The loss of story – further reflections on the crumbling of perceptual boundaries

When I consider the lessons of our divestment over the past several years, the house on McCollum Street, the house on Park Street, Mama Ganache, a lifetime of acquisitions – I find I always return to the center: what I am, I take with me.

What I am has nothing to do with the things and stories that surround me. It doesn’t need even one suitcase to contain it, much less two. When nostalgia for what I had begins to fill me, wherever I am, I can go to my heart and feel at home with who I am, and that is enough.

Ceiling tile for sale on a street in Morocco

It’s where I find hope, where I can recover that sense of eager anticipation the Hathors recommend in these times of failing expectations and beliefs, the loss of story, and crumbling perceptual boundaries.

One of the seminal books of my hippie years was a typewritten channeled teaching called Season of Changes. I’ve forgotten the details of the predictions, but I’m sure they’ve been borne out or will be soon enough. It was a dark view of the future, full of cataclysm and apocalypse. Written in question and answer format, the last responses concern how to respond to the changes. As I recall, the advice most forcefully given was to practice meditation.

It’s comforting to imagine that more people than ever are doing that, at least in my own bubble. It’s less comforting to remember how tiny a percentage of the world’s population my bubble contains.

But it’s sound advice. When the now threatening storm of storms is full upon us, when that moment of personal and collective apocalypse that we all feel coming finally arrives, it’s the meditators who will be able to hold the rudder.

Storm coming in at our house in Cordes

Meditation takes you to your center, to the center, the one we all have in common. It takes you out of the chaotic whirl of stories to the place of no story, where energy is conserved instead of fueling the miasma of outer experience.

It takes you beyond imagination, beyond the limits of space and time, and beyond the singular focus of our culture on the physical: on acquisition (growth vs. maintenance), on hierarchy (dominion vs. sharing), beyond your own little bit of the apocryphal elephant.

Letting go of the world as we know it, the world of perception, this particular consensus reality, is necessarily heart-breaking. It’s painful to separate from the things and people and stories we love, and love is, after all, what it’s all about.

The tricky part is to connect love to the universal rather than the particular.

And that’s where meditation can take you.

Tree of Life – reflections on the breakdown of perceptual boundaries

Did you see what the Pittsburgh murderer posted before his rampage?

I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.

Screw your optics. I’m going in.

Like so many others, this guy believes in a very different reality than most of us reading these words. In his world, the Jews he killed have been helping immigrants to settle in his country, immigrants with the intention to murder his people.

He lives in a different world, a world that is considered fictional by those of us who buy into another consensus reality, the one we call truth, or fact. His reality is consensual too, though a smaller number of people buy into it.

Not long ago, when there were three TV networks presenting news in compliance with the Fairness Doctrine, and just so many print publications available, it was easier to control consensus reality. Propaganda could be labeled propaganda, hate speech hate speech. Those who believed the propaganda and hate speech had to keep to themselves because of the labels applied by the believers in consensus reality. That isn’t happening anymore.

The perception of truth is always problematic. When scripture – writing – is labeled Truth, larger consensual groups form and wars break out. People who hold one Truth supreme clash with those who believe in another.

Now that we have the internet, and apps like Snapchat that disappear after messages are sent, and the dark internet, consensus is rapidly breaking down. Every small group forms its own world, the bubbles we live in. Consensus reality is under siege from all angles.

More than ever, Pittsburgh makes me feel that most forms of resistance are futile. The Tree of Life, primal symbol of all cultures, is under attack by an individual man who feels his kind is threatened. He doesn’t need to be part of an organized group – in fact he’s even more iconic if he’s a loner. To his fellow believers, he’s a hero, a martyr. Can we change what they believe? What resistance can be mounted against a sea change in the nature of reality?

More and more I’m coming to believe that it is only nature, a sea change, that can create a united human consensus: climate change.

Only when we are all pushing against the wall together to keep the sea out will we humans again agree on a reality.

I’m not a great believer in channeled teachings, but I like to think that I have a reasonably good intuitometer (thank you, Joe Abrahams). I do like this teaching:

The Hathors, an interplanetary intelligence channeled by the musician Tom Kenyon, advise that when one’s perceptual boundaries crumble and fail – surely this is what is happening now – not to visualize the future (that vision can only be based in the past), but rather to be still and to await the unknown with eager anticipation – and when action is required, to act in a way that will be of greatest benefit to whatever sphere you find yourself in.

Be still, await the future with eager anticipation, and when it’s time, push against the wall together.

Living in Cordes – Saturday market and making new friends

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thread at the Saturday market

One week into our sojourn in southwest France and we are awash in riches: we discovered the Saturday market and began the delightful process of meeting the neighbors.

When you live very close to the street in a small village and it’s warm enough to keep the windows wide open, it’s not unusual to hear a friendly “Allô?” from the front of the house. Friday morning it was our next door neighbor Simone, a charming 80 year old native Cordais, stopping by to introduce herself.

“Voulez-vous les arroser avec de l’essence? (Will you be watering these with gasoline?),” she asked, pointing to the shabby silk and plastic sunflowers I’d put in a blue pot outside the door. We instantly knew we’d love her, and I moved getting a live plant for that pot to the top of my mental shopping list.

That evening Simone came back and Tom invited her in for some chocolate and a glass of Pineau de Charentes, the popular French aperitif that came with our house. We sat at the table sharing and laughing till late.

Between her many funny stories and quips, Simone told us about Jean Jaurès, a socialist and anti-militarist hero born nearby, whose assassination in Paris in 1914 is often called the second assassination to cause the war. My kind of hero.

Jean Jaurès

The following morning, Tom and I took our chariot de courses (wheeled shopping basket) down the hill early to avoid the crowds at the boulangerie. Days of the week not having fallen into place properly yet, we’d both forgotten it was Saturday, so we were surprised and pleased to see the center of the village overflowing with neighbors and goods.

The upper village rising above the market

$3.20 per dozen

Every variety of button

Irresistible cheeses

Baskets in all shapes, sizes, and colors

Dried fruits and vegetables

More of the same

Endless olives

The market offered an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, and dresses, hats, friperie (used goods), pillows and sheets, fabric and notions, even Chinese food, all set to lively Occitan music. It was very hard not to buy more than we needed.

Our friend Rochelle arrived just before lunch. After eating, we went up the hill, meeting my Instagram friend Lauren Clary in person for the first time, and then spending an extraordinary afternoon with the artist Jean-Jacques Enjalbert in his Anandamayi Ma exposition.

Three story obelisk from the base

In the evening, we found Simone and her small dog sitting on the bench in front of our house.

In no time a small crowd of neighbors joined us. I don’t have words for the pleasure I felt at finding such a warm welcome in this little village.

I am deeply grateful.

A real geranium from the Saturday market

Farewell Tour – Chicago to the Finger Lakes

Our visit to Chicago was packed with visits with friends, and Tom’s uncle and aunt, who took us to the Holocaust Museum  and the Botanical Garden. It was much too short!qrVM8qK9T9mr81d15NMJ0Q

A day-long drive through Indiana and Ohio followed.

We arrived in Athens just in time to join a not-so-silent vigil, the 54th anniversary of such activities with my middle and high school friend, Wendy McVicker.

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Our three days with Wendy and her husband John were the perfect birthday gift.

Next, we spent the night in Pittsburgh with Tom’s cousin, Barbara, feisty activist lawyer, who took us to the best barbecue place in town for dinner and a classic diner for breakfast.

On our way to the Finger Lakes region we stopped in Cleveland to have lunch with Tom’s marine biology professor at Oberlin.

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Our stay in Trumansburg merits a page of its own, so I’ll send this off into cyberspace before sharing that.

Love to you all!

Farewell Tour – Early Morning Harvest

In the midst of the ongoing barrage of bad news about the way the current American administration is treating the earth and the people who depend on it, some good news:

It began Sunday evening, after a hearty meal with Tom’s cousin Kathy’s whole clan, grown kids and grandchildren crowding the big table, dogs underneath. A scoop of locally-made ice cream (another story) topped the perfect whole wheat crust on Kathy’s mouth-watering strawberry rhubarb pie. The flour in the crust, Kathy told us, was organically grown and milled just down the road at her friends’ place, Early Morning Harvest organic farm and mill.

The next morning, Kathy’s friend, Ronda Hafner, gave us a tour. We saw the mill first. The grain gets separated from the chaff in a big sifter before being milled.

 

 

So many products are milled and packaged there:

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The farm, originally a dairy operation, has been in the family for generations with a notable exception of the period when it was taken over by eminent domain by the DNR (that’s the Department of Natural Resources, not a last wish) so a coal-powered energy plant could be put in there. After a number of years, when the coal plant never materialized, the grandchildren, Jeff and Sharon Hafner, were able to buy back a portion of the property from the government. It’s now farmed by Ronda’s husband Earl and their son Jeff, and provides grain, milled products, a huge array of aqua-ponically grown vegetables and herbs, and some organically raised meat to stores, restaurants, co-ops, and individuals in the Des Moines area and beyond.

The aquaponic operation came before the mill. Now there are big greenhouses with hydroponic beds and even more raised beds outdoors, all irrigated with the water from the tilapia tanks.

This old fish swims over today hello to visitors as they come into the greenhouses. IMG_2917

Hello to you, too!

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.

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 – 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.

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!

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.

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