Friday, November 14, 2008

Braunschweig 21.7.1998: Limpid Maaren and Wood Sprites

Leaving Koblenz, 8 A.M., for Braunschweig yesterday, another drive to the Eifel—to Kelberg—for Steve to meet a man with information on the Schafer family. Then on to Dreis, where he bought a history of the village from the former bürgermeister.

Again, that beautiful landscape, where wheat was being harvested on a fine summer day, a hot one (30º). Part of its appeal is that, from a ridge, one can see so far—the rolling volcanic land, the little Maaren with their limpid water, and the fields. It’s also tame, a bit shaggier and poorer, than many of the farming areas of Germany, including the Bavarian Oberpfalz.

Which makes me wonder if the people here aren’t a good bit Celtic. I suppose I ask this because Herr M. and his wife—the former bürgermeister of Dreis—looked so Irish-Scottish to me: small, fine-boned, piercing blue eyes. They were sitting outside in folding chairs, and could just have easily been in the Ozarks or Texas, he with his cowboy shirt and jeans, she with her faded old print dress.

Their air, too, was Celtic—the open hospitality, the snap and spark of wit and laughter, the acerbic twist of tongue. Were the river valleys of the region Romanized and Germanized, while these high hinterlands with their poorer soil, lands which sheep still graze, and their solemn womblike little churches so different from the Baroque ones of Bavaria, left to the Celts?

After the Eifel trip, dinner beside the Rhine in Landstein. The food was gutbürgerlich, fulfilling three of Jup’s requirements for a good feed: gutbürgerlich, viel, und billig. We ate outside in a beer garden as we drank beer and listened to the raucous tables all around, full of Rhinelanders enjoying the fine summer evening beside the river, and guzzling beer and eating heartily of potatoes and pork. The gusto with which Germans tuck in—and celebrate—can be positively frightening.

Jup and Marian were very kind to us. We had wondered how much they knew about our relationship, and what they thought. On the Eifel tour, Marian asked what the church thinks of our living together. We told them about our experiences with our jobs, and they were furious. Turns out they have many gay friends, and feel very attracted to gay people.

A footnote to what I said re: Herr and Frau M. looking like an elderly Texas couple. What small-town Texas mayor would be able to produce a history of his community, spanning (and detailing) its history from its inception. Here, the Irish analogy works, but not the American ones. The interest in one’s tiny local area is as intense as in Ireland (and the small villages and sparse settlement again speak to me of Celtic origins).

Footnote to comment about the Eifel landscape: and those dark little forests scattered here and there, with their cool depths and whispers of ancient folk like and wood sprites . . . .

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