Del

Mediediett // sommer 2019

17/07/2019

Vigdis Hjorth - Fordeler og ulemper ved å være til

Jeg likte å lese boka, antakelig mest fordi jeg trengte noe som ga meg lite motstand, hadde en tøtsj av Dag Solstad og et persongalleri fra Tove Nilsen evt. Linn Ullmann. (…)
Det var en del prosa som virket slurvete (til å være Hjort), noe som bidro til følelsen av at boka ikke hadde så mye på hjertet, annet enn å bli utgitt?

Vigdis Hjorth - Leve posthornet!

Ellinor jobber i et sånn passe vellykket, mindre kommunikasjonsbyrå. Da en av de tre ansatte bare stikker av (men som viser seg å være et selvmord) blir Ellinor sittende med ansvaret for tekster og innhold til fagforeningen i Posten.
Boka kommer i Vigdis Hjorth-stil innom ganske eksistensielle temaer. Altså noe som tiltrekker meg og får meg til å fullføre boka - selv om jeg ikke syntes den var en “page-turner” (når leste jeg sist det forresten?)

Seinfeld

Etter at vi leverte vekk Get-boksen er det ingen som ser annet enn NRK på TV i stua. Og bra er det. Men jeg savner litt underholdning når jeg setter meg med kaffe og sjokolade tidlige morraer eller semi-sene kvelder. Derfor lastet jeg ned VLC til Apple-TV og henter Seinfeld og annet snadder fra Macen i annekset.

Le Monde diplomatique

Vågde endelig å lese Le Monde igjen etter et lite opphold. Nok et opphold, av den enkle grunn at jeg blir motløs av å lese om hvordan det står i verden på dypere plan.

Monty

Er stor fan av Jim Meddicks serie Monty. Denne serien er ikke trykket i bokform siden starten i 2001, men publiseres i noen tusen aviser nesten daglig. Altså er den litt vanskelig tilgjengelig. Jeg bruker av og til tid i arkivet på Comics.com og laster ned stripe for stripe i et langt regneark som etterhvert blir “min bok” med Monty-striper i kronologi.

… som vanlig - overhodet ikke en fullstendig liste. Må tenke gjennom hva jeg faktisk har konsumert denne sommeren og så oppdatere. Kanskje.

The art thief

05/03/2019

The Secrets of the World's Greatest Art Thief

Stéphane Breitwieser robbed nearly 200 museums, amassed a collection of treasures worth more than $1.4 billion, and became perhaps the most prolific art thief in history. And as he reveals to GQ’s Michael Finkel, how Breitwieser managed to do all this is every bit as surprising as why.

BY MICHAEL FINKEL

February 28, 2019

“Don't worry about parking the car,” says the art thief. “Anywhere near the museum is fine.” When it comes to stealing from museums, Stéphane Breitwieser is virtually peerless. He is one of the most prolific and successful art thieves who have ever lived. Done right, his technique—daytime, no violence, performed like a magic trick, sometimes with guards in the room—never involves a dash to a getaway car. And done wrong, a parking spot is the least of his worries.

Just make sure to get there at lunchtime, Breitwieser stresses, when the visitors thin and the security staff rotates shorthanded to eat. Dress sharply, shoes to shirt, topped by a jacket that's tailored a little too roomy, with a Swiss Army knife stashed in a pocket.

Be friendly at the front desk. Buy your ticket, say hello. Once inside, Breitwieser adds, it's essential to focus. Note the flow of visitor traffic and memorize the exits. Count the guards. Are they sitting or patrolling? Check for security cameras and see if each has a wire—sometimes they're fake.

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When it comes to museum flooring, creaky old wood is ideal, so even with his back turned, Breitwieser can hear footsteps two rooms away. Carpeting is the worst. Here, at the Rubens House, in Antwerp, Belgium, it's somewhere in between: marble. For this theft, Breitwieser has arrived with his girlfriend and frequent travel companion, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus, who positions herself near the only doorway to a ground-floor exhibition room and coughs softly when anyone approaches.

The Rubens House in Antwerp. The site of one of Breitwieser's more memorable heists.

Mark Renders/Getty Images

The museum is the former home of Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish painter of the 1600s. Breitwieser isn't interested in stealing a Rubens; his paintings tend to be extremely large or too overtly religious for Breitwieser's taste. What sets Breitwieser apart from nearly every other art thief—it's the trait, he believes, that has facilitated his prowess—is that he will steal only pieces that stir him emotionally. And he insists that he never sells any. Stealing art for money, he says, is stupid. Money can be made with far less risk. But stealing for love, Breitwieser knows, is ecstatic.

And this piece, right in front of him, is a marvel. He had discovered it during a visit to the museum two weeks previous. He wasn't able to take it then, but its image blazed in his mind every time he sought sleep. This is why he's returned; this has happened before. There will be no good rest until the object is his.

It's an ivory sculpture of Adam and Eve, carved in 1627 by Georg Petel, a friend of Reubens's, who, according to Breitwieser, gifted him the piece for his 50th birthday. The carving is a masterpiece, just ten inches tall but dazzlingly detailed, the first humans gazing at each other as they move to embrace, Eve's hair scrolling down her back, the serpent coiled around the tree trunk behind them, and the unbitten apple, cheekily, in Adam's hand, indicating his complicity in the fall of man, contrary to the book of Genesis. “It's the most beautiful object I have ever seen,” says Breitwieser.

Georg Petel’s ivory sculpture of Adam and Eve, stolen from—and later returned to—the museum at the home of Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerp.

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The ivory sculpture is sealed beneath a plexiglass dome fastened to a thick base, resting on an antique dresser. Breitwieser's first objective is to remove the two screws that connect the dome and the base. There's no camera here, and only one guard is in motion, poking her head in every few minutes.

The tourists, as usual, are the problem—too many of them, lingering. The room is filled with items Rubens had amassed during his lifetime, including marble busts of Roman philosophers, a terra-cotta sculpture of Hercules, and a scattering of 17th-century oil paintings.

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Patience is needed, but a moment soon comes when it's just Kleinklaus and Breitwieser alone, and in an instant he unfolds the screwdriver from the Swiss Army knife and sets upon the plexiglass dome. Breitwieser is shorter than average and tousle-haired, with piercing blue eyes that, for all his stealth, are often animate with expression. He is lithe and coordinated, and uses athleticism and theater in his work. Maybe five seconds pass before Kleinklaus coughs and he vaults away from the carving, reverting to casual-art-gazing mode.

It's a start. He has turned the first screw twice around. Each job is different; improvisation is crucial—rigid plans do not work during daytime thefts, when there are variables too numerous to preordain. During his previous trip to the museum, he had studied how the Adam and Eve was protected and had also spotted a convenient door, reserved for guards, that opened into the central courtyard and did not appear to have an alarm.

Over the course of ten minutes, progressing fitfully, Breitwieser removes the first screw and pockets it. He does not wear gloves, trading fingerprints for dexterity. The second screw takes equally as long.

Now he's set. The security guard has already appeared three times, and at each check-in Breitwieser and Kleinklaus had stationed themselves in different spots. Still, the time elapsed in this room has reached his acceptable limit. There's a group of visitors present, all using audio guides and studying a painting, and Breitwieser judges them appropriately distracted.

He nods to his girlfriend, who slips out of the room, then lifts the plexiglass dome and sets it carefully aside. He grasps the ivory and pushes it into the waistband of his pants, at the small of his back, adjusting his roomy jacket so the carving is covered. There's a bit of a lump, but you'd have to be exceptionally observant to notice.

Then he strides off, moving with calculation but no obvious haste. He knows that the theft will swiftly be spotted. He'd left the plexiglass bell to the side—no need to waste precious seconds replacing it—and the guard will surely initiate an emergency response. Though not, he's betting, quickly enough.

From the room with the ivory, the museum layout encourages visitors to ascend to the second floor, but Breitwieser pushes through the door he'd seen on his earlier trip, crosses the courtyard toward the main entrance, and walks past the front desk onto the streets of Antwerp. Kleinklaus rejoins him before they reach the car, a little Opel Tigra, and Breitwieser sets the ivory in the trunk and they drive slowly away, pausing at traffic lights on the route out of town.

Stéphane Breitwieser robbed nearly 200 museums to amass his secret art collection.

CHRISTOPHE KARABA/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Crossing international borders is stressful but low-risk. They travel from Belgium to Luxembourg to Germany to their home in France without incident, just another young, stylish couple out for a jaunt. It's the first weekend of February 1997, and both are only 25 years old, though Breitwieser's already been stealing art for a while.

The road trip ends at a modest steep-roofed house built amid the sprawl of Mulhouse, an industrial city in eastern France. The ivory might be worth a million dollars, but Breitwieser is broke. He does not have a steady job—when he is employed, it's often as a waiter. His girlfriend works in a hospital as a nurse's aide, and the couple live in his mother's house. Their private space is on the top floor, an attic bedroom and small living area that Breitwieser always keeps locked.

They open the door now, cradling the ivory, and a wave of swirling colors seems to break over their heads as they step inside their fantasy world. The walls are lined with Renaissance paintings—portraits, landscapes, still lifes, allegories. There's a bustling peasant scene by Dutch master Adriaen van Ostade, an idyllic pastoral by French luminary François Boucher, an open-winged bat by German genius Albrecht Dürer. A resplendent 16th-century wedding portrait, the bride's dress threaded with pearls, by Lucas Cranach the Younger, may be worth more than all the houses on Breitwieser's block put together, times two.

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In the center of the bedroom sits a grandiose canopied four-poster bed, draped with gold velour and red satin, surrounded by furniture stacked with riches. Silver goblets, silver platters, silver vases, silver bowls. A gold snuffbox once owned by Napoleon. A prayer book, lavishly illuminated, from the 1400s. Ornate battle weapons and rare musical instruments. Bronze miniatures and gilded teacups. Masterworks in enamel and marble and copper and brass. The hideaway shimmers with stolen treasure. “My Ali Baba's cave,” Breitwieser calls it.

His hideaway shimmers with stolen treasure. “My Ali Baba's cave,” he calls it.

Entering this place, every time, dizzies him with joy. He describes it as a sort of aesthetic rapture. Breitwieser sprawls on the bed, examining his new showpiece. The Adam and Eve ivory, after a four-century journey to arrive in his lair, appears more stunning than ever. It goes on the corner table, the first thing he sees when he opens his eyes.

During the week, while his girlfriend is working, he visits his local libraries. He learns everything he can about the ivory, the artist, his masters, his students. He takes detailed notes. He does this with nearly all his pieces—he gets attached to them. Back home, he meticulously cleans the carving, with soapy water and lemon, his thumb passing over the sculpture's every nubbin and ridge.

But this is not enough. His love for the ivory doesn't fade, that's not fair to say—he just has room in his heart for a little more love. So he consults his art magazines and auction catalogs. The Zurich art fair is about to begin. He plots a route into Switzerland, avoiding tolls to save money, and early the next Saturday morning they're back on the road.

Sibylle of Cleves by Lucas Cranach the Younger, thought to be worth roughly $4.8 million, was perhaps the most valuable piece in Breitwieser’s collection.

A still life of flowers by Jan van Kessel the Elder that was stolen from a village museum in Belgium, a country Breitwieser says attracted him "like a lover."

All his life, inanimate objects have had the power to seduce him. “I get smitten,” Breitwieser says. Before artwork, it was stamps and coins and old postcards, which he'd purchased with pocket money. Later it was medieval pottery fragments he'd find near archaeological sites, free for the taking.

When he covets an object, says Breitwieser, he feels the emotional wallop of a coup de coeur—literally, a blow to the heart. There are just things that make him swoon. “Looking at something beautiful,” he explains, “I can't help but weep. There are people who do not understand this, but I can cry for objects.”

His interactions with the world of the living were far less fulfilling. He never really understood his peers, or almost anyone else for that matter. Popular pastimes, like sports and video games, baffled him. He's never had any interest in drinking or drugs. He could happily spend all day alone at a museum—his parents often dropped him off—or touring archaeological sites, of which there are dozens in the area where he grew up, but around others he was sometimes hotheaded and temperamental.

Breitwieser was born in 1971 in the Alsace region of northeastern France, where his family has deep roots. He speaks French and German and a little English. His father was a sales executive in Switzerland, just over the border, and his mother was a nurse. He's an only child. The family, for most of his youth, was well-off, living in a grand house filled with elegant furniture—Louis XV armchairs, from the 1700s; Empire dressers, from the 1800s. His parents had hoped he'd become a lawyer, but he dropped out of university after a couple of years.

The Alsace region of France, where Breitwieser grew up, sits in the northeastern corner of the country, along the borders of Germany and Switzerland.

Christophe Dumoulin/Getty Images

His first museum heist came shortly after a family crisis. When he was 22 years old, still living at home, his parents' marriage ended explosively. His father left and took his possessions with him, and Breitwieser and his mother tumbled down the social ladder, re-settling in a smaller place, the antiques replaced by Ikea.

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Cushioning the trauma was a woman Breitwieser met through an acquaintance, a fellow archeology buff. Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus was the same age as Breitwieser, and similarly introverted, with a kindred sense of curiosity and adventure. She had a sly smile and an irresistible pixie cut. They shared a passion for museums, thrilled to be immersed in beauty. Breitwieser finally experienced a coup de coeur for an actual person. “I loved her right away,” he says. Soon after Breitwieser's father departed, Kleinklaus moved in.

A few months later, the couple were visiting a museum in the French village of Thann when Breitwieser spotted an antique pistol. His first thought, he recalls, was that he should already own something like this. Breitwieser's father had collected old weapons but had taken them when he'd left the family, not bothering to leave a single piece for his son. The firearm, exhibited in a glass case on the museum's second floor, was hand-carved around 1730. It was far nicer than anything his father had owned.

He felt an urge to possess it. The museum was small, no security guard or alarm system, just a volunteer at the entrance booth. The display case itself, Breitwieser noted, was partially open. He was wearing a backpack and could easily hide the pistol in there.

One must resist temptation, he knew. It even says so in the Bible, not that he was particularly religious. What our heart really wants, we must often deny. Maybe this is why so many people seem conflicted and miserable—we are taught to be at constant war with ourselves. As if that were a virtue.

What would happen, he wondered, if he did not resist temptation? If, instead, he fed temptation and freed himself from society's repressive restraints? He had no desire to physically harm anyone or so much as cause fright. He contemplated the flintlock pistol and whispered a few of these thoughts to his girlfriend.

Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus has never spoken to the media about her relationship with Breitwieser and any possible role in the crimes, and neither has Breitwieser's mother, Mireille Stengel. Though there exist supporting documents and reported accounts, much of this story is based primarily on interviews with Breitwieser. While he was in the museum, in front of the pistol, Kleinklaus's response, the way Breitwieser remembers it, made him believe that they were destined to be together.

“Go ahead,” she said. “Take it.” So he did.

From that moment on, he catered to his impulses in an unimaginable way. His only goal was to obey temptation. By the time he pilfers the Adam and Eve ivory, three years after stealing the pistol, he's amassed some 100 objects, all on display in his hideout. He is ecstatic beyond measure, cosseted like a king. He feels as though he and his girlfriend have discovered the meaning of life.

A curious thing about temptation, at least in Breitwieser's case, is that it never seems to abate. If anything, the more he feeds it, the hungrier it gets. The weekend after the ivory theft in Belgium, Breitwieser and Kleinklaus drive through the snow-streaked Alps to the Zurich art fair. Behind a dealer's back, quick as a cat, he steals a spectacular goblet, filigreed with silver and gold, from the 16th century.

Then they head to Holland for another fair, and at one booth, while the vendor is eating lunch and not keeping careful watch, Breitwieser takes a brilliant rendering of a lake bobbing with swans, dated 1620. At another booth, again with the dealer present, he removes a 17th-century seascape painted on copper.

A few weeks later, it's back to Belgium, to a village museum with a single security guard, where he takes a valuable still life, butterflies flitting around a bouquet of tulips, by Flemish master Jan van Kessel the Elder. This is followed by a trip to a Paris auction, where, at the pre-sale show, he steals a painting from the school of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Pieter Brueghel the Younger, two polestars of Renaissance art.

In the annals of art crime, it's hard to find someone who has stolen from ten different places. By Breitwieser's calculations, he's nearing 200 thefts and 300 stolen objects.

Once again he returns to Belgium—a country whose museums, says Breitwieser, “attract me like a lover”—and filches a vivid tableau of a rural market, then over to Holland to snatch a droll 17th-century watercolor of house cats chasing hedgehogs, followed by a journey to the northern French city of Lille for another Renaissance oil work, and finally, for good measure, one more raid in Belgium.

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All of this in a matter of months. These paintings alone represent a haul worth millions of dollars. And it's not just paintings—he also steals a gold-plated hourglass, a stained-glass windowpane, an iron alms box, a copper collection plate, a brass hunting bugle, a cavalry saber, a couple of daggers, a gilded ostrich egg, a wooden altarpiece, and a half-dozen pocket watches. Everything is crammed into the hideout, filling the walls top to bottom, overflowing the end tables, displayed in his closet's shoe rack, leaning on chairs, stuffed under the bed.

The collection is not random. Virtually everything he steals was made before the Industrial Revolution, in an age when items were all still formed by hand; no machines stamped out parts. Everything finely crafted in this way, Breitwieser believes, from medical instruments to kitchenware, is its own little work of art, the hand of the master visible in each chisel mark and burr. This, to Breitwieser, was the height of human civilization.

Today the world is wed to mass production and efficiency, much to our benefit. But a side effect is that beauty for beauty's sake seems increasingly quaint, and museums themselves, small ones especially, can have the whiff of the dying. Stocking pieces in his room, Breitwieser feels, is rescuing them, like pets from a shelter, giving them the love and attention they deserve.

The more he steals, the better he gets. He learns, with precision, the limits of a security camera's vision. He hones his timing and perfects his composure. “You have to control your gestures, your words, your reflexes,” Breitwieser says. “You need a predatory instinct.” He pounces the instant he senses everyone's attention is diverted. “The pleasure of having,” says Breitwieser, “is stronger than the fear of stealing.”

He tries to take only smaller pieces—with paintings, no more than about a foot by a foot—and if time allows, he prefers to remove the frame and hide it nearby, often in a bathroom, so the artwork disappears more completely beneath his jacket. He purchases new frames for most of the works. Sometimes he steals weapons, but he wouldn't think of brandishing one. To walk into a museum with a gun, he says, is disgusting.

The set of thefts he describes as the most exquisite of his career are a study in simplicity and sangfroid. They take place in Belgium, his beloved target, at the vast Art & History Museum in Brussels, which Breitwieser estimates employs 150 guards. There he and Kleinklaus spot a partly empty display case, with a laminated card inside that reads "Objects removed for study." Nothing in the case interests them, but Breitwieser has an idea and steals the card.

The Historical Museum of Mulhouse.

Rieger Bertrand/Getty Images

Breitwieser understands how security guards think. At age 19, he was employed for a month as a guard at the Historical Museum of Mulhouse, near his home. Most guards, he realized, hardly notice the art on the walls—they look only at people. Breitwieser's brashest thefts, like the Adam and Eve ivory, are spotted in minutes, but when he's furtive, hours often pass, and sometimes days, before anyone realizes what's happened.

In the Brussels Art & History Museum, he carries the "Objects removed" sign to a gallery with a display case of silver pieces from the 16th century. To break into this case, Breitwieser uses a screwdriver and levers the sliding door off its tracks. Other times, he carries a box cutter and slices open a silicone joint. For museums with antique display cabinets, he brings a ring of a dozen old skeleton keys he's amassed—often one of his keys is able to tumble the lock. Also handy is a telescoping antenna, to nudge a ceiling-mounted security camera in a different direction.

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He selects three silver items, a drinking stein and two figurines; then he sets the "Objects removed" card in the case and re-attaches the sliding door, and they leave the museum. They're already at the car before he realizes he's forgotten the lid to the stein.

Breitwieser detests missing parts or any sign of restoration. The items in his collection must be original and complete. Kleinklaus knows this, says Breitwieser, and she abruptly removes one of her earrings and heads back to the museum, her boyfriend in tow. She marches up to a security guard and says she's lost an earring and has a feeling she knows where it is. The couple are permitted back inside. They return to the case and he takes the stein's lid and, why not, two additional goblets from another case.

Two weeks later, they're back. Kleinklaus has changed her hairstyle, and Breitwieser has grown out his beard and added a pair of glasses and a baseball cap. At the display case, the "Objects removed" card still there, he grabs four more items, including a two-foot-tall chalice so breathtakingly gorgeous that Breitwieser suspends his size-limitation preference and, with nowhere else to put it, stuffs the item up the left sleeve of his jacket, forcing him to walk unnaturally, his arm swinging stiffly like a soldier's.

The sheer scale of the thefts is so far beyond that of nearly every other case as to be practically inconceivable.

On their way to the exit, they're stopped by a guard. They feign calm, but Breitwieser has a terrible feeling that the end has come. The guard wants to see their entrance tickets. Breitwieser, unable to move his left arm, awkwardly reaches across his body with his right to fish the tickets from his left pocket. He wonders if the guard senses something amiss.

A guilty person would cower and try to leave, so Breitwieser boldly tells the guard that he's heading to the museum café for lunch. The guard's suspicion is defused, and the couple actually eat at the museum, Breitwieser's arm held rigid the entire time.

They rent a cheap hotel room and wait two days and return yet again, newly disguised, and he steals four more pieces. That's a total of 13, and such is their level of euphoria that on the drive home they can't contain themselves and stop at an antiques gallery displaying an immense ancient urn, made of silver and gold, in the front window.

Breitwieser enters, and the dealer calls from atop a staircase that he'll be right down, but by the time he descends no one is there. Nor is the urn. They return to France plunder-drunk and giddy, and for fun, Breitwieser recalls, Kleinklaus phones the gallery and asks how much the urn in the window costs. About $100,000, she's told. “Madame,” says the dealer, “you really must see it.” He hasn't yet noticed it's gone.

Of course the police are after them. Investigations are opened after many of their thefts—witnesses questioned, sketches made. Yet no one's ever quite sure what they saw. Breitwieser is videoed in action in a museum in France, but the images are grainy. The best the French authorities are able to deduce is that several times a year, in seemingly random places, a man and a woman steal art together; they envision the criminals as a retired couple, nowhere close to their actual age.

The couple themselves keep tabs on their peril by reading newspaper coverage of their crimes. Some articles mention that law enforcement is sure that a large network of international traffickers are systematically stealing. The authorities, much to Breitwieser's satisfaction, seem to have no clue as to whom they are chasing—the sheer scale of the thefts is so far beyond that of nearly every other case as to be practically inconceivable.

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In the annals of art crime, it's hard to find someone who has stolen from ten different places. By the time the calendar flips to 2000, by Breitwieser's calculations, he's nearing 200 separate thefts and 300 stolen objects. For six years, he's averaged one theft every two weeks. One year, he is responsible for half of all paintings stolen from French museums.

By some combination of skill and luck, Breitwieser and Kleinklaus are doing everything right to avoid capture. They constantly shift the countries they target, alternating between rural and urban locations, large museums and small, while further mixing things up by stealing from churches, auction houses, and art fairs. They don't kick down doors or cover their faces with masks—actions that would trigger a much greater police response. Crime works best, Breitwieser believes, when no one realizes it's being committed.

Several times, he steals while they're on a guided tour, then casually continues the tour while holding the item. At an art fair in Holland, Breitwieser hears a shout of “Thief!” and sees security guards tackle a man. It's another burglar. Breitwieser takes advantage of the commotion and slips a painting under his coat.

There are, inevitably, several close calls. Once, Breitwieser accidentally shatters a glass display case. Another time, he returns to his car while holding sections of a 16th-century wooden altarpiece only to encounter a police officer in the process of giving him a parking ticket. While hiding the artwork beneath his jacket, he manages to persuade the officer to withdraw the ticket. Soon after a theft in France, roadblocks are set up on some of the routes leading from the museum, but Breitwieser and Kleinklaus manage to avoid being stopped.

Then they visit an art gallery in Lucerne, Switzerland. It's a hot day, and Breitwieser is not wearing a jacket that he can use to hide a stolen object—and even worse, they are the gallery's only visitors. The place is also directly across the street from a police station. Kleinklaus, according to Breitwieser, issues a warning. “Don't do anything,” she says. “I don't feel it, I'm telling you.”

But Breitwieser has spotted a 17th-century still life by Dutch painter Willem van Aelst that is simply too tempting. And it seems so easy to take. He puts the painting under his arm and walks out as casually as if he's carrying a baguette. A gallery employee instantly spots the theft, accosts the couple outside the gallery, and escorts them across the street to the police. Breitwieser and Kleinklaus remain in custody overnight but manage to convince the authorities that this is the first time they'd ever stolen and that they are terribly, deeply sorry. They are released with hardly any punishment.

Rattled, the couple make a vow never to steal in Switzerland again and decide to take a break from thieving entirely. The respite lasts all of three weeks before Breitwieser, at an auction in Paris, steals a scene of a grape harvest by Flemish painter David Vinckboons. After that, he returns to stealing as frequently as before.

An art thief Breitwieser admires, he says, is Thomas Crown, from the two Thomas Crown Affair movies. But that's fiction. Breitwieser is furious at nearly all actual art thieves, especially people like those who broke into Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. The two thieves took 13 works worth a total of $500 million, but they used knives to slice some of the paintings from their frames. Breitwieser would never consider cutting out a painting—that, he says, is vandalism. He wouldn't even roll up a canvas, an action that risks cracking the paint. “You roll up an old painting,” he says, “and you kill it.”

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About 50,000 artworks are stolen each year around the world, and according to the director of the London-based Art Loss Register, the most comprehensive database of stolen art, more than 99 percent of art thieves are motivated by profit rather than aesthetics. This is why art crimes are typically solved on the back end, when the thieves try to sell the work. But with Breitwieser, law enforcement's chief strategy—poring over art-market data, waiting for the stolen items to reappear—is dead on arrival.

A notion had been building in Kleinhaus that perhaps there's something more fulfilling than life as an outlaw and rooms filled with riches. She begins to feel suffocated.

Still, a multi-million-dollar collection of stolen art concealed in an attic bedroom in a middle-class suburb seems too extraordinary to remain secret forever. If just one friend found out, it's inevitable others would learn and the game would be finished.

Breitwieser and Kleinklaus, though, have no friends. “I've always been a loner,” he says. “I don't want any friends.” Kleinklaus, he claims, feels the same. They occasionally spend time with acquaintances but never invite anyone over. If repairs are needed in his room, he does them himself. Nobody is allowed to enter, ever, except him and his girlfriend. “We lived in a closed universe,” Breitwieser says.

They're both nearing 30 years old when their universe starts to crumble. A notion had been building in Kleinklaus ever since the night they spent in police custody in Switzerland—that perhaps there's something more fulfilling than life as an outlaw and rooms filled with riches. She'd like to start a family. But not, she realizes, with the man she's been dating for almost a decade. There is no option for a child in their conscribed existence. They could be arrested at any minute; they can't even entertain visitors. She begins to feel suffocated.

Breitwieser, meanwhile, says he feels “invincible.” Tension between the two intensifies, ugly fights erupt, and Breitwieser starts stealing alone. Any restraining influences Kleinklaus once provided are shed. From a village church not far from their house, he unbolts an enormous wooden carving of the Madonna and Child, weighing 150 pounds, and hauls it away, one strained step at a time, without the slightest attempt at stealth. If anyone had entered the church during the theft, he'd have been caught.

Later, in February 2001, at a hilltop castle, he removes a monumental 17th-century tapestry, larger than ten feet by ten feet, assuming ridiculous risk to steal it. There's no room in their lair for a trophy this size—it's left rolled up on a dresser—but Breitwieser tells his girlfriend they'll display it as soon as they are free of his mother and residing in a place of their own. By this point, Kleinklaus knows it's a fantasy. Living amid a mountain of stolen art, no matter where, can never offer true freedom at all.

After the police had taken their fingerprints in Switzerland, Breitwieser says, Kleinklaus fears that the prints are now filed in every nation's database. Even if she leaves him, she'll be hunted forever. What will they ever do with all this stuff? What's the endgame? She wants him to quit, but he doesn't even agree to abate. The best deal she can wrangle is a sworn promise that from now on, when stealing, he'll always wear surgical gloves, which she'll bring home from her job at the hospital. There is no endgame, Breitwieser says. He plans to keep going and going.

Albrecht Dürer's gouache of a bat, which dates to 1522, was a prominent component of Breitwieser's illicit collection.

Copyright: www.bridgemanimages.com

He returns from another thieving trip with a little curled bugle, dated from the 1580s, once used by hunters on horseback to communicate. It was a stylish theft, Breitwieser balancing atop a radiator to cut open a display case high on the wall, then delicately snipping the nylon cords holding the bugle in place. Kleinklaus is unimpressed. They already have one like it.

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“Did you wear gloves?” she asks, suspicious.

“I'm really sorry,” he says.

The one thing she'd been promised. Then she learns that he'd stolen the bugle in Switzerland, the one country where they'd vowed never to steal from again. He had even gone to a museum near Lucerne—the same city in which they'd been caught. They argue bitterly, and in the morning Breitwieser says he'll go back to Switzerland and erase the prints.

Breitwieser says that this idea doesn't work for Kleinklaus; she wants to go to the museum and clean the prints herself. It's too risky for him. Breitwieser says that at least he should drive, and she consents.

They're frosty to each other on the trip, but as they pull into the Richard Wagner Museum, housed in a country manor where the composer once lived, their spirits are buoyed. The one thing that can stir Breitwieser as much a magnificent artwork is a sublime sweep of nature, and this museum is on a lake cupped in the spiked mountains of Switzerland. He feels for a moment, as Kleinklaus opens her door, a handkerchief and a bottle of rubbing alcohol in her bag, that maybe they can again find their love.

“Stay in the car,” she pleads.

“I'm just going to take a little walk,” he says. “Don't worry.” And he, too, gets out, handing her the car keys to hold in her purse.

She enters the museum, pays the entry fee, and walks up to the second floor. Breitwieser, circling around the outside of the building, watches her progress as she appears in one window, then another. There's only one other person around, an older man walking a dog, who seems to stare curiously at Breitwieser before moving away.

A few minutes later, Kleinklaus exits the museum. She walks quickly toward him, nearly jogging, which is odd. They never wanted to appear as if they were fleeing. He has the impression that she's attempting to tell him something, but she is too far away to hear. He tries to decipher the anxious expression on her face as the police car pulls to a stop behind him. Two officers approach, handcuff Breitwieser, who is startled but doesn't resist, and place him in the back seat of the squad car and drive off.

The Richard Wagner Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland, where Breitwieser was taken into custody.

Martin Siepmann/Getty Images

He spends that night, November 20, 2001, in jail, and the next morning the interrogation begins. At the start of the questioning, says Breitwieser, he denied everything. After all, he didn't have any stolen items on him when he was arrested. But both the cashier at the museum and the dog walker who'd been on the grounds, says Breitwieser, have provided formal statements to the police.

The dog walker, a retired journalist, had read in that morning's paper about the Richard Wagner Museum theft, and when he saw a man there acting oddly, he went inside and mentioned it to the cashier. She looked out the window. The day the bugle was stolen, a total of three visitors had come to the museum, and this, she was certain, was one of them. He was wearing the same jacket. So she called the police. No one realized that Kleinklaus, who had overheard the conversation and was trying to warn him, had traveled with Breitwieser, and she was able to drive off in her car unnoticed.

Breitwieser realizes that to wriggle free from this jam, he needs to ensure that the authorities do not find out who he really is or send anyone to search his home. He tells the police that he'd come to Switzerland by train, alone, and admits to stealing the bugle. He explains, sorrowfully, that he is short of money and just wanted a nice Christmas gift for his mother. He has no idea, he adds, that the bugle is valuable; he was only attracted to it because of how shiny it was.

A passerby notices a shimmer in the water. He returns with a rake and finds a gold-plated chalice. When the police drain the canal, they discover objects likely worth millions.

In the course of his conversation with the officers, he learns that the police never even considered dusting for prints.

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Days drip by, then weeks, as he waits alone in his cell, worry mounting. He's not permitted to make phone calls, and he has the impression, he says, that the entire world has abandoned him. No one will give him any news.

What's happened is that the police have uncovered the report of Breitwieser's previous brush with the law in Switzerland. This was very intriguing. They'd at first assumed that Breitwieser was nothing more than a small-time thief who'd hoped to make an easy profit from a lightly guarded museum. Could he be something more?

Swiss authorities pursue an international search warrant for Breitwieser's residence in France. It takes a while to complete the warrant, but four weeks after his arrest, it's ready. A group of French and Swiss officers arrive at the house, hoping to find the bugle, and perhaps more. Breitwieser's mother is there and says she has no idea what they're talking about.

The officers enter the house, climb the stairs to the hidden lair, and open the door. And there, inside, they see no hunting bugle, no silver objects, no Renaissance paintings, no musical instruments. Not so much as the trace of a picture hook. Nothing but clean, empty walls surrounding a lovely four-poster bed.

Breitwieser remains in jail, knowing nothing. No one visits or writes. Christmas comes and goes without even a holiday card. He feels sick; he cries frequently. He has admitted to only the theft of the bugle, but he knows that he's close to breaking.

Soon after New Year's Day 2002, he is escorted from his cell and seated in an interrogation room, across the desk from a Swiss police lieutenant named Roland Meier. The officer opens a drawer, removes a single photo, and places it in front of Breitwieser. It's of a large commemorative medal that he had stolen from a different Swiss museum, a week before he'd taken the bugle. Breitwieser had imagined it could serve as a good-luck charm. The medal appears a little rusty and worn, and Breitwieser wonders what happened to it.

“We know you also stole this,” says Lieutenant Meier. “Tell us, and after that everything will be okay. We'll let you go home.”

Breitwieser swiftly confesses.

Just one more thing, says Lieutenant Meier, opening the drawer again and placing another photo before Breitwieser. This one is of a golden snuffbox, also slightly oxidized.

Breitwieser confesses to taking it as well.

And then, according to Breitwieser's version of these events, the officer pulls out a huge stack of photos, and Breitwieser realizes it's checkmate. There are pictures of an ivory flute from Denmark, an enameled goblet from Germany, silver pieces from Belgium, and even the very first item he stole, nearly eight years before—the flint-lock pistol from France.

He confesses to every one of them, providing details and dates. When the stack of photos is exhausted, he's admitted to stealing 140 objects. The lieutenant is staggered—he'd doubted this kid had stolen a single one of the items, let alone all of them.

Only now does Breitwieser see the police report that accompanied the photos. At the top it says “Objects found in the Rhone-Rhine Canal.” He's confused. The canal, part of the system built under Napoleon to connect the rivers of France, is a murky, slow-moving waterway not far from his home.

Then he realizes why the pieces seemed discolored—they must have been rescued from water. One more thing dawns on him as well. There were no photos of any paintings he stole. “What about the paintings?” he asks the lieutenant. And it's only then that he starts to find out.

In a partially-drained section of the Rhone-Rhine Canal, crews search for stolen artwork that had been tossed into the murky water.

What happened exactly remains a mystery. And because Breitwieser's mother and girlfriend have never talked to the media, the details may never be fully revealed. Breitwieser himself, though, has learned as much as he can, and combining his insights with police investigations and interviews, it's possible for him to piece together the events as he believes they may have occurred. Some specifics are lacking, and the precise time line is hazy, but not the result. The end, Breitwieser says, is always the same.

He envisions his girlfriend driving back from Switzerland, alone in the car, terrified. She's just witnessed his arrest and has not been caught herself. At least not yet. When she gets home, Breitwieser suspects, she tells his mother at least some part of the truth about the extent of the crimes. The fact that Breitwieser is in custody means the authorities will surely soon arrive and probably arrest both of them as well.

He aches for what he once was—“a master of the world,” as he puts it—and he weeps for what will never be again. The paintings especially. But also the sheer thrill of it.

It's now, Breitwieser presumes, that his girlfriend takes his mother upstairs to their hideout. When Breitwieser visualizes his treasures through his mother's eyes, they look different. She's not spellbound by color or entranced by beauty. His mother works full-time to house and feed her 30-year-old unemployed son and his girlfriend, and he's repaid her by breaking the law in a way that will likely ruin her life.

To her, his treasure is poison. She's always had a temper, and his mother's reaction, he's sure, is a boiling rage. Once she decides something, there's no bending her will. “She's like a wall,” Breitwieser says. And she makes a decision now, one of finality and force.

It likely began that evening. First, Breitwieser thinks, his mother and possibly his girlfriend clear off the furniture, empty the closet, and collect everything under the bed. It's all piled in bags and boxes, then carried downstairs and crammed into his mother's car until the vehicle is completely full.

It must be very late, Breitwieser believes, when they drive to the canal. They go to a spot where the waterway runs plumb straight through a quiet, rural area, bordered on both sides by sheltering trees, the trail alongside it often busy by day with cyclists and joggers. The two women, Breitwieser thinks, then toss piece after piece into the dark water. Even in these panicked, angry actions, Breitwieser sees a filament of love—his mother, in some way, is trying to protect him, to hide what he's done.

Some pieces aren't thrown far enough from shore, and a few days later a passerby notices an intriguing shimmer in the water. He returns with a rake and finds a gold-plated chalice. Then he rakes out three more pieces of silver and a jewel-handled dagger. He tells the police, and they eventually drain a section of the canal and discover a collection of objects likely worth millions.

Back at Breitwieser's house, probably the same night as the canal dump, his mother and perhaps his girlfriend again load the car, possibly this time with the bigger items, including the heavy Madonna and Child, the tapestry, and three paintings on copper panels. The Madonna and Child is deposited in front of a local church—his mother is observant—while the tapestry is discarded aside a road and the coppers are tossed into a wooded area.

All these items are eventually recovered. A passing motorist spots the tapestry and turns it in to the local police, who are not aware of its significance and unfurl it on the floor of their break room and play billiards on it for a while. The three 17th-century coppers are found by a logger, who brings them home and hammers them onto the roof of his henhouse, which had been leaking. They remain there until Breitwieser's story hits the news.

The paintings, Breitwieser believes, were the final step. His Renaissance paintings formed the heart of his collection and represented the majority of its value. Breitwieser is sure that as the pictures are pulled from the walls, Kleinklaus is in shock—all he'd wanted to do was protect them from an uncaring planet—but his mother, he knows, is unstoppable. Later his mother will purchase putty and wall paint to cover the holes, and she will also throw away everything else in the rooms, including his clothing and books. But for now his mother drives all the paintings to a secluded area.

She creates a big pile, Breitwieser imagines, the portraits and still lifes and landscapes all jumbled, the luminaries of Renaissance art—Cranach, Brueghel, Teniers, Dürer, van Kessel, Dou—gathered as one. Every piece has survived some 300 years, through Europe's bloody centuries, carrying its singular image to the world. Sixty-six paintings in total. In a haphazard heap.

A lighter is sparked and the flames rise, slowly at first and then wildly, oil paint bubbling, picture frames crackling, the great mass burning and burning until there's almost nothing left but ash.

After that, what does anything matter?

Breitwieser is so shattered that he's medicated and placed on suicide watch in the jail. Later he's just numb. He is charged with theft and goes to trial twice, in Switzerland and in France, and serves a total of four years in prison, the punishment modest because no one has been physically injured, and the value of his loot, which some sources placed at over a billion dollars, didn't affect the penalty—in the eyes of the law, there's little difference between mass-produced baubles and Renaissance masterworks.

In prison he meets with several psychologists. He's described in reports as an “arrogant” and “hypersensitive” man who believes he is “indispensable to humankind” but is never given a diagnosis and is not considered mentally ill at his trials. Because he specifically selected his loot, rather than randomly grabbing, and never displayed guilt about his actions, he doesn't fit the criteria for being a kleptomaniac.

Breitwieser's mother goes to trial for her role in destroying the works and is found guilty. She spends just a few months in jail. In court it was stated that she thought it was “just a bunch of junk” and that until her son's arrest, she had no clue he'd been stealing. Breitwieser supports these claims, testifying that his mother is unfamiliar with the art world and that he told her he'd picked up trinkets at flea markets. Even though he'd shared a house with her, he'd made sure, he adds, to keep his mother mostly shut out of his life and completely shut out of his room.

Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus spends just a single night in jail. The story she tells the court strains credulity. She had no idea, she says, that her boyfriend was a thief. “I never played the role of the lookout,” she adds. “There were paintings and objects in his room, but nothing struck me as unusual.” Breitwieser, testifying at the trial, doesn't contradict her, gallantly trying to protect her. If he can spare her some punishment, he will.

He believes his gesture may have worked, at least for her. She is never charged with destroying the art or convicted for direct involvement in the thefts, only for handling and knowledge of the stolen goods. Breitwieser realizes he's still in love and writes her repeatedly from jail. She's his last hope that something worthwhile will remain in his life. But there's never a reply to his letters, and eventually he finds out why. Shortly after his arrest, Kleinklaus had started another relationship, and soon thereafter she was pregnant. By the time Breitwieser learns this, she's the mother of a baby, and he vows never to see her again.

He's released from prison in 2005, and at the age of 33 he feels defeated. He had lived a hundred lifetimes while stealing, and now everything is colorless and dumb. He cuts trees for a while, he drives a delivery truck, he mops floors. The relationship with his mother is mended, though he rents a cheap apartment of his own.

As a result of his crimes, he says, he's not permitted to enter a museum or any other place showing art. He muddles away a couple of years, the bare walls of his apartment a kind of slow-drip torture, until, as it must with a mania like his, the deep-seated desire breaks through.

He goes to Belgium, and at an antiques fair, he sees a landscape that slays him—three people strolling through a wintry forest, by one of his favorites, Pieter Brueghel the Younger. He doesn't even try to stop himself and finds that his skills are still sharp.

With the painting hanging in his apartment, suddenly there's joy in his life. “One beautiful piece,” he says, “makes everything different.” A relationship blooms with a woman he's met, and he admits to her what he's done. She seems to accept the one theft—and, he insists, it's just this one theft—but when the romance ends, she informs the police, and Breitwieser is put in prison again.

By the time he gets out, he's 41 years old, creases at his eyes and a hairline in retreat. He has an idea that he'll launch a career as a museum-security consultant, but he's the only one who doesn't find this a joke. To hell with everyone, he thinks. “I can live on an island like Robinson Crusoe and it wouldn't bother me,” he says. He eats lunch most days with his mother and then wanders alone in the woods.

The problem is that he knows exactly what he wants. Just one more sensual blast like the thump he felt every time he unlocked the door to his lair. But when he closes his eyes and tries to conjure the scene, all he can see is a fire.

Then one day in early 2018, he comes across a brochure for the Reubens House Museum. And there it is, like a slap in the face—a photo of the Adam and Eve ivory, the first thing he'd once regarded every morning. It had been thrown in the canal, but ivory is sturdy and it hadn't been damaged. Now the piece is evidently back on display.

Just looking at the photo pries open some box inside him that he'd hoped had been forever sealed. He's not sure if he ever wants to see the ivory again or if he has to run immediately to the museum. For more than a month, he fights an internal battle before deciding that he needs to go.

In 2018, Breitweiser returned to the Reubens House Museum in Belgium and came face-to-face with the Adam and Eve ivory sculpture that he had stolen two decades prior. The ivory had been recovered, undamaged, from the Rhone-Rhine Canal.

Michael Finkel

He travels to Belgium, enters the Rubens House Museum, and heads to the rear gallery. And there it is, in the same spot, in a reinforced case. Twenty-one years have elapsed since he'd stolen it, but the ivory's power to enchant is unlimited. Breitwieser leans forward, knees bent, so that his face is directly in front of the carving. His eyes widen, his forehead scrunches—the look on his face a jumble of awe and distress. An electric intensity seems to build in him until it appears as if he's ready to combust.

He doesn't want to make a scene in the gallery, so he hurries out to the museum's courtyard. The air is warm, spring is coming. He shuffles foot to foot on the pale cobblestones; the wisteria on the walls is just starting to bud. The last time he'd been here, the ivory was under his jacket. This time he stands with nothing at all, tears blurring his eyes, mourning the lost years of his life—not when he was stealing, but since he's stopped.

He says he only realizes now, in hindsight, what he couldn't possibly have known then: His previous visit to this museum may have marked the high point of his entire life. The absolute pinnacle.

He aches for what he once was—“a master of the world,” as he puts it—and he weeps for what will never be again. The paintings especially. But also the sheer thrill of it. “Art has punished me,” he says.

Then he heads to the exit, through the gift shop, where the museum catalog is sold, with a photo of the ivory and a story of its theft. He has no cash—just to get here, he'd borrowed gas money from his mother—and out of habit he notes the positions of the cashier, the security guard, the customers. He checks to see if there are any security cameras. There aren't. He picks up a copy of the catalog and walks discreetly out the door.

Just recently, in early February of 2019, Breitwieser was arrested yet again. French police had reportedly been suspicious for several years that Breitwieser had resumed stealing and searched his residence in northern France. There, French authorities allegedly discovered Roman coins and other objects that police say may have been taken from museums in France and Germany. Breitwieser is currently incarcerated, pending further investigation, and has yet to respond to these newest allegations.

Weekendlesning

15/02/2018
 

Flyktinger mer lønnsomt enn narkotika

Om hvordan mafiaen har infiltrert asylpolitikken i Italia og nå tjener mer penger på å utnytte flyktninger og et pillråttent system (vi snakker jo om Italia som snart risikerer å få gjenvalgt Berlusconi!). Jævlig lesning, men derfor viktig.

The Guardian - Åpen→

 

Hvorfor er det snart tomt for vann i Cape Town?

Cape Town ser ut til å bli den første store verdensbyen som faktisk går tom for drikkevann. Estimert dato for skrekksceanrioet er 4 juni 2018. Sao Paulo er også helt på kanten og Barcelona var nærmest bare noen liter fra å gå tomme i 2008. Denne artikkelen beskriver litt av hvorfor Cape Town snart er tomme, og om hvordan byen ufrivillig blir en prøvesten på hvordan man kan takle dette i en tid med økende tørke og hvor været "flytter" seg, sannsynligvis direkte som en del av klimaendringene-

 The Atlantic - Åpen→

 

Östersund FK

 For syv år siden var den svenske fotballklubben Östersund i fjerde divisjon. Neste uke venter Arsenal i Europa League-sluttspillet.
Ballett, musikal, gjeldskrav og gigantinntekter: Östersund FK er et eventyr med mange akter. Feel-good lesing...

D2 - Lukket→

Weekend-lesning

02/02/2018

 What, when, where? An early raceguide

Den viktigste biten denne måneden; hvilke sykkelritt, når og hvor i februar og inn i mars.

 (Rouleur.cc - Åpen)

 

 Personal Shopper: Ubehaget i teknologien

Anmeldelse/essay av den franske regissøren Olivier Assayas´ teknomareritt av en film, Personal Shopper . Med denne har han laget sin hittil beste, mest relevante og mest foruroligende film.

(Morgenbladet- Åpen)

 

 Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Submission’ 

Da jeg skulle lese Submission (på norsk Underkastelse) gruet jeg meg litt fordi jeg blir litt urolig av den ekstreme polariseringen som hele tiden foregår mellom vestlig (vårt) levesett og den påståtte trusselen ekstrem Islam er for oss. Boka og Houllebecq er for lengst både demonisert og elsket, så for en gangs skyld ville jeg vite mer om en bok før jeg leste den enn ellers. (Å lese anmeldelser før jeg leser bøker er oftest bare forstyrrende da jeg ikke stoler nok på meg selv som leser til å ikke lete etter hva en eller annen anmelder har lest, altså at jeg prøver å finne det i teksten i stedet for å lese med "egne øyne".
Men altså, denne gang gjorde jeg det fordi jeg fant anmeldelsen i NYTimes arkiv og boka har stått der i bokylla og gitt meg dårlig samvittighet.
Selvsagt en knallbra anmeldelse... (jeg sier ikke Knausgård mener at boka er knallbra (les og finn ut), men anmeldelsen som tekst i seg selv er bra.

(NYTimes - Åpen)

 

 Å springa langt og lenge i livet

Andreas Homplands eassy om det å løpe, eller springe som han sier. Teksten er fra 2009, men jeg hadde bare lest den en gang før før den ble publisert på nytt i Harvest.as Han skriver så bra om å løpe som jeg ønsker noen kunne skrive om å sykle. (Tim Krabbé gjør forsåvidt det...)

(Harvest.as - Åpen)

 

 Jenta på broa

God reportasje om barnevernsjenta som flere ganger truet med å hoppe fra Varoddbrua og som i sommer knivstakk to personer inne på Sørlandssenteret, der den ene, Maria Skuland, døde av skadene. Dette er bra journalstikk av FVN og det er også en bra lay-out på reportasjen. Det er også et viktig grep for å holde på lesere, tror jeg.

(FVN.no - Abo)

 

Hjernekirurgi

10/09/2017

By KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD

Photographs by PAOLO PELLEGRINDEC. 30, 2015

 

Gjinovefa Merxira after her operation. Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for The New York Times

I arrived in Tirana, Albania, on a Sunday evening in late August, on a flight from Istanbul. The sun had set while the plane was midflight, and as we landed in the dark, images of fading light still filled my mind. The man next to me, a young, red-haired American wearing a straw hat, asked me if I knew how to get into town from the airport. I shook my head, put the book I had been reading into my backpack, got up, lifted my suitcase out of the overhead compartment and stood waiting in the aisle for the door up ahead to open.

That book was the reason I had come. It was called “Do No Harm,” and it was written by the British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. His job is to slice into the brain, the most complex structure we know of in the universe, where everything that makes us human is contained, and the contrast between the extremely sophisticated and the extremely primitive — all of that work with knives, drills and saws — fascinated me deeply. I had sent Marsh an email, asking if I might meet him in London to watch him operate. He wrote a cordial reply saying that he seldom worked there now, but he was sure something could be arranged. In passing, he mentioned that he would be operating in Albania in August and in Nepal in September, and I asked hesitantly whether I could join him in Albania.

Warning: Images in this article may be disturbing to some viewers.

Now I was here.

Tense and troubled, I stepped out of the door of the airplane, having no idea what lay ahead. I knew as little about Albania as I did about brain surgery. The air was warm and stagnant, the darkness dense. A bus was waiting with its engine running. Most of the passengers were silent, and the few who chatted with one another spoke a language I didn’t know. It struck me that 25 years ago, when this was among the last remaining Communist states in Europe, I would not have been allowed to enter; then, the country was closed to the outside world, almost like North Korea today. Now the immigration officer barely glanced at my passport before stamping it. She dully handed it back to me, and I entered Albania.

In the arrivals hall, a young man dressed in a bright white shirt came over.

“Welcome to Albania, Mr. Knausgaard. My name is Geldon Fejzo. Mr. Marsh and Professor Petrela are waiting for you at the hotel. The car is right outside.”

The car was a black Mercedes, with leather seats and air conditioning. It turned out that Fejzo had just completed his medical training as a neurosurgeon. He was 31 and had studied in Florence. He had also worked as an intern for a few months at a London hospital with Mr. Marsh, as he called him, in the manner long preferred by British surgeons.

“What is he like?” I asked.

“Mr. Marsh?”

I nodded.

“He’s a fantastic person,” Fejzo said.

Marsh was in Tirana to demonstrate a surgical procedure he helped pioneer, called awake craniotomy, that had never been performed in Albania. The procedure is used to remove a kind of brain tumor that looks just like the brain itself. Such tumors are most common in young people, and there is no cure for them. Without surgery, 50 percent of patients die within five years; 80 percent within 10 years. An operation prolongs their lives by 10 to 20 years, sometimes more. In order for the surgeon to be able to distinguish between tumor and healthy brain tissue, the patient is kept awake throughout the operation, and during the procedure the brain is stimulated with an electric probe, so that the surgeon can see if and how the patient reacts. The team in Albania had been preparing for six months and had selected two cases that were particularly well suited to demonstrating the method.

I leaned back in my seat and looked out into the darkness, which extended all around, as if we were deep in the countryside, and then increasingly it was broken up by lights from houses, shops, intersections. As always when I was in a car driving toward a large town, I thought of a poem by the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer; it had become almost compulsive. “The funerals keep coming/more and more of them/like the traffic signs/as we approach a city,” he wrote toward the end of his life. And then I thought of something Marsh put in his book, a quote from the French physician René Leriche that begins: “Every surgeon carries within himself a small cemetery.”

We stopped at a red light. A large square spread out before us.

“That’s the national museum,” Fejzo said, pointing at an imposing building on the left. “The Chinese built it during the Communist era. And there, on the other side, is the opera. The Soviets built that.”

I bent my head toward the window and stared up at a giant mosaic of people in heroic poses. A shiver ran down my spine. If there is one thing I have a weakness for, it is the Communist Era, especially the secretive culture behind the Iron Curtain, with its working-class heroism, its celebration of industry, its massive architecture, its Tarkovsky films, its cosmonauts and its supernatural ice-hockey teams. I don’t know why it appeals to me, because in actual fact I oppose everything it represents: the veneration of the collective, the industrialization of everyday life, the monumental aesthetics. I believe in blundering man and in the provisional moment. But something about the aura of the Soviet Age attracts me, sometimes with an almost savage force.

The car swung to the side and stopped next to the hotel. A group of people were seated around a table outside, and they stood up as we walked over. I recognized Henry Marsh from photos and from a documentary about him.

“Ah, the famous writer has arrived!” he said.

He was shorter than I expected, with a body I at once thought of as tough and resilient; his movements had a touch of old age about them, while his eyes, the upper part of which were hooded by his lids, looked simultaneously energetic and mournful.

 

Dr. Henry Marsh after performing surgery in Tirana. Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for The New York Times 

His handshake was firm, and I glanced surreptitiously at his hands, which were sturdy, with broad fingers, like the hands of a craftsman.

Fejzo introduced me to the others. Paolo Pellegrin, the photographer who would be recording the procedure, a tall man with curly hair and glasses who appeared to be in his late 40s; his strikingly handsome young assistant, Alessio Cupelli, who had covered his long dark hair with a head scarf; and Mentor Petrela, who ran the department of neurosurgery at the hospital in Tirana. He was in his mid-60s, elegantly dressed, smiling, his eyes full of warmth.

“We have booked a table at a restaurant nearby,” he said. “Do you want to join us?”

At the restaurant, we gathered outside on a narrow terrace just as a call to prayer was sounding. Fejzo conferred with the waiter, and while Marsh and Pellegrin took up their previous conversation, I listened to the strange voice of the muezzin rising and falling out in the dark. I didn’t understand the words, but the sound of them filled the air with mournfulness and humility. Man is small, life is large, is what I heard in the ring of that voice.

Pellegrin removed his glasses and rubbed his eye, and after he replaced the glasses, he looked at me.

“We’re talking about an eye ailment that I have,” he said. “My vision is gradually getting worse and worse.”

“He wonders whether that is what is driving him on,” Marsh said. “Knowing that his time as a photographer is limited.”

“You’re a war photographer, aren’t you?” I said.

“That too, yes,” Pellegrin said.

“Do you see any similarities with what you do?” I said, turning to Marsh. “Brain surgery is about life and death, too, isn’t it?”

“No, no, not at all,” he said. “As a neuro-surgeon, you’re not risking anything personally. I’m a coward. I’m full of anxiety, you know.”

The waiters, all of them young men with close-cropped hair, came gliding up with the hors d’oeuvres, and soon the plain white table, until then colored only by the pale green olive oil in transparent bottles, was filled with dark red tomatoes, green lettuce, blue-black octopus sliced to expose dazzling white flesh, pink shrimp, reddish brown slabs of ham, slices of beige bread with dark, almost black crust.

It was Marsh who kept the conversation going during the dinner. He explained the awake craniotomy procedure, saying that for a neurosurgeon, it is a constant temptation to try to remove the entire tumor, but if you go too far, if you remove too much, the consequences can be severe. It may lead to full or partial paralysis of one side of the body or other functional impairments or personality changes. When the patient is awake, this allows the surgeon first of all to determine where the dividing line lies, and second, to observe the consequences of the procedure directly and immediately, and stop before any serious damage is done.

Marsh was articulate, well informed and entertaining. He spoke just as easily about political conditions in Zimbabwe or the books of the German writer W. G. Sebald, which he loved, as he did about the various parts of the brain. At the same time, I had the feeling that something else was going on within him that had little to do with the conversation at hand. When someone said something, he might say, “Exactly,” and elaborate on the theme, but he might also become very quiet, as if he had fallen out of the world, into himself. And that’s where he doesn’t want to be, it occurred to me, as we sat around the table talking, under the strong light of the ceiling lamps, the sparkle of the glasses on the table and the gleam of the white tablecloth intensified by the dense, impenetrable darkness beyond the green bushes that grew on the terrace wall.

Before he decided to become a surgeon, Marsh studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University, where he took an interest in the Soviet Union. After the Cold War ended, he began working pro bono at a neurosurgical ward in Kiev, where conditions were primitive and appalling. The 2007 documentary about his work there, called “The English Surgeon,” showed some unbelievably brutal operations; in one, they used a Bosch drill, the kind you would buy in a hardware store, to open the skull; in another they used a wire saw, which sent dust flying and blood spattering. He sent the surgeons medical equipment; once he drove there in his own car, loaded with instruments. Seven years ago, he operated on the future British ambassador to Albania and made friends with her, and she introduced him to Petrela.

“We became friends instantly,” Petrela said as Marsh told the story. “Instantly! Henry Marsh is an honest doctor. His book is all about honesty. The truth. It is so important, the truth.”

“Was it because of your son that you specialized in neurosurgery?” I asked, as I leaned back to make room for the waiter, who was laying lettuce on my plate with a pair of tongs.

Marsh’s eyes narrowed, and the corners of his mouth pulled back in a grimace, while he spread his hands as if to say that he had been asked this question many times and that it might perhaps seem that way, but it probably was not the case.

“You can never know, can you,” he said. “Maybe it played a part. But not consciously in that case. Either way, there is no doubt that it made me a better doctor.”

His son was only a few months old when he underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor, while Marsh was still a medical intern. In his book, he describes the wild despair and the total helplessness he felt waiting to hear the results, before it became clear that the operation was successful.

“What I do keeps the wolf from the door,” Marsh said. “Maybe that’s why I have been doing it all these years. It has been a way to keep the wolf from the door.”

When the alarm on my cellphone woke me the next morning, I had a faint memory of having panicked during the night, that I had gotten up abruptly from the bed, unable to remember where the children were. Where are the children, where are the children, I had thought, looking for them in the bathroom, out on the balcony, down on the floor by the bed. But no children. Where were the children? I finally realized that I had been walking in my sleep, but I still couldn’t understand where I was or where the children were. Had I lost them? Then I remembered everything, and it was as if I had suddenly become one with myself and with the room I was in. Everything made sense and, relieved, I had lain down to sleep again.

I showered quickly, dressed and went to the reception area, where Marsh, Pellegrin, Cupelli and Fejzo were already gathered and two cars were waiting to take us to the hospital. We seemed to be driving through a different city. What in the evening had seemed dark and mysterious was now flooded in sunlight, completely stripped of its mystery. We followed a river, framed in concrete, upward, past row after row of brick houses, many of them run-down, full of small, makeshift cafes and simple shops. The mountains beyond the city, which I noticed only now, rearing up steeply, faintly blurred by the haze, but still a clear green against the cloudless blue sky, seemed to frame the town and to provide its distinct character. They stood there as motionless witnesses to the human struggle against entropy, just as they had when this land belonged to the Roman Empire in the fourth century and to the Ottoman Empire in the 17th.

The cars slowed down, and we parked in front of the hospital, a plain, functionalist concrete building, the sharp angles and hard planes of which contrasted with the people outside, sitting or standing in the sunlight with their soft bodies, wearing floral-print dresses or shirts and suit trousers, not unlike the way my grandparents dressed, I thought, in the 1950s and ’60s.

Inside at the neurosurgical ward, Petrela stood waiting for us, immaculately dressed and smiling broadly.

“Welcome, my friends,” he said. “You can leave your things in my office, if you like. And then I can show you the operating theaters.”

We were fitted with surgical gowns, caps and face masks and taken to the second floor, through a small labyrinth of corridors and into the operating theater.

To my horror, an operation was in progress.

The silence was total. The single focus of attention was a head clamped in a vise in the middle of the room. The upper part of the skull had been removed, and the exposed edge covered in layer after layer of gauze, completely saturated with blood, forming a funnel down into the interior of the cranium. The brain was gently pulsating within. It resembled a small animal in a grotto. Or the meat of an open mussel. Two doctors were bending over the head, each of them moving long, narrow instruments back and forth inside the opening. One nurse was assisting them, another was standing a few yards away, watching. A whispery slurping sound issued from one of the instruments, like the sound produced by the tool a dentist uses to suck away saliva from a patient’s mouth. Next to us was a monitor showing an enlarged image of the brain. In the middle, a pit had been scooped out. In the center of the pit was a white substance, shaped like a cube. The white cube, which appeared to be made of firmer stuff, was rubbery and looked like octopus flesh. I realized that it must be the tumor.

One doctor looked up from a microscope that was suspended over the brain and turned to me. Only his eyes were visible above the mask. They were narrow and foxlike.

“Do you want to have a look?” he asked.

I nodded.

The doctor stepped aside, and I bent down over the microscope.

Oh, God.

A landscape opened up before me. I felt as if I were standing on the top of a mountain, gazing out over a plain, covered by long, meandering rivers. On the horizon, more mountains rose up, between them there were valleys and one of the valleys was covered by an enormous white glacier. Everything gleamed and glittered. It was as if I had been transported to another world, another part of the universe. One river was purple, the others were dark red, and the landscape they coursed through was full of strange, unfamiliar colors. But it was the glacier that held my gaze the longest. It lay like a plateau above the valley, sharply white, like mountain snow on a sunny day. Suddenly a wave of red rose up and washed across the white surface. I had never seen anything quite as beautiful, and when I straightened up and moved aside to make room for the doctor, for a moment my eyes were glazed with tears.

In the courtyard outside, the air was filled with voices, the roar of engines, the shrill rasping of cicadas. The people there, sitting or standing, some chatting busily, others silent and withdrawn, were the patients’ relatives, who spent their days out here to be close to their loved ones, Fejzo had told me.

I lifted my gaze and stared up toward the top floor of the hospital wing. It was hard to imagine that the silent, faintly humming room, with its islands of high-tech equipment, was just a few yards away from the chaos out here. Still harder was grasping that within that room, there was an opening into yet another room, the human brain.

Did I really look straight into it?

I felt a sudden, sharp pang of guilt. That brain was part of a human being, with a personality entirely its own. But I had peered into it and thought of it as a place.

I went back inside and found Petrela and Marsh sitting in the outer office, drinking coffee and chatting.

“Are you ready to meet the first patient?” Marsh asked.

I nodded.

Marsh always spoke with the patient before and after the operation; he repeated several times that this could be the hardest part of his job. He had to tell the truth, yet at the same time he must not deprive the patient of hope.

“You can meet him in my office,” Petrela said.

I followed Marsh into the next room, where we sat down around Petrela’s desk. Soon there was a knock on the door. The patient, a short, stocky man with a strong, youthful face, and Florian Dashi, the neurologist who would talk to him during the operation, walked in together. The patient smiled, and his movements seemed confident, but in his eyes, there was a hint of concern, maybe even fear.

His name was Ilmi Hasanaj. He was 33 and worked as a bricklayer in Tirana. He lived on the outskirts of town and was married but had no children. He had been working at a building site, he said, on the roof, and in the middle of the day he had gone to fetch something in a storeroom when his left arm and hand began to tremble uncontrollably. His mouth and his left eye moved uncontrollably, too. He managed to sit down on a chair. Some colleagues, recognizing that something was seriously wrong, took him to the hospital.

“What did you think was happening?” I asked.

“I thought maybe I was just tired and stressed out,” he said. “I had been working a lot lately.”

There was a pause.

“Are you afraid of the operation?” I asked.

He nodded even before Dashi could interpret the question.

“Yes.”

Marsh leaned forward.

“I have done over 400 of these operations,” he said. “My experience with English patients is that it’s usually very easy for them. And I suspect that the Albanians are much tougher than the English. I believe that the Albanians will do very well.”

Hasanaj laughed when this was interpreted.

“It’s not painful,” Marsh said. “The reason for doing the operation like this is to make it safer. First we will touch your brain with a little electric instrument that I brought from London, and when we touch the movement area, we’ll make you move. And that way we’ll know where the movement area is. And the second part is, as we remove the tumor, we’ll be continuously asking you to move your foot, to move your knee, to move your hip, to move your fingers, to see if you can still move them. And if, when we are removing the tumor, you start to feel a little weak, then we’ll know that it’s time to stop. It is quite possible that after the operation there will be some weakness on your left side, but you almost certainly will get better. The risk of leaving you permanently paralyzed is not zero, but it is very small, less than 1 percent. I hope we can remove all of the tumor, but we might not, and you will need brain scans in the years to come. If there is no weakness after the operation, I hope you will be back to bricklaying in five or six weeks.”

 

Ilmi Hasanaj awaits surgery to remove a brain tumor. Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for The New York Times 

The next time I saw Hasanaj, later that afternoon, he was under general anesthesia and lying beneath a sheet in the operating room, with only his skull visible, clamped in a metal vise. His head was partly shaved in preparation for the initial opening of the skull. The actual removal of the tumor would take place tomorrow. Marsh more often performed both steps in a single day, but in this case, largely because it was a new procedure for this hospital, the operation would take place over two consecutive days. Petrela and his assistant surgeon, Artur Xhumari, the man with the foxlike eyes, bent over the patient. Petrela waved a small mapping device around the head as he looked up at a monitor. The images on the screen, which showed the brain, changed as he moved the device, like the ultrasound images I had seen of my children when they were in my wife’s belly.

Petrela and Xhumari conferred in low voices, and I guessed they were deciding where to open the skull. Then Xhumari placed the scalpel two inches above the ear and pushed it hard, down through the skin. Blood oozed up through the cut and ran down along the side of the head. Xhumari drew the scalpel in a semicircle across the crown. Petrela used a suction device to suck up the blood that was seeping out. Then, with a flat instrument that he inserted into the incision, Xhumari folded back the skin, along with the flesh beneath it and the sinews that fastened it to the skull. Inch by inch, the scalp loosened from the bone of the skull. He partly cut, partly pushed and scraped it loose from the underside, while simultaneously pulling it backward from above, as if he were peeling an unripe fruit, the skin of which still clung to the flesh. When he had finished, he folded the scalp over to the side and quickly covered it with gauze pads, which immediately turned red with blood.

The skull, now laid bare, was yellow-white, with thin stripes of blood trickling in all directions. Xhumari brought out a shiny metal instrument, shaped like a baton or a large soldering iron, with a bit at the end. He placed the bit against the crown and started to drill. A hard, buzzing sound rose faintly through the operating room. A small pile of finely ground bone formed around the bit as blood flowed down over the hard skull. When the drill had gone through the bone, Xhumari pulled it out; the result looked like the hole for a screw in a piece of plastic furniture. Xhumari made two more holes just like it. Then he took up another instrument, also made of shiny metal, and inserted the tip into the first hole. I realized that this was the saw. It, too, buzzed hard and intensely, and seemed to get louder as the work got heavier. Xhumari dragged it slowly along toward the second hole, while Petrela sucked away the blood and the bone dust. A narrow crack grew slowly behind it, as when you cut a hole in the ice with a saw. When the saw had come full circle and reached the first hole from the opposite side, Petrela lifted the top of the skull like a lid and held it up into the air in front of me.

“Every brain surgeon, at some point in his career, drops this on the floor,” he said, laughing. He handed the bloody lid to the nurse, who placed it on a dish and covered it with a green plastic sheet.

Under the opened skull lay a wet, blood-tinted membrane.

“That’s the dura mater,” Petrela said. “The outermost of the meninges.”

Xhumari cut into it with scissors, creating a flap. Its underside was white and resembled a piece of soaked cloth. He gently pulled the flap back, exposing the brain. It pulsated slowly and looked bluish in the sharp light of the lamps.

“Now we sew it up again,” Petrela said. “And we’re all set for the operation tomorrow.”

The whole process was reversed. They sewed the meninges back down, and the nurse handed Xhumari the lid of the skull. When he pressed it into place, blood oozed up, as if he had put the lid on a cup that was overflowing with thick cranberry juice. They fastened the lid with metal clips, then stitched the scalp back together.

Not once had it crossed my mind that it was Hasanaj they were slicing into.

 

Ilmi Hasanaj before leaving the operating room. Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for The New York Times 

Petrela invited us all to dinner at his apartment that evening. His family owned a building in the center of town, just above the central mosque. His predecessors had been politicians and businessmen; his great—grandfather was prefect of Tirana when the city capitulated to the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I. His grandfather traded in olive oil and was wealthy; it was he who had built the building, in 1924. When the Communists came to power after the war, the family lost the house; it was confiscated, as all bourgeois homes were. His father, who was a professor, had to teach at a primary school in a village in the mountains far outside Tirana, Petrela told me in the twilight on the terrace that ran around the top of the apartment. His voice was full of sorrow when he spoke about his father.

“He told me we had to put on a mask before going out,” Petrela said. He pretended to put a mask on his face with his hands and made a zippering motion across his mouth. “And then we took it off again when we closed the door behind us back home. I have a mask hanging on the wall in the hallway to remind myself.”

He laughed. It struck me that Petrela was still, first and foremost, a son, for that was the nature of his charm — boyish, joyful, vulnerable somehow. But at the same time I sensed that there was a great deal here that I didn’t understand. I had noticed that his word was law to the other hospital employees, and for the neurosurgical ward at the hospital in Tirana, which otherwise was poor and lacked resources, to be able to perform at such a high level, which Marsh called “state of the art,” surely something more than kindliness was needed.

Standing there in the darkness, beneath the stars, while the sounds of the city below us came rising up through the air, Petrela then told me a story about his former boss: that he used to remove certain types of brain tumors with his index finger. No instruments, nothing, he just poked his finger down into the brain and — plop! — out came the tumor.

Petrela gave a demonstration. He held his long index finger up in the air, bent it like a hook and pretended to jerk something out while he laughed.

As he did it, I knew I would remember the gesture for the rest of my life.

Dinner was served in a dining room, two floors below, that was furnished as it must have been in the 1920s. The ceiling and the floor were both made of dark wood, and the walls were covered with paintings; a long, antique pistol lay atop a rustic chest, and hanging in one corner was a white dress like the one, Petrela said, that his grandmother wore to her wedding. It was a deeply romantic room.

Not until we were seated around the table, which was covered with a white tablecloth, stiff and formal, but also beautiful, set with porcelain and crystal, did I think about what I had seen only a few hours earlier, the drill that penetrated Hasanaj’s skull millimeter by millimeter, the lid that Petrela had then removed. Hasanaj must be awake now, I thought. He was lying awake in his hospital bed, with strange pains in his head and the thought that tomorrow he would remain awake while two doctors — the ones who were sitting here now, eating and drinking and talking and laughing — cut into his brain.

Marsh once again dominated the conversation, in his typical English way, full of wit and charm. My impression, after having spent a day and a night in his company, was that he was a manual person. He bicycled everywhere, he did all kinds of woodwork, and he kept bees at his garden in London. He told us that he recently bought a lock keeper’s cottage by the river in Oxford. The previous owner had died wretchedly, amid old junk, garbage and loneliness, and Marsh said he was going to renovate the place himself. It seemed that his way of living was to keep moving, filling his days with things to do, as during dinner he filled it with things to say.

There was something reassuring about being in his company, because he took charge of the conversation in such an entertaining way, but at the same time there was a touch of insecurity there, for within the broad range of topics that he mastered, there appeared from time to time traces of self-assertion, well camouflaged, but not so well that I didn’t notice that it was important to him to get across that his wife was beautiful and smart, that his book had been very well received, that David Cameron, for instance, had read it and apparently been moved to tears. When we talked about cars, the story he chose to tell was about his old Saab, which he intended to drive until the day he died, and that he had once driven it when he was going to meet the queen, and how beat up and shabby it looked next to other vehicles. It was the kind of thing I might say and later feel ashamed about for months. It was a big problem I had, the urge to put myself in a flattering light by mentioning favorable events as if in passing, so that the others would understand that I wasn’t just a boring and silent Norwegian. It was almost compulsive.

Could Marsh, this brilliant neurosurgeon, be troubled by a constant need to call attention to himself? Weren’t his extraordinary qualities, so obvious to everyone around him, fixed securely in his own image of himself?

I thought of what he said the night before, about keeping the wolf from the door. I had thought he meant something big. But perhaps, to the contrary, it was something very small?

I looked at him, there at the end of the table, seated at the place of honor, his strong fingers distractedly holding the stem of his wineglass as he talked, the round spectacles in his round, lined face, the lively eyes, which, as soon as he stopped talking, turned mournful.

The next morning, which was as warm and radiant as the day before, Marsh was reclining on a black sofa in the lounge next to the operating room, dressed in his blue surgical gown, the face mask dangling beneath his chin. He smiled briefly as I entered.

“Are you nervous before operations like this?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Always. But today’s operation is relatively simple. The main thing is knowing when to stop.”

I entered the operating room. Hasanaj had already been wheeled in. He was lying in the same position as the day before, partly upright, with one arm on an armrest and his head clamped in a vise. This time, however, he was awake. His eyes stared straight ahead. A doctor was swabbing his head with a brown substance. When he was done, he pushed a syringe into Hasanaj’s scalp, pricking him all along the stitches from the day before. It had to hurt, but Hasanaj didn’t make a sound; he lay there motionless. A green drape was stretched all the way up to his eyes, so that his face was covered under a kind of tent, while his skull remained bare. Dashi sat down on a chair next to him. Marsh entered the room and began studying a monitor on which the last brain scan was displayed.

“There you have the tumor,” he said to me. “So I think I know what to expect. But you can never be certain until you see it in reality.”

Xhumari began removing the stitches. He folded the scalp back, baring the skull. The wet underside of the scalp was immediately covered with gauze pads, which encircled the head like a red-and-white crater. Xhumari and Petrela carefully unfastened the metal clips and removed the lid. Both of them stood motionless, their heads bent at an angle of nearly 90 degrees, the same as their arms, which they held close to their sides like bird wings; for long stretches their hands were the only parts of their bodies that moved. They didn’t speak, and the hiss of the sucker filled the room.

Marsh paced to and fro. It struck me that he resembled an actor just about to go onstage; he radiated the same restless, concentrated, faintly anxious energy.

He came over to me.

“In England, everyone would be lively and chatting away by now. Distraction is a good painkiller.” He looked at me. “Here the culture is different. It’s more vertical. In London, it’s horizontal. Ah, this churchlike silence!”

He went over to Dashi.

“How’s the patient?”

Dashi leaned forward, almost into the tent. I heard Hasanaj’s voice say something in Albanian. Dashi looked up at Marsh.

“He is well,” he said.

“Good!” Marsh said.

Xhumari lifted off the top of the skull, the underside of which was covered in congealed blood, and handed it to the nurse, who put it in a dish and covered it. Then he removed the stitches in the meninges, and I could look straight into Hasanaj’s brain, at the same time as he lay staring ahead.

The brain was shiny and covered with blood vessels, which lay twisted like little red worms on the otherwise gleaming yellow-gray surface.

Petrela splashed water on it with a syringe.

Xhumari took a few steps back to make room for Marsh, who leaned forward.

“That’s the tumor there, isn’t it? Interesting.”

He glanced up at me.

“Can you see it?”

I shook my head. Everything looked the same to me.

“It’s there, a slightly pinker area.”

He straightened up, and I moved aside, realizing that the operation was about to begin. He was handed an instrument that looked like a long, narrow tuning fork, which was wired to a box on the other side, beneath a monitor, where a nurse stood, ready to follow his instructions.

“This should be the sensory cortex. If I’m wrong, there will be movement.”

He asked the nurse to set the strength at Level 3 and touched the brain with the fork. There was a humming, electric sound. I positioned myself so that I could see Hasanaj.

“Dashi?”

“Nothing.”

“Set it to 4.”

The nurse turned the power up. Marsh touched the brain again. Dashi spoke to Hasanaj, who said something.

“Feeling,” Dashi said.

“Sensing here, face here,” Marsh said, as if to himself. “Turn it up to 5.”

Dashi spoke to Hasanaj.

“Left arm, face, tongue,” he said.

Marsh touched the brain again. This time, Hasanaj lifted his arm rapidly into the air, as if it had been pulled by the string of a puppeteer, and it shook for a few seconds, then lay down again.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like a robot had been switched on.

“Left arm, movement,” Dashi said.

Marsh moved the instrument. Hasanaj’s eye blinked a couple of times.

“Left eye, movement,” Dashi said.

“We can bring in the microscope,” Marsh said.

While they wheeled over the microscope, which was fastened by a mobile crane to a large machine, to which a monitor was also connected, I squatted down in front of Hasanaj.

“How does it feel?” I asked.

He smiled faintly and said something in Albanian.

“It’s O.K.,” Dashi said.

“Does it hurt?”

“He says only a little, in his ear.”

All of Marsh’s restless energy vanished the moment he bent over the microscope and started to operate. It was as if he had stepped onto a podium, where other rules applied. He leaned forward and spoke to Hasanaj.

“The tumor is in a good position. In a little while I am going to ask you to move parts of your body, especially your face.”

 

Dr. Mentor Petrela and Dr. Artur Xhumari close up the head of Ilmi Hasanaj. The author, Karl Ove Knausgaard, stands second from right. Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for The New York Times 

On a monitor I could see that Marsh was digging a small hole in the tumor, which to me looked identical to the surrounding brain. He held an instrument in his left hand, which he used to make the blood congeal; in his right hand, he held a sputtering suction device, which, with infinite care, he used to pulverize and remove tiny pieces of tissue, shred after shred. They vanished into the tube, along with blood and water; I could see them whirl away down the plastic tube and disappear. Next to him stood Petrela, splashing water over the surface.

With Dashi interpreting, Marsh asked Hasanaj to move his mouth, his eyes.

The hole in the tumor grew slowly.

Marsh brought out the stimulator again. This time it was turned up to 8 before there was a reaction, and Dashi said, “Face.”

Marsh waved me over.

“See this? This little spot here. That’s the center for facial movement. We have to leave that in peace.”

Were all the expressions the human face could make supposed to originate in this little spot? All the joy, all the grief, all the light and all the darkness that filled a face in the course of a life, was it all traceable to this? The quivering lower lip before tears begin to flow, the eyes narrowing in anger, the sudden cracking up into laughter?

Marsh continued working with the two instruments. Using the sucker, he pried and pushed and shoved continuously, while he used the other tool in between, with no trace of hesitation, without stopping and, seemingly, without thinking.

He brought out the electric stimulator again. This time he pushed it toward the bottom of the hole.

“This should be the face again,” he said.

“Nothing,” Dashi said.

“Nothing?”

Dashi shook his head, and Marsh went on working.

“The tumor is just like the brain here, that’s the problem,” he said. “Do you want to see?”

He stepped back, and I bent over the microscope again. The view this time was quite different. It was as if I were looking into an enormous grotto, at the bottom of which lay a pool filled with red liquid. Sometimes water came splashing in from the right, as if from a huge hose. I had never seen anything like it, for the walls of this grotto were so obviously alive, made of living tissue. Along the edges of the pool, above the red surface, the walls were ragged. Behind the innermost wall, seeming to swell out slightly, like a balloon about to burst, I glimpsed something purple.

In August, the novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard traveled to Albania to observe an awake craniotomy, the surgical procedure by which brain tumors are removed from conscious patients.

December 30, 2015. Photo by Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for The New York Times.

When I stepped aside to make room for Marsh again, I struggled to unite the two perspectives; it felt as if I were on two different levels of reality at the same time, as when I walked in my sleep, and dream and reality struggled for ascendancy. I had looked into a room, unlike any other, and when I lifted my gaze, that room was inside Hasanaj’s brain, who lay staring straight ahead under the drape in the larger room, filled with doctors and nurses and machines and equipment, and beyond that room there was an even larger room, warm and dusty and made of asphalt and concrete, beneath a chain of green mountains and a blue sky.

All those rooms were gathered in my own brain, which looked exactly like Hasanaj’s, a wet, gleaming, walnutlike lump, composed of 100 billion brain cells so tiny and so myriad they could only be compared to the stars of a galaxy. And yet what they formed was flesh, and the processes they harbored were simple and primitive, regulated by various chemical substances and powered by electricity. How could it contain these images of the world? How could thoughts arise within this hunk of flesh?

Marsh stopped and brought out the stimulator again and inserted it into the hole.

Dashi said something to Hasanaj, who replied briefly.

“Nothing,” Dashi said.

Marsh stimulated the bottom again.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing.”

“Left arm, face.”

“Left arm and face?”

“Yes.”

“Then we’ll stop here.”

Marsh took a few steps back, and the microscope was wheeled away. His eyes, the only part of his face I could see, looked happy.

Xhumari and Petrela took over, and Marsh, after telling Hasanaj that the operation had been successful, left the operating room.

I went over to Hasanaj and bent down to him. He looked tired, his eyes were narrow, his face expressionless.

“How do you feel?” I asked.

Hasanaj smiled and raised his thumb.

Dashi laughed. His back was completely wet with sweat.

After the operation, which lasted nearly three hours, we drove to a park just outside the city center, where there was a rustic restaurant built of brown-stained timber, with waiters dressed in traditional costumes, where we had lunch. The temperature was 95 degrees, the cicadas were singing, all the greenery surrounding us was lit up by the golden rays of the blazing sun. Everyone was in a good mood, especially Marsh. There was a new levity about him, and he seemed more open. Not that he seemed closed before, but the shadow that I had sensed in him was gone.

I was happy, too. The sight of the mountains behind the city, so green and haughty, lifted my spirits, and the sight of the brain, its physiological aspect — the ragged edges of skull within which it had pulsated, the streaming red blood — was also pleasant to think about, for the bright colors within connected the landscape of the brain to the grass that grew beneath the veranda we were sitting on and the trees rustling faintly and nearly inaudibly in the breeze, and what that brain contained, all those images and thoughts that could never be separated from their material state, connected it nonetheless to the city beneath us, so full of dreams, longings, hopes and imaginings.

That the same city was also full of illness and want, tragedy and death, was something I didn’t stop to consider, nor the fact that the brains I had seen had been diseased. The operation had been successful, the tension had been released. All I could see was life and the living.

The next morning we went on an excursion to the port of Durres and to Berat, a town in the mountains. Even though we had spent only three days together, it seemed as if we had known each other for years. Marsh explained the architecture of the brain to me, and the way it functioned. He explained how they reached tumors that were lodged deep in the brain, which is, very loosely speaking, crumpled up like a sheet of paper, and therefore full of folds and ravines that you can push aside and move through. There are also so-called silent areas, which could be cut without damaging any of the brain’s functions. He told me about times when things had gone wrong, and the patient had died on the operating table in front of him. “I have killed people,” he said.

He told me about difficult operations that had succeeded and about the euphoria they produced. He said that 50 percent of surgery was visual, what you saw, and 50 percent was tactile, what you could touch. He said that brain surgery was a craft. To become good at it, you had to practice and sometimes make mistakes, in a profession where mistakes were fatal and impermissible. If your child has a brain tumor, you want the best surgeon. But to become the best, which is merely a question of gaining experience, you must first have operated on children without having experience, and what do you tell the parents then? That their child is important to the future of the young and as-yet-untested neurosurgeon?

He talked for a while about the particularities of operating on children. The tissues are soft and beautiful, very different from those of older people. A child is as fresh and clean on the inside as on the outside. But the problem with blood loss is very great; they can lose a life-threatening amount of blood very quickly. And the desperate anxiety of the parents is a heavy burden to carry. But for the children themselves, it’s easy. If they’re not in pain, they’re happy. They don’t have any existential perspective. He talked about his father, who was a law professor at Oxford University, and about his mother, who came to Britain as a refugee from Nazi Germany before the war, and how they both helped form what is now Amnesty International. He talked about his youth, about how shy he was, how he sat at home reading books when everyone else went out, how he never went to nightclubs, never spent time with girls. He told me about a breakdown he had as a young man, when he fell into a deep depression and spent some time in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. He told me he wrote poetry at that time, inspired by Sylvia Plath. He told me that the medical profession he had chosen seemed safe to him, something to buoy him. He told me about his relationship to his siblings and to his own children. “I competed with my children,” he said, grimacing at the recollection. “Can you imagine? I always wanted to show them how clever I was. That’s one of the worst things you can do to children.” He told me how his first marriage ended, and what his present marriage was like.

He was entirely open but not confessional; it was more that all our conversations seemed to lead to more serious matters, almost regardless of where they began, perhaps because the situations that gave rise to them were so concentrated and involved life and death, and because the places where they occurred were closed to us in a way, amid an alien culture, and yet in another sense, so open: Sitting on a terrace on the seventh floor, surrounded by dark blue sea extending in all directions, glittering in the sunlight, a few tiny people wading through the green shallows, maybe 50 yards out, the slightly lighter blue sky arching above us. Standing in an old Orthodox stone church in the mountains, in front of a row of icons on the wall, in radiant colors, gold, red, blue, beneath a dome with three circular holes that the light sifted down through. Sitting in a car whizzing through the darkness of the Albanian countryside after a long day in the sun. Walking through the heart of Tirana one afternoon, in small, narrow streets that lay in deep silence, past dilapidated houses and walls, with improvised electrical wiring, makeshift home extensions and dirty children playing in back alleys, just a few hundred yards from the main boulevards. Several times, when he mentioned something private, I reminded him that I was going to write about him. “You do realize that I might write about what you just told me?” He just smiled and said that was his strategy: The more personal he got, the more likely it was that I would like him and therefore write favorably about him.

The only time I saw Marsh angry was on the morning before the second operation. He had planned on seeing the patient, only to be informed by Petrela that she was already in the operating room and was having her head cut open.

“Damn,” he said loudly, stamping his foot and striking out at the air with his hand.

“You could see her tomorrow morning, before the operation,” Petrela said.

“O.K., that’ll have to do,” Marsh said calmly, but his eyes were still angry. Instead, he and Petrela went to see how Hasanaj was doing. I came along. Petrela pushed the button by the elevator at the end of the corridor and told us that when the king died, or rather, the king’s son, his heir apparent, the body had been brought to this hospital, and when it was taken out again, they had used this elevator. The elevator stopped between two floors, with the dead king inside, and it took them two hours to restart it.

The doors opened, and we got in.

“It’s one thing to get stuck in an elevator with a corpse,” Marsh said. “Quite another when the corpse belongs to the king.”

Hasanaj was alone in a room on the third floor, sitting half upright in bed, supported by pillows, with the entire upper part of his head swathed in bandages. His face lit up when he saw Marsh and Petrela. But there was something faintly grotesque about his smile, because one side of his face was paralyzed, and his mouth seemed to droop a little, so that it was more like a grimace than a smile. Marsh told him that he had a temporary weakness on one side, that this was quite normal, and that it would get better quickly. Hasanaj nodded, he understood, and he made the grimace again, and laughed feebly, with eyes that shone.

I met the second patient the next day. Her name was Gjinovefa Merxira, and she was 21. She grew up in Burrel, a small town of 15,000 in northern Albania, and moved to Tirana to study medicine, she told me, lying in a hospital bed. Her eyes were brown, her face was broad, her features were pure and young. I asked her to tell me about her very first seizure. She said she had her first fit when she was 7. It was wintertime, she was ice-skating with her friends, and she collapsed. She saw her friends as if through a fog. When she got home, she didn’t recognize her mother. She looked straight at her mother, and she didn’t recognize her. Her mother asked, “Why are you staring at me?” and Merxira said she wasn’t staring at her, and then she began to cry. She was 7, and she had a terrible headache, but no one thought that anything was seriously wrong with her.

She had fits like that once or twice a year. One time, when she was watching TV, the letters of the subtitles began to move out of the TV and into the room where she was sitting. Another time she saw a fire in a garden, a big fire, and she was about to cry for help when it vanished. With these fits came headaches, nightmares, occasional numbness. Sometimes every noise sounded like the chiming of bells. Because the fits were always of the same intensity and occurred seldom but regularly, she didn’t think it was anything serious. She didn’t see a doctor until after an incident that happened when she was 17. She was taking a math exam at school and saw flowers instead of numbers. She started to cry. She wanted to do well at her exam, but she couldn’t do the calculations, because all she could see were flowers, in black and white. That’s when she visited the hospital. They examined her, but found nothing, gave her medication for her fits and sent her home.

In November 2014, she was sitting at a cafe in Tirana with some friends and saw things floating above the table. When she got home, she couldn’t see anything on her left side, and her friends, who were very worried for her, took her to the hospital. As for her, she was calm; she knew that it would pass. This time the doctors discovered what was wrong: She had a tumor in the vision center in the brain. A decision was made to operate, but not until August, and the operation would be carried out by Henry Marsh, who now, this morning, finally stopped in front of her bed in the patients’ ward on the third floor of the hospital in Tirana.

Her head was bandaged, after her skull had been opened the previous evening, and she stared at Marsh with young, frightened eyes.

He told her more or less the same thing that he told Hasanaj: that he had carried out this operation more than 400 times; that it was practically harmless; and that she was going to be awake because it was safer, but he was a little more detailed with Merxira than with Hasanaj, presumably because she was studying medicine and therefore more familiar with what was going to happen. Maybe that is also why she seemed more afraid.

 

A doctor maps a tumor in the brain of Gjinovefa Merxira before her surgery. Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for The New York Times 

When I saw her again a few hours later, with her head fixed in the clamp in the operating room, the anxiety was still there, in her eyes. She seemed to sense everything that was in the room, as if she had a relation to all of it, whereas with Hasanaj, it seemed that he held back from any encounter, that he just submitted passively to everything and made up his mind to endure it until it was all over. Pellegrin’s shooting of Hasanaj’s operation had been almost unnoticeable, just a part of all the other movements in the room, but now, because of Merxira’s vulnerability, I was increasingly aware of the camera and the flash.

The doctors attached the plastic drapes to a stand, so that her head lay beneath a small tent and the lower part of her skull was covered while the upper part was bare.

“At operations in London, the drapes are transparent,” Marsh said, “so that the surgeon can see the patient all the time.”

When her head had been swabbed and the injections of local anesthetic administered, the assistant surgeon, Arsen Seferi, began to remove the stitches. Merxira lifted her arm to her eyes and let out a low, long moan.

Dashi spoke to her, and she answered, then fell silent again.

Seferi laid the scalpel aside and began to remove the clips that ran around the skull. Soon the lid of the skull was put aside, the meninges were cut open and the brain was exposed. From a distance, the bloodstained gauze that wreathed the skull resembled flowers.

Marsh went over and studied the brain.

“Just as I thought. The surface looks normal. The tumor is underneath.” A nurse handed him a mapping device, which Marsh and the others called a GPS, and he moved it slowly over the brain while he examined the image that appeared on a monitor.

After a while he switched instruments. Now he pressed the electrical stimulator against the surface of the brain. It buzzed briefly. Dashi spoke with Merxira and said something to Marsh. He stimulated the brain again. The same electric buzz sounded. Dashi spoke again, and Marsh began to operate.

“We should feel a rubbery tumor shortly,” he said.

“Aah,” Merxira moaned.

I looked at her. She pressed her arm against her eyes again.

“We were being misled by the GPS,” Marsh said. “Oh. Here it is!”

“If you trust the GPS too much, you could end up in the cemetery,” Petrela said to me in a low voice.

“Here, you can see,” Marsh said, waving me over. “Do you see the difference?”

One area was more yellowish-gray than the other, but the difference was so subtle that I would never have noticed it if Marsh hadn’t pointed it out.

He continued hollowing out the affected area of the brain.

Merxira moaned.

Suddenly there was almost a shout in the room.

“Aah!”

“There’s no feeling in the brain,” Marsh said. “But what can hurt are the blood vessels, when they are moved or get bent. That’s what she is feeling. It can be a shocklike pain.”

He looked at Dashi.

“Is the pain bad?”

Dashi said something to Merxira, who answered him in a low voice.

“She can feel it, but it’s O.K.,” Dashi said.

A flash went off. I looked up. Pellegrin was crouching close to the wall, taking photos of the island of equipment, presumably with Merxira’s face visible beneath the green drape.

Marsh continued sucking out the tumor at the bottom of the hole. Merxira moaned. Being there was almost unbearable.

“You don’t want to damage that,” Marsh said and let me look at a blood vessel in the microscope, blue amid the folds of the brain. “If that is damaged, the blood can’t leave the head, and the brain will fill with blood.”

“How far away is it from the tumor?” I asked.

“Oh, one or two millimeters,” Marsh said.

He went on with the operation, assisted by Petrela, who squirted water on the surface. Dashi spoke with Merxira at regular intervals, asking her to look at a special eye chart and assessing Marsh’s progress based on her responses.

Marsh removed a whole piece of the tumor, which the nurse placed in a dish.

Aside from the even whisper of the sucker, the operating room had become completely silent. Marsh worked concentratedly. Only his hands were moving.

Dashi held the paper in front of Merxira again.

“Slight blurring of vision on the left,” he said.

Marsh stopped.

He lifted his head from the microscope and looked at me. “You stop when you start getting more anxious,” he said. “That’s experience.”

He bent down to Merxira and said that the operation had been successful, that everything had gone the way it was supposed to.

I hadn’t dared to speak to her during the operation. But now I went over. I wanted to ask her how she was doing, but when I saw her lying there, with her hand shielding her eyes, I said instead, in a thick voice, “You were very brave.”

Afterward, when I took off the disposable gown, the face mask and the cap on the ground floor, I felt shaky.

“Oh, man,” Pellegrin said. “It was like her mind occupied the room.”

Later that day, I went to the National Art Gallery and looked at the paintings from the Communist Era. They were hanging in two large galleries, and during the hour I spent in there, I didn’t see a single person. Occasionally I heard some children playing on the lawn outside, their shouts and laughter rose up above the even, distant hum of the city. Many of the paintings showed people at work. In one of them, what appeared to be an enormous radio tower was being hoisted into place in a barren, mountainous landscape bustling with activity, while a woman, clearly an engineer, studied some drawings and a man pointed ahead. A nation was being built; a new world was being created.

In Norway in the 1970s, Albania was considered a pioneering country by the young intellectuals. A sort of utopia, a land of the future, the ideal we should be striving toward. When I mentioned this to Petrela at our first dinner, he laid his head in his hands.

“But that was just a lie,” he said. “It was all a lie. How could they have believed it?”

“I don’t know,” I said then. But when I saw the paintings in the museum, I felt the pull from them.

The painting I looked at the longest portrayed a young, modern family. The father carried a child on his shoulders, the mother had a satchel in her hand, another child was running ahead of them. They were moving through a landscape of mountains and valleys, the grass was green, bordering on pastel, the sky was light, far up above them a helicopter hung suspended. Everyone was smiling, the adults and the children. They were headed for the future, full of joy and hope.

Everything was clear, pure, simple and forceful.

Why couldn’t the world look like that?

What was so wrong with these paintings? What was wrong with the world they portrayed?

When I came out onto the street again, the sun hung low in the sky, and the previously limpid air had dulled a little. It was faintly hazy, the way it gets in the hour before dusk. The cars on the avenue in front of me were waiting for the green light. An old, crooked woman walked between them, supporting herself on a crutch, a cup in her hand. She knocked on the window of one of the cars. Two women were sitting inside, both of them turned their heads and looked the other way, the way people have always averted their eyes from beggars. I walked into a park, toward a large complex of restaurants that lay in front of a shallow but wide pool, blue, with peeling paint. The Chinese had built the complex, Fejzo had said, and it was known locally as “Taiwan.”

I sat down in one of the few empty chairs outside and looked at people, speculating about the relationships they had to one another and to the world.

I had always considered my thoughts as something abstract, but they weren’t; they were as material as the heart beating in my chest. The same was true of the mind, the soul, the personality; all of it was fixed in the cells and originated as a result of the various ways in which these cells reacted with one another. All of our systems, too — communism, capitalism, religion, science — they also originated in electrochemical currents flowing through this three-pound lump of flesh encased in the skull.

All of which was saying nothing. It was like examining a stone in the foundation wall to find the answer to the secret of St. Peter’s Basilica.

That was all just a lie, Petrela had said about Albanian Communism.

But what wasn’t?

I had asked Marsh if he believed in God, in a life beyond death. He just shook his head. “This is it,” he said.

We use systems to keep the wolf from the door, I thought. And systems are nothing but vast complexes of notions and concepts. Everything that helps us lose sight of the petty, pathetic and meaningless parts of our own selves. That is the wolf. The awkward, twisted or stupid part of the soul, the grudges and the envy, the hopelessness and the darkness, the childish joy and the unmanageable desire. The wolf is the part of human nature that the systems have no room for, the aspect of reality that our ideas, the firmament that the brain vaults above our lives, cannot fathom. The wolf is the truth.

So why would Marsh want to keep the wolf from the door? Seen from the outside, it seemed that the role of surgeon had provided him with a larger context in which he could excel and rule over life and death, where there was no place for whatever was small and insecure in him. The role of surgeon gave meaning to his life, lifted the meaning outside of himself, into a system — it kept the wolf from the door. At the same time, that role revealed the meaninglessness of it all. Tumors grew randomly, people died randomly, every day, everywhere. You could choose to keep this from sight behind numbers, behind statistics, behind the plastic drapes that made the patients faceless. His greatness was that he didn’t hide the smallness but instead used his insight into it to fight against everything that concealed it, the institutionalization of hospitals, the dehumanization of patients, all the rituals established by the medical profession to create distance and to turn the body into something abstract, general, a part of a system.

Fejzo had told me a story he heard in London. Marsh had not mentioned it in his book, and as far as Fejzo knew, Marsh had never spoken about it — it was one of his colleagues who had told Fejzo. Marsh had operated on an infant, only a few months old, and the operation went badly; the child died on the operating table. Marsh went in to see the parents in person. He told them that he had made a mistake, and that their child had died. He cried with them. “No doctor does that,” Fejzo had said. “No one.”

It began to get dark around me. A man came pushing a stroller between the tables. A boy was sitting in it; he might have been a year and a half, and when the father sat down at a table, the boy stretched his hands out to him. The father loosened his straps, lifted him out and set him on his lap. He fooled around with him for a while, and the boy laughed.

That, too, was the truth.

Then the father lit a cigarette, took out his cellphone and began texting. The boy protested against the sudden lack of attention, and the father handed him the pack of cigarettes, which he happily began to play with, while the moon slowly rose over the rooftops, bright yellow against the blue-black sky.

Akkurat nå...

23/08/2016

Frank Ocean

Ivy // Nikes  //  White Ferrari

Tre umiddelbare perler fra Frank Oceans "Blond" som ble sluppet i går. For fem år siden spilte vi i hjel "Nostalgia, Ultra" mixtapen og platene med Lennie Breaux, som han kalte seg da. Av og til er den kunstneriske kvaliteten like stor som den kommersielle suksessen og dette er et godt eksempel. (Andre gode eksempler er f.eks. det meste fra Kanye West og ikke minst dronninga, Beyoncé).

Carsten Jensen "Den første sten"

Vanvittig engasjerende og spennende om danske soldater på håpløst oppdrag i Afghanistan. Desillusjonerende, opplysende og trist. Carsten Jensen er (som vanlig) fantastisk. Fikk boka med hilsen fra ham da vi hadde ham på Litteraturfestivalen vår i begynnelsen av august.

Gine Cornelia Pedersen "Kjærlighetshistorie, eller Utenom og hjem, eller Et epos"

Fant denne på tilbud og den har fått såpass mye god kritikk og omtale (bl.a. fordi hun er en av de tre hovedpersonene i den glimrende serien "Unge lovende" på NRK) at jeg ville sjekke den. 

Weekendavisen

Ingen Narvesen-kiosker på sørlandet tar den inn lenger så nå er jeg "tvunget" til å abonnere. 3400,- (1100,- av det er porto) i året er dyrt, men faktisk verdt det...(My er nok ikke enig - men jeg sier opp LeMondeDiplo (oversatt til nordisk for sånne som meg som ikke engang kan fransk)  som jeg nesten ikke får lest fordi jeg blir så deprimert).

Stranger Things (Netflix)

 

Denne så vi og likte veldig godt. Nostalgi og et ikke mysterie som var far-out, men alikevel ikke tok for mye plass i plottet.

Morning Matters with Alan Partridge 

Jeg elsker jo denne kjipe, engelske typen komikk... Ikke My, så jeg ser det alene innimellom.

...

 

Lesestoff

18/09/2015

Har nettopp lest ferdig Kjetil Bjørnstads første av seks planlagte bøker i en serie kalt Verden som var min. Dette første bindet heter rett og slett "Sekstitallet", og handler om hans egen oppvekst i Oslo på sekstitallet. De neste bindene er ikke skrevet men har allerede fått titler: Syttitallet, Åttitallet

 

 

FORTSETTES

Eskapisme

19/06/2015

Jeg abonnerer på nettmagasinet Harvests nyhetsbrev som da kommer i innboksen min hver fredag. Jeg leser stort sett raskt igjennom nyhetsbrevet men gidder sjelden eller aldri å sjekke selve nettstedet. Hvorfor?

Harvest har vel holdt på i halvannet år eller så og til å begynne med var jeg veldig ivrig. Lett som jeg er til å la meg lure av god estetikk kan det ha vært medvirkende, for lay-outen til Harvest er virkelig noe av det bedre jeg har sett. Luftig, store og ofte gode bilder pluss akkurat de rette fontene. Etter en stund var det noe som, tja, kjedet meg? Var det alle fedre som meg selv (alder og ganske mye felles referanser) og deres beskrivelser av tur på fjellet eller overnatting i telt og med trygge farsfigurer? Tekster og minner jeg selv ofte tenker på i forhold til men egen barndom, men som når alle plutselig skal skrive om det bare blir litt...meh?

Så kom det faktisk en del kritikk, lesermassen hadde nådd en kritisk masse og da kommer uvergelig kritikk, noe som bare er bra selvagt. Eskapisme var en gjenganger i kritikken, og det stemte jo ganske bra. Som sagt mye duse, milde, trygge barndomsminner eller minner med egne barn og naturen  - sjelden særlig grensesprengende eller filosofisk. Bare trygt. 

Som sagt, det er bra med kritikk. Jeg snudde egentlig litt selv på grunn av dette. Leste litt halvhjertet noen innlegg i Morgenbladet, og det var det. Men i hodet mitt gikk tankene... For det første, jeg selv er jo en eskapist av dimensjoner; jeg kan dagdrømme og min egen Emil-oppvekst på den store gården på heia. Jeg kan den dag i dag se på Emil og høre Astrid Lindgrens stemme som gir meg en så deilig ro. Tilbake til Harvest; det har jo vært mer enn modne menns minnebok om opplevelser i naturen. Bl.a. har det vært ganske god dekning av klimaspørsmålet og naturvernspørmål. Samtidig, ja det er mye eskapisme der, men er det så galt da? Alle kan ikke lese, ihvertfall langt mindre skrive for Vagant eller Samtiden  - men i Harvest er det plass til langt flere skribenter (og la det være sagt, jeg synes det er mye fin tekst der). Det er igrunnen helt ok det...

(Oppdatert: Litt utdatert; nå leser jeg ikke lenger e-postene fra Harvest)

 

 

 

LESESTOFF

Jeg støvsuger interessante nettsider for gode artikler hver helg. Leses på iPad, iPhone eller Mac (og alle andre nettbrett, smarttelefoner eller PCer)...

 

 

+ MY SAGA, part 2

New York Times har sendt Knausgård på en 10 dagers reise i vikingenes fotspor i Amerika. Veldig bra skrevet (selvsagt).Fikk du ikke med deg del 1 skal jeg være så grei å lenke til den her. MÅ leses! Pass også på å lese kommentarene...

+ SKYLD PÅ MOR OG FAR

Hvorfor,  eller rettere hvordan skaper vi foreldre så selvopptatte barn? De nye teoriene er omtent som dette: "Når foreldrene ser på barna som mer spesielle eller mere begavede enn andre barn så plukker barna opp det synet, at de er overlegne eller bedre enn andre".

+ ER FOTOGRAFI KUNST?

Peter Lik solgte et sort-hvitt bilde, tatt i en grotte, for 40 millioner kroner. Det ble diskusjon om det var kunst eller bare avbilding av virkeligheten. Jeg leste først denne artikkelen som påstod at fotografi aldri ville kunne være kunst. Denne artikkelen (Er fotografi kunst?) er et motsvar.

+ INFORMATION OVERLOAD

Hjernen suger til seg og lagrer all informasjon. I dag lagrer vi fem ganger så mye fakta som i 1986. Her er nødhjelpen mot kortslutning.