Archive for the 'Battles with cancer' Category

Jun 22 2020

Homage to Lost Parts

Published by under Battles with cancer

Homage to Lost Parts

Agnes Fuller Wynne

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May 28 2020

Part IV: My Continuing Battle with Cancer

Published by under Battles with cancer

Part IV of IV
Frederick A. Lubich

 

IV: Co-Morbidity as Dance Macabre
oder
Totentanz und Mummenschanz im Zeitalter der weltweiten Pest
April 2020

 

   „April is the cruellest month”
T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

 

Accordingly, this fourth part of my series “My Continuing Battle with Tongue Cancer” was written in the month of April. During that time, Covid 19 had its worst month with its highest death toll so far and due to the national state of emergency and its various consequences, this text could not be posted until May 2020. However, that way it is in perfect tune with Kurt Weill’s refrain “Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December” in his “September Song” (see Part III of this series).

So let’s just hope, that the month of May will bring a rebirth of all the countries around the world, which were stricken by this terrible pestilence. “Alles neu macht der Mai“, goes an old German folksong that celebrates spring as the first season of a new and hopeful year. In any case, I would like to continue this series in the language of this song, in other words, in my own German mother tongue. In addition, since my tongue operation in August 2018, many friends and acquaintances in the Old World keep asking me, how I am doing. Answering them in German this time will make our communication easier and since most of our readers are well versed in both languages, I am hoping this text will reach many of them on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

*

 „Stayin‘ Alive“:
The Bee Gees

 

Ende Dezember 2018, also vier Monate nach meiner Zungenoperation im vorherigen August, und einen knappen Monat nach meiner tagtäglichen, sechswöchigen Bestrahlungstherapie rappelte ich mich bei einem Jahresendfest bei Nachbarn zum ersten Mal auf, um ein paar Takte zu diesem Song der Bee Gees mitzutanzen. Doch mein noch recht geschwächter Gesundheitszustand sollte dem tüchtigen Schwingen meiner Tanzbeine ein schnelles Ende bereiten.

Ich war noch nie ein großer Fan der Bee Gees gewesen, doch bei diesem Tanz ging mir plötzlich ein völlig neuer Sinnzusammenhang auf. Nicht nur war “Stayin‘ Alive“ gar kein schlechter Schlachtruf im Kampf gegen meinen Zungenkrebs, der Song erinnerte mich auch zudem an das Discofieber Mitte der Achtziger Jahre, als wir in New York City wohnten und viele Aids-Infizierte in den Diskotheken von Manhattan zu seinen elektrisierenden Rhythmen um ihr Leben tanzten. Zumindest einer von ihnen war auch einer meiner todgeweihten Studenten.

Und so wurde mir dieses Lied bald zum solidarischen Kampflied in Erinnerung an ihr trauriges Schicksal. Und aus aktueller Perspektive erweist sich dieser Disco-Hit gegen die HIV-Epidemie von damals zudem auch als eine passende Parole in unserer heutigen Bekämpfung der globalen Covid-19-Pademie.

Während die damalige Aids-Epidemie vor allem die schwule Subkultur heimsuchte, beutelt das heutige Coronavirus sämtliche Gesellschaftsschichten in Ländern rund um die Welt. „Social Distancing“ lautet der neueste Gassenhauer und er ist ein globaler Blockbuster, der inzwischen ganze Industriezweige lahmlegt. Mit unseren ständig ausweichenden Bewegungen bei unseren mitmenschlichen Begegnungen tanzen wir insgeheim stets auch um den überall umgehenden Tod.

Und auch mehr oder weniger maskiert sind wir wieder und erinnern ein wenig an die maskierten Pestärzte und Wunderheiler, Quacksalber und Scharlatane beim damaligen Totenfest rundum die alles verheerende Beulenpest. Kurzum, der Tod feiert erneut fröhliche Urständ und tanzt überall seinen mittelalterlichen Totentanz und modernen Mummenschanz.

„Co-Morbidity“ nennt die moderne Medizin meine gesteigerte Anfälligkeit auf Grund meiner vielen entfernten Lymphdrüsen. In Folge dessen muss ich mich zurzeit besonders in Acht nehmen und vor allem größere Menschenansammlungen wie etwa in Lebensmittelgeschäften systematisch vermeiden. Denn wenn sich der Tod, lebenshungrig wie er seit jeher ist, erst einmal so richtig in einen vergafft, dann ist unsereins bei diesem Totentanz im Handumdrehen dahingerafft.

Kunstgeschichtlich betrachtet tritt der Tod in der Gestalt des Schnitters oder Sensenmanns erst zur Zeit der Pest im späten Mittelalter in Erscheinung und dies vor allem im Schauspiel des Totentanzes, des dekadent-moribunden dance macabre. Auch im Werk von Albrecht Dürer, dem Meister der Nordischen Renaissance, spielt der Tod weiter eine herausragende Rolle. Man denke nur an so gotisch-ikonische Allegorien wie „Ritter, Tod und Teufel“.

Und die Sanduhr, des Todes bezeichnendes Wahrzeichen der menschlichen Vergänglichkeit, taucht auch immer wieder in Dürers Sinnbildern auf, wie zum Beispiel in „Melancholia“ und „Hieronymus im Gehäuse“, um nur zwei der bekanntesten Allegorien zu nennen. Selbst noch spätromantische Graphiker räumen dem klapprigen Knochenmann eine ganze Bilderserie ein, wie etwa Alfred Rethel mit seinem Bilderreigen „Auch ein Totentanz“. Und auch dort schwingt die beinerne Totenfigur immer wieder Sense, Hippe und Stundenuhr.

„A Distant Mirror“, so nannte Barbara Tuchman ihren 1984 erschienenen Bestseller, in dem sich die moderne Lebenswelt wie durch einen fernen Spiegel gebrochen in den Welterfahrungen jenes katastrophalen Spätmittelalters vielfach widerspiegelt. Ist umgekehrt ihre dunkle Rückschau in die Welt des Schwarzen Todes und seiner grenzenlosen Verwüstungen auch eine düstere Vorschau ins künftige Chaos der sich immer weiter ausbreitenden Covid-19-Pandemie?

“Back to the Future“, das war wohl die populärste Parole der postmodernen Theoriebildung in den achtziger Jahren des letzten Jahrhunderts. Mich hat diese paradoxe Perspektive von Anfang an fasziniert, und dies wohl auch schon deshalb, weil mich schon früh die Vergangenheit und vor allem die Lebenswelt des Hochmittelalters in ihren Bann geschlagen hatte. Ihre märchenhaften Gestalten und geschichtlichen Geschehnisse sollten mich vor allem in späteren Lebensjahren mehr und mehr faszinieren und immer wieder zu Gedichten und Geschichten inspirieren, in denen sich Moderne und Mittelalter vielfach gebrochen ineinander widerspiegeln.

„Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand …“: Egal wie man die Spiegel auch drehen und wenden mag, feststeht jedenfalls, dass sich in jenen fernen Zeiten, ihren Bildern und Spiegelbildern auch unser eigener, immer näherkommender Tod mehr und mehr abzeichnet. Alsdann, zurück zum derzeitigen Stand meiner Krebsgeschichte.

Einige Monate nach meiner Bestrahlungstherapie war meine geistige und körperliche Energie mehr oder weniger zurückgekehrt, doch in meinem Radebrechen und Runterschlucken habe ich bislang nur recht bescheidene Fortschritte gemacht. Selbst vollkommen vermanschte Speisen bekomme ich nur mühsam hinunter, und so muss ich weiterhin mehr als die Hälfe meiner „Mahlzeiten“, als pappige Pampe durch eine Magensonde pumpen.

Sie ist ein zähflüssiger Nährstoff, der obendrein so klebrig ist, dass er sich beim Trocknen genauso wie Klebstoff vollkommen verhärtet. Da beim Pumpen immer wieder einmal die Röhre blockiert, bis schließlich ihr Inhalt unter dem zunehmenden Druck mehr oder weniger explodiert, hatte ich schon genügend Kostproben von diesem Klebstoff als tagtäglichem Eintopf.

Meine neue, notwendig gewordene Nabelschnur habe ich „Gasthaus zur Pumpe“ getauft. Es ist mein ambulantes Stammlokal, das mich auf Schritt und Tritt begleitet. Genauer betrachtet ist freilich dieses gastronomische Vademekum nur eine sehr ungemütliche Schnell-Imbiss-Bude. Allerdings bin ich inzwischen bereits ein recht bewanderter Meister im zügigen Pumpen von meinem geschmacklosen Scheibenkleister.

„Social Distancing“ – avant la lettre. Während die anderen bis vor Kurzem im Restaurant ihrem geselligen Beisammensein frönen konnten, musste ich schon vorher auf Distanz gehen und mich zu Speis und Trank in den „Restroom“ zurückziehen. Und auch der ist nach amerikanischem Sprachgebrauch kein Raum zum Rasten, sondern vielmehr ein puritanischer Euphemismus für die Damen- und Herrentoilette. Zum Glück gibt es in größeren öffentlichen Gebäuden inzwischen auch schon Einzelkabinen für Besucher zwischen den herkömmlichen Geschlechtern.

Obwohl ich hoffnungslos heterosexuell bin, schließe ich mich dann heimlich, still und leise in diesen zwischengeschlechtlichen „Rastraum“ ein und verwandle meine unwirtliche „Raststätte“ in meine provisorische Pumpstation. Und während sich mein …

 

knurrender Magen am immer gleichen Gnadenbrot labt,
reden er und ich uns gegenseitig recht trotzköpfig ein,
wir zwei hätten im Grunde noch großes Schwein gehabt,
denn wir könnten ja auch schon längst mausetot sein.

 

So also unser Stoßgebet zu unserem Gnadenbrot in unserer gemeinsamen Hungersnot. Oder ich denke mir in dieser kleinen Einzelzelle frei nach Ludwig Feuerbach, dass der Mensch ist, was er isst, und so wird mir jede Mahlzeit zur Henkersmahlzeit, zum Steh-Imbiss mit einer weiteren Galgenfrist.

In diesem mittelalterlichen Zusammenhang gib sich denn meine vermeintliche „Mahlzeit“ auch leicht als sogenanntes „Halsgericht“ zu erkennen und dies sogar als delikates double entendre im wahrhaft doppelten Sinne des Wortes. Denn so wie im Mittelalter das Hochgericht auch als Halsgericht bekannt gewesen war, so dient mir heute umgekehrt dieses doppeldeutige Hochgericht als lebensrettende Magerkost. Es ist mein Haupt-Menu à la carte, das mir nicht nur das mühselige Schlucken, sondern auch noch das langsame Verhungern erspart.

Von der Essstörung zur Sprechstörung: Nachdem es mir während der Bestrahlungstherapie erst einmal für Monate vollkommen die Sprache verschlagen hatte, begann sich mein Sprechen schließlich nach mehreren Sprachtherapien zumindest soweit zu verbessern, dass ich mich heute, wenn auch oft mühselig, einigermaßen verständigen kann. Von den immer wiederkehrenden Missverständnissen, die oft so peinlich wie unterhaltsam sind, hier mal ganz zu schweigen.

Vor meiner Operation hatte ich im Englischen nur einen sehr leichten deutschen Akzent. Heute habe ich einen sehr schweren und klinge immer wieder wie eine komisch-ironische Parodie auf Arnold Schwarzenegger, Amerikas berühmtestem Macho-Muskel-Genie. Da ich bestimmte englische Konsonanten überhaupt nicht mehr aussprechen kann, fällt mir inzwischen die Verständigung im Deutschen etwas leichter als im Englischen. Dazu kommt auch noch, dass die deutsche Sprache mit ihren in der Regel längeren Wörtern mehr Gelegenheit bietet, genügend Silben korrekt genug auszusprechen, sodass sich der Zuhörer den unverständlichen Rest einigermaßen richtig dazu denken kann. Das Problem ist nur, die wenigsten Amerikaner verstehen radegebrochenes Deutsch!

Darüber hinaus moduliert meine ramponierte Stimme auch immer wieder durch verschiedene Stimmlagen, sodass ich mir bisweilen wie ein Stimmenimitator vorkomme. So klang zum Beispiel mein sprachlicher Mischmach vor allem anfangs bisweilen wie das Vaudeville Jiddisch von Buddy Hackett oder ich hörte mich an wie Lee Marvin irgendwo an einer Wild-West-Bar und brummte infolgedessen auch schon bald sein bekanntestes Lied: „I was born under a wandering star.“

Entsprechend meinte denn auch unlängst ein guter alter Freund am Telefon, ich würde mich betrunken anhören. Daraufhin angesprochen, bestätigte mir mein Krebsarzt beim nächsten Check-up, dass dies in der Tat eine nicht ungewöhnliche Nebenwirkung bei Zungenoperationen sei. Spätestens da erhob sich freilich die berechtigte Frage, kann ich denn in diesem fragwürdigen Gesamtzustand heute – Reden hin und Schlucken her – überhaupt noch unter normale Leute?

Da ich bei meiner letzten Zungenoperation auch sämtliche Lymphdrüsen im Halsbereich verloren hatte, muss ich seitdem eine Halskrause tragen, um die Symptome meines immunschädigenden Lymphödems einigermaßen zu mildern. Diese Halskrause erinnert mich einerseits an die Halsberge einer mittelalterlichen Ritterrüstung und andrerseits an die Halskrause neuzeitlicher Würdenträger, wie sie in der Epoche des Barocks getragen wurde.

Doch letztendlich gemahnt mich so ein Halskragen vor allem an das einstige Halseisen der Gefangenen, wenn nicht gar an den Mühlstein der öffentlich Angeprangerten. Vielleicht war ich ja in der Tat schon einmal auf einem meiner früheren Lebenswege ein ausgemachter Schandbub gewesen, ein Strauchdieb und Schnapphahn schlechthin.  Oder auch nur ein romantischer Taugenichts voll vagantischer Sehnsucht nach dem schönen, südlich sonnigen Italien. Jedenfalls ist mir in der Zwischenzeit diese modisch so vielseitige Halstracht in gewisser Weise zu einer Art Wahr- und Markenzeichen geworden.

Passend zum puffigen Halskragen hat man mir auch bald nach meiner Strahlentherapie eine aufblasbare Weste verpasst, die ich jeden Tag für mindestens eine halbe Stunde anlegen muss, um die angestaute Lymphflüssigkeit in Bewegung zu bringen. Da diese Pumpgarnitur mit einem Stoffhelm ausgestattet ist, der ebenfalls so festgezurrt werden muss wie die aufgepumpte Weste, habe ich diese therapeutische Ausrüstung die „Eiserne Jungfrau“ getauft, und dies nicht zuletzt nach der berüchtigten Folterkammer im ritterlichen Mittelalter. Zum Glück sind die Qualen noch sehr erträglich. Dennoch werde ich diese wahrhaft dämliche Armatur zu meiner tagtäglichen Torso-Tortur bis ans Ende meines Lebens tragen müssen.

„Kleider machen Leute“, nach diesem altmodischen Schneiderspruch bilde ich mir nun schon eine ganze Weile so tapfer wie möglich ein, in dieser Ausrüstung gar kein armer Schlucker, sondern vielmehr ein edler Ritter ohne Schimpf und Tadel zu sein. In anderen Worten, einer jener sagenhaften “Knights in Shining Armor“ … safe and sound inside my “Iron Maiden”. …or as the French would say …

 

sauf et sain!
Un cavalier par excellence!
Noblesse oblige! Et honi soit qui ma y pense!!

 

Der Krebstod, dieser altmodische Foltergeist schlechthin, sucht sich anscheinend besonders gern seine Opfer in der Zunft der Spielleute und Schauspieler aus. Um nur ein paar Beispiele aus jüngerer Zeit zu nennen. Michael Douglas kam nach seiner Rachenoperation gerade noch einmal mit dem Schrecken davon. Doch Val Kilmer, dem Darsteller von Jim Morrison im Film The Doors, ging der Krebs sehr brachial an die Gurgel und nach seiner Kehlkopfoperation ließ er ihn nicht nur mit einer Magensonde, sondern zudem auch noch mit einer Kehlkopfröhre kauderwelschend hinter den Bühnenbildern all seiner Schauspielkünste zurück. Und so habe ich schon mal einen seelenverwandten Pappenheimer, der mir als Schicksalsgenosse im Geiste beim  Pampepumpen und Radebrechen ein bisschen Gesellschaft leisten kann.

Und so wie die Liebe durch den Magen geht, so nistet sich auch der Magenkrebs dort sehr gerne ein. So hatten zum Beispiel Patrick Swayze und David Bowie, „Dirty Dancer“ und „White Duke“ par excellence ihm gegenüber überhaupt keine Überlebenschance. Und als letzten unter den Musikanten hat der Krebstod unlängst Florian Schneider von Kraftwerk, der deutschen Pionierband moderner elektronischer Tanzmusik, von der Bühne gezerrt.

Und was die derzeitige Pest betrifft, so hat sie jüngst Roy Horn von „Siegfried & Roy“ sein eh schon sehr angeknicktes Genick endgültig gebrochen. Zusammen mit seinem Partner bildete er für Jahrzehnte das magische Traumpaar von Las Vegas. Auch Roy konnte nach seiner schrecklichen Verletzung, die ihm sein weißer Tiger am Hals beigebracht hatte, nur noch sehr gebrochen sprechen. Dafür gewann er an morbider Leibesfülle. Mit seiner mehrfachen Co-Morbidity war er schließlich eine leichte Beute für die Pandemie. Jedenfalls hat jetzt die Corona-Pest in ihm das bislang glitzerndste Opfer für ihr dekadentes Totenfest.

Doch es ist David Bowie, der seiner Zeit schon immer vorausgewesen war, der sich nun mit seinen letzten Liedern, den todesschwangeren Blackstar Songs als makabrer Vortänzer des gegenwärtigen Totentanzes zu erkennen gibt. Und in seiner pantomimischen Performanz in der Rolle eines maskierten Lazarus hat der heutige Mummenschanz um die Corona-Pest seine geradezu schon exemplarisch moribunde Schreckensgestalt gefunden.

Und im schlimmsten Falle profiliert sich dieser einst so glamouröse Sänger und Schauspieler, der sich auch noch am Ende seines Lebens wort- und bildgewaltig weigerte, sang- und klanglos unterzugehen, bald auch noch als ominöser Herold eines im Herbst noch viel melodramatischer am Horizont heraufziehenden pandemischen Pandämoniums. (Mehr zu David Bowie, siehe Teil I dieser Serie)

David Bowie bleibt mein funkelnder Superstar am nächtlichen Himmel der Pop-und Rockmusik, doch heutzutage singt und schreit mir hier auf Erden aus der Reihe der Spielleute und Schauspieler vor allem Bruce Dickinson aus Leib und Seele. Er ist der Frontmann der britischen Heavy Metal Band mit dem sprechenden Namen Iron Maiden – nomen est omen – und auch er wurde ein Opfer des Zungenkrebses, hat sich jedoch nach einer dramatischen Operation so weit erholt, dass er wieder wie eh und je essen und trinken und spielen und singen kann. Drum …

 

Dear Bruce

Let’s make a deal!

You keep singing and playing
and I keep dancing with death,
that “Belle Dame Sans Merci”
who looks like Lady Macbeth.

 

Im Vergleich zu ihr ist meine Eiserne Jungfrau jedenfalls geradezu Gold wert! Doch auch bei ihr muss ich sehr auf der Hut sein. Egal ob ich Luft oder Pampe pumpe, ich muss stets aufpassen, dass ich mit meinen verschiedenen Ausrüstungen nicht in Harnisch gerate. Schon mehrmals habe ich aus Versehen meine Magensonde herausgerissen und dann muss ich jedes Mal mit meinem verschlissenen Bauch sofort in die Notaufnahme des nächsten Krankenhauses, um mir dort so schnell wie möglich eine neue Sonde verpassen lassen, ehe Bauch und Magen sich wieder verschließen.

Am sichersten ist es noch, wenn ich meine zähflüssige Nahrung ganz ihrer eigenen trägen Schwerkraft überlasse. Und wenn ich ihr dann zuschaue, wie sie so langsam in der Magensonde versinkt, dann gemahnt mich das auch immer wieder an die Stundenuhr des Schnitters, in welcher der Sand langsam und dann immer schneller nach unten verrinnt und versickert.

„Sic transit gloria mundi“, in anderen Worten, im Laufe der kommenden und vergehenden Zeiten ist unsere Welt nur ein flüchtiger Jahrmarkt der Eitelkeiten. Und betrachte ich mich dann so im Spiegel, ausstaffiert mit Pestmaske und Pumpweste, dann erscheint mir darin der aufgeblasene Herr in seiner ganzen Montur viel eher wie eine abgetakelte Schießbudenfigur.

Zudem gleiche ich, da die Einzelteile meiner Kluft mit mehreren Schläuchen untereinander verbunden sind, dergestalt vernabelt und verkabelt – man ahnt es vielleicht schon – auch noch dem antiken, schlangenumschlungenen Laokoon. Und auch der war bekanntlich kein Bild für die Götter. Doch Gott sei Dank blickt heutzutage zu meinem Glück kaum noch ein Betrachter so weit zurück.

Andrerseits gleicht unsereins aus moderner Perspektive in so einer Ausrüstung wohl eher einem vermummten Anarchisten. Doch was soll dieser seltsame Schlauch? Bestimmt ist er für die schreckliche Wut im Bauch! Oder man figuriert als lebensmüder Chaot, als verkabelter Terrorist mit einem Molotow-Cocktail gegen den kommenden Tod! Und möglicherweise auch noch mit totenernster Miene, ganz nach Dylan Thomas und seiner radikalen Sterbemaxime:

 

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
rage, rage against the dying of the light!”

 

But listen, forget Dylan Thomas! Better remember Bob Dylan and his …

 

“Forever Young “

“May you build a ladder to the stars,
and climb on every rung / may you stay for ever young!”

 

In der Tat, aus heutiger Perspektive ist der Knochenmann ein mittelalterlicher Popanz, der sich jedoch als letzte weltliche Instanz bis heute zur höchsten Autorität aufschwingt, der wir zudem hier auf Erden im fortschreitenden Alter bekanntlich immer höriger werden. Lebenshungrig, wie wir alle sind, ist es kein Wunder, dass in den letzten Jahren die „Anti-Aging“ Bewegung immer mehr an Bedeutung gewinnt.

„Die gerettete Zunge“, so nannte Elias Canetti im englischen Exil den ersten Teil seiner dreibändigen Autobiographie und meinte damit die deutsche Sprache, von der er sich auch in der englischen Sprachfremde nicht lossagen wollte. Und mir geht es hier in Amerika genauso. Allerdings habe ich mich auch schon öfter gefragt, ob mein Zungenkrebs mich auch heimgesucht hätte, wenn ich nicht ausgewandert wäre. Möglicherweise hätten andere Lebensumstände und Erfahrungsbereiche mir den Verlust meiner Zunge erspart. Doch egal, ob so etwas erworben oder angeboren, Tatsache ist, ich hab mein Herz in Heidelberg und meine Zunge in Norfolk verloren.

Und zwar nicht nur die Hälfte meiner Zunge, wie man mir in der ersten Zeit meiner Rekonvaleszenz schonend beizubringen versuchte, sondern fast die ganze Zunge, genauer, sieben Achtel, wie mir mein Chirurg bei einem späteren Termin nachträglich erklärte. Das bedeutet, meine Ausrüstung wird mir für den Rest meines Lebens bleiben und was meine ritterlichen Liebesabenteuer betrifft …

Let’s face it: I am no knight in shining armor, and my iron maiden is no damsel in distress. On the contrary, she is my regal domina and I am her royal mess! Oh, my good old Iron Maiden, you are my iron clad virgin from Southern-Virginia, you are my Southern Belle, and I hate to love you, but our marriage is made in heaven and hell! Just look, we are a perfect fit, or as the French would say, you are my prêt-à porter

 

Ready to Wear

Just like one of those old-fashioned chastity belts!
And don’t worry about the wear and tear,
they will last for a lifetime,
just like they did
right then and
there.

 

Damals in der Hochblüte des Mittelalters. Und umgekehrt stünde so ein Gürtel mit schmuckem Schloss auch noch so manchem Mannsbild auf hohem Ross! Denn bekanntlich sind sie ständig von Kopf bis Fuß …

Doch das ist ein uraltes Lied. Kommen wir zur nächsten Geschichte, zum Thema vom Hals- und Beinbruch: Sprachgelehrte wissen schon lang, dass der etwas seltsame deutsche Glückwunsch „Hals- und Beinbruch“ wahrscheinlich die verhunzte Form eines jüdischen Segenspruchs darstellt. Wenn man diesen Spruch auch noch etwas weiter verballhornt, dann kommt man schließlich zu dem jiddischen Ausdruck vom „Been in Hals“, den mein Freund Michael Panitz schon lange vor meiner Operation zur Sprache gebracht hatte.

Michael Panitz ist der Rabbiner der Synagoge Tempe Israel hier in Norfolk. Er hatte vor Jahren als Gasthörer in einer meiner deutschen Sprachklassen teilgenommen und seitdem sind wir gute Freunde geworden. Und zudem ist er als Kenner der Kabbalah auch ein sprudelnder Quell gnostischer Weltanschauungen und unorthodoxer jüdischer Lebensweisheiten.

Jedenfalls ist ihm zufolge dieses sprichwörtliche „Bein im Hals“ eine Art sprachliche Verlängerung der amerikanischen Redewendung vom „foot in mouth“, das in etwa dem deutschen Sprichwort vom „Ins Fettnäpfchen-Treten“ entspricht. Und wenn man mit seinem deutschen Fuß im Mund englisch zu reden versucht, dann muss man sich nicht wundern, wenn einem die Sprache im Hals stecken bleibt. (Mehr zu meinem Bein im Hals, beziehungsweise meinem Beingewebe, das meine verlorene Zunge ersetzte, siehe Teil I in dieser Serie.)

In unseren zahlreichen Gesprächen im Borjo Coffee Shop am Rande des Campus fielen Michael und mir im Laufe der Jahre immer mehr Ähnlichkeiten auf, die einst zwischen der jiddischen Mundart seiner Großeltern und der mährischen Mundart meiner Großeltern bestanden hatten. Immer wieder stießen wir in beiden Sprachen auf Ausdrücke und Redewendungen, für die es weder im Deutschen noch im Englischen sprachliche Entsprechungen gab.

Einige sind inzwischen Teil meines alltäglichen Wortschatzes geworden und auch noch mein Töchterchen hat sie als Kind begeistert aufgeschnappt, nicht zuletzt auch, weil sie wusste, dass sie damit meine Mutter, also ihre geliebte Oma, bei unseren damals jährlichen Deutschlandbesuchen immer wieder von neuem erfreuen und unterhalten konnte.

Um dem weiteren Verstummen unserer Großmuttersprachen nicht tatenlos zuhören müssen, haben schließlich Michael und ich zwei sprachgeschichtliche Essays über die zwei so ähnlichen Mundarten unserer Großeltern verfasst, die wir dann auch in der Festschrift zu Ehren meines langjährigen Freundes Robert Schopflochers vor ein paar Jahren veröffentlichten.

Robert Schopflocher hatte ich im Jahr 2001 auf einer Konferenz in Buenos Aires kennengelernt. Er war ein Autor deutsch-jüdisch-argentinischer Erzählungen und über die Jahre sind wir gute Brieffreunde geworden bis zu seinem Tod im Frühjahr 2016. Auch er gab gerne immer wieder alte Sprichwörter, bedeutsame Zeilen aus deutschen Gedichten und nicht zuletzt jüdische Lebensweisheiten zum Besten. Dabei gefiel mir der Bibelspruch „den Fluch in Segen verwandeln“ von Anfang an am allerbesten und er ist mir vor allem in letzter Zeit immer bedeutsamer geworden.

Doch noch einmal zurück zu meinen deutschböhmischen Vorfahren, mit deren zwei Mundarten ich aufgewachsen bin. Während meine väterlichen Vorfahren aus dem mährischen Altvatergebirge stammten, haben meine mütterlichen Vorfahren der mündlichen Überlieferung zufolge nach ihrem Trek gen Osten im zwölften Jahrhundert die letzten sechshundert Jahre als Bauern auf ein- und demselben Bauernhof gesessen und das mährische Kuhländchen bestellt.

Von meiner Großmutter mütterlicherseits hieß es in meiner Kindheit immer, dass sie einen Schalk im Nacken hätte. Da sie zusammen mit meinem Großvater in meinem Elternhaus wohnte, habe ich viele schöne und lustige Erinnerungen an sie. Sie war ein vergnügtes Weiblein, das in der Tat gern Schabernack trieb und die das Sprücheklopfen regelrecht zu ihrem Steckenpferd gemacht hatte. Auf diese Weise hatte sie denn auch für so manche Lebenslage immer eine entsprechende Bauernweisheit auf Lager.

Was zum Beispiel das richtige Kauen und förderliche Verdauen von Mahlzeiten betraf, so lautete ihr praktischer Grundsatz: „Riawer on niawer on fuck nonder.“ Also auf Hochdeutsch: rüber und nüber und fuck hinunter, wobei das seltsame „fuck“ wohl eine lautmalerische Silbe darstellt, die ähnlich wie „ruck, zuck“ ein schnelles Vorgehen zum Ausdruck bringt. Jedenfalls ging dieses Wort im Neuhochdeutschen im Laufe der Jahrhunderte vollkommen verloren.

Und so wie ich meine Zunge verloren habe, so wird auch bald dieser bis ins Hochmittelalter zurückgehende mährische Zungenschlag, der zudem auch noch mehrere angelsächsische Spuren in Aussprache und Wortschatz aufweist, für immer verloren sein. Jedenfalls bin ich hier in Amerika, wo einst die sogenannten „Mährischen Brüder“, die „Moravian Brothers“, die Indianer Neuenglands missioniert hatten, in der Tat einer der letzten Mohikaner, beziehungsweise Moravianer, einer der allerletzten meines über die ganze Welt verstreuten Stammes, der als Kind noch dessen alte Mundart verstand …

 

The Last Moravian

The last of this ancient German-Bohemian tribe
who too will go soon with
his broken tongue
into that dark
and silent
night.

 

“Riaver on niaver” … across and down that bottomless river, which is, as the ancients used to guess, that legendary River of Eternal Forgetfulness ….

Doch bevor auch ich den Spruch aus der alten Bauernküche meiner Großmutter vergesse: Ich habe ihn mir nicht zuletzt auch deshalb so gut gemerkt, weil ihm mein Großvater bei jeder Gelegenheit nachdrücklich widersprochen hatte, indem er der ganzen Familie am Tisch immer wieder versicherte, man müsse jeden Bissen dreißig Mal kauen, bevor man ihn runterschluckt. Heute liegen mir diese beiden Aussprüche aus der alten Heimat meiner Vorfahren mehr denn je auf meiner beinernen Zunge, bringt doch, was mein jetziges Schlucken betrifft, meine Großmutter meinen Wunsch und umgekehrt mein Großvater meine Wirklichkeit mit einer geradezu schon hellseherischen Genauigkeit zum Ausdruck.

Doch nicht nur die jiddischen und mährischen Mundarten haben für mich in den letzten Jahren an Bedeutung gewonnen. Auch das Schul- und Kirchenlatein aus meiner Kindheit und Oberschulzeit kehrten in letzter Zeit mehr und mehr aus der Vergessenheit zurück. Und zu vergessen die schöne französische Sprache aus meiner Jugendzeit, als meine erste große Liebe, ein Mädchen aus der Provence, mir jahrelang ihre geradezu schon sprichwörtlich gewordene „Sprache der Liebe“ beizubringen versuchte.

Erst viele Jahre später sollten wir beide herausfinden, dass ihre jüdischen Vorfahren und meine mährischen Vorfahren einst im Mitteleuropa des Hochmittelalters die gleiche Muttersprache, dieselbe Mammeloschen gesprochen hatten, wobei mir das Schicksal ihres Volkes im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert schon damals in Frankreich die Sprache verschlagen hatte. Und mich im Laufe der Jahre immer mehr heimsuchen sollte, sodass ich mehr und mehr darüber schreiben musste. Aber das sind schon wieder ganz andere Geschichten.

Bezeichnend scheint mir jedoch in diesem linguistisch-literarischen Kontext zu sein, dass vor allem die jiddische, lateinische und französische Sprache jede auf ihre Art und Weise einst die Rolle einer Art lingua franca spielte, in der sich Menschen über ihre unmittelbaren Landesgrenzen hinaus weiter verständigen konnten. Heute hat natürlich die englische Sprache diese kommunikative Funktion übernommen und dies nicht nur überregional, sondern auch transatlantisch und international.

„Lingua franca“, „frank and free“, „offen und frei“, das sind jedenfalls heute noch sprachliche Echos und stehende Redewendungen aus dieser mehrsprachlichen Erfahrungswelt unserer Vorfahren. In meinem Falle spielen heute diese verschiedenen „freien Sprachen“ fremder Zunge wohl auch noch – frei nach Sigmund Freud – eine weitere psychologische Funktion, nämlich als Ersatz und Kompensation für meine eigene verlorene Zunge. Von den regressiven Projektionen und respektiven Illusionen edler Ritter und eiserner Jungfrauen hier einmal ganz zu schweigen.

Es sind zweifelsohne allesamt chronische Symptome meiner sogenannten „Co-morbidity“. Auf die Frage, wie man mit ihnen am besten umgeht, hätte bestimmt Slavoj Žižek, sicherlich ein wahrhaft slowenischer Schlawiner, und weltweit bekannt als einer der letzten Nachdenker der postmodernen Theoriebildung, den besten Rat mit einem seiner bekanntesten bon mots: „Enjoy your Symptoms!“

Wie dem auch sei, jedenfalls sollten mich die mährischen Saft- und Kraftsprüche meiner bauernschlauen Großmutter ein Leben lang begleiten und mich auch immer wieder unterhalten. Doch in den letzten Jahren, als mir der Krebs mehr und mehr an die Gurgel ging, gewannen die zwei bekanntesten Maxime aus der Epoche des Barocks mehr und mehr an Relevanz. Zudem sind sie vollkommen chaoten- und idiotensicher und obendrein in einer Pestzeit wie der gegenwärtigen so aktuell wie schon lange nicht mehr:

 

„Memento Mori“
et
“Carpe Diem“

 

Diese barocke Rückbesinnung geht bei mir bis ins Frühjahr 2005 zurück, als ich zum ersten Mal mit meinem Zungenkrebs konfrontiert wurde und mich einer ersten größeren Operation unterziehen musste. Zur gleichen Zeit wurde Gerald Uhlig, mein bester Freund aus unserer gemeinsamen Heidelberger Zeit, mit der seltenen Erbkrankheit Morbus Fabry diagnostiziert und musste bald danach eine vielbeachtete Nierentransplantation über sich ergehen lassen. Damals war er als Begründer des berühmten Berliner Café Einsteins Unter den Linden bereits weit über die Grenzen Berlins bekannt und so machte sein Gesundheitszustand Schlagzeilen bis hinein in das Hamburger Wochenmagazin Der Spiegel.

In jener Zeit begannen wir zwei noch relativ jungen Mitglieder im medizinischen Club der Moribundi uns mehr und mehr mit dem Tod als unserem heimlichen Begleiter und unheimliche Doppelgänger zu beschäftigen und auseinanderzusetzen. Gerald schrieb mir seit dieser Zeit immer wieder, dass er mit seinem Tod öfters Zwiegespräche führe. Und als gelernter Schauspieler, der schon in jungen Jahren in Wien als Max-Reinhard-Seminarist in Hugo von Hofmannsthals Theaterstück Der Tor und der Tod auf der Bühne gestanden hatte, waren solche Zwiegespräche für ihn gleichzeitig auch jugendliche Reminiszenzen an die legendäre Dekadenz und Morbidezza des Wiener fin de siècle.

Ich wiederum versicherte ihm aus der Neuen Welt im Gegenzug immer wieder, dass wir beide dem alten klapprigen Gevatter – allen bedenklichen Prognosen zum Trotz – immer wieder von der Schippe springen würden. Zur zusätzlichen Ermunterung verkündete ich ihm auch noch mit entsprechend großer Klappe, dass ich diesem unverschämten Schnitter zudem auch noch regelmäßig die Zunge herausstrecken würde. Damals hatte ich freilich noch gut reden und konnten dementsprechend auch noch groß aufschneiden.

Gerald hat seinen langen, fortwährenden Kampf mit Morbus Fabry im Juli 2018 endgültig verloren. Und vice versa bekam auch ich noch im selben Monat geradezu spiegelbildlich die Schreckensbotschaft, dass mein Zungenkrebs mit aller Macht zurückgekehrt sei. Oder wie man im Englischen dieses allmächtige Comeback der Todesgefahr noch weitaus zutreffender beschreiben könnte: The Grim Reaper had returned with a vengeance.

Speaking of continuing battles: Vielleicht hatte ich ja diesen Schnitter über die Jahre tatsächlich meiner ausgestreckten Zunge beleidigt und mehr und mehr zur Rachsucht gereizt. Jedenfalls hatte ich wenige Wochen nach meiner Diagnose keine nennenswerte Zunge mehr, die ich ihm hätte weiter herausstrecken können. Und jetzt half auch keine nachgeschobene Erklärung mehr, dass meine provokative Geste auch gar nicht im Ernst gemeint war, vielmehr nur „tongue in cheek“, wie es so bezeichnend im Englischen heißt.

“Hindsight is always 20/20“ sagt man im Englischen, wenn man den glasklaren Rückblick meint. Blicke ich heute im Jahre 2020 zurück, so wird mir denn auch immer klarer, dass mich das Nicht-Mehr-Reden-Können bereits in den ersten Klassen der Oberschule in seinen seltsamen Bann geschlagen hatte. (Mehr dazu, siehe Teil I).

Und das Nicht-Mehr-Leben-Können, der lange Schatten des Todes geht in meiner Lebensgeschichte noch weiter zurück. Es begann bereits in der zweiten oder dritten Volksschulklasse, als im katholischen  Religionsunterricht die sogenannte „Ewige Verdammnis“ mitsamt ihrem sagenhaften „Reich der Finsternis“ heraufbeschworen wurde. Als sich meine arme Kinderseele das einigermaßen vorzustellen und auszumalen versuchte, erfasste mich ein abgründiges Grauen, das mich für den Rest meiner einst so glücklichen Kindheit von Grund auf terrorisieren und traumatisieren sollte.

Die sonnige Welt verwandelte sich geradezu über Nacht in ein düsteres Reich von überall lauernden Todsünden und diese konnten, wie alle Beichtspiegel versicherten, jederzeit Wirklichkeit werden, und zwar „in Gedanken, Worten und Werken“. Es gab also kein Entrinnen aus dieser furchtbar tödlichen Umklammerung. Und dabei wurde auch immer wieder dunkelt gemunkelt, am gefährlichsten sei die Sünde dieser geheimnisumwitterten Unkeuschheit, deren teuflischen Verlockungen vor allem wir Lausbuben schon frühzeitig und hoffnungslos zum Opfer fallen könnten.

Anders gewendet, ich würde mir ein Leben lang das Sterben nicht leisten können, denn was danach kommen konnte, war viel zu riskant. Doch wie diesem unerbittlichen Tod sicher und endgültig entkommen? Von derartig ausweglosen Aussichten musste man sich als zu tiefst verschreckter Bub erst einmal gründlich erholen. Schließlich sind solche seelischen Gräuelmärchen keine harmlosen Kinderspiele!

„Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod“, so lautete ein rundes Jahrzehnt später die deutsche Version des Spaghetti-Westerns Once Upon a Time in the West von Sergio Leone. Als der Film Ende der Sechziger Jahre in die Lichtspieltheater kam, hatte ich mich zum Glück schon längst von meiner kindlichen Furcht vor der ewigen Verdammnis berappelt und war zu einem recht aufmüpfigen „Halbstarken“ geworden, wie man damals in Deutschland vermeintliche „rebels without a cause“ zu bezeichnen pflegte.

Und dieser Italo-Western konnte mich in meiner jugendlichen Unsterblichkeit nur noch weiter bestätigen. Hier bot ein Haufen wilder Draufgänger höchst abenteuerlich und so telegen wie melodramatisch dem großen Tod die bloße Stirn. Diese rauen Burschen aus dem sagenhaften Wilden Westen ließen sich von diesem altmodischen Sensenmann aus uralten Ammenmärchen offensichtlich schon lange nicht mehr ins Bockshorn jagen.

Und wie es mein Schicksal wollte, sollte ein paar Jahre später auch mein kalifornisches „Dream Girl“, das ich in Heidelberg kennengelernt hatte, mir weitere Schützenhilfe leisten, um dem Trauerspiel des kommenden Todes endgültig den Garaus zu machen. Zudem war sie passend zu diesem italo-amerikanischen Western selbst auch eine Italo-Amerikanerin und trug obendrein auch noch den so schönen, wohlklingenden Familiennamen Dell’Acqua. Und nicht zuletzt stellte sich auch schnell heraus, dass sie zusätzlich zu ihrem südlichen Temperament auch noch das natürliche Talent für die italienische Commedia dell‘arte von ihren süditalienischen Vorfahren mitbekommen hatte, die es ihr im sonnigen Südkalifornien als Geburtstagsgeschenk mit in die Wiege gelegt hatten.

Ecco, ecco, la vita e dolce, la vita e bella! Das Leben als komödiantisches Stegreifspiel! Und hatte man für eine derartig theatralische Sendung auch noch ein bisschen Glück und Geschick, sowie des Schicksals höhere Gunst, dann wurde das Leben zum wandernden Schauspiel und im Laufe des Lebens zur Lebenskunst! So zumindest lautete damals in unserem jugendlichen Sturm und Drang unser romantisches Spielprogramm.

Das Leben als Lust -und Trauerspiel: Aus heutiger Sicht erscheint mir mein Freund Gerald, der Spielmann und Schauspieler aus unserer gemeinsamen Heidelberger Jugendzeit, mehr denn je als der gute Geist in diesem lebenslangen Schau- und Versteckspiel zwischen Leben und Tod. Wohl auf denn, komm runter vom Wiener Burgtheater und begleite uns noch ein gutes Stück – du kennst es ja schon – auf unserem weiteren Weg Richtung Endstation.

Memories of Heidelberg: Nachdem damals meine ersten hohen Lieder auf meine erste große Liebe in Frankreich allmählich verstummt waren, war dann erst einmal gebührliches Trübsalblasen angesagt. Und das waren auch schon die leidigen Erfahrungen Joseph von Eichendorff, des großen Dichters der deutschen Romantik gewesen, als damals vor Ort in Heidelberg seine Liebesgeschichte zu Ende gegangen war.

Er wollte damals mit seinem gebrochenen Herzen bekanntlich nach Amerika auswandern, ein Plan, der sich freilich im Laufe der Zeit zerschlagen sollte. Stattdessen schrieb er sein berühmtes Gedicht „In einem kühlen Grunde“, in dem er sein Liebesleid klagte und den Entschluss fasste: „Ich möcht als Spielmann wandern, weit in die Welt hinaus.“ Das ließ ich mir nicht zweimal sagen!

 

Der Autor als Eichendorffs „Taugenichts“ am Fuß des Hohenstaufens Anfang der Siebziger Jahre

 

Der Hohenstaufen ist der Hausberg von Göppingen, meiner Heimatstadt im Schwabenland, wo ich geboren und aufgewachsen bin. Im Hintergrund des Bildes führt eines der Täler nach Ottenbach, wo meine Großeltern nach der Vertreibung auf einem Bauernhof in einem Zimmer auf dem Dachboden notdürftig mehrere Jahre untergebracht waren, ehe sie dann zu uns in unser neues Haus in der Neubausiedlung auf dem Galgenberg am Stadtrand von Göppingen ziehen konnten. Ja, auf den noch heute so genannten Galgenberg, dort, wo im Mittelalter die Galgen standen und so manch ein Taugenichts vergeblich auf seine Galgenfrist wartete.

Zum Glück war ich als Eichendorffs Taugenichts bereits von Kindesbeinen an in bester Gesellschaft, zumindest was meine Mutter betraf. Der schlesische Dichter hatte einst ein Sommerschlösschen im mährischen Sedlnitz besessen, das wiederum der Nachbarort von Partschendorf, dem heutigen Bartošovice war, dem Heimatdorf meiner Kuhländler Vorfahren. Auf diese nachbarschaftliche Weise wurde meine Mutter schon von früh auf mit Eichendorff und seinen Gedichten bekannt und vertraut und er ist denn auch ihr ganzes Leben lang ihr oft zitierter Lieblingsdichter geblieben.

Eichendorffs Gedicht „In einem kühlen Grunde“ wurde vor allem im neunzehnten Jahrhundert vielfach vertont und es sprach auch noch mir aus tiefstem Herzen. Wie Eichendorff überhaupt. „Wer in die Fremde will wandern, der muss mit der Liebsten gehen“, so heißt es in seinem Gedicht „Heimweh“ – und so bin ich denn auch bald seinem romantischen Ratschlag gefolgt. Freilich konnte ich damals nicht ahnen, dass meine Lehr- und Wanderjahre kreuz und quer durch die Alte und Neue Welt nahezu dreißig Jahre dauern sollten.

Klar war mir damals in Heidelberg lediglich, dass der deutsch-böhmische Spielmann in mir seine italo-amerikanische Spielfrau in ihr gefunden hatte. Kurzum, jetzt waren wir auf unserem wanderlustigen Lebenswandel zu zweit und auch bald auf Tod und Teufel komm raus zu so manch einem Buben- und Mädchenstück allzeit bereit.

Da wir damals unmittelbar gegenüber dem Heidelberger Bergfriedhof wohnten, der bekanntlich einer der schönsten in ganz Deutschland ist, machten wir ihn uns auch bald zu unserem liebsten Schauspielplatz für unsere schauerromantischen Nachtvorstellungen. Zudem bot der jüdische Teil des Friedhofs am Fuß des Berges mit seinen traurigschönen Grabsteinen einen weiteren elegisch-makabren Hintergrund.

 

 

                    Memento Mori: Spiel mir das Lied vom Tode

 

Von der nächtlichen Wiederkehr des Verdrängten: Ein Glück, dass ich bereits von Kindesbeinen an das Geigenspiel gelernt hatte. So hatte ich jetzt in der Tat auch ein Händchen für so ein mitternächtliches Ständchen. Und Eichendorffs „Liebste“, die jetzt meine Liebste war, hatte passend zu diesem späten Stelldichein auch noch eine Kerze mitgebracht und so konnte sie auch noch etwas romantisches Schummerlicht in diese „Ewige Finsternis“ bringen.

Und hast du zudem auch noch Haschisch in den Taschen, dann hast du immer was zu naschen. Blicke ich so zurück, dann scheint mir, nach diesem bewährten Sponti-Spruch jener Zeit verwandelte sich denn auch der arme Poet im Handumdrehen in einen dekadenten poète maudit, gerade so, wie er bei Baudelaire im Buche steht. Oh mon enfant perdu! Du weißt ja, Pot ist der beste Kompott! Drum komm, spiel dein berauschendes Pot-Pourri, spiel ihm auf, dem Herrn der Finsternis nur zu, mein verlorenes Kind und geige ihm heim durch Nacht und Wind …

 

Spiel, Spielmann! Spiel!

Immer schöner und immer schlimmer,
so dass ihm Hören und Sehen vergeht
und sein ewiges Reich der Verdammnis
auf immer im weiten Weltall verweht.

 

Und rundherum sah man, wie sich die Toten vor ihren Liebsten verneigen!  Schau, nur schau, sie raffen die Knochen und straffen die Haut und dann tanzen sie wieder ihren uralten Reigen und jeder Bräutigam dreht erneut seine Braut, dort im friedlich schimmernden Kerzenschein – so zumindest bildeten wir es uns für eine Weile ganz bestimmt recht lebhaft und anschaulich ein.

Wie ich viel später erfuhr, bedeutet das Wort Friedhof im Hebräischen so viel wie „Haus des Lebens“. Und in der Tat, sind die Toten wirklich tot? Heißt es nicht, dass die unsterbliche Seele nur so lange auf Wanderschaft geht, bis sie wieder ihren Weg ins Leben zurückgefunden hat? Steht es nicht so in der Kabbalah? Oder war es schon wieder einmal das Kamastra?

Soundtracks und Flashbacks: Dieses Blitzlichtbild ist nur eines von mehreren aus einer Serie derartiger Friedhofsvorstellungen aus jener Heidelberger Zeit. Nachdem wir beide Deutschland verlassen hatten, war erst einmal für lange Zeit Sendepause zwischen Spielmann und Sensenmann. Doch dann nach Jahrzehnten … wieder der altbekannte Soundtrack … und sein immer lauter werdendes Comeback.

 

                                           Carpe Diem: Spiel mir das Lied vom Leben

 

Spiel, Stehgeiger! Spiel

Komm, spiel auf zum Tanz und sei kein Popanz!
Sei keine tote Hose! Vergiss den Mummenschanz!
Bring lieber mal wieder deine Saiten zum Klingen
und lass uns zusammen das Tanzbein schwingen!

 

Egal ob Schuhplattler oder Schnaderhüpferl, ob Veitstanz oder Zigeunertanz, es ist gehüpft wie gesprungen … und wieder hör ich die alten Lieder, sie sind noch lang nicht zertanzt und verklungen!  Und wie man hier gut sehen kann, wurde auch aus dem vielberufenen Kampf der Geschlechter mit all seinem todesverdammten Gerangel geradezu im Handumdrehen ein lebenslustiger Tingeltangel.

Life and Love! Remixed and Unplugged! Right now and right here, just look, my dear! And hello, Grim Reaper, your hide-out could not be cheaper …left and right between all these real things … I can see you quite clearly, waiting right there in the wings … day after day and year after year. So come on, let’s dance! Let’s dance again that good, old and groovy St. Vitus Dance! And holy roll all three of us into a Bohemian trance. Remember, our earthly goal is to rock and roll our immortal soul. So come on and let’s jive while we are still alive …

 

its now or never
and
for ever and ever!

 

Yes, let’s seize the moment, let’s seize the day. And the next one too! It is just a few hours away. “Carpe Diem! You got it. And remember, let’s keep them … diem per diem! In other words, remember the “Momentum” and not the “Memento”!

Hör zu, Schnitter, du alter Raub- und Rumpelritter. Du bist nichts als ein alltäglicher Tagedieb! Ein Wegelagerer auf unserem Lebensweg, ein Nachtgespenst über jedem schwankenden Steg … zwischen Diesseits und Jenseits … Sein und Nichtsein … und von wegen „Freund Hein“! Bilde dir das bloß nicht mehr ein. Du bist kein Freund. Hörst Du? Schreib es dir hinter gefälligst hinter die Ohren. Oder noch besser, merk dir den Song der Doors. Am besten, du schreibst es dir gleich auf dein Totenhemd:

 

“Music is your only friend!
Until the end!”

 

Und das wissen wir nicht erst seit Jim Morrison, dem singenden Todesengel von Los Angeles. Bereits in den Nachtwachen des Bonaventura kann man es nachlesen, wo es heißt, dass sich dem Sterbenden die Todesstunde mit Musik offenbart. Jedenfalls flieht die Zeit immer mehr in diese Richtung und so ist denn auch die obige Bilder-Montage schon vor längerer Zeit entstanden und zwar sowohl als letzter Aufgesang auf unseren einstigen Sturm und Drang, als auch als ironisch-romantischer Abgesang auf Alfred Rethels Serie „Auch ein Totentanz“, aus dem das Seitenbild des geigenden Todes stammt.

Kulturgeschichtlich betrachtet geht die Tradition der Dreitafelbilder auf die christliche Kunstgeschichte der kirchlichen Altarbilder zurück, in denen sie die Dreifaltigkeit Gottes versinnbildlichen. Reduziert man sie auf eine rein chronologische Perspektive, so repräsentieren die Spiegelbilder einmal mehr das „Zurück in die Zukunft“, beziehungsweise die Aufhebung von Zukunft, Gegenwart und Vergangenheit im „stehenden Jetzt“, dem „Nunc Stans“, wie es die Mystik und Scholastik des hohen Mittelalters lehrte.

Literaturgeschichtlich betrachtet ist dieses zeitliche Wechselspiel auch ein Teil des literarischen Leitmotivs von der „verkehrten Welt“, das in den Texten der deutschen Schauerromantik eine untergründige Rolle spielt und auch im Werk von Günter Grass erneut als sogenannte „Vergegenkunft“ aus der Versenkung auftaucht. Es ist der neo-barocke basso ostinato, der unserer irdischen Sehnsucht nach Unsterblichkeit zu Grunde liegt.

Der farbenfrohe Augenblick der Gegenwart. Umrahmt vom grauen Schattenreich der Zeit, der ewigen Zukunft und ewigen Vergangenheit! Das leuchtende Augenspiel, die wunderbare Augenweide! Seit jeher hat dieser magische Moment, dieser im Grunde zutiefst mystische Moment, die Menschen fasziniert und Goethes Faust sogar zum hölle- und himmelbewegenden Teufelspakt inspiriert.

Und so preis ich mich glücklich, anstelle von Blindheit nur mit Zungenkrebs geschlagen zu sein. Ich muss mich zur augenblicklichen Dankbarkeit nur an die vielen Blinden in Pieter Bruegels Galerie der Krüppel erinnern. Bereits auf dieser Welt in dauernder Finsternis zu tappen, nie einen Lichtschimmer am Ende des langen Tunnels zu sehen! Ich kann mir dieses lebendige Totsein nur als unsagbar grauenhaft vorstellen.

„Do it yourself“, so lautet einer der bekanntesten Ratschläge des „American Way of Life“. Praktisch-pragmatisch gesehen bedeutet dies angesichts des permanent drohenden Todes: Anstatt ihm ständig von der Schippe springen zu müssen, nehme ich mich lieber selbst auf die Schippe. Und dies im steigernden Maße nach meiner letzten Zungenoperation, wohl in der insgeheimen Hoffnung, dieses körperliche Trauerspiel doch noch in ein mehr oder weniger unterhaltsames Lustspiel zu verwandeln. Oder, um es in einen späten Sponti-Spruch zu wenden:

 

Ich nehme mich viel lieber selbst auf den Arm,
dann weiß ich mich zumindest in guten Händen!

 

Dichtung und Wahrheit

Aus dem armen Poeten wurde ein deutscher Professor!
Und inzwischen geht‘s ihm auch wirtschaftlich besser.
Doch ganz unbezahlbar bleibt die verlorene Jugendzeit
und ihre gute, alte Burschen- und Mädchenherrlichkeit.

 

Dieses Bildgedicht ist eines von rund hundert verschiedenen Bildgedichten aus meiner Serie „Postcards Against Cancer“, die bald nach meiner ersten Krebsoperation im Jahr 2005 entstanden waren mit der Absicht, Wissen und Bewusstsein rund um den Zungenkrebs zu fördern. Diese Postkarten fanden sowohl in unseren Klassen als auch in mehreren Kauf- und Kaffeehäusern der Stadt guten Absatz, denn nicht zuletzt kam der gesamte Erlös der Krebsforschung zugute.

„The Nutty Professor“, so lautet hierzulande die amüsante Variante zur deutschen Karikatur vom „zerstreuten Professor“, wobei das „nutty“ auf der Skala der komischen Charakteristika von schrullig und verschroben bis zu verrückt und durchgeknallt laufen kann. Carl Spitzwegs obiges Bild „Der arme Poet“ ist eines der Lieblingsbilder der Deutschen und da es auch einer meiner Lieblingsbeschäftigungen in meiner Heidelberger Studentenzeit illustriert, habe ich mich entsprechend schon damals in seinem Bild entsprechend reflektiert und parodiert. (Zur fotografischen Version siehe in dieser Serie Teil II)

Blick ich in mein Spitzweg’sches Ebenbild, dann muss ich gestehen, der Herr Professor, wie er dort oben auf der Postkarte leibt und lebt, ist im Grunde seines Herzens auch heute noch viel lieber ein armer Poet. Denn wenn sich die Wahrheit mal wieder so richtig verdichtet und Wort für Wort ineinanderfügt, dann …

 

benütz ich auch heute noch die Sprache als Leim
und mach mir daraus einen entsprechenden Reim.

 

Und wird ein Reimpaar auch noch von den Musen geküsst, dann beginnt es musikalisch zu schwingen und immer lauter und klarer zu klingen und so manch ein Spielmann kann dann – frei nach Joseph von Eichendorff – bis heute so manch ein Lied davon singen.

Als ewiger Bummelstudent habe ich gern und lang die Schulbank gedrückt und als sogenannter Wandergelehrter später sogar noch lieber auf wackligen Lehrstühlen geschaukelt und dort luftige Gedanken immer höher gegaukelt. Ich liebte das Klassenzimmer, vor allem wenn es mehr und mehr mit meinen Studenten und Studentinnen abhob und zum fliegenden Klassenzimmer wurde. Mit solchen Höhenflügen konnte man in der Tat junge Schule bleiben und sich obendrein auch noch herrlich die Zeit vertreiben.

Seit meiner letzten Operation hat sich freilich das obige Bild vom armen Poeten als deutschem Professor von Grund auf zerschlagen. Was übrig blieb, ist Lehrer Lämpels geknickter Zeigefinger, der jetzt bestenfalls noch zum Skandieren von Gedichten taugt, sowie ein Stapel alter aus dem Leim gehender Wälzer. Und der Dachboden als ideales Home Office und Quarantäne Quartier im Zeitalter der wiedergekehrten Pest. In anderen Worten, dort oben bin ich zumindest gut aufgehoben, sozusagen au dessus de la mêlée, – bis ich schließlich im letzten Wirbelsturm samt Regenschirm im Winde verweh.

Meine Universität, die Old Dominion University, hat mich nach meiner letzten Zungenoperation auf vielfache Weise so lange wie möglich unterstützt, wofür ich ihr sehr dankbar bin. Jedoch nach mehreren Kranken- und Forschungssemestern musste ich schließlich im November letzten Jahres selbst einsehen, dass bei meinem anhaltenden Radebrechen kein Unterrichten mehr möglich war.

Und so wurde ich zu meinem großen Verdruss zum Jahreswechsel 2019/2020 recht plötzlich Professor Emeritus. Und kaum fand ich mich in diesem seltsamen Ruhestand, geriet auch bald das gesamte Land in einen noch nie so dagewesenen Wirtschaftsstillstand. Eigentlich schon allerhand, so ein zeitlicher Zufall aus räumlicher Notwendigkeit.

Doch wie sich bald herausstellte, sollte sich der Fluch der verlorenen Zunge einmal mehr in einen überraschenden Segen verwandeln, denn beim gegenwärtigen Fernlernen wäre ich mit meinen fliegenden Klassenzimmern garantiert schon tausendmal abgestürzt. High Tech ist nichts für mich. Dann schon viel lieber High Times.

„Der Mensch denkt und Gott lenkt“, so heißt es im Deutschen, wenn man die tieferen Gründe von Schicksalsschlägen weiter zu ergründen sucht und dabei nicht übers oberflächliche Grübeln hinauskommt. Mir gefällt allerdings die jiddische Spielart dieser Redewendung weitaus besser: „Der Mensch tracht und Gott lacht.“ Gottes Sinn für Situationskomik, grad so wie es ihm gefällt, ist zumindest ein gewisser höherer Trost in dieser so oft zum Heulen bestellten Welt. Zum Glück lässt mir mein Buddy, der weise Rabbi, immer wieder augenzwinkernd solche alten jiddischen Treppenwitze ins Bodenlos-Unergründliche zukommen.

From the “American Way of Life” to the “American Way of Death”! Das ist der neueste Treppenwitz der heutigen Weltgeschichte. Ein berüchtigter Schürzenjäger und Lügenbeutel aus New York City steigt in Washington, D.C. auf zum schwadronierenden Volksführer und quacksalbernden Wunderheiler der Nation. Jetzt fehlt diesem aberwitzigen Tor der Toren nur noch die Schnabelmaske der Pestdoktoren. Damals im Mittelalter zur Zeit der großen Beulenpest war sie ja bekanntlich der letzte Modeschrei zum immer wilder werdenden Totenfest.

In jedem Fall gewinnt der auch heute wieder überall umgehende Tod durch Pest  vor allem hierzulande mehr und mehr Zulauf für seinen modernen Mummenschanz und moribunden Totentanz. Und auch ich, Veitstanz her und Totentanz hin … co-morbid wie ich nun mal bin …

 

war noch nie zuvor in diesem Land
ein solch willkommener Immigrant.

***

 

Das PEN-Zentrum deutschsprachiger Autoren im Ausland hat nach Ausbruch der Pandemie seine Mitglieder eingeladen, einen kurzen Text zu verfassen, in dem sie ihre Erfahrungen mit der Corona-Krise zum Ausdruck bringen. In Erinnerung an Boccaccios Decamerone, das ebenfalls als literarische Reaktion auf die damalige Pest entstanden war, wurde das Projekt einmal mehr „Decamerone“ genannt.

Und so habe ich aus der Perspektive Amerikas einen Text verfasst, der in Erinnerung an Barbara Tuchmans Bestseller auch einen Titel tragen könnte, wie etwa „The Present Horrors of Distant Mirrors“. Der Text soll hier jedoch unter seinem ursprünglichen Titel erscheinen, wenn auch in etwas erweiterter Form. Denn wenn jemand weder Vergangenheit noch Zukunft unserer sogenannten Westlichen Zivilisation aus den Augen verloren hat, dann ist es der blinde Seher Tiresias aus dem griechischen Altertum. Und so soll er zum Abschluss auch hier noch einmal zu Wort kommen und seinen Blick in die Weiten unserer Weltgeschichte schweifen lassen:

 

“I Tiresias … perceived the scene, and foretold the rest”

 

Der legendäre Seher des Altertums stellt in T.S. Eliots „The Waste Land“ , das vier Jahre nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg erschienen war, eine Art visionären Wiedergänger dar, der die zahlreichen Schauplätze der erzählten Weltgeschichte evokativ Revue passieren lässt. Im Verlauf der vielsprachigen Zitate, literarischen Assoziationen und double entendres verdoppelt sich das lyrische Ich zum lyrischen Du, zu einer Art Doppelgänger des Lesers à la Baudelaire – kurzum, zum „Hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable – mon frère.”

Seit über vierzig Jahren lebe ich nun schon in der Neuen Welt und in den letzten Jahren ist Norfolk, die alte Hafenstadt hier im in Süden von Virginia, zu unserer neuen Heimat geworden. Diese Gegend, die auf dem Breitengrad von Sizilien liegt, ist auch als „Tidewater“ bekannt, da ihre vielen Feuchtgebiete und verschlungenen Wasserwege bereits ganz von den Gezeiten des Meeres geprägt sind. Unser Haus ist nur wenige Schritte vom dreiarmigen Elizabeth River entfernt, dessen meilenweites Delta hier in die Chesapeake Bay mündet.

Wie oft habe ich schon hier an seinem weißen Sandstrand gesessen, dem Rauschen des Wassers gelauscht und den Blick in die Weite schweifen lassen. Schenkt man der musikalischen Folklore Amerikas Glauben, so ist der „Rhythm and Blues“ und „Rock and Roll“ dieses Kontinents den Wellen und Wogen seiner großen Ströme und weiten Meeresküsten entsprungen. In jedem Falle bringen diese beiden Gattungen Tiefen und Höhen des „American Way of Life“ samt ihren Leiden und Freuden sicherlich am originellsten und authentischsten zum Ausdruck. Auch T.S. Eliots Wanderer zwischen den Welten und ihren sich wandelnden Zeiten scheint dieselbe Erfahrung gemacht zu haben, wenn er von sich sagt „Music crept by me upon the waters“.

So schön diese hiesige Wasserlandschaft im Sommer ist, so schrecklich kann sie im Herbst werden, wenn Hurrikane aus der subtropischen Karibik heraufziehen, die schäumende Brandung aufpeitschen, Bäume entwurzeln, Dächer reihenweise abreißen und letztlich ganze Stadt- und Landteile überfluten. Zudem führt der Klimawandel zu steigenden Meeresspiegeln, deren Auswirkungen vor allem hier in Tidewater zusätzlich auch noch durch sinkende Landmassen weiter gesteigert werden.

Und nicht zuletzt werden besonders Hafenstädte nicht nur von Wirbelstürmen, sondern immer wieder auch von Pestplagen heimgesucht. Auch Norfolk kann ein langes Klagelied davon singen, angefangen vom Gelbfieber, dem in der Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts Tausende von Bewohnern dieser Stadt zum Opfer fielen, bis hin zur Pandemie der Spanischen Grippe am Ende des Ersten Weltkriegs, die mit jeder Welle schlimmer wurde.

Entsprechend erinnert nur wenige Straßen von unserem Haus entfernt ein Schotterweg mit einer erklärenden Tafel an die einstige „Quarantine Road“ aus der Zeit der Amerikanischen Revolution, die hier zu Virginias erstem Quarantänehaus führte, wo seefahrende Händler mitsamt ihren eingeführten Waren auf Seuchen getestet wurden.

 

                           Quarantine Road, Norfolk, Virginia

 

On the Road Again. On Quarantine Road! Hier hätte sich der Wunderheiler von Washington D.C. ein gutes Beispiel nehmen können, wie man sein Land rechtzeitig durch Test und Quarantäne vor weiterer Verwüstung schützt.

Stattdessen war ihm wieder einmal das Medien-Spektakel wichtiger nach dem populären Broadway Motto: „There is no business like show business“  Als New York im März dieses Jahres mehr und mehr zur Hochburg des Coronavirus wurde, war der Präsident höchstpersönlich hier in Norfolk eingeflogen, um der „Comfort“, dem größten Lazarettschiff an der Atlantikküste, beim Verlassen des Hafens Richtung New York fernsehwirksam nachzuwinken.

Damals verkündete der blinde Seher seiner Nation, bereits im April zur schönen Osterzeit wäre sein darniederliegendes Land erneut zur wunderbaren Auferstehung bereit. April, April …

 

What April Fool on Capitol Hill!

 

“April is the cruellest month”, so warnt „The Waste Land” bereits in der ersten Zeile. Und in der Tat erwies sich denn auch der diesjährige April für Amerika als grausamster Monat, denn da hatte sich die landesweite Pandemie zum internationalen Weltmeister aufgeschwungen, der nun weltweit bis heute die meisten Todesopfer zu beklagen hat. America First! Even if it is the worst …

The Worst Case Scenario: “The Great Comeback Of The Coronavirus as All-American Pandemonium”. Coming this fall when death will really have a ball …   September, October, November … oh poor America …

 

America the Beautiful! Poor Damsel in Distress!
Our fearless fool of a leader
will give you
the kiss of
death.

 

Was für ein schnittiger Kavalier! Und auch noch so hoch zu Ross! Dort droben im Weißen Haus, ein Glücks- und Unglücksritter auf Gott und Teufel komm raus.

„Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall“, so heißt es bereits in König Salomons Buch der Sprüche. Dieser Spruch ist wie kein anderer geradezu zugschnitten auf unseren blinden Narren und blendenden Toren, der sein Land mehr und mehr an den Abgrund führt und hoch- und übermütig allen Tatsachen zum Trotz nach dem blindwirren Glauben regiert:

 

Im Falle eines Falles
Amerika über alles!

 

Über alles in der Welt … Hey you up there on your hill!  Remember the Fall of Berlin … the Ruin of Rome! You builder of all those tall towers, do not forget that ancient fable! Always remember the Towers of Babel!! And read and heed the …

 

The Writing on the Wall

If you keep going like this,
we’re in for quite a big fall!

 

In other words, forget all your tirades about fake news! Instead, listen to Tiresias and his deep river blues … the rising waves, banging already at our doors …

 

“The river sweats … Elizabeth … rippled both shores.”

 

„The Waste Land“! Im O-Ton! Und am Ende von T.S. Eliots episch-poetischen Bewusstseinsstrom beschwört der Wanderer zwischen den Welten – so abgründig wie wortwörtlich – auch noch ausgerechnet Hermann Hesses „Blick ins Chaos“ herauf, bis schließlich auch diese historische „self-fulfilling prophecy“ zusammen mit all den anderen Kassandrarufen im polyphonen Tohuwabohu der vielen anderen Stimmen untergeht.

Doch die anderen sind nicht immer die anderen. Gestern wart es ihr und morgen sind es wir! Und wie steht’s mit dir und mir? Mon frère … mon Grand Menteur Maudit. Après nous le déluge?  Listen to your country’s rhythm and blues … lo and behold its beautiful bays and gorgeous lagoons … and remember Tiresias and his last and lasting words …

 

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

***

 

“It’s a long, long while from May to December” – but remember: Time flees and time flies! And some of us do not have much time left. Be that as it may, the fifth and probably last segment of my “Continuing Battle with Tongue Cancer” is scheduled to come out here in “Recent Posts” this summer under the title

 

“Endstation Sehnsucht im Wandel der Zeiten”

 

Dieser Text war ursprünglich der zweite Teil des vorliegenden Textes, doch er uferte immer mehr aus, sodass er schließlich zum letzten Bruchstück wurde und vom ersten Teil losgelöst werden musste. Er beschreibt, wie der Titel bereits andeutet, die voraussichtliche Endstation unseres langen Lebensweges als letzte Raststätte in unserem umwaldeten Haus und wildwuchernden Garten, wobei das Erzählgeschehen und die sie begleitenden Bilder immer wieder auch sinnbildliche Bedeutung gewinnen.

Und auch der ewige Wandel der Jahreszeiten verdichtet sich letztendlich zu einem Gleichnis vom Ewigen Sommer, vom immerwährenden Augenblick. Alsdann wohlan, noch einmal die Stille vor dem Sturm, noch einmal die Ruhe auf dieser so schönen Welt …, denn wer weiß, zu welchen neuen und unbekannten Wanderungen wir bald aufbrechen müssen! Drum noch einmal die helle, mitttägliche Stille …

 

mit ihrer ganzen irdischen Fülle,
noch einmal die vertraute Idylle,

 

noch einmal das arkadische Leben im hellen, mittelmeerischen Sonnenglück … und dann die Herbststürme und Winterwüsten … immer weiter und weiter in die dunkle, unergründliche Zukunft zurück.

 

         Frederick A. Lubich, Norfolk, Virginia

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nov 19 2018

Part III – My Continuing Battle with Cancer

Part III of IV
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

Bildnachweise:

  1. Der geigende Tod auf den Seitentafeln zu dem narrischen Tanzpaar ist Teil eines Bildes von Alfred Rethel mit dem englischen Titel „Death as an Avenger“ (1851) aus William Vaughan, German Romantic Paintings Yale, University Press, 1980. S. 236
  2. Die allegorische Dame auf den Seitentafeln zu Lynne am Klavier ist von Alphonse Mucha, trägt den Titel „Evening Star“ und ist aus der Serie „The Moon and the Stars“ (ca. 1900) aus Rosalind Ormiston, Alphonse Mucha, Masterworks, New York, Metro Books, 2007, Seite 191
  3. Die allegorische Dame auf den Seitentafeln zu Lynne mit der Fruchtschale ist von Alphonse Mucha, trägt den Titel „Autumn“ und ist aus der Serie „The Seasons“ (1897), ibid. Seite 105
  4. Die Graphik mit den Sternen am Ende des Textes ist ebenfalls von Mucha und ein Detail aus seiner Serie „Combinaisons ornamentales“ (1901), ibid. Seite 79.

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Nov 13 2018

Part II – My Continuing Battle with Cancer

Part II of IV
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

Part I – My Continuing Battle with Tongue Cancer

Part I of IV
Frederick A. Lubich

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

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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