Friday, August 8, 2008

Hamburg 16.12.93: Christmas Merry-Go-Rounds and Ein Mischmasch

At my post again before the glass door. Rich metaphoric material there: how windows/glass doors invite us beyond, open onto new vistas. Whatever praying is, I seem to do it best before a window.

The weather cold and rainy again: K. last night called it Scheisswetter. I see now that some of the flowers on the balcony—the only plants still green—are miniature roses. They nod bravely in the wind today, buds nipped.

I awoke sick and drugged-feeling. Steve says jet-lag. I say that and more. Panicky day yesterday, first at lunch with W. at an Etruscan restaurant, where the waiter was rude with me for rejecting the tomato soup that accompanied the fettucine with tomato sauce. I chose straciatella instead, and he called the choice ein Mischmasch. I don’t handle these things well, and became so full of panic I ended the meal with diarrhea. Then, similar symptoms at a school Christmas concert we attended last night.

Consequently, at bedtime my intestines groaned and couldn’t sleep. When I did finally fall asleep, I slept heavily until 10 this morning, awaking out of a dream of being chased by ruffians into a cleft in a rooftop, where there were dry leaves and spiderwebs.

Ah, well—the stuff of life: dreams. And mine, like my life, are fragmentary, truncated, disordered, and full of strife and pain.

With our late start yesterday, we saw little of the city. At around 11 (after we had argued foolishly for an hour), we took the UBahn to meet W. at the university. For an hour or so, we walked the streets, looking in shop windows, buying a bottle of cherry juice, because we’re so thirsty still from the arid plane air.

I feel drawn to the young folks I see on the streets and at the university—so serious and intense-seeming, with a self-containment that seems directed to politics and social criticism, rather than self-serving. But I always sense that the other side of that German intellectual abstraction and political passion is fanaticism, as if all the repressed and denied emotions of the unconscious are permitted to go with free rein into “high-minded” causes.

Went to a bathroom for students at the university that seemed somehow to typify German culture. It was white and sparkling, with all graffiti carefully (daily?) removed. But it smelled frankly of ordure. A condom machine was displayed very frankly, too, in the exit, with the word natürlich in its slogan—I thought, a play on “nature,” which sells everything today. It had a picture of a woman putting a banana in her mouth.

After the bathroom, W. After W. and the Etruscans, Steve and I headed in the cold wind, under glowing skies, across the Kennedybrücke to the Kunsthalle.

But as we arrived, we realized we wouldn’t have time to see it, since it was past 3 and we were expected back before 6:30. Also, it’s under construction (i.e., renovation) and not all open.

So we walked instead, thinking we were headed to St. Georg to see sights, but instead coming to a shopping area around Mönckebergstrasse. All was Christmasy and attractive as night fell. In a large department store, we saw a woman with a small dog on a leash. On the twisting streets, stands set up for Christmas, in rows following the curves of the little streets and alleys. The stands were tastefully decorated in that German way, with scenes of this and that—mostly Märchen-like. Most sold Christmas ornaments, but some had gifts—silk ties, scarves, candy made from herbs. And many were eating stands, with pretzels, wurst, praline almonds (“an old German receipt”), pita, shishkebab, pizza, or Getränke hot and cold. Germans eat and drink always and everywhere, and they were doing this duty manfully and womanfully this pre-Christmas evening.

Steve and I had unfortunately stopped at a mirrors-and-polished aluminum bistro before this, to have mineral water and non-alcoholic beer. It had none of the charm of the open-air stands, but appeared to be run by a very appealing gay couple.

One thing I liked very much in the “carnival” displays was a merry-go-round, which was decorated on top with ovals depicting scenes from German history and myth, and on bottom (inside the carousel), with what seemed to be faces of queens. It reminded me ot things we saw in Nienstedtermarktplatz last time we were here, at a fair there. Germans seem to excel at decorating carnival rides and carnival stands, and always in a 19th-century Romantic motif. I wonder why?

In one large department store, a stunning display of chocolates in every shape, size, and form—many in Christmas motifs, of course. W. says these go on sale after Christmas.

Another shop all cards, Christmas ornaments, art supplies, leather notebooks and binders. Clean, tasteful, and shop folks so helpful.

Then home, Abendbrot, and out to the school concert in which T. sang and A. played sax. It was in a Lutheran church packed chock full of parents and others, who talked boisterously until the concert began, and times between. A number of the songs sung were spirituals—“Oh Happy Day,” “Go Down, Moses”—and were sung with something approaching gusto and bodily enactment, if not wild gusto. It was actually rather charming to hear the German children sing the spirituals, with their prominent front-of-mouth L’s—“Let my people go”—and the way the Hamburgers seem to turn short I’s into short E’s—“He washed my sens away.”

And now to dress and prepare for the afternoon presentation at the Missionsakademie, and our transfer there.

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