Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hamburg, 17.12.99: Losing One's Dreams

What I forgot to say yesterday about Herr Um-One-Must-Be-Careful was that he reported to us a theory that Protestant countries are beer-drinking countries which have their revolutions in winter, and Catholic countries are wine-drinking countries that have their revolutions in summer. When I pointed out (the devil must get out) that Bavaria is a beer-drinking, but Catholic, region, Herr Um replied that yes, but one must be careful: Bayern hat seinen Wein. Every theory is workable, isn’t it, if we’re willing to bend and suppress evidence to make it work?

Yesterday, for part of the day, at least, the sun shone for the first time since we arrived in Hamburg. When we went out in the afternoon, three birch trees in the yard beside this house, on the street line, were resplendent. The late afternoon sun, warm and yellow, was catching their very white trunks, gilding each and every detail of the peeling, patchy bark. Such forms, such noble shapes, as each trunk twisted to its own light while overhanging the street.

I keep thinking of Thomas Mann, as we pass one solid, square, two-story, winter-ready house after another. Each house, its massive stolidity and closed bland face turned streetwards, gives me the impression that a story lies inside—a story hard to ascertain, because of the culture.

How much of the wealth of this exceedingly wealthy neighborhood comes, Steve wonders, from collaboration with the Nazis? And I wonder what’s inside—inside the closed faces of north Germans and their uninviting houses. It’s not that these houses are unpleasant to look at: they’re not; they’re very pleasant, in many cases, set magisterially in their “English” gardens. But the life inside them is unimaginable to me. There’s no sign of it, no tricycle tilted in a driveway, set of winter boots snugged beside a door, face glimpsed at any dark window. The windows turn in, not out.

First seminar day, and I’m tired. Running prior to the seminar, to the university to see Wolfram and then back for a meeting with Erhard that never materialized. Meanwhile a fierce wind blew across the Elbe from the North Sea. It had been picking up during the night, the door of our room rattling constantly and waking me up. At times during the day, the wind blew cold rain hard against the windows.

The seminar went okay, I think. Erhard came and welcomed everyone, with trays of cookies and fruit (tiny tangerines, tart wizened apples) and coffee and tea. He was kind and gracious, claiming Steve and me as friends.

The students seemed interested and fairly responsive. They freeze, though, when asked point blank to avow an opinion or reveal themselves. They all seem so young, and so asexual, like so many younger Germans.

I feel very grouchy these days. I take things out on Steve I should not. In part, it’s that I’m only now overcoming the jet lag, after having slept again much of yesterday afternoon.

In part, too, it’s that the newness has worn off being in Germany, and my old, always unredeemed, self has re-emerged. I expect Steve to save me in every tiniest way, and no human being can live up to such an aspiration. I panic at the recognition that I need to function in German, and don’t know how.

Along with the grouchiness, the wonderful absorbing, very mysterious dreams I was having for days have vanished, having given way to boring panic dreams. What’s the connection between the loss of my dreams and resurgence of my hatefulness, I wonder?

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