Sunday 22 August 2010
Joyce meets Mahler
In my currently overheated imagination, that is. Despite failing the eminent Dr Senn in missing the James Joyce Centre of Zurich's weekly Thursday reading of Finnegans Wake and losing out on a repeat of last year's experience, I did finally kickstart my long-delayed second attempt to re-read Ulysses on the train to Lucerne, and haven't looked back since.
How little it meant to me on my first cavortings around European railways back in the early 1980s. I think I did read two-thirds, but without absorbing or understanding much - and retracing those steps now I wonder why on earth not. Anyway, the point here is that Joyce's cornucopia of reference, his sublime mix of the ordinary and the sublime, his easy snatches of popular song in amidst life-and-death reflections, all seemed to connect with the Mahler Ninth I was so privileged (again I use the only possible word) to hear Abbado conduct in Lucerne.
Still gathering my thoughts about that, but in the meantime, it's been an oddly connected time, filtered through our many reflections in the Rietberg Park of the Villa Wesendonck, now my most familiar numinous site in any city. Yesterday I braved the latest heatwave to make a pilgrimage from Enge to Fluntern and Joyce's grave. Again, the strands along the way seemed so diverse, so Joyce-Mahler and so contradictory of the order and uniformity which are supposed to reign in Zurich. A balafonist in the Saturday flea-market, a Siberian throat/overtone singer in the crypt of the Grossmunster - neither indigenous, both consummate - and a colourful, ululating protest favouring a united Kurdistan complete with Ocalan posters and national flags, crossing the bridge from the Fraumunster with police cars at either end revealed the city's multikulti side.
I was also out and about to complete my collection of Giacometti's breathtaking stained glass on both sides of the Limmat. Then I doffed my cap again as I walked up through the garden of the Thomas Mann residence and wove my way to the Zurichberg past psychiatric clinics, resthomes and grotesquely overornamented villas. The final haul took me through a field of sunflowers, the forest flanking Fluntern Cemetery, and a first glimpse of Joyce's statue through the fence.
Though seemingly all too close to the local hospitals like many of its kind, the cemetery actually has a less grim neighbour than most, the zoo, so the shouts of children and the continuation of other species resonate next door. The plots are a little over-ordered for my taste, but it made another nice symmetry with last year's hunt for the grave of Joseph Schmidt on the opposite hill. Not to mention Mahler's last resting place (pictured above) in Vienna's Grinzing, well away from the touristic heurigen.
I sat in the shade, replaced the fluids lost through excess perspiration with gallons of water and finally settled down to the 'Aeolus' chapter I'd just reached in Ulysses. And the hour or so's sweat uphill was offset by a straight number 5 tram ride all the way back to Enge. Mission accomplished.