For reasons that escape me, I simply could not make myself go back and read the journals I kept during the filming of Fitzcarraldo. Then, twenty-four years later, my resistance suddenly crumbled, though I had trouble deciphering my own handwriting, which I had miniaturized at the time to microscopic size. These texts are not reports on the actual filming—of which little is said. Nor are they journals, except in a very general sense. They might be described instead as inner landscapes, born of the delirium of the jungle. But even that may not be entirely accurate—I am not sure.
A vision had seized hold of me, like the demented fury of a hound that has sunk its teeth into the leg of a deer carcass and is shaking and tugging at the downed game so frantically that the hunter gives up trying to calm him. It was the vision of a large steamship scaling a hill under its own steam, working its way up a steep slope in the jungle, while above this natural landscape, which shatters the weak and the strong with equal ferocity, soars the voice of Caruso, silencing all the pain and all the voices of the primeval forest and drowning out all birdsong. To be more precise: bird cries, for in this setting, left unfinished and abandoned by God in wrath, the birds do not sing; they shriek in pain, and confused trees tangle with one another like battling titans, from horizon to horizon, in a steaming creation still being formed. Fog-panting and exhausted they stand in this unreal world, in unreal misery—and I, like a stanza in a poem written in an unknown foreign tongue, am shaken to the core.
Santa Maria De Nieva, 14 October 1979
Seen from the air, the jungle below looked like kinky hair, seemingly peaceful, but that is deceptive, because in its inner being nature is never peaceful. even when it is denatured, when it is tamed, it strikes back at its tamers and reduces them to pets, rosy pigs, which then melt like fat in a skillet. This brings to mind the image, the great metaphor, of the pig in Palermo, which I heard had fallen into a sewer shaft: it lived down there for two years and continued to grow, surviving on the garbage that people threw down the shaft, and when they hauled the pig out, after it had completely blocked the drain, it was almost white, enormously fat, and had taken on the form of the shaft. it had turned into a kind of monumental, whitish grub, rectangular, cubic, and wobbly, an immense hunk of fat that could move only its mouth to eat, while its legs had shrunk and retracted into the body fat.
Iquitos, 8 December 1980
This morning, when I checked on the telex machine, Gloria was trying to make contact with the Narinho, the rusted-out ship that we had gotten to float here from Colombia, made buoyant with six hundred empty oil drums, but the onboard receiver must have been turned off. A young woman had shown up; she had no way to reach her husband, an electrician, who was on the ship. In the morning her child had been throwing up for two hours, then went into convulsions, and was suddenly dead. I did not know what I should say to the woman. She turned her face to the wall and cried; she had been keeping it in until then. I took her hand and held it, and when her silent sobbing had relaxed somewhat, I took her on the motorcycle and rode to the boat landing. The boatman did not want to set out because he was waiting for the cooks, but I hustled him off with the woman to the place where the Narinho was anchored. The woman was still very young, and it had been her first child, a son, only half a year old.
A still day, sultry. inactivity piled on inactivity, clouds staring down from the sky, pregnant with rain; fever reigns; insects taking on massive proportions. The jungle is obscene. everything about it is sinful, for which reason the sin does not stand out as sin. The voices in the jungle are silent; nothing is stirring, and a languid, immobile anger hovers over everything. The laundry on the line refuses to dry. As part of a conspiracy, flies suddenly descend on the table, their stomachs taut and iridescent. Our little monkey was wailing in his cage, and when I approached, he looked and wailed right through me to some distant spot outside where his little heart hoped to find an echo. I let him out, but he went back into his cage, and now he is continuing to wail there.
Iquitos, 18 December 1980
I have a snake on my roof again. A little while ago I heard something rustling up there, and then something dark fell into the banana fronds with a thwack. I took a look, and it was a poisonous brownish snake that had caught a bird, which was still peeping. I tried hitting the snake with a stick, but it disappeared like lightning into the grass. Only now and then did a blade quiver, and from the piteous cries of the bird I could tell where the snake was. I did not follow it into the grass, because I discovered that another snake was on the thatched roof, and directly above me a third snake was trying to get from a banana frond onto the platform of my hut. I tried to strike it with the machete, but the snake was too fast for me.
The power is still out. Evening descended on the countryside. What would happen if the rain forest wilted like a bouquet of flowers? Around me insects are dying, for which they lie on their backs. A woman in the neighborhood is suckling a newborn puppy after her baby died from parasites; I have seen this done before with piglets. Outside a bright moon is floating now above the treetops. The frogs, thousands of them, suddenly pause, as if they were following an invisible conductor, and start up again all at the same time. Their conversations come and go in curious waves. Waxy moonlight, as bright as neon, is shimmering on the banana fronds. I was called to the telephone in the house, and fell off the ladder that leads to my platform. It was one of very few phone calls that ever get through to us, and a stranger on the line was trying to make it clear to me that I was a madman, a menace to society.
Camisea, 7 February 1981
I saw a Campa woman sitting on a tree trunk. She was staring intently over her shoulder at something I could not make out. Her child of about three was standing in front of her. It worked her breast out of her cushma, grasped it with both hands, and nursed, without the mother’s paying the slightest attention.
At night I had first the feeling and then the certainty that I was caught in a twilit prehistoric age, without speech or time.
Afternoon: the camp seems dead. The rain pours and subsides. The river’s sluggish whirlpools pass by, following the bidding of a distant fate. In the forest behind me the birds are cursing each other. Nothing ever gets properly dry here, shoes or clothing. Anything made of leather gets mildewed, and electric clocks stop. The leaves in the forest gleam and drip, and from time to time very large fish break with a smacking sound through the sluggish surface of the river and leave widening rings behind, as mighty as if a dinosaur had dived in, smacking its lips after a good meal. When the rain lets up and there is just a gentle dripping from the trees, something resembling peace descends on one’s soul for a few moments. A bug comes toward me, of terrifying size. Far off in the forest chainsaws are working at some job I don’t know about.
An unbelievably powerful and steady rain comes down over the jungle; language itself resists calling it rain. Foamy white brooks form in the sand along the riverbank below my cabin and stream into the brown river, which pulls everything to it and carries everything away: tree trunks, broken-off limbs, the drowned man, earth, pebbles. The pebbles clunk and roll and bang against each other, as if the entire base of the earth were washing away. in the meantime an immeasurable misty vapor spreads among the treetops, which stand there rigid and patient, from time immemorial. All the birds are silent; the rain is having the last say. On a branch floating downstream, many ants; the rain forest has such an extraordinary surfeit of life. On the swaying liana suspension bridge wet leaves are lying, stuck on after being ripped from the trees by the rain. Little reservoirs form on the slope side of the path, next to rounds cut from trees and placed next to each other, and overflow between them. These round stepping stones are partially submerged, the rest poking out as if they were drowning.
Nature has come to her senses again; only the forest is still menacing, motionless. The river rolls along without a sound, a monster. Night falls very fast, with the last birds scolding the evening, as always at this hour. Rough cawing, malevolent sounds, punctuated by the even chirping of the first cicadas. From all this working in the rain my fingers are wrinkly, like those of the laundresses. I must have a hundred bites on my back from some insect I never did see; all of me is rotting with moisture. I would be grateful if it were only dreams tormenting me. Across the table comes a strange primeval insect, with a thin, lancelike, excessively long proboscis and feelers on both sides. I cannot make out any eyes. It is dragging a dead insect of the same species, and disappears through the cracks in the bark floor. Then caterpillars crawl toward me from all directions, brainless but unstoppable. I think intensely of the great moment when I showed my son, five at the time, the mountains of the moon through a telescope.
Iquitos, 31 March 1981
Yellow birds laid siege to me. Last night I had to combat a fresh invasion of army ants in my cabin; they overran me with their larvae, but they were easier to fight because they were so unusually large. First I tried spraying Baygon, but that did not work, and finally I swept the raving warriors off my platform into the swamp. Our work is not compatible with nature Amazon-style. The weather is bad, the chickens are not doing well, ditto the rabbit. The vermin in the earth are thriving. They are happy. The Chinese wok was filled with a jellylike, almost transparent mass, sticky and tough, and in its midst was a broken-off lizard tail, as if the poisonous bite of some nasty creature had melted the lizard into a tough, gluey mass. I set the wok to soak overnight, but even with scouring powder and a wooden stick for scraping I can not get the disgusting stuff out. Tumors form on the trees. Roots writhe in the air. The jungle revels in debauched lewdness.
Camisea, 6 April 1981
This morning I woke up to terror such as I have never experienced before: I was entirely stripped of feeling. Everything was gone; it was as if I had lost something that had been entrusted to me the previous evening, something I was supposed to take special care of overnight. I was in the position of someone who has been assigned to guard an entire sleeping army but suddenly finds himself mysteriously blinded, deaf, and effaced. Everything was gone. I was completely empty, without pain, without pleasure, without longing, without love, without warmth and friendship, without anger, without hate. Nothing, nothing was there anymore, leaving me like a suit of armor with no knight inside. It took a long time before I even felt alarmed.
Camisea, 15 April 1981
Hunters had gone out and brought back rodents the size of guinea pigs, which the women roasted on a wooden spit, fur and all. They looked like rats but were tasty. During shooting yesterday the Campas were distracted, shooting with arrows at something on the slope. I ran over and saw that they had shot a snake. It was pinned to the ground by several arrows, which it snapped at. We quickly filmed the scene, and once the poisonous animal had been killed we went back to work.
A Japanese doctor operated on his own appendix.
Camisea, 18 April 1981
There was much talk of Pucallpa today, for no particular reason, and I found myself wondering why that town existed at all. Why is it not gone? I listened to the entire St. Matthew’s Passion. For Burro in Albersdorf it is evening already. All the mothers are dying now. There is a trembling in the air. The valleys are swaying. Stillness above the mountains. In the jungle the leaves of the soul are stirring, leaf by leaf. Today many things are dropping from the trees. Wind springs up and carries away the last remaining prosaic things. The trees turn their leaves up, confessing. Heavy logs come drifting through the Pongo rapids’ pipe organ.
Camisea, 26 April 1981
Walter arrived yesterday, bringing word that the Huallaga was stuck even worse than before. His plane was loaded almost to capacity with two hogs, which i assume were brought alive, but I did not ask for details because I did not want to have my mental image taken away: of the little Cessna with two massive hogs belted into the passenger seats. The freight also included three large turkeys, one of which keeps spreading its tail for me, gobbling, and putting on a great show of agitation. This turkey, this bird of ill omen, is a pure albino, so it is quite a sight when it fans its great white wheel, spreads its wings with tips trailing on the ground, and puffs up its feathers. Snorting in bursts, it launched several feigned attacks on me and gazed at me with such intense stupidity emanating from its ugly face, which took on a bluish-purple coloration and had tumorlike wattles, that without more ado I pulled a feather out of its spreading rear end. Now the turkey’s sulking.
Camisea, 27 April 1981
Little Michaela was riding the albino turkey today, with her mother, Gloria, holding her on, and the turkey played along good-naturedly. In a tree near me there is a spiderweb, so sturdy and close-meshed that it is filled up with heavy rotting leaves like a shopping net, and all the time I have been here it has not been torn off, even by wind and rain. In the woods I found a fleshy plant that keeps its upper leaves rolled up and pointing skyward, as if praying. There is a delicate vine resembling a fern that spreads so flat over the bark of the trees up which it climbs, wafer-thin, lovely, and deadly, that I often thought it was only painted on in dull enamel. Moss grows on lianas, and in the knobby places where the moss is thicker, a leafy plant like slender hare’s ear grows out of the moss: a parasite on a parasite on a parasite.
Camisea, 3 May 1981
An old man, who had been the last person living on a windswept island far from the stormy coast, with the mail boat bringing him onions and flour only now and then, died one evening with the natural casualness of all things out here. Days later a very large fish was caught on the dead man’s fishing pole, still in the water.
Camisea, 8 May 1981
Last night Kinski got little sleep because on the big, swaying liana suspension bridge near his cabin a lot of fornicating was going on. One of the ladies from Iquitos had selected the swinging bridge as a particularly suitable spot, where she laughed and joked with her suitors before the panting and groaning began, and the bridge swayed and creaked an accompaniment. Apparently she promptly gave H.P. a social disease. Reverend Father, my fat Dominican, thou who so firmly vouched for these ladies, I would gladly do without the globs of fat in my soup and without the bread for breaking, but please restore my lack of faith! I did not see God today. According to the statistics, eighty-five percent of all existing species are beetles and insects of various sorts, so where are we on the scale of God’s favorites?
Iquitos, 13 May 1981
On the flight from Camisea to Pucallpa I saw in the west, toward the mountains, dramatic cloud formations such as I have never seen before. In the jungle great loops of rivers glittered like gold, and in the sky all the doomsday mythologies were playing themselves out. In a few spots it was raining, causing double rainbows to form. The sky flared up across its entire expanse, and in the clouds battles were raging, with lightning darting toward the earth like swords. The edges of the most distant clouds glowed like angry, seething ore, with black mountain ranges welling up around them, and above them red cloud banks glowed bloodily. Stormy, glowing, primeval lights passed over the forest, drawing veils of dark and orange-yellow rain with them. Everything was being transformed ceaselessly into ever-increasing ecstasy, and the horizon lit up in a pulsing madness of beauty. As night fell, it drew everything down with it. The last revolt against the darkness was fearsome and bloody and grisly; far, far off in the distance the cloud mountains writhed as if suffering cramps. The last sun poked its fingers into wounded, bleeding towers of cloud. Then, all of a sudden, everything was extinguished. in the darkness lightning flickered without pause. I had almost stopped breathing, and knew that I had seen what hardly any human being had ever witnessed.
Iquitos, 22 May 1981
While I was sitting in huerequeque’s bar, next to me a pig kept rubbing with self-absorbed persistence against a case of beer. Then it disappeared behind the counter. A broom was lying on the ground as if felled by an assassin. I studied a wall calendar from which the month of April had not been torn off yet: Swiss mountains with a springlike alpine meadow in the foreground. Dandelions, apple trees in bloom, spotless cows grazing, and behind them snowy peaks, a world wreathed in mysteries, a world that does not exist for me anymore. How often I used to study calendar pictures down to the smallest detail, trying like a detective to figure out the exact date and time when the picture was taken. Looking at a picture of the hamburg harbor, I examined the models and years of the parked cars, figured out which ship was being loaded with what and where, found a church tower with a clock that showed the time, compared the angles of the shadows: all these pieces of information, when checked against the harbor’s logbook, would make it possible to determine the day and exact time, as well as the photographer’s position and the lens he had used. The picture could serve as evidence in court for a major case, evidence sufficient for a conviction.
Camisea, 2 June 1981
Something must be said about the majestic misery of the jungle. I was awakened by a strange, cackling bird I had never heard before and was annoyed that Dagoberto had not recorded it, even though I had no way of knowing whether he might not have done so after all.
Our kitchen crew slaughtered our last four ducks. While they were still alive Julian plucked their neck feathers, before chopping off their heads on the execution block. The white turkey, that vain creature, the survivor of so many roast chickens and ducks transformed into soup, came over to inspect, gobbling and displaying, and used his ugly feet to push one of the beheaded ducks, as it lay there on the ground bleeding and flapping its wings, into what he thought was a proper position and, making gurgling sounds while his bluish-red wattles swelled, he mounted the dying duck and copulated with it.
Camisea, 4 June 1981
The camp is silent with resignation; only the turkey is making a racket. It attacked me, overestimating its own strength, and I quickly grabbed its neck, which squirmed and tried to swallow, slapped him left-right with the casual elegance of the arrogant cavaliers I had seen in French Three Musketeers films who go on to prettily cross swords, and then let the vain albino go. Jis feelings hurt, he trotted away, wiggling his rump but with his wings still spread in conceited display. On a sandbank by the Pongo that the river had uncovered, a petrified turtle was found, but it must be so immensely large and heavy that it is impossible to transport. Segundo gave me a big insect, quite unusual. I heard it had been caught in Shivankoreni and nailed to a board. It has a bulge on its head like that of a crocodile, and allegedly its bite is lethal, as Segundo reveals in a whisper. During the rubber era there were many more of them, and the only way to prevent certain death was allegedly to make love to a woman right away, but a hundred years ago, when there were so many woodsmen but hardly any women, a silent understanding developed that in such a situation a woman would be lent out by her husband, and thus quite a few men who were bitten managed to survive.
Camisea, 6 June 1981
At night I am even lonelier than during the day. I listened intently to the silence, pierced by the cries of tormented insects and tormented animals. Even the motors of our boats have something tormented about them.
The first attempt to tow the ship did not go well, but at least we filmed the failure. After a few meters, the ship tipped and got hung up, and I heard the mighty steel cables in the block and tackle creak strangely and make unhealthy sounds. Finally one cable, as thick as a man’s arm, snapped, having heated up internally from the strain. It lay smoking on the ground. At the point of breakage I could see that the inner strands were glowing bright red. The ship gently slid backward, and it looked good, even if that does not help us much. The main actors in our disturbing drama, surrounded by the indifferent jungle as our audience, are no longer human beings but the steel cables, the Caterpillar, the winches, the tree trunks, the mud, the river, the rain, the landslides.
Camisea, 7 June 1981
Heavy downpours caused the river to rise so much that it lifted the ship, and the tree trunks we had slid underneath it were in danger of being washed away. Thick clumps of debris have washed up around the ship, decaying caña brava stalks, brush, leaves, branches. A landslide occurred between the two uppermost turnstiles on the slope. I saw no reason to get upset, went back to my hut and let the raging rage, though I knew that all it would take to break me was a few more of these gasping absurdities with which nature lashes out at me in my weakened state. But I refuse to bend as long as I am not bent. I had missed the blows on an empty pot that summoned us to lunch, and Mauch stopped by, after he had eaten his fill, and asked me whether i thought being a martyr would stop the rain. That was not my intention at all, and I found some food keeping warm on the stove and the huge thigh bone of a bull, still full of marrow. After that I fell asleep, worn out for no particular reason, and upon waking discovered that the malevolent weather outside had worn itself out as well. I wondered whether by sleeping I had averted a misfortune. In the face of the obscene, explicit malice of the jungle, which lacks only dinosaurs as punctuation, I feel like a half-finished, poorly expressed sentence in a cheap novel. While hauling away a mud-smeared, uncooperative steel cable, one of the Indians farted from the effort with such force and duration that it sounded amid the roaring vulgarity of nature like the first indication of a human will to impose order. In my imagination my wishes carry me away to a place where people fly over church towers, church towers over cropland, ships over mountains, and continents over oceans.
Indonesia has ordered the categorical clear-cutting of entire islands.
Camisea, 3 November 1981
In the morning I rode over to the cleared strip. We pulled the ship in smaller and smaller stretches, until it was almost down at the Urubamba. At noon fearfully menacing clouds formed—in the morning there had already been three brief downpours—and I had taken refuge under the ship along with sev-eral Campas. But the water streamed along the lengthwise curve of the ship’s body and soaked us. I ate some of the Campas’ coarse yucca meal, which they had with them in a sack. I handed out photos I had brought along for them. One Campa borrowed a walkie-talkie from me that I as trying to keep out of the rain, and spoke into it for a long time without being in actual contact with anyone. Then he hung two walkie-talkies crosswise on his chest and had Vignati take his picture.
With our goal so close, I let our heavy equipment be pushed to the limit. As the Caterpillar was tugging the ship’s bow from the side, one after another of the block and tackle’s cast-iron pulleys snapped. The pieces, boiling hot, bounced hissing into the slippery mud, yet I told the crew to keep pulling. When everything was quiet, I saw for the first time the shy cluck bird, which utters such strange sounds, sending them echoing through the treetops. Something that struck the bird as unusual must have lured it there. This bird is black and quite large, and when it calls it rears up toward the sky and with each call shakes its wings in a courting posture.
Camisea, 4 November 1981
We had chosen two camera positions: Mauch with a handheld; Klausmann very close to the ship, squeezed into a corner of a little spit of land from which the only escape route was straight into the water. But his position remained risky, because once the ship really started to move it could conceivably tear down the earth berm and plow him under. We conferred about this for a long time. Raimund, the lighting man, and several Campas posted themselves above his perch, ready to pull him up and out of the danger zone. For myself I tried to find a somewhat higher lookout, from which I could see both cameras, as well as the position of the bulldozer. I had visual contact with both Walter and Tercero. In case something unforeseen happened, I could warn the cameraman below me in time. In fact the ship did initially veer toward the earthen berm by the camera, and I saw Raimund leap to the other side of the camera to get it out of the way, moving it toward the water, while the Campas held themselves in readiness to rescue Klausmann. But Tercero managed to get the ship swung back in the other direction. Once half the ship was in the water, it keeled over so breathtakingly to the side, against the current, that it seemed inevitable that the boat would capsize and sink. As if it were tossing and turning in a confused, chaotic fever dream, the ship heaved from one side to the other. I lost sight of the Caterpillar, which had bravely jammed itself under the tipping boat, so i ran around the ship, out of range of the camera. As I did so, my bare feet came down on the razor-sharp shards of a broken beer bottle, which the Indians had left lying in the mud after their nocturnal fiesta. I noticed that i was bleeding profusely, and that there were lots of other shards lying around. Rushing on, I was paying more attention to the broken glass than to the ship, which I assumed was a goner. By the time i had reached the other side of the ship, the Caterpillar had already stuck its blade with brute strength under the ship’s hull, with the result that the railing, which was almost scraping the ground, was crushed with a terrible crunching sound, but the ship, by now almost entirely in the water, righted itself.
I did not even feel my bleeding foot. The ship meant nothing to me—it held no more value that some broken old beer bottle in the mud, than any steel cable whipping around itself on the ground. There was no pain, no joy, no excitement, no relief, no happiness, no sound, not even a deep breath. All I grasped was a profound uselessness or, to be more precise, I felt I had merely penetrated deeper into its mysterious realm. I saw the ship, returned to its element, right itself with a weary sigh. Today, on Wednesday, the fourth of November, 1981, shortly after twelve noon, we got the ship from the Río Camisea over a steep mountain to the Río Urubamba. All that is to be reported is this: I was involved.