Anamnesis

by Jüri Ehlvest

Anamnesis

Am I really a shaman, I thought, as I  packed my things that sunny day, ready to abandon pleasant Berlioz Street and head for Burgundy. This time the departure had a completely different feel about it – compared to the departure a few weeks ago from the damned Copenhagen Sheraton...

On that occasion, I had had in the end to pay the hotel bill myself. Those damn curs, so much I finally found out, weren’t Germans at all, despite their names, but were pure-blooded East Germans, con men, curs. I’d been waiting for them and their money for ten days, all for nothing. And what to do with the germanium. Besides, I was bored rigid by Hamlet’s city, no whores to be found anywhere. I bought a ticket to Hamburg for 30 marks. Drank all the way and read Foucault. All my life, I had had the nagging suspicion  that someone who reads about solitude and sexuality is no businessman. I opened  Aufklärung. What is modern time? It now  transpired that my suspicions were well founded. The precondition for becoming a modern man is getting over an acute sense of being underage. A citizen’s duty to pay his taxes bears no relation to how interestingly he is able to weigh up the pros and cons of tax system. No taxes for me from now on! To Hamburg, where I’d squander my last penny, and then come what may. In Foucault’s opinion, understanding how modern thinking had discovered itself in the squabbles with the contra-modern thinking is far more important than investigating what distinguishes modern time from the pre-modern or post-modern. In some underdeveloped countries, for example, there aren’t even any decent brothels. I left the book in the bus, made my way to that street named after St. Paul. Eventually, I found hookers in the cowshed, fresh hay rustled in the crib. Who was the first to use the trick of running films backwards? As if time had turned round. A shattered vase – an archetype of sadness (who hasn’t tried to fit the pieces together afterwards and kept them in a larder, thinking of one day buying some good glue) – flies back onto the table as an archetype of joy, once again forming a whole. This is how a negro showed a film to me in a porn cinema. It turned out to be the most archetypal of archetypes because there was no change in the story-line, it didn’t make any difference which way the world moved anyway, in the early evening I sat among the beggars in the gutter. One explained the weeping of poppy flowers to me. You have to cut tiny slashes then wipe the poppy tears with gauze, which must dry in the open air in sunshine – I liked the story immensely as it reminded me of a short-story by Mann about a man who injured others in order to experience sublime joy, the joy of giving, when he later looked after those he injured. Then the vocabulary grew too complicated, I remember someone asking how many units I wanted. I woke up a day later, eased my hangover with a pint of beer for my last five marks. As it turned out, it hadn’t really been of any help at all, I still didn’t know what to do with the germanium. I set off. After much staggering about, I reached the beginning of the Berlin Road, and raised my thumb. A pretty girl gave me a lift. She said she was tired. I tried to be social, explaining that if a woman wished to offer her body to many different partners (of her own or opposite sex), she has every right to do so. Then she said she had a friend once, who also had interesting ideas. I said that Estonia should legalise prostitution since you can’t actually offer your body. I said: “It’s not a remotely modern way of thinking, when me is me, and I have a few things, including a body. Thanks to the fact that I exist, fleas, fungi, genes, mitochondria, why not even embryos, can live as parasites on me. “No,” I opined, “the legislators shouldn’t pay attention to the attempts of immaterial spirit to gain control over the body, but they must make sure the body’s subjectivity won’t get restricted.”
     She disagreed by saying: “True, I have had the odd inkling that my body is my soul’s entrance to the here and now...”
    “Well, exactly,” I eagerly agreed, “but I’m afraid of living in a country where legislators rely on spiritual experiences in their daily work.” Feeling giddy again, I then proceeded with a head-on attack, now suspecting I might be dealing with a full-blooded feminist:
    “Should the Prostitution Act prescribe quality requirements for condoms?”
    “If it was up to me to decide, I’d ban those Sankt Paulis and Reeperbahns with their cowsheds – humiliating for the women involved...”
    “But what would you do if you discovered your daughter was a whore?”
    “I’d be very upset. To prevent that from happening, I’d ban prostitution.”
    “But what would you do if you learned that your son had contracted AIDS because the brothel he visited used Soviet contraceptives...”
    “Soviet contraceptives... what are they?”
    “So you see now – everything’s a paradox, if you look t it in more general terms!”
    “Indeed,” she sounded surprised.
    “Of course, it was Immanuel Kant who said that.”    
    “In reality,” she sounded even more surprised, and continued: “My friend, you know, is also full of paradoxes. He’s now living in Paris; a long time ago he once went to New York in early summer where he, well, life really is pretty weird, he actually found a hamburger machine there.”
    “A hamburger machine?”
    “Yes, I think it was in Harlem, an old Jewish man had set up a machine – you insert a dollar, but he, my friend, that is, said he had seen a similar machine somewhere before, that’s why he’s now a king.”
    “Your friend’s a king?”
    “Yes, the King of France, actually.”
    “Does France have a king?”
    “Yes, my friend is.”
    The girl drew her left leg up so that the steering wheel was pressed against her stomach, slung her arm over her knee and stuck it out of the window, eased her right foot down on the accelerator. The hot sun began to bounce up and down as it set. The Volkswagen stopped making its ambling jumpety-jumpety-jump sound between the concrete slabs of the motorway, the sound now becoming a thump-thump-thump. 
    “We haven’t exactly split up, I don’t hate him at all, it’s just that he now lives in Paris and I live in Hamburg...”
    “So you mean to say...” I was trying to convince the girl who was rapidly reminiscing about her friend – I noticed a tear sparkling on her cheek – that I was following her words closely, “...he’d seen a hamburger machine before?”
          “Yeah,” she abandoned the wheel, wiped off the tear with the back of her hand, “then they called it a guillotine.” She thrust her thumb back onto the wheel, my heart went thump-thump-thump. I said, “ohh!” in a loud voice, and then quickly added, as if to explain my surprise – surprise and not fear – “was it really a guillotine before?”
          “Yes, it was – wham and finito. That’s unemployment-unemployment-unemployment.”
          Half of the sun was swallowed up by the treetops.
          “He just didn’t make any effort to do anything, we lived in Paris like rats in their burrow, and then he had this new whim to go and find happiness in America.”
          The girl lowered both feet and – mirabile dictu – actually found the accelerator; and turning the steering wheel with the two straight arms like a German woman, she said:
          “Every penny we had was left in America, where the hamburger machine was.”
          The car stopped.
          “Coffee?”
         “No, I don’t think so.”
          “Tea, then?”
          “Well, my budget is sort of, well...”
          “Come on! I’ll buy you a cup.”
          She grabbed my sleeve. The door of the transport café’s went click-clack, two coffees were soon steaming on our table, and she asked:
          “You’re not going to Paris?”
          “Not in that direction, I’m heading east, to Poland, and...”
          “Hang on a sec, here, write it down.”
          “What rue was that again?”
         “Give it here, I’ll write it down myself. When you happen to be in Paris, go and look him up, he’s a fascinating person. Say hello from Marie.”
          In the morning I gazed, dumbfounded, at the Oder. A few dozen metres to the border; twaddle about buying cars in Latvian and Polish pierced my ears, I threw up as I crossed the road. Came back, stared some more at the Oder, crossed the road again. This time I wasn’t sick, and grabbed my bag. A Puerto-Rican gave me a lift. Two days later I was in Paris. As it was a Sunday, I got into the Louvre for nothing. Picked the Sully Gallery at random and found myself in Ancient Egypt. Hastened through it – after all, the Renaissance was more what I had in mind, where had the Michelangelo Gallery got to? I also passed the ancient Ra boats where men and women in miniskirts, in some stupid idyll plunged their poles into water or pulled out fish; then there were some agrarian culture types with oxen. And suddenly, an 80-cm tall head from 1750 BC, with a label underneath: Le Roi Sesostris III. I had never seen a man with such a long head, looked like a Red Army soldier, like Burattino, like a Catholic priest, an English gentleman whose bowler hat has been made to measure.  It’s not a very apt comparison – nobody has ever worn such a tall hat before; the head was, as I said, almost one metre tall, and it was no chance either, because the next figure was: Le Roi Sethi II, approx. 1700 BC whose head was still taller; then came cats with humn heads and a vague explanation that sphinxes represented gods, but this did not seem very convincing; after all these heads (why didn’t they say that the heads represented gods?). Next, black seated cat-women, holding objects in their left hands. Seven whiskers, seven lines on the collar. Characteristic triangle of the nose. Minus 1400, sun around the earth. Then came even more exceptional creatures, reputedly the lion-headed gods. Ramses II then became chief, 19th dynasty, minus 1250, and the baboons. Human baboons were followed by a half-metre high pyramid – for private use at home! Then a space shuttle-resembling sarcophagus with seven birds and other apposite lettering. No trace of oxen, though, nor models of ships made in minus 2060, no – all that idyll shattered in the head of Thutmose III, and besides you only have to look at the ear of Amenhotep IV! And take facial expressions. Whence the eagle-headed man, and why are the embalmed figures wearing masks?
    Afterwards I sat in the royal dining room looking at the Rubens. A good artist. His women are more down-to-earth, resemble Estonian peasant women, and also Komi women. The Estonians’ disdain for their nature as primeval mothers is so immense that they import these skinny long-legged types even in pornography. Pure Egyptian influence. A goddess lived in Egyptian sky, her legs stretching from the edge of the world to the skies. Greek gods squabbled somewhere near-by; the Egyptians, however, needed special ships and precise calculations regarding the sun. For that they used the pyramids. A woman’s legs reached the Christians’ sky via the holy spirit, hence their length in absolute numbers was not so important. Besides, their logoi spermatikoi movement tended to proceed downwards, while the Egyptians increasingly preferred upwards movement. The Loren and Monroe of our century, too, were pretty-well of the Komi-Permi type; the peculiarities of colour photography, advances in poster art and the incessant need to sell something, brought back the purely Egyptian type onto street scene. Yuri Gagarin exerted the strongest impact here, being the one who revived the ancient Egyptian raving about the possibilities to reach the womb of the celestial woman by means of a special sarcophagus. I left the dining room.
    A negro and me climbed over the metal construction at the gate of the underworld, and the train took me smoothly to a Parisian suburb. Here, many negroes emerged from under ground; here, the mayor was a Communist. After wandering around for some time, completely lost, I finally found the Berlioz Street. I was just in time. A rather old-type French air-car stood at the curb. It’s the type that almost lies flat against the ground but when you start it, it fills with air and raises itself up. This is what stood in that Parisian suburb, quite full of air already, with the engine running, no wheels but white bricks instead, and no fumes coming from the exhaust pipe. Muffled grunting emerged from inside the car, seemed like a German song. I yanked the door open and there he was, holding a whisky bottle. I asked straight away if he was the friend of Marie – that sobered him up a bit, he switched off the engine and climbed out. Staggered along a level garden path past the house to a little hovel behind it. We crept in – the one room was quite cosy, full of heaps of books. I immediately asked why the pharaohs had such long heads.
    “That’s nothing,” he said, “the legs of their elephants were thin as those of a  mosquito.  Pyramids, by the way, cannot be built, they were brought from Central Africa fifty six thousand years ago on those same elephants, a special tree provided the Egyptian priests with a fifth power, i.e. the anti-gravitational power, the mosquito-elephant was indeed bred in special temples – the creature in constant anti-gravity was able to take longer steps, and besides, an excellent view opened from high up there and it was easy to spot pyramids. Pyramids themselves, however...” Here he stopped abruptly, the drunken haze seemed to have evaporated, and he asked in a clear voice: “How come you know Marie?”
    I said we had met accidentally on the road. He fell to his knees and burst into tears. Later he explained that he’d been tormented all his life by what he had done wrong, what would Marie have expected of him and so on.
    He was king. He did research. He showed me a photograph. It was very blurred, apparently showing a stone that in fact resembled a human head that had fallen off. I told him so. He started to laugh, saying it was no stone, it was over a kilometre high and is located on Mars, ‘Mariner’ had photographed it on its flight past. He remarked proudly:
    “All the scientists of the world, all countries, all governments are desperately trying to guess whose monument this is and how it came to be on Mars. Nobody has yet discovered the secret, only I know – years of hard work have borne fruit.”
    A few days later we were eating some sort of fish on the balcony, sipping wine. Marie’s friend had sobered up, I therefore asked:
    “But why did you want to kill yourself?”
    Oh,” he said, “I do know some important things, but if there’s one thing I can’t understand, it’s what exactly Marie expected of me.”
    This was sad indeed. Later, he took me across the Seine and pointed out a café. “That’s where it happened. One day a man in a grey pullover came in, someone who never drank a drop of alcohol. It was his first day in Paris, it was hot, and he ordered a glass of water. His French, however, was rather poor. The waiter misunderstood and brought him a whole glass of vodka instead. But before the waiter reached the man in the grey pullover – it was his fetish and he never took it off, even in hot weather – with the glass, two men in black suits had sat down at the same table, two businessmen, and one of them had his fetish with him – a mobile phone. These men would have preferred a separate table, because they had a most important business matter to attend, but they had no choice, there were people sitting at every table, which was kind of surprising really; they had no wish to walk to another restaurant nearby, because their business had always had luck with his business deals in this very restaurant. There was nothing much left to do. They quickly reached an agreement. The men exchanged papers, the man sitting opposite Grey Pullover seemed in a special hurry, because it was him who hoped to gain a huge profit at the expense of his partner, and he had already signed the papers. His partner, suspecting nothing, was also rather agitated. He had many nice fathers of the family working for him, all of whom had cats at home. He had just grasped his pen when the water finally arrived, which was actually vodka. Grey Pullover cast a casual glance at the papers belonging to the businessman sitting next to him and downed the whole glassful with a practised swoop of the hand; the businessman’s pen arose at the very moment Grey Pullover’s eyes bulged, and he threw up on the documents – the other businessman had hoped to clean a million here. The irritated businessman jabbed him with his elbow, Grey Pullover fell over together with his chair and cracked his skull against the amphora. The businessman whose minions have cats at home now refused to sign the vomit-drenched documents, and while new ones were found he perceived from the other man’s agitation that something was amiss, stood up in a huff, took his fetish, abandoned the business transaction and left. This is how over one hundred nice fathers kept their jobs, their families did not split up and they continued to breed cats as before. Neither man looked at the one who had cracked his head against the amphora. I was the only one who did. And I immediately recognised him, of course; it was the same man photographed by the space shuttle ‘Mariner’ when it passed Mars, and the very same day his picture was transmitted to Earth. And isn’t that right, wasn’t he a hero, a knight!” shouted Marie’s friend the king excitedly. We didn’t go to that café, we bought coffee at the Arab market. We also found some birds’ wings. Ones that had dropped off.
    He promised to knight me if I did something heroic or solve some mystery. We were sitting on the balcony, he had just told me about Egyptian initiation rites and how the fifth power was discovered, when I suddenly asked how he in fact became king.
    “Oh! This happened in New York. There was this hamburger machine, but it broke down. It emerged from a dark shaft, at about waist height, the hamburger, I mean. A black conveyer belt turned and it arrived on that belt, when suddenly I heard terrible crackling noise from inside the shaft. I was awfully hungry, and I had just inserted my last dollar into the machine. So I bent over, but my eyes couldn’t focus in the darkness and I still had no idea where my hamburger had got to. I then tilted my head, which wasn’t easy but finally I managed to get a glimpse inside the shaft. And there it was – a shining blade. It was the silver-cardboard edge of the hamburger plate, reflecting a random beam of sunshine from a skyscraper. Then it started to descend. Not a moment to lose. What did the world expect of me? But I realised that I had no time to ponder, the blade was coming too fast, so what did France expect of me? But I realised that I had no time to think about that, the blade was coming too fast, so what did Marie expect of me? This was my last thought, the smallest I could think of, the bare blade was falling slowly, and I thought and I thought and I thought, and the blade moved ever more slowly, ever slower, then still more slowly, then everything started spinning around me, rotating, and all I could think of was what did Marie expect of me; even if the blade descended with infinite slowness, still I would never finish that thought, I thought, rolling in a box of flecks of light of uncertain shapes, when suddenly the falling blade flashed right in front of my eyes and at the same time I heard a distant, a very distant voice: what the hell are you doing? I turned towards the voice, a blinding light hammered my eyes shut, between the blinking I saw a negro, then a sliver of sky, huge dark glass prisms, glistening, then I turned my head and saw a monstrous machine, I looked down, there was a kind of bun on a piece of cardboard. All of a sudden I was a beggar-boy in New York, but also a king who had been granted more time so he could finally decide what it was that Marie expected of him, until the blade fell again. Since that day, my life changed completely, I knew what to do and didn’t waste any more time bustling about aimlessly, but devoted myself entirely to the search. I have already found something, but not the ultimate truth.”

Next day he gave me a clue for solving a new secret (this concerned my hidden nature) – the clue took me to a remote Burgundian monastery, but I immediately realised that a certain Khanty rite was also involved here.
  
Jüri Ehlvest