I have at my tips of my fingers more stories than I can put down. It is late, the end of a day which brought me from one country into another, passed through many languages, and is coming to a close near midnight. Briefly, the day was thus:
Today all members of our seminar were to conduct separate cultural investigations in different places. My group’s purpose was to learn more about the cooperation between Switzerland and the EU. We were to head to Basel via train to conduct an interview with the director of the Regio Basiliensis, an association promoting interaction between Swtizerland, France and Germany along the Upper Rhine Valley. We had a museum pass with which we could visit any museum in the area and could use the whole day if we wanted to.
At breakfast I met with the members of my group- two Russian women and and Estonian woman, all German teachers–and we made our plans. Then I left for the main train station, agreeing to meet up with them at an appointed time to depart for Basel. I had to arrange for my travel across Germany at the end of the July, and was not able to do this online because I had to make a reservation for my bicycle as well as myself (which must be done in person).
The counter person in the travel center was brilliant, and hooked me up with a shockingly cheap ticket from Basel to Hamburg. I felt that my heart would thump itself right out of my chest when, with a deep sigh of relief, I accepted the tickets for myself and my bike, and set away from the counter. Now I still have figure out how to get from Hamburg to Hirtshals to catch the ferry, but I was able to secure an earlier date than I had expected, so it still gives me a couple of days to make this part of the journey. The important part–some 900 kilometers of European countryside– will be covered while I doze (probably fitfully) on a City Night Line train.
While I waited for the departure time in the train station, I received a message from a connection who needed a translation of a German article on a recent first ascent in the Alaska range, which I gleefully accepted and was able to complete today between trains, at the museum, and later on back in Freiburg. This was pure pleasure for me because of my own close connection to members of the climbing community in Alaska. My own experiences climbing and spending time with climbers made the translation work almost completely visual, and I could see most of what the author was describing with clarity. There was a bit about a serac and rappelling down by means of an anchor made of a bag filled with snow–this part gave me a little trouble. I suppose I need more hands-on experience in glacier travel. More homework for Alaska.
So, with a song in my heart and a very special ticket in my pocket, I met up with my friends and we headed to Basel, which really deserves more time to tell the story well. I will save that for later. There was also a story which began Saturday morning and ended last night which needs time to tell, as well as some translation work to accompany it. There is a very long bike ride through the Schwarzwald that needs telling. And then other stories have been unfurling their tender tendrils as the days pass.
For now, I will leave you with a short poem by Rilke and my own translation of it. I love this poem, and it is something I would say to my own children, were we ever to come to such harsh discord, this poem of a love that has no end. I imagine that I would say this poem to my own failing body in my old age, as I lose my strength, piece by piece; this poem that clings to a love of life.
Wie soll ich meine Seele halten?
von Rainer Maria Rilke
Lösch mir die Augen aus: ich kann dich sehn,
wirf mir die Ohren zu: ich kann dich hören,
und ohne Füße kann ich zu dir gehn,
und ohne Mund noch kann ich dich beschwören.
Brich mir die Arme ab, ich fasse dich
mit meinem Herzen wie mit einer Hand,
halt mir das Herz zu, and mein Hirn wird schlagen,
und wirfst du in mein Hirn den Brand,
so werde ich dich auf meinem Blute tragen.
– das Stundenbuch
Put out my eyes; I see you yet.
Stop up my ears; I hear you,
and without feet, I still can make my way to you
and without a mouth, yet I will make my promises.
Break my arms; I embrace you with my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will begin to beat,
and if you set fire to my mind,
in my very blood yet I will carry you.