George and the Opium Den

The month of February was a blur of moving and working. And writing. I’ve been concentrating on writing creatively rather than creating blog posts about films. Also, I haven’t gone anywhere to share any photo shots. For now, I just want to keep working on “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero is in Berlin,1922, working as an extra for Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler. Here is what he does in his spare time: 

Sunken clouds spit a late April rain on the back of George’s neck. He entered a cracked lane overtaken by weeds toward an abandoned water tower of chocolate bricks and curved windows that looked like drowsy eyes. The architecture was nothing like the white, water tower in Chicago where as a boy he had watched his father work as a foreman. This one was a rectangle box eight stories tall, a fortress from a medieval dream. As George approached the back door, the bumpy clouds obscured the morning light and gave the building a sinister appearance. The dampness absorbed into the stump at his wrist, and it ached as he poked at his neck trying to stifle the itch under his skin. It had been three days since his last visit to Mr. Li’s opium den.  

        Within walking distance of the UFA studio complex, hidden from the main road behind vines that coiled around the Hemlock trees, he knocked on a door and waited for a Chinaman to open the center window and admit him. The small window-door snapped open and a man with puffy eyes squinted at him. He recognized George and let him in. George hunched down and followed him, watching his braid roll on the back of his tunic as he led him through the basement. Room dividers partitioned a corner, and as George whiffed the aroma of opium, he salivated. A pot-bellied stove heated pots of water and warmed the area while a young worker prepared opium tea. Kerosene lamps sat on tables and a davenport. George walked over to the old man who organized the den and gave him Deutschmarks.

        Guten Tag, Joe,” he greeted George with a thick accent. “Here.” He patted one of eight Army cots each covered with a military blanket, all positioned in a circle with a center island for the young worker on a stool. His work table contained candles, matches, bowls, opium pods, a pester and grinder, tubes, bamboo pipes, and a hookah.  He had a long, curved pinky nail which was filed and used as a spoon. When filled, the nail held exactly half a gram. George thought that was clever.

        “Hello, Mr. Li.”

        He kicked off his soggy loafers and placed them next to the stove to dry. He set his overcoat on a wooden chair by his cot and lay down feeling like a bug on an ashen petal connected to a dead daisy.  As he waited for the opium to foam and to inhale the vapor, he ignored the other bug two cots away and stared at the room divider. There was a red dragon coiled and twisted on a silk panel. He inhaled and closed his eyes. Soon the flush dulled his senses. That dullness turned into a stupor like a blanket that covered him with nothingness, and he floated to a place where Private Cox could not penetrate. In this dreamy blackness, his one impression was that he was in his mother’s womb, and his relief became an audible groan.

     He lay there for several hours before he had to report for filming.

 

The following is an old post about Fritz Lang and German Expressionism and Hans Poelzig, an inspirational architect for this story.

Hans Poelzig’s Sulphuric Acid Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)Hans Poelzig’s Chemical Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)

Expressionist German architect, Hans Poelzig, and Thea von Harbou, the screenwriter and wife of Fritz Lang, have a grip on my imagination while I create the climate of Weimar Germany in the manuscript, “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero, my American World War I veteran, arrives in Berlin, and stumbles into the world at UFA studios wherein 1922, Thea’s script is filmed by Fritz Lang: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler.

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Who knows why she held her German Nationalist views while Fritz Lang emigrated to the United States or how she was implicated in a murder, but my fiction will dabble with the possibilities and recreate the evening involving George.

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Fritz Lang & Thea von Harbou, married, 1922-1933
Hans Poelzig Architecture 

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light columns at the Grand Theater’s entrance hall

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The Großes Schauspielhaus, Berlin, Germany circa 1920
What a pity Hans Poelzig’s grand theater exists only in pictures now. The honeycomb pillars resembled stalactites and the circular design without balcony seats, according to Ross Wolfe’s article “Scary Architecture: The Early Works of Hans Poelzig” found HERE, was an exquisite example of German expressionist architecture. Imagine the ceiling full of lights to imitate the stars. Before its demolition in the 1980s, the theater’s history included Nazi control in 1933 when its grandness was hidden behind dropped ceilings and eventually turned into a warehouse. I wish someone would recreate it for new audiences to enjoy.

Thank you for reading. 

 

The Swastika

Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Swastika on a
Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Swastika on a ceramic bowl

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It is a great irony in World History. That a symbol of peace and well-wishes should signify hate and encapsulate the pain of WWII. The Swastika has an ancient history as a symbol of peace used around the world. To my students, this is new news. They’ve only known the slanted, perverted Swastika. They did not know its Sanskrit origins dated 5,000 years before Christ, was founded in Hinduism, and sprouted from India and Iran. Indo-Aryans migrated taking their chariots with them (1800 BCE) and spread language, artifacts, and the symbol of peace, the Swastika. Read more about it at the Holocaust Museum.

I’ve never felt its presence more than last summer when in Crete, I visited the Heraklion Museum and found the Swastika on the side of Minoan pottery (picture above). It coincided with research I’d been doing on Hopi and Navajo Indians, specifically how they crafted their beautiful rugs. I stumbled upon Gary David’s article “The Four Arms of Destiny: Swastikas in the Hopi World” and enjoyed how he explained the ubiquitous presence of the Swastika. It is fascinating and found here:  swastikas_hopi_gary_david.

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Navajo blanket

The Hopi and the Navajo American Indians are celebrated for their craftsmanship of making rugs and blankets. Throughout Arizona there are trading posts and gallery showrooms where their art is auctioned. Want to learn more about the weaving history or the Hopi and Navajo? I enjoyed this 2012 article by Ojibwa from Native American Netroots. When I explore antique shops, it is not surprising to find Hopi and Navajo rugs for sale, ranging from $100-2,000 dollars. I have seen rugs with the swastika woven in them. While theorists and historians speculate the global presence of the swastika, I am saving up to purchase a Hopi rug that has the peace symbol woven in it. I’d like to reclaim the swastika, set it up straight, and share well wishes to those who enter my door.

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Zane Grey

Social Icons
Social Icons

Zane Grey (1872-1939). Known as the father of the Western novel, his prolific career included 64 books and several magazine articles. 130 films are credited from his books.

 

Wild Arizona, Devil’s Bridge, Sedona

Check out the Zane Grey’s West Society for fascinating articles and facts about him. In his stories, Grey described the grandeur of the South West that evoked a desire to visit and a need to protect the vanishing frontier. His heroes were flawed and troubled. He honored the Native American instead of portraying him as a savage. His women were virtuous, strong, and spellbinding. The violence and action of the gun fight were secondary to the enchanted topography Grey conveyed with love. His popular novels contributed to the collective consciousness of the myth of the West well into the 20th century. Silent films capitalized on Grey’s novels. Of the 130 films adapted from Grey’s books; a third of the filming locations occurred in Arizona.

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Mexican Hat, Utah 

The Western genre in film originates with Zane Grey. His influence spilled into radio shows and television. His film adaptations provided the impetus for many careers including: Shirley Temple, John Wayne, Tom Mix, Randolph Scott, and Alan Ladd. Probably the most famous novel by Zane Grey is Riders of the Purple Sage. Do you have a favorite? 

I have been scanning silent films trying to find the perfect late 1920s film to thread the theme of the cinema in “Inside the Gold-Plated Pistol”. I’ve decided on the 1925 William K. Howard lost film, The Thundering Herd. 

Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper

Besides Jack Holt, Lois Wilson, Noah Beery, Sr., and Raymond Hatton,  it’s Gary Cooper’s first appearance in film. The Thundering Herd is about a trader who uncovers a scheme to blame the Indians for a Buffalo massacre. Director William Howard remakes the film again in 1933 and stars Randolph Scott.

Zane Grey’s influence abounds in far-reaching ways. While synonymous with the arid, desert landscape, his passion is for deep-sea fishing. He owned patents on fishing lures and held eleven world records in deep-sea fishing. His letters to friend Ernest Hemingway links Grey’s attempts to conquer the Marlin to Hemingway’s inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea.  Zane Grey is alive today when citizens attend schools, subdivisions, and roads named after him.

I watched an old episode of M*A*S*H the other afternoon and Colonel Potter was eagerly trying to finish his latest Zane Grey novel about a noble cowboy and his relationships with nature, Indians, and a saucy female protagonist.  Zane Grey loved the Mogollon Rim by Payson, Arizona. I’ve camped there and I understand its appeal. I’m looking forward to a weekend getaway to the Eastern section of the Rim in a couple weeks. I can’t think of a better site to work on the novel.

Mogollon Rim (Muggy-on)
Mogollon Rim (Muggy-on)

 

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