Orkney Pictures

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ORKNEY Islands, SCOTLAND June 2015

I’ve just celebrated the  Solstice and ten days thereafter way up above the Scottish mainland on the gentle green hills of the Orkney islands where the North Sea meets the Atlantic at a white tide line just beyond the Fowl Craig (crag) on Papa Westray, the northern most isle.  Here in the wind and rain a young Ranger tramped me across a maritime sedge heath to where a flock of Puffins cavorted about on a black cliff face, their vermillion feet and chubby little  bodies silly and wondrous at once. They shared the granitic ledges with breeding Guillemots–big black and white sea birds –all lined up facing the cliff and dropping guano generously down the rocks, while the airspace was patrolled by big orange beaked Oystercatchers and fleet Arctic Terns. The heath  was alive with daisies, buttercups, the rare Scottish Primrose and two species of orchids–one pink, the other, a brilliant magenta and both standing about five inches high.

Here in Papa Westray (Papay)–land of the priests as it was a pilgrimage site long ago –is the oldest house in Northern Europe–the Knap of Howar–two structures made of perfectly laid flagstones with central hearths, cupboards and bed steads–and these dated at 3200 BC –before the pyramids at Giza, before Stonehenge.

On Mainland Orkney are many other stunning Neolithic sites.

I hiked for miles up the sodden heathered Wideford hilltop to a cairn hidden way above the verdant farms filled with new lambs and young calves.  The cairn, a communal tomb, had a trap door leading to finely slabbed chambers where ancient peoples left their ancestors’ jumbled bones.  The Cuween  cairn had me crawling on hands and knees through puddles and muddy rocks to discover a fine korbelled roof and several cells.Two major cairns–Maishowe and Unstan– were more accessible and filled with Viking runes.

At 3am on the Summer Solstice I joined about 40 Druids and assorted pagans honoring the gods and goddesses of the Earth at the ancient Ring of Brodgar, 346 feet in diameter with 22 of its once 60 monolithic stones still standing in a perfect circle overlooking two lochs (lakes).  The sun never appeared but we imagined its coming on the longest day of the year and celebrated its arrival by sharing cups of Mead and bites of Honey Cake.

Nearby the Ring are so many ancient stone structures that the area has been declared a World Heritage Site.  For several days and for many many miles I rode a bike past the endless Kelly green pastures, stone farmsteads and sea inlets to visit stone circles, village remnants, standing stones, and the amazing Bronze Age Gurness Broch (a tower fortress with many rooms built on a promontory overlooking an exquisite white sand and Caribbean blue water beach). The most exciting of all was the  Neolithic village of Skara Brae.  A storm uncovered some of the many elegant homes here, each with a formal layout of beds and a central altar/dresser.  Joined by covered passageways and serviced by a drainage system, these dwellings are so finely crafted in stone that I imagined Frank Lloyd Wright being inspired by the Stone Age peoples’ designs.

What was a big surprise in Orkney was that I arrived in the middle of a magnificent music festival–the St. Magnus Festival –which offered everything from jazz to grand scale choral works, lectures to folk music.  Lest I lurked too long in the Neolithic, I was fascinated by Ian Crockatt’s poetry reading of Old Norse and his own English translations of compositions by the Viking Earl Rognvald, hero of the Orkney Saga. The PhD  Crockatt looked like a hero himself –6′ 4″ at least, wild white hair and the fit bearing of a warrior come back to tell us how poetry was as important to a Viking Leader as was battlefield valor.  I am reading his “Crimsoning  the Eagle’s Claws” and his imagery is breathtaking–the title itself shows how, as it refers to what a valiant warrior does–his victims provide carrion for raptor’s repasts.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Kirkwall Chorus presented a thrilling Mozart Vespers; a Celtic cum rock band The Chair had us all up dancing; and a Finnish band of harmonicas opened my ears to this instrument’s range of rhythm and sound–no simple blues riffs from Svang!  At night at the local pub, The Reel, there was always music, the best being a band of young women–Granny Green–playing trumpets, accordion and tuba–no lie.  And out on the street the day I arrived was a full dress bagpipe and drum band marching in their kilts up and down Main Street in front of the 12th Century Cathedral that Rognavald commissioned and in which there was a Festival Sunday service that was so full of wonderful hymn singing and inspirational words that I was transported into the joy I felt as a youth in the choir of our local Methodist Church in New Rochelle, NY.  Back then I was an Anderson after all, a Scot somewhere in my lineage!

Music and Scottish folk dancing finally put a coda on my visit.  With a friend I met bicycling I danced reels and rounds to a live band at the cathedral hall Monday night Ceilidh…complete with cookies and tea.  Then early after the all night deep ultramarine sky gave way to another day of looming gray clouds, I flew back to London  on a propeller jet three seats wide, thinking I’d like to come back next summer to participate in the new excavations at the Ness of Brodgar, where they’ve already unearthed 18 new buildings–larger than any found before.  And of course there’s about eight more islands in the Orkneys left to visit……

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Pictures from London

 

 

 

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Shoreditch, East End, London, UK

Said to be the Brooklyn of London, Shoreditch does share a number of that NYC borough’s traits:

  • it was “the worst slum in Europe”
  • the dreaded East End–just 15 years ago and is now so gentrified that few natives can still afford a room here.
  • it’s full of artists and hipsters and every other person has tattoos.
  • it’s buildings are old brick and its streets, cobbled But Shoreditch writes its own story.

The walls are filled with graffiti and art–brilliantly colored joyful paintings–chickens and sci-fi characters, huge finely drawn portraits and whimsical cartoons, a half-city-block long hedgehog, an abstract fish head, a sailing ship tossed by a two story high turbulent sea…There’s already a London Walks tour of the graffiti round every bend. Actually speaking of bending lanes, the narrow streets and alleyways wind around absolutely randomly. It’s sort of charming the way sheep and cows’ meanderings seem to have laid out London.

People range from disheveled old men who were born and raised here, to Muslim mothers in black chadors; concave-bellied hipsters buttoned up to the neck and wearing pegged pants over their Converses, to the odd tribe of tourists always identifiable by their a) colorful t-shirts, b) their down vests and their c) Bermuda shorts–no Londoner would be caught dead in anything but black. But mostly Shoreditch is home to young cool casually dressed folk who have plenty of time to drink a Lager, smoke a rolled one and chill out…if it’s not raining that is. And where you can surely find East End Londoners will be on the street itself outside any bar in the district–smoking and having a pint–by 4 pm every pub has an ever burgeoning crowd surrounding its doors and spilling generously onto the street, a crowd blithely oblivious to the little black boxy taxis trying to wend their way through. These classic British taxis have looked the same for decades, the only difference being they are now made in China. People here are friendly and take time to talk–one evening at the Owl and Pussycat I met some Irish-born police investigators, an advertising girl from New Zealand and a Scottish salesman, each of whom chatted me up and treated me to either a shot of Kahlua or a half pint of Old Speckled Hen Ale. I’ve made fast friends with Dan and Adam, a couple of artists who’ve rented a corner closet with windows–a pop-up–for £650/week–to show their whimsical animal drawings and Popsicle prints–they couldn’t be nicer. And the Moroccan fellow Majid who guards the local grocery remembers me every time I come in, always ready with a smile and a chat. I have walked into the Financial District with its suits and tied men streaming rapidly past me but Shoreditch is miles and energies away from that rather uber-Wall Street world. It’s so driven over at the Bank tube station that the men are caricatures of themselves! Stiffer, swifter and more somber than judges–all but the Lord Mayor who unbelievably ambled by me at the City of London’s chamber offices, the gloriously Gothic Guildhall.

But I digress — in Shoreditch the old buildings in the neighborhood are mostly 4 and 5 story original “counsel” housing from the 1800s–well built, gable roofed and patterned brick, movie-

set ready..or quaint one room wide two story homes now with shops, bars or restaurants on the bottom floor. So what have these old buildings become? Witness Redchurch Street and Brick Lane.

REDCHURCH STREET is the posh one, with elegant “artisan” shops appearing here weekly. Nudie Jeans is walled with endless stacks of jeans and, claiming its motto of “Social Responsibility”, a sewing machine where jeans are repaired for free or recycled or resold. T2 is a tea shop with every green, black or herbal tea imaginable presented in lovely little cubes so one can enjoy the texture and aroma of each…meanwhile the boxes of tea and the collection of Victorian cups and teapots are in full intensity rainbow colors–this shop being in complete contrast with all the black white and gray clothing stores. There is a brush and tea towel shop with bins full of twine, jam jars, soaps and spatulas, even a stack of buckets invites purchase. On Redchurch there are more men’s shops than I’ve ever seen in one place, each tastefully appointed with rhythmically displayed stacks of striped jerseys, a ladder with a few leather shoes draped thereon, lovely racks of antique tools, man cave corners harboring shirts and dapper shoes–oh shoes are IT here possibly because ALL the clothes are so monochromatic. Each store is more like an art installation than a retail site– a levitating rack of black and white shirts sways above a solitary pair of wing tips on the floor; a single red chair occupies most of one wall–space around each item Is key to design here. Often too a shop selling clothes will have a surprising area of something totally irrelevant–school notebooks and stationery supplies or exactly a dozen carefully selected books laid out in precise small stacks –titles like “A Good Parcel Of English Soil,” Sourdough: Slow Bread for Busy Lives” and Volume 7 of Plant featuring thistles.

Here too are little restaurants with bushel baskets of luscious golden beetroot, baby fennel, haricot vert, heritage tomatoes at the door, fresh tarts and jams inside. All have odd and original menus–coriander dusted cauliflower with lightly sautéed courgettes; lemon-braised lamb on a bed of quinoa aubergine–and of course all are pricey…a small plate can often set one back $20/US. These bistros have tables on the sidewalk and one wants to sit outside here when the weather is nice–as it has been this first week of June–pillowy clouds in clear cobalt skies, 70 degrees, a light breeze.

Walk to the east end of Redchurch and you’ll find BrewDog known for artisan beers listed by their alcohol content–Punk IPA 5.4%; Dead Pony Club, 3.8%; Vagabond Pale; Born to Die; Alesmith-Old Numbskull and Lagunitas among them–who knew?.–and an absolutely monochromatic 20-30 something crowd of Caucasian urban hipsters.

Cross Bethnal Green to BRICK LANE where there’s another batch of beautifully decorated clothing shops and bars staffed by mixologists creating the most unique drinks–I tried a Pimm’s lemonade with mint, cucumber and strawberry one day and a Gingerella–gin, elderflower liqueur, ginger syrup, apple juice lemon and cucumber –the next and I’d love to keep sampling these masterworks, were they not a cool $17 + each!!! Brick Lane has a greater diversity of both stores and people than Redchurch. For one thing, rich and poor fill the streets; for another, there’s old and new establishments. Here are lots of real vintage shops with cheap clothes and vinyl records; there is a locksmith; here, a collective of young designers presenting one-off fashions; there, a half dozen old leather goods shops. Brick Lane is home to a pre-gentrification classic “Beigel” shop where you can get a fresh bagel, lox and cream cheese for 1£ 60 p. ($2.50), the cheapest food in London and everyone

  • the construction workers in hard hats taking a break from plastering a nearby old building
  • the scruffy old man with a muzzled hound
  • the barkeep from across the road
  • the backpacker in tight jeans
  • and me

eats these bagels daily out of raggedy bits of paper as they walk and talk their way down the street. The Fifties rules Brick Lane with girls wearing Bettye Page dresses, an orange and turquoise vinyl-boothed bowling alley, and the best coffee shop on the block with thrift shop Mid-Century tables and chairs. Interestingly coffee shops here are NOT filled with iPads and iPhones–

people come here to talk, catch up, enjoy the freshly brewed Americanos and the newly baked carrot-cocoanut bread and croissants. Outside a thin old man in white Fedora and clean lab coat polishes his ice cream cart, at the ready for the afternoon swarm of passersby. There’s an antique shop full of clutter, old dolls and lace, teacups and 78 rpm records–run but a jaunty old fellow in his mid-80s enraptured by the clear notes of a jazz standard emanating from his 1934 hand-cranked Victrola–“best they ever made” he tells me as he pats the bottom of his ancient wife.

What is amazing about Brick Lane is that mid way and abruptly it changes utterly, becoming a warren of curry shops and Indians in white turbans, women in scarves and money transfer shops–a parallel world to the hipster paradise that arrived recently–in fact this end of Brick Lane is its original cast. My Brooklyn-inflected Shoreditch is surely a Johnny Come Lately but quite a lovely one, a perfect place to spend a summer.

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A New Adventure Begins–I leave for London June 2, 2015

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ZEGG-A Week in Community

An hour by train out of Berlin, Belzig is in the formerly East German countryside
–of lakes, streams, forest and fields of corn, wheat, and sunflowers;
–of small villages with new homes built into 17th, 18th, and 19th century wattle and daub half-timbered barns or stepped brick Gothic and slit windowed old pitched roof storage buildings;
–of a walled Schloss (castle) and the ancient hand painted Church of St Briccius built in 1470 and
–of a populace fresh and young, friendly and open with whom I played in a huge zigzagged pool/ water park down the road—a park with a waterslide, a whirlpool like river, a mushroom shower and fountains. The children and teenagers there so very happy and innocent and eager to meet me….

Here in Belzig the intentional community of ZEGG—the Center for Experimental Cultural Design—has its garden and encampment. And here is where I spent a transformative week as a “Sommer Gast”; even the assignation indicates the quality of ZEGG—As a Summer Guest—not a volunteer or an employee– we come to work and eat and live and care about each other and the land in a paradise of blooming flowers, a vegetable garden, cherry, apple, pear, and plum trees, blueberry and boysenberry bushes set in a wild forest of pine and alder, sweet scented linden and oak.

Sunday evening the new guests gather with Zusula, a joyful Greek refugee now German who directs ZEGG and who yet has the energy and heart to welcome and shepherd Summer Guests through their week or weeks here. We become our own small community within the larger permanent group of 90 people of all ages who live and work here. As the week progresses we eat and work together, share tents, and meet each evening in a buttercup yellow room with a kilim carpet to sing and chant and share what we are experiencing during the day, or to speak on a “Forum” topic like love relationships or what one would like in this community that one didn’t have On the first evening, Eva, a radiant and sexy red head, taught us a lovely song
Cuckcoo…As I was walking
In the May morning
I heard the birds sing
Sung in a round, the song was ecstatically lovely—like a Baroque cantata. Then Daniel and Christina played Schubert on the piano.

Our group of six women and two men experienced breakthroughs and indecisions
—Tim, a handsome 24 year old—beautiful and magical—and a raw vegan who ate like a rabbit–came here with his guitar and all he owned, fell in love, and committed to a year long internship
–Daniel a Dutch fellow, having left his job and home, found his calling as a professional singer and he is trying it out with us
–Maria, a sweet woman from Vienna found peace here after having just left her stressful career as a social worker
–Christina, another person who left her job and was ready for change
–Lucia, a sexy Italian film director came here frazzled and kept the city inside her most of the time she was here but came on a wonderful ride with me one late afternoon and felt moved to chant to the wheat field and sunshine
–Dannae, a California glass artist then Manhattan office manager came here weeks ago after living in various WWOF organic farms and participating in Findhorn and Tamera, two other intentional communities like ZEGG where she worked and lived for the past 14 months, came here to learn German and to discover her life’s work.
–Eva, a retired educator and Tai Chi instructor came here as a first step in her retirement, came to connect with like minded people.
–and here I was, a runaway from the pleasant but rather meaningless month I’d spent mainly riding my bike and perusing the art museums and galleries of Berlin, finding happiness here hoeing the cabbages or picking cherries, even scraping labels off of marmelade jars so new jam could be put up in the recycled jars.

It all sounds rather simple and too sweet perhaps but somehow life at ZEGG is just that—simple and joyful—a day filled with wonderful vegetarian food, work and leisure—the days all beginning with the chefs presenting our breakfast to us—their morning gift—the meal from heaven direct—oatmeal, corn flakes, musli, rice pudding, yoghurt, sunflower seeds, cocoanut, raisins, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, hazelnuts, sesame on one table….and fresh whole grain breads, and spreads—savory (tofu curry; tahini, tomato, eggplant, herbed cream cheese, peanut butter) and sweet (many kinds of home-made marmalades and jams, fresh honey, butter) apples, and fresh vegetables—cucumber, tomato, carrots, sweet red pepper—plus coffee and six kinds of herbal, black and green teas. And we have the breakfast twice—in the morning before work and then in the half hour break we all have at 11—yum. Inside the tables all have candlelight and fresh flowers but most meals were taken outside in a garden overlooking the forest and distant fields and woods. Lunch and dinner—again with the chefs always smiling as they and describe what they’ve created and offer for our pleasure– have heaps of fresh lettuce and grated carrots and beets as well as various lasagnas, couscous dishes, polenta, soups and vegetable stews.

As for work—we were responsible for four to five hours a day, six days a week and work, like the breakfast is rather like a smorgasbord –a lot of little tastes of different tasks all essential to everyone’s basic though not luxurious well-being —one day I prepared marmelade jars; another I washed, chopped and bagged chives; another, I hoed the garden and pulled carrots out of the ground; and another I picked three kinds of berries fending off stinging nettle plants and horseflies while other people painted walls, dug ditches, cleaned rooms, peeled potatoes, washed stairs—all simple tasks that would be tedious if one had to do them every day but by changing daily, nothing seems really like labor—and everyone seems to go at their tasks cheerfully—as contribution to community rather than work.

I found myself experiencing “kleine freuden”—“small joys” with so many things—a label that peeled off easily, being able to chop chives in the sunshine; finding a soup delicious, discovering twenty or thirty little pink baby pigs behind a village I’d ridden my bike to one sunny afternoon. On the first day I heard that some people would be painting the Children’s Center and all of a sudden I realized I had something to give—I offered to design and paint a mural…and so met with the families and asked what they’d like, heard their suggestion of soft images coming from the sides and base of the wall… I then spent much of my afternoon free time as well as two work days first drawing the many wildflowers around the community—poppies, snapdragons, wild onions, sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans, grape vines and climbing peas to name a few—then painted them on a 20’ wide wall-great fun—and my first mural ever. Mothers and fathers would come by to thank me, bring me mango juice, offer coffee, appreciate what they saw—a garden of flowers growing inside for their children’s rainy days. I fell in love with each flower, even believing that the flowers at our dining room table were introducing themselves, hoping to be included. In the end the wall was filled with all different flowers so realistic that the children could find them outside the door so the mural became a kind of gentle educational tool as well as a brilliantly colored wall design. One by one most every man and woman with children came to me in gratitude for my gift to them of the mural—very heartening. In fact, Suzula brought our small group over one evening as well and then thanked us all for our work each day—this place is one of gratitude and joy comes when everyone feels so valued.

Afternoons and evenings at ZEGG are free—to walk in the forest, to ride a bike around the villages and fields, to swim in the natural pond on the property, to hang out and have wine and chocolate or play guitar and sing in the pub/lounge—a place filled with sofas and soft lighting—or just to drift to sleep in a hammock. I rode many kilometers in every direction around ZEGG, each trip a discovery—thanks to Suzula’s generously loaning me her fat tire bike. There are hours open to do whatever pleases you…and hours to talk with people—there seems to never be a rush here or a stress—work gets done, food is ready and everyone gets what they need and want every day. What a wonderful week it was….

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BERLIN–SOMMER 2011

Summer life here is so easy and welcoming–I live in Kreuz-kolln–a neighborhood that was once all Turkish and quite poor and still has half its population Muslim–with the women all covered in clothing–but not black or dreary at all-silk scarves of every imaginable color and floral pattern cover their hair and then all kinds of often matching and flambuoyant outfits –some incredibly sexy albeit properly all body covered–and the women are out on the streets, in the cafes, taking their children out and about, even smoking!!  The business streets are mostly run by Turkish men–and can you ever get fabulous olives, fetas, yoghurts, grains, nuts and dried fruits everywhere–in fact there is a “Turkish Market” by the canal two days a week and it is bustling with everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to biryanis made on the spot to buttons, Muslim clothing to Bulgarian blue cheese,.   Two kinds of shops are pretty unique–there are lots of extravagant floor length formal dress shops and then shops full of glitzy gold and crystal housewares.
The neighborhood has just recently–within the last four years– been sort of gentrified by young artists from all over the world.  The result of this is that many of the heretofore abandoned stores on the side streets–which by the way are all cobblestoned on both road and sidewalk–have become little one-off clothing shops wherein 20 and 30 something fiber artists make dresses, tops, skirts, tee-shirts–whatever they fancy –and they are very creative both in design and in fabric.  Or people open bar/restaurant/music venues in these old storefronts and there’s a “Berlin style” to them all–walls are taken down to whatever paint is stable–so often you have the history of the place traced on the walls–sort of like what David Ireland did when he renovated the 1908 barracks at the Headlands Center for the Arts.  Then painting, sculptures, the odd cheap tchatzki, a hookah, a broken mannequin wearing a mask, a life-sized plaster sheep, velvet drapes and cool lighting is added…and the thing that makes these places distinctively “Berlin style” is that the whole place is hand-built and all the sofas, chairs, tables, lamps–everything –comes from Flea Markets and Salvation Army so all all is completely recycled, funky and mismatched  to a point to look wonderful.
Plus the sidewalks are wide everywhere and all the cafes have tables and chairs outside and everyone seems to live all their hours on the street. Breakfast–fruhstuck– seems to be the favorite all day–I go to Cafe Liberda where I am greeted by a happy server Elmas–and where the chef –Marat, a Tunisian with a Turkish name who speaks “only” German, Dutch and French–arranges Brie and white cheese, Mortadella and Bologne, tomatoes and olives, into a  a virtual breakfast bouquet with pineapple slices, strawberries, cherries, grapefruit and orange slices, grapes and apples with a soft boiled egg and two kinds of fresh bread as well–all for 4.5 Euros which seems to me quite reasonable for what is really a breakfast for two.
The weather has been glorious–mostly warm dry and sunny–with the occasional crazy downpour or sun-rain-sun-clouds-sun-rain days and I spend them riding my wonderful fat tire bike–the biggest heaviest bike Ive ever had–she’s white and clumsy  but never falls into cracks or train tracks, can take curbs with elan and I’ve come to love her–I call her Bruni–short for Brunhilda Wagner (you must get the operatic reference) as she’s convinced she’s beautiful lithe and young…which in my eyes she has become.  We ride for hours every day along the canal that runs across most of Berlin, is lined with willows, oaks, maples and linden trees that are in bloom and give the whole city an impossibly sweet scent–ah. Sometimes as well I go to the huge and forested Tiergarten which has lovely marble statuary, fountains, and  formal gardens but which is predominantly forests and willow rimmed lakes and streams, with occasional green lawns, rhododendrons and ferns, wild flowers and spruce, linden, maples, acacia, and is full of singing birds–you’d never know you were in a city.
In  Kreuzberg and Neukollnthere where I live there are few cars and they drive at the speed of a bike plus bikes have right of way, with cars and pedestrians both yielding to bicyclists, who, by the way aren’t those slick Lycra clad type speed riders–no. Here everyone–from the postman to the mother with her child in a seat, the businessman in a suit to the delivery men are all on bikes–riding at a leisurely pace, no helmets, no bike outfits–as if we all lived in a village rather than a city–and Berlin is flat, has bicycle lanes and low curbs everywhere  so riding is easy easy easy–There are parks everywhere as well–it is one of the greenest places I have ever lived.
People here seem mostly young–babies are everywhere; parents walk their children to school, and people seem to talk away their hours in cafes-The girls and women wear layered flea market skirts and tops and always scarves..funky and cool, but what  fascinates me  is the style of men here–they all seem slight as feathers, concave at the belly, hairless, boneless even, skinny arms and legs, smoking and not a muscle evident in a limb–they seem to carry books and have deep intellectual conversations, read the paper  or play with their children.   There are of course workmen about with rotund beer bellies and a gruff way about them.  At last there are the classic pink blondes often in wire rims–Only the gay men are muscled  and the Turkish men are quite handsome–black hair and blue eyes.
There are music and art festivals all the time–I went to the gala opening of “Based in Berlin'” a five venue selection of the best contemporary art here; then spent a weekend at the “48 Hours Neukolln” fest with hundreds of installations, interventions, paintings, videos, and performances on the street, in storefronts, galleries and tucked away in all kinds of venues from  a prison to KarlMarxPlatz,  from allotment gardens to an old brewery…  I was led on a wild goose chase through a low rent housing project looking for a rabbit; was given a massage; saw a video of graffiti artists in the process of spray painting a train; helped build a “Neukolln” –a cardboard replica of the cathedral in Cologne–out of pfennig copper coins and glue stick–“because we are all pretty poor here” the artist said “but the people here, by donating just small 1, 2 and 5 cent coins,  paid for our cathedral nevertheless”  ; went on a Sound Journey with an 11 year old girl at the mixing deck while we sat in a makeshift plane in the cellar of a store, our silhouettes and our route projected onto a screen facing the street; went into a “hotel” the rooms of which were old Airstreams inside of the ground floor of one of the traditional buildings here.  The Christopher Street Parade–Gay Pride–was wilder and more fun than any I’ve been to in San Francisco or New York.  And there’s a World Culture Festival, Berlin Fashion Week and the Yoga Festival all coming up….
On Tuesday June 21–the Solstice–the whole city has a tradition of free music in every neighborhood–I heard techno, rap, singer-songwriter, 30s torch songs, reggae, and pop just in my area and elsewhere there were choirs, symphonies and more rock, reggae, anything you’d like–with the city putting up the stages and sound systems and all the musicians playing for free.  This idea of giving away, of recycling, of reusing is endemic here–and inspiring.  At the 48 Hours there was the “Fest der Dinge” (Festival of Things) that consisted in people bringing clothes, chairs, housewares books to give away and of booths that helped anyone make things from remaking/reupholstering chairs to planters from recycled plastic buckets.
So there you have it–Berlin in brief–It’s great here–a little like Montreal, a little like Brooklyn…mostly uniquely Berlin
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Christopher Street Parade–Berlin

CHRISTOPHER STREET –PRIDE PARADE–  I settled in with a Kindl (beer) und Fritz (French fries) and felt sehr Deutsch…Set to begin at 12:30, the parade itself didn’t arrive until 2 but beforehand people came and came and came, some dressed wildly, most just average folks in groups, with families, old and young, gay and straight, almost all drinking beer.  Met Thomas (German, 50, raised in Britain) and Terry (French,43) very much in love and sweet and congenial—we talked a good while as they cuddled and told of their coming engagement and marriage—they’ve been with for three months but it was the first time ever for each that they have found love—really very touching and true.  Thomas runs an art gallery and Terry teaches school.  We shared beer for at least a half hour til they left to meet friends.

Then met Tobias and Peter—handsome men both—about 40 and in a seven year relationship—we talked and waited for the parade, watched a silly man in lederhosen prance amidst a throng of boys with “Born this way” stamped on their naked chests, met a pair of lovely young girls from Israel—twins– and a trio of beautiful Italian girls, an older artist Sybil from France, a hunky boy Thorsten in a furry rimmed cowboy hat and a tight pink teeshirt,  assorted trannies in fetching sequined gowns and stilettos, and then came the Parade…

The PRIDE PARADE arrives…..Hours of fun with everyone delighted to pose for photos:-

-a loud and crazy brass band made up of a dozen or so  good old boys wearing yellow and black—the colors of the Deutch Postbank

–a bevy of nuns—yes the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence looked gloriously lavish in pink

–a grand dame holding 30-40 helium balloons and wearing  a Federalist judge’s blonde wig, smeared lipstick, blow up Dolly Parton breasts and a Heidi-like pretty little laced up pinafore top with the most amazing skirt–a carousel complete with red and white striped circus roof and a riding platform with horses and trucks, polar bears and motorbikes, zebras and police cars—

—creepy gas masked armies and leather bondage tribes

—a long gray-haired BoPeep in red polka dots

—a six pack of girls in rainbow Afros

—nuns and  altars boys preceding the Pope and his bishops

—a muscular hottie bodypainted like a Picasso  painting

—lots of older men teetering on stilettos or platforms and wearing  silver lame or glittering golden evening gowns, their balloon breasts bursting out of cleavage revealing tops, pearls and satin gloves, wigs of bouffant blonde curls, of roses

–lots of twins—two white bobbed pink and pudgy  men in black and white checked minidresses; a pair of bodysuited  striped things– even their heads and faces covered–

…a trio of wind power towers with Mylar hoops and windmills on their heads

—a pack of roller derby lesbians in black and red careening through the crowd

—a Dominatrix of a certain age in a leopard- lined chariot drawn by leather bondaged “horses,” their faces masked and reined

–and my favorite couple- a trannie—fully decked out in leather and fishnets—strolling down the street with his grannie

All these festive people and hundreds of other costumed partiers appeared between  huge semis hauling ballooned trailers filled with partying gays and lesbians and their friends, each one  blaring techno music and sometimes dropping leaflets, teddy bears, condoms and stickers—many of which I had emblazoned on my shirt by the end of the day—all in German of course and supporting equality…I danced and took endless photos.

Best best best of all –at the tail end of the parade I met beautiful handsome blue eyed Stefan and his red-headed best friend Freddie from Cologne who swept me up into their party and we spent the next six hours together dancing and drinking well into the night—first we trailed after the last semi, they buying caipirinhas for me as we danced several kilometers into the Tiergarten to the angel and then all the way to the Brandenburg Gate. Polizei were following the last truck and sometimes sounding a siren but weren’t really doing anything to control the crowd—in fact ten or twelve of them were out on the street partying with us… On the way Stefan insisted that I must try a currywurst and bought us each a platter of sausage with a sweet sauce and bread—it was still a hot dog and I wasn’t into it so he ate both our plates and on we went with caipirinhas and sex on the beach down to the thousands of people all dancing and partying.  Many hugs and expressions of love from both of these wonderful men—they were so sweet, not only keeping me refreshed with beverages, but buying us waffles und wursts and laughing and talking and hugging all day, the best of friends forever…At the end we found a great disco truck and danced full bore for an hour or more, Freddie finding a cutie to kiss, Stefan and I and assorted great guys dancing in a tight cluster of happy energy.

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New Rochelle and Ursuline High School Reunion

Last Saturday I made La Pilgrimage to New Rochelle–my hometown–….first an egg salad Bagel and coffee to get me on my way, then the #5 Express to Grand Central—its vast and beautiful dome so familiar and exciting really—the grand entry to New York via train…this time it was Meto North out to leafy Westchester, the tracks lined with granite and poplar…New Rochelle’s downtown arrives and it is the same weary collection of worn-out shops and empty streets.   Taking a cab up North Avenue I watched the buildings separate and then Iona College, its Colonial brick buildings and rolling green lawns a prelude to the lovely part of New Rochelle…the twin lakes in front of the Gothic castle of New Rochelle High, generous homes, near mansions each, along the Avenue and certainly up Broadview where Steffi Lewis lived and past Georgina’s turreted Queen Anne. I had the cabbie let me off maybe a half mile before Ursuline and ambled my way there taking pictures and remembering my life here—walked up the slate path to the verandah of the grand old French Second Empire manse where Mimi Kellerman used to teach ballet—the new young family renovating it greeted me with smiles and said the last owners had gotten rid of the dance studio but they’d heard about those days—the dining room now was filled with light and light oak floors—could have been where I’d spent so many years trying in vain to forcefit my unwilling sturdy German body into a petite ballerina en pointe—I loved every class if not the horsey teacher who was rumored to be Esther Williams’ relative, who wasn’t warm, but the dreams lived here and I took dance dutifully for years and years…..just as I took riding for years and learned to jump and finally rent/curry/walk/ride and love the beautiful chestnut mare they called Debutante for her high spirits and high arched head martingaled to control her energy—she had black mane and tail and pranced her way around the ring and over jumps and I virtually lived at the stable with her that teenaged summer near the reservoir…a place more like the real country than New Rochelle—that reservoir we walked in as children with my father and went to get away so many Saturdays reclining on “Beauty Rock” or walking in the woods around the water…but I digress

I continued down North Avenue past names I recognized-Trenor Drive where Patti M. and her beautiful cherished brother and nasty old hag of a grandmother lived, Patti who committed suicide soon after high school…past Bon Air where Joy K. lived in a sea of stuffed animals and pretty dolls…and Berrian Road where sorry Marilyn B. lived with her pinchpenny old World Jewish parents, the house always smelling of of Gefilte Fish and where she was virtually an unwelcome outcast—they had a gorgeous Royal Blue velvety wall to wall in the living room but we were never allowed in there , the furniture all covered in vinyl like the pathways over the carpet.  At last I came to my street, to the Fays’ four story brick home now for sale by Sotheby’s, once filled with the myriad of the Fays—13 children??so Catholic and red-headed..all living across the street from the still very posh Wykagyl Country Club—all colonnaded red brick Georgian buildings…rolling lawns of the golf course where we would sled in winter and where I longed to belong but Mom wouldn’t hear of it—they had no tennis courts—though one year when I was in high school she did relent and we spent that summer in the pool and I wore a free Rose Marie Reid bathing suit and a flowered bathing cap in a water ballet—another dream—every year these suits were donated to the girls and the show was magnificent to me—like something on Broadway or better…and finally I was in one…ah

On past the weed-ridden graveyard and the old Gothic once Methodist Church turned Synogue but now abandoned, for sale and sad…I remember the Ichabod Crane of a minister and the red velvet curtained choir area by the altar, the white gowns we wore at Christmas carrying candles down the soft evergreen carpeted aisles past all the mahogany pews to sing carols—we were angels there and I loved it…not Sunday School, though, bored and no one there I was friends with except maybe geeky Norwegian Bjorg one of the 22 Christian children left at Roosevelt School on a Jewish holiday—She was my guarantor of being an outsider and I disliked her for it—she lived with her very European parents in a strange world.  I finally come to Roosevelt Elementary School itself—site of seven years of my life, a grand old Georgian brick school with vast high ceilings and great windows, cookies in kindergarten,a bike rally for which Daddy decorated my Schwinn, Miss Jewel who visited me in the polio ward of the hospital where I spent months with pneomonia in first grade, mulberry trees and silk worms we carefully fed and watched grow each day til they’d spun cocoons of pale yellow silk and finally flew away…Roosevelt now a retirement home  Then past the bridge over the old railroad tracks—through the dense foliage I looked for the concrete “Hut” we used to hang out in with boys, smoking cigarette and sometimes kissing them,,our wild world under the street where no one could find us…and finally past the shops—all different now, no old nasty man shoeing us out of his cigar store, no ironic Italian running Betty Allen’s where we’d always go for cherry cokes after school.

And then at last the formal green lawns and white trimmed brick buildings of Ursuline come into view and the Reunion begns way over in some new buildings—I sign in and see lovely Tina S., the soap opera star, our Senior Class President, gifted, beautiful from Bronxville and she’s surprised, didn’t know I was coming, had thrown a posh party for all the class last evening in her Upper East Side apartment—too bad I’d missed it…but no worry the event built and built and was wonderful—-first we started to find each other—so many older ladies I didn’t recognize—at all—do I look this old, I ask myself? I look at the pictures and know that I too have aged  But up close I recognize most everyone I knew. I meet up with AnnLee who’s slender and pretty, still tall as a giraffe in a polkadot dress like mine..and MaryBeth who’s on a cane and looking weary…Bonnie being her same bouncy self  and Gracie Burns, still sweet and earnest and Catholic as a nun though living, yes, in San Francisco—we will perhaps rekindle a friendship when I return–Gay N. tall and jangling with bangles and beads, slim as a reed and a bit wild…Sugar — wild white hair and flambuoyant silks, an artist ever sure of herself, ever a bit cynical , and many cute Kathys.   I hardly remember any of them but then I did remember Patricia –the brain—the same face but now elegant with age and busy little Frances L. now a computer science professor—Many of my former classmates actually have or had stellar careers as well as the requisite 4-6 children and 2-14 grandchildren, most living back in Larchmont or New Rochelle…many, though, in Manhattan. There were many pearls, many pictures, many pecks on the cheek and exclamations of “Oh Kathie A.—how great to see you!!!!We didn’t know you’d be coming”

It was all really a delight—from the “Changing Shoes”mini-performance of her one-woman show/book by Tina —40 minutes of funny vignettes from her flubbing a live TV line as a cardiologist asking for the spatula not a scalpel, to leaving a plane seat saying “I’ve got to catch the next train”….at 17,000 feet— to recounting her hike up Kilamanjaro with the “Board of Outbound Bound all dour wearing brown and she in hot pink, seeing Ghengis Khan in a vision when she nearly lost on her way to the top—a delightful show… really..followed by lots of pictures and chat

Then we filed past photos of nuns and there she was –Mother Frances ghoulishly grinning and we all said how we despised her—then I did my rendition of her teeth gritted “Grrrrrls I was APALLED to find an Ursuline grrrrl wearing lipstick…” the word spewed out like a poison….They all laughed and indeed I was asked to perform her again in front of the inverted V staircase where all graduation pictures have been taken since the beginning of time  and where we gathered for a  formal picture…and then before a mike in front of the assembled masses from my class and everyone loved me and I felt reborn into this class of girls I barely knew…my clique not here, not Linda who died of pancreatic cancer, nor Barbara R. who was put back a grade and finished somewhere else, not Georgina who disappeared…so here I was amidst girls I’d vaguely known but who did know me I guess, as they told me they’d talked about me at Tina’s last night, had said that even then I danced to a different beat, was smart and wild all at once…..and who found me exciting and interesting now here at the Reunion.

We then heard Mass full of angelic girls singing hymns and presided over by a blissful loving priest whose arms seemed perpetually open and welcoming—the arms of love to the maybe two hundred women and girls before him in the lovely white and beige chapel—brilliantly lit with gilden chandeliers—Baroque and yet quietly elegant

On to the lawn for wine and champagne, for meeting old friends and having excellent hors d’oeuvres—steak this and lobster that….a mingling of older and the beautiful young graduates here after only five years gone—but it was obviously our party—throngs of us all dressed up and trilling about our grandchildren and miscellaneous other facts of our lives—most were retired and doing volunteer work—we lingered on the green lawn waiting for a rain that never came and then were ushered with great ceremony into the Library for our private Golden celebration—champagne and gifts, good food and pastries…..and time to have everyone come up to a microphone and tell their stories—I was amazed that we were together for seven hours and time just vanished into the night and we were all still ready to hear more stories, to be happy to reacquaint with each other.  When I told my story of career and family, I felt so much love coming at me—what a joy!!

At last, many hugs later Kathy A. and Missy M.—all slender and elegant on her way out to the Cape to tend to her three enterprises out there—she who came from 11 children whose mother would nonetheless have the time and love to make Sugar a cherry pie any time she showed up at their house—drove me to Manhattan and I rode the 4 out to Brooklyn on a train full of hipsters and moms, old black men and kissing couples back to my son’s apartment …feeling quite fine.

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Fashion & Politics 2010: Flying Blindly Backwards

Consider the fashions today.   Do you think the images mean anything significant?

Witness Tommy Hilfiger’s faux family lounging around their Ford woodie Wagon on butterfly chairs and atop Tartan metal coolers—striped university colored scarves and camel haired coats, tweeds and turtlenecks.  Here we have quintessential prep school graduates, a family of rich people with nothing to do but attend football games and prepare picnics for each other.  When the same ‘folks’ dress up,  Nordstrom dresses the men in pinstripes while dinner parties at Kate Spade have men in suit and tie, women in basic black cocktail dresses–unchanged since 1950.

Guess channels the hoodlum look of Rebel without a Cause-in a mini-series picture ad—the Bridget Bargot cutie with puckered presumably (the ad’s in retro black and white) powder pink lipstick offers a cherry from her coke, meets a James Dean lookalike, his pompadour dripping with Bristol Crème, on the next page , licks her straw suggestively and of course comes together, Broadway musical –style, with him on the final page.  In an alternate Guess spread we have a Jackie Kennedy cum Sophia Loren type in white cashmere coat, signature huge sunglasses, retro suitcases  and a lacy slip of a dress rushing somewhere under the spotlight of a set.  Pencil skirts and platform shoes, Madras plaids and Pin-up gals gallop all over the pages of Vanity Faire and Vogue

Kathy Griffin’s “Salute the Troops” show on vhl  is pure Varda – provocative blondes like those on calendars my Dad stashed in his studio.  Oh we have the occasional throwback of tie dyes and ruffles of the 60s in Juicy Couture and  Elle, in its 25th Anniversary issue, includes this look but simply as one of the “Classics” that also include the  “Safari Look” –think how splendid it is for the great white man and his cohort/wife to go out and  slay big wild animals on the ‘Dark Continent’–, the “Camouflage Look”—isn’t war wonderful—so many jobs!!  Think how good Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq have been for the economy???  Well, for Haliburton anyway.  and –the “Motocross Look” look –  really West Side Story returns (see above) .

Meanwhile Vanity Faire does a big article on the Barbizon Hotel where, in the 40s, after successfully passing “looks, dress and demeanor” tests, young girls just out of their Seven Sisters sorority houses came to live and work a year or two in Manhattan before retiring to Connecticut or Westchester to replicate their privileged childhoods through to the next generation. Pictures show a genteel Grace Kelly having brunch, and a virginal blonde Ginger Rogers being tempted out of bed by a –surprize–dark haired vamp—one Katherine Hepburn—This was the world of the Plaza Hotel, of skating at Rockefeller Center, shopping on Fifth Avenue and seeing Broadway plays.  Aldo’s got their blonde perched atop a 50s Nickelodean and Sam Edelman has a girl in a rubber swim cap and slippers—shades of Esther Williams and of water ballet garb at country clubs in the 50s– while in another ad, a preppy in Bermuda shorts, aviators and a sports shirt with hanky in the pocket waterskiis in front of presumably his mansion in Miami.

Lest we leave out the hair dye ads my mother followed—was it Clairol who gave us the blonde, redhead and brunette triplets??  They’re back nearly intact in Clairol’s Nice’nEasy ads and Express delivers the same long curly locks on three lovelies, with one a very light African-American (toss that to the multicultis)

Or check out September Vogue’s spread wherein a platinum blonde channels Lana Turner in high necked cashmere sweaters and either pencil or circle skirts.  She wears a dainty diamond studded cross, her signature of virginity complemented by the crossed arms saying “don’t touch me ‘til we’re married.”  But just in case her purity’s too convincing—- the girl reclines invitingly on a Danish modern couch on one page and on another, she reveals just enough cleavage beneath her leopard cardigan (read—there’s a sexual kitten waiting for you) to keep the boys coming round to woo her.  The editors, though, seem to cast her as a married virgin: “In another age, suburban wives kept house—and themselves—pristine”

“We are so ready for Spring”  fashion editors at Vogue proclaim and guess what we are given?  A blonde girl in pink perches on a New York  Times dispenser—can intelligence be acquired, by osmosis,  directly from the bottom up??  Another blonde  in  5” golden platforms and a flowered pencil skirt snaps photos while her stripe-suited suitor leans against a Bentley—she’s no tramp though, appearing later in the spread in a flowery puff sleeved dress down to her ankles.

Flip through Vanity Faire, Vogue, Glamour, Elle, People, Us, or whatever popular rag you choose and astonishingly you’ll discover that the Liberation movements of the 60s apparently never happened.  You’ll find most women are young and blonde–still. Black woman are rare and have Caucasian-style straight hair and the few Asians are lovely sylph-like creatures—more Geisha than real.  Latinas?  Almost absent—Jennifer Lopez does the trick for the Americas, doesn’t she, after all?

In this age we have media-grabbing Palin and her “don’t tax me” Tea Partiers who want to vanish the last fifty years, who  would like us to return to the nice world of Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver—an utterly white world where Black people are still in the kitchen, where Latinos are still in Mexico or wherever they’re from and Asians haven’t really gotten on the boat yet.  Ah yes, the delightful world of cottages with big lawns, cocker spaniel puppies and country clubs down the street, a world of Ivy League privilege of the very very few.  It was a pre-Feminist, pre-multicultural world, a world where no one would think of sitting in where they weren’t welcome, a world of proper courtesy and everyone had a place in society—a safe world where corporations were just growing into their megalithic own but where the small town and the local business were the ideal to which the well-off white people—just like all the pretty people in the ads of 2010– strived—pre-Beatnik—pre-Hippie—pre-antiwar protest,  pre-Civil Rights, pre-everything that jarred the white world out its smug complacency and absolute power.

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