Thursday, 6 March 2008

36 Steps to Vienna: 1 Flaming Adèle (2)

George and I wasted an hour or so waiting for her in a café-bar overlooking the harbour gates, eating corned beef sandwiches from the generous pack his mother had made that morning and drinking the cheapest bottled lager. There was no sign of her.

George, who had never met Adèle, fidgeted and was as anxious to be on our way as I was to linger. He hadn't been pleased when I told him about the arrangement Adèle and I had made behind his back, but he was too easy-going to question actively my unthinking impulsiveness. I shouldn't have done it, of course. If the situation had been reversed, if he'd turned up with some unknown five-foot ten totty in tow, with whom he proposed to spend the next five or six weeks with one makeshift tent made out of army surplus gas-capes between us, I'd have lebbed off and left them to it. ('Leb off' was a then-current expression drawn from some fellow sixth-former having reported seeing LEB OFF roughly painted on a closed left hand gate: when the right hand gate was closed the inscription read LEB - i.e. London Electricity Board - OFFICE. So 'leb off' entered the popular sixth-form tongue.) Besides, everyone knew that if you were thumbing for lifts threesomes were doomed.

George said, without much conviction, that he supposed Adèle would turn up in Cologne, the fallback rendezvous.

So we gave up, shouldered rucksacks, agreed that the chief and indeed the only quality of the lager was its carminative effect, and set off down the road in search of someone who might give us a lift inland.

I could only ease the crushing weight of disappointment, maybe - with Cologne and its possibilities ahead - not yet metastasised into a sense of betrayal, by talking endlessly about Adèle. George was very patient. I didn't deserve such an accommodating travelling companion.

Adèle was short for Adelaide, which itself was a frenchification of Adelheid, a north German name with strong 18th century resonances, meaning nobleness, the state of being noble. The fashionable French influences playing - among others, of course - on the young Adelheids of the 1790s, a tiresome generation which oohed and aahed, gasped, wept, fainted and even committed suicide over the cult The Sorrows of Young Werther (which I had yet to read), turned them into Adelaides. The name and its associations took hold of the contemporary poet Friedrich von Matthisson:

Einsam wandelt dein Freund im Frühlingsgarten,
Mild vom lieblichen Zauberlicht umflossen,
Das durch wankende Blüthenzweige zittert,

In der spiegelden Fluth,in Schnee der Alpen,
In des sinkenden Tages Goldgewölken,
In Gefilde der Sterne strahlt dein Bildniss,

Abendlüfte im zarten Laube flüstern,
Silberglöckchen des Mais im Grase säuseln,
Wellen rauschen und Nachtigallen flöten:

Einst, O Wunder! entblüht, auf meinem Grabe,
Eine Blume der Asche meines Herzens;
Deutlich schimmert auf jedem Purpurblättchen,

[She wanders alone in the garden in Spring, your friend,
Gently bathed in the beautiful enchanted light
Which shimmers through the swaying blossom,

In the reflections of the river, in the Alpine snow,
In the golden cloud of the declining day,
In the fields of stars your image shines,

Evening breezes whisper in the tender foliage,
Lily of the valley rings softly in the grass,
Waves roar and nightingales sing:

One day, O wonder! There will bloom on my grave
A flower from the ashes of my heart;
Clearly on each purple petal will shine:

My translation. It wouldn't be in the spirit of this account to record what I feel about these verses now: but at the time all was excused. It was in German, and if that on its own wasn't enough a contemporary of Matthisson, the young Beethoven, The Master, had turned Adelaïde into a ravishingly passionate song with piano accompaniment, a work that from small beginnings rapidly became tumescent, climactic and practically post-coital in its final relaxation. This conjunction of greater or lesser luminaries, this trine of Jupiter-Beethoven, Venus-Adelaide/Adèle and myself proved how the stars smiled on our association.

George, noble soul, listened with the greatest patience to these outpourings of an obsessive, and guided us through the seedy suburbs of Ostend to the main road to Brussels.

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