Monday, July 12, 2004

Stamps for the storyteller and the most beautiful place on Earth

Maud Newton uncovered a page of postage stamps commemorating Hans Christian Andersen.

My favourite are definitely the series from Poland, although the offerings from Monaco breathe a sweet, soft sadness.

Poland, 1987. Posted by Hello

(I have a particular fondness for Polish art of the 1980s, but more on this another time.)

Preparations for the celebrations of the writer's bicentenary are well under way.

He was a storyteller for children of all ages, but he was more than that. He was a critical journalist with great enthusiasm for science, an existential thinker, an observant travel book writer, a passionate novelist, a deft paper cut-out artist, a neurotic hypochondriac and a sex-fixated eccentric. He was a man with demons, dreams, yearnings and visions. He was a man of flesh and blood.

The biography by Jackie Wullschlager promises a colourful portrait.

Perhaps it's time to revisit the fairy tales with Helena. I read quite a number of them while I was nursing her, but I have doubts as to how much Helena retained and I certainly didn't give them my full attention.

They are dark but full of humanity. I don't feel the need to "protect" my baby from these stories. (I'll endeavour to record our progress here.)

Helena's familiarity with Hans Christian Andersen is limited to the musical, starring Danny Kaye, the acquisition of which I viewed as an investment. "Inchworm" is one of our most effective lullabies, though the beauty and simplicity of it may not lull Helena so much as my variations to the lyrics on the theme of mathematical combinations bore her to sleep.

I'd love to show her The Little Mermaid, an animated tale true to the text, from years before Disney Disney-fied the story. I remember seeing it at the theatre — must've been the early 80s — and it devastated me, but it stayed with me (in a good way).

In the spring of 1993 I spent a few weeks in Portugal. On the advice of a stranger, I took the train to Sintra and stayed a week. It's a short trip from Lisbon; by midmorning the main square is packed with tour buses, but they're all gone well before suppertime. No one ever stays. But I did, and to this day I think of it as one the most peaceful times of my life. The morning mist had a meditative quality. After an early breakfast of coffee and oranges, I walked. Just up the street from where I stayed was a modest cottage with a plaque commemorating Hans Christian Andersen's stay.

It's easy to see how that magical place can inspire fairy tales.

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