Friday, July 25, 2008

Oberpfalz, Kreis Waldmünchen 24.12.99: Circling Crows and Fir-Clad Hills

Heilige Abend. In today’s local paper, Bayerwald-Echo from Cham, I read in the personals column an ad from a woman, “Ich will keine Schokolade; ich will ein Mann.” This in bold letters. The ad goes on to say that the man should enjoy old movies and should be nice and optimistic. Well, yes. Who doesn’t need such a man? Heilige Abend . . . .

I must be wrong about white as the interior color in north Germany. Here, too: every room in this house is painted white. Most are also stippled or stuccoed. Upstairs, there’s a kind of faux stucco wallpaper, unobtrusively plastic, with little designs—leaves, etc.—of pale gray and brown. Germans like things cool, understated, “natural” in a very well-defined and entirely artificial sense.

And what a house this is, in a village the backside of nowhere. Steve’s doing the ironing now in the Badzimmer, the main bathroom for the house, downstairs. Hermann built it, as he did, I suppose, everything in the house. It’s so cool, beautiful, well-appointed, with white tiles (again, rippled) interspersed with plane tan ones with Egyptian motifs. The large elevated tub is designed to be used for Kur, with bath salts.

The surprise is to find such a well-designed, well-appointed house in a tiny village in an out-of-the-way place. These aren’t people of great affluence, obviously; they’re village folks. In Germany, the standard of living is so much higher for people who would, in other locales, be close to the bottom of the economic ladder. Here, there barely seems to be a bottom.

Mind not nimble today. We sat around all day yesterday. The plan was to go, with Hermann, to Weissensulz and various churches he’s redone—Bieberbach, Heinrichskirche—after they had shopped.

But when they came back at noon, they said travel to the Czech Republic seemed dangerous, due to the forecast of rain (Der Wetterberricht hat Regen ausgesacht, said one of those phrases in a German lesson book that seems never to leave the mind when more useful ones remain maddeningly beyond memory's grasp). So the day was a sit-around kind of day, and I feel dull and a bit edgy as a result.

I wish I could draw or paint the view from the window. I’m looking south and east, from the Wintergarten room. Sky is completely gray, but to the east, where the sun’s behind the clouds, there are bright spots of pale yellow light in the gray, where the clouds are less gray. All this over the roofs of neighbor houses, themselves the same pale yellow color. Hermann’s workshop is also on the southeast side of the house, itself the same peach color as the house, a very pleasant color. These muted pastels stand out against the unbroken white of fields and roofs.

To the south, in the distance, a dark, tree-covered hilltop. The hills are evergreens, but whether pines, junipers, or some other winter evergreen, I don’t know. There’s also a large old barn on this side of the house, of a gray, unpainted wood that seems to be commonly used by farmers here. In front of it are a greenhouse where the S.’s grow tomatoes and cucumbers in summer, and Hermann’s wood-drying shed, with neatly stacked pieces of wood he uses for his art work.

Further afield are snow-covered fields, and lives of fruit trees. Over the fields large blackbirds (crows?) are slowly gliding, seeking mice or other small animals in the snow, I imagine.

+ + + + +

Home follows us like the whipped cur wherever we go. From my car window, Bach playing on the radio, I watch the snow-covered hills of the Bavarian Oberpfalz pass . . . by . . . . They stretch over dark-firred mountains in the Czech Republic, Europe’s dark heart.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I catch a bird slowly circling the fields; and I’m back in Arkansas, on I-40 headed east, flocks of ducks and wild geese rising from the rice stubble with morning promise more than mouth can say, as my mother lies lost in a hospital bed I cannot reach.

+ + + + +

Heilige Abend has come and gone, so to speak. It is evening, 6:20, and we’re waiting for the “midnight” Mass at 10. But anti-climax is in the air. The family has gathered, R. from Regensburg and J. from Rötz, with her husband E. and child S.

The “children” seemed eager to come for a brief time and then go. They have their own lives. R. has moved far from his village origins. Hermann tells us R. did very well in school, and his friend is a Juristin. J., by contrast, did poorly, so that R. went to Gymnasium, J. to a trade school. R. speaks impeccable English, and J. hardly any—a surprise, given her generation. J. married an auto mechanic.

The village seems to be a place to be from. The city—Rötz, all as it is, and Regensburg—exerts a well-nigh irresistible attraction. The parents in the village represent the life to be left behind, so visits are infrequent, politely cool, and fraught with unspoken tensions. The village parents have come to prefer their quiet life in the country, which the children (and the unspoken tensions they introduce by their visits) unsettle. And the children are happy to make their perfunctory visits, pay filial respect, and return to their more exciting lives in the city.

Steve and I always seem to find ourselves in the anti-climactic moment, with the left-behind old people. I’d like (I think?) the excitement of a party tonight, or at least a walk along a city street with brightly lit windows.

Instead, it will be 10 P.M. “midnight” Mass in the village. I’ll very much on display, the American guest.

+ + + + +

R. tells me the line about not wanting chocolate, but a man, is from a song of the 1960s or 1970s. So much for my amusement at it. And what of the ad for Thürn u. Taxis beer I saw in the paper today, which very much amused me? It showed a woman sipping beer from a large glass, here eyes closed in ecstasy.

What struck me as so funny when I saw it was the use of a woman, a sexy woman, to sell beer. Beer is a man’s drink, a football drink. A woman drinking beer, geht’s nicht. Men enjoying being men don’t want to be reminded of women, except as sex objects, ornaments draped across car hoods, perhaps. They certainly don’t want to be reminded of women’s sexuality.

In America, women don’t drink beer, at least not in beer commercials. In Germany beer is equally a woman’s drink, so the use of female sexuality to sell beer is perhaps not so strange after all.

What one culture sees as natural/normal, the-way-things-are, another culture raises its eyebrows at.

Distracted as I write. We’re in the Wohnzimmer with the lighted Christmas tree. The television is on. It’s a program about the history of Stille Nacht. I’m shocked at how well I understand it.

A small male choir (it’s the choir that’s small) is singing, as the camera pans across an 18th-century crèche that was in the church where Stille Nacht was first performed. It’s all very appealing.

But . . . who was it recently who told me of how pro-Nazi most Austrians really were? All day, as Hermann drove us to various churches in the countryside where he has renovated statues and paintings, I kept thinking, How did any of this help, when Nazi times came?

This is not a Protestant question. It’s not about the efficacy of church art and devotions related to such art. It’s about the efficacy of any rituals and devotional practices, when culture beckons or evil presses. If all this wonderful church art in Bayern bespeaks a deep-generations deep-piety, then why was the whole countryside not up in arms, as Hitler came to power? Why did anyone fight in his army? Why does every church have a conspicuous monument to the dead of the two world wars?

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