Our beautiful beagle Anu died on November 13, 2019. She was 16 years, 2 months, 4 days old, and very ill.
Between 2009 and 2016 she had traveled with us by car through France and England to Ireland to visit our daughter and granddaughter in Galway – 4000 kilometers return, makes 4 0000 km in total.
I mourned intensely, I wept a lot, I had almost a bad conscience, because I had always been more controlled when humans in my family had died.
I tried to find an explanation for this: dogs always give without taking, they are attached to you unconditionally. The late German chancellor Helmut Schmidt once wrote: If you want a friend, get a dog. And if dogs want something – food or a walk, they let you know in a very pleasant way.
I think the essential explanation was given by Sigmund Freud when he wrote that the relationship with a dog is “affection without ambivalence” – something which is hard to find in a relationship between human beings.
We decided to fill the terrible gap caused by Anu’s absence by total immersion in cultural activities which we had reduced out of consideration for Anu.
At the time we could not foresee that our cultural pleasures would be abruptly and brutally stopped after a few months by an unwelcome guest called COVID 19.
In December and January we spent five weeks in our second home in Lombardy/Italy on Lake Lugano. In Italy dogs have to wear a muzzle in public transport – trains, buses, and also boats. After Anu had fended off successfully our attempt at applying a muzzle, we had stopped travelling on boats on Lake Lugano and Lake Como. Our apartment is located on the Eastern shore of Lake Lugano and thus only 10 minutes’s drive from Lake Como.
Now, for the first time visiting without the dog – being very lucky with sunny weather in winter � � we used the shuttle ferries on Lake Como to visit beautiful places like Menaggio, Bellagio and Varenna – places which can best be reached without car by ferry. We also took the fast hydrofoil from Menaggio to Como passing all the fabulous Palazzi and villas including the one owned by George Cloo ney in Laglio.
In Lugano we visited exhibitions in the new “Lugano Arte e Cultura” centre “LAC”.
With Anu we always had to split – first my wife Barbara saw the exhibition and I took a walk with Anu or waited in a Café and then we swapped the roles.
We also visited the Hermann Hesse home and museum in Montagnola in the hills above Lugano which changed my attitude towards Hesse completely to the positive. This was supported by a recent biography which I bought in the museum called “Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne”, in English: “and there is a magic in every beginning” – a line from his most famous poem “Steps� �. I also reread some of his novels – the early “realistic” ones like “Beneath the Wheel” and “Rosshalde” There are strong autobiographical elements in both novels. “Beneath the Wheel” severely criticizes education that focuses only on students’ academic performance, and in that respect is typical of Hesse, who suffered from this in the monastic boarding school Maulbronn. “Rosshalde” is the classic story of a man torn between obligations to his family and his longing for a spiritual fulfillment that can only be found outside the confines of conventional society, a situation which exactly mirrors Hesse’s situation and dilemma.
Back home in our Swiss village right on the Swiss-German border we rediscovered the jazz scene in the quaint little city of Konstanz on Lake Constance. Apart from jazz concerts in bigger venues we went to pubs where you could eat and drink while listening to first class jazz trios or quartets – which evoked nostalgic feelings of our visits to the “Blue Note” in New York in Greenwich Village.
We rediscovered watching great films on the big screen in Konstanz and Zurich:
“Judy”, a biopic about Judy Garland starring Renee� � Zellweger which won her an Oscar;
“Knives Out� � with Jamie Lee Curtis and Daniel Craig – a parody on traditional detective stories;
“La Belle Epoque”, a fantasy comedy with Fanny Ardant;
« Bernadette », a « depression comedy” with a fabulous Cate Blanchett as a stubborn non-conformist who confronts her politically correct and moralistic American middle-class neighbourhood;
and “Little Women” starring Saoirse Ronan, based on an American 19th-century novel. The story is about fixed gender roles during the American Civil War. In earlier films based on the same book the role of Saoirse Ronan had been played by Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. But Greta Gerwig, who directed the film, gave it a new tone by introducing traits of liberal Feminism and non-chronological story-telling. I had always admired Great Gerwig as the most natural actress I know – and so we watched her great film “Frances Ha ” on DVD after having seen “Little Women”.
But our greatest thrill was roaming the excellent theatres in Zurich, Winterthur, St. Gallen, and Konstanz – always combined with good meals in Italian restaurants which can easily be found close to the theatres.
In the Schauspielhaus Zurich we saw a very unusual production of Tchec hovs “Cherry Orchard” set in a psychiatric clinic referring to Zurich as the “world centre” of psychiatry with the famous “Psychiatric University Clinic” where C.G. Jung worked and numerous private clinics.
We also saw “Grapes of Wrath ” in Zurich based on the novel by John Steinbeck, where the production represented the poor Midwest migrants on their way to their shattered hopes in California through the perspective of a decadent “Gucci ” society with obvious parallels to the present situation of migrants and the complacency of Western societies.
In St. Gallen, we saw an excellent production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams – set in a real trailer on stage with a big video screen on top where you could see the characters interact in and outside of the trailer, while at the same time they were filmed by three hand cameras, so you could see close ups of their faces on the screen.
In Winterthur we saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” by Ed ward Albee – a guest performance by the famous Burgtheater Vienna – well-known by the film with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. We also saw “Oleanna” by David Mamet – a tug of war between a college professor and a female student.
But we also appreciated productions in our local theatre in Konstanz:
We saw “Two days, one night” based on the Belgian film with the same title starring Marie Cotillard. The story is about recent labour conflicts, focussing on the erosion of solidarity in neo-liberalism.
Another highlight in Konstanz was the musical “Wonderful World� � about the life of Louis Armstrong. Terence Ngassa from Cameroon, one of the best African jazz trumpet players, was Louis Armstrong. The way he played the trumpet and the way he looked resembled very much the original.
Siggy Davis, an internationally renowned Musical-, Blues-, and Jazz singer, was the female singer. She performed songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Bessi Smith and Dinah Washington.
We also saw a number of exhibitions in various Swiss cities – the highlight was � �Edward Hopper” in Basel. Hopper is widely acknowledged as one of America’s most important painters who is a master of evoking the loneliness, uncertainties and anxieties of modern life and of making dramatic use of light and shadow producing a frightening and sinister effect, as if something threatening might be lurking behind what can be seen.
A delight was a short 3D film by the famous German filmmaker Wim Wenders (who made “Paris, Texas” and “The American Friend ”) especially created for the exhibition. Wenders is a long-time Hopper fan and the film “Two or Three Things I know about Edward Hopper”, in which he put into motion Hopper’s famous painting “Gas”, which depicts a petrol station in a kind of disturbing wilderness and loneliness. Wenders revives the artist’s characteristic melancholy mood.
In early March we wanted to go to Italy again, and for April and May we had already booked a number of plays.
But then the virus attack reached Europe – and of all places it struck Lombardy worst – so we couldn’t go to our apartment in Lombardia. We were even lucky that we had abstained from going there in the last moment – we would have been quarantined there. As the earliest affected town in Lombardy was more than 200 kilometres south of Lake Lugano, in my pre-pandemic innocence I had thought it would never affect us so far up north ….
The plays which were cancelled included “The Trial” based on the novel by Kafka in St. Gallen, “The Misanthrope” by Moliere in Winterthur and the opera “Arabella” by Richard Strauss in the Zurich Opera House, among others.
Now all the theatres and everything else was closed, only the supermarkets and pharmacies were kept open. Old people became the new minority, the new old scapegoats, discriminated against and stigmatized – as if every person over sixty was critically or terminally ill and extremely vulnerable. In some countries people were forbidden to leave their home – although fresh air and walking is the best precaution to strengthen the immune system.
Fortunately in Switzerland and Germany old people were only “strongly recommended” to stay at home all the time – so we have been doing a lot of walking in the hills, meadows and forests around our village and along the lake.
The border between Switzerland and Germany has been closed – which seems to be a kind of symbolic policy, as the situation in Germany and Switzerland is almost identical – at the checkpoints you get the feeling that seen from Germany the danger comes from Switzerland, and seen from Switzerland the pandemic is seen as an invasion from Germany.
We are lucky, as we have German passports so they have to let us into Germany if we have a good reason, e.g. doctor’s appointments – as we are health insured in Germany they HAVE to let us across the border and the Swiss officers have to let us back in, as we are resident in Switzerland.
However, we are not allowed to buy anything in Germany and bring it back into Swiss territory – not even papers or books – they could be contaminated by the pandemic raging in Germany. If you are caught smuggling something in – even if it is a lipstick, you are fined 10 0 Swiss Francs, at the moment nearly 100 Euro and you will be centrally registered as an offender. The only exception is medicine from German pharmacies as we get our prescriptions from German doctors.
Living at the border and crossing regularly despite the general closure is a strange experience – because the rules in the two countries are so different, which demonstrates the absence of any logical and sensible foundation of these rules. In Germany, only two people are allowed to walk together, except for families with children. In Switzerland, they allow up to five people walking together – not strangers, preferably family members.
In Switzerland, the restaurants and cafes reopened on May 11, in Germany this was planned for early June, but now, probably due to increasing public pressure, will open on May 18.
In Germany, wearing masks became obligatory in all shops as well as in public transport – in Switzerland, the use of masks is recommended in public transport but hardly anybody wears them.
Therefore we mustn’t forget masks when we go to Germany.
Dogs usually approach me in a friendly way – I believe they still can smell Anu when they get close to me, but people tell me, it ’s just because they recognize me as a dog-friendly person. Today I left a bookshop in Konstanz – only browsing, no buying is the new luxury – and I forgot to take off the mask when I stepped outside. Immediately a dog started barking fiercely at me – being dog-friendly, I was irritated – he started circling me, barking agitatedly. Suddenly I realized – it wasn’t ME, it was the M ASK – I took it off, the dog looked at me and became friendly immediately. So the masks do not only create communication problems with other humans, but also with dogs.
We were lucky that in our hyperactive phase before the lockdown, we had bought loads of English and German books and so we are having an emergency supply during the lockdown. Reading has become our great consolation.
Among others, we enjoyed reading “Clear Bright Future – A Radical Defence of the Human Being ” by Paul Mason, “Staring at the Sun. Overcoming the Terror of Death” by the eminent American psychiatrist, novelist, and Stan ford professor Irvin Yalom, and “A Woman looking at Men looking at Women – Essays on Art, Sex and the Mind” by Siri Hustvedt. Even if the lockdown goes on for some time, we won’t run out of interesting books.
In Basel, we learnt that Hopper and John Dos Passos were friends – and that there are links between “Manhattan Transfer” and Hopper’s Paintings. Therefore, we bought “Manhattan Transfer”, reading it was a great pleasure.
A famous book by Sigmund Freud is called “Vom Unbehagen in der Kultur” – the English title is: “Civilization and its Discontents”. But I would say that culture is more satisfying than dissatisfying. Experiencing the pandemic reinforces my conviction that my formula is the better one.
But did this overdose of culture help me to overcome the loss of Anu? It helped a lot, but it can never equal the joy of having a dog like Anu. I still have deep fits of sadness when I think of Anu, or when I walk where we walked together, or when I see photos of Anu.
But culture helped me to cope with the COVID 19 crisis and that counts for something.
During the lockdown, I wrote a little book about our life with Anu – I called it “Beaglemania ”, and my daughters selected about twenty beautiful photos showing Anu and the family. I am waiting for it to be printed, and I hope this will be a good farewell to Anu because the book contains all the good times we had together – I can always read it again and can see less of the loss and more of the gain.
O.W. Pape is German. He taught English and German Literature and Linguistics in German, British, Irish, and North American Universities and visited Ireland about 60 times in the last forty years for work and for we ll-being. He lives in Switzerland and in Italy. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org