The Way We Love Now: Peter Stamm
I wanted to talk about love in Switzerland, but the country is so small, there’s really not much to say. Only one detail: In Swiss-German “love” is not a verb; it’s only a noun, whatever that means. When I thought about love, I thought about love stories. I thought about TV. Most of the love stories we see are on TV. Like murders, we see thousands of them on TV, but we don’t usually see one in real life. This somehow takes the complexity out of love. The media teach us how to show our feelings. That’s my fear: to end up feeling like people feel on TV.
There was a TV quiz on in Switzerland about twenty years ago, and when someone won a big prize he would just say, “Oh, thank you,” and today he jumps up and down and screams. We have learned from American shows that this is the way you show joy. In my novels, I try to give back the complexity of love and to show love not only as a positive feeling but also as something quite complex. I’m going to read you a short passage from Unformed Landscape: A woman is traveling after a man. They finally meet and are staying in the same hotel room, but nothing has happened yet. They have a beautiful dinner in a Paris restaurant and now are back in the room.
It was her turn to go to the bathroom. She got undressed, and looked at herself in the mirror, which was still steamed around the edges. Considering my age, she thought, and then, bah, who cares, whatever will be will be. She ran her hands over her hips, as if to sculpt fresh curves. This is me, she thought, this is my body. That’s all there is.
Kathrine washed with a cloth, she didn’t feel like having a shower anymore. It was cold in the bathroom, but an English nobleman showered even when it was cold. He ignores the cold, she thought. He doesn’t allow it. She combed her hair, tied it up, and then shook it out again. She plucked a few eyebrows, sniffed her armpits, and washed her feet in the bidet. She squirted a bit of her new perfume on her throat. It smelled of a different country, of night and of love. Why not, she thought, he didn’t insist on having a second bed, after all. An English nobleman, she had once read, used the sugar tongs, even if he is all alone. She had never seen sugar tongs. She pulled on her panties. Then she took them off again, and stepped into the room quite naked.
Christian was lying in bed. The television was on. An old film starring Catherine Deneuve. Kathrine slipped in beside him under the blankets, and pulled them up to her throat. Christian didn’t look at her, only moved a little to the side to make room for her, and turned the volume down. She felt his nearness, and the warmth of his body. He asked if she wanted him to turn off the television. She said it didn’t bother her.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked.
“What film is it?”
“Belle de Jour. Catherine Deneuve.”
“If I was French, my name would be Catherine too. What does the title mean?”
“Beauty of the day,” said Christian. “It’s the story of a bored woman.”
He looked at Kathrine. She smiled. She had never been bored, even though her life was monotonous, even though nothing happened in the village. Her favorite days had been the ones where everything was exactly as always. Only Sundays had sometimes bothered her.
Shots rang out on the television, and Christian turned to see what was happening. She turned away and shut her eyes.
They finally make love five pages later, but it is on a night train, and night trains have no TVs.