Monday, September 29, 2008

Munich(2) 3.6.1998: Pilzen and Paprika, Gilded Sunbursts and Somnolent Organs

(Evening): A whirlwind tour of Munich with Maria as our tourguide. It began with a rather uninteresting ride on the S-Bahn from Gräfelfing into Munich.

We first toured the Marienplatz, which was confusing and a bit off-putting, due to some carnival now occurring in association with the Pentecost holidays. Lots of tourists, many pushy little people. Germans don’t line up for entrances, and an “excuse me” when one steps in front of someone else on the street seems unheard of.

We then walked by St. Peter’s church, where one may view the city from the church towers, and whose walls have battered monuments to long-dead Gräfs, and went to the Viktualienmarkt. Sauerkraut wafting through the air from tables outside beer halls, rows of vegetables one mustn’t touch, strings of dried Pilzen and paprika, containers with lavender and hearts fashioned out of lavender, and a woman with a twitching face: that’s the Viktualienmarkt.

From there to the Asamkirche, a Rococo jewel that left me curiously cold, as if I were watching the wedding of a couple I barely knew, or, more apt, gorging on their wedding cake. I know why, I think: it’s all the allusions—heavy ones—to the era of Catholic triumphalism, to Counter-Reformation piety. The gilded sunbursts, the too-cute cherubs’ heads protruding from the wall, the playful profusion of marble: can anyone have ever felt deeply engaged by this wedding-cake view of paradise?

Perhaps that’s what put me off: if Baroque, and even more so, Rococo, is a glimpse of heaven on earth, then it’s this heaven itself that repulses me, with its glitz and fleshy self-satisfaction, its somnolent organs and exaggerated jubilation. This God of Rococo is not only all to carnal: it’s a God whose carnality is entirely imbued with the spirit of the age, with triumphalism and doctrinalism in which mystery has been transmuted into paint and plaster.

Enough of all that. Is it really how I feel, in any case? Or do I resent a world that has so decisively excluded me, even as I long for its security?

After les frères Asam, coffee at a café inside (that is, just off) a Gasse with exclusive clothing shops. We sat outside at high tables, on high stools, and I was so thirsty I had Kirschsaft and mineral water as well as coffee.

Then a walk to the university section and Schwabing, at first along Ludwigstrasse. The intentional Roman references—statuary, neo-classical architecture (Rome appropriating Greece)—are interesting. It’s not just that Bavaria’s so near Italy, so tied to it by mutual Catholic affiliation: it also strikes me that European regimes in the 19th century needed those Roman references to bolster their belief that, threatened as they felt, they were still the grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome.

And of course the Theatinerkirche en route, which we saw only outside. Maria likes it because she says that the color and appearance of the façade change continuously, with altered light and different weather. And the Dom, unimpressive even though a Munich cultural landmark: the inside is all post-war, and very undistinguished, with unadorned walls and nondescript stained glass windows.

Schwabing I liked, with its little side streets full of intentionally lowbrow ethnic restaurants (Turkish, Greek, Spanish), and small speciality shops, in one of which I bought a postcard, a detail from a painting of Carl Spitzweg entitled “Im Dachstübchen.” Maria recognized it immediately—that is, that it was a Spitzweg. I’m looking forward to seeing the collection of his work at the Neue Pinakothek. I like that genre of gentle late Romantic comic representation of all the ideals of the Romantic period.

Then home, as C. was tiring, with shopping for tomorrow’s dinner (menu and grocery list in back of this journal). (Southern fried chicken, parsley potatoes, seasonal vegetables, asparagus vinaigrette, shrimp and sausage gumbo, cornbread and/or biscuits, cobbler). In the afternoon, I cooked the strawberry cobbler and the gumbo, which are now cooling in the basement.

Liqueurs as we cooked—grappa and Calvados—followed by a little Spatzierengehen with B. and C. Not far from here is a field of wheat, with a overlook part and a large house (now apartment, B. tells us) set back in a field, with a dirt road leading to it.

I like this, in Germany, the mix of city and country even in very sophisticated large cities—the way one can find unselfconsciously preserved country estates and even farmsteads cheek-by-jowl with suburban houses.

In America, we’d tear the farmhouses down to make suburban-developer money, or we’d preserve them in a very self-conscious, olde crafte way. The German attitude bespeaks a praiseworthy sense of rootedness in the earth and an agrarian past, that’s the basis of any solid culture.

The Spitzweg: it’ll be my little lodestar to remember Bavaria by.

And oh yes, Abendbrot: Leberkäse, which has no liver at all, but, rather, minced pork and veal, with some Bavarian cheeses, various good German breads (including a spice bread with caraway, anise, and cardamom), and a salad of various greens—the Feldsalat I loved so much on my last trip!—dressed with a vinaigrette that included pumpkin-seed oil. Afterwards, Maria served us a liqueur her elderly Austrian cousin had made, an Obstler. It was wonderful, with a distinctive summer fruit smell and flavor. Neither Maria nor B. knew the various fruits that had gone into its making. I tasted pear, and they thought plum as well.

Reminded me of M.F.K. Fisher’s observations about the no-name fruit liqueurs her neighbors made when she lived in Switzerland. They would put imperfect and windfallen fruit into barrels in the orchard, and at the end of the season, would take these to the distillery and have liqueur made. She, too, speaks of the summer fruit taste and smell it had, and the healing virtues the Swiss believed it contained: it was used to rub on sprained joints and for massages, and to bathe the forehead if one was fevered.

An overload of sensory impressions, little digested, and recounted very superficially . . . . And what runs through it all? Underneath it all? And what do I hope to find on this Odysseus’ journey?

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