Sunday, November 27, 2005

November 27

Today I've started a new blog ... a diary of life in Germany.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Indecision ...

Yesterday we rented a temporary apartment in the Belgian Quarter very near the center of town. We also submitted an application for an apartment in Sulz, where we hope to be living shortly after the first of the year. The process of getting the apartment will include an interview with the owner some time in the next few weeks, so it isn’t a done deal by any means. We will therefore continue to look at alternative spaces.
We like the Sulz area very much and had pretty much decided that is was our first choice for a neighborhood – that is until we decided to take a look at Nippes. Early in the day yesterday we met an owner, a man who was showing us another temporary space in Koln. He mentioned that he also had space in Nippes, in an old house, and we were intrigued. We decided to take a look. We drove to the area and parked the car. We were early so we stepped into a little café/wine bar just a few doors down from our appointment. We were met by the cool blue eyes of the young woman tending bar. She greeted us warmly and suggested a particularly tasty glass of Burgundy. As we sat chatting with her about why she loved the neighborhood, one of her friends came in and we began chatting with him about his take on Nippes. Eventually our circle widened to include an American ex-pat from Detroit who had been living in Nippes for the last 20 years and another German man who joined the conversation near the end. It was as if the community had opened its arms to us and invited us in – quite literally. This café was clearly the favored watering spot for this crowd and we just happened in at the right time of day to catch them all gathered at the bar. Now we were genuinely confused and dreaded indecision began to creep in. To make matters more complicated, the apartment was lovely – modern appliances and fixtures in a late 19th century building, one of the few spared the devastating Allied bombings during World War II. The price was a little high and it had one less bedroom than we wanted so we weren’t that tempted to take it – but we were certainly taken with the area and in the coming days we will be searching very hard to see if there is a space that calls to us as clearly as the neighborhood already has.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Day

Thursday, November 24, 2005

In the back of my mind I knew Thanksgiving was near. I’m not yet so removed from my former routine to forget such an important day. That said, it wasn’t something I was thinking about, nor did it have its usual significance. I’m not cooking today for example, and haven’t been shopping for ingredients the past week or searching through the old Fannie Farmer for recipes my New England grandmother used on Thanksgiving Day meals long ago. Tonight I will probably make pork chops and although I might say a few words to mark the day, they will mean little to the group assembled. Only His Holiness and I were born in America and he doesn’t yet have any awareness of the Holiday – or of any other Holiday for that matter. One day I will begin to tell him the stories I was told as a young boy, about our ancestors, the ones who came over on small wooden boats many hundreds of years ago and settled on the rocky coast of Massachusetts. We have lived continuously in the same small town and on the same piece of land for over four hundred years. One crusty old Uncle still lives in the house his father gave him almost seventy years ago, just off the side yard from the building in which he was born very near the beginning of the last century. His Holiness carries one of Pilgrim names in his, as I do in mine, the poor kid has a name as long as your arm because I never expected him to be in my life and I am quite sure there will never be another like him, so he got them all, all the family names, and he will have to carry them around for at least a decade or two. When he’s older he may chose to discard them, but by that point I will have told him what each of them signifies, and his decision will be an informed one. Today when we sit together for our evening meal we will give thanks for our safe arrival in this new land, where this wayward wing of the family is making a new home.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

First Impressions ...

November 23, 2005

Yesterday we spent the day looking at neighborhoods in Cologne and my perspective on this move began to take shape with actual places and textures and colors and smells to work with instead of the imagined contexts I’ve been rambling through for the last few months. All of my senses came into play, and almost immediately I smelled the difference. Outside the air was scented with a bit too much automobile exhaust and there is a hint of coal dust in the background, while indoors the overwhelming smell is cigarette smoke, something I had forgotten was a possibility, because in both Los Angeles and Manhattan, two of the cities I’ve lived in during the last ten years in America, smoking indoors has been banned completely. Well, yesterday I got a face full of it – everywhere, in every café and restaurant. His Holiness didn’t mind and took it in stride, bouncing around and babbling, “Café … Café” … he loves going out for coffee or lunch or dinner in a restaurant and since we were looking at apartments from 10 in the morning until 7 at night, he had lunch, dinner and two coffee breaks worth – he was in heaven. I, on the other hand, was sniffing my new coat at the end of the day, recalling earlier years, and nights spent in smoky rooms … I just hope I don’t start smoking cigarettes again!

We had a chance to look at all the neighborhoods on our list; Lindenthal, Sulz, Belgian Quarter, Klettenberg, Nippes & Braunsfeld. Sulz was the clear favorite with Belgian Quarter and Lindenthal runners up in that order. In Sulz we found a small Platz with a playground and no through traffic. In two days we will see an apartment overlooking the playground and we hope it works – we really like the area. There were two mothers in the playground looking after their children and we spoke with them about the area. They agreed that it was a very desirable spot – good for children, safe, quiet. There is a bar/café on the corner with a pretty good menu and a BIO store just down the street with every imaginable organic food product, a handful of bright bakeries, a nice second-hand bookstore (which to me is a clear sign of a keeper neighborhood), lot’s of coffee shops, Italian and Turkish restaurants, a dry cleaner, tailor and an Aldi! All of this and a large public Park in easy walking distance from the prospective apartment. Finally, the mass transit connections are ideal. Ok, so our hopes are way too high that we will both like and be somehow able to snag this apartment on Friday. We will not be the first people to see it – which we have been promised will not compromise our application. In true New York fashion I tried to be first in line to see the space and was prepared with a deposit check before we even had a chance to look at the inside of the space – the location being more than ideal – it is dreamlike. I will try to temper my expectations and allow fate and karma to do their thing…

We also looked at Lindenthal – which wasn’t bad – but felt a bit stuffy and disconnected. The first thing I noticed when crossing the boundary between Sulz and Lindenthal was fewer smiles and it was too tidy for my taste. I don’t like trashy (that’s not entirely true either) but Lindenthal felt like a place where I would feel obliged to pick up the crumbs from the sidewalk if my roll fell apart … In fact, I don’t think I would even feel comfortable strolling through Lindenthal with a crusty roll in hand.

The Belgian Quarter is the other location we are considering, a completely different feeling from Sulz, more urbane, intense, grown-up. We saw a wonderful apartment there in an old building, high ceilings, lot’s of architectural detail, hardwood floors … But it was just a little too small and it was a four-floor walkup – one story more than comfortable – not Oma-friendly enough. The neighborhood on the other hand was interesting. We had dinner in a terrific little café called Ticino, met the owner and had a good, albeit brief, meal. There was also a wine shop with a good selection of German and other European wines – I bought a recommended German Pinto Noir for later. There were elegant clothing stores and internet cafes and the vibe reminded me somewhat of Manhattan, while Sulz felt like Brooklyn Heights or Cobble Hill or the Upper West Side … If His Holiness wasn’t with us (perish the thought) the Belgian Quarter would probably be a first choice – it sounded like home, it hummed.
None of the other neighborhoods felt even remotely right – and at one point in the waning light of late afternoon, on one particular stretch of street, I had a revelation – more like a waking nightmare. As his energy flagged and his diaper needed changing, His Holiness began repeating, “Go home, New York City” and the realization of what I had done, the magnitude of the change in lifestyle that we had put into motion – hit me smack in the face. My heart rate picked up and I felt a small current of anxiety pulse through my belly … What are we doing here? What was I thinking? How could I possibly leave the bright lights of New York for this? I have made a terrible mistake and we are going to be miserable for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dear Mom

November 22, 2005

Dear Mom:

We have arrived safely – the flight over was quite nice, and for a charter airline, LTU was wonderful, very good service and friendly from start to finish.

Yesterday we went into the town hall in Nideggen and registered ourselves as residents of Germany. I had heard all sorts of horror stories about how difficult this process could be, but in fact we had two very friendly folks who took care with us and the entire process went without a hitch. It helped that U. was very well prepared with all of the needed forms and documents, but our first experience with the dreaded German beurocracy was a positive one.

His Holiness met his cousins J. and M. on Sunday and fell in love with M., the younger one. They played together all day and he awoke yesterday asking for her … I expect they will be fast friends.

This morning we go into Cologne to look at neighborhoods and an apartment we might rent on a temporary basis until we find something permanent. Already we have been shown photos of a possible long-term apartment by an agent who was referred to us by a friend in the states. The apartment is just what we are looking for – with an extra bedroom for guests, a decent sized kitchen, dining room and living room and a long entrance hallway for His Holiness to run and play in during the inevitable cold, wet days of the German winter.
We will send pictures when we make a decision …

We are well and happy here and looking forward to getting on with life … don’t worry about us – but send your positive thoughts our way – as we send love in your direction.

Your son,


Monday, November 21, 2005

November 21

Nideggen-Rath, Germany

The first day of the first week of a new chapter in a long life … His Holiness is sleeping with Mama in the room down the hall. As usual, I have been up for hours padding around this still unfamiliar, rambling old farmhouse where Mama grew up, nestled in the gentle hills of the Eifel in Western Germany. It’s very quiet here and very clean.

Later this morning we will venture into Cologne for our first look at potential neighborhoods. It is all becoming real, but slowly. In between: having neither ended the process of saying good bye to New York nor begun the process of admitting that I live in Germany, but I can feel something happening, a well of emotions churning. There are things unsettled back in the states that I would have preferred to have behind me but which remain stubbornly unfinished. I hope soon to be able to let go … but letting go is … well, what much of this is about.
At the same time I feel some relief at being here, as if I have shed a skin that had grown heavy and worn and now have the rare opportunity to grow a new one, even if my capacity to renew is somewhat diminished. Turning points such as this are an opportunity to take a fresh look. So I choose today to view the world from thirty-six inches above the ground, to both lead and follow His Holiness as we explore life together in the coming years.

November 21

Good morning …

Well, we made it. I will write about the trip at length in the coming days – but suffice to say it was a good trip and we are safely home at Oma’s farmhouse in the Eifel … with cows and horses and green fields out the window. This morning we venture into Cologne to start the process of locating a new place to live. We are very excited.

A word to all of my blogger friends – thank you. Thank you for your greetings and advice and support. I sincerely appreciate it …

I am not going to stay too long this morning because I am online at Oma’s and paying a fortune in local dial-up costs …

More anon …

Friday, November 18, 2005

Travel Day

We leave in four hours.

I can't really believe it.

It's a clear cold morning, I can see the sun rising behind the pine trees.

Ok ... I'm outa here!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

November 17

Tomorrow morning we leave. Today I will be closing the cabin for the winter, securing in plastic tubs anything the mice might find tasty, tossing out anything I don’t really, really want to keep, locking the windows, making certain for the umpteenth time that everything is turned off, confirming that the plumber is coming to drain the pipes, going to the dump, turning in the license plates for the cars, picking up the rental I will drive to the airport and packing – I haven’t even begun to pack my suitcase yet. I shipped my guitar yesterday, I was planning to take it with me on the plane but the airline called and said there wasn’t room in the cabin – Oh great! – that makes me feel good knowing the damn cabin in the plane is too crowded for my guitar – we will probably be sandwiched in for seven hours between smelly, overweight wheezers with too much luggage and too little time for personal hygiene. So I spent $300 to ship the guitar I’ve been playing for 30 years – you read that right boys and girls, my guitar is older than 87% of the people who will read this post! But the upside is that I have the right to check one extra piece of luggage, so if I’ve guessed incorrectly about what I can fit in my bag, I can always add another. I had great plans about pre-packing and even made lists of what to do and when so that today would not be the mad, frantic, hair-pulling shit storm that it promises to be …
It’s almost 7AM and His Holiness will be calling me soon, officially sounding the call to begin the day … Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

November 16, 2005

It’s Wednesday … Friday we leave. His Holiness has turned into a wild man, I think he’s picking up on all the unusual energy in the house and the only way he can process it is to turn the dishwasher on over and over, pull the computer of it’s stand, toss toys on the floor, toss his food and beverages on the floor and generally run amuck.

I feel like I’ve been pumped full of Styrofoam peanuts. I’m sneeze constantly from some unknown irritant and the Benedryl I’m taking makes me feel bloated and sleepy. Nice …

Yesterday I was in Manhattan wrapping up my affairs, although it wasn’t quite as tidy as I had hoped. There are loose ends slapping and flapping behind me and they are going to probably remain unresolved for now. I am eager to just be in Germany – start living this new life and finally exit this Twilight Zone tunnel of transition …

Manhattan ... at last

Today was my last full day in Manhattan and I took my camera along with me ... I will have a bit more to say about today - tomorrow.

Christmas Lights going up in midtown  Posted by Picasa

Times Square this morning .... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dear Mom

Dear Mom:

I’m sorry I was unable to speak with you at length when you called. His Holiness was having dinner and that can be a full-court-press, particularly now, when the house is filled with boxes and computer wires and things are generally in a state of transition and his toys have already been sent to Germany. He doesn’t have much of an appetite at night, he eats enough, but generally he has a few bites of his dinner and then is back down on the floor looking for something to get into and Mama and Papa are sent trailing after him as he runs through the house getting into all measure of mischief.

The move is progressing; we are in much better shape this morning than we were just a few days ago. It will require all of our attention and effort, to get into the car and down to Manhattan and on the plane by Friday afternoon. There is so much to do just to move, let alone moving to Europe, but it will all work out in the end and once we are strapped into our seats and the cabin doors close, we can take a deep breath and know that we did all we could do. It’s not like we are moving to Mongolia – If we forget something we can always find a replacement in Cologne.

Don’t worry about us. Regardless of my complaining, we are young (well, young at heart anyway) and strong and will do just fine. We are still just a phone call or an email away (and you must get a laptop for yourself so you and I can exchange emails regularly!) and we will be back in the states at least once a year during the summer …

It was wonderful being home last week, spending time with you all and seeing how much His Holiness loves you and loves being around the family. He still talks about Aunt Mary’s house and when we are out doing errands in the car, he asks me to drive him there …

We love you and think of you every day – don’t forget that.


Monday, November 14, 2005


November 14, 2005

It is Monday morning of my last week in New York. Later this morning I will go down to Manhattan and have lunch with the star of our show and coffee with a young friend who needs advice about changing her job and later in the day I will meet with a friend from college, a woman I have known longer than anyone else in New York, an artist and a true New Yorker, raised here, schooled here and as urbane as it is possible to be. She is also one of the calmest human beings I know. One thing I've observed over the years is that people who were born and raised in Manhattan have a certain serenity about them that distinguishes them from people from any of the other boros or from any place else for that matter. I don’t know why that is, perhaps it’s because they have grown so accustomed to the noise and hurry and fever of the city, that it takes something really amazing to raise their blood pressure.

Anna is my dear New York friend of long standing. We have been meeting for coffee and conversation for about 20 years and today will be our last for a while. We met in college; we were both working our way through night school by serving as Administrative Assistants to Deans of two of NYU’s colleges. We also shared a love for Italian and took language courses and practiced our new skills in the Italian Cafes that line Washington Square Park. She was the person who initiated me to Chumley’s, the former speak-easy in the West Village that had a secret back door you entered by slipping through the alley behind a group of buildings on Barrow Street, then down a set of stairs and into the bar. We drank more beer that day than we ever drank together before or after and we came as close as we would ever come to crossing the line between friend and lover, but we didn’t cross it and we never have and I’m glad we didn’t because I might missed the chance to have a life-long friend.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

November 12

Yesterday I said good-bye to two old friends; one in the morning the other in the afternoon. Then I drove back to this cabin at the dark end of that cold, cold day and tonight, just moments ago, I woke to see the sky completely alive with the sparkle of a billion stars and I opened the window and felt the freezing air on my face and heard a distant jet moving through the night but nothing else. The crickets have settled deep in the soil, even the owls have retreated in the face of early winter. It is beautiful, the brilliant stillness, those stars we share but seldom see. They make me think of friends and lovers and people I’ve known for a nod and whether they too are looking at the stars early early in the morning when I can never sleep.

I’ll miss the two men I said good bye to yesterday, one in an office, the other in a bar on 18th street, a bar I had come to know after one of the romantic collisions in my life left me lonely and hungry for company of any kind.

One of them was crying just a bit, when we said good-bye on the corner of 21st street and Fifth Avenue, I suspect the other never cries but his farewell warmed me just the same. I will miss them both in different ways but from the same place in my heart. They are men with whom I have worked and played and whose character I came to know from the tests that life displays. They are good men, good at what they do, men who have made contributions to their art and it has been a pleasure and an honor for me to have had the opportunity to know them and work with them.

It is one thing to feel nostalgic for a streetscape or a notion of a neighborhood that you must leave behind, it is quite another to say goodbye to the companions with whom you have shared the creation of your life’s work, the daily build and strike of creation, the labor of art and commerce that we do together. It is the end of our camaraderie of accomplishment, of challenge and effort and success at the end of the day, that makes these partings, two of the hardest I will make.

Friday, November 11, 2005

November 11

The time remaining to sort and pack is dwindling, while the “to do” list is getting longer, anxiety is increasing, pimples are erupting, tempers flash and sleep is a distant memory. One week before lift off and you could cut the tension in this cabin with a knife … I’m not too impressed with myself. I thought I was cooler than this, better organized than the average bear but I’m not and if I was honest about it, which I am about to be, I would have to admit that I’ve not given this move my full commitment, my full energy. I’ve let my wife carry most of the load while I dealt with the care and feeding of His Holiness … I’ve taken a secondary role and waited for instructions, not something I am accustomed to doing, but a role I’ve fallen into quite easily during the last few months. I’m not feeling very happy with myself this morning – and that is a massive understatement – but will have to suffice here in these very public pages.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Maple Tree Posted by Picasa

November 10

The last red leaves of the Maple tree in the side yard have fallen
and deer families prowl the grounds for any remaining green.In seven days hunters will sight them though their scopes as the annual Fall ritual of killing begins. The next morning we leave for Europe.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mountain Lake - Autumn Posted by Picasa

November 9

Yesterday was a major packing, sorting and throwing away day. Things were strewn all over the driveway, pouring out of the garage onto the lawn, the porch, boxes half filled, suitcases, packing tape, old CD’s, clothes and photo albums, things I hadn’t seen in years and of course the inevitable mementos long forgotten that surface like floaters in the East River when the air warms each spring … long forgotten but never really that far away, waiting to reappear and haunt. I even found the photo album my mother started for me when I was born. I had forgotten it existed, but there it was with my birth announcement and newspaper clippings from my illustrious high school years. Then there was nothing, just fields of empty paper where the events of my life left the pages of the photo album when I left home. I have never been one to keep organized recollections – not until laptops that is. I started a diary in 1981 and wrote in it fairly regularly until the LA earthquake in 1992, when it was set aside and only rediscovered in the late 90’s by an old friend who was rummaging through the basement of the Hollywood apartment building in which we had both lived. She came across it years later amidst the rubble of the much larger 1993 earthquake that nearly rattled our old building, once owned by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, to the ground. Yesterday I separated those things I wanted to keep, but would leave here in New York, from those things I felt I had to have with me in Germany. I will go through the piles again today because there are far too many “take to DE” boxes. I will review it all once more and decide what amidst this clutter of things serves my life and what serves only to tie me to my past. I am leaving after all; carrying my history with me only weighs me down.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

November 6

Twelve days left in America and everything I do, particularly the most mundane events of the day … such as going to the grocery store on Sunday morning to get milk for His Holiness (can’t do in Germany), listening to Click and Clack the Tap-it Brothers on the “Car Talk” radio show while driving nowhere (can’t do in Germany), calling my brother on Saturday morning to meet for a quick cup of coffee at the corner café (can’t do in Germany) … all these little things are taking on added significance. I am trying to pay attention to it all. Writing this blog is part of the process of observing my world more closely.

And then there is His Holiness … he is the constant. It is the smell of his skin, the softness of his small fingers, the first sound of his voice each day calling me to pick him up from his crib and carry him into the living room where he often sits with me quietly while I finish my early morning tappings here at the keyboard. The hope is that his life will be better there … our lives … in the Old world … We are unimpressed with the New world, feel lost in it at the same time that we know it best. It is no longer a place we love, although there are things about it we will miss terribly.
What will we say when he is old enough to ask why?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

November 5

Outrageous! Two in the morning and I am wide-awake. I may need to see a doctor; I think I have insomnia. I get very sleepy at about 9:00PM and then at two or three or four I wake up and can’t go back to sleep. I get tired during the day and often take long naps – I hate this. I just want to sleep like a normal person.

Yesterday I went to the Citadel in Charleston, SC with my stepfather to hear him address a class of cadets (See: November 4). It was an unusual day for me, an anti-war New Yorker who never served in the military, sitting in a room with a group of young people in uniform, heads shaved, gray shirts pressed stiff and tightly fitted to their youthful frames, young men, and a few women, many of whom will soon put on the uniform of their country and go to war and die. They sat and listened to an old soldier tell his stories from the Great War, stories of death and triumph. I could not help but feel that many of the students in the room felt that what they were hearing had little or no relevance to what might be awaiting them in some yet un-named war in their future. The old man who stood before them fought with primitive weapons, he was a civilian soldier unlike the soldiers of today, who are all “professionals”, armed with the latest killing instruments, an army of superior force and technology. Those distinctions aside, there was an unmistakable kinship among the men and women present. They were all soldiers, people who were prepared to die in the service of their country. As much as I loathe violence of any kind, I could not help but admire their commitment to sacrifice.
Following the lecture we ate lunch in the Mess Hall. We sat in a huge room with 2000 cadets. Ear-splitting shouts went up from the rigid-backed freshmen cadets as they addressed their superior officers. The atmosphere was not conducive to digestion, and neither was the food, which consisted of a breaded chicken filet on a white bun, Doritos and some variety of pancake. I could not imagine how these young soldiers could survive on such paltry rations.

We went out to dinner together last night for the first time in a long, long time. I drank three glasses of wine with dinner – far more than I’ve had to drink in months and this morning my head hurts. My brother and sister took care of His Holiness and reports were that he was a happy little boy all night, watched Bambi twice and went to bed without incident at 8:30 … He was sleeping soundly when we got in and sleeps still as I sit here typing into the coming day.

Friday, November 04, 2005

November 4

Later this morning I will be driving to Charleston, SC to attend a lecture at the Citadel, the south’s oldest and most prestigious military school. My stepfather is speaking about his recent book, which recounts his experiences as a highly decorated paratrooper during the Second World War. I’ve read the book and find it nearly impossible to image myself surviving as he did. I look forward to sitting in the back of the lecture hall while the students, all enrolled in officer candidate classes, ask questions. My stepfather is a remarkable man with immense energy and unfailing good humor. He is also a man who believes deeply that America is the finest country on earth and that it is worth giving your life to preserve it. As gentle as he is to his friends and family, he is also capable of great and terrible violence in defense of his values. It is a dichotomy of character and experience I will never completely understand.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Coming home

Visiting with my family this week. His Holiness stole the show last night as we gathered at mother’s house for a terrific dinner prepared by my older brother. He played the piano and sang and generally endeared himself to everyone by being able to say his or her names. I didn’t sleep any better here than I have been at home and so find myself at four in the morning in the den typing out this post. I’m sitting in the room where this family circled around the TV one Sunday night ages ago eating peanut butter and crackers and watched the Beatles perform for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show. Yes, I am probably older than you, and by some considerable margin. Coming home always seems to point out to me just how old I really am … Seeing my brothers and sister after a stretch of time heightens the realization of passing time - the graying hair, the spreading waistlines … Mother uses a walker now. I saw it for the first time yesterday when we got home from the airport. Knowing mother as I do I know she is mortified to need such a device to get around. Nothing was said about it, and during dinner it just sat in the corner like a discreet assistant waiting for it’s employer to turn for advice. But it was there behind her, an unavoidable presence in the room, another sign of passing time and impermanence. The family is gathered here to send us off on our move to Europe. I look forward to spending time with them this week in what is unfortunately a reunion with a rapidly diminishing number of repeat performances.