Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oberpfalz, Kreis Waldmünchen, 21.12.1999: Winter Gardens and Blue Hills of Bohemia

*In Bavaria, at Steve’s cousins’ in the Oberpfalz. I’m sitting in a room they call the Wintergartenzimmer, off the kitchen at the back of the house. It has windows on two sides, floor to ceiling, and on the side that joins the kitchen, a beautiful corner stove for heat. This has a marble or perhaps faux marble top, resting on a stone base that forms the top of the stove. The stone is graven. A similar stone is beneath the stove.

The room has a tile floor of light tan, and white walls. In the middle is a table with an old-seeming sewing machine for its base. I feel quite sure Hermann S. built the room. He’s amazingly talented. He paints, gilds and repaints church statues, works in wood.

It’s a simple room, but so esthetically pleasing. Atop the stove are two ebony statues, I think of Masai people, since there is a similar statue upstairs that Hermann tells us comes from the Masai people. One the wall over my shoulder is a statue of St. George killing the dragon. The saint has a brightly colored cape, and the base on which the statue sits is gilded—Hermann S.’s own work. The Bavarians don’t leave their saints in church; they bring them home.

Over the table is a light fixture made from what appears to be an old oxen yoke, of darkened wood and leather with iron studs. The door to the room is plain wood, but ornamented with a carved scroll beneath the window. Outside, as I look at the peach-colored stucco walls of the house, I see that Hermann S. has painted scrolls of gray, yellow, and brown above and below the window—the Bavarian sensibility, to ornament.

It snowed last night and during the previous day, perhaps for days before here. The snow must be about 10 inches deep, but the temperatures are just above freezing, so the snow is packing slowly. Rain is predicted for Wednesday—the 23rd. It so, I hope it washes the ice and snow off the roads, so that a trip to Weissensulz will be possible. Getting here yesterday afternoon was a bit tricky. Dark had begun to fall as we left the autobahn and started our trek through the Oberpfälzisch hills and villages. Several times, the care went into skids when we tried to stop and turn. Steve’s expertise pulled us out.

Very peaceful hear, the snow overlaying everything, the stove purring efficiently in the corner. But quiet for the visitor. I feel in my bones that if I lived here, I’d soon find it very unquiet. There is, almost literally, nothing to do, not even a shop or a bakery. The young leave, as they leave the Eifel. For those whose families have long been established, as the S.’s have, it’s home, and Hermann S.’s house shows that one can make a life here, a pleasant one. Still, a sadness hangs over the place, the sense that a way of life is soon to pass, as the young go to Rötz or father afield to Regensburg, and the parents nurture the village—for whom?

The sadness of any passing. What were those lines I thought of yesterday, as drove, one of those many blockbuster opening sentences I devise, never to complete the story they begin? “Being Irish, they enjoyed reciting the names of things, especially things that have passed from the earth. My grandmother used to recite the names of apples she knew in her youth, which were no more: Yates, Mollie’s Delicious, the Cullasaja, and on and on, a formidable litany. And when she’d take me to her attic to explore the contents of trunks up there—her mother’s, Kate Ryan the immigrant, her brother John’s, who died at her house, her mother-in-law’s—there would be lessons in forgotten quilt patterns, the Double Wedding Ring, Geese A-Flyin’, Broken Dishes. Many of the unquilted tops in her mother’s trunk she had pieced along with Grandma Kate. To see them was to remember a whole history now goine, since each quilt top incorporated pieces taken from the clothes of family members no longer alive—the black silk dresses of Kate herself, who was perpetually in mourning for a lost child, the bright sprigged gingham of little Lizzie who died as a girl, or the blue denim workpants of Tommy, who had fallen dead hoeing cotton one hot summer day.”

Frau S. comes and goes as I write, a stricken look on her face. Unlike her husband, who’s solid and very relaxed, she flits nervously here and there. Even in Germany, I’ve never seen a house so immaculate. When we were here at Fronleichnam, she was preparing her yard for the procession by pouncing like a bird on infinitesimal pieces of detritus in the grass, as we men sat talking in the evening air.

There’s something fierce in the busyness, the cleanliness of German woman, something I wouldn’t want to encounter in an enemy. Even as I write, she’s moving purposefully across the snow-covered driveway with a pail in her hand, talking to a neighbor all the while, poised as if to run back inside to complete her chores. She has an apron on, of course, that blue work apron that seems standard for so many village women.

What she tells me when she flits in and out, I’m never entirely sure. She speaks broad Bavarian, rapid-fire, in a guttural, forceful tone. She’s brought a carafe of tea, and is telling me how to line up the red dot with the opening. And now she has bottles of mineral water, lemonade, and homemade apple juice. I think she’s saying—yes, I do understand this clearly—that the apple juice is cold from the cellar, and I shouldn’t drink it cold for fear of harm to my throat.

They eat only bio food. No white sugar or flour, only whole grain and brown sugar from Africa. Breakfast this morning was a very delicious muesli with grated apples and grains. Dinner last night was wonderful—a fresh trout fried in butter with almonds (truite almandine), served with parsley potatoes and salad—a really good salad of onion, bell pepper, lettuce, and tomato, with a simple vinaigrette. The dressing was the first non-sweet, non mayonnaise or cream dressing I’ve had on this trip to Germany.

*This posting resumes a travel narrative whose last installment was posted on this blog on 12 May. Now that I've re-located my misplaced travel journal, I can complete the saga of this particular trip to Germany.

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