Monthly Archives: October 2012

LEAVING HOME

In this morning’s newspaper I read the obituary of Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012). I fear I’d never heard of him, but despite my ignorance, he was one of the leading composers in post-war Germany.

As a young man starting his music career in a country devastated by war, Henze had many strikes against him. The article called him a Paradiesvogel (bird of paradise), an outsider, who was politically a Leftist and, for the times probably his most difficult gig, a homosexual.  In the eyes – and ears – of a conservative audience who was struggling in the war’s aftermath to regain some semblance of moral normality, Henze was far too colorful, his music far too ambiguous. Thus in the fifties he fled to Italy, to the freedom of the South, so the article states. His new neighborhood near Rome offered him the liberty his native land could not.

This set me thinking: Why did, for Henze, Italy equal freedom? I know a bit about the place and freedom is not the first notion that pops up. I think more of (claustrophobic?) family ties binding individuals, an almighty Church that whistles the moral tune (at least on the surface) and a politically fractured society.

But perhaps what Henze found there has nothing to do with the actual consistency of Italian society and his place in it. As an outsider, he would have operated beyond those constraints. They would not have applied to him. Italy was only the place he chose to live: good weather, good food, good musical heritage with which to connect.  Although considering the above constrictions, why had Italy been a place so well-endowed with musicians and artists? Material for another essay, perhaps? Here I will restrict my thoughts to one rite of passage: Leaving Home.

Leaving home is a natural consequence of growing up. Or at least it should be. Most kids – not just those who are at sword’s points with their parents – are chewing at the bit, counting the days till they can move out, whether they are off to university or they have enough cash to afford their own place. In this new millennium most parents are looking forward to having the house to themselves. Less laundry, less cooking, more cash for travel and other postponed pastimes.  To me it sounds like a win-win situation.

But: Some of us really left home, like Henze. Left homelands for foreign ones, initially temporarily. Until temporary somehow, gradually, sneaked up on you, and you suddenly realized you’d emigrated.

Does leaving your homeland work as liberation? It did for me. But it wasn’t until I discovered Garrison Keillor’s book, appropriately titled Leaving Home, that I found someone who had already articulated my incoherent thoughts on the subject. In the introduction to his book he writes:

“The beauty of a foreign land is that foreign places help your mind float free and reduce you to such simplicity, you can almost be a child, mon ami. You only know the words for good night and good day and please. You don’t know how to say ‘My life is torn between immutable existential uncertainties.’” 

   “Leaving home is a kind of forgiveness, and when you get among strangers, you’re amazed at how decent they seem. Nobody smirks at you or gossips about you, nobody resents your successes or relishes your defeats. You get to start over, a sort of redemption.”

 Nothing left to add but: Amen. And thanks to Garrison Keillor!

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Filed under Fiction and Other Truths

The US Election – The Way It Looks From Here

The presidential election in the US is less than two weeks away. And I am looking forward to the 7th of November, after which there will be no more obnoxious mud-slinging party ads on the tube for Americans to switch off.

Of course, not being a prophet I can’t foresee the outcome; I only know how I want it to look. I have the advantage of living far away from the land of unlimited opportunity. (That’s how most Germans consider America. I am personally not so sure this estimation is justified.)  I consider the distance from Germany to the US shores quite useful at this stage of the four-year electoral cycle as it’s a lot less noisy. And the draught from all that excessive flag-waving could lead to serious infections. A girl could catch her death.

Since I haven’t lived in the States for forty years, I am not registered to vote anywhere. (Where would I/could I register?) I am basically disenfranchised. So for years I could only shudder at the US voters’ choice. (God, they elected G.W! Twice!!??) Until they finally did something rational and elected Barack Obama.

They idolized Obama, dumped Herculean tasks on him. The agenda was, for the mere mortal that he is, something – not even a Republican – could have mastered.  And just to make sure he failed, the Republicans blocked his progress at every turn. Now they wave their flags and blame him for the mess the country marched into during the eight years of G.W.’s  reign.

Hearing the opinions of some of those flag-wavers on the nightly news made me feel embarrassed to admit I’m a US citizen. For the first time since I left the country so long ago, I have started wondering why I keep my American passport. Maybe it’s time to consider German citizenship. At least I could vote.

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Filed under Politics

A Peace Prize for the EU?

As most of you will have picked up on, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, October 12. Although it is usually individuals who are honored, this is not the first time an organization was chosen. The International Red Cross, Amnesty International and the UN High Commission for Refugees are prominent in the list of previous winners. And the Nobel  committee has often made controversial choices.

Personally, I welcome this year’s decision. After two devastating world wars, I think it close to a miracle that France and Germany have been able to resolve their enmities to create an alliance run by bureaucrats  rather than soldiers. You can think what you like about butter mountains and milk lakes, and standardized condoms. But I prefer the pleasure of complaining about these attempts to create common ground to the pain of mourning the dead from World War III.  Europe – despite the Euro crisis – is experiencing an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity and we have the European Union to thank for that. The challenges this organization faces continue to increase and demonstrate the necessity of further integration rather than the preservation of cherished national sovereignty. The prize – which will have precious little impact on the EU budget – is a signal, recognition of the vision and the hard work of the past 50 years. Watch this space.

Was the awarding of this prize a wise and even long-overdue decision? Is it a political message to Norway itself, a non-EU member? Were other, more worthy candidates overlooked for this year’s honor?

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Filed under Beginnings

FICTION AND OTHER TRUTHS

The first post on my blog is like walking into an empty warehouse. Each footstep echoes, reverberates in my ears. It’s a space with unimagined potential. Or it could just remain a void. It’s up to me to fill it with content and you, my visitors, to fill it with life.

Strangely this void exists in a cyperspace awash with a cachophony of voices that all want to be heard. I’ll do what I can to make this voice worth listening to. So talk to me.

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October 15, 2012 · 07:55