Category Archives: stories

Remembering the Man Who Planted Trees

Last night, I had the good fortune to sit in the town hall square of Tartu over a glass of wine with a friend. She is an author of children’s books, and now writing a novel for adults. And we share a passion for nature. She is more active in realizing that passion, and I respect her for it.

But I was able to offer her something she had not experienced yet. A film that was made of a story written many, many years ago called “The Man Who Planted Trees“.

The Man Who Planted Trees (French title: L’homme qui plantait des arbres) is a short story published in 1953 by French author Jean Giono. An allegorical tale, it tells the story of one shepherd’s long and successful single-handed effort to re-forest a desolate valley in the foothills of the Alps in Provence throughout the first half of the 20th century. It was written in French, but first published in English.

L'Homme qui plantait des arbres.jpg

I first saw this short film back in the 1970’s as a university student, and I never forgot it. There is something about its dreamy celebration of the simple pleasures of life —something  that man can, but rarely enjoys — that stuck with me, all through the years I spent in Boston, Washington, London, Philadelphia and now Tartu.

Here it is. Enjoy!

Estonian Essentials: Žorik Should be Remembered!

Žorik is a dog. These days, he is pampered in a family home. And that is good, as he is getting long in the tooth.

But for most of his life, Žorik was a street dog, who survived on his wits and friendships in the Kalamaya District of Tallinn. Indeed, Žorik is a bit of alegend there. A member of the community. Here he is


And he lived very well! His story is about freedom and friendship. And I love it. Of course we need a monument to that!

And the opening? Will our beloved friend attend?

Žorik himself will most likely not attend the event, as he dislikes both car rides and, in general, the public.

I approve.

Why the Illiad is Relevant Today

James Joyce thought that the Odyseey was critically important in modern times.

Ulysses eBook by James Joyce - 9781786825605 | Rakuten Kobo´

Why? I suppose it is because it is about the hero’s (Ulysses and the modern Ulysses, Bloom)  search for meaning amidst the challenges thrown at him by nasty outside forces. In the original, the outside forces are those mischievous  gods. One offends the gods at one’s peril!

In  Joyce’s version, it is the dehumanizing effect of  day to day life. in the modern world.  One lives as an outsider at one’s peril! But the adventure one finds in doing so may just make it worth while.

Here is an interesting factoid. In ancient Greece, the Illiad  was the great epic poem that taught something profound about life. Of the two great epics, it was the more important.

What did it teach?  It brings out a deep tension between the glory of fighting and the tragedy of killing.  One cannot have one without the other, and both are essential to form the character of a man – quest for glory and empathy for suffering and death. And in each sub-story within the Illiad, each is brought out.

So is this relevant today? While we do not accept that killing makes the man a hero,  I think we do well to think more deeply about this epic, and make it part of our  lives.

Why? Because no story offers meaning to us without dramatic tension. Indeed, you might argue that modern man’s failure to understand that basic idea about life has made him rather stupid —  endlessly trying to find meaning in events in themselves, and refusing to admit that events in themselves mean nothing. And so, we keep banging our heads against the wall and complaining that it hurts.

Can we better talk about the dramatic tension that frames our modern lives? I think so, and  I  offer two ideas that we might pursue.

The first is the  tension between self love and love of others. This is the story of Achilles.  Achilles is in love with his individual story. Indeed, that is the sole reason he came to fight at Troy — to create a story about himself that would be told for eternity. And he loves his closest companion,  Patroclus. When Patroclus dies, Achilles goes mad because he is complicit in his death. His self-love kills his friend.

In our modern world, we have no shortage of great evocations of self-love. Our modern egos rage. And yet, we seem less aware that our self-love must be balanced with a great love of others. We risk the same sort of outcome that Achilles created.

The second is the tension between lust for the present and stewardship of the future. This is the story of Paris. Paris steals Helen away to Troy — solely out of his passion for her. He knows it will lead to trouble, but he apparently cannot help himself. And this brings on the war that in the end destroys Troy.

In our modern world,  we are endlessly exhorted to make the most of the present. To live for “experiences”. To indulge in luxuries. And one wonders how well we see that this may be at the expense of the future our children will inherit.

  • tension one – self love versus love of others
  • tension two – present obsession versus future stewardship

My point — one can argue that our modern lives are bounded by these tensions. We can understand them, but we cannot escape them. They are at the core of our modern story. And yet, one may ask, do we have a modern epic poem that captures these tensions clearly and simply? An epic that we can turn to in order to better understand ourselves?

If this interests you, check out this fun video that takes you into the Iliad in more detail. I loved it!

An Update on Oskar the Rescue Cat – The News is Not Great

I posted a while back that I took in a homeless cat. He had been a long term friend, who for a number of years had used my back yard as an afternoon snooze zone. But something bad happened to him, and one day he turned up nearly dead.

He was emaciated and had two nasty wounds on his neck. Yeah, nicht gut!

So I took him in, gradually building trust one step at a time until he felt at home in the house. But he was not gaining a lot of weight, which was concerning. Then a visit to the vet confirmed that he had some bugs in his gut. So we started on some meds.

Things started to get a bit better, and Oskar even started to go back outside into the yard. But yesterday the vets came back with their MRI review. His kidneys are shot and he is not likely to make it.

While I knew this was a possibility, it is a blow to hear this bad news. So we will go forward, and I will keep Oskar as happy and comfortable as I can. The good news is that he is not in any pain. The illness will just rob him of energy and probably ruin his appetite.  No clue on how long this will take. Could be fast, or things might be ok for a while. We shall see.

Ah well. Nothing to do. We tend to take life for granted until we are faced with the prospect that it is nearly over. In that moment, we can choose to soldier on. And that is what we will do here.

Hitchcock Talks about his MacGurfins

Alfred Hitchcock was a master of the genre of filmaking that we cal “suspense” or “thrillers”. It is a genre that some say is not great art, but instead is just entertainment.

Of course, Hitchcock’s films ARE entertaining. They are some of the most entertaining films ever made. They pull you into a story and keep you focused until the very end. Not only that, but his endings are invariably satisfying. Good triumphs over evil — but it is always a close call.

Hitchcock pulled this off again and again, which implies that he knew what he was going. Put another way, he had a formula that he understood and used.

What was it?  You might expect that he would have been rather secretive about his formula. To the contrary, he was rather open. It all has to do with the supremacy of character and plot over MacGuffin.  He talks about that in some detail in this interview with Fracois Truffaut. Enjoy!

What Happened to Ivan Mamchur?

The answer o the question, unfortunately, is that Ivan was killed by an assailant by gun shots as he exited his apartment in Ukraine.

The story gets more engrossing when you star down the path of understanding who killed him, and why. It turns out that Ivan was on a list of men to be found and killed.

Each person on the list was assigned a code name related to flowers. One was ‘briar.’ Another was ‘buttercup.’ The target, a man named Ivan Mamchur, was called ‘rose.’

Amazingly, Michal Schwartz followed this story to its beginnings — and those were in Georgia during the Russian invasion.

It is not a pretty tale. But it is what happened. Check out the link above!

Selling Connection Rather than Things

You hear a lot about a crisis in retail.  This lead in sentence from a BI article gives you the feel

Retailers are bracing for a fresh wave of store closings in 2018 that is expected to eclipse the rash of closings that rocked the industry last year.

Bad news!  Or is it so bad? The broader picture is that consumers are no longer as satisfied as they once may have been by just buying stuff. They want something better, and they are able to find it in different settings than traditional stores.

Samsung thinks it knows what customers want. And they are experimenting with that idea in New York

… the New York City store’s employees won’t push guests to buy any Samsung products, and the space has only a small amount of inventory on site, but the store is selling something else: the idea that Samsung will make shoppers happier than any other tech company.

They are doubling down on the ongoing connection you make with their brand. Perhaps they learned a lesson from Apple, the company that pioneered this marketing approach.

Let’s see how this trend plays out in the new year. Old fashioned stores disappear – and new types of retail experiences that build connection take their place.