Out of the trenches and into the What?
Yesterday there was a moment of euphoria when Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election. I’m not denying that moment. My partigiano endorphins celebrated their release from four years of political captivity, coursed through my body and I walked from room to room, up the stairs, down the stairs, with a new energy. My wife smiled at me (she does this sometimes), WhatsApp messages were coming in with funny gifs about the biggest loser. My brother in Saudi Arabia, who has gone through a number of cancer treatments and defeated the big C so far, was afraid he’d die without ever seeing the maniac in the shining house on the hill be evicted. He was celebrating with the most widely imbibed forbidden substance in the kingdom. Then I went out into the garden, filled the birdbaths with water, looked up into the late afternoon’s gathering darkness and the euphoria was gone.
At first I thought it was because these autumn days get dark at 4:30 in the afternoon and the nights are colder and the pandemic has not relinquished its hold on the world, only gripped it tighter, somehow instinctively knowing that it was time to flourish again, to hit these ignorant arrogant humans with a sucker punch during the holiday season when they will once again want to gather in large family groups and in places of worship to celebrate their religious freedoms.
We were saved from pagan Halloween this year because of Corona, so it hasn’t been all bad. And personally, I never go to church on Christmas Eve with the rest of the family to hear the choirs sing, which has been a family tradition since forever. The Hamburg churches are famous for their superb choirs and their pre-Christmas concerts, especially in Hauptkirche St. Michaelis (St. Michael’s Church), it’s tall bell tower and clock visible from everywhere in the city, because no building in Hamburg may be built so tall as to obscure it from view.
I consoled myself last night with a couple of Liam Neeson action films (Run All Night, The Commuter), had trouble getting to sleep because of them, but slept late into the morning. Perhaps my post-election depression infiltrated me again because today is the 9th of November, Kristallnacht, and once again, after dark, as every year, we will go to Bornplatz and put down some tealights on where the synagogue used to stand before the Nazis defaced it and then tore it down in 1939. The Jewish community in our neighborhood – Grindel – consisted of hard-working tradesmen, shopkeepers and manual workers and this was their synagogue. It was also the synagogue of the Jewish doctors, lawyers and businessmen who lived in the upscale neighborhood of Rotherbaum, which borders Grindel. As in every community of rich and not-so-rich, the political affiliations were split between far left and far right. Oh yes, there were Jews on the far right. Many Jews still could not believe that they would be targeted, after all they were staunch upholders of the status quo and it was the communists and socialists that were being removed.
Jewishness was only one aspect of the existence of these people, and unfortunately it was seen as the only aspect that had any relevance, so the Nazis focused on that and churned up wave after wave of hate against this invented internal enemy.
Bornplatz, Hamburg on 9 November where the Synagogue once stood
Monday is the one day in the week where I go out to teach English. It’s a short 15-minute bike ride from home and it’s quite invigorating, also because the damp air bites a bit and sharpens my perception of the world around me: the lines of cars still on their way somewhere even though it’s almost noon, the few other full-time bike riders like me, most of them wearing helmets, many in bright yellow jackets. My excuse for not wearing a helmet is that it makes me more careful. It probably doesn’t, because I landed on the road once – luckily no traffic – when my hand slipped off my grip during a rainstorm, and once I landed on my head when I tried to jump a curb and it was higher than I thought and my wheel didn’t clear the edge. That got me a sizeable gash above my eye. The doctor who took X-rays wittingly told me that he had looked into it and could see nothing at all. We laughed together at that one. But I was able to secure the X-ray photos and use them as an album cover, which was a kind of consolation.
The sky looks like vaporous cement, the Alster lake is bereft of sailboats as I ride over Kennedy bridge, and I get to the company where I’m going to teach today just before noon. At noon the church bells in the city ring for 5 minutes to commemorate Kristallnacht, Germany’s own 9/11. My lesson goes smoothly. We laugh a lot and my mood is good for a while, until, back at home again, I reflect on what the future may look like. At the moment we are in semi-lockdown here in Germany. Restaurants and bars and cafes are only allowed to sell takeaway during November. I suppose bars are actually just closed, because who wants to go and grab an overpriced drink and take it home?
It occurs to me that part of my problem could be that I was anticipating a stronger, more violent response from “He Who Must Not Be Named.” In fact, last year at this time I was in the middle of writing the libretto for a musical about The Father of Lies in which violence and counter-violence results in a denouement that is both satirical, funny and profoundly disturbing. Throughout 2020, I felt like a Cassandra, dreading as well as relishing the fulfillment of my apocalyptic prophecy. The people who read the libretto laughed all the way through, but neither my publisher nor theatres were willing to get it on its way to the stage. Of course the pandemic was a big hurdle for the theatres that got the piece, but it was my publisher who kept saying “Let’s wait until the election.” Now the election has happened, the Beast and his malaficiers got their just deserts and my finale is like fireworks in a rainy sky: still colorful and explosive, but who is going to brave the rain to watch?
My composer is currently in bed at home with back trouble and under heavy medication. It looks like my only possibility is to release the libretto as an e-book on Amazon so that it can die neglected on a web page until some future generation decides to exhume it as a curiosity from a bygone era.
But that’s just one aspect of the depression (or is it really just melancholia?). My partigiano endorphins crawled back into their hiding places quite quickly because they know the war on us simple people is in no way over. The oligarchs have pulled off another successful Bait and Switch. We are once again the marks. They have given us a useless bundle of paper in a multicolored cloth and we are supposed to believe that wrapped up in there are the riches we have been waiting for so patiently over the past four years.
Immediately after the semi-debacle for the Democratic Party, the corporate hacks peered through their telescopic sights, flipped on their range finders, then zeroed their lasers on the few free-thinkers still left and the few newly elected. Murdoch’s media machine will now have unbridled freedom to concentrate on anyone who wants a radical or even a modest change to ethic-less capitalism. Of course the other media outlets, owned by the other oligarchs will whittle patiently away at The Squad and the newbies until, like Jeremy Corbin, they are either defeated at the polls or removed from the party to which they currently adhere.
The con is back on. My P.E.D. has its hooks in me and I can’t shake it off. So many years in the trenches and now What? I am not one for the streets. I saw what happened to that old guy, how he was knocked down by the cops and lay there bleeding as they marched over him. I’m in Germany. We don’t have guns at home, ready to use on any person who comes unasked to our front door. My radio program is on a non-commercial channel that gets about as many listeners as a bar band on a Thursday night – before the pandemic. The articles and songs and stories I write are more like sessions used to be with my therapist, who I can no longer afford. All around me, my generation is dying off, memories of Woodstock and the 1968 almost-revolution in Europe all carefully reworked into novels and films so that it’s now just a jumble of hallucinatory sex and mind-rotting drugs and idealistic illusions which terminated in Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl.
However, like Sisyphus, I know that stone has to be rolled back up the mountain in the perhaps vain belief that maybe next time it will reach the top and finally roll down the other side, into the Promised Land, where we will be able to live in peace and harmony like the Bonobos.
Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany