Last time I went on vacation without access to news, I was in Greece, on Ithaca, and Chernobyl happened. I found out about it a week later when I got to Athens to catch my flight back to Hamburg. There was an English language newspaper there – Daily American perhaps, or that was the paper in Rome, I can’t accurately recall now – and there was a bold headline about a nuclear accident, so I picked up the paper and read. It explained the maps I had seen on Greek TV when I had dinner in an island restaurant. The arrows, the red zone on the map. I hadn’t understood a word that the reporters were saying so it all meant nothing to me at the time.
Now, here I am in eastern Germany, in the Lake District of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania without access to the Internet and without even a newspaper headline to glance at, because who cares anyway. I’m on vacation. The world can end while I sit in the sun and get my farmer’s tan to become a full body tan. The people around me are not panicking, so whatever is happening, it’s not happening here yet. So fuck it. I’m on vacation. And I just don’t care any more.
You, who are on the front lines, who still believe in ideals of democracy and the struggle against the fascist flow at your doorstep – I applaud you and respect you in the same way I applaud the actors in a play that seems to have meaning while I am watching it, in the same way I respect the courage of the actors who stand up on that stage and allow the world’s public to watch them perform. But then I get up and leave the auditorium or theater and go back to sit in the sun until the danger comes to me, to my doorstep and I’m thrust upon the world stage to act. Until then: I’m on vacation!
My wife is one of those wonderful people who are socially competent. She comes from a family with seven children. She’s the oldest of three from her mother’s final husband, but she always had most of the older kids in the house until she was about 15, and by then she was the one who had all the responsibility and had to find her way through life.
I’m an only child. Socially incompetent because my dominant mother used me as a showpiece, like a pony that can do tricks. I would work behind the bar at her parties and fix drinks for her guests. I was 10 and could pour whiskey, brandy, and a limited number of mixed drinks. Complicated cocktails were not necessary at her parties because the men who came were whiskey drinkers and the women only needed tonic or lime as a mixer, if they weren’t drinking straight stuff themselves.
This social competence thing has been both a blessing and a curse for me. A blessing because by being unable to take part in large group gatherings, it has made it possible for me to observe how people function. A curse because I could never stay in an office job longer than six months. Either I get sick of the people in the office, or they get sick of me. And of course I am useless at office politics.
Anyway what I want to say is that because my wife is socially competent, it takes much of the pressure off of me. I let her do the talking to people we meet for the first time. She doesn’t mind because she has noted on several occasions when I have opened up a conversation, that it either doesn’t end so well – people are annoyed or offended by my direct approach – or they stand there puzzled because I have left out relevant parts that they need in order to understand what I want to say. She steps in and suddenly people are all smiles and very helpful.
I love my wife!
One of the very social things she does with me is ask my opinion of what I would like to do and where I would like to go. Especially now on vacation. What should we do today? Go for a boat ride? Sit on the beach next to the lake? Go to another lake in the region and check out the town? Truth is, I really don’t care what we do. As long as she is happy, I’m happy. I have no burning desire to go here or do that. My job, as I’ve told her a number of times, is to make her happy. If she is happy, I am happy.
Now, of course I understand that she is being kind and thoughtful and would like me to express an opinion. But I really have no opinion. However, from time to time I express an opinion so that I don’t appear to be a dolt. I don’t want to appear to be a dolt. I might very well be one. But she would not like me to appear to be one – neither would I – so I express an opinion.
Reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is really an interesting endeavor. It reads like a crime novel because, I guess, that’s what it is. A bunch of criminals who pose as religious people, and a bunch of idealists who act like criminals.
Meanwhile, I am on the banks of another lake today in a little village named Klink. It has a Schloss (a kind of castle) which is really just a big manor house with towers that are round and pointed, like those fairytale castles where the princess is kept in one of the towers because she otherwise would upset the marriage applecart that her wicked stepmother has prepared for her.
The swallows have built nests facing South in the westerly tower. The lake is to the south of the Schloss. It’s not made of stone, just bricks and mortar painted white with brown trimming. The roof tiles and the roof tiles of the pointed towers are black and shiny and on the towers they wrap around in a spiral pattern which is quite pleasing to the eye. It looks impressive from the water. Of course it’s a hotel now. And you have to make reservations if you want to eat in one of its two restaurants. But we brought sandwiches with us. And water. And carrot juice. And some sweet snacks.
I’ve been in Germany over 30 years now and yet I still complain. It’s difficult for me to get used to the way people behave. There is a surface of politeness that has something to do with the language, the way strangers address each other, not using the familiar “du”. However, behind that respectful politeness there is a boorishness that is expressed in the type of food they have – the German kitchen. Lots of meat: cow, pig, wild boar, deer, hare. That with potatoes and cabbage. Yes, there is a movement now toward “bio” (organic) food, but that is mostly with the newly awake bourgeoisie that live in the city. Here, out in proletarian East Germany, it’s fast food and meat. I am overweight because I sit too much. But people here are fat. Really fat. Morbidly obese. And it makes me feel like my ill-earned belly is nothing in comparison.
I officially belong to the Big Belly Brigade. I’m ashamed to say it, but it’s the truth. My belly is not as big as some of the others I’ve seen here, but nevertheless, it’s there for the world to see. It crept up on me. Too much sitting. Bad posture. No real exercise except riding my bike to work and back, only about 15 or 20 minutes each way. No big deal if you leave 30 minutes early. The belly arrived slowly, surreptitiously, as a few pounds overweight at first – no big deal, I had been overweight sometimes when I was younger, it hadn’t been a problem. Activity of some kind always happened back then and the few pounds disappeared. In my youth I was a baseball player, a competitive swimmer (my mother wanted me to be in the Olympics), a football player in high school (JV, I was too young for varsity), rugby, soccer and field hockey in Nairobi, and of course a surfer, both in Los Angeles and later in Durban. So weight and being fit where never a problem. Even though I was a smoker for many years, it never had an effect on my state of fitness.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped paying attention to my body. Everything had worked automatically before, so I didn’t give it a thought because I guess I must have believed it would always work automatically. Wrong. You gots to work at your body later in life. So I have learned. Morning exercise is now on my program. But the belly doesn’t seem to want to recede. My darling wife believes it’s genetic. And if I look at the Antonelli side of the family that still resides in Umbria, I do see some genetically Etruscan Big Belly Brigade brothers. But there are also very thin Antonelli relatives, from my grandmother’s side of the family (Sephardic crypto-Jews) who are all thin.
But my Big Belly is not nearly as large and rotund as some of the bellies I have witnessed here.
Women are not exempt from joining the Brigade. Many of the ones carrying all that extra belly also have tree trunk thighs to support the extra weight. [This is where the PC police start to prick up their inner ears because they suspect that “fat shaming” is about to occur.] Overweight people, people with bellies and an excess of fat over their bodies are not aesthetically pleasing. Myself included in this decay of aesthetics. Now whether you’re ashamed of that or not is up to you. I’m not exactly ashamed as much as I’m angry with myself for not having caught my lack of attention sooner. I thought I was more conscious than that. So now I am doing too little too late and have convinced myself that “it’s better than nothing.”
[Note to PC police: In this piece I refer to “my darling wife” or to “my wife” without mentioning her name because she has not given me permission to use her name in public. She has given me permission to refer to her as “wife” even though, I can assure you, she is not “submissive.” She actually kept her own family name when we wed. So you won’t find her listed anywhere as Ms. or Mrs. Antonelli. She is a strong and independent woman. Uncannily similar in personality to my mother – but that’s a subject for me and my analyst to discuss.]
My darling wife makes the plans for our days at lakeside. Today we are spending the day close to home on the Fleesensee. There are a few nice strips of beach not far away – 500 to 800 meters – with lots of soft green grass and then a short strip of sand. The lake water is always warm enough and yet refreshing enough to bathe in, and you don’t feel slimy or salty after you lie back down on your towel.
Yesterday we drove to Waren, a rather large town on Lake Müritz. It has an old section with narrow streets, lots of tourist trap shops, a church from 12-something and lots of people in small groups casting their eyes on everything. Yes, we all wear masks when going into shops. Yes, we all wear masks when ordering food or ice cream at a street-side window. Some people wear masks all the time. On the local shuttle bus to the Golf Hotel this morning we wore masks, as did the other two passengers. [We hate golf but we wanted to see where the rich fools spend their money. Nice reconverted Schloss, with lots of wood-paneled high-ceilinged rooms. We most definitely couldn’t afford to stay there, but then why would we want to. We have nothing in common with people who drive little electric carts with an attached umbrella to keep the sun off their haircuts. They could take a long walk on one of the back roads next to the lake instead or ride a bike on the many bike paths around the lake. And anyway, they most definitely suffer under access to the Internet and News 24/7.]
It’s time now to go sit on Lakeside and be ever thankful that I have No Internet. No News!
My darling wife is probably being kind to me when she says my Big Belly is genetic. I know how I have neglected to take care of my body for the past 20 years, so it’s as much nurture as it is nature.
Not long before we left on vacation, I went on an Internet quest to find a woman from my distant past in Baltimore, when I was young and fearless and rather careless as well. The woman in question was a few years older than me, but we were hot together. I had just returned from an ill-fated odyssey to north Dakota – I only made it as far as Chicago. Actually, and because I was recklessly hitchhiking, I got dropped off in Gary, Indiana. I tried to get on a train that stopped at a street station but the conductor blocked the door, so I ended up getting robbed at gunpoint. After trying to get people to call the cops, a police car arrived and took me to the police station where I called some people I knew in Chicago and they came to pick me up – with their German Shepherd for company. My lack of knowledge had almost gotten me killed, and not just by the guys who robbed me. The cops as well, I suspect. On the way to the station we stopped in an alley and they questioned me for about ten minutes. They kept looking at each other kind of funny, asking me if I would come back and go to court if the criminals were caught. I said Yes, of course. I mentioned that my mother was the Consul in Seattle. They could call her. Eventually they must have decided that I was not a white boy drug dealer who got rolled, just a stupid idiot who almost got capped. Twice. I seriously did not know Gary was such a hotbed of criminality.
Anyway, I made it back to Baltimore with a trauma from the robbery but no injuries to my body. And this woman, Jean, helped me to get the trauma under control by leaving me exhausted both day and night with the kind of lovemaking I had only dreamed of or read about in Henry Miller novels. This went on through the end of that summer, through the winter that followed, and the first part of the next long hot summer.
Then I left to go back to LA because I had to answer my calling. Yes, I had (still have) a calling.
Religious people describe it as a voice inside, the voice of their concept of God telling them to take a certain path in life. I have my own voice and an incredibly strong need to write things down. I have to tell somebody what I see and what I think. I can still remember how frustrated I was as a child of perhaps two or three at the oldest when my mother was in our kitchen in our apartment in Zagreb talking with her girlfriend and I could understand every word (they were speaking Italian) and I wanted to join in the conversation, and I tried to formulate the words that were so clear in my head, yet only gibberish, broken syllables came out of my mouth and they both looked at me, waiting for the coherence that never came, and then my mother smiled and the other lady said something and they chuckled and I, frustrated, retreated into the living room.
That is probably the origin of my urge to say something, tell somebody. And it’s been with me ever since. Then, when I was 16 and at boarding school in Nairobi (St. Mary’s), As You Like It and Wuthering Heights happened to me. Wuthering Heights dug deep into the darkness of my nascent psyche and opened my brain to complexity and the terror that could be evoked by words well-written. In As You Like It the clown, Touchstone, steals the show because he is not only the wittiest and wisest, but also because he can rhyme at will on any subject. I wanted to be Touchstone. Later in life, after university literature courses got hold of me, I arrived at the supposition that if Shakespeare had been an actor as well as a writer and producer that he would have played Touchstone because it was his role in life to entertain and spread wisdom through words in rhyme.
So, on my quest to find out what ever became of Jean, I ended up on one of those heritage sites where they give you limited information while hoping that you will enter your credit card number and allow them to suck dollars or euros from your bank account. However the limited information they gave up was enough for me. Jean died in the year 2000 at the age of 59. She had moved from Baltimore to LA in 1986. By then I was long gone again, back in Europe. So all the songs and stories where she is either in the foreground or the background or had some inspiration in their creation, all those words will never get to her. A bit frustrating once again. But then, who knows if these words will ever get to anybody?
Sitting in the St. Marien church. The Last Supper is a large painting that takes up almost all the space behind the altar and it seems to have only 11 apostles instead of 12. Does that mean that Judas is already “out of the picture” or was the painting ordered to contain only the 11 that remained faithful? I’ll have to do some research on that. There is an empty stool at the front on the left in the painting.
My darling wife is finding a better place to park while I contemplate the painting. In the Aldi parking lot where we first parked electronic plates in the parking slots measure how long you have been parked there and if you go over 90 minutes you have to pay €20 (actually €19.90) as a fine.
For the first time this week I saw two people not wearing masks inside a church. They were inspecting the altar and the painting, but the lady deposited lots of coins in the holder where you light a candle for the departed, so I guess she is forgiven for not wearing a mask.
Later, after talking with the nice lady at the entrance to the church who sells glossy picture brochures: It turns out that Judas is in the painting after all. His chair is empty but he is a shadow figure in the back, behind the others, on the left side, so there are six apostles to the right of Jesus and six to the left. The painting (Abendmahl, 1852) was specially commissioned for the church. It is by Gaston Lenthe, a court painter from Schwerin.
We sit in a little courtyard where there are about 10 small tables, most of them out of the sun, under a canopy or a corner with a roof over it. Café Mühlenblick. From the small courtyard, which is walled in – the wall having large stone foundations and then red bricks to top it off – you can see the windmill which is up on a hill not far beyond the wall.
When you walk through the café from the street, you wear a mask. Everybody does. You order at the counter and they bring your order to the table. We sat at table 7. There we filled in name, address, telephone number and the time of visit. Everyone does. And then we had the best coffee and cake that we have had all week. (Big Belly Brigade notwithstanding!)
Actually, this is the second time this week that we have been in a café that has a courtyard. The first was in Plau am See. Also nice. But in this one the food is better, homemade cake and large cups of coffee. My darling wife gets a large filter coffee and adds cream. I get a large cup of Milchkaffee (Latte) with a sweet little heart in white on the foam. My first slice of cake is poppyseed, nice and thickly packed, but not too sugary sweet. Just right. My darling wife has a slice with half sunflower seeds and half peaches. The second slice of cake, which we share, is plum with a crumbly topping. It’s all homemade with bio (organic) ingredients and not so sweet.
After re-parking a couple of times to free parking spaces so as not to spend Euros, we find a place that is not limited to two-hours of free parking. That will allow us to walk down to the harbor and, if a suitable boat presents itself, go for a short boat ride on the Müritz Lake.
Yes, we will wear masks if we sit inside the boat. But if we are outside on the top deck we will be able to enjoy the breeze and the sunshine maskless.
Well, turns out that the boat trip that was available yesterday (Friday) was too long (3 hours), so we have reserved two seats on a boat trip at noon today, Saturday, that only takes an hour. Today is our last day of vacation, so after we leave our cute little reconditioned DDR holiday home at 10, we’ll drive to Röbel and park and have breakfast at the bakery coffee shop (the only place open for breakfast) and then see if enough people have decided to join the noon boat trip. There has to be at least 10 people or the boat won’t leave the harbor.
We packed everything we could last night. This morning only the food needs to be packed into our handy Kooltasche (cooler bag) with two excellent cooling bricks to keep everything cold all day until we get back to Hamburg.
The evenings and mornings here are full of birdcalls. Mornings it’s the rooster who lives a few houses away and starts his coo-coo-roo-coo! just as the sun comes up. Then he comes back to his hoarse-throated song at 6:30 and 7:00 and 7:30. By then maybe he has demonstrated to all the chickens that he is the cock of the walk.
The sparrows are in flocks of 20 or so that travel nervously from house top to house top to grass to bush to grass always chattering and always ready to fly away at a moment’s notice.
For the last two days a pigeon somewhere has been who coo-ing balefully. The Eurasian collared doves perch on the roof ridges of the houses across the way and seem to be a couple, but I don’t know enough about them to be able to tell.
Next door, high up in one of the pines or birch trees there must be a crow in a nest. The caw caw comes from time to time in the morning as well as in the evening.
Not so often, I can hear the nasty wrathful magpie spit out a few sour notes.
We have spent the evenings after home-cooked dinner at the lakeside watching the sun go down. You can also watch crows returning from their western hunting grounds to their eastern homes in the forested area of the lake. They fly over the water (not too far from shore) directly to their distant resting places. At first there are large flocks of 20 or 50 or more, and then smaller ones of 10 to 15, then even smaller, five or six, and then stragglers in pairs or threes and sometimes only one flying extra fast to catch up. And just as you think that you’ve seen the final straggler, after a short pause, another four or five and then two or three and a lone straggler fly by.
Besides the various birdcalls, not much other noise around here. No cars passing on a nearby road. Nobody cutting grass with an electric or power mower. No airplanes or helicopters. No speedboats on the lake. Yes. You heard me right. No speedboats on the lake. There is a strict limit on how fast a boat can travel if it has a motor. 25 km/h. The same goes for jet skis. No showing off your jet ski skills.
But the best so far has been: No Internet. No News. The noise of demented civilization that always goes on in the background has been mercifully absent. Of course I’ll go back to the west on Saturday evening, back to Hamburg, and probably fall right back into the churning cycle of the news, like a body thrown into a wood-chipper (Fargo).
Yes, this was all handwritten before it was read into a speech recognition program and subsequently corrected. BTW: The pen I used to write in my sketch book [I don’t sketch] was shared between my darling wife and me. When she was not using it for Sudoku, I was allowed to use it. We only had that one pen between us.
In the shadow of the Nicolaikirche in Röbel, I wait for my darling wife who has gone to drink from the cold bottle of water we left in the car. We are early to Röbel today even though we took a road less traveled through Klink to try and find a little Schloss that my wife wanted to see. After driving for a while we discovered it was much too far away so we turned back and came here. Parked. Went to the only bakery café open and she got a cheese bun and a normal bun in case she gets hungry later. There was nothing there for me. Just ordinary sweet Danish pastry and marzipan pastry and other sugary masses that would secure my membership in the BBB. I am doing my best to get out of that fellowship.
Well, here we are back in Hamburg. Sunday morning and mother and father blackbird (both molting) are back for a free meal, something that has been lacking since we have been gone. Our youngest, Fabio (20), has been watering the garden early in the morning and late at night through the heatwave. It has been over 30° C every day for the whole week we were away here in Hamburg and will continue like that through this next week. He didn’t feed the blackbirds because he didn’t see them. They come when I open my window and open the door. That’s how they know I’m home. Added to them this morning was a red-breasted Robin who waited patiently until Ms. and Mr. B. were busy eating then went in quickly and removed as many mealworms as possible before getting chased away by the heavily molting Mr. B.
Sunday afternoon we made the mistake of going to Wedel, where the ships enter Hamburg on the Elbe. We wanted to sit by the river and relax awhile. We escaped immediately!
I did not reconnect my computer Saturday night. I’ll do that later Sunday evening, to get ready for Monday and work. My brother, who lives and works in Saudi Arabia, called me over IMO. He wanted to tell me news about political developments, but I was able to put him off. We’ll talk Monday. I’m going to keep this No Internet. No News. situation going on until Monday. After that I will probably allow myself to get sucked into the shit stream.
On our boat trip from Röbel on the Müritz, on our way out of the harbor, there was a horrible smell. Fertilizer made from pig shit. Cow shit fertilizer has a bad enough smell, but pig shit fertilizer is ten times worse. And all the time, while I was smelling it, I was thinking: This must be the odor emanating from the White House and leaking out of the offices of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Last time I went on vacation without news, Chernobyl happened. It was a huge disaster and I knew nothing about it. I wonder what kind of disaster has taken place during this week when I have had No Internet. No News.
As we were driving back to Hamburg the lyrics of one song kept running through my head:
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
— Mike Mills, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Bill Berry
And I don’t care!