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I am a painter in search of an audience! Here are words to catch search engine hits: painting artist RISD New England Longmeadow Amherst Boston...more as I think of them. Check out my portfolio on a seperate website. The link is on the top of the righthand column

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ice Horses

I am currently reading the novel Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte, which is a pseudonym for Italian reporter Kurt Eric Suckert; his father was German. Apparently he was an early supporter of Mussolini but grew disenchanted and ran afoul of the fascist regime. He spent much of the Second World War on the eastern front as a correspondent for an Italian newspaper. During this time he was secretly writing this novel using his unique access to the Germans to write a powerfully poetic and horrifying account with some unusual insights into the Nazi psyche. The writing is incredibly beautiful or so at least the translation.

One of the most compelling and brutal stories is told in the chapter called Ice Horses. Our reporter is on the Finnish/Russian boarder where he is brought to see horses in a lake, frozen in place, with just their necks and heads above the waterline. "The lake looked like a vast sheet of white marble on which rested hundreds upon hundreds of horses' heads. They appeared to have been chopped off cleanly with an ax. Only the heads stuck out of the crust of ice. And they were all facing the shore. The white flame of terror still burnt in their wide-open eyes."

Earlier Finnish troops had trapped their Soviet counterparts up against the lake. A fire was started in the forest surrounding the Russians. They found themselves completely trapped with no avenue of escape allowed by the relentless Finns shooting in from outside the circle of fire. The horses went crazy with fear and risked the fire to escape. Those who escaped found refuge in the unfrozen lake. "The north wind swooped down during the night. (The north wind blows from the Murmansk Sea, like an angel of doom, crying aloud, and the land suddenly dies.) The cold became frightful. Suddenly, with the peculiar vibrating noise of breaking glass, the water froze. The heat balance was broken, and the sea, the lakes, the rivers froze. In such instances, even sea waves are gripped in mid-air and become rounded ice waves suspended in the void."

All winter long these "heads", "like wooden horses on a merry-go-round", were a source of amusement and play for the Finnish soldiers. They would climb and hang on the heads like giant toys. But come spring they had to dispose of the slowly rotting flesh. "A sweet and greasy odor floated in the mild air. It was near the end of April and the sun was already warm. For some days, since the thaw had set in, the heads of the horses gripped within the crust of the ice had begun to stink."

"When we reached the shore, the soldiers were already at work. Some fifty carcasses were heaped crossways on the sledges, they were no longer stiff, but limp, swollen, their long manes freed by the thaw were floating. the eyelids hung on their watery swelling eyes. The soldiers broke the ice crust with mattocks and axes and the horses floated upturned on the dirty whitish water filled with air bubbles and spongy snow. The soldiers roped the carcasses and dragged them to the shore. The heads dangled over the sides of the sledges. The artillery horses scattered through the forest and neighed, smelling that sweet and heavy odor, and the horses hitched to the shafts of the sledges answered with long lamenting neighs."

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