Carrie and I were fortunate enough to travel to picturesque Fribourg last weekend. Sadly, this is only one of many recent experiences which we have neglected to write (or make short videos) about. Boo-hoo. So as a love offering, here is a meditation on fear (which is funny considering today is mother’s day) that defies boring things like chronologies to make up for lost time:
First a confession: apparently it’s not kosher to write only once every two months. We understand that now. So we’re currently trying to perfect the art of blogging, very unlike like these cool cats–THE EITELS–who have it down to a T.
In Fribourg, we had the privilege of staying with Adam and Alison at the most wickedly-fun and beautiful house we’ve slept in thus far. These two–one a teacher, the other an Aquinas scholar– live in a house that sits elegantly in the isolated outskirts of Fribourg. The Eitels told us that this used to be the home of the famous sculptor Marcello. Over the years of her life, Marcello littered the entire house with paintings and rough drafts for paintings and sculptures one can now see as finished products at the Louvre. Nothing like having a sleep-over at a haunted, art-chalet in the middle of Switzerland.
The house reminded me of another recent experience, that time in our old neighborhood Carouge (once upon a time, a week ago) when we followed a mad, impromptu circus into the town square like that crazy story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Except the pied piper swaggering in front of us was a a gypsy woman on stilts who “seduced” every man in her sight (disregarding wives and little kids who might have been perturbed to see their daddy’s heads stuffed into a disproportionally long woman’s crotch against their will.) Into the red smoke emitted by her minion’s flares we walked and into a story to be told next week – BwahahahaHA! (Maniacal Laugh Maniacal Laugh) In the meanwhile, for more of this kind of carnivalesque fun you may want to read the Eitel’s own post, affectionally called “WTS” (What the Swiss?)
And so it came to pass that the very sensation felt weeks before in the gypsy circus in Carouge was with me again here in Friboug. Was this ecstasy of fear becoming a normal feature of my Swiss experience? Up to this point, I had found my raison d’être in performing the mundane tasks one normally takes for granted at home: taking out the trash, buying bread and cheese, getting the mail, slicing oranges. But no! This simple life was not to be all. Apparently I was here in Switzerland to be terrified in some way or another, and the Swiss were going to make me like it. Fear was the main course and introspection the aperitif.
Now, amidst half-finished paintings of carnivals, portraits of men and women and babies, and a foot stepping on a woman’s abdomen (what kind of a twisted motif is this?), the fear was like that creepy feeling you get when you are visiting a madhouse or a family member that you are sure collects marionettes and townspeople when no one is looking. In places of this ilk you kind of suspect that the slow trickle of insanity sticks to the walls and condenses in the very air you are breathing. And if you stick around long enough you too will start painting family member’s faces on androgenous dolls, and drawing chalk circles around your body at night–over and over and over again. It is that exact feeling that made my body tingle with delight as I was shown an attic on the floor right above our bed that made the attic in “The Ring” look like Yanni’s happy place.
Suffice it to say, this iteration of the iconic horror attic had numerous (NUMEROUS?!) baby cradles and a small window in the very back– craning to the outside world for help.
I must admit, however, that this world of the abnormal, of the “something is not right”, of Courage the Cowardly Dog and of Julie Andrews singing “These are a Few of my Favorite Things” thrilled me to the point of nostalgia. It made me hearken the days when I used to read “Goosebumps” (“Escalofrios” for me) by R.L. Stein as a kid against my parents’ orders. Now in Fribourg, half a world away from the prohibition that conditioned my infant fear, my body was again straddling that comical place between absolute terror and giddy joy. I relished the sensation of terror simply because it’s not all too often that an adult can feel this way. In part because it requires raw exposure to indescribable elements and a suspension of disbelief that is difficult to uphold in a skeptical post-Apple and Wikipedia world. When was the last time you had fun at the circus, or at an amusement park? I would venture to say not since you were a kid, and even then you knew it was all a bit farcical.
Some might call this rare primal state of fear I am describing a “pure anxiety of Being”, but I would like to call it (in layman’s terms if you will) an existential sensation of ontological dread. Ah yes.
In any case, as I went to bed late that night I wondered what I would dream about. Sharks? (my most recurrent nightmare and life-long phobia) No, they seemed too far away to be real in land-locked Switzerland. The end of the world? (With myself in the role of John Cusak, of course) This seemed equally silly in a country known for its neutrality, peace, and one of the highest gun per capita ratios in the world. I did not know what demented thing would become manifest in my dreams; I quickly fell asleep and stopped worrying about it.
I resumed worrying hours later when I was awakened by a cry eerily wafting through the dark. The cry, I found out, was coming from me. (Check: not a dream) And it sounded muffled by a strange desire to scream and not scream at the same time. This other-worldly yodel had also woken Carrie up. She was a bit horrified, to say the least, as she gazed upon the contorted look on my face, gurgling directly at her like a stegosaurus in heat. Like a true professional, skilled in the art of waking up the sleep-walker-talker-coffee-maker, she quickly shushed me. Now wide awake and a little ashamed, I calmly explained that in my dream I had been attacked by a man without a face, and I had tried to scream but simply couldn’t. This explanation did surprisingly little to soothe her. I thought I caught a glimmer of terror and perhaps frustration as she mumbled indistinguishable annoyances and rolled over despondently.
Alone again and deeply jealous of how quickly all Littauers zonk out in seconds, I looked up at the spiky, black crucifix above the bed for solace. Not finding the comfort I sought in the jagged form, I rolled to my side and stared at the portrait of a pasty, decrepit woman hanging on my left. I swiftly rotated back to the center of the bed. In the silence of the room, I chuckled nervously at the ridiculousness of it all.
After a while, my eyelids finally began to flutter as I focused on the calmer details of my day. I began to contemplate what fear meant, what it mean to me, and why the existential phenomenon of ontological dread was so necessary. Soon I feel asleep and into to a cataclysmic landscape of 19th century sculpture and hungry sharks.
Oh, how I had begun to love Fribourg already.