Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Towards a less fervent work ethic



My translation of Heinrich Böll’s Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral:
 
In a port somewhere on a Western European coast, a poorly clothed man dozes in his fishing boat as an elegantly dressed tourist loads a new colour film into his camera to catch the idyllic scene: blue sky, green sea combed with pretty, snow-white waves, black boat, red fishing cap. Click. And again: click. And, because three times is a charm and you
re always better safe than sorry, a third click. The clipped and oddly hostile sound rouses the dozing fisherman. He straightens sleepily, fishing sleepily for his cigarettes. But before he can snag them, the tourist thrusts his own packet towards his new companion and, while not quite prizing a cigarette between the fishermans lips, slips one into his hand. A fourth click – that of his lighter – concludes the eagerly performed service. A sudden awkwardness sparks up from a barely detectable, certainly unprovable excess of deftly administered politeness that the tourist – sure footed in the local lingo – attempts to bridge by initiating conversation. “You’re sure to net a good catch today.”
The fisherman shakes his head. “But a little monkey told me the weather is just right.” The fisherman nods.
“So you are not heading out then?” The fisherman shakes his head. Rising discomfort rears its head in the tourist. Of course it is concern for the poorly clothed man that spurs him on, fidgets worry about a missed opportunity into his being. “Oh? Are you not well?” At last the fisherman moves from sign language to the spoken word.
“I feel great,” he says. “Never better.” He stands up and straightens out as if demonstrating his athletic build. “I feel wonderful.”
The tourist
s mien grows dark. He can no longer hold in the question that threatens to detonate his composure. “But why do you not head out?” The response is as immediate as it is brief.
“Because I was out already this morning.” 
“Was the catch good?” 
“So good that I don’t have to head out again. I caught four lobsters in my baskets and almost two dozen mackerel in my nets. 
Now fully awake, the fisherman softens and bends down to pat the tourist on the shoulder. The man’s troubled demeanour has moved him, however unjustified it might be. “I even have enough for tomorrow and the day after that!” he says, trying to soothe the foreigner’s soul. “Smoke one of mine?”
“Thank you.”
Cigarettes are popped into mouths, a fifth click sounds, the foreigner sits himself on the edge of the boat and relieves his hand of the camera. He needs both free to lend gravitas to his talk. “I do not want to meddle in your personal affairs,” he says, “but try to imagine that you head out for a second time, a third, heavens why not even a fourth, and you would catch three, four, five maybe as much as ten dozens of mackerels. Imagine that!”
The fisherman nods.
“You would head out,” continues the tourist, “not only today but tomorrow, the day after, yes every day the weather is good, three times, maybe four times a day. And do you know what would happen?”
The fisherman shakes his head.
“After one year at the latest, you would be able to buy a motor, in two years a second boat, in three or four years maybe a small cutter, with two boats or a cutter your catch would of course be much much bigger – one day you would have two cutters, you would...” excitement snuffs out his voice for a moment... “You could build a little refrigeration hut, perhaps a building for fish smoking, later a marinating factory and a helicopter for patrolling the area and reporting back to you about schools of fish and you could manage your cutters by radio then apply for a salmon licence and open a restaurant and sell lobster directly to Paris without a middleman and then...” Again his excitement overruns him, forces another unwelcome pause. Shaking his head, his heart’s deeps churned with thick emotion, his holiday exuberance almost guttered out, he gazes at the untroubled flood of rolling waves in which uncaught fish play with abandon. “And then,” he says, but again his voice falters. The fisherman pats him on the back as if consoling a child that has just choked on its milk. “And then?” he asks gently.
“Then,” says the foreigner with quiet fervour, “then you could sit peacefully here in this port under the sun, doze, and gaze out across the beautiful sea.”
“But I
m doing that now,” says the fisherman. “Im sitting here peacefully and dozing. It was all that clicking that woke me.” 
The tourist, recipient of an unexpected lesson, withdrew in contemplation. He had once believed that he worked so that one day he would no longer have to. There remained in him no trace of sympathy for the poorly clothed fisherman – just a little envy.

1 comment:

Roger Lewis said...

Hi Toby,
Just checking in as I do from time to time. Lovely story this.´´A man is poor when he desires many things´´. This line is quoted from one of the codices of Leanardo Da Vinci . LEONARDO DA VINCI.
The flights of the mind.by. Charles Nicholl.