Letters From Berlin

Thanksgiving, 2013

music: according to your desire
mood: like everything is subject to change

leaves-poster.jpeg (130k file)
pscully on 11.28.13 @ 08:12 PM CET [link]

Thursday, November 28th

Thanksgiving, 2013

music: bird songs
mood: quiet joy

Today, I am grateful for my life, my friends, my world.

I am busy working on a show about Walt Whitman.

Why Whitman?

He inspired the world with his art and life,
and I aspire to do the same.

You can read more about this project at


even see a short video there.

In addition to this show,
I am soft at play (as opposed to hard at work)
at getting many past artworks available on line.
You can most easily access these at


If you find any of these to not be working,
do let me know

Happy Thanksgiving to you!


I hope our paths cross soon.
pscully on 11.28.13 @ 07:56 PM CET [link]

Tuesday, April 13th

We get a surprise from the heavens

music: Viennese Waltz
mood: Serendipitous

42.MP4 (23039k file)
pscully on 04.13.10 @ 09:51 PM CET [link]

Sketches for the Ballet

music: silence
mood: a fresh breeze after a long winter of closed windows

nummer3 (1298k image)
pscully on 04.13.10 @ 09:24 PM CET [link]

Ballet for Boats - Back in Berlin, by boat

music: Carnival of Animals
mood: Playful

A few years ago, I found myself looking out on the Havel River -
which flows past the fabrik, a center for contemporary dance and performance in Potsdam,
like the Mississippi flows past the Nicollet Island Inn in Minneapolis -
and I thought, someday someone is going to use this water as the stage for a beautiful performance.

I mentioned this to Sven, one of the fabrik's directors. He invited me to come to Potsdam in May of 2009 to get the perfromance started. And now it is happenning!

I'll do my best to keep this as a rehearsal blog for the Dance on the Deep Sea - a Ballet for Boats.
Tanz im Tiefen See - ein Ballett für Boote.

Meahwhile, here are a couple of links to actually see,
in video and photos, what I am writing about:
Link to Facebook

& Link to youtube
(Click on my name there, and it should bring up at least 7 very short videos of the rehearsals)
pscully on 04.13.10 @ 09:15 PM CET [more..]

Tuesday, August 10th

Looking for signs of hope

July 31st (but posted a bit later)


I’ve been back in my old apartment for a week now, and the first night back was the hardest. I came in, after dark, surrounded by my four duffel bags of clothes and eight or ten paper bags of miscellaneous. I sat down on the floor to figure out how to inflate the mattress Robb lent me, and I wept. I wept for all my lost dreams. I wept for my life in a foreign land. I wept for the loss of Berlin and the fabrik where I worked. I wept for my brother Greg's death. And I wept for the loss of my love for Mauricio. That above all.
It was not the first, and I am sure it will not be the last time I shed tears. Sometimes I feel like I have spent seven months crying. This has been the saddest time I have ever endured.
I am glad to be home. Glad to be in Minneapolis, but I not completely satisfied. I keep looking for more hope. I feel like I am living surrounded by people who can’t find enough hope.
I returned to America from Germany anticipating encountering many people with a sense of urgency to end the war in Iraq. I did not find it. I found hardly anyone with a sense of urgency. Mostly I have encountered a feeling of impotence, helplessness. Sometimes Kerry’s election – no, sometimes defeating Bush revs folks up. Fahrenheit 9/11 revved some of us up. But mostly I encounter people who are for the most part materially comfortable, who are troubled by what America is doing in the world, who are dismayed by the dismantling of the progressiveness in Minnesota, who, like me, need hope.
In order to feel hope, I need to feel like something I might do could make a difference. I organized a discussion "The Intersection of Art and Civil Disobedience" at a conference of community cultural leaders a month ago. During it one woman confessed to feeling so overwhelmed with so much going wrong she had decided to focus on getting off junk mailing lists. At first I wanted to explode "Scores of people are dying in Iraq every day! There is no time for putzing with junk mail." I held my tongue, and came to realize that she needs to feel like she can succeed at what she takes on. With no hope of success, why bother? Unless things get as desperate as the residents of the Warsaw Ghetto felt ‘We are all going to be annihilated anyhow, so let’s take some of them out with us as we go!’ Unless things get that bad, I, we, need to find hope, inspiration, to be motivated to change things.
I don’t have any great answers. I’ve tried a few things that have at least provided me temporary fixes. Maybe that’s all we can hope for, for now; a successful endeavor here and there which makes the world a better place. Here are some of my recent small fixes:
• A performance at Patrick’s Cabaret on May 7th where I linked my experience of living in Berlin (the heart of the beast of the Holocaust) with living in the US today (the heart of the current beast).
• Eco-graffiti #1. A 60’ high peace sign trimmed into the grassy hillside between the Stone Arch Bridge and the Mill City Museum. It is subtle, and still there.
• A campaign which sought, successfully, to reverse the Twin Cities’ Marathon’s policy. They were going to limit prize money to US citizens. A gaggle of complaining citizens changed their mind!
• Eco-graffiti #2. A driftwood peace sign on the opposite side of the same bridge, just to the right of St Anthony Falls. I made it with Otto and Karen under the cover of darkness. It is better to do these things with partners. #2 was more fun than #1 because of that. Unfortunately #2 has been covered by the growth of plants surrounding it. Look for it to become visible again in the fall.
• Eco-graffiti #3. I made a small (2’ diameter) peace sign of pinecones on the lawn near the corner of 1st St and 3rd Ave NE. The next day someone had inserted a 3x5 notecard into it. It read: "First we must overcome fear." A short dialogue through art.

So, I am back on Nicollet Island, in my old apartment on Nicollet Street. It is sweet to be back in this place. I have enough clothes. I have a bed, and the basics for a kitchen. Now I am just looking for more hope. and love, finding love again would be nice.
Anyone got any inspiring ideas?

PS. It is August first as I write this postscript. I found two sources of hope today:
1. Walking the path to go swimming at Twin Lake I saw hundreds of little leopard frogs. More than I ever have seen at one time.
2. I saw Open Eye Theater’s delightful puppet show in Edie French’s backyard with about seventy people. Community, creativity, spirituality. The whole show celebrated summer.

pscully on 08.10.04 @ 05:55 AM CET [link]

Friday, April 23rd

Death and Spain

I meant to write from Spain
where I was from March 28 until April 7th,
but the morning after I returned to Berlin
from Spain
before I even had a chance to think about transcribing my journals
I received an e mail from my youngest brother, Bill.
My older brother Greg was only expected to live for a few days.
I flew to Minnesota within hours
and have been with Greg and his wife Randi
every day for two weeks.
Greg died the night before last.
His funeral will be tomorrow.
This is what I plan to say:

I am Patrick Scully.
Greg was my big brother,
my only big brother.
When he sent me an e mail
saying he had personal news
he wanted to share with me,
I dreaded the news.
I was in Brazil with my partner Mauricio.
I walked around the streets of Rio
waiting for Greg to get home from work so I could call.
We had just buried our dad
and four years before that our mom.
I was angry, scared and sad.
It was too soon to have to deal with the mortality of our generation.

But these are not the things we get to decide.
As Greg told me
"I was walking along the path of my life
minding my own business,
and this figure popped up in front of me.
It was the grim reaper.
He looked me in the eye and asked,
"Are you Greg Scully?"
and in that moment I first faced my own mortality."

I did not choose to be the senior member of this family,
but here I am, at 50, the patriarch.
Maybe it was prophetic
to be named Patrick.

In this role today, I am going to be the master of ceremonies.
We want to celebrate Greg's life,
and our memories of Greg,
at this memorial service.
We are going to do this by sharing our stories.
We will laugh and cry our way through this
with stories of Greg's life and times.
All kinds of times,
times when we were happy together,
times when we were sad together,
times when we were angry together,
and times when we were afraid together.

Greg was my big brother,
and as the big brother,
he got to do things first.
I got to learn from him.
Greg was not quite a year and a half older than me.
I had to learn quickly to not lose my place
since my brother Jeff was just a year a week and a day behind me.

Greg was walking when I was born,
As I learned to walk
he started really talking.
He rode a bike first,
he went to kindergarten at St. Rose of Lima first,
when I went to kindergarten
he crossed County Road B with me
on his way to first grade at St Rose.
He made First Communion first.
He played football first.
He went to high school first
he got metal skis first
and ski boots that buckled first.
He went skiing in the Rockies first.
In all of these incremental steps of life,
I had Greg there, always doing it first,
and letting me know it was possible.

In those rare moments when I shared my doubts or fears with him
he reassured me that I would be ok.

By Greg's example I learned not to do some things.
Greg came home after a night out with Jim Thompson,
some other friends and a lot of alcohol,
they were all 17.
Greg was a pale green
as he embraced the porcelain goddess.
Then next morning he told me what I great time he had had the night before.
I told Greg this last week, that he taught me that night to not drink to excess.
Remembering back he said, "I was miserable that night."
Greg taught me I did not need to build my own hang glider,
and I did not need to crash it into the woods.
He went some places that I did not need to go
and Greg went some places where I wanted to go.

I have saved for last the really important things I learned from Greg;
where, later in life, I followed his example.
It is ok to fall in love with someone who lives thousands of miles away.
It is good to move thousands of miles to be with the person you love.
Getting married at 40 is the right time.
One should become kinder and more compassionate with age.
It is hard to be far away from family when they are dying.
In tough times, gather your family and friends close around you.
It's ok to move back home.
It's ok to wear glasses.

I will fly to Berlin on Sunday, and move back here to stay
on Monday May 3rd.
I can be reached here in the next few days at 651 2610709.



pscully on 04.23.04 @ 09:53 PM CET [link]

Friday, March 26th

People watching

I see the Aquarium from my bike as I commute from Berlin to Potsdam. It is part of the Zoo, which lends its name to the station where I lock my bike and catch the train to work. Before I say goodbye to Berlin May 3rd, I plan to visit the zoo to see the monkeys, and go to the aquarium. A couple of the things on my mental to-do checklist.
A visit to the human aquarium was also on the list. So, Tuesday night I went. It’s actually a public swimming pool. The building that houses it must be about a hundred years old, and architecturally, it is a gem. The Germans call the style Jugendstil, in English it’s Art Nouveau. The place is light, pretty, and full of charming frescoes. There is a new public pool right next door, but I have only ever gone to this pool, the old one.
I went there Tuesday night for old time’s sake. I wanted to see it again, and to see if things had changed much. The price has gone up. It costs four euros to swim. It used to be half that.
Other than that, things are pretty much the same. The pool still has a stainless steel liner, that gleams with the swirl pattern of the polished metal. The water is a cool, calming, darkened blue. The color seems natural, until I think about it. Water in a stainless steel kitchen sink is not blue. Either the bottom of the pool is tinted dark blue, or the water itself has some blue coloring in it. Still, I like how the stainless steel liner fits the architectural style.
When I was in Berlin in 1992, Monday night was naked swim night here. Now Tuesday and Friday nights are naked. I paid my four euros, and went in. There are separate changing rooms and showers for men and women, but then everyone emerges naked to the pool. Butt naked in the water, it seems to me like an aquarium, full of human beings. Every body looks better in the water. No matter whether trim or chubby or neither, the water embraces and supports, and our species looks better in water.
Some of us are not actually naked, we wear goggles. Somehow, they do not disqualify one from being naked. Underwater I see better with goggles, and I love the view of all these bodies in blue water in stainless steel in a Jugendstil building. There should be a window for all the animals in the zoo to come by to look at us. It is the only pool where I have ever seen swimmers just drift to the bottom of the pool to gaze at the other swimmers. Others move like otters through the water, observing other bodies as they pass by. Unlike most pool swimming, this looking is to see for the sake of seeing, not just for the practical matter of not colliding.
In a culture like this, where nudity is more common, I take this looking to be really about enjoying the naked human form. I get to be naked, and I get to be around naked people. Still, the men outnumbered the women about eight to one. There has to be a reason for this. There were only two women there. One was about thirty, with an athletic figure, and long dark hair, looking much like the Greek actress who lit the Olympic flame yesterday. The other was much stockier and probably more my age, 50, and churned as she moved through the water. Side by side, they seemed like a wringer washer and a dolphin. Both familiar with water, but very different energies.
The men were a curious lot. Mostly working class and over forty, no GQ models, no pretty boys, no athletes. Probably mostly homosexual, but probably not openly gay. Maybe a couple times a month these guys come here to shed all, be surrounded by and have a look at a few other naked blokes. There is no naked swim night here during summer months. From May on it is warm enough to take advantage of being naked in the meadows in the local parks. During the rest of the year, there is FKK (Freie Körperliche Kulture - free body culture) night here at the pool in Krummestrasse (crooked street).

I leave for ten days in Spain on Sunday morning. In mid-April I go to Norway for a week. Both countries I have never seen. My time living in Europe dwindles. As always, sand is passing through the hourglass. These days, listening carefully, I hear it.

pscully on 03.26.04 @ 04:11 PM CET [link]

Thursday, March 11th

Having Guests

Having guests come to Berlin puts me in a great mood. Maybe because I love to play host, (that was my favorite part of the job for 15 years at the cabaret) maybe because of the isolation I feel here, a newcomer in a big city. Probably because of both. Still, like most people, I do special things when guests come from out of town, and this past week I have had a total of 6 guests.
Saturday night we went to see “Marlene, in Search of a Soul”. Miguel Levin grew up in Buenas Aires, but somehow managed to make his way to Berlin, where he was now starring as the legend. Was he a drag queen from Argentina, or an actor, or had he reincarnated as the star of the Blue Angel? All I knew for sure was, here he was in the heart of what had been West Berlin, Tiergarten. Tiergarten is Berlin’s Central Park. It stretches from the zoo (with its eponymous train station) to the Brandenburg Gate, and the trains course along its northern edge. To get to Miguel (a Sephardic Jew playing Dietrich?)we got out of the S Bahn and walked down the dark Flensburgerstrasse to number 11. Bellevue, a tiny cabaret.
Down the steps into the bar, we bought our tickets. Plenty early, we were the first ones to arrive for the show. Down five more steps from the side of the bar there was a small room where we waited, I drank a Hefewiezen. The bartender was glad to have eight customers this early for the show.
Kirsten came back from the restroom very excited. “It is so cool, you have to check it out!” I finished my beer, and headed up the stairs and around the corner to the restrooms. There I found three doors on one wall. All brightly painted, with broad strokes. One door featured outlines of a body which clearly had female breasts and female genitals. Another door had a male chest with male genitals, and a third door had female breasts with male genitals. I could not help but think of all the times I spoke with the audience at my own cabaret about how absurd Minneapolis’ codes are on bathrooms, that there are more than two genders. Here was a cabaret that embraced that. I knew I ws somewhere where I belonged.
As I peed, I could hear the trains rolling by, from Bahnhof Zoo to Friedrichstrasse and then to Alexanderplatz. Just outside the window in front of me. I thought of how this rumble of trains has been part of the rhythm of this neighborhood, and this city, for over a century. I thought, “Marlene knows these trains, has ridden them, knows their routes, their connections and their rumbles.”
I went back to my crowd in the cozy anteroom, and then we made our way into the theater. The grand piano took up a quarter of the room, there was seating for maybe 25, max 30. Miguel played the diva, played her as the old woman, long past her prime, remembering back. His hair was as jet black as hers was always blonde. Still, somehow the shape of the hair was the same, and the black clothes, whichever outfit he changed into, were always right. The way he held his body was right, even when his shape wasn’t.
When he stopped part way into the intro of Lili Marlene, and insisted instead the German version of “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” I finally understood why she sang this song. Marlene covering Joanie Mitchell had never made sense to me before. Now it was a powerful anti-war statement. The whole night was a kind of perfect intro to Berlin for my 6 guests.
The next night we headed to a different show. An hommage to Jacques Brel. A French chanteur who I know little about. But I knew the venue. Bar jeder Vernunft. (The Common Sense Bar) A tiny old circus tent, turned into a stage. It feels like a carousel, and is one of the most special places I have found in Berlin. Gas lamps heat the lobby. The maitre d tried to seat us behind the piano, we insisted we could get our own drinks, if we could sit on the stools in the back row. They were great seats. The band was piano, bass and accordeon. The singer had enormous presence, I understood almost none of the French, and he only sang. He didn’t even speak intros to the songs. But, when he sang, he was as physical as Jerry Lewis, and as energetic and gestural. By the end of the show, I still enjoyed watching him (he was incredibly handsome) though I felt like I knew his repertoire of gestures.
Kirsten, one of my guests, was researching Dietrich and Piaf, so to round out her visit, two nights later we went to see a stage production of “Piaf”. (Marlene has a small part in the show, and she personally detested the script. Kirsten had just read this that afternoon in the Dietrich archives). The actress playing Piaf had a great voice, and the men who played her lovers were each more handsome than the next. I only wish that rather than having each of the three men play several roles, they had had a cast with as many good looking men as Piaf had had lovers in her life.
We took the subway back to my neighborhood after Piaf, a part of the city that has been a gay neighborhood for a hundred years. I had a cup of the best hot chocolate in town at Tim’s Canadian Deli, and sent my guests home to their comfy temporary residence in Berlin, an apartment on Innsbruckerplatz.

I am only in Berlin, and available as your tour guide, until May 3. Check with Northwest and Icelandic for cheap flights. Caveat: As a European worker, I am taking some of my ample vacation before I return to Minneapolis. March 28 until April 7th I will be in Spain. April 16-22 in Norway. That doesn’t leave you a lot of open dates. Call now, operators are waiting. Or call me direct
011 49 30 6273 4054 at home
011 49 331 280 0314 at work
122 49 178 913 0903 cell phone.

pscully on 03.11.04 @ 04:47 PM CET [link]

Friday, March 5th

Inspiration from Angels

Last night I went to Xenon, a movie theater, to see “Before Night Falls”. Xenon shows a lot of films with gay content. Most recently I had seen Yossi and Jagger there; a film about two Israeli soldiers, their lives and love. Before I had seen a documentary film there about the isolation of gay men in rural Germany. Its easy to get to Xenon from where I live. Down the steps and around the corner, up Nollendorfstrasse, past the building where Christopher Isherwood lived when he wrote his Berlin Stories, to the bus stop. Get on the #187, pass what used to be Anderes Ufer (Other Shore). It is still a gay coffeeshop, but it now has a different name, and is no longer the Café Wyrd of Berlin as it once was. One stop later get off and around the corner to Xenon. Mass transit in Berlin is so good.
I had seen part of this film at the Uptown, but for some reason came late and had to leave early. This time it was great to see it in Spanish with German subtitles, and see the whole thing. When there wasn’t a lot of background sound I could understand most of the Spanish from my Portuguese. Reinaldo Arenas’ story (Before Night Falls is his autobiography) reminds me a lot of my friend Rene, who use to live in Minneapolis. Rene came to the US on the Mariel boatlift in 1980. He had been a student at the university, studying architecture, until he was kicked out for being gay. Then he got a job in the sugar industry, until they came to tell him that sugar was too vital to Cuban national security to risk having a homosexual work in it. Finally they came to tell him to go to Mariel, where he got on a boat, like thousands of other unwanted Cubans, including Arenas, to sail to Miami. Rene ended up in Minneapolis, and became lovers with Bruce Brockway, the first man to die of AIDS in Minnesota. Reinaldo ended up in New York, where he died of AIDS.
Like me, Rene is still alive. The film got me thinking about AIDS and my legacy, which I see from two sides. One side is work I have created on this theme. The other side is work created by other artists who had AIDS and are no longer with me physically. Next fall will mark twenty years that I have known that I am HIV positive. I plan to do a show to mark these two decades. Watching the film, I got inspired to create a performance/installation collage for the anniversary: I would create new work, and remount some things I have done before. I would commission artists to remount work created by people like Poonie Dodson, David Lindahl, Chasen Gaver, Bill Harren, Jack Gidone, Hector Teo… (artists I have known who have died of AIDS), or new work inspired by their creations. I would invite other artists living with HIV to create work. I started to imagine the Southern Theater without any seats, using the mainstage, the stage behind the proscenium, the lobby, the upper lobby, the greenroom, the sidewalk in front, the open area outside - off the ememrgency exit…My mind started to race. Different scenes would happen simultaneously, the audience would have to choose where to go. It would be impossible to see everything, returning a second time it would be highly unlikely to have even close to the same experience as the first time.
I remembered shows where I swung wildly on ropes with David Lindahl while Diamanda Galas screamed Leviticus verse. Remembered lying under dirt and sod, waiting to sit up and announce “I am not dead yet.” Remembered showing “Too Soon Lost” for the first time before several hundered at an Arts Over AIDS confernece in the Guthrie Lab before a keynote speech by my good friend John Killacky. Remembered creating that piece on a bitter cold December night in my 24th street storefront apartment, in the days before I built the inner wall of glass. Rembembered shows by David, Chasen, Asotto and Eric and so many others who now sit on my shoulder lightly and say clearly, “Patrick, you are here for a reason. You must continue to do our work.”
I thought of performances and spaces I have seen here these months in Berlin that have inspired me. Especially dance works that have broken open boxes and crossed disciplines. “Insideout” by Sascha Waltz and “d’avant” by a group of 4 men who sang as beautifully as they danced. I realized I have been subconsciously working this whole time on a big new show.
Waiting for the bus home, I again noticed the odd line of the buildings across the street. Some were three stories high, and down at the heels. Others were the standard 6 stories, and quite beautiful. And in between was a single story commercial storefront, feeling like a temporary filling from the dentist. It then occurred to me that this odd set of teeth was likely the result of bombs that fell in World War Two. Nina Simone crooned “Everything Must Change” in my imagination, just as she had on my cd player on the way to work in the morning.

pscully on 03.05.04 @ 04:11 PM CET [link]

Friday, February 27th


Albinoni’s Adagio was the high point for me. 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello. St. Bernard’s Church, Cracow, Poland, old and chilly, but beautiful acoustics. More visual stimulation than a person can absorb in a day, paintings, sculptures… a stuffed church. It was the centering I needed to be ready for the next day.
Jarek had accompanied me the night before to the stop from which the minivans leave for Oswiecim. 7 zlotys. For breakfast I had an orange and the last of the now 3 day old pastries which Jarek bought on my arrival. I walked to the van. I got in and took the front passenger seat. Plenty of leg room. I recognized the young man across the aisle, sitting with his travel companion on the bench directly behind the driver. He had been at the concert the night before. Handsome and long haired, wearing a Hard Rock Café - Kobé jacket. I assumed they were Japanese. They were from Tokyo, not Kobé; they had been studying architecture in Bochum.
The road out of Cracow seemed very circuitous to me, but then, with everything being unfamiliar, nothing going very far in a straight line, (no grid), and with snow falling pretty seriously, I had no way to tell direction from the sun.
I was glad to be in a van. A train was the other option, but somehow a train, even a Polish commuter train, felt too spooky. On the other hand, as we got farther out of town the roads got worse. I reassured myself. “This guy looks like a very experienced driver.” Still, there were no seat belts. I imagined a radio report:‘Tourists dying in a rolled over van on the way to one of histories most tragic sites…’ I told myself to breathe deep and easy. “This is not bad, I have driven in far worse.” Was my mother’s ghost visiting me with her fear of driving on slippery roads?
After not quite an hour and a half, through some very beautiful, snow covered, pine forests we arrived in the town of Oswiecim. A black sign with white letters pointed the way to Auschwitz Museum. Through a small park and then through the parking lot. The museum is basically the remains of the concentration camps. Unlike Sachsenhausen, where a separate museum contextualizes the site beyond the point of distraction, this museum was done right.
A film was to be shown at 11, so I had 20 minutes to wander through the grounds on my own. After the film two English speaking guides came to divide the waiting group into two sets of 15.
I went with Magda, we left first. Though the other guide was a very handsome and intelligent looking man, I forwent the aesthetic pleasure.
We walked out of the reception hall into the cold, windy day. Snow continued to fall. We stopped before passing under the gate where the original iron ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ still worked its twisted humor on all passers-beneath. The camp we were entering, Auschwitz 1, was originally a Polish army installation. Brick barracks. Here and there signs explained things. I listened to Magda’s voice. Her knowledge surpassed her language skills. I don’t mean to say she couldn’t explain things, but that she was well versed in her subject. Her tone always had a certain reserve, coupled with a bitterness, a contempt for the barbarousness of her western neighbor. An anger with a different flavor than any concentration camp memorial would ever have in Germany. Move some of the sadness into anger.
I recalled Bozena’s father. Tattooed forearm. An Auschwitz survivor. “I only speak German when I have to. When East German colleagues come to visit me at the ministry of mines, they always compliment me on my German. I defer. They persevere, and ask me where I learned it. I say softly, the University, hoping they will drop it. Anxious to make connections, they never fail to continue, Which one? (They can never leave well enough alone, as if speaking German could only be perceived to be a good thing). I say Auschwitz. Unnecessary conversation stops there.”
We entered some of the barracks. It was explained that some were originally one story. The camp prisoners added the second stories. We saw the wall of death - a brick wall before which hundreds of people were shot, and the gallows, where one day 9 were hanged. These were the only two reconstructions. Everything else I saw remained from then. We saw the basement where prisoners waited to be executed. A room where people were tortured by being deprived of light. A room where many people were crammed in so that they suffocated - only one small hole for fresh air. Four closet sized rooms in each of which four prisoners would be forced to stand all night. No room to sit nor lie.
In some of the barracks thing had been preserved from the Nazi’s warehouses of materials confiscated from their victims. Tons of human hair, saved to be sent to factories in Germany to be used to manufacture mattresses. Hair shaved from the heads of women on arrival. Bushels of eye glasses. Piles and piles of shoes. Pretty beat up. Most of the good ones had been taken for use. And countless unimaginable prosthetics. And suitcases. Unlike other items, the suitcases were not anonymous. Each had a name and the address of what had once been the home of its owner.
We left the barracks, and were led to the gas chamber, a low ceilinged room where canisters of Zyklon B were dropped in from overhead. The ovens for cremating the bodies were in the same room. Iron tracks on the floors used to guide wagons to the ovens.
This was where Auschwitz began. Then we had lunch, and went to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The expansion. This is the place we know from the movies. The front gates remain. The vastness remains. Hundreds of primitive brick chimneys still stand where the wooden barracks used to be. Few of the 300 barracks remain. Barracks is too generous a word. Most of the barracks at Birkenau were horse stables, prefabricated in Germany, shipped to Poland, and set up in Auschwitz-Birkenau to hold 90,000 prisoners. The wood didn’t hold up. Only a dozen or so were preserved.
It was a cold windy day. The snow blew between the few remaining barracks, often blinding us. It was a perfect day to imagine the horror of this place. Designed to efficiently kill eleven million. I have never been anywhere where evil seemed more concentrated. More people died here at the hands of the Nazis than anywhere else. Only the outcome of the war kept the total at Auschwitz from being 11 million.
Most people arrived here and were sent straight to the gas chambers. Told to remember where they hung their clothes so they could find them after their shower. Herded about by special groups of camp inmates, special groups which too were systematically exterminated. Every two months because they knew the system of “the final solution” too well. These special groups herded the arrivals into the showers, and then later piled their corpses and loaded them into the ovens.
Only a small minority survived the day of arrival. Those who “lived” in the camp were tattooed. They were kept to perform slave labor
I saw a memorial installed where the ovens used to be. The nazis destroyed the ovens before they abandoned the camp. Except for the oven which one of the special groups succeeded inblowing up with chemicals smuggled in by women who worked as slave labor at the IG Farben plant. The memorial was in the language of every country from which victims were brought to Auschwitz. It was the only place in either of the camps where I saw German. From the memorial I walked the train tracks back out of the camp, back to the taxi. The driver was a Pole who had lived 25 years in Chicago. Only in Chicago could he have spoken so little English in 25 years. Others waited for me inside the warm cab. I thought about thousands in vertical stripes and, if they were lucky, wooden clogs. The same vertical stripe that Willi Smith would make fashionable in the 1980’s. I walked out over the train tracks that brought so many in. Most of them were told as they entered: “The only way out of here is through one of the chimneys.”
The snow continued to fall, as human ashes once fell on this neighborhood.

pscully on 02.27.04 @ 05:33 PM CET [link]

Wednesday, February 4th

2 Sauna Stories (to be continued)

Two Sauna stories.

He was not my type at all. Looking at him I thought, all those steroids can not be good for you in the long run. His upper body was too well developed. Muscles were large. Veins bulged. His nipples were very defined, and stood up. He walked into the sauna and sat next to me. His thighs were too massive to see even his pubic hair as he sat next to me. It was too crowded for the usual male behavior of spreading our knees far apart to hang comfortably and publicly. There wasn’t that much knee room for those of us on the upper bench.
The usual rule is silence. Germans as a group tend to prefer silence and solitude. Lärm ist zu vermeiden. He spoke to me, quietly.
Did I have kids?
I don’t either, but I would like to. At my age, I’m 45, you’re about that, too?
Yeah, 50.
Yeah, well at this age, I start to think, I don’t need to go anywhere else, when you are young you think you should travel all over the world.And I have traveled. But now, I don’t know if it is mid-life crisis but I start to think that where you live is very important. Who wants to go start all over again? Meet all new people. Travel is ok but…Where are you from?
The United States.
Yeah, I spent a month in Hawaii, but you know, I am a Berliner, born here, and I wonder, am I afraid of commitment, or … this is pretty philosophical, isn’t it? But why am I still alone, and why don’t I have any kids? Anyhow, I’m normal, hetero. And you?
I’m gay. But I have thought about having kids. Maybe adopting.
I have heard of lesbians who go out, get laid by a guy just to get the sperm, and then never see him again, just to have a kid.
That works better for lesbians than for gay men.
The heat is getting to me. I’ll see you next time.
My name’s Patrick.
Norbert. Until next time, Patrick.

A different night.
I went into the steamroom. The same mixed gender and naked steamrooms at Elixia that I earlier judged as surprisingly asexual. Well, maybe the one at Hermannplatz, but even there I think my judgement was premature. Subsequent visits proved I was wrong to have judged so hastily. Here at Pragerplatz, things are more upscale, more gay men, and fewer immigrants. There is an occasional woman in the steamroom, but the club must be half gay men. In this steamroom, the gay mating dance is not unlike that which I have observed, and joined in, back home. You scratch your pubic hair, lift your balls, and/or stretch your dick. Notice if anyone else does the same. If no one moves a hands toward his crotch, it means there are probably no players in the room. At least not any starters.
Well, this night, a man, not German, sat down across the way, and laid his penis up along the crease of his thigh toward his hip. This unusual positioning caught my attention. He noticed me noticing him. As he looked at me, naked across from him, his head started to emerge from its foreskin. Of its own volition. That was a good sign. His eyes led him into the dance. He didn’t need his hands, his body already betrayed high interest. There were others in the room, but no other players. He smiled to me. I positioned myself so that of all the men in the room, only he could see my nascent erection. The others would have to shift to see. Smiles continued to pass between us, as did time. We danced a “no hands” dance. Eye contact provided all the stimulation we needed. My eyes and body followed him to the dry sauna. Our flirtation continued there, sublty, full of playfulness and attention, among guests coming and going.
“Universe to Patrick, Universe to Patrick! Pay attention!” I paused suspended in time. I realized how much I had missed this sexual energy in recent times. I missed sex with Mauricio, wondered how that, along with his affection, had faded. Wisely, I think, I had given up on trying. I could not continue one-sidedly to try to revive passion and affection. “Steamroom to Patrick, come in please!” Remembering an adage from years ago with Contactworks: “The monkey who has missed his branch, and the man who has missed his chance, can not be helped.” I left those doubts and returned to the moment; to enjoy the sauna and the flirtation.
The heat built up, and after a while, he left to cool off. There is a row of four showers near the sauna. The one at the far end is actually a high bucket full of cold water. You pull the cord, and it douses you. At the near end it is a flat spout with only cold water. In between are two broad showerheads directly overhead with hot and cold controls. The entrances to these four stalls are visible from the sauna. He disappeared into a shower. I saw water splashing out of his stall, and also from the shower stall beyond. I went to cool off, too. Not willing to brave either cold only option, I waited for my playmate to step out from his shower. Standing not five feet from him, enjoying the proximity, enjoying the definition of his small, lean body, the water pushing black hair from his brow, enjoying the fullness of his pendulum, not lifting, but full. He stepped from his shower to let me enter. As I stepped under the water his left hand slyly and gently grabbed me and squeezed firmly, twice. The blood resisted being squeezed out, and I started to get fuller. Seeing that no one was looking, he dropped to his knees to touch his lips and tongue to my rising erection. Praise Jesus! I exclaimed to myself.
He rose up again, almost as suddenly. He stepped back, grinned, and left me under the water. After a moment I stepped out, to let him re-enter the falling water. A man emerged from behind the divide of the adjacent shower. There was no more privacy to steal. I went back to the steamroom to cool off. Ten minutes later we stood side by side under the lockerroom showers, and shared grins like two mischevious 14 year olds. After dressing I went to give him my telephone number, but he was gone.
The next night, after my swim, I saw him again. I sat next to him at one of the foot baths, and filled the sink with very warm water for my feet. We talked. I told him I had hoped to give him my phone number, but he had disappeared too soon. He smiled, and said he would like to have it. As our conversation progressed I thought, is the universe playing with me? A dancer from Rio de Janirero. What are the odds? What am I supposed to notice here?
I am reminded of another message from the universe, a few months back. When I was first aware of feeling the absence of tenderness from Mauricio, an e-mail came to me out of the blue. A distant admirer, a Minneapolitan now in California, telling me that he had always admired me, but had kept his distance because the timing had never been right, I had always seemed to be in a relationship when he wasn’t. Now he was telling me that he hoped the timing would one day be right. He had gone through the trouble of tracking me down when he was back in Minneapolis, and wanted to be in e-mail and phone contact with me. I realized; this is the kind of attention that I am missing. I should be getting this at home. The universe was holding a mirror up so that I could see that something was wrong in my life.
Like Bullwinkle, I keep finding messages in a bottle.

pscully on 02.04.04 @ 01:40 PM CET [link]

Tuesday, February 3rd

Museum Piece

I went through a program a couple of years ago called IRCL. The institute for renewal of community leadership. There I met Maureen Bruce. I came to admire that she got ideas, and manifested them. She seemed to just sort of look around, think about what needed doing, and then applied herself. This is an approach to life that I try to embrace, and I was encouraged to see someone who so clearly does what I aspire to do.
Last week I went to a lecture at the Berlin’s Schwules (Gay) Museum. One of the things I think I should do, when I return to Minneapolis, is to start a queer museum. I have often wondered about a queer community center for the Twin Cities, and thought: There is District 202 for youth, why not a center for queer adults?
Well, the night after the lecture night I did not sleep as soundly as I usually do, and it occurred to me, in the middle of the night, that a museum would be a geat way to approach a queer community center. Berlin’s Schwules Museum does a really wide range of stuff: they currently have an exhibit on lesbian and gay life in Berlin since 1945, they organized the exhibit on persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis that was at the Minneapolis YWCA last fall, and in February they open an art exhibit by 15 different queer contemporary local artists. This museum in Minnesota could function as a kind of queer cultural center, and take advantage of things like the Tretter Collection and Quatrefoil, without having to amass its own collection.
Anyhow, that is all for the future, near future, but it got my mind spinning. The impetus for it all was the lecture and discussion. The theme was the persecution of homosexuals in post-war Berlin.
In a nutshell, the persecution of homosexuals that the Nazi’s started did not end with the war. It continued for decades afterward, and was sanctioned by the post-war German government. Practically the only real improvement was that the penalty for the crime of being homosexual was no longer death. Gay men who had been persecuted continued to be. Homosexuals continued to be considered criminals, and were subjected to raids, intimidation, harassment and ultimately even prison. Further, they were not eligible for compensation paid to other victims, nor even for participation in official holocaust victim groups. It did not help that in post-war Germany the US had a huge influence in society and government. The McCarthy era’s homophobia had its impact in Berlin, too.
During the evening I heard men tell stories of how in the first years after the war they were too hungry to worry about reestablishing gay life, or even finding a boyfriend. They emphasized that circumstances of the times need to be remembered to understand gay life in that time. I was moved to hear of a man getting a job in a cabaret the year after the war, playing for Russian soldiers, helping a female friend get a job there as a singer, having a successful coworker in the cabaret who never spoke of his life in the concentration camps as a gay prisoner. Another told of how the revival of art after the war was so important to maintaining spirits for continuing on. And how mundane some of the first art exhibits were. Someone else explained why he thougt it was not logical for homosexuals to expect solidarity from other groups victimized by the Nazis.
This got me to wondering, the post-war era is when I came into the world. I was born in 1953. How has the reality of gay life in Minnesota during the time I was a child impacted me? One thing is clear, the repressive era of my youth has engrained itself in me in my internalized homophobia. And homoerotophobia. I notice that I have to consciously overcome feelings of shame when I talk about sex in front of a mixed audience. The more the group is like me, the easier it is. So, with a group of radical faeries, I feel no shame. With a group of all gay men, probably very little. Still, even then, I am aware that some gay men have very different norms when it comes to sex and relationships, but my presumptions in an all gay male group is that my perspective is ok. With a mixed group of queer and straight folks, the setting makes a big difference. As it does with a mixed gay and lesbian group. At Queer Boy'z Nite at Patrick’s Cabaret it was pretty easy to tell myself, “If not me, in a setting as safe as this, then what fag ever? and then when, if ever?” before a mixed group. With that I could get over my shame, and could tell stories about sex.
So, that makes these letters from Berlin complex for me to write, if I get personal about sex. Even if I looked at the list of everyone who has signed up to receive them, I would not necessarily recognize names from e-mail addresses. Even if I had a list of the names, what would I make of names I did not recognize? Such thoughts are the legacy of being born gay, during the Eisenhower era, the McCarthy era. I may never be free of the shame, but I think that by acknowledging it, I make progress.
In my head, I know that this is not just a gay issue. A BBC reporter interviewed me in 1997 in Belfast. She was interested in the myth of Adam and Eve, and in deconstructing how it manifests today. Her theory was that the vast majority of people come to see themselves as failures because they have not managed to duplicate this myth of one man and one woman for life.
I remember performing Queer Thinking at Illusion Theater about the same time. Just before the show started I saw two of my cousins, Janet and Gail, in the audience. I was mortified. I was about to tell all of these old secrets. Many of them family related. I took a deep breath, told myself that they were there because they wanted to hear these stories, and I headed out onto the stage.
Janet broke the ice at the Q and A after the show by saying she dreamed some day I would do this show for a family reunion. Dream on, Janet. For that, I would have to have been born forty years later. Or, maybe next year, in a program at the Queer Museum of Minnesota.

pscully on 02.03.04 @ 04:17 PM CET [link]

Friday, January 30th

In the heart of the beast

Sunday I went for a long walk with a friend through the snowy forest. Very Robert Frost. I like winter, and I was disappointed that there was no sun, but to make up for it, it snowed lightly all day. Stefanie and I took the train from Zoologischer Garten to Wannsee, and then took a bus as far as Pfaueninselchausee. (That would be Peacock Island Highway). It was just a road through the forest, not a highway, and we headed off to the ferry for the island. The bus driver told us it would not be running because the water was frozen over. We figured we might as well head that direction, if we got to the island or not was really unimportant.
It had been way too long since I had been in the woods just to be there. I ride my bike daily through a park on the way to work, and it’s nice, but it isn’t really a woods, and even if it were, the ride is too goal oriented to satisfy what I had come for. Shortly after our hike started, a snowplow came to clear the road. Less than an inch had accumulated, but folks like things orderly here. We realized we could take the path that ran parallel to the road, and be closer to the trees, farther from such distractions. We did.
I brought my camera with me. I decided to start a photo project. Make sure to get one good shot per day, for each of the 100 days remaining before I return to Minneapolis on May 3. This was day 100, and I would count down. Before we had gone too far, we came across a pile of felled logs. They all had a number on their base. I think it was the diameter of the cross section. Not too big, like 17, 18. That would be centimeters. The roundness of all the ends looked like so many zero’s to me, and I realized that with a vertical line against them I could have a 100 photo. I tried, with Stefanie’s help, to move one of the logs from the pile. They were too heavy. I pulled a shorter branch from under the snow and leaves, propped it up, and took my picture. (If you want to see it, before the book gets published, e-mail me a request.) I took several other pictures as we walked to the ferry. Holly with berries in the snow. Stefanie taking pictures of me. Pines lightly dusted with snow.
The trees here seem like cousins to the tree spirits I know from Minnesota. There are oaks and pine and maple and birches and something much like a cottonwood. There are basswoods, called lindens here, and elms. Then there are a few that I don’t recognize. One has a very smooth bark, and I think it must be a beech, like those I remember from Rock Creek Park in DC. Another has a bark that is also quite smooth, but covered with camouflage like patches, and dry spiky round fruits. There are also chestnuts, but I see them mostly in parks and along streets. I didn’t see any of them in the woods, and truthfully, I think they are horse chestnuts this far north. The roast chestnuts the vendors sell all come from Italy.
We got to the ferry and it was running. For a euro each we rode across about 80 meters of water to this island. I was last here in the spring of 1974. Not too much had changed, except that the view across to the west from the island was no longer the east. Germany is one country now. Berlin one city. No more wall surrounding West Berlin. Back then there was no wall in the middle of the water, but the water was patrolled by boats of the DDR Border Guard. There were the same pretty buildings and whimsical late 19th century faux castles that I remembered. I got a great photo of bird tracks in the snow. They look like a diagram for learning a dance.
It was quiet in the snow. There were others out walking. We headed in the opposite direction to have even more quiet. We found a great tree. Had it been cut it would have had to have 250 written across the base. It was huge, and still alive. It was mostly hollow, and had another younger tree growing from the dirt inside its hollow. I crawled inside from underneath to have Stefanie take a picture of me inside a tree. You need to be as tall as I am to see out from inside. (This picture will not be in the book, but again you can e-mail me.) On the walk I paid attention to forms, patterns, temperature, texture. This woods, though far from wild, was so rich.
We circled the whole island, rode the ferry back across, and stopped in the little Gaststube to warm up. I ordered a potato soup, and some hot chocolate. The hot chocolate came first, and was disappointing. A watery base that the cream on top did not make up for. It reminded me of the stuff that used to come out of the machine at Kresge’s at HarMar Mall. You pushed the red button on the side of the machine to fill your cup. It made a loud noise (to prove that it was whipped hot chocolate). The first time I did that, I did not really get a cup full. So I pushed the button again, to fill the cup. The cashier wanted to charge me for twice. I only had a quarter on me. She threatened to call the cops. Bad hot chocolate brings bad memories. The potato soup was no better. Very salty and a bit oily, too. Too bad, one of the things I like about being here is how easy it is to get nice things to eat. This is my first bad potato soup memory. I‘ll blame it on the hot chocolate.
We left the café and headed along the shore of Wannsee through the woods back toward the train station. Eventually the woods faded into a very beautiful suburban neighborhood. Before I knew it, we had come upon the place of remembrance I knew “was around here somewhere.” Das Haus am Wannsee. The House on Wannsee. Here, in 1942, the Endlösung (Final Solution) had been decided by Hitler and his top brass. The nightmarish details of the holocaust were worked out in this pretty mansion on the shore of the lake.
That’s the thing about being here. If you are at all conscious of history, you can never forget that this was once the heart of the beast. And that is an important lesson for me, because I think the beast has moved elsewhere, and now lives in the land I call home, the USA. How do we, in the US, come to terms with the atrocities of our history? How do we make sure it is not lost? Unpleasant as it is, we have to live with it.
Funny how being 50 changes for for me how important history is. When we entered the Wannsee train station I wondered, did any of the participants from those meetings pass through this hall to arrive at the meeting?

pscully on 01.30.04 @ 12:20 PM CET [link]

Tuesday, January 20th


I got on the train to Potsdam this morning, and didn’t know whether I should read my book, or look out the window at the fresh snow falling. People say around there that it snows seven times each winter. Depending on what really counts as a snowfall, there may only be three left. The train takes not quite twenty minutes from Bahnhof Zoo to Potsdam. After several minutes of wintry scenery, I turned to my book, The Power of Place. This phrase rang with strong resonance in my head as I read it “…the familiar turf and rich network of slowly fostered relationships…”
I have made up my mind, and plan to leave here at the end of April. It is clear to me that I gave up too much in choosing to come here to try to make a life with Mauricio. Though I am not sad to have made that initail choice, I understand now that familiar turf and a rich network of slowly fostered relationships are even more important to me than I had realized. I feel very isolated here, and unhappy. Frequently mildly depressed. Things with Mauricio are not bad but they are not exceptional, they are at best OK. So rather than stay and endure, I plan to go home and thrive. I grieve the loss of this dream, and am grateful for the lesson learned.
This has been a while in coming, and in the process of becoming clear to me, my thoughts have driven me to many misleading conclusions. The first place I went, (forgive me, those of you with whom I shared this earlier for not claiming my personal responsiblity), is that something was wrong with Mauricio. I thought it was his fault. That somehow I was let down by him, or he had changed, or was too shut down or whatever. I wanted badly to put the blame somewhere other than on me. So, I put it on him, and tried to figure out if he could be fixed.
Then, being a bit more generous, I put the blame on our relationship. There, maybe I shared some of the blame, but clearly could not be responsible for all of this situation. I felt the relationship was not giving me what I needed, and this was responsible for things here not working out.
Then, I discovered I could try to put some of the blame on the cold northern Europeans who surround me, for being very reserved and hard to get to know. For what destination did I think I bought a plane ticket before I left on this experiment?
Ultimately, there is truth in all of the above, and there is not. Finally my thoughts drove me to me, where I need to be to understand all of this. What really matters is, I am the master of, and have to claim complete responsibility for, my life. Stop looking for some other place to put the responsibility.
That means: I took a chance, I decided, with Mauricio, to try to come here to build a life together. I realize now, six months into being here, that this is not what I want. I am not happy. It is hard to live without the familiar turf and a rich network of slowly fostered relationships that I have in Minneapolis, too hard. I do not want to continue to live without this, and so I will return to Minneapolis. Could I someday have that here? Clearly I could, but only after a long time. Longer than I am willing to wait. A friend asked if I had not realized it would take years to feel connected here, as it has for her. I knew that intellectually, but not emotionally. I did not know how hard this would seem. I find a resonance with the protagonist in Michael Sommer’s telling of Faust, when he decides in the end, that what he wants in the bargain of life, is that which he already knows best.
And what about my responsibility to Mauricio? I think it will be for the best that we part ways. I choose to stay until April for very pragmatic reasons: we have a sublease until then, which melds with a timeframe which will allow me to leave the place I work, without leaving them in a stitch. More importantly, this will give Mauricio time to prepare himself for my departure. He wants to try to stay but, on the other hand, he is still figuring out how to try to get his HIV meds here from Brazil. If he doesn't solve that soon he may be back in Brazil within a month. There are no guarantees when you live life as an experiment.
The snow has stopped falling, and the day is grey, but a much brighter grey than usual, with the snow covered earth.

pscully on 01.20.04 @ 10:49 AM CET [link]

Saturday, November 8th


As uncomfortable as it was for me to shower naked with the rest of the guys in my class as a prepubescent ninth grader, I never would have showered with my clothes on. Some guys do. I never saw this back then, when I was a kid, but I have seen men recently do this in the showers at the midtown YWCA in Minneapolis, and in Elixia, a private club where I swim in Berlin. And it was policy in the showers for the pool in Galway, Ireland. You could not choose to be naked around anyone.

It all has to do with how we view our bodies, and modesty. As anyone who knows me knows, I don’t put a lot of stock in modesty. I like to be naked, and I like to be naked around other naked people. In Minneapolis this was only possible in locker rooms. When possible, I belonged to a gym with a pool where there was more to do in the locker room than shower. Saunas, steamrooms, whirlpools are all great places to be able to hang out, in the most literal sense, and relax with others. Conversations happen when you are naked and taking your time that don’t happen otherwise. In Minneapolis, this is always a same sex environment. Being gay, I enjoy having a same sex naked environment. There is always an undercurrent of sexual energy there. I think sexual energy is good. The one mixed gender exception to being naked in Minneapolis is at the (not legal) nude beach at Twin Lake. This provides for a curious situation. Gay men get to legally hang out, be naked together in Minneapolis, but not heterosexual men and women. In California and New York, as in Minneapolis, I have found that the nude beaches seem to sort themselves out to where there is a mixed section, and a gay area. (I will let someone else write about this from the lesbian and transgender points of view).

In Ireland I did not find a nude beach. I didn’t even see naked people in the locker room in Galway. There was just one locker room for everyone. Inside that, there were numerous changing rooms, where you get out of your clothes, and into your swimsuit. Then you shower in your suit in an open mixed shower room, or out of your suit in one of two private individual shower rooms. Hmmm, I thought, this is a different appoach to a locker room. So far only this is the only locker room I have seen that seems to be ready to deal with more than two genders.

Here in Berlin, I have found yet other approaches to locker rooms. At the public pool in Krummestrasse there is a nude swim night weekly. As usual, there is a men’s and a women’s locker room. People go into the locker rooms in their clothes, and come out to the pool naked. Only the dressing and undressing is gender segregated. At Elixia, where I swim now, there are also the standard two locker rooms. But, there is a wellness area, which combines a dry sauna, a sauna for water on the rocks, an area with chaise lounges to relax, and a steam room - for all genders together. Clothes are not allowed in the saunas or steam room. It was a bit disorienting at first, being around women (and men) walking around naked. I only knew this from nude beaches. Here we were indoors and sweating. I got quickly used to it, it seems a very natural thing, but the tensions shift.

For example, there are many Turks who live in the neighborhood near the gym. Turkish men go to the gym, and are more likely to shower in the men’s locker room with clothes on (like a swim suit, or work out shorts). Some use the wellness area, naked. I have seen no Turkish women in the wellness area. I think I have seen a few Turkish women in the pool. Clearly where Turkish culture meets German culture on body issues, gender norms are very different.

And in this wellness area the sexual tension of a same sex men’s locker rooms is gone. This is the least sexual gym I have ever experienced. From my point of view. A man entering the sauna the other day was clearly having a different experience. I observed him as he moved swiftly into the sauna to sit down, trying to conceal his erection. I thought, hmmm, avoiding sexual arousal always seemed to me an unfair challenge that we as gay men face in locker rooms. I always wondered how straight men would fare being naked around naked women they found attractive. It made me smile to see that at least one straight man was not up to the challenge, or should I say, that not all straight men had it down.

pscully on 11.08.03 @ 02:58 PM CET [link]

Wednesday, November 5th


Last week I was in Warsaw, Poland, for the second time in my life. The first time was twenty five years ago. From that first visit, my memories are of a pretty bleak place. That was the late 1970´s, and the city that Hitler had ordered destroyed as the Nazi army retreated had been rebuilt. But it was mostly a stark socialist architecture. And, to be fair, it was January. I was approached constantly on the street “Changement privat? Change money? Geldwechsel?” People looking for western currency were far bolder than their socialist brothers in (east) Berlin. Things felt kind of desparate.
Still, I have fond memories. I was there to be the best man in Keith and Bozena´s wedding. The formalities took place in the Wedding Palace. I was delayed by a detoured bus route, and almost missed the wedding, which would have meant it would not have happened. My signature was required as a witness. We had a great feast afterward in a restaurant in the old town that had been meticulously rebuilt. The restaurant was called “Crocodile”. I participated in six toasts before I realized that I could fill my glass from the other bottle at my place setting. That one had water, not vodka.
I vaguely remembered Stalin´s gift to the people of Poland, the House of Culture and Science. A maybe forty story monument of a building in the heart of the city. Only a little bit pretty, it was mostly powerful. A statement of the might of the Soviet Union to the socialist sister state. It remains today, but seems to me to actually have aged better than I would have imagined. It helps that it no longer dominates the skyline. Several skyscrapers share the skyline, and where there are no skyscrapers, there are cranes, building new structures. Construction is everywhere in Warsaw. I took a long walk around Stalin´s building. There are many allegorical statues, and I was struck that the men in these statues are pretty to the extreme. Not unmasculine, but strikingly pretty. The women, by contrast, seemed to have been roughly cast, and maybe even unfinished. As if the men had been hewn of marble, and the women of sandstone, and then left to age for a half century.The women had not weathered well. Or maybe they were just drafts, with none of the fine detail of the men. Or, maybe they were meant to represent the rough peasant woman. Still, it seemed to me to be a particularly, sexist, gay aesthetic, one in which male beauty was highly refined, on artists and scholars as well as on shirtless workers in overalls from farms and the mines. Women seemed an afterthought.
I remember only one statue that represented someone older. A man, maybe a professor. Clearly, this 1954 structure was about tomorrow.
Last week, I managed to wander all over through the halls on the inside, no one asking me where I was going. Had anyone asked, I would have said, “Just curious to see the interior.” It seemed unusual that I could wander down these vast halls, no one around. It felt like there were guards missing. Now there were just a few workers taking down the aftermath of the big party from the European AIDS Conference that had been in the building two nights before. They did not seem to care that I was nosing around.
I got around to the south side of the building, and went in where the movie theaters are. I wondered, have these always been movie theaters? Maybe so. But this was clearly a different time. A recent film, about the last days of socialism in East Berlin, “Goodbye Lenin”, was showing. Outside on a tablet carried by one of the young male statues, Lenin´s name was flanked by Marx and Engels. Stalin´s name was not there. Even if it was at some point erased, he was not absent. The whole place chants: Josef! Josef! On celluloid, back inside the theater, Lenin´s bronze head is carried off through the air. I loved both the irony, and the sumptuous interior of the movie lobby.
As in Berlin, in Warsaw I was reminded of the possibility of great change happening. And happening pretty fast. It was hopeful to be reminded of this. This is the scale of change that I hope for in America in 2003. I left Minneapolis in August of 2003 with things feeling pretty bleak. As bleak as I could remember in my fifty years. The powers that be in DC seemed hell bent on war as the answer, and civil liberties and unmet social and environmental needs as the domestic casualties. Meanwhile, in St. Paul, the governor of Minnesota was working to reduce the social contract to roads. May the ideals we wished for, for those on the other side of the iron curtain, return to rule America and Minnesota. Or was it only capitalism we were wishing for? Being in Warsaw gave me hope that people can turn things around.
I asked my young host if he knew of the Crocodile. He had not been born twenty five years ago. He said he had not heard of it, but that maybe it had been up on the next square. I thought not. It seemed to me it was near where we were, so I asked an older man who drove horse and buggy for tourists. He pointed to the restaurant which my young host hád just said was nice, traditional, and a bit expensive.
pscully on 11.05.03 @ 09:57 PM CET [link]

Tuesday, October 21st

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.



pscully on 10.21.03 @ 03:15 PM CET [link]

Monday, October 6th

(Un)settling in Berlin

Septermber 27, 2003

Dear Friends,

There are a lot of unemployed people in Berlin. Maybe ten percent. Including Gerry. We are subletting Gerry’s apartment in Neukolln, a part of Berlin. He was supposed to go to Sacramento to help our mutual Rik Maverik start construction on his new home and work space in an artists’ project there. Unfortunately for Rik, that whole project seems to have been postponed indefinitely. Fortunately for Gerry, he has been getting some work lately, and he is glad to have us paying his rent for three months. In the meantime, he is camping out with friends. It’s a nice flat here. We will be in it until the end of November. Then we will move again, and be happy to finally have a place of our own.

Unfortunately for us, Gerry being out of work also meant he was behind on his phone bill. Turns out so far behind that the phone company wanted a deposit of €250 (add ten percent to get dollars). So, it took us until last Tuesday, the 22nd of September to get a phone in the apartment in our own names. All of this to explain why you are getting today stuff I wrote two and four weeks ago. I had it on Gerry’s computer, but we needed a phone line to connect to the internet. Now I can send it out. I am quite sure that dealing with bureaucracies is a theme that will get more atttention in future missives. Thanks to those of you who send me notes in response. It is nice to feel connected, even thru the less than tactile internet.

Part One

Everything looks different now. It is September 2, 2003. I have started commuting. The Germans call it Pendeln. As in pendulum. Turn´s out that it´s a long ride from Neukolln to Potsdam. And a world of difference. Not that Potsdam doesn´t have foreigners, too. With the university there, there are young people from around the world. But here in Neukolln it doesn´t feel like they are just visiting. The non-Germans here in Neukolln are here to stay, transforming this into a multicultural society. Standing on the train platform at Alexanderplatz, I was more than ten minutes early for the train. The train doesn´t leave until 8:37. I can leave home by 8:15 or 8:20 and still make the connection. I will get to work about 9:20.

Everything looks different. It is a bright sunny day. The first day of school in the US. The day after Labor Day. Yesterday was not a holiday here. Here workers get celebrated on May first. The platform is full of people going to work. Headed to school. Tourists aren´t much a part of this early morning hustle. Lots of people roll their bicycles with them onto the trains.

Everything looks different. Thirty years ago Alexanderplatz was basking in the afterglow of the Tenth World Youth Festival Games. An orchestrated Woodstock moment in the old DDR. Today the Fernsehturm stands as proudly as ever, but most everything else here strives to forget its socialist realism style, and put a bit more shine or style onto its face in this new millenium. The old red brick Rathaus and the Berliner Dom – the Lutheran Catherdral – disappear on the side of the train as we pull into Friedrichstrasse. I used to cross into East Berlin here, if I didn´t walk through Checkpoint Charley from the subway at Kochstrasse.

So much continues to change. The Turks are clearly integrated into the fabric of Berlin as a new proletariat. The front page of the Berliner Zeitung has a picture from a sort of Mr. Universe Contest in Afghanistan. All these hunky Afghanis in briefs, muscles flexed. None of it has me thinking of war. As overdeveloped as their muscles may be, they look more the result of lifting weights than taking steroids.

Yesterday I arrived at the train station in Potsdam having just missed the express train by minutes. I decided to catch the S Bahn to Wannsee, just 3 stops away. I wanted to see if maybe I could hook up with a faster connection there, rather than sit a half hour on the platform until the next express. (We commuters can waste untold quarter hour segments strategizing getting there some other way.) At the top of the escalator down to the platform, an elderly woman asked me, “Where is the S-Bahn to Berlin?” Her German was correct, but her delivery sounded foreign. She was alone, dressed all in white, with white hair tucked up under her broad white hat. She pulled a carry-on bag on wheels. The escalator was not working. She called out to me as I started down the awkward steel stairs “Can you help me with my bag?” I was happy to be able to help, and left her bag at the base of the escalator. I went to find a seat in the waiting S-Bahn. The train waited a long time before leaving.
In that
time my Russian friend had rediscovered me, and taken a seat diagonally across the aisle, facing toward me. Before the doors closed and we headed to Wannsee she moved into the seat directly facing me, toe to toe, so we could talk more easily. Formal, simple German, easy to understand. Occasionally I had trouble understanding her, either she mumbled, or my hearing loss is more than I imagine.

I remember snippets. She asked me what kind of work I did. “Oh, I studied dance in America. In Miami.” “KaDeWe is not what it used to be. The windows used to display the most wonderful things. Now, well it looks like Woolworth´s.” “Where did you learn your German? What did you study? …Well if you studied biology, then you will understand my work. I did research, neurological, and then applied it to artificial intelligence, computers and such.”

Who´d have guessed such a mind from this seemingly lost/helpless older Russian woman? My prejudices show. She clearly has had a life of relative privelege, reminiscing about West-Berlin, dancing in Miami, advanced study in the US…”I went to the Free University to have someone evaluate my dissertation for the University in the US, and the man simply wrote that he was inadequately prepared to offer an opinion on my work.” “Do you suppose I could get another student ID from the University in New York? Russian agents kept mine.” “I was studying English in New Jersey. My children left and went to Flagstaff, but I stayed in New Jersey.It has been very nice talking to you. We should have spoken English. Thank you for all your help. You have been very kind and I wish you all the best.” She smiled. I took her hand and told her I was glad to have made her acquaintence. Her eyes twinkled with irises as blue as the ink of this pen, only several shades paler.

As I sat bored on the platform at Wannsee waiting for a faster train, I wished I had stayed on the S-Bahn and spoken with her longer. She was afraid she´d fail to get off at Feuerbachstrasse, not hearing the name called out. She headed off via Schöneberg and Steglitz while I got the express to Alexanderplatz. I recalled one of her first comments. “Potsdam is very confusing. It´s not well laid out. You can´t find your street or a taxi.” Today, I find myself wondering if she had some dementia. Yesterday, waiting, I thought “I am clearly not in Minneapolis.” I was thrilled with the richness surrounding this exchange, and glad to have been sought out by another Jane Matteson, another sweet old woman with rich stories.

All this was just part of the way home from work. Now the train waits at Charlottenburg, waiting to go to Bahnhof Zoo. The train from Nauen pulls in across the platform, and three chimes sound. We ease east.

A young lesbian, could be a drag king, answers her phone. “I´ve been away.” I thought maybe she was a 16 year old boy until she asked. “Is there boxing today? OK, I´ll see you there.” There are eight bicycles parked in front of me. Two bikers remove theirs from the pack and centimeter their way to the door. We are at Bahnhof Zoo. Two more stops and I switch to the subway part of my commute. Today I have taken a side trip to Babelsberg to get the rest of my things. Stuff I left there in June. Now, in Neukolln, all of my worldly belongings will be in one apartment, with all of Mauricio´s. Here we are, making a life together. This side trip included a tram, a bus, the S-Bahn, and then my regular train and subway. I will be glad to be home. Even after climbing up four flights of stairs with this big bag, and two small ones. Rolling through the Hansaviertel, I know I will be home soon. I hope Mauricio has cooked something.

Part two

September 11, 2003

Last year I prepared myself for this date. I knew I would be surrounded by a media blitz, and many commemorations that would only make me feel more isolated, so with other artists I created an event to commemorate the events of September 11th, and the tragedy of the United States government´s response to those events. Frozen Tears floated silently, peacefully down the Mississippi River. Somewhere around a thousand people came to release them in silence, happy to be with kindred souls that night.

This year, on this date, I am not in the USA. Here in Germany I have to look for information related to two years ago. There was a hint last night on BBC’s The World. Funny how, when I would listen in the US, The World on BBC seemed like a news source that was objective, sometimes critical of the US. Here, now, it seems less critical, and I am aware of how aligned US and UK policies are, and how that makes the point of view from England less ``removed, objective, critical´´, what word should I use here?

I did come across things about September 11th today. On Yahoo the opening page was full of 9/11 options to click to. It distracted from getting my e mail, sort of like reading a cereal box can occupy time spent chewing breakfast. I chose to just get my e mail. And there was last night’s BBC promise of coverage of 9/11 today from around theUS, “including Iowa, in the rural midwest.”

Today, I also remember last year, and two years ago, and 30 years ago. I am in Berlin, where I was thrity years ago. Thirty years ago, Salvador Allende was assassinated. I wonder how much attention this gets in the US media. I remember the huge protests that followed in front of the Student Union at the Free University here. If you asked anyone on the street in Berlin who did it, (then or now) you would be told, the CIA. I am sure some people in the US today would tell you the same. But thirty years ago, I remember writing letters to high school friends, then in college. I was angry and distressed that our government was responsible for the murder of a democratically elected president of another country. Letters came back to me from places like St. Peter, Minnesota, from bright people, wondering why I thought the CIA had anything to do with what happened in Chile.

In Germany in 1973, even the mainstream press acknowledged the CIA´s role. The cognitive dissonance I experienced, between the reactions here and in the US, was enormous. I realized that what I had been taught to believe, about America and its support for democracy around the world, was another Santa Claus. Only an unending stream of new children keeps Santa believable. I wonder how we as Americans can grow pout of our political perpetual childhood, into responsibility, maturity in the world.

Today around Berlin I see flyers for concerts around town, commemorating the tragedy of 30 years ago. Clearly, what happened two years ago is also a tragedy. But it is harder to be moved by this tragedy when the leaders of the United States continue to visit so much violence on others. Would that they were shaping the role of the US in the world to bring more peace and justice to the planet, and less violence.

I remember hearing a newscast, in Minneapolis, on The World on the night of September 10th, 2001. The report was about Henry Kissinger being brought to trial in the US, for his involvement in the death of one of Chile´s generals in 1973. In the extended aftermath following the events of the next day, I never heard any follow up. Something must have happened to that trial.

Part Three

Catherine Jordan asked me to keep folks posted on what can be done, so that I could live in Minneapolis with Mauricio. I heard back from both Martin Sabo and Mark Dayton that they were cosponsoring the Permanent Partners Immigration Bill. We need to get the Senator Coleman and rest of the Minnesota delegation to Washington on board. Some may already be. Call them and ask. It is just a law. It could be passed.

For more info on it go to http://www.hrc.org/issues/federal_leg/ppia/quickfacts.asp
pscully on 10.06.03 @ 12:51 PM CET [link]

Friday, October 3rd

Morning thoughts on the Rhein

Saturday morning.
September 20, 2003

I stayed in bed this morning, indulging in not having to get up, no where to go. Nothing promised until rehearsal today at four. Nicole´s apartment here in Cologne is so peaceful, an oasis. I looked across at Maurício, still asleep. Beautiful. My mind drifted to my siblings. Worries about Greg and his prostate cancer. Wondering about how he is doing, and how his wife Randi is. Then I thought about Bill and Betty. Felt guilty about not having been incontact with them since leaving for here. I imagined Jeff getting ready for the pig roast to celebrate his birthday. Since I turn 50 this October, he will next year. That will be a big event. For my 50th I am thinking Berlin? Capetown? I could go with Maurício to South Africa to be there for my 50th and visit Kevin Winge. I thought of writing a letter, sending it to John and having him share it with everyone. Shannon, hmmm, I guess I will always feel guilty that I don´t visit her often enough in the home where she lives. Now, being in Europe, well honestly, not that much changes. Tonight´s show is about death, gifts and losses, paying attention. I guess that brings these thoughts of family. From there my thoughts went to Nicollet Island and my old apartment. The realization that all of my old belongings are gone, gone to others. Some friends, some acquaintences, some strangers. Then it hits me, all of this change is to see, can I have love in my life with a partner? Can I let that happen? Can I have that? Questions arise, doubts. Do I have that with Maurício? How can I build on what we have? Make it stronger, more intense, more palpable? In my worst fears, I am just a deceived sugar daddy. That I give and he gladly receives, and that the difference of our economic realities in this world so totally blinds things that what I thought or wished was love isn´t that at all. That´s my worst fear, but I don´t worry about it a lot. I have been blind and foolish and stupid in love before, and somehow I come out of it all the better. (Not to deny the pain.) Now I am more concerned that my limited Portuguese is our lingua franca. I fear my small vocabulary and lack of ease in talking limits how much we communicate, and that limits our love.
Then, I remember the joy of coming home from work here in Berlin, to find him cooking dinner for us, and I remember breakfasts together, the intimacy of simple domesticity, and I think: I am getting the things I want. I am not alone. I am with someone I love, who has also chosen to be with me. We look out for each other.
Live your life as an experiment, says the teacher. I am doing that. Seeing how it is to live with love.
pscully on 10.03.03 @ 11:25 PM CET [link]

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