Marcus Slease – Meat Sweats

Meat Sweats
by Marcus Slease

Last January I slept with two pairs of socks. The snow really came down. There are always wild dogs howling in the nearby forest. I was attacked by six of them on my first day here. Two of them were Anatolian shepherds. Of the ancient clans used for hunting wolves. I was listening to a Zen lecture on my iPod when they attacked. I thought by remaining serene and calm they would leave me alone but that only seemed to egg them on. I turned my back on them and walked across the road. That’s when they attacked. One of them jumped up out of the blue and sunk its teeth into my thigh. My calmness during the attack did not stop the attack. It happened regardless. A policeman came by on his motorcycle. I am not sure what would have happened otherwise. I was taken to a clinic even though I insisted I had my class to teach. I think I was in shock, but I thought I was being stoic. The clinic didn’t have any rabies injections so I took a taxi to a public hospital. The public hospitals were swarming with people. Like lost bees. This was a different part of the city. The women were mostly covered and the men were mostly old. The signs were not in English and it was a real labyrinth inside. A few weeks later I got a Facebook message that my grandfather had died. I grew up with my grandfather. His father was a gardener and he was a gardener too. Tending the rich Anglo-Irish gardens. My grandfather clipped his hedges, grew roses, and kept budgies. When I visited him in Northern Ireland, he was always watching some gardening show or other. One night when my grandmother had retired to bed, he confessed to watching Baywatch and wanted to know if women in America really looked like that. I couldn’t make it to his funeral. After I got the news, I went into the small room. The one with the narrow bed and no clothes in the wardrobe. One of the perks of teaching at university was an almost-free, two-bedroom flat. Furnished to Western standards. Which meant that the smell was bearable, the plumbing mostly worked and we were walled off from the rest of the city on a hill. I sat in the room with only a bed and tried to listen to the silence. I thought I was being spiritual and brave. There was no use in causing a ruckus. Just take things as they come. I was getting severe sweats. I thought it might have been bad meat. Later someone told me it was the vegetables. One advised me to wash them in vinegar. Washing them in treated water wasn’t enough. The natives are born with some kind of bacteria in their intestines and are immune. The Western teachers were always having stomach problems. A few days later Bedia brought me a Turkish rug. It wasn’t an expensive one. It was the kind you see hanging on walls near the castle where you had to haggle. I didn’t care if it was expensive or not. It added a nice touch to the place. Bedia held my hand in the kitchen and showed me how to make Turkish tea. There is one big kettle and one small one. One sits on top of the other. The big one is filled with water. The little one is warmed by the big one and has the black tea. The big one boils the water and the boiling water is poured into the little one. You have to wait fifteen minutes or so for it to brew. We drank it in little glass cups without the sugar. Bedia also helps the man across the street with his street stall. They make toasties together. When REAL shopping is closed I grab sandwiches from the stall. I had to visit three hospitals in the city to find the one that gave rabies injections. Four doses over the course of a month. I have to take a bus into the city. There are no trains. Everyone takes a bus. The buses, or rather the coaches, are luxurious. Like a small aircraft. A man or woman walks up and down and gives you drinks and small packages of fıstık. There is a television screen in front of you, pinned to the back of the person’s chair in front. At the front of the buses they are usually streaming ads about marriages. The faces of eligible bachelors from all over Turkey blink on and off on the big screen.

Iclal Akcay – La Piscine à la Amsterdam

La Piscine à la Amsterdam
by Iclal Akcay

Watching a film in the open air in Amsterdam, especially on Java Island, is not an easy task. Despite the news about outrageous 40-degree weather in some Mediterranean countries, these wind-country residents only taste the “Southern climes” via a movie by Jacques Deray. I spent an extra ten minutes looking for a Cashmere sweater in my summer wardrobe before running to the open venue, located across from the artistically sober Lloyd Hotel, so I was late and missed the first part of the movie. The setting is fantastic. This art lovers’ hotel’s little square, which normally serves as a pier to its customers arriving by boat, is filled with wooden benches and framed by a magical white screen. Drinks offered from the hotel’s mobile bar contribute to the intimacy.

I’m there with two friends. It took us three phone calls to find each other in the dark. As soon as we sit down, we take the liberty of making comments about everything during the entire film. This apparently upsets the guy sitting in front of us, causing him to move to the other end of the row in a silent protest, leaving me a bit embarrassed and feeling aloof. Whatever! We’re in sunny Côte d’Azur now.

Deray’s people, oblivious to the rest of the world beyond their problem-free setting, seem to be extremely content with their superficial lives of fun, fun, fun. As the story goes, Marianne (Romy Schneider) and Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) face an unexpected distraction at their love-nest villa in fashionable Saint-Tropez by the couple’s friend and Marianne’s ex-lover Harry (Maurice Roney) and his beautiful adolescent daughter, Penelope (Jane Birkin), who come to visit them.

During those lazy summer days, Marianne (an older-looking Romy Schneider) walks around confidently with a stiff hairdo, overly chic dresses and thick make-up. Determined to improve the atmosphere, a rather flamboyant Harry brings back a herd of “party people” each time he hits town in his convertible sports car. As Marianne flirts shamelessly and erotically with Harry at these parties, a more distant Jean-Paul uncomfortably becomes attracted to his friend’s daughter in front of an oblivious crowd.

Clearly led by their baser instincts, the main characters’ daily lives are disrupted by the murder of Harry by Jean-Paul in a wild attack at night during an argument when his friend insults him. The death scene is interesting and oddly resembles the murder scene in Visconti’s Stranger, adapted from Camus’ giant literary piece, which could be presented as perfect material for studying murder as part of human psychology. Both scenes are far more intelligent than their contemporaries in their study of “the moment of murder,” and they depict the background of a murderer’s act. In Deray’s La Piscine, a drunk Jean-Paul perhaps does not intend to kill his even more drunk friend, Harry. He rather tries to push him away with a piece of wood, wanting to silence his disturbing voice, just to get rid of him.

The unraveling drama results in transforming Marianne from an older, rejected woman, whose significance had been diminished by the emergence of the adolescent Penelope, into a woman of determination through the unfortunate event. Armed with the knowledge that could destroy her lover—that he is a murderer—she becomes strangely empowered by the surprising unfolding of events. She does not miss the opportunity to save Jean-Paul simply by lying to the detective. Through this act, she is spiritually and emotionally reborn, as this mission gives her all she needs: a fulfilling existence! She now is a caring mother. Although not wanting to be with her lover any longer, when her powerful detachment relights the fire in Jean-Paul, her real transformation takes place back in his arms; she becomes a magnet, a love goddess.

My friends don’t both agree with my conclusion about the affair. Being a scientist, Sofia intuitively grabs the essence of the hollowness in the movie. She has spent the last three years in chemistry labs of two different countries suffering intensively from being far away from her ex-boyfriend, Nick, who stayed at his parents’ home in a lazy village in southern Britain, spending his time writing application letters to different research centres around Europe. Our other friend, also coincidentally named Nick, rises to suggest going inside the hotel to get warm drinks. Sofia agrees and I follow them. In a minute, we’ve forgotten about the movie and collectively investigate the possibility of a reunion between Sofia and Nick while finding comfort in complaining about the lousy weather. It’s everybody’s favourite subject here. The kind of summer we long for, a Mediterranean one that is, never arrives in our city. And if it ever does, we all agree that it happens when we all are on holiday in a distant, warm country.

Alice Kocourek – When in Rome ….

When in Rome….
by Alice Kocourek

An annoying buzz wakes me. I can’t make out where it’s coming from. Or is it inside my head? My mouth and throat feel like I’ve just blow-dried them, making it very hard to swallow the tart taste tripping over my tongue. Too much white wine last night. I pull the covers over my head. The buzzing remains. Or was it the Limoncello? Definitely too much Limoncello. The bitter tang lingering in my mouth is proof that I’ve had one too many of that poisonous lemon liquor. Make that two too many.

It had been a fun night out though, with the Italian Hewlett Packard crew. Silvia, one of the permanent British staff members, insisted I come out with her and our fellow Italian colleagues. “It’s about time,” she told me in her squeaky voice. “Three weeks you’ve been in Rome and you still haven’t been out? It’s a positive disgrace. You have to come out with us.” And so, feeling somewhat pressured, I reluctantly went out. We ate, we drank, we danced. Lots. Somewhere in the middle of it all I began having a good time. I relaxed and thought to myself, when in Rome….

It was almost dawn when I rolled out of the taxi and stumbled into my hotel. The city was still sound asleep.

What time is it now? I turn over onto my side and feel my stomach churn. It feels like the gluey Limoncello has also made it to my eyes and has pasted them shut.

Buzz, buzz, buzz …. There it is again. Or has it been there all the time? I don’t know but I suddenly realize what it is, that annoying drone. It’s my phone! I’d put it on silent last night when we went out. A hoarse “Hello?” is all I manage and I’m sure I sound like a man.

“Alice? Is that you?” a voice blasts through the other side. “Al, I’ve been trying to reach you for ages!”

“Huh, Nick … stop shouting at me love, I’ve got a stinking headache.”

“I’m not shouting. Are you ill? It’s ten o’clock already.”

“Ten? Really? Feels more like six … still.” By now I have finally managed to sit up and half open my eyes. My dark hotel room seems to be swaying from left to right. At least the little I can make out of it. The heavy curtains are closed and only a very pushy ray of sun seems to have made it into my room.

“Have you been out?” Nick’s loud voice continues. “You know I’ve been waiting for your morning call, my coffee has gone cold.”

“Sorry,” I groan into the phone, “Yeah, Silvia took me out for a few drinks. What you doing? Sitting outside?”

“Been out for a few drinks, eh? You know you sound like shit.”

“Thanks.”

“Anyway, it’s a beautiful day here. Been sitting out on the balcony with the cats.” His voice has gone softer now, or perhaps I’m more awake.

The cats. The balcony. Nick. I rub my temple. “Wish I were there with you. This hotel room stinks.” I’m sitting up straight now and looking around my small and shady room. The bed takes up most of the space, leaving only some room for a writing table pushed against the wall and a single chair. My clothes dropped on top look like a collapsed corpse. The art-deco wallpaper flowers look wilted. “I wish I were home. I miss our morning coffees out on the balcony. I miss the cats. I don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Well, it’s you who insisted on going to Rome for six weeks. I told you, you’d miss us.”

“Nick, not now. I don’t feel good.”

“You shouldn’t have drunk so much. Why did you have to go out in the first place, you don’t like going out?”

“Oh c’mon, not now …. We’ll talk later OK? I feel claustrophobic. I need to get out.”

“OK, go and have breakfast and call me when you’re feeling better.” There’s a long silence. “Love you.”

“I know.” A hysterical mosquito buzzing in front of me disrupts another long silence. I manage a strained “Love you too,” before I start wafting the insect off with my phone. “Don’t you dare touch me, creepy creature.”

After this sudden anti-bug outburst, my head hurts even more. I need some fresh air, some food and some sleep; I feel cold. Wretched air-con.

A gentle spring sun greets me as I walk out of the hotel onto the Piazza Bartolomeo Gastaldi. The pink cherry blossoms sway against the blue sky and the song of a thrush fills the air. It’s only about 20 metres walk to Antonio’s Alimentari, but when I walk through the colourful beads of the flycatcher hung above the door, I feel warmed-up and a sudden appetite takes over.

Antonio welcomes me with his usual bright smile and enthusiastic gestures; “Buongiorno signora Alice.”

Over the last three weeks I’ve come to like the way of the Romans, it’s not just what they say, beautifully lyrical to a cold Northern European as I am, but the way in which they say it, with their whole body and soul. Each mundane sentence sounds like an exquisite opera, each gesture an elegant dance.

Buongiorno Antonio. How are you today?” Although I still feel lightheaded, I twirl around the fruit stand. “You’ve got some beautiful peaches again today,” I sing to him in English. We struck a deal two weeks ago. I would teach Antonio some English and he would return the favour in Italian. A win-win situation, as far as I’m concerned.

I pick one pink peach and walk over to the glass covered food display and choose two slices of pizza, one with extra sun-dried tomatoes and the other with mozzarella. As a little extra, to spoil myself, I also decide to take a slice of apricot cake.

Antonio carefully wraps them all in paper and hands them over. “Godere della bella giornata di sole, enjoy the sun, signora Alice.”

“Oh, I will, Antonio. I’m going to relax somewhere in the shade in the Villa Borghese, a domani. Ciao!”

Back out on the street, armed with all the delights, I continue my walk to the Villa Borghese, my favourite public park. It’s only about a ten-minute walk from my hotel and even when going into the city centre, I walk through the park and down the Spanish Steps, leading into the heart of Rome. Right now I want to avoid the crowds. All I want is to loosen myself of this morning’s sickly feeling and unwind on the soft moss, away from everyone.

Walking further down the Via Luigi Luciani, it strikes me how green Rome really is. It has majestic plane trees alongside the stately boulevards, charming cherry and apple blossoms in the smaller streets and the many umbrella pine trees looking as ancient and mysterious as the Roman ruins resting in their shade. On the balconies people are growing yuccas, olive trees, prickly cactuses and of course grannies geraniums in terracotta pots and colourful plastic containers in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Scooters zoom past as I carefully cross the wide Via Ulisse Aldrovandi. A guy shouts out at me: “Ciao, bella!” and disappears off hooting a taxi for being too slow.

Bella, bella,” I say it out loud and, feeling like a princess, I enter the Villa Borghese.

A gravel path leads me through a lush garden, landscaped in a classical 18th-century style where green slopes are set around a large artificial lake. It’s still quiet and only a few people are walking through the park, some hand-in-hand, a solitary jogger runs past and I see a few elderly people sitting on the iron benches reading.

On the grass in the shade, I spread out my blanket and sit down. I have a bit of a giggle looking at the beige blanket. It’s just so fantastically tacky: the city’s twin founders, Romulus and Remus, are embroidered on it while suckling their wolf mother. It’s so cheesy I just simply had to buy it.

Now that I’ve finally made myself comfortable, I have a bite to eat and try to nap. I close my eyes and I hear the soft zooming of a nearby insect, ducks scatter up from the lake, a pigeon coos; in the distant I can hear the monotonous buzz of the city. It doesn’t take long for me to doze off.

It’s not just an ant tickling my bare arm, but something I can’t quite put my finger on that wakes me. It’s almost as if I can feel someone’s breath, hear someone exhaling. Close to me. Too close.

I open my eyes. For the second time today I feel like everything around me is moving from left to right. Staring up to the sky, the leaves of the trees are actually swaying in the soft breeze. It’s not just my imagination. I press myself up and rest on my elbows. Instead of seeing the lake, I’m looking straight at a man. Sitting. Next to me. I look straight into his eyes.

In one fast move, I sit up and pull my feet towards me. My head hurts from moving too quickly and for a moment I’m too stunned to do anything. The man just sits there and smiles at me. He’s young. Has slender long arms and legs. Wearing jeans, white shirt, unbuttoned, and sandals. He’s got a slim face, large square glasses and pointy, pursed lips. He looks like a giant mosquito.

What the hell is he doing sitting so close to me? And how long has he been sitting there? I’m in no mood for a confrontation. With a big huff I get up and, with great force, I pull the blanket from the ground and walk away.

A little further I find a new spot. Lay out my blanket and lie down. Sure enough, I hear his heavy breathing again. I can’t believe it as I open my eyes. Once more the mosquito man is sitting next to me. Even closer now. I’ve had enough. I grab my sandal and start fastening the strap around my left foot. The man moves forward and, as if in slow motion, I watch him bend over and reach for my right foot. He grabs hold of it and with his pursed lips starts kissing it. Starts kissing my dirty bare foot!

From deep within me I unleash the Northern girl I am. “Oi, you wanker!” I shout at him and with my newly acquired Roman passion, start hitting him with my sandal. “Get the fuck off me, you creep!”

Scusi, scusi, sorree…” The man jumps up and starts running off.

Scusi?” I yell after him. My whole body and soul I pour into my words and gestures. “Fucking scuzi? You dirty bastard!” Around me people stop and start pointing at me. ‘Yeah, now suddenly you notice me?’ I can’t believe this. Ants are crawling over my blanket and I notice that they have crawled into my paper bag with my apricot tart. “Here you dirty bastard, this is what you get from me.” I crush the paper bag under my feet. The beige blanket has a big patch of crushed cake on it. Romulus and Remus are covered in apricot jam and black from the soil from my feet.

I’m sweating and my hands are sticky. I want to go home. Back to the hotel. The sunlight is hurting my eyes. My head. Briskly I walk down the gravel path. My feet are all black from kicking up dirt and sand.

At the busy and dangerous crossing of Via Ulisse Aldrovandi, I have to stop to wait for the green light. As I’m waiting, a sign stuck to the traffic light catches my eye. In bold red letters it says: ATTENZIONE, FERMARE LA ZANZARE TIGRE. STOP THE TIGER MOSQUITO. It shows a little drawing depicting potted plants with water saucers underneath that are crossed through with big red X’s.

I look up at the balconies, at all the pots and plants. If you all would listen for once, you wouldn’t have a tiger mosquito problem. People have died from their bites. From dengue fever for heaven’s sakes.

Scooters and taxis and old Fiats with their disgusting fumes steer past me, their noise loud and irritating. A guy on a Vespa shouts to a girl on the other side of the road, hardly able to take his eyes off of her and her short skirt. Tooooooot! He almost crashes into a taxi in front of him. The taxi driver starts yelling and the traffic comes to a chaotic halt. I shake my head as I cross the road. If only people in this country would keep their eyes off all that’s pretty and focus on what’s important. Official announcements. The road. National safety. Look deeper. Fix the damned holes in the road. I almost sprain my ankle as I step into one. Bah, no wonder this country is politically unstable.

As soon as I walk through the sliding doors at the hotel, the cool, air-conditioned air soothes me. I feel like I can breathe again. The cold marble floors are immaculately clean, the gentleman at the reception acknowledges me with a friendly nod. I’m home.

Back in my room, I fall onto my bed. My soft, comfortable bed. Since I’ve been gone, the cleaning lady has been and my whole room is neat and tidy. The sun is shyly coming through the partly drawn blinds. The art-deco wallpaper flowers seem to blossom in the soft light.

A warm bath, lathering soap smelling of lavender, cleans my dirty feet and washes away the mosquito man’s invisible stains. My clothes and the tacky Romulus and Remus blanket are in the trusted hands of the hotel’s dry-cleaning service, ready for use again in just a few days. I pick up my phone from my bag and notice that Nick has sent me a text: Sorry about this morning. I just miss you. Love you baby and enjoy being in Rome. Maybe ring Silvia for some company. XN

I hold the phone close to me and whisper a soft “I love you too.” I know Nick means well, but Silvia can wait till Monday. I might even go out with her again next weekend, but for now, I’ll just turn my phone off entirely. I really don’t want to be disrupted again.

Clean and content, I roll back into the bed and close my eyes. Can I hear anything? No, all is quiet. No zooming insects, no buzzing phones. Simply silence. I pull the covers tighter and reach over for the room service menu. I’m going to order myself a nice meal. Spaghetti carbonara and a bottle of Chianti. After all, when in Rome….

Joan Z. Shore – Hungry Women, Fat Men

Hungry Woman, Fat Men
by Joan Z. Shore

Nature simply doesn’t get it right, and neither does society, and neither do many of us who are caught in this crunch:

The golden years stretching ahead of us, sustainable health and income, grown-up independent children … and an empty bed.

The partner may have been lost through illness and death, or after a bitter, banal divorce. But the result is the same—a single person striving to re-build a life that has crumbled.

While divorce affects two people, it is usually the man who manages to find someone fast and start again. Or someone quickly finds him. Women, we know, take longer to do this, if ever they do. Perhaps, instinctively, they are just more cautious and discriminating.

In the case of widowhood, it is more often the woman who is left widowed, and who is faced with a dwindling pool of available males. So women scour the Internet, join singles clubs, and may even take up golf in desperation. A single man has only to sit for a while at Starbucks before he is joined by an enterprising young female.

It isn’t fair, and it challenges everything we were taught during the Women’s Movement. Self-acceptance, self-confidence, honesty, tolerance were the ways we could connect with ourselves and with other women and with men. But men never learned these things; there was never a Men’s Movement. (Okay, a few men tried—they went into the woods or practised crying). And as women underwent consciousness-raising and group therapy and psychoanalysis, men just sat at Starbucks.

Many women today have given up the feminist ideal and are reverting to the old female ploys: they go on diets, they have surgery, they get cosmetic makeovers, they buy new wardrobes. Women’s magazines and the advertising world reinforce this: a Prada handbag, a new face cream, some liposuction. Maybe some classes at the local gym to whittle her waist and firm up her thighs. The man is still sitting at Starbucks, and orders another double latte.

In the animal world, the males do the preening. And in the old days—I mean a century or so ago—human males also preened. They wore waistcoats and spats; they waxed their mustaches. They set forth to conquer the fair lady. Courtship was in the male domain; it was the male prerogative. Today, it is the woman who goes a-courting. How did this happen?

We may say it is Women’s Lib in extremis, or Women’s Lib gone sour. Women have picked up the gauntlet of independence and men have walked away. If women suddenly stopped taking the initiatives, I doubt anyone would go on a date. Our men have become lazy, negligent and fat. And badly spoiled.

Short of another sexual revolution (and that might not be such a bad idea), I suggest the following: to every skinny, hungry, Botoxed female out there—cease and desist! Drag out your old clothes. Skip your daily workouts and your weekly manicures. Dare to go out in daylight without mascara and gloss. Eat a huge lunch and order a rich dessert. Then, waddle over to the nearest Starbucks and order a double latte.

The love of your life, plump and passive, may be sitting right next to you.

Iclal Akcay – One more step

One More Step
by Iclal Akcay

You see, my stories are the same. I don’t fall in love at first sight. I barely noticed him hanging around most of the evening. I don’t know when exactly he came into the frame. A secret current moving underneath through a gesture or utterance, perhaps. Then I’d feel it coming, getting pulled into the game. He sits there in a corner with others. I found myself on a chair next to him within a moment, without recalling the steps I must have taken. I hear my own voice, wondering who asked the questions that he was quietly answering. Am I there at all, while all this happening? He wants to dance. I say, “no”. Why? Then he stands up to leave, taking my body with him, which I realise only when I find myself in the empty space he left behind.

Last Monday I developed a way to recover from pain. When I felt it coming, I lay down on the floor, hands at my side, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. And you think this is the way? A big “No, no!” I kept lying there, the pain on top, arresting my arms, my chest… invading my body to the point of paralysis so that I might have been dragged to a rehab. I felt the Tibetan wool carpet getting cold underneath. Right then, tears came without warning, as a temporary saviour, wheeling me into the ambulance of sleep.

The same current that brought me to him, pulls me up. I go dancing, surprising everyone with this sudden burst of energy, having sulked the entire evening. But my friends obey cheerfully without asking.

When a sting in my tummy woke me up, I knew this would forecast a dark day in the history of rain. I had to do things and being in pain is not considered an excuse for not paying your bills or missing appointments. The sky was just as gray as yesterday and the people as harsh as any other. At the City Hall, knowing a sad look isn’t going to move the lady in the application booth, I put on a blank face while she pointed at my mistakes on the form, oblivious to my struggle. I changed the words as she instructed me.

We are leaving now. Moving in a herd to say our goodbyes to the other group where he also stands, being engaged in chitchat. I meet his eyes without looking at his face and turn to smile at him as he makes a compliment to a dangling earring on my left ear. He asks me to stay to dance. I say no again.

After filling in the forms, I cycled to one of my favourite, anonymous chain cafes where I could sit by the window and watch people passing by.

We’re moving near the lift for the exit. Barely leaning against a couch in the hall, I can feel his attention following me. Talking to a girlfriend something raises in my chest, seeing him coming to talk to us. She leaves to look for others. We’re alone for a moment. He pulls my hand to go dancing with him. I simply obey him this time. There, on the crowded dance floor, we’re moving in our own rhythm, falling into each others arms, faces brushing one another. Smiling with our eyes, he softly touches my lips.

Haarlemmeerstraat proved to be impossible for cigarettes. But the beginning of trashy Kalverstraat worked. I asked for a menthol Vogue and also asked the shop owner to light the first one, one of my first in three years. One is nothing with menthol, an immediate second followed, lit with the fire of the first one. With my head fuzzy, lagging behind the wet and cold cyclists in early dark woke me up, I went straight to my old apartment to pick up the post, which I had neglected for weeks.

Out on the street, still not knowing how to deal with this sudden romance, I remain distant. We get our bikes and cycle the same direction. I leave him, after a soft kiss at an intersection, to go home.

While waiting for the door to open in the entrance of this red brick prism, some familiar face kindly invited me in, and insisted when I resisted. I went into the lift with him, diving into an unusually long, friendly conversation about the cold. And suddenly, under the stripping bright light of the elevator, he burst into tears, the first instant followed with sobbing. We were at his floor already, I stepped out automatically to help soothing his agony, his standing two feet taller than me. His boyfriend, Theo said among a stream of tears and that definition comforted me, has broken up with him, ordered him to leave. In the face of this unexpected drama, having almost recovered from my own, I gave my word that everything would eventually be fine. I gave him a hug and in between other words, another one, trying, and with a smile widening on his face, finally breaking through his wall of hopelessness.

Almost a week now and not a word from him. This lack of contact defines the days. Sometime later, when I’m done with his pain, and I know I will be, he’ll show up. I might try to get him back, send him messages, travel distances, try whatever it takes.

I called Theo as I’ve promised. His voice was cracking but he managed to put a few words together despite an obvious struggle to reassure me that he would be able to move on. His boyfriend was in Paris he said, probably to meet his new lover, which explained his frequent trips in the past few months that he claimed were for business. By the time he’d be back, within a week, Theo should be gone from their place. “Where would I go?”, he was asking, “where would I go?”. Although considering whether I could take him in for a split of a second, I said: “You’ll find a solution, please try concentrating on who you are and calm down.” When I left him in the middle of his crisis, I felt stronger, finally. I had things to do.

He’ll come back. Some day. Like all the others did. He’ll finally be ready to open up. Then maybe he’ll write to me, send messages, travel distances. But whatever he’d do then, would be like throwing a stone into the void, falling weightlessly, echoing as it struck the walls of an endless, bottomless chasm.

Bryan R. Monte – The Welding Link: My Experience with the Paranormal

The Welding Link: My Experience with the Paranormal
by Bryan R. Monte

….(T)here is a welding link, of some kind or other, between the fathers and the children…. Joseph Smith, Jr., Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Book of Doctrine and Covenants, Section 110: 18b (Removed 1990).

When I was boy, I awoke one night to see a dead uncle’s head hovering next to my bed. It was then I first realized I was really different. And even though as a teenager I joined a church founded by the son of the man who saw God, Jesus, and an angel floating in the woods of Upstate New York, I knew this was something I couldn’t share with the brothers and sisters at Wednesday night prayer and testimony meeting.

According to the research I’ve done, I’m primarily an involuntary clairsentient—someone who senses things at a distance and who makes predictions based upon feelings or intuitions. Mostly this happens while I’m conscious and includes things such as long-distance fathom pains or also, more recently, unexplained auditory and visual “hallucinations.” Although I do occasionally “see” things in dreams à la Allison DuBois, the psychic who helps the Phoenix Police solve or prevent murders in the television series, Medium, most of what I experience happens while I’m awake.

In addition, I would like to emphasis that these “experiences” come of their own volition. I can’t turn them on or off. Like Ms. DuBois, I can’t consult a crystal ball or put myself into a trance to see the future on demand. And the majority of these experiences are about my family and my partner. So, in general, you can sit next to me or even shake my hand and I won’t know if you’re going to be involved in a serious accident or lose your baby. What’s most unsettling for me is that even if I do “pick up” something, there’s usually nothing I can do about it. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol who hopes he sees “…shadows of things that may be?” what I perceive is almost always unalterable—and I consider myself lucky just to be able to get out of the way.

In the past 47 years that I have had these premonitions, precognitions, visions and dreams, there are two questions that have really haunted me: “Why do these things happen to me?” and more importantly “What am I supposed to do with this information?” This last question is especially relevant when it comes to sudden intuitions or insights about strangers.

About ten years ago, I started to talk to my family about my “experiences.” I discovered my mother and older sister both had their own stories. Other siblings either hadn’t been affected or would have none of it. From these discussions, I can infer that my clairvoyance is hereditary and has been handed down on my mother’s side for at least three generations. My German-American grandmother and one of my three aunts in Ohio developed something of a reputation for having “experiences.” They also believed in faith healings and joined the Christian Science church, though my grandfather and uncle remained Lutherans. My mother, who had far too much pain in her life to give up pills, found and held onto my pharmacist father, much like Jacob wrestling with the angel, until he finally agreed—three years later—to marry her. Mother was not a healer, but rather a visionary who had frighteningly reliable premonitions. “There’s a tornado coming!” or “You’re going to slide off the road in the snow!” she’d say as I walked or drove away from home, years before Doppler Radar and severe weather warnings. And she was always right.

Unlike grandmother and my mother, though, I am not a healer and very rarely, a visionary. I do, however, have a very sensitive antenna that picks up bad news hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

Clairsentience

The day my father had his fatal heart attack in March 1988 would probably be the classic example of how my clairsentience works. This, I might add, is also probably one of the most common paranormal experiences. For example, Nikola Tesla, the inventor of alternating current generators and wireless electrical transmission, dreamt of his mother’s impending death. He left New York immediately for present-day Croatia and arrived just hours before she expired.

In my case, I had not seen my family for more than eight months after moving from Massachusetts to San Francisco in 1987. I had called my mother around Christmas, but hadn’t heard anything unusual regarding my father’s health. One day in mid-March 1988, however, while lunching in the company canteen, I suddenly felt sharp, repeated chest pains. I turned to one of my co-workers and said: “I’m having a heart attack.” She looked at me and laughed. “You’re perfectly healthy!” and she was right. Then I thought, ‘I’m not having a heart attack, my father is.’ My heart felt like an anvil stuck by a hammer, the waves ringing down through my torso into my legs and feet, through the floor, reverberating towards the center of the earth. I also felt surprise, confusion, sorrow, apprehension, regret and the thought that my father was being taken to a place of instruction.

A bit shaken, I went back to my desk and phoned my family home. No one answered. I gave the underwriters the risk analysis computer runs I’d just completed that morning so they could finish pricing a big account renewal. I told them I would be gone unexpectedly for a few days. Around four o’clock my roommate called. Rather guardedly, he said there was a message on the answering machine I needed to listen to when I got home. I thanked him for his concern. I had to drive through very heavy, rush-hour traffic, and even on a good day, I was a nervous driver. I told him, however, I had already got the message and would be home at the usual time. After I arrived home, I got one of my younger brothers on the phone and he confirmed that my father had just died from a heart attack.

Similar to my father’s passing, when my mother had her final stroke, I shared her pain and discomfort long distance.  I was in Missouri, preparing to go to Salt Lake City to deliver a paper. This time, my youngest brother called me to say that my mother was in hospital after having had a stroke. He assured me, however, that she was doing well and had been talking and laughing with the ambulance drivers and hospital staff.

“You don’t need to come home. She’s all right,” he told me. That night, however, I was awakened by hunger pains, which I rarely experience. In college I could miss several meals while working on papers. I wouldn’t realize it though, until I suddenly felt lightheaded, fell over or couldn’t dial the telephone properly.

I got up early the next morning and ate breakfast hoping that would take care of the pain, but it didn’t. It was then that I knew my mother was in distress and I made arrangements to go back to Ohio.

When I arrived at the hospital, I discovered my mother had had nothing solid to eat for three days. In addition, she could no longer talk, nor did she recognize me. Her “wandering” left hand had been tied to the bedframe because it had repeatedly ripped out her IVs and tried to push her out of bed.

“She gagged when we tried to feed her with a tube,” the nurse said. Then she pointed to the clear solution going into her veins. “She gets nutrition from that.”

That might have been the case, but the lack of food in her stomach had probably also given my mother tremendous hunger pains. My mother, a strong woman who had born five children without complications and who thirty years ago had gained so much weight she could only wear stretch pants, now lay in bed as thin and as light as a bird.

“She needs to be fed!” I insisted but no one listened. And by the time they finally did get a line into her, she was almost gone. The next day she lapsed into a coma before dying three weeks later.

Precognition and premonitions

The next type of “experience” I’ve had both while conscious and while dreaming. And although my family isn’t aware of this, my precognition was responsible for my changing popularity in high school and for winning a college scholarship.

The summer of 1973, I was enrolled in a trigonometry course. The night before an exam, I had a dream in which I saw all the test questions including which ones I would get right and wrong. The next morning I took the same exam, but even though I had had a preview the night before, I still couldn’t make myself change my answers to change my score.

During my junior year, I gained a reputation for being able to get high marks on history exams. From the thousands of years covered, the hundreds of documents mentioned and the dozen theories discussed, I was able to predict with regularity the periods, documents and theories tested. Classmates, who had formerly ignored or bullied me, fought hard to be in my study group. I scored so well on a statewide exam that I was offered a full scholarship to a state university. Much to my parents’ consternation, however, I didn’t take it. While on campus that same weekend, I had had a strong, overpoweringly ill feeling—as if something horrible instead of wonderful might happen to me on that campus. Four years later while studying somewhere else, I heard that two gay men had almost been killed there. The door to their room had been set alight. The only way the university finally brought the situation under control was to empty out that entire dormitory and re-house everyone at different locations across campus.

Another time a foreboding feeling caused me to change my plans and do something the hard way was in December 1985, when I was preparing to deliver a paper at the Modern Language Association’s annual convention in Chicago. Instead of flying from Providence, Rhode Island, which would have taken about two hours and been much more comfortable, I went by train, which took a day and half. I did this because for months I had had a recurring a dream of a terrorist attack at an airport. I left Providence the day after Christmas and arrived in Chicago on the 27th. When I got to my hotel room and switched on the television, I saw the news footage of two coordinated attacks earlier that day in the Rome and Vienna.

Not all my premonitions have been unpleasant, however. While on holiday in 1989, I walked past the cheese, fish, bakery, flower and clothing stalls in Haarlem’s cobblestoned Grote Markt in front of the red-bricked St. Bavo church with its iron-crowned spire. Standing next to the bronze-green statue of Laurens Janzoon Coster, the 15th century Dutch Gutenberg, I suddenly had the most overwhelmingly certain feeling that I would live there one day. I had wanted to move to the Netherlands for about three years, but I couldn’t explain the intensity of this feeling. It went beyond hopeful enthusiasm. Besides, my chances of exchanging the sun, fog, rolling hills and perpetual white breakers of the San Francisco’s Ocean Beach for Haarlem’s church bells, museums, narrow streets, bicycles and rain were quite slim. I wasn’t in love with anyone Dutch nor did I work for company that could send me there to do business, which is how all the other Americans I knew in the Netherlands had come to live there. I had a few acquaintances in a Dutch, gay dining club, the Donderdagavond Eet Club or DEC, but no one with whom I was in love. I went back to the US and my job as a system administrator at an insurance firm in downtown San Francisco.

When I told my friends about my premonition in the town square they laughed. “Everyone has that feeling on vacation,” they said. “It’s called Shirley Valentine Syndrome,” after the main character of a British film of the same name. It portrayed the life of a woman who leaves her little, rainy, numbing, gray life in Britain for a bigger, sunny, more sensual one along the blue Aegean.

Every year thereafter, I went back to the Netherlands for two weeks on holiday, wearing my blue blazer, a red tie and khaki trousers, distributing CVs at all the English-language schools from Overijssel in the North to Limburg in the South. By April 1993, I’d lost my job due to my insurance company’s fourth reorganization when one day the phone rang. An international school in Amsterdam was looking for a new system administrator right away. It was only a part-time job, but the school was also willing to offer occasional substitute teaching jobs to supplement my income since I was a native speaker and had two degrees in English. I packed a bag and left immediately for Amsterdam.

At the interview, I was asked if I knew how to work with the “new” Apple laptop, the PowerBook. I took mine out of my bag and started it up, its now familiar chimes startling the interviewer slightly.

“What would you like to know?” I said placing it on his desk. Then the interviewer asked about my experience with the new TrueType fonts and data backup. I told him what I knew about the recent transition from Postscript to TrueType fonts and about the automated backup systems I had used at the insurance company where I had worked. Then he asked if I could get into the school’s server, which was in a locked room. I asked for a network cable.

“Would you like grades, medical records or meeting notes?” I asked five minutes later. I was hired and within three months, most of my belongings and I had been transported from San Francisco’s Ocean Beach to a house three miles from Haarlem’s Grote Markt.

Tactile, Auditory and Visual Phenomena

During the last decade, my intuitions have not only been emotive but also tactile and visual. I’ve picked up things occasionally from shaking people’s hands. I’m not just talking about colds or vibes either. I’m talking about two specific instances of information about someone’s present or future health. The first time was in August 2001. I had just taken my first, permanent, college teaching job. It’s a custom in the Netherlands to meet your colleagues individually and shake their hands. That’s how I met a colleague who was pregnant and who everyone was busy telling how healthy she looked. “She’s glowing,” they said. I looked at her and saw something completely different. She looked “green around the gills,” as my mother would say. I shook her hand and knew immediately her baby was dying or dead. I didn’t mentioned anything to the woman, but when I went home that night I told my partner while he was making supper.

“She’s going to lose the baby.”

About a month later, the woman got the bad news from her doctor.

The second time I learned something from shaking a new acquaintance’s hand was in August 2006 in Salt Lake. By coincidence, I happened to meet an editor in a supermarket who was about to publish one of my long poems in her literary magazine. She was with her teenage daughter who was a bit embarrassed and bothered by a large, uncomfortable, old-fashioned, metal and tan leather padded knee brace she had to wear due to a recent volleyball injury. When I shook her daughter’s hand, a little voice inside my head said: “Her injuries are going to get much worse before they get any better.” It was the last time I saw the editor alive. Two weeks later, the car in which she and her daughter were travelling was involved in a collision. The editor died and her daughter suffered multiple spinal injuries.

Similar to my nightmares about the airport attacks in 1985, from 2005 to 2008 I would often wake weeping, having dreamt that I’d been unable to attend my mother’s funeral. Due to this, I tried to visit my mother as often as I could because I knew her time was running out. This didn’t seem logical, though, because she was only in her late 70s, and her mother and grandmother had lived well into their 90s.

A vision my mother related to me during a visit to Ohio in January 2008, however, indicated that there were grounds for concern. As she lay in bed one evening, she saw a man wearing a hood obscuring his face, walk out of her closet.

“Mary,” he said, “I’ve come to take you home.”

“Alright,” she said at first, not remembering where she was. When she looked up and realized she was already in her own bed, she said, “Hey, wait a second, I’m already home.” Then angry and frightened, she shouted. “Who are you,” followed by “Get out of here!” My mother said the man then ran back into her closet and disappeared

I knew then it was time to say goodbye to my mother. I went up to the attic and got my stamp collection and my box of my high school and college correspondence and awards and took them back with me to Europe.

After my mother went into a coma in August 2008, I went on to Salt Lake City to deliver a paper. Then I flew back home to the Netherlands. On the way back, my feet started to buzz, tingle and then burn. This pain became stronger and spread further up my legs. It became increasingly uncomfortable to wear shoes and trousers. At night I couldn’t even put a sheet over my legs without being awakened from the pain. I took aspirin and elevated my legs, but nothing seemed to alleviate the pain. I even put ice packs in my socks and underpants to try to decrease my discomfort so I could make it through my meetings, classes and lectures. A few weeks later my mother died. The doctors and the airlines, however, wouldn’t permit me fly to the States. From the symptoms I described and the way I walked, they were afraid I had thrombosis or some other dangerous medical condition. So in the end, I missed my mother’s funeral just as I’d always dreamt and feared.

In addition, while I was still grieving at home and at work, the pain in my legs increased so much that within a month, I was hospitalized. After spine and brain scans, an angiogram and a spinal tap, I was finally discharged with a preliminary diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Since the onset of this illness, my “experiences,” seem to have a new, visual component that has been missing since childhood. Due to my medical condition, it became necessary to look for a new apartment with a lift. I did this quickly because a woman in my hospital ward with similar symptoms ended up with a paralyzed hand and foot. As a result, a social worker banned her from her fourth floor apartment in a building with no lift. My partner and I also lived in a fourth floor apartment with no lift.

As soon as we could, we began looking at properties around town. While viewing two condos, I had two visual “experiences.” We found an apartment that was the right size, price, and just a block away, but for some unexplainable reason, I felt very uncomfortable similar to the time I was ill on the university campus. On my second visit, I looked out the master bedroom window and momentarily caught a glimpse of an old man with white hair in the building across the alley glaring at me angrily. When I looked a moment later, he was gone. I told my partner that something terrible was going to happen in the building across the alley. He laughed it off and put in a low bid for the apartment so that if we discovered something was wrong with it, we would still have the money for repairs. Our bid, however, was rejected and I told my partner not to place a second.

A few months later we looked at another apartment across from an old, abandoned school. We’d seen the apartment once before and found it a bit too small even though it was slightly larger than the one we lived in. Moving in would be a question of my partner being prepared to put some things in storage in order for everything to fit.

While he was thinking about that, I looked out the window at the front and side yards the school across the street. They were covered with metre-high, purple thistles and short, orange poppies and other wild flowers. Suddenly, I saw children, who weren’t there, playing in the yards. “They’re going to reopen the school,” I told my partner.

“No, they won’t,” he countered. “It’s going to be turned into apartments. I read it in the newspaper.”

“It’s going to be a school again,” I insisted. I was afraid of buying an apartment directly across from a school because our present apartment was directly across from one. The result of which was that we were treated during the day to primary school children’s screams and awakened in the middle of the night at weekends to the drunken shouts of teenagers sitting on the playground equipment. We didn’t, however, put a bid in on the apartment across from the school because a slightly larger unit on the other side of the same building became available, which we purchased.

About six months after we’d moved into the slightly larger apartment, I happened to bicycle past the first apartment where we’d offered the low bid. I smelt smoke and was horrified to see that the building had had a major fire the night before. The first floor had been gutted and the fire brigade were still picking carefully through the dripping-wet debris. The fire had been so hot or the flames so high that it/they had melted the drainpipes of the apartment building where my partner had placed the low bid. And, in addition to the usual smoke and water damage, asbestos had also been released. A day later, the burnt building was taped off in three-story-high plastic sheets while workers in white, plastic disposal suits and breathing apparatus scrubbed the walls of the burnt building.

Three more months later, a ten-foot-high sign appeared in the abandoned school’s front yard.  Dag- en naschool verblijfcentrum “Day and afterschool childcare centre.” In addition, the centre’s hours will be almost twice as long as a normal school’s, from 7 AM to 7 PM. So, back to my question: What do I do with this information? A college friend back in Phoenix (not Allison DuBois) has told me that if I ever I shake her daughter’s hand and hear something, I am to tell her immediately, no matter what. Others have told me to keep my hallucinations to myself.

Someday science may discover some ultra-low frequency, genetic senders and receivers, the welding link, which led to my reception of my parents’ fatal distress. Maybe then I will understand how they contacted me before “checking out,” and why, instead of sharing their joy with me, all I perceived was their final distress. Perhaps science may also one day discover the existence of auras, why some people can see them, and why I detected a disease and a future injury in two strangers.

And someday I hope to understand the origin and the meaning of the last experience I am about to relate. With my new malady and medications, I returned to work even though walking, talking, writing and teaching became progressively slower, more difficult and painful. To help conserve energy and to stay at college as long as possible, I asked for a room where I could rest for an hour in the middle of each workday. I received permission to use the first-aid room in another building on campus used by some of my own students who had MS. For half an hour I tried to let go of the pain, to lie still on the thick, black, cushioned examination table so that the motion-activated lights would go out and the windowless room would become pitch black.

Sometimes I would doze in this darkness, other times I was so restless, preoccupied with college business or the persistent burning pain in my foot or leg, that the lights never went out. This time however, completely exhausted, I quickly feel asleep in the cool blackness. And I dreamt I saw my mother again, not the thin, bird-like woman tied to the hospital bed, but the robust woman I knew in her early 40s, her round body filled with muscle and energy, wrapped in radiant, white clothing. She came through the veil Joseph Smith, Jr. described separating this world from the next and floated over the table. I reached out to her through the blackness that separated us. She took my hands in hers and said in Dutch: Ik wil je laten weten dat je veel voor mij betekent. “I want you to know that you mean a lot to me.” Then footsteps in the corridor outside awakened me.

Antonije Nino Zalica – How, by Force of Circumstances, We Became Magicians

How, By Force of Circumstances, We Became Magicians
by Antonije Nino Zalica

During that summer of 1992, as the evening approached, I would go every day to the Academy of the Performing Arts to bake bread. It was extremely dangerous to go out of doors at all; it was dangerous to be in the open (it was not particularly safe indoors either, but in comparison this was always somehow forgotten). But there were a thousand reasons for going out and pretty much all of us spent several hours each day in the streets. But this was not at all easy. One had to invent one’s own rules for something that was entirely unpredictable, that had no rationality or regularity, which most often went by the official name of “non-selective bombardment of the city,” and was actually more or less continuous. When there was some sort of pause, when “the guns fell silent” as the saying goes, the possibility that all would start up again was present at every moment. Particularly the mortars—their shells could fall unheralded from the sky just anywhere, at any time. Anytime, anywhere—this was the only real rule of all that killing and destruction. The snipers would shoot all day long from all the surrounding hills; anti-aircraft machine guns would pepper any part of the city they saw fit, again without rationality or regularity; there was always the occasional bullet or tank shell, sometimes a rain of projectiles from some multiple rocket launcher.

But little by little, some sort of pattern tends to emerge even in the most unpredictable of situations; people would discover regularities for themselves, and each would construct his own, private, eccentric, defence mechanism. Later, as the war progressed and that first summer passed, as initial confusion gave way to a general familiarity with the situation, you could sometimes see a person on the street who, regardless of what was happening around him, would stroll at ease, as though promenading, calmly and collectedly—even across those bridges of crossroads, which were deemed the most “open,” the most “dangerous places,” in that illusory gradation of risk. “The Sarajevo people have reconciled themselves to dying,” was the interpretation of some, meaning that certain citizens had voluntarily accepted the possibility of death, that it was all the same to them whether they were killed or continued to walk. But I don’t think that this was quite accurate; reconciliation to something doesn’t necessarily mean its acceptance; rather it was a matter of understanding. You can only be reconciled to something or someone you know very well, like a friend or a former lover.

People simply found rules for themselves in this situation, which cannot be expressed in words or described in any way, yet, which were understood. I remember one old man who went out every morning and walked at the slowest, feeblest pace, to the market or the park. On one occasion shots began ringing out all around him; a youth began to run, and the old man sneered at him: “Run, run, you young fool. Do you think you’re faster than a bullet?” Yes, a person learns to distinguish the scarcely perceptible dividing line between existence and that which represents something “other,” to discover the secret map of safe ways though his native city, according to which the shortest is not necessarily the quickest. A person learns to sense death in the air, sometimes long before it actually arrives; he learns the strange metaphysics involved in recognizing the right moment to cross an open space—since, in fact, there is no point in waiting, you just have to choose the right moment.

One learns to read the hidden omens in apparently the most ordinary things (the order in which a few pebbles lie upon the ground, the angle at which a door stands open, the direction from which a pigeon flies and its choice of which branch to alight upon). Put simply, many learned to see (as Castaneda puts it), or entered deeply into the art of what the ancient Greeks called entelechy, or acquired knowledge of a secret science (in Rudolph Steiner’s phrase)—although, of course they had no idea that they had done this, and when they spoke of it at all, would call it luck (“Imagine—I stopped to tie my shoelace, and a mortar fell and killed three people right where I would have been”), or fate (“I was literally two paces ahead of my own death”), or impulse (“on an impulse I turned the corner by the department store, though I was actually headed for Marijin Dvor”), or instinct (“I simply knew that something was going to happen, so I ran outside and brought my  kid in”). In this way, many Sarajevans became metaphysicians (even though many of them had probably never even heard the word), or more simply, wizards—magicians trained in that subtlest of all arts, that balancing on the narrow tightrope between life and death. Naturally, without intending or desiring to do so—by force of circumstance, as some like to say. And what was in question were not merely necessary (and sometimes “unnecessary”) venturings out into the open, and the presence of Death, which breathed down our necks constantly, but the many other things which were in agreement with the ancient disciplines of occult practices: isolation, as in some Tibetan monastery, a reduction of intake as in the strictest ascetic tradition. There was no electricity, so night after night we kept vigil in total darkness, looking only “into” ourselves. All life was reduced to the four basic elements (fire, water, earth and air) in which the material word lost all meaning. Time lost all indicators of change (in Sarajevo only the seasons changed) and was reduced to a single, totally empty moment that simply lasted.

But a count was kept in Sarajevo, every day:  three, five, ten, twenty-five…. The news gave us the horrendous count every evening in bulletins to which, sad to say, we all became habituated and indifferent, despite the fact that people are certainly not numbers. And while we are on the subject of numbers—they hurled so many shells at us, so much ordnance, it was enough to kill every one of us a hundred times over. They should have killed us all, but they didn’t.

And me? I had an angel on my shoulder.

God in the Sky above Sarajevo

He wasn’t exactly sitting on my shoulder, but he was there, right behind my ear, on the nape of my neck where I couldn’t see him. When I needed to, I heard his voice, my sense of security gave me the idea that he was always there and was looking after me. Sometimes, too, I would try to speak directly to the Almighty, but on the whole it was easier to communicate with his deputy.

It was around Whitsuntide in Sarajevo in 1992 and, just as with occurrence of the yellow snow—many didn’t even notice it (why did the Almighty manifest Himself at precisely the moment when everyone had to take shelter in the cellars?) and those who did notice, did not ascribe the least significance to it. People in the main gave credence to their radios, they would press their ears to their sets praying that they would at last hear a bit of good news. There was no good news, every fresh bulletin was worse and more terrible than the last, until finally the bulletins began to repeat themselves, as though going in a circle.

My child needed milk, so in the midst of all uproar, I had to run upstairs to the flat. Hurriedly I poured the milk into the pan, heated it, and drained it off into the bottle. I was drawn to the window, and I thrust aside the curtain. The building was high up, and most of City was visible. Strange and dismaying was that scene of bombardment from above (almost as though on a cinema screen), it looked magical and marvelous—the red-lit night sky, the glare of fires, the flashes of exploding shells, the light of illuminated bullets like comets, the rockets leaving traces of themselves behind them, bursting into a thousand colours, the marker shells descending on parachutes shedding a warm-yellow light. Fuck it, I could even have enjoyed the beauty of it all were it not my city that was burning, were those houses not ours, were people not burning inside them, were they not breathing their last seeing their own arms and legs lopped off and thrown about their rooms, were those not our children in the cellar, was that not my own child’s fear that I saw in his eyes. I thought of that general up there in the mountain, fucking bastard, in charge of all this—sitting in some folding chair and gleefully directing the fire. Like a film director, fuck him, who has realized all his dreams—may his own film fuck him, may he be hoisted with his own petard. Yes, the Devil himself was manifesting his magnificent and magnetic beauty. Yes, fuck it, and maybe I too could succumb to the ghastly fascination of the evil that was taking place all about me; and maybe I would deliriously have continued with my pornographic-aesthetics “fuckings” had I not, God be thanked, raised my eyes—much higher than the paths of the rockets and shells straight up, to the stars (it was May, and the heaven was absolutely clear), where, despite everything, the universe still survived. I saw the moon, full of light, radiant; and right beside it, high above Hum hill and all Sarajevo, a tiny solitary cloud, a cloud in the shape of Heavenly Personage holding out a hand palm-upwards. I could hear that Tija had also come upstairs, he was stirring some pap for his daughter, and my aunt was searching around for a possible cigarette. I called them to come quickly to the window, held back the curtain.

“Look! It’s God Himself!”

“Uhuh,” said Tija, and made off downstairs while the pap was still warm.

The Angel on my Shoulder, “The Tower of Babel,” and C2H5OH

As I hurried down the stairs, I would recite the Lord’s Prayer to myself, and then a Hail Mary (these exactly fitted the time it took me to run from the fifth floor down to the ground floor), and when I got to the bottom and only a few metres of lobby floor separated me from the street, I would stop, usually on the third or second step, holding the banister (if someone else were to appear, it would look as though I had forgotten something upstairs in my flat, and was remembering it). Then I would wait for my Angel’s voice and, no matter how urgent my business, or that something “had to” be done, or that I had promised that I would meet someone somewhere, or the impulse to simply go out, if I just sensed that he was saying “no,” or that he was hesitant, I would return upstairs. And if I already found myself in the street, I would leave it to my Angel to choose which way I went, and sometimes he would take me a very long way about, through courtyards and passageways, but I always obeyed his directions. Was he always right in his choices? I don’t know; I never tried to test him—but here I am, in space and time, and this must mean something.

It was only when I went to the Academy of Theatre Arts to bake bread that I never asked Angel about anything. I did not pause on the third or second step; I would only ask him to take care of me, and would rush straight out, across the street, over the bridge, around the yard, and straight into the Academy. I had a two-year-old son and a pregnant wife at home, and they had to eat.

At the Academy, they had an oven and were using stage sets as fuel. The first to go had been The Bald Primadonna, and currently we were sawing up the props and properties of a production called The Tower of Babel. At this time a lot of people were living at the Academy. The Obala gallery was also on our premises, and there were the director of the gallery and his painter wife, a number of young men in hiding from army call-up, one old woman, some refugees from Grbavica and a student-director. They had organized themselves efficiently, and the life they lived was certainly not dull. Every day they were visited by a number of us who came to bake bread or to cook rice. Besides myself, an actress called Milijana with her boyfriend or husband, I can no longer remember which, would come, also an architect and a rock guitarist. From time to time many more people would gather and, in spite of everything, sometimes great parties would happen. The Teaching Academy was situated on the floor above, and included a deserted chemistry lab. Once I told them how we at the Television Centre had drunk all the alcohol used to clean the heads of video equipment, and that it was actually only methyl alcohol, CH4OH, that was dangerous (since it could blind you), what you could drink was C2H5OH, and how we had not been sure whether what was in the bottle was the one or the other, but had mixed it with water and drunk it anyway, and that afterwards no one had gone blind.

“What was that again?” a stagehand asked, chuckling.

“C2H5OH.”

He got up and left the room, repeating the formula out loud to himself.

He returned with a large white plastic bottle on which C2H5OH was written in large letters.

“Fuck it, if only I’d known, I would have studied harder,” he winked at me.

“So, what shall we do with this?”

“We’ll mix it with water.”

But he insisted that I drink first, then waited a bit, then got going himself.

And while we sipped our C2H5OH + H2O it finally became my turn to use the stove, and I put my bread into it, while on top of the stove some pepper-sprinkled rice simmered, and music played from a transistor plugged into a car battery. The bombardment started up again outside, but who cared? Then Glava, the student-director, approached me—he who during the first months of the war had worked as a volunteer in the surgery department of the hospital where, after amputations had been performed, it had been his job to carry human body parts to the crematorium. He seemed angry, moody and nervous. He began to scold me and to demand that next time I brought some firewood with me. How could I explain to him that had already used up all my furniture, and that I did not know how to (and in a case would not) cut down trees in the parks, that…? I couldn’t say anything, and he went off into a corner, sat down on the floor and stared miserably into space.

“What’s the matter with him?” I asked Miro, who was sort of in charge of the group. “Do I really need to bring fuel?”

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” said Miro. “He’s upset. He’s been telling everyone they should start bringing wood. We’ve just about finished the sets of The Tower of Babel, and now it’s the turn of Woyzeck. I knew that there was no point that Glava would never again put on that production of Woyzeck that he had directed just before the war. But before the next time I went there, I did collect a few dry branches. It was only right.

As a reward for my “scientific discovery,” I was given two decilitres of pure alcohol. I used one half of it immediately in our spirit stove in order to make some tea for the little one, but my wife and I fought quite a bit over the other half, because she wanted to use it to make coffee. Dear God, where in the world do you use liquor to make coffee!

And something else. When I returned that evening from the Academy, I was a bit unsteady on my feet. Some sort of false joy possessed me, and I forgot about my Angel. Just as I got to the entrance of my block of flats, a shell exploded directly behind me and the force of it threw me—just as if someone had suddenly pushed me—straight through the doors into the hallway.

I was lucky—the shrapnel flew heavenwards.

Joan Z. Shore – Paris From Collage

Paris
From Collage
by Joan Z. Shore

Most cities in the world impose their character on you, like it or not. New York shoots you with adrenalin, and implants grandiose dreams. London revs you up in a more subtle way, making you impatient and irritable. Rome scatters your energies and overloads your senses. St. Petersburg dazzles, and cuts you off from reality. Cairo submerges you, ignores you. New Delhi claws at you and gives you no peace.

But Paris — it is all things to all people, and a different thing to everyone. It can change moods from season to season, day to day, even hour to hour, and those changes are simply reflections, or projections, of your own changing moods.

You can wake up on a dark, rainy morning and feel utterly exuberant; you can walk down St. Germain on a sunny afternoon and feel dismal. The city does not impose its sentiments on you; it respects you, it lets you be.

Café life supports this, encourages it. You are in the world, but not of it. You are among other people, but not with them. You are part of the human race, pardieu!, but you are autonomous, even anonymous, if you want to be.

So the city is a kind of barometer, a psychological litmus test, of your inner state at any given time. Like those rings that change color according to your mood.

I might even go further and say that tourists who come to Paris and hate it are simply sensing their own unhappiness — the sorrow or discontent that they have brought with them. The city is not going to cheer you up, like Amsterdam or Copenhagen or Barcelona; it is going to throw you back on yourself, into yourself, just as a very good analyst or a passionate lover will do.

So it may be a sign of great self-indulgence to live here year after year as I have been doing. It may actually be a chronic case of narcissism, of self-referral. For I am not involved with the city, but with myself; the city is my framework and I am swinging in and out of it as I swing in and out of my moods. When I spend twenty minutes waiting on line at the post office to retrieve a stupid registered letter, I may be working up a blind fury with French inefficiency, or I may be calmly contemplating my marketing list. It all depends on the mood I was in when I entered.

….Because there is nothing inherently good or bad, nice or nasty, about the way things go here. Example: that same day in the post office, I put a couple of large coins into the change machine in order to buy stamps from the automatic dispenser. What emerged sounded like a Las Vegas jackpot: about twenty coins of tiny denominations. I began to load them into the stamp-dispensing machine, but it took so long that the machine shut off and spat out all the coins. No way to buy my stamps! I cursed it, but it was comical, too.

Another example: on my way home one evening, I stopped at a local butcher to pick up a chicken. I didn’t want a raw one, but I didn’t want one of his barbecued ones either; I wanted one that was only half-cooked, so I could add my own herbs and sauce and finish the roasting in my oven. He refused, flatly, to sell me a half-cooked chicken! Do you scream bloody murder or do you laugh in his face?

There is one moment when Paris truly invades me, overwhelms me, knocks me out. That is just before dusk, as the sun is setting, close to the Eiffel Tower. On clear days, the entire sky is suffused with a mystical golden light. On cloudy days, there is a fast-changing pageant of blue and pink and mauve. The river shimmers in response; and for a few minutes, ordinary buildings turn brilliantly bronze.

I don’t know whom to thank for this. God, probably.

Bryan R. Monte – The Last Harvest

The Last Harvest
by Bryan Monte

I’d been working for nearly a year in San Francisco as a free-lance reporter and interviewer on a weekly, gay radio programme. One morning in May 1990, I got a call at my day job at an insurance company from the publicist for the International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

“How would you like to have some surprise guests next month from the festival?” she asked.

“I’m game,” I said.

“I can’t tell you who they are, because I’m not sure if I can get them, but if I can, you’ll have an exclusive.”

“OK,” I said not knowing whom she would send. I quickly mailed off a note to the radio station in Berkeley for the monthly listeners’ calendar “Special surprise guests, Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.” Then I went back to the spreadsheet I was making for my company’s California state rate filing. It went down at least 50 rows and across so far that the alphabet repeated itself in the column headings.

The day of the interview the publicist rang me again.

“How’s your German?”

“A little rusty, but I can still get by,” I said being modest. I’d breezed through German courses at Berkeley to pass my reading and writing proficiency after having lived in Hanover, Germany for six months. In addition, I’d grown up in a small town in Ohio where the high school choir sang Mendelssohn’s eight-part Heilig to open the annual Christmas concert and the public school system offered six years of German.

“How would you like to interview the director of the East German film, Coming Out, and one of his actors?” she asked.

“Get out!” I’d read her publicity packet, complete with 3 by 5 inch black and white glossies, she’d sent a few weeks earlier. I knew that the director, Heiner Carow, and an actor, Dirk Kummer, would kick off the film festival that weekend at the Castro Theater. Coming Out, their film, had won a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. I couldn’t believe my luck nor how little time I’d have to prepare for the interview that evening.

In the days before Internet websites and Google, all I could do that day was draw on my past knowledge and experience related to East Germany. Twice in 1978 I had crossed from West to East Berlin. I had visited bookstores, had meals in restaurants, and attended concerts before, Cinderella-like, I’d had to cross back before midnight or risk being detained. I remembered standing in a line for hours at the Friedrichstraße S-Bahn station next to one-way mirrored windows as East German border guards, with machine guns slung over their shoulders, paced back and forth in the hall.

Finally, I got to show my passport to a man behind a bank teller’s grilled window. He asked me the same questions over and over again. “What is the nature of your visit?” “Do you know anyone in the German Democratic Republic?” “Do you have any printed material?” “How much money do you have with you?” “How much money are you planning to change?” Then I changed my hard, West German marks for East German marks at a rate of one to one even though the East German marks weren’t worth a quarter as much.

On my first visit, I spent my first hour or two around Alexanderplatz, crowned by the giant, glass ball radio and television tower built by the Swedes. To the officially atheistic, East German government’s consternation, however, sunlight reflected on the ball’s windows created a gold Roman cross that couldn’t be masked despite several attempts to change the glass’s reflectivity.

Since it was noon by the time I made it to Alex, I spent some of my East German marks on bratwursts, which were cooked on giant electric grills in front of the Neptune Fountain. The thirty-foot high god, triton in hand, sat on an open shell held up and surrounded by mythological water minions. Then I walked north under the station again and past the round World Clock, with its wire atom model atop, to East Germany’s flagship bookstore. Here in a two-story shop were many German classics reprinted by Insel-Verlag, Leipzig, at half the price as in the West. I purchased Goethe’s Faust mit Urfaust for a college friend. Next, I bought a copy of Heine’s Buch der Lieder, the inspiration for many of Schubert’s Liederen that I’d been learning since I was 16. Last, I asked a female clerk what she would recommend for contemporary poetry. She suggested Ich mach ein Lied aus Stille (I Write a Song from/out of Silence) by Eva Strittmatter which had won the Heinrich Heine Poetry Prize in East Germany two years previously. I wondered at first if the woman was trying to tell me something about the political situation in East Germany. Then after I read the rhyming poems inside which sounded a lot like Heine’s poetry, I decided her suggestion had been innocuous. I thanked her and purchased all three books, which, to my surprise, she quickly wrapped in a coarse grain paper with a pattern that looked as if it had been hand stamped. Then she sealed the paper with one green rubber band. In comparison, in West Berlin, books were wrapped in smooth, glossy paper and sealed shut with Scotch tape.

From the bookstore I walked back under Alex in the direction of the fountains and towards the Museuminsel (Museum Island) and the Pergamon Museum. There I spent an hour or two admiring its two great treasures – the Pergamon Altar with its friezes and statues of Greek gods and heroes and the purple and gold glazed bricks of the 47-foot high Babylonian Ishtar Arch decorated with lions, aurochs, dragons and flowers. The arch had once been one of the Seven Wonders of the World and it was the smaller of two arches archaeologists had brought back to Germany in the late 1800s. The larger gate, over 100 feet tall, was still in crates because it had been too big to reconstruct inside the museum. (Years later I would visit the British Museum and realize that the Altar looked in better shape than the Elgin Marbles even though the Pergamon had suffered several direct hits during WW II).

After visiting the Pergamon, I decided to explore some of East Berlin’s sights off the beaten path. Just two streets south of Unter den Linden I found myself in a square with two mirrored buildings whose towers and grounds had been destroyed by what I assumed were WWII bombardments. One was inaccessible; its staircase still piled high with rubble. From the second, however, the rubble had been removed. It looked like some ancient Greek ruin similar to what I’d just seen at the Pergamon. I walked up its pockmarked steps into the building’s interior. In the centre of the building grew a three-story-high tree towards the open sky above the missing cupola.

A bald, white-bearded man in khaki shorts with an old, silver plate accordion camera, complete with cape, was also in the building taking pictures. I asked him: Was ist der Name dieses Platz?

“It used to be called Französischer Dom,” the man said which at the time I thought meant French cathedral, but which I later found out meant French dôme. It was part of two identical churches facing each other across a square, completed by Kaiser Friedrich II in the 1780s, which had been heavily damaged by WWII bombardments. I couldn’t tell if the East German state had left them ruined as a reminder of the Great War Against Fascism or whether, like many churches in prominent places, they were left to decay as a reminder of the East German government’s atheistic ideology. At any rate, without thinking, I took out my compact, plastic, battery-powered, self-winding, Japanese camera and snapped a few pictures of the tree. I did in seconds what would have taken this man hours to accomplish. He gave me a look as if he wanted to hurt me, so I quickly left the building.

I walked around in the neighbourhood for another hour. I noticed two tower blocks that had been built in the 1960s or ’70s, between the ruined churches and the Wall, almost as if to hide the view of the ruins from the West. And even though hundreds lived in this neighbourhood, I saw no one on the street. Every now and then I heard a bit of recorded music from an open window or a car in the distance. For a place with so many apartments, however, it seemed strangely deserted. Then I decided to make my way back to Friedrichstraße.

I discovered to my horror, however, that during my exploration I’d lost my way. I tried retracing my steps back to Friedrichstraße, but every time I kept ending up in the wrong place. I didn’t have a map with me because I’d been told bringing Western maps into East Berlin was illegal and punishable by fine or jail sentence. Eventually I found my way back to an S-Bahn station, but it wasn’t Friedrichstraße. It was five in the evening and everyone was rushing about, probably trying to get home for dinner.

I stopped a middle-aged woman wearing a scarf over her head and asked: Wie komme ich zum Westen? She stood there unresponsive as if I just said something unintelligible even though I knew my German was correct. Then I realized my mistake and I rephrased my question: Wie komme ich zum Friedrichstraße? The woman’s face immediately lit up with intelligence, and she told me the way. The next time I was in East Berlin, I bought a map of the city centre so I wouldn’t get lost. But even then, I noticed that the streets along the western and southern edges just faded off into the white border, precisely where the Wall stood.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

At the end of my day at the insurance company, I stopped by the Goethe Institute for an hour on my way to the radio station. The Institute was very close, just a few blocks away and within a block of the red, gold and green Chinatown dragon gate. I skimmed through its books on post-WWII German cinema. I learned that Carow had had a modest career in the ’50s and ’60s. In 1968, however, he’d directed a controversial film, Die Russen Kommen (The Russians are Coming), which was banned. For two years Carow was persona non grata and not officially allowed to work as a filmmaker. In 1973, however, his Die Legende von Paul und Paula, (The Legend of Paul and Paula), was personally approved for release by East German president, Erich Honecker. The film was a hit, seen by 3 of the then 17 million East Germans. Clearly, Carow was a risk taker who had “suffered” for his art. Nervous, but enthusiastic, I couldn’t wait to interview this director and one of his actors that evening.

Carow and Kummer arrived at the studio about a half hour before airtime. I buzzed them in and their footsteps thumped up the studio’s sagging, creaking, wooden staircase. My three colleagues were startled because I had heeded the publicist’s advice to tell no one. Then, they were dumbfounded and angry when they realized whom I had in the waiting room.

“Why didn’t you tell us they were coming?” they grumbled.

“I did. It’s on the schedule. ‘Special surprise guests – Lesbian and Gay Film Festival’. I didn’t know myself, though, until this morning, who they were sending,” I answered honestly. There had been other times when big stars had requested explicit billing and not shown up. I had made it a habit to keep them secret, even from the other collective members, so if they didn’t show up, I didn’t end up looking like an idiot.

Carow and Kummer both wore very dark clothes – lots of blacks and grays, typical for Germans but a bit out of place for Northern California. Carow had straight blond hair with bangs that hung over his slightly wrinkled forehead. He was a little shorter than I am (5’ 8”) and had a thick barrel chest that hung a bit over his belt. He looked at me rather shyly though his wire-rim glasses. He wore a non-descript, dark gray blazer, a gray T-shirt with a stretched out neck, dress trousers with a thin leather belt, and a pair of hand-made, wide, black top-sewn shoes. Kummer, forty years his junior, wore clothes a bit more Western – jeans with a wide, black leather belt and a dark, long sleeved shirt. His hair was cut in a short mullet, similar to Bono’s from U-2.

I must confess, I’ve always been a bit disappointed when I’ve met stars in person – without makeup, the right lighting and with my own eyes – instead of through the magic geometry of the camera lens. My first impression of Dirk in person was different than that of the film stills. His nose seemed a bit larger and his cheeks and chin were slightly pinked with acne. Meeting him in person reminded me of the times I had passed a very pale and thin Marie Osmond, more than 12 years earlier, eating lunch at Brigham Young University’s Cougar Eat on my way to German class. The camera lens transformed both these stars, putting pounds on Marie’s thin frame and smoothing out the inconsistencies in Dirk’s face, which appeared more angular and rugged on celluloid. His high Germanic forehead and big hands were also a turn on.

I took Carow and Kummer into the lobby (all the other rooms were locked by the time our show began at 10 PM). I sat them down on a torn up, probably donated sofa and got them both a coffee. They were both very calm and down to earth, but Carow seemed tired, probably from a long journey, while Kummer was more alert, his right foot twitching with energy, like most 20-year-olds. I was slightly embarrassed by the station’s poverty, its broadcast booth soundproofed in places with yellowed, foam-rubber padding. The booth that evening also smelt of cigarettes, French fries and beer.

I quickly got down to work telling them about the interview’s time limit, ten minutes, and the show’s overall format – first, the news and then right to their interview and then another forty minutes of book and film reviews, call ins and music with my three colleagues. Typical East Germans they quickly told me to use the informal “du” instead of the formal German “Sie” and to call them by their first names. Dirk told me very politely that they wouldn’t be able to stay for the whole show. The publicist would collect them downstairs right after their interview. I sank down in my chair. I had wanted to drive them back to San Francisco and have a drink, but they probably needed to get back to their hotel rooms right away.

As Heiner and Dirk finished their coffees, I previewed the interview questions and wrote their answers in black magic marker on a large spiral notebook that was attached to a clipboard. I’d learned long ago that sometimes even big-name guests blacked out once the red, ON AIR sign on the microphone over their heads lit up.

When we went on the air, though, they answered the questions as seasoned pros. I didn’t have to use the clipboard once to keep the conversation going. I asked them to describe their feelings the night their film, Coming Out, had premiered and the Berlin Wall had come down. How had the coincidence or synchronicity of these two events, artistically and literally tearing down the walls of oppression, affected them?

Dirk described his amazement as he emerged from the cinema premiere to hear that people were walking across the top of the wall in defiance of the authorities, just a few weeks after hundreds had been arrested in peaceful protests across East Germany. At first, he couldn’t believe it, but when he saw the Vopos (Volkspolizei or East German border police), trying to get people to come down from atop the wall, he knew that something extraordinary was happening. The Vopos had set up a table or wooden platform next to the wall so people could step down safely. As each person descended, however, he or she chanted: “The Wall must come down!” and then jumped onto the table with a “Whump!” Dirk said he would never forget that chant “The Wall must come down” followed by the “Whump” which continued into the evening.

During the interview I asked my questions first in English, then translated them into German so Heiner could answer, and then translated his responses back into English. Dirk knew more than enough English to answer questions directly, even if his grammar wasn’t always perfect and his intonation rose a bit at the end of statements.

It was quiet in the booth after Heiner and Dirk had left. My colleagues said very little to me for the rest of the broadcast. At the time, I didn’t think very much about it. I went straight home that evening and stayed up until 2 AM writing up a story about the two men and their film for one of the local gay newspapers. Early the next morning, the publicist called again. She invited me to the film festival’s press reception in the Castro Theater lobby that Friday.

When I arrived that night, I had my photo taken with Heiner and Dirk by Rink, the Diane Arbus/Weegee of the lesbian and gay community. Instead of chasing ambulances and police cars to photograph wrecks and homicides, however, Rink regularly turned his camera on LGBT fashion or social disasters such as drag queen and leather parties, tuxedo/evening gown events, or politicians chasing after the gay vote, in addition to the real celebrities who came to town like Allen Ginsberg, Gus Van Sant or Elizabeth Taylor. I gave my business card to both Dirk and Heiner, hoping for a chance to talk to them again before they left town. Dirk gave me his card, but Heiner apologized, saying he’d used his all up. He wrote his address in my reporter’s notebook. The publicist then herded us to our front-row seats.

Heiner and Dirk were delighted by the restored opulence of the Castro’s silent-era film theater with its red flocked walls, gilded ceiling and pipe organ console that rose up out of the orchestra pit before a film to play a medley of American show tunes, ending with a hand-clapping chorus of “San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gates.” They were also taken aback by the exuberance of the gay and lesbian lefty audience who applauded enthusiastically when they went up on stage even before their film was shown.

The publicist or festival director had asked me if I would go up on stage and translate. I suggested that Dirk do it, since he’d done so well during the broadcast. I’d always been at home in front of a microphone in a sound booth. I wasn’t so sure how well I would do in front of a full house of 1,400. Dirk did just fine, accepting the festival director’s greetings and speaking on Heiner’s behalf.

Then they came back to their seats next to mine, the lights went down and we watched their film. It began with a night-time establishing shot of a busy, East German street – automobiles driving towards and under an elevated S-Bahn track with a train passing simultaneously overhead from right to left. Roman candle fireworks were being set off in a park, as the camera tracked an ambulance driving around a square to a hospital. Dirk’s character, Matthias, was rolled down a hall on a gurney after having taken an overdose because his married boyfriend, Philipp, had dumped him. The film then retrospectively depicted the two men’s difficult, frustrating relationship and what it had cost both of them – Matthias almost his life and Philipp, his relationship with his wife, his gay lover and his job as a high school teacher.

The film had a realistic (for 1989) depiction of East German gay bar life with the usual suspects – male transvestites and suit-wearing lesbians – but also shots of bored regulars sitting around waiting and drinking and smoking and hoping to meet someone.

The most poignant part of the film was a monologue by Walter, a gay man in his 70s, whom Philipp assaults in the bar after he discovers that Matthias has a new boyfriend and won’t take him back. Walter tells Philipp (after a dozen cognacs) that he was also in love once, 50 years ago, in the German Army during WWII, when he met the love of his life. Despite their attempts to keep their love a secret, however, they were betrayed, interrogated by the Gestapo and sent to the concentration camp. Walter had to wear a pink triangle. “A badge for the lowest of the low,” he said. He became a member of the Communist Party and the comrades saved him. After the war Walter worked to create a better world. “I was an activist from the very beginning. We worked very hard to end the exploitation of our fellow man. Today it doesn’t make any difference if your co-worker is Jewish or whatever – except if you’re gay. We forgot about the gays.” The film ended with an impromptu inspection of Philipp’s class during which he says and does nothing except stare out the window and answer: “Yes,” when the head of school calls his name.

Tears started streaming from my eyes. I felt the same way about the gay movement in the US. The civil and sexual rights movements of the 1960s had eliminated the miscegenation laws and had created equal opportunity in employment – at least on paper. By the mid- ’70s, unmarried heterosexual couples were no longer legally prohibited from renting accommodation in most major cities. Birth control pills and condoms were obtainable in most pharmacies and abortion was legal. But the gays, they forgot about the gays, who still had no legal right to housing and employment. No matter how hard they had worked with heterosexuals or African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans to end their exploitation, gays in 1990 in the US were still legally exploitable and politically expendable. And on top of that, they were dying by the thousands each year from an incurable disease that had reached epidemic proportions so that more than half of the gay men in San Francisco were infected. When I’d taught at an exurban Massachusetts’ high school after graduate school, I’d experienced the same increased degree of surveillance, censure and the need to prove myself that Heiner had depicted in his film. I moved back to San Francisco, after teaching in New England for just one year, to the only place I had ever felt free.

After the film, Heiner and Dirk were spirited away by the festival’s director before I had a chance to speak to them again. And even though there was a Market Street address printed on the after-film reception invitation, I couldn’t find it. At first I thought the party’s location was towards downtown, away from the Castro, but after driving that direction, I still couldn’t find it. I ended up driving back towards the Castro and then around in a loop two or three times towards downtown and back. Unfortunately, my boyfriend of nine months was in the car with me. My frustration with not being able to find the reception mounted until we got into one of those shouting matches that herald the end of a relationship no matter what the catalyst.

A few days later one of my colleagues from the radio show phoned. Towards the end of the conversation he mentioned that he’d rebroadcast excerpts from my interview on another radio station without my prior consent and for which he’d been paid. As a result I ended up getting into an argument with him and the “collective” – the two other men who always took his side on the show. Instead of the station manager disciplining my colleague, however, she offered me a slot on the Sunday evening news show. I declined. I wasn’t interested in being a regular news reporter. I loved my beat – the LGBT community. In addition, I wasn’t getting paid for my work; just for the extras I earned writing newspaper articles and press releases. My weekly news and interview segments took 10 to 20 hours to prepare – one hour for every minute I was on air. This was time I decided I could spend working on my novel or running a writers’ workshop in my home that would bring in extra income.

You see, by the early 1990s, San Francisco was one of America’s most expensive cities and it was A Tale of Two Cities. Gay men and lesbians, who had arrived in the ’60s and ’70s, generally lived in rent-controlled apartments twice the size of what I had for half the price. Or they’d bought homes or flats in the ’70s or even the early ’80s at half or even a quarter of what they cost in 1990. These lucky, older residents didn’t have the same financial pressures more recent gay émigrés experienced. In fact some of these ’60s and ’70s renters were what was known as super-tenants – having lived in the same apartments for years, they paid very low, rent-controlled prices. They then moved in two or three younger roommates at current market prices. This covered most, if not all, of the super-tenant’s rent and, in some cases, even generated income so he or she could write or paint and/or not have to work a regular job.

People such as myself, however, who had moved to San Francisco in the late ’80s, needed at least three jobs to stay afloat financially. The first, the big 9-to-5 day job, paid the rent, utilities, insurance, groceries, buying clothes at second-hand stores and going out to clubs that didn’t charge a cover. The second job, usually a volunteer or low-paying job such as my radio news reporting or teaching workshops at a university extension, gave the necessary experience for one’s CV to move ahead with a career, but paid next to nothing for this expertise. And the third, my evening ESL tutoring which I got through one of my writing students, built up my savings and what my father’s generation called your “tell the boss off” or “get out of town” money.

And if there’s one good thing my parents taught me, it was to be a planner and a saver. I had started saving money for college in elementary school. In 1990, I was on my second stint in San Francisco and the beginning of my third, five-year plan. The first had taken me in 1979 from Ohio to San Francisco and through Berkeley by 1983. The second had taken me from San Francisco in 1984 through graduate school on the East Coast and then back to SF in 1988. By 1990 I was preparing my escape from San Francisco and its expensive housing and healthcare and its massive AIDS crisis. Five friends had already fallen ill or died of AIDS. By the time I left in 1993, another five would become ill and later die, including a partner I would meet in 1991.

In addition, my insurance company, my bread-and-butter day job, was being downsized. Its greedy investors weren’t happy with the previous year’s 5.5% profit versus the 7% they could earn, due to a temporary inflationary blip, by investing their money in CDs. So the whole company was to be reorganized. Many of the company’s 17 offices from St. Louis to Honolulu were to be closed and every job would be reevaluated to determine if it was essential. This made everyone at Home Office, where I worked in the Actuarial Department, so tight with their money and tight-lipped during breaks and lunch hours that the company canteen slashed prices and finally had to close because so few people ate there. More and more employees began eating brown bag lunches while standing at Bart station telephones setting up interviews for new jobs.

My financial, relational and artistic problems, however, were the least of my problems. During the last four months, four people had been murdered within four blocks of my doorstep. I walked past the site of the last one, a Wells Fargo auto teller at 16th and Mission, one morning on my way to Bart to get to work. Someone had set up a sidewalk memorial complete with a bunch of flowers and six votive candles for an Irish student who had been knifed for $100. You could see where the pavement had been scrubbed with wire brushes to clean up the blood. Thus, my first priority was to move to a safer neighbourhood. My second was to keep my head down at work, although working in the Actuarial Department, I was fairly sure I would make it through the first round. No one else knew how to design the rate tables, troubleshoot the department’s network printers and manage the data backup as well as I did. Through a friend I had heard of a shared apartment down by the ocean in the Outer Sunset just beyond 48th Avenue. It might as well have been in Outer Darkness, though, as far as my gay friends from the Castro were concerned. No respectable gay man lived any further west than 7th Avenue. Leaving the radio show and moving to the beach, I literally fell off the map.

While preparing to move, I’d written Heiner and Dirk letters at the end of June telling them how much I liked their film and that I would like to visit them in Berlin when I travelled to Europe in September. Even before I’d met them, I’d already booked my second of what would become five annual, two-week visits to Europe before eventually settling there in August 1993.

I didn’t spend these holidays relaxing, though. Dressed in a blue blazer, button-down white shirt, red tie and khaki trousers, I visited all the English-speaking schools from Groningen to Maastricht dropping off CVs while looking for a teaching job. In between, if I had time, I would admire Old Masters in museums. On the first Thursday of the month I’d also visit my friends in Amsterdam at the Dutch gay Donderdagavond Eet Club, the Thursday Evening Dining Club. This club was founded by Floris Michiels van Kessenich, de Roze Jonker or pink nobleman, as his friends referred to him. He’d led demonstrations in the Netherlands for equal rights and had even interrupted one mass when priests had refused to give communion to practicing gay and lesbian Catholics. For a few evenings each year, I’d get together with these men and discuss gay politics and tactics and also art and culture. It was the type of civilized, integrated culture I missed in the US.

I left on holiday in early September having just moved into my beach apartment. I spent a week in the Netherlands, visiting the schools and the DEC, and then I got ready for my journey to Berlin.

Before leaving Amsterdam I had called all the “quality” economy places at the top of the bottom of the list in Frommer’s Europe on $50 a Day, but they were full up. Everyone and anyone it seemed was trying to stay in Berlin either for work or for sightseeing in the month before reunification. Then I got desperate and tired of being put off. I called a youth hostel and asked if they had an extra bed in one of the dormitories. The man on the other end, a Herr Detlef, said “Nein.” Before he could hang up, however, I asked if could reserve a double room for one person for a week, but I would only stay six days and pay for two people. I used an old sales trick I’d learned as a telemarketer while putting myself through graduate school – offer the customer a deal that’s so good, he can’t refuse.

“Ein Doppelzimmer für eine Person für sechs Nachten aber Sie wollen für sieben Nachten bezahlen?,” he said in disbelief with a pronounced rising intonation. I imagined his other guests barely had enough Deutsch marks to get through the week. I pictured them making their lunches from a shared loaf of sliced, supermarket bread, a large bottle of beer, wine or soda, and 400 grammes of assorted lunchmeats.

“Yes, a double room for one person for a week, but I’m only staying six nights,” I confirmed.

The line went quiet for a few seconds. Then he said, “OK,” and asked for my credit card details. He said he would debit the amount right away even if I didn’t show up. I agreed to his terms, hoping that would convince him I wasn’t a nutter.

I left on the night train that arrived at West Berlin’s Zoo station around breakfast time. I knew, even then, a new order was coming to Berlin. The glass roof above the station, which for decades had been opaqued gray by dirt and dust, was now crystal clear, revealing the blue sky and tall green trees that arched over the roof. Through these windows for the first time I could see the Berlin Zoo or Tiergarten for which the station was named.

In contrast to the isolated, down on its heels, divided city I had last seen in September 1978, Berlin was now an open, vibrant building site, drawing people from all over Europe, the US and Canada in preparation for its reincarnation as the German capital. Initially, I was a little bit nervous about my hotel’s Kreuzberg address even though the guidebook praised the former cigar factory’s quiet, side street location, inner court, cleanliness and order. Twelve years earlier when I had first visited Kreuzberg, it was one of Berlin’s most dangerous neighbourhoods. Its streets were lined with burnt-out, abandoned cars and every vacant wall was painted with graffiti. When I came up from the Mehringdamm U-Bahn station, however, I was pleasantly surprised. I saw Turkish men in their late 20s and early 30s, walking next to their head-scarved wives who pushed big, black prams with white rubber wheels down the green meridian of the busy Gniessenaustraße boulevard which now, instead of being carpeted with litter and used hypodermic needles, had neatly kept bushes, trees and flowers.

My telephone call in German with Herr Detlef had done the trick. In a hostel dominated by ten-bedded rooms and communal showers, I had got a self-contained apartment with its own bath, kitchen and dining areas, two single beds, a sofa, pots and pans and an ironing board and iron. I couldn’t believe my luck in a city with people streaming in from every direction, desperate to find work and put a roof over their heads. My room was suitable for writing and possibly entertaining. I now realize after having led college excursions to London and Dublin, that this room was probably intended for tour leaders so they could regain their sanity after spending the entire day with their charges.

I obeyed Herr Detlef’s admonition to say nothing to the other guests about the extra bed in the apartment. A young woman, however, the next morning at breakfast, sat down next to me. She was in her early 20s, a Los Angelean, she said, via Long Island, it sounded like, judging from her accent.

“I’m in Berlin scouting locations for a movie crew,” she said. Then she asked: “Do you know of any beds in the hostel that are still free?”

“No.” I lied.

“If you did, I’d be very grateful to you,” she said, trying to add a bit of seduction to her request.

“No.” I repeated. ‘Wrong number’, I thought. Perhaps if it had been her twin brother with the same brown, but much shorter, wavy hair and dark eyes, I might have reconsidered. I wondered how word of my spacious room had got out. I certainly didn’t think Herr Detlef had said anything.

Later that morning, on my way to Prenzlauer Berg to look up my own film actor and director, I was surprised to discover how uncomplicated it was to cross into what had previously been the Eastern or Russian Sector even though it was still a separate country. Out of habit, I’d got off the U-6 subway at Kochstraße to go through the checkpoint. But instead of having to queue for hours in the border offices, I was amazed that the checkpoint was deserted. Shocked, I walked through the empty building, my passport in my hand, which, through force of habit, I’d taken out of my secret vest pocket just as I’d walked into the building.

I walked towards the center of old Berlin along the main boulevard, Unter den Linden. I stopped at a post office along the way to get directions to Dirk’s apartment and to see if they had Heiner’s telephone number. The man behind the counter was very helpful. He told me to take the Pankow line to Dmitroff Strasse to get to Dirk’s. Then he wrote down Heiner’s phone number in the very distinctive German number notation, the unbalanced eights with their top circles falling to the right over the lower ones and the sevens with bars through the verticals.

From the Dmitroff Strasse U-Bahn station, I walked two blocks towards the Schönhäuser Allee, noticing the bullet holes in the brick buildings from WWII street fighting. From the peeling paint, missing stucco and rotting wooden boards on many of the buildings, it looked as if exterior work hadn’t been done since this time also. As I walked up the street, I passed a man shoveling coal on the sidewalk. I noticed the air in this part of Berlin also smelled acrid and sulphurous due to the poorly-refined, Eastern Block petrol and the lack of pollution controls on automobiles. I also had to watch where I walked due to missing or uneven paving stones in the street or on the sidewalk.

Then I turned the corner and went two blocks down the street where Dirk lived. I immediately noticed that every block seemed to have at least four metal dumpsters overflowing with concrete, plaster and wooden board refuse parked at the curb and one, late model, four-door Mercedes with West German plates. Finally I came to a building that was supposed to be Dirk’s address. From the outside, however, it looked like it was abandoned. At first I was afraid to go inside because I didn’t want to get mugged, but against my better judgment, I went in. The lobby was dark and had high ceilings. A little bit further inside I found some open mailboxes. Dirk’s was easy to find with its plasticized snapshot of the Kurfürstendamm attached with a white tack next to his name. Only then did I know I had the right address. I steeled myself, however, for the possibility that he might not be home or even worse, out of town since he hadn’t answered my letter. I walked up two flights. When I arrived on his doorstep, however, I thought I was in luck because I heard voices inside. I knocked.

 

“Ach, du!” Dirk said as he opened the door. Even though I’d written him, he was genuinely surprised to see me. I asked him if he’d got my letter. Ja, but he hadn’t had time to respond. Then he showed me around his cavernous apartment that he was renovating. The kitchen and the bathroom seemed enormous – at least twice the size of my six-by-six foot bathroom and eight-by-ten foot kitchen. Dirk showed me the Portuguese copper dolphin fixtures for his bathroom sink, tub and shower and the black and white floor tiles that were being installed by an East German workman or Facharbeiter as Dirk referred to him. Dirk’s apartment also had two, even larger, front rooms. Both overlooked the park across the street. He used one as a living room and the other for a bedroom. Instead about bragging about his apartment, however, he worried about the view out of his kitchen and bathroom – a courtyard filled with junk from current and previous construction projects.

“Yes, it looks bad now,” I reassured him, “but ten years ago, Kreuzberg looked bad and now it’s a model neighborhood.” Dirk agreed that in ten years he hoped his neighborhood would improve also. He said he enjoyed living close to the gay community in East Berlin. I wanted to tell him that in ten years, he’d probably be better off than I was in San Francisco, but I didn’t want to shatter the illusion so many people have of how much better things are for gay people there. Everyone dreams of sharing a restored, Queen Anne, Victorian row house on Alamo Square with the man or woman of his or her dreams. I can assure you, however, that very few of those who do move there ever achieve this goal.

Dirk confided in me that he’d had a fling with an Israeli actor, whom he met at a film festival in Italy. They’d exchanged letters and were horribly in love until Dirk had gone to Israel to visit him and then they had had a miserable time. I felt sorry for Dirk. He seemed like a genuinely-nice young man looking for love, but unable to find it. I hoped things would look up for him.

While we were talking, Heiner showed up. He had come by Dirk’s to collect him so they could look for locations together in Potsdam for Heiner’s next film. Dirk had been the assistant director of Coming Out, and I had the feeling he was one of Heiner’s protégés.

Heiner was astonished to see me and instead of looking worn out and out of breath as he had at the radio station, he looked great. He’d lost at least five kilos and looked more rested. He also wore lighter colors – light blue and tan versus the black and grays he’d worn in San Francisco, probably de rigueur for directors on the road who knew they would be photographed. I told Heiner how much I had enjoyed Coming Out, especially the love scenes between Dirk and the other actor, Mathias Freihof. I also mentioned how upset I was that I wasn’t able to see them after the film’s premiere at the Castro.

Heiner said he was also richtig enttäuscht (really disappointed), that he’d been whisked away by the festival director and that he was afraid it would look like he hadn’t wanted to spend more time with me. I told Heiner and Dirk about what had happened in the last few months – my breakup, the rebroadcast of excerpts from their interview, quitting my job at the station, moving to a safer neighbourhood and the reorganization of my insurance company. They were both astounded by how much my life had changed in just two and half months, especially that I had quit the radio station.

Since they had to get going, we made an appointment to get together Friday evening, to visit one of the bars and some other locations from Coming Out. As I walked back from Dirk’s apartment towards the center of Berlin, I was over the moon. Not only had I interviewed an East German film director and actor on the radio, written a newspaper article about them and looked them up in Berlin, but also I’d been invited to go out and see some of the locations where they’d made their film. I remember being so happy I seriously considered not getting back on the plane the next week to go back to my soul-numbing, bill-paying job in San Francisco. Maybe I could stay behind as a photojournalist and cover the last days of the DDR and the first months of Die Wende.

In the two days in between, I explored East Berlin again, trying to capture how it was changing. I walked around Alexanderplatz and photographed the new red and white Marlboro posters that covered almost every billboard in the above ground, S-Bahn station. Previously the same space would have been used for State messages about social and political solidarity. I also walked past the East German parliament building, Der Palast der Republik. I saw that the East German seal, with its hammer and sickle, had already been cut out of the center of the building’s front grillwork. Further down the road, I watched the changing of the guard in front of the East German war dead memorial with its eternal flame. As the relieved column of soldiers marched away single file, a man spontaneously broke from the crowd to march at the end of the line mimicking their steps à la Charlie Chaplin. A year earlier this would have got the man thrown into prison, but now, with the East German parliament across the street voting itself out of existence, anything seemed possible.

Not everyone, however, was happy with the change. A group of about 300 protestors had gathered in front of the cathedral across the street from the parliament building. They held signs, one that included the Bundesrepublik’s eagle shredding the East German hammer and sickle, along with some people hanging onto them, with its talons. They also used a light-blue sound truck to carry their message across the street. Their protest, however, was well contained by a block-long series of interlocking, metal riot gates. These prevented the crowd from suddenly swarming across the street and disrupting the proceedings in the Volkskammer. In addition, there were eight trucks full of East German soldiers parked at the other end of the cathedral square.

I walked further down the street and bought tickets to Swan Lake at the Opera House for Thursday evening. I was surprised at how inexpensive they were – 15 DM for the front row box circle. Tickets like that in West Germany or America would have cost at least five times as much. I also went to the East German National History Museum, which was holding the last GDR painters’ exhibition. Most of the canvases exhibited were either realistic, cubist or multi-media collages that seemed at least 50 years behind the times.

The next day I visited the Pergamon Museum. It looked much the same including the postcards in the souvenir shop that still had Hauptstadt der DDR printed on the back. Some of the galleries were still closed due to WWII damage. It didn’t really matter that afternoon. Walking up to that altar standing amongst those gods and heroes again, I could feel that Berlin was on the brink of celebrating an auspicious victory – a peaceful change of power due to the will of the people that hadn’t involved tanks, planes or bombs – and that was worth celebrating.

The performance of Swan Lake the next evening was probably one of the most unique I’ve ever seen. The ballet had been adapted so it had a political slant. A male joker, dressed in a white, tight body suit, painted with black, red and gold question marks, (the German national colours), interposed himself among the dancers, perhaps to symbolize the persistent uncertainty of German reunification. One interesting aspect of this performance was when the prince was offered his crown and robe, he didn’t take them due to the joker’s mocking pantomime of regal pomposity. The adaptation, however, continued to make some of the audience members increasingly upset. First they fidgetted, then they cleared their throats. Next, they guffawed and finally, they got up to leave during the performance. I wondered if these East Germans, who left in protest, realized that if they had done that in the old East, Stasi agents would have immediately noted their departure.

After the ballet I went next door to the Operncafé for something to eat. I remembered on my last visit in September 1978 that it had been filled with East German actors and television personalities with slicked back Elvis hairdos and ’50s style clothing. I discovered the prices for cocktails and ice cream were still incredibly inexpensive even though the hair and clothing styles seemed to have caught up with the times. I could still have a good, filling, after-ballet dinner for 6 DM. I stood by the door for a minute and then asked a blond waiter, using the formal German Sie, if I could have a seat.

“Here it is not necessary to be so formal and polite,” he said. “Just have a seat wherever you want and someone will come along to take your order,” he barked. Later, he seemed to have mellowed out when he came by my table. He apologized and took my order. I ruffled his feathers again, however, when I ordered the Cointreau aperitif. He didn’t recognize it. When I pointed it out on the menu, however, he understood immediately. I wondered if it had been a recent addition to the menu or whether he’d just started working there.

After leaving the Operncafé around 11, I walked back along Unter den Linden where people had gathered the day before for the protest. Even though it was late, I felt very safe. I think Berlin, East and West, must have had, at that time, one of the lowest crime rates of any major European capital. As I walked past the Palast der Republik, I noticed the police still had the crowd barriers up on both sides of the street, but it was much quieter because the protestors were gone.

Security was still high, though. I found this out later when I asked one of the policemen if I could go to the Volkskammer. “No,” he said, so I watched the group of 25 to 30 policemen gather around a black and white television that had been set up on top of the sound truck used earlier that afternoon by the demonstrators.

They were watching a late-night parliament session. Representatives were arguing over a law that proposed merging the West and East Berlin radio and TV stations. Those in the East, of course, were against it because they were afraid they would lose their voice.

In my trench coat and with my Walkman headphones on, I must have looked like someone from the foreign press, so the men moved out of the way so I could get a better view of what was on the TV.  As I stood there, I watched the final chapter in the more than 140-year political struggle between Germany’s capitalists and communists and the end of the 45-year Allied military standoff. I wondered, however, if capitalism would create a better Germany. What would the East Germans get in exchange for their Krups coffee makers, Levis jeans and the freedom to travel to the West? I also wondered if the East Germans were prepared to fight to keep their jobs or find new ones in order to keep their large, fin de siècle city-centre apartments as I had fought to keep my head above water in San Francisco.

I left the cathedral square and walked down to the U-Bahn station to go back to the hostel. Down on the platform I was cruised by a stocky-looking guy wearing a dark-brown leather jacket, who was very obvious in his pantomime – thrusting his pelvis and stamping his matching brown boots onto the concrete platform like a stallion’s hooves. I declined. Even though I’m gay, I’ve almost always chosen safety over reckless sexual adventure and possible robbery and assault. I’ve rarely looked for companionship from strangers in bars. Mostly it’s been through work or shared interests like political clubs or churches. This conservatism or caution, my lack of fashion sense and my marginal knowledge of Marilyn Monroe films probably would have been enough to have had my gay card revoked — if I’d ever been issued one once I’d escaped Ohio for San Francisco in 1980.

Friday night I went by Dirk’s apartment at 7 PM, excited about a night out on the town with the two men. When he opened the door, however, Dirk gave me a worried look. As the door opened further, I saw his mother who gave me a somewhat cross look as if I were interrupting something. Dirk told me he couldn’t go out because his parents had arrived for the weekend to help him clean up his apartment so the workmen could install the flooring and woodwork on Monday.

“We didn’t know where to reach you,” he apologized. I spent a few minutes sitting in a chair uneasily watching Dirk and his parents as they moved about the apartment, hard at work, sweeping up dust, woodchips and nails. Then, there was a knock at the door.

“So,” Heiner said slapping me on the back as I walked back down the stairs, machen wir Abendessen!” I guess he could see I was a bit stunned and disappointed. I decided, however, to make the best of it and the spring in my step returned by the time we’d made it to the bottom of the staircase. We drove to the restaurant from Coming Out where straight and gay people had dined together.

Heiner asked what I wanted for dinner and I said I was unfamiliar with the menu. I told him he could order for both of us. He ordered a Russian soup with ground beef, onions, and tomato sauce as an entrée. For the main course, he ordered the most expensive item on the menu – filet with caviar. Earlier he had suggested a cheaper German meal (much cheaper – the filet was 45 DM and the German meal was 6.80 DM), but I decided to follow Heiner’s lead.

Then we proceeded to talk in German for the rest of the evening. At first I didn’t know if I was up for it. I’d spoken German before, even dreamt in the language when I lived in Hanover for six months in 1978. It had been a while, however, since I had spoken it for hours. Once I got going, however, I found that instead of getting a headache as I had feared, I seemed to loosen up and remember words and phrases to talk about all sorts of things. Of course, maybe the wine that Heiner had ordered helped me do that also.

I started the evening’s discussion by telling Heiner how much I liked Coming Out. He, in turn, asked me questions about comments generated by the film’s showing at the festival. I told him it had been a popular film and that people had praised its realism. Heiner said he had a stack of letters that he hadn’t begun to answer. So many gay people had written him saying it was the first time they had seen a realistic film about how they lived. I told Heiner that I was particularly impressed by Mathias’ portrayal of Philipp who was tricked into marrying a colleague and who loses his teaching job after coming out. In fact, the greatest revelation of the film for me was that gays in communist East Germany were just as oppressed as those in the capitalist US.

Heiner then started to talk about how difficult it was for gay men to be monogamous in Berlin, and, even if they were in a relationship, how suffocating that could be if one partner didn’t trust the other. He mentioned a man who became insanely jealous if his lover put pictures of other people on the walls or if he stayed out late.

I told Heiner about the pelvic-thrusting, boot-stamping man at the Friedrichstraße U-Bahn station. Heiner said I had missed an opportunity that could have been a lot of fun. I said I wasn’t sure, and besides, if I wasn’t ever going to see the man again, it wasn’t worth it.

Then we talked about unemployment in the new Germany. He said that one of the greatest losses of reunification was the closing of DEFA, the East German state film studio. Sixteen hundred people in this company had lost their jobs overnight. I told Heiner the way the newspapers kept reporting unemployment in Berlin, it sounded like something out of Berlin Alexanderplatz. Heiner seemed somewhat upset when I said that. He probably thought I was referring to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 13-part television series rather than the pastiche style Alfred Döblin used to weave newspaper articles into his own novel of the same name. Heiner immediately took offence to Fassbinder’s work, especially his film, Querelle, which he said gave a very distorted view of gay life. I agreed with him and said that it was very dreamlike, hyper-sexualized and not realistic. I countered, though, that Fassbinder’s Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun) was very realistic and good. Heiner seemed to accept this grudgingly.

After that we talked about wanting to meet someone with whom we could share our entire lives. He also talked about Matthias and Dirk’s affairs with men – Matthias with a Greek whom he was still seeing and Dirk with the Israeli with whom he’d broken things off.

I told Heiner about the trouble I had had in graduate school because I was “out.” I had had a boyfriend with whom I shared a one-bedroom apartment. It was a miracle we managed to stay together those two years. The landlord, people driving by on the street as we carried groceries home, or even the supposedly more enlightened students and faculty all gave us trouble. I mentioned the unforgiveable career blunder I made bringing my boyfriend to campus to one of the Writing Programme’s public readings. I discovered only too late that it had raised the hair, Medusa-like, of more than a few spouses whose husbands were prone to straying. As a result, even though I was a well-prepared, articulate student, a published writer and a presenter at the national English professors’ conference (with a paper entitled The Homosexual Discourse in R. W. Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz), I was blackballed from teaching on campus (a necessary prerequisite for a teaching career with the programme’s Master’s degree) or from getting a decent recommendation to a PhD programme so I could study further.

Heiner told me he’d also paid the price for sticking his neck out. After making his film, The Russians are Coming, in 1968, he’d had to repair cars for two years because he was officially shunned in the East German film industry. He was like Tomáš, the surgeon in The Incredible Lightness of Being, who after being labelled a dissident for following his mistress to Geneva and then returning with her to Czechoslovakia, ends up washing windows for a living. Heiner said it wasn’t until his Die Legende von Paul und Paula was released in 1973 that he was back in his colleagues’ good graces and “rehabilitated.”

I wondered if that was when Heiner had learnt the skills to keep his more than 20-year-old Peugeot running, but I didn’t ask. Heiner said he’d taped his old DDR auto sticker inside his car’s back window so no one could remove it. He said he was one of many people who were angry that all the sacrifices they had made over the decades to create an alternative, socialist state were being done away with almost overnight. He mentioned DEFA again, the first school for the disabled, and the Friendship Games, plus that in the GDR, people hadn’t worried about money, finding a job or paying rent because all these things had been guaranteed by the government. Now after the third of October, all of this would be eliminated or radically changed and the private sector would take over almost everything. Of course that meant that hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions would eventually be unemployed, even with all the renovation that was taking place in practically every East Berlin street. In addition, most East Berliners now worried about whether they should pay rent or buy their own apartments in order not to have to move once Berlin became the capital and real estate prices in the centre city shot up.

“Was bedeutet Freiheit wenn man keine Arbeit hat?” Heiner complained. “What does freedom mean, if you don’t have a job?” “Was bedeutet Freiheit wenn man Geld immer notwendig hat?” “What does freedom mean, if you always need money?” “Was geschieht, wenn Geld wichtiger ist, als du bist?” “What happens when money is more important than you are?” Heiner asked as we ate and drank more wine. What he said sounded like something from a 1920s Bertolt Brecht play, but it was 1990 and it could have just as easily applied to my situation in San Francisco as it did to the East Berliners.

After dinner we drove to a bar near the Schönhäuser U-Bahn where Heiner filmed the bar scenes for Coming Out. Here was where the drag queens had lip-synched and where Herman had had his talk with Matthias. Heiner said it had been renovated since he had been there last. The owners had added some steel I-beams over the bar, red lights, framed posters from Bogart’s Casablanca and a pinball machine. But there was still one long table in the backroom with a Reserved sign on it. The doorman took us directly there as we walked past a line of people waiting outside.

We ordered first two or three drinks in the backroom and then went back to the front room where we sat at a table waiting for the evening’s entertainment to begin. We talked a bit more. I noticed that in addition to the new Western décor, more than a few of the patrons were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the names of and scenes from Hollywood blockbusters such as Top Gun and Dirty Dancing.

We watched the show and then left around midnight. Heiner was a bit in his cups, so he drove slowly down the cobblestoned streets. Until then, I hadn’t really noticed Berlin had hills. As we drove back towards Alexanderplatz, I noticed what I assumed were a couple of West Berlin leather guys in full gear – boots, trousers, jackets, military hats and harnesses over their bare chests stumbling drunkenly in the direction of the bar we had just left. I thought about those “innocents” whose bar was already importing Western interior design and who were beginning to wear Western T-shirts. I wondered how long it would be before Western attitudes, prices, porno and AIDS (of which there had only been eight reported cases in the GDR before the fall of the Wall) were also imported.

On the way back to my hostel, we drove past the S-Bahn overpass and the apartment buildings Heiner had filmed in the establishing scene of Coming Out. I asked him if he would like to live there. “No,” he said immediately, then, realizing his mistake, corrected himself by saying that housing in the GDR had been cheap but comfortable, although it would soon no longer be so. Then we drove through an opening cut right through the Wall at Prinzenstraße in Kreuzberg to allow traffic East and West to flow a bit more freely until the whole structure was torn down.

Once back in the West, both of us were a bit disoriented, Heiner because he didn’t live there and I, because I’d always taken the U-Bahn and didn’t know the above-ground routes or landmarks. After driving around for a few minutes, I finally spotted the illuminated, blue-and-white, Mehringdamm U-Bahn station sign. We drove a bit further and then turned onto my hostel’s street.

I thanked Heiner for the evening, got out and walked up to the hostel’s front gate. I put my key in the lock and tried to turn it, but it wouldn’t budge. I tried again, this time with twice as much torque, but nothing happened. Behind me I heard Heiner’s car door open. He got out, asked me for the key and with one swift, powerful turn, opened the lock and handed back my keys. I thanked Heiner and watched him walk back to his car. It was the last time I saw him.

A few days later, I looked out my train window at miles of wheat fields, rippling in the wind. They were part of the old, state, collective farms, ready for the last harvest. These giant farms would soon be sold off, broken up and fenced in. Sharing my train compartment were East Germans excited about travelling to Western Europe. One short, gray-haired woman was a recently retired English teacher who was travelling to Cambridge for the first time since 1951. There was also a young couple, expecting their first child in the spring. They wanted to see Amsterdam and Paris while they still had time.

I wondered what would happen to these East Germans once they’d indulged their Wanderlust and the intoxication of reunification had passed. What would they get in exchange for their newly-found freedom of speech and movement as their country’s political economy, which had assured housing, jobs and healthcare but not tolerated dissent, was radically reconfigured and subsumed within that of West Germany’s? Would the new Germany be stronger and these new citizens better off? Would the new Europe be stronger and more politically stable? Would these passengers feel that Die Wende, the great economic transformation, had been worth it? All our conversations about our travels past, present and future, however, were temporarily silenced by the sight of seemingly endless fields of grain, bathed in golden twilight.

Dan Gustafson – The Fox and the Chicken

The Fox and the Chicken
by Dan Gustafson

The late afternoon March sun cast long shadows in the forest located a twenty-minute walk from my house. Snow covered the landscape showing signs of surrender to the warmth of the changing season.

I walked alone through the woods bearing my 22 caliber single-shot rifle. At age 14 it was my first adventure into the woods with a gun. I was a fox hunter! The ad in the hunting magazine boasted that the small gadget, when blown like a whistle, made a sound like a wounded chicken to lure a fox.

It sounded easy enough. Just blow and the fox, curious, would come. Yet a fox is not dumb. People say: “Smart as a fox,” for a reason.

There would be a need for stealth. Where to hide so as to be heard but not seen?

The woods were dense. In summer visibility would be no more than 30 yards. But in winter, one could see over 100 yards on the gently rolling forest floor. And the crusted snow enabled the fox and me to be heard with the slightest movement.

The perfect place to hide would be at the base of a fallen tree that had been the largest in the forest. A tree that when it fell, had clung to its roots forming a canopy like an open umbrella on its side.

I huddled in the protection of the base of the trunk, sheltered on three sides and began the whimpering sound of the wounded chicken.

The late afternoon drifted into dusk. Nothing! I knew I must leave soon or I would not be home before dark. I knew these woods very well, but not after dark. The overcast sky and the new would moon would offer no help.

Suddenly I realized I was not alone. My eyes strained to see something move. Nothing! I heard it again, but where?

Then, as quickly as a beat of my nervous heart, I turned around and our eyes met. I was face to face with the startled fox, not more than two feet away, looking down on me from on top of the log.

In an instant the fox leaped over my head and ran toward the forest I had so carefully guarded.

I stood up, knees weak, so nervous at first that I could not walk. As I headed home, I picked up my pace, at first to a jog and then to a run. The fox had outsmarted me and my tin gadget.