Hans Sachs

I love my craft of massage, and I don’t think I could make a decent living doing anything else. Anyone who has seen me in action knows that my nostrils flare and an unholy light comes into my eyes when I encounter someone limping or bitching about their sore shoulder, and at the end of the day I have money in my hand and the pleasant recollection of people saying “Oh my God, it doesn’t hurt anymore.” What’s not to love?

Except, well, I do this to pay my bills, including on the days when my own back hurts or I wish I could be writing something (I have, I confess, had one hand on a client’s back and the other surreptitiously dashing down notes with a felt pen; the resulting novels only sold locally but writing them was better than any sex I have ever had. Really). Tonight in the shower, after a weekend that included referree-ing a cat fight and pruning a rose bush, I reached for the pound jar of salt mixed with oil and scrubbed my hands but good, this being the best therapy for the gouges and scratches that my work had forced back open all day long. You feel nothing at first, then when the rinse water hits you gloves of fire lap over your hands. Lamaze time! On the last huffing breath I let rip with Hans Sachs in my best baritone.

Hans Sachs is the shoemaker in Wagner’s Meistersinger, and before that was a real person, who was both a master cobbler and a master poet, and he humbles

German bass-baritone Hans Hermann Nissen as Hans Sachs

German bass-baritone Hans Hermann Nissen as Hans Sachs

me because he left a body of work that still commands respect while, it seems, banging out shoes well enough to earn a solid station in his guild. Wagner makes him a middle-aged widower, who cherishes the pretty girl and could win her according to the terms of the song competition her father sets up, but leaves the field to the young firebrand he knows she really loves. In the opera’s second act he sings his song to a bout of late-night cobbling:

Gäb’ nicht ein Engel Trost,
If I weren’t comforted by an angel
der gleiches Werk erlos’t,
who’s been chosen for the same work,
und rief mich oft ins Paradies,
and calls to me from Paradise,
wie ich da Schuh’ und Stiefel liess!
How I’d drop the shoes and boots!
Doch wenn mich der im Himmel hält,
And when I think myself into Heaven,
dann liegt zu Füssen mir die Welt,
The world lying under my feet,
und bin in Ruh’
then in complete peace
Hans Sachs, ein Schuh-
macher und Poet dazu!
I’m Hans Sachs, not just shoemaker, but bard.

In the third act of the opera, the young guy wins the prize and gets the girl, but every voice in Nuremberg opens the act with one of the songs the real Hans Sachs wrote. I know who I’d rather be.

And I bet he made damn good shoes. Only in these Kaliyuga days do we cherish the delusion that people can only be good at one thing.

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