Wednesday, September 7, 2011
I'm visiting the great novelist and poet Hermann Hesse.
Frankly, I haven't been invited, but I don't really care, and Hermann probably doesn't, either. I'm in his house in Montagnola in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. Hermann Hesse lived here from 1919 until his death in 1962, and I can't say I blame him. The area is absolutely gorgeous, overlooking Lago di Lugano and the majestic Alps. If I'd lived here I would have written Siddharta, too.
Right now I'm walking around the first house Hesse lived in. It's called Torre Camuzzi and is a museum for the great German/Swiss writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1946. One Nobel prize is too little if you ask me. The man should have won two! I mean, have you ever read Demian and Siddharta? Hesse wasn't just a great writer, he was also a mystic, a philosopher, a pacifist, and a humanitarian who stood up against the Kaiser, Hitler, and the nationalism of the day.
When I read Demian the first time I was totally blown away because the novel is a spiritual manifesto and a visionary masterpiece that easily could have been written today. I mean, can you mention any writer in the world who had such insight, such language, and used spiritual symbolism in a way that would have made Confucius, Krishnamurti, and Jung proud?
I have a lot in common with Hermann Hesse, except for the small fact that I'm not a genius.
I'm as heavily influenced by Indian mysticism as he was. I'm in love with Francis of Assisi, and I'm a nomad and pacifist as well. So Hermann Hesse holds up a mirror for me. All great artists do. When a reader loves a writer it's never only the writing he or she connects to; it's something deeper - a vision shared whether the reader knows it or not.
Hey, Hermann Hesse even had a younger wife as I do (mine is just more adorable), and he loved traveling in Italy - a country that always has been a great inspiration for me as a novelist and soul.
What is funny is that I never knew anything about Hesse's personal life until a few months ago. In 2001 I read Siddharta and loved the prose and the wisdom. It's only this summer I've started to read the rest of Hesse's books, and what a great journey I'm on.
It's also quite a journey walking around Hesse's home, admiring his straw-hat, the glasses he wore, the typewriter he wrote on - not forgetting the private pictures of the novelist/poet/painter sunbathing in the nude. (Yes, he was German after all). I almost feel as if I'm trespassing, but that's okay because I love trespassing.
The last thing I do is sit by Hermann Hesse's tomb a kilometer away from his house in a beautiful cemetery, surrounded by cypresses and bird song.
His gravestone is simple and humble contrary to lots of the others. A small Buddha is sitting on top, and Hesse's third wife is lying next to him.
I'm very moved by the stillness and the presence at the cemetery. However, I know that Hermann Hesse wasn't a saint. His work was everything to him, he often suffered from depressions and felt like a misfit, but I'm extremely grateful for the art and the insights the weird German Steppenwolf gave to the world and me.
So danke, grazie, thank you, Hermann. I enjoyed stalking you, and I'll continue reading your books until there are no more left...
Friday, September 2, 2011
I'm not a big fan of Milano or Milan.
It's probably the dreariest city in Italy - a country that has more beautiful cities than anywhere else in the world. Sure, Milano is home to the fashion industry, and it's the proud owner of the Duomo, the gorgeous cathedral. And okay, okay, Breda is kind of quaint in a Armani, Prado, Gucci sort of way, but apart from that Milano is totally devoid of Latin charm. It's a Mid-European city with a Swiss/German work ethic - now how Italian is that?
However, the greatest thing about Milano is definitely its train station, Milano Centrale. God, what a wonderful place. I know I'm a bit perverse, but I have this thing for huge stations. They almost give me an erection. I love the fact that people come and go, buy cheap sandwiches, cheesy magazines, kiss uncles on the mouth, shout at ants and the homeless, and then get the hell out. When you meet some one at a train station you know you might never see them again and that can be a great relief.
Milano Centrale looks like a church, too with its large dome. You almost expect God to descend to tell you that the train to Bergamo is twenty-two minutes late.
The other day I was caught at the station for two hours, so I headed straight for the public toilets, expecting a grossfest of bacteria, but instead I got a clean stall for no less than one Euro. Since that's a steep price for doing something necessary, I decided to stay on for two hours, reading a good book, admiring myself in the mirror ... I even did my laundry. And after that, I took a walk in the huge station, enjoying being back in my third favorite country in the world.
What I love most about Italy is that it's socially acceptable to scratch your crotch in public - something I miss doing in the US where people call the police the second they discover you have genitals.
When my train finally left for Lago di Como and I saw Milano Centrale disappear in the horizon I cried. But I definitely plan to go back. Next time I'll probably buy a condominium on binario 6. That's how fond I am of Italy, seriously.