Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wiesbaden 6.5.05: Bloody Mary Mix and Memories of War

At the Hauptstadarchiv for Hessen in Wiesbaden. It’s one of those almost frighteningly efficient modern buildings Germans create, all muted lights (what do you call them? They’re dangerous to put into lamps at home, since they cause fires) and gray, brown, black fixtures and furniture.

Outside, through huge slats on an external window covering that can be adjusted according to the light, a slice of Hessen: starlings hopping and pecking in a daisy-sprinkled lawn. As I watch them, I think of the ways that bring us where we are: how complex, inextricable, and unpredictable they are. I’m not sure I’d ever have come to Germany.

But Wolfram contacted Gregory B., who put him in touch with me. One door open, totally unanticipated—and seminars in Hamburg and travel money to interview Dorothe Sölle.

And then Steve and his ancestry: it has brought us repeatedly to places like this, where even an ardent tourist might never choose to go. And where, I suspect, my uncle once walked.

But what did he see? Rubble, human suffering, a people who were the Enemy and whose tongue he could not speak, but who touched his heart nonetheless—as they did the heart of his half-brother Carl.

I feel horrible today, dizzy and nauseous. We ate late yesterday afternoon at a little restaurant pub—Beck’s?—at what was called, if I remember, the Bäckerei spring, a hot spring. Sat at an outside table just across from a tap flowing with hot water from the spring.

We both had asparagus with melted butter, ham (raw for Steve), and new potatoes—three slices of rolled ham, four asparagus, and three potatoes with a little cup of butter. Things did not taste fresh. The first slice of ham was like one on the outside of a package left open in the refrigerator.

I awoke, stomach rolling, with nausea and dizziness several times in the night. It was still with me when I finally got up.

Breakfast did not help. Poor-quality stuff for American tastes—all eye appeal and no taste appeal. It’s hard to get bad bread in Germany, but they’d managed. Cold, clotted scrambled eggs, bloody Mary mix disguised as tomato juice (one does not want cayenne and Worcestershire sauce on a rolling stomach), and bitter, barely potable coffee.

No supper for me unless I’m over this! Well, perhaps a fruit ice :-) . . . .

+ + + + +

Sun now shining through the little aperture created by the shutter thing. Wind blowing through the trees and hedge that divide the archive lawn from a building next door.

As I see the sparkling, fluttering leaves, the daisies, dandelion seed globes, and plantain spikes studding the lawn, I think, even in the war, there must have been days when the sun shone in May, and all seemed beautiful. What did people feel, I wonder, as May came, and the war decimated the country, disrupted its life, brought unimaginable suffering (along with shame and guilt)?

An amazing bird arrives to strut among the daisies as I wrote this—a large black bird, but with white ovals above its wings, and a white lower body—as if it’s wearing a very elegant tux, though black where white should be and vice versa. The black and white of human existence, May giving way to December and December to May.

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