Excerpt from The Research Report (Part 3 in a series)

Chapter 3

Monday, February 6th, 1980

…..

Jäcki didn’t feel like going down for breakfast.

He knew that the waitresses, after the previous evening’s metamorphosis, would be transformed back into sullen automatons overly sensitive to every footstep, every sound.

He resolved to subject himself to these Black Carib women, to accept from them their potion of tea leaves, sulfurized water, and powdered milk, to drink at the place assigned by them.

He was afraid of the pained expression on Irma’s face, sitting by the thin window screen looking down at her soft-boiled egg.

He was resolute, and suffered for it.

She was acquiescent, and suffered as well.

A short Black Carib with an athlete’s build strode through the dining room.

Dressed in work clothes.

He said hello in a voice that seemed too deep for his physique.

The teenaged waitresses brightened; they followed him into the kitchen.

He snatched a piece of meat from the grill, held it aloft, and dropped it into his mouth. Chewing slowly, looking over each of the waitresses in turn, and heading back outside.

–I know that, Jäcki said. –I used to do the same thing. Walking casually through the manor house in dirty boots, going to see the cook so she could give us servants–deputies, we were called–a piece of wurst, and then right back out again. Into the frost. Digging up turnips. Hannover.

#

…..

Jäcki sat down on the hotel bed.

Irma turned on the fan.

The horror of it all washed over Jäcki, the horror of fieldwork, improvising, the friendless intruder, always butting in.

–All this just to train students to do the same tactless, pointless thing. Do you know what I’m constantly thinking?

Irma said nothing.

When Irma said nothing it was an affirmative.

When she quizzed him on his Greek declensions he knew that he’d mastered the passive when she fell silent.

–It has to do with being gay and it might hurt you.

–If it’s interesting, Irma said.

–For a so-called straight man, a macho, one who’ll fuck another man if he can’t get a woman, the body is the main thing, the piece of ass: A hole’s a hole! But for the gay man, one who couldn’t fuck a woman if he wanted to, the idea’s the main thing, no matter the appearance. That waitress over there–she’s got an ass exactly like the short athlete, but no gay man could ever fuck her, not even in the dark, because he knows she’s not a man.

–And with someone gay, as you say, who does it with a woman, does he think of her as the idea or as a substitute?

–It’s complicated, Jäcki said, –but I know what you are to me–

–A piece of ass, Irma said.

#

…..

The athlete was downstairs. –Good morning, he said again.

–How are you today? the Black Carib said.

–He’s already picked up that stupid American “today.” You should only say it when it’s appropriate–it depends on the individual. That everyone says it only shows how the situationally affectionate degenerates into the offensively insincere.

–What are you doing here?

A question undisguised, and Jäcki heard the English “you” as the German “Sie.”

Every “you” is formal.

The athlete with the too-deep voice would never insult him with the overly familiar.

The German “du” is like long hair: it’s just a pretext that camouflages a disinterestedly distributed brutality.

–I want to learn about the dugu.

–That’s good.

–It’s nothing.

–I’m Yobi.

–I’m Jäcki.

–If you want, I can take you to Frank. He knows everything about the dugu. He works here.

Jäcki didn’t really want to meet Frank.

Some groundskeeper, playing tour guide in mangled English. What kind of ethnography are you going to do in a hotel, some sort of Dr. Tigge package tour ethnography? Eventually advancing to the Karl May phase? I can work like that. Dr. Tigge? That’s an idea. The ethnography of tourism.  More patients on convalescent leave conquer Africa in any given year than the Vandals.

–Do you take part in the dugu too?

–No, I’m a Methodist.

The Afro-American converted to one of the Protestant sects is lost to bi-continentality forever.

–I’m married.

–Do you have children?

–Four.

–Four?

–All strong and healthy.

–The population of Dangriga will double in a generation if everyone’s like you. Four children by the same wife?

Now Jäcki was into it. Thinking of nothing else. Only the interview.

–Yes, I have one wife.

–Black Caribs only have one wife?

–Yes.

–May I ask how old you are?

–Thirty-six, Yobi said.

–I could be your father.

–How old are you?

–Forty-five.

–Right!

Jäcki knew that he shouldn’t ask the next question.

–Are you faithful to your wife?

–Always, except on Saturdays. Then I go to the bar. When I get drunk I like to have fun.

–What does your wife say?

–She doesn’t take the pill. No one likes it here. We don’t have birth control here. The women are always pregnant, and when they’re pregnant they’re not interested in sex. When I sleep with the girls from the bars my wife doesn’t get angry. Mostly, she doesn’t know about it.

–Have you had other experiences?

–Of course. In Guatemala. I was in Guatemala for a couple of months.

–And?

–The girls use their mouths there. They let you do it from behind.

–Are there homosexuals in Guatemala?

–Yes.

–In Dangriga?

–Not in Dangriga. I like being on top better. I got a blowjob in Guatemala. I didn’t like it that much.

Yobi looked at Jäcki.

His eyes are different. They’re narrower. They’re like the eyes of the field hand in the swamps, the one who stabbed the farmer in the guts. Guatemalans have eyes like that, Jäcki thought.

–Let’s go see Frank, Yobi said.

#

…..

Frank was a solicitous man, and he answered all of Jäcki’s questions without protest, just as he probably answered the questions of every tourist, all the while working on an outboard motor.

Frank’s face was somewhat puffy, withdrawn.

Alcohol-swollen.

Jäcki took him to be in his mid-fifties.

–Yes!

It was true, the priestess, the buyei, was named Sarah. She was the only priestess in Dangriga, but there were others, in other towns along the coast.

She’d taken over the duty from her husband. He was still alive, but he wasn’t a buyei anymore.  He wasn’t powerful enough to fulfill the duties of the office.

–We were all shocked when the position went to a woman, Frank said.

Jäcki was annoyed:

–How am I supposed to learn anything about androgyny and transvestitism in an Afro-American religion from a woman? Eliade was lucky he didn’t have to put up with this! Female buyeis don’t show up in top hat and tails like Marlene Dietrich.

–It was clear that she had been chosen.

–She became ill.

–Sick in the head.

–She told us her dream. I forgot what it was but it was clear that she was to be the buyei. We had to go along with it.

–They take the boats out early on Friday mornings, Frank said, his eyes facing skyward, like a museum docent reciting from memory the description of some outsized portrait.

–Monday mornings the boats come back. While the fishermen are sleeping out by the coral reefs the gods fill their nets.

Frank looked sharply upward, as though he wanted to sketch the clouds, the sacred islands, St. Vincent, Africa, the divine lobster, the holy mackerel.

–Do they paddle off with their entire history? Jäcki thought. Hijacked to Dangriga, back to the fishing grounds, hijacked to St. Vincent, to the Africans, who coupled with the intractable cannibals? Dahomey, Mali, Ethiopia.

–They dance all day on Monday.

–Tuesday they bury the offerings. Nobody knows where.

Frank had stopped working on the motor.

As casually as he could, almost in a whisper, Jäcki said:

–Would it be too much trouble to ask the buyei whether we can come to this dugu?

The maid came over.

She ignored Jäcki.

Either she’s mortified that a hotel guest like me is hanging around the workyard, or Irma said something to her about the underwear.

–Tell him about the dugu, she said.

–You know something about it too, Frank said.

She started whistling a slow tune, sticking out her tongue and flicking it between her flawless teeth.

She cocked her hip at Jäcki as if to kick him, and trudged away.

Frank resumed working on the outboard motor.

–I come from a dugu family, Frank said.

–I made a dugu.

–I was supposed to be the buyei.

–The gods chose a woman.

–The applicant rebuffed, Jäcki thought. The legacy of emancipation, the wrong address. I knew something hadn’t worked out.

He didn’t want to have to depend on the hotel management.

What was he going to find out about the mystery potions accompanied by these curly-haired Americans?

The priestess would wait until the after-party to invite them, when everything was over and only the children were drumming.

–I’m going to the temple this afternoon, Frank said. I’ll let you know.

Jäcki pretended that the statement meant nothing in particular. He said goodbye and walked without haste up the wooden stairs, and when Frank could no longer see him bounded up the stairs, down the hall. Thank God! Irma was there.

–Friday. Dugu. A man from the priestly family is bringing us there. Steady on. Who knows. He offered to do it too. Our fortune might be our misfortune!

#

…..

The pelicans were taking off, up above the bums and the boys weaving palm fronds.

Enormous, grayish-brown birds–in flight they bore no resemblance to the filthy swans, the shopping bags they became while swimming.

A single white one in the squadron.

A single pelican that kept lighting on the same pile along the dock.

The pelican dove sharply, spread belly feathers facing Jäcki, into the water, snatching up a fish in his bill, and flapped slowly upwards.

#

…..

The old man had dragged his ragged sailboat again.

Jäcki hadn’t seen him take it out into the water.

It seemed to Jäcki that the fisherman had come to terms with old age and hunger, as if he was only taking the tattered dugout only as far as the waves, so that its sail might remind the whole town of his idleness, and that he might be able to contemptuously gather up the discards of the younger fishermen.

Twenty paces further two young women were stumbling across a kind of platform.

Jäcki walked by it.

The two had vanished.

The platform was made out of planks that led across the mouth of the narrow marsh creek to the beach.

Under the bridge there were two boats.

The staves sticking out.

Jäcki bent over to look through the gaps in the slats.

Out from the dimness beneath the planks two pairs of eyes met his.

The girls were lying in the boats.

They didn’t move when Jäcki looked in on them.

They looked up without moving as he looked down.

Jäcki straightened up again.

–Whores trying to make some cash off the fishermen and wood-gatherers.

What if they were the daughters of the buyei? The vestal attendants collecting cholera and leeches for some initiation potion?

Jäcki looked down again.

They had curled up in the boats, they appeared to have gone to sleep.

–I have to go talk to them. Maybe they know something about Nanã the primordial mother-goddess of the swamps and her offering of worms and toads. How the world was created out of mud by Nanã Bouloukou.

–They might be thieves working with the maid, with Yobi and Frank, just waiting for the Americans and Irma and me to take our morning walk, and then off they go with our bags and our passports!

–Not Yobi!

–My questions must have sounded really stupid.

–Whores, thieves, vestal virgins! Jäcki, what kind of world do you live in, Jäcki thought as he walked across the blanks, across the boots, away from the hidden girls.

Ahead stood a weather-beaten gray wooden house on stilts.

The wind banging the door open.

Jäcki saw a naked bed frame, a broom.

The mangroves began to flutter.

A young man jumped out.

–The pimp!

–Like on St. Pauli, the Palais d’Amour.

–No, more like the Bronx, the South Bronx, the land of the dead, where there were only wrecked cars, gangs, and nettles.

–It was worth your life to stick around there.

–The only spot of color in the South Bronx, a girl in polyester plush velvet. Waiting for the truck drivers hauling away the wrecks.

–Her pimp fifty yards off sitting on a crate.

Jäcki didn’t want to intrude, and started to amble back toward Dangriga.

He turned back one last time and saw the young man looking back at him.

The girls crawled out from the boats and came up behind Jäcki. When they reached him they looked away. Then they began to run.

They disappeared among the stones in the cemetery.

Jäcki watched the young man whip the planks with a crop, toss his hatchet, pick up stones and make them skip across the waves.

Jäcki walked back to the gray wooden house.

–So he’s not a pimp, he thought: A couple of feet from the hotel and his chickens can pop up at any minute.

The young man sat on the steps without moving and stared at the wooden planks of the bridge.

Jäcki stood next to him and asked him the time in English.

The young man glanced up at him.

When the sunlight hit them at an angle, Jäcki saw that his eyes were light brown.

–Habla español.

Tiempo.

Antonio.

Edad.

Sin trabajo.

Honduras.

–I’m a Black Carib, the young man said.

–His skin a bit darker than the money-counting Chinese.

–We can go in the house.

Antonio stood up.

Jäcki saw something that looked like an eel sticking out in front of Antonio’s tight pants.

–What would those girls think?  Do you want to mess around with them?

–So much easier to say “tu,” in Spanish.

Antonio didn’t answer. He took Jäcki’s hand, placed it on his zipper, and led Jäcki into the house.

–Big, yes?

–Yes, Jäcki said.

He had the feeling that Herodotus was looking at him and clicking his teeth with his tongue.

–Are there gay Black Caribs in Honduras?

–Yes.

–Here in Dangriga?

–I don’t know. I haven’t been here that long. There’s probably some. It’s against the law. They have English laws. They go to jail. Should we lie down here?

–On this metal rack?

Jäcki wasn’t afraid.

–I don’t care if the thieving magpie sees, or Yobi, or the bums, or the whores.

–Would I care if a gust of wind tore open the door just as Irma was walking by? In terms of convention of course I would care, researcher couple, hotel guests, passport, all that. But deep down I wouldn’t care. Deep down I’d probably think it was fine. Deep down I’d probably think it was nice. Of course she’d get butterflies in her stomach. But at the same time she’d regret not having the right lens in her camera. That’s what she’d think. If she had the right lens she wouldn’t take a shot.

He did care.

Herodotus was back, sucking air through his teeth.

Historiä in the balance.

Histhämi and tithämi.

–You can destroy your consciousness through irresponsible actions. Getting to know the prison in Dangriga might be illuminating, but he wouldn’t be able to write about altering consciousness any more.

–You either experience a loss of consciousness or you depict it.

–Let’s go in the bushes.

They waded through knee-high through the vegetation.

The midges attacking Jäcki more than Antonio.

The two men stood in a green chapel.

Rusty cables and scraps of newspaper scattered among the roots.

–Eshu Halde, Jäcki thought.

–The Lord of the Crossroads ferrying the dead across the garbage dumps.

Jäcki tried to kiss Antonio.

Who rejected the move, bird-like, drinking at the water’s surface.

–Wait, he said.

Antonio took all his clothes off.

He had a childlike body.

–The thick, black cock of a slave hanging down in front.

–They were picked for their size, because the Christian slave-dealers said big cocks made more children, and more children with big cocks could be sold for more money.

Antonio spit on his hands and lubricated his member.

Sticking out like an arm.

–The knife in the guts, Daniel von Lohenstein called it.

–It’s only the metaphors for murder that occur: Choking. Stabbing.

Antonio touching Jäcki’s back with his chin and hands.

Antonio shoving and shoving.

–Freud and his column of faeces. Bullshit! Had the father of the Oedipus complex been reamed by Antonio, psychoanalysis would look quite a bit different.

Jäcki was afraid the tissue was getting abraded.

Jäcki relaxed.

–It’s getting easier.

–What should you say?

–Nicer? Sweeter? More tender?

Just his diaphragm shuddering beneath this alien assault. It seemed to Jäcki that part of his body was being transformed, like tendons after budding.

–Reptiles can grow a hand from their tails, Jacki thought.

For a moment his sight began to dim and he lost the desire to place everything within its religious or historical context.

Colors and sounds swarming around his head.

He had the feeling that lubrication was flowing out of him.

–I feel like I’m coming like a woman.

Antonio didn’t touch Jäcki’s cock when he was done.

He wiped himself off with leaves and and turned his back to Jäcki, and Jäcki made himself come before Antonio could deny him this vista.

–The movies are very expensive here, Antonio said. –Three dollars –I mean three pesos.

–I can take you to the movies. But I have no money. Should I run and get some?

–I’ll come around tomorrow, Antonio said. That was the first time.

–Was it nice?

–Some eat fish, some flesh.

–Come to the other beach tomorrow. Left of the hotel. It’s more private.

–I’m scared of the dogs!

#

…..

That afternoon Irma and Jäcki decided to visit Benjamin Nicholas the painter.

Before they turned toward Nicholas’ house, Jäcki darted into a medical laboratory.

He asked where there was a good doctor.

–Do you feel sick, Irma asked.

–No. The painter isn’t going anywhere. Doctors are good. You know how good those two doctors in Irecé were on famine. They knew everything about the plague, TB, leptospirosis. The statistics. The customs.

–I wasn’t that crazy about the painter from the beginning. You’ve convinced me. If you’re interviewing the doctor, I’m just going to sit there in silence. I’ll stay outside and take pictures.

–You’ll be free of me!

Even the doctor’s waiting room could have been a garage, with oversized fake baroque chairs all around instead of cars.

On the wall a poster for birth control pills.

–Would you like to see the doctor for a medical consultation or in private? asked the receptionist.

–Aren’t they the same thing? No, I don’t think so. Private. I don’t want a medical consultation.

The receptionist took no offense. She went into the examination room and told the doctor that Jäcki was here.

–Dr. Andersson is busy. Why don’t you have a seat.

Jäcki sat in the fake baroque rocking chair and looked outside, through the window screen of the garage door. The landscape looked like a screen, dotted with spots of lead. Boys playing soccer in the red evening light.

The sound of someone playing piano seeping through the concrete ceiling, Beethoven.

–It sounds much older here, more Prussian, less schmaltz, more sacrifice in the music.

The rhythm of the piano clashing with the back and forth of the Black Carib soccer match.

The huge gap between what Jäcki saw and what he heard.

The graceful dash of the boys, their arcing leaps, the sweat on their skin, tendons tensing and relaxing, and the dutiful pounding on a slightly out of tune piano.

The examination in Doctor Andersson’s consultation room of an unseen person, which had been in progress when Jäcki first entered the office, lasted another half hour.

A woman came out with a baby swaddled in white.

Doctor Andersson summoned the next Black Carib patient, a woman Jäcki hadn’t noticed between the soccer and the Beethoven.

Jäcki told himself that he was grateful that Doctor Andersson hadn’t given him, the white man, the gringo, special treatment, as had happened in Haiti, and Brazil, and even Togo. Jäcki knew that he was irresolute enough to accept the special treatment.

–The idea, that I would go see the doctor during his office hours, present my credentials as an ethnologist, writer, journalist, and waste his time, this hard-working man, so he can interrupt his practice just to tell me about it.

Doctor Andersson was as exotic as his name.

The set of his eyes and folds of his eyelids like something out of Herman Bang, Ellen Urne.  Doctor Andersson told his assistant:

–Please make a note that this gentleman is to come tomorrow at five for an appointment.  Otherwise I’ll forget. Goodbye!

Jäcki thought:

–What kind of town is this.

–Did they spray it with nerve gas?

–No television.

–Practically no telephones.

–The doctor has to remind himself about an appointment for the next day.

–Why did he say it like that?

–Not because he’d forget it and not because he’d remember it.

–He was trying to convey something else.

–What?

–Does he know?

–Does he want to diminish the position of the visitor?

–Does he want the emphasize the importance of his appointments, albeit clumsily?

–Why are people clumsy?

–I can’t even analyze one sentence from Dr. Andersson, so where do I get the temerity to describe an entire ceremony out of scrim of movements, gestures, images, words, intonations, impressions?

The Black Caribs had begun to grow vast, up to the mountains, up to the clouds. He felt tiny before them, prosaic and uninspired.

–Are you mad, he said to Irma. It took so long.

–No. I took pictures of the soccer game. You need a lot of time for action. Sometimes you’ve got to take a hundred photos until you get the gesture you imagined.

–You see the gestures before you take the picture?

–I see the finished picture. Otherwise it wouldn’t be art. Did you hear the Beethoven?

–Yes.

–Funny, you know? Did it work out with the doctor?

–Tomorrow at five. His receptionist wrote it down in his calendar, otherwise he’d forget.

–The tropics. Do you still want to go see the folk painter?

–All right then. Off once more to see a folk painter.

The house was right where the bartender told them it would be.

–Everything’s different here, Jäcki said. Things match up.

–Would you rather they didn’t?

–It would be less unnerving.

Across the street a painted sign: Artist. Lettering and ornamentation that reminded Jäcki of Juan Gris, not of Rousseau the customs officer or Serge Fiorio.

–He might have turned into a Morandi if he’d studied in Lerchenfeld in Hamburg, not here in Dangriga next door to the radar antenna and the water tank.

The painter’s house, on stilts, gray, looked spacious enough from the outside, spacious enough for a family that grew year by year, living in meager prelapsarian bliss.

But of course when Irma and Jäcki climbed the outside steps, past the well-behaved children of all ages, to be greeted by the wife, to be introduced to the painter who, as expected, received them with the brush in the hand, Jäcki was horrified by the narrowness of the space inside.

–It can’t be more than eight feet from one wall to the other.

A two-burner gas stove, then a kind of anteroom, a half-open window, not really a window, but an aperture in the half-finished framing, an oil painting in progress, and nothing else. A wall.

Cardboard dividing the house into two rooms.

–It’s barely wide enough for a chair, for Mister Nicholas himself, and his painting. So three times fifty centimeters. How wide is a man?

Jäcki tried to figure out the sleeping arrangements for the father, mother, and children behind the cardboard room divider.

–The toilet out back in an outhouse.

–Everything very clean.

–Is that a consolation?

–If only he hadn’t offered me the lone chair.

Jäcki recognized every gesture.

By the way Irma looked him he could tell she knew that he recognized every gesture.

He could have told the story of every hue himself.

He knew the sallow, larger than life debutante portraits, Benjamin Nicholas’ output, meant to fit on an airplane.

Irma and Jäcki with their detailed yet rote words of admiration. Jäcki could tell by the painter’s tired eyes that he wasn’t fooling Benjamin Nicholas.

–We have to buy something now.

–We can buy something another day.

Jäcki just wanted to get out of there.

He tore himself free from the paintings, the artist with the brush in his hand, the wide eyes of the children, with the assurance that they would come by again tomorrow, yes, at four, yes, at the same time, sure, four o’clock sharp, but he didn’t want to disturb them any longer, no, really, no coffee, really, the dugu of course! tomorrow they could talk about the dugu ritual, definitely, the dugu.

#

…..

–They all start out like Fra Angelico and end up Neckermann-naive. Just like with Serge, with Klopotan, with Liberato Lima, and with most of the Haitians.

–Benjamin Nicholas is still painting good pictures.

–There’s less tourism in Dangriga than in Haiti. But compared to the early work? Those gray-white portraits? Do you know the gray-white cityscapes of Liberato Lima? Imagine painting landscapes and faces only in gray in Bahia and Dangriga. Sometimes a gray with a touch of brown or a touch of violet or yellow. Otherwise just white. It’s a black thing. Blues. Grays. But when they start painting artistically that’s it. The wife needs a washing machine and the children have to go to school.

–Frau Nicholas doesn’t have a washing machine. I thought the panorama of Dangriga was very nice, that Rousseau sky.

–Me too. But compared to the gray-white pimples and stubble?

–His dugu ritual is nicely composed, the women grinding cassavas.

–You should take a picture of the cassava grinders.

–Because it’s a good photo, not because it’s the cassava women.

–Did you see the painting he’s working on now?

–He’ll get it back. He’s not finished yet.

–In the next few years he’ll have more kids and Dangriga will have more tourists.

–They should pay these naive painters for the pictures they don’t paint.

–He knows that. There he is behind the balcony, as a young man. The first self-portrait. He’s never parted with it. All day long Benjamin Nicholas looks down at the painting paterfamilias.

–Saint-Vincent Road, Irma said.

–Bluefields Road.

–Bluefields, Nicaragua. The dictator Somoza never dared take Bluefields. There were no roads out there. The revolution will finish it. The Black Caribs came to Bluefields after they were hauled away from the island of St. Vincents. Commingling with the Mosquitos.

–Mosquitos?

–Misquitos then. Indians. They had their own law.

The Indians of Nicaragua have maintained their own economic structures. After the revolution they rose up against their Cuban instructors. Now they’re building roads out to Bluefields, the literacy campaign armed with pencils instead of pistols. It’s the same everywhere. I saw a picture of the Galla in Addis Ababa, Galla who even today have to castrate an enemy before they can get married, a propaganda poster of savage-faced Galla with pencils the size of bazookas slung over their shoulders..

–The children go to school in Dangriga too.

–The agrarian reform takes the economic structures of the Indians into consideration. A nice thing to say at least.

–Paper.

–It’s all paper, Jäcki said. My world. Your world is silver. What’s Benjamin Nicholas’ world?

–St. Vincent Road. They were from hauled away Africa and enslaved. They were deported from St. Vincent for insubordination, an entire race. A couple thousand kilometers away they still write Bluefields Road, St. Vincent Road, on their streets.

–Like the East Prussians.

#

…..

It was dark again when they reached the hotel.

From outside they could hear singing and laughter.

The dogs huddled in front of the dining room windows, barking at every joke.

–The group they were expecting the day before yesterday.

–So there was nothing suspicious about what the assistant manager said.

The entry was filled with rough-edged crates.

As they got closer they saw trucks, tractors, armored vehicles everywhere, bristling with components never seen in a toyshop.

There were no empty tables in the dining room.

The waitresses seated Irma and Jäcki at a table with a number of uniformed men.

Who toasted them.

–I’m a British Army officer, Jäcki’s neighbor told him.

Jäcki was unable to avoid the introduction and the self-description, his itinerary and his profession, at such a narrow and tightly packed table.

–Nosy, noisy, and indiscreet, like all Englishmen!

–I’m from Scotland, the officer said.

–Interesting.

–Intelligence.

–Stupid, secret service.

–I know German very well.

–I’m not vain enough to think you learned it on my account.

–I was in Stuttgart a couple of weeks ago. Are you from Stuttgart?

–No. Hamburg. Do you get them confused?

–Oh.

–Has the war started yet? Jäcki asked.

–Our Chilean allies say so. But no. This is just a routine trip for us.

–Do you make routine trips to Stuttgart too?

–Guatemala won’t put up with an independent Belize. You know that in the atlases in Guatemalan schools Belize is left blank. If Her Majesty the Queen were to relinquish sovereignty over Belize Guatemala will march in.

–You know as well as I do that the Belize’ independence is a fait accompli. Maneuvers taking place on both sides of the border.

The office turned back to his filet of fish, alternating between gesticulating in Jäcki’s direction, and extracting fish bones from pursed lips.

–A war over Belize, Jäcki said, would be in everyone’s interest. World political attention would finally be distracted from the shah’s odyssey, and then, with some help from England, with some help from Her Majesty the Queen, America could clean up Guatemala and bring peace to El Salvador with auxiliary forces, and, who knows, maybe to Nicaragua as well. Are they still dreaming of paper mills in Mexico? Although General Torrijos might not want to put his police at the disposal of our left-wing colleague J. anymore–he might offer them to Carter, his fellow Baptist. Russia, of course, is hoping for the same thing, with Cuba in its pocket. It’s collateral on hand for Persia and Afghanistan, at any rate. It would be so wonderful if Guatemala could be provoked into trying to seize the new oil fields in Belize.

Jäcki said all this to Irma, even though he knew the officer could understood all of it.

–Isn’t there a risk in publishing these insights of yours, the Scottish officer asked. Do you even publish analysis like this anymore? There can’t be that many Cuban cigars in it for you, or candles in Rome.

I hope that being so well acquainted with my articles has been good for your career. The only risk, dear sir, is when one is partout concerned with surviving such insights.

The tipitapi cake was served.

–Armchair politics, the officer said. Nothing but overblown armchair politics.

–Enriched with Nobel Peace Prize laureates and caviar. The 21st century as foreseen by Jules Verne. In your line of work, intelligence, people still take their cue from potboilers.

–Good night.

Irma and Jäcki went to their room and worked the optative of tithämi in their Kaegi grammar.

The building creaking as the soldiers took their leave.

The tanks rumbling off.

Irma lit the mosquito coil.

Jäcki turned on the ceiling fan.

The noisy Americans had checked out that morning.

–Every room in the hotel is empty except ours.

The dogs were whining again.

The hiss of the sea amplifying the silence of the hotel.

–Troop movements, Irma said.

Was Antonio an informer?

###

Bios

Hubert Fichte

Self-identified as half-Jewish, illegitimate, and bisexual, the German writer Hubert Fichte (1935-1986) lived in Hamburg for most of his life. After spending part of the war in a Catholic orphanage, he later worked as a child actor on the Hamburg stage, an apprentice agronomist, a shepherd in Provence, and a counselor at a home for juvenile delinquents in Sweden. He turned to writing full time in his late twenties. His first novel, Das Waisenhaus (1965) (translated as The Orphanage by Martin Chalmers), was a critical success; his second, Die Palette (1968) was a succès de scandale and a bestseller. While continuing to publish novels, plays, essays, and journalism, Fichte spent the remainder of his life exploring syncretic religious practices among peoples of African descent in the New World (e.g., santería, voudun, candomblé, etc.). This “poetic ethnography,” as he called it, resulted in more than a half dozen volumes (none translated into English): Xango, Petersilie, Lazarus und die Waschmaschine, Explosion, Das Haus der Mina in São Luiz de Maranhão, and the novel from which this excerpt is taken, Forschungsbericht, which is also one of the high points of his posthumously published projected nineteen-volume roman-fleuve, Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (A History of Sensitivity).

Adam Siegel

Adam Siegel is Languages and Linguistics Librarian at the University of California, Davis. His translations from the German, Russian, Czech, and Polish have appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Context, InTranslation, and elsewhere.

Forschungsbericht. Copyright (c) S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 1989. English translation copyright (c) Adam Siegel, 2013.