Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Jewish Presence in Berlin

Exterior of the Jewish Museum Berlin 
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe, Berlin 
Getting to the Judisches Museum we not only got lost, but for the first time,  people (well, the bus drivers) were not very helpful, and when we tried to ask if we were on the right bus before boarding, some were even outright annoyed. It wasn't until we got on our third bus that the driver was very helpful and assured us that we should get off his bus and take another that would take us directly where we wanted to go. The raw and rainy afternoon was not helped by the time we spent riding to and fro, but we were determined to get to the Jewish Museum and fortunately they were open til 9 pm that night. 

When we arrived, we were surprised to see a small booth with a guard outside and that once inside, the security was much like that at an American airport
 — empty pockets, put bags and bookbags through a conveyor screening, walk through a metal detector. Like the Deutsches Historiches Museum, this museum covers 2000 years of German history but more specifically “gives an overview of the settlement and cultural history of Jews in Germany from late antiquity to the present.” 

The enormous complex of the old building, the new building, and the glass courtyard between, was filled with wonderful exhibits of the Jews from the Middle Ages up through the 21st century, but as with most of my museum experiences, just a few things stay with you from the overwhelming spread. Though it's only skimming the surface of riches of the Judisches Museum, here are mine: 

One of the very first things I saw was a ceramic seder plate depicting each of the foods that symbolizes a tradition of religious importance, but this seder plate had a very modern addition — an orange to symbolize the contributions of women and homosexuals to Judaism “as well as their historical exclusion and their continuing struggle for equality.” 

There was a tree built inside the museum with a spiraling staircase that went up inside the branches across the canopy of leaves and then onto another floor
 — a wonderful up-and-down exercise for kids, but even better was the writing station nearby with cards and pens asking, “What’s your wish?” — write it down and attach it to the branches of the tree. You could pin your hopes for your family and the world on that tree (I did) and you could read the wishes of everyone who had passed through that museum and taken the time to write theirs down. 

There was a special exhibit containing a grouping of impressionistic portraits all done by Leonid Pasternak, (the father of Boris Pasternak, who wrote Dr Zhivago).  To give you a taste of his talent, here is his 1928 painting of the writer Rainer Maria Rilke.

Aerial Jewish Museum Berlin, Libeskind-old building and construction 
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Günter Schneider
The exhibits contained many touching artifacts of those who had perished in the holocaust — a cup, a letter, a photo, a scarf, a drawing, a suitcase —  each wrenching in its own way, but beyond all of these, particularly memorable, was an architectural feature of the museum (built by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind), the holocaust tower — an empty, 79-foot-high concrete tower that engulfs you in an austere and hollow solemn darkness punctuated only by the eerie whoosh of the wind outside and a sliver of light far, far above you and way, way, way out of reach.  Being enclosed in that silence, seems a fitting way to momentarily remember the millions of Jewish lives lost during a bleak and painful period in human history.

We were very fortunate to see a special exhibition,

about Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe in the 1920s.  Because this tells it better than I could, this from the museum’s website: 

“The exhibition tells the story of the family Kahan – exemplary for Russian-Jewish bourgeois Berlin – which amassed a fortune with an international oil company in the Russian Empire. Exotic studio photographs and objects of applied art from the Bezalel workshops in Jerusalem allow insight into the cultural and social life of the family.

Chaim Kahan made his fortune in the Russian oil business. He owned oil fields and refineries in Baku and Saratov and set up subsidiaries in Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk), Kharkov, Warsaw, and St. Petersburg.

After World War I, the Kahan family put down economic roots in Berlin. It was here that Chaim Kahan’s sons founded NITAG, one of Germany’s largest oil importers in the mid-1920s. In addition to storage facilities in Wilhelmshaven, Hamburg, Cologne, and Hanover, they built a nationwide network of gas stations. In 1924, a branch opened in Palestine as well.

After the Great Depression, under pressure from the Nazis, the Kahans sold their shares in the company and emigrated. Some went to Palestine, others to the U.S.”

I can only say it was magnificent. The showcases were filled with the objects of their wealth and family life
  a feathered fan, silver serving pieces, beautiful china, an array of calling cards; the shelves held pictures and mementos of the grandparents and parents and children and cousins, aunts, uncles — decades of their gatherings and celebrations and Shabbat services in their apartment, sometimes attended by 100 guests! 

The hat says it all...
Among the many exquisite belongings of the Kahan family, best of all, was a set of dollhouse furniture made by a boy cousin for a girl cousin: two beds, nightstand, an armoire, even a chest of drawers with mirror  and all of it could be packed away in an old Georges Borman confectionary tin from Russia that had been fitted with dividers to carefully place the pieces upright inside. The furniture  intricately detailed (the drawers opened!) and wonderful  was all made of PAPER. 

I realized that this is why the exhibit of the Kahan family meant so much to me. After all the horrific tragedies of the Holocaust, all the exhibits in museums everywhere memorializing so much loss, this family escaped that history.  This family prospered and partied and prayed.   And these precious pieces of lovingly crafted paper furniture, made over a hundred years ago — are still here, still with us, bringing us joy.   

UPDATE:  The museum sent me a photo and the text of the lovely furniture!
Bedroom dollhouse furniture
Nachum Kahan (1897–1985)
St. Petersburg 1907
Cardboard, paper, ink, metal
On loan from Efrat Carmon, Jerusalem 

For the Dollhouse  "Ten-year-old Nachum Kahan made this paper furniture for his cousin Rachel Rosenberg. While recovering from an illness, he found time to furnish an entire bedroom. Nachum sent the furniture to Warsaw, packed safely in a cookie tin. Rachel took it with her each time she moved and today Nachum’s great-grandchildren play with it in Israel."

* If you'd like to see more about this exhibit, there is a YouTube film
at this link (including a quick shot of the set).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Seeing the German View of Germany

Deutsches Historisches Museum
Though every guide book and traveler will tell you, you MUST MUST MUST go to Museumsinsel, a small island in the middle of the Spree River with a collection of five very large museums in the heart of Berlin, instead we are drawn to the DHM, the national museum of German history. We want to see how Germany presents its own past, especially World War II and the holocaust.  We opt for this museum housed in a former Prussian arsenal, the Zeughaus, another massive pink! building with a newer addition designed by IM Pei. I love these couplings of very old and new modern structures and it's something we will see again elsewhere in Berlin.

Christopher is itching to start at the very beginning (100 BC) with the barbaric tribes, the Romans, Franks, Visigoths and I don’t know who else. I send him on his way into the past while I opt for a special exhibition housed in the newer building:  Fashioning fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915 an exquisite collection of men’s and women’s clothing on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It is a beautifully done show that organizes the clothing through four lenses: a chronological timeline; a look at the textiles used in fashion over 200 years; a focus on tailoring techniques used to produce the fashions of the day (think corsets and boning, hoops and bustles); and most exceptional, trimmings — gorgeous embroidery, braiding, buttons and bows.

After wending my way through the largest of dresses with the tiniest of waists, I head for the permanent exhibit where the amount of artifacts, the organization, and the sheer size of the place is overwhelming.  Portraits, busts, coins. Military uniforms, insignia, maps, and medals, tapestries, figurines, and more, more, more.  I feel I can’t absorb the wealth of information that is everywhere.  Chris hasn't even made his way to the 1400s — he looks transfixed.  I scoot ahead to the 1800s for the Napoleonic era and things I can more readily grasp.  It is an incredible array of items that tell Germany's history.  Some things stand out: a showcase of uniforms, including an overly embellished and ribbon-ed child's uniform; between 1871-1918 there is a room with a wooden paneled structure of ten sides each side has a chair and when you sit there is a built-in pair of what looks like binoculars and when you look through you see a black and white photo of a group of men on a dock and if you wait patiently, all of a sudden a large mechanism inside the structure rotates and then you see a new picture in view, the next shot in the scene of workers and perhaps m it is the launching of a ship.  If you're impatient you can get up and change seats and see the next view.  I didn't write down what it was but I think it is called a Sciopticon; and finally, throughout the exhibits there are posters, magnificent political posters heralding the times.  Here are a few:

 Artist: Felix Albrecht  1932
Artist: Inge Drexler  1933

Russian "propaganda" poster: Nikolai Dolgorukov, Boris Efimov 1942

This is from the museum's website:  
"The Poster Collection comprises approximately 60,000 posters and covers the time from 1890 to the present -- from the early placards of events and advertisement bills to domestic and foreign World War I posters as well as items from the time of the Weimar Republic, National Socialism, World War II, the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany. On the whole, the thematical focus is on political posters.
Sammelt Obstkerne

The collection of the former Museum for German History laid the foundation for the current holdings. It was enlarged, for example, by parts of the collection of the Jewish dentist Hans Sachs, who had to leave Berlin and Germany in 1938. This important collection was confiscated by the Nazis and later thought to be lost in the war. For more than 30 years, Hans Sachs, who already as a high school student in the 1890s was fascinated by posters, was engaged in collecting items by renowned artists such as Cheret, Mucha, Steinlen, Bernhard, Edel, Gipkens, Klinger, Fennecker, Hohlwein, Kainer, Pechstein, Scheurich and many more. He was thus able to gather a collection of high quality that constitutes a representative cross-section of the art of posters prior to 1920."

The really interesting thing about this paragraph is that in March 2012 a German high court decided that over 4200 of the posters at the museum had to be returned to the heir of their rightful owner Hans Sachs — whose collection was taken by the Nazis in 1938.

The DHM did a good job of facing the horrors of the Holocaust with the exhibits that covered WWII.  As Chris said, "This could have been an American museum."  Not that we Americans are the arbiters of what's right or best, just that the information was presented in a way that didn't shy away from owning up to their liability and shame.

To see the other side of this picture, the next day we were headed to the Jüdisches Museum — the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

After 3 1/2 hours I was museum-exhausted and left Chris (with Bismarck and his cronies) to go shopping in the Galeria Kaufhof on Alexanderplatz.  Three hours later Chris is finally back at the hotel, still not having seen or read everything he wanted.   He only tore himself away because Frank had invited us for dinner at his home. He met us at the hotel and then we took the train and picked up Luk from his mom's shop and then headed by tram to his neighborhood, walking past some incredible buildings...this is one.

We had a lovely dinner of wursts and more while Luk played with his incredible         LEG-OPOLIS — more Legos than I knew existed (outside of FAO Schwartz in 
New York)!

It was the best kind of evening — being in someone's home, eating, talk
ing, laughing, asking questions, sharing stories, and connecting  — across identities and nationalities.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Along the Wall

Asleep on a blanket in the Tiergarten, I wake to the feel of rain drops on my face. It's raining and we need to gather up the bags, blanket, and bikes and head under a tree to wait out the rain. When it stops, we're cold and decide to head for coffee — and biking along the Alte Potsdamer Straße there was Starbucks — to Christopher’s delight.   Frank met us there and after catching up about his work event, we head for an early canal-side dinner of German dishes from the "weißer Spargel" menu (fresh-in-season white asparagus).  Though it was still raining, we were under a large umbrella-ed table and our first night in Berlin was capped by these two second cousins once-removed, drinking beer and enjoying a delicious meal.

Day two in Berlin brings our next encounter with Berliners Oskar and his 22-yr-old son Vincent.  Oskar is an old and dear friend of our friends at home and he and his son are meeting us for another day of cycling and more extensively exploring Berlin.  Let me say that Oskar and Vincent had just returned from a week-long cycling trip to Stuttgart — a distance of over 350 miles! Though I tried (over email) to warn Oskar that I was not a regular bicycler, that I was worried about keeping up, that rain was expected and that maybe the biking plan was not such a good idea, he just kept insisting that all would be well.  I was not so sure.

Once again we head out on our rental bikes and soon find ourselves traveling along the Berlin Wall now beautiful with large sections covered in art — murals of peace and political statements, abstract design and painted scenes of hope and joy.  I want to stop and take pictures but we sailed on through the chill into what was East Berlin. Over bridges and across train tracks we biked past huge complexes of now-empty government buildings.  This was another surprising thing about Berlin — it was not New York.  In fact in many ways it was the opposite.  It was wide open and expansive — and (luckily for me) flat.  We were headed for the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, a massive monument to the massive numbers of Russians who died defeating the Nazis 1941-1945. 

It would be hard to convey the impact of this enormous monument to the Red Army’s loss of men.  Photos will not do it justice.  Biking through a canopy of trees you emerge into a majestic park flanked by huge blocks with bas relief images on both sides.  These 16 "sarcophagi" impressively line the plaza like stalwart soldiers.  Ringing the area is an iron fence, emblazoned on every rail with the Soviet star, encircling this burial site of 5000+ soldiers who sacrificed their lives for Mother Russia and died on faraway lands.  As Christopher said,  "This place says to me, 'You Germans started this war; we came and finished it."

Oskar shows me a map pointing to another place he hopes to show us, but it looks twice as far away as we've already come.  I tell him it seems beyond my physical capability so we agree to head for Templehof, the now abandoned airport that has been turned into a huge park.

Despite the weather, o
ur ride continues but as this is our second day of cycling amidst the on-and-off rain I'm thinking, "Ich bin ein Berliner!"  It seems so easy to travel this way.  We keep passing sections of the wall and monuments.  Clambering up a bit of a steep and craggy hill, we climb to what I'd describe as a rails-to-trails path.  This takes us through a greenway that is (like ours in the States) littered with a sprinkling of drug dealers hovering on the trail, others hiding in the brush and perhaps some available for sex. 

The rain forces us to tak
e cover under a park shelter with coffee and lovely hot chocolate.  Then it lets up and we continue toward Kreuzberg where we stop for lunch, first sitting outside in wicker seats with blankets around the backs of our chairs, but soon switching inside when the rain resumes. 

Seated around a circular table in this cozy place, we enjoy currywurst (a Berlin favorite) and Swabian spaetzle (an egg noodle dish from the south of Germany cooked with mushrooms and cheese) while Vincent tells me he has earned his lic
ense to teach kindergarten (a word we borrowed from the Germans) and excitedly is looking forward to his first job in August as an elementary school teacher's aide.  Oskar tells us of his teenage plans to be a policeman, how that ambition changed, and about transiting the East and West — for us a unique perspective of life in Berlin over the past forty years.

After lunch, we wipe down the bike seats and ride on to Templehof.  As we come upon its huge and open landscape, the sky is clouding again so not many people are there skateboarding and flying kites as usual.  I am feeling the raw chill in the air and in my bones.  I'm ready to head back but sorry to cut short the day.  As we bike toward Mitte — the center of the city and our hotel — the rain comes down hard and we four duck for cover in two adjacent apartment doorways.  It's pouring.  Oskar decides he should bike back to his apartment which is nearby and once the rain lessens, Vincent will accompany us back to Motel One and then continue on to his home.

It has been a very full day
— we have been on the go for five hours!  We're so grateful for the  generosity and kindness Oskar and Vincent have shown us in showing us their Berlin.  Tomorrow we head for the Deutsches Historisches Museum — 2000 years of German history under one roof.  I'm going to need all my stamina for that excursion.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

First Stop Berlin

We are beginning our anniversary trip to Europe in the country of my husband’s mother’s heritage — Germany.   On the long flight over I am kicking myself for leaving the envelope with $600 worth of Euros next to the microwave back home. My husband exchanged the money for free at AAA and now we have not a single Euro AND will end up paying transfer fees each and every time we get money from an ATM. I am not happy with myself.

Arriving at 7:25 am Deutsche-time we head to buy the Welcome card which will allow us to travel on anything at any time throughout the city, including the 45-minute bus ride to our hotel.  It immediately strikes me that almost everyone we cross paths with, speaks English.  Turns out that English is taught to everyone, beginning in third grade.  Now that’s something our educational system could learn from…

We are on public transportation headed for Alexanderplatz in Berlin,  loaded down with luggage and gifts for 17 days travel.  Berlin will be in the 50s, but Italy will be in the high 90, so we have clothes for both climates.  Luckily we have plans to see a second-cousin-once-removed that we have not seen in 28 years (since before we were even married!), a friend of a friend, the father of a student, and a recent PhD I know who happens to be in Berlin this week.  It is nice to have contacts in a foreign place — people who will help acquaint you with this new world you've descended in to.

Our hotel,  Motel One is located right in the heart of Berlin which is punctuated by this massive television tower built by the Soviets between 1965 and 1969 in the former East Berlin, and is the second tallest structure in Europe.   Our bus stops where we should be very close to our hotel.  We have pdfs of maps and routes an hand-circled indicators of where we should go but we can’t find our street.  We ask passers-by and they point us here and then then there and often don’t know.  It surprises me as this is a major city but no one seems to be around.  True, it’s Sunday, and early about 9am, but still, the expanse seems pretty deserted.

Manhole cover featuring the television tower
All of a sudden sirens start as a police car streaks by and the familiar and uncomfortable sound (DAHH-duh, DAHH-duh) cringingly reminds me of Anne Frank being taken away. You cannot escape this sound.  It is the siren of the city.

We trudge to and fro, miserably dragging our luggage up and back only to discover that our hotel was simply across the street from our bust stop and down two blocks.  Ouch.  We stumble in and ask if it’s possible to check in even though we’re so early and fortunately a room can be made available. I’m surprised that the entire building is encased in scaffolding and I worry that before I rise, workmen will be flush-up against our windows, peering in to our room.  (This does not happen once over the five-night stay.)

Soon Frank, the cousin, is in the lobby with little Mathilda (4 years old and darling) and 8-year-old Luk who is adorable and impish.  They have their bikes (Mathilda on her father’s) and we head around the corner to rent bikes for the day.  I have been prepared (via email) that cycling is the Berlin-way and I am ready to give it a try though Lord knows, I am not the outdoors-physically-active type.  Frank manages the rental, tells us how to give the deposit, and off we go.  Nervously we cross a major thoroughfare crisscrossed with trams, buses, cars, and other bikers.  Surprisingly it is very manageable!  Unlike Manhattan where the drivers are aiming for the bikers, everyone here seems tuned in to the cyclists and shares the road willingly, even the BUS drivers who slow to allow for a biker to turn or transit the street.  I am amazed.

Riding through the city, stopping here and there,  Frank points out the many monuments and famous buildings, for a walk in a church, we land at the Tiergarten which is an enormous park and Frank has packed an entire picnic lunch for all of us.  Walking in we are swarmed by a circle of beautiful young women who smiling and babbling and holding clipboards with what looks like a petition.  Frank is silent as we try to read what they have in hand.  These young women are beaming and blowing us kisses and it’s very confusing.  But as we begin to sign the paper I see that there is an indication of Euros next to each name and all of a sudden I get it.  They’re soliciting for money, so we tell them Nein and repeat that a number of times before they swirl away. 

As we settle down on the blanket amidst the GlobalStone peace project Frank tells us that these are the Roma (gypsies) and they can be very persistent.  We all dig in to the spread Frank has produced — delicious  sautéed eggplant, a scrumptious and sweet medley of carrots, onions and zucchini, wienerwurst, cheeses and salami, raw vegetables, dried fruit and is all so delicious!  And to top it all, he has baked not one but two chocolate cakes for us to enjoy.  The children are clamoring for dessert.  It is simple and good.  At one point our blanket is surrounded again by the Roma women clamoring for our money and now pointing to our food and we insistently shake our heads and tell them no but it takes Frank saying something politely but firmly in German before they finally leave us.

Mathilda and Luk’s lovely mother comes to collect them from the park.  Frank has a brief work engagement to attend and leaves us in the Tiergarten, next to the massive “Love” stone that has turned into a controversy for the “peace project” it is part of. It is a magnificent stone and weighs over 30 tons.


Lying on the blanket as we gaze in its direction, we fall asleep after what has been a long, long day — the first of our European adventure.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Playwriting 101

I thought it was going to be my favorite class that semester. Introduction to Playwriting with Dr. Anthony Santaniello.  I thought the course would give me the tools to turn the events of my childhood into something tangible.  A play.  First produced Off-Off Broadway. Then it would gain a cult following — eventually moving to the Big White Way — possibly starring Jaclyn Smith or Stephanie Powers as the grown-up me.

This class was going to be my beginning.

This class — the one I was betting all my cards on, was turning out to be a huge disappointment.

The professor could barely be bothered with anything I had to say, even though there were barely nine of us in class. Any time I ma
de a contribution, he’d say: “What was that you said?” or “Could you repeat that for me?”  in his phony British accent, but he didn’t say that to anyone else — seemed he was paying attention when everyone else spoke — listened to what they had to say. This class wasn't turning out how I’d hoped.

Through the semester I pushed aside my disappointment. I tried to ignore my hurt while we read plays, discussed them, and did writing exercises while working independently on a final project. My play consisted of four characters: The Mother, the Father, the Boy, the Girl. It was a thinly veiled autobiographical look at the chaos of my home life.

As the fall drew to a close and the
weather got colder, we’d finally turned in our first drafts and were meeting one-on-one with the professor for feedback. Though I wanted feedback on the writing, I was on edge and feeling vulnerable.  This was the first time in college I was showing my personal writing to someone else. I was dreading the meeting.  

When Dr. Santaniello started speaking, I was so worked up I could hardly concentrate on his words. Through the haze in my head I could vaguely hear him asking me questions, probing about the characters and their motivations, prodding me to think differently about their actions and then I clearly heard him say in his clipped and breathy dramatic voice,

“Now I just don’t understand why the girl doesn’t try to see things from the boy’s point of view and...”

And before he could finish his criticism, I burst into tears. Sobbing, wrenching tears where I couldn’t catch my breath.  But then
 — most surprisingly he patted my arm and soothingly said, 

“There, there dear. It can’t be all that bad…”

It was so caring and kind in such an almost loving way that I blurted out,

“But it IS that bad and it’s been that bad ever since I CAN REMEMBER!  Ever since second grade
 — even though all the grown-ups kept saying, ‘Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be alright.’ But it WASN'T! It never was all right but no one would admit it!  And you, YOU! WHY are you suddenly being so nice to me? You’re never nice to me. YOU NEVER LISTEN TO WHAT I’M SAYING IN CLASS AND IT REALLY UPSETS ME!” 

With a pained look on his face he replied, “My dear, that’s because I’m partially deaf in one ear.  You sit on the left side of the room and that’s the ear I have trouble with.”

As I took in this stunning admission, all those months of feeling hurt and rejected and unimportant were swept away. His behavior had nothing to do with me! It was hard to take in.

“Why didn’t you just SAY so?” I asked plaintively, begging with my voice to hear his explanation.  What could he say to make up for all those weeks?

He looked down, then looked up again, and turned away avoiding my stare, his eyes looking slightly past me. 

“I was ashamed to admit I was flawed,” he said in the smallest of voices.

Aren't we all? I tho
ught — understanding him and myself through new ears.

Just found this (current) shot of my professor!
He calls it "The Seer With a Sneer"

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Brush with Peter and Kati

Another celebrity encounter — after my days at Finch...
It was really raining. I was headed downtown from 83rd between First and York. I was trying to hail a cab. So was another couple and neither of us was having any luck. The guy looked familiar and then I realized it was a newscaster but I couldn’t remember his name — it wasn't Tom Brokaw and it wasn’t Brian Williams but he was handsome and distinguished and — even though he was on the nightly news, I still couldn't think of his name

I decided to walk down to the corner and see if I could hail anyone on York. After a few minutes a cab pulled up, someone got out, and I got in, finally out of the pouring rain. I had him turn on 83rd when I saw the couple walking toward First.

“Slow down," I told t
he driver of the big Checker cab I'd managed to snag, "we’re going to pick these people up.”  I rolled down the window. 

“Hey get in!" 
I called out, "I’ll give you a ride.”  They looked at each other briefly before deciding to climb in. 

“Well, thank you, this is quite nice of you,” he said unbuttoning his trench coat and brushing the wet hair out of his eyes.

“Where are you two going? I’m headed downtown
 — we'll drop you.” 

I think they said 71st and Park so that’s where the driver headed.

“We’ve been looking at coops in this neighborhood,” he said. “What do you think of the area?  Do you live here?”

“No, but I work on the block
 — it's a great neighborhood — filled with Germans, Ukrainians, Hungarians. Very ethnic and wonderful.” 

“My wife doesn’t think so.  She’s worried those kind of people will be dirty…” he trailed off.

“Are you kidding?  
It’s not dirty at all — these Hungarians are out every day sweeping the sidewalk, cleaning the steps — they really take pride in their place!"  I said emphatically. It bothered me to hear such prejudice.  Didn't fit with my expectation of who they were.

And then they both started laughing. “My wife is Hungarian,” he explained.

“And I’m happy to hear you have such a good view of the Hungarians who live here!” she smiled warmly. “Peter, you really shouldn’t have!” was Peter Jennings!

“This is my wife Kati and I’m Peter.”

“I know that,” I said (untruthfully). “Hello, nice to meet you," and we continued to chat until the driver pulled up to the building they wanted.  When Peter tried to give me money toward the fare, I shook my head. “This is on the company,” and off they went to their coop board meeting, waving goodbye.

Peter Jennings and Kati Marton. Talk about a power couple. Kati had just completed her first book on Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman and diplomat who engineered the rescue of perhaps 100,000 Hungarian Jews after the Nazis occupied their country. A truly heroic man,  
Wallenberg was “detained” in January 1945 by the Soviets after they liberated Hungary — and was never seen again. The date and circumstances of his death remain a mystery.

I bought the book and read it cover to cover.  Then I wrote Kati (typed on a typewriter) a letter and sent it to ABC News c/o Peter Jennings. Within a few weeks I got her reply and we began corresponding sporadically for a few months. All these years later, I don't recall what we wrote, but I was thrilled she took the time to respond.

Then one afternoon, when my boyfriend Christopher was at his local D'Agostino's getting some groceries, who was on the checkout line but — Peter Jennings!

"Hey, you're Peter Jennings!  I watch you...a while back my girlfriend gave you and your wife a cab ride!"
"You mean Melanie?" he asked.

"YEAH!" said Christopher, startled but all smiles, as they chatted briefly about Peter being home with his kids who had chicken pox or mumps or some other childhood illness  but Christopher had a hard time listening because he couldn't wait to get back to his apartment and call to tell me.

Guess I made an impression.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

All About Educating

While I'm away and taking a break from writing, I hope you'll take a look back and read something you missed...or forward one to a friend...Denise James