He came, he looked confused, he went

Wednesday, 4 May

I’m now in Köpenick, a small town to the east of Berlin, not quite a suburb and not quite an independent town.

Berlin has fascinated me since I first visited the city in 1969, arriving there after an overnight journey, involving a perilous pillion ride to Helmstedt on a fast motorcycle, without a helmet but with a heavy rucksack making both man and machine unstable. There have been trips since then. In the old days when I travelled mostly by land between Sweden and the UK, I often made a detour via Berlin, crossing to the East to get the train to Stockholm (Neutral Sweden had less taut transport connections and we travelled to Sassnitz on special coaches attached to normal DR trains and not the special corridor expresses).

I was in Köpenick in the old days too or at least passed through on my way to the Muggelsee.

I was travelling from Athens to Luleå in northern Sweden, an almost American distance. I’d stopped overnight at the then somewhat tense Greek-Yugoslav border, fending off the attentions of a dubious couple of men  full of expressions of brotherly love who wanted to take me for a drink and I suspect keep my wallet as a small souvenir of our encounter. And then a walk around Skopje and a long bus ride to the outskirts of Belgrade with an elderly lady who was recruiting guests to her B&B “just around the corner” (kind and pleasant but truthfulness about location wasn’t her strong card).

Half awake on the early morning train, I abandoned thoughts about breaking my journey in Dresden and continued directly to Berlin. A longing to immerse myself in water and wash the travel stains away brought me to an FKK beach, probably on the Muggelsee, the scruffy westerner with his rucksack exciting discreet curiosity from the other bathers.

I’m staying in a second-hand bookshop which is also an hotel, a wonderful combination where every room is named after an author. I’m in Octavio Paz with Pablo Neruda just next door. Poor Tucholsky whose suicidal grave is by the lakeside castle of Mariefred in Sweden has his room down the corridor. I’ve never read Paz but now know a little more about him after cursory internetting. It would have been nice to have pictures of the authors in the room and some more information. There are a couple of his books and a few others by Christa Wolf and Brecht, and strangely a book about a football championship in 1974, which Germany won, although I don’t know whether there was a Paz or a Mexican dimension. It’s odd as the book is too big to have been dropped off by a casual guest and the hotel is otherwise respectful to literature and not the sort of place to dump unsorted heaps of books here and there.

I probably won’t get a chance to comment on this as I have booked directly and will not be subject to exhaustion marketing, where every last drop of opinion is squeezed from my almost lifeless body.

I am continuing to read Pagnol but also the Bengali author Saratchandra Chattopadhyay. One of the main characters in the novel is a woman who, according to the blurb, “lives and travels by herself, has relationships with various men, looks poverty and suffering in the face, and asserts the autonomy of the individual being, In the process, she tears apart the frame of the expatriate Bengali society in Agra, where she lives”. It’s full of discussions about issues in Bengali society and culture. To start with, I felt that the discussions, although very interesting, weighed down the book. But the more I get into it, the better I like it. It’s remarkable for a book written in 1931 and I’m not surprised it caused turbulence then. Next time I’m in Kolkata, I will try and find reviews and comments on the book from that time if they will let me into the big state library again.

There are lots of threads to follow in the book to understand Bengali society better. I’ll read it quickly through and then do a plod reading following up the use of tharkurpu, boudi, babu (and kakababu) and the Vaishnavas, and getting my ashram, bramachari, Brahman and Brahmin in the right place. (I am already at least half educated about the waltz around apni).

When it comes to things Bengali, I am like a child who has discovered a stairway to a new floor at hisher house, rooms full of interest and fascination. I would like to get a grasp of the Hindu religion, not for religious reasons but simply to understand. I’ve read two substantial volumes but am only at the beginning of comprehension where some of the terms become more familiar. But I’m still a long way from being able to link ideas within Hinduism about the duality or non-duality of the universe with the Greek tradition and how some of the fault lines and debates within Hinduism relate to the somewhat tortured history of Christianity in relation to the nature of divinity and the trinity and all the rest of it.

I am really a family of individuals who don’t always rub along too well. There is the Dave Kendall of the world, anxious to understand what’s going on around us and eagerly reading political history and studying the nature of imperialism. And then there is the Dave Kendall, who seems to want to be some kind of intellectual mid-nineteenth century Anglican bishop, who could perhaps feel at home in the pages of Trollope. Bishop Kendall won’t be happy until he has mastered Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Sanskrit, knows his bible, is a dab hand at the history of religion but probably has a collection of rocks as well to satisfy his thirst for geological knowledge and is not averse to botanical excursions. Is he a man of the eighteenth or the nineteenth century? Perhaps there are two David Kendalls hiding here too.

There are minor avatars of Dave Kendall as well, the Dorset David Kendall steeped in local knowledge and well within the tradition of William Barnes and Thomas Hardy. Perhaps he could engage in unity talks with Bishop Kendall if Bishop Kendall agreed to drop this Bishop nonsense and become an intellectual village priest (I write priest for lack of a suitable hook – I don’t think any of us David Kendalls want to splash water on babes or offer homilies to the devout, We just want to hold fine leather-bound volumes in book-lined studies with French windows leading to green sunlit gardens tended by someone else, Mållgan perhaps).

The political Dave Kendall shakes his head at all this nonsense, where is this luxury parasite Bishop Kendall’s sense of responsibility to his fellow humans? In earlier times, he would probably have muttered pshaw or humbug in best Dr Johnson style.

Being the man in overall charge of this family of ill-sorted individuals makes me feel like that I am directing the movements not of a pantomime horse but a pantomime centipede, struggling around taking awkward steps in every conceivable direction.

There’s very little help from the community available for this kind of problem. Asking for family therapy for what appears to the superficial eye to be a single individual is not going to end well.

I guess I just have to muddle through as best I can – until the muse of memory and the patron saint of lost causes stand wistfully together by my grave with its epitaph “He came, he looked confused, he went” and saying to one another as they float together through the cemetery twilight “he was a magnificent failure”.

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