The Hay Smells Different to the Lovers Than to the Horses

Philipp Schönthaler

Illustration by Leif Engström

Nicolas Kiefer pulls a new polo shirt from the shrink-wrapped stack of shirts. The tennis star carefully frees the white polo from the transparent sheath. The plastic crackles in his hand. He smoothes the collar, then slips the shirt over his taut upper body. Kiefer feels good. He glances at his body in profile in the mirror—the game can begin:

The tennis player John McEnroe steps onto the playing field accompanied by the sound of applause. He scans the arena. The rows are filled, almost down to the last seat. McEnroe raises a hand in greeting, waves, masterfully downplaying his rising anxiety. A fine red dust sprays from the contours of his shoes. McEnroe takes care that the soles of his white athletic shoes don't touch the white lines drawn on the clay. He senses the eyes resting upon him. Viewers at home are sitting in front of their televisions. The signs bode well. Just a few airy clouds in the sky, reports the announcer, as Patrick Helmes, the Ribéry of the Rhineland, steps with one bare foot into his right gym sock, checks the fit of the sock, then slips the left one on. He takes a deep breath. The roaring of the stadium penetrates the subterranean locker room in powerful surges. The noise presses against his ears. Helmes swallows, senses a brisk tingling in his abdomen. He looks up at the aluminum drop-ceiling. Now it all has to be perfect, thinks the professional soccer player. He strokes the supple hogskin of his shoes with the heels of his hands. Eyes closed, he presses his lips to the tip of his right shoe before putting it on. Then he kisses the left shoe before slipping it over his heel. Outside, the players are being called onto the field according to their positions, their names accompanied by cheers. Adrian Mutu takes the underwear he wore in the previous winning game from a small royal blue plastic bag, turns it inside-out, and gets dressed. As the players leave the locker room, their cleats claw at the stone tiles of the catacomb.

Meanwhile, the moderator is standing next to the field. Of course it's as difficult to retrospectively explain a successful game as it is to prospectively make a dependable prediction about the events, he explains, his eyes on the camera—let's not forget, game theory assumes that the individual players have rational intentions and strategies. But the coach, Felix Magath, doesn't wish to make any further statements so close to the start of the game. Ever since the coach of VfL Wolfsburg stopped changing his green tie, the team has dominated the Bundesliga. Most recently, a stunned FC Bayern Munich had to clear the field after a 1 to 5 defeat against Wolfsburg.

Out on the field, a light wind has arisen. The crowd works itself up, the first booing from the stands. The day before, the players buried little amulets near the penalty area. Dlamini and Salelwako have high hopes; as they step onto the field, the players from Swaziland touch the grass with their right hands, then their chests, and then their lips, jump three times on their right leg, and look about expectantly. Giovanni Trapattoni has now stepped onto the playing field in the direct proximity of the center line. Before this last game in his team's World Cup qualifying group, he hastily sprinkles holy water from a little bottle. The coach of the Italian team received the holy water prior to the game from his sister, a nun. The first signs of unrest spread through the stadium. The fans are waiting for the kick-off. They strike up choruses to summon the start of the game.

Meanwhile on Spaccanapoli, 65-year-old Gennaro Esposito, third-generation peddler of luck, continues to sell his wares. The heat in the narrow streets of Naples is oppressive at this time of day. Small talismans from his cluttered table start at fifty cents. On a little silver necklace, the talismans cost a euro. When a foreigner tries to speak to the Neapolitan, he throws his hands up in the air: Ma che ciuciuette che ssi. Better be quiet, or do you want to provoke bad luck? An anonymous Spanish sorcerer threatened the Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo before Real Madrid's match against Olympique Marseille in September 2009. They say the sorcerer belonged to the Super Dragões fanclub. These super dragons had already made themselves conspicuous in 2006, when the Brazilian Adriano was threatened before a game. Shortly thereafter, the player was attacked on a dark side-street on his way home from a club late at night. Real Madrid's president, Florentino Pérez, shakes his head, wipes a thin film of sweat from his brow; it's hot in the packed press room. We don't ascribe any importance to such affronts. His tone tolerates no argument. He rises and, with a cavalier gesture, disappears through a side door that until now had gone unnoticed.

In the stadium, the impatience has become palpable. The man at the ticket counter asks if they've kicked off the second half yet. But his words suffocate in the polyester of the striped team scarf wrapped around his chin and mouth. Glassy pearls of sweat tremble on his forehead. The cashier ignores the question, swiftly dropping the forbidden cigarette that had just been glowing between her fingers; her heel crushes the ember against the bare ground like a defenseless insect. The cries from the fans' section in the south curve can now be heard clearly outside. In the wake of the disclosure that he'll be changing teams for a figure in the tens of millions, the fans in his home stadium heckle their former favorite and darling, the forward with the number ten. The security personnel is alarmed. The American actress Cameron Diaz has disappeared. It's no secret that she suffers from obsessive-compulsive episodes. After emptying her bladder, Diaz unlatches the bathroom door with a bent knee. She's wearing a pair of close-fitting Levi's, which strain tautly against her long, toned legs and backside as she raises herself on her tiptoes, lifts her right leg, and, extending her knee sideways, pushes down the door handle. The door opens. On the sixth floor of the Technical University of Vienna's Atomic Institute, a conference of the Society for Critical Thinking has convened. The colloquia are open to the public. Experiments in which proper protocol was observed revealed time and again that supposed supernatural phenomena were delusional products of the imagination, states Prof. Dr. phil. Oberhummer, allowing his words to sink in before proceeding. The Pontifical Universities of Rome still train 120 students as exorcists each year. The Association for Spiritual Healing currently boasts 3800 members on its homepage, the media reports. Ströbel is nonetheless persistently uncertain about her research on witchcraft in and around Hannover. After her last interview, the journalist hurries home and plants sage in her garden. Only the damp earth under her fingernails calms her a bit. She sits at her desk and draws up a few notes:

What is strange in this thinking of being is its simplicity. The Messkircher philosopher Martin Heidegger sits in the Black Forest hut where he often works, writing with a fountain pen, pausing only now and again. He looks up. The view from his writing desk passes through a pair of adjacent windows. It is this simplicity that keeps us from it.—But isn't the fantastic precisely to be found in the simple? the pioneer of depth psychology C. G. Jung reflects. He's startled. There's a quiet tapping at the windowpane. Jung turns around and swings open the casement window. A small insect cowers on the glass. With a swift motion of the hand, Jung grabs the insect as it flies into the room. He carefully opens his fist. It's a flower chafer, scarab-like. Jung sighs and sinks back into his leather chair. Are the gods not also present here, in a hydroelectric plant on the banks of the Rhine, in subatomic particles, in Adidas shoes, just as in the old wooden clogs hollowed out by hand? The French sociologist of science and technology grasps the heavy frame of his glasses and takes them from his face. Yet this does not deal with nature or knowledge, with things-in-themselves, but with the way all these things are tied to our collectives and to subjects. With the tips of his left thumb and index finger, Bruno Latour clutches at his pupils behind his closed eyelids, pressing his eyeballs gently back into their sockets. Rubbing his eyelids, he reflects—When we place a bouquet under the eyes of the young picnoleptic and we ask him to draw it, he draws not only the bouquet but also the person who is supposed to have placed it in the vase, and even the field of flowers where it was possibly gathered. Latour swings his office chair to the side, turns on the radio and adjusts the dial until voices suddenly become audible in the static—

A whistle.—Corner kick, announces the reporter. The ball flies into the penalty box, is repelled, and falls under the control of the offensive team. The spectators jump up, hands raised. An agitated murmur passes through the stands. After his phenomenal game and three breathtaking saves, without which the opposing team from Offenbach would have won 3:0, upon being asked about his outstanding performance, FC Schalke 04's goalkeeper Norbert Nigbur deliberately neglects to mention that throughout the game he carried a small laminated picture of Pope Paul VI in the pocket of his shorts. Meanwhile in the cathedral, Curate Stöcklin lifts his hands in blessing: Ite missa est. Deo gratias. The great nave is briefly filled with the creaking of the wooden pews, as the bride of Christ rises to its feet—little Sanqula's first tooth grew from his upper jaw. The elders of Odisha wed the boy to a village dog to avert the imminent calamity. At the wedding ceremony in the temple, the four-legged bride wore two silver rings as well as a thin silver necklace. A deep harmony of the whole prevails, confirms Rudolf Steiner, but it takes a honed spiritual eye to avoid confusing the representation of reality with reality itself. As always, people are lacking a sharp sense of reality. However the preconditions for a transformation in consciousness were attained when the angel Kyron began to shift the magnetic field around the earth in 1989, dependable sources report. Sunlight nourishment essences can be bought on the internet for 30 euro apiece. Aura sprays for 25. Rejuvenation creams for 99. The vampire woman was the only one who made it beyond the local news, though: a sharpened wooden stake was plunged through the young woman's gaping mouth in a lazaretto on the Venetian Lagoon.

The writer sits down on the balcony. Orange light glows dimly from the streetlights. The dark sky is overcast. It's quiet inside the house. In the room, there are just a few shelves and a desk. The varnish on the tabletop reflects the desk lamp's conical gleam. The writer squints, hesitates. The glass of language must finally be broken. As a boy, the writer crawled under the electric fence surrounding a cow pasture. It was summer and they were camping. The storm sprang up suddenly and surprised the boys. The bolt strikes near the young writer and chars the boy creeping along next to him under the fence. The boy lies still. The writer stands up. He goes back into the house and writes: It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.

translated from the German by Amanda DeMarco

Philipp Schönthaler: "Für Liebende riecht Stroh anders als für Pferde", from: Nach oben ist das Leben offen (c) MSB Matthes & Seitz Berlin 2012