Henri IV vs. Red Vienna

Not helpful.

Recently, most of my days have been taken up with writing query letters to literary agents and tweaking Red Vienna, the first volume of Two Suitcases. I even added a short new section. Today Henri IV thought it was time to take a break from it.

Moving to the desktop worked for a short time.

But he was determined. I gave up.

And he decided to take a nap in the kitchen.

A short time later, while waking from a second nap on the kitchen counter, the idea to open his own Instagram account occurred to Henri. I reopened my laptop. He agreed to stay off the keyboard temporarily so we could choose some pictures to share to get it started.

But first he wanted to wash up.

And adjust a few things.

After that, we set up his new site, @henriquatredecordes. Naturally he wanted a simpler name, but some other Henri IVs had already claimed them. Thus, he is forced to go by most of his whole name, which is Henry IV de Cordes.

Satisfied with his day’s work, he sat on his throne to wait for dinner,

Follow him on Instagram.

Pick your favorite

Quite a few of the queries I’m sending out to literary agents ask for a one sentence pitch for the book.

Which of these do you like the best? Do you have a better idea?

1. Can young love and a passionate commitment to high ideals survive the forces of fascism, populism and propaganda in Red Vienna on the eve of World War II?

2. In Red Vienna, idealistic young lovers Gisi and Max watch their dream city fall to the forces of fascism as the second world war looms

3. In Red Vienna, young idealists Gisi and Max fall in love at the 1929 International Socialist Youth Congress and set to work creating a more caring world, but can they hold onto their vision when their beloved utopia is destroyed by racism, nationalism and civil war?

4. With shocking parallels to recent events in the United States and Europe, this book – based on a true story – tells of an idealistic young couple confronting the forces of rising fascism and civil war in Vienna on the eve of World War II.

Thanks so much for your input.

The End of Red Vienna

Viennese Social Housing Block

As those of you who follow this blog know, Two Suitcases, my book project, grew to three volumes some time ago. There was just too much material. My plan was to break the characters’ journey into their years in Vienna, their years in Paris, and their years in the south of France.

Though it’s five years since I began the project, and much of that time I was working on the project with a sense of great urgency – I even dreamed that my mother was telling me “work faster!” once – I stopped for two years when Mama Ganache needed me. And then there was the move to France which caused further delay. In retrospect, though, I think the gaps improved the book. Sorry, Mom.

Recently, as I was researching and writing about the period leading to the 1934 February Uprising (or Austrian Civil War), the parallels to what’s happening in the United States now became unmistakable. I posted an excerpt last year about how Austria became a Fascist dictatorship when Englebert Dollfuss dissolved the parliament and adopted martial law.

I continued writing until I reached 1936, all the while following the news of Trump’s America. Then that sense of urgency returned, and it pushed me to change my plans. The first volume, Red Vienna, would end after the February Uprising. The period when the characters are forced underground in Vienna, 1934-38, would be the second volume, and their period in France, 1938-1940, will be the third.

At that point, I went back and revised and rewrote the first book, which is now called Red Vienna, to prepare it for publication. I’m pleased to say that I’ve begun the process of seeking representation for it.

My real reason for this blog, though, is that I read this morning that Michael Caputo, one of Trump’s toadies, was warning people of armed uprisings, and that sense of urgency returned. I’ve posted an excerpt from Red Vienna below. It was hard to choose a piece because the events happen over a period of years, but this one is a pretty pointed parallel. It takes place immediately after the uprising.

Austrian Civil War 1934

February 18, 1934

Brigittenau, Vienna

Max’s apartment

At four in the morning on February 18, Max Baum, stinking, hungry, and thirsty, furtively unlocked the door to his family’s apartment, slipped in, and immediately locked it behind him. He had climbed out of the sewer at Karl-Marx-Hof just two hours earlier, and managed to make his way home flattened against the walls of buildings, deep in the shadows, through the darkest alleys and streets of the city.

Leaving his mud-caked boots in the hall, he skirted past his sleeping father and went into the kitchen where he threw some bits of coal onto the embers in the stove, and drank down every drop of the boiled water left in the pot. Then he refilled the pot and set it on top of the stove again.

He shivered as he took off his clothes and put on his threadbare bathrobe. It would have been a good thing if he could have thrown those clothes away, but that was out of the question. Instead, he pulled the big galvanized tub out from under the sink and began to fill it, pot by pot, with water heated on the stove. As he waited for the water to heat up, he ate whatever he could find: some dry bread and most of a can of pickled herring. An hour later, when the tub was full enough, he stepped in, sighing deeply as the steaming water surrounded him and slowly warmed him. He washed himself thoroughly and then lay back and relaxed until the water was almost cold. Later, dry from the heat of the fire and wearing his nightshirt, he added another pot of boiling water to the washtub and dropped his filthy clothes into it.

It was after six in the morning when he lay down on the settee. He slept for the next twelve hours, barely stirring when his father came into the room and pulled a blanket over him.

*   *   *

After covering his son, Peppe left quietly to go to his cafe, where he found Dolf and Fredl sitting in a booth in the back room. 

“Quick, sit,” said Dolf. 

“It’s safe?” asked Peppe. 

“I haven’t seen anything to make me think it’s not. But who knows anymore?” said Fredl. “They’re picking up more of us every day. We’re taking a big risk being here, but being at home could be an even bigger risk. Who knows anything anymore.”

“Max is back,” Peppe told them.

“Thank god!” said Dolf. “Did he tell you where he was?”

“He’s still sleeping.”

“At least he’s home. The news is all very bad.”

“Yes, Dollfuss is telling the world the housing complexes were built as fortresses to store weapons for an armed takeover, and that they stopped it from happening just in time,” Fredl said.

“And they’re putting out that we were in league with the Soviets,” finished Dolf.  “The headline on the Fatherland Front paper says ‘Armed Insurrection Averted.’  

Fredl said, “They claim only two hundred died, but I’ve heard it’s in the thousands.”

“And they’re hanging more as we speak,” said Peppe.

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.

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.

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