Franz Schubert: Das Wandern

During my residency in the French House at Indiana University in 1975, I first heard today’s song by Schubert. It is called “Das Wandern,” which means “The Wanderer.    It’s a bubbly song for tenor and piano. Like Schubert’s Trout Quintet, it is full of a cute little rhythm representing a brook. The song comes from an entire song cycle that Schubert wrote in praise of the bucolic country life.  It’s called Die Schöne Müllerin–the beautiful miller’s daughter, or wife. (Hmm.  Wonder if this was a “farmer’s daughter” joke scenario.)  The joyous expression that goes into this song reminds you of light and sun and a walk on a sunny day in the woods. And that in turn reminds me of my sunny days in the French House.

The room I first occupied at the French House had a reputation. The semester before, a guy named Jacques Strange (not his real name) had lived there. He had a reputation, too. The first few weeks people would say, “So you moved into Jacques Strange’s room.” Or else, people would just stop buy and ask “what happened to Jacques?”

One of these was a girl named Dorothy Xristos (not her real name). She lived in the Spanish House, which occupied the other wing of our two-story dorm. Dorothy embodied the term “spunky.” She spoke fluent Spanish, she was articulate and well-read in English literature, and she espoused the feminist ideology popular around the time. That sat pretty well with me because I was kind of a gay straight guy:  not macho and a lover of the arts.

Dorothy was not afraid to speak her mind, and when she did, it was usually to say something intelligent or funny, which I liked best of all.

One day, Dorothy came knocking at my door asking after Jacques. We had a nice conversation in which she told me a bit about him. He had been a French major, gone abroad for a year, liked to smoke dope, and had kept an aquarium with an Oscar in it named “Oscar.”
“He also had a cat, named ‘Abortion.’”
“Abortion?” I asked.
“Yes,” Dorothy said. “I found him back behind the dorm and brought him to Jacques because he liked animals.”

I instantly fell in love with Dorothy, but being shy, didn’t try to put the moves on her.

We did manage to become kind of friends, that first semester, she always greeting and smiling at me whenever we saw each other. Another time, I watched her get into an argument with a guy over a woman’s role in society. She debated him skillfully reducing every point he made to its biased or illogical premise. Later that year, she and I and that guy sat in his room smoking dope and talking about literature.

At one point, she was telling a story, when the guy stopped her and said: “Do you realize that as you’re talking, Kurt is using hand gestures that illustrate your story?”

I hadn’t even noticed, but I had been doing just that. Kinda cosmic, eh?

I eventually did meet Jacques Strange. A former resident of the French House, a girl named Michael Grante, (I guess her parents had always wanted a boy) lived off campus and was throwing a party.

This was going to be a big event, and my best friend, Thom Klem, told me I was invited.

“Jacques Strange is going to be there,” he said. When I asked what Strange was like, Thom told me that he had dropped out of school. It turned out that Strange’s father was a journeyman insulator, and managed to get him into an apprentice program.

“Why did he do that?” I asked.

“The money,” Klem said. “He makes about twelve dollars an hour.”

That was an astronomical amount in 1975.

“What a waste,” Klem said.

They had grown up together in South Bend and gone to the same Catholic high school. They had been close friends there in a clique of very smart people. Two of their group had gone to Yale, another to Harvard.

“He blew his mind out on Hashish in France, and he just partied all the time when he came back. He had shared a room with David F*, and they hated each other. Then he moved into your room before leaving.”

Klem still had a certain regard for Strange. He thought of Jacques as what the French called an “aventurier” an adventurer, someone who loved to try new, exciting and sometimes dangerous things. Klem told me that he and a friend had once had a discussion about Strange’s character in which they compared Jacques to the ancient Greek hero, Alcibiades. Alcibiades was an adventurer who was more Athenian than the Athenians, and when he fell out of favor, became more Spartan than the Spartans.

The day of the party, Strange arrived. He had a tall, muscular frame and strawberry blond hair. His face was perfectly round, and he wore the stubble of a wispy beard that softened a pock-marked face. He smoked Marlboro’s and spoke in a seductively slow way which was half hippie, half southern drawl. Cool and full of life. I liked him immediately.

We all went over to Michael Grante’s house during the afternoon and helped her get ready for the party. Strange announced he was going to make a shrimp quiche, but he had to go out buy the ingredients. He needed eggs, shrimp, butter, and cream. Somehow I ended up going shopping with him. He had a hot red Fiat sedan that had a great stereo in it. He popped in a copy of David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” and we drove off. After being around the hermetic, esthete French House, Jacques was a breath of fresh air.

Many people in the Department of French and Italian came, who didn’t live at the French House. Strange’ quiche turned out perfectly. He was quite comfortable at the party and many people came up expressing pleasure and surprise at seeing him. They all asked how he was doing and showed even more surprised to hear he had left school.

The group who hung around Mark Z***’s room for the most part ignored him. I never got the whole story about why he fell out of their favor. Jacques wasn’t gay, but in all the years I knew him, (and he and I eventually became very good friends), I never heard him say a disparaging word about gays. So homophobia seems out of the question. Who knows? Maybe he got tired of the hot-house atmosphere of our dorm.

Whatever the reason for his departure, I’m glad I met him.

Schubert Biography

Download MP3 Or Buy CD of Schubert:Die Schöne Mullerin

About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

4 Responses to Franz Schubert: Das Wandern

  1. kvennarad says:

    By the way ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’ refers to a person, not the mill. Its usual translation is ‘The Lovely Maid of the Mill’. Typically, ‘Müllerin’ may mean ‘miller’s wife’ or ‘miller’s daughter’.


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