10/21/2003: "50 eve"
October 21, 2003
Just back from France for the weekend. I like how that sounds. And, it was cool. Being there I remembered the recent passing of Nina Simone. Like many, I have two strong memories of her. One is her voice. For me in particular I hear her singing “Everything must change”. The other is of her shooting at a teenaged neighbor boy from her apartment window. A little bit crazy, this aritst. At least eccentric.
This was my first time in France since passing through on the way to Keith and Bozena’s wedding. (Was it 1978?) It was a many segmented journey back then. Minneapolis, Montreal - to see the recently transplanted dancer Dena Davida, New York – to test out Freddy Laker’s Sky Train to London. The train to Paris, where I arrived just before midnight on December 31st to empty streets. Walking alone toward my friends’ place, everyone threw open their shutters and shouted to me, the only person on the street, “Bonne Année!” It was magical! I continued from Paris, through Berlin and on to Warsaw. There I was the best man in Keith and Bozena’s wedding. I figured, as a gay man, that was the closest I was ever going to get to being in a wedding. Gay marriage back then was about as imaginable as a unified Berlin. Everything must change!
It was another marriage that took me to France this time. This time Jerome Chateau, a friend from Minneapolis, and a regular at Patrick’s Cabaret, was getting married: part 2, the french version. Having missed his August event in Minnesota, I was glad he had a reprise in France. I took the night train from Berlin to Paris, spent two wonderful days in the french countryside as the guest of a man who loves food as much as he loves his new bride. She can take great comfort knowing she is that well loved. The ceremony was in the tiny city hall of Rainville, and the feast afterward took place in a renovated barn. We ate local fois gras, followed by roast duck (it may have been their livers we started with) and a wonderful assortment of local cheeses, and, of course, salad to finish the meal.
We danced, spent the night in a bed and breakfast, where we did not breakfast. Breakfast was scheduled at the farm of a friend of Jerome’s. A man who two years ago left the world of computers to run a dairy farm where he now makes great cheeses. Bread, coffee, cheeses and various spreads lead to a tour of the farm and cheese production, after which we drove to Dieppe, on the sea, for lunch.
I returned to Paris, just in time to finally speak to Bumblebee, on the phone. He is now a resident of Paris. Then I took the night train back to Berlin. We spoke of a possible return to Paris for Christmas, this time with Maurício. Since he had to work on Saturday, I unfortunately had to make this trip alone.
I learned something very important on this trip. Riding from Paris to the wedding, I sat in the back seat. Bernard drove. His partner Eric read the map. We got lost numerous times, and I never cared. Even if we miss the ceremony, I figured, we will arrive in time for the meal. Along the way, I will have an adventure. I was completely ok with being lost. Over and over. It was even amusing, to the point where I imagined I was in a film, and this was how the plot was supposed to unfold. I enjoyed my role as the foreign passenger in the back seat.
This was a stark contrast to only a few days before, when, looking for a bus stop with Maurício in Berlin, I was given bad directions by several people. We finally found the bus, though probably not at the most convenient stop. But in the process of figuring it all out I was rageful. Stupid shopping malls. Stupid bus driver. Stupid information booth staff. Stupid car oriented world. In my rage, I was unable to do anything but stomp around in disgust until finally, after some time sitting on the bus, I realized how unhelpful my attitude was. At best it ruined my time. At worst it also prevented me from figuring out the easiest way to get home. The good that came from it was, I realized I would rather have a different attitude. I found my rageful behavior amusing.
“Everything must change”. Tomorrow I turn fifty, in Berlin. Fifty is a big deal, and it is only a rollover of the numbers on the odometer. I remember as a child thinking “I will be 47 in the year 2000.” That seemed so far off. Now the change of the millenium feels a bit like seeing the man in the train last week reading “1984”. I remember reading it when 1984 was the future. When I did my arithmatic as a child I also knew I would be 50 in 2003. That was easy addition. And now, here I am, at a half a century. It feels like a big milestone.
None of the cultural images I have of what to expect at 50 seem to fit with the reality of my life. Maybe that is because I refuse to make choices that fit with these expectations. General cultural norms around aging are not attractive. This is easy to recognize in something as simple as trying to find a birthday card that does not regard age as a stupid joke. It is very hard to do. I see it also in the comment I get a lot, “Fifty, you don’t look like fifty!” People expect that to be a compliment, and intend it as such. I see it more like telling a woman, “Gosh, you really seem to undestand machines!” There is an ugly ism hiding there. I am fifty, and I am one example of what fifty looks like.
I digress. I wanted to be more specific about turning fifty in Berlin. Ten years ago my dear friend John Killacky held a fabulous party for me at his house. I invited scores of friends, and told them I wanted lavish, inappropriate presents, or just their presence. Tomorrow, October 22, 2003, I have invited everyone I know here, about 30 people, to stop by our apartment after 7 pm, to celebrate my 50th birthday with me. I have not known any of them long enough to conside them close friends. So, some 30 acquaintences have been invited.
I am a very extroverted person. I am happiest surrounded by lots of people, and ideally by lots of interconnected people. I have not been here long enough to expect a gathering anything like what I would have had, if I were in Minneapolis. Homesick? Sometimes very much so. At the wedding this past weekend, looking at the wedding event pictures from part one of the wedding in Minneapolis, I realized how many people there I knew. And I knew the places. And I felt the reality of being an expatriate. Removed. It was hard.
I try to be patient with all of the changes I face here. I think Maurício is better at being patient. When I feel like, “we have been here three months already” he is more likely to reply, “we have only been here three months”. Coming to work this morning, passing through Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse I thought about my great-great-grandparents coming to America. Leaving the home they knew. I wondered where Jane Hart Scully was, three months after leaving Ireland. And where was Hermann Gerken three weeks after leaving Hegensdorf one hundred and fifty years ago? Then my calculator goes, that was three times fifty years ago. My life is one third of how long ago he left. I have lived through one third of that time. I wondered about their lives as ex-pats. Did they feel homesick? How long did it take them to feel like they had friends where they really felt at home in their new home? Do you ever feel at home, once you leave what felt like home?
So, for my birthday, write to me. E mail is fine. I got a lovely note from Wendy Morris this morning. It filled my heart. If you want to do more than that, send a book. I love using my commute time on the train to read. Used books are preferred. I like the karma they hold. Where to send a book is on my website under contact info at www.patrickscully.org I love reading a wide range of things. If you wonder if I have read it already, send me an e mail to inquire. Or, as suggestions, before I left, several books were mentioned at a gathering of friends that I did not manage to get before departing: the Secret Life of Bees, I am Red (by Orhan Pabok (sp?)), The Subtle Knife a trilogy by Philip Pullman, Patrick O’Brien’s series on Napoleon’s Wars, and VanGogh’s Blues.
I plan to bake a pumpkin tomorrow night to serve. Stuffed with rice, raisins, nuts…. Please enjoy a slice. Celebrate with me fifty years! May life continue as a great experiment.