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1. i dogsat Gemma, my hippy flatmate’s irritatingly hyperactive dog, last weekend, the hippy being at a hippy party in Stuttgart. Dog-owners will attest to the deranged canine frenzy so easily induced by saying “walkies!” or donning one’s boots or coat. A normal dog, thus excited, will pant, yap, gambol, bounce uncontrollably about, spinning and wheeling and all sorts; the beast will bound up and try to lick your face; it will fall over, scrabble to its paws and bounce about with renewed ferocity, yapping in truly demented glee and expectation; it will be a disgrace to all serious (i.e. abnormal) dogs. But normal dogs are only like this for about 5 minutes a day, when they see a walk is on offer.
Gemma is like this all the time. Her usual pace is a desperate lunatic run, peering at me over her shoulder, so she can then crash into my wine bottles, knocking them all over my floor as she wheels and cavorts and gambols and pants, because, after all, i am moving from one side of my room to the other, and so some kind of enthusiasm is in order. The only way to calm her is to become totally motionless, ignoring her whines and pleading looks; and even then, peace is broken as soon as one moves – then, once again cue the wheeling and bounding and panting.
My hippy flatmate has clearly corrupted her with sweets and what not – she refused to eat her boring dry food, and instead stole my stollen. i left the stollen on my sofa, erroneously supposing this to be a Gemma-free zone. i returned from the kitchen to find her sitting at attention, staring at my stollen, wagging her tail and shooting earnest glances in my direction; she then leapt onto my sofa and licked the stollen, then looked at me as if to say “can I eat this? after all, you left it lying about for me!” i went over and found she had already eaten half of it, presumably while i was in the kitchen.
“You little bitch”, i said, impressed. “You ate what you could while my back was turned, then pretended to ask for permission.”
Truly she is a hippy dog.
2. i went to a good production of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer on Saturday. 35 Euros for a 2nd row ticket, with some damn fine looking German girls belting out the Wagner in their skimpy Wagner dresses. However, this meant i couldn’t give Gemma her evening walk. The hippy had apparently intended to give the flat keys to another hippy, so Hippy 2 could take Gemma for a walk while i was at the opera. Hippy 1 rang me as i was walking the stollen-thieving beast in the early evening, to tell me he had given the wrong keys to Hippy 2 – only the letterbox key, because hippies don’t really distinguish between one key and another. Hippy 1 asked if i could leave my flat keys in the letterbox, so Hippy 2 could use them, replacing them post-walk, so they would be waiting for me on my return. i needed only take my letterbox key.
Being a natural pedant i asked for Hippy 2’s phone number, in case he lost the keys, then decided i didn’t need it, that no one could be so stupid and incompetent as to lose a set of keys so easily. i dropped my keys off in the letterbox, went to the opera, went for drinks with the rock star teacher at our school (he was actually in some cult rock band, in America), then returned to my flat after midnight.
i opened the letterbox.
There were keys in the letterbox.
But they were not my keys.
They were totally different keys. They were the wrong keys. They did not open the flat. Perhaps they opened another flat, in another city.
i rang Hippy 1 – no answer. i rang David and Morgana, assuming i would have to sleep on someone’s sofa – no answer. i waxed wroth. i texted Hippy 1. Luckily, he wasn’t totally stoned, and he rang me back. i explained the situation, calmly, growing increasingly amused as the temperature fell and the night deepened and everyone except me was safely in bed, because they hadn’t trusted a hippy.
Finally, Hippy 2 came over to the flat with my keys, laughingly apologetic for having mistaken one set of keys for another; for indeed, it was matter for mirth. i entered the flat, batted away Gemma’s deranged attentions, and tried to sleep, unsuccessfully.
3. From the above, i conclude that one should never share a flat with a hippy. i am divided between murder and observation. The former affords raw emotional satisfaction, the latter useful insights and anecdotes, for blogging and some hypothetical future novel. The novel will be called Hippy Scum and feature a photo of my hippy flatmate, in his full hippy regalia. Here he is, clad as an emo, on his way to an emo party:
This is not the kind of person to whom one should entrust one’s keys.
Woher dies Gefühl: “Allem, was ich sehe, dieser Landschaft, dem Fliegen der Samen in der Luft, all diesem kann ich einen Namen zuordnen; ja, was, wenn nicht dieses, sollten wir Namen benennen”?!
What is the source of the feeling “I can correlate a name with all that I see, with this landscape, with the dance of motes in the air, with all this; indeed, what should we call a name if not this”?!
(Wittgenstein´s journals, 30 May 1915, tr. Anscombe)
i had a great day on Friday, 0700 to 1530 with a half-Swedish, half-German student, a project manager at a cyborg company. The building strongly resembles the Cyberdyne building from Terminator 2, with glass cases full of prosthetic arms, metal skulls with glowing red eyes, etc., walls lined with designs for killer cyborgs.
Everything was modern and amazing. i don’t like the modern world but if it must be, then it should be like this. Even the kettle was some kind of badass Terminator kettle: when you start it up 50 lights come on and it makes a little noise when it’s finished. i enthused about it to my student, who said “I have a kettle like this. You can find them in Aldi for ten Euros.” Later, when we were practicing the simple conditional, i said: “what will you do if i steal the kettle?” and he replied thoughtfully: “If you steal the Terminator kettle, I will help you.” He also suggested i steal chairs, a CD player, and corporate art.
He was a sehr cool hombre, a natural pirate who looked like an amalgam of every character from Das Boot, and dressed accordingly. He lives near Kiel – in the gatehouse of a castle, on an island on a lake. i kept exclaiming “you’re just like a character from The Count of Monte Cristo – you even live in a castle!” He looked amused and responded, “I don’t live in the castle. The castle is a hundred metres away. I live in the gatehouse.” He works in a northern site of the cyborg company, and was visiting the more southerly branch to train the sales people, and get English lessons. He was ill at ease in the formal, unpiratical southerly branch, where everyone dressed in a power suit and the women were all extremely sexy and extremely Stepford. i bumped into a pair of Stepford MILF, who asked who i was teaching, etc. i instantly thought “damn, they’re just like the English Stepfords” – different language, same dress, same expression, same rather dangerous sexuality. Throughout the lesson they kept stalking haughtily past the meeting room, and each time the pirate & i followed their progress with wary interest.
The Stepfords, in true Stepford fashion, tried to charm the pirate on his arrival, but, he reported, they were clearly alarmed by his Das Boot attire, Das Boot stubble, and Das Boot demeanour. They were also apparently livid with curiosity and outrage, because he drives a car a little too flash for his pay grade – purely because it was the only free vehicle in the car pool, but they doubtless imagine he holds secret influence.
“They call me The Shadow,” he said. “When I came to the company I didn’t know what my job was. No one did. I spent three months wandering around the building. I appeared with no warning. I asked questions. I disappeared. No one knew who I was or what I was doing. Even I didn’t know. Like a shadow I appear and then go away again.”
“The Stepfords are probably talking about you now, ‘who is this Shadow who drives an Audi and dresses like a character from Das Boot? What are his powers? Is he dangerous?”
He also knows one of the real life models for the Captain from Das Boot – now in his 90s but still hale and cunning. “A very interesting man,” he said, as i made strangled noises of amazement. Finally, i gasped: “you know…the Captain?”
He nodded, amused. “A friend of my father’s.”
He also likes British folk music and Massive Attack, and has seen The Royal Tenenbaums.
As we parted, he thanked me and said it had been a very useful lesson. i replied, humbly, ” i never thought i’d have a student who lives in a castle and knows the Captain.”
“I don’t live in the castle, I live in the gatehouse,” he corrected me. “I am not so rich.”
Email from the Bosche who i think was my nearest sister, in the Bosche life:
btw, this translation is wrong:
Das erlösende Wort – ?!
The key word – ?!
Rather: The redeeming / redemptive / salvatory word
ach! salvatory doesn’t exists, but you get the point
i believe Morgana models herself on this Vader. She has a rather posh English accent but swears volubly, with venom and aggression. “Cunt”, “fucker”, “shit”, and “motherfucker” are often heard emanating from her office.
Last night i met Ethan’s current girlfriend, a German girl who speaks English like a North Carolina redneck. No swearing, but she spent 13 months in NC when she was 19 and she sounds thoroughly American, 100% trailer trash. She is quite nice and her accent is hilarious, and, comedy aside, enjoyable. The other teachers kept doing white trash impersonations at her, to her good-natured dismay. “But ah AIN’T trailer trash!” she exclaimed, in her authentic Deep South cracker accent. “Ah’s from Cologne,y’all!” Which only prompted further gales of laughter.
“Mah daddy beat me upside mah head!” i wailed at her. “He said ah done drunk his moonshahn!”
Cruel but highly amusing.
1. i had a semi-German lesson today. Only semi-, because Ethan rang me as i was leaving my flat, to groggily inform me he couldn’t make it, no doubt due to massive over-consumption of alcohol. i ended up chatting in English with Till, our German tutor, about literature and music. He owns a bar in Ultima Thule, plays electric guitar in a band, and works part-time as a German tutor at my school. i offered to pay the full 25 Euros but he said we’d hardly done any German, and it was interesting to talk with what he called “an intellectual”. i was momentarily horrified, till he clarified: “someone who reads books.” That i can accept.
“Intellectual” i always associate with the Diary of Adrian Mole, with the bespectacled geek announcing “I read The Guardian, I am an intellectual”. i dislike the sense of privileged, isolated status accorded to the intellectual or academic, as if such creatures are or should be separate from everyone else. As a TEFLer i automatically suppress my interest in literature, art, philosophy, since 95% of my students are down-to-earth engineers with no time for, nor interest in, such rarefied matters. But it is not so much suppressed as differently channelled – so i chat with my students about language acquisition, human character, grammar, society, all informed by my reading and thinking, but carefully modulated, comprehensible i hope.
2. Till worked some more on my pronunciation. i still can’t do the “ch” sound, and perhaps as with the double “r” in Italian, it will be forever beyond me. Other sounds i can now more or less manage. A difficulty – we use, for example, the letter “r” in both German and English but the pronunciation is actually quite different. In one of my first lessons, i asked a student to give me directions from the school to “the Rathaus”; i was met with the usual blank stare whenever i use a German word; i had to repeat “Rathaus” a few times, again, the same blank stare and an uncomprehending “was?“, until i added, “the place near Woolworth’s? The big building? Like a town hall or something?” Only then did my student understand me.
Perhaps it would help if German used a different alphabet; using the same letters as in English, it is too easy to assume “r” in German is “r” in English; but it is not, and though the difference is not enormous, even a small difference seems to bewilder the beastly Hun. But this would only introduce new difficulties – of having to learn new alphabets with every language. And after all, regional variations of English play similarly weird tricks. There is some core resemblance but one must not assume similitude of surfaces.
3. A friend of mine recently had a strange experience with some Pentecostal Christians. The Holy Spirit apparently spoke to the church leader, telling him to bring Morgana to the church “to minister to her”. Given that everyone who knows her ends up calling her something like “the devil woman”, “the evil elf”, “the Whore of Babylon”, etc., this was bold and i have no doubt she could have wrestled the Holy Spirit into submission and perpetrated unnatural acts upon it, with a dildo. After my friend’s tale, i said, wonderingly, “everyone you know is nuts. i’m probably the sanest person you know, and i’m not exactly normal.”
At times i wonder why it is that i, who remember bits & pieces of other lives, occasionally do magic and see gods and what not, would be generally considered sane – eccentric, but sane, by those who know me. i think, though i am in many ways wilder and stranger than any Christian Pentecostal, i am grounded in reason, logic, and trained in the scientific method (a year of Psychology BSc). i guess the Pentecostal, if he strongly felt that Morgana was a “faith challenge” would say “the Holy Spirit has told me…”; with my own intuitions i simply say “i feel that…”; and i catalogue these intuitions, observe that some are false, some true. i am interested in the objective correlatives of these internal processes; i note when magic works and when nothing happens, or when there is some apparently ironic misfire; i note, curiously, the parallels between this and my other lives, while nonetheless aware that parallels do not entail identity (otherwise one could say, e.g., that Wittgenstein was Abelard or Milton, when in fact these are three distinct souls, albeit sharing a family resemblance).
For scientists, my speculations would be outright insane, because not subject to empirical and statistical investigation (how exactly could one test if my past life memories are true, using statistical tests?). For religious nutters, my constant referring back, to objective, observable reality, would be lack of faith. But it is precisely my assumption that reincarnation is just what happens, that what i call magic is some kind of real process, that Woden is a real force, that obliges me to treat their occurrences alongside other facts, such as the weather. Most of all, i must be logically consistent, i must work from solid foundations without tricks, sophistry, weakness. And so far my account has held.
4. i’ve been buying Christmas presents. i’ve decided to send Richard Powers’ wonderful The Time of our Singing to my Finnish friend Minna, who was my eldest sister, in my last life. i know she is unlikely to read it. i have sent her perhaps twenty books since 2002, and i think she has only read one (and that, i guess, only because it was in part about her last life). She explained that she only reads library books and if she buys books, or receives them as gifts, she prefers to store them, unread, in the event of a widespread library disaster. To send her a book is almost to guarantee she won’t read it. However, she says her favourite gifts are books. For a while this perplexed me, then i decided to continue sending her books for her birthday and Christmas. If they give her pleasure they fulfill their purpose, even if she never reads them.
i only know one of her other lives (the last); she has changed very little. Her body is different (she looks very Finnish) but the hair is similar, and she has a similar plain-prettiness, lit up by her rather shy smile. Her posture i think is the same, judging from photos (we’ve never met in this life). She strikes me as a highly conservative soul, who abhors change in each life; and so seeks out similar lives across centuries. Somewhat challenged in the 20th Century, but she has found a life somewhat like her last, as a piano teacher. The differences interest me – an only child in this life, and money seems tight. She once told me she has long felt she was meant to have a large family, many brothers and sisters, as if the ghost of our last life occasionally troubles the present. i think one of our brothers lives about 30 kilometers away from her, though they only know each other through me. And a Bosche girl i am pretty sure was another sister translated a poem i wrote about Minna, a few years ago. In one sense Minna is an only child, just as i have almost no connection to my family in this life; in another, we are just differently familied, friended.
5. Increasingly i need music to walk through Ultima Thule unmolested by the post-war hideousness of concrete and cement. In general this is always playing in my head, as i walk, as i teach:
The quality of an intelligence depends less on what it understands than on what makes it smile.
A fun lesson yesterday with a group of engineers. We were doing the “jobs” chapter so i asked what personal qualities were important, for their jobs; one chap said you must be willing to learn, since he had arrived at his job (IT manager) knowing almost nothing about computers, and likewise everything he knows about winches and gears and prostitutes (the company’s product line) he learnt after getting the job.
Earlier, i had made a similar observation about language acquisition. Before the fun group i taught a bastard group, three Russians, Level 1 – two have zero interest in learning English, the third is willing and interested. The two bastards will finish Level 1 knowing almost nothing, despite my attempts to hammer English into their thick Slavic skulls. The third will know a little – not as much as he should, because he is very much a real life talker, so grammar drills mean little to him.
Some students are naturally gifted at languages, some naturally ungifted, some just plain thick. The crucial factor, however, is the student’s willingness. Over time, the willing student will overtake the gifted lazybones. i am reminded of an aikido story: a clumsy, uncoordinated student, after years and years of hard work, became a master. i am warmed by such tales, for i am naturally ungifted, at everything, but especially language, even my own. It is hard work to write or even speak, for me – or rather, to write or speak well – for i can blather on on autopilot; and it is this facility which i must overcome, time and time again. i must continually unlearn my own (growing) facility with language, in order to say anything not wholly empty; a preparatory concentration, unmastering, comes before the word. There is a peculiar, dynamic exchange between skill and worth, so i couldn’t write some of my younger self’s sentences, nor he mine.
In German i am very much an ungifted novice. German presents unusual difficulties, as the Bosche refuse to understand if one’s pronunciation is just a fraction off, and they lack the Italians’ good-humoured tolerance for incompetence. Go to Padova and the Italians will come out half way to meet you, willing to understand what is as yet imperfect, for theirs is an imperfect world, thoroughly. In Germany, it seems, anything less than a native speaker’s German is inadmissible.
i veer between a despairing sense, that i will never learn this intricately hellish language, since even my simplest utterances are met by blank stares; and a stubborn, angry determination to beat Fritz at his own game. It is no odds to say this was once my native language – for just as i was a poor speaker/writer of English, till i was about 21, so with German then – i came to it as from afar, as if i was not German at all, but perhaps Egyptian or Sumerian, or what you will but not native, not at home here.
A long day today, teaching from 0730 to 1715 without breaks. The bulk of it was a pair of railway accountants, an amusing and pleasantly chatty pair. One had to leave early; i spent the remaining hour chatting with the other about pagan deities and human sacrifice and what not. i asked him for recommendations in Germany, old crumbling towns full of ghosts and honeys, such as i cherish; i explained that i feel at home only when i can connect to an earlier life, where there is a history, a physical lineage of stone and word and people; whereas i feel modern cities to be somehow not wholly real, as if, for me, ” reality” is history, a felt past, tradition and memory, survival. He commented, of the past, ancestral and insistent as it is, “we are never alone”.
The living are tirelessly attended, sometimes discreetly, sometimes not. Gods can be discreet or not, as they choose.