Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hamburg 29.12.99: Pirouettes and Eyes That Can But See

And the recurring dreams continued even in Braunschweig, mixing people from that horrible organization, Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN) Arkansas with dreams of the house I remember best from childhood—the one on Lee St.—with dreams of my mother buried and yet alive to cause grief.

Driving now from Braunschweig to Hamburg, after two days with Mareile, M., B., and their son C. Weather’s sunny for the moment, but that means little in Germany: at any moment it might cloud over and rain or snow.

And what to write about? I feel a great lethargy, as though I could lie down and sleep as I did on the way from Bavaria to Braunschweig two days ago. In Braunschweig, too, I slept long hours each night.

It’s tiring being in strange, and often inconvenient, surroundings. I hate German beds, those heavy duvets full of feathers that activate all my allergies, those almost non-existent (and again feather-filled) pillows, the hard little mattresses. And the smoke in Mareile’s house (she and Maria smoke) does also do me in—though I feel very ungrateful grousing about people whose hospitality is so gracious.

Speaking and listening to a language you have only partial proficiency in is also extremely tiring. There have been evenings in the past week and a half when I’d have given my kingdom to go early to bed and read, rather than sitting around eating and talking, and continuing to talk after the evening bread.

But this tiredness goes deeper, of course. As the dreams tell me, it’s about the ugly self-righteous treachery of the RAIN folks, and about unresolved family issues.

And being away gives me no real distance, no new insight. So many of my life experiences have just been there, to be lived through, to be lived around. They’re there as the scalding hot pain of recent experience, or the dull ache of remembered suffering.

How I wish that something that would lift us up, beyond further outrageous assault, would happen to us suddenly. How I wish I might suddenly be given a voice, to speak back to my tormentors. But I’ve wished this so long now, and no redeemer seems to come. I just live through one more grinding experience.

+ + + + +

In Braunschweig yesterday, with B. and M. We went inside the Dom, and it was moving to see again that ancient crucifix Mareile loves so much. Sitting in the chair in front of it was an elderly woman bundled in winter clothes, praying, as Mareile did when we were last there, open-eyed, with deep presence to the cross.

Seeing this made me think of how Lutheran piety is so cross-centered. The German soul seems attracted to this theme, to the starkness of this plain, striking crucifix against a white and unadorned wall.

In the church, a feeling that I must write. (But about what? And how, given the life I’m forced to read?)

+ + + + +

Also in Braunschweig, M. wanted to take B. to a shop where she’d set aside two outfits, both black, one with a short skirt and the other with a long skirt. We sat as she modeled each in turn, and the short again, since B. required another look.

Fascinating. M., a perfectly capable and well-educated woman, playing the role of sex-slave to her husband, in order to obtain these clothes. She pranced. She tossed her hair back. She held out her arms and pirouetted on tiptoe, al lthe while giving pleading, sultry, little-girl looks at B. Since just the night before M. had told Mareile in my presence how hard life with B. is, I could see these scenes only as a cleverly arranged act.

And a good act: M. ended up getting both outfits, to the tune of some $700. At some level, B. must have known he was being toyed with, and was doomed to pay through the nose. He, in turn, toyed back, the trapped mouse cheeking the cat before the feline pounce.

B. required multiple flounces on M.’s part, as he critiqued and deliberated—the long dress was a little outmoded without being utterly out of style; the short dress, which M. had evidently chosen to tease B. into buying the long one, was preferable. Knowing he was trapped, B. made M. model the sexy dress over and over, forcing her to play the sex-slave role she’d chosen in order to get the long dress.

Why did I see all this? Is it a scene that would happen in America? I think it could, though the heavy-handed German male control of the wife’s money (M. works, after all) geht’s nicht in Amerika.

But being out of one’s cultural element can often make one see what one simply misses in one’s own culture. It’s eye-opening, is travel.

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