Of late I had gotten less and less talkative and would sit for hours on a park bench, staring. But afterwards, when asked what I had seen, I didn’t know. They took me to the mountains, all in vain, and after a series of disheartening proposals packed me off to the Low Countries.
At first I rather liked the restfulness of it. No longer disturbed about myself, I was quite content to wander about like an early case of dementia praecox. (This description, by the way, has stuck to me as closely as my Christian name). I smelled the tulips willingly enough, yet apparently wanted roses brought, blood-red roses which were, of course, denied me. I staggered out across their gray fields, black cape flung over my shoulders, and the natives, with their healthy respect for idiots, said hello to me. The children, too, were kind, edging up and asking me to cut them walking-sticks or make a doll for them. But alas, they did not realize that I was an idiot utterly lacking in talent, whose hands were renowned for their clumsiness.
The sky in these countries seems to scrape the earth, but I couldn’t draw any conclusions about it. Then, as though I’d asked a question, as though I’d seemed worried about it, I was told the sky was part of my treatment, and that I must keep myself well bundled up. I said all right, and it occurred to me for no particular reason that I loved cigarettes, or rather, to watch the things around me consuming themselves. So from time to time I would go and roll in the clay along the river, and they scolded me, but never unkindly: “Look how muddy you are, come and see yourself in the mirror.” And when I answered, “But this country reminds me of my favorite planet, Mars,” somebody murmured, “Good, good, his analogies are coming back to him.”
When I was sick of walking, I would climb into a tub, one of those thousands of tubs which drift along the canals. But in the Low Countries the rushes are extremely stiff, and often they capsized into my tub and threw me into the water. I would feel like the fair Ophelia, humming and weeping over my death just as in childhood I had lain in bed at night and wept at the prospect of my funeral.
But as I plunged further into the Low Countries and got to know them better, the awareness of being alive returned, and my calm deserted me. The sky was decidedly too close to the earth, and I didn’t like that leaden look it had one bit. But I went anyhow, crying to it, “Get off my back, you’ll soon have me all bent over!” If I’d had a grain of sense I’d have gone indoors, but I persevered even though the air seemed to be getting thinner, repeating to myself: “Don’t be afraid, it can’t last this way forever and don’t fall down either; that’s the main thing, don’t fall down.” And in these moments of dizziness when anybody else would have taken a swallow of alcohol I would mutter my first name and my last name over and over again to myself. Landscapes became long corridors and I lost all sense of their proportions. I would walk and walk, wanting sometimes to retrace my steps but afraid that this would lose me still more hopelessly. There were signposts and arrows, but they were’t enough to reassure me. The signs read, “The Sea,” “The Sea,” but I could never quite catch up with it.