I’ve been reading a beautiful little book of Robert Walser’s occasional essays on paintings, translated for the most part by Susan Bernofsky and published by New Directions.
A copy of the painting in question is pasted to the page preceding each essay.
This short piece is about a reproduction of the Cranach painting Walser had on the wall of his room while working in a brewery. His landlady took it down from the wall and he wrote her a letter: “Do you consider it indecent? Then I most humbly request that you simply do not look at it.” From then on, he writes, his landlady was sweet to him, even asking him to give her his torn trousers to mend, “this landlady of mine, wife of the cantonal notary.”
Since Zarko Radakovic first introduced me to Walser’s “Der Spaziergang” / The Walk, Walser’s spirit has accompanied me on every walk I take. I see things differently because of his habits of observation and reflection.
On my walk this morning, the air refreshingly cool and still a little humid after last night’s gentle rain — the first in weeks — two things happened that will remain in my memory.
Stepping off the road onto a trail, I slipped past a purple-flowered thistle and brushed a prickly leaf with my arm. That quick pain, I thought, will be my most pointed, potent perception of the day.
An hour later, back on the street leading down to our house, I heard strains from what sounded like Italian opera . . . and someone was singing along with the recorded aria. The music was coming from a boombox at a building site. The tall, fit young man singing along in Italian was wearing a leather framer’s belt holding his hammer and other tools. He sang as he leaned over to measure a board, his voice strong and clear.