In Hebrew, the recipient of a prize is its groom, or, as in Elfriede Jelinek's case - The Bride.
Tel-Aviv, 8 October 2004
Elfriede. Her voice sounded close, in both senses.
She said, in a rather melancholy tone, "You see, Corinna, I told that I want to retire from public life - and now the Nobel prize...
"It's not so sad."
She laughed softly.
The sleepy pond, the pine trees, the round swing chair which hang in the living room, the grand piano on which she played for me and sang "glucklick ist wer vergibt, was doch nich zu andern ist..." - all this I can see now before my eyes as if not eight years have passed since our meeting back then in Austria.
Vienna,August 26, 1996
Elfriede Jelinek suggested we meet at the Cafe Museum. Over the phone we gave each other identification marks. She said, "I'm tall and like every good Austrian woman, I have two blond braids bound on my head..."
I was staying with Eva, a retired journalist, through the recommendation of a mutual friend.
She's in her early fifties and keeps saying, "Everybody is already sick of hearing about the Holocaust."
In January 1996 I found, in London, a book by Elfriede Jelinek. A few months later, on Holocaust Memorial Day, I saw written in an Israeli newspaper, in an article on Anti-Semitism In The World Today, that she, or one of her parents, was Jewish; that there had been attacks on her and that she had been threatened by anti-Semites; that she had immigrated to Germany.
I wrote to her, "I see that you are living in Vienna. I hope that the story about the attacks is fantasy as well."
She wrote back, on the margins of a street poster's offprint illustrated with the picture of a violin - on which was written:
"Lieben Sie... Jelinek... oder Kunst und Kultur?" - "Are you fond of... Jelinek... or of Art and Culture?"
I was astonished. Surely this is slander. The cultural organizations and institutions in Austria passed it over in silence, did not react?
The large cafe was fairly crowded and Elfriede worked it out with the waiter to take us into the inner room.
We sat there next to one of the dark old wooden tables, at first by the windows, but Elfriede, who writes in a very strong voice, talked almost in whispers, and we moved further inside, far from the noises of the road and the street.
Half an hour later, at exactly five o'clock, came the waiter and drew the wooden doors wide open.
"At five they open this room for customers," said Elfriede calmly.
In Vienna order is order.
She said, "It's too noisy here. We'll go to my house."
We took the underground from there to hers and her mother's house on the edge of the town. Elfriede, who was before a trip to her partner in Munich, went to put the food she had bought for her mother in the modest refrigerator. She left me in a small living room which had only a grand piano, a transparent chair hanging like a swing, a desk, and panoramic windows facing a large natural garden and a pond - not one of those manufactured models, but real water and vegetation touching it and in it.
No buses, no cars. Just the sound of birds busy preparing dinner.
I went out to the pond, tears gathering in my eyes as I was thinking,
At such a place one can be only happy.
The dog clung to me and because I was worried that her heavy breathing would cover Elfriede's voice in the recording, I pushed her away a few times before Elfriede said - Not right the first time! - said gently,
"Push her aside softly, because she falls. Her rear legs have nothing to hold on to, her tights are impaired from birth. She's a poor thing."
Elfriede has an uncle in Denver, Colorado, in the United States, with whom she corresponds. His father, Albert Felsenburg, was a journalist, a colleague of Herzel's they were both writing for the Neue Freie Press, and then, as Elfriede read to me from her uncle's letter,
"Then the pogroms stormed Russia and dad said, 'Theo, I read and hear such horrible things about what the Cossacks do to the Jews. Go to Russia and see if it's true.'
Herzel went and saw that it was even worse and he founded the Zionist movement. My father was among the first members."
Albert Felsenburg was sent to the Dachau concentration camp on the first day the Germans came to Austria. He was handed over by his Christian fellow workers at the newspaper.
She said, "The story with Herzel is a legend in our family. I think it is a true story. So that we have a share in the founding of the Zionist movement - which led to the founding of the state of Israel."
Before the meeting, corresponding from Israel, I told her about "Noffey Haneffesh" - Soul Landscapes - the book I was working on.
I had no clue then to where this book will lead me.
In Vienna, I listened.
It got dark. One tape after the other I kept changing.
She said, in a tiredly tranquil voice,
"It's been ages since I've last spoken that much."
In the corridor, on my way out, she showed me the signs in the door left from the times her father - torn by guilt, or by an erased memory - would cut in it, as the door was kept locked so he won't wander out and get lost.
Now as then in my ears rings Elfriede's melodious voice, singing that famous line from The Feldermouse operetta by Johan Straus. 'Those are happy who forget what can't be changed.'"
A very popular song. Everybody knows and whistles it. Every year on New Year's Eve this operetta is shown on television. Even children can sing it.
"This is Happy Happy Austria," she had said then.
I came back to Eva. In an adjunct room she had a pair of terribly noisy parrots. She covered their cage, closed the double doors, and the echo of their shrill voiced remained with us as the smell of burnt food, sinking into the rich carpets and sofas.
While Eva, standing at the oven burners kept repeating:
"Everybody is already sick of hearing about the Holocaust. It was more than fifty years ago! It's boring!"
read it in Hungarian; in Farsi; in Russian; in Polish;