I finished the last of the Stumptown beans provided by the estimable Sara Kolp and went in search of refreshment, discovering to my utter amazement a new cafe inside the Guildhall.
The place is filled with quaint genteel elderly people so perfect it looks like a BBC film set. From a different decade.
The best part? Free Daily Mail hookup! They even provide it attached to the long wooden post things. Ever so dignified, what?
Though I am compelled to point out that, contrary to silly newspaper recipe suggestions, jack-o-lanterns are NOT eatin' pumpkins. If you live in the UK and want the yummy kind, ask a farmer. Or go to Selfridges.
This is the first year I am not going trick or treating. Ever! In my entire life!
Back in the routine of making cookies in a town without chocolate chips.
General notes: Austin isn't gonna happen, kids. Maybe next year. Oh and for the stray remaining locals: Orphan Thanksgiving is cancelled.
I was asked appear in a documentary involving a stunt that I thought facile.
I declined, expecting be cancelled, and the producer.... took it well, then reiterated the request for an interview.
In the states, telling a producer no is the quickest way to be kicked to the curb. Not that I ever cared when, say, the Jerry Springer show wanted me to diss teen moms (or whatever). No is the most powerful word ever.
Hopefully the process won't be too painful, though I always sound like a crackpot on the radio.
Maybe because I am one? Though I was hoping 'curmudgeon' would start to take over in these elderly years.
He is the rare and precious person equally brilliant at high table, primary school fete, and midnight maurading: farewell to Jean! He is off to a new old life in South Africa, and the city will not be the same.
I'll miss him.
I'm back in England, where they like to store toilet paper on the floor.
Preferrably in a puddle.
Renting a loft in Mitte, picnic lunches next to the remnants of the Berlin wall, hours reading and writing in coffee shops, public transit adventures, squats and ice cream, long walks by the river, dinners at Monsieur Vuong; everything about this city is seductive.
One afternoon I meandered over to Prenzlauer Berg to meet Carolyn to catch up on gossip, chat about work, and debate the merits of various cities.
Another day we hooked up with Holly Chernobyl (last seen at the height of hedonist Seattle adventures) in Kreuzberg for similar purposes, more delicious food, a graffiti tour, extreme hilarity.
It is accurate to say that one week in Berlin involves more fun with friends than I would experience in six months in Cambridge.
If the question is where should I live? the answer may well include Berlin.
Why? Because I can.
This morning on the UBahn some random Americans heard me talking to my kid, announced that they are from "near Milwaukee Wisconsin," then tried to engage us in conversation. Upon hearing that we live in England on purpose they looked baffled; when we indicated our trip to Germany was neither work nor pleasure but rather just the way we roll, they looked offended.
Then the woman accused me (literally - she looked perturbed, and said it in an insulted voice) of being "well dressed."
Huh? Me? For the purposes of this fact finding mission I am attired in a black skirt from H&M, a black turtleneck from Uniqlo, and a basic black coat. Yeah, I'm carrying a Comme des Garcons bag, but it is made of PVC and thus cheap, as far as designer kit goes. My uniform is not ambitious, or in any way remarkable. In fact, by European standards, I am defiantly downmarket.
Of course my son is quite elegant, towering over me in his suits, but he has dressed like that since infancy. We have not been converted by this life... we have just drifted toward appropriate mooring.
I stared at the strangers, in their matching brightly colored fleece, and they stared back: an impasse.
After they departed with salutations of fake cheer I was curious: aside from the normative rules of mall fashion, what else has my son missed?
A quick pop qiz revealed he does not know what Costco, Circle K, or Plaid Pantry are. He has never heard of chew (Big League or otherwise). He cannot name Slurpee flavors.
We've celebrated in Portland, Seattle, Denver, NYC, Cambridge, London, Venice, Paris, and now Berlin: happy thirteenth birthday to my brilliant son!
At last - I have found a place where I look normal, but cannot understand anything whatsoever!
Bookstores, cycling, coffee, cheap housing, dinner & dioramas in Brecht's basement, graffiti, kebaps in Kreuzberg, music, museums, puppet palaces, scores of friends, a yo-yo emporium. I purchased truly excellent new black tights, and then had a proper hot bath for the first time since moving to Europe. Berlin is a wonderland!
Could a place offer more?
This trip is the first stage of a courtship, and yes, I know that infatuation is always better than reality.
Still - my suitor offers some delicious candy. Apparently I have no problem talking on chocolate phones:
I'm listening to Swan Island and packing for Berlin.
Recently a new friend asked if a mutual acquaintance is really, truly, crazy. I shrugged a yes; this is an obvious conclusion based not just on character but also on behavior.
What amazed me was the question - how anyone could be tricked in to believing otherwise, when the facts are so obvious to anyone who cares to look.
I'm not the one to sensitively listen when your love affair with a poet, guru, or rock star goes awry. I'm not the one who can simulate surprise when your suicidal cousin does the deed. I fail, routinely, in all the simple sympathetic tasks, mostly because I expect the worst, and I have never been disappointed.
Hateful people are filled with hate. The delusional are deluded. The sick are sickly. Crazy is as crazy does. Etc. Hiding behind religion, philosophy, a career in the creative arts, science, or whatever does not change these facts.
The only trouble for me is... I like em like that. In fact, I broke off contact with the aforesaid mutual acquaintance not because he was demonstrably crazy, and a liar, but rather because he was boring. And because he wore sandals.
Current curriculum: listen to archive tapes of Bloomsbury folks talking about their lives, read or observe original work, visit places they hung out. Yeah.
More memories of the Horniman:
The best part about homeschooling? I have company for all of my museum excursions! Today we ventured forth to the Robot Zoo at the Horniman:
While I chose to move to the United Kingdom on a whim, and lived in Cambridge out of inertia, I never vacillated in my basic intent to stay in this country. I've paid dearly for the choice - in real terms through double taxation and massively high cost of living; I have three times as much cash, and live like a pauper. There have been other subtle but nonetheless true costs, like the degradation of what I consider the nifty parts of my career: performance and touring. And then there are all the intangible and hugely painful bits like distance from friends and family.
Several people I love have died, and I did not get to say goodbye.
I have written and talked about these issues over the years, but never allowed myself to reckon the true damage. I denied the extent to which I felt trapped, because how ridiculous would that sound?
The opportunity to move to England sounds like a childhood wish fulfilled, because it is. Life on the river, and the ability to travel around Europe at will, wintering in the south of France, weekends in Prague or Rome, sounds like a dream, because it is.
To complain would require a level of sophistication approaching insanity.
But the fact that I am properly appreciative of the advantages I enjoy does not mean there are no consequences. The choice to emigrate (like the choice to parent) implies and explicitly requires enormous compromise in all other areas of life.
As the days and years accumulated I did not even realize how much this mattered. My problems, while rational, were absurd. If I have no sympathy for this kind of complaint, then why should anyone else?
I tried to be rude and dismissive to myself, but that didn't seem to help very much. So I reverted to the favored old solution of humming and ignoring the problem.
Over the last thirty-eight years, I have worked endlessly hard, conquered fears, vanquished enemies, achieved all desires, forced every wish to come true, by whatever means necessary. Hanging out in an idyllic university town for awhile didn't seem, in the abstract, such a challenge.
But, by the time I applied for permanent residency, I had capitulated all hope. More than at any other time in my life, including but not limited to the cancer years, I truly despaired. If I can't enjoy this - this - mess, then what would ever sort things out? What is the point? The fact that I disapprove of existential crises does not immunize me against the disease.
When the permanent residency was granted, I allowed myself a tiny thrill of satisfaction for a job well done. I did not expect the buoyant waves of delight that followed, sparked by the possession of something so far out of reach that I could not even fathom hoping for it.
"Indefinite leave to remain" - a simple piece of paper with some fancy seals - affixed to my passport - what does that mean anyway?
It means I have the right to live, work, buy houses, pay taxes, educate my children, die, pay more taxes, in a country where everyone is entitled to health care absolutely. My children share this privilege. They are safe. We are safe. Our neighbors and local friends are safe, or safe enough. For the first time.
Despondency, anxiety, and gloom vanished, to be replaced with a new set of questions. Beyond duty, without considering others, what do I want? If I can live anywhere, where should I live? And with who?
Between now and June I will have to decide - stay in the UK and apply for citizenship? Go back to the states? Something more exotic?
Oh glorious day - my passport arrived! I am real again!
To celebrate I removed myself to London, where I decided that I should live at the Barbican. Or at least, that I have the wardrobe for it. With the posse, aka my twelve year old son:
David Cameron, PM Heir Apparent (he calls himself a Liberal Conservative - huh?) says "every child should have the chances I had."
Lessons have been suspended for the day as the class was 'taking a flutter' on the horses at Newmarket. In the company of Cambridge professors - so the whole thing must be a sensible wholesome treat, right?
If you were enrolled at the Bee Lavender Academy of Etiquette, lessons of the day would include punting, puppetry, and Don Quixote.
It appears that locals call homeschooling "home education." Despite the fact that I dwell in the center of intellectual life, in a city where private tuition enjoys an illustrious history, nobody as yet has claimed any vague understanding of what we are doing. Acquaintances just look startled and uncomfortable.
The average resident of my tatty Portland OR neighborhood is more conversant in the history of radical education.
Summerhill is in England, people!
In other educational news, you might recall that my eldest has only attended school for approximately eighteen months of her entire life, while periodically acing cognitive and placement tests. She dropped out of art school a couple of years ago but decided to return to the academic trough to finish up A levels in preparation for university.... and is now enraged to find that she is an "Oxbridge candidate."
For those far away from such niceties, this means that her scores and aptitude and demeanor have placed her in a defined track, where she is expected to apply to either Oxford or Cambridge. And if you can, then you should, says received wisdom.
Except she doesn't want to. She says they are both shit, and beneath her contempt.
This is so far from my experience of life I can't do much except laugh.