Friday, August 14, 2009

Braunschweig, Germany 11.7.09: Riots of Roses and Bunzlau Jugs

In Braunschweig at Mareile’s. Always such a great pleasure to be here. She doesn’t appear to age or to change.

When we arrived and came through the gate, she came running down the garden path and kissed us, then ushered us inside and sat us very formally at the table she uses for reading and writing letters beside large windows overlooking the garden.

We sat, the three of us, in a semicircle around the table, as she talked to us as if we had parted only yesterday—though we realized as we talked that it’s been a whole decade since we were last here.

On the table, wild white sweetpeas she had picked for us on a walk in the woods, in a Bunzlau jug, and on the dining table, another Bunzlau jug of rose-colored white sweetpeas. Our bedroom has a vase of very sweet-smelling pink roses from her garden.

The garden is, as in the past, a wonder to behold, a riot of roses, foxgloves, peonies, sweet William, hydrangeas, hollyhocks, poppies, and many other flowers in a flowing, artfully arranged “wild” style, an English style à la Gertrude Jekyll.

Somehow Mareille creates all around herself a unique space, a civilized, contemplative one, in which one may talk with equanimity about roses and wild sweetpeas, Charlemagne, Benedict’s new encyclical, Bunzlau pottery, and Obama. A European space, highly cultured without being self-conscious or snobbish, and a space grounded in deep, authentic, non-showy piety.

I find it exceptionally restful, being here. Even listening to and speaking German continuously doesn’t strain me. I find myself hearing and understanding almost every single word, where in other settings, especially when I’m tired or strained, I sometimes get only the gist without understanding some words.

Her intense, searching, but always warm blue eyes remain young, and I was not surprised to see her, at the age of 73, spring up the stairs like a young mountain doe when she showed us our room.

+ + + + +

And now today just back from a weekend flea market, where we found 4 or 5 nice small watercolors for a euro or two each, and a brand-new Steiff hedgehog for Mary at a very good price. An enjoyable morning, followed by herb tea from herbs Walter’s aunt in Austria gathers in the wild verges of her yard. Last night, we had ham she still cures and smokes herself, as she approaches 100.

And I keep thinking about what I wrote yesterday re: the difference between north and south Germans, and how I need to balance those observations with a note about how what sometimes seems to be the phlegmatic nature of people in the north is often restful and serene when compared with the hectic air in the south. There’s a way in which north Germans leave each other and strangers along—in a good, non-obtruding, way—while south Germans seem to command social interaction. All those good mornings and guten Appetits are not merely social pleasantries. They’re also command performances, demanding that one respond in kind.

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