Thursday, February 05, 2009

Inverse effectiveness

—“Of Conrad's novels, Lord Jim and Nostromo continue to be widely read, as set texts and for pleasure.”

Great things will come to those who wait, I once overheard a friend say. My English is very bad, but this saying is somewhat true. In 2004, I was offered the privilege and the pleasure to visit a small Paraguayan enclave in Eastern Germany, on a strip of land mostly inhabited by—confusingly—the people of the Sorbes.

Amongst them, a small but thriving community of South American pilgrims has survived. They had arrived here in Saxonia in the 1890s, hoping to find peace from economic hardship and political instability back home. Today, very few families have survived without mixing with the Sorbian and German natives. I personally had first heard about the village of Weisswasser (engl. white water) in my southern German hometown when the community had decided to donate a seasoned firefighter vehicle to this Eastern German community some time after 1989.

Now, in 2003 or so, I learned about the Paraguayan enclave outside Weisswasser through the befriended Peruvian Shaman Cristiano Gran Sonq and the Polish poet and composer Dawid Desantowiec. Early in 2004, just after my PhD defense, Gran Sonq called me and invited me to join them on their visit to the enigmatic Paraguayan village in the Lausitz area. I distinctly remember us driving the endless Kohlian highways in my wrecked Ford Focus, running low on fuel, passing by Nuremberg, where we enjoyed Nümberga Wüschtla, and Bayreuth, whereupon Desantowiec rejoiced in cursing on Wagner and his antisemitic polemics. Meanwhile, Gran Sonq and I enjoyed the water pipe that my then-girlfriend had refilled, kindly enough.

When we finally hit the Sorbian soil, the atmosphere got tranquil within as well as around the car. Gran Sonq and Desantowiec had been here before, I reckoned, but it turned out to be obviously wrong. We passed Weisswasser, and the two of them pretended to know their way round, yet made me ask a German native for “the Paraguayans”. The German—or Sorbian?—native’s face was erased of any hospitality immediately. “Turn left after the cemetry.“ And, after a short fermate, ”take them all with you, if possible.” I frowned, puzzled. I looked at my passengers in the rear view mirror. Gran Sonq and Desantowiec looked back at me, innocently yet knowingly, then further delighted themselves with the water pipe. “Ours like the stars”, Desantowiec murmured in his fake US English. This all really freaked me out, you know.

I have to admit that ultimately I never made it to the Paraguayan enclave itself. I panicked instead. I kindly asked the esteemed Shaman and his Polish friend to leave me alone for a second. They waited outside the car and had a coffee or something at the local café (“Kaffeehaus Käthe”), while I—totally flustered—phoned my only friend in Berlin and asked her for a night’s stay.

Since then I’ve seen neither Cristiano Gran Sonq nor Dawid Desantowiec again. I understand that Gran Sonq now runs a spiritual center near the Polish border, where Gran Sonq’s Arian wife also plans to establish a very expensive private liberal arts and film college. Desantowiec was recently reported by a friend to run a premium-membership facebook group on 19th century transgender composers, which I doubt, as there are no premium memberships on facebook.

The funny thing is that this whole story and me remembering it is prompted by a book I found this morning. Gran Sonq had forgotten it on my Ford’s back seat back in 2004, and I since have read it many times with tremendous joy. It is Nikolai Ostrovskiy’s stalinist classic Wie der Stahl gehärtet wurde (Как закалялась сталь), in a beautifully-typeset GDR edition from the late 1970s.

Dieser Beitrag ist auf Englisch, doch einiges an der Zeitmauer gibt es auch in der hervorragenden Kultur- und Verwaltungssprache Deutsch zu lesen.

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