Recent Work By Colleen McGrath

When, on my first week as a Florida resident, a woman approached me in the local Target and told me I had pretty eyes, I knew it wasn’t southern charm that motivated her to reach out.And in a state whose majority politics border on fascist, I doubted I was being hit on by the same sex in a public arena.That coupled with the fact that I was not, shall we say, dressed to impress – German fashion maybe having sunk in a little too far – I was only mildly surprised to have that followed up with the offer of a make-over.Mary Kay was welcoming me to the south.

There’s a crack in my Mac

In the casing to be exact

And I wonder what I am to do

 

 

It needs a repair

Before dust and cat hair

Fly near it and go right on through

 

 

If that should happen

I’ll feel really trapped in

For in Deutschland it’s hard to prove

 

 

That I sat not upon it

Nor smashed it nor dropped it

Nor left it outside in the dew

 

 

 

 

 

But I’m broke so I hope

They’ll believe what I spoke

And repair it and make it like new

Herding Cats

By Colleen McGrath

Humor

Trying to teach music to a room full of children under five years of age with no other adult in the room is a bit like herding cats. Most of the time it’s just not possible. I would guess in the forty-five minute period, the time we spend on actual music is less than fifteen minutes. “But how can that be?”, you cry. Let me clear it up for you.

Me: Okay, welcome back to music everyone. Find a place around the edge of the carpet. Let’s make a circle, can everyone find the edge of the carpet? Justin is that the edge of the carpet? Right, Tim come away from the windows, it’s time for music. See what Sarah’s doing? She’s in the right place. Thank you Sarah. Good. Make a circle please.

Okay everyone, let’s remember the rules for music class. Who can tell me one of the rules we follow here? Eric…

Anne: NO HITTING!

Me: Well, that’s a good rule in general, Anne but I called on Eric who was doing what?

Anne:

Me: What was Eric doing everyone?

Class:

Me: He was doing something with his hand, which is one of our rules. What was he doing?

Class: Raising his hand!

Me: That’s right! Good job! When you want to ask or answer a questions you raise your hand, you do not call out. If you call out to me will I call on you?

Class: Noooo!

Phillip:  Raises his hand.

Me: Yes, Phillip, can you remember another rule?

Phillip: I’m going on a train tomorrow!

Me: Okay, very interesting. Now how about…

Phillip: And we’re staying in a hotel!

Me: Uh huh. Okay, now class…

Anne: I stayed in a hotel before!

Justin: I too stayed in a hotel before!

Sarah: I too! But, but, but we didn’t go on a train. We went in our car. And my mommy threw up.

Me: Okay, okay, thanks for sharing everyone. Let’s get back to music class. We were talking about rules. And what is the most important rule?

Sam: Raises his hand.

Me: Sam, good for you, raising your hand. What’s the most important rule?

Sam: …

Me: Sam, do you have an idea?

Sam: …

Me: Okay, that’s okay but try to have an idea of what you want to say BEFORE you put your hand in the air. Tim, sit down. I don’t want to have to tell you again. Where is your seat? Tim? Tim! Where is your seat. Good boy, now sit down. That was NOT an invitation to talk class! Emily, where are you going? Sit back down!

Emily: I have to pee.

Me: Oh, okay then. Go pee. Sigh. Where were we? Oh yes, rules. What is the most important rule for music? Alan, what’s the rule?

Alan: …

Me: Alan, you raised your hand, do you know or did you just want me to call on you?

Alan: …

Me: Sigh. Okay, class it has something to do with your ears. What do you do with your ears?

Class: LISTEN!

Me: VERY GOOD! Listen. That means when I am talking, nobody…

Emily: I can’t close my pants by myself.

Me: Okay come here. That means when I am talking, nobody else is talking. And if I call on Tim, what happens then?

Class: Listen to Tim.

Me: Very good! Okay, so that leaves only one more question. Are you ready to ROCK?

Class: YEAH!!!

Me: Okay, let’s rock! “We’re rocking and rocking and rocking and…” TIM!!! GET DOWN FROM THE DESK NOW! I will NOT tell you again. Final warning. Thank you. Okay and we’re “Rocking and rocking and rocking and rocking. Left and right, left and…”

Emily: Waaahhh!

Me: Emily, what’s wrong? What happened?

Emily: Aapahhle saaht mmmpf meee!

Me: I didn’t understand you, Emily. Can you try to calm down and use your words?

Emily: Aapahhle saaht mmmpf meee!!!!!

Me: Sigh. I still didn’t get that. Can you try one more time.

Sarah: She SAAAAIIIID, Alan hit her.

Me: Alan did you hit Emily?

Alan:

Me: Alan! Did you hit Emily?

Alan: …

Me: Alan, please apologize to Emily right now.

Alan: Sorry Emily

Me: Class, do we hit other people? Ever???

Class: Noooooo!

Me: That’s right. Okay. Back to it. TIM! SIT DOWN! Okay, know what? I think we all need to move a little bit. How about a game of Freeze Dance!

Class: YEAH!!!

Robert: I don’t want tooo.

Me: Okay Robert, you don’t have to. Come sit over here with me.

Robert: Wahhh!

Me: Robert, why are you crying? I just said you don’t have to dance. Come here. What’s wrong?

Robert: Waaaaaaaahhhhhh!

Me: Sigh. Robert. Robert? Honey, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.

Robert: I don’t WANT tooooooo!!!

Me: Sigh. Mmm, hmm. Okay. SO, class. Here you go, let me see what you can do! TIM!!!!!! GET DOWN NOW!!!! Okay, that is it. You have had many chances today. You are done. Go sit on the wall.

Tim: …

Me: NOW, Tim!

Tim: …waaahhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Me: Oh for goodness sake. Why are you crying? Go sit on the wall right now. I SAID NOW MISTER!

Tim: AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Another teacher walks into the room.

Teacher: “Everything okay?”

Get the picture?

Look!

By Colleen McGrath

Humor

That people don’t look at each other here may account for the otherwise inexplicable disinterest in personal appearance in Berlin. That or city-wide depression. Nobody’s looking so who cares? Granted, in New York people look way too much. Gone are the days (and by days I mean the 80’s), when a woman can walk up Madison Avenue in sneakers and slide on pumps at her desk, oh no. You ride the subway and walk the whole distance in those puppies, no matter how far or you’re excommunicated from the club. Did you know you had to walk fifty blocks in stilettos to be considered a true New York Woman? You do. Do you see men coming to work in shorts and a t-shirt carrying a suit bag and changing in the men’s room before the big meeting? No, you don’t. That their shoes are generally not torture chambers doesn’t enter into the matter; you come dressed for your day. People are looking. From the minute you leave your house to the moment you get home, people are looking.

Not in Berlin. I have never been looked at so little in my life. Okay look, it’s not like I’m some raving beauty draped in men and chased by paparazzi, God no. But there is a lid for every pot and New Yorkers aren’t shy about letting you know when they like your pot.

Fashion is at the root of it all, of that I’m certain. Whether it’s the chicken or the egg, I have no idea but it’s involved somehow. Never before have I been in a city where the dress code rarely requires more than a nice pair of jeans and often much less. Grunge is the mode du jour, I’m assuming because it goes nicely with graffiti of which there is a plethora. Not that grunge can’t be done well, it can. It’s just that come on, aren’t there moments in your life when you long to take out most of your earrings and put on a tie?

People have either created the non-looking or responded to it, I’m not sure which, by wearing comfortable shoes. Shoes make or break an outfit, as I’m sure you know, and most often Birkenstocks are a breaker. If you start with a Birk what more can you do but put on some khaki pants and a cotton top? Maybe a skirt but you’re really pushing the boundaries there and it can really only be done if there is tie-dye involved somehow. Once in an outfit like that how much more make-up can you slap on than maybe a sheer gloss? That I own some knock off Birks may tell you a little about how far I have fallen.

At first I was relieved. Living in a huge city among people without filters made me long for a quieter, less appearance-minded place. One where I could leave the house with out make-up and not feel naked. One where clients didn’t comment on my weight gain or loss on a daily basis. Now though, if I “put on my face” as my grandmother used to say, it’s remarked on by colleagues all day long as an anomaly.

“Wow, you’re wearing make-up today. Are you going somewhere after work?”, as if there’s no other reason on the planet to use mascara.

“Um no, just thought I’d try not to look like a refugee, haha!”

They’re right of course. What for? If nobody looks, then why bother? But I sometimes don’t recognize myself anymore so maybe that’s why. Where I was maybe too focused on such things before, it’s becoming the reverse and I’m starting to miss the part of my morning that included choosing clothes and watching Charmed reruns for make-up tips.

Something in the middle is ideal, I think. I long to be accepted as I come, who doesn’t? I come with many flaws and you don’t need a microscope to find them. In a city that lives under one, it’s a rarity to meet a New Yorker who doesn’t see them. On the other hand, to not care so much that you become wallpaper can’t be the answer either. So how to go forward? Do people start looking or do we start giving them a reason to? It’s a question for the experts. Gloria Steinem! Candace Bushnell! Help! In the meantime, I’m going to dig out my heels and see how far I can still get in three inches and red lipstick.

Some might find it difficult to love a person who intentionally pees on your stuff.  Perfectly understandable.  And when that person is a cat, well, the answer seems clear.  Get a new cat.  But then she looks at you with those big eyes and curls up in your lap, purrs in your ear, and greets you at the door like a dog.  Unfair, really.  There is no defense for that.  So you think well, they all die sometime.  I’ll just wait it out.  My cat died yesterday.

3 Mattresses
1 Couch
6 Couch Cushions
2 Stuffed Chairs
2 Tables
1 Piano
Countless pieces of clothing
Unfathomable loads of laundry
My mother’s hand
Several boyfriends

These are the costs Freyja racked up over the course of her lifetime.  I leave out, of course, the expected cost of food, litter and veterinary care.  Those I signed up for in the first place.  My father asked me repeatedly over the last fifteen years why I hadn’t given her away to one of her several, if unlikely, fans.  My answer was always the same.

“She’s my responsibility.  I love her.  Well, most of the time anyway.  Would you give me away if I peed on the bed?”

I think he wanted to say yes.

I adopted Freyja when she was a spitting, yelling, grabbing, tiny ball of sparse hair which all stood up on end.  I could see her pink skin through it, wrinkly and soft.  My boyfriend at the time had said he’d wanted a cat.  A beautiful, sleek, cat esthetically pleasing to the eye is what he said.  He was an artist so this mattered to him.  There were other kittens there that were far more attractive but, as they cowered in the corners she reached through the bars of her cage and tapped me on the head.  She grabbed at my fingers and yelled at me quite insistently and this way she made the cut. I was convinced then, as now, that personality matters more than looks.  In the end he loved us both despite our looks, although not enough to keep us and when we eventually split up she landed in my lap rather than his.

It was all the same to me.  In her younger years she was a wonderful companion to my older, very mellow cat, Arthur.  Arthur loved her company.  He used to hang his tail down over a chair and flick it back and forth for her to chase.  He groomed her and taught her how to walk across the back of the couch, nibble off the end of my morning bagel and the first two years of her time with us were virtually problem free.  Then we moved.

Because I didn’t have a place of my own yet, my parents gracefully took my cats while I located an apartment in Boston. Arthur did well but Freyja hid and not under furniture or anyplace you might actually be able to touch her; she hid in the rafters on the ceiling.  It took me a while to get settled but she remained on high making actual human contact difficult.  When I finally did find a place my parents thoughtfully offered to meet me half way to deliver the cats.  We agreed on a date and just as I was preparing to go meet them I received this phone call.

“We’re having trouble catching Freyja.  We might not…wait; wait, here comes your mother.  She’s BLEEDING!  Today isn’t going to happen, we’re going to the hospital!”

From the background I heard, “I’ve got her, Tom!  Screw the hospital, drive, drive, drive!”

It seems like maybe we’d overstayed our welcome.

In Boston she became a different animal.  She continued hiding, became fearful of other people, stopped enjoying Arthur’s company and she started peeing on things.  This made me very popular with my new roommate but at the time I didn’t care so much.  The girl was Single White Female crazy so if Freyja wanted to pee on her dirty laundry, I was all for it.  Go ahead, Mama!  I had her vetted anyway to be sure there wasn’t a medical problem there.  But even after being treated for a UTI, she continued the behavior.  It seemed like she’d found a way to be heard in a way her constant yelling wasn’t producing.

Behaviorists will tell you the “inappropriate urination” comes from anxiety.  I get it.  Sometimes I get a full bladder right before I on stage, so sure, I buy that.  Explain then why it so often happened after an anxiety-causing event.  Example: Upon return from a time a way, perhaps a gig, we would rejoice in our reuniting with much talking, rubbing and lap sitting.  All would appear to be well and maybe the day after, as I retired for the night, I would smell something rotten in the state of my bed.  She hadn’t done it the entire time I was gone so how was I to interpret this now that I’d returned, supposedly having taken away the stressor?

A. I am the stressor, not my absence. Or…
B. She was exacting revenge for having been left.

Knowing my cat as I did, it seemed clear that B. was the correct and final answer.

In her old age and moderate blindness, she mellowed.  Maybe the world became less scary when seen through a milky, cataract haze.  She spent her final months happier than she had ever been.  Preparing to leave for Germany, I was in a quandary about what to do for her.  Do I leave her in my New York apartment and look for a sub leaser who might love and care for her or ask her to adjust once more to a new life, not to mention survive the transatlantic flight?  But luck smiled on us both in the form of a friend who was able to see her negatives for positives and offered to take her until I made it back stateside or the inevitable happened.

“She is not an easy animal, you know.”

“Who likes easy animals?”

“Doesn’t like other cats or dogs, most people.”

“I don’t like most people either.  She’ll fit in just fine.”

“She pees on things when she’s mad.”

“Wish I could.”

She adjusted to her new home and second mom perfectly.  A cat who had spent the last several years in the closet, literally, not figuratively to my knowledge, she was an equal opportunity hater, suddenly was sleeping out in the open on the couch mere feet from the other cat.  She seemed actually to enjoy his company!  She loved my friend to distraction and vice versa.  Freyja passed in the way most of us hope our pets will, asleep in her sunny spot on the window ledge.  She didn’t feel a thing and, I hope, she was dreaming about her favorite things as she went, love, sun, food, and peeing on the bed.

R.I.P Freyja
1994-2009

Lately I’ve been dreaming about being a spy.  It’s a nice change from the usual “somebody is chasing me” nightmare.  These days the tables are turned and rather than running through molasses from some unknown terror, I’m the one holding the machine gun.  Go me!  I’d like to think that the dream analysis is true and this represents my drive and ambition.  Sadly, I think it has a lot more to do with my recent Alias obsession.  Apparently my subconscious wants to be Sydney Bristow.

There are worse people to want to be, let’s be honest.  She’s hot, smart, funny, in touch with her emotional side, she speaks eight languages and most importantly, she TOTALLY kicks ass!  Yeah, everybody around her dies, but hey, that’s the price you pay for being an international woman of mystery.  She’s managed to have a meaningful relationship, connect with her super-spy parents, maintain long-term friendships – even if they do involve witness protection – and have a baby.  She travels all over the world and her paycheck is seriously phat.  Have you seen her apartment?  Sweet!  So she risks her life a lot; there are down sides to every job.  But her wardrobe is insane and her wig collection is to die for.  I’ve long had a blue hair fantasy.  Sydney can be blue today and blond tomorrow.  That’s got to count for something.

I’ve never been too sure about the whole “health of television on the developing mind” thing.  As a child I was allowed one hour of television a day, sometimes more if it was educational.  I spent a great deal of my time counting with Bert and Ernie and humming the tune to National Geographic.  I still get tingles when Nova comes on but, like sugared cereal, I started watching the TV equivalent as soon as I left home and finally started getting all those popular references that evaded me during my formative years.  No, I was not popular.

At this point I think I can safely say that television affects a persons thinking or, at the very least, mine.  Not only have I become a nightly vigilante but after weeks of watching Lost, flying has once again become a problem.  Of course not helped by the four or five Airbuses that have recently either crashed or made emergency landings, but it was a fear I had under control for a while.  No longer.  Living through 9/11 provided me with this particular phobia.  Having largely gotten past it, (I recommend flying to Asia as a cure.  24 hours on a plane and you don’t care how you get off.), I never would have guessed that a popular television show could bring it back.  But the show plays the crash sequence over and over and over.  During the days after the attacks the news agencies, in an unprecedented concern for public well-being, finally pulled the footage of the planes crashing into the towers after realizing it was contributing to the country’s post-traumatic stress.  Lost has essentially brought it all back to the surface and while I love the back-stories and all the characters, John Locke? – I ask you! – I’ve had to take a break.  There was recently a weekend trip to London during which I cried through take off both going and coming.  It seems The Dharma Initiative has wrecked its evil influence off screen as well as on and I’d like to take this moment to apologize to the people seated next to me on those flights.  I owe you both a drink, although it might have been better if we’d been able to have it then!

In maybe not such a smart move, I have started making my way through Dexter.  I don’t wish to frighten friends or family but as most of you aren’t anywhere near by and my fear of flying is still in effect, I think you’re safe for the time being.  It’s not my fault!  If they would be quicker about releasing the DVD’s over here I could be watching Heros instead.  I would be dreaming about flying or reading minds rather than cutting them open.  I’ll try to get through this series quickly, promise.  The nightly butchery isn’t as fun as it sounds.

Going forward I guess I have to take into consideration that maybe my parents were right.  One hour a day should really be enough and if you’re learning something from it, other than awesome kickboxing moves that is, then it doesn’t need to have the negative impact it seems to have for me.  Or maybe instead I just need to be more careful about my choices.  After all, would anybody mind if I became Martha Stewart?  Receiving perfectly wrapped gifts hermetically sealed with just the right amount of tape and given under my color coordinated Christmas tree would be something my family might enjoy.  Nah.  I like being a spy.  Hey J.J., if your next series requires a young looking, thirty-something, not-so-in-shape former opera singer turned everyday savior well, you know who to call. Cause thanks to Syd, I’ve got the moves, baby!

Although I am loath to admit it, I am a prude.  I never would have thought myself to be uptight before now but being faced with the Freikörper Kultur has brought me up to speed.  I am 100% American prude.  What is the Free Body Culture, you might ask?  Why it’s the Society of Naked Germans, of course!  And with the advent of summer, the parks and lakes are overflowing with frolicking, happy nudists.

I have never before been even slightly weirded out by the thought that anyone would want to lie naked in the sun.  It sounds rather naughty and delicious, actually.  That being said, I have rarely been faced with an entire city of people who can’t wait to publicly shed their clothing at the slightest opportunity.  Summer is here or at least June is and even though it hasn’t been anything even approaching warm enough to be called bathing suit weather, anything above 60 degrees Fahrenheit is apparently warm enough to bare it all.  Nobody worries about shrinkage.  One day I was happily cruising around Berlin admiring the greenery and suddenly the next, the view had changed entirely.  One might have fancied oneself in a veritable Garden of Eden were it not for the tattoos and lack of strategically placed fig leaves.

In truth, this year I was well prepared.  Last summer on a visit the boyfriend took me to a lake to replenish our vitamin D deficiency.  He had warned me that everyone would be nude and that was fine, I’d said, but it wasn’t going to be me.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t what was.  We were surrounded by everyone and anyone you could imagine, as long as you could imagine they were all white; Germany not being the most color diverse country in the world.  There were tall, short, fat, thin, old, young, beautiful, those not traditionally considered good looking, some obese folks, someone going through chemo, someone who’d undergone a double mastectomy, someone who was clearly anorexic, spider veins abounded, cellulite glistened in the sunshine, waxed and unwaxed, shaved and unshaved, if you can think of it, it was there.

As I looked around I was overcome with admiration for the group of people so comfortable in their own skin.  So unashamed of their bodies as they existed; a foreign concept for most Americans, let alone New Yorkers who are constantly under pressure to stay at the forefront of the fashion and body beautiful trends.  And I realized I was more conspicuous as the only one with clothes on than I would be if I just let go of my Puritanism and freed my body from its spandex confines.  It was elating to lie naked and unnoticed in a park full of people doing the same.  But I didn’t kid myself either.  The only reason I could do this at all was because other than my equally naked boyfriend, I didn’t know a soul.  There is courage in anonymity.

This year for my birthday, he took me to a spa to relax a little.  Once again I was prepared ahead of time for the lack of clothing.  Given the park experience, I no longer felt the need to take a suit.  But when we got to the spa and into the co-ed dressing room I found I was a little bugged out.  I mean, yeah it makes sense.  We’re all about to be naked together anyway, why separate us for the donning and removal phase?  But regardless of the rationality, I somehow felt more exposed fully undressing that close to strange men.  Then in walked the Swedish bombshells who parked themselves directly next to my boyfriend and proceeded to disrobe.  Wait, what happened to all the every-bodies I saw at the lake?  Where were they?  Why was I wobbling my sizable nether parts next to Sweden’s Next Top Model?  This wasn’t what I’d signed up for.

But we wandered down to the sauna anyway.  Walking through the rooms filled with spa-goers, I felt awkward and uncomfortable.  I couldn’t understand why at first.  It shouldn’t feel so much different than it had the last time, after all I didn’t know anyone there.  But as I took a seat in the very crowded sauna, I began to be conscious of the people around me.  These weren’t the naked folks I’d been at the lake with.  Nearly everyone there was under 40, somewhat toned or put together and were all painfully, horribly, nakedly close together.

I am a natural voyeur, a people watcher.  I love to openly gaze and wonder at the happenings around me.  But when you’re sweating together in a small room packed full of fellow nudists, you somehow lose the freedom to do that.  If you spend too much time looking at someone, you could be quickly labeled a sicko letch and excommunicated.  So there we all sat, carefully avoiding each other’s eyes, peeking out of the corners of our own to somehow get the bearings of our surroundings and not talking.  It was awful.

Today I went to a beach with some friends and was shocked to see the sand bursting with colorful bikinis and trunks.

“Where are all the naked Berliners?” I asked.

A fellow sunbather indicated a sign that said in big, black lettering, Freikörper Kultur, and pointed down the beach.  In that moment I knew.  I knew I was a prude because I was relieved.  I was so relieved not to be faced with the pressure to be naked with my friends.  I knew I couldn’t do it.  As they say, some things are better left unsaid, but there are an equal number of things better left dressed on my body and I decided to agree with my friend Juan’s assessment.  There’s something sexy about a little guesswork, even if it is just a little.  So although I may again lie naked in the sun it won’t be anywhere I might run into someone I know and you can rest assured my blanket will be far enough away from the next guy so I can take in the beauty of a park full of everyone basking in their own glory.  Just don’t tell my mother.

I seem to be carrying on the family tradition of tool-wielding women, albeit reluctantly.  My mother has long been gifted every Christmas with an addition to her tool set and although I am all for self-sufficiency and stepping outside traditional roles, the call of the tool belt never quite reached me.  It is, however, being forced upon me these days as drippy faucets and non-functional washing machines pervade my world and I have now come to know the inside of the Bauhaus the way I used to know Sephora.

My sister is one of The Order.  She practically came out of the womb with a penknife in her hand ready to jump into home improvement at a moment’s notice.  She is one of those people with spatial relation skills.  You know the type; organized closets, a place for everything, and everything in its place.  She knows what all the gadgets in her toolbox are called and more, how to use them.  I don’t think she relies on her superintendent for much of anything since it’s just oh, so much easier to do it herself.  I, on the other hand, know intimate family details about my New York super.  He was a staple in my life. I can’t tell you how much I miss him.

Since moving to Germany, I have learned that a super here isn’t really the apartment renter’s best friend.  You don’t tip them and they don’t fix minor problems.  Okay, if the ceiling falls in they’ll come but anything up to that you’re on your own.  In addition, a common clause in a lease states that the renter is responsible for some kind of home improvement after three years of inhabitance.  This makes no sense to me at all.  I pay you money to live in the place that you own.  You pocket it and pay a maintenance dude to sweep the hallway once a week.  And after three years, I am supposed remodel the kitchen?  Are you high?  If I wanted to that, I would have bought a house; hence the convenience of renting.  How did that get missed over here?

A few years back my father gifted me and my sister with lady’s tool kits.  They came in pink, plastic cases and have pink hand grips.  This, from the enlightened man that gave his wife a chainsaw for their anniversary.  Regardless, the pink tool kit sits in my New York apartment closet gathering dust, which, until now, was exactly where I thought it belonged.  Sadly, however, I find myself of late with a wrench in my right hand and some sort of plumbing in my left.  I am now able to name all the tools in that box and bemoaning the fact that they aren’t here.  Only a few short months ago I couldn’t have told you what a washer was.  Now I can tell you what aisle they’re in and how many sizes are available.  I miss high heels and eyeliner but in this new city, I need a socket wrench more often. I find that extremely disturbing.

Annoyingly, the other most prominent trait of the McGrath women is to make lemonade out of lemons.  We can be awfully perky at times.  In this instance I’ve followed in my mother’s footsteps one more time and decided to call this a “learning experience.”  That sounds nice, doesn’t it?  But I always like to dress for the occasion, so I find myself pushing back the urge to don overalls and head to the salon for a mullet make-over.  I need my pink tools to keep my sense of femininity about this, damn it!  Dad was right about that.  Does Manolo Blahnik do steel-toed work boots?  God, I hope so.

I just used my boyfriend’s shaving cream to shave my legs and now they smell like a man.  On the one hand, I’m still shaving my legs, which I consider a coup in the war against the loss of my beauty regime.  On the other hand, my legs smell like a man’s face.  Sometimes that’s okay, but it’s better when you’re lying in bed with oxytocin rushing through your veins and the sheets rumpled beneath you rather than fresh from the shower.

I used to have my own shaving cream, fancy bath oils to make me smell pretty, creams to make my skin glow, creams to slow the aging process, top of the line make up to cover the aging process, expensive hair products and monthly mani-pedi excursions.  Truth be told, none of it was for anyone other than myself or maybe, as fellow TBN’r Kimberly Wetherell suggests in her short documentary, for other women.  Regardless, I loved it.

Thanks to the bankrupting war on Iraq, Bernie Madoff, those parasites at AIG and a global recession, I am cutting back with the rest of the world.  I’m grateful to have a job, a roof over my head, food on the table and Maybelline in my bathroom cupboard.  “Maybe she’s born with it?”  Maybe she’s broke!

Berlin seems to house an above-average percentage of folk who look like life has been pretty damn hard.  Perhaps it’s the horrible weather, perhaps it’s the harsh, mineral-filled water, perhaps it’s the marathon chain smoking or the beer. I’m often surprised to find out the 50-year-old woman next to me is actually 35.  It’s not helped by the trend toward androgynous fashion, either.  Of course we have our beautiful people in Berlin, but it’s not as important or prevalent in the culture as it is in places like New York, Miami and L.A.

The truth is, life probably is pretty damn hard.  Berlin has always been a poor city.  It’s where you come to live cheap, protest and create weird art.  Everyone here seems to be starting over and barely making it.  La Boheme is alive and well all around this city and, while there is some fantastic art in all its forms produced here, even moderately famous people are squatting or trying to squeak by on unemployment and an occasional commission.

What to do?  On the one hand, it’s an absolute release to escape the daily pressures and expectations of image that was part of my life in New York City.  On the other hand, there were parts of that I truly enjoyed.  Come on, I’m an opera singer.  I’m genetically coded to play dress up.  It’s nice not to feel like the fat girl in a sea of anorexic waifs, but at the same time, being a “girl” in some ways is something I really enjoy.  There has to be some middle ground.

For now I’m doing what I can not to lose myself entirely in the tightening of the purse strings.  I’m learning how to use TRUblend and remembering how to paint my own toes.  I guess if my legs smell like my boyfriend’s face, I’ll count that as a win over not having a razor to shave them with at all.  The creams will have to go.  I will try to embrace the grey when it comes and remember to love the creases around my eyes.  I have enough to get by–more than some–and I guess it won’t kill me to finally look my age.  Oh God.

Ah, vacation.  Those three syllables that once a year symbolize escape.  Escape from our lives, escape from what we know to go look upon something as yet unseen by our own eyes.  At least that’s what I like to do, and preferably in a foreign country.  This year, as dictated by ticket price alone, it was Ireland: Land of the green pastures and hauntingly sad songs; land of Guinness, local pubs and rich in history and castle ruins from long ago.  My fatherland.

My pockets not being large, it seemed prudent at the time to attempt to avoid large cities, and possibly find a place to stay that offered a kitchen.  At first I dreamed of staying in a castle.  I had Rapunzel fantasies brewing and castle after castle appeared before my eyes as Google lead me on my search for shelter.  I forgot, however, that Rapunzel and the like were princesses and either owned their castles outright or had themselves a hefty inheritance to pay all the servants.  And so I, peasant that I am, decided it wasn’t so bad to be one of the common people, look what happened to Marie Antoinette, after all, and abandoned my castle dreams.  What I found next was charming enough; cottages.  It turns out the Irish are nuts about renting cottages, particularly in a little area south of Galway called The Burren, and so I did.

Sounds stark, doesn’t it?  It is.  And then it isn’t.  The Burren is partly a nature conservancy and mostly farm land.  It’s identifying and unique feature is the limestone that covers absolutely everything.  It has been eaten away by rain and, being porous and easily degraded, the rocks have become uniquely divided, yet smooth.  It is common to see erratics; large boulders sitting atop small pedestals of limestone, the rock having protected the stone underneath from eroding and thus leaving itself on display and often mistaken by tourists…okay me…for some Paleolithic monument.  “How did they do that?”  It wouldn’t be Ireland if it wasn’t also green.  The rocks are only visible thanks to the wind and the cows as otherwise grass and moss would cover everything and never let us know what lies beneath.  The Paper King, my partner in crime this trip, was incredulous that something so large might graze on such difficult and craggy landscape.

“Cows can’t get up these hills,” he proclaimed as I watched, with glee, his foot descend dangerously close to evidence that they certainly can.

I live in a city, and so remote sounded just perfect to me.  No car alarms, no horns, no people shouting, and no construction equipment backing up at 6 AM right outside my window.  Heaven!  As we drove into The Burren, I was ecstatic.  It seemed I would, indeed, be getting away from it all.  The directions to the main house for key pick-up were: Turn right into Bell Harbor and I’m the second house in next to the pub.  She was.  A smaller town there never was.  Three houses in town and all the same, there was a pub.  Our landlord led the way to our rented cottage another mile or so away.  We turned right up a dirt road and bounced our rented Nissan Micra up over stone and dirt to come upon home for the coming week.  She took our money, cash only, and turned to go leaving us with these parting words:

“They’ll be doin’ a bit o’ work on the road here.  Sorry ‘bout that, but they just told me.  They’ll be done in a day anyhow.  Enjoy!”

Damn!  Well okay, one day, I guess that’s not so bad.  And the road did really need to be smoothed out.  With The Burren laid out in front of me, I was ready to let it go and get my walking shoes on.

The Beginning

“Let’s walk to the Abby!”  I proclaimed.  One of the reasons I chose The Burren was the plethora of ruins available in the area dating all the way back to the 4th century B.C.  The Abby was a medieval ruin visible from the cottage, and I was hot to get to my first historical site.  My parents, I’m sure, are incredulously shaking their heads as I did nothing but complain about such adventures as a child.  Well, you are vindicated.  It rubbed off and now I drag other unsuspecting souls to stare amorously at large piles of rock.  We set off down our beat up driveway avoiding cow dropping after cow dropping along the way.  I had truly escaped!  We’d asked our hostess how to get to the Abby and she’d given directions that seemed straight forward enough.  But as we continued up the road looking and looking for the correct turn off, it became clear we’d misunderstood something.  Not so hard to do when taking directions given in such a manner as this:

“You’ll come to a road on the right.  You don’t take that one.  Keep going and you’ll see a road on the left.  You don’t want that one either.  Not the second but the third right.  You’ll come to some land with cows in it and it’s my pasture, so don’t worry yourself about it.  Cross over that and you’ll come to The Green Road.  Take that a ways and you’ll find the Abby.”

Well I’ve got news for you.  Everything is a pasture, they all have cows in them, and there’s no such thing as The Green Road.  And so it happened that we walked two miles up the road, and not anywhere near my desired destination.  We did, however, find a road people seemed to be using as a walking path over the mountain and took that.  It was beautiful.  Views of Galway Bay lay beneath us and rocky green in front.  The sky was perfect and the air cool.  You couldn’t have painted it better.

Until, of course, around mile 4 when my blood sugar gave out.  We’d not planned on such a hike, you see, and thus had neglected to pack food or water.  My close friends know that I am two people.  My every day self is rather happy and easy to get along with.  My hypoglycemic, evil twin is a real bitch.  I do everything I can to keep her under wraps, but after 4 miles of hiking on craggy rocks with no food or water, my inner soul was crying out “Danger Will Robins!  Danger!”  And poof, there she was.  The Paper King, in a valiant effort to save himself, made rash promises of dinner at the pub as we’d have to walk past it to get home.

“I have money!  It’s only another mile, you’ll make it.  Just around that corner and we’re there.”

We weren’t there, of course.  It was another two miles to the pub but it lay like a beacon in the night and it brought me ever forward.  Finally we rounded the turn.  I all but ran to the door, pulled on the handle and nearly sat down to cry as it held fast.   The door was locked, the pub was closed, and my boyfriend nearly lost an arm in the aftermath.

Food

Let me make the bold proclamation to vegetarians everywhere…stay away!  There’s nothing for you.  One might imagine that with Europe so close at hand, you would find a selection of international cuisine and that large portions of it might be prepared by people of it’s origin.  It seems, however, that the French, Italian, and German folk have rejected Ireland as a place to put down roots, thus leaving the indigenous people to recreate regional dishes on their own.  Not a good plan.  Not a good plan at all.  Largely, the Irish seem to have decided not to try, which may actually be better for the ethnic food lovers of the world.  Of the non-Irish food we had, the best was the Thai dinner we ate in Dublin, and of that, I can only speak highly of the soup.  We tried one Italian spot and the pasta may well have been Stouffers.  The pub food was admirable, as pub food goes.  You really can’t go wrong with fried potatoes.  Ordering a salad, however, can be harrowing.  I ordered a vegetable plate, looking desperately for something green and healthy, and was brought a plate with cole slaw, cheese, and carrots drenched in vinaigrette.  Breakfast was equally daunting as runny eggs shared a plate with baked beans and something called black and white pudding.  Said puddings I believe to have parts in them and, while parts is parts, I like to know from whence my parts come and preferably they come from a plant.  I was fairly sure these didn’t, although no one was certain what comprised pudding after all.  Lunch and dinner didn’t look much better.  At a local bistro, one could order the following: “The Peelers Plight: Local Potatoes, hung drawn and quartered, tarred with Sour Cream and feathered with chives.”  or “The Dolmen: A quarter pound of Burren Mionain Burger embalmed with relish, buried with Tomato and Onion under a slab of Savory Bun, standing in a field of salad.”  Now do we really need to turn potato skins into a bloody massacre?  And if I did eat meat, I’m certain I wouldn’t want it to be embalmed with anything!  It’s a wonder anybody eats out.

Poop

I must take a quick moment for the poop.  It was truly everywhere.  There was no escaping it.  The cow patty didn’t seem to exist.  All the cows have chronic diarrhea or parasites or something because it was drizzled over every patch of ground and made me long for the round, disc shaped piles of crap found in our own fields.  It must be the extra chloroform in the grass.  Not only was it runny, it almost fluoresced.  Yet another reason Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.  Who knew?

Driving

Rip off #1: Car rental.  Since we were staying is such a remote area, it seemed prudent to rent a car for getting around.  I did a little search on the web and found a real steal of a deal through Budget.ie; 88 Euro for the week!  Who’d ever heard of such a thing?  With taxes and insurance, I really expected it to come to a about 150 Euro but still, very reasonable.  We arrived in Galway and low and behold the Budget office sat right there across the square from the train station.  How convenient!  This was going well already.  Sitting down at the desk, I pulled out my information happily, knowing I was getting such a bargain.  Living in New York, I don’t have a car and thus don’t have my own auto insurance.  I know Visa covers the basics but as I was to be driving on the left for the first time and as the round about system is treacherous, I wanted coverage for damage to the car and any persons I may inadvertently hit.  Bad idea, as I didn’t hit anyone, although I wanted to by the end of the trip, and the vehicle came out if it all smelling like a rose…okay, not like a rose, more like cow shit, but still, without damage.  With insurance and tax my charges came out to just over $300!  A far cry from the 88 Euro I was quoted.  I argued and put on my best Brooklyn accent to no avail.  Batting the baby blues went over like a wet sock and thus it was that this tiny little Nissan Micra more than doubled itself in cost.

Once on the road, I began to feel confident fairly quickly.  Not true of my passenger.  Heads turned in our direction from other cars as he shouted “LEFT!!!  Stay left!”  while gripping any part of the car he could hang on to.  Got news for you bud.  That handle isn’t going to stop the truck from coming through the door if he wants to.  But it made him feel better anyway.  It made me nervous but he learned to control his outbursts.

“You want to drive?  Think you can do better.  Then you should have renewed your license, shouldn’t you.  Leave me alone!”  Ah, we were off to a great start.

Part of the frustration stemmed from the stellar signage.  Signs in the city were numerous but confusing and small, pointing in directions that seemed to make no sense.  They were small and scarce, leaving one to guess at the correct turn off.  If they were there, they were not easily read, particularly at night as they didn’t have  reflectors, and most often they appeared out of no where with no warning in such a way that I spent a lot of time making k-turns on tiny roads to get us back to the road I’d blown right past.  I suggest using your odometer to count kilometers and turning when you’ve gone the recommended distance, sign or no sign.  It would have saved us a lot of grief.

The roads were no little cause for concern.  Everything in America is bigger, it’s true.  Most of the time I scoff at our need to be the biggest and the best, but these days abroad found me praying we’d drive down a road actually big enough to fit two cars.  All roads are two way.  However, not all roads can accommodate two cars coming in opposite directions.  The biggest we drove on would allow us to pass by another small vehicle without pulling over although it left no shoulder and no room for mistakes.  They only got smaller from there.  Many roads had pull-offs carved into them so that one could park on the side to allow another to pass.  The smallest required one car to back up if another was coming, the rule of thumb being the car closest to the next cross section did the reversing.  And the speed limits…can we talk about the speed limits?  You might think that on roads such as these there would be a need to go a little slower.  Seems reasonable, and I, for one, did.  But I was shocked to see signs urging me to drive up to 100 kph.  Ah…hell no.  Our first night there we heard a report of three killed on a road not so far from our cottage.  Well duh!  I resolved to restrict night driving to “big” roads only.

Weather

The Burren is coastal and boy howdy, it was.  Day one was lovely and every day thereafter was rain, rain, and rain followed by some rain.  There were moments the sun tried valiantly to peek through the clouds and twice it rained on one side of the house while the sun shone on another.  The wind was intense, ripping off the ocean creating beautiful caps and strong enough to blow me straight into a pile a sheit.  Delicious.

Rainbows were abundant, although they didn’t come with pots of gold.  What they did come with was construction equipment.  Not what one hopes to find at the end of their rainbow.  Yes, the workers arrived on day two and contrary to the promise made to us of one day’s work, I woke each morning to the sounds of a backhoe reversing in my driveway.  Just what I’d left the city for. You can imagine my joy the first morning I woke ready to jet to the nearest pile of old rocks I had yet to discover I couldn’t find or get to and found myself blocked in by a dump truck.

“So…um…how long you guys think you’re going to be here today?  Any chance of letting us out?”

“Ah, sorry lass, the roads not passable, but should be long ‘bout 2 PM.”

Another lie, I might interject.  They left long about 5, possibly scared off by the steam jetting out my ears.  Did I mention we had no food in the house?  We had no food in the house.

“You might want to park at the end of the road tomorrow so you don’t get blocked in again.”

“What?  Caroline told us you’d be a day.”

“A day?  No, sorry.  We’ll be here all week.  We told her not to rent the cottage this week.”

What color is my rainbow?  My rainbow is colored PISSED OFF!  Only because there was large construction equipment blocking my drive and a field full of cow shit separating me from her did Caroline survive the day.  Second house on the left, lady.  I know where you live!

Sight Seeing

What I came for, my reason for choosing The Burren…the ruins.  I had a guide book suggesting only a few possibilities, but I knew from reading that there was much more to be had in this area.  As I’ve mentioned, there was much to be seen and our first day out we bought a map that detailed all the numerous possibilities for ruin sighting.  I bustled us out the door at an earlyish hour on day two, anxious to get to my first castle.  The boyfriend was in charge of directions and did an admirable job negotiating the unmarked roads as we drove on.

“It should be just around the corner here.  Yes!  Down there, see it!”

“Yes, yes!  I see it!  Where do I turn?  How do we get there?”

“Well, it should be right here.  Hmm…turn around, we must have missed it.”

We had not, in fact, missed it.  We couldn’t get there.  It was on the map.  It was visible from the road, but it was not accessible by vehicle or even by foot as, once again, it was beyond a sea of cows, poop and pasture.

No matter, there were so many more who could be disappointed by one?  We drove on looking for something called “The deserted village”.

“It should be right here.  The map says it’s right here.”

“Are you sure?  Could it be any further?”

“No, we’ve already gone too far.  This is the right road, I know it is, I’ve checked.”

“Well what’s it supposed to look like?”

“I don’t know.  Deserted and villagey.  What about that pile of rocks over there.  It looks sort of like it might have been something, doesn’t it?  Is that it?”

“Hmm…”

And so on to the next we went.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get much better from there.  We drove up to a castle listed on the map only to find out we were trespassing on private property and people actually lived there.  We drove up a road looking for an 11th century something-or-other and came upon a bewildered young woman going out to slop the hogs and wondering what the hell these stupid Americans were doing on her property.  It was on the map, lady, I swear!  But mostly, we spent a lot of time driving by things we could see from the road but had no visible way of approaching by car or otherwise.  The resounding cry became, “Look!  Ruins!”  “Yeah, but you can’t get there from here.”

I finally decided to give up and spend time and money going to see the big tourist attractions.  Things such as Ailwee Cave: Ireland’s premier show cave; rivaled only by Dolin Cave: Home of the Great Stalactite.  What?  And The Burren Perfumery where there was a lovely slide presentation of Burren flora and fauna and a large selection of soaps made from it.  We did manage to see the High Crosses of Kilfenora, which were indeed worth seeing, Pulnabrone Portal Dolmen, a megalithic tomb housing, at one time, 65 ancient bodies, the famous Cliffs of Moher, well worth the visit and the crowds, and our little 12th century Abby across the way, Corcomroe.  (We eventually found the road.)  It was lovely and interesting and intricate, these places all oozing history and a time not documented such here at home.  I was, at last, a bit sated in my quest for piles of old rocks.

The Final Blows

The week ended and back to Galway we drove.  Used to the driving system and the car, the Paper King no longer gripped the seat in fear.  We even drove into the city without mishap.  Finding a hotel was another story, but we finally did although it cost a fortune.  Heading up on the elevator I noticed a sign.

“We apologize for any inconvenience during our construction.”  How apropos.

Returning the car was a nightmare.

“Go drop it at this garage and bring me back the keys.”

“Okay, can I leave my stuff here since my hotel is just across the way?”

“No.”

Said garage was about 1.5 miles away from the key drop, so we found ourselves walking with numerous heavy bags through the streets and back to the Budget office where it took everything in my power not to throw the keys at the representative.

Galway itself is lovely and I could have spent another day or two there, perhaps should have, but we were out of time.  Blessedly, there was a vegetarian restaurant and we even had a lovely, although expensive, dinner.

The following morning it was back to Dublin.  Every hotel offers bed and breakfast and there’s no way to separate the charge.  As we were being soaked already, I really wanted to take full advantage of the breakfast.  We were both out of money, so I made sure we were up and in the lobby by 6:45 AM to catch breakfast at it’s advertised time, 7 AM, so we could catch the 7:45 bus to the airport.  We waited.  7:15 came, then 7:20 and the dining room remained closed.

“Look, we really have to go and we’d counted on having breakfast here as it was included in the price.  Could we be refunded for breakfast so we could have some at the airport?”

You can guess the answer.

As you may imagine, I was not sorry to be leaving Ireland behind.  It was beautiful.  It provided some good stories.  But I cannot recommend it as a relaxing or economic vacation destination.  If you, like I, desire to look amorously on large piles of rock, go to the Grand Canyon.  It’s pretty, it’s cheap, and you can get there from here.

When asked to describe the epitome of man’s best friend I imagine few people would include phrases like “moderate to severe separation anxiety” or “urinates in the house.”  Fewer still might imagine a dog who clearly lost the ability to survive in nature earlier in their evolution than, perhaps, a Chinese Crested

or a Chihuahua.

Chihuahuas, after all, are tenacious, aggressive, and while they may shake through it, one might at least lose a finger in a standoff.

Nonetheless, my boyfriend and I have been hard pressed to find these so-called faults with our dog important.  I believe in his own words my better half admitted that, while he knew it was wrong, he would willingly clean up lakes of pee rather than imagine a day without our dog.  I feel much the same way.  This may go a long way to explaining why we have as yet been unable to solve this annoying and unsanitary problem.

Taxi—that’s the dog—is a mixed breed pound puppy who I rescued from the New York City municipal shelter.  I imagine the aforementioned problems may have prompted his placement there, as it certainly couldn’t have been his looks.

I mean honestly, have you ever seen a better looking dog in all your life?  If your answer is yes, you can keep it to yourself.  But the inability or lack of desire, shall we say, to potty train is, more often than not, counted as a serious problem.  Lucky for him, I had no idea this lay ahead and within 2.5 seconds after we met, it no longer mattered.

Since his homecoming, Taxi has been through a battery of training, including the unparalleled, behavior-influenced methods of Cesar Milan.  We were devoted Cesar fans, watched his show, The Dog Whisperer, on television and read both books.  Cesar’s Way appealed to me as the daughter of a scientist and an avid amateur animal behaviorist.  His approach seemed most focused on communicating with your animal in a way he/she would best understand.   That they are not people and should not be treated such is a theme both in the books and television series, as well as the recurring mantras of ample exercise and inner strength by the “pack leader.”  That’d be me.

Somehow, I don’t think the dog views me as his pack leader.  I’m reminded of this every time I try to take him for a walk.  Instead of leaping around, anxious for his leash, he walks to his bed, lies down and lifts his leg for a belly rub.  Come on man, are you a dog or not?  Not, I think is his answer.

“I tell my clients to take their dogs for a good long walk, run, or even a Rollerblade session first thing in the morning…Really tire her out.  Then it’s feeding time.  By the time you leave the house, your dog will be tired and full, and in a naturally resting state.” – Cesar Milan, Cesar’s Way

Uh huh.  What if the dog won’t go, Cesar?  I know he has to pee.  I’m sure of it.  After I sleep all night, I do and I want to do it in my toilet not on the floor under my Dad’s desk.  But every morning I carry my dog out the door and down the stairs before he’s ready to actually walk a bit.  Then, as soon as he’s done his business, around he turns and back we come.  And God forbid if it’s raining or otherwise inclement.  That’s a non-starter, that is.

“By humanizing dogs, we damage them psychologically.” – Cesar Milan, Cesar’s Way

Oh my God, the guilt.  Although not Catholic or Jewish, I am no less immune.  But anthropomorphizing the dog seems virtually impossible to avoid.  He’s got lips like a man and features that are all too human.  His apparent understanding of the world around him muddies the waters and, as I mentioned previously, the boyfriend and I are suckers.  I’m sure talking to the dog the way we do is not allowed.

“Who is a very big dog?  Is he big and handsome?  He is very special and his Mommy loves him, yes she does!”

This is said in a horrible, baby voice and he loves it.  Worse, we can’t stop ourselves.  It’s wrong!

Yesterday I came home to what I thought was a successful day.  Only gone a few hours and the boyfriend home the whole time, I didn’t expect there to be a problem.  Taxi seemed happy and relaxed, in no hurry to go outside and very pleased with himself.  I gave him a bone and sat down at my computer do to a little work before fixing dinner.  Unfortunately, because of my latest cold I was completely unaware of what lay behind me.  A few moments later my boyfriend came in and pointed it out.  There it was, a big pile of poop on our throw rug and the dog happily chewing his bone on the couch right above it.  Sigh.

So after years of obedience work, behavioral work, and advice from dog trainers, we are no farther along than we were when we started.  I’m sure this is my fault.  It’s always the mother’s fault and besides, that’s what all the books say.  In the end, I guess we’ve just decided to manage.  I keep a stock of Nature’s Miracle and a bucket and mop on hand at all times.  We continue our work to achieve potty training but we’re obviously poorly suited to it.  I only hope this dog might be able to teach an old girl some new tricks and one day help me figure out how to get him to pee outside.  Otherwise who knows; I might start peeing under the desk too.


Everyone in Germany talks constantly of illness.  It is a country of hypochondriacs and a country of contradictions.  The same person afraid of a drafty house will sit outside in winter, wrapped in a blanket and drink beer.  Fresh air is good for you, you see.   The person who rides his bike for exercise will do so while smoking a cigarette.  Explain that one.  And while a healthy lifestyle includes ample exercise, vegetables and bio-grown food, that exercise is tempered with plenty of smoking and drinking and veggies that are more often than not deep-fried and/or covered in cheese.  The aversion to actual medicine seems to come from a real distrust of the unnatural.  Herbs rule the day and are always the first line of attack.  No wonder everyone’s sick all the time!

Dear Wine Guys,

While I can honestly say I have few regrets about leaving New York City, in all sincerity the loss of you is one of them.  German wine sellers don’t understand me.  This is a culture centered around thin, white wines, perhaps dictated by the Berlin demographic.  But as you well know, I am a red-blooded, robust American woman, complex and full-bodied with hints of sweetness largely overshadowed by my dry sense of humor.  You seemed to sense all of that immediately and I felt a kinship with you that has never been equaled the world around.  Oh Wine Guys, don’t at least one of you have a desire to learn German?

I so fondly remember the bygone days when I strolled in after work and with but a look, one of you accurately assessed my mood and began collecting bottles you knew without a doubt I would enjoy.  So rarely were you mistaken and each visit promised something fresh and exciting or simply comforting when I returned home, ever a reminder of your careful attention to detail and knowledge of my innermost self.

It has been a trail of tears for me here in Berlin traversing from one store to the next, ever hoping for the connection I felt with you.  I have tried every wine dealer in my district, daily venturing farther and farther afield, ever hoping for that certain something.  Time and again I am disappointed.  Each night I return home with wine described to my liking on the label and yet lacking in flavor, body and levels.  I am a coloratura soprano, after all; I need as many notes in my wine as my music.  Thus far, it is not to be.

Tonight was the worst of all.  The storefront showed promise.  Inside a wine tasting was in progress.  The clientele seemed by all outward appearances to be educated, cultured, and true wine lovers.  The wine selection was displayed beautifully and the patroness, ah, the patroness, she was like a beacon in a storm.  We spoke of colors; she used words like Kraftig and Trocken, music to my ears.  I felt a spark, something I haven’t felt in months, not since you.  I was certain she could be what I had been searching for, the connection, the understanding, the chemistry.  I followed her through the shop in a haze, nodding and smiling as she expounded on the large, round flavor contained in this bottle, yes only a little more than I wanted to pay but it would be well worth the expense.  I admit, I may have been too easily swayed. Can you blame me, after such a drought?

I rushed home, bottle in hand and a smile playing at my mouth.  This was certainly the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  The corkscrew, the perfect wine glass, the pop as the cork came free, 10 minutes to breath although I was finding it difficult, the pour, the swish and finally the sniff.  I knew immediately something was wrong.  Where was the assault on my nose?  Where was the flowery beginning, the tobacco, the raisin, the smoke, the oak?  I swished again only hoping I had not been aggressive enough.  Another sniff and the following sip with the bouquet, if you can call it that, still in my nose.  I rolled it over the tongue front to back and nearly spit it back out, it tasting bitter with my disappointment rather than what it was, simple and boring, far too thin to be interesting and singing John Cage instead of the Rachmaninoff I needed.  And with that, the earlier ember that burned only moments before, died.

And so dearest Wine Guys, it is with a heavy heart and a bland palate that I sit down to write you this futile letter.  I feel a fool hanging on to what cannot be and wish so fervently that I might be writing in victory rather than defeat.  It is always most difficult to be the one left holding a candle as others move forward and ever farther away.  I wish you no ill, certainly.  Our parting was void of malice, after all.  And I hope desperately you will welcome me back into your loving embrace when next I am home.  I can only hope that by that time I have found again what I lost not so very long ago and can appear in your doorway head held high, carrying a bottle you don’t recognize.  A gift from a thin, bland, white woman you no longer recognize.  Ah well, at least I’ll be thin!

All my love,
C