last night I arrived back home from a fabulous four-day conference in Bremen. It’s a miracle how quickly five hours on the train can pass if you’re surrounded by your friends, i.e. the people who’ll break into spontaneous song – or dance – at the slightest provocation or start receiting poetry or read out aloud bits and pieces from the various books they’re reading; the people whose sweets you’re free to devour (Hey, I bought us stuff to eat, too! It’s not my fault that the cake I thought was a Bremian speciality turns out to be old, stone-hard butter cake! Ever heard of Terry Pratchett’s dwarfbread? Yup, that was it! And to make things worse I got accused of wanting to poison my colleagues – EVEN THOUGH IT WAS ABSOLUTELY NOT MY FAULT!!!) (Will somebody please make Martin read this? Thank you.)
The conference itself was great, too: we lived on the campus of the International University Bremen: redbrick buildings with snow-white windows and surrounded by green meadows dotted with daisies and buttercups. These surrounding made a strange contrast to the world inside the lecture hall where the panels were held: when I looked out of the window, I always thought to gaze on a totally different (other)world. We heard a number of very interesting papers, got loads of cookies (with chocolate!) during the coffee breaks, went to see a number of plays — and I discovered I’m a bit of a … uhm … conservatist in that respect: I found the second play rather banal and boring, and IMO the hook came much too late, while the fourth play – a version of Shakespeare’s THE WINTER’S TALE – was just grotesque, too slow and had too much slapstick scenes for my liking. However, I absolutely loved the first play we saw, a student production of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES: based on real interviews with women, it deals with the vagina and female sexuality either in monologues or in catalogues of answers to specific questions (e.g. What do you call your vagina? What was your first menstruation like? What would your vagina wear? etc.). It was funny (especially when you sat between two men *ggg*) and moving and created a sense of female community, which was very moving in itself. The actors were all awesome and did a great job.
Furthermore, we discovered that Bremen is an absolutely beautiful town, with large parts of the medieval city still standing, so you can wander through narrow lanes and admire sweet little buildings, some of which seem to be as tiny as doll houses. There are sweet little shops where you can buy the most curious of things. Bremen itself is a rather curious town because it was built along the river and thus is very long (about 42 km), but only 1,5 km wide.
I also managed to finally finish the finding-the-castle scene! Hooray!!! I had some help from kind friends (“Can’t they keep kois in the moat?” – “No, no, you can’t make sushi from kois!”), but will still need to rewrite the ending of the scene (hero is not yet dark and compelling enough, just standing around in a rather strange way because nobody could tell me the English word for “entlasten,” as in “um sein linkes Bein zu entlasten” – good thing we’re not teaching English, huh? *G*) (Helpful comment: “Why does he need legs anyway?”). Now, since I’ve been whining about this scene since the beginning of this blog, I guess it’s only fair that I share a bit with you. Enjoy!
After seemingly endless hours, the trees finally fell away, and front of them rose, in all its old, brown glory, a tumble-down castle from the fog.
The gig rumbled to a halt.
With something that sounded like a curse, her driver jumped onto the ground, marched around their vehicle and proceeded to losen the straps around her travel trunk. With a dull thud it hit the ground.
“And what exactly do you think you’re doing?”
Threwing her another dark scowl, he wiped the back of his hand across his dripping nose. Then he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. “Out!” he snarled.
“I beg your –“
He snarled some more, but Cissy couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Somehow he used too many words ending on le. Yet even though she couldn’t understand what he was saying, she certainly got the meaning of it, especially since he repeatedly pointed his thumb over his shoulder. Twenty horses would not make him drive into that cursed castle. He had been forced to bring her this far, and apparently, he considered this sufficiently heroic.
Reluctantly, she climbed down from the seat. Her old half boots sank into the snow well over the ankle. “Now look here –“
He strode around the gig and, shoving her roughly out of the way with his shoulder, grabbed her carpet bag and dumped it onto the snow-covered ground.
With a last smouldering look he swung himself up onto the box seat and urged the horses on as if all seven hounds of hell were after him.
Cissy looked over her shoulder to the castle.
The tower lay in ruins, and the dark holes of the windows blinked at the her like the empty eyesockets of a grinning skull. Cackling, a raven came flying from the forest, circled overhead and flew into the castle.
Well, perhaps her reluctant driver knew something she didn’t.
She looked down to where the hems of her pelisse and dress dragged through the snow and coldness rapidly seeped through the thin leather of her old boots.
“Dratdratdrat!” She gave the snow a vicious kick. “Drat!”
(Excerpt from working title THE CASTLE OF WOLFENBACH by Sandra Schwab. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.)