The first year in my current apartment, a small but sufficient one-bedroom, I avoided opening the door that leads straight from the bedroom to the outdoors. Shortly after move-in, a large population of wasps threw me, Cooper, and the overly-curious cats a deranged housewarming party, with that back wall of the house as its epicenter. (The worst day, Cooper counted something like seventy-eight wasps in their death throes, writhing on the bedroom carpet while a sadistic feline looked on.) I let eighteen months pass before I ventured out onto the fire escape again. So last year was our second summer in the apartment and the first summer with a garden.
I love the old streetcars. Of course I do—I rode streetcars almost every day when I lived in Freiburg, and I loved them there, too, though they’re not nearly as old or as cute as their New Orleans analogs. Canal Street impressed me. I had expected a regular, boring downtown street. Instead, the tall buildings were also old and pretty, with big palms welcoming the streetcars down the boulevard and perfect blue skies overhead. Cooper and I were reminded of Market Street in downtown San Francisco, only prettier. It felt so similar to ride into town on the streetcar, headed toward the water and the ferries (if not toward the delectable delights of San Francisco’s Ferry Building). Some streets felt a little like San Francisco too, with colorful wooden houses rising up beside us, the front doors above our heads. But this low, flat city on the country’s greatest river charmed us in a way the city by the bay did not.
I liked everywhere we went: the Faubourg Marigny, the French Quarter, Esplanade Avenue up to Bayou St. John and City Park, the Garden District and Uptown. Familiar as Cooper and I are with Detroit, we are not strangers to streetscapes broken by uninhabited houses, destructively situated expressways, or large expanses of neglected grassland, so those markers of hard times didn’t alter our enthusiasm. However, a long walk in City Park on our third day proved to be more than we bargained for. After beignets from the Morning Call coffee stand and a long stroll through the New Orleans Museum of Art’s sculpture garden, we headed farther into the park. It’s a huge place, bigger than I imagined from looking at the large rectangle on the maps. Our official goal was to find alligators, although our directions were vague at best. If I’d realized we wouldn’t make it back to the massive live oaks and pretty ponds covered in birds and turtles, I might not have left. (Next time: bring a blanket and a picnic!)
Instead, we walked under the elevated highway that bisects the park from west to east. When we reached the other side, we wondered if we had made a mistake. Continue reading “Three and a Half Days in New Orleans”
During the Cold War, the Reichstag—its cupola wrecked, its walls bullet-pocked—was an abandoned relic in the no man’s land of central Berlin, just inside the British sector. The Wall, built in 1961, ran a few steps from the back of the building.
I finally begin to read this profile of Angela Merkel in The New Yorker, warm in my apartment in Michigan, colored lights twinkling on my Christmas tree in the corner. I feel comfortable with the historical introduction to Berlin that begins the article, though there’s a momentary twinge of shame at this self-satisfaction. The facts that I am recognizing are basic, and I fear my knowledge doesn’t go much deeper, despite the B.A. I hold in German, despite the many walking tours I’ve been led on through that city, both literal and literary.
It’s strange to me how much I warm up inside when a topic dear to me comes up. But I feel rusty on Germany, not really confident about the nuances of anything that’s German, not anymore. My convictions about living there, the people and the places I encountered, the day-to-day practices I observed and participated in, grow fuzzier with time. I know by rote the words I used to say, but the immediacy of experience is held hostage beyond the barrier of time. I don’t feel as though I can back up my old impressions and rusty knowledge, and I don’t think I have enough left of those experiences to plunge deeper, think anew.
Reading the sentence, though—the wall, built in 1961, ran a few steps from the back of the building—I remember it. Continue reading “Reichstag”