Adèle

The number of coincidences, through people I’ve met, books I’ve read, the information that has come to me unbidden—or only bidden in thought— as I’ve been doing the research for Two Suitcases was already extraordinary when we met Monique Lagard a few days ago, courtesy of Montalbanais friends, Ian and Janet Milligan. 

In 1993-1994, Monique and her lycée students made a short film about Adèle Kurzweil, a young Austrian refugee who came to Montauban at the same time as my parents, in 1940. Surely Adèle’s parents knew mine. They were active Austrian Social Democrats. Adèle’s mother worked for Ernst Papanek at Montmorency, outside of Paris, between 1938 and 1940, at the same time that my mother did. Her father was interned with mine. And the film project began with the discovery of three suitcases (not two) filled with the family’s memorabilia.

Now that I am writing about this, vague memories of hearing my parents talking about Adèle and her family are returning. 

Thank you so much, Ian and Janet. Thank you so much, Monique.

The film, which is only thirteen minutes long, is subtitled in English.

Click here to see it.

Two Suitcases: an excerpt


Powidltascherl

Alsergrund
December 31, 1934

Trude’s grandfather died on the last day of 1934. A fever took him, or perhaps it was pneumonia. He wouldn’t let Helene or Trude go for the doctor. “My time has come,” he told them that morning when, for a short time, he had the strength and clarity to speak. “Don’t spend good money dragging things out. Just sit with me.”

Trude brought another cool washcloth from where it was hanging on the sill of the slightly open window, and put it on his burning forehead. He hadn’t eaten for three days, and stopped taking liquids the night before.

Helene sat at the table writing notes to their relatives inviting them to come to say good-by. He might have another few days, she wrote. He’s a strong man.

In the early afternoon, two of Herr Berger’s friends from the coffee house stopped in. Trude went over earlier to tell them why her grandfather hadn’t been around for the last few days. A short time later a cousin from the next district brought a pot of soup.

“He’s not eating, Grete,” Helene told her.

“It’s for you and Trude, Helene. You’ll go on living, no?”

“It’s very kind of you to think of us, Tante Grete,” said Trude.

Grete grunted and pulled her sweater around herself more tightly. “Why on earth is that window open? Are you both crazy? You’re letting him die!”

“Papa wants it open,” Helene said.

“And you think he’s in the right frame of mind to give advice?” Grete walked over to the window and closed it firmly.

“Grete!” came a voice from under the blankets on the settee. “Leave that window alone!

“Ach, Josef!’ cried Grete. “You’re still with us? Good! I have some messages for you to give to our family on the other side.” She opened the window just a little.

“There is no other side, Grete, but tell me anyway.” Herr Berger sounded infinitely weary. He closed his eyes and didn’t open them again until Grete was gone.

The sun was low in the sky when he woke once more.

“Close the window, Helene,” he said.

Alsergrund
January 12, 1935

“And five hundred grams of flour,” Trude said to the grocer’s wife. She looked at the small glass bottle of milk, the six eggs, the hundred grams of walnuts, and the hundred grams of butter already on the counter, and added up how much it would cost. “No,” she said. “Make that four hundred grams of flour. We have a little at home.”

“What are you making?” asked the grocer’s wife.

“Powidltascherl. The family is coming. You heard that my grandfather died? It was his favorite.”

“Oh, yes! So suddenly!”

“It was fast. He was fine, he caught a cold, and then he was gone. He was seventy-three, you know.”

“A good age. He had a long life. How many people are coming to you?”

“Well, the family from Tyrol, and maybe his cousins from Bavaria. And everyone from here. Maybe twelve or fifteen in all?”

“Then you’ll need more ingredients than this for the powidltascherl! Do you have the powidl?”

“I have two jars. It should be enough.”

“But you won’t have enough dough for that much powidl.” She was already weighing out more flour. “Here, I’m giving you more eggs, too. You have enough sugar? Let me give you some anyway.” The counter was filling with goods.

“No, no, Frau Steinmann! I can’t afford this much and I can’t add to our bill! It’s already late!”

“Trude! You aren’t paying for any of this! I’m giving it to you so you can remember Josef properly.”

“Oh, Frau Steinmann, you mustn’t. What will I tell my mother when I bring home so much food?”

“You tell her it’s my gift! We went to school together, your mother and I. Your family has come here for too many years to count. Take it! Open your bag and let me put these things in.”

Trude opened her bag. Frau Steinmann was right. One recipe would never feed so many people. “You’re very kind. Some day I’ll figure out a way to return the favor,” she said as she went back out into the cold.

Two hours later, the apartment was so packed with family and friends that people could barely move.

“Excuse me, Tante Anna,” Trude said as she pushed her way to the table with another plate of powidltascherl. She’d been able to make four recipes with the two jars of powidl and the ingredients Frau Steinmann gave her. Before returning to the kitchen, she popped another of the crispy plum turnovers into her mouth. It was her third. She stood still for a minute to savor the sweet and remember her grandfather. The taste of the powidl brought tears to her eyes. She ate the tascherl very slowly.

Behind her, she heard one of the cousins from Bavaria talking to Grete.

“All the Jews in our village are gone,” he was saying. “Every one.” Trude stayed where she was, perfectly still, listening. The cousin continued, “Could be they’re in hiding somewhere.”

“What are they hiding from?” asked Anna. “The police? Their neighbors?”

“Both. It’s very bad for the Jews all over Germany now. They can’t work, the children can’t go to school, what should they do? I imagine they went to the larger cities where maybe they can get work doing the things nobody else wants to do.” He reached over to the table and took two more powidltascherl. “If you ask me, that’s what they should be doing. That’s what they should have been doing all along. Making themselves useful without taking our jobs.”

Oh god, thought Trude. She hoped Litzi and Theresa wouldn’t be coming. What would she say to them?

“We’re much better off without the Jews,” the cousin continued. “The bank is in local hands now, and although there is only one left, we have a doctor we can trust.”

“The Jewish doctor wasn’t trustworthy?” asked Anna.

“Doctors! There were two. To be honest, I never had a problem with them, Herr Frankel and Herr Goldmann, but you hear stories.”

Deciding she’d heard enough, Trude looked up, and there was Fritz, right across the room from her, standing hesitantly near the door. He looked thin and haggard. Trude watched him make his way to where her mother was accepting condolences and wait his turn to speak to her. He didn’t look around the room.

She glanced at the plate of powidltascherl. More than half were still there.

“Excuse me, Tante Anna,” she said again, this time making her way to where Fritz stood.

“Trude!” a voice called out. It was Theresa, the cousin she grew up with, the cousin she hadn’t seen in more than two years, the cousin whose wedding she missed because of the civil war, the one who never wrote back after Trude told her that Fritz and she were planning to travel together, and to marry someday.

“Theresa!” Trude exclaimed as they hugged. “How wonderful to see you!” and it was. All their differences fell away in that hug. The two young women forgot what was going on around them, so deep in conversation were they, catching up, apologizing, falling into their old familiar way of being together.

It was ten minutes before Trude remembered that she was in charge of the powidltascherl, and the two of them went into the kitchen to prepare another batch. It was half an hour before she remembered Fritz. He was gone by then.

A morning walk in Cordes-sur-Ciel

Yesterday we took a different route than usual. Here’s a little of what we saw.

The old steam mill in our valley is on the left. It originally used water, but the little stream didn’t provide enough power.

Small stone buildings like this one are common in the fields.

Cordes rising out of the gentle landscape

Another view from a little higher

The sweetpeas could use rain

The wild plums are very tannic this year but still delicious.

Mocha can go off-leash on this walk

These grapes are smaller than usual too. It’s been hot and dry.

March 1933 – an excerpt from Two Suitcases

Talk about history repeating itself. This is where I am in Two Suitcases now:

Café Rüdigerhof, Brigitennau, Vienna
March 7, 1933

Fritz closes the shop early to meet with the others at the coffee house. The news that Chancellor Dollfuss eliminated the parliament hit the press earlier that week, and today it was announced that the Wartime Economy Authority Law, an emergency law passed in 1917, would be used as a basis to rule.


Every day that week brought what seemed like earth-shattering news. First the National Council couldn’t agree on how to settle the railway workers’ strike. When an agreement was finally reached, irregularities were found in the vote, and Karl Renner, leader of the SDAP, resigned as Chairman of the Council.


Rudolf Ramek, a Christian Socialist, then became Chairman. He declared the previous vote invalid and asked for a new vote. Another uproar followed. Ramek then resigned, and Sepp Straffner of the Pan-Germans became Chairman, but he also stepped down immediately. The resignations of Renner, Ramek, and Straffner left the house without a speaker, so the session couldn’t be closed and the National Council was incapable of acting. The members left the chamber as a consequence.


Chancellor Dollfuss declared a constitutional crisis. The parliament had “eliminated itself,” a crisis not provided for in the constitution. He then set up an authoritarian government without a parliament. The establishment of wartime rule gave him complete authority.


“It’s what he always wanted! He wanted to be head of a fascist state from the beginning!” Gert is saying as Fritz comes into the coffee house.


“That’s not true. He wanted to make peace between the parties at first,” Fanny answers.


“What does it matter what his intentions were?” Karl asks. “We have a completely authoritarian government now. Democracy is dead.”


“It’s as bad as Italy,” says Hugo. “Dollfuss always admired Mussolini.”


“That’s why I said he always wanted to be a dictator,” Gert points out.


Fritz adds, “It’s a coup d’état, really. Renner, Ramek, and Straffner fell right into his hands.”


“At least he won’t let Austria merge with Germany,” says Erwin.


“Small comfort when one man now controls the power over all economic activities and over war and peace indefinitely,” Fritz says.


Fanny wonders, “Do we continue our new education program? Having Dollfuss as dictator doesn’t diminish the rising power of the Nazis and the dangers of demagoguery.”


“Dollfuss isn’t a Nazi. Or a demagogue. It’s possible the rule of a strong hand will calm things down a little,” Erwin says.


“One can hope,” says Gert, “but I think the Nazis are far too pleased with how fast their ideas are spreading to stop now.”


“I think they’ll be more dangerous than ever. And Dollfuss’s party, the Christian Socials, are barely less anti-Jewish than the Nazis anyway,” Karl says.


Erwin adds, “I wonder if it will soon become too dangerous for us to even hold meetings or give talks.”


“Especially in the beer halls. I already find them frightening,” Fanny says.


“We shouldn’t be driven by fear of what might be!” Fritz answers. “I say we go ahead with the talks as scheduled. I think it would be a big mistake to let ourselves be intimidated.”


“I agree!” “Yes.” “You’re right,” the others say.


“Alright. We’ll go ahead, but I think we all need to keep our eyes and ears open to gauge the response of the groups we address. Dictators use spies to keep the peace. It’s more important than ever that we aren’t seen as rabble-rousers,” says Hugo. “We’ll meet on Tuesday then, and listen to Karl practice his speech for the beer hall.”


Cordes in winter (Cordes en hiver)

We’re told that this winter is not typical for Cordes-sur-Ciel, that it was unusually short, that, in fact, it may well not be over yet.

On nous dit que cet hiver n’est pas typique de Cordes-sur-Ciel, qu’il a été exceptionnellement court, qu’en fait, il se pourrait bien qu’il ne soit pas encore terminé.

After six weeks in California, we came back to our little house in Cordes on January 11. The skies were gray, but the fields were still green.

Après six semaines en Californie, nous sommes rentrés dans notre petite maison à Cordes le 11 janvier. Le ciel était gris, mais les champs étaient toujours verts.

January 11
11 janvier

It was cold that month, cold and damp and very gray.

Il faisait froid ce mois-ci, froid et humide et très gris.

January 17
17 janvier

It even snowed a little.

Il a même neigé un peu.

January 23
23 janvier

January 25
25 janvier

But it was cozy indoors and there were at least a couple sunny and clear days each week.

Mais c’était agréable à l’intérieur et il y avait au moins deux journées ensoleillées et claires chaque semaine.

My favorite chair for reading.
Ma chaise préférée pour lire.
Tom is trying it out.
Tom l’essaie.

It was a good time for making potimarron soup.

C’était un bon moment pour faire de la soupe au potimarron.

And poached pears.

Et des poires pochées.

I love seeing the trees and bushes without leaves.

J’aime voir les arbres et les buissons sans feuilles.

We took long walks with the dog. One day, I noticed hyacinths in bud in front of a neighbor’s house. It happens, our neighbor said, but then it gets very, very cold again, and the buds never bloom.

Nous avons fait de longues promenades avec le chien. Un jour, j’ai remarqué des jacinthes en boutons devant la maison d’un voisin. Cela arrive, a dit notre voisin, mais ensuite, il fait à nouveau très froid et les bourgeons ne fleurissent jamais.

January 19

It was about then that a fortunate thing happened. We’d wondered who the abandoned garden across the street from our house belonged to, and had asked around before we left for California. We could look over the wall and see that, though largely covered in brush, it looked like there there were fruit trees, a chicken coop, and maybe a well.

C’était à peu près alors qu’une chose chanceuse s’est produite. Nous nous étions demandés à qui appartenait le jardin abandonné situé de l’autre côté de la rue de notre maison et nous l’avions demandé avant notre départ pour la Californie. Nous pourrions regarder par-dessus le mur et voir que, bien que largement recouvert de broussailles, il semblait y avoir des arbres fruitiers, un poulailler et peut-être un puits.

Travelling for so long – we’d left Cordes in mid-October for Morocco, stayed four weeks, returning for only a couple, before our time in California – I was longing for roots. As I fell asleep in all those different beds, I’d imagine asking for permission to use that garden: cleaning it up, pruning the trees, digging over the beds and planting vegetables and flowers, and maybe even having a few chickens.

Voyager pendant si longtemps – nous avions quitté Cordes à la mi-octobre pour le Maroc, sommes restés quatre semaines et n’y étions revenus que deux semaines avant notre séjour en Californie – je rêvais de racines. Quand je me suis endormi dans tous ces différents lits, j’imagine que demander l’autorisation d’utiliser ce jardin: le nettoyer, tailler les arbres, creuser par-dessus les lits, planter des légumes et des fleurs et peut-être même avoir quelques poulets.

Our neighbors, Dominique and Lucie, were kind enough to keep Mocha for us while we were gone. A week or so after we came back, we invited them over for dinner. To our delight, Dominique told us the garden belonged to Lucette, who passed away three years ago, and whose house was maintained by her children, though they rarely use it. Coincidentally, they were there that weekend.

Nos voisins, Dominique et Lucie, ont eu la gentillesse de garder Mocha pour nous pendant notre absence. Environ une semaine après notre retour, nous les avons invités à dîner. À notre plus grand plaisir, Dominique nous a dit que le jardin appartenait à Lucette, décédée il y a trois ans et dont la maison était entretenue par ses enfants, bien qu’ils l’utilisent rarement. Par coïncidence, ils étaient là ce week-end.

The next morning, Tom went over, introduced himself, and minutes later, we had permission to use the garden.

Le lendemain matin, Tom est allé se présenter, et quelques minutes plus tard, nous avons eu la permission d’utiliser le jardin.

The chicken coop. I took this picture from an angle where the piles of trash and old building materials weren’t visible.
Le poulailler. J’ai pris cette photo sous un angle où les piles de déchets et les vieux matériaux de construction n’étaient pas visibles.
I was pleased to discover a clothesline, partly covered in vines and brambles, but functional. Artichokes, planted randomly on the lawn and in the beds, were thriving. That’s the door to the chicken coop in the background.
J’ai eu le plaisir de découvrir une corde à linge, partiellement recouverte de vignes et de ronces, mais fonctionnelle. Les artichauts, plantés au hasard sur la pelouse et dans les parterres, étaient en plein essor. C’est la porte du poulailler à l’arrière-plan.
It is a well!
C’est un puits!
There’s an old pump that we haven’t got working yet.
Il y a une vieille pompe avec laquelle nous n’avons pas encore travaillé.

And, even though it was January, there were irises blooming.

Et, même si c’était en janvier, des iris étaient en fleurs.

I think they are Iranian iris, Iris reticulata.
Je pense que ce sont des iris iraniens, Iris reticulata.

We also found a peach tree already budding.

Nous avons également trouvé un pêcher en herbe.

So we began work in the garden, pruning, clearing brush, cleaning up in general.

Nous avons donc commencé à travailler dans le jardin: élagage, débroussaillage, nettoyage en général.

Shirtsleeve weather
Assez chaud pour pas de manteau
I had no idea how much joy hanging the clothes to dry would bring me.
Je n’avais aucune idée de la joie que j’avais à suspendre des vêtements.
A neighbor gave us a little table and chair.
Un voisin nous a donné une petite table et une chaise.
Tom repaired the steps going down to the well.
Tom a réparé les marches qui descendent au puits.
We found a small enamel bucket and began using the well to water the fruit trees.
Nous avons trouvé un petit seau en émail et avons commencé à utiliser le puits pour arroser les arbres fruitiers.
We carried the water in a bigger bucket.
Nous avons porté l’eau dans un plus grand seau.
One Saturday, we bought four little strawberry plants and set them in the ground in a neat row.
Un samedi, nous avons acheté quatre petits plants de fraises et les avons placés dans le sol de manière ordonnée.
Every couple days I pick fresh irises for the table. They’re very
delicate and don’t last long.
Tous les deux jours, je choisis des iris frais pour la table. Ils sont très délicat et ne dure pas longtemps.

On February 10, M. Jazz de Rodez, a cat of great dignity and considerable curiosity, came to live with us.

Le 10 février, M. Jazz de Rodez, un chat d’une grande dignité et d’une grande curiosité, est venu vivre avec nous.

He took over the upper floor of the house immediately.
Il a immédiatement pris possession de l’étage supérieur de la maison.
At this point, he owns every room except the one Mocha is in.
À ce stade, il possède toutes les pièces, sauf celle de Mocha.
Mocha likes Jazz a lot more than Jazz likes her. If Mocha showed her considerable interest in the cat in some way other than barking, the process of integration would be going better.
Mocha aime beaucoup Jazz beaucoup plus que Jazz ne l’aime bien. Si Mocha manifestait un intérêt considérable pour le chat autrement qu’en aboyant, le processus d’intégration se déroulerait mieux.

While the two of them make their peace, the garden keeps growing.

Alors que les deux font leur paix, le jardin ne cesse de croître.

Daffodils on our street
February 20
Jonquilles dans notre rue.

Peach blossoms about to open.
Fleurs de pêche sur le point de s’ouvrir.
February 28
First peach blossom.
Première fleur de pêche.
March 3
Tree peony.
Pivoine arbustive.
February 28
Apricot blossom
Fleur d’abricot
March 3

Now there are trees in bloom everywhere.

Maintenant, il y a des arbres en fleurs partout.

Wild plum or maybe almond
Prune sauvage ou peut-être d’amande
March 5

Inside, Mocha waits a little impatiently to be taken for a walk.

A l’intérieur, Mocha attend un peu avec impatience de se promener.

And Jazz is sleeping on my lap.

Et Jazz dort sur mes genoux.

I don’t think winter will come back this year.

Je ne pense pas que l’hiver reviendra cette année.

But I could be wrong.

Mais je peux me tromper.

Standing Rock Spirit On Every Street Corner

I usually don’t post other people’s blogs on mine, but Thanissara’s vision is powerful, her thinking so aligned with my own, and her message so clear, that I felt compelled to publish it here.

Thanissara

Being in a living prayer. The art of collective resistance; carrying forward the sacred flame of Great Spirit; honouring Mother Nature and Grandmother Earth. Taking to heart Seven Lakota Values and Guidelines.

Standing Rock was a training ground to resist the march of eco-destruction that is now triggering mass extinction and the collapse of human civilisation. Seasoned activists taught new comers, like me, how to withstand militarised police and private militia, clean out tear gas from tender eyes, treat rubber bullets; how to huddle together, to move as one, arms locked, to circle and protect the vulnerable and those targeted first, Indigenous and People of Colour. While a real stretch from my regular safe world, it made perfect sense within the context of our dystopian future that is fast arriving. Interlocking my arms awkwardly while in a clumsy shuffle, a moment of prescience flashed, we will all likely find ourselves…

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Mama Ganache: a retrospective

It’s only eight months since we passed Mama Ganache on to Ben Taylor and his family. In some ways that feels like an eternity; in others, the blink of an eye. It was harder than I expected to review my pictures from all those years. Assembling them for this blog brings a lump to my throat, an ache in my heart, and even some tears.

Mama Ganache began her life in the basement of the Vets Hall in San Luis. We rented the kitchen there on Sunday afternoons to create some ridiculously labor-intensive, ridiculously delicious chocolate bars: layers of chocolate, crispy rice and peanut butter. Tom sold them at local churches to fund his fledgling NGO, Project Hope and Fairness.

When his sister Joanne opened Splash Cafe in San Luis, our newly named Sweet Earth Chocolates were made in the second floor kitchen.

Our chocolate at Splash in 2006
Our first truffle collection

In 2009, we moved down the street to 1445 Monterey.

Our chocolates grew more and more beautiful and delicious, especially when Rebecca Wamsley came to work for us.

We held art shows, wine tastings and parties.

In 2012, we changed our name to Mama Ganache.

Valentine’s Day was always fun.

As was Easter:

Halloween:

And Christmas:

In 2013, we started to make our own chocolate from beans sourced from around the world.

Truffle critters were always popular.

We gave tours, hosted birthday parties and meetings, and raffled off huge bunnies and turkeys.

Our artists were amazing.

As was their art.

And our customers.

Tom and I will be forever grateful to all the incredible people who worked for us over the years. Apologies to those of you – and there are many – who aren’t included here because I don’t have pictures of you.

Larry, Tom, and Josefina

Tom and I (and Joanne) had Mama Ganache for thirteen years. I went through close to 6000 pictures to choose these, and the ones I picked in the end don’t cover a fraction of the love, life, and laughter that we shared in those years.

And none of it would have happened without Tom.

Ninety Days outside the Schengen area – good-bye California

THX MoM - a carving on a park bench at Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA.
THX MoM
Lake Merritt park bench, Oakland, CA

Though I’m sad to be leaving California behind, I’m filled with gratitude that our long term French visas, good for one year, have come. Dual Austrian/American citizenship is still in process, but I’m optimistic about that too, especially as reading The Viennese – Splendor, Twilight, and Exile makes me feel so very Viennese.

Coffee at Linnaea'sCoffee at Linnaea’s Cafe, San Luis Obispo

Once, when I told our retired psychoanalyst friend, Joe Abrahams, that it was my mother, my very Viennese mother, who finally pulled me to the top in a long series of dreams about mountains, he responded without hesitation, yes, that’s your purpose, to fulfill your mother’s dreams.

I’m deeply thankful that my mother passed on her dream of living in the south of France to me, as well as for my rich life in the United States till now. THX MoM.

My mother, Trudy Baumohl, in California, near the end of her life

You know the sensation you get when you feel profoundly thankful – when the tests come back and you’re okay, when the car doesn’t hit the dog, when you realize what you’ve got, that tingle that spreads outward from the back of your head as the hypothalamus releases all those healing hormones? As the possibility of putting down roots in Cordes for a good while becomes more real, I feel deeply grateful more and more often. When I am there, I feel it every day as I open the shutters.

Sometimes there’s a hot balloon out there

Such gratitude cannot be conjured, though it can be courted. Like meditation, it isn’t something you do; it’s something that comes. Practice readies the heart, the mind, and the body; but true meditation and deep gratitude are states that arrive only by grace.

The cycle of giving and receiving gratitude is at the heart of the Iroquois belief system – the prime responsibility of the people to keep the cycle turning.

The yearly cycle of Iroquois Thanksgiving Ceremonies

The next few days will be our last in California for a while. I am grateful to so many of you for your love, laughter, and light during our years in San Luis: twenty years of learning, sharing, and growing.

As things seem pretty much in order for our departure, Tom and I plan to spend our two last afternoons in San Luis at Mama Ganache, where you are welcome to join us. One or the other, or maybe both of us, will be there between 2 and 5 on both Tuesday and Wednesday, January 8 and 9. Stop by.

We’d like to say thank you.

Two Suitcases – an update

It’s two years since I stopped writing the book I’d been weaving from strands of my parents’ story.

But I’m still working on it.

The project is called Two Suitcases after the two suitcases my parents took each time they escaped, first from Vienna, then Paris, and finally from southwest France, before settling in Philadelphia, where I was born.

Since life pitched me back into Mama Ganache in 2016, I haven’t written more than a few words of the book.

The project has a life of its own, however. The story often arrives when I’m in the middle of something else, teasing me with its possibilities. Perhaps it will be a trilogy: Vienna, Paris, the south of France. Or, there’s surely enough material for a series: maybe Vienna 1929-34, Vienna 1934-38, Paris 1938-40, The south of France 1940-42.

Now I’m setting long term plans aside and thinking, once I am settled in Cordes again, I’ll try to write vignettes, a series of short pieces revealing a bigger story.

Here’s an excerpt from some writing I did in 2015.

Inside, except for a few who stare glassy-eyed into the lighted station, the passengers in the railcar are reading quietly or asleep, some sprawled over two seats, more cramped into one seat with extra luggage under the feet. Trude and Fritz find their own seats and squeeze the two suitcases between others on the racks above. The car is cooling down quickly as it sits in the station, but Trude is wearing almost everything she owns and, snuggled against Fritz on the worn leather seat, she is comfortable enough. People are smoking cigarettes and someone is singing softly, perhaps to a child. She closes her eyes but cannot sleep, so she thinks of their geese, Babette, and especially of Ignatz, who has only a few weeks to live before he graces the Christmas table. At least she won’t be the one who has to pluck his feathers and roast him.

When she opens her eyes, the train is pulling out of the station, the city receding. Nazi flags are displayed in many windows. “What next?” Fritz asks quietly. Trude tries to smile encouragingly at him – she knows how fortunate they are to be on that train – but her whole being is weighed down by the news Henri shared in the car: the brutal camps in the north, the bombings, and the implementation of the Final Solution, the eradication of all Jews in Europe.

Swastikas in shop windows fly by as the train gathers speed.

Minutes later, the conductor comes through the car, punching holes in the tickets of the people who’ve just boarded. Trude’s emotions are so raw that she trembles with fear as he approaches, even though he isn’t asking to see papers or even speaking to the passengers. Her ticket and Fritz’s are punched without incident. She sighs deeply but cannot stop shaking.

Hendaye is nearly five hours away. She should sleep. Fritz is already snoring beside her. How can he sleep, she wonders, when things are so uncertain? The train might be stopped by the authorities anytime. Would their documents pass muster? She can’t set her fears aside – they are too real.

Moments after she drops into a light sleep, voices wake her. The nightmare begins: an officer in uniform is making his way down the aisle, checking passports.

The whole time I haven’t been writing, though, the story has been growing. Cooking. Filling out. Getting richer. Fermenting. Incubating. Gestating.

I haven’t stopped reading the literature of the time, both other writers’ takes on the times, of which it seems there are more daily, and the books my mother would have read at the time, like The Radetsky March. Currently, I’m reading Paul Hofmann’s social history, The Viennese – Splendor, Twilight, and Exile.

There is a great deal of tantalizing research to be done: for example, our house is Cordes is a twenty minute drive from the village of Verfeil-sur-Seye, where my parents were in hiding between 1940 and 1942. We’ve only visited once so far, but we’ve been told about a very lucid 102-year old who may remember the years when the refugees showed up in the village.

My quest for dual Austrian/American citizenship has been most fruitful in adding details to the story.

Since I began the application process, I’ve been sorting through the boxes of papers stored by my mother, moved from house to house, unopened for many years. I found the very useful folder of documents she and my father collected while applying to Austria for restitution in the 1960’s: birth certificates, school and employment records, old addresses in Vienna, and identification papers. There are visas, tickets, and bills of lading. My mother’s and aunt’s passports are there – Ida’s stamped with a big red J over the Third Reich symbol – though not my father’s. Such treasures.

French identification papers for travel, 1940

Tickets for the Serpa Pinto, the ship Fritz and Trudy took from Lisbon to Philadelphia in 1942

The criteria for qualifying for dual citizenship includes proving that my father never was a citizen of any country but Austria, and that he never fought in the army of another country. That opened whole new vistas in the story.

As part of the process of proving that Fritz didn’t volunteer to fight in the French army, I researched the French internment camp, Meslay du Maine, where he was held from September 1939 to June 1940. Eye-opening!

In order to explain why he was never naturalized in the US, I had the transcription of the 1953 court hearing in which he was denied American citizenship translated into German.

Stories upon stories.

But perhaps the greatest gift is the video of an interview one of our daughters did with my mother in 1996 as part of a school assignment about the war years. How extraordinary to see my mother alive, in her own kitchen, recalling the very years I’ve been thinking about so much!

So, stay tuned. This baby is going to be born.


Ninety Days outside the Schengen Area – Cordes and a California Christmas

After four weeks in Morocco, outside the Schengen area, Tom and I were home in Cordes-sur-Ciel for two delicious, story-filled weeks. How that place fills my heart!

window view Nov 2018
The view from our bedroom
le sentier bleue
Walking to the hardware store
reading corner
My reading place
Porte de la Jane
Full moon over Porte de la Jane
garden gate
A garden gate in Quartier du Bouisset, Cordes
A drive-through bakery in Albi.
Only in France.
Our first Thanksgiving in Cordes
The vibrant Christmas Market in Toulouse

We visited the market just before the yellow vest movement ruined it, disappointing holiday shoppers and devastating the vendors, many of whom depend on the holiday season to pay the whole year’s bills.

The yellow vests have legitimate complaints. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Surely change is needed – indeed it is upon us in full force – but I grew up in a mom and pop store, and I just spent several years pouring heart and soul into Mama Ganache. I feel for those vendors who just lost the years’ profits. A peaceful vigil would not have caught the attention of the world, but violence is not the answer.

Saying goodbye to Cordes. Mocha is staying with neighbors.

The next steps in our long term visa and my Austrian citizenship process required flying back to California, also outside the Schengen Area. We spent the holidays with beloved family and friends.

Pismo Pier
Visiting Eva and her new brother Noah
Decorating the Christmas tree in Berkeley
The beginning of a gingerbread Hogwarts
Fluffy sunning in Josephine and Frank’s garden
Santa Maria BBQ for lunch with Tom’s family
A Danish lunch in Solvang
Almost ready for Christmas dinner at Joanne’s
Christmas lobster!
Relaxing at our Airbnb.
At last!