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.


  1. The church is called the Duomo. Most of the cathedrals in Italy are.

  2. Poor beautiful Anna. I hope you don't torture her too much!
    I didn't know they were filming that movie here!
    Oh, and I do hope you're going to share that recipe with us, or at least photos of the finished product [bg]

  3. Hi Jack,

    I was referring to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore I think.

    Yes, duomo -- isn't Italian such a beautiful language?

  4. Hi Deniz,

    Re the movie -- I didn't know, either.
    Anna...plenty more in store...and the mac and cheese -- I'll let you know when I attempt it.[s]

  5. That's good to know. Of course, you don't learn everything being a tourist.

    I was supposed to be in the movie "On the Road," but they haven't called me. What a drag, man. (period slang?)