Oh, I love my little desk in my little borrowed room. At night the night is all around and silent, absolutely silent unless you hear the unending majestic progress as if across tundra after tundra of the wind. This desk is surrounded on all sides by literal towers of the possessions of the host who’s put up with us for three weeks now but in its centre in the circle of the lamplight I find peace. Television quacking in German from the far end of the house. The book I am reading face down with its spine open to the pool of gold. Robinson Crusoe. Incredibly racially presumptive. He saves the savage from himself. I wish that I could do that for me. Tonight I took my bowl of “Eierschnee”, that is, meringue mix or as they call it “egg snow” across to the family household three doors away closer to the mouth of the woods. I stowed it in their lovely oven; ours was blooming with pizza. “See you soon!” she said, and an hour or two later stashed with pizza we were back, for a round-table game of Risk. The man next to me said, That’s not in the rules, and I stuck out my hand. “Wanna bet a million, billion, squazillion dollars?” I said in English. “I’ve been playing this game since I was ten.” We somehow were laughing all night. Presumably because nobody actually cared about winning the world – or, as it is calling in the German language rules (snicker), “freeing” the world country by country. I acted out the illustration I had seen in an article on the US today: photo of a bold swollen warcrafty flying boat, which dipping through the clouds was labelled: “This is a Freedom Machine. It seeks out people who have no freedom and gives them some.” So there we were five of us around the table, giving each other some freedom.
I had a long bath this afternoon and as I let out the water and stood up a name, or idea, came to me. How profoundly refreshing it feels to think none of such ideas or insights for three hours while we visit and a sixth person comes home, no, I don’t want to play, I just don’t want to talk, been talking all day and now I will just sit here and give advice. I understood what he said and what everyone said and thought, how proud I am to play a whole game, whole evening, in German, hooray for me. I am a guest. It is such sweet and cloudy relief, I have almost no thoughts, it seems. So long as I cook, sometimes, and wash up a lot, and let out my bath water and bring in wood; so long as the dog gets walked and there is someone to photograph the forest and to notice the seams and quiet crickles in the water of the old winding river as wide as a small moat; so long as I stop at the crooked gate to talk to the brown family of fuzzy goats who all crowd curious yet abashed on their hillside in case you have brought them anything sweet; then I have no other job while I’m here, and that’s why we have stayed so long, sleeping 13 hours a day and eating like a caterpillar, book after book, salad after greens, and one vista on another of the quiet level countryside where so many long generations of tall Germans have settled back into themselves after the various empires including their own. Shame is sodden in the ground here as almost everywhere. Pride and shame. The candles flickering all night in the little cemetery, the tap hung with half a dozen green watering cans. The wreaths on doors. The fact that among Germans, a game of mock war brings these stinging and pungent jokes quoting the Führer and certain words, “Tomorrow from 8.45 we fight back” for example, can reduce them all to weeping and slapping themselves on the thigh with mirth.
Laughter is the only weapon of sanity that insanity cannot corrupt. So I will keep mine high. We walked round the block, which is a brown mown long field, and passed no more than a half-dozen houses with their scratchings in chalk year after year where the Sternsinger, the star singers, dressed in robes and following a star to Bethlehem have passed; he pulled out his harmonica and the medium dog ran his own way among the rivets, and I told him our story: We are just a minstrel couple decamped from our last home, passing under moonlight and the two large mother-trees. These trees are merely a bunch of sticks, like witches’ ravelled hands. We’ve nothing but our little dog, our mouth organ, our magic bag of words. We pass under the windows of the village, they hear us in their sleep. The land is settling, for winter, folding itself under into its ice. I will be gone by then and the land won’t remember because this is not any of my ancestral home.