Going Fishing

Finally some thoughts about Hacks’ play Die Fische. You’re patience regarding all the other thoughts is appreciated.

Living in Europe as an American is kind of funny. I don’t mean funny in the pure comedic sense – as in the stuff that makes you laugh out loud. It’s more like funny in the odd-ball sense – perhaps comparable to slapstick or something. I suppose if one were to look at it as long as I have, then one could also see the funny I’m talking about as macabre.

Bear with me…

Let me try to put it another way. Take for example the term culture. I think everyone would agree that in America “culture” is different than in Europe. For example, Fussball would not necessarily be considered as part of European culture. Unless, of course, there was some threat of losing money – at which time Europe would gladly, albeit while gritting its teeth, admit that kicking a ball around a really large field of grass could have something attributable to culture.

It’s not quite the same in the new country. In America the sheer multitude of sports available on TV means something more than it being a country full of no-brainers that kick, throw and run really fast. Baseball, for one, is definitely part of American culture. I’d go as far as to say that baseball, at a cultural phenomenon level, is equal to Jazz. In fact, baseball is an American past-time – which makes it something like THE national sport. Is there a national sport in Europe/Germany?

(One of my coaches (when I was young athlete in high school) used to say this about soccer: “Only communists play sports where you can’t use your hands!” Isn’t there something cultivated in that thought?)

(No?)

Unfortunately – and this a great regret of mine – I didn’t play much baseball when I was young. I played other sports like football, tennis and lacrosse. And because of all that running around, it took till something like my twenty-third year (of life) to actually sit down and read a book. Does that make me uncultivated?

Let me tell you, if you want to really understand the true nature of sportsmanship – or being American – you should play baseball. Or at least try to learn the rules governing it.

For those that don’t know it, one thing about baseball that makes it unique to America is that it is one of the best examples of how an individual can have such an overwhelming effect on the whole. Individualism is a trademark of (being) America(n). I don’t expect most Europeans to understand that. I mean, Europe is, if nothing else, the most successful example of high-end automaton-living on the planet at this time. Even if Europeans started playing baseball it wouldn’t make a difference. Europe would still remain a place of monotony where out-dated aristocracy can still dream of ruling the world and as long as that isn’t possible it can claim ownership of the Mona-fucking-Lisa.

Of course, don’t get me wrong. It’s quite obvious that not everybody plays baseball in America. Does that mean that – as opposed to Europe – “diversity” is also part of American culture? This may come as a surprise to many of you, but I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that there is one other activity that may be included in this pseudo-examination of transatlantic differences and what actually constitutes culture – or the like.

Digress 1. (Don’t worry. I’m getting to Die Fische.)

When I was a boy I enjoyed fishing and if I had the chance I would have done a lot more of it. Fishing is a great outdoor activity and is perfect for fatherless youth. In a way, fishing – and playing other sports – helped me stay out of trouble. For those unaware: trouble is yet another part of American culture. In fact, and this is kind of a secret regarding America, trouble stems out of the differences that make up America… (Sorry. I can’t reveal anymore or I’ll have to kill you.)

There’s really not much to fishing. You just need a bit of equipment and some patience. In fact, the first time I ever experienced anything like “karma” was when I was bass fishing on Virginia river shores.

Bass fishing on swampy river shores and inlets is almost like the fishing seen in the film “The River Runs Through It”. That film, based on the Novella by Norman Maclean, was about a different type of fishing called fly fishing. Bass fishing usually employs a small boat and our rivers didn’t move as quickly. Also, we used spinning rods instead of fly rods – and we considered the whole thing more like hunting. To say the least, there is nothing finer than hunting and catching a big mouth bass!

If you knew where to go and how to get there you could also bass fish/hunt from river/swamp shores – which is great if you’re young and can’t afford the boat. (Yours truly!) The biggest hurdle to this kind of fishing, beyond figuring out location, is learning how to caste. Casting a lure requires some pretty unique skills. I knew a guy that could caste a lure with a spin rod thirty or so yards and hit a penny lying on the ground – while he was standing in a boat on the river. Yeah, finding Karma requires some precision and skill and the ability to caste a lure between the half-sunken roots of trees lining river inlets where bass like to hide.

Now, I don’t know about you, but is there “culture” in anything mentioned above?

I really miss the idea that was/is my homeland, I really miss the/my geography. But could I go back to that culture?

Digress 2. (Yes. We’re getting to Die Fische.)

Unfortunately life moves on. And I made the grand mistake of “moving on” to Germany – where fishing is treated like another bureaucratic, consuming, state-sponsored activity and people are clueless to the simple beauty of baseball or fishing. As we all know bureaucracy rules everything in Germany. It even rules culture. The US has its bureaucracy, too, but I can say that it has nothing to do with fishing – or throwing a ball around. Yes, I guess one can say that I learned about bureaucracy the hard way: I went across the pond (the Atlantic) to actually swim in it.

During the early phase of my frustrating move to Germany, probably in the mid 90s, I thought about the possibility of going fishing. I mean, there are a lot of rivers in Germany. I even saw old men, mostly Ausländer, sitting on the banks of rivers with fishing poles and Styrofoam buckets at their side. Since I was becoming desperate regarding the error of my ways I thought I might be able to save my sanity and fish again.

I went to a German version of a Tackle Shop. The place had fishing poles and lures and… All the equipment I would need. Then I asked Herr Arrogance (the guy who inherited the store, of course) if there is anything I need to know about the rules. Typical of Euro sour-pusses, he acknowledged that I was different and then proceeded to tell me, with a sinister grin, that Germany loves its bureaucracy – because it does nothing more than protect his and everyone else’s claim to inheriting it.

Naturally, I’ve given up on fishing because bureaucracy has beaten me down to a pulp since moving to Germany. I also let the reality of mistakes settle into my soul and now I live in the grand cage that is oh-so golden. Trust me when I say that one can get used to such a cage. Yet sometimes I am reminded of things past and a lone tear falls from my left eye (because it’s the weakest one) and I think back to the days when life breathed inside me, to the day when I didn’t run away, to the day when it all wasn’t about feeding the machine that Europeans lie to themselves by screaming the world “culture” – and the state beats them to it screaming louder “bureaucracy”.

Such reminders stick with me and provide a spark that leads to a memory. The newest of which comes from the play Die Fische, by Peter Hacks. Even though this play has nothing to do with baseball, it reminded me of it. Even though this play has nothing to do with fishing, it reminded me of those swampy river banks in Virginia. And, yes, this play reminds me whole heartily of my newest love in this golden cage: cultivation.

Stop the presses! OK. Maybe the play Die Fische does have something to do with fishing…

I can no longer fish and I’m too old for sports. And now I thoroughly enjoy the only thing I’ve learned while living in Europe: cultivation. Cultivation is no different than learning how to fish or playing baseball. But it is not learning how to play soccer.

Digress 3.

Of the plays I’ve read so far this play is the most exciting – and not because it should be categorized as “macabre”. Die Fische takes place in May, 1866, in the mountains of Rio Frio, Mexico. This is during the French intervention under Napoleon III who also wants to install Maximillian (Hapsburg) as monarch. Supposedly Napoleon has sent Professor Simon, a scientist, to research an important discovery having to deal with the existence of “homo pisciforme” – or the fish-man.

Now, this play has quite a complex plot – and perhaps here lies the/my connection to American culture as listed above. One of the complexities in this plot is the underlying conflict between imperialist Europe and struggling republican Mexico with the duly elected Benito Juarez. Even deeper in the underlining plot is the fact that by 1866 the American civil war was over. With that mind, by the end of the play it’s not clear who the soldiers all worked for – as the concept of spying may be taken to a new level by Mr. Hacks.

The main conflict of the play is between the commanding soldier Goyon and Professor Simon. Goyon is preparing to leave Mexico and return to Europe because they (Europeans) have lost the conflict. Simon wants to stay and, according to the hand-written letter from Napoleon, Goyon has to follow his orders. Goyon thinks militarily about the situation because Juarez rebels are threatening him and easily questions not just Simon and his letter but the legitimacy of Simon’s research. And that’s where the macabre enters.

Homo Pisciforme is used in this play to describe a creature that is some kind of a hybrid between a fish and a man. Simon thinks he has finally found this hybrid, which will lead to the greatest scientific discovery of the century. But the only way to get this creature is to fish for it, which Simon is doing throughout the play. The thing that prevents him from making any kind of discovery, though, is the political conflict affecting their world and the fact that at the beginning of the play soldiers ate the first catch.

So there’s also a little bit of cannibalism in the play as it begins with three soldiers eating one of the caught fish. When they learn what they have eaten they want to kill Simon. To say the least, Hacks has created quite a comedic character in Prof. Simon and an adequate character of authority in Goyo. Unfortunately time is not on Simon’s side and the scientific discovery must continue to wait. As usual, authority always wins – even if you don’t quite know where it’s coming from.

I won’t spoil the play any more here because I recommend that everyone read this play. My only question is, when one considers all the boring plays available on German corporate subsidized theatres these days, why is this exciting play no where to be seen? It really is a cool play and unlike that krapp from Botho Strauß or Moritz Rinke, it’s not a play about being German. Thank goodness!

Rant on.

-tgs-