Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Braunschweig 24.7.1998: Precious Purple, and Blue Angels

Yesterday a trip with Mareile to Wolfenbüttel, where she works in the Herzog August Bibliothek. We toured it in the late afternoon, as rain poured down outside. (People are beginning to complain bitterly of the rain, saying it has ruined gardens and crops.)

Library interesting, and Mareile a marvelous tour guide. I was particularly interested in a bible from Reichenau, a monastery in the Bodensee area that had a particular style of religious art, in which scenes were reduced to a symbolic essence. In the one we saw—the angel meeting the two Marys—Jesus’s resurrection was signified by his grave clothes rolled into a ball and left in the empty tomb.

On the facing page was an oval of gorgeous purple, leaning more to red than to blue, appearing like faded silk with ripples. Mareile explained that purple was, into the Middle Ages, a more expensive color than silver or gold, because it came only from a certain “snail” (squid?) of the Mediterranean, whose ink, on contact with air, turns this color.

She went on to say that because of the preciousness of purple, the Roman Emperors permitted no one else to wear it except themselves, the senators being allowed only a border of it on their robes. Mareile thinks this is why the Roman Catholic church uses a variant of the purple for cardinals’ robes.

All of which made me think of the color purple and its significance for gay life and culture. I had just told Mareile of Judy Grahn’s theory about the liminal significance of purple. She seemed interested.

More gorgeous and curious things in the library, including a 16th-century Portuguese navigational map for the journey around Africa and on to India, then we went on into Wolfenbüttel, where we stepped inside the hof of the schloss of the Duke of Braunschweig, and then visited the town. It has pleasing fachwerk houses in abundance, and seemed to have that air, not quite cheerful, but solid and serene, that one finds in these regions. The Saxon air?

After Wolfenbüttel, back here for abendbrot at friends’ of Mareile’s—Wolfgang and Anka. He’s a Braunschweig gardener, she Marile’s closest friend, her heart-and-soul friend, as Mareile describes her. Wolfgang showed us the garden, which is arranged to open into wheat fields by way of two pools, water gardens full of cattails and water flowers. There was also an interesting sculpture, two blue metal pieces about 10 feet long, mounted so that they moved like wings. Wolfgang refers to it as an angel.

We ate in a garden house with open sides, under an arbor of white wisteria that became very fragrant as night went on, in the cool damp air. Anka and Wolfgang’s daughter Katrina, who lives next door, joined us. She, too, is a gardener, and is taking over her father’s practice as he retires. She’s unmarried, has short hair, with an athletic body and a long, mannish stride, and an unnerving directness and unnerving frank gaze.

Anka and Wolfgang very pleasant: both humorous and quick to laugh, he a bit sly and merry, she slow and . . . well, Saxon . . . solid and serene. Abendbrot fairly ordinary, with salamis, cheeses, boiled eggs, a tuna salad with chopped onion and dressing, a salad of cottage cheese and chives, a paté adorned with sprigs of thyme from the garden, and the tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad that’s becoming ubiquitous with German upper crusty circles.

Is it that the Germans are simply unimaginative when it comes to food? Or do they like sameness, the reassurance of stability a predictable meal brings? On the one hand, there’s that admirable sociability the Germans insist on when eating and drinking. But on the other hand, there’s the appalling dullness of it all—the monochromatic food eaten over and over again, always in abundance, with a kind of dreamy self-absorption and much earnest talk. This hardly elevates mealtimes to occasions of wit, sparkle, and gustatory excitement. And perhaps that’s the point: everything in German life seems designed to mute, to order, to control, to assure that nothing unpredictable occurs.

Ah, well. Kind of these genial, cultured people to invite us to dinner, and a good time was had by all, followed by schnapps (plum) in Katrina’s garden, where two large pots of angel’s trumpet stand, not yet blooming. We picked up apples from the ground to make applesauce, and then visited the family’s sheep at a little pasture with more apple trees and lots of undergrowth. Then to Mascherode . . . .

(And the abendbrot wine redeemed the good if uninspired food: a white dry Muscat from the Tyrol, with a Tyrol red I didn’t try after I saw it poured. It had that weak color of German red wine, the color that promises insipidity. The white was very good, and served cooler than is usual in Germany, where many people seem to take cellar temperature for chilled.)

No comments: