Frohe Weihnachten!

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Hamlet, Act I Scene I

Mainz

Mainz

December 25, 2015 Christmas-not-in-Vermont will never stop being something strange. I skype with my family and see my father, wearing three flannel shirts one on top of the other, coming in from doing chores and standing in the doorway because he is still wearing his work boots. And my siblings, flown home from college and sprawled in front of the fire on sheepskins with the dog. And my mother, cooking enough delicious food for an army because, heck, it’s Christmas. And the tree in its usual spot, and the manger scene without Baby Jesus because he technically hasn’t been born yet, and Bing Crosby singing White Christmas in the background.

And I miss those people, and I miss that place. It’s a feeling of lack that is otherwise blessedly foreign to my experience abroad.

But then again, when I’m standing at my favorite Glühwein-stand in Mainz with my small community of fellow Comp Lit students gossiping about professors, or drunkenly singing Christmas carols on the street with Valerie after the Market in Ingelheim, or experiencing the towering hospitality of the people who have opened their lives and homes to me, I think, this isn’t so bad either.

In fact, maybe it’s more than just not bad.

Merry Christmas from Germany, folks.

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Frohe Weihnachten!

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Hamlet, Act I Scene I

IMG_1022Church of St. Ignaz, Mainz, fourth Sunday of advent.

IMG_1005Wooden nativity scene at the Weihnachtsmarkt in Mainz.

IMG_1008

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft, einsam wacht
Nur das traute, hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh.

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht,
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höh’n
Uns der Gnade Fülle läßt seh’n
Jesum in Menschengestalt!
Jesum in Menschengestalt!

IMG_1024 Schwibbogen–a traditional Christmas decoration, hand carved from wood from the Erzgebirge region in Germany.

IMG_1033Apfelkuchen–apple cake, made by my host-sister’s father.

IMG_1031And miracle of all miracles, on Christmas morning the sun came out.

IMG_1027

Travelogue XIV: People

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

The Tempest V.i., William Shakespeare

mainz

3. Oktober, 2014 I am, in general, delighted by people. The chance to get to know more of them has been for me one of the greatest joys of this whole traveling experience. To get to know–by that, I don’t necessarily mean in the way of forming lasting friendships, though that is good too, but rather to encounter, to engage in dialogue, to come into contact with beings so marvelous that they slightly change, over the course of a conversation, the way you see the world.

There was, for instance, the woman on whose couch I slept my first night in Mainz, who gave me potted plants and a beautiful Persian rug for my room. She restores paintings at the art museum in the city–Baroque graphics, mostly, and a few impressionistic watercolors. When I stopped by her workspace, she lovingly turned over two of the works on her dest and showed me the strip of brighter paint around the edges, as wide as a fingernail clipping. “That’s where the old frame was,” she said. “We’ll never get the color back. But aren’t they beautiful? From a private collection–what a treasure.” From the amount of care in her voice, she could have been talking about a child or a dear friend.

Or a few days ago, the elderly gentleman in the cafe in the city, a composer of music for silent films–German expressionist films of the 1920s, to be exact, the same works I had studied and fallen in love with last semester. He was a talker. He came under the spell of Richard Wagner as a young boy and can still play all the piano reductions. He had read the entire opuses of both Robert Musil and Thomas Mann. His favorite scene Musil’s The Man Without Qualities is where Ulrich shoots the grand piano to pieces with his pistol. And he knew someone in Austria who had a portrait of the family estate painted by Hitler. “Das ist Erzählung–that’s story,” he said.

IMG_0638Drop-spindling on the marketplace.

Or just this evening, there was a local bum sitting near me in the Old City, where I was leaning on the edge of a fountain and spinning wool. “Is that a spindle?” he said, and without waiting for me to answer launched into a monologue on the effects of handwork on the soul in a rushed world, drawing in references to the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs and the Senecan concept of internal rest, speaking of the necessity of practicing stillness in order to live well and to prepare for death. “Das Meer der verzehrten Menschen ist sehr groß,” he said. “The see of wasted men is vast.” I thought, he has voice of an actor and the syntax of a poet or a professor of literature. But before I could ask him how he came to speak like that, he turned around and walked off.

Beauteous, indeed.

Kirchen und Shäkespeare

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust?

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

I once heard a professor say that these few lines were the ultimate statement on the Renaissance. It was a time when human beings–their creativity, ideas, power–were beginning to come to the forefront as inherently worthy of study and awe. But behind it all was still this pressing knowledge of mankind’s fragility, his limitations, his very smallness in the face of God, nature, death. It was possible to be both infinite in faculty and a quintessence of dust.

I think the churches here are fascinating reflections of the passage. As I said, they seem to be as much celebrations of human creativity and power as places of worship. But even amidst the walls of stained glass and stone, amidst the breathtakingly beautiful organs, frescoes, alters, columns, and statues, there is still this pervading feeling of quintessence-of-dust.

Schönbornkapelle, Dom St. Kilian, Würzburg

Asamkirche, München

Frauenkirche, München

Marienkapelle, Würzburg