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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
June 28, 2011

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.

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.