Monday, November 17, 2008

Braunschweig 22.7.1998: Oasis of Roses, Hunting Hares

Sitting in Mareile’s garden in Mascherode—a fine, hot, cloudless day already, early in the morning. What . . . cultivated, in every sense . . . lives these cultivated Europeans live. The garden is tended to, meals are social occasions, every room has nosegays of old roses. With Mareile, one always feels as if body and spirit sing in harmony. Here life is so expressive, so much a movement of cultivated spirit out into a a corporeal world experienced not as threat but as grace. A catholic world: something one never quite forgets with Mareile, since her piety is always to the fore, but never quite obtrusive.

I’ve noticed (looking furtively and guiltily) that Mareile’s desk in her sitting room has a little shrine to Walter. Interspersed with photographs of Walter (a pensive side-view against a sky, a garden picture of him bending over a laughing Mareile in a lawn chaise longue), are postcards of the Sorrowful Mother, of the Pietà, of the crucifixion. One is a close-up of a weeping Madonna. All are pictures of medieval wood carvings. One daren’t mention these. This is a private shrine, albeit one shared, since it sits in a family room.

That’s how it is, always, with Mareile—much is said, without having to be spoken . . . .

In the midst of all this, in this oasis of roses, ranunculi, and hortensia, I think about the fate family is, and wonder what to do about that fate. Or can one do anything about it? Isn’t that the point of fate: it’s fated; it’s inexorable and foreordained. One can only undergo it, either defiantly or with submission. Mareile could not change the brute fact of Walter’s death, any more than the Mater Dolorosa could prevent her son’s crucifixion.

The air in which I think these thoughts seems so crystalline, so serene, because I’m away from my family. But how different it is when I’m “at home” . . . .

But perhaps what the mind can’t think through, the heart can try to resolve. In dreams, for example: as I write about my fate and my family, I think of a fragment of a dream I had last night. I was in a very ancient chapel that ran underground, with no roof . . . .

+ + + + +

Last night, Mareile told us of a priest in Berlin—“just an ordinary pastor, not an activist”—who was beheaded by the Nazis. Nobody was certain of the reason: perhaps it was because spies in his congregation construed his sermons as critique of the Reich; or perhaps it was due to a comment he made in a home he visited. There, he saw a crucifix with a picture of Hitler on one side and Göbbels on the other. He remarked, “Just as before, Jesus hangs between two thieves.”

Today, as we looked at the Alte Linde, the Kaiser Lothar Linde in the Domyard in Königslutter, Mareile told us of a teacher she had there, Thelo. Before the war he was a painter. When Hitler came to power, the modernist art Thelo painted was condemned as decadent, and he was forced to quit painting.

Thelo then became a teacher. As a degradation, he was assigned the task of teaching slow children. Somehow Mareile also became his pupil. On certain Protestant holidays, she and the few other Catholic children in the school would be taught by him. Then, the whole day, he’d tell fairy tales.

People in Könighlutter said that Thelo was odd. His windows had no curtains. He was a Quaker. Years later, after she had married and Thelo was an old man, Mariele drove with her children to see him. He had resumed painting, and she wanted to buy a picture of his. Not having much money, she chose the smallest one. When she found it was only 50 DM, she wished she had chosen a larger one.

(Mariele just showed it to us. It’s a configuration of squares, red, purple, yellow, orange, against a black background. There are a few gold squares as well. Mareile said it reminds her of Klee; it did me, too.)

The Dom in Königslutter was interesting, and made more interesting than it might have been by Mareile. It’s Romanesque, a very pure Romanesque, with an astonishing cloister, whose pillars twist and turn with every manner of design. Along the way, the side capitals are also ornately detailed. At either end are figures holding up capitals and looking full-face at the viewer. Mareile said it’s unknown if they’re reference to the God Wotan, or the carver himself. By legend, they’re carved by a master and his apprentice.

On an outer wall of the church was a wonderful hunter’s frieze, in which men—from either side—set dogs on animals. One side shows a rabbit being pursued, caught, carried on a pole by the hunter. Then all of a sudden, the reversal: the hunter’s on the ground, the hare’s tying him up hand and foot, atop him.

I asked Mareile if the frieze was simply a whimsical thing, or meant to speak some symbolic lesson. She said the latter. I thought of poor pursued nature avenging itself on its pursuers. A guidebook I’ve just consulted says it’s a memento mori message.

The linden, too, was fabulous—older than the church, it’s thought, and gnarled and virtually hollow inside, with iron bars to protect its hollow areas, and concrete to fill some of them. One low limb is held up by a kind of red metal pillar.

Mareile told us that, on certain occasions, the school would bring the children to the tree, to form a ring about it and dance in honor of the ancient Kaiser—a vestige of the Maibaum in these Protestant lands?

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