Saturday, April 30, 2005

i know what you're thinking

And actually, it's not like that. Some of the obvious reasons why I'm not blogging much from Berlin simply aren't true (well, one of them is), but if you're imagining that I am out being simply fabulous all over the city, all the time, I'm afraid that's inaccurate.

Sad but true: I've been working.

One of the big projects I mentioned just before I left is a sizable chunk of writing for a new museum/"interpretive center". I'm doing the scripts for the A/V components. And after weeks of not being able to get the subcontractor I'm working for in for research and interviews, suddenly the client needs everything Right Away. So I packed several tons of xeroxed research materials in my computer bag (seriously, 3 inches thick) and I've been working on these odd little pieces ever since. It works out; MonkeyScientist has his own work to do, so we write in different rooms together, which I think is rather sweet.

Even if I'm learning that not everyone talks to themselves as they write. Slightly embarrassing. Especially the cursing and hanging upside-down off my chair part. I guess other writers don't do that either.

What am I saying? Other writers DRINK, and shoot up and stuff. I'm doing fine, relatively.

ANYWAY. We do take breaks and go out, and I do my stealthy best to eat as many pastries as I can order with my non-existent German (nice thing about bakery cases: all you have to do is point.) We see stuff and go places. I am formulating deep thoughts on those experiences.

In the meantime, here are two paragraphs ripped straight from yesterday's email to my mother.

I spent a little time by myself this afternoon, on an abortive quest for a bathing suit. It was fun. I saw a guy I'd noticed in a coffeeshop a day or so back, and did a little drive-by flirting, just to keep my hand in. The other day, he'd been wearing a very dramatic leather duster and hat, which is why I'd noticed him. Today he was wearing what appeared to be a conservative black suit, until I got close enough to see that the fabric was printed with an all-over flower pattern in a slightly shinier black.

I can't wait for you to see how people dress here; it is IMPOSSIBLE, from what I can tell, to be out of fashion. The combinations are not as strange as some that I saw in Japan, but still. Long light green socks over dark green tights on one girl today. All kinds of striped pants. And many women have dyed their hair unlikely shades of red, sometimes in patterns with other colors.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

european randomness

1. Who knew Wikipedia cared about Blood Orange Kit-Kat? The line it sounded better than it proved to be is sadly true. Although maybe the ones that are filled with more liquidy stuff are better.

2. The BBC is running a story about alternatives to embalming/cremation, which is funny because we were just talking about this Tuesday as we strolled through the cemetery under Bertolt Brecht's window. They're reading a letter from a man who would like to have his body left out for wild animals, which is pretty close to my dream of being fed to lions. South African cemeteries are apparently nearing capacity; a man is saying they'll be out of room for dead people within five years.

3. Enchilada flavored Crunchips, as close as you'll get to Mexican food in this city according to my guide, are not bad. I think I prefer them to the Sweet Thai Chili flavor. These people will do anything to a potato.

4. Mom, if you're reading; I'm trying to email you, and it's bouncing. Throw out some email, hokay?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


The Red Elvises are going to be here a week after I leave, at the club where we saw the Croatian frat-rockers the other night. What are the chances? I'm deeply frustrated by the timing on this.

Of all the gin joints in all the cities in all the world, they have to walk into the Mudd Club ten days after I've vamoosed. But if you're in town (or in Hamburg before that, or Barcelona after, or anywhere else on the tour, which also swings through the U.S.) and you like to have fun, you should go.

Tell them Cheesy Slice's old girlfriend sent you. They'll know what that means.
a jewish-american in berlin

MonkeyScientist is going to be writing something that requires him to interview members of the NPD, understood in these parts to be neo-Nazis. When he left the house yesterday morning for work, he was still waiting for a return phone call from the party spokesman. Don't answer the phone if it rings, he instructed me. We joked about what I would say if I did in fact answer the phone (and did in fact speak any German); it was all ugly. Now that the meet has been arranged we're discussing whether I should tag along as his photographer. He doesn't have to know [what I am], I said. I'll tie up my Judische Haar. But apparently we're not the problem anymore...there aren't enough of us to get blamed for the thinning of German blood. Plenty of other auslanders around for that.


There are little plaques set between the cobblestones outside some of the buildings here. They're imprinted with the names, birthdates, and deportation dates of Jews who lived in the buildings and died during the war. Hier wohnte Jenny Shneeman, jg. 1908, deportiert 1943, gemordet in Auschwitz. Murdered at Auschwitz. Sometimes there will be a few together, three or four or five, and you can guess at the family relationships from the ages: here the grandparents, then their son and his wife, and finally a three-year-old child. All the ones I've seen so far have been Gemordet Auschwitz, or Riga. Some of them went through Theresienstadt on their way to a kid, I was in a production of I Never Saw Another Butterfly, which is set in Terezin (another name for Theresienstadt). I wore black clothes and makeup designed to make me look gaunt. I really had no idea what I was representing. I was just happy to be in the play, and not a member of the crew.


Anything remotely Jewish here has a member of the polizei standing outside. Even the Beth Cafe. Which, when we walked past it last night, had two cops. Looking mighty bored. So you're telling me, I asked MonkeyScientist, that if I wanted to open a business in Berlin, and I wanted free protection from having my windows spray-painted, all I'd have to do was make it clear that it was a Jewish establishment?


An aimless wander left me in front of the New Synagogue, which at one time was the grandest and most beautiful synagogue in all of Europe. The architect was inspired by the Alhambra, and the Moorish influence is evident in everything that remains.

Which is not very much. The New Synagogue was attacked during Kristallnacht, although it escaped complete destruction because a lone police officer rushed over and drove away the arsonists, and made sure the fire department came and put the fire out. Which is pretty extraordinary, considering that most of the rest of Jewish Berlin was allowed to burn that night. However, the building was eventually commandeered by the army, and then used as bomb shelter. Bombs pretty much finished it off.

In 1988, the Jewish community here decided to restore part of the New Synagogue, to show how beautiful it had been. For three euros you can visit the reconstructed part. I was doing fine until I came across a photo of the last wedding ever held at the synagogue, of a rabbi to a young woman with glasses; four years and four months later they went together to Auschwitz. Gemordet. I started crying and then realized that the guards--one, the largest and blondest man I had ever seen in my life, the other a creepily gaunt fellow with bags under the bags under his eyes--were watching me very closely. And I wanted to throw myself on the floor and start screaming, what do you think I'm going to do? I'm certainly not going to hurt anything. You people did enough of that.

And I realized that I was carrying more anger than I realized.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

thought we were in for balkan techno dance music

Instead we got this last night, in a smoky basement club that was exactly what I expected from Berlin--brick barrel vault ceiling, men with silly hair, and rampant drunkenness. He ordered an "Extasy", which was apparently all fruit juice and no alcohol; I had a Cosmo, which was almost completely alcohol in a very large glass, with half a pineapple balanced on the rim. We watched three girls act out the faces of inebriation--one who sat at a table with her head in her hands for most of the night, a second sporting a cigarette and a very tight and unforgiving light blue sweater who wove precariously on a raised section of floor, and a third in red attempting to swing dance with a relentless fella who found that he had to sort of toss her from position to position.

The band--I had a brief moment of hoping they were Ukrainian and thus would be singing in my target language--are in fact Croatian. Sort of Croatian frat-rock. A couple of brilliant songs, one with a Madness/Specials edge, another with more of a Russian thing going on, but otherwise...a "where is my lighter?" experience. I guess we'd missed the dj dancing part while we were out eating tapas with an old family friend of his, but from the looks of things when we came in, nobody had been dancing. So we sat, and sat, and eventually left. I am falling behind already on my stated intent of dancing myself silly in a city known for dance clubs...sigh.

I think I'm finally over my jet lag. So far everything I've ordered by myself in a restaurant has been the thing I thought I'd asked for, so I'm not totally incomprehensible. There is chocolate in the muesli and graffiti everywhere. The shelf toilets are not as weird as anticipated. There are lots of birds in Mitte and it is wonderful to hear them when one is wandering around at five a.m., trying to adjust to the time difference.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

first thoughts

1. European airport Smoker Zoos are very different from the American kind.

2. Jet lag is a bitch, but hard to distinguish from what happens when you've been up all night before flying anyway.

3. I hope the people at Dollar Rent-a-Car aren't too pissed that I still have the keys to the car they rented me so I could get to the airport on time. Heh.

4. Sauerkirschnektar is the bomb.

5. People. Smoking. In. Restaurants. Is stranger to this Californian than anything else I've seen in the past twenty-four hours.

6. Certain things have not changed since January.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

twenty-four hours

Waterbones will be going offline for a day or so. Got some travelin' to do. Try to stay out of trouble, hmm?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

this would be funny even if i weren't hyper and about to get on a plane

Dan over at Doing Things With Words has made the connection I couldn't.

Yes yes yes, I'll burn in hell. Whatever.
listening to the little voice

No, this is nothing about saving France.

You know how sometimes you have an instinct about something, but you've already made a commitment to a course of action, so you go against your gut feeling?

I just woke up to the phone. The woman who is supposed to be subletting my place can't leave Milan because her father may be about to die. She's not coming, and could I send her back half of the money she sent for the rent?

I feel for her, I totally do. But I'm in a frustrating spot now. This is not the first time this woman has hit me with a curveball, and after that first time I felt really troubled about having her in. But it felt like I didn't have time to find someone else, so I worked a deal with her to cut the rent by half, and stifled the voice that was telling me something else would go awry. And the whole discussion of getting her from the airport to my place helped nothing; she kept going around about when she was coming in, and I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to find someone to let her into the apartment, and finally the ever-patient and loving Snufkina (who is about to travel herself and doesn't have the time for this) not only agreed to let her in, but volunteered to go to the airport to meet this woman and cab back into the city with her.


I now have less than 24 hours to find someone willing to come in and water the plants, and I am paying 3/4 of the rent for a month I'd planned to pay no rent. I have a dozen plants I'd like to come home to alive. Thank god there's no cat involved.

BUT, I just learned that you can request a mail hold from the post office online, which is very convenient. I suppose I can put my lights on a timer, so the place doesn't look completely deserted. I've left a message for Thread asking if she'd like a home away from home for the month. I'll sort this out. And the level of clean I needed to get to, I don't think I do now; I'd been trying to figure out where to hide some, ah, "marital aids" (what an absurd term) and that's no longer an issue.

Today's lesson, kids: when your gut tells you something, listen.

Monday, April 18, 2005

i paid for this sickness, it's all mine!

I took my last dose of typhoid about an hour and a half ago, which means that soon I will be able to eat some dinner and go to bed. Have I mentioned how much I love travel vaccinations? No, seriously. Going in for my shots makes the trip real for me and satisfies my silly tough butch self-image at the same time. Especially on days like last Tuesday, where the nurse made a point of telling me she was giving me my Td booster right in the middle of that big tattoo. "Td" is of course the adult formulation of the tetanus-plus-diphtheria vaccines; but I still like calling it "DipTet".

The Td was funny in and of itself, mostly because it gave me the chance, at work later in the afternoon, to beg off any job requiring too much charm. I'm having tetanus, I told my manager. Don't make me talk to guests. I also discovered that several of my co-workers--intelligent people all--were not aware that you're supposed to get your Td updated every ten years. So we had some discussion about poking each other with rusty nails and then got back to work.

I feel silly that I'm proud of what the nurse said as she looked over my yellow traveler's vaccination card to see what else she might need to give me. Hep A, good. Hep B, good. Ah, you've had the rabies series? And I appreciate that she didn't make fun of my having gotten vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis, once upon a time.

Everyone else does.
one year

I sort of thought I would have something more profound to say about yesterday. As some friends have noted, some of my strongest writing seems to come from experiences of loss, and the first anniversary of my father's death ranks right up there.

But I haven't had time to think about it, or much of anything, the past few days; I'm having enough stress trying to hold everything together and get the things done I need to before I leave. I will say that today was, emotionally, a very long day. I did both the morning and afternoon sessions at a figure-drawing marathon, chewed out two friends via cell phone while waiting for a bus, fell asleep on the train, saw an intense play about Israel, and sat with Snufkina in a coffeeshop comparing damaged fingernails.

She says she loves me because I'm not only geeky enough to agree that we should take off our bandages to show each other the swollen/blue/bloody/peeling/dented patients beneath, but because I happen to be carrying fresh bandages to cover them back up.

I also saw E, for the first time in about a year and a half, and while it was hard, it wasn't as hard as it's been in the past. I found myself wondering if he'd been that skinny when I loved him, and I couldn't remember.

I suppose that's good.

I guess the point, if I have one (doubtful) is something about memory...I still miss my father a lot. And I still forget that he's gone. Things still happen where my first response is I gotta call Dad and tell him. And at the same time, I still remember how it felt to systematically decimate the gift baskets we'd been sent because cooking was too complicated, because even pouring a bowl of cereal seemed like a Herculean effort, and all the time thinking, I'd sooner have my dad than this damn gift basket.

Sometimes I am still right up against it. And sometimes not. And there's no way of knowing what it's going to be on any given day. I thought there'd be some predictable rhythm, some cycle, some line moving smoothly up or down a graph. I suppose that's how many of us think about loss, and dealing with loss: this will go away, bit by bit. The anniversaries will hurt, and the holidays, but not other days.

But maybe it's not like that. We make it through Valentine's Day, say, or a birthday, or what would have been the tenth wedding anniversary, without incident. I'm getting better, we think. And then some seemingly unrelated thing happens, and we're a wreck.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

take your vitamins, and quitcher bitchin'

One of my troupemates forwarded this, and I have to share it. Former Ziegfield Girl Doris Eaton Travis has announced her return to the Broadway stage. She'll be dancing at the New Amsterdam on 42nd Street as part of an AIDS fundraiser, which is sweet because that's where she got her start.

Back during World War 1.

Travis is 101 years old.

She says, "I will admit that sometimes I get a little tired. Once in a while I'll take a little nap in the afternoon, which I didn't use to do, but I think I'm privileged to do that."

Uh, yeah, I think so.
what happens when you sleep with your co-workers

Friday, April 15, 2005

this is a cool little utility

If you're looking for a particular book, but you don't want to buy it, you can find out if there's a library near you with a copy using Find in a Library. You can search by city, by zip'll come back with a list of libraries, how many copies of the book each has, how far away it is.

I know I've been quiet lately, and dull when I do post; things are hectic. But I just got back from a very productive couple of days in Los Angeles, doing research for a writing project I'll be delivering in stages through the end of June. It involves sifting through a tremendous amount of information, so I sat in a sort of back room on the tenth floor of the Metropolitan Water District building (which is, interestingly, much more attractive on the inside than the outside), looking at slides, reading transcripts, and puzzling over scientific papers. One really cool thing about the project is that I have my own researcher, a woman who's been brought on specifically to get the information I need. After I got over the strangeness of such a thing--of, essentially, having an eager and competent assistant--I found that I liked it.

As much as I prefer to do my own interviews, and track down my own bits, there's too much here for me to do by myself. Especially since I'll be working remotely for the first five weeks. And this woman is so organized. I came home weighted down with a great mass of xeroxes, and a feeling that I had a much better grip on what I'm being asked to do.

More on that when it's done.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

oh, this is inhumane

When did the early flight to L.A. seem like a good idea? Why didn't I get myself taken off yesterday's party when I found out that I would need to be up while it was still black out today to fly? Whine whine whine. I may actually purchase some caffeine and everything, because shambling zombie doesn't begin to capture the whole flavor of how I'm feeling this morning.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

like the thorne rooms, but better

I wish I were in Chicago to see this exhibit. Correction: I wish I were in Chicago with Snufkina, who loves tiny things, to see it. Frances Glessner founded Harvard's Department of Legal Medicine in 1936; she also built a series of dollhouse crime scenes to train police detectives.
Still used in forensic training today, the eighteen dioramas are engaging and shocking visual masterpieces. Built on a scale of 1:12 , they each display an astounding level of precision: pencils write, window shades move, and every detail -- a newspaper headline, a bloodstain on the rug, an outdated wall calendar, a cartridge casing -- becomes a potential clue to the crime.

courtesy of Oblomova

Monday, April 11, 2005

berlin in ten

Besides the obvious reasons (monkeymonkeymonkeyscientist), I'm really excited to be traveling next week (Urk! Must get shots! Shoes! Hostess gifts for friendly Ukrainians!) because I haven't been anywhere since 2001 and the Great Ramen Museum Pilgrimage disguised as a trip to Japan. Well, Detroit and St. Thomas and Black Rock City. But really traveling-traveling. I caught the bug at 25, and try to go somewhere cool every other year. And I'd fallen off my schedule. Good to be back on.

And the whole family-village thing with my mother, well, I've sort of been taking that for granted as something a girl and her mom do, but my catering coworkers are all agog. If only they knew how badly I abuse her when we travel together. There was an episode with a Thin Mint on an airplane once, and the night in San Diego when we wondered if our hotel room came with a complimentary baseball bat for dealing with the cock-a-roaches. This time I'm threatening to make her eat borscht and pig fat spread on black bread, and since I'm the one who's been learning some Ukrainian, she's relying on me to order. Heh heh heh. Fortunately we have the same sense of humor.

We may not have visas yet, but we have the same sense of humor.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

it's official

Worked on my taxes this evening, and confirmed something that I'd suspected.

In 2004, I made more money writing than waitressing.

Even counting that I didn't work at all for a couple of months, and had reduced duty for the first half of the year while I dealt with my father's illness and death, and then had family financial support...this is still pretty exciting.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real, 1922

Friday, April 08, 2005

oh, that's right

Mercury is retrograde. Now I get it.

Anyone know for how much longer?
i am having a really odd day so far

Sloshed through rain of biblical proportions to Berkeley for a modeling job this morning. New clients, people I haven't worked for before; we made the arrangement privately and not through the Guild.

Which it seems was not such a hot idea now. Because I found myself standing at the corner of Adeline and Stuart (I was never given a house number; was told instead to call from the intersection and someone would meet me because it was "too complicated" to explain where the house was), completely drenched where my umbrella did not cover me, dialing repeatedly and getting a machine. Finally I left a message that as much as I wanted to meet and work for them, I was going to wait ten more minutes in a nearby Walgreen's and then I was going home.

They never called. I speculated on whether I could get away with demanding partial payment, hoped that nothing catastrophic had happened, and bought some nail polish remover and a travel size tube of lotion. Can someone explain to me why we need disposable women's razors with lavender-scented handles? Anyone? Anyone? Ferris? Also, Mars has a Star Wars tie-in where you can choose which side of the Force to join--milk chocolate M&M's, or dark chocolate ones.

Which clarifies something about me I had always suspected. Clearly my deep disdain for milk chocolate is evidence that I really want my head mutilated and then covered with a shiny black wastebasket.

But I digress.

I'd made a plan to meet Vicces after 1 to spend a little time learning survival Hungarian, so I called him and he agreed to meet me at Sconehenge a couple hours early. Which has so far turned out to be the most productive part of the day; I now know the three most important things in any language: please, excuse me, and where is the bathroom? We did not get to my mother only drinks Diet Pepsi or please do not make that with onions, but I'll be carrying a phrasebook. This was mostly to get a sense of the sounds, and so that I could watch Vicces' mouth as he made them, which always seems to help.

Fell asleep on BART coming back. Somebody--I'm not naming any names--needs to not stay up all night reading and compulsively watching DVDs in an effort to maximize her Netflix dollars. Ahem.

And I just got home to find that one of the gentlemen I've been seeing here has dumped me, via email. After just three or four dates, but several years of light flirtation at work. Apparently I have become two things women bemoan in men--emotionally unavailable and fixated on my work. He said it all very nicely, of course, but that was the upshot. He knew pretty much after the first, ah, time that he wanted to build something with me (yeah, right, I'm that good. Ha!), and I did not catch up in time.

I'm not feeling anything about this yet besides bemused. And, admittedly, a little relieved--this was warmer than it was hot. And terrible that he's sad, and annoyed that he tries to guilt me in a few points in his email. Okay, so maybe I'm feeling more than just bemused. But it's so strange; I am rarely if ever the one in this position. Usually I fall first. And usually I give new things a little more of a chance, if they're not exactly what I want right away.

He may be making the right call. But I was enjoying his company--and his cooking. Ah well. I am getting valuable insight. I read his email and it sounds like my own words; we may be more similar than is totally wise in a partnership anyway.

Still, I think a nap is in order. I'm had as much new information today as I can handle.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

i knew her when

Now you must all go admire this cool knitted thing my friend designed that graces the cover of the spring knitty, the leading online knitting site. My late grandmother the yarn fascist would probably plotz if she saw it--Edna had a very strong sense of needlework Right and Wrong (for example, knitting: good, crochet: the devil's playground), but this is a new day.

I love it that lately so many of my friends seem to be finding their grooves. It's really inspiring.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

by way of explanation

Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth.

Interesting life. Interesting life.

Berlin in fifteen.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

sweet yet suspenseful

Watching Andre woo his Coffee Shop Girl.

It's nice to see that men struggle with the game too.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

naming conventions

My desk is under the window which faces into the back yard, which is about the size of a dinner napkin and quite overgrown around the edges of the deck. A week ago, I was sitting here rearranging the music in my library or playing solitaire or learning Ukrainian color words or something like that, and I saw a big white rat running along the concrete half-wall that supports the fence. Before I even had time to formulate the thought "big white rat", it paused at the passionflower vine, and then jumped to the ground and went under the deck.

It didn't bother me--I'm from Detroit, I've seen much bigger rats--but I did think it was rather pretty. Wait, I was in the middle of writing an email. That's right. So I mentioned in the email that there was this big rat, and should I try to catch it? Maybe it was somebody's pet? I had this whole plan that I would put out the last of the grated Mexican-style cheese and a shoebox, but then I realized that I wouldn't know what to do with the rat once I had it. Put up xeroxed signs? Found: One Large Rat? With a picture? Anyway, I told myself, it's probably long gone by now. And I promptly forgot, as tends to happen with most things that aren't right in front of me.

Well, this afternoon before I left for the theater, I saw it again! Or one just like it. Same sequence: it ran along the wall, and then jumped down and went under the deck.

So I put out some Cheerios for it. Everyone likes Cheerios, right?

It's too dark to go out and see if they're still there. But maybe the rat will come live with me. In the best pet-naming tradition of my family, I could name it something really clever and exotic like "Ratty". Seriously. We had a dog named "Puppy", and two cats who went by "Brown Cat" and "Grey Cat" because we couldn't remember the real names we'd given them; my stuffed animals had names like "Bear" and "Bunny". All the times I've tried for more interesting names, I've failed--but then, I guess that's to be expected when one names one's pets after linguistics luminaries.

I shouldn't even admit to all this.

If anyone has a better name for my rat, I'd love to hear it. Maybe I can have a Rat-Naming Contest.

Winner gets a handful of Cheerios.