Wednesday, May 28, 2014


So I awoke at five this morning saying  'what am I doing? In this place where I know no one--- though now I have a friend in Daniel plus his beautiful daughter, India, his darling son, Sasha,  and bitter Peter who cooks and hates inequality and his ex-wife.
And I also have Stefanie at the Apple store, an award-winning documentarian who has two young children and her job and her husband so feels guilty because she doesn't just create.
    I understand where she’s coming from, because our gifts, our talents, if we’re lucky enough to have them, are the most demanding child
we have, crying for attention, giving us no peace unless we attend to them.  I remember the first spiritual retreat I went on with my lfriend 
DIiane, whose whole family was into a very intense form of Believing, that involved silent meditation, something that was, of course, very hard for me.  I managed a few days of it, then had to break away to do some writing,  And I think it was Anne, the mother, who said “Writing is your form of worship.”
     So here I am, on my mental knees, asking for help. Yesterday was fraught with peril.  I had to move from my overpriced hovel— a terrible outfit called AirB&B, my contact Fred, a driven American of Dutch descent, here to make his fortune, “accommodating" a jet-lagged, scared, no longer young woman desperate for sleep and someplace to rest her head, too groggy to see what a death trap it was.  Once a little of the fog cleared, and I saw how many places there were where I could fall down, having just acquired— all right, start facing it— a
new hip that could be easily broken, begged him to get me someplace else, which he said he couldn’t do. Wouldn’t, really. A terrible human being, and I am being generous to categorize him as such.  As kind as are most of the residents of Amsterdam, bustling with tourists as the city is, there are a parade of people on the hustle, and their drum major could be Fred.
      Grateful at least for having survived a week ($1752, my fault for letting him do that to me, but I was exhausted with nowhere to go) I packed up and got ready to move on, my new friend Daniel slated to pick me up at 1.  But before I moved on it was essential that I at least reap the benefit of the neighborhood I was in, close to the Anne Frank house, one of the leading tourist attractions of Amsterdam.  Every day I had seen the lines stretched long across the street, from the front door to the metallic Gay and Lesbian memorial flat against the earth, commemorating those who had been killed before people were making an effort to understand.  Because of the line, I had put off going, imagining it would be easier on a weekday morning if I got there early enough.  Wrong.
     I joined the line at 8:30. (The tour opened at 9.)  The young man in front of me, David, was an architectural student from Melbourne, where my daughter-in-law is from; and where her brilliant father, Rufus Davis, had been head of the university law school.  David, being an Aussie (“No worries” is their answer to almost any request, and defines their attitude) kept my place in line when I went over to a bench, and sat down, because as much as I have been offended recently when people treated me as though I were older, I am.  The reunion  taking place right now that I chose not to attend at my loved college, Bryn Mawr, coming to Europe instead,  is a big one.  Interesting that I am reluctant to even put down the number.
     Finally the line began to move, and I paid my entry fee.  And then the worst of it began.  Old Amsterdam houses, even the ones where you were not hiding from the Nazis, are built in two sections, the front and the back.  And all of them have narrow stairwells, with (seen by my eyes) hazardous steps, less than sturdy bannisters, as many chances to fall as there had been at my Fred-rented slum.  
    Still, I started to climb, following the tour.  Behind me, mercifully, was Janet from Seattle, who gave me the occasional literal boost.  So I got a chance to see Anne Frank’s mush wall, with Greta Garbo and Ray Milland.  Love of movie stars by teenagers seems to have been as long as there have been movies. Still, it comes as a surprise: Ray Milland?
   But now came the last ascent, up to the place where they’d hidden from the Nazis.  And I saw that I would not be able to make it.  More than an admission: a concession to the fact that I was fragile.  That was something I had never allowed myself to be, in spite of an abusive (though clever and seductive) mother, an abandoning and insensitive father, and lovers who were not really lovers at all, but crushes, like Anne’s mush wall. First, in college, the boy next door, next door being Haverford, where there was a clever, narcissistic actor who was to become a movie star, and an actual movie star and closet homosexual in the time when the closet door stayed closed, Anthony Perkins.  Only one man had ever really been there for me, my husband, Don.  And he had died long ago, at forty-five.
     So I said I had to turn around and go back.  The line was coming towards me; it was a struggle to get out.  At one point I complete lost my bearings;  there was no one around.  I had to call out for help, and cry ‘Help!’ I did.  At last somebody came and showed me the way out of there.  I asked at the entrance for the manager.  When he came I said they ought to have a sign at the entryway that there are many hazardous stairs.
    “When we see people are handicapped, we tell them not to take the tour.”
    “I am not handicapped,” I said, with contained ferocity.  
    He gave me my money back. “You have your money,” he said, annoyed.
    “That’s not the point.  You need to advise people what the challenge might be.”
    He turned away, disinterested, done with me.  
    I left and caught a cab back to my club, the Apple store.  I was forty minutes late for my One-to-One appointment.  But when I explained why, they forgave me, and I got an unscheduled session with James, who helped me anyway. There is a generosity of spirit at the Apple store that is to be found nowhere else.  


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