Sunday, September 30, 2012

40 Days of Birthday: Day Nine


The last time my husband and I went to an official Oktoberfest was on my 38th Birthday, pre-Lennon. We dressed in Dirndl and Lederhosen and took the train far out of town. The festival took place in a tent set up as an enormous beer hall with a stage at one end. The beers were enormous. I had three. I think. We decided—and hoped—that the next time we attend an Oktoberfest, it would be with our child at a family friendly event.

Today we took the train not so far from our home to Reinickendorf, near Tegel Airport in Berlin for the 62nd Berliner Oktoberfest, billed as a family oriented type festival with child friendly activities and fun. In my mind’s eye, I pictured a rustic, farm like atmosphere with autumnal charm. We all dressed for this scene. In reality, the 62nd Berliner Oktoberfest was more akin to a travelling county fair, with all its tacky, carnival glory. We loved it.

The fair rides and booths were positioned in a circle with the Oktoberfest tent at the back. The tent was where you went for the music and the serious eating and drinking. Knowing Lennon would be too small for any of the rides or activities, we headed to the tent, scoped out a table, and waited for some pork. The Oktoberfest waiters were using iPod Touches for their ordering and they hadn’t been programmed properly, delaying service. An hour past before we got our Schweinehaxe and Lennon got his Brezel (pretzel)—Nicholas took it upon himself to get our beverages early on from the bar. Baby boy had a bit of a carbohydrate overload today. Nothing a little fruit and veggies for dinner won’t cure.

On the way out we grabbed a sweet treat of some roasted candied almonds. Delish.

I’m claiming a bit of exhaustion here, just for the record. Luckily, my husband has the next two weeks off from work. Not only will he be able to enjoy my Birth-Days with me, he can help out when I’m interested in performing my 30 minutes of silence. I also have several research related tasks next week that need to happen in addition to celebrating my birthday, so his timing is well placed. 

40 Days of Birthday: Day Eight

I’ve been trying to fight the sniffles for a couple of days now, but woke this morning to an undeniable cold. The Berlin Marathon is Sunday and they had a warm-up run today, open to everyone, beginning at the Lady Castle. It’s only 6k and while I’m woefully out of shape, I reckoned this would help me dust the cobwebs off. There was a time when even a cold wouldn’t keep me from running but these are not those days. Instead, at 9:30, when the runners lined up at the Schloß ready to make their way to Olympia Stadion, my family and I bundled up and headed to the farmer’s market.

The Karl August Platz Market is the first market I’d been to in our neighborhood and I’m again convinced about having made the move here. There were two bio (organic) produce stalls, tons of flowers, bio meat carts, pasta carts—everything most of the bigger markets sell, just walking distance from our house. Though my favorite cotton-off-the-bolt guy doesn’t sell there (he’s at Winterfeldtplatz Market on the weekend) there is a woman selling notions, trim, and tons of buttons. Scooped up some brick red, medium sized rick-rack from her for my collection. A bundle of sunflowers, a butternut squash, a kilo of onions, and some fresh rosemary also came home with us.

Late afternoon we headed to Prenzlauer Berg for a sold out performance installation I was lucky to have gotten a ticket for early. It took place in the eerie, beautiful, catacombs of the Kleiner Wasserspeicher, ancient water tower, now haunting art gallery and performance space. The piece, part of the Berliner Festspiele Foreign Affairs festival, is by South African artist Brett Bailey who, in this work titled Exhibit B, recreated the unthinkable “human zoos” of the 18th and 19th century with intent of shining a light on the ruin of colonialism across Africa. The brick bunker of the Kleiner Wasserspeicher, built beneath a hill, has petal shaped rooms that curve into one another. The space is cold and dark, but breathtakingly lit for this production. The rooms are fashioned as museum installations and spectators meander from exhibit to exhibit, which ranged from an 18th century Herero woman chained to the bed of a colonial officer to a contemporary Namibian man, recently immigrated to Berlin, standing on a shipping pallet. To witness, the piece was brutal, extremely uncomfortable, gorgeous, devastating, inspiring, humbling, and game changing, both artistically and ethically. 

Exhibit B creator Brett Bailey in interview

In the round center room of the brick walled bunker hung three historical photos of the severed heads of African men and women. These remains had been part of gruesome racial experiments, which eventually gave the National Socialist Party of Germany the ‘ideological and scientific’ justification to carry out the Holocaust. Beneath the photos, four heads of a Namibian choir ‘floated’ atop four columns. Colonial style chairs were set in front of them, allowing you to stay a while and listen as they sang the most heartbreaking four part arias. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

40 Days of Birthday: Day Seven

The biggest castle in Berlin is just around the corner and down the street from our home. It is a Lady Castle. It’s yellow and pretty and is named for the woman who built it, Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg. My family and I have walked the gardens of the 18th century castle, referred to as Schloß Charlottenburg—Schloß being the word for castle in German—but had never taken the inside tour. This week has been a little hectic, what with Lennon being sick and our fail at the TV tower: visiting something just around the corner was what was needed.

We left for the Schloß later in the day, after Lennon had his nap and I had gotten some research in, making our leaving for this activity easy and guilt free. My expectations weren’t grand for this tour. What I hoped to see in this Lady Castle were beautiful gilded, pink ballrooms in the style of Marie Antoinette’s Versailles, but I tempered that with what little I know of German design. I thought I might be bored.

I brought Lennon in his stroller but upon my husband’s recommendation, I also brought the baby carrier just in case I had to leave our stroller behind. As we crossed the grand courtyard to the front entrance, Lennon laughed as his stroller bumped and hopped over the round cobblestones. I thought this was a good omen.

Husband was right and we had to leave our stroller at the coat check. No matter—mama came prepared today. I splurged an extra 3 euro to get the photography pass. With the general admission to both the Old and New wings of the castle, an audio tour was available. To listen to the tour, you hold a small unit in your hand or string it around your neck and wear the headphones attached. With Lennon on my chest, I held the unit in one hand, along with my birthday crown for the obligatory photo op, and our large Canon camera in the other. Lennon and I were both sweating before we stepped one foot into the tour.

It immediately became clear that the audio tour would keep us at a pace not agreeable to my son. We moved through the first few dark, haunting rooms fairly quickly but not without gasping at the incredible mirrors. I am mad for old mirrors. Of course, these were unlike any this commoner has encountered.

Lennon shortly became fussy in the carrier and we headed to coat check to return the cumbersome audio device and get me boy a snack from his diaper bag. We finished the Old wing of the castle without much fan fare and I debated whether it was worth it to make the trek through the gift shop and across the courtyard to the New wing: But I’d paid to see the new wing. It cost extra.

In the New wing, all of my Lady Castle dreams came true. Rooms with pink gilded confections dripping down the walls, gorgeous overly matched flower patterned walls and settees and curtains, wedding cake rooms of white and silver: all dangling romantically patined crystal chandeliers from their centers. My personal expression to the outside world usually involves clean lines and rustic charm, but deep in my heart is crystal and blue marble and flowers of the shiniest gold.

My breath stopped short when I entered this room:

Lennon fell asleep in the New wing, leaving me time to gaze and take detailed photos of all of the wall treatments. On the way out, we were a big hit with the folks at coat check: me for my effort-ful German and Lennon for his delectability. Lennon was especially charming after his nap. I was so happy I had spent the afternoon at the Lady Castle.

As we walked home, I started to put together some ideas for a performance piece I’ve had in development. Lady Castle did not inspire these two ideas but it helped me find them. It occurred to me today that stepping away from my work and immersing myself in something wholeheartedly unrelated, allowed ideas to grow, unwatched and undisturbed. Probably more people know this, but I discovered it on Day Seven.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

40 Days of Birthday: Day Six

Some ideas translate better in America than they do in Germany. The only thing I had on my agenda today, aside from taking my son to a follow-up appointment with his doctor and a lovely little nap, was a pedicure. I had a bad pedicure experience right after Lennon was born, which incidentally was the first pedicure I allowed Berlin to give me. The woman jabbed at my cuticles with her stainless steel instrument, all the while holding my delicate toes between her sharp, pointy nails. She didn’t use a base coat. I had to request and second layer of polish. I went back to performing my own pedicures, thank you very much. It’s so time consuming to do, however, and now in a new neighborhood, I thought I’d give Berlin a second chance with my feet and myself a decadent gift for the 40 Days of Birthday.

The perfect spot would be just around the corner from our apartment at a salon called “American Nails.” How could I lose at this place? Granted, my first, bad experience was at a place called “L.A. Nails,” but the name “American Nails” is so much more encompassing of the broader landscape, not tied to a particular region, letting their customers know that without doubt, what flag their nail care is under. Nine times out of ten, the pedicures I’ve received in the U.S. are quality. I was excited about “American Nails.”

Just like at “L.A. Nails”—with their big sign that says “Hello and Thank You!”—the staff at “American Nails” does not speak English. No bother, my German would accommodate this transaction. Once the details of my request were processed, I came to find out that another customer was coming at 5:00pm, and with it being 4:45pm, a pedicure would not be possible. This was decidedly un-American. I have never been turned away from a nail salon in the U.S. for lack of time—those ladies squeeze you in, even if others have to wait. Never mind. I knew of a hair salon just down the block that had a sandwich board advertisement out front boasting of beautiful nails. My hope was that the sign correlated with their services. The woman inside spoke English and I was able to make my wishes clear much quicker than at the last joint, but to no avail, as their cosmetologist was out sick.

I almost gave up and headed home but remembered that the local mall had a nail salon: Paradise Nails! This place had to be doing something right. They had three ladies working and I was seated immediately in a new looking, brightly colored massage chair, my feet soaking in sudsy water. I already felt better. This was the pedicure of my homeland. As my pedicurist worked on my toes, I realized how disorienting it was to have to decipher between two foreign languages: German, which I’m on thin ice with, and another, completely unknown-to-me tongue. It took a great deal of concentration to determine when she had stopped talking to her colleagues and had begun talking to me. Luckily, she rarely engaged my in conversation. I felt self-conscious when, amongst the foreign sounds of her conversation to which I'd been eavesdopping, the word “iPhone” rang clear. I’d been secretly taking photos with mine.

 I was disappointed that the calf massage would cost extra and therefore have to be forsaken. Her polish job was okay, but I’ve had better. In the end, without all the perks, it was still more expensive than pedicures in America. On the up side, the "Jet Dryer" toenail dryer was fast and had a well-designed logo, something the salon itself could have taken a lesson from, if I’m to be boldly honest. Paradise was not experienced at its namesake nail salon. Not the worst pedicure ever, but my take-away from the day is, when in Berlin, do your own toes.  

Post Script--Just as my nails finished drying, an older employee entered the salon, went to the reception desk, and put on Michael Jackson's "Beat It" so that it played loudly through the speakers, apropos of nothing. I might be back.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

40 Days of Birthday: Day Five

When Lennon went down for his two-hour nap today, I joined him. Too much champagne and rum soaked cake made for a questionable night’s sleep. I hit a slump, just five days in: I really just wanted to stay in and do nothing. I considered just taking a bath and calling it ‘special,’ but I decided to save that for a day when I am really desperate for ideas. I also knew I really should do something outside as Lennon’s doctor had prescribed a daily dose of fresh air for little boy’s bronchitis, and probably more than he would get with our typical walk to the market. After much soul searching via the interwebs, I remembered that I have a gift certificate for entrance to the top of the TV Tower! What a perfect thing to do: for me, for Lennon, for my 40 Days of Birthday!

After a forty-minute transit on the train, waiting in line to have our gift certificate processed, and a confusing, broken German conversation with the ticket clerk, I come to find out that one is not allowed to bring strollers up into the TV Tower. I am meant to leave my stroller under the staircase in the main lobby and carry my child as I enjoy the view at the top of the tower. Writing it now, it doesn’t sound so awful—aside from the fact that my stroller would likely have been thieved—Lennon could have crawled around the Tower observation room, making for an impossible photo opportunity. At the time, however, I showed the ticket clerk my frustration and asked that she please un-process my gift certificate so I may use it at another time. We exited through the gift shop buying nothing.

I fished for sympathy and I received it. My husband suggested that I take myself shopping in the Alexa Centre. Alexa is big, American, and a monument to capitalism. I’d bore you if I noted the irony of its proximity to the TV Tower, the GDR’s monument to the strength and innovation of communism. On the way there I bought a Wurst from this guy:

I was more interested in strolling the mall than shopping. Happiness Station provided the ice cream. Note: there has not been a weighty post in months. Let’s not talk about it.

Lennon began to fuss, and rightly so. Today had not gone as planned. Were it not for the incredible amount of people smoking cigarettes in Alexanderplatz, I would at least say my son got some fresh air. All was redeemed, however, when we came home to Shwarma, purchased by my husband. Baby boy went to bed without a peep. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

40 Days of Birthday: Day Four {Day I Was Born}

I don’t want to write tonight. I just want to soak in this day, these forty years, this champagne. I don’t want to write tonight, but I have to tell you about the most beautiful day I had.

It began with waking to a much healthier little boy. A cake would be baked.

I was given a present of homemade cherry chocolate biscotti by my friend Karen and her magic ways in the kitchen. I made my best effort at eating only two with my coffee this morning.

My husband and son presented me with the most coveted birthday gift: a luxurious linen apron I’d been dreaming about for months from Fog Linen Work.

I picked up some lunch at Rogaki, a famous fish market here in Berlin, which happens to be down the street from where we live. Warning: the ladies behind the counter can be salty if your German is shoddy.

I made my birthday cake. Recipe: Reine De Saba from Mastering The Art of French Cooking. Mrs. Child can be strict with you. She asks that you collect and measure all of your ingredients ahead of time. That’s the efficient, practical way to proceed, but I’m just too impatient. My hubris got the best of me, however, when I forgot the sugar for my egg whites, nearly half way through folding them into my batter, wondering why the hell they kept falling. Everything still tasted incredible, thanks to Julia, but next time I won’t be so smug.

 Lennon is now in bed. Champagne is nearly gone. I’m glad I’m forty. I’m glad I’m here, with these people, with this me. Maybe more glad than any other birthday. Maybe more glad still every year, from this point forward.

Monday, September 24, 2012

40 Days of Birthday: Day Three

“The beauty of the best-laid plans is that they are bound to be interrupted by even more delicious prospects.”

I’ll have to spin this one in the most existential way in order to make it delicious: my baby boy has a case of Bronchitis. After a near sleepless night, Lennon and I headed to the doctor’s office for the diagnosis. Navigating the U-Bahn and broken escalators while carrying a near thirty pound sick baby on my chest, lugging at least ten pounds from the Apotheke and Drogerie, including a nebulizer and big pack of diapers, left me defeated.

Lennon cries when he hears me using the immersion blender to make soup. The sound scares him. He has the same reaction to the sound of the nebulizer. I was able to distract him by reading The Cat in The Hat—the non-baby, non-board-book version, which is always so enticing with its rip-able pages. Finally, Lennon was able to fall into a deep sleep, the first for him in about a day.

Tomorrow is my actual birthday and I’m having doubts about baking a cake. Maybe there’s a little self-pity in the mix, but mostly, it all just doesn’t seem to matter when my baby boy is sick. I’ll hold onto the hope that the world may look more delicious after a good night sleep, for both of us. Until then, I’m grateful for a husband who comes home early, a son who’s getting better, and the pizzas in our freezer.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

40 Days of Birthday: Day Two

The trade off was in my favor this morning: I left to sleep in while my husband played with Lennon. I did the same for him yesterday. The decadent part came when he also brewed my coffee and cooked the most delicious egg sandwich made with toasted, leftover baguette. Before heading out for the day, I cast my vote for U.S. President, Senator of California, and U.S. Representative for California, District 14 via my absentee ballot sent to me from San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer, Mark Church, participating in my country’s democracy from 9,000 kilometers away.

Our friends and neighbors, Aaron and his son Otis—just a few weeks younger than Lennon—were able to join us for the Kartoffelfest* this afternoon. Otis’s Mama, Kelly, was busy writing music for her new ensemble wherein she plays the flute—typical Mama stuff around these parts. In any event, it was nice for the boys to venture out on their own and for Mama Kelly to have time to work. I was the odd one out today, tagging along with the Papas and their sons. I did prove myself invaluable, however, having brought along a special Mama bag filled with extra drinks and snacks for babies—a detail sometimes overlooked by Papas when heading out on adventures.

The Kartoffelfest took place at a sweet organic farm, Domäne Dahlem, that always makes me forget we’re in Berlin. I procured a birthday bounty that included a robust potted Thyme, a loaf of fresh, organic bread, and two and a half kilograms of organic potatoes grown on the farm. Otis scored a lovely red, wooden car, handmade in Latvia, purchased for him by his Papa. While the babies snacked on Mama brought crackers and coconut water, the Papas and I drank organic Federweisser—a fermented grape juice—and ate organic Rostbratwurst. After a few hours, the wee babes began melting down so we counted our blessings and looked toward the exit—but not before sneaking in a tasty organic Pilsner, sealing our bliss.

*translation: Potato Festival