The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene

The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair by Graham Greene

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There have been two novels I have read over the past decade that have significantly impacted my life. The first was Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s Crime and Punishment, and the second was Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road. These two novels affected me more than many of the people I have met in my life because they, in the case of Dostoevsky, illuminated a grand and immeasurable philosophical quandary, or, in the case of Kerouac, identified a lasting inspiration within me. Now, I add Graham Greene‘s The End of the Affair to that list of profoundly impacting novels.

And for now, a ‘why’ is in order.

I was searching for this novel. And, perhaps, I’d like to think, it was searching for me. In that regard, I was looking for something to solve a mystery in my life; to, perhaps, better explain my feelings than I was able. And I drew it near me. To be clear: I was searching for a way to explain the end of a personal affair. I was searching for a work of art to explain an emotion that I could not yet apprehend due to broken ties across an ocean, and this novel did more than explain. It inspired.

The opening lines took me by surprise: “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead” (7). This line expresses a notion that I had been considering for some time, after I decidedly picked up Friedrich Nietzsche and read his words: “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena”. Greene echoes this in literary form, and thus begins a much more writerly text than I first supposed.

What I mean by writerly (a term used by Roland Barthes)is that Greene is not providing mere entertainment. One can feel his working of the novel’s breadth before him. The fact that the narrator injects musings on his daily writing habits and his nagging inability to bring to life a character or two, inform the reader that he or she is reading a book by an author. Also these notions hint to the reader that these characters may or may not be fictional, and that there is a thin line dividing the realm of fiction and fact when one relies on one’s “chosen” memories and “moral” interpretations. A writerly text seeks to elucidate this discrepancy. Writerly is Literature for writers, with writers in mind who want to demystify the artifice that is superficial entertainment. Writerly announces that this is Literature, this is a story you are reading, I am an author and a narrator, which is one reason why I often found this text so inspiring.

All stories are constructed to help us get through the day. To help us live. To help us wake up and go to work. To help us get through an emotion. This is the inevitable notion forever stimulating Art and Literature. Great Art is supposed to be cathartic. It is supposed to help you construct a social understanding when the your limited social world cannot aid you. There was no person, no friend, no relative, to empathize with me at the end of my affair (I use the term purposefully, even though there was no love triangle). What Art does is it gives you time to ruminate on a moment. Art provides a space for you to take the time to construct your personal empathetic understanding, when all life wants you to do is shut up and move on. Wake up. Get over it. Although, inevitably, it helps you do just that.

I can’t imagine this review does Greene’s novel justice. Inevitably, I waxed philosophical during my review and omitted much of the content of the novel, which is what initially forged my personal connection to it. Well, such is life. It is a novel I will be reading again soon with a pencil by my side to underline passages and quotations. And, so I hope it is one that I will revisit and possibly review again. After all, the most justice I think I can do for this novel is to mimic it, and with that, secure it the highest compliment of all.

Shawn's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

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A Slight bit of Complaining and Humor

WeatherIt’s Tuesday, April 9th in Minnesota, and it’s raining. Tonight it will snow. Tomorrow it will sleet, and snow again on Friday. Last year it was nearly 61 degrees Fahrenheit by this time. This state amazes me (or as our local weatherman said, “Considering it’s April 9th, these temperatures are pretty incredible”). But, to my point.

My girlfriend arrived from Germany this past Wednesday, and she is leaving one week from now. We made tons of romantic plans, and are even prepared for a nice trip to Chicago from this Thursday through Sunday (yes, it will be raining and cold in Chicago). Amongst the weather, the front brakes on my vehicle started grinding the day I picked her up! I noticed a squeal or two the days before that, but paid it no mind. Now they are full-on grinding. So, I have to drop my car off tonight and borrow my mother’s car to use while my brakes are being fixed tomorrow. Sheesh!

You want more? Okay. So, on top of all this happening: I got sick. I get sick perhaps twice per year. It is bad: coughing, runny nose, fever, hot flashes, but then there is the worst part: the chills. I have this thing where when I am desperately sick, I get severe chills. So, Saturday night my gf, my daughter & and I are sitting and watching Disney/Pixar’s Brave, and we proceed to bed about 8:15. I can do nothing but fall into bed and shiver. I am freezing. Not 10 minutes later, I realize that there are 5 blankets on top of me and I still shivered for hours. Eventually I drank some Nyquil and my fever broke about midnight when I realized how many blankets I had on me and that I was sweating like a mad man! My gf spent the whole night next to me making sure I got better. After my fever broke and I woke up, she discovered we don’t have mint tea, lemon, or honey in our house to which she replied, “You guys conquered the whole world without lemon or honey!” The next morning she threatened me with her Croatian grandmother’s cure for illness by rubbing me down with vinegar and garlic. We bought some peppermint tea instead.

Silver LiningsSo now I am downstairs feeling better, and, you guessed it, my gf is upstairs resting her burgeoning soar throat. But we have had some amazing moments together. Last night we went to see Silver Lining Playbook—our first actual date-movie ever after 2 years of being together!—it was great, btw. We Skyped with her parents last week, and made meals together. She had her very first PB&J ever and LOVED IT! And I got to see my gf and my daughter interact. That was fun. Of course I was incapacitated, but I noticed my gf’s caring manner.

So, we shall see how Chicago fares. I shall pack an umbrella, honey, lemon, and tissues! No garlic…

Those Moments

So, I am back.

Well, I have been back in the States since Wednesday, October 17th, but I have been under some heavy jet lag since my return from my thirty day trip to visit my gf in Germany. And it so happens that I am now aiming for a relationship post. I hope you enjoy.

Well… here it goes: people keep asking me what I did in Germany. What did I see. Where did I go. What did I do for a whole thirty days without a job! And I figured out the answer: I was a couple. You see, I have a very, very romantic relationship with my gf. It is full of beautiful moments, gargantuan undertakings, thousands of flight miles, people from all over the world, numerous languages and dialects, intercontinental cultural gaps, passport stamps, visas, borders security, long airport kisses, tears, smiles, currency exchanges, delayed planes, regional trains, and a few automobiles; but we don’t go to a movie every Friday; we don’t brush our teeth together; we don’t eat breakfast in a hurry on our way to work; we don’t do each others laundry; we don’t “peck” each other a goodbye kiss.

So, that’s what I did. We had those moments.

Yeah, we did laundry together. And it felt great. I even went out one evening with a friend of her’s who took me to a half-dozen bars in Mainz (he brought me home at 4am! That’s like 11am in Minnesota!). But the best part of that evening was giving her that “peck” kiss before I left the apartment with him. That was a truly memorable moment. We hosted a party with 11 people (four couples who all left at an appropriate time, and one single fella who stayed much too late for my gf’s taste). Organizing that party was everything to us, but I think it’s something people who live near, or with, one another take for granted. We purchased and then installed a modem/router together. That’s about as coupley as it gets. And these are the moments I remember most of all. Airport scanners and long awaited kisses are part of our routine relationship, but laundry, routers, and a whole evening apart is the stuff of our romance novel.

A few days after I left Germany, each of us had a friend ask us if we were sad. I said no. So did she. It’s not sadness. You see, over the last eighteen months we have been together physically for two (with all the days added up), and each time we have learned something amazing about one another and our relationship. So much so, that we talk about those experiences for maybe 3-4 months after, and then we talk about what will happen over our next visit. If I was still the 23-year old kid I was not long ago–without a 5-year old daughter, a job I enjoy, or confidence in my future–I would have moved. I would have left here in a heart beat to be with her for all the wrong reasons. And because of that, it would have been over just as fast. The weight of that decision would have been far too intense for either of us to handle. Now I treat it with the calm respect a decision of that magnitude deserves. We plan and think and dream and talk, but we both treat our relationship, and the knowledge that someday one or both of us will uproot, as though it is a given fact. And that kind of confident Love leaves little room for sadness.

I want to know your moments. Tell me the little moments that make your relationship amazing.

A Happy Hangover Post

“(Heavy sigh) Now I can sink thraight.”
-my gf after our huge hangover breakfast

Sometimes, don’t laugh, I’ll stop and take notice of the color or the shape of something I usually take for granted—beige paint on a wall, the nicks in wood flooring—and realize where I am. Existentially speaking; where I am. Yeah. Strange, huh? Right now I’m sitting in a one-bedroom apartment in Mainz, Germany that I share with my gf; well, for the next five days. Mainz is 30 minutes north of where my father’s ancestors married, had children, and eventually left Germany for America over 120 years ago. And here I am. Sitting on a purple, plush IKEA couch that lays flat, but last night was upright so that it could make more room for the eleven people gathering in this little apartment for a night of hamburgers, french fries, and Jack and Coke’s.

The guests arrived promptly around 7:00pm. At 6:53pm, I was out getting last-minute-tomatoes for our 2-dozen hamburgers were were making that night for the eight Germans, one Croatian, one Pole, and, me, the lone American, when I ran into a few of the attendees out buying bottles of wine before their arrival. I quickly headed them off and made it up stairs in time to check on the french fries. The buzzer rang just as I stepped inside. My gf was nervous, so I stayed out of her way and entertained the guests while she and a German girlfriend or two of hers cooked. The night went well. I kept the guests, who are all mutual acquaintances, very entertained with stories and anecdotes that I delivered with a big, healthy American smile (I may even have a German man date tomorrow night). At one point during a conversation where I fell into a nice rhythm of my colloquial English, the German girl I was speaking to said with the nicest smile and a healthy, glowing blush, “I don’t understand what you are saying, so I will just sit here and eat my cake.” I almost fell off the couch laughing! Those Germans. They really do not mess around.

And then the whiskey went dry. One bottle of the finest Jack Daniel’s our local REWE has to offer down, and this same girl’s bf offered to buy another. And so he did. This is possibly more whiskey then that little store has sold in a year. After all the couples left, three guests stayed far beyond what my gf determined, with a subtlety notable in the female of our species, was a good hour to still be welcomed in her apartment. They got the hint, and eventually left my gf and I alone to argue over why my being completely hammered left me heedless to her delicate intimations. But the best part about having a little row is making up: laughing how foolish you were as you piece together the night, shaking your head while thinking about a missed chance for the right phrase or a slightly misunderstood statement.

So, today we are spending the day hungover; sleeping, cleaning, laughing about last night, and eating a humongous breakfast consisting of OJ, lots of water, aspirin, bacon, meatballs, scrambled eggs, bread and Bresso (if you don’t know what Bresso is, seriously, you should. It’s simply amazing). You see, hangovers have a way of causing me to reflect more than usual. And I am so happy to have this life.

It takes a lot for me to write that statement. Where I grew up, the Midwest, we don’t go around telling people how happy we are. That is considered bragging. We talk about experiences as though they are moments to get through; moments that happened to us, but they don’t affect our character or redetermine our lives. Are concerns are pragmatic not romantic, practical not sentimental. Being unhappy with some aspect of our lives is an essentially sympathetic role of our Midwestern character. It’s like a warm hug, or a way of knowing someone is from the same region. Back there, in my Midwest States, we qualify our happiness. We don’t often simply say: I am happy. Period. Punkt. Full stop. There is always something. Always a thorn. Always an I’m happy, but…

But, I’m not happy, but… I’m happy. And I like that. Full stop.

A Pragmatic 7 Day Reflection, and a Slight Rant

“I leave in 7 days, and I have only now grown accustomed to that queen size piece of cardboard she calls a bed.”

For those of you just tuning in: I’ve been in Deutschland for the past 23 days, of which 7 remain out of a 30 day sojourn. My gf has lived in this beautiful and highly organized nation for the past 20 years, and she is currently completing her PhD in British Literature here in Mainz, Deutschland. My position as an adjunct professor allows me a break from time to time, where I can, let’s say, skip a semester (which are only 5 weeks where I teach), and fly here to be with her. Plus, I earn enough vacation from my other job at the international coffee production line to take off for a month or so. This isn’t too bad of a life, but that is now what this post is about.

First off, her orchid has returned. The blame for the resurgence of her rather delicate and fussy orchid is placed squarely upon me. It seems that all the flowers bloom just a bit more when I am here. I think that’s fair. Personally, I believe it has to do with the fact that I open up the curtains first thing in the morning; her, being a more romantic, less pragmatic individual, believes it has something to do with the presence of Love. I like that idea too. We have done so much in my time here, but I cannot remember much. I have a feeling of normalcy, though; and that is what I wanted from this visit. I wanted that normalcy that couples feel when they are near each other enough to lose that intensity of focus; just so that they can return to it later. We established that one week before I left from my last 18-day visit in February 2012. It was intense. We went to London and Rome over a 5-day period, but settled quietly with one another upon our return to Mainz. The time before that was a hefty 9 days, where we visited Undenheim, the town of my ancestors and went to Mainz’ Oktoberfest. After February, we met in Boston for 6 days. I think 30 days is the right amount for a lovely visit.

We attended a soccer game this past Saturday afternoon, where Mainz conquered Düsseldorf in a blazing 1:0 victory! We are hosting an “American style” party Thursday evening for 11 individuals in this rather quaint 1-bedroom apartment that is generous for two, but crammed for 11. She is cooking cheeseburgers and french fries, and I am making Jack and Coke‘s for her fellow German friends. We have selected the playlist of cliché American tunes from the American Graffiti soundtrack, and are going to be cleaning and food shopping most of the day tomorrow; but that’s not what this is about.

I don’t rant very often on this blog. I find it a bit cliché, and I tend to accept and welcome life’s absurdities as they come. Only, last night I got a taste of the German system. Oh, it was just enough to leave a bitterness on my tongue, but not enough to tarnish my vision of this nation. We attended Mozart‘s “Cose Fan Tutte” opera last night at Mainz’ State Theater. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was sung in Italian and the “subtitles” were in German, so I didn’t understand a damn thing, but it was fun.

My gf’s ticket was free because she is a student, mine was 15€. We looked marvelous. All dressed up: new sport coat, blue tie, scarf, dress shoes; leggings, black dress, black clutch; to the hilt, as they say. We went to sit down and the seat attendant wouldn’t let us sit down because my gf’s student ID had expired by 9 days. 9 flippin’ days! We bought the ticket only 2 days ago, and no one bothered us then. But this little man held us up and caused a “Männchen-Stau” of rather pretty looking Germans to back up behind us. My lovely & patient gf told him she would run home then and get her new ID, and then he told us to wait a little bit while he would “see what he could do”. I, of course, ranted that we should seek someone higher up, but instead we waited like dummkompfs for about 3 minutes while he made up his mind to let us in to our seats, and other attendees passed us by.

Now, here’s the thing: really? Do you really have trouble with students sneaking in to Mozart! Friggin’ Mozart! Do you think students sit around and hatch ideas about how to best avoid the hefty 15€ for a night at the opera!? No. And let’s put this in perspective, roughly 65-70% of the attendees were conceived the night of the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty. They lack the youthful ingenuity & tenacity of a Lady Gaga crowd. What a silly, particular, and thorough little man this seat attendant was; and although we may have learned a lesson about the German penchant for dates, tickets, and numbers, I do hope that this little ticket attendant learned to be a bit more forgiving and sympathetic toward his patrons.

The night ended well with the elderly couple to our left saying a gentle farewell after the show, a free bus ride with the purchase of our tickets, and a quiet discussion of the night’s events over a glass of wine. I think the Germans are wonderful people, and once you establish a rapport, they can be some of the most opening and genuinely welcoming people. They say “hello” and “good bye” when they share a table with you, and they find small instances of affection and love absolutely endearing. BUT, you have to make sure your paperwork is in order, or else the most charming smile and delightful laughter will fall silent against a concrete penchant for order.

Thanks for reading!

Of Mineral Water and Cultural Adaption

“Alright, I’m going for a run. I’ll be back soon.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Hmm… probably 45 minutes or so. Why…?”
“I would just like to know whether I should make reservations tonight for only one.”

I have a confession. No, it has nothing to do with the neglecting of this blog, and the blogs I follow, for the past 12 days–although that may come up.

My confession is simple: I like bubbly, mineral water.

There. I wrote it. It is on the great and powerful Internet now; possibly forever. First, I have decided that this inkling toward the bubbly makes me European (specifically German, since I am now in Germany until Oct. 17th, and technically ethnically nearly 80% German). And second, it is a testament to my level of comfort here in Mainz, Deutschland.

A bevy of beautiful, beautiful bubbles!

Water became a topic of conversation between my gf & I, when we decided that Americans generally do not drink bubbly, mineral water (or, with gas as it is sometimes called). Personally, I drink my water from the tap, or from a Brita filter. It has fluoride. It has minerals. It has stuff I should be consuming. But I was told not to do that here in Mainz, Germany. So, we, and everyone it seems, drinks large 1.5 liter bottles of H2O, and then returns them for 0.25€ each at their local grocery store. Bubbly water, like San Pellegrino in the States, is, as I referred to it, “hoity toity,” and it requires a certain comfort level for the middle-class American palate.

In 2003-04, when I was living in Rome, Italy, I tried the whole “with gas” thing. It didn’t take. Again, last time I was in Germany, February 2012, I didn’t like the bubbles or the minerals. But now something just snapped. We were at lunch two days ago eating Vietnamese food (Ha Noi, definitely eat here!), when the waiter brought bubbly water with a lemon slice and it matched the yellow curry perfectly. I haven’t looked back ever since. In fact, I bought a 6-pack of still (for the gf) and a 6-pack of medium bubbly (for me) last night. I’m a changed man.

For your amusement: some silly questions I asked my gf about the bubbly water for which I received perfectly serious answers:
—”So, is it more expensive?”
—”Do the bubbles come first, then they take them out? or do they add bubbles?”
—”There are various degrees of bubbles?!?”
—”Do ALL Germans drink the bubbly water?”

The second part of this post refers to the introduction quote. I went for a jog yesterday. In the States I jog three times a week, three 5k’s, depending on the weather. I have never jogged here. It was uplifting. It was enlightening. It was peaceful. It was glorious. It was empowering. And, I successfully found my way back to our apartment. I jogged along the Rhine with the old couples slowly shuffling along together hand-in-hand. I jogged along the promenade with the young mothers and fathers calmly pushing strollers over cobblestones. And I returned home to the kitchen emanating a wondrous aroma of a boiling basil and tomato sauce.

You see, when I visit my gf here in Mainz, we are never outside of earshot of one another the entire time of my visit. We work peacefully and respectfully around one another, we can be silent for hours, we sometimes talk over a meal for four hours straight, we read together, we watch films together, or go on walks. Me going off on my own is a big deal. It is part of my comfort here in Germany. It is part of me finding my own way. It is part of me coming back to her; of absence being the beautiful knowledge of a return.

Thanks for reading everyone. I would love to hear your own silly cultural adaption stories, or your opinion on bubbly water!

A Lufthansa Arrival, or How I Almost Became an Overnight Male

“What should I do if my baggage is lost?
Please report the loss of your baggage immediately at the appropriate counter. If you do not report the loss until later, you will need to prove it retrospectively, which is clearly more complicated. You will find detailed information on this subject on our page Lost or damaged baggage.”

F.A.Q., Official Lufthansa website

Well, dear readers, I made it to Germany safe, sound, and all in one piece. And, of course, there are some stories. One I shall gloss over now, and one I shall share in another post.

The first is simple: Lufthansa lost my luggage. Naturally this is a small fear each of us has while traveling, right? Going to a foreign country and packing everything you need only to have it lost somewhere between Chicago and Frankfurt, and delivered far too late for your favorite toothbrush, soap, or underwear to be of any use. Well, as any good German citizen or entity, Lufthansa has a back-up plan.

It is… The Male Overnight Kit!

Yes, the Male Overnight Kit. It contains everything the Overnight Male needs:

  • 1 plain, black toothbrush;
  • 1 plain, black, folded comb;
  • 25g Colgate toothpaste;
  • .85 fl oz Senzai shaving cream;
  • 1 Rexona, ice cool deodorant;
  • .9 fl oz Neutrogena shampoo;
  • 2 cotton buds;
  • 1 single, white, disposable razor;
  • 1 XXL, white, crew cut t-shirt;
  • and, 1 single, silver packet laundry detergent.

If I should ever join Tyler Durden’s Project Mayhem, I shall be fully prepared.

So, armed with a receipt bearing a phone number and a reference ID and my lone carry-on, I went to meet my gf outside Frankfurt airport’s International Arrival gate. She was not there waiting for me. I later found out that after waiting some 90 minutes my plane arrival had disappeared from the electronic board, and, in a panic, my gf went in search of information. (“If I had to wait another 5 minutes, I would have died!” is the exact phrase). After having searched the dozen or so waiting tables in the international area and deciding to locate information myself, I spotted my gf coming toward me through a long hallway with two sliding glass doors. I calmly waited with a knowing and profoundly glad smile painted on my face, and we embraced like lovers will after not seeing one another for five months. Dear readers, allow me a personal note here: there is nothing, nothing, like the romantic airport kiss near the international arrival gate (Oh God, My Wife Is German, I know you know what I’m talking about!). One should really try it, or add it to a bucket list.

Jetzt Ich bin angekommen!

Well, later that evening, just as we were finishing our dinner conversation, a very nice, middle-aged German gentleman from Lufthansa delivered my luggage. How nice of the Germans, aye? My arrival was so special that they decided I did not need lug my 50 pound suitcase on the train from Frankfurt to Mainz and all the way through town, echoing the rickety-rickety-rickety sound of suitcase wheels on cobblestones, and that I should focus solely on being with my gf. So, thank you Lufthansa!

And, to make my point clear, now that my shaving mirror is firmly attached to the interior of my gf’s shower, my arrival in Deutschland is official.

Thanks everyone for reading.