Sunday, March 29, 2009

got another first name wrong!

what is it with me and the first names? Please make that Janet Evanovich in the last blog post. I knew it was iffy when I wrote Sue but then it seemed right after all - and somehow, even though I was sitting in the cold sunshine facing the colorful parrots in their outdoor pyramidal page, in the internet glow I had wangled free from some Berlin tourist spot that gives you two hours at a time if you ask nicely and sign up, I found out - even though I was doing all that, and had to be doing all that, in fact, because otherwise how could I be blogging? - I still forgot I could use that very same incomprehensibly powerful internet glow to go find out the woman's actual first name. 

So - I was going to fix it anyway but dear and loyal reader Kim from Hamburg reminded me with a lovely note yesterday - she enjoyed all the Stephanie Plum (Evanovich's heroine) years ago. And actually I read book number two in the last few days and enjoyed it tremendously. So maybe I just have to go looking for number three somewhere here in Berlin (a little tricky) and keep plowing through.

Friday, March 27, 2009

How to write a novel

Just wanted to say, I was inspired by the Sue Evanovich books I read in the States in that she has a whole world of people who grew up together and they're adults going about their complicated lives but their parents still live next door or down the street and this person remembers what that person was like in 8th grade, or 2nd grade . . . 

And before that, I read something by John Updike (I think it was a mention in a poem, actually - a bunch of poems of his in the New Yorker that I ducked, at first, but then read and was very moved; they deal with death from various angles and when I read them I was at Pilgrim Place, my parents' retirement community, where conversations about death were also happening, where people were facing it and dealing with it) - anyway, though, this one poem went into a different direction and somehow touched on the fact that John Updike had been writing his novels all his life using a few people he'd known in something like kindergarten.

And I thought: OK, this is a way to proceed. So I'm inspired. But besides Murray Nickels and Julie somebody (Murray pulled the tassels off my nap blanket, but he also defended us girls when the other boys were knocking down our sand castles we'd built; also I had a little crush on him because his name sounded so much like mine) I am having a hard time remembering any names, even, from kindergarten, forget about the people themselves. (I was only in kindergarten a few months in Kinshasa; the rest of the time was homeschooling in Kenge and I do remember that, the projects we made [a hobby horse; a sun dial] - but I had no classmates there!) So I'm working on listing whoever I can from early years. To work with. Watch out, Murray!

back in Berlin; corrections to blog

hi darlins, I am sorry it's been so long again. In my defense, I was flying from California to Berlin, which did take a while - and here I am now back in Berlin. Since Tuesday noon when I got here, I've reacquainted myself with my family, helped Felix pack and then this morning delivered him to a train where he went off for a whole week's class trip with his schoolmates, found out more about Max's evolving plans (next: wasp lab in Bangalore - no; next: vaccinations and visas - only then, wasp lab in Bangalore), hung out with my husband - and then Wednesday night I went out to my lesbian poets' group in a new till-then-unknown cafe, and this morning (Friday - post dropping Felix at train, which was started at 6 a.m. and finished by 8:12) I had my English-language writing group in the usual little coffeeshop near the zoo train station.

Before I forget: I corrected the name of the (wonderful; poetic; mediational) Malian kora player in my last post. Diane points out it's probably a big family (I had his last name right but substituted somebody else's first name, who has a larger internet presence) - and so I needn't worry so much about the dynasty dying out in one generation or another (so what am I going to write that story about?).

On the plane I read The House in Paris, by Elizabeth Bowen, suggested by Ellen Michel at our last book group meeting in Bloomington which I was able to catch by my strategically timed presence there. It's not this month's choice but was brought up at group and it was wonderful and I hope to do a longer blog about it - in short, two English-speaking kids (9 and 11 or something like that) are both spending the day in a house in Paris - both passing through - one has a dramatic family background with unknown mother who gave him up for adoption, the other has dead mother and is passing through between trains - there's a long part in the middle about that unknown mother's own story - I thought it was wonderful. I highly recommend. I picked it up used at Pegasus in Berkeley.

Yesterday and today I read This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosely. Very short little book - it's all pretty straightforward - just do it - wish me luck!

Poetry writing group Wednesday night - I was very happy I went. Almost didn't go, first because that is play -reading night (but we hadn't got it organized in time so we ended up canceling), then because I'd only been back a day and surely I should be there with Felix (hubster had to go out shortly before eight).

But I went anyway - left around 5:30, group was at six, I left just before 8 and was home with Felix well before 8:30 - so we still got some nice hanging out, reading, and bedtime connecting time.

Eight women in a big open cafe I had never been to before, around a table - two women I didn't know if I count right and five (plus me) who had been at the January meeting, the last one I went to. We had time for two exercises while I was there and I was so glad I had gone. Sister-in-law #1 had asked me that afternoon if I felt reconnected and no, I can't say I had felt that way yet, but Wednesday night being out at the poetry group I knew I was back in Berlin - I had been on the bus and the train, then I was there in the cafe, talking to the human beings, talking German, ordering our teas and hot chocolates together, hearing other people's stories. 

As before, I wrote in English and read my things out loud in English too. I feel like I'm taking too much of the space then, reading in English I have to read loudly and slowly so they get most of it, and I want to rush through - but still I was glad. It's so interesting to see how the things I write circle back to childhood in Kinshasa so often. I wrote about Wednesday  night Bible Study / potluck / reading letters from the States time.

And this morning, in the writing group here (I am still sitting in the cafe; the others have gone) I also circled back to Wednesday night Bible study, twice in our three exercises. It was me, Meg, Anna, and Anna's father. Meg is the American from Wisconsin who has lived in Berlin for 30 years; Anna is the Harvard undergraduate who is in Berlin for the year and today her father, a Hungarian physicist who teaches in Strasbourg and lives in Karlsruhe, was visiting. Anna wrote about a story from childhood and I mentioned it was reminiscent of the movie Toy Story (her older sister made her believe the dolls could move) and it turned out, Toy Story predated this part of her childhood! I had that shock that older people get when they realize how young other people are. Welcome to the middle stage of my middle age!

But I love that we do this together in spite of our age differences, we have a common project and the age difference is only a sporadic curiosity. At least it seems that way to me. So I'm glad to be back in Berlin - and I was thrilled to visit you, my dear friends and readers in Indiana and California.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Toumani Diabate and Bela Fleck; Berkeley for a few days

[Friday March 27th - please note I fixed the name; Diane pointed out it was Toumani Diabate and not, as I originally wrote, Mamadou Diabate!]

 If this is Sunday night I must be leaving Berkeley tomorrow, back home to my family in Berlin. After 5 glorious days in Bloomington and 8 lovely, welcoming days in Claremont I've been 3 1/2 days, maybe? in Berkeley, with my dear and, again, welcoming friends Lyn, Kristen, Diane, Michael, Cynthia, Jonathan, and kids. 

I can't even begin to tell you about my Friday walk starting from Inspiration Point with Lyn and Diane - Diane wore my fetching little black cap against the sun, the sky was blue blue blue and the wildflowers were few but brilliant orange (poppies) and purple (lupin??), the cows were alarmingly close and the bay with its many bridges was always there, sometimes nearer and sometimes farrer, we didn't get run over by the cyclists who tried, we had a picnic and then we came back. 

This morning with Cynthia I went up to Indian Rock which I didn't even know about. Oakland and the bay were at our feet, we started to climb one way but the wind was blowing and I was unsure so we went another way and found stone steps - breathtaking is a good word. We didn't get blown off. Arlington Circle. Steep, steep Marin. The clearest of clear skies.

Always, we talked, catching up, telling our stories.

And tonight, Diane and Michael and I went to hear Bela Fleck and Toumani Diabate at Yoshi's in Oakland, and I promised Cynthia I would report. Yoshi's is big and very few seats were left unreserved and yet we got a wonderful spot near the front, far on the right, and pretty able to see.

Bela Fleck plays a couple of banjos including a 'cello banjo, a deeper one I guess. He is funny and sweet-seeming and does funny things with his eyes and makes little faces at the audience. And did some humorous banjo things, teasing us with a pop goes the weasel that was never popping - lots of other things while we waited and then when we didn't expect, pop goes the finally weasel.

But what I loved was Toumani Diabate, 72nd generation kora player from Mali. The kora is like a harp. When I wasn't daydreaming about what would happen if the 72nd generation of kora player decided he didn't want to play the kora after all and broke the generations-long chain, it was a mesmerizing sound with his left thumb doing a repeating bass line (I couldn't break it apart like this at the time but he showed us later) and then all kinds of very bright high notes dancing around above. It wasn't the kind of danceable African music Diane and I were maybe both expecting but it was entrancing. As Michael pointed out, he played as though he had all the time in the world. In a gorgeous bright orange (yellow?) caftan that had a pattern that was also, in its own way, mesmerizing. On a fifty-year-old kora handmade in his family on an enormous gourd base, with cowhide and fishing line and a kind of wood you can only find in West Africa according to him. 

Then they played together - and again, there was something about both their faces. With Toumani Diabate I felt as though he must, from his face, be incredibly sweet - but of course maybe it just seems that way. And they had great fun playing off each other, with Bela Fleck doing little winks and face tics that might just have been sweet funny nods to the audience. 

And then we came outside back onto the Oakland waterfront with the trains going by - it feels like a blend of toytown and urban bustle, I haven't seen anyplace quite like it.

Thanks to you all for open arms, for oatmeal, for lovely wide-ranging conversations we never could quite conclude, for the apple pie and the shrimp salad, the asparagus and the sea bass, the peppermint tea, the concert, and the walks! (Sorry - I really don't mean to be reducing our visiting to a few words - just trying to make a pretty little paragraph but I hope you all know how much I love our time together!)

[Again - all of the above I tried to correct Mamadou Diabate, which I had originally written, to Toumani Diabate - Diane pointed it out. They are surely both part of the same family. Instead of looking at my ticket, which I still had and which would have told me, I just remembered the Diabate part and googled him and came up with the other. Just goes to show . . . ]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

group therapy

Today I went with my father to his weekly two-hour Parkinson's disease physical and speech therapy group. It was wonderful! There were eight men with Parkinson's there, along with four connected people (two wives, a male partner, and me), and there were two therapists doing physical therapy the first hour (along with maybe four therapy students who came in partway through when we did the hokey-pokey and needed reinforcements); one therapist doing speech therapy the second hour. (I should explain that there are some people with Parkinson's who have tremors, the stereotype we all know; and then there are other problems in various combinations, such as speech problems, balance problems, problems with stiffness and various other things. My father doesn't have tremors really but he has various degrees of some other things - particularly frustrating to him is that he can't talk as clearly as he would like.) (Note from my father - I think all of us have problems with voice, to various extents.)

The last couple of days I had been typing up my mother's and sister's notes from when they went - we cut them out and stuck them on 3x5 cards so my father could more easily do them at home. So a. I had a little preview of what we would be doing, and b. I didn't have to take notes like that myself.

I joined in for a lot of the things. We stretched - arms, torsos, legs. We breathed in and out, we twisted, we stuck out our legs - and then we did the hokey-pokey. Everybody seemed to be having fun.

There was one man, who was new today, who looked to me like he did not want to be there. At the end, though, he said enthusiastically: I'll definitely be coming back! I mentioned my sense to my father, who reminded me that people with Parkinson's tend to have a masklike countenance and in fact are often misunderstood for that reason - their faces don't necessarily show how they feel about things.

One man, Bob, doesn't speak at all, but he loves to come to the group from all accounts. He joined in with everything eagerly and when it came time for speech therapy, we were saying aaaah as long and as loud as we could and he kept making his aaaaah sound longer than anyone - it was very raspy and hard to hear but it was definitely an aaaaah. 

The place, Casa Colina, is a wonderful rehab center (a few years ago it was on the front page of the New York Times for the work it does with brain-damaged military veterans). I'd been there before with each of my parents. Today all the therapists had a warm and enthusiastic word for my father - he hadn't been in a month because he'd been sick, and while he was home he started a beard. Everybody noticed; everybody was pleased. (The beard is really very distinguished and professorial looking - paired with the bow tie he often wears it's an unbeatable combination.)

I asked my father if he liked going there, and he said he really does. (I asked him before I'd been; afterwards I wouldn't have needed to ask.) He says it's not always easy to be around other people with Parkinson's and see what your symptoms might be, or might still become - but on the other hand it is an energy-giving thing to be there. And even the people who are worst off, like Bob who does not speak, are enjoying themselves, and enjoying the attentions of the others. Doing these exercises helps with mobility and speech, and it's hard to make yourself go through all the different exercises sitting at home by yourself!

The hokey-pokey today was a huge success. Next week they're going to have a dance instructor come in and do some more actual real dance moves (the hokey-pokey was off a cassette - after that we did something whose name I forget that involved making open-shut movements with your hands, then wiggling your elbows, then wiggling your hips, then clapping - and then repeat many times. I think the hokey-pokey was a little more interesting!). One of the therapists got married in the last few months; everybody wanted to know all about who her husband was and where they had their honeymoon and what her last name was now. 

I was realizing while I was there that it's kind of like my weekly Weight Watchers group in Berlin - we're all there for the same reason - we all have the same issues - it's something we don't necessarily share with our families but we do share with the strangers in the room (or people who start out strangers) - and it's a very good thing to come together every week and address it in various ways.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

will this be the day . . .

that I actually write a short post?

Conditions are perfect: it's late; I'm tired; my parents are tired and wanting to turn in too. So the main things I want to say are these:

elder hostel!
steamed vegetables!

There. I'm done. OK, just a teeny bit of explanation and then I'm done - last night we went out to supper with Aunt Virginia at Marie Callender's (which is a chain restaurant). I ordered the plate of steamed vegetables (with tomato vinaigrette on the side) - turned out to be a yeeeenormous plate of exactly that, largeish pieces of steamed vegetables (way too large for my mouth, which isn't exactly dainty) - almost all quite underdone except for the way overdone half-ear of corn. I am not complaining - thrilled to find such a thing on the menu in my weight watchery travels throughout the world - generally I have to stay home and eat by myself to make it work but here I was out in the world, ordering off a menu, eating, and all that good stuff. Can I just say though that I have never had such almost-raw potatoes? (And they had the weirdest two-tone color where the skin might have been.) Fascinating.

Anyway. And elder hostel. Aunt Virginia told us about wonderful elder hostels she has been to with various friends and (once) alone - do you know about this excellent institution? Once you're over a certain age you can go and take classes all over the country and possibly beyond; stay on college campuses and campgrounds and who knows where else; go off for a week of theater, or a week of climbing, or a week of learning about religion - and it's affordable and elder-centered. It was a lot of fun to hear about. Last year she and Uncle Phil went to one that was all about going to plays and she's still enjoying the memories of the plays (no, I cannot at this moment recall the names of the plays NOR the name of the place).

There. Done. Shortish post - and around the world my sister is off Texas-camping in the morning with my niece and nephew, my sons in Berlin are preparing for a weeklong class trip (Felix) and a two-month-long trip to Bangalore (Max); hubby is planning a little trip to Paris with Max before he goes off to Bangalore; in Bloomington Maksim is recovering (I hope) from an ear infection and Alex is getting her eyes back to normal, Ellen is blogging and Susan, I hope you are reading this!? Hello and lots of love from California.

Monday, March 16, 2009

day 5 in Claremont already!

well, the time's flying by. My knee isn't perfect after all - felt fine all Saturday after Saturday's jog/walk but after Sunday's walk it twinged. Today's jog - we'll see. I'll take it easy.

I am just so appreciating this place that means my parents are not, cannot be, will not be isolated. There is a community weaving itself day by day, announcement by announcement at the dinnertime mike, step by step all over the campus as people check on each other, watch out for each other, bother each other, help each other. Sometimes they even annoy each other, but surely that's part of it too!

Read a Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich - I could swear I'd read at least one before and been underwhelmed, but this one made me laugh a lot (Hard Eight, for what it's worth). Found it on the shelf next to the assisted-living mail center, near where my mother and I have been putting 5 to 20 puzzle pieces daily into the Rockwellesque puzzle of kids on a tree, on a bench with a doctor's kit, holding a doll, golden retriever watching and panting.

We sang some hymns yesterday - old style with my father singing bass and playing tenor on the 'cello, my mother singing sometimes alto and sometimes soprano to prop me up, and me with my wobbly soprano that does make me sad because it ain't even a shadow of what it used to was. Missing: my sister who could do alto or tenor depending on what was needed. She called in the middle and we thought about doing it over the phone but a little tricky.

Played so far: Chinese Checkers; Boggle; Scrabble; Quiddler. Gorgeous cool weather here. It's Southern California, but it's the desert, so mornings and evenings are always cool.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

trying to write little bits

where am I now? still in Claremont, California, but being whipped around. Noon meal today with three Browns, Wes Brown and his wife Cheryl, and Ruth Brown. Wes and Ruth (his sister-in-law) were missionaries in Congo all my growing up, and Wes and his brother Arley (Ruth's late husband) were two of five sons of a Congo missionary couple - all five brothers were ministers and three were Congo missionaries; I already knew two of Ruth's three daughters were missionaries in Congo now but today I heard about some of his grandchildren going off to various parts of the world; one of Wes's six kids is the pastor of an English-language church in Nairobi.

I went for a jog yesterday afternoon and went past a number of the five Claremont colleges; a beautiful long-haired, long-tailed, elegant-snouted yellow dog went zooming past me and past me and past me again on a softball track while we kept out of the way of four young men playing boccia ball (aka boules) and then I followed some loud cheering noises and found a bunch of young men in helmets, with bats, running around a field that had tiny little goals at each end. What is that - lacrosse maybe? Nothing I've ever played, surely.

Wonderful to jog again - my knees seem fine. 15 minutes jogging, 20 walking (lovely phone call with Alex in Bloomington), 15 jogging again, like that. I vow to take care of my knees this second time around after being scared I'd maybe used them up. Very grateful to my doctor in Berlin who assured me I just had to be gentle, take more Ibuprofen, keep walking briskly, and wait a little and I could jog again (carefully!).

Last night my parents and I went to a lovely evening of folk singing right here on the campus of their community. Some songs we got to sing along with; some we listened to. I bought a couple of CDs, and I remembered that I had totally intended to scoop up my guitar while in Bloomington and take it back to Berlin to learn how to play it finally! How could I forget such a thing? (Easy; I didn't write it down.) However, maybe it's just as well - kind of tricky to schlep the guitar along with everything else. So I'm going to try to find a guitar in Berlin and my father says Garage Band, the Apple application, can teach you to play the guitar. Hmmmm.

This morning we listened to a podcast of a French church service (just the Old Testament reading, the sermon, a couple of prayers, and two songs in Kinyarwanda [!]) instead of going to church. That reminded me, too, that I had meant to look for some kind of French-speaking African community in Berlin - maybe I still can. How much longer are we there for?

Can I just quickly say before zooming this out that I think this is a wonderful place? The people here look out for each other, look out for the wider community, are politically involved, pay attention to each other. They're theologically liberal and socially progressive (my parents say that there are a few kind of conservative people who end up here but feel pretty uncomfortable, so now some people in the place are trying a little harder to make it so those others can feel comfortable too). Sitting at the noon meal (my parents call it dinner and have tried to get me and mine to do so as well, but I notice that most of the others here call it lunch too) and listening to the people line up at the microphone between the meal and dessert to make announcements and introductions, I was just really impressed with the way those traditions keep these people connected. 

OK, love to you all wherever you be.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pilgrim Place: hijackings, history . . .

[written March 14th; looked at again March 15th and sent out almost as is with just a couple more lines at the bottom, plus this.]

And where am I now? At Pilgrim Place, in Claremont, California, about an hour east of Los Angeles.

Last night I had supper with a friend of my parents' who was in the world's first hijacking, from Greece to Yugoslavia, in 1947. I've known Lois here for years, and we've hung out in the pool, and had meals together, and talked about things, but the hijacking story was news to me. 

Pilgrim Place, aside from being the place where my parents have lived since 1998, is a "senior community for those serving in religious or charitable organizations." A lot of the people here were Christian missionaries in other countries, as my parents were. Others were pastors in the U.S., or seminary professors, or worked in religious education. One friend of my parents was a lifelong executive for the YWCA; another resident here worked at Pilgrim Place itself and then retired here. I think there are about 350 people who live here; 8 of them, including my parents, were American Baptist missionaries in Congo / Zaire, which means that they have known me, and I have known them, all my life. 

Everybody in the whole community, which includes stand-alone houses and apartments as well as assisted-living apartments and a nursing home, eats their noon meal communally; those who live in the assisted-living apartments, which has included my parents for the last 14 months or so, also have an additional meal together. 

So at dinner yesterday (the bigger noon meal) we sat with Uncle Phil and Aunt Virginia and Bob and Anelise. None of these people are my biological aunts and uncles but they were the family we knew best growing up; somehow I've graduated myself to leaving off the "Aunt" and "Uncle" with Bob and Anelise and even sometimes with Virginia (used to be known as "Aunt Ginny Nick") and Phil. But they're family still, anyway. Aunt Virginia retold me a story yesterday she's told me before but I never mind hearing again, about how, at the age of three months, I would be perched on my father's shoulder facing backwards at morning chapel at Vanga (a mission station in Congo, where Virginia was a nurse and my parents were teachers then) and beam at the people behind my father's back. 

Uncle Phil and his family (Aunt Rose, who died here at Pilgrim Place eleven years ago; and Kristi, their youngest daughter [the others were out of the house]) lived on the mission compound with us in Kinshasa for a number of years; I inherited lots of Kristi's clothes but she was a lot svelter than I was and I remember wearing her very cool purple hiphugger bellbottoms but feeling the pinch horribly at my waist. When I was in 8th grade, they all lived upstairs from us in the same house; we'd have waffle suppers and Scrabble games together, and Uncle Phil and Aunt Rose would tease my parents for being teetotalers, and Kristi would think it was cool that Ruthy and I got to wash dishes on the weekends. And then they moved away to Haiti and we got Santa, their beautifully behaved and loving tan dog who was ancient and had belonged to at least eight families already.

(Uncle) Bob and Uncle Phil each had missionary parents of their own and grew up in Congo themselves. Anelise was a missionary to Japan before she married Bob and came to live and work in Congo instead.

[I wrote all the above yesterday and meant to keep going - but there's too much to write if I try to be that encyclopedic - I'll send this off and do a today's post a little more episodically.]

Friday, March 13, 2009

Southwest Airlines / Psychology Today

I do so love Southwest Airlines. And why is that? Well, where to start: they're cheap, they fly me from Indianapolis to California without much fuss and around inside California with even much less fuss than that. They let me change my dates around without asking for any extra money; they're just a little simpler than everybody else.

On the Southwest flight from Indianapolis to Ontario (no, not Canada; southern California - nearest airport to my parents' in Claremont) via Las Vegas, I read a bunch of things I had bought for myself in Indy. I bought three novels (one hardback) and two magazines for pots of money; but then again, while in Bloomington I really didn't spend much money. (I mooched off Jenny an awful lot for one thing - sorry, Jenny! if you're wondering where that next-to-last brownie went, I have to confess!)

Anyway, I bought the blasted things and on the way to Las Vegas I read the entire most recent #1 Ladies Detective Agency, all of a Psychology Today, and part of another book which had a terrible title but which I rather quite liked (my usual test: would I have been happy to write this book? and the answer: resoundingly yes). Anyway, after I finished the Psychology Today I tucked it into the seat pocket in front of me and left it there; while we were on the ground in Las Vegas for 35 minutes I moved seats, further frontwards, but figured I'd leave the Psychology Today where it was.

So then while I was sitting in my new seat (we couldn't move till after the friendly flight attendant had counted all of our six heads that were staying on the flight for the next leg) (don't worry, more people got on; the second leg was as 100% full as the first one) - anyway, I"m sitting there in my new seat and I'm thinking: that article I read in Psychology Today, about which personality types relocate more and less and why and how - I'd like to maybe blog about it or in some other ways refer back to it. But do I want to go back to my old seat and pull it out?

Meanwhile, all the flight attendants are swarming the seats and cleaning and pulling out stuff and tidying and tossing and all of that - they are, as they often remind us, the cleaning crew. And sure enough, the very pleasant man who'd been in charge of my row of seats (and who did the head count) pulled out my Psychology Today out of my old seat pocket (so much for leaving it for the next person, which I thought I was doing) and came forward with it - I'm still thinking: so, do I reclaim it now before he throws it away? And then he walked down the aisle with it and said: does anybody want a Psychology Today. I hesitated (what personality type does that make me?) and nobody else said anything either and he said something along the lines of (oh, I don't have to make it up, I see I wrote down his exact words:) "Anyone for a Psychology Today? I didn't think so - it isn't exactly a hot seller."


So then I really couldn't confess and reclaim anymore. I let my Psychology Today (which, by the way, I had found in the Men's Interest section of the magazine rack - why?) be consigned to the dustheap of history, and so I have to tell you from very vague-ish memory (this I didn't write down) - essentially, if you're a friendly and happy person, you stay put and don't keep moving away town to town. I thought this was very, very, very interesting indeed. All my dear friends who have ended up not moving away from Bloomington: you hear that!?

(Also, just by the by: inside the Psychology Today there were a few references to their online site and I thought: why do I read so very few and always the same things online I wonder? at the newsstand I'm interested in all sorts of things; online I go to the New York Times, Huffington Post,, Slate, and maybe sometimes Divine Caroline and and very occasionally Youtube (I don't go there so very often for one reason because there's almost always somebody nearby who will be disturbed by the noise . . . !) - I know why I don't go to the New Yorker online even though I've been made aware of it, it's because I don't want to spoil the print version for myself. But it's a real question: why am I stuck in these very few sites? Even when I have all the time in the world to surf the web, which is of course not by any means always?)

moving around in the world

dear faithful readers, if you are still with me after all these fits and stops and starts you are faithful indeed. Spring break is beginning in Austin and Bloomington - surely many other places too but people I care about muchly are in those places - happy spring break to you my dears!

Where have I been? On planes, on planes. Flying from Berlin to Bloomington last Friday, March 6th, via Düsseldorf, Chicago, and Indianapolis, and Jenny's still-carrying-on old Volvo. Bopping around Bloomington, so thoughtfully suddenly sunny it wasn't quite fair or believable, so sunny in fact I got sunburned my first morning - Bloomington a fabulously compact place where a carless visitor can walk from one friend to the next in the sunshine, with a ride to the dentist when needed (thank you, Alex!) - Bloomington an amazingly friendly place where the friends you have left and abandoned for months welcome you back so warmly and take you in.

I've been in Bloomington, where Sarah and Kon are raising up Maksim, who is getting daily more acclimated to the world and is one of the most beautiful babies I have ever laid eyes on. I've been in Bloomington, where Jenny and Michael continue to maintain and operate the world's longest-running ongoing salon for ideas, books, visitors, gatherings small and large, food frozen, cooked, freshly picked, rapidly made into amazing things (I know; I cut up one orange slowly while Jenny made ten other things in the kitchen into other things) - I am not a very good food writer but I am hoping you are getting the sense of generosity and cleverness and plenty and goodness. Where there is conversation and warmth and doggies and curiosity.

I've been in Bloomington, where recovering Susan keeps pushing herself daily further to the amazement and awe of her many admiring friends, and is up for the same old wonderful wide-ranging conversations as ever. In Bloomington, where Boo and Alex are divided on whether to just shoot the damn deer or completely retool their ideas of gardening. In my old B'town, where Catherine has moved neighborhoods but keeps shepherding her family forwards, where Sarah M. and her husband and girls are enjoying their new kitchen filled with light and computers and dogs and cats, where Beth and Ellen and Alex took me walking, where I got to sit with my beloved book group and talk books. 

Where Sarah K. made me fabulous shrimps and veggies and I only told her afterwards I really don't eat shrimp - except by then it wasn't true anymore - and all this while holding and juggling and snuggling her growing baby boy. 

You know, Bloomington. And that was then, and then I flew on to California, and that is another post. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

leaving the Germanosphere, briefly

I have to put my pants on in a minute, call a taxi, and take a flight to a flight to a flight to my friends . . . coming to see a newborn babe, and my book group ladies, and my dear mending neighbor friend!

Berlin is thawing out. One can walk or jog in the woods without falling and breaking tailbones incessantly, which is a bit of a relief. 

Off I go, wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

where we are in German

your faithful Berlin correspondent here, sadly, recently, a little too faithless!

this will be short and sweet, do you dare believe me? I just wanted to talk, and think, and write about when, how and where we speak German in this German town now, almost 7 months after getting here.

In the building we live in, everybody reflexively greets anyone, known or unknown, in English. Most of us are English speakers, and I guess there are more people in the building who don't speak German than there are who don't speak English. If you know what I mean.

Tuesday mornings I speak a lot of German for hours - I walk for an hour with one of my two new Weight Watcher friends. They are both completely fluent in English, and have lived in the States or Canada - and yet we speak German. And dutz each other (familiar you) - and then we go sit in our hilarious, loud and lively Weight Watcher meeting with all the other ladies and we all siez each other (formal you) except each person has her one or two or three buddies whom she dutzes.

And I talk a lot in the Weight Watcher meeting, and I love that.

Where else? With baby niece and her mother and her father, with almost-grown-up nephew, we all (son #1, son #2, and I) speak German. That happens a couple of times a week. I babysat Saturday night (but I have to admit, when baby was crying in her crib and I picked her up to fall asleep, worn out, on my shoulder, I sang to her in English for about half an hour. She was asleep for the last twenty-nine minutes or so of that, so it worked out OK).

I've joined two and a half writing groups in German - the 2-Saturdays-afternoons-a-week write-your-own-prose and then do-an-exercise together one; the last-Wednesday playing-with-prompts-together women's poetry group; and the bilingual (that's the half) first-Friday group which is actually a group to critique. But those are hard to keep up. The odd schedules end up getting in the way.

What I am keeping up are my two weekly groups in English - Friday mornings the writing group, it's wonderful; Wednesday nights the play-reading group, it's almost more wonderful if such 'twere possible. I can't help it that they're not in German - they're weekly, they're intense, they're what I need.

So German? We went out with friends Anja and Alexander Monday night and hung out and chatted in German before we saw Milk, the movie, in English with German subtitles. We went out for dinner Friday night and talked German for hours, a funny and lively family in a glorious apartment. Again, as ever, the family. The people in the stores. For Felix, a few hours a day of school every day. For Max, now, living on his own with a roommate and working at the bakery, I guess he's talking German all day long when he isn't with us. 

I'm reading. I just finished Nachtzug nach Lissabon, which Anja recommended since we were going to Lisbon, and got really bogged down in the middle but I unbogged myself and slogged away and was glad, very glad, at the end that I had. Big long book all full of German all the way through.

I guess we haven't quite fulfilled the idea of plunging ourselves into German. I think Felix's mental health means he needs chances to chill and speak English, but still we push. His German teacher said for his German to really solidify we had to stay two years, did I already say this? Ain't happenin'. A friend mentioned the other day that a translation class might be the thing to put her German over the top, and I thought,  yes, that might have been the thing for me too but I don't now see it happening anymore. Maybe I shouldn't say not anymore, maybe I still will? 

No conclusion to this post, as to so many not.