Thursday, December 16, 2010

COLIN FIRTH -- Please Talk Dirty To Me Again

I just reviewed THE KING'S SPEECH -- my money is on this film to take most of the Oscars.
You can read it at Rover Arts - ( -- the link is on this page, below. Let me know what you think -- have you seen this film, yet? You must!

Things I did not say in that review:
I LOVE COLIN FIRTH. What I find so remarkable about this man (apart from the obvious, I-want-to-run-my-hands-through-his-hair-and-commit-unspeakable-acts of-savage-love-on-his-person) is his ability to rise in the acting firmament as a romantic lead and then veer in any direction as a character actor. 

From Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Mark Darcy (ha-ha--we all got it) in Bridget Jones's Diary, to my strong favourite, the character in Love Actually who falls in love with a Portuguese woman and learns the language well enough to finesse his way into her heart and her family's, to a complete about face in last year's Oscar-worthy performance in A Single Man, as a grieving homosexual, replete with stylish Charles Nelson Reilly eyeglasses à la director Tom Ford's artful take on the 1960s.

Did I mention I loved him as the brooding, enigmatic Vermeer in Girl With A Pearl Earring? Did I mention I love whatever he does and that he probably knows it? Did I mention that I'm onto him...he prefers not to smile (but what dimples!) and more often than not presents the promise of something yet to come; a dark, mysterious personality who speaks in smooth modulated tones, stingy with his smiles, as though they represent a naked, caught-off-guard facet of his personality. Or, maybe, he just doesn't think much of his smile. Ah, yes, the wonders of thespian applications.

I didn't mention in my review that if you want to hear Firth's take on unutterably dirty swear words, you'll get a thorough review of them, in TKS -- mind you, as George VI, but, hey, you close your eyes and imagine what you want, right?

I didn't mention that Colin Firth not only tackled the painful stammer of George VI in a masterful way, but actually raised his voice timbre to match the king's. I noted his manner of walking, as well.
Firth really became that monarch and that's the difference between play acting at something, and actually inhabiting a character.
I drank in every pulse at his temple, every throb along the jaw, and I always sink comfortably into all that passionate expression simmering beneath the surface of his eyes.

I didn't mention how much I love Marcelle waves in hair -- Helena Bonham Carter's hair, to be exact. Nor did I point out how very much Claire Bloom submerged her own persona into that of Queen Mary's.
I scarcely recognized Anthony Andrews -- remember him as Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited?
Geoffrey Rush is brilliant as Lionel Logue.

There is rich detail in this film. A veritable feast. One ironic twist comes at the end. As King George delivers the momentous speech to rally his subjects toward vanquishing Germany, the swell of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, second movement, surges upward with great poignancy.

But enough. Let's just say, I saw the film twice and had a bollocksy good time.

The Power of One

I am going to miss American diplomat Richard Holbrooke -- I think the world is noticeably diminished now that he's gone. Too soon. Much too soon.

I was peripherally aware of his work through the years in a general sort of way, but always of the opinion that he was a diplomat of substance and tremendous personal integrity.

And then I discovered the Power of One and shortly after that, I really paid attention to his words and deeds. We were of similar minds.

You know how you grow up hearing ancient axioms like "the pen is mightier than the sword" and that one person can change the world? And you know how frustrated you feel when you see evil out there and you want to make it stop but feel your words will fall on deaf ears or that your donation of a measly buck to a cause will be of no use because what's needed is an ocean of money-- not a teaspoon, and no one else is contributing, so what's the point?

That feeling of frustration and anger worked overtime on me in late 1993.

I had been in a lather -- a serious one -- since 1992 when the Bosnian War got underway. As months wore on, stories of madness, violence and mass rapes dominated the news along with the words "ethnic cleansing." News of concentration camps was reported. The Serbs were going after all the Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina and their political and military actions were spearheaded in Sarajevo and elsewhere by fiendish sicko, Dr. Radovan Karadzic. 
I feel pretty much the same about Karadzic as I do about the Nazi Dr. Mengele. Karadzic was a psychiatrist. Guess he had some inkling into the depths of shame and self-loathing 20,000 women would experience during rape and afterward. He really knew how to get his jollies.

I never understood why the rest of Europe turned a blind eye to what was happening only miles away from the nearest wine bar and hot plate of pasta.
And where was the UN?
And where were the millions of available Muslims in the world to save their brethren from this ethnic cleansing?

I was being deliberately naive because I didn't want to think the world had learned nothing since World War II and Hitler's near-eradication of the world's Jews.
I didn't want to think that when people said "Never Again" it was ever going to be more than a symbolic reminder.

I certainly didn't want to think that most of the world's Muslim community didn't care about Muslims of the former Yugoslavia because they were "too western" and therefore not really good-quality Muslims.

And then one evening as Christmas approached, CNN did a story out of Sarajevo. They interviewed a woman standing on the balcony of her apartment. 

I was struck by many things at the same time. 

In the first place, her apartment building looked just like all the other apartments built in the 1970s in most North American cities. A slab of concrete, a high-rise, with standard issue sliding windows etc. Hers, however, was riddled with bullet holes.
The next thing that struck me was the obvious similarity between Sarajevo and Montreal. We are officially "sister cities" and as I gazed at the rooftops and remembered with fondness, the recent Olympic Games held in Sarajevo, I was overcome with an incredible sense of disbelief. How on earth could all this be happening, right in the glare of the lights of the CNN cameras?

Finally, what brought me to tears was the woman herself. She was wearing fashionable red-framed eyeglasses and watering potted vegetables on her balcony as she spoke to reporters. She said she had no lights, no heat, little food, and no hot water. She said this had been going on for two years. Soap itself was scarce. I think she was a professor, I am not sure, but definitely a well-educated professional. Anyhow, as she spoke, her voice took on a tinge of bitter sarcasm. Staring into the camera she said in a calm voice that the people in the west didn't care about her or anyone in Sarajevo or Bosnia. She spoke in such matter-of-fact tones that I felt my blood run cold.
"I care," I yelled at the screen. "Goddammit to Hell, I care!"

Days later, as I sat in warm tub of bath water, holding a fragrant bar of soap I had received as a holiday gift, I began to shake and cry. Suddenly, I started chanting names: Sarajevo, Mostar, Tusla, Srebrenica, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belsen...and then, I knew what I had to do.

The Power of One.

I sat down and wrote a strong op-ed piece for the Montreal Gazette. I said that towns in Bosnia were not meant to live in the annals of history in the same way the Nazi camps did. And yet, and yet, why was I chanting them with the same horror? I accused the world. We had always used the excuse of so-called ignorance when it came to knowing what was happening in the Nazi concentration camps. But, what was our excuse now?
I implored people to take action. I accused the UN of being a broken promise in the East River. I said I had heard that woman on her balcony and I was not impervious to her pleas.
I challenged readers and journalists to rally, to go with me and march on the UN if necessary, if our own governments refused to act.
And, I exhorted people to rise to their better  natures. We are, I said, made of Gandhi and Joan of Arc. I just knew that people had to be more good than bad and indifferent.

Sensing I might have tapped into a zeitgeist of some kind, I rented a PO Box because I had a feeling I might receive mail.

The story ran in the Gazette, and was then picked up by the wire services and appeared out west, and the Calgary editor smartly placed the piece alongside a picture of the Sarajevo marketplace which had just been bombed.

Do you know how many letters I received? More than 1,200. 

Ordinary people wrote, local and far away. School teachers had their children write to me, draw pictures. I got some mail from Holocaust survivors and some mail from Nazis -- why the Nazis were upset, well, I guess it's because I had mentioned how names lived in infamy when they had no business doing that. I even got mail from prisoners who wanted to send money. Everyone was touched, everyone was angry, everyone wanted to help. 
And that's when the Bosnia Help Committee and other organizations contacted me and then I was able to direct people and donations etc. to the right places in Washington and Ottawa.

Through all of this Richard Holbrooke was actively pursuing positive and decisive action. What a horrible, horrible failure we made of things with the UN who were not mandated to shoot and fight, and who ended up running for their lives out of Szrebrenica while men were rounded up and major assassinations and crimes against humanity rained down.

Nevertheless, Holbrooke, cobbled together the Dayton Accord and finally, the war stopped. He was tough and determined. I was grateful for that.

In 2008, he returned to Bosnia and said he was reminded of his Jewish grandfather who had had to surrender his worldly possessions to the Nazis and run for his life. Holbrooke supposed one didn't have to be Jewish to imagine the kind of anguish and horror of the Bosnian War.
I realized he and I thought about the same things.

On a personal note, I have to say, that each and every letter I received as a result of my editorial made me cry. Strangers spoke so eloquently. I was moved more than I can say by the outpouring, and proud of Canadians and thankful for them touching me and making me feel less alone, as I had, apparently, done for them.

Of all the writing I have ever accomplished, that one small editorial and its ripple effect has to be the finest use of my "pen" to date.

I remember hugging those letters (which I still have locked away) and saying out loud, "If I were to die now, it would be all right. I finally did something good. Something to be proud of."

Indeed, I had proven that each and every one of us is imbued with great power and resolve, and that it only takes one act, one book, one idea, one incredible sense of drive and determination to help change the world.

Something to think about as we all gather around hearth and home this holiday.

I would love to know where that lady on the balcony is these days. I would love to wish her a continued good life filled with hot water, soap and electricity -- things we take for granted far too easily. I hope she has changed her view of ordinary people in the west. 

Finally, and not the least of this post, my sincerest condolences to the Holbrooke family -- and my deepest gratitude to a great man.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Days That Will Live In Infamy

I don't know why the beginning of December is fiendish. Perhaps an astrologist has an explanation or maybe a numerologist. All I know is it's getting awfully crowded in these, the days of infamy.

On December 6th, twenty-one years ago, a young man, named Marc Lépine, walked into Montreal's École Polytechnique, an engineering school, and killed fourteen women, all of whom were the best and brightest of students, because he decided he hated women. He hated feminists. He hated that he had not succeeded in love.
He killed himself when he was done. The incident remains the largest case of mass murder in Canada.

On December 7th, 1941 Japanese forces bombed the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor -- reasons too numerous to mention, except to note that the Japanese were already engaged in conquering China and Korea and wanted more in the Pacific rim. Crippling the US would have been a way to buy more time to carry out their plans, or so they thought. It doesn't matter now because the long reach of history explains over decades the whys and wherefores of what led up to Japan's political aspirations and what befell the entire world through the war years ending in 1945 and post war. Suffice it to say the Pearl Harbor attack, unexpected and shocking on a Sunday morning, spelled death for 2,402 military personnel and wounded 1,282.
Within hours, Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, as well.

On December 8th, 1980, a disenfranchised man, Mark David Chapman, shot and killed former Beatle, John Lennon. He was forty years old.
Chapman killed Lennon because he wanted to be a somebody everyone would remember.
On Wednesday, it'll be thirty years since Lennon's last breath. The world will take notice and pay tribute. Did Chapman win?

All in all, a very busy week.

This year, it is different for me. I am marking the events with a blog entry. When I have finished, I will have finished. News blackouts unless a new disaster strikes.

 I have lived through the following:

Assassination of John F. Kennedy, 
Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X.
The Manson murders
The Jonestown massacre -Jim Jones
The morning the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up
Waco Siege - death of David Koresh and Branch Davidians
Death of John Kennedy Jr.
Death of Diana Princess of Wales
Oklahoma City Bombing - Timothy McVeigh
September 11, 2001
Space Shuttle Colombia destroyed on re-entry

and that's certainly not all, but it is enough.

Why am I relating this?

I've given thought over the years to my days of weeping and breast beating, the abject grief and shock, the rage, the total physical displacement of what seemed like my orbit, my axis -- falling, shifting horribly in the pit of my stomach. Grief will always knock me flat.

But I have learned something. It's what actor Sidney Poitier once said -- when he was young he thought he could and would change the world. When he grew older, he realized the only thing he could change was himself.
"Be the change you want to see," said Gandhi.

Not easy. But, one thing I know for sure -- if you are sane and you want to stay that way, you have to choose sanity every waking moment. God knows there are plenty of crazy people on this planet, and plenty of events we cannot control. So, I say a silent prayer, keep a small place of remembrance in my heart and move onward. Ever onward.

Banting and Best, the Gutenberg press, the moonwalk, Louis Pasteur, Victor Borge -- a world bursting with miracles and mirth. They, and a million other wonders deserve my attention.
As Lennon put it, "In my life, I've loved them all."

Reindeer and Stew

Holiday Mug from Pier I Imports  $8 CDN.
The snow arrived Monday. It was simply a matter of time. It didn't fall in big fluffy flakes. It came in a powder, blowing and squalling with insignificant accumulation, as if to say, "I'm here now, I am not planning to melt, and I will grow fierce and icy and make your driving hell." And it continues into the night. Eventually, the centimetres will add up, finally convincing disbelievers that winter tires really are necessary. That rasp hitting those ears? It's not cousin Freddy playing with the garden hose again. It's frostbite.

Time for the boots and gloves and voluminous coats. Time for the fashion-forward scarves, hats and mufflers; the half-hands and furry leg warmers, many of which will scream hot red, pink, purple, yellow, gray and winter white.

If it's one thing Canadians do well, it's winter with an attitude, a kind of western capitalist denial that spring blooms are locked up for six months in hothouses.

When Canadians travelled to the U.S.S.R in 1972 for the now-famous series of Canada-Russia hockey games, it was unquestionably easy to spot them in the audience. A sea of drab, mirthless Communists sat like black pebbles in a rock garden riotously overtaken by florid cheeks, smiling faces and colourful parkas and toques. I am quite sure those Russians were startled and envious.

I watched the snow from my window today and counted my blessings. I am often reminded how little things make a difference. I was feeling blah last week, so I bought the Pier I mug above. It's a sweet happy mug, with great lines, wonderful cheeriness, and a rim that is neither too thick to be sloppy nor too thin to be mistaken for fine china.

A simple mug lifted my spirits. Not that a million dollars in the bank wouldn't do the same, but since that doesn't seem to be handy at the moment, I'll happily take my mug and consider what my whimsical reindeer and I might do together. We are the purveyors of dreams.

Another blessing -- I have so many! is the circle of grandmothers on my shoulders. I had three grandmothers -- my maternal great-grandmother, Celia, whom I called Grandma Kaufmann -- I lived with her for a few notable years -- my maternal grandmother, Edythe, whom I called Grandma Edie, and my paternal grandmother, Rebecca (Rivka), whom I called Grandma Becky.

Today, as the snow fell, I thought of Grandma Becky and her wonderful chicken stew.

She called it "russeleh" -- which is my made-up spelling for a word I think is akin to Romanian, but then, again, it could be some kind of Yiddish, or even possibly, a Grandma Becky word alone.

The stew is simple. As Grandma always said, "First, you need an onion."
(In fact, she used to hit me with a wooden spoon whenever I wondered what I should use to cook a dish, if it wasn't dessert. "What, are you crazy?" she'd  wave the spoon, "you use an onion! How can you ask?")

So, you slice a big onion, and some potatoes and lots of carrots.
Then you pour a "spoon" of oil into a stew pot, add your onions and cook until tender. Then, you add pieces of chicken. I use breasts and thighs, boneless.
You brown a little, then add your carrots and potatoes. I usually put the vegetables on the bottom and the chicken on the top.

Seasoning? Another story.
Salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, sweet paprika. And the magic ingredient.
Now, my sister and I have discussed this at length because the secret ingredient is cinnamon and my sister thinks it's not really true -- it's just that one day Grandma probably used it by mistake owing to bad vision, or on purpose when she was all out of paprika. I like to think the cinnamon was deliberate. Either way, I use it and it's delicious and since she was Romanian, it seems totally reasonable to me that she'd use a spice like that.
I say this, even though Grandma was not averse to dumping a teaspoonful of jam into my coffee when she was out of sugar.... (By the way, I was taught that an ellipsis of three dots always ends with a period if no words follow.)

Anyhow, the real secret to this stew is the water you add -- just a little. You watch carefully as the water disappears into the potatoes and carrots, add a little more, until the veggies are tender. And, then you let the pot start to dry out so that the onions and carrots caramelize. You add a little more water, wait and watch until it glistens with oil, and you are done.
On a day like today, a humble "russeleh" fills the house with that homey warmth only found in tales of the "old country" when the snow was unforgiving, the sky was black with crows and bleak, but you had one another, you had a bowl of love to nourish your spirit.

I explained all of this to my gentile reindeer and I have to say, he liked the story. Tomorrow, as the snow continues, I shall tell him another.

Friday, November 26, 2010

No, No, NA-NO -- A "new" Broadway Hit!

Friday dawns in a streak of icy roads (not good) and the promise of holiday ambiance (good) for the weekend.

A frantic week, marked by interruptions, apartment intrusions, doctor appointments, and all 'round general madness as the "man" in my life tried to unravel a contract he's working on, to see where and when he's leaving town.
Writing has been in fits and starts -- and so, it is, as far as I am concerned, NO-NO NA-NO. I took down my widget, as there is no point in seeing me move up to ten thousand words. That being said, I am very grateful for the lovely push this gave me -- and I will continue to post that one section in SFD of the book about Anna's journey to her debut recital in Berlin, as soon as I can!

After all, I can't just leave things dangling!

Today I will be writing, baking some shortbread, and plotting activities for next week. With "the Man" (Maybe I should call him Mr. Big -- my shortbread and other goodies do that to him -- ) gone all week, it will be quiet here. Writing and eating and sleeping etc. when I want to sounds good. So does the thought of a movie break.

I was so looking forward to the opening of THE KING'S SPEECH today, but I guess it's not going to happen for a couple of weeks.
I adore Colin Firth and period movies hold a fascination for me.

Speaking of period movies, I am working on an essay for LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY MOTHER -- hope to receive more submissions! -- and it deals with teenage angst, feelings of ingratitude, and how my mother made me feel spoiled at a pivotal Dr. Zhivago moment.

Hope my American cousins are having a lovely Thanksgiving weekend!

Before I forget, my play on words has to do with the Broadway show, No, No, Nanette -- it debuted in the 1920s and there was a revival in the '70s.
The most well-known song from the show is "Tea For Two."

And speaking of tea...maybe scones would be a tasty addition to today. I love to make them using white chocolate and dried cranberries.

I have grandiose dreams of baking. That's because I still haven't eaten breakfast!

Friday, November 19, 2010

TURNING CORNERS - Monsters Out From Under The Bed

 So, where have I been? Right here. Trying to work. Lots of distractions- like they're filming right in front of my apartment -- Coppola's production of On The Road - Jack Kerouac. The interior courtyard was packed with spiffy coupes and whitewalls and all kinds of 1940s and '50s automobiles. Totally cool.

And then there was a lengthy "what is that thingum called, actually, and what's the name of the church and shoot, did I spell that right" The thingum was the octagonal domed roof of a famous church in Florence...the landmark you see in all the photos. I needed to know more because that shape is used as the roof for the solarium in the Garber home.

Then there was a tussle with the Hydro electric bill and why the power company decided I owed them a late fee. Two dollars -- and unreasonably so. But, bureaucrats are like that. They want me to write a letter and mail it to complain. Take it to the Supreme Court if necessary, but, no, they "can't override the computer error" because after all, they are...bureaucrats.

I took time out to read all the various posts of my fellow Nanos who will be reaching 50,000 in a matter of hours. Pffft! It was a gift to me , this reading. A good break. I am hoping to maybe squeeze up to 30,000 if I write fast and if no hair balls, hairy men, or hairy situations get in my way.

I spent a lovely hour talking to my mother about Toots Shor -- I caught the documentary on him and was blown away by the nostalgic look at New York in its heyday -- the 1940s and '50s. Toots was quite a guy. It was another world then. Film stars, DiMaggio, politicians, mobsters, heavy belters like Jackie Gleason -- all and sundry rubbing up together at the huge bar. Riveting.

My mother and I also talked about something very near and dear to me -- her famous homemade macaroni and cheese casserole with the toasted bread crumbs and the tomato-kissed cheddar sauce. She gave me the recipe. I got fat just listening, and am planning to make this sucker on the very first day of a heavy snowfall.
All in all, my procrastination period was thoroughly enjoyable. And now, it is back to the book. I am starting to get excited again.

I was thinking to myself that I ought to change my blog title to read NANO I'M NOT, but decided against it.
 I am now ready to burn rubber, I have written a part of the chapter that seemed at times impossible to do, especially because I know what happens next and the reader doesn't, and I had to find a way to allow Anna to glom onto some sense of youthful optimism or hope.

I said I would post my drafts for one section -- the events leading Anna to her debut recital and its immediate aftermath. And, so, here is the next rough-draft installment.

THE SCARF DANCE Copyright Carol Krenz 2010

Monday evenings at home on the Bellevue Strasse were, in Anna’s estimation, as bland and easy to digest as the blanc mange puddings she ate as a child. Papa chaired department meetings at the university until nine and afterward, dined with colleagues. This meant his seat was now occupied by her cat, Tybalt, who regarded Papa with as much wariness and disdain as any Montague. He therefore delighted at every opportunity to curl up on the brocade upholstery where he freely licked his paws and shed inordinate amounts of white hair.
Without Papa to interrupt, Anna usually chattered excitedly to Mama and Mimi; but she was silent now, caught in a daydream.
“Annaleh? You feel all right?”
“Yes, Mama. I’m just tired.”
“You are working too hard, maybe?”
 “No. The hard work begins tomorrow.”
“Well, get a good night’s sleep. Don’t practice too late.”
Rachel Garber pushed her girth away from the table and retired to her room to write her nightly letter to her sister, Sarah.
Mimi lingered over her tea and asked about Liszt. “Is that what you start tomorrow? Has the Kapellmeister narrowed it down, yet?”
“He says he is still deliberating over three of the Rhapsodies.”
“Well, good luck. And listen to your mother. Get some sleep.” Mimi, who was working meticulously on the embroidery repair of monogrammed linens, left for the sewing room.

Alone in the airy green salon on the main floor, Anna sat at the Bechstein grand, closed her eyes and envisioned herself playing Chopin’s Nocturnes. How unfair Papa was – this piano was meant for Chopin. Her fingers caressed the ebony lyre of the music rack and the gleaming lacquer on the fall. Impulsively, she jumped up and laid her cheek on the cool lid, stretching her arms wide to embrace it. If she loved one thing more than anything else, it was this piano.
It had taken both Frau Gruber and Frau Steiner to convince Papa that an upright was insufficient to her talents and requirements. When he had finally relented, and taken the time necessary to ensure the new grand was properly delivered and tuned, she knew he was pleased with his decision and for a time told herself it was because he agreed with her teachers’ assessments.
But when he mentioned the Bechstein in conversations, it was to boast about how his professional achievements had made such luxuries possible. He never praised the young virtuoso who brought this miracle of artisanship to life.
And yet, according to the Kapellmeister, Papa was thrilled for her and wanted her to make her debut. Papa was a complicated puzzle and no matter how many times she tried to arrange his pieces together, they did not fit.

He entered the salon at eleven and was startled to find her waiting for him. “Anna, up so late? What has happened?”
“Nothing, Papa. I just don’t feel sleepy. How was your evening?”
“The same, Anna, the same as always. Arguments about special endowments and how they should be spent.” His tone was flat, his mind, obviously preoccupied. He did not even look at her, he was striding, like a sailor drawn to a siren’s song, towards the glass doors that opened onto the solarium, lush and inviting beneath its octagonal domed roof.
Papa was a handsome figure in black, wrapping a leather apron about his waist, swinging a copper watering can and a hose as he strolled the tiled paths of his exotic garden. Gas light, in stark relief against the night, suffused the flowering trees and plants in a faint phosphorous yellow. Was he actually humming to himself, or was it the hissing of the lamps she heard?

In the dark, lying against the warmth of her pillow, she closed her eyes, pressed her face into it, and recalled the scent of Ariel’s cheeks. His eyes and lips came to her and she kissed them, kissed every inch of his face, sinking deeply into a fantasy. When she could stand no more, she shifted onto her back and stretched her arms toward the ceiling as if to welcome him, to gather him to her bosom. She whispered his name repeatedly until tears trickled into her mouth and ears.
Finally, she reached under her nightgown and allowed her left hand to touch her naked skin. How smooth and taut her belly was, how soft her left breast, how--! Nausea rose in her throat when she neared her right breast, tracing its diminutive outline, her fingers hovering, as if repulsed, before coming to rest on the unnatural whorls of flesh above her nipple. From there, her hand edged upward to the misshapen craters digging into her chest as though it had been scooped out by a blunt instrument. Higher still, she was finally touching the ropey ridge of twisted scar tissue that ran from the top of her shoulder down the length of her withered arm. Its presence was so unnerving, like discovering a mutation wherein human flesh had become a pebbled braided coxcomb.
 More flesh was missing under her armpit.
What the boiling oil had not destroyed, the doctors had, cutting away every trace of gangrene caused by debris that had worked its way into her wounds during the fitful carriage ride home.
Her scalded body was spattered with angry red and purple stains echoing every splash that had doused her, starting at the side of her neck, and finishing just above her wrist. Of particular cruelty, purple streaks shaped like the pointed beaks of carrion birds slashed at her breast and covered her nipple.
She rolled onto her stomach and sobbed into her pillow, trying to muffle her grief.
Passionate love –  gut-wrenching, heart-stopping, intoxicating love was what she longed for, but how would she ever truly know it? She was ugly, so ugly that could not look at herself. Mimi had bathed her since the age of five, and when Mimi was not around, she washed herself hurriedly and in darkness.
God was laughing at her.
Mama said she had a beautiful complexion, Mimi said her long chestnut hair had streaks of sunshine running through it and that her figure was like a young filly’s with a marvelous rump at no extra charge. But Papa had stopped kissing her years ago, and that had to mean something. Oh, yes, God was laughing at her! Papa, who had once adored her, and fussed over her, had completely withdrawn. Maybe this concert would bring his love back. Maybe that was the key to winning his affection once more.
Her piteous sobs continued until she exhausted herself  and found herself drifting in and out of the morning’s hoarfrost and Ariel’s kiss. It seemed so long ago.
Then, she heard a voice. It was Mama’s.
She sat bolt upright and dangled her legs over the bed, listening. A small word whispered at her –  bashert – destiny. Mama’s favourite word.
It was bashert she had gone to Wannsee, bashert she walked into that kitchen with the large pot on the stove, bashert she tiptoed up to touch its blue rooster handle. Yes, bashert she toppled it and was burned and bashert the doctors insisted she play the piano to save her ligaments and muscles.
Mama had said, “not for nothing” to her on more occasions than she could count. Mama even insisted she get over her fear of the kitchen by rolling dough flat and cutting it into cookie shapes for baking. No boiling oil, only the smell of butter, vanilla and cinnamon. Mama had always said “from bad comes good, you’ll see.”
And so, Ariel had come. And maybe he genuinely liked her. Maybe she could learn to trust him and let him love her – if he really wanted to. Maybe. But, what if he did not love her at all? She was not going to try to win him or try to pretend she was beautiful when inside she felt so ugly. No, she would not do it.
 If Ariel truly loved her, he would say so in time. And whatever happened after that – well, it was bashert.

Friday, November 12, 2010

An Embarrassment Of Bitches

I'm in the throes -- a major wrangling with me, myself, and Evil Twin, who really gave me trouble yesterday. I wanted to write well. She wanted me to do the laundry, take a shower, cook. Now, how rude is that? All part of a conspiracy to distract me from what I needed to be doing -- writing!. Frustrated beyond belief, I decked her one, even though violence is not the answer.

Trouble was, I didn't even know the question.

Well, maybe that's not entirely true. I think it was: how can I write this part of the novel when I am all too aware of what is coming on the heels of Anna Garber's debut? Misery, that's what. 

In fact, the pages I am currently trying to lay down are filled with all the wonder and longing of a young woman, holding a terrible secret, who falls in love with a piano virtuoso in his own right, who will help her unlock the romance in Chopin's soul and in her own. Very romantic stuff, very charged, very tumultuous and ultimately, very...well, let's leave it alone for the moment.

So, two days ago, I had to stare down my own unease with the realization that I am writing a lovely section of my novel-- let's say I am a journalist about to "launch" into a wonderful description of life on board the Titanic, about one day into the trip. Skipping happily along the decks, I am ready to dazzle readers with news of the finery of the first-class cabins, the exorbitant menus at the Captain's table, the excitement of being part of White Star history as I describe this maiden voyage -- all the while knowing that in a matter of hours the Titanic is about to hit that iceberg and sink.

It is hard to write about the hopes and dreams of a main character, lead her on, as it were, or perhaps, allow her to lead me, to a climax I don't wish her to experience. It's a bizarre feeling, it takes courage -- and Evil Twin did not want me to face it down.

Yesterday, I decided I had to get on with it, and so I wrote a lot of garbage. I don't mean garden-variety-twice-a-week-pick-up-garbage, I mean, Jeffrey Dahmer-body-parts garbage. Only, mine was left in a Hefty bag on a porch in the sun for days, kind of garbage, not stored in a freezer.

Evil Twin made me write that crap. And, she left a bag of Viau Whippets chocolate marshmallow biscuits on my desk. My thighs, as they say, are now so big, they've gone condo.

Anyhow, not only did I write garbage and eat garbage and think garbage, I also looked at the garbage in my blog posts -- those shi**y first drafts no one is supposed to see? NaNo stuff? Wow. I have a lot of guts, I think. This really is an interesting November.

I am now over my emotional crisis and raring to tackle this section and deal with whatever fallout arises.

A mafia Don in Montreal was murdered yesterday -- the old Don, the grandfather and founder of his dynasty. Figuratively, he now sleeps with the fishes.
Well, if Evil Twin gets in my way later today, guess what? She's gonna wish she were a better swimmer.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NANO NINE -- Blood, Sweat and Tears -- Mostly Sweat

It was a very strange way to wake up this morning, especially at five. But, there I was, lying on my left side, coming to consciousness with the strains of Chopin in my ears -- so distinct that I had to get out of bed, walk over to my computer, hit YouTube and track down Arthur Rubinstein's interpretation of Waltz No, 2 in C-sharp minor, Op. 64.

All in all, not a bad way to enjoy a first cup of coffee -- indeed, not a bad way to enjoy anything.

I knew I had to rework the kiss in the last section, I had to work delicately, lay it down as soundly as I could, because it is pivotal and after this scene, a momentum of a different kind builds.
Dipping into the Compuserve Writers Forum at the end of the day was gratifying -- if for no other reason than to be with fellow Nanos who had loads on their minds. There is a strong sense of world-building incubating amongst the members, and all the tea and sympathy one could desire.

I think the most important quality emerging from this November exercise, is the momentum it's established. No matter how much or how little is accomplished in the number of words, the story -- and the determination to tell it, is key.

On that note, I now lay down the musical tracks of my day -- a total of 845 new words.

Snip THE SCARF DANCE Copyright Carol Krenz 2010

“Yes,” he whispered. He wiped away her tears, stroked her cheeks, then leaned closer as if memorizing every freckle on the bridge of her nose, every fleck of gold in her eyes, every eyelash.      Finally, he kissed her, the swell of his lips gently pressing on hers, his breath so warm, she felt the frost melting above them. It was a fleeting kiss – too soon over.
When he straightened up he said, “Come, it’s time we went back.”

He took her basket again, and held her hand as they walked in easy silence. She was thankful for the nip in the air cooling what she knew must be a flame on her cheeks.
When they reached the Kapellmeister’s house, he placed the basket over her arm. “I will say goodbye now.”
“Yes, I’m running late – I’m taking the afternoon train to Weimar.”
“But, why?”
“A previous commitment. I am to give a small concert at the Amalia Library and now it would seem there’s to be an informal party for Liszt as well. He’s been in poor health and refused to celebrate his birthday some weeks ago. So, a group of us will do him honor—”
“Don’t look so worried, Anna. The timing couldn’t be better. I’ll be gone for two weeks during which you will be working very closely with Hermann. If you think I am a taskmaster, wait until he gets hold of you.” He smiled. “I am only half jesting. I know you’ve been studying with him for years, but that was different – now, you are making a debut. He will work you hard – very, very hard, and you will need to practice until you literally have no strength left to lift a fork. I went through the same rigors. In a way, I am glad I won’t have to see you…” his voice trailed off and he glanced down.
“Ya,” he murmured to himself, as if trying to remember something. Then he faced her again. “Anna, when you go upstairs, find Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu. We can communicate to each other in the notes, because I shall play it in Weimar, as well.”
She knew in that instance she was throwing caution to the wind, that she would regret her impulses because they could only lead her nowhere. She tried, but could not stop herself, so she dropped her basket, threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in the warmth of his muffler. “Ariel, Ariel!”
He held her for brief spell, rocking her. But, when he released her, he said, “You know this is maybe a good thing, our break in schedules. It’s good to have distance sometimes. I shall write to let you know when I am returning.”
Already he was sounding regretful, already his tone had changed. She felt foolish and refused to look at him.
His glove nudged her under the chin.
          “Anna,” he whispered, “you have rarely spoken my name in these last weeks. It feels good to hear it, now.”
And then he walked away, presumably in the direction of the Bahnhof but she didn’t wait to watch him disappear. Instead, she raced up the narrow staircase, and hurried to the piano.

An hour later, the Kapellmeister burst into the music room, smoking a cigar, carrying a tray of oysters on the half shell.
She nodded at him but continued playing feverishly, her hands working the keyboard like a concertina, her head nodding, her heart throbbing, her eyes streaming.
He sat at the table and listened as the Fantaisie furled and unfurled in chorded pleats. He smoked the last of his cigar. He sat back in his chair and folded his hands. He leaned forward and studied his oysters. He squeezed lemons over them. He sprinkled capers onto them.
She finally shuddered to a stop, weeping profusely, her chest rising and falling as though a small bird were trying to escape its cage.
“An-nah!” The Kapellmeister erupted, as he reached for a small jar of horseradish. “We have to make one thing clear…” He lifted an oyster to his mouth and held it there, torturing himself. “If you continue to weep like this, you will ruin my piano. Every time I am about to congratulate you on a wonderful performance, I find you in tears. You are entirely too damp.” He swallowed his oyster at last, his eyes lighting up with immense satisfaction. He turned toward her.
“Simply delicious. You must have one.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Herr Kapellmeister, I may weep buckets of salt water, it’s true, but you know that as much as I do not follow all the dietary laws, I never eat shellfish.”
“Quite right, how forgetful of me.”
Desperately, he glanced about the room, scanning the empty nut trays, the empty mint jar, the empty cigarette case, until he seized on the basket of rugelach. He got up and pounced on it.
“Marvellous treats,” he said, peeling away the white linen. “Come here, Anna, you simply have to try the chocolate ones. They’re my favourite.”

end snip

Monday, November 8, 2010


It turned out to be a relatively calm weekend -- the only sounds coming from the apartment were chords, octaves and contrapuntal stylings as I listened over and over again to the Hungarian Rhapsodies by Liszt and Chopin's Nocturnes.

I took notes and I made a list of vignettes I need to cover.
I also ate too much -- I do hope NaNO offers a special post-NaNO diet!
They forgot to mention that if you are on a quest for 50,000 words you might also put on 50,000 pounds and while I may be underachieving on the former, I assure you, I'll place first in the latter.

So, I added about 1,130 words to my counter and am about to write more, it now being mid-morning.
In the meantime, here's the weekend's draft:

THE SCARF DANCE Copyright 2010 Carol Krenz All Rights Reserved

Early Monday brought a hoar frost that coated branches, leaves, petals and shrubs. Berlin was caught in a shimmering diorama – but it was temporary, for the sun was strong and rising fast.
As she circled the corner of the Lennestrasse, Anna noticed Ariel standing in the street by No. 41, a cape and muffler about his shoulders. He had just lit a cigarette when he spotted her.
She waved and hurried toward him.
"Ach, sieh an, Rotkäppchen.” He smiled as he appraised her long hooded cloak and the basket over her arm. “And what goodies are we taking to grandmama?”
“I made some rugelach  last night.”
“You bake?”
“I do. And I made these for you but I didn’t know what flavour you like, so I made apricot, raspberry and chocolate.”
He was peeking under the cloth. “Since when do you bake? And why?”
“When I was a little girl, I started. I liked it so much, I continued.”
“May I?” Without waiting for an answer, he helped himself. “Delicious. What an intriguing girl you are. Let’s take them with us.”
“Where are we going?”
“Are you dressed warmly? I thought we’d stroll over to the Tier.”
He took the basket from her and steered her by the elbow. “Are you sure you’re warm enough?”
They made their way to the Unter den Linden passing workmen in peaked caps who were drinking hard spirits at the sausage stands and reading their morning papers.
As the linden trees were still veiled in sparkling frost, they decided to stop there instead and admire the view. They found a bench and placed the basket between them.
“Funny,” he said, as he lay it down, “I just thought of poor Helga.”
“Oh? What’s wrong with Helga?
“She’s well enough, but do you know there is no dumb waiter on the third floor?
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“It only goes to the second – the music room was meant for servants quarters. Helga spends all her time carrying trays up from the second floor and down again. It’s mostly my fault. I prefer to practice upstairs and take my meals there, too. Perhaps, I feel closer to the angels.” His eyes twinkled.
“And the Kapellmeister? Don’t you ever eat together in the dining room?”
“Our schedules rarely coincide. When they do, yes, he coaxes me down from my aviary like a partridge from a pear tree.”
They reached into the basket together and she caught a hint of his toilet water, citrus, lavender and mint. Her cheeks burned.
“Chocolate,” he said.
“I beg your—”
“You wondered what my favourite flavour was. Definitely chocolate. And apricot if you have no chocolate.”
“I see.” She brushed non-existent crumbs from her lap.
They sat in silence for a few moments listening to the tittering of birds.
“Anna, I wanted to tell you that you play beautifully. Your intuitive style is a rare gift, and in this case, the challenge of both Liszt and Chopin will be a coup. I think the Kapellmeister is very sly. He is asking you to use your intellect when you approach Liszt and then your emotions for Chopin. So—we work on the externals, yes? The techniques, the pedal, the arpeggios, and we work on the internals. Your confidence, your motivations and your passions. And so, I was wondering if you could tell me…I mean I know nothing about you…what I mean to ask is, have you ever been in love?”
“No,” she laughed. “Have you?”
“Do you mean that mad, crazy love when you think you will die if you can’t be with that person?”
She nodded, feeling her cheeks burn again.
“Yes,” he said.
“I shouldn’t wonder. I mean you are older, and you are a man…”
“She was so beautiful, Anna. She floated, rather then walked, and when she kissed me, I thought I had gone to heaven. I was mad for her, I wanted to possess her, hold her, marry her.”
 “What happened?”
“I’m sure you have heard all those wicked tales about governesses who sneak into young men’s rooms at night?”
“It was your governess?”
“Yes. Her name was Trude. She was twenty-one and I was four. She broke my heart.” He laughed.
“You think you are so clever.” But, she laughed, too. “So, in other words, you have never been in love?”
“No. Never. I’ve come close, though.”
“And you think I need some experience of love for the Chopin, don’t you?”
His expression grew thoughtful. “Yes, Anna, if I am to be honest, yes, I think you do.”
“Well, if I tell you something silly, will you promise not to laugh?”
He nodded.
“When I was a little girl, maybe five or six, I went to the Zoo one day with Mimi and there we saw a magnificent lion and his mate. It was, for me, love at first sight, such was his beauty and the way his proud eyes looked at me. And, then I noticed one of his ears had a tear in it, so I asked Mimi why, and she said he had probably been in a fierce battle and had come out the victor.
“It was a very, very hot day and I remember Mimi was holding a handkerchief to her nose because of the smell. And, so we did not stay long with the lions. And later that night, when I said my prayers, I prayed especially for him.”
She knew Ariel was staring intently at her now, she knew her voice had changed, had gone far away.
“And then what happened?”
“We left the next morning for a hunting lodge because Papa was worried about typhus coming to the city. So, off we went to Wannsee and then, well, it was a long time before I returned to see my lion. How I longed to see him! And do you know…he was gone. His mate recognized me, but he was nowhere to be seen. So, Mimi asked one of the zookeepers about him, Herr Zellner, his name was, and he complained about bad specimens—”
She broke off, unable to speak further. She turned away from him and began to sob. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry—I haven’t thought about him in so long.”
He reached for her shoulder and she felt electric sparks shoot through it. “How awful for you. Such a sad story.”
She turned back to him. “Yes, it really was.” And then she looked into his eyes and saw his compassion and something stirred in her. “Do you think I am ready to play the Nocturnes now?”
“Yes,” he whispered. He wiped away her tears, stroked her cheeks, and kissed 
 her mouth gently, his breath so warm, she felt the frost melting above them.

-end snip-

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Today was spent  researching music -- a divine prospect and one I really don't wish to hurry, while at the same time, I cannot spend my days endlessly wallowing in the one beautiful swath of this novel.

I am savouring the time I do spend with Anna Garber as she prepares for the most significant night of her young life. Which is to say, I am not going to over paint and write excessively, but, I am not going to gloss it over too much, either.
I am mindful of the pacing.

Which brings me to NaNo -- I may not be a NaNo girl, after all, because my goal has changed from Day One. Now, it seems, I want to write as much as I can, and get this book launched -- but not at the expense of my sanity -- the jury is still out on that one. I don't pretend to have sanity most days, anyhow.

Later today, I will be going out to get a flu shot, doing some marketing in Westmount and then coming home. I may not write much then. But, I am raring to go. Now that my brain is properly stuffed with the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and all its nuances, I am ready to assist the Kapellmeister in teaching Anna how to attack it!

Tomorrow night we turn back the clocks. I like the idea of extra sleep; I hate the idea of dark days when it's only 4 p.m. and you can't see your hand in front of your face. In fact, I find it very hard making the adjustment, and think it's a really dumb idea, because it just feels so much colder when the sun goes down at this time of year.

Years ago, when I lived here -- before I moved away and subsequently returned --
I wrote a poem about November. A rather hopeful one.

So, for those who hate this time of year, here's a small consoling piece of nostalgia:

November! Colder and bleaker
than all the witches tits
in Macbeth, no more.

Sipping wine, munching Ritz bits
I order November and all cold winds
Exeunt from the drab picture
of an unromantic play!

Looking southward, the river
sparkling, the sweet-sooted
chimney tops puff spirals
of long forgotten days
when cities held magic
of shiny black pavements
splattered in oily, rainbowed
dwindling frosts,
and little children scampered home
in shiny Macs and bright umbrellas
through expectant November streets and November grays,
caught up in an eiderdown
of warm tea, and tales of Pooh,
and the onset of Saint Nicholas Days.

November at Haddon Hall, Montreal 1988

Friday, November 5, 2010

EARLY DAY FIVE -- Could This Be Love?

I am lagging behind in NANO words, as usual. And, I cheated today -- I went back to do some editing (she says, cringing), and then, I pushed onward to new terrain. I am nevertheless happy, and hope to accomplish as much as possible in November, so hope you enjoy the latest bunch of words. I will probably post in serial form, the writing that has to do with Anna -- leading up to her recital and its aftermath. After that, wee snips only.
If anyone reading this can offer me the Hungarian for "my darling" that would be super great.
I also am working on my latest essay for LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY MOTHER. I am exhausted.
The NanoWriMo site is clogged most of the time. Today, I had to re-register -- that makes twice, even though all the info about me on their site is safe and sound in a manner of speaking.
As I face day five, I wonder how the world is doing. Partying, I know is a big part of this exercise. It will be fascinating to see who crosses the finish line and actually lasts to November 30th.

Excerpt THE SCARF DANCE All Rights Reserved Copyright Carol Krenz 2010

On the first day of instruction, the rain, which had begun after her arrival at the Kapellmeister's home, was now gusting sideways in sheets, blurring her view of the narrow elms lining the street below. They looked like spinster aunts, nodding together, desperately clutching the last of the gold leaves covering their limbs. Soon, they’d be naked. “I should hate that myself,” she thought.
A dark Monday morning, a blustery morning most people detested. But not inside the Kapellmeister's music room, for the brazier was blazing with fresh coals and Helga had brought up a heavy tray of coffee, bread, jams, cheese, smoked carp and soft boiled eggs. “Herr Dworkin is always hungry,” she said when Anna looked in horror at the size of the spread. “And if he asks where the honey is, tell him he finished it yesterday.”
“Was he here yesterday?”
Helga cackled. “Yes, Fräulein. Ever since his mother took ill – two years ago, it was – he’s been living here when he’s not on tour. His playing disturbs her.”
“I see…”
Helga looked around the room with a satisfied glance. “Will that be all – do you need anything else?”
“Thank you, I am fine.”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you – Herr Dworkin said if you arrived before he got back from the tobacconist, you were to start playing scales.”
“He said what?”
“Scales, Fräulein.” And Helga hurried off, aware of the insult, looking like she was dodging thrown crockery. Anna knew her eyes were now ablaze with thoughts of murder. Scales indeed!
She helped herself to a cup of coffee and chose to sit on the couch, tucking her legs under her dress like a contented cat.
Was it going to be this way for seven months? Would he treat her like a baby? Would he be forever late? She stirred her cup with growing agitation until she heard the sound of footsteps climbing the stairs, sometimes taking them two at a time by the measure of the syncopation. Step-step-long-step.
When he walked in, he shook his umbrella like a wet dog and smiled at her. She rested her spoon in its saucer. “You’re late,” she said.
“I’m not, actually. You’re early.”
“I won’t play scales.”
“You won’t? Well, that puts an entirely different complexion on things. I thought we were going to study Chopin.”
“I thought so, too.”
“Well, then. How often have you been able to sneak him into your repertoire?”
“Only a little,” she confessed. “I smuggled in some of his music, stuffed it under my mattress and play it in the upstairs nursery, when no one is home.”
He was by now rubbing his hands in front of the brazier. “Would you like to play one of his waltzes for me? How about ‘Valse au petit chien’?”
“The Minute waltz?”
“Exactly. But it really takes two minutes. You play, and I’ll eat and you just pretend I’m not here.”
He busied himself by loading up a plate while she took her seat at the piano and rifled nervously through the sheet music. She rubbed her knuckles, took a deep breath and began. Not even twenty measures in she realized her right hand was refusing to work. She started again, failed completely and finally placed her hands in her lap, her cheeks stinging with humiliation.
“You know what I think?” he asked softly as he readied his knife to strike an egg. “I could be wrong, Anna, but I think maybe you should--”
“Practice my scales?”
“Yes, well, only if you think it’s a good idea.” The top of his egg came off with one neat swipe.
If only she could hate him…just a little.

On Wednesday morning she asked why she had to play the scales while he watched.
“Because I need to see your fingers. Do you notice you’re dragging just a little on the right?”
She crossed her arms immediately and tucked her hands under her armpits. She fought to stay calm. He was the only one to notice this impediment – the only one to comment. Mimi, who had taught her first, didn’t count because she was there when the accident occurred. But the others? Frau Groper, Frau Steiner, not even the Kapellmeister had said a word. She told him about them.
“Ah, well, it’s understandable,” he said modestly. “You play the scales so beautifully, so no one has ever had to look closely at your hands since you were a child. But, I looked, because I want you to execute Chopin to perfection. And for me, Chopin is all about losing the fingers completely, you see?”
“What can I do?”
“Two exercises. First, you will open your hand and spread your fingers as wide as they can go and hold to a count of five, then close it. Repeat this ten times and do it as many times a day as you can stand. It will ache. Then, you must squeeze a ball. A good India rubber. Squeeze as hard as you can and hold it as long as you can. Then, release it. Do this as often as possible. You’ll need plenty of massage. And, Anna… you have two hands, don’t forget the left.”
She caught herself staring at him. She liked his nose, she liked the dimples in his cheeks when he smiled. She was so absorbed with the way he looked – his navy cravat and his gray tweed jacket – she didn’t really hear what he said about the Hungarian Rhapsodies. And anyhow, studying Liszt with the Kapellmeister belonged to Tuesdays and Thursdays. Today was Wednesday. Today, she would think only about Chopin and him.

Two weeks later and still, they were not playing the Nocturnes. Now she was adept at the Minute waltz and still he was not satisfied. He had offered not one word of praise.
“Begin again.”
She leapt into action, her nimble right fingers scrambling across the keys.
He was pacing in front of the piano, maintaining rhythm by striking his fist into his palm “Faster…faster…yes…yes…faster…faster…good…yes…faster…faster--stop! Lunch?”
If only she could hate him…just a little.

The extent to which both these men were willing to go to prepare her was astonishing. At least Mimi thought so. She told Mimi everything – almost everything, and Mimi, who had been her nanny and governess and occasional chaperone was not easily impressed. But, today she was. “And then what happened?”
It was Sunday morning and they were enjoying breakfast in the morning room.
“Well,” said Anna, “I got into the carriage and the Kapellmeister said we were off to have lunch at the Café Romy in the Alexanderplatz. He said it was high time we took refreshments away from the house. Then he teased me and called me [] which means my darling in Hungarian.
“He wasn’t unmannered, was he?”
“Who…Herr Hermann?” Anna laughed. “No, Mimi. He’s especially avuncular in a Saint Nicholas sort of way. He’s a sweet and generous soul.”
“All right, so go on, tell me more.”
“Oh, Mimi, it was wonderful. As soon as we arrived, we heard violins playing sad romantic Gypsy music and we sat at lovely tables with red and green cloths, and white mats and napkins. And the food was delicious. I had a cutlet in sour cream sauce with loads of paprika, he had the goulash, and all we talked about was his trips to Budapest. That and Liszt. And he made me drink Bull’s Blood until I was tipsy.”
Mimi’s auburn eyebrows shot up like pencil-thin question marks.
“It’s red wine. Although, who knows,” Anna giggled. “They say it contains a secret ingredient.”
“You are the adventurous one, that’s a certainty.”
Anna reached for a roll and broke it in half. “The thing is, Mimi, it was a lot of fun, but it was serious, too. The Kapellmeister wanted me to breathe in the ‘love, sweat and passion’ is how he put it, of the Hungarian people. He wanted me to pretend I was yearning for my homeland, for its purple crocuses growing wild, the river Danube; he talked about the Magyars, Tartars, Mongols, the Carpathians – oh, how he talked. And, then he asked me to imagine I was part of the Romany and enslaved, and to think of their suffering. And just when I thought I could see all of it, he flipped me around with the suggestion I be royalty, instead. Can you imagine that?”
“I’m still having trouble imagining Bull’s Blood.”
Anna toyed with the poppy seeds on her plate. “Mimi, I’m serious. He wanted me to smell the soil of one of the oldest countries in Europe. If I can grasp what it means to love the land, to work the land, he says, I’ll understand how to approach the Rhapsodies.”
“Well, mein gott! Anna. If that’s what he wanted, he should have taken you to the Zoologischer Garten so you could milk a cow.”