Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Critical Mom Comes Home To New York

Even before we got here, my husband made sure we got a foretaste of paradise--the Saturday before our Monday flight we drove to Cologne to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.   The smaller stage at the Philharmonic barely cramped their style--they danced ecstatically, gorgeously, and seemed happily astonished by their effect on the Germans during the inevitable showstopper--Revelations.  I've been watching Revelations since the 1970s and it seems to me that certain sections--"Oh, Sinner Man," have gotten faster and louder, but the spirit of the piece remains.  And now here I am in New York with the family, and my daughter and I took a ballet class with Richard Marsden (Very Beginner Ballet, slow but strenuous) at one of Alvin Ailey's homes, City Center--and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  Step off the plane, take a ballet class!  We have enjoyed a nonstop schedule since arriving, and while the family sleeps, the mom types.  The air conditioner is on, the sounds of the city muted, and the sense of having everything I want right in front of me, or just a New York minute away, is growing by the moment.
We flew Düsseldorf to London on British Airways, which was its competent and slightly stuffy self.  Seating myself, I pulled out the barf bag "just in case" for my youngest, whose stomach is susceptible to airline travel.  But I found that someone had left a moldy old cookie and some gum in there, and my oldest child asked the stewardess if it would be too much trouble to find us an unused one.  Eyebrows vaulting to her hairline--we had not yet taken off--she barked, "Who was sick?"  I assured her that it was none of us and she disappeared, returned with blue rubber gloves halfway up her arm (the kind the border guards at Kennedy routinely wear) and removed the offending item with a very British sniff. 
Yesterday we got tickets to Les Miserables and felt miserable when the subway had delays and we got there only after hacking our way through hellishly loud stores and crowds twenty minutes late.  But they let us in!  Even though we missed "I Dreamed A Dream" we loved the show and of course I cried when they were singing "To Love Another Person is to see the Face of God!!" We arrived home in a moistly sentimental state and baked some expensive but delicious organic chickens, which the children were almost too tired to consume.  And we watched the part we'd missed, the Susan Boyle version, on YouTube.  A perfect evening.  Day Three is dawning--Shakespeare in the Park?  Good thing we didn't go last night, because the "Blow Winds And Crack Your Cheeks" part of the show was accompanied by just that kind of weather--the thunder and lightning nearly drowned out Susan Boyle.  We hoped for tickets for the Bolshoi, which was sold out, but we did get discount tickets to Pippin.   Now I remember the Ben Vereen version from the seventies, which had a certain elegance: this new production is faster, racier, and louder, but most enjoyable, and the actor who had played the original Pippin (the prince who doesn't want to be a prince) in 1972 now plays the king. We wandered lower Manhattan and managed the free ticket night at the 9/11 museum, whose recordings of memories of people who lived through the catastrophe, and memorial quilts, are very moving.  I was less happy with the movie, which seemed to me an assertion of the rebuilding of empire:  the new tower loomed onscreen such that we had to crane our necks to see the top, and I thought of the John Winthrop sermon on board the Arabella in 1630:  building a city upon a hill.  New York is our city upon a hill, as long as fortunes can be made and immigrants can be welcomed and everyone can just get along.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Critical Mom's Kid Meets Angela Merkel

So they just both happened to be in China at the same time, my oldest son with his Chinese class and Frau Merkel.   And he got to shake hands with her and even talk to her.
"What was it like!  What was it like!"  
I'm bouncing in my seat in the car on the way home from Düsseldorf airport, and even my exceedingly patient husband can hardly wait to hear.  We are big admirers of Merkel.
"Well, we were all shaking hands with her and I thought why not talk?  I said hi or something.  We talked about what it was like to learn Chinese.  And she asked how many Chinese characters we had to know for the Abitur.  And I said, like, 800.  And then she said something like there were 24 letters in the German alphabet, right?
Here I interrupted him.  "She was kidding, right?" No, she was just really every bit as jet-lagged as the tenth-graders were.  
"And MOM, she's a physicist after all," said our tenth-grader.
He doesn't have to defend her to me.  I think she's great.
"But what was she like?"  Well, as I imagined.  As her face shows.
"She was really just like a regular person.  And also, you could see, yes, really the Mutti," he added--she is Germany's mommy, and oh, this country needs a Mom.  Probably every country needs one; let me rile everyone by suggesting that women leaders have a natural instinct for diplomacy.   Our son is home and gets to sleep off his jet lag in front of the Germany-Argentina soccer game, which is on right now.  But Frau Merkel has to be at the stadium in the flesh, telling reporters how much everyone in Germany loves soccer, and sitting next to the probably inconsolable President of Brazil.  My hat is off to her.  You go, Mutti.  Three years older than I am, and with fifty times the energy. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Critical Mom Goes to London

After braving Ryannair once more--they were just dandy, even if they were a whole ten minutes late--plus a punctilously officious border guard ("it's on moy back, innit, if they send you back!" he puffed) because my passport lacks my German residency permit, I was finally allowed to set foot in Albion.  Still, it only took an additional ten minutes for me to convince him that I really do have a husband and children in Germany, plus the residency permit in my old passport, which is around on my desk somewhere.  
Right now I'm in some bat cave reserved for Americans at the Clarendon hotel in Bloomsbury--outside my window a moldy cement square, the official drainpipe, and, when I look up, the fence at street level one flight up, atop some shaky-looking bricks.  Plus a plant or two, hiding from the feet of passersby.  T.S. Eliot would have loved to write about this--in fact, he did:
THEY are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.
The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile . . .

but hey, the bed's comfortable, the shower has hot water after a nanosecond or two, but not the extreme pressure I like.  And although the internet connection remains unpredictable as British weather (and you have to pay for it), really, the place is not so bad.  The very young staff, mostly Eastern European and Indian, are Upstairs Downstairs eager to please.  I wish the breakfast were better than cold hard boiled eggs, cold everything except the toast in the weird little torture-rack of a thingie that seems designed to torment it into coolness . . .  if they'd just put it on a plate some of the heat would remain in the toast which is, after all, in my book supposed to be toasty.  And quiet, it ain't.  A thin ceiling separates me from loud, and getting louder drunken laughter.  
The rest of London swirls rainily around me . . . down the street at the Penn Club, where the gargoyles, my mother and my aunt, are staying, the breakfast includes stronger coffee, scrambled eggs, and oatmeal, which the British persist in calling "porridge."  So okay, it still tastes good.  But my aunt likes to tell my mother, "You were so D-R-U-N-K last night you said you couldn't dial the phone."  Then my mother says, "Oh, yes I could!"  Nodding at me she points to my aunt:  "She's really slow.  Can't hear anything either."  My aunt shakes her head, "Well, my ex-husband was an alcoholic, so I'm sensitive to these things, and I'm worried that you might become one."  Both of these ladies are in their nineties and nothing stops them.  Not to be outdone, my mother asks:  "Well, whatever happened to your former son in law?"  My aunt shakes her head, "Well, of course, we haven't heard from him for years.  He was C-D, YOU KNOW, A CROSS-DRESSER, BUT DON'T TELL ANYONE!" she brays.  Details get thrown down like gauntlets:  he was too drunk to visit the kid, the kid finally said, "it's his loss."  The harpies stare at each other, out of steam for the moment.  When they do this at breakfast, I order more coffee.  At dinner, more red wine.  While they drink, they remain silent.  Since both seem deaf as posts, but insist that they don't need their hearing aids, they speak very loudly indeed.  I like to tell myself that no car could ever run over the two of them--despite London traffic, you can hear them halfway down the block, each stridently insisting that the other forgot something or that YOUR PURSE IS TOO SMALL WE HAVE TO BUY YOU A BIGGER ONE.
Yesterday I went to a ballet class taught by Ian Knowles at the Pineapple dance studios--a dream come true, everything about the place from the perfect class (my back no longer hurts!) to the shabby gentility of its style--how it reminds me of New York in the late seventies, floors and all--was a dream come true.  A lovely, placed class with a teacher whose dry wit--shades of David Howard--delighted me.  Today I went to tap, and that was fun, too.
So now it's off to the "gimrack" shops, as the gargoyles say, to buy my children plaster casts of Big Ben, The London Eye, and Buckingham Palace.  And that'll do . . . I'm too tired to visit the real ones. 
I'm lying in bed contemplating another of those delicious dance classes but sometime I've just got to get the oldest kid a bobble-headed King Henry VIII to go with his bobble-headed Caesar.  The younger son would like statues of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the London Eye, all of which I'd rather buy than visit.  My daughter would love a real cardigan, which is something I can't find in Germany, at least not a design-free one.  I wandered through the Elgin marbles this morning with my mother, who wondered whether the Barbarians or the Christians had "chopped off the male members," as she put it.  I don't know.  Do you?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Critical Mom's German-American Fourth of July: The Selling of America

First of all, nobody here knows it's the fourth.  We're not planning a weenie roast--it's a working day.  Shopping in the local supermarket, Aldi's, I noticed a pack of Trader Joe's cupcake mix, adorned with the Statue of Liberty . . . Aldi's, you see, the gigantic German supermarket that originated with two brothers who hail right from my little old neck of the woods in Northwestern Germany . . . Aldi's is now Trader Joe's.  Or bought their label, which is why suddenly Trader Joe's is now imitation Betty Crocker.  Where is the old Trader Joe's, the one with a fantastic granola and coffee and  . . . well, nobody's talking about granola anymore.  Organic fruit and cheese?  Trader Joe's as I remember it in the Los Angeles of 1991 seems not to exist.  The Aldi brothers imagine it differently. 
The Statue of Liberty is selling "just add water" junk food cupcakes.  Plus, Aldi's is now sprouting all over the U.S. . .  the nearest one to my New York place is on East 117th street.
On July 4 weekend, the Supreme Court decided that corporations can use religion as an excuse not to provide women with birth control.  The Statue of Liberty ought to be out there slamming her lamp down on the heads of the Koch brothers.  Or at least the Aldi brothers.
Plus, now a new spy scandal is emerging, starring, allegedly, a German working for the U.S.A.
Do Americans have anything to celebrate?
Jesus wept.