Two languages, two rhythms, two patterns, two spheres, two perceptions … last week I attended a re-union of my primary school class in Bavaria. Around 20 of us turned up. The event included a ship ride on the lake that marks the geography of my childhood – Starnbergersee – whose shores are garlanded with castles and grand villas. Once I’ve won the lottery I’ll snap up one of these dream places and invite all my readers to a prolonged party with performances of magic theatre. Yeah!
The tour added a refreshing breeze to the sweltering heat. Later in the day a smaller group gathered at a lakeside restaurant, the same spot where, as a child, I turned up in summer holidays, at sunrise, to assist the local fishermen bringing in their full nets, in return for the free use of a small sailing boat during afternoons.
The encounter with classmates I hadn’t seen for over half a century unfolded like a surreal dream as we cooled down with beer and wine and gossiped time away into the evening. I’m still trying to fit names to faces and places, and make sense of stories that cast stray beams on my memories of the village I grew up in, a village close to the Alps, set in landscapes whose ambiance morphed into the beginning of my first novel.
Among my class mates were a few women I quickly chimed with, not surprisingly, we were close friends during those early years, though we lost touch when we moved on to different schools. It’s deep and wondrous – the mystery of this precious resonance called friendship.
This is me, aged 6, on my first school day. I was a single child.
And I well remember the excitement. The Zuckertüte, the upside down magician’s hat filled with bonbons, chocolates and presents to sweeten the transition into the big world seems to grace my head in the photo my dad took. I can’t find the image right now, but I did receive a proper Zuckertüte on the day, filled to the rim.
My favourite teacher (in the group photo with the village poem post, link below) turned up at the re-union, slow on his legs but sharp witted. His eyes lit up when he recognised me, which gave me a warm feeling all over.
Living in England since several decades, I visit Germany periodically to see my grumpy late-artist-dad, and dear German friends, made during my later Sturm und Drang phase. What struck me about the school re-union was how the primary sensation of my childhood was brought to life through words tossed into the conversations, keywords from my mother-tongue, embedded in local dialect. My mother, who came from Berlin, never picked up the Bavarian dialect, neither did I, however, the term mother tongue incorporates for me my early environment, the village. https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/village-poem/
For the greater part of my life I thought by and spoke in the other tongue, which I first learned at school. Aged 18, unsure of my path, I spent a cultural year with a family friend in London. She cherished me. Our relationship was a healing experience for both of us, given her loss of friends and family members in the Holocaust, and my inherited burden of the atrocities having taken place in my country. Later, studying in Munich, English was the language connecting a multicultural student population. When 9 years on I married a Dutch man and we moved to England together, my German vocabulary gathered dust during further studies. The distance from my mother tongue freed up a wider perception. It also helped me overcome an encoded traumatic experience. At secondary school I had written an essay, freely based on a painting of my choice by Spitzweg – writing was then a blissful creative process. The teacher read the essay aloud, praising its brilliance, after which she informed the whole class that I could not have composed this myself – a screaming insult! And yet, I thank the stupid woman, it changed the course of my studies. I initially used photography to express myself, resuming poetry and imaginative writing later, finding that English allowed me the necessary wings.
Who knows what the dusted off layer of my mother tongue will bring round. Writing in the other language helped me to transcend the mere facts of my life to essential themes, universal metaphors. The divided kingdom of parents, the psychology of the single child, her assumed bridging function between patterns of seeing, like the rational and imaginative perception, the distorted mirrors of relationships, betrayals, the search for the real, and the meeting of soul families. Essential themes lifted like green islands from dark waters during my protagonist’s river journey west.
Course of Mirrors is a gripping adventure story, as well as a psycho mythical opus. In its sequel the teller of the story is revealed as the visionary myth-maker overtaken by her myth – in the way that we can re-arrange the past and postulate possible futures, explore different time-zones, and expand expectations.
I must leave it to my readers to judge the results of my experiment. The first book, Course of Mirrors, will be published next year, by a small but devoted publisher.
Are you a writer/artist who processes experience through two or more languages?
… the wonderful visit …
I loathe most talk of angels since they became best-selling brands, but the synchronicity of Annie Lennox wearing wings and singing to an angel at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the discovery of a rare book among my shelves, brought angels up close.
H G Wells (1866-1946) has been referred to as the Father of Science Fiction. A neglected story, The Wonderful Visit, published shortly after The Time Machine, was regarded as a mocking reflection on attitudes, beliefs and the social structure of a typical English village in Victorian times. I read the social commentary as ornamentation, the comical human attempt to stay the same, round a more essential theme, the conflict that can accompany awakening.
The edition below is from 1922 and has an illustration by Conrad Heighton Leigh. The line under it is from chapter 5 – ‘He fired out of pure surprise and habit.’
A strange bird was sighted.
Ornithology being a passion of the Vicar of Siddermorton, Rev. K. Hilyer, he was going to outdo his rivals and hunt the strange bird. So it came to be that on the 4th of August 1895 he shot down an angel.
… He saw what it was, his heart was in his mouth, and he fired out of pure surprise and habit. There was a scream of superhuman agony, the wings beat the air twice, and the victim came slanting swiftly downward and struck the ground – a struggling heap of writhing body, broken wing and flying blood-stained plumes … the Vicar stood aghast, with his smoking gun in his hand. It was no bird at all, but a youth with an extremely beautiful face, clad in a robe of saffron and with iridescent wings … never had the Vicar seen such gorgeous floods of colour …
‘A man,’ said the Angel, clasping his forehead … ‘then I was not deceived, I am indeed in the Land of Dreams.’ The vicar tells him that men are real and angels are myth … ‘It almost makes one think that in some odd way there must be two worlds as it were …’
‘At least two,’ said the Vicar, and goes on pondering … he loved geometrical speculations, ‘there may be any number of three dimensional universes packed side by side, and all dimly aware of each other.’
They met half way, where reality is loosely defined, and truth has no hold. And they shared the nature of their worlds. Eat, pain, and die were among the new terms the strange visitor had to come to grips with.
‘Pain is the warp and the waft of this life,’ said the Vicar. Riddled with remorse over having maimed the Angel’s wing he decides to looks after him. But to adjust to the Vicar’s world, the Angel must eat and accept pain, and learn all manner of things very fast indeed … Starting to read, during a phase of now legendary sunshine, I settled in my garden with a glass of red, and consequently spilled the wine on my wild strawberry blossoms due to sudden bursts of laughter.
‘What a strange life!’ said the Angel.
‘Yes,’ said the Vicar. ‘What a strange life! But the thing that makes it strange to me is new. I had taken it as a matter of course until you came into my life.’
Mr Angel is nothing like the pure and white angel of popular belief, more like the angel of Italian art, polychromatic, a musical genius with the violin. Listening … the Vicar lost all sense of duration, all sense of necessity … The reactions of the villagers oscillate across a hair-thin-divide between comedy and tragedy, while the bone of the story is psychological, and spiritual. Indirectly, the Vicar encounters his anima (his inner female) through the Angel’s love for Delia, the maid servant of the house. There is no escape. Things get intense. The Angel, over the span of a short week, is tainted by the wickedness of the world, and it crushes him. And the Vicar’s awakening from his narrow prison brings him into tragic conflict with his community.
* * *
Not much has changed. The world is crowded with wounded angels seeking compassion, and since our daily vocabulary offers little more than clichés for other realities, awakening rarely convinces, unless it is embodied and conveyed through atmosphere. Look out for the artist… the musician, painter, writer, animator, filmmaker … and the children.
‘If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
The painting heading this post is by the Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg.
Filed under Blog
Tagged as 19th century, Angels, Anima, Annie Lennox, artists, awakening, beliefs, books, children, circular and linear time, comedy, communication, Conrad Heighton Leigh, English, fallen angel, father of science fiction, H G Wells, heaven, Hugo Bimberg, illustration, imagination, inner conflict, inspiration, lover, Marriage of Heaven and Hell, men, metaphors, morals, musical genius, other realities, pain, painting, perception, preconceptions, Queen, reality, relationship, religion, remorse, Siddermorton, social commentary, spirituality, symbolic understanding, The Queen's Diamond Jubilee, The Time Machine, The Wonderful Visit, tragedy, unique moments, Vicar, village, violin, William Blake, wisdom, wounded angels, writing