say this?” or do this, or act like this, or have a photo with our child. The last post asked whether being politically correct has gone too far. The answer is undoubtedly yes. We are becoming China and North Korea a place most Americans wouldn’t want to live. Yet telling people how to live their lives, firing people for saying something untoward, being a hypocrite by driving around in a car that says teach peace, teach tolerance, or some other self-righteous comment and this is about as red as you can get. We have to grow up and learn to take the good with the bad. We don’t need some smarta… liberal or conservative, for that matter, telling us what we can and cannot do on social media. Bullying laws, yes, this makes sense. There is a difference between someone making a smarta… comment about someone because they are pissed vs. someone who is trolling and harassing someone on a daily basis. If you are a celebrity you are used to getting fired upon vocally, if you are a child or a non-celebrity, you are not. But fired?

Here are the new rules for our society, according to the far left (just in case you haven’t gotten your newsletter).

  • It is okay to trash Christians but not Muslims (Teach religious tolerance though).
  • It is okay to say the “N word” if you are Black but not if you are White and live in the same inner city, rap, speak Ebonics and hang out with these people in the “hood” (Oakland schools fight to speak Ebonics in the classroom). The use of the word niggardly, is now taboo, even though it is not a derogatory word, it just sounds like it is.
  • It is okay to be a racist if you are Black but not if you are White (Teach Tolerance though).
  • It is acceptable to deface your country if you are Black.
  • You can have pride if you are Asian, Hispanic, Black, or Muslim but not if you are White.
  • You are a racist if you are White and won’t sleep with anyone (or marry someone) that is not White, except if you are in an “acceptable” cultural group or race.
  • The word pride means you are gay, as does the word “gay,” and girls are no longer allowed to have girlfriends because this means they are lesbians. If men travel together or women travel together, you have to tell people you aren’t gay, just good friends who don’t want to travel alone, or out having fun with the boys or the girls.
  • It is okay to have plastic surgery underage and dress the opposite of your sex in school because educating our children is not important anymore, f—king them up mentally takes precedence (Brains don’t fully develop until 21). Indulging them to become entitled children so that they will live in your basement and become a “gamer” or have to be evicted in a court of law at the age of 30.
  • Being a patriotic person means you are a born-again who owns a gun, flies the confederate flag and are a conservative.
  • You can’t sexually harass women but we can sexually harass you!

 

Politically Correct Debate for Modern Thinkers

This is quite a fascinating debate series founded by Hungarian born Paul Munk in 2008 out of Toronto, Canada. Interestingly, I learned about this through a client recently. I find that I get many good resources from the people I serve almost as if it were providence. They did make me aware of who won the debate before I saw it, though it wasn’t that hard to figure out as it was quite obvious which side were more gifted in speech and somatic comfort. What is troubling, as always, are Americans abroad. They are just incapable of realizing it isn’t all about them.

This debate is about Political Correctness, or at least that is what it was supposed to be about. The argument isn’t really about what is fair or which words should be used, it is more about whether it has gone too far and what might be a better way to go about this. I recall being a student at Antioch University in Santa Barbara, back in the 90’s and my fellow alumni (now) and I were having discussions about this ourselves. At that point, we could already see the ridiculousness of this new language and so I can imagine how they would feel watching this video today. Unfortunately, we parted and went in various directions, most of us onto graduate schools and with that, a much more difficult level of study that didn’t allow for keeping in touch with old friends quite so easily. It was before FB and Twitter and LinkedIn and by the time those things came about, I couldn’t even recall their names.

Watching this debate, I was already prepared for an interesting discussion by Stephen Fry as he is most likely a genius and typical with most Brits and Europeans, very humble. I have never heard of Jordan Peterson before today and will definitely pick up one of his books and learn more about what he has to say. While the Americans on the panel had no appreciation for his highly intellectual banter, I certainly am eager to see what the controversy is all about. Remember that most philosophers, scientists, inventors; they were all controversial in their time. Whenever someone challenges your thought process, it is debatable and can be fun to see the direction they take it in.

On the other side we had a woman who sat with her legs spread apart, most of the time, eager like the “feminist” thinkers of today to say “look at my vagina but don’t touch it.” Such a contradiction, a mixed message, from a foolish person who would probably do a better job as a dominatrix.  Then you have a minister who appears to be bi-racial but has so much anger for one part of himself. These two wanted to make the program about them and their issues with being a woman and being black. A debate is not meant to be a memoir, it is about giving an argument for the side you are on. All four of the people on the panel were liberal and so much of the time they were agreeing with each other in different ways. I suppose this was a safer way to have this discussion, even though the pros didn’t seem to understand that they were all liberal. They behaved as if they were up against Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump. But as I said, they felt it was all about them.

This is the issue with Political Correctness and the extreme thinking of today. It is the reason Donald Trump is in office. The people who voted for him needed some balance because the liberals had swung so far left they couldn’t even remember which side they were on. With Clinton taking all the jobs away from Americans and giving them to communists, turning our country effectively into one big ghetto with a huge opioid crisis. One only needs to visit a previous factory town that gave some dignity to the people there and notice the dealers, the depression, the hopelessness, the poverty. After this we went to Obamacare, which took precedence over the recession and the only ones who approved of this and will sing its praises are people who get their insurance paid for by the companies they work for. I can certainly say that I am no fan when my medication went from $30 to $700. There was no concern for human beings in the country that they served when these two major changes took over our lives. I am not arguing that Republicans haven’t made mistakes here, I am arguing that Democrats forgot what it meant to be liberal in their need to enforce their self-righteous viewpoint.

On a world stage such as the Munk Debates, it is such a dichotomy when you have socialists vs. capitalists. Nonetheless, I am captivated by this series that I have now signed up for. It is refreshing to know such an exchange of words exists, is allowed (naturally we wouldn’t be able to handle this in the U.S.) and to feel related to people who haven’t disappeared or crawled under a carpet.

Don Draper – Self-help Guru

Since I don’t pay for cable, I have to wait for episodes of good TV programs, from around the world, to come on Netflix. I try to stay off of entertainment news broadcasts so that I have no idea what is going on and can watch it with the same surprises as everyone else. However, I did catch a few news headlines about the end of Mad Men and waited with bated breath to see what I would think of the ending. Needless to say, I was a little perplexed at the thoughts people had about the end of the show. The caption had read something like “Is Don Draper committing suicide?” I rather hoped this would not be the way Matthew Weiner ended the series because it just didn’t feel right to me. It is obvious that Don Draper suffered from Depression, yes, but to commit suicide? Hardly. This man was a survivor, not a victim.

Don Draper was always re-inventing himself throughout the eight years that the show played out. He didn’t strike me as a “give-up” kind of guy. He worked on his memoirs at one point, which was the beginning of him stripping down the layers of his psyche. He was fired from a major firm and worked for that same firm behind the scenes. He wasn’t the type to be had. He was the type to say “FU” and figure out how to make them crave him even more. He also lost two wives, had numerous affairs (and never once seemed to get a venereal disease), drank enough for an entire bar it seemed and never seemed to put up a sweat. The man always looked like a GQ model for his generation. It made women swoon and gave men a hero. I never quite got caught up in idolizing him as a potential fantasy mate. I wouldn’t have minded a liaison but definitely not a “commitment.” Who wants an alcoholic womanizer?

You could say he was a Narcissist and to some degree he was. What kept him on the border was that he had a heart and a soul. He cared very deeply for the people around him. He was a reluctant leader, I think, though he craved being on top. I suspect many people have this push-pull, who are in power and you can see this is the way that they hesitate. It makes sense to have moments of despair because with authority comes exhaustion: emotionally, physically, and mentally. A Narcissist isn’t quite into self-growth or introspection as Don Draper was. A Narcissist thinks they are perfect, just the way they are.  He had to behave like a Narcissist because this was a power play. It kept him from looking like a failure or a “Dick,” Whitman (his real name if you have forgotten).

The final episode seemed to be taking its time getting to that last frame. In doing so, many things happened to this character. He learned his first wife was going to die of cancer and he would lose the right to raise all of his children in lieu of another family member. Not a big deal, he would continue to have visits as he does now.  His company completely collapsed and this time he made a choice to walk away and give it all up. The road trip seemed to be a soul searching journey. A Jack Kerouac mixed with Charles Kuralt.  He seemed to be letting it all go, getting naked, something that needs to happen in order to have a truly eye-opening, aha, kind of moment. For someone in power as he was, it would have taken quite a major shakedown in order for him to begin again. In the end, it was a simple loss to be trapped at a self-help resort. The phone call where he was on the ground in tears was his final break down before having his break-through. He had now shed away all the layers and there was nothing left of him except an empty space inside of a used up body.

In the final scene, he is in a lotus position, deep in meditation and has a smile on his face. There was a sense of inner peace that I myself have felt and have seen on a great many others in the same posture. The grounds he had been left at gave a feeling of utopia. Heaven, some might say, but this is a very naïve way of looking at things. It could have been Big Sur or Point Reyes, places that do not make one think of committing suicide but of happiness and joy. The last thing on my mind when the credits began to roll was that Don Draper was going to become a Tony Robbins type of person. As soon as this came to my mind, I began to reminisce my own 80’s as well as imagine the future for the character. What we were left with was a brilliant new beginning.  Enlightenment.

The time period, at the end of this season, was the 70’s and it was when many motivational speakers were making their mark amongst young adults as well as the older ones. It was the advent of the “me” generation. People like Werner Erhard were already giving EST workshops around the country. Tony Robbins would make his start at the very end of the seventies and would later become famous for his “walking on hot coals,” which people would proclaim had changed their life. Scientology began to become infamous as a celebrity no, no and kabbalah would later become an “in” thing that was respected amongst the rich and famous. It is natural to assume that Don Draper would suddenly re-emerge on the scene as a motivational speaker and end up a very wealthy man.

Having been to many self-awareness workshops over the years, it gives me great delight to imagine Don Draper as one of those leaders. Most of us who have been to these seminars already know the rest of the story and I think it will give them a chuckle to realize this is probably correct. It was an amazing way to end the series and well played out along the years, so that it made sense the show would end just this way. This is what I had begun to wonder about way back when he was writing the book and so I think it wrapped up quite nicely and believably. Congratulations to Matthew Weiner for creating a masterpiece. It is a rare thing to have such an insightful and well written program.

written by Annika Valour, March 6, 2016

Un Village Français

A French Village is set in German occupied France, World War II. We are being shown local townspeople being forced to make choices to survive. It is romantic, because there is always love when you are in a traumatic situation. It is not biased and so you see bad Germans and bad French. What is amazing is that the most important thing that you see is people at war. As you watch it, you have to try not to view this from the lens of an educated person who obviously knows what happened during WWII. You must try to behave as ignorantly as the characters are to have an ability to appreciate their choices and empathize with them. Some people you don’t empathize with such as the character Heinrich Müller, who enjoys putting cigarettes out on people. Including the one he loved.

Heinrich and Hortense

Today, I watched the first episode of the third season and was struck by the fact that I felt as I did when I worked in the county government for eight years. In this episode the head of the local government, the prefect (I believe he is called or deputy prefect) is handed a list of Jewish names to round up in the neighborhood. Up until this time, the city of Villenueve was protected and the Jewish people could more or less feel their lives were somewhat safe, although they were unable to run their businesses. In this tiny town, they assumed that the Prime Minister Phillipe Pétain, had the power to protect French Jews from being deported. In this episode we learn that this has now changed. When I worked for the county government our mindset was “What was in the best interests of the children,” until the recession hit. Then it was all about saving money and putting them in the cheapest places. I fought this and all the other changes that were going on until I was put on Administrative Leave for a year and then I finally quit. I quit because their evidence was lies or fabricated stories and I knew I would be fired if I stuck around.  I couldn’t believe that a huge agency like that would be so concerned about me (there were lots of people involved). So while, my personal situation with the government is a far cry from making decisions during World War II, I like putting things into perspective with the here and now.

Marcel Larcher, a communist

When you think of a soldier at war, doing what he or she is told to do, they really don’t have any choices of whether or not they like it. When the “team” loses, suddenly we turn on them, and everyone is punished; whether they really had a choice or not. This is something I keep thinking about as I watch this show. While the character may seem bad, you can recognize a corporate boss; eager to get a promotion. You can see a “company man” who does what he is told. When you are working for corporate America or government, this is how most people behave. Most employees don’t sit down and weigh the consequences of what their boss tells them or how it is going to affect people, business, employees, or the community at large. You just do it because that is what you are told. At the end of the day, you go home to your families and try to forget about what you heard.  I didn’t have a family to go home to, so I went home and thought about my day a little more. That was my problem, I thought too much!

As I have seen a trailer for the seventh and last season, I am aware of the fact that many of these people will be blamed for the choices that they made. Every episode has been and is going to be sad and tragic but that one will be the hardest to endure. The reason is that these characters who have lasted till the seventh season, their lives will have been disrupted to the point of forgetting who they are. Already we are seeing choices that are being made to help a Jewish maid, or a lover, or a business associate who is collaborating to stay alive. They aren’t trying to help a vast number of people though at times they try to get the list, for example, from 20 down to 10.

Daniel Larcher, The Mayor

It is really too bad that most Americans, especially liberals won’t see this TV show. As far as I am aware, the only way you can see it now is if you have MHz Choice which is an international channel you have to pay for and have to know it even exists. I was aware of MHz from PBS when they pretended to collect International Mysteries from around the world. After doing some digging I realized the guy on PBS was lying; all they did was purchase a channel. They had me going though for a while there. American liberals love to blame people and do it so loud that you feel nauseous having to listen to it day after day after day. I feel that most of the time it is very hypocritical and seems to lack in values. I am on the border of the left and right and can never seem to sit on one side.

Jeannine Schwartz

We are in an era now where people are being blamed who had ancestors in the Civil War. They want to take down a statue of a soldier in the South, General Robert E. Lee. He was a man who did his job and because he came from the south, chose this side so he wouldn’t be killing his own family. He was a soldier being asked to lead a team, a side of government. If the south had won, we would want to tear down a statue of General Ulysses S. Grant. I don’t see a need to tear down any statue because I am fond of history. General Lee wasn’t responsible for slavery as Adolph Hitler was responsible for the holocaust. It is apples and oranges; but here in America we are not reasonable people. We allow ignorance to prevail because we feel sorry for them (those in this mindset).

A French Village could teach Americans quite a great deal about having to make choices in a time of war.

Raymond Schwartz

Whether or not they would be able to focus on such a great historical show without finding it racist, I could not say.  The show even shows a shady Jewish character, could Americans handle this? This seems to be the new wave of lying to our children. We educate them with period pieces that have politically correct storylines rather than literal or factual storylines. If North and South, probably one of the last great American TV historical fictions made, were filmed today; it would be such a joke. No doubt they would not be able to create an honest re-make. The actors would complain that they could not do the show because they could not speak the historically accurate lines (which would mean they are terrible actors).

I cannot imagine how tense it must have been to be on the set of A French Village. These actors do not ever come out of character, so that we are able to feel as if we are there; with them. I feel transported into another time and place. I feel tense every moment, wondering what will happen to this person or that. So tense that I had to look it all up online to see who will live and who will die. I just couldn’t keep watching without this sense of relief because it is traumatizing to watch this TV show. I do know what happened and while I try to think like the character, I am not perfect. When you feel like these characters are real people and they actually existed, you know you are hooked and drawn in.

If you have read “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah, published in 2015, you will no doubt appreciate A French Village. I had read it last summer and so it was fresh in my mind. Two completely different stories as Ms. Hannah’s book was a little more biased. I feel it is important that A French Village created a lack of bias so that you can wonder. So that you could have a discussion after watching the show and think a little more deeply about those times.

I grew up with a step-father who took political asylum in the United States in 1956. When I wrote a historical fiction about that time period, it was while I was on leave from the government. It was actually perfect timing to have a sense of communist Hungary. I remember a family member telling me that I was actually on house arrest from my job. At the time, I had no idea why I was being paid to stay at home and do nothing. My father raised me to fear Russians and communists. He told us all kinds of horrible stories. I tried not to be completely biased while writing because I knew some of that was his hatred of people who ruined his life and his family’s lives. As I did research, as most historians due, you read the facts and put together your own interpretation of what you see. This is blended together with the biased interpretations of the people who witnessed. I don’t say biased in a bad way either. No one can ever really know the whole story. A French Village seems to be saying this. They are showing you a broader perspective, 75 years later.

Barre Girl at 55; Do you plié?

If you have ever been one of those women, like me, who has sat by the sidelines for years wishing your mom would have let you be in a ballet class, now there is a new fitness craze created just for you! Barre classes are springing up all over the nation designed to, well, what I call nurture your inner ballerina.

It is hardly a ballet class and yet there is just a hint of it. You will do some plié’s and use first and second position (possibly other positions depending on the instructor) and if you have arthritis setting in, like me, will use the barre more than most people. Mostly you will do planks, downward facing dog, put a ball between your thighs or hold onto it with your back leg in the air. You will do side planks, lift your legs up while in the plank and a lot of other difficult maneuvers (if you are 55). None of this would have been too daunting for me as a 20 year old, back in the 80’s when I was already in advanced yoga and had done gymnastics as a child. It’s a dream class come true a little too late but I am not giving up nor should you. Stick with it and you will begin to have some shape again where the sagging has long begun and if you are young, get going as you will have so much fun!

Recently at one of my classes, taught by Krystal at the Phillip Heit Center in New Albany, Ohio, I began to have an idea for some clothing for the class that I felt would be a great idea. A fun little pun to add to the exciting group we already have (mostly older women) and this was based on what I was already noticing in myself. I started to make a design through a larger outfit who does online DIY clothing but it just wasn’t working for me and I don’t like their pricing or their shipping rates. Then by accident of looking for active wear DIY manufacturers, I stumbled upon a locally owned website called CustomizedGirl. Their prices are more amenable and they offer free shipping for $60 and over which isn’t too hard to spend on there! They also offer some artistic icons to choose from which makes your creations come to life and of course you can also download your own artwork as well.

I created a shop called Enlightened Gal (a name I had come up with a while ago) and got cracking yesterday with my puns. The store sells active wear tops, athletic bag, water bottle, and a few more novelty items for someone in a barre or ballet class. My favorite pun is “I owe my body to a barre,” but I also have “Barre Girl” for young girls as I don’t think it would be appropriate for a little girl in ballet class to be talking about her body (not to mention she hasn’t really formed one yet). But I didn’t stop there, I also have “Do you plié?” on the backs of some of my products or as the main line on hats and mugs. The cutest award goes to a gift item called Teddy Plié in which “it” sports a t-shirt that says “Plié with me.” Awww… I know you have to see it.

Check out the line of clothing I have created (at the moment they only have bottoms for young girls, not misses) and note that while I have most items in grey, pink, black, you can change the colors on some of these items when you go to order them. Keep an eye out though for the sizes when you change colors. Not all sizes are available with each color choice. Also, if you are changing an item from pink to black (for example), make sure to change the font color to white or some other bright color so you can actually see it.

Make sure to like us – Enlightened Gal on Facebook.

Haven’t taken a barre class as of yet? Google search it and find out where the nearest one is to you.

Maria Callas

My first time to hear the name Maria Callas was in a movie about her life. This was called “Callas Forever,” (2002) starring Fanny Ardant and Jeremy Irons. I was intrigued with the personality and captivated by her voice (which was dubbed in). At this point she was long passed (1977 in Paris, France) and there was no chance of seeing her in concert. I began to immerse myself in everything I could find about her. Documentary, video clips of her singing, and I read Arianna Huffington’s book “Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend,” which also came out in 2002. The funny thing is; I don’t really like opera. When I was reading Ms. Huffington’s book, I kept wondering what an aria was. Somehow I missed the part where she had explained that this is what you call an operatic solo.

I have since attended a couple of operas and I have tried listening to other sopranos but I just don’t get the same feelings as I do when I listen to Ms. Callas. It is hard to explain. It seems to be that I am in love with the person, not the genre and the passionate way she projects herself. I get the same feelings when I listen to a gypsy violin, especially when it is played to sound like a bird singing. This is when the violin is transformed to become another entity as if it is shapeshifting. I like other instruments (except the flute) and I appreciate other violinists but not quite as much as a gypsy violin player.

Her story is rather romantic. Father leaves, mother pushing her daughter to sing from the age of three, her great love marries Jacqueline Kennedy. What is also sad is the bracelet that Aristotle Onassis gave to I believe four women, including Ms. Callas and Kennedy, which all said the same thing and looked the same as well. This did not make me think too highly of him as a partner. At the end of Ms. Callas’s life, she died alone. Perhaps her life could become an opera on its own. 

My favorite fairy tale moment (though it is said to be true), in Ms. Huffington’s book was a time when Ms. Callas had been practicing on the terrace of her mother’s home. Suddenly a man’s voice could be heard, with an equally gifted sound, singing from behind a hedge or was it a tree in the distance. Evidently she never did meet this person but the singing took place a few times and with a particular song which I do not recall.

When I was a young girl, my best friend used to play classical music records at the highest volume so that they could permeate our environment and I was forced to immerse myself in a genre that, at that time, I did not appreciate. Most kids our age were doing this with head banging music, which neither of us liked. Now, I find myself doing this with Ms. Callas’s music. If it is not loud one cannot hear it upstairs while on the computer.

One documentary that I saw, Maria Callas: The Callas Conversations, had interviews with various journalists. In order to sing opera, one has to become something of a linguist and she spoke quite a few languages besides her native Greek dialect. One can learn so much about the art of speaking a language by watching Ms. Callas talk. When she was speaking to a British journalist in English, she was in a very conservative room and she was more subdued or composed in her body language. A lot like my grandma used to say “Sit up straight, legs crossed, hands folded in the lap like a lady.” She even spoke with a British accent (and an American one with another interview on YouTube here in the US). When she was speaking to an French journalist, the room had a more dramatic look to it and suddenly her command of this language was accentuated with hand gestures and a stronger voice. This is quite a talent to envy. 

From what I understand, she was a difficult woman to deal with. At the same time, one can imagine that because her life was a never ending drama, it must have been hard to leave the stage. Today, we talk about famous women being divas. All the same, when I hear this, I wonder how appropriate it is for the person, or shall I say are they just doing it on purpose. There are also famous women who aren’t divas, including great singers. When we make a word out to be a given, it loses its luster. It is taken advantage of.

If you haven’t had a chance to immerse yourself in the aria’s of Ms. Callas, make it a point to do so. She had a lot of critics, just as most famous people do and so it might not be to your liking. If you are not a fan of opera, you might find yourself opening up to a new sound in your home.

Isabelle Huppert – She’s Not Smug

I’ve just finished watching the 2016 film “Things to Come,” and before this I had seen the movie “Elle,” a few months ago. Both were made (or released) in the same year, starring Isabelle Huppert. She has always seemed to me to be a very smug actress and yet I feel drawn to her. I find her characters deeply moving. No matter that she always seems to portray the perfect psychopath, it feels as if she is on the verge of an aneurism. Most Americans would call her characters intellectual snobs. Partly because she is not funny, unlike Woody Allen who can make a discussion in philosophy seem like a night at a comedy club.  Also because she is a woman and while we try to pretend we are modern here, we just can’t handle the honesty portrayed by characters in French movies in general. We pretend to observe and honor freedom of speech in our constitution but only if people say what is popular for the times. In truth, there is no room for a good debate in America which is probably why the traditional “salons” of Paris never existed here. Once we made very good and intelligently written movies, now we have opted for special effects and pop culture actors who speak in slang because a cerebral film would not be considered a “date night” film.

It is interesting though because when I see Isabelle on screen, I think smug. When I went to look up images of her for this article, I saw something quite different. Real life photos and still movie shots don’t really show a smug woman at all unlike Kristen Scott Thomas, who I find extremely annoying to watch on screen. Ms. Scott-Thomas seems incapable of enjoying the company of women and seems like the kind of woman who would never be married but you would always find her with a betrothed man.  Isabelle’s photos instead show a woman in constant thought. Whether this be wondering what to make for supper or hoping the photo shoot will end so she can pick up her cat at the vets; I could not say. In my imagination she is thinking about the conversation she had last night at a dinner party.

And yet this woman, who appears very strong and powerful on screen, is a very petite woman. I had never actually realized this before but in “Things to Come,” it seemed more obvious. She also sports a ponytail and very casual clothing worn in a very chic and stylish way. French women can carry off the cute girl look of someone in their 20’s because they don’t seem fixated on plastic surgery and often seem so young anyway. The irony of French films is that what you see is not what you get. In this film she was not quite her typical character though. She portrayed a married housewife albeit a professor at a university, but one who still came home to cook and clean while the husband sat in a traditional male role, even though they were equals in academia. I suppose though as she cannot sit still for one minute, he probably gave up and observed a male stereotype or in our generation, expected it. I say she wasn’t typical because there were no bizarre moments where her character does something that one might think but never do.

It was actually very difficult for me to see her in Elle. A character played by Isabelle Huppert being raped? This is not possible. So it makes absolute sense that the part she plays isn’t really about being raped, it is about opening up to an untapped perversion. I imagine most Americans probably saw it as France’s version of Thelma and Louise. I silently laughed at the end because I supposed this would be the case. Perhaps I am too harsh but since most people don’t allow introspection when it comes to art, and it would be anti-feminist to dare to say a rape scene was actually foreplay for what was to come. When you watch the movie like an Isabelle Huppert fan, you can’t possibly take the rape seriously. To me it was not much different than the butter scene in “Last Tango in Paris,” except they did play the Elle scene up a bit to give it a flare for the dramatic; probably to compete for an American audience. The film won a Golden Globe, as did Ms. Huppert and she was nominated for an Oscar.

As I mentioned previously Isabelle Huppert’s characters just can’t sit still. There is constant motion, not like a dance but someone with Severe Anxiety who needs to calm their mind. After watching the film, “Things to Come” this evening, I found myself jumping up to wash dishes I had earlier hoped to leave for tomorrow. Before I did this, I vacuumed the living room floor. Her energy can be very addicting.

My favorite film, released in 2000, was “Merci Pour Le Chocolat.” I have seen this twice because it is somewhat humorous to me. Film Noir often has an element of grotesque; a point in which you want to turn your head. With Merci, it was reminiscent of a Hitchcock type film, such as “Rear Window,” so it is important to see every moment. The Gothic house that looks like it lives in a graveyard and the piano playing which seems to unlock a deep wound in the soul of her husband. He is more like a victim of the Narcissist: helpless, passive, inane, the piano is almost like the strings for a puppet. Actually he plays the piano almost like a patient at a psychiatric ward (a scene from many movies where they are in one).

If you get a chance, watch a few of her films and see what you think. Just don’t expect Geena Davis or Susan Sarandon. Ms. Huppert is in a rich, strongly written, well-acted, league of her own – pun intended.

Frida Kahlo – Legendary Artist

Art should be regarded as a spiritual experience for when you find a piece that you like, it is speaking to your soul. When I first met a Frida Kahlo, I was in a university class that had to do with Women in Art (I don’t recall the specific title).  Our professor showed us a piece of her work and I asked the teacher if she had been in some type of an accident and explained what I saw in the photo of the painting. She told us a little about the history of Frida Kahlo and I felt stung. Until that moment, my experience was usually to look at paintings in a museum and admire them. While I had been to many art museums and had my favorites, I had never been this moved by art.

Since then, I have begun to look at art differently. I have begun to focus on the picture and think about the symbols, the way they are arranged, and what the artist might have felt. I have also seen the movie of Frida by Selma Hayek, read the biography by Hayden Herrera, had a friend copy a painting by Frida so that I could have my own genuine recreation and I have had friends give me books and old magazine articles that are about the artist and her paintings. When you research someone to this depth, you become one with the artist.

Frida Kahlo painted portraits and recreated interpretations of her life on canvas the way we journal in a diary now. The intensity of her work began after she was in a “bus” accident in Mexico at the age of 18. To explain, a bus in the 1920’s in Mexico was similar to a hay wagon with benches nailed along the sides.  This old fashioned mechanism collided with a streetcar which threw her and others from the bus and caused her to have many almost fatal injuries. She spent much of her life in body casts, laid out on a bed. She also underwent many surgeries for this over the years before she died at 47. Frida was a survivor and from her bed she began to paint, not for the first time but in a new way.

The first opportunity she was able to get out of her bed, it was the same time that Diego Rivera, a well-known Mexican painter, was working on a mural nearby her home. They met and eventually married. Señor Rivera  was known for his philandering but she knew this and asked, not for his fidelity but for his loyalty. He accepted. Their marriage was full of liaisons; hers with both men and women. They lived in two homes joined by a bridge so that each had their own space. Unfortunately, it was here where Señor Rivera went a bit too far with his affairs and slept with her sister Cristina. Between this and her on-going setbacks to give birth to their child, which her doctors had explained would be impossible; their marriage began to go downhill. They continued to remain together though, until her end.

Both Señora Kahlo and Señor Rivera, were very passionate about communism as well. This was incorporated in their art work depicting laborers in Mexico. Their beliefs were controversial, even then but they fought continuously to try and bring this philosophy to their country.

It is quite doubtful that Señora Kahlo and I would have been friends had we met during that time. When you are captivated by a piece of work, it is not about likes or dislikes of personal opinions.  Art stands alone, though it captures that person’s beliefs and feelings, what you gain from this is not always going to be the same. I was intrigued by her work as a woman, as a survivor, her bravery, her determination and will. All of these qualities I saw on the canvas and all of these adjectives she would probably have brushed aside indignantly. People like this do not want accolades for anything except their work, not their essence of being.

What I became fascinated with, when I learned about Señora Kahlo’s history, was her homage to ancestry through her clothing. While she was both Hungarian and Mexican, she only knew of her Spanish cultural ways. Her father’s Hungarian parents immigrated to Germany before sending their son to Mexico as a young man. While in Mexico, he married her mother and never returned to his homeland. She only had an idea of what her grandparents looked like. The way Señora Kahlo dressed herself was not indicative of the times in Mexico and so when she travelled with her husband, it was often seen as odd or eccentric. Now it is how one would recognize her through photos, though her work is quite obvious once you have had the opportunity to view a few pieces. As a woman she made a statement. Quite literally she was a work to behold. A piece of art always in progress.

While travelling in Mexico, I noticed that far too many shopkeepers hold vigil to her in their windows; along with homage to their religious symbols as well. Even in America, many Mexican restaurateurs will display her reproductions around their diners. Frida Kahlo is a legend. If you have not had the chance to explore her work, I invite you to research the name and see where it leads you.