1. My woman visited for the weekend. We went to Starnbergersee on Friday. i went once back in April, on a free Thursday (one of the perks of teaching freelance); fine weather and very few people. It was reasonably busy this Friday but peaceful, a home for the very very rich, the rich who walk about wearing what look like bargain basement clothes because they’re so rich they don’t give a fuck. Some German hippy chavs were sitting on a pier drinking and talking loudly in their orclike chav German. Within 15 minutes two Ordnungsamt officers (big, uniformed, professional) walked over and interrogated them, just to let them know their kind isn’t welcome. i asked Juniper what she thought of the chavs’ German; she said they were German but spoke in a particularly nasty, inelegant way as if to advertise that they don’t have any graces and don’t care about anyone else – that they don’t give a fuck. This was clearly audible to me, with my bad German – the grating, thuggish pronunciation is a kind of universal chav signal.
In England, such folk are the norm, or at least such a noxiously present minority that no one dares say anything. In Germany, at least in Munich, they are aberrant and will be swiftly exterminated and good riddance. i didn’t feel any indignation at the Ordnungsamt – they looked fairly polite and in the end let the chavs persist in their foulness. But it’s clearly important to quash public chavvery, or it goes from being a scrofulous minority to an acceptable disgrace, to (as it is in most of England) the norm. German politicians would do well to set up what the Bosche call “a control” – to stop & interrogate suspect individuals. If the suspects speak a snarling chav idiom, if they possess no tweeds, if they rarely or never read Goethe, if they think a pitbull is the right kind of dog, if they frequent Burger King and McDonalds more than me, if they are unable to demonstrate profound understanding of at least a dozen works of classical music, if they do not have jobs, if they take drugs – then they must be deported to England posthaste.
2. The first time i visited Starnbergersee i didn’t realise it featured in The Waste Land, despite having memorised the poem 16 years ago and retaining most of it.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten
And drank coffee and talked for an hour
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
i gather that Eliot met Marie Larisch and – by his word, i suppose – these lines are more or less hers. She had a difficult, dramatic life, the kind you could have in those days. The Hofgarten is nowhere near Starnbergersee – even by s-bahn and u-bahn it would take at least 40 minutes to travel there; 100 years ago it would have been a good long journey, i expect. Nonetheless, a poet is not expected to stick to literal fact, unless his poem declares itself to be a literal record. Eliot’s poem is mythological, collecting bits & pieces from a broken world. When the human race destroys itself and the cities crumble, a single surviving artefact will take on mythic dimensions; likewise in Eliot’s poem, these fragments are as if from a destroyed world, the only remnant.
3. Today Juniper and i went to the Alte Pinakothek. On a Sunday it’s only 1 Euro and not too busy. i rarely go to art galleries as i don’t like crowds, travelling on the shitty Munich s-bahns, spending money, or art. There were some diligent tourists going straight to certain numbered paintings and reading the booklet description before taking a photograph and moving swiftly on. i prefer to look at the paintings first, decide if it’s interesting or not, then look at the name. This is an interesting exercise, for me dating back to 2003 when i was going through a Verona art gallery and was suddenly mesmerised by a Bellini portrait, having no idea what it was; then i read the name and realised it was Someone Famous. i couldn’t see a definable difference between the Bellini and the largely undistinguished others; but the colours seemed stronger, more powerful; it had immediate authority.
In the Alte Pinakothek i saw a lot of well-executed but highly stylised paintings, without much interest, and was then starkly arrested by Andrea del Sarto’s Holy Family, then Raphael’s Madonna della Tenda:
(the details of her dress are wonderful but lost in this JPEG); and Botticelli’s Lamentation Over the Dead Christ (click on the image for the full size)
The latter serves as an instructive contrast to the usual technical exercises. Many of these genre paintings are essentially uninteresting. The faces are either pompously expressionless or indulging in caricatural weeping and sorrowing (one features a pair of saints who look like they’re whistling or cooing a mournful song as they regard the dead Christ). Botticelli’s Christ looks genuinely dead and there is a variety of sorrow; i find the figure in green particularly powerful, as he covers his face (Odysseus, Socrates). The BVM, realistically old, is fainting, her hand slack; and the figure (in blue) just to her right seems to have lunged forwards to grab the body, his left is ready to cradle her head – his expression is matter-of-fact, the look of an engineer dealing with a problem – a practical man. It makes the usual genre paintings look like bad taste, which they are.
Another new favourite, Anthony Van Dyck’s Susanna and the Elders:
i walked past most of his paintings, not really interested, but this held me. She looks frightened and alone. There are many, very many rape paintings but i think this is the truest, though of course the Biblical/apocryphal Susanna escaped. i showed it to Juniper who found it disturbing and didn’t even want to look at it. i was captivated, in that strange bitter way, as with King Lear or The Brothers Karamazov – as if suffering should afford entertainment; it isn’t entertainment as such, it’s something keener, harder to forget. It’s as if there is a truth here and you should not forget it. i think Socrates was partly right – that evil is involved with ignorance, and goodness requires knowledge. Not knowledge of mathematics and philosophy; knowledge of human nature, of the reality of others, their own private and intense experience, their own suffering. Why Van Dyck’s painting seems benign, and a Max Hardcore sado-porn film seems malign (and one could multiply examples in all arts) i do not know for sure – both exploit suffering, but perhaps Hardcore celebrates suffering, feasts on it, can only be excited by it; and Van Dyck or Dostoevsky or Sophocles recognise the grim truth in suffering, and wish to contemplate it, to get behind it and find some answer to it; and to present it as it is is an answer of sorts. For i feel very few would torture or kill without some excuse, without being high or enraged, without believing the victim is insignificant or has it coming. To represent irreducible humanity – which is perhaps most evident in suffering – is to do some good. It’s notable that both Hitler and Reinhard Heydrich spared “good Jews” – those they felt were somehow an exception to the rule; if one could expand this sense of being exceptional, to encompass everyone, mass murders and genocides wouldn’t be so common.
It’s not that chavs don’t need a good beating, it’s just that one should understand they need rehabilitation also – to be trained to accept tweed and poetry, noble deeds and dobermanns.