GK's Travel Diary
Dublin, 2 a.m.—March 10, 2001
Saturdays are a grind, a ton of pressure and phone calls and pushing to finish things by noon or 2 or 3, and occasional frantic thoughts (Yikes!) but sympathy would be wasted on me, it's what we're in this business for, really, instead of being philosophers or poets. A productive day, after being in the languors of despond all Thursday: got up at 6, wrote a new Guy Noir script that was actually rather funny, and a Ketchup (which we didn't use) and a Mournful Oatmeal and a Rhubarb Pie, and wrote up some notes that my friends Jon and Marcia made about Dublin and the churches and Jonathan Swift and the Vikings and all, and decided to quote Yeats in the monologue, "Had I the Embroidered Cloths of Heaven," and this all transpired in about six hours. Deadlines certainly focus the mind. And most of the time, this is what is needed. Someone puts a gun to your head and says Dance and you dance.
Took a cab to the Vicar Street club and the cabdriver was a woman in her late forties with a whole big monologue about the difficulties of her trade. The club is small, seating about 600, very intimate, and this is such a luxury for us, to be able to do the show to a crowd that is Right There. It's half the size of the Fitzgerald crowd and when you sit on the stool to do the News from Lake Wobegon, it's like conversing with your friends over dinner. Frank Harte, the singer, was tickled to be cast in the Guy Noir drama as a priest, Father Paddy O'Furniture, and he did a credible job of it, and I love his singing. He brought along Donal Lunny to play on a Sean O'Casey song. Frank had told me he wanted to sing a ballad about an execution, "The Night That Larry Stretched," but he changed his mind: too long, too dark, he said. Our Irish actors were terrific, Joe Taylor and Deirdre Monaghan. Joe starred in an Irish radio production of Joyce's "Ulysses" in which he played fifteen roles. The production lasted 29 hours, the longest continuous radio broadcast in history. Deirdre works a lot in radio and TV here. Both were great to work with. And the sisters who sang in Irish ---- what a beautiful act. I could listen to this singing all night. We closed the show with "The Parting Glass," which my friend Cathal McConnell sang to me after our last Dublin show, sitting in a bar at 2 a.m.
After the show, Jon and Marcia and I walked back to the hotel,the streets full of young people out for their Saturday night. I hardly remember what it's like to be so young and to have such high hopes for an evening. Landed in the Shelbourne lobby and found Scott Rivard and Sam Hudson and Rich Dworsky sitting at a table and we joined them for drinks. My three old stalwarts. The broadcast engineer and the sound man and the piano player. Hard to imagine how we'd operate without these gentlemen. So I bought the drinks. Pints of Guinness and shots of Jameson's and raspberry juice for Rich, the only upstanding one in the bunch.
Lovely, lovely, after the day's work and a good show. Of course it could have been better, but never mind. Everyone got to say his or her piece. I even snuck in a verse about my dad in "Lighthouse". We sat up until 3 a.m., talking, and hit the sack.
Sunday, March 11, En Route to St. Paul
The great thing about staying up late the night before is that you can sleep on the plane, even in tiny coach seats. I slept to London, then boarded the Northwest flight, a DC-10, which was packed. I sat in my tiny aisle seat, 16H, and felt the old claustrophobia and nearby a child screeched and then the plane lifted off and I eased the seat back and slept.
It was a good trip. I left the U.S. knowing that Dad was in bad shape and he died Thursday but I know where he was and how he died and who he was with and what was on his mind and it was all for the best. And my wife and little girl had to cancel coming over, but that was for the best too ---- to have a sick child in a strange city is a horror. And someday we'll come back to Germany and Ireland and do more shows. A person has all sorts of regrets in life but you never regret the adventures, the foreign cities, the ambitious trips.
And now this one is done. The taxi rolls up in front of our house in St. Paul and a little girl and her mother stand bundled up in the driveway, waiting for me. Good luck to all of you and try to make peace with your fathers.
Dublin—March 9, 2001
A long slow day in a hotel room. Writing isn't much fun when it isn't going anywhere. Ducked out around 4 to buy some books and a few black T-shirts. The men's store sold nickel-plated sleeve holders. I should say, they had them in their showcase. I didn't see anyone buy a pair. Went into two bookstores and bought a volume of Yeats to read tonight and a slim book about Oscar Wilde and a Frank O'Connor collection. Called around and cancelled my dinner plans and now resume the task of writing funny stuff when nothing is.
Dublin—March 8, 2001
A frustrating day of writing, which every writer is familiar with, when you push debris back and forth on the page and hours pass and you keep trying to find a handle. Worked on a Cowboys script that died and then Guy Noir, which may yet survive, and a Ketchup script that is weak and crippled. I am teaching a course at the University this semester, the Composition of Comedy, and I wish I had ten of my best students here, they'd bang out this show in six hours, I could walk around and shop for shirts. Comedy is a young person's game. I'm not just saying it, it's true. The kids in my class are so much funnier than I am. Eighty percent funnier. But I'm sitting here slugging away at it because I've become a trademark, like Arm & Hammer. What a cruel joke.
Went for a walk this afternoon to Merrion Square, with the statue of Oscar Wilde lounging on a rock. The park was lush and green, very secretive, a sort of glade, and in one area a couple was engaged in heavy necking, and I walked on to the next, where lovely flowers were in bloom, daffodils and tulips and daisies. And there was a lovely little playground, empty, which tore at my heart ----- if Maia were here, I'd be there with her.
Nearby was Green's Bookstore, which an Irish friend recommended as the "last of the old-time independent Irish bookstores," and I walked in and it was immediately evident why the place is dying. They don't have many new books and the ones they have are hard to locate and the staff is extremely surly and uncommunicative. You ask for a Selected Poems of W.B. Yeats and the guy grimaces and thinks about it and shakes his head. Well, a bookstore in Dublin that doesn't stock Yeats is doomed to death and the sooner the better. I don't care if it's old and independent, if you're in the book business you have to have the merchandise.
Went to dinner at 7 with my old friends Jon and Marcia, tourists in Dublin, and brought along Andrea Murray, our company manager. They had a lot to talk about, all three of them being tireless tourists, so they exchanged insights on the Book of Kells, Trinity College, the Beatty Library, and so forth. When you've had a lousy day of writing, it's good to have good dinner companions, and these are. Nobody holds court, there's real conversation, like tennis, and we all laugh a lot. And it helps that the food is good.
Talked to Andrea on the way back about how I'd like to do another tour next year, something completely different, bring an all-American show, bring Mavis Staples and Joe Muranyi and Butch Thompson and Peter Ostroushko. Do Dublin and Geneva and London and Berlin and Edinburgh and Oslo.
And got back to the hotel room and found messages on my phone from home, my father is sinking fast. Somehow I expected this. Called home and my sister answered, on the verge of tears, to say that his morphine dosage is up and the hospice nurse says he probably won't make it beyond tomorrow. Spoke to my mother who is tired and distressed and who then had to hustle to his bedside. My sister came on the phone and said, "I think he's going."
And now I sit here weeping in my room, weeping for my daddy. I am sure he's dead. And then a little later comes a call that he died, about 4 p.m. Very peacefully, with children around, and people singing hymns, and my mother holding his hand, he floated off.
And suddenly I'm back in 1948 or so. Everything from 1950 on is gone, disappeared, I am weeping for my dad who drove the car when I was a little kid in the back seat, who built our house from the basement up, who planted the garden, who sat in the chair and read the newspaper, who said the same blessing over every meal. I disappointed him in every way possible, and he mourned over me, but I go back in my mind to that early dad, sawing the 2x4s, hammering the nails, plowing the garden, working on his car.
He was so handsome and funny, and loved kids, and loved being silly.
I think his grandkids knew him better than we did, but that's okay. They knew him in his sixties and seventies, his prime. But I retain a picture of an elegant thirty-four year old guy in a fedora and topcoat, walking with me along Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis in 1947. I am riding a trike and he is walking and I am proud to be identified with him. And I feel just the same today, sitting in Dublin, crying, thinking about my mother back home, thinking about all of us. It's good to cry, I just don't care to do it in public.
I want to do a funny show on Saturday, a show full of wonderful Irish music, and do a funny monologue, and not a word about Dad, not a word. I have no wish to commemorate him on the show. I'm glad I wrote a column about him for Time and it was published this week and my mother saw it and so did my nieces and nephews, who liked it, and then that's it. My cousin John Lyman will preach the funeral service. I am so glad that someone who knew John Keillor well will help us see him to his rest.
And now I really have to get to work on the show.
Dublin—March 8, 2001
A fitful night. Woke up at 3:30 a.m. with dark thoughts and called home where it appears my father is doing much worse. "Losing ground," Mother said. She is weary and distressed but calm. The hospice nurse came and advised them to start giving him morphine to ease his breathing. My niece Kristina was there tonight, thankfully, who is a medical pro and has leverage with my mother, to get her to lie down. My dad is now sleeping all the time, the morphine making him less restless. In brief wakeful moments he seems not particularly aware of his surroundings, but perhaps he is. In the morning the amazing Ramona, his regular nurse, comes on duty. She is the angel ushering him out of this world. I hope each of us has a Ramona when the time comes.
In Dublin I have been thinking much about two old friends, both Irish American, both dead, the artist Joe O'Connell and the writer J.F. Powers, their dark wit (especially about being Irish), their mostly unspoken religious devotion, their stubborn loyalties, their particularly difficult gifts. Both of them Minnesotans, but it's in Dublin I feel I really encounter them, in the faces of some pub patrons, the men in the worn tweed jackets and black sweaters and carefully tended shoes, sitting nursing a Jamesons. A person feels he is the emissary of the dead, enjoying the city, the walk, the shop windows, in their behalf, and trying to bring a bit of their intelligence to matters at hand.
The monologue I won't worry about today but intend to get out and walk around town this afternoon and collect some thoughts. I have been thinking how stupid I sometimes feel around Irish, them with their verbal gifts and the ability to create those long lofting sentences with curlicue clauses and literary language that an American hardly dares essay even in print. Heard the Irish ambassador in Washington give an after-dinner speech that was the perfect model of what such a thing should be, sober, wildly funny, brief. I could talk about this, about the fact I never read all of Ulysses, never attempted Finnegans Wake. Could defend the privilege of stupidity as essential to writing. Why would a smart person bother? A writer as someone who stands and stares and listens and tries to remember some of it. The dog in the corner.
Time to go woof.
Dublin—March 7, 2001
Feeling much improved today, thank you. The sure cure for the blues is to go to bed and wake up in the morning. The sun is out, peering through clouds, and I am locked up in my room, working on a novel. This is what writers do, sit indoors on sunny days. The room faces onto an airshaft and itís rather dim here anyway. I love old hotels and their rooms. The new ones are like college dorms, but this one has a lot of clunky old Aunt Gladys furniture. The floors creak when you walk in. Heavy curtains. A faint mustiness, a certain faded quality, an elegant seediness. But itís modern where modern counts: the bed is big and firm, and the bathroom is new and thereís hot water and water pressure. The old European bath can be a real horror. And the towels are big. Americans expect vast soft bath towels, a quarter- acre or so is good. I remember that Scandinavian hotels usually offer you thin scrabbly things the size of washcloths. Anyway, itís a fine hotel, by my lights, and I am happy sitting here and working on a tiny corner of a novel. You open up a chapter, hit it with a high- pressure hose and wash all the sand out, then you rebuild it. Erosion and rebuilding, over and over. Stringent editing. Thatís what the laptop makes so easy. Love that Delete button. Highlight a whole paragraph and click on Cut.
My wife wants me to bring home some Lynley Dodd books for Maia. The one about the hedgehog, and the dog named Harry McLarry and the cat Slinky Malinky. And she (Jenny) would like some trashy paperbacks for herself. Mysteries and the like. Somehow if itís Irish trash, itís better, I guess.
11 p.m., Dublin
The Tea Room is a wonderful restaurant, very sleek and light and moderne, the only drawback its poor taste in music ---- we were subjected to a lot of Shirley Bassey and being Midwesterners we could not quite bring ourselves to ask the waitress to turn it down --- but the food was very lovely. A number of vegetable side dishes including new potatoes and spinach and something called "Crushed Swede and Carrots" --- the Swede turned out to be rutabaga.
Dublin—March 6, 2001
A dark day. Maia was sick yesterday and Jenny decided they weren't up to flying over for the Dublin show, a wise move, seeing as the child threw up and was distraught and not herself, but I was of course all geared up to meeting them at Gatwick and taking them away to Dublin and having a few days of family holiday, and without them I feel bereft. I don't quite know what to do without them. My old friends Jon and Marcia Pankake came over to Dublin and it was good to see them and we had a wonderful supper together at the Shelbourne Hotel and laughed a lot, but I miss my wife and daughter. How fitting that the Dublin weather is cold and rainy. And the Aer Lingus flight was four hours late. And I sat in a seat like a coffin with a sadistic armrest that wouldn't lift. And the hotel room is one of those depressing seedy rooms that feels like you're at the Old Broadcasters' Home.
Ireland is having a fit about this foot-and-mouth disease in the U.K., fearing it may spread here. Ireland is an agriculture-exporting country. An animal epidemic would be an economic disaster. They've actually cancelled the big St. Patrick's Day parade and a lot of big rugby and football matches, to reduce the chance of foreigners tracking the germs into Ireland. In the airport, they ask you to walk across disinfectant-soaked mats if you've been on a farm lately.
I'm a lonely guy in a hotel room. Nothing on TV. The paper bores me. My only reading material is a big book on Berlin. It's a nice idea to go to Dublin and do a radio show, but being without my family for more than a week is too big a price to pay.
Berlin/London—March 5, 2001
3 a.m.—Sunday was a tremendous night for the Guys All-Star Shoe Band. We had a nice spaghetti supper and then they walked across the street and did two sets at a classy jazz club called the A-Trane and blew the crowd away. People were packed in tight, customers parked right up next to the bandstand, and Rich Dworsky designed a couple sets that showed off the best of what the Shoes do, the tight hot jazz arrangements from the 20s like "Weary Farewell Blues" and "Fidgety Feet" and the Pat Donohue blues numbers. Wynton Marsalis came and sat in on a couple things with a few of his boys and it was just a big night. A smooth dude. A mobile unit from Deutsches Radio was there to record the whole thing. On the radio show the band gets to play an opening tune, and the intermission, and accompany some stuff, and do a monologue out, and play themes and fills, and that's it. This was the night for the horses to get out of the chute and run. A small club, with a capacity of about a hundred if everyone inhaled, with an elegant deco look and big windows looking out on the street, and afterward we sat around in the hotel lobby and enjoyed the afterglow. At 2 a.m. in the Hotel Adlon, you can get excellent sushi and beer and the waitress will happily keep bringing you more until the sun comes up. But we drew the line at 3.
4:30 p.m., London—From the opulent Adlon to the dorm-like Hilton at Gatwick, where I'll camp tonight and then meet my family at the gate when they stumble off after a restless night over the Atlantic. I've come to appreciate airport hotels and the simple security of knowing you are ten minutes away. And Hilton runs pretty good ones. This room has a desk and a desklamp and a nice chair and --- here is the revolutionary thing --- the electric socket is right in front of you, above the desk. You reach across the desk and plug in your computer. This is a radical change from most hotels where you must crawl on your hands and knees and sometimes move heavy furniture to get at an outlet. Same architect as designs minimum-security detention facilities, probably. But this is nice. Art on the walls a cut above standard-issue pastel hotel art. A trouser press. Very quiet.
Joachim Buerkert took me to the airport this morning, the radio man and academic from Heidelberg whose idea this whole excursion was, and he seemed pleased with the weekend, on which he had worked so hard. He showed me a couple long articles about the show from the Berliner Zeitung and the Frankfurt Algemeiner, two leading papers, and offered to translate, but no thanks. I have a sensible policy of fifteen-years' standing on any coverage of the show, any reviews: no read, no see, no listen. There is nothing anybody can say about you that can make you happy and all sorts of things that can make you sad. So why be sad?
I am off on the train to go into the city and walk around Charing Cross Road and look into bookstores and maybe drop into St. Paul's and go then meet my stepdaughter after she teaches her film-writing class and have a beer.
Berlin, 4 a.m.—March 4, 2001
Finally back to the hotel after a convivial evening post-broadcast. Germans certainly are able to sit and drink beer and talk. The show ended at 10 and we went across the street to a little restaurant called Theodor for wine and sandwiches and soup, very warm and easy-going and the Germans heroically staying in English, even the less confident. Eventually the rest of the American delegation toddled off to the hotel and I wound up in a bunch of twelve Germans in a smoky bar called Tattersall, with pictures of old German stars on the wall, Billy Wilder included. Most of the Comedian Harmonists were there, with girlfriends, and Max Raabe and his accompanist Christoff and Joachim Buerkert and his nephew Marc and his lovely girlfriend Agnes and a journalist named Petra and a cellist from New York named Elena who is studying here and enjoying the city and after only three years seems to have her feet on the ground linguistically. The cost of living is lower ---- you can get a decent small apartment for about 180 DM a month, which is nothing. And there are about ten orchestras in Berlin, so employment is good. It was a cheery bunch, chattering away in German, then English, and Gayle Tufts was there too, from Brockton Mass, who sang on the show. She was extremely nervous, she said. "Aren't you?" she said. Well, no, actually not. During the News from Lake Wobegon, I was a little worried because I couldn't see the clock ---- too dark on stage, the spotlight focused on me --- and I was supposed to get out of the monologue at 49 to leave room for two songs and the credits before we went off at 58:40, so I did what felt right, and came off, and it was 49 right on the money. Blind luck.
I think Max Raabe was one of my favorite parts of the show, and also Holger of the Harmonists playing the part of a German cowboy and singing the Deutsch version of "Home on the Range," which was written (along with much else) by a writer named Philipp Goedicke. I also thought the Harmonists were terrific on everything and especially on "Auf Wiedersehen". And the woman from Nebraska City, Nebraska, was fun. A very elegant woman, well turned out, who was funny on the subject of what you need to know if you decide to live here. And the audience was terrifically warm. German audiences are big on encores, I discovered. We took a group bow after the show and left the stage and the crowd started clapping in rhythm, and brought us back for an encore, and this happened a couple more times. Three encores. Unheard of for our show.
Afterward Scott said the transmission via optic cable to St.Paul went well and sometime while we were in Theodor deep in gemutlicheit, the show went on the air in the U.S. with the opening of Tishomingo, "Oh hear that old piano from down the Bismarckstrasse/I smell the bratwurst, or could it be kielbasa?"
The Shoe Band does a couple late night sets Sunday at a club called the A-Trane and I'll go over and sing a few things with them, some blues and something by Elvis. And Monday morning we're out of here. The band goes home, except for Rich Dworsky who flies to Dublin for next Saturday, and I stop in London to see my stepdaughter and her husband and son, and meet my family flying in from the U.S. Tuesday a.m. Jenny is not fond of flying, and Maia is very lively on planes and not inclined to sleep, and so our Czech au pair Katja is the crucial part of the equation. If she can calm the mother and take the child in hand and induce sleep, she's the champ of all time.
Berlin—March 2, 2001
The jet lag hit me hard today. Thought I had outsmarted it by sleeping on the plane but no, it landed on me with both feet. I woke up at 8 feeling exhausted and then couldn't go back to sleep. Got up and drank a pot of coffee and still felt like I'd been put through a strainer. Well, everyone knows the feeling. Sat and did my work and wrote the show and then went over to the theater in Charlottenberg for the rehearsal.
It was good to see Scott Rivard our technical director up in the booth and our old sound man Sam Hudson. They're working with equipment and sound truck provided by German radio and with a German stage crew, and I'm sure they have great help, but I feel better to have our old perfectionists in charge. Sam says, "How's the sound on stage?" and I say, "Just fine." It's always just fine with Sam doing sound. And Scott is a legend in the trade, a man who does complicated live mixes on the fly and makes it sound like a recording.
The Shoe Band looked slim and cool and sounded great, though they only arrived yesterday. Pat Donohue's eyes looked like pee-holes in the snow, but he played great, as did everyone. Andy had done a tango arrangement of "Das Ist Mein Ganzes Herz" for Max Raabe, a German tenor, to do, and it was fabulous. Max is 30 or so and he specializes in a sort of Crosbyesque crooning from the Thirties. Works with a big band and is very famous in Germany and earned a big prize for singing Mackie Messer in "Threepenny Opera" and is an all-around cool guy. Two guys in the Comedian Harmonists will double as actors on the broadcast, along with an American, Gail Tufts, who's a Berliner now, having done her cabaret act here for ten years. We did a Lives of the Cowboys in which Holger played a cowboy named Slim and he sings "Home on the Range" in German. (I've since rewritten it so that he shoots Lefty in an argument over white wine. And they sing "I Ride an Old Paint" in English and German. Very touching. Philipp Goedicke wrote the German words.)
And there's a ketchup script and a Bebopareebop Rhubarb Pie script except it's not rhubarb, it's plum cake, Pflaumen Torte.
I think I want to sing a German song, "Lebensfrieden," tomorrow, as a gesture of something, or to show off, one or the other. It's a lovely song. Very romantic. The words are about Peace and Harmony and you couldn't sing an English translation, it'd be too corny, but it's lovely. I heard it on the radio years ago and it stuck with me.
We do the show on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Neues Berliner Cabarett Theater and Scott Rivard will relay it directly to St. Paul via ISDN line ---- underwater cable, not satellite ---- and it arrives a half-second later at MPR which will uplink it four hours later at the regular time. We could have done the show absolutely live, at midnight Berlin time, but I thought this would be hard on the audience. Our people aren't club-hoppers, they're people with children and babysitters and maybe church obligations on Sunday, so we'll do a little tape delay. But no editing, thank you.
Got back to the hotel around 6. Andrea Murray was champing at the bit to get out and see the town. Arnie Kinsella and his wife were off to some nightclub, and Andy Stein too. I dragged myself into the lobby and sat down and rewrote a column for Time, due Saturday morning. It's about my dad, who is dying back home. I think he is dying, but he might be playing a joke on us and bounce back up and live to be 100 and come to my funeral. I took my daughter to see him on Monday and he was so happy to see her and I was moved by his happiness to write about him. I did the rewrite and took it to the front desk to fax to New York and headed upstairs. Some people from Conde Nast in New York were on the elevator and said hello. They're here for a convention. Were astonished that I am doing a show here. And in the midst of their astonishment, I got off on the fourth floor.
There were some journalists around the theater today and I did interviews with them, which is always hard work. The one part of this job I'd happily give up tomorrow is giving interviews. It's always the same question --- Why do you do what you do? Why do people listen to this? --- which is like asking, What does your father mean to you? Why is he important? So you try to answer and either you're pretentious or glib. One should not decline to speak to journalists, especially if one is a journalist oneself. But I wish that the Journalists Association of the World would give me a year or two off for good behavior.
And the reason for doing this show is very simple: it's to tell the radio audience, "If you feel like coming to Germany, come, it's a great country, and forget about your German phrasebook. Just remember to smile and smile and be friendly and you will find these people are the friendliest people on earth. Any trip you make here will be unforgettable."
At the embassy last night, I was talking to some women from here and they were young and lovely and, on a wild hunch, I asked them if they'd ever heard a song called "Die Heimat ist Weit" and they looked at me as if they'd seen a ghost. I know this song from an old Pete Seeger album on Folkways. Heard it in college and remembered it. The anthem of a German regiment that fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. I sang it for them.
One of the women said, "We learned that as children in school. But that's only because we grew up in East Berlin. It's a communist song." So there you are. A naÔve lefty from the Sixties meets a child of Stalinism in Berlin. She was astonished. As I would be if a German had come up and sung, "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross". One of those miraculous exchange experiences.
This is a great city. And now I am going to put my head on a pillow and go to sleep in its midst, a stone's throw from the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag and the new American embassy. In the midst of history, not far from where the Third Reich staged its great parades, a man brushes his teeth and puts on his pajamas and turns out the lights and sleeps. Amen.
Berlin, p.m.—March 1, 2001
The band arrived today and also Andrea Murray though she came via Hamburg and somehow her luggage went on without her, to Beijing perhaps or Sydney. Nonetheless we all met in the lobby of the hotel at 5:45, Andy Stein and Pat Donohue and Gary Raynor and Rich Dworsky and Arnie Kinsella and his wife Marian, and we trucked on out to the American embassy where the Charge d'Affairs had arranged a big reception for us. And I mean big. Scads of people. Germans, Americans, Brits, Irish, the whole gamut. Midwesterners who had been in the Foreign Service for years, military attaches, spouses, their German tutors. I met an Army colonel and his beautiful Dutch wife and a woman from Nebraska who is married to the manager of our hotel and Wisconsinites and even a man who grew up in Hastings, Minnesota, and who is now a military advisor here. A wonderful array of people. I was pushed onto a dais and told to speak and so I did. I identified my colleagues, Sam Hudson and Scott Rivard, without whom we couldn't do the show, and I talked about Minnesota, and then I led the crowd in a few choruses of "Home On The Range" and then we mingled around for awhile.
Sam Hudson is a sound wizard from back home who mixes the house sound for all of our shows and we needed him here to make our Berlin show work, since the house sound needs to be coordinated to the broadcast sound. Sam is crucial.
Took a taxi back to the Adlon Hotel with some of the crew and we sat in a hotel bistro and had some wine and talked a little with our German colleagues. My strong feeling is that Germany is much too haunted by the past and needs to cut loose of guilt about WWII, and the young Germans were arguing that we must remember the past so as to make sure that it never happens again. I disagree passionately. I believe in the future. I feel that Germany is a great country and that the past is dead, dead, dead. The Jews in my band seem okay about coming here, but the young Germans insist on the importance of history. I find this boring. I find anti-German biases boring. All the Danes I used to know were virulently anti-German. I think that's boring. Berlin is an amazing city. Twelve years ago I was here and saw a vast rubble-strewn plain called Potsdamer Platz and now this same area is like the Miracle Mile of Chicago. An amazing renaissance. Just amazing. This is a fascinating and beautiful city and we're happy to be here to do a show.
Berlin, a.m.—March 1, 2001
Awoke early after a restless night. The body does not want to leap six hours ahead, the body wants to stay in Minnesota and sleep at night, not in the afternoon. Breakfast arrived, scrambled eggs and croissant and coffee, and I ate it sitting at the laptop, pecking away at various things. Back in 1974 when the show began, I carried an electric typewriter on tour and typed up the scripts in quadruple carbon copies, and now here is this computer capable of infinite rewrites, capable of sending and receiving copy to and from America via the jack plugged into the wall, and the result is greater ease and also a staggering workload. Writers shouldn't work so hard that they can't afford the time to walk around sniffing the air and eavesdropping. It makes them dull. About 10:30 this morning, sirens went past, then more sirens, and a police helicopter drifted overhead, and it's a writer's job to go investigate these things, but I was too busy writing.
Had lunch with an American friend who lives in Berlin and she said, "German men born after 1940 or so grew up in a great silence about the past and about their families. They wanted to know about their fathers and uncles and grandfathers and what had happened to them, and their families wouldn't discuss it. It's a whole inward-looking generation that has a hard time expressing themselves." I thought that this described a lot of Americans as well, so we argued about that, and then we argued about the Clintons. Then she said that she hated German parties and the custom of going around and shaking hands with everyone the moment you come in the door and the formality of them and especially the birthday and anniversary parties with the long boring dinner speeches. I remembered the same thing in Denmark. It was the unexpected price of learning some Danish, to realize that they could be as boring as anybody else, maybe even a little more so.
Berlin—February 28, 2001
Here is how to take a trip to Europe: you go along for weeks thinking you leave on a certain day and then you find out you're leaving the day after. The extra 24 hours makes all the difference. I think this is an idea that could be applied in other areas of life as well. The principle of grace.
Flew Minneapolis to Amsterdam on a 747, the behemoth of the air, the plane that feels like a concourse, and I did as Jean Redpath advised years ago, I started thinking Sleep the moment I got in my seat. Got a pillow, wrapped the blanket around me, downed the Dramamine, put on the sleep mask, inserted the earplugs, and the moment the plane was airborne, I eased the seat back, and visualized a beach and surf and birds and before we reached Canada, I was gone. Woke briefly over the Atlantic somewhere, then dozed off, then it was morning and the flight attendants were bringing around the croissants and orange juice.
Ran into some nice people at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, waiting for the Berlin flight. Some South Dakotans in a choir making a tour of Italy, starting in Venice, singing spirituals mainly. A guy from Butte heading for Syria where he works in the earl business. Thirty days in Syria, thirty off in Montana. Norwegian ancestry, about my age and it's sure good to meet people my age who are happy about their lives.
Took a KLM Cityhopper flight to Berlin, and did the same drill, pillow, blanket, mask, beach, sleep. The beach that always works for me is Stinson Beach north of San Francisco. A nice boring beach.
In Berlin, the immigration guys see your American passport, they wave you right through. Rode to the hotel Adlon, which I read about in a history of Berlin, which said the Adlon was a favorite watering hole of the National Socialists in the 20s and 30s, so I was glad to see that this one is brand new, circa 1997, built on the site of the old one, on land that was piled with rubble and ruins when I was last in Berlin, on Unter den Linden in the old eastern sector, a stone's throw from the Brandenburg Gate, not far from the Reichstag. Chris Tschida was in the lobby when I arrived, having coffee with Joachim Buerkert, the radio journalist from Heidelberg. He went to St. Paul to do a story on the show back in 1999, and said, "You should bring PHC to Germany," and I said that I'd love to, and so here we are. Joachim put all this together somehow. He pulled all sorts of strings with German radio and Lord knows who else and for his sake I hope it's a good show.
St. Paul—February 25, 2001
Chris Tschida leaves Monday for Berlin, I go Tuesday, and the others fly Wednesday. She's an old hand at foreign tours, having been company manager for various dance and theater troupes traveling in faraway places, like the Soviet Union. You needed a tutu in Novosibirsk, Chris found one. She even scouted up a writer for this Berlin show, a perfect one, and Lord am I glad to see him. His name is Philipp Goedicke and he's Berlin-born and -bred, young, bright, writing a Ph.D thesis on Berlin cabaret music of the Twenties and Thirties, which happens to be a big element of this show, and he's American educated, the son of a German father and American mother. He's just moved, with his wife and little girl, to Minneapolis. Talk about fortuitous.
A huge relief, to have help writing the show. I have a long history of hard labor on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, shut up in hotel rooms in various lovely cities, banging away into the wee hours. Maybe I will get to stroll in the Tiergarten and look at the buildings that have cropped up in no-man's-land since I was there, just after the Wall came down.
I do have an idea for a Guy Noir script. He'll go to Berlin to trace some American lager and meet a beautiful woman who turns out to be an angel whose job it is to take him to meet God. The angel of death.
This trip is complicated by the fact that my father is very low these days, suffering from chronic pneumonia, some days seeming near death. He is 87 and death does not frighten him since it is his doorway to heaven and he has decided, very emphatically, that he doesn't want to go to the hospital again or have his lungs suctioned out. So he is on home hospice care. But just when the family gets prepared to bid him farewell, he bounces back a little. One day he lies in bed wheezing, and the next day he is up in his chair, reading the paper. I've told my brother that I will fly home from Europe if and when needed but I will not cancel a broadcast. Too many people have worked too hard on these and they can't be rescheduled.
Andrea Murray, our company manager, will be on this tour and she is tremendously competent, a true pro. PHC started out as a band of dedicated amateurs and now I'm about the only amateur left and I appreciate the pros and their friendly manner that masks ferocious abilities to arrange things.
The theater where we'll do the show is in Charlottenberg, a middle-class section of the former West Berlin, west of the Zoo and the Kurfurstendamm, not far from the Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens won his gold medals in 1936, on a street where the banking family of Mendelssohn had its headquarters, in a building that the British occupation force used for a recreation center. It's a section hard-hit by Allied bombing in the war, as all of Berlin was, but nonetheless there still are, I'm told, many of those five-story brick apartment buildings from Victorian times, the same style as you find in Copenhagen or Stockholm. The ones with the dark staircase going up the middle and the tiny cage elevator in the middle of it, and two flats on each floor, with a large salon or two up front, tiny servants' rooms and small kitchen in back, and usually, next to the front door, a large study for the Herr. If he were a doctor or a lawyer, he could practice there, or if a novelist he could sit and brood and in the evening sip whiskey with his cronies.
Saturday night I saw the 1947 Kurt Weill musical, "Street Scene," which our old PHC music director Rob Fisher conducted for Minnesota Opera. Rob went from our show to a great gig as music director of the Broadway hit, "Chicago," and since has set up "Chicago" companies in Scandinavia, London, Australia, and Berlin. This is his debut at MinnOp. A big show, cast of dozens, and a fantastic New York street scene set, and wonderful music. The prole aspect of the plot was sweet and antiquated. Sunday I drove down to do a benefit with Philip Brunelle at St. Olaf College in Northfield, the big Norwegian Lutheran college, and so this was my attempt to make reparations for what I've done to Norwegians over the years. The show was in the gym, with the college orchestra and choir, and what a joy to be around bright student musicians. Dizzying. I've worked with a lot of orchestras and this was one of the best. It was a benefit for the music program, which I did for no fee, and so I was on the moral high ground here, which you always want to be if you're among Lutherans. You don't want to be doing a show at St. Olaf the same day the newspapers report you took $400,000 to wheedle presidential pardons for a couple of your cocaine-dealing buddies.
St. Paul—February 19, 2001
The Berlin show is two weeks away and I come to that moment when I think, "I really should start writing that term paper." I want so much to do this show. Now it's time to get going. Saturday I spoke by phone with a woman in Berlin named Lucrezia Mache, a German woman who has lived in New York and who I'd like to come on the show to talk about her experience living in America. Still looking for an American to talk about living in Berlin. I dialed the number and felt that old chill one feels when dialing 0011 --- the fear of venturing beyond English, though I have no German whatsoever and so English is all I could offer. Nonetheless. She was, of course, very gracious and immediately agreed to come on the show and talk, though she is off to London for a week of vacation. I believe Lucrezia is a judge in Germany and she would seem to be in her mid-60s.
The Comedian Harmonists are signed up, a male vocal sextet that does arrangements of the original C.H. group of the 30s, a popular German jazz vocal group that came to grief under the Third Reich because three of the singers were Jews. And we're angling for other German talent, including a great cabaret singer, Max Raabe. And the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is coming, and they'll be a big hit. Pat Donohue and Rich Dworsky and Andy Stein and all. Tom Keith doesn't want to travel because he and Liu are building a new house and it's at that stage where they need to supervise it, which is completely understandable. Sorry to lose the sound effects man. But as long as he can't come, I decided to not ask Tim Russell and Sue Scott. It's a long haul for them to do a broadcast, and of course they'd be brilliant, but I think we should use local talent.
I want to do this show in Berlin because I like Germans and feel kinship to them, because they suffer from the stupidest sort of lingering self-righteousness. When I lived in Denmark, my Danes were terribly righteous about Germans, Germans were the people you were allowed to be freely contemptuous of, and though I felt that older Danes who had endured the Occupation were entitled to their anger, the contempt of younger people was morally suspect. And then when my stepkids and I all visited Berlin, I remember my stepson leaning across a konditorei table and saying, "These people are so much like us." Which is absolutely true. I first went to Berlin in 1986, when the Wall was up and you waited hours to cross and the eastern sector seemed so barren and the western sector so beleaguered, and then again in 1990, when the Wall was down but still there were big stretches of empty terrain around Potsdamer Platz and the Reichstag, where the no-man's zone had been. And now, I'm sure, I'll find a whole new city.
Our ace in the hole with this show is the GASS Band. American music travels very comfortably to foreign cities. We know this. I remember when I lived in Copenhagen, how people like Flaco Jimenez and the Fugs and Johnny Cash were welcomed by the Danes. A comedian is another story. They have no idea who Johnny Carson or David Letterman are, but they do love Elvis and Lyle Lovett.
I head over on Monday night, the 26th, on a late flight to Amsterdam, and then to Berlin, and to a hotel on Unter den Linden in the old East Berlin. The show is in Charlottenberg, in a theater just off the Kurfurstendamm. Time to write the term paper.
Travel Diary Archives|
European Book Tour 2004
Tue, Mar 9—Home
Sun, Mar 7—London
Sun, Mar 7—London
Sat, Mar 6—London
Fri, Mar 5—London
Thu, Mar 4—Glasgow/London
Wed, Mar 3—Glasgow, midnight
Wed, Mar 3—Glasgow, p.m.
Wed, Mar 3—Glasgow
Tue, Mar 2—Paris
Tue, Mar 2—Berlin/Paris
Mon, Mar 1—Berlin, a.m.
Sun, Feb 29—Berlin, p.m.
Sun, Feb 29—Berlin, a.m.
Sat, Feb 28—Berlin, p.m.
Sat, Feb 28—Berlin
Fri, Feb 27—Berlin, p.m.
Fri, Feb 27—Berlin, a.m.
Thu, Feb 26—Berlin
European Tour 2001
Sat, Mar 10—Dublin, 2 a.m.
Fri, Mar 9—Dublin
Thu, Mar 8—Dublin
Thu, Mar 8—Dublin
Wed, Mar 7—Dublin
Tue, Mar 6—Dublin
Mon, Mar 5—Berlin/London
Sun, Mar 4—Berlin, 4 a.m.
Fri, Mar 2—Berlin
Thu, Mar 1—Berlin, p.m.
Thu, Mar 1—Berlin, a.m.
Wed, Feb 28—Berlin
Sun, Feb 25—St. Paul
Mon, Feb 19—St. Paul
Rhubarb Tour 2003
Mon, Sep 1—Louisville, KY
Sat, Aug 30—Oklahoma City
Fri, Aug 29—Santa Fe, NM
Wed, Aug 27—Medford, OR
Sun, Aug 24—Seattle
Sat, Aug 23—En route from Sacramento to Seattle
Thu, Aug 21—Over Iowa