Letters From Berlin

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]

October 2003
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