The Changing Room

An extraordinary dream came to me about a week ago. It was so bright and clear that it woke me completely, though it was three or four in the morning. Knowing that it would take a good while to fall asleep once the solid world had returned so fully, I did what I’ve been doing when I’m awake at night lately: I try to use my time well. Usually I repeat mantras or do breathing exercises. This dream, however, demanded my full attention. I went over and over it in my mind, sinking into its details.

In the morning, when the dream was fresh on my mind, I shared it with Tom, and I wrote it down in a note to a friend.

This is how I remember it now.

IMG_9888I am walking across a parking lot with my hand in my mother’s; we are going shopping in a department store. The store is a large windowless concrete building with two parts joined at the center but skewed, the lower half on the left and the higher one on the right.We enter by a door at the middle.

Still holding hands, my mother and I take the escalator downstairs to find some pajamas for me. The pajamas are easy to find, but I have grown, and need to try them on.

“Where is the changing room?” I ask someone. I am an adult now and my mother is gone. 

There is no changing room on this floor, I’m told. I should look upstairs. 

I climb the stairs to the upper level, but there’s no changing room there either. Someone tells me there’s an in-between floor that I missed. The changing room is there.

Halfway down the stairs I find an unfinished concrete room without windows, empty except for a guard in a brown uniform sitting at a wooden desk. I go to him and ask about the changing room. 

“It’s there,” he points behind me. I turn to see a doorway opening onto a beautiful meadow, bright blue sky, clear sunshine. On the other side of the meadow is a long, single-story, concrete building. 

Once through the doorway, I find myself on walkway that runs along the side of the building.  It is bounded by a wall, perhaps two feet high. After a moment’s hesitation, I climb onto the wall, pajamas tucked under my arm crackling in their cellophane wrapping, and jump down four or so feet onto the soft grass. Thrilled to be in the meadow, I run joyfully across it, a child again.

When I reach the second building and go in, I see it is a nursing home.  I walk down the hall to my left until I find an open door. 

In the room, a young black woman is tending a very old woman sitting in a chair. 

“Where is the changing room?” I ask.  The young woman asks me to wait and leaves the room. 

I sit with the ancient woman. She doesn’t speak. We communicate through the eyes.

When the young woman reappears, she is carrying a white blanket. You can put this over your head and change under it, she explains. I go into the corridor and do as she suggests.

Under the blanket, I open the package and discover that the pajamas as perfect. A lovely shade of pink, the top is floor-length, soft and delicate, full of grace. The front is exquisitely embroidered, and the pants are billowy silk, pulled tight at the ankle.

I am in awe, and beginning to come out from under the blanket when it is pulled off from above. As I step out to spin around, to feel the wonderful garment swirl around me, I see that it is the guard from the middle floor taking off the blanket. On his uniform I can read the words Child Protective Services.

I wake up, stunned.

I’m not afraid anymore. I am protected.

I found the changing room.

Om is Home

Ganesh Baba used to say that. Such a delightful aphorism – so full of broad and deep meaning.

To me, it means wherever you are is exactly the right place for you to be. The central secret is at your center. The treasure is buried in your own garden.

We didn’t move. Tom and I are still living in the same house, and working at the same business, Mama Ganache. The house, in my mind all ready to be someone else’s, wanted to be ours a little longer. Everything seemed to be in place, and I’d done all kinds of symbolic, metaphoric, ritual,  and inner work around letting go—I even led the session called “Letting Go” in a Year-to-Live class I co-teach—but the fates had it that we’re here, at home again.

It’s a fortunate thing, although fraught with difficulties and very hard work. This house is filled with light and beauty. And now it’s clean and repaired! What a gift!

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During the weeks the house was on the market and the first few after, I was tired and depressed and sick. Not all at once. Yeah, all at once.

Still, underneath all that physical, biological and psychological stress, I managed to retain a small, frequently imperceptible, sense that everything was going to be alright. It’s true I was wearing my little ceramic disk that says THIS TOO SHALL PASS, which always helps, but it was the way life itself unfolded that gave me the message most profoundly.

The very moment Tom and I decided that we would stay here, a text arrived from a friend, who had another friend, who was in need of a furnished room or two. Our new housemate moved in an hour later. Best housemate we’ve ever had. It would have been enough.

Events had almost inevitably been turns for the worse over the weeks before that. Things broke down, big things, the water heater, the sewage pump, the washer, all within a short time. The toilet overflowed and needed to be replaced when Airbnb guests were here. Everything took forever and cost too much. Then, in a flash, a helpful, upbeat, mature, and kind housemate moves in.

A week later, Mama Ganache lost both of its weekday shop employees at the same time, and it became clear to me that I should step back into the business. So here I am, Mama Ganache again.

I spent the last month on a new website: mama-ganache.com. I set up a chocolate club and free delivery service to hospitals and nursing homes. Tom and I are hosting two weekly events at the shop, a tea on Sundays, and a conversation on Thursday afternoons. We’re hosting two parties a month, Art after Dark on first Fridays, and the chocolate club pick-up party on second Fridays. I’ve been crazy busy.

In the middle of all that, Eva came on Thursday last week. She and I already have a long relationship with hummingbirds, so I knew the hummingbird who flew into the living room just before Luana dropped her off, had some message for me.

It was another rufous hummingbird, West Coast parallel to the ruby-throated hummingbird. It was trying frantically to fly out of the window above the dog’s bed. Lily Bear thought it was very exciting indeed, but she backed off when I asked her to. Almost immediately the bird fell, stunned, onto the window sill. When I tried to lift it up gently, it awoke and dashed into the upper corner of the window again. In my hand were three tiny hummingbird feathers.

As I stared at them, astonished, the bird fell again, very nearly into my open hands. This time I could lift it and carry it outdoors. I put it in a flower box and went to get a succulent leaf to make a sun shield for it.

When I came back with the leaf, the hummingbird looked at me with one eye and took off, circling around once and then landing high in the oak tree.

The feathers must have slid out of my hand when I put the bird in the flower box.

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I picked them up and put them in a special box. Hummingbird feathers, so tiny, so exquisite. Extraordinary.

These are hard times. The large, slow-moving astrological configuration (Uranus/Pluto) that’s been putting so many obstacles, small and large, in my path, will affect us all in one way or another. But surely something bigger is afoot, or, perhaps I should say, in the air.

 

Letting go

Our beautiful house is on the market at last. It took me well over a year to sort and organize before releasing it into the world to be enjoyed by new occupants. Almost eighteen years in a place is a long time.

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At first the house was filled with our growing family: three of our five kids, my mother, and, for a while, our oldest daughter, her husband and their new baby. Then we let rooms to new faculty, especially from the English department, grad students, and younger students, too, to mothers with young children, and many friends, older and younger.

IMG_4393For four years the house was full of Servas, Warm Showers, and Airbnb visitors from all over the world. I just took down the map because the hundreds of map pins were crowding each other put and falling onto the floor.

IMG_3686Because we had the space to do it, we hosted hundreds of community dinners, house concerts, book groups, women’s circles, poetry readings and book signings, political meetings, trunk shows, workshops, cooking classes, and celebrations of all kinds.

IMG_7504.jpg Just last year, we hosted a series of neighborhood potlucks that involved knocking on on 250 doors and hand-delivering invitations.

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Letting go, then, is more than selling the house. It’s a lifestyle change. We’re looking a houses a third the size of this one!

Nonetheless, I’ll still be me and Tom will still be Tom. Monday night dinners will continue, the first Friday salon will continue. I’ll have less cleaning to do, and more time for writing. We’ll take what we really need and love with us, and pass the the rest on.

Here’s what we’ll leave behind. May it serve its next owners as well as it has served us.

(If you’re interested in buying our place, it’s listed here.)

 

Two Suitcases – in process

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This is the first image that arrived on my desktop when I began the research for Two Suitcases. I googled “Socialist Youth Movement Vienna 1929” and this magical doorway into the world in which my parents met opened.

When I read about Edith Tudor-Hart, who took the photo (a show of her work is making the rounds called The Soviet Spy with a Conscience), she immediately joined my list of possible characters in my book. It’s a long list. There were so many extraordinary people around in Red Vienna that many of the people on that list haven’t shown up in the book yet. Edith jumped right in.

[I think I will change the names of the characters soon.]

Almost all the settings in the book come from pictures: family pictures and stories, or gifts Mother Internet sends me. I wrote the section on the Youth Congress from a newsreel. The torchlight march was inspired by hearing the songs the kids were singing.

I paste the material into the text above what I’m writing and take them out later. At first I didn’t save the pictures, so I hadn’t seen this one in months until I started collecting the pictures on Pinterest.

Here’s an excerpt in which the current version of Edith appears. My favorite line belongs to her:

“So, why do you think we have wars?”

“Because we are ruled by an elite group of sociopaths who own the banks that fund both sides of war for profit!”  says Edith, slamming her hand on the table.

Here’s the whole section:

July 13, 1929

It is Ernst Papenek’s talk on the benefits of International Socialism on the second morning of the Youth Congress that finally wins Erich over to the cause. At Fritz’s invitation, he sits with some of the young men from the Brigittenau group: Hugo, Karl, Erwin, and a fellow called Franz, and listens to Papanek for most of the morning. Not only does the speaker make Democratic Socialism seem reasonable, caring, expedient and attainable – all important values to Erich – but it turns out that Papanek, unlike Luitpold Stern, is not a pacifist. It isn’t that he promotes or even approves of militarism, but he does believe in facing up to the dark forces that oppose the dream of a unified socialist world. 

Afterwards, Trude, Fanny, and Gert join them at a cafe to share their experiences. Edith arrives from the tent camps where she has been taking photographs. “18,000 kids in 3000 tents! You must find the time to go over to see them,” she announces as she pushes her bulky camera bag under the chair and sits down. “Vienna is housing 22,000 young guests for these three days – and they’re all having a great time from what I see.” 

An enthusiastic discussion follows, but Erich is itching to bring up Papanek’s stand on fighting. At last he finds an entry point.

“The ideas I’m hearing are all tremendous, but I wonder if you aren’t being naive. Even Papanek believes that the children may not be safe in today’s world. We shouldn’t imagine that by not thinking about it, we can make the National Socialists and their hatred disappear. We may need to fight to protect the children.”

“Papanek wouldn’t say that! You misunderstand him!” Edith responds. She gets shrill about such issues easily. “He abhors war!”

“I think it’s you who misunderstand,” Erich answers. “He was quite clear. He doesn’t rule out the necessity of war under extreme conditions. Were you there this morning?”

“But the conditions leading up to war can be mitigated before it becomes necessary,” says Hugo.

“That hasn’t happened yet,” Erich says. “I doubt if it ever will.” He pauses and then asks the group, “So, why do you think we have wars?”

“Because we are ruled by an elite group of sociopaths who own the banks that fund both sides of war for profit!” says Edith, slamming her hand on the table.

“The current coalition government isn’t in control? I thought we were celebrating the success of Democratic Socialism here,” Erich says, one eyebrow raised.

“We are.” Edith lets out a breath so derisive it is almost a snort. “But socialism hasn’t overcome the forces of capitalistic militarism yet. War is far too profitable for the banks to easily give up financing it. They’re just waiting for the right moment to launch a new war.”

Ida says, “That’s why the work we’re doing here is so important. Young people have been raised to think war is inevitable and will always be part of our lives. The generation being raised in the socialist paradigm will know better.” 

“And will refuse to be sacrificed like pawns in a game of chess,” adds Gert.

“I don’t think it’s that easy,” says Erich. “Boys like to fight. You can’t overcome instinct. Ask Dr. Freud.”

“That’s exactly why this afternoon is dedicated to games and sport!” Fanny says, ending the discussion.  “Are any of you playing in the games?”

“We’re both on the all-Vienna football team,” Karl replies for himself and his brother. “We’re playing against the Czech team at 4:00. Are you girls coming to watch?”

“Of course!” come responses from all around.

Enjoying reading this? Click on the links above to learn more about the characters and see the material I’m using as resources.

 

 

 

Two Suitcases – an update and an excerpt

I haven’t had much time to write lately. What with watching Éva, charming but nonetheless 19 months old, up to five days a week; sorting and emptying this enormous house and getting it ready for the market; hosting a slew of wonderful guests, some paid, some not; and best of all, having our whole, hilarious family here for over a week, entailing regular meals for between 15 and 23 guests (impossible without the help of my sister-in-law,  Joanne Currie), quiet moments are scarce.

AND YET, the ancestors haven’t let up on me. Material floods in. My parents’ papers from Vienna, Paris, and Verfeil. Above, their identification papers from Tarn-et-Garonne, in France. Below, a history of the Social Democratic Party in Brigittenau, the neighborhood in Vienna where much of what I’m currently writing takes place:

red Briggittenau book

 

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.

Here’s a draft of the section I managed to write during all the uproar of the last couple weeks.

July 12, 1929

Vienna

Trude looks into the old mirror on the inside door of the armoire and straightens her red tie for the fifth time. Her new blue shirt looks good but the tie isn’t hanging quite right. She wants everything to be perfect. Finally the tie is right. She takes Mitzi, the pipe cleaner antelope her grandmother made, from her shelf in the armoire and slips her into her pocket. Mitzi always comes along to important events. Moments later, Trude is hurrying down the stairs to catch the streetcar to the Heldenplatz for the opening ceremony of the Second International Socialist Youth Congress. 

The sight that meets her as she steps out of the car is stunning. As always she is early – but the huge plaza in front of the Hofburg Palace is already filling with many thousands of young people. Troops of children, from seven years up, their leaders, and throngs of young adults are pouring from every direction, following and clustering around red flags in a variety of shapes and sizes. 

All the same beautiful deep red, the flags symbolize International Socialism. At the entrances to the courtyard and on the steps of the palace, tall, narrow flags flutter from very high poles. Similar narrow flags are scattered across the plaza, but most of the thousands and thousands of flags – everyone is carrying one – are simple rectangles of red. Each group carries at least one to which they’ve added a symbol to identify themselves, but the great majority are just red. It is so inspiring! As Trude winds her way through the sea of color and eager young faces, she’s filled with the excited energy of the crowd. 

“Hi!” she calls out, waving her arm at Karl and Erwin when she spots them on the steps to the Federal Chancellery, where their group is gathering. The brothers got up at four in the morning in order to stake a claim on this fine spot. “How great! We have a perfect view!” Trude says. She climbs up a few more steps to survey the plaza. 

Never before has such a group gathered.

“You won’t be able to stay up there,” Karl tells her. “Those steps are reserved for functionaries more important than our little group of event coordinators.”

“It’s remarkable!” says Erwin, his eyes never leaving the gathering attendees. “It’s like an enormous symphony orchestra!”

Fritz and Ida arrive next. 

“We were just at the station,” says Fritz. “What a welcome we gave! A good-sized brass band was there and they were playing loud, but we young people were even louder. As the train pulled in, we formed a long, broad wall along the tracks, and waved and chanted ‘Friendship, Friendship!’ You should have seen the eyes of our comrades on the train!”  

Next come Hugo and Gert, she, in the new spring coat she made for herself out of offcuts from the dressmaker’s shop where she works. 

“It’s beautiful!” says Trudy, seeing the coat for the first time. “You’re so creative with so little!” 

“That is truly a compliment,” Gert replies. “Your mother is the queen of creative reuse! And you’re no slouch yourself.” 

Trude smiles and turns a little to model her grey skirt, recently an old coat, swinging it outward gently to let the red trim show.

“Thanks! I’ll never be as good a seamstress as my mother, though,” she says. “I can’t compete. That’s why I worked so hard to get into Gymnasium.”

“That’s not true. You’re so smart! You’d be bored being an apprentice like me.”

“I don’t think I’d mind if I could work for someone else in a big shop like you do. But I would have to work at home for my mother! I wouldn’t be able to stand it!”

“I understand perfectly!” Gert laughs. 

The group is talking animatedly as the musicians seat themselves on the large balcony above the palace entrance. Then Ida looks up in surprise. 

“Erich!” she cries out. “You came!” 

“Would it be alright if I join you?” asks Erich. 

“You aren’t part of our group,” says Hugo. “You really shouldn’t…”

“Why not?” Ida’s voice cuts sharply over Hugo’s. “Everyone, let me introduce my friend from the University, Erich Stein. Erich, these are my friends in the events coordination group I told you about. Hugo Preis, the rude one there,” she glares at Hugo, then goes on, “and Gert Heber, his girlfriend, Karl and Erwin Weiss, my brother Fritz of course you know, and this is Fritz’s girlfriend, Trude.”

Erich subdues his inclination to flinch at her boldness, and nods and smiles at each one of Ida’s friends. “Glad to meet you,” he says. Only Trude notices his discomfort with the way Ida spoke over Hugo; she feels the same way herself.

The orchestra begins with Richard Strauss’s “Festival Procession.” By the time they finish and the chorus joins in for the “Wake Up” from Wagner’s Meistersinger, every heart in the massive plaza is joined to every other. 

The hope of a new world is gathered.

Otto Felix Kanitz, founder of the Red Falcon scouts and head of the progressive Kinderfreunde school at the castle, Schönbrunn, greets the Future of Socialism, standing in the plaza before him. Karl Seitz, the mayor, welcomes them all to Red Vienna, living proof that a City of the People, For the People, is possible. The Dutchman Koos Vorrink, speaking for the International Youth Movement, announces that internationalism, the Internationale, the greatest conception of what humanity can be, is alive and flourishing. The orchestra is drowned out by the enormous cheer that rises from the crowd as the red flag of International Socialism is carried up onto the dais.

In the afternoon, guided tours of Vienna are offered, and most of the young people spread out over the city in small groups, visiting the social housing complexes as well as St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Opera House, and other sights. The event coordination group splits up to prepare for the twenty-five concerts, celebrations, and performances that will be offered all over the city that evening.

Ida is the leader of the group preparing for Josef Luitpold Stern’s poetry reading in the large meeting room at Karl-Marx-Hof  that evening. She intends to get there at 6, but how can she refuse when a group of her friends says they were going to a café for a drink and a bite to eat? 

“Hey, redhead, you come too,” one of them calls to Erich as he links arms with Ida and pulls her along. 

Erich is very entertaining on a couple of beers – Ida already knows that. An hour passes in laughter as comical imitations of the morning’s speakers mix with deep appreciation of the Youth Congress so far. The sheer numbers! The power of the language: “a City of the People, for the People.” And how tightly organized the congress is!

Oh my! Ida realizes that she should have left for Karl-Marx-Hof ten minutes ago. 

“I’ll find something for you to do, Erich,” she says over her shoulder as she hurries down the street. “But you really should have decided to come when I first invited you. We would have found a good job for you.”  He catches up with her. For a few moments, their long strides match.

“I’m usually good at making myself useful wherever I am. What still needs to be done before the bard declaims?” he asks.

“Just tag along and I’ll see when we get there.”

They board the tram together.

Trude arrives at Karl-Marx-Hof and heads straight to the large meeting room. The room is unlocked, and but no one is there. She looks at her watch: half an hour early. All the way over, she worried she would be late. Well, she is not.

The high-ceilinged room is lovely in the late summer afternoon. The windows are open wide, letting in a pleasant, fresh breeze. Summer sun fills the space and bounces off the glistening wood floor. At the front, the podium is already on the dais. Banners hang on all the walls. Hundreds of folding chairs are neatly stacked on wheeled carts lined up along the back wall. 

The center of the room is gloriously open.

As quietly as possible, almost on tiptoe, Trude crosses the huge room. She hangs her bag on the back of a folding chair, squints to look at the whole room, and then checks her watch again.

Humming the Skaters Waltz to herself very softly, Trude begins to glide around the perimeter of the room, sliding on the highly polished floor as if she were skating. After just a few bars, she realizes how much more smoothly she could glide if she weren’t wearing shoes, so she pauses, unbuckles her sandals, and slips them off. Looking at her watch one last time, she leaves her shoes under the windows, and begins the waltz again. Her thin stockings slide beautifully. 

This time she sings out the melody, dah, dah, dah, dah!  Soon she leaves the edge of the room and glides across the middle. Then she skates around happily, making figure eights and graceful curves, singing all the time, until she notices with a shock that someone is standing in the door watching her.

It is Erich, who arrived at Karl-Marx-Hof with Ida a few minutes ago. 

“Go ahead of me, Erich, and go and see if we need to turn on the lights in the large meeting room,” said Ida, who needed to stop in at the office first.

When Erich gets to the large meeting room, it is filled with light, and a fairy, some lithe little thing in a blue blouse, a pretty skirt, and stocking feet, is dancing around the room alone, accompanying herself with a slightly off-key version of Skater’s Waltz. 

He is instantly enchanted. Should he announce his presence? Surely she will see him on one of her turns. In the meantime, he takes in the sweetness of this young girl dancing by herself so beautifully. 

When she sees him, Trude is mortified. Her heart pounds and blood rushes to her face. A man saw her being so silly! 

Without retrieving her shoes, she heads toward the door to see who it is. When she realizes it’s Ida’s friend Erich, she’s even more upset. He must be at least Ida’s age – what, 20? – and he stood there watching her make a fool of herself. When did he come? How long was he watching her?  Suddenly she’s angry. How extraordinarily impolite of him! 

Breathing heavily, she stomps over to where Erich is leaning in the doorway. How dare he look so relaxed, so nonchalant? His long limbs remind her of a grasshopper. 

“Why are you here?” she asks bluntly. She is standing firmly in front of him, hands on her hips, looking up. He’s a head and a half taller than she. “Didn’t Ida tell you the poetry reading doesn’t start for another hour and a half?”

“Ida sent me up here to turn the lights on for that very event,” says Erich. “It seems it isn’t necessary.” He smiles at the fire in her eyes. 

Footsteps echo from down the hall. 

“Ah, here is the great leader herself,” he finishes, looking down the hall and calling out, “Ida, Trude is already here!”

“Trude! Well, there are three of us. Let’s set up the chairs,” says Ida, entering, brisk and businesslike, apparently not noticing Trude’s stocking feet. 

Trude gets to work, grabbing her sandals as discreetly as possible as she passes the windows, and scrambling to put them on while Erich and Ida are talking. 

Soon the rest of the group arrives, all of the three hundred chairs are set up and coffee is brewing in a samovar. 

The poetry is mythic, thrilling, larger than life. It speaks equally to the glory and the utter humility of humanity.  It extols peace and condemns militarism. The crowd cheers and swoons.

Erich wonders if he is the only one in the room who considers it bombastic and grandiose. But he is no fan of Wagner, either.

An Enormous Hummingbird

“Hummingbird!” Éva shouted. We’ve had this beautiful puppet around the house for years, but it never occurred to me that it was a hummingbird. After all, it’s over a foot high.

Éva’s impression of a hummingbird comes from Hildegarde Hummingbird in the Mr. Rogers opera she still wants to see every time she comes here. Hildegarde Hummingbird is about the same size as our puppet, so it’s really no surprise that Éva recognized the enormous one in our basket of puppets.

That makes seven hummingbirds. It’s enough to give you hope.

Two Suitcases: a wink from Eric

My desk is filled with photos my parents and their friends in the 1920’s through the 1940’s. None of the main characters in my historical fiction novel-in-progress, Two Suitcases, is alive.

I should have asked more questions.

IMG_7014I write from pictures, from old newspaper articles and newsreels, from family stories told many times or just once, from snatches of memory, from dreams. I read about the period and places where the story is set incessantly. Then I make up stories that could have happened.

 

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There are four main characters in Ida 1940'sthe story: my mother and father, Trude and Fritz, my father’s sister, Ida, and a friend of the family, Eric. Six more characters play secondary roles. None of these are entirely fictional, but what they do in the novel is certainly not what they did in life. It’s fiction.

Sometimes I wonder if they approve.

I had the great fortune to be with both my parents when they died, and I was close to my aunt till the end, but until yesterday, I thought Eric died about eight years ago and no one knew to contact me.

In yesterday’s mail I found a beautiful handwritten note.

It says,

“Eric passed away October 3, a few weeks before his 102nd birthday. He was in good health and excellent spirits. He died peacefully at home. His heart stopped while he was reading the Wall Street Journal.”

The perfect ending.

I said good-bye to Eric in 2008 on my way home from India. I already lived in California then and came east very rarely. Eric was his usual gracious and elegant self. It was five years after my mother died, and he told me for the first time how he’d loved her. At 95, he was still walking long distances every day, but we talked about the likelihood that this would be our last meeting. He filled my rental car with treasures from his beautiful house and we stood in the driveway a long time saying good-bye.

Caught up in the hurly burly of home, I didn’t write a thank you note for some months. When I did, it came back stamped “unknown.” I mourned.

I should have asked more questions.

I missed seven good years of Eric’s life.

Still, over these last couple months, the character, Eric, has been pressuring me to give him a more and more important role in the story. He’s been developing more personality, more, in fact, than any of the others, save Ida, and that perhaps because she acts as a foil to him. His voice is clearest.

If that note isn’t a wink, I don’t know what is.

Thanks, Eric. It feels like you approve.

 

Peace, rainbows and more hummingbirds

The shadow of the peace symbol in the reflection of the rainbow showed up in my laundry yesterday. It lasted about two minutes, but I had my phone in my pocket and click, I caught it.
Since the Paris attacks, my life has been full of synchronicities. Jam-packed.
The hummingbirds alone.

There was a fifth hummingbird in my mailbox the day I posted the hummingbird blog.

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Obviously the hummingbirds are asking for my help. They want to get their message heard. I’m still contemplating their message.
Surely these magical creatures are coming to remind me that there is always possibility in the world, always hope, no matter how bad things get in the outer world. After all, the outer  world is created out of our stories.
I keep returning to “A Windstorm in Bubbleland,” the Mr. Rogers opera that Eva and I watch, in which Hildegarde Hummingbird is a Cassandra figure. It’s her job to warn the people that their world is about to end. A windstorm is coming to Bubbleland, but no one believes her. They don’t want to.
The end of the world begins and only Hildegarde can stop it. In a truly operatic moment, she nearly succeeds. In the end, she needs the help of the people in Bubbleland. When they flap their wings together, the wind is defeated and Bubbleland is saved.
Throughout the opera, Hildegarde reminds the people that she isn’t saving their bubbles, she is saving them.
When I wrote last week’s blog four hummingbirds had come.  Then there were five. I hadn’t opened the envelope with the picture of the fifth one on it when I began this blog.
Ha, just opened it and there’s not a single hummingbird in the literature, which is a request for money from the Nature Conservancy, but there is a beautiful hummingbird sticker!!
hummingbird sticker
Six!

Hummingbirds (or, The End of the World)

From Tuesday to Friday each week, I watch a little girl called Éva, who is 17 months old. She is a delightful child, full of life, curiosity, and good humor.

This week Éva wasn’t feeling well, so we watched one of Mr. Rogers’ operas, “Windstorm in Bubbleland,”1475 over and over. Éva is born to opera: her father is the director of OperaSLO, and her mother is a great lover of opera.

I enjoyed Windstorm so much that I played it for Tom and later for a friend.

In the opera, Hildegarde Hummingbird, played by Lady Elaine, warns the people of Bubbleland that a great windstorm is coming, but no one will listen to her.

“Why won’t you believe me?” she asks, and the people of Bubbleland sing back,

“Because we don’t want to!”

The summary of Windstorm in Bubbleland on IMDB ends:

The wind attempts to utterly demolish Bubbleland. The fate of the world rests in the wings of an unsung feathered heroine.

IMG_7245This morning, the morning following the Paris attacks, the dawn of the apocalypse, I came across an old, handmade book hidden among some papers I was sorting for our coming move. It is a poem by Walter Gruen, written in December, 1939, while he was interned in Meslay du Maine, France, along with the artist who created the little book, Hugo Price, my father, and many other Austrian and German Socialists, intellectuals and artists.

The Song of Barbed Wire

Black and full of clouds

hardly any stars shine in the sky…

Will the night ever go away and the sky begin to lighten?

Barbed wire

separates us from love.

Longing consumes us.

When will freedom blossom?

Freedom, ah, you are so ardently awaited!

Every suffering

has its end.

The sun rises again…

March storms rage,

Longing becomes fulfilled!

Barbed wire

in all the lands

freedom is denied …

March storms will thunder

Freedom will return.

Moments after I shared the book with Tom, we discovered a hummingbird trapped in each of the three skylights in our bedroom. Three hummingbirds! Three rufous hummingbirds, the California version of Hildegarde, banging their heads against the glass.

We tried to free them, but it was time to go to the farmers’ market. After making sure the cats were elsewhere, we left the three hummingbirds to exhaust themselves until they fell, and hopefully to fly away when they recovered.

As I got into the car with my bags for the market, I moved a piece of paper from my seat. It was a flyer for a friend’s radio show:

my WIN card copy

Four hummingbirds!

A couple hours later, two of the three in the skylights were gone. The last one, like Hildegarde at the end of the opera, lay silent on the floor. As I picked the tiny body up, it woke, shook itself, and flew off. Like Hildegarde.

Traditionally a harbinger of the joy of life and of synchronicity, hummingbirds also symbolize courage, adaptability, determination and flexibility.

Four hummingbirds show up just when I’m feeling the end of the world is surely at hand. There must be a message here, don’t you think?

Two Suitcases – Schillerlocken

For your enjoyment, a new draft of what I think of the pastry scene. And afterwards, take a look at Two Suitcases’ GoFundMe campaign.

(I’ll have to get Tom to make Schillerlocken to get a bigger picture, I think.)

April 22, 1929

The University of Vienna, Ringstrasse

 Ida hurries out of her first afternoon class, Dr. Charlotte Buhler’s lecture on Child Development. After experimenting with sitting on three different benches, she settles on the second, and, her book bag settled on her lap, looks first to the right, and then to the left, and then to the right again. She intends to keep an eye on the door Erich may emerge from, while simultaneously watching the route he is likely to take to the Konditorei where they’d first met, in case she misses him coming out. 

She doesn’t have long to wait. Erich’s mop of wild hair is obvious above the group of students pouring out of the Mathematics building.  He’s walking with someone and gesturing animatedly. What next? Should she stand up and go to him? Or hope that he notices her there on the bench? The courtyard is crowded and noisy now. 

Ida decides she shouldn’t chance sitting, so she stands up and makes her way toward Erich across the current of chattering students, glad of her own height. Should she call out? She will miss him if she doesn’t. She is raising her arm, about to wave, about to call out his name, when he turns, spots her, and grins. He says something to his companion and makes his way, cross-current, to where she is. 

“Hello!” he says, genuinely glad to see her. “I was hoping we’d run into each other again!”

“And I you!” she says. He’s very handsome despite the pockmarks all over his face. She hadn’t noticed them before, but it’s not such an uncommon sight. Lots of children get smallpox and most of them die. He’s lucky to have survived, she thinks. Money and good doctors: always a help.

“Join me for Jause, will you? I’m going to Sluka.” 

“I’d love to,” says Ida, and she lets herself be drawn into the outward flow of the crowd, with Erich at her side. Then it hits her. Sluka! Not the little bakery where they’d met! What have I done? What kind of fool am I to have accepted?

Konditorei Sluka is one of the best bakeries in the city. It is elegant, luxurious, and outrageously expensive, a place inhabited by tourists, the wealthy, and even the very wealthy. The Empress Elisabeth was a regular customer! Ida knows where it is, of course, but she has never been inside. As a child she looked through the window with longing and more recently with disdain. Frantically, she searches her mind for a reason to back out now, to decline Erich’s offer, to walk away and never see him again. 

They are too different; they’ll never get past their class differences. She is poor. He is rich. That is that.

Before she can decide on an excuse, he turns to her and asks how she likes her coffee. With cream? One teaspoon of sugar or two?

By the time they reach the Konditorei, Erich and Ida have discussed their mutual enjoyment of good coffee, pastry, and the cinema, as well as establishing the comforting fact that they are both Jews. 

Once in the bakery, however, the problems begin. Ida has no money. She could allow Erich pay for a small cup of coffee, but it is much too soon in their acquaintance to let him buy her pastry. 

She looks around. A wall of ceiling-high windows draped in diaphanous curtains fills the lavish bakery and cafe with light. Glistening chandeliers hang above and matching lamps extend from the walls all around. The walls are deep yellow with gold trim, interspersed with panels of pale green framed in rich brown. Ladies in silk and satin and dapper gentlemen sit at highly polished round tables, cutting their pastries with forks and knives. The chairs have graceful bent wood backs and legs so delicate that Ida wonders how people dare to sit on them.

Erich leads her to the pastry case. The polished wood and glass case radiates golden light. Ornately decorated pastries and cakes satisfy every visceral sense: moist cream fillings; bright fruit slices shimmering in fruity glazes atop voluminous cakes; crispy puff pastry layers surrounding vanilla scented creams; soft nut tortes offering only a fleetingly crunchy resistance to the bite while rewarding one’s every nutty desire; unctuously melt-in-the-mouth coffee butter creams topped with crunchy crushed coffee beans.  

“So,” asks Erich, “What is your favorite? Perhaps the Schillerlocken, so creamy and crispy—an excellent contrast—or the Indianer with its opposing flavors, chocolate and vanilla?” He moves slowly along the curved glass case. “I love the Haselnusstorte because it’s so light and creamy. Ah, there is the notorious Punschkrapfen, delectable pastry soaked with our lovely Austrian rum.” He wanders on, pointing to one elaborately decorated pastry after another. “As for myself, I have a hard time deciding between the Mohnstrudel—oh, that delicious filling of ground poppyseed mixed with red plum jam and raisins—and the Topfengolatschen, with its wonderfully sour Topfen cheese filling. But in the end,” he says, arriving at the far end of the case, “I am usually my boring self, and I order the Buchteln.”

Erich’s enticing ode to pastry gives Ida a moment to think about how she will handle the situation.

“Erich,” she begins, having decided to be straightforward and perfectly honest in her explanation. “Erich,” she begins again, though she is not ordinarily a person who loses confidence in what she is saying and needs to begin again. “Erich,” she says, “Let me be forthright with you…” 

“Gruess Gott, Herr Stein, I have kept the two Buchteln, the lightest ones again, especially for you. May I wrap them for you as always?” asks the comfortably round woman behind the counter.

Erich puts a soft hand on Ida’s arm to indicate that he’ll listen to her in a moment, and answers,“Thank you, that is very kind of you, Frau Gisi, but the lady and I will be taking a table today. I am just recommending all my favorites to Fraulein Ida.”

“Would Herr Stein like to take that table near the window? We are very crowded at this time of the day.”

“Thank you very much, Frau Gisi. The table next to the window is fine.” 

“Thank you, Herr Stein. It is our pleasure,” she says.

Erich smiles at her. “See you the next time!” 

Then he takes Ida by the elbow and guides her through the maze of silk and satin and fine wool, past masterpieces in cream, butter, and golden pastry, through fragrant clouds of the scents of coffee and baking. Forks and knives clink; the conversation is just loud enough.

Ida cannot help comparing her father’s choice of venue for afternoon coffee with Erich’s.  At least one can be heard here. Nobody is arguing politics. She will tell Erich she can’t accept his offer to pay when they sit down.

Their table is near the center of the front window, where the sheer curtains are swept back, and one can watch the people walking by on the Rathausplatz. Erich holds Ida’s chair out for her. 

As she lifts her skirt to seat herself, Ida remembers what she is wearing: a dress so often updated and remade that no one could mistake it for anything else. Everybody in the room will know exactly what social class she belongs to the moment they look at her. Most of them already do.

Well, she thinks, so what. Here is an opportunity to prove that class doesn’t matter. She straightens her back and holds her head high. 

“Erich, listen. I haven’t any money at all. I can’t afford a pastry and I don’t feel comfortable letting you pay. I’ll have a small cup of coffee, and that’s all.” 

“What? You’ll let this excellent opportunity go by? You are so often offered your choice of such exceptional pastries?”

“It’s not that. Of course not. It’s just that we don’t know each other!”

“I know that you like your coffee with cream and just a little sugar. And that you enjoy funny films.”

A waitress in a crisp black dress and a frilly white apron is already standing next to their table. 

“Good afternoon, Herr Stein. Are you ready to order?”

“Indeed I am, Fraulein Inge,” Erich  answers. “For me, the Buchteln and einen Verlaengerten, and for the lady, einen Melange, and the Schillerlocken.”

“No! Just the coffee for me, please!” Ida says.

“Be so kind as to bring the Schillerlocken as well, Fraulein Inge,” Erich tells the waitress. “That will be all for now.”

As the waitress moves on to another table, he lowers his voice and says to Ida, “I’ll eat it if you won’t. But I hope you won’t be so silly.”

A few minutes later the voluptuous dessert is sitting in front of Ida. She looks at the roll of delicate, flaky pastry with its dusting of powdered sugar and sprinkling of chopped walnuts, its filling of luscious, lightly sweetened whipped cream spilling onto the plate. With a sigh, she picks up her dessert fork. Erich is sipping his coffee and looking across the room.

Tentatively, she presses the long edge of her fork into the pastry. The consequences of cutting into the crispy roll are immediately apparent: the whipped cream will spurt out and spill over the gold rim of the bone china plate and onto the paper doily below it. 

She turns the fork and scoops up a little of the cream. She puts it in her mouth. Oh my.

“Good?” he asks, returning his attention to Ida. 

The cream is such a luxury and she is so hungry for something sweet, for something special, that she almost has no words. Between bites she manages, “It’s wonderful! It reminds me something my grandfather brought me for my birthday when I was very small.”

“I think it is the best in Vienna, “ he says. “But you must try the pastry.” 

Ida has eaten all the cream and every little bit of walnut from around the crispy roll. Now there is no option but to attack the roll. With vigor borne of the pleasure she found in eating the cream, Ida strikes the crisp pastry with her fork. 

It is worse than she anticipated. The cream spews out, flying over the edge of the plate, over the edge of the table, and onto her dress.

Without speaking, Erich hands her his still-perfectly-folded cloth napkin.  

Ida wipes the errant cream from her bodice. “How clumsy I am!” she says, looking down.

Erich is surveying the room again. “I didn’t see a thing,” he says. Then he turns back to her and continues more softly, “Do you see that man near the pastry case with the short black beard and pince-nez?”

Ida gives up on her dress and glances in the direction Eric is indicating with his eyes, a quirk of his mouth, and his eyebrows. If she weren’t so embarrassed, she would find the gesture endearing. She sees the man with the beard.

“That’s Viktor von Ephrussi, the banker,” Erich says so quietly she can barely hear him. “I can’t see who is with him.”

Ida’s eyes widen. What am I doing here? Viktor von Ephrussi.

“Von Ephrussi, you said? You aren’t aware that aristocratic titles haven’t been used since 1918?” She shakes her head in disbelief. “I’m afraid you aren’t much of a candidate for membership in the SAJ.” 

Erich blushes deeply, one of the difficulties that comes with having red hair.

“You are right, of course,” he says. “It slipped off my tongue. It’s what my parents call him, you see. As for myself, I never think of the man, but there he is, and he is a great hero in my family.”

Ida decides to discontinue her acquaintance with Erich as soon as possible.

The pastry, most of its cream gone, is more compliant throughout the rest of their visit to Sluka. Ida refrains from saying anything disparaging about the very, very rich and their role in the woes of society. Instead, they speak of films.

As they walk back to the University, they share their favorite scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s movies: the boxing scene in “City Lights,” the barber scene in “The Barber Shop,” the fight scene in “The Kid.”  When they part, Ida hears herself agreeing to meet Erich for a simple coffee in two days’ time.

Don’t forget to check out my GoFundMe campaign!