Welcome to GIBBIN HOUSE!

When I first started this blog about the misadventures of a nascent author, I had only a small novel under my belt, titled Gibbin House. The building that bears the name is a fictitious postwar era safe-house, as many might have existed, and the London home of my motley crew of exiles. I could not anticipate then the degree to which I would join its ranks of writers and artists, but since publishing my book in 2011, I have had the greatest privilege of opening my own art gallery and of exploring my love of the written word through visual poetry and paper sculptures. Yet much like the girl who first started blogging two years ago, I suspect I don't know what I'm doing half the time. As such, Gibbin House remains a refuge for ramblings...and on occasion a haven for little triumphs.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Off the Page - an Anatomic Look at the Creation of a Novel" by Carola Perla

Gibbin House Inspires an Orignial Art Installation

Off the Page by Carola Perla
In honor of my first public book reading, I decided to offer my own original art work to ATELIER 1022's LITERA event in Wynwood this past Saturday.  My idea for the art installation  - "Off the Page - an Anatomic Look at the Creation of a Novel" - began as the lattice-like cutting of the last page of Gibbin House, but evolved to include everything that went into writing the book: the dozens of handwritten notebooks, collected clippings, books, postcards, storyboards, etc.  I even included the 3-D stereocard the cover is based on, my earliest floppy disks, boardpass to Europe, encouraging gifts from friends, and the Grigorescu painting my mother did at 19, which inspired my main character.   To my great joy (and edification) the piece was really well received, and will remain on display through Art Basel Miami 2011.  Mama is so proud!

Off the Page - art installation by Carola Perla

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Carola Perla's Gibbin House Participates in ATELIER 1022's LITERA

ArtVergnügen! the pleasure of art ...

ATELIER 1022 Presents “LITERĂ”
 An Evening of Book Launches, Readings, and Art to Celebrate
 Miami’s Independent Literature Scene and First-time Authors

            Miami Beach, October 20, 2011 – ATELIER 1022 Studio and Fine Art Gallery in the Wynwood Art District announces the one-night-only special book launch event “LITERĂ”  on November 12, 2011 – an evening dedicated to Miami’s up-and-coming independent and first-time authors, with a program of readings, book signings, and art installations inspired by the written word.  Headlining the event is Resident Artist and ATELIER 1022 Partner Ellie Perla, who will introduce her highly anticipated children’s books, ALTAVARANIA and PAPOOK.  Her original illustrations for these books will also be on special display.  Ellie Perla’s elaborate and enchanting pencil drawings have served as an iconic feature of the ATELIER 1022 Gallery since its inception.   LITERĂ will also see the book launch of David Rolland’s debut novel DEADBEAT – a noir thriller set against the sultry backdrop of South Florida.  In addition, author Carola Perla will unveil ‘Off the Page’, a new art installation inspired by her historic novel GIBBIN HOUSE, which debuted at the gallery in May 2011. Presentations will begin at 8PM, to be followed by signings and a complimentary wine reception.  ATELIER 1022 will be open to the public on November 12th, 2011, for the Wynwood Art Walk, from 6-11 PM.  

“As both a novelist and gallery owner, I am thrilled to bring a multi-media event like LITERĂ to ATELIER 1022, particularly on the eve of the upcoming 2011 Miami Book Fair International.  From the onset, ATELIER 1022’s resident artists and partners have aimed to create not just a visual art studio and gallery, but to build a community space that supports grass-roots efforts in every artistic field.  We are extremely proud to be able to provide first-time authors a forum in which to present their extraordinary work, and intend on continuing this tradition far into the future with self-published book launches, independent film screenings, and local music acts,” says Gallerist Carola Perla.

ALTAVARANIA by Ellie Perla

Three unusual friends journey to distant lands to find the seven fairies who once gave the ancient gardens of Altavarania their magic powers.  This story of adventure and discovery takes Leelas, Sun and Thunder in serach of love, trust, joy, integrity, peace, hope and courage.  They will need these gifts to plant a new Altavarania in the land of Noaptea and save its people from perpetual poverty and war.

PAPOOK by Ellie Perla

Papook, the palace tea boy, has a troublesome habit of wandering off and hiding in all the wrong places.  When a bad turn finds him in the balcony of the courtroom, pretending to advise the king as the ‘Spirit of the Law’, his problems really start.  Luckily Old Ayo is always nearby to help with a wise solution.  But when the king’s palace is in real danger, will Papook’s audacious behavior turn out to be a burden or a blessing?  

Ellie Perla, on writing children’s books as an artist: “The driving force behind my art is my love for beauty, cultural awareness, and harmony.  My books are a natural extension of this philosophy.  Intended to be experienced with a parent, they teach a very young generation of readers life-altering values and a non-violent way of life.”

Elinor E. Perla lives and works in Miami, Florida.  Ellie is the author and illustrator of several children’s books.  She is also an artist in residence at ATELIER 1022 in Miami’s Wynwood Art District, and an avid photographer.

GIBBIN HOUSE by Carola Perla
Summer 1949 – in London’s Hampstead Heath, four embittered European intellectuals still occupy their former safehouse.  But the mysterious arrival of the damaged refugee, Anka Pietraru, shakes them out of their stupor and challenges them to reclaim an unlived life.  A story of exile, artistic kinship, motherly love, and the path to finding one’s own voice.

Carola Perla, on writing as an immigrant to Miami: Transience leaves a special sort of mark in terms of language.  Not being able to communicate for months at a time with people around you, being dismissed.  And even when you begin to speak, you suffer the sensation of never quite being able to express everything.  I’m always in awe at immigrant-rich Miami, because it is a place overflowing with lives, thoughts, and feelings unshared.”

Carola Perla is a Miami-based author, gallery owner, and PR specialist.  Born in Romania, she has lived in Munich and Lima, and holds degrees in German Literature and Art History from Florida State University. ‘Gibbin House’ is her first novel.  

DEADBEAT by David Rolland
A noir thriller chronicling the adventures of Frank Bengling, Miami private investigator. He had his scuba diving, his business, and his margaritas. But then beautiful Maria Novella hires him for a case. She wants Frank to find the father of her child. After a long chase the past catches up with Frank Bengling.  

INVITE: On the Eve of the Miami Book Fair International, My First Reading of GIBBIN HOUSE!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

ATELIER 1022 Gallery Presents KRAFTWERK: The Steampunk Engine

  ATELIER 1022

ArtVergnügen! the pleasure of art ...

KRAFTWERK: The Steampunk Engine
On October 8th Steampunk Gear is recommended...suspended reality is mandatory

Miami Beach, September 26, 2011 – ATELIER 1022 Studio and Fine Art Gallery brings quixotic industrial fantasy to Miami’s Wynwood Art District on October 8th, 2011, with the special exhibit “KRAFTWERK: The Steampunk Engine” – a new collection of photography, portraiture, and mixed media works from resident artists Ellie Perla, Susana Perla-Mendoza, and Carlos Rodriguez-Feo. The exhibit is complemented by a selection 19th Century Victorian artifacts.  The event is open from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM; at Atelier 1022 Gallery on 2732 NW 2nd Avenue; and coincides with the Wynwood Art Walk for the month of October.

         "Part of ATELIER 1022’s philosophy from its inception has been to celebrate the innocence, refinement, and ingenuity of yesteryear.  In reconciling these aspects of the past with the modern experience, a new aesthetic emerges, both beautiful and honest.  The gallery’s three resident artists are united in the belief that beauty and honesty do not have to be mutually exclusive.  Their philosophy runs throughout the scope of their work, from Ellie’s “recycled” art pieces and 3-D Stereocards to Susana’s “Acid Impressionism” and Carlos’s photo experiments with vintage cameras, infrared techniques, and large-format film.  The ‘Steampunk’ movement, the artists feel, encapsulates much of what they are attempting to achieve at this Wynwood studio, and their collaborative efforts in creating the exhibit once again confirms the sense of community at ATELIER 1022 – hence the ‘tongue-in-cheek title KRAFTWERK, the German word for ‘power plant’,” explains Gallerist Carola Perla.

            One of the main features of the KRAFTWERK exhibit is the collection of Steampunk-inspired portrait photographs – a collaborative project conceived and created on site with the help of all of ATELIER 1022’s resident artists and partners.  Although presented in two separate formats by Ellie Perla and Carlos-Rodriguez Feo, every member of the gallery contributed to the staging, costumes, lighting, makeup, backdrop art, modeling, and shooting of the witty conversation pieces.  For the October 8th event, the backdrop painting will continue on display to give visitors an opportunity to interact with the installation and carry on the playful ‘Steampunk’ dialogue. 
            Another major voice in this exhibit will be Susana Perla-Mendoza with her industrial-themed “Acid Impressionism” photographs which draw parallels between the modern and the historic, by blurring the lines of both.  Central among these is a triptych that re-imagines the most infatigable emblem of Belle Epoch engineering – the Eiffel Tower – in order to capture the atmosphere of the original excitement as the structure was first unveiled.  The accompanying stereoscopic viewer from the 1900 Paris World Exhibition reinforces the novelty of the era’s budding technology.   
            The Victorian industrial experience of the KRAFTWERK: The Steampunk Engine exhibit extends to the carefully designed music playlist, ‘Steampunk-ed’ antiques, and the limited-time presentation of ATELIER 1022’s signature vintage-inspired stationary and specialty gifts.
            About ATELIER 1022
            Atelier 1022 recreates the sense of an artistic community in a public space.  Atelier 1022 permanent exhibit showcases an array of fine art photography, paintings, and mixed media works from resident artists Ellie Perla, Susana Perla-Mendoza, and Carlos Rodriguez-Feo, and aspires to capture the gallery’s art community concept with a collection of elaborate canvases, dynamic color prints, and examples of rare photo processes.  Atelier 1022 invites art lovers to join in and celebrate beauty, colors, and rhythms in a place where art is made and polyglot gossip resounds off the walls.  Future art exhibits for 2011 and 2012 are planned around such themes as: hard rock art and music, with live bands; steam punk art and fashion show; documentary photography and short films; fairytale books and young art; graffiti and tattoo art; the history of photography; and many more.  Atelier 1022 Studio and Fine Art Gallery is located in Miami’s Wynwood Art District. Address: 2732 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami, FL, 33127. Website: www.atelier1022.com; Tel: 786-385-6066; E-mail: atelier1022@aol.com.  Media kits with further information on the gallery and high resolution photographs are available upon request.


MEDIA CONTACT:  Carola Perla, Tel: 786-385-6066; E-mail:  carolaperla@hotmail.com.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

GIBBIN HOUSE: Visual Inspirations Meets Real Life: Hölderlin and...

GIBBIN HOUSE: Visual Inspirations Meets Real Life: Hölderlin and...: Storm in the Salzkammergut, Austria Sturm und Drang: Part 2 Gibbin House: an excerpt In the few hours he managed to wrangle free, this...

Visual Inspirations Meets Real Life: Hölderlin and Me - Part II

Storm in the Salzkammergut, Austria
Sturm und Drang: Part 2

Gibbin House: an excerpt

In the few hours he managed to wrangle free, this became his main object, the stealthy strolling through of these shady fir woods.  How much he would have loved Răluca at his side then.   Watching her sigh and awe in that charmingly self-satisfactory way of hers at all the incidental wonders around them, which he in these moments had to notice passively for himself.  He especially thought of her when a storm cloud happened on him in the course of his walk, because it made him think of Hölderlin.  And Martin would break into an irresistible smile, convinced she too would have recalled their earliest discussion and used it as an opportunity to tease him.  Run, Martin, before you’re caught in the rain and descend into madness!  
On one such stormy afternoon, gripped by the oddest impulse, he actually did start off on a sprint, straight into the arms of the tempest, diving into the cascading fury of lightning that erupted suddenly, and then ever further, slipping through the hiking paths that scaled the wooded base of the mountains, shivering cold and slipping clumsily in the soaked top soil and the rock, but running nonetheless, ever higher, leaving almost everything behind him, as if ascending into the realm of gods and myth, answering the challenge laid at poets and writers, so infatigable in their obsessions and yet so frail.  He ran with the thought of reaching an empty crag he’d hitherto only spied from the shores, a high bluff breaking the monotony of trees, where he might stand and sound his Whitmanian yawp in protest and confirmation, defying the thunder and the splintering lightning like a shower of accusation to break him down. 
Not far from where he had started his sprint, however, his chest begun to sting quite fiercely.  He regressed into a speedy strut, which in turn slowed into a lumbering stagger, his side caving to stitches.  Abandoning his initial destination, which still loomed above him, deceptively near at every winding turn in the trail, Martin made instead for the porch of the Weigert villa, and by evening, he was laid up in bed with a cold.   (p. 239-40)

Poor Theodor, it is rather a worse fate than Hölderlin's, is it not?  To find oneself in the grip of nature's fury and rather than rising to meet it, to stare it square in the face, come up short and capitulate.  As I said in "Part One" of this post, an artist hopes for a moment in which he or she may feel absolutely enthralled, alive, not simply in the involuntary visceral sense of a rollercoaster ride, but also in a philosophical sense, convinced that its magnitude is derived from the importance only we as artists can ascribe to it.  We want convincing that we recognize the ultimate highs and lows of life's experience because of an artistic soul.  And what if it isn't true?  In our Romantic poet's case, he was clearly certain that he was profoundly sensitive to the phenomenal powers of nature, and left no doubt in the public's mind - 36 years up in a lone tower like a deranged Rapunzel will give that impression.  But what if we are not overwhelmed?  What if we do not reach the summit and are made mad with the rapture of it? 
I'm reminded of "Of Human Bondange" by the sublime W. Somerset Maugham, in which the protagonist Philip slowly comes to realize that there is a difference between true artistic genius and wannabe bohemians, and that he sadly belongs to the latter.  Although the book was published in 1915 and rather echoes the adolescent worries of every high schooler with half an imagination, the fundamental problem of whether one is destined for the things towards which one strives is eternal and age-less.  We become no more enlightened because we are older.  In fact, I often feel that bare confidence is a thing luxuriously afforded to childhood alone.   An "A" on a 3rd Grade project is a solid thing, real currency.  Whereas adult compliments and achievements are shrouded in duplicitous mystery, dependent on social connections, sexual manipulation, condescension, etc.   An artist is most commonly validated by the size of his entourage, the dispair of his suicide note, or the shrillness of his devil-may-care bowtie.  In an ever diverse and fragmented yet all-documented, digitally overexposed world, the idea of suffering (or celebrating) in quiet anonymity becomes terrifying.  If we hide from the world these days, no one has the time to notice or care.   Do we have the stength, therefore, to climb the mountain, face the tempest, and thrill in its beautiful savagery alone?

Last month, I found myself, very much on top of the mountain.  As previously mentioned, I attended the wedding of two amazing women-heroines-friends at the summit of Mt. Greylock.  Rather unexpectedly, Hurricane Irene decided to sweep through Massachussetts that same weekend, the eye passing right over our lodge.  No sooner than the storm began and we were advised that roads leading off the mountain were being closed, a sumptuous fog enveloped our little party.  The view, which usually stretches for miles and miles into New Hampshire now reached no further than a few feet.  Soon the rain ripped and pounded past us through the opaque air, and I thought about Hölderlin.  We were not allowed to leave the lodge, the heavy wooden doors secured, but I wondered what it would be like to tear out and run through the storm, to be drenched and beaten about...perhaps it's good that I don't know how I might have felt.  I continue to believe in my artistic soul, unchallenged.

PS: The day I received my first printed copy of "Gibbin House", I went for a run along the beach and was met with a torrential downpour, through which I persisted, furiously skimming over the sand as my head rocked to the beats of Swedish House Mafia's "One"...I was a Greek muse on the deserted beach that evening, light as air, inexhaustible, delerious, in tears against the fiery glow of sunset.  I don't know if that proves anything about me or just Theodor's theory that during seminal moments in our life, it must always rain...

Monday, September 5, 2011

GIBBIN HOUSE: Visual Inspirations Meets Real Life: Hölderlin and...

GIBBIN HOUSE: Visual Inspirations Meets Real Life: Hölderlin and...: Wanderer Above the Sea Fog by Caspar David Friedrich Hölderlin's Sturm und Drang Gibbin House - an excerpt: “A mountain wedding?” Al...

Visual Inspirations Meets Real Life: Hölderlin and Me - Part I

Wanderer Above the Sea Fog by Caspar David Friedrich
Hölderlin's Sturm und Drang

Gibbin House - an excerpt:

“A mountain wedding?” Albert inquired.
“I haven’t been, but it’s said to be quite beautiful,” Răluca said.

“But don’t they realize it’s going to rain up there?” Martin asked.  “If you will have an outdoor party, it must always rain.”
“Don’t be so gloomy,” Alfred said.   “Rain is good luck.”
“In the mountains, Albert?  I beg to differ.”
"Really, Martin, are you so delicate?" Răluca needled.  "Or are you afraid of ending up like Hölderlin?"
Martin almost choked on his Einspänner. 
“My apologies, I forgot you don’t like to be teased,” Răluca said, quite aware she was doing just that.
“No, it’s only…how could you know? You’ve heard me mention him before?”
“Do you mean to say I hit the nail on the head?” Răluca sat up, her eyes dancing in that reserved face of hers.  “I confess, I was only trying to show off a little.  Few know much about Hölderlin’s story, and I would hardly know it myself, if my father hadn’t told me.”

Martin marveled at Răluca, as she explained herself blushing.  Was this indeed the same seventeen-year old from a few nights ago, who had offended him with such unflattering severity and disdain?  Where forth had this intelligent old soul emerged, discomfiting him with a distinctive elegance that bordered on sensuality?  It could not be the same person.  Or perhaps, the dipping temperatures had simply ushered some color and vitality into her fiber, and momentarily veiled the toxic girl.  He determined to get a hold of himself, and tried to quell the eagerness in his voice as he picked up the thread of conversation.
“But it’s what they say, isn’t it, that Friedrich Hölderlin went mad in the midst of the lightning?”
“That is the accepted version,” she answered with a humorously cryptic inflection.  “He could easily have been mad all along.  Or never at all.”“Really, Martin, are you so delicate?” Răluca needled.  “Or are you afraid of ending up like Hölderlin?”
“He’s said to have spoken about ‘standing bareheaded beneath God’s thunderstorms’.  Clearly the experience left an impression.” 
“Exactly!” I can’t help feeling his account is just a little too convincing.  And my father used to say that nothing disguised so well as insanity.  Obscuring crimes, failures.  Such a convenient way of relinquishing all responsibility, hiding behind madness.” 
“Then, according to you, Hölderlin only purported to be mad, as a sort of refuge?”
“He did do his best work after that period, when people finally left him alone.”
“It’s a sinister thought,” Martin considered.  “And yet I completely see the attraction.  I could see how it might appeal to someone…”
“You don’t think it’s the mark of cowardice?” she asked, “A negation of life?”
Here Albert interjected, aware that Anian had nearly drifted off to sleep.  “The version I heard has our poet wandering through Auvergne with a pistol at his side.  Whatever happened on that mountain, I think there’s an argument for a preexisting paranoia.”
At this Răluca laughed.
“But what if it was love?” Anian suddenly roused.
“Love? You’re referring to the death of the lady the poet had been involved with shortly before?” Albert asked.
Anian shrugged.  “I really have no idea what you’re all talking about, but in my experience, it’s always to do with love."
“Perhaps,” Albert smiled, and changed the subject.                                   (p.126-128)

Friedrich Holderlin 
The above is actually one of the first dialogues I ever wrote when I first began sketching out scenes for GIBBIN HOUSE in 2002.  I'd had in mind a time in college, when some people invited my room mates and I to go camping - my friend declined, saying it was going to rain, because it always rains when you go camping.  At the time, I thought him such a preternaturally pessimistic young man.  But then, it did rain and I confess, we rather feasted with Schadenfreude on the dour stories of sand-caked tents and soggy sandwiches that dominated the usual cacophony of undergraduate complaints at the basement coffeeshop that week. 
The truth of course is that T. was right - it did always rain.  It rained for every beach picnic and garden party.   It literally monsoon-ed for my sister's wedding.  It even poured the one afternoon I stood to enjoy standing inches from a soon-to-retire Marat Safin (life-altering moments, I tell you!)
And of course, this past weekend, when I headed deep into the Berkshires to attend the nuptuals of two dear friends and social heroes in their own right, well, I don't have to tell you what happened...

Letter to Goethe
But I will leave that remarkable experience for the next chapter.
The question you're probably wondering is - what on earth does all this have to do with the German Romantic poet, Friedrich Hölderlin?
As many of you will know, Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin was a seminal German poet and philosopher of the late 18th-early 19th Century, known for his Hellenic poems and development of German Idealism.  He shared the cultural landscape with Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Novalis, and Hegel, even influencing the direction of some of their theories.  His name, however, languished largely in obscurity until the 1910's, when Norbert von Hellingrath published the first complete collection of his works, prose, and letters (although the above conversation predates von Hellingrath's publication, one might assume that theories regarding Hölderlin abounded before - perhaps radiating from the Stefan George circle, which influenced many writers in the late 19th Century, including Austrian poet Hugo von Hofmansthal.)  His most famous work is the epistolary novel Hyperion, set in 18th Century Greece, which is alternatingly regarded as a philosophical treatise, a musical masterpiece, a broken-hearted love letter to an expiring paramour, but always as a work of great unsettling, unearthly beauty.
Three years after its completion, an ill-fated  sojourn from Bordeaux to Nurtingen brought on fits of madness, following which he was briefly institutionalized.  Instead of enjoying the accolades of his accomplishment, Hölderlin lived out the next 36 years secluded in a lonely tower.  
Of course, one must wonder if a single trip through a mountain, even if on foot, could have unraveled a man, a genius at that?  Certainly, he had enough cause to be burdened - his former love Susette Gontard lay dying, he was plagued by money troubles, and he suffered from severe hypochondria.  Then there was his disappointment over Goethe, who referred to him as Hölterlein (little Hölderlin) and at one meeting condescendingly assigned him little poetic 'exercises'.  Not one to take himself lightly, Hölderlin must have been crushed by his mentor's attitude (can you see where our protagonist Theodor Soller might sympathize with the man?)
But even if he simply arrived in Nurtingen exhausted, if his demise had nothing at all to do with the Auvergne and all to do with a melodramatic disposition, failed ambitions, and unfavorable politics - the natural course of the 19th century artist - if in fact, he wasn't insane at all, but too disinterested in the world to listen any longer to its disparages, I want to think of him in his storm.  It is too perfectly symbolic.  The poet in his tempest, who has aspired to invoke the Greek gods with words, conjured Hyperion's titanic light, and is suddenly caught in their thunder and fury.  Sturm und Drang.  What artist does not wish for himself such a moment of urgency?  At the edge of reason, and yet in the absolute present? 
Stayed tuned to find out...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

My Bohemian Experiment: New ATELIER 1022 Gallery Event


Check out the Facebook event page for information on this latest music-themed evening we are hosting at our Wynwood art gallery.  It should be a truly wonderful example of the sort of cross-pollinating, melting pot, polyglot community we are hoping to establish at ATELIER 1022.  If you are in Miami next weekend during Wynwood Art District's 2nd Saturday Art Walk, please stop by!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

GIBBIN HOUSE: Visual Inspirations: Romanian Banat Summer Fields

GIBBIN HOUSE: Visual Inspirations: Romanian Banat Summer Fields: " 'Dude'; Flowers; Farm cart - photos by Ellie Perla  Summer Views of the Banat I want to begin this entry by apologizing for my ext..."

Visual Inspirations: Romanian Banat Summer Fields

"Dude"; Flowers; Farm cart - photos by Ellie Perla
Summer Views of the Banat 

I want to begin this entry by apologizing for my extended absence on this blog.  I blame the effects of a Floridian summer - the lazy, hazy, let's face it, infernal days one invariably stumbles through every year here in Miami.  They seem to spark a sort of mental hibernation, a Lotus Eater syndrome, and try as you might to pull yourself together, only a cold front (ie 85 degrees) or the mad rush of an impending hurricane possesses the force to snap a person back to reality.  Well, there is a third tonic, but it must be administered in small doses, or else risk falling off the other end.  I refer of course to the crassly overeager August-month Christmas displays at the craft store.  What else can jolt you with the sense of life hurling past your ears as effectively as that?  But I digress...

Whichever the reason for my arousal, I am here to announce that I am once again determined to resume living above the steamy stupor of my tropical paradise (or postapocalyptic wasteland ... tomaito tomahto) and return to what I love more than anything...the sound of my own internal voice...That said, I debated which subject I might want to use to celebrate the end of my hiatus.  I suppose nothing could serve as a better antidote to my beachy mindset than the very serious topic of Vienna's Postwar Displaced Persons Camps, to which I refer in Part II of GIBBIN HOUSE: Traveling Without Moving.  But I think I will save this for my next entry, when I have sobered up enough to do the history justice. 

Country Woods - photo by Ellie Perla

Instead, let me share a little of what inspired this book in the very, very beginning - the images that floated in my mind back when I was sitting with my mother in a coffeeshop in late 2001, just like Anka and her mother in the first scene: I had finished Grad School some months earlier and broken off a five year relationship, I had no income, few friends, and not the slightest clue what to do with my life.  All I had were buried away hopes and girlhood memories. 

Banat Farmers - photo by Ellie Perla

But as I sat listlessly with the chaos of techno music licking my face, these memories began to form themselves into an idea , into a story of someone like me traveling across a continent, like Perrine over the Pyrennes, and I thought of where it might all begin, her home...my own birthplace, the Banat.  I will write more about this place another time.  For now, a few glimpses of its landscape, a few last injections of summer before the real work begins:

Summer Wheat Fields - photo by Ellie Perla

Banat Country Scene - photo by Ellie Perla

Harvest Girls - Courtesy of Andershausen Banat

Country Home - photo by Ellie Perla

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Visual Inspirations: Crown Colony Suffragettes of 1911

Women's Coronation Procession 1911 - copyright Museum of London
London, June17, 1911

Gibbin House - an excerpt

“How did it all start? Oh dear…well, I suppose it’s all due to Lysander.”
Alfred rose from his chaise, as if he were about to recite a gospel, and sat on the sofa arm beside their guest.
 “You see, he’s the gentleman I told you about earlier, the owner of the house.  We were at Cambridge together.  We kept in touch, and when I returned to London in 1930 from my teaching stint in Vienna, he offered me rooms here.  His mother, Mrs. Morrison was in need of a little company.  She was a very lively, pragmatic, capable sort of woman – very English.  Eventually, realizing I was much more at home here than I ever had been in Austria, I decided to become a British national and stayed on at Gibbin House.  I could teach in the city, and Lysander always had a friend to visit on holidays.  It was an arrangement that suited everyone very well.  Of course, after the Anschluss, it happened that from time to time some old friend or other, on his way to somewhere in the Americas, might pass through.  And Mrs. Morrison was very inclined to help the disenfranchised.  In her earlier days, she had been a suffragette.  There is a picture I’ll show you later in one of the upstairs halls, of Mrs. Morrison leading with her banner at the Coronation Procession in 1911.”
“Followed by an exquisite contingent from the Crown Colonies, delicious things,” Emil mused. (Page 63)

And here they are - the exquisite contingent: Indian suffragettes, captured in a moment of tremulous hope, on a summer's day one hundred years ago, almost to the week.  
I serendipitously fell upon this postcard at the Museum of London in 2004, when I was trying to get a sense of a bygone England any way I could. 
It's not easily done.  In 1949, at the time my story takes place, the South African novelist Doris Lessing talked in her book 'In Pursuit of the English' at length about the difficulty of defining the English character as an outsider.  And W.H. Maugham makes a similar point in 'Razor's Edge' about how non-English writers can never quite reproduce the English cadence and subtleties, forever sounding just a little off, a little pastiched. 
But I never deluded myself into thinking I could capture a war era English atmosphere with any sense of complete authenticity, no matter how much I researched.  Moreover, I was very aware of the period stereotypes I might be tempted to raid, from the multitudes of Agatha Christie mysteries and BBC costume dramas I regularly gorge on.  Particularly regarding the women - the dowdy housekeepers, the pub slappers, the East End parlor maids, the skeletal debuttantes with ghostly complexions.  Just the thought of this retinue makes me want to summon Poirot to discover who really poisoned the squire's afternoon tea.  And what happened to the second will?
All the same, from the onset of my creating the English characters in the story, I knew our Mrs. Morrison had to be one of these proverbial figures - the Edwardian suffragette
I reasoned that as the deceased former owner of Gibbin House, Mrs. Morrison had to serve as a sort of invisible compass , a reminder of the dedication and temerity the present characters can't seem to embody.   The brassy type of woman who would roll up her sleeves and 'just get on with it'. 

And then I saw this photo, this brilliant bit of truth and reality. 

The Winslow Boy -Sony Pictures
Instead of the hard nail militant English woman one might expect in 1911 London, it gave quite another face to the suffragette figure I was complacently imagening.   It held a small key to the possiblity that Mrs. Morrison could indeed have existed as the charitable, judicious, and embracing woman I needed her to have been to give rise to Gibbin House in the first place.

I have often glanced at this photo during my years writing this book, even when it had nothing at all to do with the parts I was working on.  I felt mezmerized by the exotic beauty of these women in silks and gauze (as our good Emil was, even if he does call them 'things').  I kept thinking -  there they stand, weeks of ship travel behind them, unaccompanied and surrounded by police escorts and royal officers, no doubt coming across the very vocal opposition to their cause that was typical of the day, all to march for the right to vote.  They are  inspiring and something of a marvel, but then, I suppose I never cease to be amazed by acts of social courage.
So, though I may not be as adroit at performing them myself, in the spirit of the civil triumphs of this past week, I salute these daring, interpid women.  Let's see what the next hundred years bring...

(For a good film portrayal of a British suffragette, watch Mamet's version of the 'Winslow Boy - I reference the original in the book's first chapter, but the 1999 version with the divine Jeremy Northam is incisive and charming.  Incidentally, the director of the 1948 version is Anthony Asquith, who shares the same last name with the 1910s British Prime Minister who instigated the militant behavior of the suffragette movement, when at the last minute he withdrew his support for the women's vote because he feared women would not reelect him...)