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Archive for October 2009

Fahrenheit 2009 and rising

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rogue-poster-crocodileGoogle and China:
wrapping up the Frankfurt Book Fair 2009

 Response to the three posts on the Frankfurt Book Fair was good. The digital debate was less a debate and more of a statement of claims. Digital reading got thumbs up for being less burdensome than lugging around lots of books and because it simply is the way things are moving along. Though I suspect that it’s not so much the weight of the books than the posture of the reader that has an effect on the back. Goethe, in his “Garden House” in Weimar, had a strange contraption built with a saddle that allowed him to work in an upright position… 

 But the digital content issue was mostly avoided, and that is a big one, because it means control of the gateway and distribution. I cannot help notice an incredible confidence in the fair-mindedness of large behemoths like Google. Yet, the “in” and “out” problem has not been resolved or even noticed apparently. So let me put out one more question: When has anyone been able to argue with the EULAs and still get service from, say, a software company? And who reads the EULAs thoroughly? Once you’re “in”, you have the bennies as long as Google allows them to be fed to you. When you are out, you are, in Brave New World lingo, a savage.  And my experience with many large companies, especially in the USA, has been that once you are out, you are a nonperson, though this term comes from another famous distopia. You either accept and sign, or be damned. 

(Google tends to ignore privacy and rights, including copyright, until getting rapped on its many fingers: In Switzerland, finally, Google View has run into a brick wall named the Officer for Data Protection, who demanded that the company be more careful with its anonymizing of photos. The Swiss are taking their privacy seriously, which is a good thing, even with the cute little Google).

The big cheese

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"Be there and shut up": Regina Berlinghof with dissident journalist Dai Qing. (Thanks to Regina Berlinghof)

As for China: Again, the growth figures make economists clap their hands and foam at the mouth. Better growth than ever before, heavens, if only the west could do the same… Regina Berlinghof, who was mentioned in Part III Chinese Checkers, received a very high-level visit, namely a remarkable Chinese dissident, journalist Dai Qing. Her extraordinary career is a profile in courage and outspokenness. Of course, one of her main thrusts is environmental – she opposed the megalomaniac Three Gorges Dam project, for example –  which is not terribly sexy these days. “She was first invited, then uninvited, and ultimately was not allowed to speak,“ writes Berlinghof. “She came by my booth and was delighted to see the action, and she thanked me.” Dai Qing was one of the writers to make a statement at the pre-Fair meeting that irritated China’s powers-that-be

 It seems the Lilliputians managed at best to tickle the giant.  
The online edition of the New York Times ran an article on China at the Book Fair. Here is a grand statement from that source: “Unlike the exquisitely choreographed ceremonies during the Beijing Olympics, the fair presented a messier and more ambiguous portrait of China on the rise — a country still deeply uncomfortable with its own discordant voices, yet eager to become more competitive with the West in the realm of ideas.”

 Let us be a little more precise: exquisitely choreographed with a truncheon. And one can only delight at the euphemistic “uncomfortable with its own discordant voices.” The article mentions several prominent dissidents, notably Dai Qing and Liao Yiwu. Liao is an author and musician who was not only prohibited from traveling to Frankfurt, but was also asked to not shoot off his mouth. Apparently, the article closes, Liao Yiwu is optimistic: “Only by going through these incidents, it seems, can we become known to the outside world,” he told the New York Times. There was a time, when any dissident bogus or genuine was celebrated and put on the front page of every newspaper, as long as he or she came from a Communist country. Today, things have changed. If an obvious hoax with a hot-air balloon can occupy so many column inches for so long, how long does Liao think his name or his depressing book about the Capitalo-Communist revolution in China will be news, if it ever is. What Mr. Liao does not understand — and what the China’s media managers understand full well: The Cold War has been declared over, criticism and containment is out. Business models have taken over, and if the bottom line is good, no one will complain. We are experiencing what Marx rightly called the “fetishism of commodities.”

(That closes Frankfurt for now. Thanks for reading)

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Written by Marton Radkai

October 26, 2009 at 9:11 am

Fahrenheit 2009, Part III: Guest of Honor

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Chinese checkers

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Entrance to the Chinese hall at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Digital content creation is not the only elephant being talked about at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The other was guest of honor China. But the conversation is lopsided.  China has its own room near the entrance with a delightfully meditative installation, a pond nestled in white sand with the big logo of ideograms carved into wooden blocks.  One company has a line of small laptops all showing pages with gaudy pictures and Chinese texts. A young woman, extremely young for my tired old eyes comes up to me without bidding. We speak a mixture of German and English. It seems to me they are looking for content. They buy copyrights. “Thrillers?” I ask. Yes, yes, people like thrillers in China. And it is a huge market, I muse. Yes, she says, a big market. Something to note, a huge and eager market…. Maybe finishing that thriller I started 5 years ago might be a good idea.

 

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Metamorphosis
Is this the same China that pumped out all those manifestoes on poor paper just a few decades ago? The country where everyone wore blue jackets and rode bicycles? The nation of great leaps forward and cultural revolutions with millions of deaths? Tiananmen Square?  I cannot recall regime change, but everyone can go there, one airline is offering special discounts: € 499. And the business sector is in awe, even freedom-loving Jack Welch. Arte is blasting a program on Chinese writers, a young authoress talks about the country being a China Town, no longer in touch with its tradition. The ubiquitous books revering its economic energy are beginning to feel like a waste of trees. A week earlier, Nelson Schwartz and Matthew Saltmarsh from the New York Times were decrying some mysterious illness called “Eurosclerosis,” Europe’s somewhat plodding economy, and noting one should speak of a G-2,  the United States and China. “Ideally, it would be the G-3, but Europe doesn’t speak with a single voice and they can’t coordinate and function the same way the U.S. and China can,” the authors quote C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. But these two distinguished, oft-published journalists apparently have not noticed the human costs of the boom. It seems unimportant in Mammon’s great maw.

Human matters
For a dissenting view, you have to march all the way to the cubbyhole booths in Hall 3.0 and 3.1, for example.  lr-China-Charter08 Regina Berlinghof, IT specialist by day, authoress and publisher of ancient spiritual and lyrical texts for YinYang Media by night, has hung texts of the Charter 08, a free speech manifesto for the people and artists of China. “Human rights are not given by the state,” one page states boldly, “rather, they are rights that each individual possesses at birth.” At birth is an interesting concept. And possession, too. Possessions are eminently fragile. They can be bought, taken, or even embezzled away. “A Chinese couple came by and nodded approvingly,” she points out. “You are the only one who actually stopped to find out more. Other journalists came by, but they didn’t take notice,” she points out sadly. We eat a few macadamia nuts and talk of the great Chinese thinkers, the artists, they are always the true value of a nation. And behind its army of bureaucrats, China has a grand culture that stretches back to the days of Gog and Magog. Alas, it has no clout.

One storey higher, I find Amnesty International with a big yellow poster announcing a round table about dissident writer Liao Yiwu (his “Public-Toilet Managerwill brighten your day, no doubt), who was not allowed to travel. The event is also being organized by the S. Fischer publishing house, a big one in Germany, but the print is small. Fischer brought out a complete collection of books on the Nazi concentration camps a while ago, so they know what they are talking about.

Not far is a tiny stand with a single book on display called Laogai, from agenda Verlag & Gallerie. It has a picture of men in police uniform pointing guns. Laogai, which derives from the word for reeducation camps. A concentration camp. (Laogai…. Sounds spookily similar to Lager, and shares three letters with Gulag). I open it, a sentence springs up at me: 68 non-violent crimes are punishable by death in China, one of them tax evasion. I turn a page, gruesome pictures of executions, in the background are white vans, presumably – says the caption – mobile labs to harvest the fresh organs. Dr. Bernhard Schneeberger has a good sense of humor, but here his demeanor is filled with anger: That is what you get when you combine hard-nosed capitalism with hard-line communism, he says.

lr-laogai-01Six Sigma meets the Gulag, essentially. China’s motto at the fair is “Tradition and Innovation,” (two buzz-terms used ad nauseam by anyone from distinguished watch makers to tourist offices around the world). Traditional law meets innovative means to mete it out and profit. The law of supply and demand applied to human beings, who are in large supply in China, and always have been; the supply always a little larger than demand, so it is cheap. Organ harvesting at the killing field, a case for just-in-time delivery. A literal understanding of the term human resources. The result: fantastic growth. Great idea for Europe’s sclerotic economy, Mr. Schwartz, no? It was tried here, didn’t work out that well, but maybe now it could be tried again. After all, who really cares as long as the toys are cheap.

 Schneeberger pulls out another book, this one on cheap paper, with a paper cover featuring a youngish man with an ernest look on his face. He is lawyer Gao Zhisheng and is book is called A China More Just. This high-powered figure started defending human rights groups, but disappeared off the face of the earth. I cannot help but recall the story of Raoul Wallenberg. The Chinese did not publish his book, of course, they outsourced the job to  South Korea, which had it printed … in China. There will always be a Kafka.

 Down the aisle I see a woman in a cage. She hands me bookmarks featuring authors such as Tsering Woeser, whose Notes on Tibet was prohibited for “serious political errors.” Another bookmark announces a round table with Chinese authoress Xu Pei, the Uigur writer Sidik Haji Rouzi, and the Tibetan journalist Tsewang Norbu. And the man at www. savetibet.de hands me brochures, two bumper stickers and a cloth bag bearing the Tibetan flag. He suggests I pass by the Chinese hall on the way out. That will make no difference at all, since the powers-that-be are in fact absent. They are laughing all the way to the nearest bank.lr-China-prison

 

Yes, some trouble did erupt at a pre-Fair symposium. The official Chinese, worthy heirs to Chairman Mao, were very upset at hearing public displays of real criticism, and Jürgen Boos, head of the Fair, actually apologized. And so, on the first evening, the Wednesday, Angela Merkel visited the Book Fair. She was accompanied by Xi Jinping, China’s Vice President. They did not wander through Hall 3.1.  They did not hear of the demo against China in the streets. They avoided the Amnesty International/Fischer round table. Don’t want to rock any boats. Angela Merkel, like most political figures, is just a kind of PR manager at this point. What are a few silenced authors versus billions in high-speed trains and other technology; what are the hundreds of thousands of poorly paid, at times imprisoned workers against cheap shoes, shirts, bicycles and other wares. I cannot help think of Sarah Palin’s recent visit to Hong Kong to talk to Chinese businessmen. She took time to criticize the Obama administration, she calls him a Socialist, she hallucinates about death panels, and that  in the land of laogai.

 A cartoon from the 80s comes to mind: Reagan with a quizzical expression on his face holding a document marked “China briefing.” George Shultz then Secretary of State is captioned saying: “Yes, 1 billion Communists, I thought you knew!” Apparently we conveniently forgot and still forget while staring down official bogeymen, smaller ones without quite the clout of the Chinese Communist Party and its gigantic economy. Keep smiling, don’t be so negative, move on. That is the rhetorical soma of the age, the prozac slogans.

On my way to and from the Fair in the train, I am re-reading the deadpan Laughable Loves by Milan Kundera, an old edition edited by Philip Roth. In the introduction, Roth discusses The Joke, an early work by Kundera, the story of a student who writes his lover a flippant message. It begins with the words:

 Optimism is the opium of the people

 That gets student Ludvìk Jahn into some serious trouble. It’s something to think about.

Fahrenheit 2009 Part II: Digital Debate

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Note from the Editor: What do you think of digital books and digitizing books? Please leave a civil comment

 

Beauty and the Beast

by Marton Radkai

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Michael Jackson and Countess Donhöff at eye level

 The Fair is business, but it is also a celebration of the convergence two creative impulses, that of the book printers and designers, and that of the authors themselves. A children’s book by a South Korean authoress catches my eye, a tale about a girl with a fox on her head. A simple tale, not trying to be funny, just delightfully illustrated. Non-book articles are also a source of genuine creativity, but Hall 4.0 is just out of my two-day range, so I can only gaze briefly. The business of bookselling, too, requires genuine skill. Many publishers still have the courage and backbone to do less popular projects, Michael Jackson thus finds a spot next to a bio of Hirtler-opponent Countess Marion Donhöff (biographies are big anyway, I suspect we are always curious about what other people are doing). On that score, the Book Fair never seems to change. But each year, it has a few big issues to confront

  Off the books: liber digitalis 

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Enthusiastic lip service about iPhone cookbooks

The big buzz, of course, is the inexorable progress of the digital soldier ants through the old, old market structures of the printing industry. Its all about  eBooks, iBooks, Web-based books and Internet-based business models, and the biggest elephant in the room: the Kindle, born on the 19th of October. A small amount of space, about 2000 square feet (about 200 square meters)  is devoted to “Books & Bytes.” It exhibits several possibilities for reading electronic books, but none yet really replicate “the book feeling.” You can’t thumb pages quickly (yet), or find a page serendipitously. And if they fall over the side of a bed, for example, they may well break. Vodafone is promising to send end-users novels on their mobile phones (I’ll try and then report), and three experts in the field of cooking – there we go again – discussed the sheer brilliance of having recipes with great pics beamed to your iPhone. “You can take it along with you when shopping…”  one of them says. Next innovation down this line: the plastic cover to protect the device from spatter. Whatever: I suspect that next year, Amazon and Google, once odd fellows, now giant players, will probably own half of Hall 3.0… And watch for the next development promised by the Wi-Fi Alliance (Intel, Apple, Cisco are the main culprits) from Silicon Valley: Wi-Fi Direct. This system will, if I understand it correctly, piggyback Wi-Fi from one enabled device to the other, no need for Bluetooth, no need for Wi-Fi in some cases, no fuss, no muss, and a lot of electronic garbage from the last generation of innovative junk.

 
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Those pesky hardcopy books

 All this e-stuff naturally raises the hackles of more traditional folk. Philosophers, perhaps, should start getting involved, but they are too busy these days eking out a living as taxi drivers, key account managers, down-and-out editors and business gurus. The authors’ societies (and hence the authors and rights holders) are justifiably worried. Google’s book digitizing project is quite controversial… The Fair edition of The Bookseller has an interview with Tom Turvey, director of strategic partnerships at Google, regarding the pending Book Settlement. He is naturally eager for rights holders to sign into the Google library – and admittedly there are some who believe firmly that Google is acting as the world’s e-brarian out of pure altruism, just as there are those who believe that Windows Vista is an improvement over XP.  “Rights holders are obviously free to make whatever decision they wish,” says Turvey (thank you master!). “We believe the public benefits when rights holders have the choice to participate or not in its (the Settlement’s) terms and there is competition in the digital book space.” Right. The question is, what happens to the rights holders who decide not to cast in their lot with Google. Turvey is not clear about that, but he does have a very nice smile on his face. He must be a nice man. And he works in the upper echelons of a company with a very cute name. 
Google-Store

Future libraries for the digi-incrowd

 

The hellish vision: A digital content aggregator puts together novels and fact books that can be downloaded onto books with Wii-like pages that replicate turning. No fuss, no muss with those pesky authors, sourpuss editors, bean-counting lawyers  and grumpy literary critics. The lovers of real books will simply become the savages in the year X of Our Google. And that is the point made by Dr. Christian Sprang, legal adviser at the Stock Exchange Association of the German Book Trade at a debate on the thrid day of the Fair. He wants rights holders to have an opt-in option, not just the opt-out one. And Professor Roland Reuss simply says Google has broken the law by digitizing books without permission. 

Interlude

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Joseph E. Hanhart, still in the savannah of real print

 Niches.  The last refuge of the real book in the future? The Book Fair is full of them, and some still smell of printer’s ink, of hot presses, of red wine and even a touch of sulphur. Meet Joseph E. Hanhart of Editions Heuwinkel from Carouge (by Geneva), Switzerland. His bright blue eyes are full of humor, he still holds books in a firm yet loving manner. He publishes art books in varying sizes, each done with great care. The program also includes books on yoga and on Switzerland. He feels the market does need the diversity and he is optimistic. “In nature, you have brush and you have tall, visible trees,” he points out, “and without the grasses, the weeds and all that stuff, those tall trees could not survive.” But nature and human nature are two different shoes as they say in German.  We will eat up our entire planet, suck out its entrails and raze its forests just to get hamburgers cheaply and fuel to run our cars.

And so we get onto talking about bigger things. Hanhart is a genial storyteller in at least three languages. He suddenly mentions the 450th anniversary of the University of Geneva, which was founded by Calvin. One of the speakers was Stephen Hawking. Someone in the audience asked what god was doing before his seven days of heavy labor. “Preparing hell for the likes of you,” answered Hawking. Asymmetrical juxtapositions replacing dialectics.

 

Please check Part III: Chinese Checkers

Fahrenheit 2009

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Impressions of the Frankfurt Book Fair

by Marton Radkai

 

Bookfir-reder

Strange quirk of fate. Bookish people are usually typed as barely noticeable, mousy folk, shrinking violets, wall flowers, and even worms. Yet they are eminently visible in Germany especially around the time of the Frankfurt Book Fair. On the train up to the city of banks, there were at least three in the compartment I boarded. One, a tall man, bald with very techno-specs, perhaps business something-or other. He had a luggage dolly the size of a small forklift with thick tyres. I took a seat at a table with, opposite me, an editor slaving away on some manuscripts in Spanish and French and a facial expression that said “Don’t talk to me.”  But we did end up conversing in a strange manner. We talked about the business of publishing, the eminent threat of eBooks Trade fair tower in Frankfurtand iPhones and other toys and the problems we encountered. Hers seemed to be vaguely related to too much work. Mine with editors not bothering to answer their emails. “We are overworked, I sometimes don’t even open my mails, there are so many,” she retorted, with strangled fury. Well, I think, how much would it cost to hire someone to do it, lord knows, there are enough intelligent and capable people out of work right now. But instead, I point out that Hermann Hesse, besides all the novels and stories and poems, also wrote 35,000 letters on an old black typewriter. She looks at me: “I hate Hesse,” she says, and ends the conversation by staring intently at her manuscripts.

 Ten years since I was at the Book Fair, and my 5th visit in all. It remains the awesome orgy of the publishing industry, though there is a slightly melancholy air to it. Unless you hit the aisles with the esotericists, the politicals, the cooks. At my last visit, over 8,500 companies were there with their wares, some of the booths radiated the swirling energy of a Viennese waltz.  But this year, the number of exhibitors was 6,936, while the number of titles was around 401,000, and there was quite enough space to move around in the great halls, a sign of serious slowing down. Many exhibitors mentioned this, hoping  for more traffic during the weekend, when the fair is opened to the general public. I suspect they let in school classes on day 2 just  to cook the books. An awful lot of people wearing ratty backpacks and too young and smiling to be editors, publishers, agents  or journalists were stalling traffic in the aisles.

 Expeditions

 The booths come in all sizes, from single-author 1-square-meter cubby holes,  to somewhat bombastic installations with full-fledged catering. Some have sofas, others little bistro tables decked out with cookies. Posters are everywhere, the biggest ones are devoted to the surefire hits, like the newest Dan Brown novel in German translation, which I will not read, having had to abandon both the Da Vinci Code and some book with a title involving the word digital because it read like something written by a bored high school kid.  I saunter through the publisher’s hall where the Anglo-Saxons are located with their especially beautiful coffee table books and a plethora of children’s books. I read about a dragon who is too hot he can make toast. I find little books that can float and others that open up into 3D scenes. Some make music. One publisher produces books shaped like basketballs and footballs. Several booths are offering clip-on book lights. I manage to convince one marketing manageress to let me have the last copy of a certain book in a series that my daughter adores. 

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Marcel Reich-Ranicki, the biggest figure in German lit crit

At the Press Center, Hoffman & Campe’s Günter Berg opened the ceremonies with a major coup: 89-year-old Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Germany’s one-man supreme court for literary decisions – who last year shocked the country by refusing a prize from the TV industry – is talking about the value of the old classics. He originally launched a series with the works of  Kafka, Lessing, Kleist, Heine, Büchner and Schiller with Suhrkamp, but after a disagreement with the editor there, he took his ideas to H&C (except Schiller, which remained. Reich-Ranicki is sparing in his words, like someone who has returned to the basics after a lifetime of complexity. Readers will be astonished what they will find in those classics. Goethe is not on his list, because he cannot be categorized. As for the Nobel Prize winner, laconically he confesses he has not read her works, so it’s no comment from him. He seems very tired and as always, slightly bored. Hardly astonishing considering his own biography.

 

 

 

Leon de Winter at discussing his work in public

Leon de Winter discussing his work

I go out and begin looking around for Herta Müller’s works, for a large, distinctive poster, for some lights and joy and celebration. There is none. I stumble across new novels that seem to be written out of the pains of mid-life crises. There are sensationalist books about the crisis and the naughtiness of bankers, books with big red titles that promise the world and deliver steam. I come across author and commentator Leon de Winter mentioning the gradual separation of US Jews and the Israeli Jews, whom he describes as “warriors”. This all has to do with his vocal opposition to multiculturalism, surely, but it sounds like preening. He is sitting on the stage of the Frankfurter Allgemeine, which is staunchly conservative.   I wander off, and a few minutes later, a young, very thin woman hands me a tiny book with excerpts from an erotic novel about some killer who has sex with her victims. Three sentences into the hormonal brew is enough to convince me that this is more emetic than erotic. Speaking of which: Cookbooks are ubiquitous. Many publishers seem to have them as a kind of security line. I find a woman is cutting prosciutto at one booth, Schinken (ham) in German refers to a big book… It’s meant to be funny, I guess, but she is not laughing.

 

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Cookbooks

 

               

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The ham-cutter

 

Many booths are devoted to spiritual topics − entire stands are concerned with every religion under the sun − many to family life.  A cursory glance down any of the aisles reveals a plethora of gimmicky books, how-tos, silly books for depositing near the toilet, biographies of vapid personalities,  serious music, pop anthologies, books for listening, tchotchkes of all sorts. And there are the serious novels and old standards. Quite a lot of material by and about women, gender balance, gender imbalance, gender and business… And suddenly, I find a shelf filled with a book about a dad in his middle age dealing with the ups and downs of family life, the contrasts, taking down the garbage one minute and having to morph into a fiery lover the next…  This could be interesting. I browse, noting that the writing is in short, grumpy sentences, which is like reading the mind-numbing signs on a passing freight train. Whoever wrote this has spent too much time listening to techno with ear buds. Bolder print suddenly suggests that you are not a man if you haven’t killed, skinned and cooked an animal. This is Hollywood “bildungs-cinema” at its worst, a slightly milder form of those bizarre, repetitive Vietnam flicks like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, where some guy has to discover the meaning of life by doing war against hordes of anonymous foreigners (of darker skin). I imagine the author with a fake Japanese gangster tattoo and an earring. Oh, well.

Please visit part II: Digital Debate

 

Written by Marton Radkai

October 15, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Sailing Past

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Waiting in a billowing sea

Waiting in a billowing sea

 Sailing Past

by Marton Radkai 

 

Life can be quite unpredictable. One minute, Robert Watt, 31, a world-class bagpiper from Northern Ireland,was at a festival in Switzerland entertaining the crowds. A few days later he was standing on the bow of a century-old sailing yacht a quarter-mile off the coast near Monaco playing Scotland the Brave into a grayish sky. Had the ghost of a Scottish sailor been haunting the Mediterranean that afternoon, he would have no doubt wondered if he hadn’t imbibed too much single malt before heading down the Low Road. For there, on the mellifluous, deep-blue sea, was not one, but rather an entire armada of venerable old sailing yachts interspersed with vintage Riva and Craft speedboats, their gas-guzzling V-8 engines gurgling happily in the water.

Rivas -- elegance without aggression

Rivas ready to pounce

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Signora del Vento on course

 From September 16-20, while the media was still busy figuring out where the financial markets’ liquidity has gone to, Monaco, a hub of international finance and individuals in high income brackets, was turning its attention to the joys of its bi-annual ritual, the Monaco Classic Week.  This is not merely an ostentatious exhibition of lucre, filthy or otherwise.  It is a meeting of serious sailors and fans of classic motor yachts, schooners, gaff-cutters, ketches and other sail yachts, and classic speed boats, as well. Some famous vessels were on display, such as the Pen Duick, the first vessel owned by the late solo Atlantic crosser Eric Tabarly, and the Eleonora, an exact replica of the Westward, a racing schooner built in 1910.  They were joined by training ships, like the Russian steel-hull windjammer Sedov, which once hauled grain and coal across the Atlantic under German flag, or the three mast Italian Signora del Vento, built in Poland in 1962. Another Italian bark was also in port, the Palinuro.

 Among the motor yachts present was the justifiably famous SS Delphine, whose dramatic history includes a fire and sinking, a major crash, and serving as the flagship of the American Navy during World War Two. In 1945, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met aboard to confer about the upcoming conference in Yalta. SS Delphine was built in 1921, in Michigan, for Horace Dodge one of the two brothers of Dodge motorcar fame.  It is now owned by the Belgian Clothing magnate Jacques Bruynooghe, who spent somewhere in the region of 40 million Euros restoring her.

 

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SS-Delphine - from the Age of Ease

 

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Partridge 1885 - all hands on deck

 The boats were not the only items on display.

 

 On the way to the clubhouse, a long line of vintage Lancias stood guard, a reminder that Lancia was one of the event’s partner. In their midst, perhaps incongruously, lay the skeleton of what looked like a Bleriot IX, with an Anzani three-cylinder semi-radial engine driving a hand-carved propeller, the monoplane – or type thereof – that carried aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot over the Channel in 1909.

 

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Through the looking glass

 

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Forever young

Monaco’s Classic Week is definitely a celebration of luxury, but it is a luxury defined by ease and comfort, rather than brute force and speed. Two eras clashed sharply in the harbor: the present day, with all its elbowy aggression and sharp, fiberglass bows, and a past that respects space and calm, a time dominated by a magical Golden Rule of elegance in design, natural materials and the gift of taking time. The mood at such an event is correspondingly upbeat, but it was assisted by a steady flow of champagne generously offered by the Classic Week partner Moet. A further boost lr-sailing-bowcame no doubt from the news on September 18 that after much negotiating, Monaco had finally been taken off the OECD’s “grey list” of countries friendly to tax evaders.  This year, all attention focused on the birthday of the Monaco Yacht Club’s flagship, Tuiga. This sleek, 92-foot gaff-cutter was built in 1909 by William Fife III as the twin to the King of Spain’s Hispania. She was not the only vessel at the confab to come from that famous Scottish yard, but she did prove that 100 years makes little difference to the well-built by taking first place at the September 17 big ship regatta. “Some of the best sailing weather I have ever experienced,” said one member of the crew on the Moonbeam IV, another of Fife’s gaff cutters, which came in second in the race.

 The actual birthday celebration was scheduled for Saturday evening. The day had been disappointing weather-wise: After a stormy night with some flooding along the coast, the wind had dropped leaving the sky cloudy and the sea billowing in lazy, glassy swells. There was a half-hearted attempt to race a bit in the afternoon. But the real spectacle was the parade of boats leaving the harbor, their crews standing in formation on the decks and booms, shouting good wishes, hip-hip-hurrahing and shooting off the occasional cannon. But without even a slight breeze, the regatta soon had to be cancelled, and everyone returned to firm ground to get ready to toast the Club’s grande dame, the Tuiga, with a cocktail of Glenmorangie – in honor of the ship’s Scottish architect – crushed ice and what tasted like strawberries. The day was chosen purposely for a vessel born in 1909: It was September 19 (19/09) and the ceremonies began more or less on time at 19:09 hours. A crowd of onlookers all dressed in early-20th-century costumes had squeezed onto the narrow quay to watch Prince Albert II along with a group of dignitaries and VIPs shaking hands, displaying pictures and brandishing champagne bottles like religious icons. And standing on Tuiga’s bow was the genial Robert Watt in full regalia. Whenever he finished one piece, a small band on a raft filled the silence with more modern fare, a wistful Flower of Scotland giving way to Amazing Grace.

Tuiga's crew celebrating with a jig

Tuiga crew celebrating with a jig at sea

 

 The people of the sea
Daniele Canelli

Daniele Canelli, winner of the Belle Classe

Tuiga was not the only focus of the general admiration. On Friday night, the Belle Classe prize was awarded to Daniele Canelli, an Italian entrepreneur and enthusiastic sailor who lives in South Tyrol/Italy. His 85-foot ketch, Javelin, was built in 1897 by Thomas Edward Payne. It had been languishing in Soto Grande near Gibraltar when Canelli got the offer the buy it.  As a builder of houses and boats, he knew what to expect, and set about the task with a passion bordering on obsession. Four years and 57,000 man hours later (the official website says 47,000), the Javelin was born again as a modern, even luxurious, sailing yacht. Canelli spared no expense to do the job right; he even went to Galicia, Spain, to find oak trees with the right curvature for the frame.

Hublot-Classic

Gold, black ceramic, the Monaco Yacht Club Flags... Hublot's special edition

 For his pains, Daniele Canelli, a quiet man at the best of times, received not only the award, a large brass plaque in the shape of a sailing yacht, but also some special gifts from the Tuiga Centenary partners: a weighty magnum of Moet & Chandon and a special limited edition Hublot watch of rose gold and ceramic and bearing the flag of the Club. (For the uninitiated, “Hublot” means porthole, which is exactly what these hyper-luxurious timepieces look like).  He accepted the honors with with due modesty and glittering eyes. The Belle Class is not the end of a process, but rather the beginning. The charter is clear about it being both a challenge and a responsibility. The winner must demonstrate “the observation of marine etiquette, reciprocal assistance, mutual support, and a worthy reception – on land, as on sea; respect for the environment, and due honour to those that are skilled in their crafts – these are important traditions to pass on to future generations.”

 

 

 

 

The explorer

Mike Horn speaks, Albert II of Monaco (l.) looks on

Albert II of Monaco (l.) with Mike Horn (r.)

Numerous VIPs of the sea showed up for the event − this writer ended up in a shuttle from the airport with Catherine Chabaud, the first woman to sail around the world solo – but only one “Personalité de la Mer” (Personality of the Sea) can be chosen at a time. The coveted award went to the South African explorer Mike Horn, a man who can say truly that he has been to the world’s hottest and coldest places. He has kayaked down killer rapids, marched across continents, made tea for His Royal Highness Albert II of Monaco in the midst of a polar night at well below minus 40 degrees Celsius.  He speaks of sailing through typhoons the way some people speak of taking a walk in an April shower. But he is not just a thrill-seeker.  As he received his plaque from Prince Albert II, Horn, launched boldly into the subject of environmental awareness and the need to clean up the seas, especially in light of 20,000 plastic bottles per square kilometer. The statement did make a silent but noticeable ripple in the conviviality, but only for a few seconds. Horn is visibly a man committed to his cause. It’s in every cell of his finger-crunching handshake, in the dark, intense eyes, in the latent kinetic energy that clashes with the staid lines of a suit and tie. “The prize makes me want to work harder and better to get more knowledge,” Horn said during a chance en counter on the dock the day after. “There is a definite change in the climate that I have seen on the oceans being an explorer for 20 years and my concern is that the human being is accelerating this process. I spend 99.9% of my time observing nature and if you know how to listen and how to look, you can learn.” Horn believes that it will take more than just environmental studies to get people to understand. He and his wife Cathy – they have two daughters and live in landlocked Switzerland – have launched the Young Explorers’ Program (YEP) to get young adults to experience the planet and then pass on the information and knowledge to others. This giant, world-embracing project was named Pangaea, after the world’s first single continent. It also stands for Pan-Global Adventure for Environmental Action, and involves clean-up projects as well.

Moonbeam IV Crew heading out ot race

Moonbeam IV crew heads out to race

   The spectators

Keith JonesThe Classic Week in Monaco is undoubtedly a grandiose spectacle that cannot fail to move even the most bitter opponent of luxury. The dominating quality of the whole event was passion and a sense of decorum and conviviality typical of the sailing crowd. “It’s a very friendly fraternity,” says Keith Jones, a self-professed neophyte where yachting is concerned. He and his wife Ruth run an elevator refurbishing company in Warrington, UK. At a recent charity auction by the Manchester United Foundation, they bid for a junket to the Monaco Classic Week. To their surprise, Jean-Claude Biver, head of Hublot – and a towering figure in Swiss watch making – arrived on stage and in typically flamboyant fashion threw in one of the Tuiga special edition watches to sweeten the prize… And this couple – whose own private story has a touch of the fairytale – suddenly found themselves chatting with a real live Prince. For Ruth Jones, the event in general and the close-up view of the regatta in particular, was definitely an eye-opener: “It was like a dream,” she reminisced, while enjoying a last flute of that endless supply of champagne. “It was as if you were watching paintings going by in the ocean. I am smitten with it now.” 
 The week might have gone on forever, but there is a real world beyond Quai Antoine 1er. Gradually, the shuttles carried hundreds of guests back to Nice airport. Ruth and Keith Jones flew home with great stories to tell, and the journalists began filing stories. The Sedov steamed out to the loud tooting of the other yachts, passing regally under the duckbill nose of an obtuse modern cruise ship that saddled the swell like some morose suburban office building. Many crews took to their yachts and headed to other meetings, in St. Tropez and Cannes. The tangle of masts, sails and cables slipped away, once again revealing the banal high-rises of the city, where an army of accountants are busy turning numbers into dreams and dreams into numbers. It was back to the grind after five days of Brigadoon. As for Robert Watt, who spends his winters in the Austrian mountains of Innsbruck as a certified ski instructor, he flew off to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to entertain more rugged folk at another festival. And for some reason, perhaps a bureaucratic glitch, Monaco woke up Monday morning and found itself back on the “grey list.” Life really is unpredictable. 

 

lr-Sedov-Insig01

Sedov "passing regally under the duckbill nose of an obtuse modern cruiser"

 

© Marton Radkai, 2009