Busy-ness

The newly-sprung hop fields of upper Bavaria are green carpets we swoop past on the limit-frei autobahn from the Danube over the Isar toward the Alps. Though there is still snow up the slopes when I arrive at Christoph’s house, spring has really sprung in the last five days: the crocuses open each morning, and the tulip leaves are unstrangling themselves from the newly loosened earth.  We’re on the last suburban edge of Heidi-country, which as I get out of the car smells like shit, literally, as all the German farmers are spreading their sloping Alpine fields with pig manure.

Mad partner of my wild youth (that would be my 30’s– we didn’t meet until 1984 – I guess it took me that long to get loosened up), Christoph has a bit of a steadier hand on the helm himself these days, ensconsed with his family on the edge of town, the edge of the soccer games and ferrying friends, the life we never thought we would live long enough or become tame enough to lead.

Christoph and I recognized each other from the soul on out on the day we met – jongleurs, at once compassionate and arrogant, prepared to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.  We meet this evening at the airport, as he returns from Athens – settling his dementia-ed mother after a broken hip put her in the hospital and pretty much beyond reach in her amyloid shell, except for those tearing moments when she is back, and knows him, and says something right on the money, or amusingly just beside the point.

I was about to see that he is half Greek and half German, but it would be more precise to say that he is sometimes a German with a Greek mother, and other times Greek with a German father (except that I stole that very apt line from either Tom Robbins (Skinny Legs and All, maybe?) or Louis Bernieres (in that case, it would be Corelli’s Mandolin).

His father Ted, a hyper-productive editor of Die Zeit, Newsweek, and half a dozen smaller papers, who at 79 jet-sets at a faster pace then me, came down to Athens too, so that Christoph gets a glimpse of his parents life together before he left, before they split.  The decline of one’s mother is always enough to put one into a philosophical mood, but seeing the tenderness as his father remembers the woman he waltzed with some 50 years ago, now housed in this querulous and confused brittle stem that speaks to him sometimes in English, sometimes in Greek thinking he’s her grandfather, but momentarily emerges to heartbreaking clarity, wishing him ‘auf wiedersehn’ in his native German, as he walks out of her life for the probable final time..

So Christoph returns determined to pay more attention to his family, a determination soon lost – how well I understand – in the welter of accumulated emails and things that must be done to keep the wheels turning and greased, the wheels which maintain the family, and for which we are responsible.

Riccarda, long-suffering – anyone who lives with such as we must suffer – but strong enough to hold her own, meets us at the door, her willowy body form-fitting to his, her mobile face in a broad smile.

Mia, newly Anglicized and grown-up after 6 months with her father in Australia, sits around on the deck with a few other 17-year-olds, trying to grill meat, but they have started too late with too low a fire, so they are contenting themselves with potato salad on this first spring evening.  The arrival of two more male grown-ups soon sends them upstairs where they can giggle and murmur without being observed.

Jonathan, 7, small and round-headed, is known as The Weasel on the football pitch for his weaving style of running that eludes all opponents on his way to score goal after goal, is out in the trampoline enclosure, tireless in his search for ball control, or, in this case, the back flip.

I love each member of this family, so I spend time playing goalie to Jonathan’s close-quarters kicks, leafing through Mia’s new drawings, finding one of a young girl with her face on her knees, a picture that rises above the technical to the autobiographical.

Christoph meanwhile rustles up a lamb curry – excellent Greek cook; I have learned to clean the kitchen after so that not even his German side can find fault. Former all-day workers and all-night players, 11pm is as far as we make it these days before we fall into bed.

The next day is a day of rest before I go home, but a day of rest with Christoph is anyone else’s loaded schedule.  Bank, shopping by the day as the Europeans do, getting the boys settled, chasing someone down for a spit to roast a lamb for Easter, and a ‘restful’ trip to a sauna on the Tegernsee, which involved a lot of extremes, the saunas being heated with German efficiency, and the lake itself being essentially meltwater.  An hour or two of that alternation alteration, and we are all pools of clarified butter.

The next morning I am off to the airport and Christoph off to Munich for work – a short visit to a long-time friend.  The point of this otherwise tender look at my dear compadre is that Ted taught him busy-ness, being the absent work-addicted father, and he learned it well.  Even knowing as he does how it affected him, he is now so addicted to work and projects and busy-ness himself that it is being passed on to Jonathan, who is already obsessed with football cards, and online games where you not only play football, but trade players and essentially run clubs (man and machine are on a headlong collision course that can only result in a synthesis – that’s another essay).

I feel it myself when I get home – my daughter is too sick to come up for Easter, and my own schedule will not allow another time to see her for too long ahead; hers too, with exams and such.  And so we pass the addiction to busy-ness from generation to generation.  Some of my mother’s and father’s habits I have been able to break, but others are passed on and on, waiting for someone to wake up and consciously saw one link to unhook the chain

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