Late flight from Berlin, Schönefeld. Stuttgart airport brightly lit but hardly anyone inside. Short heartfelt goodbyes to Nikolaus, our gracious host, then walked away buoyed up. Mechtild and I headed for our Black Forest havens. Got into deep snow. Autobahn restaurant for coffee. Smoking forbidden. It was 3 a.m. when we finally arrived. Sat in the car and talked. What a trip! And there was still such a lot more to talk about.
A Saturday morning. We breakfasted and went to the Sony Center, Berlin's spectacular new meeting place at Potsdamer Platz. Then for a change we all went our separate ways. I walked. And walked until I was out of the great city. Maybe it was too much for me, I thought. It felt good to be where kids were playing in the street. But I felt lonely. Like a stranger. All the pictures of Berlin in W.W.II came back, then the daring Airlift and the DC-3s flying overhead to keep the grandparents of these Berliners sustained. The Soviet presence so mightily stated in architecture and monuments. The Wall. The Reichstag and the shimmer of swastikas, the cafeteria where we had lunch, where outside in the courtyard the Graf Stauffenberg, after his unsuccessful attempt to assasinate Hitler, stood before a firing squad and was shot down. The bewildering burden of history during my own lifetime was suffocating. I had walked so far that I had to hail a taxi and be driven back into the City Center where the group had planned to meet.
Markus was the instigator of our trip. He wanted to get us together again after that great weekend last May in that quaint Black Forest hotel. In Berlin he is looking out for us, finding restaurants, subway connections, sites. He is the heart of the group. A great conversationalist, always delving into a interesting subjects concerning old school days. Open and frank, genuine; not shying away when a matter gets delicate. I marvel at my old student . . . but think I saw the man he is today in the teenager of yesteryears. His children were always calling on the cell phone. Can't wait till he gets home. I understand. . . _______________________________________________ Christmas 2008
I hung the decorations that Markus's daughter Johanna made for me on our Christmas tree.
Stephanie, our Black Forest girl who ended up living and working in Berlin, joined us at this restaurant that evening. We knew she was very busy and might not make it. She had just had the unsavory task of handing out 15 notices to employees where she works. That done, she came. What a charming young woman she is! She attracted our attention with her stories about how she had tried to cushion the bad news and reach mutual settlements. While telling, all her old warmth and heart came back. . . just like in the old days in the Senior class when both Nikolaus and Markus had had a crush on her. . . Didn't I see some light sparkling in their eyes again?
Approaching the theater Nikolaus extended his arm saying: This has been my living room ever since I've been in Berlin! We went in, had cocktails, saw a remarkable Brecht play. Appreciative applause, scene for scene. Afterwards over wine, Nikolaus surprised us with news that he will be making his first appearance in a Berlin cabaret next month. Next day he took me to Brecht's house in the Chauseesstrasse for a private guided tour by a charming actress who was on stage the night before. The cemetery was near the house and we stood for some minutes at Brechts's unpretentious grave.
Next morning Mechtild and I headed for the National Gallery. We stood there looking at the sculptures outside around this building, especially this Henry Moore piece, for at least half an hour. Mechtild is a sculptress herself and it was wonderful to exchange views with her. Going inside, looking intently, we managed only four or five works, all sculptures.
Over coffee I leaned over, looked Mechtild in the eye told her how she could run rings around me as a teacher. What a smile she gave me!
. . . and you're coming with us, they said. So here we are catching the evening flight from Stuttgart to Berlin. Already Nikolaus is waiting for us at Schönefeld. When you get here I'm taking you up to the restaurant on top of the TV tower at Alexanderplatz, he says. The visibility is great. We're going make a toast to Berlin . . . and to you!
I sit here thinking of the myriad possibilities of where I might be at this moment: in hospital bed or in a casino in Vegas, in a prison or in a shack on the Mexican border. But here I am in in this church rehearsing the sublime choral music of Johann Sebastian Bach for a Christmas concert. How fortunate I am. . . And my heart soars toward You in gratitude.
Do the stars shine friendly down at me tonight blinking through such small radiant eyes, or are they cold? They seem to be holding back all the glory that is behind, dispensing of it in miserly measured portions.
The Archbishop of Baltimore has ordered Father Ray Martin to resign as pastor of three churches and sign a statement apologizing for "bringing scandal to the church".
Father Martin was cited for the liturgical offence of celebrating a funeral Mass with several clergy including a very close friend of the deceased, Rev. Annette Chappell, pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Redemption. She read the Gospel.
He was also cited for the administrative offence of hiring a maintenance man who had criminal charges on his record.
It was dark this morning and foggy. With my coat collar up around my ears I felt hugged and somehow protected. Walking across the fields I could see nothing but the path passing under my feet. In the distance the sound of cars rushing to their urgent destinations. Oh darkness, stay! . . . How will I ever be able to face the bright, glaring days of spring when everyone is so happy and dancing blithely around the maypole?
I often wonder if I would have had the inner strength and courage, had I been here in Germany then, to stand up against the omnipresent subtle magic and brutal terror of Hitler's seduction. I wonder. . .
It happened this evening. I was sitting in concert listening to a Haydn String Quartett when I felt the music changing everything around me, the sounds full of secrets and mystery. It was as if a door were opening into a white room and there was harmony and tranquility there and the feeling that everything I had ever hoped for had come true. And for a short moment I felt as if I were so much more than myself.
The red ball of rising sun shone across our lawn this morning to a bowl of geraniums at the dining room window and lit them with a soft, heated glow. During breakfast we felt their warmth and couldn't help but marvel at their radiant beauty.
My sister Nancy phoned to tell me that her husband, Rick, had died suddenly. I thought back to our jaunt on a sunny Saturday just six weeks ago in his red convertible when he said: Come on, I'll take you to see your Perry Como. We were both in such high spirits.
"Too late have I come to love You, O beauty so ancient and so fresh; too late have I come to You", you said. And centuries later I learned to love Him early, Augustine, sitting there as a teenager, reading your words, in the seminary chapel.
I stepped onto the train in Frankfurt and it sped off to the south. The people seemed different, I heard the first sounds of German again. They were not Americans, they were going other ways, thinking other thoughts. Nevertheless, somehow I knew that I belonged here with them. It has become my home. . . Those whom I love are here. That, I know, is everything. What more could I want?
Ready for the new day I looked at the wing of that stalwart Boeing 777 and paid my thanks and respect to her for what she had done. Somehow I felt one with her. Descending slowly now, I knew she had brought me back.
Purring through the night across the ocean at an altitude of 12,000 meters and speeding at 850 km/h I sat in stillness writing these impressions. When morning light came I looked out across an endless majestic carpet of clouds on which landscapes of hills, towers and mountains were formed, all energized by a bright light only seen up this high. I thought the psalmist must have imagined a sight like this when he was composing his praises to God for his wonderful creation. With him I thanked God for all the beauty that He had allowed me to see.
The two ladies that sat behind me spoke with such a charming, lilting Southern accent that I had to cock my ear and listen. They talked until late into the night. All the while it seemed as if a gentle music were coming from behind.
She was 87, the lady beside me, heading for Raleigh, North Carolina. Grandchildren there, and elsewhere. She could drive it, she said, but likes to fly. Gets me around faster, she whispered, with a twinkle in her eye.
Stayed overnight with Nancy, my sister. We took our morning walk together. It was raining. Under umbrellas we walked in silence but each of us knew what the other one was thinking. We had breakfast, a little extended agape. Talked about Mother and Dad. The way things were. It had stopped raining when we walked out the driveway. I looked up at the trees. Then we got in the car and were off to the airport.
My brother Jack's house on Washington Street. I stand here looking. Jack's Ann is fighting her battle with cancer. When Jack dies the last of us will have been taken from this spot on the globe, our earthly home. Oh, dear little town of Butler where my fondest memories lie entombed . . . it is hard, ever harder to leave you, not knowing whether I'll return.
She invited us for drinks, Catherine, whose husband Bill, my teaching colleague at Point Park College and golfing friend, left her five years ago. She talked lovingly about him. Showed us the rooms she since has redecorated. Bill's too. I noticed she still had his bathrobe hanging there on a shiny brass hook.
Sunday Mass at St. Paul's. Sang with the choir. Looked down at the sanctuary where I spent my boyhood serving at this altar. Through younger eyes I saw only green marble steps, candles, the Gothic arches. But then I thought I was standing in the modest church in our little village in Germany where, through older eyes, I would now be gazing down upon an altar and see surrounding it, the great wonder and the mystery.
She pranced across the street that morning, a stand-out beauty, elegantly dressed in black, postured high above the others it seemed. She walked briskly, exultantly. I watched her turn the corner, disappear. First class Philadelphian, for sure. My brother and I walked through Washington Park and then on to Walnut Street on our way to City Hall when I happened to see her again, sitting on a bench close to the street curb, her smooth, bare legs crossed, leafing, blasé, through a magazine, waiting for a pick-up.
Stopped at the University of Pennsylvania on our way back home. A wonderful sprawling campus in a valley surrounded by woods. 43,000 students. All on vacation. But the football team was practicing for the upcoming Notre Dame game. We walked in to Arts Museum. There in the entrance, a Chihily, fulgent with color. I walked over to it like to an old friend.
My brother was celebrating his birthday so I took him to one of Philadelphia's oldest restaurants, Bookbinder's. Sedate oaken dining room, excellent food. The maitre d' treated us as honored guests. Recommended German wine. The couple at the table next to us were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. Asked what had held the marriage together for all that time: I like his shaving lotion, he likes my perfume!
Caught in the swirl of throbbing Philadelphia I thought about the quiet peace of my Black Forest village where, devoid of distractions, I feel myself so much closer to those things in life that really matter.
She was seen in a church hall in her traditional Black Forest costume but instead of a prayer book she was holding a musical instrument she was about to play for the birthday celebration of the local pastor. I remember the demure looking askance, the modest dropping of the eyes.
People waited in long lines, patiently, to get into the rooms where our Founding Fathers debated and brought forth the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. How close the figures came: Washington, Ben Franklin, the redheaded Thomas Jefferson, John Adams. One makes a pilgrimage to a cradle like this. It is a hallowed place.
On the train we passed through the lush Amish country. Beautiful farms. Men working the fields with teams of horses. Modest stone homesteads. White barns. Nothing has changed in the last 200 years. No electricity, no cars. Devout people. I felt they were close to the earth, and by being so, close to God.
I walked out before breakfast into a bursting rising sun. Walked along the edge of a cornfield and thought the whole time about the young 24-25 year olds, young lovers, who went into battle here in the Civil War, and had to die in these fields. I thought that after having had to experience the horrible spiritual death of being wrenched apart from the girl they loved, they must have faced their bodily death in the enemy's fire, willingly.
Evening walk through the downtown area. There were no people on the streets. Looked through wrought iron gates into a courtyard with a fountain and where people were dining. There was a policewoman on duty there. We talked. She told us to be very careful, to best be off the streets. Awful things happen there at night. The week before someone had been shot to death just one block away.
Sofie is Jonathan's daughter. He is divorced and might soon be marring our Alexandra. Sofie is a delightful 9 year old who likes to hear me at the piano. Whenever I played her song, Edelweiss, she would come and sit next to me on the piano bench.
It was a heartwarming scene, the old couple in the store. They were lined up and paying for their many purchases that consisted in large part of cookies. A boy pushed their cart out to their SUV and they walked, hand in hand, and carefully stowed their cache.
Visited the Carnegie Museum. Exhibition of glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. Couldn’t pull myself away from his intriguing creations. He learned glassblowing techniques at the Murano school in Venice and brought it to the States. His Italian teachers learned to admire him for his spontaneity and freedom of expression.
Had to stop here to pay homage to Perry Como. Stood silently at his monument in his hometown square and thanked him for the songs he sang that have lightened my life. I listened for him to sing. . . If you were the only girl in the world . . .
Took a short jaunt to West Virginia. Visited Bethany College. No students on campus but we ran into two women from the clean-up crew who began to tell us about their 17 years of service there. Talked with them for half an hour. They were devoted to the students and for many of them a substitute parent. Knew all the professors. I could see them becoming prouder minute by minute as they spoke. Saying goodbye, it all ended with long, hearty handshakes.
Invited to lunch at the sedate Pittsburgh Athletic Club across from the University of Pittsburgh. In spite of the horrific heat all the men wore suits and ties. Ladies were well dressed, sheer and colorful. Some had fans. A pianist at a Steinway.
She sat beside me, wife of a Marine, mother of two teenagers eager to join. She was very concerned about that but knew they would be enlisting soon. Her eyes filled. Said she was so happy that her husband had made it through Vietnam.
Oh, the distance! If I were not flying back to what was once home, I would feel completely lost and alone. Up over Scotland along the edge of Iceland over Newfoundland, Canada into Detroit, Michigan, to board there again for Pittsburgh. All in 9 hours. By ship it takes 8 days. Home is far away. Easier to arrive there poetically, and on a deeper level, spared of stark, unpleasant realities.
It was pleasantly warm last Saturday evening as we sat in a restaurant at the edge of Lake Geneva eating fresh perch. The moon was hovering in the sky and reflecting on the calm lake. A glass of wine, a cigarette. There were long pauses in our conversaion, four or five whole minutes without a word, when we were just looking and trying to fathom the beauty of what we were seeing.
Did you see the chimney swallows? They’re back! Their flight absolutely delightful to watch. And when they come in groups, at high speed, curving around the trees and down across our garden, chirping, I feel the show is just for me.
Spent a wonderful weekend with old students of mine ['82 grads] in a quaint Black Forest hotel. They lavished appreciation on me for little things I did an said back then, that they said supported them. I came away with the grateful feeling of being their student now and of being carried on their strong shoulders.
In the vinyards along the Rhein near here a 13 year old girl was abducted on her way home from school and murdered. No clues. And yesterday in Heilbronn, a city known for its ties with the Romantic literary tradition, a 22 year old policewoman was shot in the head and died. No clues. She had just finished her training for the profession she had always dreamed of, had just found boyfriend with whom she had fallen in love.
Dear Charles, Hopefully everything is ok in your part of the world. However, the growing anti-semitism in Germany and the rest of Europe does not make me very happy.
I wrote to a selection of different places with the emails you gave to me but nobody answered. In my opinion it does not fit the Europe I knew, even when the answer is in the negative, but this was apparently the world of yesterday. I am learning every day not to have expectactions and just be thankful for what I have and what comes.
I hope that you are in a creative period. New events are happening all of the time in the world and in the lives of individuals and especially for people who are creating. I want to share with you a new site of my art of 2006 with some of the poetry I have written. I am together with an American sculptor who in my opinion is doing unusual works having to do with the Holocaust and the journey of souls to another dimension.
Stood in the choir loft on Good Friday and sang. The atmosphere was overwhelming. The sad tonality of the singing, the absence of organ and lighting and the half-darkness in the nave, the eery porcession with cross. It was later, after the ceremony, that I noticed what it had done to me, causing an extreme down-heartedness, mixed with a strange kind of joy. I was unable to shake it off on Easter Sunday and on into the week.
There was a remarkable show on German TV the last two evenings. It was the story of aristocratic German family in East Prussia that had to flee, along with their indentured servants, among whom there were several French prisoners, from the approaching Russian armies in 1945. I had read an account by another person who had gone through the same harrowing experience, Marion Hedda Ilse Countess Dönhoff in her book: Names No Longer Used: East Prussia - People and History. She participated in the resistance against Hitler's National Socialists with Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, and Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. After the war, she became one of the leading German journalists and intellectuals.
A close friend of mine made the trek with his parents from Breslau to Bavaria when he was just four years old.
Preparations are going well for our performance of this sublime work in March. I am able to sing passages that I never thought I could sing. It is amazing. It must be the woman who is directing us. Somehow her enthusiasm, knowledge and love for music awaken something in me that makes what little singing talent I have actually better than it has ever been. And also, it is the challenge of trying to keep up with the genius of Bach.
Our first winter snow has finally arrived and made our village over again. Everything seems to be new and fresh. When I stand at my window and look out into the white I begin to feel that inside me some such change in my interior landscape might have happened, unnoticed, like a snowfall during the night. On awakening though, I am completely astonished at the change that has been brought about.
At seven thirty in the morning when I take my walk I look up into the eastern sky and there is the morning star. The sky is bright already and other stars have disappeared, but the morning star still graces the heavens. Near it this morning there was a thin sliver of the waning moon.