Friday, October 19, 2012

Arise, Arise

Two prefaces: One, I am not here to discuss the political aspects of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Two, I'm quoting song lyrics in German below with translations after; the source material is at The German is not difficult; I recommend backreading it through the translations as much as possible.

Auch auf den Wellen wird gefochten
Wo Fisch und Fleisch zur See geflochten
Der eine sticht die Lanz' im Heer
Der andere wirft sie in das Meer


Even on the waves there is fighting
Where fish and flesh are woven into sea
One stabs the lance while in the army
Another throws it into the ocean

I listen to this song, "Reise, Reise" by , whenever I am at the highest geographic point I can reach in a new vacation spot. I've listened to it all over the world and at various altitudes. My first time was on board a cruise ship in the Antarctic; it was then, as I stood in a t-shirt and track pants on the stern of the ship, just outside the gym and in the glorious Antarctic summer, that I felt the message in the song.

"Reise, Reise" is a musing on life and death, the human aspects of it explored through images of fishermen and soldiers. The spear is the hinge between the two: Both use spears, both kill, with the debate being over which one is in the service of life. 

My most recent time to listen to "Reise, Reise" was on a mountain overlook in Croatia, gazing down on towns with both life and rubble as reminders of the war.

Die Lanze muss im Fleisch ertrinken
Fisch und Mann zur Tiefe sinken
Wo die schwarze Seele wohnt
ist kein Licht am Horizont

The lance must be drowned in flesh
Fish and man sink to the depths
Where the black soul dwells
there is no light on the horizon

We'd stopped at the overlook during the first leg of a jeep safari. Thirteen other Mensans plus our two tour guides, in four Toyota Hiluxes (which are, incidentally, the finest machines made--just ask ), had driven up the zigzagging road to the top, making the 190-degree and more cutbacks with relative ease. The view from the top looked over the towns below and out into the Adriatic lapping serently at Croatia's rocky edge.

The towns we'd passed through, and the others we'd see after driving down the mountain, then across a flat vineyard plain, and up another mountain to an olive oil mill, were tiny communities abutting each other. Many houses were partly inhabited, unfinished floors with no interior partitions or windows gaping open above, and below, a painted, stuccoed story that was well kept.

Muslim here, Catholic there, Orthodox there. This was how it was. Over them all, Tito and Yugoslavia.
Reise, Reise Seemann Reise
Jeder tut's auf seine Weise
Der eine stößt den Speer zum Mann
Der andere zum Fische dann

Reise, Reise Seemann Reise
Und die Wellen weinen leise
In ihrem Blute steckt ein Speer
Bluten leise in das Meer

Arise, arise seaman arise 
Each does it in his own way
One thrusts the spear into a man
Another then into the fish

Arise, arise seaman arise 
And the waves cry softly
In their blood a spear is lodged
They bleed softly into the ocean

After we toured a small church in Čilipi, where Serbian and Montenegrin forces had beheaded figures of Jesus and Joseph and cut out Mary's eyes, our tour guide told us of the Serbian desire to bring about a third Yugoslavia, which was motivation on all sides for the war. Townspeople are still struggling with the emotional effect 17 years later.
I bought an embroidery sampler from a woman at the church, the pattern traditional to Croatia. Others put coins in the donation box.

I am not religious in any way, yet sometimes I call on the services of St. Anthony of Padua when I've lost something. Coincidentally, this church of St. Nicholas, who is the patron saint of, among other things, sailors, has had its restoration partially supported by the Fraternity of St. Anthony, who is the patron saint of that which is lost. "Reise, Reise" is about loss, yes, but also about timelessness and absorption. We are absorbed into a timeless, vast space, one that is not alien to us. The future that lies within that timelessness is the same present within which we act today.

Reise, Reise Seemann Reise
Und die Wellen weinen leise
In ihrem Herzen steckt ein Speer
Bluten sich am Ufer leer

Arise, arise seaman arise 
And the waves cry softly
In their heart a spear is lodged
They bleed themselves dry on the shore

What we lose is hope, peace, happiness. 

Death is not the tragedy here.

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