Oliver Sacks has died and I can’t get Rilke’s Der Panther out of my head

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Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf –. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille –
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.’

I can’t help it. Oliver Sacks is dead, and there are a myriad of thoughts shooting through my brain. I want to write about all of them.

Actually, I’d rather brew a pot of coffee and settle in to watch each of said thoughts explode into the room. The same way I did with a percussionist friend I knew in college who turned me on to a particular man who mistook his wife for a hat. That’s not even the best Oliver Sacks connection – just the first one I knew.

Later I read his ponderings on music and the ways it impacts our brains – fascinating stuff. Stuff with which to brew another pot of coffee, I assure you.

I’ve read so many obituaries and essays today about how important he was to this or that writer or thinker or scientist, and I want to link to every last one of them. I wish I could take you on a tour through my obsessive day of Oliver Sacks devotion, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t do his memory justice. Having said that, I think he might’ve moderately appreciated the attempt to tie in all these disparate ideas that’re still overloading my brain.

Instead, I’m just going to get a tad bit obsessive about Der Panther, which is the German poem I’ve included above. Although I was well aware of his poetry before I saw the film Awakenings, Rilke’s words grabbed me and shook me out of a weird slumber. In the hands of Robin Williams’ character, I was thoroughly jostled by the image of the big cat pacing back and forth in his cramped cage.

This isn’t normally a place where I allow myself to analyse poetry, so I’m loath to go down that road. Although it’s tempting, I’m more inclined to provide a few links and let you go there if you’re so inclined.

First of all, quite an impressive selection of translations can be found at Alternate Translations of The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke, and if you’d rather have a ‘Best Of’, here’s Der Panther: Six Ways of Looking at a German Poem. There’s a nice article by John Banville in The New York Review of Books called Study The Panther!

As he says there, ‘…Rilke had no illusions about the solitariness of the artistic project, or its difficulty…‘, and that’s where my thoughts finally settle in the darkest corner of the night as I continue to consider Oliver Sacks.

I could wax philosophic about how he faced his death and expressed himself so exquisitely in the process. Were I to do so, I’d certainly focus on that last stanza and how he recently announced his illness so publicly and fearlessly. Instead, I’ll just wrap this up with the Stephen Mitchell translation of the poem:

‘His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else. 
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides 
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly–. 
An image enters in, 
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.’

Another chapter in the book of Fafa

 

Fafa in Strasbourg on the River Ill

 
The last week has been filled with adventures while my mother was in Germany. She made her annual European trip, which included a week in France, and then she and I met up in Strasbourg before our return to Munich

She loves Munich – as I’ve often mentioned here, we lived here in the early 70s – and at the end of her trip, I asked again if she’d seen enough of the Bavarian capital. Would she want to venture out & see more of the rest of Germany. Although she’s already seen so much of my adopted country and especially of this beautiful city, she insisted that there was plenty more she wants to experience. Not only other cities & regions she’s until now only read about but most importantly shed like to continue to venture out from Munich as a starting point. 

We both agreed that it’s not always easy living so far apart, but her regular travel thisaway makes it a bit more tolerable. Like so many other familes living on separate continents, technology also allows us to regularly communicate in real time. Unquestionably, it’s a second rate substitute, but it at least provides some alternative. 

So what exactly have we been up to? Well, the photo above is on a boat tour of Strasbourg. That’s the River Ill, so we were quite literally ‘illing’. We ate a lot of Bavarian food; it’s possible we even are the equivalent of our body weight in Schnitzel. 

I’ve written about her here: Happy Birthday Fafa, which also explains that’s a nickname she’s gone by since she was a child. 

Because she’s so regularly here, my mom has befriended quite a few people hereabouts. This means she arrives with a bit of an agenda to see and be seen. And because she’s so gregarious, there’s often a new crowd of admirers asking when she’ll be back. 

Ella and Louis pondering her return

Avoiding the Dancing Plague while in Strasbourg

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A quick jaunt through Strasbourg on the way home with my mother in tow, and this was one of the nicer shots I got. What a beautiful city that due to its history has all the trappings of a French metropolis while still heavily influenced by its German past.

Oh, and I found something curious on the Wikipedia page, which I thought I’d share here:

‘In July 1518, an incident known as the Dancing Plague of 1518 struck residents of Strasbourg. Around 400 people were afflicted with dancing mania and danced constantly for weeks, most of them eventually dying from heart attack, stroke or exhaustion.

That doesn’t sound very good, does it? We were somehow able to avoid just such a predicament while we were in Strasbourg. Somehow.

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A church door and a few thoughts about Prague

 

The door to the Church of Our Lady before Tyn

I’ve heard it said that when you get back from a trip & someone asks how it was, you’ve got a small window of opportunity to answer about your journey. Before long, their thoughts move on to what’s in front of you rather than where you’ve been.

So according to that logic, I’ve got to talk about Prague quickly before I’ve lost your interest.

My band Old Braunfels had a lot of fun while we were in the Czech capital. We played a lot and laughed even more. New songs were worked on and devious plans were hatched. Plenty of that will be covered here in future missives.

As beautiful as the city was, it seemed like the best parts of the trip were the conversations we had while we were walking around. Sometimes a change of scenery is just what you need for an infusion of creativity.

I’d hoped to learn a bit more Czech while I was there, but managing ‘excuse me‘ and ‘thank you‘ was about all I could master.

What else do I wish I could say in Czech?

Yeah, what’s up with all the 1 Krone coins? They’re like pennies in the US or Euro cents…no matter how hard I tried to spend them, they seemed to constantly be coming back at me. I might’ve even had a nightmare about the damned things.

We also saw a lot about Beer Spas…what on earth is that? Is it a spa where they serve beer? The photos made it look like the guests were bathing in beer. Is that a thing? Not that I bothered to find out. Was just rather curious.

This hopefully won’t be my only blogpost about Prague. More to come, I’m sure.

 

 

Tanz in den August

  
On the last night of April, there’s a tradition here that you stay up late & dance your way into the First of May. It’s something that apparently originated in medieval times or perhaps even farther back in history. What frivolity – all in the name of welcoming everybody to the month of May. Or May to everyone. 

So, I’ve been joking about dancing into August, hence the title of this post (Tanz in den August). Why the hell not?

We had a Blue Moon last night, and it was something special. What is that, anyway? When there are two full moons in a single month, the second is called the Blue Moon. A night of wonder, if you believe the hype. 

Onto a bit of news, since I’ve not been keeping things current here. 

This time last year, the band was in Berlin for a week. We had a different name, which shall go unmentioned, and fewer songs. This time we’re headed to Prague & hopefully I’ll be able to take the time to use this space to document our Czech shenanigans. 

Now we have a name everyone seems to like – we are Old Braunfels – and we’re getting into all sorts of trouble. If you see us in your town, you should really come check it out. A few dozen pleasantly surprised Bavarians can’t be all wrong in recommending us. 

Oh, we’ve also got a new member who sings quite beautifully & plays a mean violin. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. She’s called Violetta, and here she is with our favourite Jarrod:

  
Stay tuned. This is gonna be fun. 

serenading those of the feline persuasion in my best owl voice

  

Normally, I provide the source for photos/artwork when I include it here, but this is something that was included in a comment thread & I’ve got no idea where it originated. If I find out, I’ll definitely come back and mention where it came from. 

The drawing certainly reflects some nicer moments of the summer that we’ve already had, and at least here in Munich there’s only more goodness to come. This is the time of year when there’s nearly always an event going on in the city or another street fest around the next corner. 

What I’m most excited about in the near future is the Filmfest, which I like to refer to as the best week of the year. Plenty of independent film & movies that are making the international filmfest circuit before their theatrical release. I’ll be reviewing films, as I’ve done for quite a few years, & might even include some contemplation here that doesn’t belong elsewhere on other platforms. 

In the meantime, I’ll be serenading those of the feline persuasion in my best owl voice while floating along in the moonlight. That’s what summertime is for, isn’t it?

At the Marienplatz in the wee hours

 

at the Marienplatz in the wee hours


Before even most locals are awake & certainly the tourists are still dozing, this might be the nicest time of day to be wandering through the streets of Munich.  

The light is certainly nice for photos, and there’s an expectancy in the air. What might this day in Bavaria’s capital hold in store for us? 

Why not start at the Marienplatz. There’s plenty of hidden Munich you can discover nearby, but here’s as good a place as any to begin your exploration. More soon on local things off the beaten track.