Friday, May 30, 2014

THE BIG REUNION

Today begins the Bryn Mawr reunion of my class, a wonderful class, full of bright and loving and questing women, many of whom have achieved important things in the eyes of the world, but all bright and exceptional human beings; I was lucky to be among them.  That I am not among them today was a conscious choice I made, because proud as I am to be one of their number, my hope is, unlikely as it seems at this juncture of the road,  to look ahead and build something fresh and new, rather than looking back.  Still, I hug them in my heart and remember them, and hope they will think of me this weekend, and maybe even sing one of the songs I wrote for our Junior Show, when my ambition was to conquer Broadway, which, generous spirits that they were and are, they were all sort of convinced I would.  As was I, almost, insecurity being as strong a one of my traits as was nerve.
      Junior Show having been the triumph it was-- George Segal, my Haverford crush later to become a movie star and always less than a wondrous human being, leapt onstage at the final curtain and kissed my hands.  And, more important, Katharine McBride, our great college president, said to my mother as we stood outside afterwards: "This is the greatest theatrical event at Bryn Mawr since Katharine Hepburn was a student here."  I nearly swooned with joy and surprise-- I hadn't even known she knew who I was.  
       My mother looked after her and said "Who was that?"
       "The president of the college," I said.
       "Oh," she said, superficial being a kind description of the woman she was, judging by appearances.  "I thought it was the washerwoman,"
       But I had new friends at the Actor's Studio, home of the at-the-time incredibly beautiful and gifted Marlon Brando, who wanted me to come join and do a project.  So when I passed Miss McBride a few days later in the Cloisters, the well-named center of the Gothic architectured library, I said: "Miss McBride: Shakespeare and Chaucer have given me everything they can, and the theatre needs me.  So I'm leaving Bryn Mawr."
      "Well, Gwen," she sort of drawled in her high-end way, "try to be back for exams."
      So I was.  The details of that Actor's Studio adventure I will save for another entry.  But to return to the point, my going back and finishing THAT college stands as the first truly important achievement of my life.  Without it, I am not sure I would have accomplished any of the things I might have, or known the value of friendship with truly great women.
     I thank all who were among them who gave me such affection and support:  Muggy, the prettiest girl in the class who tolerated and even seemed to welcome my having come over the roof to Pem West to sing my new songs to her in the middle of the night, Bethie, her roommate, the most sober among us, who I hope has made it back to reunion, Alice, with her committed and brilliant political consciousness with whom I watched the Army-McCarthy hearings,  as both of us feverishly pulled for Justice and Sanity to prevail, as it seems less and less to do these days,  Marilyn, whose indefatigable energy will be present among you today, organizing and beating the bushes still for good ideas, Gloria, who I trust will be leading you all in Song-- I capitalize it because it was such an important part of the joy that was my college career-- Suzie, our Egyptian Kopf who exemplifies generosity of spirit combined with clear intelligence, and gave her gifts to a less than illuminated with respect to women U.N., and continues her giving by helping the poor of Egypt by having them make rags into works of art, one of the colorful sacks they created here with me today.
     As I wish you all were.  But it seemed right to continue my quest to be the most creative and positive woman I can, while I can still walk unknown streets,  discover and grow,  in spite of my steps being a wee bit wobbly.  Though it seems, even to me, a bit quixotic, it feels like I am in the right place: after all, there are windmills.
     Great love to all of you.
      

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

MY FIRST AMSTERDAM LOVE AFFAIR

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. 

DIARY OF AN OLDER WOMAN



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.  
    
    

     
    


Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, May 24, 2014

THERE IS A GOD

Struck by a pram in Amsterdam 
Where nobody pays attention
She flew quite high 
Towards an azure sky
Ending up in a new dimension
Where the air was clearer
And God seemed nearer
And there were both nabobs and slobs
There was fairness, parity
Perfect clarity
All of it run by Steve Jobs.



      After the agonies, real and imagined, of my first few days in Amsterdam, plagued by insomnia, a word that seems to me not strong enough for the anguish you go through, plus not knowing where my life was heading from here, if anywhere, I end up in a pocket of peace. Not easily come by, of course, as Peace rarely is. More bouts of uncertainty, in this fascinating city of Amsterdam, where every time you think something will be easy to get to, there is construction in the way.  Like a metaphor for Life itself.
       Roberto, as noted, never showed up, though I called him many times, each of my calls answered by a hospitable recording of his voice mail, moderately unintelligible.  But when I got to the Apple store, my Club, and they called AT&T in the States to unlock my IPhone, I found out that all your calls, whether to or from you, which they don't tell you when you buy your however many minutes, are charged to your account, so even without being able to speak to him, I had used up the dollars I had bought, which were many. 
       Dispirited to say the least, I then went on my quest for sleep.  Knowing it would not come easily if at all, since I was now many days past the expected jet lag and I still couldn't even doze, except for one short interlude given me by my new friends, the young couple I'd taken to dinner the night before to celebrate their engagement.  He'd put an App on my IPhone called Sleep Hypnosis, which worked once, briefly, before I started getting annoyed with the female whose voice it was, because she gave alternatives... i.e.: "You are standing on a mountaintop... or maybe you'd rather be under a tree... or maybe you're by a lake... " and so on, so whatever spell there might have been was broken.
      Had a tea by the canal with my new friend Daniel, who'd been seated next to me on the plane as I flew here, and had me to his home for dinner. By now I was more than desperate for rest, so went to a pharmacy for something to help me sleep.  Available as are recreational drugs in Amsterdam, many of the young and older coming here to get zonked, I dared not even take a toke, not knowing what the effect would be, and there being so many steps and levels I could trip down in my "apartment."  This is the "terrace" that came with it, as advertised online by an agency here that handles B & Bs.  They didn't show this picture, and I was too bleary when I saw the flat to see how bleak it was.  (I hadn't learned yet how to switch my iPhone to color, but trust me, in color, it is no less dreary.) 
  



           
Now here is how it works at the Farmacie.  Though outside, not too many feet away you can find a coffee house with someone to deal you grass or hash or maybe even heroin, and that's quite legal, the police have decided they don't want to be troubled with enforcing any penalties so the recently discussed plan to make all this criminal has been abandoned.  In the pharmacy, though, you cannot get a sleeping pill without a prescription.  
     This is how you get one: the pharmacist calls a doctor, you talk to the doctor on the phone, give your birthdate, your problem, your passport number. The doctor, according to his discretion, faxes a prescription to the drugstore.  So you get the pills.  They bill you, besides the cost of the medication, twenty-five euros for the doctor, twenty-five for the pharmacy, and the pills.  I got a packet of 10 low dose Temazipan, a barbiturate, for 66.50 Euros.  At the current exchange rate that works out to about nine dollars a pill.  
    Still, I was so yearning for sleep, I didn't care.  I was on my way back to my apartment "with terrace" when the borderline good news came: an apartment I'd looked at, clean and beautiful, overlooking one of the spiffier canals, that I'd been shown by the real estate agent I'd met with the young couple I'd taken to dinner, was available to me starting June 2nd.  It involved a commitment: leasing it till the beginning of December.  But hey... I hadn't really known, as I said, where my life was going, if anywhere. I'd decided to try and look ahead, instead of back, so came here instead of going to my Big Reunion.  As I wandered these streets, narrowly avoiding being run into by bicyclists,  I'd made a few cries to the sky of "Help me, God!" not knowing, of course, if there was really Anyone there. But I knew for Sure that New York was nowhere I wanted to be this summer.
     It would not be possible for me to stay past next Monday at my studio with terrace, nor did I want to spend any more time there than I had to, with its ominous hallway that made me feel like Anne Frank had she lived to be old.  I had to find someplace for the next seven days.  Then Daniel called to invite me to dinner tonight with his daughter and Peter and Arthur who had a spare room he was almost sure I could rent.  And I can work here! I can write here! It feels... well, as we used to say in Southern Cal, meant to be.
      Today, May 24th, is the day my novel, THE MOTHERLAND, was published, in 19__ with the almost great support of Simon & Schuster.  My famed editor Michael Korda, said: "As far as I am concerned, this is the only book we are publishing this year."  He forgot about a little number called ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.
Any interest in Fiction was obliterated by the fall of Richard Nixon.  So I figured God had a choice between saving my book, and the country.
     There is a Spiritual Diary I brought with me, bought early in my questing, at the Self-Realization Center in California.  Every day has a message, by one of the Greaties, who really knew how to let go. Today's message from Paramahansa Yogananda:
     "This life is a Master Novel, written by God, and man would go crazy if he understood it all."
       If that doesn't feel like cosmic orchestration, I don't know what would be.  And the best news: I fell asleep last night with no medication.  There is a God.  His name is Morpheus.

Friday, May 23, 2014


IN THE CITY OF ANNE FRANK

    Yesterday I heard a taxi driver tell someone in a foreign language I understood anyway, that he was bringing “a nice old lady,” which is what I guess I am.  As much as I appreciate the “nice,” I was of course offended by the “old lady,” though I made no fuss about it, even inside my own soul, as we must remember that I am here while Bryn Mawr will be having a reunion of my class the number of which I am reluctant to put into e-letters.
    Speaking of which, I have written an e-song, that I hope I can find a singer to record, as it seems to be to be truly of the moment, even though I no longer am. Here you are:

IT’S AN E-WORLD
AND I AM E-ALONE
I USED TO HAVE U
BUT NOW I HAVE E

IT’S AN E-WORLD
NOT EVEN A TELEPHONE
SO HERE I AM
ALL AT C

WILL MY SHIP EVER COME IN?
WILL IT BE AGAIN THE WAY IT’S BEEN?
OR AM I DOOMED TO B  LOST
FOR ALL ETERNIT-E.
Put that in your Smartphone and smoke it,

The cafes here are terraced with active dope smokers. Yesterday I saw a still-young woman walking down a busy street sucking devotedly on a glass pipe, nothing in her eyes, and I would guess, very little on her horizon.  Much as I have enjoyed the occasional toke, it seems even more hazardous to me than the staircase, as I don’t really know who anyone is, or what their true motives are.
    Let us begin with Roberto, an Italian waiter at the Majestic cafe in Dam Square, who seemed sincere to me even though Italian. I understand everyone here is on the Hustle, but as I also understand Italian, and he actually said he would help me find an apartment, I borderline believed him. The beauteous, overpriced apartment I am thinking of taking in the event I commit myself to long-term here, which I am considering, as I do seem to be able to write well, though not sleeping at ALL, is not available until June 2.  Where I am staying now at a HUGE weeks rental is hazardous, to put it mildly.  Many levels of steps, shabby, endless places you could get hurt, and well, youll see the terrace as soon as I can get back to the Apple Store and learn how to attach the photo from my iPhone.  I went there this morning to wait for Robertos call, which never came (SURPRISE!) 
Paul (see yesterdays REPORT) was great as before, but the SIM card he sold me so I could make calls at less than a fortune, doesn’t work in my iPhone, so we have to call AT&T to unlock it and we can’t do that till 4 o’clock, as we are six hours ahead of the U.S.
   It is now only 1:06.  I would take a nap, but as explained, sleep is completely elusive.  Everything so far that has happened has come with a footnote of great difficulty to get past before I could get on with what I hoped would be a great adventure, the option I took to my college reunion, which seemed, and is, about the past.
 I wanted to be about what was ahead, if anything is.  I thought that might be a new kind of inspirational saga, different from all those offered by these charlatan religiosts who seem to be holding forums at enormous prices everywhere, the God they are offering: SUCCESS!! (The last one I know of before I left “home” was in New York, being held by Ariana Huffington, who scares me, because she is so obvious and people still pay attention) Among others I wanted to inspire was myself, because I hate to think my audacity is over. WITHOUT RISK, it says in the window of the Nike store here in Amsterdam, THERE IS NO VICTORY.  But of course, you have to live through it to win. 
    In Dam Square at the Majestic, yesterday, while I was hoping to get something sincero from Roberto, who was carrying a tray of sandwiches, I connected with a cantor from Israel.  He was a truly lovely gentleman, but he does not believe there was a God in Europe or the Holocaust wouldn't have happened.
    I have a different theory.  Some years ago, In a prior bout of audacity, probably closer to madness, I attended the Aryan Nations Congress, in Hayden Lake, Idaho.  Besides the registered out-and-out Nazi propaganda and committed Nazi storybooks, they were selling paintings by Hitler. I know that Hitler's mother didn't like him, and his stepfather was physically punishing, and possibly he was a Jew.  But besides that, the KunstAcademie, I think you spell it, the art academy in Berlin turned the young Adolf down for admittance.
      His paintings, as displayed at the conference were laughable, a number of them of cows.  But it occurred to me that if his mother hadn't been abusive, and the art school had let him in, six million Jews might be alive.  Rage at being unloved and unappreciated, it seems to me, was what made him crazy.
     One speaker at that Nazi Congress, a supposed minister, intoned "Harbor hatred only for Jews." Many of those attending had shaved heads, including the women, but with long braids hanging down the backs of their necks, a sort of style that seems to be in evidence here in Amsterdam among some of the young, as well as close-clipped on the sides, and spiked up and heavily gelled on top.  
     I had been followed carefully through the conference with regular check-ins via phone, as it used to be in that Age before texting,  by my wonderful friend the late Joe Wershba, a producer at 60 Minutes.  I knew I it was beyond risky to go there, but Don had died, and I was looking for my next novel.  When I had written it, or almost all of it, I went away for a weekend in the desert.  There was a great rainstorm in L.A. and a flaw in the roof over my desk. Water poured in and the manuscript was completely destroyed.  So though there may have been no God in Europe for the Holocaust, I think there was one in Southern California.  A man in Chicago who had been writing a book about the American Nazi party was found hanged outside his office  window, the other end of the rope attached to his desk.
     I had been joined at the conference towards the end by a friend living nearby, Tomi, a holistic masseuse I'd gotten through best pal Jamie Lee Curtis.  Tomi heard one of the hate speeches and asked me how I could stand it, as she wasn't even Jewish and her skin was crawling.  I made it literal and developed eczema.  We got out of there before the final night, when, I'd heard, a microphone fell out of a man's sleeve during the Nazi 'SIEGHEIL!' with which the gatherings always started. They'd discovered he was with the FBI, and killed him, or so the story went.  I had already left so I can't confirm that. 
     But I went directly from the conference to the actual lake, where I parasailed, for the first and last time, as fearful as I am of heights.  There was nothing to be afraid of, comparatively, just breaking your neck.  I made it through that parasail by looking up instead of down, and singing.  I mean, if there is God, maybe He/She likes  audacity.
  
    

Friday, May 23, 2014

IN THE CITY OF ANNE FRANK

    Yesterday I heard a taxi driver tell someone in a foreign language I understood anyway, that he was bringing “a nice old lady,” which is what I guess I am.  As much as I appreciate the “nice,” I was of course offended by the “old lady,” though I made no fuss about it, even inside my own soul, as we must remember that I am here while Bryn Mawr will be having a reunion of my class the number of which I am reluctant to put into e-letters.
    Speaking of which, I have written an e-song, that I hope I can find a singer to record, as it seems to be to be truly of the moment, even though I no longer am. Here you are:

IT’S AN E-WORLD
AND I AM E-ALONE
I USED TO HAVE U
BUT NOW I HAVE E

IT’S AN E-WORLD
NOT EVEN A TELEPHONE
SO HERE I AM
ALL AT C

WILL MY SHIP EVER COME IN?
WILL IT BE AGAIN THE WAY IT’S BEEN?
OR AM I DOOMED TO B  LOST
FOR ALL ETERNIT-E.
Put that in your Smartphone and smoke it,

The cafes here are terraced with active dope smokers. Yesterday I saw a still-young woman walking down a busy street sucking devotedly on a glass pipe, nothing in her eyes, and I would guess, very little on her horizon.  Much as I have enjoyed the occasional toke, it seems even more hazardous to me than the staircase, as I don’t really know who anyone is, or what their true motives are.
    Let us begin with Roberto, an Italian waiter at the Majestic cafe in Dam Square, who seemed sincere to me even though Italian. I understand everyone here is on the Hustle, but as I also understand Italian, and he actually said he would help me find an apartment, I borderline believed him. The beauteous, overpriced apartment I am thinking of taking in the event I commit myself to long-term here, which I am considering, as I do seem to be able to write well, though not sleeping at ALL, is not available until June 2.  Where I am staying now at a HUGE weeks rental is hazardous, to put it mildly.  Many levels of steps, shabby, endless places you could get hurt, and well, youll see the terrace as soon as I can get back to the Apple Store and learn how to attach the photo from my iPhone.  I went there this morning to wait for Robertos call, which never came (SURPRISE!) 
Paul (see yesterdays REPORT) was great as before, but the SIM card he sold me so I could make calls at less than a fortune, doesn’t work in my iPhone, so we have to call AT&T to unlock it and we can’t do that till 4 o’clock, as we are six hours ahead of the U.S.
   It is now only 1:06.  I would take a nap, but as explained, sleep is completely elusive.  Everything so far that has happened has come with a footnote of great difficulty to get past before I could get on with what I hoped would be a great adventure, the option I took to my college reunion, which seemed, and is, about the past.
 I wanted to be about what was ahead, if anything is.  I thought that might be a new kind of inspirational saga, different from all those offered by these charlatan religiosts who seem to be holding forums at enormous prices everywhere, the God they are offering: SUCCESS!! (The last one I know of before I left “home” was in New York, being held by Ariana Huffington, who scares me, because she is so obvious and people still pay attention) Among others I wanted to inspire was myself, because I hate to think my audacity is over. WITHOUT RISK, it says in the window of the Nike store here in Amsterdam, THERE IS NO VICTORY.  But of course, you have to live through it to win. 
    In Dam Square at the Majestic, yesterday, while I was hoping to get something sincero from Roberto, who was carrying a tray of sandwiches, I connected with a cantor from Israel.  He was a truly lovely gentleman, but he does not believe there was a God in Europe or the Holocaust wouldn't have happened.
    I have a different theory.  Some years ago, In a prior bout of audacity, probably closer to madness, I attended the Aryan Nations Congress, in Hayden Lake, Idaho.  Besides the registered out-and-out Nazi propaganda and committed Nazi storybooks, they were selling paintings by Hitler. I know that Hitler's mother didn't like him, and his stepfather was physically punishing, and possibly he was a Jew.  But besides that, the KunstAcademie, I think you spell it, the art academy in Berlin turned the young Adolf down for admittance.
      His paintings, as displayed at the conference were laughable, a number of them of cows.  But it occurred to me that if his mother hadn't been abusive, and the art school had let him in, six million Jews might be alive.  Rage at being unloved and unappreciated, it seems to me, was what made him crazy.
     One speaker at that Nazi Congress, a supposed minister, intoned "Harbor hatred only for Jews." Many of those attending had shaved heads, including the women, but with long braids hanging down the backs of their necks, a sort of style that seems to be in evidence here in Amsterdam among some of the young, as well as close-clipped on the sides, and spiked up and heavily gelled on top.  
     I had been followed carefully through the conference with regular check-ins via phone, as it used to be in that Age before texting,  by my wonderful friend the late Joe Wershba, a producer at 60 Minutes.  I knew I it was beyond risky to go there, but Don had died, and I was looking for my next novel.  When I had written it, or almost all of it, I went away for a weekend in the desert.  There was a great rainstorm in L.A. and a flaw in the roof over my desk. Water poured in and the manuscript was completely destroyed.  So though there may have been no God in Europe for the Holocaust, I think there was one in Southern California.  A man in Chicago who had been writing a book about the American Nazi party was found hanged outside his office  window, the other end of the rope attached to his desk.
     I had been joined at the conference towards the end by a friend living nearby, Tomi, a holistic masseuse I'd gotten through best pal Jamie Lee Curtis.  Tomi heard one of the hate speeches and asked me how I could stand it, as she wasn't even Jewish and her skin was crawling.  I made it literal and developed eczema.  We got out of there before the final night, when, I'd heard, a microphone fell out of a man's sleeve during the Nazi 'SIEGHEIL!' with which the gatherings always started. They'd discovered he was with the FBI, and killed him, or so the story went.  I had already left so I can't confirm that. 
     But I went directly from the conference to the actual lake, where I parasailed, for the first and last time, as fearful as I am of heights.  There was nothing to be afraid of, comparatively, just breaking your neck.  I made it through that parasail by looking up instead of down, and singing.  I mean, if there is God, maybe He/She likes  audacity.
  



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

ANXIOUS IN AMSTERDAM

Last night as I struggled for sleep, a condition that has eluded me for all the days I have been here, eight now I think, or nine, very protracted for Jet Lag, but then I have a lot on my mind, which seems reluctant to slow down, even as my body does, to put it mildly, I wrote the following pome:

Struck by a pram
In Amsterdam
Where nobody pays attention
She flew quite high
Towards an azure sky
And entered a new dimension
Where the air was clearer
And God seemed nearer
And none of the people were slobs
All was sameness, parity
Total clarity
And running it was Steve Jobs
You had but to click
And the air was thick
With the certainty all would be well
With nothing surprisin’
On any horizon
And everything being just swell
And it turned out that she’d gone to Hell.

As I don't know where I'm going, and I don't know who's going with me, to give a new and slightly melancholy twist to the lovely folk song, I have decided to be open to any possibility and just allow it all to unfold, hoping it does.  
   I seem to be headquartered at the Apple Store, a bright and open duplicate of the one in London where I learned nothing, trying to lob myself into this century.   This is curiously still, like the one in London, nothing like New York's, where you can hear nothing, so busy and filled with international languages many of them in Baby, as there are carriages everywhere, true tots in them, some of them just learning to sit up and already at the iPads with games on them.  Terrifying, the swallowing of the world by technology, but I imagine a relief to the parents having the attention diverted so they don't cry or need their diaper changed.
    This store in Leidse Square is bustling in a peaceful way, like Amsterdam itself, except for the bicycles and trams which amaze me by not hitting anyone, including me.  It seems quietly perilous, the only thing harsh about it the language, glottal and ugly to the ear, but maybe that is because I don't understand it, or have Dutch antecedents, as does my landlord, a youngish man named Fred, whose parents were Dutch, so he's come back to connect with his roots, and also pick up a few bucks, making a career out of renting these less than lovely flats, for fairly exorbitant prices.  The one I slept in last night is a step-down into a basement, being careful not to hit your head on the concrete overhang.
   I am writing this the next day, moved to the flat I rented for a week for a fortune, relieved and somewhat surprised to be still alive with nothing broken as there are steps everywhere it is lucky/amazing I didn't fall down, including the ones to the loo, which, being older than I thought I was, I had to go to in the middle of the night, slightly this side of terrified.   Today, after a beautiful if over-lavish dinner last night with my new friend Daniel, met on my flight from Scotland, his beautiful and curiously respectful and interested teenage son and a neighbor who's still very mad at his ex-wife, I spent the first many hours of the day waiting to be connected to the Internet and have my phone work.  I shall probably go to my seeming Club, the Apple Store, to try and reconnect with Paul, a remarkable young black man who came to work at Apple to cut down his stress level.  He was in banking, and the business taught him by a genial uncle who used to stop by his clients' house for coffee and discuss how the world was and what might seem interesting as an investment has become driven and impersonal.  I was at the store yesterday (Tuesday) from the time it opened at ten in the morning, with everybody being allegedly helpful, after saying they will go ask a colleague for whatever it was I wanted or needed, they never appeared again.  He was not there yesterday, so I spent the whole time there trying to figure things out by myself, waiting for one of his colleagues.  They notified me every minute on my Mac that there were only 25 minutes till my One-on-One tutorial, then 24, and so on down to the moment the appointment came when no one did, nor was there a sign of anyone.  I had to go and get them to come up with one of their colleagues.
    No one seems to have friends here: they all have "colleagues."  It sounds very professional, but professional seems not exactly a key word in Amsterdam, where most of the young people, Paul excepted, seem to have little purpose.  My landlord who charges a lot of money for a barren apartment with a garden outside the bedroom window that would be nice if it had anything in it besides old boards and dead plants has a staff that seems to have been acquired mainly through Frisbee.  They are advanced Frisbee players which has a particular jargon that I will try and pick up this evening when I am taking one of Fred's colleagues' colleague, a most genial young man, who came to sort out my Internet problems, and is from New Zealand, so more generous of spirit than the Hollander Fred sent me earlier.  
   The apartment I am in, hazardous down steps and a long, narrow, dark and forbidding corridor, since taxes here were based in part on how wide the hallways were, is across the street from Ann Frank's house.  I am feeling a lot like her if she had lived to be old, as I am in a terrible state of anxiety caused by not-knowing, which is usually a blessing in life since it is the one that works best because that way you get surprises, hopefully some of them good.  But here I am not sure I will make it intact through this stay, what with the stairs and having already almost fallen down them once, caught by the second and more genial of Fred's colleagues, who just got engaged so I am taking him and his fiancĂ© to the Asian restaurant I went to the other night, because I really liked him and he genuinely helped me, and I am very alone in this city.  I was here only once before when I was with the Journal, so everything was free and very First Class, so I learned little about what it's really like.  Hope to find out without losing my way, in many senses of that expression.
    This is enough of all that is dark and narrow like the corridor.  I am off now to try and discover a bit about Amsterdam on foot, since I have been given a map from Watsup, an App that the young New Zealander put on my iPhone that lets you make calls without being charged.  We'll see.  Remember, if anything happens, I loved you all, whoever you are.  That includes my daughter-in-law.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

BAA LAMBS

So I am here in Middlebie, Scotland, outside Ecclefechan, pronounced as if you have something stuck in your throat, where Thomas Carlyle was born, visiting my beloved friend Rosie, met at my Quaker Meeting in Paris, when I lived there long-term, 1997.  She remembers the date better than I, as her life was in a memorable upheaval which is not my business to write about.  I of course had no concept of my life being in upheaval, too, imagining that I could simply get on with things even though my husband had died and my children were grown except in the wisdom and maturity sense, and publishing was getting crazy, and I had no idea what the future would bring, or if, indeed, I had one.  Shortly after that I called the Wall Street Journal Europe and connected with Jim Ruane, the editor, who had just started a travel section, and said “I have an idea: Swimming Through Europe,” about all the great hotels with pools.  He said “I like it.  Send me a couple of graphs.”  I said “What is that?” and so began my travel-writing career which lasted at the Journal as long as he did. 
     I can’t remember why exactly I moved back to Paris, where I had lived shortly after graduating from Bryn Mawr, sung at the Mars Club, with Bob Dorough at the piano, but it was a treat and a challenge and improbable, all three things my life has been. And ‘twas there I met Rosie, a great and insightful soul. It’s been a lot of years since we saw each other, so this is, I suppose you could say, a Godsend.  Not knowing what would be the rest of my life, should I have one, this fairly spontaneous plan arose to catch up, here at her cottage with a profusion of flowers outside the kitchen window, the names of which I don’t know but have written about to my grandsons.
   Yesterday Rosie took me to the castle of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury and has eighty three other titles and 380,000 acres, three castles in Scotland, another down South and a house or two in London, and a guide who took us round the rather barren and cold (what a surprise!) castle, who is obviously a Republican, which does not mean the same thing here as it does to us, but rather, one who seems obviously embittered at the existence of royals, even though they can no longer afford a live-in staff.  There are a lot of bloodless portraits all over the walls, the one great painting, the Virgin and the Yarnwinder by Leonardo da Vinci having been stolen,  and found in the office of a Glasgow solicitor who was tried, his guilt not proven. But he was, as they say here, struck off, (disbarred) so he’s now suing the Duke for four million pounds because he’s lost his license to practice.  A funny country, including the birdyballs , diegestive biscuits and lard my darling friend Rosie rolls by hand and puts in the bird feeders hanging outside the kitchen window, above and alongside an endless glory of flowers with names I’ve never heard before, trollies, a kind of giant buttercup, clematis, a lavendar blossom, azaleas only they’re red, and on and on and up a little hill and down dale.  A unique experience, certainly for me.
    Rosie, being as wise as she is soft-voiced, has suggested I find myself a spot in Amsterdam, my next stop on this spontaneous and mainly unmarked journey, and set about writing my MEMOIR, (I capitalize it because the word seems pretentious to me though I hope and don’t imagine the writing will be,) which turns out to be the plan even though I didn’t originally have one.  England was a borderline disaster about which I will not write yet, except for the warmth and deep-voiced kindness of the fine actor, Simon Jones, in Blithe Spirit, and his lovely wife Nancy with whom I dined, as one does in England, after the play, which is still good, especially with Angela Lansbury, who defines indefatigable.  It was my thought, if any I had, which I didn’t really, to go all the way North as suggested by my great college president emeritus (I think you say) Pat McPherson to see the Summer Isles, but they are supposed to be very cold and isolated and I have left almost all my clothes in London so I will not have too much luggage, which I already do in my head.

     Rosie having taken pics of the BAA LAMBS as she colorfully calls them in her countrified Scottish, has posted them on her IPad which I would do if I had brought mine with me, and am too e-retarded to do on my Mac.  But I will work it out before I leave so you can see the best part of the Duke of Baccleuch's castle, which were the sheep grazing outside.  
   I am sad to hear that California is ablaze.  The real news is usually too bad to hear.  I remember once I was writing about a newspaper that printed only good news, so it went out of business.  As it is, even the newspapers printing the news that is bad, which almost all of it is, are going out of business as well.  So I shall make this trip along with the Wizard of Oz, and pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain.  Or the iron one, allegedly down, but now monitored by the biggest bully of my lifetime. 'Tis a better world when even the brightest people in it focus on the BAA lambs.         

Sunday, May 04, 2014

OVER MANY A QUAINT AND CURIOUS VOLUME

So finally having overcome my own apathy and disappointment with what the theatre (spelled the committed way) here has provided, I made my way to what I will have to conclude is the East Village, and the New York Theatre Workshop presentation of RED-EYE TO HAVRE DE GRACE, a title so complex and elevated it might have lit up a side street in Paris.  It is a dark and sort of delicious, in a sour way, presentation, starting with a man who pretends to be a fire inspector before he bursts into song, and whom I engaged in a bit of chatter as I believed the uniform, and, as everybody knows who talked to me lately, I lived in my 11th or maybe it was my twelfth year at 255 West 84th, on which site, it says in brass on the outside wall, Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Raven.  And as those who know me also know, I do not believe in coincidence, but imagine that almost everything is Divine Choreography, except the Middle East.  So I lived there because it was on that site that Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Raven, and I was given the gift of poetry because there had to be something to balance in my soul the way my parents tore each other apart.
   It was there that I first began writing songs as I lay in my foldaway bed in the living room, and my mother, hearing, when I told her what I was doing, said "Oh, my God, she's crazy as a bedbug!"  But I did write what became the school song for P.S.9, on 82nd and West End, which is now, according to my friend and (didn't know it at the time) schoolmate Hal Dresner, a school for the intellectually challenged, to put it kindly.  But then, ah then, it had Mrs. Schatteles for a principal, and she was a woman who loved education and gave her all to it and the children whose lives she touched, which happily included mine.  So, with her guidance, I chose a destiny that included serious education, and didn't go to the Hunter program for exceptional children when I was invited into it, because I knew I'd do better with Mrs. Schatteles staying in P.S.9.  Just as I chose to go to Bryn Mawr, even though Radcliffe shone glossier, because I got who and what Bryn Mawr had to offer: women who were smart who really cared.
   The play about Poe is shadowy excellent, and the man who plays him is inspired and perhaps already a little crazy.Or maybe a lot.  He is intensely dark-eyed and very sunken-cheeked handsome and has obviously fallen face forward into the role, so I hope he survives it.  But he is clearly gifted, and I'm glad I went.  It justified theah-tah and what we hope to get from it.  And in some cases, if we're lucky, give.
    And now, just as I get ready to go to London, and from there, Scotland to visit Rosie and then to the Isle of Man, Wight, Skye? one or all? I connect at long last with my wonderful, eloquent, and great-hearted teacher, Jack Kornfield, who calls from the start of a retreat in Yucca Valley, where I learned how to be still, the thing in life that was hardest for me. As always, Jack lifts, and, in this case, affirms that I am doing exactly the right thing.  All is in place.  Either it will happen or it won't.  Not up to me.
   GO, UNIVERSE!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

WHILE I PONDERED WEAK AND WEARY

As I have writ in moments of elation and despair, I have long sought a literary legacy.  At moments I was sure I actually had one, being foster-papaed by Yip Harburg, in my opinion the best we had of lyricists, screwed by Frank Loesser in several senses of the word, having been born on Irving Berlin's birthday(May 11th) in Stephen Foster's birth city, which most will be stunned to find out was Pittsburgh, Pa., his having never, except in song, and for one boat ride, made it truly into the deep South, and living not very long, thirty-seven years, for all his marvelous output.   
    But during one of my parents' ferocious reconciliations, when my mother told me to call the police, and when they came, from half-hid from behind the door to apt. 12D I think it was, so they couldn't see her blackened eye, she told them "It's my daughter: she's crazy."  And so it began, the mythic part of my life, because I can't conceive of my reputation going downhill any earlier than eleven.
   All of this remembered because the building where I lived at the time, where that took place was 255 West 84th Street, on which there is now a plaque that reads, in brass, "On this site Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Raven." And on this Saturday, matinee time, I am going to see the confused but brilliant poet himself in his artistic rendering at least, in a play downtown.
    It is truly about time I went to see some theatre since I am about to leave New York.  But I have not been sufficiently moved to do much of that since coming back to New York, with the exception of the Frank Loesser revival of Most Happy Fella for obvious reasons I have written about in this blog-- why do they call it that?  The mere pronunciation of the word is an affront to the English language.  Oh well.
   Anyway, I look forward to seeing the Poe this Saturday all the way downtown, and going to London the 8th of May, where I shall see Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit.  My once neighbor on Central Park South Simon Jones is in the show, and as it's England, I assume they still speak the language.  After that I go to Scotland to visit my lovely friend Rosemary Milne, from my Quaker Meeting in Paris.  My schedule is open-ended, since I have no plans for the future, besides my hope of having one.
    I am still upset for Stephen Foster, but he did have music in his life, as short as it was.