Monday, 21 November 2016

Italian Journey (into) Goethe

Once having gained a reputation for sturm und drang, you can be as timid as you like. In every sphere of life Goethe flinched and turned aside. Not having German I can offer no opinion of his verse but the novels seem vapid froth. His Italian Journey may well be as far as I can travel with him and it has its moments in which our author is lured out of his comfort zone while continuing to replicate the relationships he has left behind him. Angelica Kaufmann is the lady muse, he flirts with and instructs a Milanese beauty of the upper class while secretly ‘knocking off’ a waitress(not mentioned in this work). Pray excuse the vulgarism but what else was that sort of discreet prostitution, safe from the ever present threat of disease. Naturally it has to be aestheticised and drawn within the orbit of planet Goethe. The powerful male friendships are there too, those donkey-engines that he required to get his mighty creative mill going.

Well O.K. he did go up the side of an active volcano hanging on to the leather belt of a guide and run the risk of a shipwreck, so we are told. Otherwise G. was an ‘access all areas’ tourist who had introductions to the great everywhere and whose letters of credit showered sequins through the South of Italy that his powers of observation might be enhanced.

I console myself with the thought that, in our statistically minded times, all this has probably already been printed in books which one can consult if need arise. At present I am preoccupied with sense-impressions to which no book or picture can do justice. The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life. How far will my scientific and general knowledge take me? Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes? How much can I take in at a single glance? Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced? This is what I am trying to discover. The fact that I have to look after myself keeps me mentally alert all the time and I find that I am developing a new elasticity of mind. I had become accustomed to only having to think, will, give orders and dictate, but now I have to occupy myself with the rate of exchange, changing money, paying bills, taking notes and writing with my own hand.

But its not all sport:
One gets small thanks from people when one tries to improve their moral values, to give them a higher conception of themselves and a sense of the truly noble. But if one flatters the "Birds" with lies, tells them fairy tales, caters daily to their weaknesses, then one is their man. That is why there is so much bad taste in our age. I do not say this to disparage my friends; I only say — that is what they are like, and one must not be surprised if things are as they are.

Today was Sunday, and as I walked about I was struck by the uncleanliness of the streets. This set me thinking. There appears to be some kind of police regulation on this matter, for people sweep the rubbish into corners and I saw large barges stopping at certain points and carrying the rubbish away. They came from the surrounding islands where people are in need of manure. But there is no logic or discipline in these arrangements. The dirt is all the more inexcusable because the city is as designed for cleanliness as any Dutch town. All the streets are paved with flagstones; even in the remotest quarter, bricks are at least placed on the kerb and, wherever it is necessary, the streets are raised in the middle and have gutters at their sides to catch the water and carry it off into covered drains. These and other technical devices are clearly the work of efficient architects who planned to make Venice the cleanest of cities as well as the most unusual. As I walked, I found myself devising sanitary regulations and drawing up a preliminary plan for an imaginary police inspector who was seriously interested in the problem. It shows how eager man always is to sweep his neighbour's doorstep.

If only the Germans had run the Italian Renaissance it would have been a lot tidier.
But there is much to learn:
Soon I shall pay a visit to the Botanical Garden, where I hope to learn a good deal. Nothing, above all, is comparable to the new life that a reflective person experiences when he observes a new country. Though I am still always myself, I believe I have been changed to the very marrow of my bones.

The Intrepid Traveller:
Yesterday Kniep and I visited the corvette to take a look at our cabin. A sea voyage is something I still have to experience. This short crossing and perhaps a cruise along the coast will stimulate my imagination and enlarge my vision of the world. The captain is a likable young man; the ship, built in America, is neat, elegant and sails well.
(distance of Frankfut from Hamburg 497 km, from Amsterdam 441 km/ Coleridge would have walked it in a week)

There is almost humour in this encounter:
Then he inquired about the rest of Thuringia and, with special interest, about Weimar. "Whatever happened to the man — in my day he was young and high-spirited — who at that time set the tone in Weimar? What was his name? You know — the author of Werther." I paused for a moment, as if I was trying to remember, and then said: "As a matter of fact, the person you ask about so kindly is myself." He was visibly taken aback and exclaimed: "Then how things must have changed!" "Yes, indeed," I replied, "between Weimar and Palermo I have changed in many ways."

And that is a beautiful thing.

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