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Nov 19 2018

Part III – My Continuing Battle with Cancer

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Part III of III
Frederick A. Lubich

III: Spring Songs into Autumn Sonatas – Last Escapades and Final Serenades

November

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. Some morning, fog is hovering over the water, clouds roll in and the day stays gloomy. But on other days, the sun rises brightly, and the sky turns deep blue, dappled with white popcorn clouds, and the Indian summer sparkles in all its bright and luminous autumn colors.

It is the beginning of November and I am in my third week of radiation. The first side effects begin to show and they are in the words of the radiologist “more acute” than anticipated. The growing sores inside my mouth and my increased incapacity to swallow have made it virtually impossible to speak. And the doctors tell me it will get worse before it will get better although they concede that some of the side effects of radiation might be permanent.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide. But the greatest of these is love”, wrote Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. But if I have learned something this fall, then it is this: Hope and despair, optimism and pessimism are not emotional commodities that can be switched on and off like heating and cooling on an air conditioner. Joy and sadness, light and darkness, come in waves and as November rolls in, the days will grow grayer and grayer. And as far as I am concerned, Rilke’s advice to be ahead of every farewell also holds true when one is faced with one’s own body and its challenges to heal.

If one can hope for heaven, one can also fear the coming of hell, in my case, the realistic possibility that I will never regain the capacity to swallow normally again. Which would mean, that I will never be able to eat and drink again. All right, it would not be quite hell, but it won’t be a picnic either. Forget Manet’s “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” or his “Bar at the Folies-Bergère”. Or closer to home, forget the German pantry, all its handed down recipes along with all its time tested kitchen philosophy, such as …

“Die Liebe geht durch den Magen”, or as the English version reads, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. It is a proverb, that celebrates the art of cooking for those who you love. Lynne loves to cook and concoct new dishes, but if I can’t eat or drink, forget all that loving preparation, the shared shopping in anticipation of a good meal! Forget all the vegetable growing in spring and the apple picking in fall! Forget all the feasting with family and friends, forget the festive wining and dining of social gatherings. Every toast is a well-meant insult and every “bon appétit” a friendly blow below the belt! And if I am just by myself, thirsty or hungry along the road, forget a fast food burrito or just a cup of coffee to go …

All I have is that same old fake food, going day in and day out through my gastric tube! But if misery and necessity are the mothers of invention, maybe I can give my food supply some psychopathic twist and nurture some sado-masochistic relationship, where the gastric tube could play the sadist and the stomach in turn the masochist. And if this too comes to naught, at least it was some food for thought.

Sometimes I wonder, if all that youthful German “Sturm und Drang” had turned into the American “Storm and Stress”, as the usual mis-translation of this expression goes. After all, it is well-known that stress can cause not only ulcers but also cancer. And as much as I have always enjoyed the stormy part of the equation, the brainstorming and trailblazing of teaching, writing and research, I have also been very stressed out over too many projects the last couple of years. Maybe, cancer was the high price to pay and the final lesson to learn.

What kind of life would that be, where all my higher aspirations have sunk to the lowest of expectations, that is, the desperate hope that I do not aspirate. Who needs dysphagia of all things which means difficulty of swallowing, thereby mixing up trachea and esophagus. The latter can cause pneumonia and – if worse comes to worst – what the medical profession calls exitus. And not to forget, aspiration also describes the initial stage of drowning, which is always something to keep in mind, if one’s home is right next to the water in a flood-prone zone!

Whatever the outcome of all these possibilities might be, the facts are that in my life not only my best dreams have come true, but my worst nightmare too. Who would have thought that I would run out of words, in other words, end up with a tongue that bleeds and hurts, until it was more or less cut out. When I come to think of it, it is a procedure reminiscent of a gone by age, when torture racks where the latest rage and its trials and tribulations were the prize to pay for eternal salvation. My beloved grandfather still was a strong believer that every adversity here on earth was a test and if passed a step on the stairway to heaven.

As a young boy, every Good Friday I suffered with Christ on his way to the cross. Legend had it in those early days that a good Christian would have to be ready to play such a passion play all the way. Years later it dawned on me that there were two kinds of passion plays and God knows as I had already confessed years before, I grew up likening the second version so much more.

Saints used to have a golden glow, at least that’s what Russian icons show. But so often it was their earthly misery, which earned them their saintly radiance. But I already know now, that any good old vibration is so much better than the best of the latest radiation. In short, as long as I am here to stay, I would prefer to be radiant the old-fashioned way. Just as we were on those sunny beaches in Southern California, when paradise was it and the sky was the limit!

“Himmelhoch jauchzend, zu Tode betrübt” is a German expression, for which there is no good equivalent in the English language. It means literally jubilating all the way up to heaven and feeling despondent all the way down to death. In a nutshell, it describes extreme mood swings between ecstasy and agony and is a poetic way of paraphrasing a bi-polar disorder. For the first time in my life, I am struggling not to sink deeper and deeper into that emotional wasteland and its devouring darkness.

This particular underworld has also become known as “Cancerland” which is the title of a medical memoir about cancer. At least, my timing could not have been any better, because the diagnosis of my cancer was perfectly aligned with the month of July, when this book also became the Amazon Best of the Month Book. Not to mention the fact, that the month of July is also the month of Cancer, the fourth astrological sign in the Zodiac. In any case, in that world where cancer rules, there are days, when my struggle seems like such an uphill battle and I feel, all I have left is the end of my rope, some gallows humor and a slippery slope.

A couple of weeks ago, before I became completely mute, I have started to venture onto the nearby campus or even further downtown to see an evening movie but I keep running into colleagues and acquaintances, who don’t recognize me anymore. It is, because I have lost so much weight and also had to shave off my beard for the construction of my radiation mask. On top of it, I always wear now a dark blue cap, which I never did before. An old friend gave it to me and since it says “Navy” in big letters on its front, it probably further adds to the general alienation effect I now have on friends and acquaintances.

“People are strange when you are a stranger …” goes one of the Doors’ darker songs. And when I start speaking in my growling voice, I can’t blame people if they look at me, as if I stepped right out of some old horror movie and gothic story, where the dead keep haunting the living they left behind. This estrangement could actually work both ways, since in those olden days, some dead were rumored to believe that they were still alive, and so they kept walking and talking as if they were still among the living.

This is the dark side of German Romanticism, the twilight zone of spooky Poltergeister and uncanny Doppelgänger. And if I consider the fact that by now I actually could be quite dead, had it not been for some serious medical intervention, then this morbid phantasy could now in deed be my new, alternative reality. But fortunately, that forsaken road I have not taken! Thanks to that magic knife, my doctors were wielding, I am still alive! But then again, on second thoughts, maybe I only think I am?

Anyway, I am happy to tell myself that I am not quite dead yet. And looking at it from this point of view, the picture of my doom loses quite a bit of its gloom. Lightening it up even more is the realization, that despite all my grief, I am becoming Lynne’s daily comic relief. Since my voice has morphed into a droll intonation with undertones of melodramatic exaggerations, I feel quite often that I sound like some village fool from times long gone by. Or maybe even better, like a court jester in a castle up on the hill, amusing his fair lady with fairy tales of storm and stress and knights and damsels in love and distress, who wine and dine the evening away.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility, that I had already my last supper the night before that bloody surgery. Maybe the Grateful Dead from San Francisco were right after all:

“The bottles stand empty,
as they were filled before,
time there was and plenty,
but from that cup no more.”

                  “The Grateful Dead, “Ship of Fools”

If the party of my life is indeed over, if I have run out of time and if I have run out of words, why keep trudging into the future, where everything drags and hurts? As I progress with my radiation, I feel am losing energy and motivation. And I am also afraid I might lose focus and judgement finishing this narrative. Ever since I had heard King Crimson’s song “Epitaph” in the early seventies somewhere in Southern France, I have been haunted by the refrain of this song “Confusion will be my Epitaph” …

***

But isn’t every end also a new beginning? So let’s forget King Crimson, forget that cancerland, that wasteland of things to come! Let’s go back to the wonderland of our past, let’s channel its dreams and let’s have a last blast. Instead of the questionable Figaro, let’s join the respectable Hidalgo, that noble knight Don Quixote de la Mancha. And you, my Dolce Vita from San Diego could play his Dulcinea del Toboso. Come on, let’s fool ourselves again, just like all those wise men and women have done since way back when. Whether reality or fantasy, you will always be my fair lady, my lady tramp! Remember those windmills out there in La Mancha? That battle clearly was mind over matter! So come on, together we can beat the latter, that latter-day misery, that unspeakable glossectomy. Who needs such rotten realities if you can have fabulous knight errantries!

And don’t forget that kitchen in Heidelberg! And all those wild Walpurgis Nights! Remember that witches brew with which you enchanted me, filling me with all that joy because I was sure you were Helen of Troy. And ever since we drank from that magic potion, we have loved each other with great passion and lasting devotion!

“You got your spell on me, baby,
you got your spell on me, baby”

                                                    Santana, “Black Magic Woman”

And that spell has been lasting for almost half a century. In other words …

“We have been together since way back when …
you are the one that makes me shout,
still the one that I dream about …
We’re still having fun!”

                                                                                   Orleans, “Still The One”

The band Orleans was formed in Woodstock, New York in the early seventies and this song is as old as our relationship. So listen, my dear, we are both still here and before we have our final fall, let’s have a last ball, a ball that will last forever! Like those Venetian masquerades, they are by far the best balls for such a time consuming endeavor. And when it comes to those latter-day things, let’s not listen for whom that deadly bell rings! Remember, as long as we are alive, death has to wait out there in the wings.

And last but not least, if we dress in unisex clothing, I bet you that death will be full of loathing, since his work will be more complicated, because, they say that dream-teams cannot be easily separated! At least, that’s what old wives’ tales tell. But God knows what really happens on that slippery slope between heaven and hell! In any case, life is a cabaret and a commedia dell’arte, a dress rehearsal for death, a march funèbre and dance macabre …

Lynne and Frederick in Heidelberg triptych

Lynne and Frederick in Heidelberg: With “Sturm und Drang” and “Forever Young”

This photo reminds me of my grandmother who used to say when I as a little boy became a bit too rambunctious for her: “Deech stech der Hoovr” This Moravian proverb, still stuck in Middle High German, translates roughly into “your oats are pricking you”, meaning that one is antsy for some mischief. My grandmother loved pithy proverbs and playful doggerels and as her grandchild I could easily continue this tradition with words of wisdom such as …

Knusper, Knusper, Knäuschen,
die zwei sind aus dem Häuschen.

If this German nursery rhyme evokes memories of Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods, then this would not be untrue, because there are days and nights, when the two of us feel just as lost in a labyrinth of menacing uncertainties. Only, this time around, we are not caged by an evil witch, but trapped by an inner beast, hungry and eager to devour me in a final feast.

By the same token, I think my lady tramp should also unleash her inner vamp! She could be a rambunctious dancer and trample to death this snake of a cancer. Just like Madonna, our Lady in Heaven once did, standing on the sickle of the moon, stamping evil out all the way down to its underground.

Oh Ma Bella Donna, with all your vivid imagination and your livid indignation, and above all with that fancy footwork yours, you could easily kick in any wall, smash any door and shut any gate, behind which that monster might be lying in wait. I know, you would get a great kick out of it. So you go girl! And while you bounce and pounce, I would be happy to loudly announce our  mid- night show right there in Heidelberg in the Whisky a Go Go.

Let’s begin with the Kuhländler “Zigeunerpolka” and then move on to Montmartre in Paris and do the Can Can! You throw up your legs while I speak in tongues! And then it is off to Vienna, from where we waltz down the Blue Danube all the way to the Black Sea, where we could join Glenn Miller’s big-band orchestra, singing and swinging along with its “Moonlight Serenade”. And then lets rave and revel the night away with David Bowie’s

“Let’s Dance”

Let’s sway, while color lights up your face,
Let’s sway through the crowd to an empty space …
Let’s sway under the moonlight, this serious moonlight …”

And while the moon is shining so bright, turning the fall into a midsummer night, and while we are on a full moon roll, dancing away our body and soul, we could team up and tease him, as he is hiding there behind his left and right wing, playing his dirge on his one bony string. I could stick my tongue out at him and you with all your pizzazz could twist and shout: Hello Grim Reaper, come “kiss my ass” …

But knowing this is Goethe’s most famous phrase, you would do it with such an amazing grace, that even death would want to be alive, so that he can court you  just like the devil used to do. And I bet you, he would shake, rattle and roll, desperately playing his brittle fiddle, pretending he is on death parole, but little does he know about the art of life and the longing for love, way down here on earth and high above. This Lord of Darkness knows nothing about fun in the sun! This Angel of Death knows nothing about the wings of desire, all he cares about are the dying and stoking their smoldering funeral pyre.

But the bottom line is, he does not know how to rock and roll, all he really can do is counting the dead and their latest toll, which of course he then quickly forgets time and again, because to his constant dismay and lasting distress, he is the Master of Eternal Forgetfulness. As it is, he can’t even remember the difference between May and September, let alone the fact that he is on the other side of the Styx! And Mr. Memento Mori, remember, Styx is not that hard rock band with blockbuster hits like “Don’t Let it End”!

On the other hand, speaking of “Don’t Let it End”, all those of us who are still alive, will always remember, because it is still our best bet:

Rock and Roll is forever!
And it will never forget!

At least that’s what Bob Seger claims on one of his records. And he is right, we all must record the good and the bad, and especially the good before we forget! And then, all the good can become God and Goddess rolled into one. And just imagine, the world would become a divine comedy and sickness and death will be ancient history.

***

“Per aspera ad astra”, that old Roman proverb describes a cosmic trajectory, which one could translate somewhat freely as: “From a world of misery to a realm of stellar glory”. Considering my uphill battle with cancer, I take that Roman view of rising hope any day over the gloom and doom of my slippery slope.

“Stella Maris” Star of the Sea, that is the crowning title of Mother Mary, who as “Mater Dolorosa” had transcended all her worldly misery and ascended to heaven to become the Queen of the Night. In Faust, Goethe converted this Christian imaginary into the Eternal Feminine, who at the end of his play draws his dying hero heavenward. And Mae West, God bless her soul, completed this flight of fancy by proclaiming with her usual thespian flair: “Good girls go to heaven and bad girls go everywhere”.

Et vice versa et nota bene: Mulier est porta diaboli, woman is the devil’s door, opening up to a bottomless floor!  During the Dark Ages, some men of the cloth would spread rumors that the beauty of woman, is the work of the devil! And if she was in love and on fire, then the devil was in league with her burning desire. But if one looks at it from a scholarly point of view, none of it can be possibly true.

According to Christian mythology, Lucifer was once an archangel, who as his name already reveals, was carrying the light, before his fall into darkness. But the fact is, the figure of the devil from his horns all the way down to his hooves is nothing but a pathetic parody of the fabulous faun in pagan mythology. Faun and nymph were the natural couple in the Arcadian Paradise, they were son and daughter of Pan and Galatea, the God of Shepherds and the Goddess of the Water, who watched their off-springs quite happily frolicking in the dunes and reeds on the islands off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Oh, how I loved those sunny days and far-away trips, when a beautiful face was enough to launch a thousand hips! So come on, let’s return to that Golden Age, when Homeric visions and Arcadian dreams made the front page of world history! It was then and there that Mother Earth gave birth to her wonderful world of heaven on earth.

À la Recherche du temps perdu! That day dream on the shore of Sète in Southern France, that erotic epiphany became a self-fulfilling prophecy! But how do I know, I was not fooled? Well, first of all, don’t ask, don’t tell! But if you need to know the truth, I can tell you, if beauty comes ashore and push comes to shove, I’ll always be a fool for love!

And on top of it, the options are absolutely foolproof, as far as I can tell. If you can dance with an angel from heaven, who on earth would want to dance with a devil from hell! And for heaven’s sake, you don’t have to go into outer space! All you have to do is look at her angelic face! And if you hear her resounding laughter, that sounds as if it came from far out, then you know it is the laughter of angels when they keep falling off their cloud.

That celestial experience reminds me of the Camino del Cielo, the Road to Heaven, on top of the mountain range along the Pacific Coast from Santa Barbara all the way towards Los Angeles, the City of Angels and hometown of the Doors. Those guys sure knew how to gaze at the stars. And how could we ever forget their magic song “Touch Me”, a song for all seasons, when we would sing and dance and laugh and cry: “I ‘m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky.”

So come on, let’s go on a ride with the Doors, come join me on their “Moonlight Drive”, and then on with their “Riders on the Storm”! Come on, come on, let’s ride out that disaster storm. And then we will wait on top of the mountain with them, “Waiting for the Sun”. And in the early morning, I will hear you again, your joyous rebel yell from way back when, letting all the world know, that darkness can never win, because all we have to do is let the sunshine, “let the sunshine in”!

Thank God, our Father in Heaven, and thank Goddess, our Mother Earth, that those Dark Ages are gone and that we are still living in the Age of Aquarius. And with its music still in the air, here and there and everywhere, we can breathe till doomsday comes. And don’t forget the good news of the Doors: ”Music is your only friend, until the end”! I could not agree more, especially since she is the one who can show me the way to heaven’s door. All I have to do is track her sound and follow her laughter all the way from down here and up to the hereafter. Because she is my muse, my music, the musical of my life, and she has always known how to enjoy a good jive.

***

Let’s go to your place, let’s go to your place”
Lena Lovich, “Home is Where the Heart is”

Lynne at the piano tryptich

Ma Serenissima as Appassionata at the piano in Heidelberg

Maybe she is playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or maybe even his “Appassionata”. On the other hand, she might also be riffing on Chuck Berry’s “Roll over Beethoven “! Or maybe she is just rocking the socks off Liberace! But whatever she does, she does it … sempre con brio e molto vivace!

“Chi va piano va sano” was never her credo, although it does not mean that those who go to the piano will stay sane. In this case, the Italian saying is about the right pace, in other word:  Slow and steady will win the race. So, you go girl, let’s go crazy again! Who wants to stay sane, when you have another chance for life in the fast lane!

But then she seems to shift gear and – oh Mama Mia – begins to cruise into Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, until all the angels high up there line up and chime in: “Come up and join us! Where have you been?” And with a triumphant rebel look she continues to play her favorites from the American Songbook, plays Boogie Woogie and Rhythm and Blues and then she tops it off with Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll”. Because that has always been the music that soothed her soul, her wandering soul so full of love, of which she gave me more than enough to create a bond   that will last a life time and far beyond  …

And so she will always be my Songs Over the Waters, my May Songs and my Autumn Sonatas. And when the time has come and the devil’s curse will be again a blessing in disguise and then the two of us will be back in paradise. Because she has always been Goethe’s Eternal Feminine and Eichendorff’s Beautiful Stranger, she has always been my Bella Donna and kindred spirit flying high as a kite, my Lady Madonna and Queen of the Night, and last but not least she will always be my Lady Gaga, my Gypsy Queen, my Black Magic Woman, my fallen  …

Blue Angel

and my piano girl
in all the honkytonk bars
and in turn my stairway to heaven
all the way up to the moon and the stars!

Because she has always been my guardian angel,
before she came tumbling down from that heavenly dome,
and she knows her way back just like that rising evening star,
that shines a light on the darkening road, leading us safely all the way home!

***

“Evening Star” is the title of Alphonse Mucha’s allegory, which forms both sides of the three-part tableau above. However, this Evening Star seems to frown, as if she could not face my Blue Angel’s evening gown. But such an illustrious star knows nothing about the Kiss of Death and that it can burn terrible holes into any evening dress. As a result, these hot pants certainly had to be properly patched. But looking at it from the bright side, such this distressed denim hosiery became vice versa the dernier cri of the seventies and their rag-tag fashion industry.

Alphonse Mucha, the creator of the “Evening Star”, was one of the most prolific and popular artists of the international Art Nouveau movement around 1900. This painting is part of a four piece series called “The Moon and the Stars”. Mucha is also the artist of the following mirror image called “Autumn”, which is a part of a four-part series he called “The Seasons”. He was a Czech Moravian and thus belonged to the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual culture of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that saw its last creative flourishing shortly before its final demise after World War I.

Eichendorff’s poetic merging of floral and stellar imagery, most notably in his poem “Mondnacht”, experienced a powerful renaissance in Mucha’s Art Nouveau, where the flowers of the earth easily morph into the stars of the universe. Given such psychedelic transmutations, the expression “far out” had become the favorite exclamation of starry-eyed flower children and tripping hippies from every nation, globetrotting all over the world. And those two soul-mates from the Bohemian-Moravian hinterland of the Old World certainly were some of their earlier seers and singers giving shape to their new sensibility.

Which gets me back on my cosmic sound track. Just like the upward “New Frontier” of the American Dream, the best of our rock stars were always eager to push the horizontal boundaries, beginning with Rolling Stones’ “She’s Like a Rainbow” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” all the way to David Bowie’s cosmic disco tunes, with which he took off from planet earth in order to sing and dance with the universe. Which begs the question …

Quo vadis? Sub specie aeternitatis?  Where are you going? In view of eternity? When it comes to such latter-day things, we have the same age old answers in stock from ancient Roman times all the way up to the Age of  Rock. And we still don’t know anything about life after death, the migration of the soul, our origin and our ultimate goal! The only thing we can hope for and still believe …

“Knowledge comes with death release”
David Bowie “Quicksand”

***

“Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” is a song by Cher who is also one of Lynne’s great idols, not only because she is a great singer and performer, but also because of her strong sense of independence and fashionable flamboyance. This particular song also resonates with our own nomadic realities and phantasies. Looking back at our itinerary, our life together also falls more or less into three gypsy stages. The first two stages played out to the tune of the gypsy fiddler and gypsy scholar, whose artistic aspiration and professional realization represent and reflect to varying degrees the merging of our two biographies.

Our third stage could be described by our current situation, where everything seems to be in more or less chaotic transition. This is most evident in our preparation at the beginning of this year, to make major renovations to our house from the kitchen all the way up to the top floor. These attempts have been upended by my cancer, and now we are stuck with emptied or rearranged rooms and numerous boxes which keep cluttering the floors, creating the impression that we are sort of camping out in our own house if not getting ready to decamp altogether and hit the road again.

Cher’s vagabonds certainly would feel at home in such a makeshift place with so much up in the air, and I certainly do too, especially since also the garden adds to that transitory camp atmosphere with all its fluttering laundry. The latter we had to hang out on lines in the garden, because one of the several appliances that broke down in the course of the year was the dryer. To round out this world of outcasts, as Cher’s song describes her gathering of gypsies and tramps, the thieves would have to be brought in too.

Since I need a gallows reprieve, I would be happy to play the role of that thief. Because I am afraid to run out of time, I would certainty try to steal some more, and if it just every day a tiny bit in the hope that it would add up and that I could get away with it. But as is well known, time itself has been on the run from the beginning of time! The only way to catch up with it – or at least to slow it down if not to make it stay – would be trying to run the opposite way.

***

“Memory is the only paradise
from which we cannot be driven.”                                                              Jean Paul

November is the month of Thanksgiving. There is no doubt, we have reached the autumn of our lives and it is high time for our thanksgiving, for our gratitude for the plentitude we have received from Mother Earth and her children. O my sunny California Girl, you have been the sunshine of my life! And as I look back, the lights and highlights of our lives shine even brighter. It is the same feeling one has after all long day at the beach and the glowing continues way into the night. I think now is the time, that we both catch all the rays we can get and turn the last stretch of our road into a Sunset Boulevard and its dead end into a festive Holiday Inn. And then enjoy the remaining light and the twinkling twilight before all that darkness sets in.

From the Romantic Road out of the Hohenstaufen Wood all the way to Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood! Oh my flower girl, how I remember all our May Songs from the spring time of our love! And now they are all returning as Autumn Sonatas. Look and listen, the crisp autumn air is full of sparkling flashbacks and crackling soundtracks and I happily agree with Jim Morrison’s song, because he sings also about you, my girl from the water …

“I found an island in your arms / a country in your eyes.”

                     The Doors, “Break on Through to the Other Side”.

From the West Coast to the East Coast, from Southern California to the island of Manhattan and all the way down to Southern Virginia, in other words, from sea to shining sea, you made my American Dream a sparkling reality. And it was ultimately you, who opened all the doors to a world of possibilities, in which my Old World phantasies could turn into the New World realities.

Had I stayed in Germany that could have never become a reality. In other words:

“You make me real,
you make me feel like lovers feel …
So let me slide into your tender sunken sea,
you make me throw away mistaken misery.”

                                                                        The Doors, “You Make Me Real”

 

In the olden days, they cut out your tongue, when you were a convicted liar. So there must be some kind of mistaken identity, because I have always aspired to that truth which John Keats in his ”Ode on an Grecian Urn” had so memorably  defined as “beauty is truth, truth beauty” And this is the absolute truth:.My girl from the sea has turned my life into poetry and our love into a romantic comedy! And now, our memories are becoming more and more nostalgic elegies, triptychs along our long and winding road.

“I’ve been to Hollywood, I’ve been to Redwood,
I’ve crossed the ocean for a heart of gold.”

                                                                        Neil Young, “Heart of Gold”

I am coming to the end of this sentimental journey in search of things past, the hot and humid summer months of July and August have turned into the cooler days of the fall. As I sit in our garden, the leaves are tumbling down, forming a lush carpet of red and yellow on the ground. And when there is a breeze in the air, one can hear the waves of the nearby water gently rushing ashore.

Thanksgiving is the meaningful holiday for people around the world, since it invites all religions to participate in the festivity of gratitude. One of the many tradition in Heidelberg is the yearly “Heidelberger Herbst”, celebrating the harvest of its farmland around the city. The avatar of all goddesses associated with the abundance of the earth is the Alma Mater, the Roman goddess of knowledge and nourishment. During the Renaissance, she was depicted holding a cornucopia or a big bowl filled to the brim with fruits. And quite often she was surrounded by other mythological figures taking part in the festivities.

Lynne as Kore tryptich

Lynne as Kore, celebrating the abundance of the Alma Mater in Heidelberg in the mid seventies

Kore means maiden in ancient Greek. She is however better known as Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, who was worshipped in antiquity as the “Doorway of the Mysterious Feminine”. Persephone was adored as the goddess of eternal spring and in Renaissance art, she was often portrayed with flowers in her hair. In celebrating the fertility of Mother Earth, she glorifies the magic cycle of death and rebirth, the flowers of spring and the fruits of fall, the four seasons in all their natural beauty, dancing in perfect harmony with Antonio Vivaldi’s Quattro Stagioni.

And how they all tried to catch that smile, that angelic smile of La Gioconda, from Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and  Sandro Botticelli’s Prima Vera to Giacomo Puccini’s Golden Girl of the West. But I think my Bella Donna caught it best. And from a musical point of view, no serenade could have captured her elusive soul any better than “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole:

“Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely loving work of art?”
Nat King Cole, “Mona Lisa”

Art versus life and life as art in search for a golden heart! Nothing but far-out phantasies? Fact is, ever since I had met my Gioconda from California, my Golden Girl from the West, she kept taking me on youthful flights of fancy. In one of my lonely nights after I had left her behind in the Old World, I wrote the poem “An eine Nymphe”. It describes in seven stanzas a nymph’s spirited flight from antiquity all the way to modernity and how I could feel her already in the love songs of ancient Greeks and Romans and Spanish Moors, those medieval troubadours, whose verse in turn inspired Petrarch’s poetry in praise of female beauty, spanning the arc all the way into modernity. The last two stanzas of my poem are part of this trajectory trying to catch some fleeting glimpses of her on her transatlantic journey to rejoin me in the New World.

“So habe ich dich in Wien, Paris und Amsterdam gesehen,
in Cafés, auf der Champs Elysee und in alten Grachten in Brabant,
doch erst als du von der Gangway in New York City in meine
Arme gelaufen – hab ich wieder die Nymphe in dir erkannt.

Ich fühle dich wieder im Traum eines arkadischen Hirten,
der sanft und heiter an meine Schläfen schlägt,
und ich sehe dich in den Armen eines glücklichen Fauns,
der in meinem Herzen nach seinen Wurzeln gräbt.“

This poem was published in the German poetry magazine Cimarron in June 1978 and it was one of my last poetry publications in Germany, before my academic future in America began to completely preoccupy me for the next quarter of a century. I was tempted to translate those two stanzas, but I fear I would probably lose rhyme and rhythm and so I prefer to leave them untranslated. After all, every translation is a form of treason, or as the Italians would say “traduttore, traditore.”

O Sole Mio, o Amore Mio, o Ma Bella Luna Dell’Acqua! How does one translate such sound cascades without betraying their mellifluous melodies? Everything has its rhymes and rhythms! Every life has its inner melody just like every season unfolds in songs, sonatas and symphonies. And as words fail, they can become words on wings rising high above the silence of any metaphysical poet or clairvoyant prophet.

And as I look up through the falling leaves, into a deep blue autumn sky, I remember Kurt Weill’s “September Song”. Like no other composer of the Weimar Republic, who was driven into exile, he had enriched the musical repertoire of modern music, from the stages of Berlin and Paris all the way to the Broadway in New York. This song he had composed in New York for a Broadway musical shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, complementing Maxwell’s lyrics with a deeply felt melody.

Throughout the years, this song has never failed to move me to tears. And now I also know the deeper reason for it. It is Rilke’s adage ”be ahead of every farewell”. Looking back on the many years the two of us have spent together, I have come to the realization that this current year crystalized into something like a summary of our itinerary. It was in May, when I first felt that my tongue cancer had returned but at that time it was misdiagnosed as a mere ulcer. It was not until the following fall, that Weill’s “September Song” sounded more and more like a travel log about the last months of our journey, maybe even like a Kassandra call, a musical writing on the wall. In any case, in the last months, Kurt Weill’s melody kept welling up in me with a growing elegiac intensity.

“It is a long, long while / from May to December,
and the days grow short / when you reach September …

And the days turn to gold / as they grow few,
September, November / and these few golden days …

these few precious days / I’d spend with you,
these precious days I’d spend with you.”                                                                                                        Kurt Weill, “September Song”

***

 

Epilog

“Death be not proud”
John Donne

Soon December will arrive and winter will be here with all its snow storms and freezing winds raging through cities and countryside. That is the time when Mother Nature appears to be dying too and Death seems to be emboldened to claim his victory. And in one of these coming Decembers, probably sooner than later, he will knock on my door, telling me with his usual pride that my time has come to cross over to the other side.

But then, I will tell him that it is my true perception and romantic conviction that in reality he is knocking on heaven’s door and that from now on I really don’t need him anymore! Because when I have finally run out of breath, my loved one will be my angel of death. She will rise like a blue angel out of the water and shine like a rainbow across the sky, hover for a while over some evening clouds and then she will join me again and together we will forever be a transatlantic reverie of …

colorful flowers and sparkling stars,
a dream team in heavenly harmony,
two free spirits and wandering souls
in a timeless rock and roll phantasy.

Muchas Ornamentales

Alphonse Mucha, „Combinaisons Ornamentales“

Part I and Part II of My Continuing Battle with Cancer

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Nov 13 2018

Part II – My Continuing Battle with Cancer

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Frederick A. Lubich

II: From the Old World to the New World – Flashbacks and Soundtracks

Part II of III

October

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
old age should burn and rave at close of day,
rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Dylan Thomas

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who had to leave this world at the young age of thirty-nine, could only imagine what facing death at a much older age could possibly mean. As much as I agree with his first two lines, I would like to phrase the third line quite differently – as the reader of this text will be able to see further down – by following Bob Dylan’s poetic imaginary. Not only had he borrow his name from Dylan Thomas, he also rewrote the latter’s poem about dying as a kind of counter ode to eternal youth:

“Forever Young”

“May you build a ladder to the stars
and climb on every rung,
may you stay forever young.”
Bob Dylan

But before I get lost in the stars, I need to back up a bit down here on earth. In the beginning of September, it seemed like Mother Nature was raging toward our area in Southern Virginia in the shape of Hurricane Florence. Contrary to her poetic name which is rooted in the Latin word for “florens” meaning flowering, evoking images of a beautiful spring, this Florence threatened to unleash a huge autumn storm with horrendous, destructive force.

I was barely out of the hospital and back home, hardly being able to walk, let alone eat and talk, when the authorities of the city of Norfolk, our current hometown, issued an evacuation order for our area. Since our house is surrounded by more than a dozen of high trees and only a stone’s throw away from the water, we were not only in  danger of being severally flooded by rising tides, but also of being badly hit by falling branches and uprooted trunks. Since we had moved to this area twenty years ago, we had lived through quite a few hurricanes, but none threatened to be as dangerous and devastating as this one. So, for the first time, we decided to leave everything behind and head further inland toward higher ground, all the while imagining a worst case scenario, in which our home would be destroyed beyond repair.

However, Florence changed its course shortly before landfall, our area was spared, and we did not have to leave after all. In hindsight, the forecast of this hurricane struck me as a kind of natural reflection of my own battle with cancer, which wrecked me like a hurricane – to paraphrase one of the signature tunes by the German rock band Scorpions – and left me behind in physical and emotional shambles. But at least, our house remained intact – if only to stand ready for the next round, when another hurricane would hit the ground.

“Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr“ …“ Whoever has no home now, will not build one any more“, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in his poem “Herbsttag” or “Autumn Day”. Our house was built in the late sixties of the last century. It is a three-story building with flat roofs, brown cedar shakes on its sidewalls, which are covered in moss and ivy. On the second and third floor, it has large windows so that one gets the impression from the inside, that one is living in a tree house since the dense crowns of several trees are surrounding the building.

Two windows in the house are quite narrow, but they run from the ground floor to the top floor, thereby evoking the look of loopholes in an old medieval fortress. That look is reinforced by one of the balconies resembling a long battlement walkway that used to be part of a fortress and its further fortification. In other words, our house creates the impression of being an architectural hybrid somewhere between a modern “Bauhaus” and a mediaeval “Trutzburg”, a stronghold defying all adversities. I mention all these architectural details, because our house also happens to be, as one can see further on, a telling reflection of its current inhabitants, who were born and raised in quite different worlds.

To top it off, a beautiful spiral staircase connects all three stories of the house and forms its centerpiece, which can also be seen from the outside through the large, top-to-bottom windows on the front of the house. That spiral staircase was probably also the first feature that caught Lynne’s attention who discovered the house soon after we arrived in Norfolk. Being the daughter of an architect, she has always had an interest in interior design. According to the real estate agent who sold us the house, it was featured soon after its completion in the journal Better Homes and Gardens.

Over the years, the building apparently fell somewhat in disrepair, but it was beautifully restores at the end of the nineties by its previous owner. At that time, the housing market was down and we were extremely fortunate to buy it a very affordable price. Here, our daughter grew up before she left home for college almost ten years ago, moved on to Berlin and now spends all her free time traveling the world just like her parents used to do in their younger years.

Following the motto of Better Homes and Gardens, which we casually ignored for the most part of our time living in this house, we have finally begun to make substantial repairs and improvements on our home and garden. Until two years ago, the ground around the house resembled a jungle full of large bushes, wildly growing bamboo, and too many tall trees. But more recently, we had a few bushes and trees removed and then we turned the major part of it into a blossoming garden by planting more and more flowers, various bushes and even some seasonable vegetables.

And more than ever, I spent my time reading and writing in our garden or down on the white sandy shores of the Elizabeth River, whose large delta merges right there with the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. In the distance, one can see huge cargo ships coming up and down the river and if one is lucky enough one can even spot dolphins gliding through the nearby water. And every now and then, a flock of wild geese rises in flying formation into the blue sky. People who have visited us have called our home and garden and the surrounding area a “paradise” – and we happily agree.

In the first weeks after my surgery, as I was slowly shuffling through our house, trying not to fall, I stumbled upon the following phrase by the German language philosopher Martin Heidegger: “Die Sprache ist das Haus des Seins” – “Language is the house of being.” This quote goes on in English: “The thinkers and poets are the guardians of this dwelling.” That statement struck me as particularly ironic in my current situation, in which our house literally resonated with my garbled words and sentences, which in the beginning could get quite loud in my growing frustration to get them out. In the meantime, I have learned to lower my voice or shut up altogether. After all, I feel, I am no longer at home in the spoken word. As it were, I am dwelling in my linguistic ruin. So there, Herr Heidegger, you know what I mean! And to top it off, my own demise and final decay might be just a short shot away.

“Sei allem Abschied voraus”, be ahead of all farewell, Rilke wrote in one of his “Sonnets to Orpheus”. Like no other well-known poet of the twentieth century, this German-Bohemian poet from Prague was a life-long wanderer. For him saying farewell to people and places was a perennial experience. Recently, I have been reminded a lot of Rilke’s verse as I enjoy the sunlit mornings in our house and the peacefulness of our garden. But maybe this is, as they say, the quiet before the next storm, the final hurricane that will take me away.

***

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”
T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

As even my short-term future appears quite uncertain, my mind is drifting more and more back into the past. Or to put it more precisely, it drifts back into the future. This paradox perspective, so popular in the discourse formation of postmodernity in the mid-eighties of the last century, sounds more and more promising, because it suggests – spes contra spem – the further one wanders back into the past, the  longer the uncertain future will last. In reality, it is of course a foolish escape, a quixotic escapade, but I happily embrace it just like all the Doubting Thomases throughout history who kept telling themselves ad infinitum “I believe it, because it’s absurd” or as the scholiasts of the Middle Ages put it: “Credo, quia absurdum” …

Frederick Brooklyn 2018

Frederick in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, July 2018

“Last Exit to Brooklyn”, is not only the name of a once quite controversial novel by the American writer Hubert Selby from the year 1964, but also the name of a film by the German film maker Uli Edel with the film score by the British rock musician Mark Knopfler, both from the year 1989. This title also turns out to be a telling description of our last travel destination this past summer shortly before I received the bad news about my necessary operation. Considering the uncertain outcome of my battle with cancer, our long weekend in Brooklyn could also be the last real outing in our long journey through life together.

The mural in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in the preceding picture is a memorial to Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, a native of Brooklyn.  Both of them were two of New York City’s most celebrated artists of the Pop-Art-era and both of them had to die before their time, especially the latter who was only twenty-seven years old at the time of his death. In hindsight, his last paintings with all their skulls and skeletons reveal themselves as ominous premonition of his imminent destiny. Years after their death, the bio-pic Basquiat featured a prominent cast including David Bowie in the role of Andy Warhol. And here I stand in front of the mural, taking a short break from our stroll through Williamsburg, a favorite quarter of young artists – but internally I am already on the run from the growing threat of my deadly tongue.

Looking at that colorful mural, I am reminded of the vibrant graffiti art towards the end of the last century all over New York City, where we lived from 1984 -1992 in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. It was also during that time when Keith Haring was a rising star in the art world, using the billboards of New York’s subway for his remarkable sketches. I remember in particular a drawing with the inscription “Still Alive in ‘85”. I even took a picture of it, which I still have somewhere in the chaos of my countless files and boxes.

Keith Haring’s inscription on his subway graffiti turned out to be the artist’s writing on the wall, because he too was doomed to die soon after, felled by the plague of Aids, which at that time was killing so many young talents in New York’s artistic community, including one of my students at Columbia University. How young they all were. Some had hardly arrived in their adult life and already they had to go.

Bowie and Lynne 2018

Lynne and David Bowie flirting in the Brooklyn Museum, July 2018

Ziggy Star Dust Memories: In the spring of 1973, I saw David Bowie in a small music hall in Newcastle, England where I lived at the time. He was in his Ziggy Star Dust phase and I was immediately struck by his colorful persona and flamboyant performance. Of one scene, I have particularly vivid memories. As he was strutting around the stage in his super high platform shoes, he stumbled over the cable of his microphone and went down to the ground but rose again so gracefully that he reminded me of a fallen angel. Right then and there I knew that he would become a sparkling star in the musical universe of our generation.

“Time is waiting in the wings”
David Bowie, “Time”

Collage of Bowie 2018

Collage of David Bowie in the exit hall of the Brooklyn Museum, July 2018

Like no other rock star, David Bowie saw the world as a stage where he played out his life in various roles turning it into a life-long “Gesamtkunstwerk”, a total work of art.  Lynne and I spent almost the whole afternoon at the exhibition and it turned out to be a veritable “recherche du temps perdu”, a search for things past, whose growing stream of consciousness down memory lane I try to follow in the subsequent passages. After all, the repertoire of favorite songs, which we have cherished throughout our lives, is an inexhaustible reservoir of sentimental memories.

A few months after I had seen Bowie live in England, I moved back to Germany to continue my studies in Heidelberg. The city was not only home to Germany’s oldest university, it was also the favorite haunt of Germany’s most prominent romantic poets. And to this day, this picturesque town is known for its magic powers to make people fall in love. “Ich hab mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren”, I have lost my heart in Heidelberg, is one of Germany’s best-known popular songs.

That was the town were Lynne and I met in the summer of 1973. From a romantic point of view, she was a dream girl who seemed to walk and talk at times, as if she too was an angel who had fallen out of the sky. But in a more pedestrian reality she was just another American exchange student from San Diego in Southern California. The year before, she had studied French in Geneva, but on a trip to the Black Forest, she fell in love with Southern Germany and so she came back the following year. As it turned out, she too was a great fan of David Bowie. When he was touring Germany, this time in the guise of the White Duke, we made sure to see his concert together.

Lynne as Dream Girl mid-1970s

Lynne as Dream Girl from California in Heidelberg in the mid-seventies

“Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?
Hello, I love, let me jump into your game”!
….
Do you think you will be the guy
to make the queen of the angels sigh?”
The Doors, “Hello, I Love You”

I still remember very clearly my first impression of her. She came down a sunlit staircase wearing high wooden platform shoes. They were very fashionable at that time which made her long legs look even longer. Another early memory is of her last name on the plate on her door, which intrigued me immediately, because it clearly was not an English name. And so I began to wonder about her family heritage.

“Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen”, Goethe wrote. In other words, what you have inherited from your fathers, acquire it in order to own it. This advice certainly holds true when it comes to Lynne’s relationship with her paternal heritage. Her father’s roots were in the Italian Campagna Romana, right there, were Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein had painted his famous portrait of Goethe in front of his classical panorama. Since her father’s first language was Italian, his first born daughter grew up with a strong Italian identity along with words and phrases of its melodious vocabulary.

In addition, her vivacious temperament and effervescent exuberance also was a clear reflection of her father’s Mediterranean mentality and so it made perfect sense for her, to keep the family name Dell’Acqua for the rest of her life. From the water! What an evocative maiden name, resonating and undulating with the ebb and flow of the waters, as if she were an Undine straight out of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, or an Arcadian nymph, one of Mother Earth’s mythological daughters.

In any case, instead of frolicking in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, my ragazza dell’acqua with her deep roots in the Campagna Romana soon became my Roman Dolce Vita and my Romantic Commedia Dell’Arte. And I with all my German-Bohemian roots, became her poor poet in his Heidelberg attic, wondering about words he had never heard and worlds he had never seen, in other words, day-dreaming his American Dream …

Frederick as Spitzweg's Poor Poet in 1970s

Frederick as a Poor Poet in Heidelberg in the mid-seventies

During our heydays in Heidelberg, we loved to re-enact famous paintings from German and European art history, often turning them into a modern day parody. It was our way of “Lebenskunst”, which meant for us not only the art of living but also living art. Here, I am reliving the painting ”Der arme Poet”, The Poor Poet, by the late romantic painter Carl Spitzweg which is one of the most well-known paintings in German art history. The photo includes of course also the obligatory umbrella in the original painting where it is supposed to shelter the poet in the attic from the rain coming through a leak in the roof. I am sure, that umbrella will come in very handy down the road on that latter day, when a final storm will lift the roof and blow the poor poet forever away.

Looking back at this photo of the young poor poet on his unmade bed, I am struck by two additional visual features in the background. One is an image of Jim Morrison, the front man of the Doors, on the inside of the lid of the tape recorder, the other is a poster of Raquel Welch, the screen siren of Hollywood, coming out of the water. Those two were not only the poster boy and poster girl couple of my adolescent phantasies in the late 1960’s, these two young Californians would also remain my lifelong idols and ideals of female beauty and musical genius.

Throughout the years, I visited Morrison’s grave in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris whenever I could. And as far as Raquel Welch was concerned, not only did she grow up in San Diego to become “Miss San Diego”, she also had that same Latina allure as my Bella Donna Dell’Acqua. And before I knew it, my poor poet woke up one morning from his dream and voilà – que será, será – found himself right there in Southern California.

***

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality”
Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Although my American Dream Girl and her Poor Poet from Germany came from quite different worlds, the two of us were on the same wavelength when it came to our passion for rock music. And there is a good reason for its enduring power. Like no other art form, good rock music is raw energy that comes from the gut and from the heart. And my girl from the water sure had a lot of emotional energy that could rise to a level of rushing and gushing enthusiasm. In addition, she loved to dance and she also had a great talent for it, whereas I had the lyrics in my head and the melodies in my heart, but as music sometimes comes and goes, its rhythm did not always make it all the way down to my legs and my toes.

In Heidelberg, our favorite discotheque was the “Whisky a Go Go”, a cosy night club and bouncy dancing hall named after the famous “Whisky A Go Go” on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, which was the home of the world’s largest names in rock music. Here, my California Girl loved to rock and I would roll until we were soaring, body and soul.

However, back down on earth, the two of us were in many ways a study in contrast. Whereas she was very much a child of the New World and its modern times, I was very much a child of the Old World. And in my mind I was often drifting and tripping back into even older days long before our time.

So let’s return one more time and let’s go again east to the land of Bohemia and Moravia, the Slavic homeland of all my ancestors, who were also called German Bohemians, because the king of Bohemia had invited them to farm his land.. On my maternal side, they had emigrated from Germany in the twelfth century during the time of Emperor Barbarossa and the Staufen dynasty of the so-called Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

Along with them on their long trek eastwards came the Jews, who left their prospering communities along the Rhine and elsewhere behind, fleeing persecution during the times of the crusades. Many of them moved further east to Poland and Lithuania, the Ukraine and Russia, but many of them also settled in Bohemia and Moravia, adding very much to the multi-cultural mix of this multi-lingual area. All the way to World War I, they were proud citizens of the mighty, ever expanding Habsburg Empire, whose territory once incorporated even parts of today’s Romania and Northern Italy.

During the period of European Romanticism, Bohemians became known as itinerant musicians all over Europe, giving rise to the notion of a bohemian lifestyle which culminated during the fin de siècle in its musical representation by Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème”. To this day, Bohemians of all walks of life have a reputation for being musical and emotional. “Aus Böhmen kommt die Musik,” the music comes from Bohemia, is the title of a well-known German folksong. Indeed, Bohemians love to sing and dance, and if they have lost their ancestral home they are known for being nostalgic and sentimental. My family certainly was, especially when some of them had a bit of a Schwips from their Czech Pilsner Urquell or some other Slovakian Slivovitz.

Given our ancestral histories and our elective affinities, it was no wonder, my ragazza romana and her bohemian inamorato were made for each other like two star- and moonstruck lovers. The following image below is a cut and paste montage from years ago showing both of us in Heidelberg in the mid-seventies, when the city was also affectionately known as Highdelberg in some higher circles. And those angels down there waiting in the wings sure seem to promise some pretty high jinks.

East meets West Triptych

From the looks of this snapshot, the two of us certainly are in high spirits. Maybe we had concocted some bubbly brew. She certainly is her true effervescent self and appears to be quite amused, whereas I seem to be somewhat dazed and confused. Be that as it may, we sure are ready to have some fun, some good old Commedia Dell’Arte, maybe even a dance with the stars like that legendary goddess Astarte, who was known to ride across the nightly sky in ancient Babylon. She certainly was no Maya with seven veils, according to the Chaldeans and their wonderful visions and starry-eyed tales.

So come on, you improvise and I extemporize! You do the flash backs and I do the sound tracks. I’ll play “Il Dottore”, your Nutty Professor, and you play “Ma Bella Donna Dell’Arte”, my Blue Angel, starring in a divine comedy just like the one by Dante Alighieri. Come on, life is a cabaret and the show must go on! Remember, it always takes two to tango! But if you rather rock and roll, then I‘ll ask …

“Scaramouche, will you do the fandango,
thunderbolt and lightning,
very, very frightening …
Galileo, Galileo
… Figaro …
Magnifico!”
Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”

But forget that Figaro in this scenario! Who needs a Spanish hair cutter when you can have Galileo Galilei, the great Italian star gazer and cosmic trail blazer of the late Renaissance. After all, we’re in the seventies of the twentieth century, the New Age of freedom and excess, of sex and drugs and rock and roll, of youthful rebellion and universal consciousness. In short, we’re in coming  “Age of Aquarius”, whose dawn the musical “Hair” would celebrate with a lunar dance and celestial exuberance: “When the moon is in the seventh house … and love will steer the stars.”

On top of all those stellar constellations, my Madonna Dell’Acqua also had the right name for this new Aquarian Age and all its higher aspirations. Finally, the earth seemed to be aligned with the universe and it was high time to spread our wings, and for our musical to soar with its final hymn: “Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in”!

***

“Angels fight, angels cry,
angels dance and angels die”
The Doors, “We Could Be so Good Together”

In our magic moments, the two of us were a real dream team, a marriage made in heaven, as they used to say in the olden days, but I am afraid I must burst the bubble, because down here on earth the two of us could also be real double trouble. Passion after all is a powerful potion and the wear and tear of our emotions quite often was getting the better of us. Or to say it with Lady Gaga who like Madonna is also a Paisana Romana just like my Bella Donna Dell’Acqua.

“I want your drama … I want your love.
I want your revenge …You and I could write a bad romance!
I want your …oh oh oh … your Rama-Ramama … and Gaga-ooh-la-la.”
Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”

I could not have articulated it any better! By the same token, this aria buffa with its meshuggene coloratura reminds me vice versa of the Yiddish word “Besherte”, a term of endearment for soul mates who were truly destined for each other. The word is rooted in old Anglo-Saxon, when it meant to cut up things and share them with others and it survived in modern high German as “Schere” for scissors and “Bescherung” for sharing gifts at Christmas time. But in German it also gained an additional meaning in the ironic colloquialism ”eine schöne Bescherung”. In this case, it does not translate into “a beautiful present” but it rather means “what a mess.” In other words, it could also characterize the dream team as double trouble full of storm and stress.

Suffice it to say, sometimes we could be both heaven and hell! Or at least some modern version of what the romantic poet William Blake had called The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In this poetic masterwork, he proclaimed that without opposites there cannot be progress. Generations later, this dialectical world view would influence among others Aldous Huxley’s most famous book The Doors of Perception which in turn became the source of inspiration for the Doors.

From youthful “mess” to old-age “progress”: Looking back at our long journey through life, I am happy to report, that William Blake was right. The two of us weathered all the storms along the road quite well together. And what is left of our darker realities, are all the highlights of our life and our love, of which we sometimes could not get enough. After all, we were not Florian Illies’ “Generation Golf”, we were born to be wild just like John Kay’s “Steppenwolf”. We were flower children of Mother Earth and part of that Woodstock Generation that was raised on Californian reveries and Bohemian rhapsodies, coming out of the waters and out of the woods.

Frederick at foot of Hohenstaufen

Frederick in the footsteps of Joseph von Eichendorff’s
“Good-For-Nothing” at the foot of the Hohenstaufen in the early seventies

The mountain of the Hohenstaufen rises right behind my hometown of Göppingen in southern Germany and it still has some ruins of the ancestral fortress of Emperor Barbarossa from the twelfth century. At the time this picture was taken, my musical idols were the itinerant gypsies, the Sinti and Roma, who were roaming the hinterlands of the Habsburg Empire all the way from Romania up to Bohemia. My mother still remembered them as they were passing through her little village. However, when I realized that in comparison with their virtuosity I was also a musical good-for-nothing, I left my good old fiddle way behind. And I also knew, that I had all their wandering melodies singing and dancing in my mind.

Following in the footsteps of Eichendorff, the poet, is however quite another story. He is the quintessential representative of German Romanticism, whose lyrical texts have been set to music by various composers numerous times. His poetic themes and sceneries of romantic ruins and moonlit landscapes, of youthful wanderlust, and last but not least, of “Fernweh” and “Heimweh”, those untranslatable yearnings for far-away countries and – vice versa – the longing for returning home again, all these romantic leitmotivs and nostalgic trajectories have become an integral part of Germany’s cultural imaginaries. And as I realized in hindsight, they had also become very much part of my own life-long phantasies.

„Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts”, From the Life of a Good-For-Nothing, that is the title of Eichendorff’s most well-known novella. In it, the author’s young, happy-go-lucky protagonist takes his violin and sets out for Italy, following in turn in the footsteps of Goethe’s classical “Italian Journey”. I must have been about the same age as Eichendorff’s young protagonist, judging by his peach fuzzy face, when I traveled for the first time to Italy, and I even outdid my role model by hitch hiking most of the way. Only, this time it was not by old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages but by modern-day cars with much more horse power. And in the warm summer nights of the south, I would sleep under the stars and dream of what they might have in store for me.

Back home, way back home in my ancestral homeland, Eichendorffs’s family tree had deep roots in the land of Upper Silesia, which was once also part of the Habsburg Empire. His family even had a small summer castle in Sedlnitz, today’s Sedlnice in the Moravian countryside, which was then known as Kuhländchen, where my maternal forebears had lived for centuries as farmers. Eichendorff spent many summers there, and since my mother’s birthplace Partschendorf, today’s Bartošovice, was the neighboring village, she visited Eichendorff’s near-by castle already as a young school girl, which was an experience that turned her into a lifelong admirer of him and his poetry.

As a young man, Eichendorff not only studied in Heidelberg, he too fell in love in this romantic city on the banks of the Neckar, and to top it off, he too had harbored dreams of setting sails for a new life in America. However, for Eichendorff, that dream never became a reality. In addition, his loved one had left him, adding to his emotional misery. His poem “Das zerbrochene Ringlein”, the broken little ring, became one of the most well-known songs of unrequited love in the German lieder cannon. In it the poem’s protagonist says that he will leave home and roam the world as a “Spielmann”, an itinerant minstrel, trying to forget all his sorrows somewhere in a far-away land. The poem begins: “In einem kühlen Grunde”,  in a cool valley …

Lynne near Heidelberg in Spring

Lynne in a cool valley in beautiful spring somewhere around Heidelberg

The beauty of spring and the joys of love have always been a double phantasy since the beginning of poetry. To give just three examples from the canon of German literature. Walther von der Vogelweide, the great traveling troubadour during the time of the courtly love tradition in medieval Germany, describes in his poem “Unter der linden auf der heide” or “Under the linden tree in a meadow”, a young maiden’s fond memories of her secret romantic tryst with her loved one in a bed of broken grass and beautiful flowers.

Following that medieval model, young Goethe wrote his poem “Mailied” or May Song, which became also known as “Maifest” or May Fest, in which the poet wanders through spring meadows together with a young girl he is in love with. The poem is an exemplary song of erotic innocence and poetic experience, that became the lyrical epitome of German “Sturm und Drang“ with all its exuberant reverie.

Eichendorff, a poet of the next generation happily revisited Goethe’s youthful vision and epic enthusiasm. Goethe had found his first true love in Italy and he eternalized their shared  passion in his “Roman Elegies”. Eichendorff’s love poems also focus on the allure of the foreign, most notably in his poem “Schöne Fremde” whose double entendre of “beautiful stranger” and “beauty of foreign lands” is untranslatable, no matter how much poetic license one applies.

“Heimweh” is another one of those poems and it does not translate into homesickness –  which for non-native speakers of English will probably always resonate with words like sea sickness, or any other sickness which causes the sick one to throw up. “Heimweh” on the other hand translates literary into a woeful longing for home. The first line of this poem reads:  “Wer in die Fremde will wandern, der muss mit der Liebsten gehen”, If you want to wander to far-away lands, you have to go with the one you love the most.

Eichendorff probably even channeled Led Zeppelin to make sure I get the message. After all, they were clearly spelling it out what their message was all about, beginning with title of the song:

“Going to California”

“Someone told me there is a girl out there,
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.”

And as it were, with a “whole lotta love” to give and to share. In other words, the

Love

of a true lover,
the love of a caring wife,
and the love of a wonderful mother,
enough to last for much more than one life.

But stubborn as I was in those days and clueless what the future could bring, I left my loved one behind, leaving for America all by myself in August of 1977, probably thinking that absolute independence would be my ultimate heaven. It soon turned out to be another major moment of bad romance on our itinerary. That bad stretch went from August until December. By November, it seemed we had drifted  “worlds apart”, as the rock band Journey put it in their song

“Separate Ways”

“Here we stand worlds apart,
hearts broken in two, two, two,
sleepless nights, losing ground,
I am reaching for you, you, you.”

And with their chorus refrain, that arena band from San Francisco drove their message home like an orchestrated wake-up call …

“Someday love will find you,
break those chains that bind you”

Considering the fact, that I somehow re-enact Eichendorff’s dreams and poetic phantasies, the romantic irony of that last line was not lost on me, as the band Journey seems to sing in their own way about the poet’s broken heart and his little broken ring. In any case, by the end of that year, the two of us were re-united again in New York City, where I picked up my loved one in the John F. Kennedy airport – and then our hearts went overboard! This was not the first time we had come close losing each other, but this time we had found each other for good. However, we never wore wedding bands. We did not even consider them. Maybe deep down we both were afraid we would break them again.

Ithaca is the name of the little town in the foothills of Cornell University in upstate New York, were I continued my studies at that time. In hindsight, the name Ithaca struck me as a good omen, because it reminded me of the Homeric rhapsodies of Odysseus and his epic and erratic “nostos”, his long return home to his beloved Penelope in Ithaka. It is the archaic model of all adventures stories about faraway lands full of heroic bravura and melodramatic nostalgia. Ever since I had devoured Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in the classical German translation by Johann Heinrich Voss during my earlier years in the Gymnasium, I loved his ancient world of travel and adventure.

As it turned out, my Penelope had brought me home to her own country. We just did not know it at that time. So Eichendorff’s poem “Heimweh” actually turned out to be my “Fernweh” for her home in the New World far out West. The following summer, the two of us traveled together across this seemingly endless continent in Greyhound buses all the way to California, where we continued our continuing education – which apparently never seemed to end – in San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

And it certainly was the right time and the right place to be in California. Songs like “California Girls” by the Beach Boys, “Hotel California” by the Eagles, and “Dreamin’ California” by the Mamas and Papas perfectly captured that far out zeitgeist, that vibrant energy and effervescent atmosphere of those years on the West Coast. And with his song “San Francisco”, beginning with the lines “If you are going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”, Scott Mckenzie was the gentle pied piper for all those flower children who flocked to that rainbow city, the last flourishing outpost of artists and bohemians way up there on the Pacific Coast.

Since the Gold Rush in the nineteenth century, the Golden State of California has loomed on the horizon as the New World’s Manifest Destiny, a mythical Promised Land and modern Paradise Regained. As the country was being settled, more and more names for streets, parks, and beaches in California conjured up these paradisiacal phantasies. When the cultural historian Anthony Heilbut wrote his seminal study on the German expatriates from Nazi Germany who had found a refuge in Los Angeles, he called his study “Exiled in Paradise”.

Oh how we enjoyed roaming the Mojave Desert in spring when all its flowers were in bloom. And how we loved spending summers on the remote beaches north of Santa Barbara, wearing nothing more than a few beads and a sunny smile. And when the sun was setting, my  California girl would turn into Carlos Santana’s “Gypsy Queen” in colorful veils and when the moon was rising, I would become her moonstruck man and she would become Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”.

“California Dreaming”, that was the American Dream as “Paradise Now”, just like the American traveling troupe The Living Theatre had called their most popular play. In hindsight, California was our endless summer of love, or to put it somewhat more prosaically, it was the last four years of our carefree, long-lasting youth, before the real world of a professional life finally caught up with us. And so, we hit the road again, leaving the West Coast and heading back to the East Coast.

“Lehr- und Wanderjahre” is what Goethe had called the formative years of learning and wandering of Wilhelm Meister, the protagonist of his classical bildungsroman. In my case, my years of learning and wandering lasted close to thirty years, in which I studied and taught at a dozen universities in Germany, England and America. In other words, the wannabe fiddling gypsy of my youth had become a “gypsy scholar” instead, as this lifestyle is called in the English- speaking world.

Moving from university to university in pursuit of tenure always reminded me of medieval minstrels wandering from castle to castle in pursuit of a permanent ministerial position. Looking back, I could not have fared any better. On the long and winding and sometimes rocky road, where we so often had to decamp, my fair lady turned out to be a real lady tramp. In other words, we truly had become our American Dream, I was her wandering gypsy scholar and she was my wandering gypsy queen.

“On the Road again”, Willie Nelson’s country song became the favorite soundtrack of our meanderings through this world. And Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” was our alternative guide in search for orientation and our final destination. Which of course always begged the question: Is there an ultimate destiny, let alone preordained itinerary, in a world of so much coincidence, permutation and imponderability?!

***

“Fortuna velut luna …” thus begins the “Carmina Burana”, a collection of songs from the High Middle Ages, whose entry line suggests that fate and fortune are as fickle as the moon. This Latin phrase about the moon could have also been the source of inspiration for Giuseppe Verdi’s famous aria “La donna è mobile”, suggesting that woman is fickle. Waxing moon, waning moon, ebb and flow that come and go. So come, my gypsy queen, my queen of hearts, come and be my fortuneteller! Come show me all your lucky cards …

Lynne Lady Luck and Lucky Star

My Lady Luck and Lucky Star
Lynne in an old hotel in New England in the mid-eighties

Tell me, tell me, what is written in the stars! What is our fate! My Fair Lady From the Sea, tell me all about that sparkling Pearly Gate! That magical blue lagoon, that dark abyss of Mother Earth, of eternal death and eternal rebirth, mysterious no-man’s land of eternal death and rebirth! That no-man’s land of all mankind, that blossoming meadow of the Blue Flower, that no romantic will ever find. And again she is rolling her dark brown eyes, just as she did when we lost paradise. And while she keeps smiling her beguiling smile, I keep searching for that utopia, that mythic womb and tomb of the Magna Mater.

„Wohin gehen wir? Immer nach Hause”
Novalis

Where are we going? Always direction home! Wrote Novalis, the romantic dreamer of the Blue Flower. My own scholarly journey on the road home came to an end in Norfolk, Virginia at Old Dominion University. As it turned out, the name of the university literally signifies a home coming since the word “dominion” has its root in the Latin word domo, meaning home. Already the wandering students in Eichendorff’s “Taugenichts” novella had come to the realization at the end of the road: “Beatus ille home, qui sedet in sua domo”, happy is the man who resides in his own home. After my long academic itinerary to find the right place and the right university, I could not agree more.

Finally, I had a solid base from which I could talk myself into more and more lecture tours, which over the years took me to over thirty countries all over the world. I figured, if I was no good as a gypsy musician, I could at least could make up for it as a gypsy scholar. Or to put it differently, the fiddler on the roof had become a real luftmensch, frequently flying the friendly skies, a talking head and so-called Turbo Prof who would talk until his last listener’s ears would fall off.

And after everything was said and done, I felt thankful that after all, I had not become a bum, a German “Bummelstudent”, as we used to call perennial students without a home and nowhere to go. But at the bottom of my Bohemian heart, I will always remain a Good-For-Nothing, Eichendorff’s wandering “Taugenichts”. As a matter of fact, in recent years, I have identified more and more with him, so that I even ended up publishing some of my own poetry under his pseudonym.  For example, the following poem of mine together with the painting by John William Waterhouse, the Pre-Raffaelite painter, appeared in Norfolk’s monthly Downtowner last fall under the name F.A. Taugenichts.

Twilight over Tidewater poem

The name of this painting is “The Lady of Shalott”, who according Arthurian legend was yearning for the knight Lancelot. Since she is confined to a tower near Camelot, she reminds me of the Brothers Grimm’s Rapunzel, which in turn was the name I had given Lynne in Heidelberg because of her long hair at that time. In the meantime, her hair is much shorter just like the name Rapunzel, whose abbreviated version is however still my favorite term of endearment for Lynne.

The original version of this picture poem shown above is a postcard and it was part of a project I had called “poetry to go”, because people can buy postcards, give them to friends or send them around the world. I also love to publish these picture poems in newspapers, because many more people can read them for example at the morning breakfast table and have some food for thought on the way, as they get ready for another busy the day.

The above example is just one of several dozens of poetry postcards, which I produced with different texts, themes and images soon after I had had my first battle with tongue cancer. I had them reproduced by the thousands and sold in different stores in and around Norfolk as well as in Germany with all proceeds going to cancer research. Since last winter, the local newspaper Hampton Roads Gazeti is printing my series on the four seasons not only to celebrate them but also to raise cancer awareness. When we started that project, I would have never thought, that I soon would be battling my own cancer again and more than ever.

***

“I have heard the mermaids singing”
T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Norfolk is an old harbor town from America’s colonial period here at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in an area which is also known as Hampton Roads, since it combines old towns like Hampton and Norfolk with newer towns like Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. Together, they are forming a larger metropolitan area of a total of seven cities with over one and half million people. In addition to Hampton Roads, the region is also known as Coastal Virginia, but it is probably most naturally described as Tidewater, since the tides of the Atlantic inundate so many of its marshes and wetlands, meandering waterways and major rivers tributaries.

Considering its natural location, this area is also the home of the mermaid, whose colorful statues adorn grace many public places. It wasn’t until we had lived here for some time, that it dawned on me, that my California girl form the water also was one half of a two-part mermaid configuration. In accordance with mythical mermaids, who are half maid and half fish, Lynne was born in the sign of Pisces and I was a born Virgo. If one puts the two zodiac signs together, they form a perfect  mermaid, a true Meerjungfrau, as she is called in German.

In other words, even from an astrological point of view, the two of us are a match made in heaven and – vice versa – down here on earth, Southern Virginia was our natural destination where we finally found our home. ”Virginia is for Lovers”, is the official motto of this state, and who could argue with that. There is an endearing recording by Charles, singing “Carry me back to Ole Virginny”, an old minstrel song from the nineteenth century and the Rolling Stones chimed right in with him in their bluesy country rock song “Sweet Virginia”, in which they even seem to trace our own journey home from the West Coast to Coastal Virginia …

“Thank you for your wine, California …
yes I got the desert in my toe nails
and I hid the speed inside my shoes …
yeah come on down to Sweet Virginia …”

How fitting that this blues ballad about coming home is featured on their double album “Exile On Main Street”. Yeah, it is good to be home at last. Or, as the forefathers of my better half from the Campagna Romana would have put it:  Pisces, Virgo, Virginia – ubi bene ibi patria.

Nomen est omen: According to Lynne’s mother, the first name of her daughter is also associated with water in the mother tongues of her maternal ancestry from Norway and Sweden. I could never verify this. But it certainly was part of her attempt to reclaim her own ancestry and ethnic identity, which she loved to celebrate in the adventure stories and Nordic myth forging of seafaring Vikings. That ended up impressing her younger son, but not her first-born daughter. She always remained her proud patriarchal father’s “numero uno”, his first-born girl from the water.

However, looking at the proliferation of her name here in Tidewater seems to bear out her mother’s claim. More than a dozen lanes and lakes, parkways and waterways are compound names that contain Lynne’s name in various combinations, including “Lynnhaven”, which is of course my favorite variation. And as if to drive home her aquatic identity all around the Tidewater community, my California girl from the water ended mounting the number plate from her father’s car which she inherited after his death onto her own little Honda S 2000 sports car. It reads “Dell H2O”. And she still loves to drive in the fast lane, which sometimes drives me insane.

“Gremium matris terrae”, the Womb of Mother Earth. That is what poetic scholars of matriarchal mythology call the world of water, the aquatic source of all terrestrial life. Coincidentally, the area of Tidewater in Southern Virginia is also one of the most flooded areas on the East Coast, because the global rising of the sea level is compounded here by the local sinking of the mainland. No wonder, mermaids feel at home here. Unlike land-locked humans they go with the flow when it comes to flooding, and since they have fish tails they don’t have to act like a fish out of water.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water”: During the course of our life together, I have come to the realization, when ebb comes to flow, and push comes to shove my better half can become an amazing bridge over troubled water, strong and supportive as if made out of rock and stone. That was especially evident, when she had to take care of most of the preparations for our hurried evacuation during the last hurricane. She rose to the occasion with so much equanimity, almost bordering on serenity, that she reminded me of “La Serenissima”, the superlative with which the Venetians had crowned their regal Renaissance city a long time ago. The last time I saw Venice it was in late fall and the city was flooded again, but I was struck by the casual, easy going attitude with which its citizens took care of what they call “aqua alta”.

“She’s like a Rainbow” has always been one of my favorite songs by the Rolling Stones ever since I heard it in the sixties on the radio. And I was especially taken by the playful piano play. The last couple of weeks, whenever I started to feel down as if I would drown, my girl from the water rose like a rainbow above it. I have never seen her like this before. Probably because I had never been in such dire straits. And just like we were re-enacted art in our younger years, art is now vice versa re-invigorating our older lives, like this mermaid on the following picture.

Every mermaid in Tidewater is painted in different colors and sometimes they also wear different accessories. This particular mermaid comes in rainbow colors, projecting a message of hope that is reinforced by the word “Hope” which she holds in her outstretched hand.  It is also the password to the building, where we hope, the daily six-week radiation treatment will help me in my battle with cancer.

Mermaid at Norfolk's General Hospital

Mermaid at the entrance to the oncology building of Norfolk’s General Hospital

If “Hope” is the last password for all those who have been struck by cancer, then “Hope Against Hope” describes the conflicting absurdity all those must feel, who know that they are terminally ill. It is a morbid desperation, the Romans used to call “spes contra spem”. But I have a better password through this final absurdity I am borrowing it again from Lynne’s Roman ancestry: “Omnia vincit amor”! It opens every door and for mermaids it would be an easy escape right here along the Atlantic Shore with all its harbors, floodgates and waterways. And on top of it, as far as I can see, it sure would be an exciting escapade, riding the waves all the way out to the open sea.

Last Exit Norfolk: “From Here to Eternity.” The most iconic image of the film “From Here to Eternity” by Fred Zinnemann from the year 1953 is certainly the beach scene in Hawaii, in which Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr are lying and embracing each other in the rolling waves of the surf that is rushing and crushing towards the shore. The powerful ebb and flow of the water and the evocative trajectory of the poetic title “From Here to Eternity” in turn are reminiscent of Goethe’s panoramic allegory “Gesang der Geister über den Wassern”, song of the spirits over the waters. Since Fred Zinnemann was an Austrian immigrant to America, he might have been quite familiar with Goethe’s poetry.

Goethe’s poem describes the course of the water from a spring in the mountains all the way down to the sea, and it turns the subsequent natural process of evaporation and eventual return to earth in the form of rain into a philosophical contemplation about the physical-metaphysical nature of the eternal recurrence of the same. The poet concludes his poem with the transcendental equation: „Seele des Menschen, wie gleichst du dem Wasser, Schicksal des Menschen, wie gleichst du dem Wind“. Soul of man, you are like the water, fate of man, you are like wind. I know of no other poem that describes the psychic energy of humanity, its vibrant vitality and its longing for regeneration and lasting immortality more powerfully than this poem.

Click here to re-read Part I

Part III will be linked here as soon as it is published.

 

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Nov 08 2018

My Continuing Battle with Tongue Cancer – Part I

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My Continuing Battle with Tongue Cancer
or
Spring Songs into Autumn Sonatas
For Lynne

Part I of III

Frederick A. Lubich

Preface

Part I of the following text was originally written towards the end of September 2018 as a response to my friends’ good wishes and further inquiries after my recent tongue cancer surgery. Since my response also contained additional medical and statistical information on oral cancer, including its early symptoms and warning signs, several readers suggested that I make the text available to a larger audience. And so it is reproduced here as part I in a slightly expanded version.

As I was writing my rather grim update and similarly gloomy outlook about life and death, my current misery started to trigger more and more memories of much better times long gone by.

They took me all the way back to Sète, a port and seaside resort on the Mediterranean in Southern France, were I spent some time with friends in the summer of 1971. Sitting on the rocks looking over the blue water, sparkling in the southern sun and watching the rolling waves breaking onto the beach, I started to imagine writing a love story associated with the sea. But I dismissed it immediately as a quixotic phantasy, since I thought such stories must have been already written in countless variations since the time of antiquity.

“One day, love will find you” … Although this is a line by the rock band Journey which would not become an international hit until several years later, my inner voice might have already mumbled it quietly, long before it came rocking and rolling my way from a country far away. At least clairvoyants could see it that way and explain it like some kind of flash forward into the darkness of my future. Anyway, I never forgot that day overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, day-dreaming of my future destiny.

And now, almost half a century later into my life’s journey and after my latest encounter with mortality, I have decided that it is time to write this love story and write it exactly as it was happening to me over the past years and decades, especially since it had become a central part of my own biography. And so I added this story as part II and III to this narrative, interweaving it also time and again with part I. I also added some additional imagery related to its itinerary.

As usual, my mind kept wandering, getting carried away further and further, but hopefully, this sentimental journey of the second and third part can also serve as a counter vision to the first part. Or to put it in Freudian terms, the pleasure principle is by nature always more enjoyable than the death principle. In short, remembering the misery of death will always remind us to celebrate the miracle of life, and above all its quintessence, the magic and mystery of love. Love is life galore, love conquers everything, or as the ancient Romans put it so succinctly: omnia vincit amor!

I: Tongue-Tied and Speechless But Still Alive

September

Dear Friends on both sides of the Atlantic,

I would like to thank all of you who wrote or called during the past weeks after my operation, sending me your prayers and good wishes, offering to help and even bake me some special German cake. Since some of you also had specific questions regarding how I am doing and how we are coping, I decided to answer all of you in somewhat more detail.

It was in May 2018, when I felt the growing pain in my tongue might be more than just another sore from a recent bit into my tongue. However, for two more months, a nurse assured me that it was only an ulcer and a mouth rinse with saltwater and baking soda would take care of it. It wasn’t until July 2018, that a biopsy confirmed that that this was much more than just an ulcer. My operation was scheduled for August 21.

Clearly, my cancer turned out to be a determined head hunter. Apart from some minor skin cancer operations on my chest, all of my six more or less major operations since 2005 were in the area of neck, nose and tongue. One operation cut out tissue affected by follicular lymphoma, another drilled a dime size hole into my nose to eliminate a carcinoma, and of the four tongue surgeries the most recent one was also by far the biggest one, since my inner enemy had quite suddenly returned with an unprecedented ferocity.

In an operation lasting eight hours, the doctors ended up cutting out more than half of my tongue, which was then reconstructed with tissue taken from my leg, leaving a scar from the hip all the way down to the knee. In addition to providing me with a new patch-work tongue, the rest of my lymph nodes around the neck had to be removed too. So my necklace of stitches also looks with a bit of imagination like the traces of a patched-up decapitation. Thus, this covered-up beheading turns out to be quite symbolic, as the survival rate for tongue cancer is only 50-60 %. Statistically speaking, I could have lost my head – along with the rest of my body – quite a long time ago. But how many more times will I be able to beat the odds before I run out of luck?

Lucky me! This time around I had escaped the final cu of the knife, waking up from my surgery tongue-tied and speechless – but still alive.

While my tongue and neck remained swollen from several weeks, the rest of my body has shrunk substantially, as I have lost twenty-five pounds in this last battle round. As far as regular breathing is concerned, I get most of my air through a trach going right into my trachea, and all my so-called food I get exclusively through a gastric tube. The latter could remain in place for several more weeks or months or – if the streak of my bad luck continues – for the rest of my life.

And forget talking: More than four weeks after surgery, my speech is still mostly babble bubble, sounding somewhat like Donald Duck backwards, only much slower. And every now and then, my gibberish is interrupted by a growling sound as if coming from the underground, vaguely reminiscent of the howling of Jim Morrison from the Doors, one of the great musical idols of my youth. In short, calling my linguistic challenges a speech impediment would be quite a compliment. I speak mostly in tongues nobody understands. And while others are straining to read my lips, I am trying to catch my breath, since simply finishing one or two more or less incomprehensible sentences can still be quite an exasperating experience.

Because I often cannot say the simplest words, I have to write them down either on an erasable notebook or on sheets of paper I have been stacking up in ever growing piles over the last couple of years at home and in my office. They are all recycled photocopies of discarded academic articles, former administrative correspondences etc., which keep reminding me one more time of former research activities, other forms of bureaucratic absurdities etc., but those empty back pages always make perfect scratch paper.

As if I saw it coming, this growing tumor appeared to be designed by my destiny’s morbid sense of humor. As I look at all those paper towers, I am reminded of a vivid phantasy from a long time ago, when I was growing up in West Germany. I must have been eleven or twelve years old, when I imagined that I had been given a certain amount of words in my life and after I had used them all up I would have to remain silent forever.

Maybe the song “Silence is Golden” by the Four Seasons also had an influence on my strange flight of fancy – which in reality seems to have landed me half a century later on the other side of the Atlantic in this current tongue-tied mess. I remember hearing “Silence is Golden” in my youth on radio AFN, the American Forces Network, which at that time was entertaining the American troops stationed in Europe with popular music from way back home.

Be that as it may, little did I know at that time, that I would not only end up talking like those American troopers, but also babbling like those Babylonian builders in the fable of that infamous Tower of Babel. And if one wants to add an additional riff to my biblical narrative, one could make the case, that now with my half native and half artificial tongue, I can even up the ante to their Babylonian brinkmanship and garble my German and English all the better into perfect bilingual gibberish.

In other words, forget talking a mile a minute, forget the Eagles’ driving rock song “Life in the Fast Lane”, forget Bob Dylan’s rocking sing-along “Forever Young” or to bring it even closer to home, forget all that late romantic rush of German “Sturm und Drang”.  Instead, keep in mind the coming of death, the final, inescapable exit door, which the Doors had called that ultimate moment, when we no longer can run and hide, because the time has come to “break on through to the other side”. Academic scholars with ambitious publication agendas have always lived with so-called deadlines, but this deadline has no definite date on which both sides, author and publisher can agree upon – this deadline will hit you sooner or later, no matter if your work is done.

As far as my near future is concerned, I will need dental surgery, speech therapy, extensive radiation and maybe additional chemotherapy, to be topped off by treats like having to pay hefty bills, since our insurance company does not cover all the costs of that extensive surgery. And all of that does not guarantee at all, that I will ever be able to eat and talk again half way normally, let alone teach a foreign language with the necessary clarity. Not to mention the penultimate question: Will my inner enemy come back? After all, a successful operation is by no means a guarantee, that the tongue cancer will not return for a final and fatal blow. That happened to someone in our closer circle of acquaintances not so long ago.

Pondering all my woes along with their future scenarios, I feel strongly, I really needed all that oral cancer like a “hole in the head”, as the Jewish American saying goes. And speaking of not being able to speak: After my first major tongue operation in 2005, I regained my speech about one week after my operation. However, for some reason, in my first telephone conversation with my mother in Germany, I sounded much more Yiddish than German. All I had to add was playing a Klezmer lidl on my old high school fiddle, in order to further underscore the riddle of my new pronunciation and linguistic transformation. In my younger years, I had played the violin with youthful determination, although my modest musical talents always kept me well-grounded through all those years. But now, speaking to my mother, her far-away “Buuf”, as she used to call me in my youth, sounded in deed like a fiddler high up on his roof.

Speaking of Yiddish: Years after my first tongue operation, I started to have longer and longer conversations with my good friend and best Yiddish speaking buddy, Rabbi Michael Panitz, and in the course of our rambling discussions we found out that the Yiddish dialect of his Eastern European grandparents shared many similarities with the German Moravian dialect of my own parents and grandparents, who after World War II were expelled from their ancestral home in the Bohemian hinterland of former Czechoslovakia.

In the beginning of this year, having coffee again with Michael at Borjo’s, our favorite local coffee house in the University Village of Old Dominion University, he told me another one of his funny Yiddish proverbs. This time it was about having a “been in hals”. It literally means to have a leg in one’s throat and figuratively speaking it suggests having a thorn in one’s side. This Yiddish kaffeeklatsch took place half a year before I was diagnosed with the latest thorn in my throat. In other words, Michael’s proverb turned out to be quite a telling self-fulfilling prophecy, since now I am trying to talk quite literally with bits and pieces of my leg and my tongue. And while at times this can sound quite funny – for me in the long run it is no fun.

What’s in a word? Given my story, one could add a final irony to my case history. In medical lingo, tongue surgery is called glossectomy after the Greek word “glossa” for tongue and language. Mulling over my calamity, my position as managing editor of “Glossen”, a bi-lingual online journal on transatlantic, German-American cultural relations and political developments after 1945, could also be in imminent jeopardy. Maybe the name glossectomy is doubling as an ominous writing on the wall, spelling out my pending editorial fall? Or maybe, the linguistic coincidence is only meant to be tongue in cheek? Fate’s tickling of my funny bone so to speak?

***

Considering my new condition, with all its known and unknown challenges, Lynne turned out to be once again my greatest fortune in my current misfortune, as she became an inexhaustible source of practical help and emotional support. And on top of it with her, I was also in the good hands of a practicing psychotherapist with a lot of experience in mental health who could share all her professional wealth. But for the time being, forget the Freudian “talking cure”. In the first days after my operation, whenever darkness threatened to come over me, she simply was my daily sunshine, my sunny California girl of our youthful years from way back when. Leonard Cohen described such magic moments of natural healing most evocatively in his haunting “Anthem” from his album The Future: “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

In conclusion, I would like to also shine a light on the reality of tongue cancer and have my story serve as a lasting lesson for all of you, including all your friends and all your enemies – should you have some. In my younger years, I smoked like a chimney, often rolling my own cigarettes with Dutch Drum tobacco and of course always without filters. And I was doing it for fifteen years. Whereas lung cancer is quite common as a result of smoking, tongue cancer in comparison is quite rare. Oral cancer accounts for only 3% of all forms of cancers and the percentage for tongue cancer is even lower. And it can have all different types of causes besides smoking.

All the more reason to be aware of the fact, that a persisting pain in the tongue can be so much more than just a lingering canker sore. Early detection and timely intervention are absolutely essential in preventing further if not fatal damage.  After all, who wants to leave before one’s time, especially if you feel you are still in your latter-day prime? Not to mention Bob Dylan’s paean to youth and its endearing belief in its eternal truth.

“Den Fluch in Segen verwandeln”, to turn the curse into a blessing, that is one of my favorite words of wisdom from the German-Jewish-Argentinian writer Robert Schopflocher, whom I met in Buenos Aires at the beginning of this century. Our brief encounter led to a growing friendship via electronic correspondence that lasted for fifteen years until his death.  Inspired by his guiding principle, which for me has turned out to be true on several occasions during the past several years, I am also trying to come to terms with the curse of my cancer.

In other words, I have become quite grateful to my deadly enemy that he has granted me since the time of his first appearance so many more years to live and enjoy life to the fullest. And I hope, I will be able to cherish all those things again, which we usually take so much for granted, and I am sure, I will do it even more consciously. Simple things like being able to eat and speak … enjoy good food and good conversations … the exchange of silly jokes, the sharing of sudden ideas … the joyful interplay of good company and lasting friendships …

Again, my text turned out to be much longer than intended. But since I can’t talk I have to write. So let me write, turning the curse that has been cast upon me into a blessing: May you all be blessed with good health! “Bleibt gesund”, each and every one of you here and on the other side of the Atlantic. And last but not least, I wish you “a gezunt af dein kop”, as the Yiddish greeting goes, which in English means health to your head!

But I would like to expand its blessing for a healthy head, including its mental health, for all of you by wishing you “Gesundheit” for the rest of your body too! Or as the ancient philosophers of Lynne’s Italian ancestors put it so much more eloquently: “mens sana in corpore sano”!

With this in mind, we both wish you all the best,

Lynne and Frederick

Part II – October

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Jul 30 2018

Nobelpreis für Wolf Biermann: Eine transatlantische PEN-Initiative

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Nobelpreis für Wolf Biermann: Eine transatlantische PEN-Initiative
Frederick A. Lubich

Hervorragende Sänger und Seher sind seit biblisch-homerischen Zeiten die Lichtgestalten ihrer Kultur und Geschichte. Sie berichten von ihren Taten, vertonen ihren Zeitgeist und entwerfen auch immer wieder dessen kulturelle Ideale und sozialpolitische Utopien.

Auch die deutsche Kulturgeschichte kann auf eine ehrwürdige Ahnenreihe solcher Sänger und Seher, beziehungsweise Dichter und Denker zurückblicken, angefangen von Walther von der Vogelweide über Heinrich Heine zu Bertolt Brecht und von Friedrich von Schiller und Johann Wolfgang von Goethe über Thomas Mann und Hermann Hesse zu Heinrich Böll und Günter Grass, um mit den letzten vier nur einige der international bekanntesten Repräsentanten der deutschen Moderne zu nennen.

Die Mitglieder des jährlichen Nobelpreis-Komitee haben im Laufe der Jahrzehnte jedoch nicht nur die vier letztgenannten mit dem Nobelpreis für Literatur gewürdigt, sondern in jüngerer Zeit auch deutschsprachige Schriftstellerinnen wie Elfriede Jelinek und Herta Müller, die in ihren Texten die Erfahrungen der Gegenwart auf vielfache Weise zum Ausdruck gebracht haben.

Sieht man sich heute im deutschsprachigen Kulturkreis um, so gewinnt die Gestalt des Dichters, Liederkomponisten und gesellschaftskritischen Publizisten Wolf Biermann ebenfalls markant prominente Konturen und dies auch aus zusätzlich einzigartigen Gründen. Wie kein anderer deutscher Künstler seiner Zeit repräsentiert und reflektiert er mit seinem Leben und seinem Werk die Zerrissenheit seiner Nation nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, ihre politischen Kulturbrüche und ideologischen Widersprüche und nicht zuletzt ihre erfolgreiche Überwindung, die in ihren dramatisch epochalen Dimensionen in der Weltgeschichte sicherlich ihresgleichen sucht.

In anderen Worten, Hegels Weltgeist und seine dialektische Geschichtsphilosophie hätten keinen besseren Fürsprecher und Vorkämpfer finden können. So wie Bob Dylan für seine Generation den Zeitgeist Amerikas artikulierte, so tat es Wolf Biermann nicht nur für sein zerrissenes Vaterland, sondern auch für ein gespaltenes Europa, das Jahrzehnte lang im Kalten Krieg und seiner globalen Ost-West-Konfrontation politisch erstarrt und militärisch weltweit bedrohlich geworden war.

Biermann hat diese zeitgeschichtliche Zerreißprobe auf mehrfache Weise unmittelbar am eigenen Leib erfahren und das von Kindesbeinen an. Geboren als „halb Judenbalg und halb ein Goj“, wie er sich selbst beschreibt, machte er sich als junger, idealistischer Weltverbesserer schon früh auf den Weg nach Ost-Berlin ins vermeintlich bessere Deutschland, um mit seinen Gedichten und Gesängen so poetisch wie provokativ und so wagemutig wie zuversichtlich für eine gerechtere Gesellschaft zu kämpfen. Ein Leben lang war er im besten Sinne des Wortes ein Spielmann, der in schlimmsten Zeiten seine Freiheit und nicht zuletzt sein Leben aufs Spiel setzte, um mit seiner Dichtung die Wahrheit zu verkünden – zumindest so gut, wie er sie unter den gegebenen Umständen zu erkennen und auszudrücken vermochte.

Heinrich Heines literarische Maxime, Poesie und Politik auf progressive Weise zu verbinden und weiter zu verbreiten, kristallisierte sich im Lebenswerk Biermanns auf geradezu geniale Weise. Höhepunkt seiner essaystischen und vor allem poetischen Kreativität, die sich in zahlreichen Gedichtbänden niedergeschlagen hat, ist sicherlich sein Versepos „Deutschland ein Wintermärchen“, das nicht nur eine kongeniale Revision von Heines gleichnamigem „Deutschland ein Wintermärchen“ darstellt, sondern letzteres an lyrischem Witz und ironisch-sarkastischem Scharfsinn auch immer wieder übertrifft. Anders gewendet, Wolf Biermanns poetisch-politisches Werk ist ein integraler Bestandteil der vielberufenen Dialektik der deutsch-jüdischen Aufklärung, die von Immanuel Kant über Gotthold Efraim Lessing und Moses Mendelssohn bis zur Frankfurter Schule Theodor Adornos und Max Horkheimers reicht und noch weit darüber hinaus.

Aus dem Geist dieser fortschrittlichen Aufklärung konnte schließlich aus Heines dunklem, romantischen Wintermärchen ein helles, modernes Sommermärchen werden, welches über den Berliner Mauerfall und ein wiedervereintes Deutschland hinaus auch noch auf ein sich rundum zunehmend demokratisch vereinigendes Europa auszustrahlen vermochte. Im Laufe der Jahre und nicht zuletzt seit der sogenannten bundesweiten Flüchtlingskrise im Jahre 2015 ist Biermann auch zu einer zunehmend transatlantisch und international wichtigen Stimme geworden, der auch Zeitungen wie die New York Times gebührende Resonanz verleiht.

Auf Grund der einmaligen, poetisch-politischen Verdienste Wolf Biermanns habe ich im Frühjahr dieses Jahres dem Vorstand des PEN-Zentrums deutschsprachiger Autoren im Ausland vorgeschlagen, den Autor für den Nobelpreis für Literatur zu nominieren und sämtliche Mitglieder haben diesen Vorschlag einstimmig unterstützt. Wir hoffen durch kreative PR-Arbeit dieses Projekt erfolgreich voranzubringen und sind für weitere Vorschläge und einschlägige Hinweise sehr dankbar.

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Jan 23 2018

#MeToo and the Legends of Genesis

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#MeToo and the Legends of Genesis
Rabbi Michael Panitz

Sex is as old as the Fifth Day of Creation, and it was a blessing then.  God blessed the animals by telling them, “be fruitful and multiply”. Henceforth, they would be able to do something that, hitherto, only God had done: they would be able to create something new.

The abuse of sex is slightly less ancient, but, sadly, it seems to be a very old stain on the human soul.

The Book of Genesis, far more hard-hitting in its unabridged and authentic version than in the Sunday School version served up for kids, is filled with stories of people who misuse God’s blessing of sexuality. The Flood wiped out the line of Cain, in which polygamy and other manifestations of violence first became prevalent, but not the hardness of the human heart. The xenophobes of Sodom were still at it, and Lot, basely, attempted to appease them by sacrificing his two unmarried daughters to their fury. The daughters repaid the father, later in the story, by raping him.

Turning to the ancestors of the Jewish people, we see a glimmer of hope in an all-too-familiar tale of patriarchal abuse of power.  Judah “went down from his brothers” (Genesis 38:1), a phrase suggesting that he lowered his moral standing, and he married a Canaanite woman. They had three sons, but the oldest was a living offense to God, and died young, leaving a childless widow, Tamar. Judah told his next son, Onan, to perform a “levirate marriage” with Tamar, so as to give her a child, but Onan did not want to accept the financial obligation, so he refused to do his part— and he died, too.  Judah reached the wrong conclusion, thinking that he had a killer widow on his hands; so he consigned Tamar to perpetual widowhood by refusing to allow her to marry his youngest son, Shelah, as was the custom of the time. She takes matters into her own hands, dresses as a prostitute (in those days, that meant covering up completely!) and stationing herself where Judah will find her. Judah himself fails to recognize her, propositions her, and in one act of physical intimacy, gets her pregnant.  The Biblical narrator suggests that the immediate conception was “God, watching from a distance”.

When Tamar becomes pregnant, Judah acts oh-so-righteously and orders her execution. With great sensitivity, Tamar speaks to Judah alone, showing him proof that he is the father. Judah then says something that has not been heard in the Bible until that moment: “She is more righteous than I.” Tamar is exonerated and gives birth to twins— one of whom is an ancestor of King David. From the acknowledgement of error, redemption can spring.

Writing shortly after the recent Alabama senatorial election, where voters have narrowly rejected a man widely accused of pederasty, I sense that we are riding a wave of revulsion at sexual predation. Thus far, too many of the powerful men accused of harassment—entertainment executives, senators, supreme court justices, going all the way up to the highest offices of the land–  have replied by calling their accusers liars. Even those who have resigned have not said the simple, yet powerful, words of Judah.

The Bible shows us: the path to healing begins with a simple recognition: She is more righteous than I. I hope for such a day.

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Dec 05 2017

A Publisher’s Reflections on the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017

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A Publisher’s Reflections on the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017

Michael Eskin

As almost every year, I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair earlier this fall. Among other things, I strolled around the booths in the domestic and international halls, met an agent we have recently signed a representation agreement with to discuss rights sales for one of our authors, attended a renowned German publisher’s annual reception, and was invited – one of several international publishers – to a dinner at an Italian restaurant hosted by yet another agent aiming to pitch one of his authors. Upon my return to New York City, I was asked to share my reflections on my Frankfurt experience this year.

By way of an introductory profession de foi, I have to confess that I truly love being a publisher; I feel there is a kind of complete coincidence between me and what I do – I never feel that I am playing a part, but simply that I am doing what I am doing for as long I will have been doing it for real. One of the reasons for my being so internally aligned with being a publisher is, I believe, the sense that what we at Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc. are doing is adding real value and meaning to people’s lives and the world at large, that we are doing something truly noble and good. Not to mention the fact that I simply like books – reading, writing, and making them – as well as the unique buzz surrounding their acquisition, creation, production, and launches.

This year, too, then, the Frankfurt Book Fair ­– the most important global fair of its kind – was a palpable reminder that publishing, making and distributing books, educating and entertaining humanity, is a noble pursuit indeed, taken seriously by tens of thousands of professionals, and, more importantly, by tens of thousands of readers, who flock to the fair in droves on the last two days when it opens to the general public.

On most of my visits, usually at the hotel at night, I also get to read new books given to me by publishers to be considered for acquisition and publication in English by Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc. Which is how I sometimes discover unsuspected gems.

This year as well, I had such a unique reading experience. But it was not afforded me by one of my publisher colleagues but by a friend who had just published a book, which I started reading at the airport while waiting to board my outbound flight and which I finished before arriving in Frankfurt. Remarkably, as I was heading to the most important annual global literary exchange, I was reading a book about the global, trans-historical “power of stories to shape people, history, civilization” – thus the book’s subtitle.

Martin Puchner’s breathtakingly erudite and elegant The Written World, which covers anything and everything you ever wanted to know about anything and everything book-literature-politics-and-the-world-at-large-related from pre-biblical to postmodern times provided me with a perfect backdrop to get myself into the proper ‘book fair state of mind’. Not only did it confirm the validity of the publisher’s purpose as someone who facilitates the proliferation of stories, thus helping to shape people, history, and civilization; but it also – and more importantly, I should add – enjoined me to take a fresh look at what I had taken for granted about the book fair: the co-presence, for a mere five days a year, of thousands of publishers hailing from different cultures, continents, and nations, and reaching their audiences in hundreds of languages. If The Written World suggested a global space of ‘world literature’ charted by an ever-expanding network of stories sharing plot elements and narrative structures and availing themselves of border-crossing techniques and technologies as they exert an indelible impact on the changing socio-political realities surrounding them, the Frankfurt Book Fair appeared to be driving home the exact opposite: myriads of tiny principalities, speaking and writing in different languages, embodying different cultures and nationalities, and only communicating with each other, on rare occasions, thanks to the diligent work of translators whose services are engaged less often than one might imagine.

As I was wandering the aisles of the various exhibition halls, browsing the shelves of Croatian, Serbian, Spanish, French, Indian, and many other publishers, I couldn’t help thinking that, while the written world might be both a humanizing and idealistic prism through which to interpret our past, present, and future, it might also behoove us to recognize and acknowledge the harsh reality of many written worlds that do not necessarily communicate with each other. Which is where the Frankfurt Book Fair and similar events in New York, London, Hong Kong, New Delhi and elsewhere come in: much-needed islands of communication that bridge the gulf between our desire for one written world and the many actual written worlds we are confronted with every day.

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Nov 16 2017

Kristallnacht: The View from 2017

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Kristallnacht: The View from 2017
Rabbi Michael Panitz

This evening, the Jewish world will observe the sad anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in which Nazi Germany physically attacked the synagogues and the Jewish community of Germany. How does that event resonate today?

My answer is to look back, not only 79 years, to the infamous state-sponsored pogrom, but 125 years, to the moment when anti-semitism went mainstream in pre-Nazi Germany. That happened in 1892, at the “Tivoli Congress” of the German Conservative Party.  Here is a brief, encyclopedic account of that event:

The Tivoli Congress took place in 1892 and was named after the Tivoli Brewery on the Kreuzberg in Berlin in whose festival venue the German Conservative Party first adopted anti-semitism as part of its political program…From the congress the Tivoli Program was developed. This was a party manifesto whose first clause included the words “We fight against the often obtrusive and corrosive Jewish influence on our national life. We demand Christian authorities for the Christian people and Christian teachers for Christian students.”

Ever since 1945, thoughtful Americans have asked, “Could it happen here?” I have always been confident that American democracy, with far stronger roots than those of Weimar Republic Germany, would withstand the combination of demagoguery and hyper-nationalism that gave Nazism its traction. Now… I am less confident.

What changed? The 2016 election gave the Radical Right a sense that its moment had arrived. There’s a straight line to be drawn from the coy inclusion of avowed anti-semites in the winning electoral coalition of 2016, to Richard Spencer’s followers giving the Nazi salute in their post-election celebration, to the sharp spike in anti-semitic actions in early 2017, as reported by the ADL, to the “Jews will not replace us” chant of the Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville this past August.

Now, none of this is the same as the main body of American Conservatism embracing anti-semitism, as the official German Conservative party did in 1892. But the desire of the Radical Right to become part of the American mainstream political spectrum has received far too much cover, from the highest quarters, for us to feel entirely safe.

Demagogery, hyper-nationalism, and anti-semitism: if we, as a society, leave the raw materials for an explosion in place, then we are vulnerable to accidental, as well as deliberate, detonation.

Kristallnacht is always about Nazi Germany. But it is also always about what can happen when anti-semitism is winked at, anywhere and anytime.

On guard, America!

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Nov 14 2017

Ansprache am Mauergedenkort 9. November 2017

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Ansprache am Mauergedenkort
9. November 2017

Freya Klier

 

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, sehr geehrter Regierender Bürgermeister, liebe Schülerinnen und Schüler, liebe Freunde!

1.

Lässt sich nach 28 Jahren noch vermitteln, wie es war, abgeschottet zu sein? In einer Diktatur leben zu müssen, in der auf Dich geschossen wurde, sobald es Dich hinaus in die Freiheit zog?

Fluchtversuche gab es, nachdem die 1400 km lange Grenze zwischen Ost und West mit Erdminen und Selbstschussanlagen aufgerüstet war, immer wieder. Und immer seltener glückten sie. Ich selbst habe mich entschlossen zu fliehen, als 1966 mein 17- jähriger Bruder für 4 Jahre ins Gefängnis kam, weil er und seine Freunde Liedtexte von den Rolling Stones und den Beatles besaßen, die sie der Polizei nicht aushändigen wollten. Die, als sie von der Polizei zusammengeschlagen wurden, „Ihr Nazis!“ riefen.

Zwei Jahre später versuchte ich zu fliehen – ich wollte im Rostocker Hafen mit einem Schiff nach Schweden gelangen.

Mein Plan wurde von DDR-Matrosen verraten, noch im Hafen klickten die Handschellen. Ich kam ins Gefängnis.

Bei jedem DDR-Flüchtling hat sich der Ablauf der Flucht eingebrannt, besonders der Moment des Scheiterns. Auch erinnern wir uns der schlimmen Momente unserer Haftzeit… der schier endlosen Demütigungen durch das Wachpersonal, dessen Macht und Willkür auch im Sozialismus kaum gebremst war.

2.

Später bekam ich mit meiner Familie eine Wohnung im Prenzlauer Berg zugewiesen, und die lag dicht an der Mauer, in der Oderberger Straße. Täglich, wenn wir nach Hause gingen, starrten wir auf dieses Ungetüm aus Beton, das uns signaliserte: ´Hier ist für Euch Schluss – sonst wird geschossen!´

Hinter der Mauer aber, auf der Westseite, stand eine Aussichtsplattform: Dort schauten Menschen aus der freien Welt in unsere Oderberger Straße hinein wie in ein Aquarium. Manche fotografierten, andere filmten. Für uns war es ein unangenehmes Gefühl.

Das endete erst mit dem 9.November 1989. Und wieder schauen wir auf die Oderberger Straße:

Am Abend dieses 9. November 1989 verlässt der Vikar Thomas Jeutner mit seiner hochschwangeren Frau Marianne die Oderberger Straße Nr. 5. Die beiden wohnen hier und wollen noch etwas spazieren gehen, wie fast jeden Abend so kurz vor der Geburt.

Heute entscheiden sie sich für einen längeren Weg – die Oderberger hinunter bis zur Mauer, dort einfach die Straßenseite wechseln und wieder zurück. Dabei wird der junge Theologe Zeuge eines vermeintlichen Hörspiels:

„Wir sind also die rechte Seite, wo die Feuerwache ist, runtergegangen“ – erinnert sich Thomas Jeutner – „sehr langsam, meine Frau stand ja kurz vor der Geburt. Es war schon dunkel. Vor dem Klub der Volkssolidarität, also nicht weit von der Mauer entfernt, stand ein Trabant, mit heruntergekurbeltem Fenster. Und der Fahrer hörte unverschämt laut ein Hörspiel aus seinem Autoradio. Erst ärgerte mich seine Rücksichtslosigkeit, dann blieb ich aber ein bisschen stehen, denn es lief ein Science-Fiction- Hörspiel und das war ziemlich packend: Die Rede war von einem Land mit einer Mauer, und die Mauer sei geöffnet, man hörte viel Trubel…

Ich war sauer. Ich fand es ziemlich geschmacklos, so etwas zu senden. Wir standen ja direkt vor der Mauer – das Ungetüm war ja da! Ich dachte, die spinnen total. Verärgert kehrten wir um…“

Als Thomas Jeutner am Spätabend einen Anruf von seinem Bruder erhält, weiß er, dass das vorhin kein Science Fiction war!

Die Mauer ist tatsächlich offen, wenn auch noch nicht an der Oderberger Straße.

3.

´Es war die erste unblutige Revolution in der deutschen Geschichte´, können Schüler heute in ihren Büchern darüber lesen. Sie ahnen die Dramatik – von der Massenflucht über Ungarn, den Botschaftsbesetzungen in Prag und Warschau, von Gründungsaufrufen oppositioneller Gruppen. Sie lesen, wie zuerst Hunderte DDR-Bürger auf die Straßen gingen, bald schon Tausende und schließlich Millionen – getrieben von dem Wunsch nach Freiheit und Demokratie…

Lesen können sie es – doch ahnen sie damit auch die überbordenden Gefühle ihrer Eltern und Großeltern, als die Mauer schließlich fiel?

Und wann spürten wir selbst, dass dies eine historische Stunde ist? Beim Versprecher eines Politbüro-Mitglieds? Bei den ersten

´Wahnsinn!´ – Rufen auf der Bornholmer Brücke, bei stammelnden Politikern, dem plötzlichen Verkehrschaos?

Spätabends erreichte mich ein Anruf aus Kanada: Unsere Freunde weinten am Telefon, denn sie sahen im kanadischen Fernsehen Trabi-Paraden und Freudentänze auf dem nächtlichen Ku´damm. Ich weinte mit… und nicht zum ersten Mal an diesem Abend.

Schon am nächsten Tag konnte man in Kreuzberg kaum noch treten. Ost-Berlin schien geschlossen Richtung Westen gerückt zu sein. Noch immer herrschte Ausnahmezustand, lag ´Wahnsinn!´ in der Luft. An reguläre Arbeit war nicht mehr zu denken. Was konnte man anderes tun an diesem Tag als mitzustrahlen und im Pennymarkt was Trinkbares zum Anstoßen zu holen?

Am 11.November stand ich dann am Checkpoint Charlie. Eine Schulklasse zog mich dort in ihren Bann, die aussah, als hätte sie bereits zwei Tage und Nächte durchgefeiert. Müde schauten sie auf kofferbeladene Flüchtlinge, durch den Checkpoint hasteten jetzt vor allem Familien mit Kindern: Wer wusste denn, ob das ganze nicht ein Versehen war und morgen die Grenzer wieder aufmarschierten?

Im Unterschied zu seiner Klasse war der Lehrer hellwach – hingerissen kommmentierte er das Geschehen. Der Mantel der Geschichte wehte, und er durfte mit seiner Klasse dabei sein:

´Nadine, schlaf nicht!´, rief er einem Mädchen zu. ´Schlafen kannst Du zuhause. Hier…´ – seine Arme fuchtelten in Richtung der hastenden DDR-Bürger – ´hier fliehen noch Menschen von Ost nach West!´…

Nadine versuchte, sich zu straffen. Und ich vergaß, die Jugendlichen zu fragen, woher sie kommen.

Unter den vielen Episoden in diesem Herbst 1989 gehört diese zu meinen liebsten. Die Schüler dürften heute etwa 40 Jahre alt sein. Und keiner von ihnen wird diese Klassenfahrt vergessen haben, da bin ich sicher.

————–

 

 

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Oct 20 2017

Tom Petty’s „Heart Attack”: Zum „Herzstillstand” des „Heartbreakers”

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Tom Petty’s “Heart Attack”: Zum Herzstillstand” des „Heartbreakers”

A Teachable Moment of Bi-Lingual Education
In Memory of a Remarkable Musical Legacy

Frederick A. Lubich

Fans von Tom Petty und seiner Band „Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers“ mussten vor Tagen schockiert in den englischsprachigen Medien zur Kenntnis nehmen, dass ihr Rock-Idol von einem „heart attack“ zu Fall gebracht worden war – also auf gut Deutsch, einem „Herzstillstand“ erlegen war. In seinen besten Jahren war der Frontmann der „Heartbreakers“ mit Songs wie „Free Fallin‘”, „Learning to Fly“, „I Won’t Back Down” und „Into the Great Wide Open” international berühmt geworden.

Über die ursprüngliche Verwirrung seiner Anhänger, ihr weltweites Rätselraten um die eigentliche Ursache seines Todes, hat sein fataler „heart attack“ wohl auch so manchen Deutschlehrer hier in den Vereinigten Staaten zum Aufhorchen gebracht, wenn nicht gar zum Nachdenken der folgenden Art verleitet.

Bekanntlich bezeichnet die deutsche Sprache menschliche Krankheiten – und somit auch Todesursachen – mit Sprachbildern aus dem deutschen Wortschatz, während das Englische sie vor allem mit Wortschöpfungen aus dem lateinischen und griechischen Vokabular zum Ausdruck bringt. Auf diese Weise wird aus der deutschen Blinddarmentzündung die englische „appendicitis“ und aus der deutschen Lungenentzündung die englische „pneumonia“, um hier nur zwei bezeichnende Beispiele anzuführen. Diese Offenheit der englischen Sprache gegenüber fremden Sprachquellen, von denen sie sich seit über tausend Jahren immer wieder neu beeinflussen und sprachlich bereichern lässt, ist auch der tiefere Grund für ihr großes, multi-linguales Vokabular und ihr entsprechend nuancenreiches Differenzierungspotential.

Kommt es jedoch zur Bezeichnung von Krankheiten, so hat die deutsche Sprache gegenüber der englischen Sprache wohl einen wesentlichen Vorteil. Deutschsprachige Kinder können bereits im frühen Grundschulalter allein vom Wort her erahnen, dass es sich bei Blindarm- und Lungenentzündungen bestimmt um leidliche Erfahrungen und schmerzliche Krankheiten handeln muss, während ihre englischen Generationskohorten erst aus dem weiteren Gesprächszusammenhang erraten können, dass das medizinische Mumbo Jumbo ihrer Muttersprache wohl nichts Gutes zu bedeuten hat.

Auch Tom Pettys „heart attack“ gehört in diese Kategorie der verschiedenen deutsch-englischen Spracherfahrung. Stellt man sich (fremd-)sprachlich unbewandert, dann dürften Begriffe wie „heart attack“ zu allen möglichen Missverständnissen führen. Vorausgesetzt man kennt das ursprünglich aus dem Französischen stammende Wort „Attacke“, dann könnten sprachlich Wissbegierige entsprechend nachhaken und folgerichtig weiterfragen, ob das Herz als attackiertes oder als attackierendes Körperorgan in der besagten Attacke fungiert, oder grammatikalisch formuliert, ob es das leidzufügende Subjekt oder das leiderfahrende Objekt des Satzes repräsentiert.

Stellt man in diesem syntaktisch ambivalenten Kontext weitere Fragen, so ergibt sich der widersprüchliche Fragenkomplex, wen oder was das Herz in dieser Attacke angegriffen hatte, beziehungsweise von wem oder wovon es angegriffen wurde. Und nicht zuletzt bleibt vor allem weiterhin unklar, ob der oder das Angreifende, beziehungsweise der oder das Angegriffene diesen allseitig verwirrenden Angriff letztendlich überlebt hatte. Kein Wunder also, dass den ersten widersprüchlichen Meldungen von Pettys „heart attack“ vielfach weiterverdrehte Beileidsbekundigungen folgen sollten.

Im Gegensatz zur babylonischen Sprach- und Sinnverwirrung in den englischsprachigen Medien klärte die deutschsprachige Berichterstattung mit dem Begriff des „Herzstillstands“ all diese syntaktischen Optionen und semantischen Spekulationen mit einem Schlag auf und machte unmissverständlich klar, dass das Herz des Sängers weder Täter noch Opfer eines Angriffs gewesen war, sondern vielmehr nach einem mittellangen Lebenslauf auf der Strecke geblieben ist und schlicht und einfach von selber stehen blieb.

Im Fall von Tom Petty gewinnt dieser „Herzstillstand“ auch noch einen weiteren werkgeschichtlichen Bedeutungszusammenhang. Zum einen ist es mit dem Tod des populären Musikers um einen weiteren talentierten Krachmacher der Rockmusik über Nacht „still“ geworden. Zudem ist er nicht im krachenden Angriff umgekommen – wie das sogenannten Helden des Krieges auf lärmenden Schlachtfeldern widerfährt -, dieser Held der Klänge ist vielmehr vollkommen friedlich daheim gestorben, genauer, er ist heimlich, still und leise am eigenen, immer müder werdenden Herzen zerbrochen.

Nomen est Omen: Mit seinem nun unumstrittenen Herzstillstand ist Tom Petty auch dem Namen seiner Band ein letztes Mal gerecht geworden und dies so buchstäblich wie sinnfällig – und nicht zuletzt allen Widersprüchen und Widerständen zum Trotz. Oder, wie man auf Englisch schlussfolgern könnte: He lived up to the name of his band and their rebellious reputation to the very end, or in his own words of ultimate defiance:

„You can stand me up at the gates of hell
but I won’t back down … I won’t back down!
Hey baby … there ain’t no easy way out …
but I stand my ground and I won’t back down.”

Tom Petty, „I Won’t Back Down”

***

„The Traveling Wilburys“ war der sprechende Name des von Tom Petty einst mit ins Leben gerufenen musikalischen Karavans berühmter musikalischer Zeitgenossen. Mit dieser Namensgebung stellte sich diese Band auch in die altehrwürdige Tradition der fahrenden Spielleute, die in der Alten Welt bis ins Mittelalter der vagantischen Troubadoure und wandernden Minnesänger zurückreicht. Superstars der Rockrevolution wie Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison und George Harrison spielten längere Zeit in dieser Superband der „Traveling Wilburys“ mit.

Jetzt hat sich Tom Petty den beiden Letzteren, die ihm schon vor Jahren ins Jenseits vorausgegangen waren, endgültig angeschlossen. Sie sind nun nicht nur seine alten, verblichenen Weggefährten durch die großen Konzertsäle dieser Welt, sondern vielleicht auch seine neuen, weltenbegeisterten Seelenverwandten auf dem Weg ins unergründliche Jenseits, kurzum, seine „Transcendental Traveling Wilbury Brothers“.

Credo, quia absurdum …! Wer weiß, vielleicht sind sie ja tatsachlich wieder zusammen und ziehen immer weiter auf der sagenhaften Seelenwanderung in jene bodenlose Ewigkeit, aus der noch niemand zurückgekehrt ist. In anderen Worten, … „On the Road Again“ … „Learning to Fly“… „Into the Great Wide Open“ … unterwegs in jenes ausgesternte Universum, von dem die Scholastiker des Mittelalters glaubten, dass es auf immer und ewig vom Zauber der Sphärenklängen zusammengehalten würde.

Jenseits hin und Diesseits her, Tatsache ist jedenfalls, dass Tom Petty zusammen mit seinen einstigen „Traveling Wilburys“ uns Hinterbliebenen hier auf Erden ihre herrliche Musik zurückgelassen hat. Und so können wir ihnen über alle sprachlichen Verwirrungen und irdischen Missverständnisse hinaus weiter zuhören und ihnen in Dankbarkeit nachrufen: Fare well … keep rocking … and rest in peace.

Frederick A. Lubich

 

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Dec 13 2016

Make America Great Again

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“Make America Great Again”
Or
The Perfect Political Solution to Our Latter-Day Sexual Revolution

Frederick A. Lubich

           “We are right at the edge of the abyss.”
Jerry Falwell, Jr.

This ominous foreboding was made by the son of Jerry Falwell, one of America’s best-known fundamentalists and outspoken televangelists of the last century. During the recent election campaign, Falwell Junior was a stalwart supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy in spite of the latter’s stumbling from one scandalous controversy into the next. For the famous preacher’s faithful son that was only more proof positive that sinners are no saints in deed and therefore in permanent need to be forgiven. Consequently, Donald Trump has won that highly acrimonious election and now Falwell Junior’s ominous foreboding of imminent catastrophe has become – vice versa – the fears of many of all those who had opposed Trump’s candidacy, only in much higher numbers, since they now include hosts of political observers and prophetic doomsayers in many countries around the world.

To cite just two telling examples from Germany that – given its disastrous history in the last century – is probably most qualified to be a contemporary Kassandra: The Berliner Zeitung deplored the result of the Amercian election as an uncanny specter reminiscent of Oswald Spengler’s prophetic epic The Decline of the West (1918, 1922), and the cover of the Hamburg magazine Der Spiegel probably captured the worldwide fear most dramatically when it equated Trump’s stunning victory with a fiery comet hurtling out of the blue toward planet earth. The evocative picture carried the exorbitant subtitle: “Das Ende der Welt (wie wir sie kennen)” – the end of the world (as we know it). Apocalypse Now?

The Second Coming as the late homecoming of a prodigal grandson? Since Trump’s surprising rise to political prominence, Germany’s long-lasting love-hate relationship with him has turned more and more into political abhorrence. By now it is well known, that his grandfather left Germany because his home country did not appreciate the fact that he had dodged service in the German army. His grandson Donald followed his grandfather’s footsteps by avoiding military service too, but he, in turn, would compensate his patriotic shortcoming by transforming it into something much larger than life, in other words, translating it into the national promise of “Make America Great Again”. To understand the genesis of such a temperament and its narcissistic self-aggrandizement, a look back to the future – as post-modernity’s most popular perspective suggests – can give us some telling insights into the social dynamics and sexual politics of present-day America and its utopian propaganda.

The double-edged sword of the battle of the sexes: From magic mushrooms and marijuana to Cialis and Viagra, these elixirs of the Sexual Revolution have been inspiring the generation of baby boomers for decades in their modern pursuit of happiness, that is, sexual joy and lasting success. Hand in hand with these erotic aspirations go the social ambitions of both men and women to fully share – for the first time in Western Civilization – the political powers of democracies all the way up to the top of their institutional hierarchies. However, this modern trajectory reached the height of its western travesty in the recent race for the American presidency. The rearguard of late patriarchy – those powers that were and still want to be in power- never behaved more miserably.

From Bill Clinton’s legendary infidelities to Donald Trump’s locker-room escapades to Anthony Weiner’s sexting depravities, these priapic aficionados revealed themselves time and again as testosterone driven desperados. And as it turned out, Trump’s flights of lustful fancy were not only condoned but also encouraged by more than a few of his female cheerleaders. “Trump can Touch My Rump Any Time”, that was one of the more explicit slogans emblazoning the tank tops and fancy pants of some of the more brazen Trumpistas. Such brash siren calls could well be the dernier cri, the last battle cry of a Sexual Revolution, whose once so youthful and liberating energy has reached here the final stage of a desperate frivolity. Or maybe that motto is just another practical joke on that age-old trickle-down theory, so popular with the ideologues of the Republican Party. Except now, that economic ideology can be applied to the nationwide downgrading of public decorum and republican decency. Trash talk is certainly not a political crime, but the modern battle of the sexes for social equality could not have found a rottener bottom line.

And to this latest radical chic and its kinky shicksa kick one would have to add all those macho punchlines below the belt that the new “American Idol” kept delivering throughout his run for the presidency, ranging from menstrual innuendos regarding a resolute female moderator to the sexist philosophy that a woman’s proper duty is to her lasting female beauty and should she fail, she would be publicly fat-shamed and mockingly nick-named. In other words, in hindsight the recent campaign trail toward the American presidency turned out to be not only a swamp of deplorable morality, but also a stamping ground for an unprecedented display of an aberrant anti-chivalry that was fighting one more time for a return to that ancient, phallocratic supremacy.

No wonder that grotesque quest, that mudslinging contest to conquer the White House, would call for a so-called “Nasty Woman” who could boldly face and bravely challenge that rampant onslaught with toughness and determination. But as we have seen, not even “Valiant Hilary” could put an end to the last stand of a decrepit patriarchy and its desperate latter-day misogyny. Not to mention the challenges of all that racist bigotry, religious demagogy and – mutatis mutandis – those stories of fake news and phony polls which are spreading virally throughout our social media. The cumulative impact of these festering forces turned out to be the true corruption of this unbelievable election. They informed and deformed, in short, they “rigged” in so many twisted ways that truly bizarre crusade toward that proverbial “Shining Chapel” on Capitol Hill.

The marching order of this vitriolic victory: We will have to continue our journey on the road of the West’s oldest democratic nation under a very chauvinistic presidency. Let’s just hope that the future president of the United States will not live up to the worst fears of so many in this country and around the globe. Let’s pray that he will stop giving in to his inner demons and his impulse to taunt and insult his opponents and instead will start listening to his better angels and their inner voices, will thereby become a gentler man and choose only the best of all possible choices.

But what America – “America the Beautiful” – really needs is to get back on that high road of its manifest destiny. And for that, we need in deed a real wonder woman, or to put it figuratively, a matriarchal “Mighty Mama”!  She, for sure, would take good care of those badly aging baby boomers, including all their latest misbehaving sexual bloomers. Who needs all their pathetic passions and pathological obsessions, who needs all their scandalous strategies and increasingly fact-free realities, who needs all their fancy stories of growing military power and coming national glories?! For real, we need neither latter-day saints nor sinners and all their millennial melodrama! And nobody on this planet needs – fundamentally speaking – Armageddon, Sodom, or Gomorrah!!

For heaven’s sake, all we need is a down-to earth “Wonder Woman”, who is very much in touch with reality in all its human diversity! At this cross-roads of American history with its continuing racial tensions and gender trouble only she could unite “his” and “her” story and thus tell and teach us much more about our democracy and its ultimate universal glory.

Ironically, this historical dialectic between patriarchal degeneracy and matriarchal ascendancy finds its exemplary political paradigm change in modern German history. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last monarch of Germany’s Second Empire, and Adolf Hitler, the furious Führer of the Third Reich, were regressive incarnations and late atavistic representations of male arrogance and masculine belligerence which plunged the world into the apocalyptic catastrophes of World War I and World War II. At the present end of this disastrous trajectory stands – vice versa – Angela Merkel, Helmut Kohl’s legendary favorite “Mädchen”. During her long reign as German chancellor she grew into a highly popular and powerful “Landesmutter” and finally into a nurturing Alma Mater, who would welcome over a million Muslim refugees into her rich and outreaching country. From a contemporary German and European point of view, this mighty and magnanimous Great Mother became an increasingly controversial figure, as she opened her arms to a new kind of “huddled masses”, this time fleeing a war-torn Middle East. However, from a transatlantic perspective, she soon emerged as a veritable Lady Liberty, in other words, the “Liberal West’s Last Defender”, as the New York Times hailed her in the headline of a recent article of Nov. 13, 2016.

What poetic justice, what western victory, if the lessons learned from the German nightmare of the twentieth century could continue to enlighten the future of the American Dream. In other words, for a happy end of this transatlantic story it would take the comeback of a woman whose stature has been rising steadily in recent months on the historical horizon of the American nation, in short, it would take

the timely empowerment
of our First Lady Michelle Obama
as the United States first female president.

                                                                                                                          Frederick A. Lubich

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