Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Dear Whoever, if you're there:This is out of order, as the only thing they don't know how to do at Apple is change the sequence.

    I got an e-mail from a beloved friend, in an exotic corner of the world, Hong Kong, reacting to my last report, filling me with joy as it has been a long time since we were in contact, and I didn’t know if anyone was even reading these things.  So the communication made me feel particularly light-hearted, as it included the great news that she is going to have a baby.  As close friends know, some of my Best Friends are Babies.  During our courtship, Don was afraid I might be arrested, as I had a habit of playing with and talking to babies who belonged to strangers. I loved babies so much. My biggest fear in life was that I wouldn’t have children.  So the joy— they told me “You forget the pain,” which I did, till they grew up when it became a different kind— was intensified.
     Yesterday I had my first Amsterdam amour.  His name is Jack.  I found him in the phone store where I went to make it all right with my iPhone which AT&T has fixed so no matter what you do to avoid costs it comes out a fortune.  As it turns out, everything here has steps before you can make it all right which it still might not be.  But hey—that’s Life. It’s the journey that’s the real fascination, and if you just pay attention to what’s going on alongside the road, there’s something that just might lift you.  So even though it didn’t work out with the phone, I did get a chance to fall in love.  Here he is.

When the time came to leave, Jack reached out to me.  When I couldn’t take him with me—his mother was reluctant to let me have him— he said “Bye Bye.”  She was absolutely, gloriously stunned.  “His first words!” she said, visibly in ecstasy.  Apparently there are still some I can inspire.
      The one downside I have perceived so far to this fascinating city is that they tend to dismiss and look away from the elderly, which I find to my surprise I am.  I was always the youngest in my class, the one at Bryn Mawr I graduated with having their Big reunion this very weekend at the college. Much as I love my classmates and the college, I chose not to attend, as I don’t care to look back, but ahead.   This seems to be a kind of aberration, and that’s okay with me. As far as I know, and can remember, it has been my way to stay off the beaten path, often making a new one that others found strange, and in some cases risky.  But as it says here in the window of the Nike store: without Risk there can be No Victory. 
      Probably the most dangerous of these adventures up till now was after Don died, when I decided to try and conquer my three biggest fears: loneliness, Germans, and the German language.  The German part I imagine was genetic.  Though I have never actively practiced Judaism, the religion of my forebears, there’s no doubt that those who hated Jews wouldn’t care about that, when rounding us up. This fear was enhanced and exacerbated by my German teacher at Bryn Mawr, Heinz Politzer.  To graduate, or as my mother would be quick to correct,  to be graduated from Bryn Mawr, you needed to pass two language Orals, which, it being Bryn Mawr were written: one in a Romance language, the other in one of the tougher ones: Greek, Latin, or Russian, which took two years to learn. The only language you could study for a year and be good enough to pass the oral, the course being that tough, was German.  I had easily passed my Spanish, so enrolled in Baby German, as it’s called a little too tenderly.  Heinz Politzer, an Austrian, may or may not have hated Jews.  But he certainly seemed to hate me. 
      Bright though I might have been, he made me feel like an idiot.  Austrian, he pronounced ich, “isch.”  So when I read aloud from Die Lorelei by Heinrich Heine, following his example, he said to me: “No, Miss Davis.  Not ‘isch, isch.” The nightmare of that class lasted all year, intensified by the happy conflict of having interest in me and my work from the Actor’s Studio in New York, at the time the hottest thing there was in American theatre, my great ambition at the time being to write musical comedy. The Studio was run by Lee Strasberg, and was home of the young and still beautiful Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Maureen Stapleton, and a host of Greaties.  So when Freddy Sadoff, a member of the Studio invited me to come to New York to work on a project, I was ready to go. 
    I ran into Katherine McBride, our great college president, who had said to my mother after the show,  my having written music and lyrics, a lot of the book, and having the comedy lead, "This is the greatest theatrical event since Katharine Hepburn was a student here. "  I nearly swooned with ecstasy.  I hadn't been sure she even knew who I was.
    "Who was that?" my mother said, looking after her.
    "The president of the college," I said.
    "Oh," said my mother, dismissively.  "I thought she was the washerwoman."
    To say my mother judged by appearances is putting it mildly.
    Certain I was on my way to my true calling, I decided to go to New York to launch my theatrical career before the official school year ended.  Passing Miss McBride in the Cloisters, the appropriate name for our Gothic-architectured library, I said, ”Shakespeare and Chaucer have given me all they can, and the theater needs me, so I’m leaving Bryn Mawr.”  Miss McBride said in her sort of drawl, “Well, Gwen, try to be back for exams.”  
     But just in case I couldn’t be. I took a lot of them early. I asked Dr. Politzer if I could take my German final before the scheduled time. We had an Honor system at Bryn Mawr. Besides that, I promised him I would not tell any of my classmates what was in the exam.  But apparently he didn’t trust me. To ensure that I would not be able to give any help my classmates, he gave me one that covered almost nothing we had actually studied, including vocabulary I had never seen before.  Amazingly, I prevailed, and passed.  But it was one of the most intimidating episodes of my life. That, and let us not forget about Hitler. 
       So to decide to go and live in Germany, which I did in 199_was beyond brave.  I did not, however, pick my destination blindly.  I had made a friend in Hong Kong, a banker named Wolfgang Rohde, when I was visiting my loved friend, the Time Magazine reporter Sandra Burton there.  He and his wife Nurdi, had since moved back to Germany, and invited me to visit.  His bank had reassigned him to Mannheim, next to the small village of Weinheim that I explored.  It is quite literally quaint, its main street running down to the Marktplatz filled with flowers, always reassuring, on the square a hotel called the Pfaltz, married name of one of my best friends from Bryn Mawr, Marilyn.  I took that as a sign— I like to think that signs are everywhere, and if you;re open to them, they usually are. I made a reservation to return, planning to write my next novel there, writing being the way I defined myself, my children being grown, and the great love of my life behind me. 
      The story of my journey to get back there I will save for another day, as it is coming to the close of my being able to get some help with learning how to do all this at the Apple store— sort of my Club here in Amsterdam. I have made a few friends among the instructors, so I feel more or less at home, as I always do when I am learning.  Especially when I understand, as I’m starting to do, this curious new e-world.  
      I took a break for lunch and went to a cafe I had lunch at yesterday, by a canal, of course.  There was a Canadian couple at the next table, Mark and Cindy, celebrating their 40th anniversary.  They’d come here on their honeymoon.  She told me how brave she thought I was.  It elated me to hear that word, as mostly what I’d heard about me from the people here was that I was old.  Even the sweet woman  when I got to the Apple store this morning tried to incorporate me into her circle as an “elder.”  It really enraged me, one of the things I intend to overcome by living in Amsterdam: not being older, but getting mad.  Anger is something I hope to vanguish here, a terrible vestige of my mother, as charming and funny as she was in a lot of ways.
    There was a popular saying some years ago: “Don’t get mad, get even.”  I’d like to improve on that: Don’t get mad, get creative.