70. Fritz Rudolf Fries’s Imaginative Essay on His Visit to San Francisco

The day after his reading at Stanford University, which I helped organize and the University’s German Department generously supported with an honorarium, I drove Fries to San Francisco where he spent two days before flying to his next destination. He was fascinated by San Francisco and wrote an impressionistic short prose piece entitled Mit der Strassenbahn übers Meer (Crossing the Ocean by Streetcar), which was published in the September/October 1982 issue of SINN UND FORM (MEANING AND FORM), the leading literary and cultural journal in the GDR. While sitting on a park bench in Union Square, in front of the stately St. Francis Hotel, Fries daydreams; he lets his mind roam all over the city, sharing his thoughts and impressions with the reader. Caught up in the multifaceted experience of San Francisco, he imagines with the help of a fortune cookie that he has arrived at a crossroads in his life. “In der Empress of China, einem Restaurant mit Blick auf die Stadt, ziehe ich die auf einen Papierstreifen gedruckte Wahrsagung aus dem Teegebäck: Jetzt kommt es darauf an, dein Leben zu ändern.” (1054-1055) / “In the Empress of China, a restaurant with a panoramic view of the city, I pull a strip of paper with a printed prediction of the future out of a tea cookie: Now the time has come to change your life.” As I read this, knowing now what I did not know back then about Fries, I wonder for a second why he did not follow through and make a profound change in direction. But I know the answer: Fries did not really want to change the nefarious aspects of his life, he only wanted to contemplate doing it.

The essay concludes with a somewhat sarcastic tribute to a “friend” of Fries, a Germanist who pulls him out of his reverie and back to earth with questions about the GDR. Fries writes:

Ich schliesse die Augen und hoffe, mich in einen alten Chinesen zu verwandeln, so dass ich noch im Jahre 5679 hier auf diesem Platz sitzen würde, eine kleine Zigarre zwischen den gelben Fingern. Aber das Wunder bleibt aus, vor dem Erdbeben oder der Zukunft hat Gott auch in San Francisco die Kritiker und Freunde und Schriftgelehrten gesät. Von der anderen Seite des Parks seh ich Freund Dick [Zipser], Professor für Germanistik, mit schnellen kurzen Schritten heraneilen. Dick holt mich aufs gemeinsame euro-amerikanische Festland zurück mit der Frage: Du hast mir überhaupt noch nichts von (XY) erzählt. (1055)

I close my eyes, hoping to transform myself into an old Chinese man, so that I would still be sitting in this square in the year 5679 with a small cigar between my yellow fingers. But that miracle fails to occur, for God also sowed the critics and friends and literary scholars in San Francisco before the earthquake or the future. From the other side of the park I see my friend Dick [Zipser], Professor of German, approaching swiftly with rapid short steps. Dick brings me back to our common Euro-American mainland with his inquiry: You still have not told me anything about (XY).

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