Monday, February 20, 2012
Here's a short video about the underground group Castrum Peregrini during WWII narrated by historian Erik Somers from the Netherlands War Documentation Institute (The Institute is practically across the street from the site of the group's home at 401 Herengracht in Amsterdam during the war.) It's in Dutch, but from 2:54 to 4:24, you can hear the interview with me.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Since 1997 I have been working on a book about my father, a Dutchman, and his life in a group during World War II that was part underground anti-Nazi cell and part cultish circle devoted to the homoerotic pre-war German poet Stefan George. It was based in Amsterdam, headquartered in a stately old house on the Herengracht, one of the old city’s most elegant canals, where its members distracted themselves from the chaos outside its walls by the diligent study of George’s works and the those of other great canons of European literature.
The group’s leader was a charismatic gay German writer and self-styled pedagogue named Wolfgang Frommel, who saw himself as the leader of a new Platonic academy based on the Georgean model. (The group he founded has become the "scholars and artists community" called Castrum Peregrini.) In this photo from 1944, Guido is the one on the far right, first row.)
During the War, Frommel became friends with the great German painter Max Beckmann, who had fled to Holland when his work was condemned by the Nazis as "degenerate art." Beckmann's painting, The Argonauts, was said (by Frommel) to have been inspired by a conversation he had with the artist, wherein Frommel's circle was likened to Jason's Argonauts of Greek legend.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
In 1954, Guido met Nan Robertson in the Bahamas. (This was a year after my mother left him, with me in tow.) An English writer, she was living there with her husband. But she fell passionately and fatefully in love with Guido.
Two years later, she was to end her life when Guido ended their relationship -- and many blamed Guido for her death. The truth is more nuanced -- she suffered from manic depression (bipolar disorder) nearly all her life and had attempted suicide several times over the years.
When she killed herself, she left behind a memoir of her romance with my father, intense, poignant and, ultimately, searing. Re-reading it, as I am now, she captures Guido exactly: his voice, his persona. In this passage, early into the memoir, she is beginning to realize that the extremes of light and dark are inextricably knit together in his being:
Thursday, March 29, 2007
In the Fall of 2001I went to live in Provence, thinking I would write about my father, Guido Teunissen, at the home of a Dutchman who was connected to Guido's circle of friends in Holland during the War but who had moved to southern France post-war. But I arrived just after the 9/11 attacks, as it turned out, and I was paralyzed, unable to get down to work.
I settled in a tiny village of no more than one hundred souls, in the shadow of the plateau where the great Provencal writer Jean Giono created a community of visionaries, all passionately dedicated to the land and its people. Over the eight months I lived there, that land and its people stitched my world back up again, through the deep succor of the relationship between humans and the natural world that embraced them.
During my stay, instead of the book about Guido and the War, I wrote an unpublished memoir of my sojourn in Provence. Along the way, it came to me that Guido surely had guided me to the land of Jean Giono, since I discovered a way of life that expressed the values Guido held dear. Here's an excerpt from that memoir about a visit I paid to Guido's old homestead in France, where he went to live in the mid-1960's, after nearly 20 years in the New World, spent in New York, Mexico and, for the longest stretch, on the wild coast of Big Sur, California.