December 08, 2012

a journey through the living room

I wish I could write.  I ought to be able to, because there has been such a succession of characters moving across the screen of my life.  But it is useless for me to attempt to do more with these characters than to tell about them as I saw them and to show what they meant to me.

What do you think of when someone says Switzerland? Cheese? Chocolate? Bankers perhaps? Chances are a  Rittmeister* wouldn’t be very high on your list. Anybody who looked for the odd or the exotic in life would have been thoroughly satisfied with the Rittmeister. 

He was a master of horses by profession and an artist by preference, and a rather remarkable fellow in every way.  To look at him, you would believe that he had stepped out of the past, like during the intermission of a play, and had just neglected to remove his make-up and change his costume.

The end to his military career came as sudden as the drop of the blade on the guillotine.  End of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, end of emperor, end of country.

Switzerland had been home during my early school years, high above Lake Geneva and I became acquainted with the Rittmeister, and his horse Charodey, on one of my morning rides. We chatted and instantly liked one another (granddad had been of the same ilk, different emperor).  I was invited to afternoon tea. 

When I arrived the table was set and everything was ready for tea.  The Rittmeister had his own way to serve tea.  No dainty little teacups with saucers and sugar bowls.  He filled the tea glass directly from his silver samovar and drank.  Not as we did, he put a sugar cube between his teeth and drank the hot tea from the glass.  And I followed suit and enjoyed it.  He said; “One has to be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.”

After we had finished he ask; “Now, Solnishka what would you like to do? “Let us take a journey through your living room (Reise durchs Wohnzimmer)”, I answered.

And we did, once a week, for four years.  For a wayfarer he had been.  Destiny had made him experienced in both travel and life and the rooms in his house reflected this.  There were exquisite furnishings, walls of books, and excellent paintings; both artists and places unknown to us, for the countries had vanished after WW I.  Towns that were everywhere and nowhere and a population of astonishing diversity.   The Rittmeister lived in a twilight world suspended between the formalities of the old nineteenth-century order that had shaped his early youth and the innovations and uncertainties of the 20th century. The haunted atmosphere of this world was beautifully displayed in these rooms.  I would much later encounter the sentiments again in the writings of Gregor v. Rezzori. 

The Rittmeister died in my senior year.  Nobody left to call me Solnishka.  But with time I learned to see myself through his eyes and realized that once loved, always loved.

Whenever I find myself in the “neighborhood” I visit his grave.  When I came at Christmas I found horse tracks in the snow leading me to it...

*Rittmeister (in the German language literally [Horse] riding master or Cavalry master).


Baldur said...

Mein Wein vertreibt die Grillen;
Mein Scherz die Musenfeinde;
Mein Lob die lauten Schmeichler;
Mein Spott den Schwarm der Narren;
Mein taubes Ohr die Prahler;
Mein Glaub’ und meine Lieder
Vertreiben tausend Teufel;
Nur den verschmitzten Amor,
Den Schmeichler, den Tyrannen,
Kann mir kein Lied, kein Glauben,
Kein Spott, kein Schimpf, kein Tanzen,
Sogar kein Wein verjagen!

Freund, mit dem krummen Säbel,
Weißt du ihn zu vertreiben?

Thank you, Ms Edna.

Mona said...

The Touch of the Masters Hand

Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
thought it scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin,
but held it up with a smile; "What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
"Who'll start the bidding for me?" "A dollar, a dollar"; then two!" "Only
two? Two dollars, and who'll make it three? Three dollars, once; three
dollars twice; going for three.." But no, from the room, far back, a
gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; Then, wiping the dust
from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody
pure and sweet as caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low,
said; "What am I bid for the old violin?" And he held it up with the bow.
A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two? Two thousand! And who'll make
it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going and
gone," said he. The people cheered, but some of them cried, "We do not
quite understnad what changed its worth." Swift came the reply: "The touch
of a master's hand."

And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin, A
"mess of pottage," a glass of wine; a game - and he travels on. "He is
going" once, and "going twice, He's going and almost gone." But the Master
comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul
and the change that's wrought by the touch of the Master's hand.

Yes, I remember him well. Although I never had the patience to sit still and listen to his stories.
But o how he could ride-
and o how he could play an instrument.

Anja said...

...and that is why he called you Minutochka, Monina.

Lovely post, Ms Edna, thanks.