So I arrive in Berlin mid September right on the heels of endless looping news reports of American embassies across the Middle East being stormed, our ambassador to Libya, along with four others being killed, the entire region on the rampage, death to Americans!!!!! Because of a video…which we know wasn’t the sole reason for the explosion…that it all happened on 9/11 was a bit of a give away even if no one was commenting on it immediately… Anyway, back to Berlin!! I hop a bus at Tegel airport and travel to a part of town I am totally unfamiliar with, and when I get off the bus at my final destination I find myself standing directly in front of an Islamic Mosque. Everywhere I look…Muslims. Little American me SURROUNDED! Now I have many Muslim friends and I’m not a paranoid person as a rule but…my heavens…I was prepared, if asked, to introduce myself as Canadian!! First thing I did was breathe! Deeply! Then I checked into my hotel…one I’d never stayed in before…my beloved Art Appart in Charlottenburg wasn’t available for the additional dates of my stay…my first thought when I saw the place was…this does NOT look like the photos on their web site. But my room was nice and the proximity of the hotel to the location of the workshop was great AND everything in Berlin was booked solid because of some exhibition going on that week! I unpacked and decided to walk the distance between hotel and workshop space. I like knowing where I’m going, no travelling without maps for me…I’m a great believer in peace of mind. Lovely walk. The area was akin to the lower East side of New York. It needs a good scrubbing and has an artsy, bohemian feel. The sun was shining, everywhere I looked folks were smiling, strolling, engaged in animated conversation, enjoying their Sunday with family and friends, paying absolutely no attention to me. Tranquility. I didn’t feel in the least bit threatened. Didn’t fear being dragged to some basement and beheaded. I felt welcome. So after my walk, I bought a large plate of spätzle, returned to my recently renovated pink digs, ate, watched the news (in German), took my meds, called my kids, and caught some much needed z’s.
It reminded me of my first trip to NYC. I had been told by friends to catch the JFK express at the airport and meet them at Jay Street/Borough Hall. Having never been to NYC I was concerned about potentially losing my way. From the moment I became a licensed driver in Southern California I never ventured out without my Thomas Guide! My friends assured me that someone at the airport would point me in the right direction. Oh I was pointed in a direction all right, a bus to Port Authority. And not knowing any better, I got on. Wandering out onto 9th Avenue and 42nd Street, suit case in hand, excited but perplexed look on my face, a young African American man sporting a red beret introduced himself as a Guardian Angel and asked if I needed assistance. “It’s that obvious, huh?” He smiled, nodded. “I need to get to Jay Street/Borough Hall,” “That’s in Brooklyn.” “How do I get there?” “The subway is the quickest and most direct route but you might as well be wearing an ‘I’m right off the bus, mug me!’ t-shirt, so I suggest a cab.” He hailed one for me, and wishing me luck, loaded me in. Next thing I knew I was being whisked out of NYC and over the Brooklyn bridge! When the cab pulled to a stop, I paid and as I began exiting the vehicle the driver started yelling, “Get out, get out, get out now!!!!!!!” I pulled my bag from the backseat and before I could close the door he screeched off! I turned around and saw what looked like an extremely pissed off Mike Tyson running FAST towards me. I was raised by people, in a community, who felt the great need to make me believe NYC was a virtual maximum security prison without the benefit of bars. That anyone stupid enough to vacation there was guaranteed to be robbed, raped and murdered. So there I am and all I could think was, “Please God don’t prove my parents right.” Next thing I knew he was standing beside me, panting. “Motherfucker! What the fuck he take off like that for?” Thank you! “I don’t know,” I said, “Can you tell me where Jay Street/Borough Hall is?” “Here,” he said, “subway’s there” pointing to a hole in the ground. I thanked him and descended to find my friends who, tired of waiting, were seconds away from leaving. How did we survive without cell phones?!
My work done in Berlin I moved on to Paris and the next workshop and one day I’m standing in the doorway of my studio when a finely dressed gentleman of Middle Eastern descent approaches me with two boxes he apparently wants to sell. As I wasn’t interested in purchasing anything at that moment regardless of the merchandise, or the extraordinary savings guaranteed, I said, “Non, merci,” as kindly as I’m humanly capable, again and again as he persisted…I mean he was a salesman so I expected no less than as hard a sell as he was prepared to make…but I was equally determined not to spend money on something I genuinely didn’t need…not speaking French…I understand it to an extent and am able to order my morning café crème and croissant, but otherwise the best I can do is nod my head and smile in respectful ignorance…I had no idea what was in the elegant boxes he continued to pressure me into purchasing. Finally he opened one of them and I found myself staring at five very large, very expensive, and very sharp knives. Immediately my paranoid little American mind went into overdrive and beads of sweat began forming on my brow and upper lip. As he removed the largest, sharpest knife from the case and held it in front of me my smile broadened and froze on my face, “Non, merci.” He looked at me as if I was an idiot…and to be perfectly honest I felt like one afterward because he was offering me an exquisite set of cutlery worth 336 euros for the unbelievable price of 35…replaced the knife and walked away mumbling what I’m certain must have been something unflattering about me.
Ah life…so extraordinary…so terrifying…such a gift, a blessing…and a curse…I love human beings, each and every one, but being one myself I do experience a myriad of different things, some extreme, some less so, in relation to everything around me. I don’t advise throwing caution entirely to the wind, but the thought of going through life absolutely panic stricken…I mean…what’s the point? The world is a volatile place, both at home and abroad, terrorists of all kinds, some easily identifiable, some not so much, are hard at work to keep us from living our lives, individually, freely. I adore life, I celebrate it, give thanks for it daily. But to say that I don’t fear death at the hands of some crazed extremist, whether it be Al-Qaeda or an overzealous Christian fundamentalist, because believe me they’re just as scary, would be a lie. So breathe I continue to do, trusting that each day will present a new and even more glorious opportunity to live, love, and evolve.
Oh…and the three workshops I did while abroad were…once again…HEAVEN!!!!!!!