2018 Europe Trip Journal

by Richard Grossinger on July 3, 2018

Europe Trip Journal 2018

 

July 3-4

I am writing at the gate for Icelandair’s daily 20:40 flight 632 from Boston to Reykjavik. Airport terminals feel to me more portentous than secular transportation nodes. They seem gi5 like bardo terminals. We don’t build bardo terminals—Tibetan monks or Yaqui shamans do, but those are internalized thoughtforms not large-scale physical constructions, so airport terminals serve as mythological stand-ins. Ghost travel through them in various trance states, unlike but also like the dead.

I am trying get at something, an underlying emotion of sadness, excitement, and wonder. Here are two unrelated thoughts prior to starting my trip journal:

(One) The world is divided between those who believe we are souls on a journey of transformation and those who consider us incidental by-products of molecular activity who will be expunged. Either belief is dwarfed by the vividness of reality, but I board a night plane with the sense I am a soul, plus the fear I am not, plus the intuition that in this “terminal,” these are the same.

(Two) We are flying out of Trump’s America on July 4th eve with mildly mischievous relief, though it is mitigated by the knowledge that crisis “Trump” is civilizational. Some apologists distinguish his difference by the fact he is a businessman rather than a politician, but that is not his main difference. He is an unweaned child without an adult’s attention span or range of empathy. As such, he has brought decadence, vulgarity, and pleasureless gluttony without creative imagination or aesthetics. His recreational cruelty feeds the mad scramble of the privileged to protect their good fortune at the expense of everyone else.

A woman seated next to us the Legal Seafood restaurant at Logan airport wants to tell us where she is going as we both await our bills. She and her husband (off in the men’s room) are headed to Cannes for the thirteenth straight year. Upon hearing some of our itinerary, she remarks with unexpected vehemence. “I couldn’t go to Poland or Hungary because of the Holocaust. I once ended up in Prague and was immediately nauseous. I had to leave. How can you do it as a Jew?”

Some people experience an ongoing cloud of doom in these places. I don’t, so I said, “I can’t tell the difference between what happened then and what’s happening now.”

She surprised me by laughing. “I am going to borrow that line.”

 

There are many wonders looking down from a Boston-to-Reykjavik flight, but none of them were available on this trip, which was conducted solely above cloud banks. For a better view, you can check out my 2006 Europe travel journal. At dawn that year I saw Iceland’s puzzle piece sitting in the ocean like a map of that same ocean; on the return flight (from Reykjavik to SFO instead of Logan) Greenland’s glaciers melting in present time: rivers and floes from 37,000 feet. This time I watched the reflection of a gibbous Moon on the metal of wing and the patterns of clouds. I had the sense of three orbs of vastly different size and shifting zodiacal position, the plane afloat among them like an object of unintended divination.

The turbulence never got too bad, but it was omnipresent, a bumpy passage through choppy air. Either the Boeing computers kept finding a gentler layer or our path had both smooth intervals and jarring crescendos.

I haven’t been able to sleep on planes for years because m dozing always turns into a sensation of falling and I awake with a start. I experienced the entire five hours, a rigorous meditation on being propelled through the atmosphere in a crowded aluminum-alloy cannister at 550 mph. They put on a good camouflaging show, but that’s what it is.

There was reassuring land underneath us for about a third of the flight (per the screen map and occasional glimpses through clouds of habitation lights). I tend to forget how far North America extends its last rocks toward the Old World, how tantalizingly off the chart those must have dangled at the edge of the Middle Ages, familiar only to a few Irish and Basque fishermen and brave cartographers: Newfoundland, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, St. Johns, then several tiny islands before the actual Atlantic crossing. The Labrador Sea marks the end of the New World and beginning of the Old. At its far shore, amother hour or so later, we cross over the bottom flap of Greenland under clouds.

The Homeric softness of the first tender touch of Eos illumines the cloud tops pink and yellow. This far north and high, she separates moonlight from her glow for only a long hour before her rosy fingers spread.

As we approach Iceland, tiny clouds below larger ones seem to float on the ocean, touching it like evanescent fairy pads. The outskirts of Iceland on trajectory to Keflavik Airport look like a different body in the Solar System. They remind me of NASA’s most distant landfall: a rocky slope on Saturn’s hydrocarbon moon Titan. The colors and shapes of Iceland’s rocks, salt marshes, and shore are so brilliant and phosphorescent that azure flowers are indistinguishable from malachite ores. Both are jagged splotches radiating in water-color craters. It is Earth all right—remnants of a three-billion-year Pre-Cambrian geology.

As I stare down and then close my eyes, I experience autonomous visions of strange worlds, brilliantly melting colors, never-before-seen or imagined shapes and dimensions twisting and folding seamlessly into and out of each other. I try John Friedlander’s Sethian system to take it to the astral plane, but the effort adds nothing to what is already happening. It’s either a figment of my tired eyes and vivid morning light or a vision of fairy Iceland, or both, or neither.

 

Compared to 2006’s quaint wooden halls of Viking nobility, Keflavik has expanded quite unnobly. It looks like any other airport now, standardized to metal, plastic, and display screens. It has also grown faster its capacity, throwing us into an international chaos that feels like Mexico City or Grand Central Station. Mobs of polyglot travelers headed to multiple cities on Icelandair planes— the realization of a successful transportation model—crisscross in opposing streams. There are youths with backpacks, families trying to herd children together, people in wheelchairs, others moving with difficulty or on crutches. There is no room or plan to accommodate so many or such variety. Motion stalls and gridlocks.

What I had thought of as a leisurely two hours between flights with which get some Icelandic smoked salmon for breakfast (per 2006) is a chimera. Two hours is no time at all, as the late landing of our plane followed by its pause for traffic on the tarmac runs into required passport entry to the EU. Slow-moving visa-check lines intercept transit between gates; the logjam creeps like TSA terrorist screening tiers at U.S. airports.

Missing our plane turns was not a concern. They are holding flights to accommodate arriving cannisters from Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, etc., constant multi-language announcements and instructions to debarking passengers for flights to Munich, Helsinki, London, Rome, as new discharges add their streams.

Our gate is not evem alongside a plane. We line up at a door and, after a forty-minute tedious stall, are herded in in 44 degrees and drizzle to a standing-room, strap-holding bus. Though I am carrying a flannel shirt and a hoodie, I don’t put them on. The rain feels good after 90 and thunderstorms in Boston; it keeps me awake.

We are driven a surprisingly great distance, weaving around parked planes to a jet sitting alone and far from the terminals. The route is Icelandair City, their jets everywhere and none with other logos.

So many people lined up for Copenhagen at the gate I couldn’t imagine we’d all fit in one plane, a common illusion at an airport. Yet a scale diagram on the Logan wall showed how big these objects are. One 757 can hold seven elephants, six RVs, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Once the bus delivers us, our plane turns out to be only spottily filled.

A three-hour flight after five hours on a prior plane and another hour and a half of processing, forced marches in crowds, long lines, and standing sleeplessly feels like being dragged through an unwilling mud run. Yet the times moves along, and the Icelandair vehicle glides smoothly through complicated layers of fog, mist, and clouds, and then crosses over water, the Norwegian Sea, an interzone of North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. After seventy-five or so minutes, we encounter the broken landforms of outer Norway and then, across the water, Denmark’s Dakota-like farmland. These farmers’ ancestral relatives migrated and stamped their morphology on the American landscape. As we cross father into Denmark, dramatic arrangements of land and water wrap around each other unpredictably.

Flight 1204’s landing is dramatic. The plane sweeps far out over sunny Copenhagen harbor, tilting its wings several times, taking gradual aim back at the land. From above, I see dozens of separate rivers and rivulets running among one another in shades of dark blue and blue-green. The complex patterning is both riverine and whirlpool-like. I have never noticed such a textured oceanic motif with currents so perceptible, like looking at an ultraviolet photograph of the harbor. A magnificent row of modern white windmills leads to shore.

I am now in a second wind and have been listening to my iPod shuffle for the last forty-five minutes. I heard Bach and Cesar Franck and Tindersticks (French cinema music) and reggae and Merle Haggard and Townes Van Zandt and the Four Seasons “Working my way back to You, babe….” and Fats Domino finding his thrill on Blueberry Hill when I interrupt the concert with Danny Kaye singing Copenhagen, digitalized long ago from Lindy’s scratchy children’s record, and turn the earbuds over to her. It’s her birthday, July 4th and we are above Copenhagen at last The song has little to do with the modern city, which is represented in my mind by the political serial Borgen, but I am recapturing a mysterious childhood magic: “… wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, / salty old queen of the sea….” The entire history of Earth and my own lifetime seems to hang in the balance.  “Let us clink and drink one down.” The quaff is magical and touches a forbidden place like the etheric root of all existence. Yes, surely we are born to celebrate this manifestation, “Let us clink and drink one down.”

 

The Copenhagen airport is more futuristic than any American airport I know. The rest of the world has glided past our contentious, bureaucracy-ridden, politically polarized oligarchy into a gentler modernity. The most striking feature is Sneaker ads in giant pixel-like panels, parts of which morph at different speeds, displays more riveting than their commodity, a hint of Tom Cruise/Samantha Morton landscapes in “Minority Report,” an adaptation of Philip K. Dick.

The movement of people and objects along the corridor suggest Ikea (a neighboring polity but a related aesthetic): long lines of cute buggies being pulled by cabs, thin young women on electrified scooters, witty graffiti-like messages on the walls in Danish and English through construction zones. I am in the euphoria of landing here, being in Copenhagen on July 4th when a major crisis hits.

Something that tends to happen to me, and I forget it that it does though I vow to stay alert the next time: I develop holes in my head during travel, especially after a sleepless night, experience amnesias and hallucinations without knowing it. Forgetting I am in this state is part of the state. I leave and lose stuff. I have parted with prescription glasses, a CD player (before iPods), jackets, bags of carefully packed food, treasured books, and (a year ago) an iPod I miraculously recovered. I have temporarily misplaced suitcases and carry-ons but remembered in time with a start. I seem to go into a sleepwalk mode and lose the link between body memory and mental tracking.

This time after getting our baggage and proceeding out of the station, we headed to the ticketing area for the trains with instructions to get to the inter-city line closest to our host Marianne Bentzen’s station, Hellerup. She kindly offered to pick us up if we phoned once we were aboard. We were to be guests of her and her husband David Reis, gifted their basement apartment for eight days. Marianne is a longtime colleague of Peter Levine, the trauma and Somatic Experiencing innovator we publish with North Atlantic Books. She is his Danish organizer, and we publish a few of her books too. I met her only once briefly and do not know David, so the offer of their apartment to virtual strangers, even if associates, was generous.

We were going on a list of instructions with no sense of surrounding geography or what the name Hellerup meant or its position in relation to ours. In other circumstances I would have mapped out the journey scrupulously in advance. Instead, I was merely following instructions without context or geography. The crowds flowing from the airport into the train terminal and street was aggressive and dizzying, ending up at long lines to buy tickets from machines. I didn’t know what kind of ticket to get or how to purchase it, but a suited official with decent enough English to help presided over too many confused customers. He was a youngish man with a slightly aggravated temperament.

I found him acerbic, as he ordered me online as I approached while he was helping countless others in rapid-fire fashion, but he grew on me as I watched his performance of sustained individuality with a droll sense of humor though carrying out repetitious, stressful tasks in several languages. He came and stood beside me and instructed step by step as I got the correct ticket (I showed him the instructions on my phone). He never punched for me, making me backtrack from my errors. After I had the ticket, he gave me a far too quick rundown on which train to take, what especially to avoid, and how to find the track in the labyrinth ahead. Somewhere in the mix of these events, I was sure that I had put my backpack down with the suitcases, which Lindy was guarding while I maneuvered in tight crowds at the machines. When I returned and couldn’t find it by her, I was frantic, realizing that it must have been grabbed by one of those sleuth pickpocket-like thieves who roam stations drawing on skills developed by decades of working the scene as well as natural selection among their kind. They were wolves and fisher cats. If you fell asleep in their invisible jungle, you became instant prey to their prowl. They didn’t care what they took or its personal value to you—why would they give a shit at this point in history and a global crisis? What does your suffering mean against their marginalization and unjustly imposed pain? After they have stripped your item for its valuables, they discard it so that you could never recover items of worth only to you.

This self-contained image and narrative ran its full cinema through my mind in an instant, a certainty it was now my reality and an ensuing sense of desperation, for the backpack had my visa, my computer, my international driver’s license, and other irreplaceable items. We rushed to the guy helping ticket buyers, Lindy in tears, and he broke character and his task-load and walked us outside the lines as he informed us that we immediately had to call the station garde—the police. He confirmed my belated premonition that, yes, the station was crawling with thieves and you couldn’t take your eyes off anything for a moment. Alas, advice rendered too late. I felt torrents of bitter regret. But regret is cheap in the swiftly-moving streams of modernity. One is usually a step late. That’s the point of the scams and predations of modernity, and they are getting worse.

Then my panic shifted to an inexplicable calm and certainty that this would work out. I was curious and amused. I might not get my backpack, but it would somehow be okay. I don’t know how I knew this, but from the moment I did I proceeded with in unattached horror. The sense was heady, supernatural, as if I had entered a benign state of shock but also clairsentience.

This mood slowed me down but didn’t initially improve our situation. We went looking for the garde post like the proverbial chickens without heads but soon got tangled in the crowds. That was the absolute low point—no backpack, no idea where we were headed or what we were looking for, crowds of debarking passengers pours around chauffeurs and relatives with signs—a fast-moving river against whose stream we were forging. Where was the garde station? What did it look like? We saw only shops. There was nothing that remotely resembled such a thing and we were approaching endgame at the gate from the airport.

Picture us there, the camera panning away, American couple in a hopeless mess. Then cut to the next scene. You can do that.

We encountered a garde in a yellow coat hurrying past and persuaded him to stop for the telling of our sad tale. At first, he was resistant, wanting to get where he was going, but he finally decided to take us on. I have forgotten Lars’ last name, though I would like to have kept it for full thanks in this journal. As he took stock of our situation, he rearranged it in terms I hadn’t considered, for I was not up to date on how stations work these days. For better or worse, we were being watched, everywhere and at every moment. There is no part of the Copenhagen airport or train station that is not under full-time camera surveillance (probably every other major airport and train station too). He said that he would have headquarters run the tape and see what happened. A moment that seemed lost forever was recoverable. We could see the sly thief, watch him make his move. Dismaying how racist the imagination is at such a moment, even for members of those races. But at least our existential situation had turned into neutral data-processing, which had a different Philip K. Dick ring.

Reviewing the tape entailed calling on his noisy walkie-talkie-like apparatus and getting the police to rerun the correct tape, but first we had to return to the spot where it happened and reenact the event for Lars. We walked to the ticket area and set the scene; he noted coordinates and called them in. The process took about twenty minutes; they had to find, rewind, and review the tape. Guess what? My backpack was never with us. I had a false memory.

Attention turned to the baggage carousel. It was the main other conceivable site. There was now hope that the thief of my imagination might not have been involved. The baggage area was inside the airport, past security, and passengers could not return—a sign had made that clear. Lars called back the camera room and had them look at the carousel. Indeed there was a blue and gray backpack matching my description sitting alongside Carousel 3 in present time. His associate was sent there. A long procedure followed during which I had to prove my identity to Lars and he relayed it to his counterpart who by then had secured the backpack and was going through it and asking a battery of questions about the contents. I had all the right answers. He appeared with it in hand, a precious reunion. Catastrophe averted. There was much to think about, and I did through the rest of the journey to Hellerup.

I had set it down beside Lindy, but the act was before we got our suitcases. At that time I had left her and gone to look at a board describing local transportation. When I came back, I helped pull our suitcases off the carousel and left without the backpack. In some sort of non-proprioceptive amnesia, I walked out of the airport into the train station imagining that my backpack was on my back. Then I transposed the memory of the carousel to the ticket machines.

There is an alternate interpretation, but it will strain credulity of some of you. At my moment of clarity, I exceeded my ability and rose to a higher plane like the Causal or Atmic, switched probability tracks in a Sethian mode, and moved into a reality in which I recovered my backpack. I did so because the consequences of losing it were too great. The entire trip would have been put at risk. That’s beyond peer confirmation though, in a certain sense, switching probability tracks is what we’re doing all the time, and sometimes our innate clairvoyance jumps the system. Since I had not to lose it, I became superman and changed reality. In Sethian terms I created a new reality. I may not have been allowed to control its outcome, but I could give it my best shot and enhance the odds in my favor.

A more down-to-earth explanation is that I unconsciously remembered that the backpack was at the carousel. But if I was able to do that, why did I leave it there in the first place? How did amnesia meld with clairvoyance? Or maybe these are not opposites. Perhaps I arranged the whole thing to remind myself that probably tracks can be switched and that this is important news for other reasons.

I would add a related consideration that is true either way. The thief came and took my backpack. He had to; he frequents airports and train terminals and is in the process of stealing them across the globe. I read about him in guidebooks to place we are headed in Eastern Europe. At the moment he didn’t take my backpack he was stealing some other sleepy tourist’s computer and passport or pickpocketing a wallet or grabbing a neglected purse. My psychic feat (or pure luck) displaced him elsewhere.

 

We proceeded to follow our instructions issued at the ticketing machines, to take the train to Central Station and change lines. It was difficult to get any backup reassurance at Track 2 because pretty much everyone was coming off a plane and querying everyone else in English, French, Chinese, Japanese, etc. Finally a young Danish guy arrived and took charge. He not only reinforced that all but two of us were on the right track but stuck with Lindy and me because we had the most difficult route, going to the Hellerup station rather than midtown, and it was his course too. He personally guided us off the train at Central Station to the correct downstairs platform. As our new train flew through the countryside, I recalled Carl Dreyer’s black-and-white lens on an Ordet-like landscape. Even that close to Copenhagen center vast fields, big sky, bike riders filled the view.

Marianne met us with her car and, after restorative sleep and organizing our possessions in our room, we had a late dinner fixed by her and David mostly from their garden with some organic meat. It began at nine p.m. local time and, in the land of the midnight sun, proceeded until 11:30. The hour was meaningless under jet lag.

David is an energy healer. Marianne is a psychotherapist and trainer of psychotherapists internationally. She is also a certified mindfulness teacher in an offbeat Danish branch of the system of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. Our discussion ranged among many topics: the integration of energy healing and psychotherapy, developmental trauma, Ken Wilber’s Buddhism (personal versus spiritual maturity), the relationship between Buddhist practice and psychotherapy, the origin and development of Peter Levine’s trauma system, and countless other topics. It was a high-noosphere sail after a down-in-the-trenches trek, and it completed the conversion of two days into one.

 

July 5

Tourism is a challenge despite the term’s softball innuendo. If it’s going to be more than collecting sites and notching guidebook experiences, you have to reinvent it creatively from the ground up. We had a good starting place, for we were not in a tourist hub but a residential neighborhood—no set-up for outsiders. Our experience began with locating ourselves in the maze of streets with long unmemorizable Danish compound names and getting oriented to sources of food and transportation. Each trial run was, of course, an experience, a unit of meaningful tourism. It wasn’t made up of official and or counting-coups fare; it was adaptation to geography, phenomenology, and social interactions as they arose.

I would choose that. It feels like being in a new place, a real place; nothing is customized or packaged. The riddles are there to be solved, moment by moment. That’s tourism. Selected can’t-miss sites get so overseen that it is difficult to see anything at all, to observe what is actually there under the game, for the experience get impenetrably packaged. It is hard even to deconstruct because you first have to deconstruct global tourism and then you have to deconstruct your subliminal American provinciality and entitlement.

Our entry to Copenhagen consisted of a morning foray to neighborhood shops, then an afternoon run to the center of town. The latter meant familiarizing ourselves with the S-Tog local train, a different line from the inter-city train we took from Kastrup Airport.

We set out on the morning foray with Lindy’s hand-drawn copy of our host’s hand-drawn map on a whiteboard. We were aiming for the nearest shopping area, a long avenue called Jaegersborg. Since we didn’t have a full-area map, we had to trust a series of lefts and rights (right, left, left, right, etc.). If you substitute a right for a left (which I did after an initial short block), you end up in a mirror image and eventually have to flip the mirror to restore the directions. We did so eventually, without discovering my early mistake until our second foray later in the afternoon. The mirror got turned around finally by a taxi driver stopping to clean his windows. We hit Jaegersborg twenty minutes later than we might have and from the bottom rather than midway along.

On the day I noted two sane local customs which I haven’t seen applied in the States. Bike lanes run between parked cars and the pedestrian sidewalk. The idle vehicles form a solid barrier protecting cyclists from fast-moving and/or distracted drivers instead of wedging cyclists between their “wall” and traffic.

Later in the day we saw that each car on the S-train has a quiet compartment partially soundproofed from a larger area in which cell use is permitted.

Overally I considered it a successful day of full-blown tourism. Mainly it was pleasurable just to be in Copenhagen and to be in Denmark. Never been here before. Studied parts of its history in high school. Watched Danish films. Read translations of Danish writing. Met Danes in the U.S. Even published Danish authors. Now in Denmark. Denmark. It’s a virtual reality/sensory immersion. Every sight and smell and sound is Denmark. You can almost miss it for its omnipresence and the brain’s tendency to make generic.

Denmark’s the air, the light, the colors and smells of flowers along residential streets, gardenia-like lilacs and giant honeysuckle-like blossoms, loud and intricate bird choruses that seem to encompass whole neighborhoods, cats that come to visit and cats that look and dart off, children playing noisily amid the bird choirs, cyclists of assorted ages zooming past—all of it Denmark, 360 degrees. I can ride it. I don’t want to let a beat of it go by without acknowledgment.

It’s the young server at the Japanese restaurant to which we trooped on Jaegersborg for a late dinner, veterans of both the map and terrain by then (I did a confirming scouting mission on my own). The waiter grew increasingly fond of us as we did of him. He brought us samples and stayed around to jive and practice English at our outdoor table while the restaurant emptied of diners approaching 22:00 closing time (remember, land of the midnight sun, we didn’t set out to eat till 20:30). Our new friend graduated from high school a week ago. When we needed to pay, he unlocked the door and invited us in for more banter around the credit-card machine, things like—Lindy: “Your English is so good.” “I’ve had to study it since seventh grade.” “Will you go to college.” A silly grin, then “May be. [A longish “may”] I’m thinking about it.”

In a briefer encounter earlier in the day, a tall red-haired late-twenties Dane with his girlfriend at the S-Tog station took care helping us get two passengers onto our discount train card (loaned to us by our hosts whom we will repay for our accrued rides at the end). We had just gotten evicted from the C-line train (but spared a fine for a first offense) by a stern though not unsympathetic lady inspector for failing to get two people (in fact, even one) on the current fare correctly (she had a scanner). We had to get off at the next stop, find a way to do it right, and await the next train. The system is complicated. You have to press the plus sign before holding the card before the scanner, the opposite of the English instructions on the machine. To our surprise the same inspector was on the next train, but, with the help, we had gotten it right.

Tourism is solving riddles as they arise. After taking the train initially from Charlottenlund, our station, to an intended destination Central Station (Københavns Hovedbanegård), we were convinced otherwise by an older woman holding a bicycle who spied on our conversation. At her insistence, we exited with her at Nørreport, two stops early, for her touted walk through the older part of the city. She promised it was a short and interesting hike and would get us to Central Station. It wasn’t either. The shopping district she praised was flashy international shops and brands. We eventually got to generic government buildings, churches, parks, street theater, and buskers classical and pop, but we had run out of energy while two kilometers from Central Station (after query of a bank guard). We impulsively hopped on a Hop On/Hop off double-decker (550 crowns, but divide by 6 for approximate dollars), and sat for the next ninety minutes on the open-air upper deck in relaxed viewing of much of the inner city: districts, docks, statues, parks, fountains, museums, etc., without the loud, continuous narration of a regular tour bus. We could look, imagine, and space out, and it was all interesting whatever it was, down to individual birds and children running in parks and incidents on the street and colorful shops: wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen. The ticket also included a boat tour, tomorrow’s plan.

Earlier in the day, back on our morning outing, we learned at a Meny branch supermarket that the key word for our preferred items was “økologiske,” recalling the old Oecology Issue of Io, for which we used the Greek diphthong and confused people who kept saying ”oh-ecology” or ”what’s oh-ecology?” It’s oikos, house—the science of the house of Earth. I used it too on my first book, Solar Journal: Oecological Sections.

Once familiarized with the ø symbol, we were able to get a bunch of decent items at an otherwise industrial-food mart. Later in the day by Central Station (where we finally hopped off the Hop on/Hop off and headed blindly to our ticket-machine flunk and eviction), we splurged at a health-food market run by an African dude with a smoothly twanged Harry Bellafonte lilt: cookies, dried fruit, nuts, coconut water, organic cacao bars, hazel nuts, coconut chips, ø ginger sodas, etc. (I had been carrying my empty backpack for just such an encounter).

What have I missed? Maybe sharing an odd lunch in the park after the supermarket and on the way home, four dishes in one plastic container from a tiny salad takeout place on Jaegersborg with a funny young Japanese proprietor: beets, beans, samosas, barley, etc. (the beets leaked and made a mess). While eating, we were visited by  dogs roaming from their walkers, some of them quite beautiful (Alaskan and sheep-herding), some with aggressive lab or pit bull, each matching the mien of its keepers. Before that, we got, what else?, Danishes, and sat on a bench in front of the bakery. Mine was a poppy-seed roll with more poppy-seeds and poppy-seed layers than dough.

Travel journals can triv out and turn into postcards from abroad. I will quit while I have a modicum of dignity. It’s eleven p.m. anyway, twilight.

 

July 6

Copenhagen’s canals and inner harbor are their own world, a stripped-open portal to the life of the city which I think of as København after having seen the name on so many boats. A trip through this realm discloses variants of lives and lifestyles, eras and technologies, periods of Danish and European history.

The boat ride may be unabashed tourism, but the sheer expanse of water dilutes that energy, dissolving it in its spacious vista. Although an announcer with a mike identified sites and objects onshore and afloat, our guide was a laid-back college-age guy who spoke in a fluently sonorous voice in three languages—first Danish, then English, then German—which mellowed out his energy. Danish phonemes served as a lyrical and local preamble, his English was lightly accented with succinct information, the German added a somber World War II timbre and raised us to history and the greater European region. He was accompanied by two much older beefier men who alternated the piloting.

We started out in a canal, worked our way down into the inner harbor, made a wide cross-harbor swoop across the vast bay, and reentered the canal system at a different point from where we progressed down a narrow water avenue, a motley array of boats parked on either side. The whole trip took about seventy-five minutes. A few things stand out:

  • Copenhagen’s more ancient canal bridges are low, narrow, and exquisitely cut in stone. As instructed, one must keep seated, bend a bit, and hold arms on board while passing through their dark echo chambers.
  • Boats are anything that floats, from giant ocean liners housing more people than towns and villages, to indescribable small barges, dories, scows, ketches, and tubs used as homes, restaurants, bars, and recreational floats. They fill Copenhagen’s near water in abundance.
  • Copenhagen uses its waterfront space with fractal brilliance, converting old factories, missile silos, piers, wharves, military barracks, abandoned shopping districts, earlier centuries’ neighborhoods, and leftover structures of divergent origin and function into apartments and office spaces. These cluster along the shoreline, towering in glass and colorful metal, jutting out on densely packed piers like square and round Leggo constructions, often piled atop each other. The ingenuity of design is insect-like and Alpha Centaurian. People spill like seals onto little bits of stone surface and lie in the sun.
  • The wars and cold wars of the twentieth century and the fortifications and military machinations of prior centuries, back to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), are visible (particularly as pointed out by our guide). All have been decommissioned. Even artifacts as recent as missile-bearing destroyers from NATO’s Soviet years and submarines from the last Iraq war look antique and quaint compared to the digital combat and the crisis of displacement that dominate the present global stage. The historical wars and their arsenals are clearly over, and their landscape has been adapted to serene uses—the missile silo is so skillfully redesigned that it looks like brilliant architecture and daring artistry more than expedient makeover. The greater war or crisis hovers like a ghost of something not yet manifest.

Denmark was historically a warring imperial nation and then a NATO stalwart, but it is presently at peace, showing human amelioration and progress. Though America’s wing of Republicans, Conservatives, and Trumpites vilifies Scandinavian socialist paradises, it is where Trump himself wants all his immigrants to come from. Even he blindly admires civilization.

  • Space along the inner canals is precious; there is a ten-year wait for berths. Many of the vessels look like lifetime commitments, cherished hobbies, and never finished weekend projects. They comprise homes, second homes, vacation spots, and hangouts of an elusive nature. Old tugboats have been refurbished into houses with gardens and dining areas. Many boats and barges have plants, sculptures, patios, attached kites (wildly diving birds), flags of no nation. They resemble portable, floating landfill more than agents of the sea, though there are plenty of active yachts, motorboats, and sleek craft that come and go from their berths. Families move along in small motorboats, children dangling toy boats or ducks in the water, food on board. They are floating picnics, their spreads on boards covering most of the boat space not occupied by people.
  • In a vast area of the inner harbor, on one side are luxury apartments of the most modern, fancy, and upper-echelon sort. On the other are floating hippie junks, yawls, barges, conversions,. etc., decorated baroquely, meta-politically, and in full Aquarian splendor such that it would take an entire thesis to dissect the symbology and bricolage of any one object and an entire field of hermeneutics and iconography to unravel the collective message and historical layering of Copenhagen’s Freetown Christianshavn, which has its own schools, laws, policing, and mores, a floating surreal, sci-fi borough having been left to partial self-rule by a tolerant government.
  • Hominids are sunbathing everywhere, making use of any platform, dock, and waterfront structure. The water must be cold because only two are swimming, but taking advantage of sun and water proximity is as ubiquitous as surface area will allow.
  • The overall waterfront reads not only as an intersection of the inner city with the commerce and international trade of the European zeitgeist but as a vivisection of a naked metropolis by marine activity. Various churches, financial districts, and neighborhoods are placed in context from water. The integral geography of Copenhagen is still a labyrinth, but you can discern various urban tangles and historical configurations of districts from water in a way hidden on land.
  • Mediaeval, Renaissance, and twenty-first-century Copenhagen flow together so that you might overlook how anomalous and incompatible the pieces are, like movies playing on adjacent screens or abutting holograms. It works.
  • Though the various waterfronts, on both narrow canals and in the capacious inner harbor, are characterized by a spirit of creativity, tolerance, and social fluidity, the scope of individual wealth also stands out: floating cocktail lounges of the partying gentry and entitled youth, many of them no doubt first-generation haves; castles and docks of the royal family, past and present, used or never used and later converted into luxury apartments, motorcraft full of careless young people defying courtesy, buzzing tour boats, causing angry responses and shaking fists from the grizzled old hands overseeing our vessel.
  • Ecocity København is quite evident. Sprawling shoreline edifices heat themselves from their own lighting and cool in the summer from the water. Wind and solar power preen proudly, politically supported. A giant modern plant burns daily deliveries of trash, garbage, and indigestible metals and debris into a single electricity and heat that flow into homes throughout the city.

Though even the most ecologically minded don’t take the matter seriously on a daily basis (who could?), humankind’s continuation on this orb depends on converting linear accretion and consumption into cyclical activity (“sustainable” the ambient word). I think that this will happen. Our host David Reis agreed, as we stood by the recycling bins outside his house earlier talking about the untagged future. It seemed to either of us that unimaginable things must happen, both terrible and inspirational and, in either case, alchemical, for civilization, or what will remain of it, must re-root. I am not a pessimist, though I do feel like a stranger in a strange land, a visitor to someone else’s fucked-up planet. Clearly I am not. I am a fully indentured native with DNA roots in the Pleistocene. My ancestors and I are the crisis in its unfolding and, hopefully, my descendants will be a part of its resolution and I am providing a quantum of the paradigm. David and I finally decided that it was a longer conversation than the trip he was about to take to the hardware store allowed. He was getting piping for an anthroposophical fountain he was building in the backyard.

After dinner we would watch it in its first hours of successful operation, sending waveforms through a sensitive chaos of astral water. Will higher energies and subtle bodies play a role down the road for Operation Earth? They must, but how they will break into materialism’s trance is a mystery untold.

 

The waterway trip was relaxing, though in touristville we always seem to land beside an inconsolable baby or hyperactive tot (in this case, the former), whether on the bus to the airport (would he ever stop yowling?), to the waiting area at the airport gate (taking his hat on and off compulsively while a girl ran back and forth at her fullest speed in front of us), on the plane (two rows back), or now in front of us on the tour boat. This child was the worst of the lot, and his American mother and grandmother seemed clueless and counterintuitive, his father and sister uninterested, leading to the women agitating the infant more than settling him. He was directly in front of me and, though I am not skilled at seeing auras, I tried to see his, looking at him with a sense of his past lives and soul. Whenever I did, he riveted on me and broke into a smile. I accomplished this feat maybe four times during the ride, though he always returned to howling.

Early afternoon before the boat ride and later afternoon following it were dominated by transportation. Getting to Central Station on the S-Tog was eventful again around the matter of getting the right data onto the card for onboard inspection. We succeeded but, in the process, ended up filling our card with way too much money and I also left my credit card in the confusion of a card-rejecting station machine such that it had to be rescued by Marianne. American credit cards can’t be used in Danish because they don’t have the right sort of pin numbers. We had to fill the card at a 7-11 at Central Station even as our hosts were filling it by computer.

En route back, getting ourselves into the S-Tog part of the Nørreport station (the local rather than the inter-city trains) took many mistakes and wrong platforms and more time than actually getting home. Though I scanned my card in the inter-city part of the station, it showed the correct data for the inspector. I also remembered to clear it, as required, at “oud” both times, though barely.

After getting to town initially, we rode the Hop on/Hop off from Central Station to the boat tour. The supposed half-hour ride was near doubled by customers joining it at a hotel and then a cruise ship. Each stop took ten to fifteen minutes for the driver to run new credit cards. But that left time for additional customers to arrive, so that it seemed like we might never leave. Since we had a day of paid-for rides on the bus, it seemed worth using the purchase to get to the boat dock (only seven stops from Central Station), but in retrospect a cab would have been better. As it was, we arrived just in time for a departing boat.

We rode the bus again after the boat ride, aiming at the Botanical Gardens (stop 20). It required re-seeing some scenery, but it was quite different on review, a pleasant journey in the second deck in bright sun, making my Brooklyn Nets cap worth having put last-minute in my suitcase. Entrance to Gardens was free and, though they were technically open, the greenhouses were all locked, though walking paths and a lily-pad-filled pond made the locale worth a visit—these plus an old crumbling brick building that suggested an eighteenth-century herbarium. We had hoped to see advertised exotic fungi and giant butterflies, so it was a disappointment for such a long ride.

From the Gardens we hiked to the afore-mentioned layers of the Nørreport station where we got lost among trains.

For all the problems, the basic shape of Copenhagen was becoming familiar on only our second full day. For instance, I understood why we took the inter-city train the first time and the S-tog afterward, though both stopped at Hellerup. The S-tog alone stopped at Charlottenlund, walking distance to our house.

 

In the early morning before all this happened, I joined Marianne in her garden, picking currants, a few raspberries, for about an hour. She initiated it, approaching me at my laptop with tea in the dining room and saying that if I would keep her company while she picked, we could have a talk. I was a willing plucker as well, as I enjoy filling containers of blueberries, huckleberries, and black chokeberries in Maine.

Our conversation ranged over many topics, some of them partial repeats: the Soul in the cosmos, intergenerational trauma, the role of epigenetics and the parietal lobe in trauma in families, the Buddhist perspective on individual personality development and the formation of identity, the creation of transpersonal and collective information fields, the way that the archetypal flows into and organizes the personal as opposed to vice versa, her own life and development from Elizabeth Marchand’s bodywork through radical Danish Buddhism to somatic experiencing, and my own present sense of inexplicably emerging space and painful transition.

I knew what a privilege this was. Marianne is an advanced psychotherapist who sees virtually no individual patients anymore. She has been licensed at the fifth level as a senior Buddhist practitioner to give individual transmissions. She trains psychotherapists and lectures to hundreds of them at a time throughout Europe. She is a recognized superstar who brings psychoanalysis and Buddhism (and general spirituality) together in a unique way with her singular perspective and credentials from her trainings and teachers. She has both knowledge and knowledge’s context, a rare and precious combination. Basically I was allowed a rich, wide-ranging private session, including both my own issues and our shared confessions. We conducted light psychospiritual transference, using intellectual as well as emotional energy and synergizing them, while filling a container to the brim with currants.

Boat trips and travels through Copenhagen are well and good, but this was the jewel of my day and is what stays with me and fills me with warmth and hope by night. We can build cities over generations, and they are marvelous to behold—and yes today I’d rather be viewing new cultures and geographies than much of anything else because I am going through a mysterious inner change, but angelic connection helps. Transparent recognition of our soul presence in this Creation and reality and shared stories are the lifeblood of aliveness. They are beacons in a more darkly folded and entangled place than a train station, and I need them to be able to sleep and to want to awake to the next day. Without them, I am lost in anonymous murk.  I am grateful to be in the presence of guides and seers. It has always been the first compass of my journeying.

I understand now: one can simply receive. Beneficent waves from near at hand and unimaginably far arrive simultaneously. Distance matters not at all in a universe like this. So, thanks for those healing waves.

Late in the day, after Lindy’s and my return from downtown, David, Marianne, and we two shared our differently elicited dinners (their Indian takeout, our cooking from the supermarket and healthfood store), making an indoor picnic with discussion of such things as Neanderthal genes in our genome, telepathy, and epigenetics and generational trauma (again) plus the usual range of personal, political, and randomly arising topics, before going to the backyard to view the operations of David’s splendid new fountain.

 

July 7

In the morning Lindy and I took the S-tog to Central Station and went on a 10 a.m. walking tour of central Copenhagen. Our guide was a distinguished woman of roughly our age, Bodil Teide. Right off, she admitted a serious bias toward history and warned us off the tour if we didn’t want to hear that. It cost 100 kroner, about $16.50, each. There were six of us: two young women from L.A. taking in all the Scandinavian countries in whirlwind, and a younger and older Swiss woman travelling together and trying to get two tours per day through different aspects of Copenhagen. We moved at a leisurely pace in bright sun, delectable breezes off the harbor.

For all my talk about the value of a waterview in seeing København with perspective, today proved the equal value of plodding through the interstices of a hive with a knowledgeable bee. We walked Copenhagen’s layered history, street to street, plaza to plaza, from church to shops to school to government building to statue, integrating the relationship between the bright reality surrounding us and collectively kept records of how we got to it, at least the part of it that is still standing as opposed to in the Akashic records (though there is a subtle frequency at which the past merges as ghosts with breezes and sunlight).

These are the hardest types of tourist experiences to write about because everything I learned and saw would be better gleaned from a history book or travel guide or in widely available postcards of Copenhagen’s key sights. It is much more difficult to deconstruct a jumble of information and impressions and say what was special or generated deeper images.

Toward the tour’s beginning, we stood in the oldest market area where Vikings came to shop, to buy and sell after raids. Bodil remarked that the area was still oriented by the same oblique arrangement of buildings, so the Vikings would probably recognize where they were, though they would be higher in relation to sea level, standing atop centuries of matted-down litter. I scanned the square for what would most surprise her seafaring ancestors and decided that, aside from obvious things like a shop called Miami (a little out of their westfaring range), the biggest anomaly might be the Amnesty International offices marked in gold letters. Amnesty would be a concept outside their worldview and situational ethics. But who is to say what meaings coexist at a given time? Who can speak for their view of empathy and mercy?

Idly I tried an astral vibration to see what Viking energy might still be present. I was in over my head psychically, but I did get something striking: “We are not who you think we are, so you do not know how to read our energy. Forget judging us by your view of our compassion.” The energy of that transmission was, in a sense, the site’s Viking energy. At least that’s how it nakedly reached me.

Danish history is set by some milestone events that are commonly overlooked. Each is one version of Timothy Morton’s hyperobjects: the Black Death, the little Ice Age, the fortification of small port villages, the Reformation, the English destruction of the Danish fleet in the first decade of the nineteenth century. I couldn’t remember which war that was. Why exactly were the British shelling Copenhagen in 1807 such that we can still see blackened stone today? Bodil explained that the Danes were collateral damage in the English attempt to prevent Napoleon from getting his hands on the second largest military fleet in Europe. The largest prevailed under Lord Horatio Nelson. He used the church steeple as his compass.

I use a definition of hyperobjects I gleaned from Tim’s lectures: “entities that are massively distributed in time and space, at least relative to human scales…. Hyperobjects are viscous, molten, nonlocal, phased, and inter-objective…. They appear in the human world as products of our thinking through the ecological crisis we have entered…. [T]his is the moment at which massive nonhuman, nonsentient entities make decisive contact with humans, ending various human concepts such as world, horizon, nature, and even environment. Art in the time of hyperobjects isn’t simply art about hyperobjects but art that seeks to evoke hyperobjectivity in its very form….”

That is what makes tourist deconstruction so difficult. We are staring at a crisis unfolding while pretending to see something else. I think of hyperobjects as colliding information systems within the human commons, chaos fields emerging from multi-convergences of the unknown actual universe with human activities and symbols. Hyperobjectivity is a useful way to translate a walking tour into larger grids of information even as evoking a Viking astral frequency is a way to attract energies and entities outside of one’s ken.

Absalon, the twelfth-century bishop of Roksilde and organizer of the original fortification of the fishing village that became Copenhagen, stands or sits on various horses and pedestals in both symbolic and lineal recognition of his founding of the modern metropolis. His largest and most militaristic representation rests atop a stone pedestal across which simply cut waves of individual herring swim, indicating that his power, the power of the state, the basis of the Danish polity, rests on fish in general and herring in particular. I am guessing that the builders of the statue meant it one way and I take it another. To them it was a slightly condescending nod, given the majesty of the statue and the slim figurations of the fish. To me it reveals a hyperobject, and the relationship between the two icons is deeper unconsciously and millennially than on the stone.

I surfed other juxtapositions: enlightened kings, astronomical discoveries, wars, and fires, overlapping with one another and present-day shopping activities and musicians at fountains and statues. People lived in these actual orange and red structures. Being in their retained energy fields is different from reading about them in a book. That the man who lost his entire family in a theater fire in the seventeenth century used the money meant for his children’s education to build the college dormitory that stands before us and is till seems anomalous with the atrocities of the era, the surreal madness that swept Scandinavia into Germany’s Thirty Years’ War. One realizes that gentleness and good will have always coexisted with avarice, narcissism, and recreational violence. Likewise, structures from the Middle Ages and Renaissance hold their own in a modern city. Habitation on a sacred, fragile planet is part of the subtext that goes unspoken, though I try Bodil on the relationship of the dorm to that weird seventeenth-century war and she says, “Yes, I thought that too.”

At one point we looked at an old hospital—I think it was one of Copenhagen’s three Mediaeval structures still standing. In Bodil’s account of its era, hospitals were poorhouses while doctors attended most sick folks in their homes. She segued into an account of beggar kings, leaders of bands of poor people whose job was to maintain their flocks and keep other poor people from joining. She laughed a bit sarcastically, adding something like, “Things haven’t changed much, have they?” No, they haven’t. So what has changed in a fundamental way (other than technology), and what have those hidden changes meant for humanity?

A few other things stood out in retrospect. On our spanning of a canal, we saw an underwater sculpture, or its top; it was actually six or seven separate pieces around a merman, representing an underwater tale whose plot I forget. The issue was that most of the figures could be seen only from atop looking down, and as a fraction of their whole in the dark water. Although I don’t think the intention was avant-garde, the effect generated my avant-garde discursions, including a French modern sense of erasure, that what is unseeable is as important as what is visible (or what is missing as important as what is present) as long as the missing or unseeable is/was actually there.

I also thought about how the statue’s story was too Hans-Christian to take into account the undine energy of mermaids and mermen—they are not just underwater, or not even underwater. Embodiment at an astral frequency means “swimming” in an astral medium even when breathing air and with ordinary legs instead of a fishtail. Andersen’s fairy tales, including those of mermaids, arise from a lost kingdom of faery energy that abuts the physical Earth.

The storefront of what we would call Danishes (and the Danish call Vienna cakes) was scrumptious in its varieties, twists, sugar coats, jams, seeds clusters, and degrees of crust and soft dough, and it led Bodil, as she stopped us to look, to a discourse of the little Ice Age and how oats and rye in these sweets mark how far south in Europe they originated, for the inability to grow wheat during cold summers only progressed south as far as a wave line through Austria and other European duchies.

A walking tour of downtown Copenhagen is simple, with tales of little mermaids, rye fields, and kings and Tasmanian princesses as per the most recent Danish royal bride, but it has a subtext: we are alive and archaeological both and, though we are not obscured in time (yet), we stand in dynamic interplay with energy fields and hyperobjects. They are not on our tour list but they are what we see.

 

The afternoon marked a change in direction for our trip. We returned to the house, got our prepared overnight backpacks, and walked back to the S-Tog. We changed at Central Station to the inter-city and left Denmark, going to Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city and not far from Copenhagen, about a half hour by train. To get from the Danish land mass to the Swedish land mass, the inter-city crosses a dramatic bridge over the Öresund. Because of the refugee crisis in Europe, we expected and encountered passport control getting off the train, though we were still in the EU.

This side trip was set in motion six years ago when we made a different European itinerary that included accepting a home exchange in Malmö. I still had the email of our partner and, like a squirrel, I know where the nuts are stored. I found Thomas Lunderquist’s one on my computer. A radio journalist for the Swedish equivalent of BBC or NPR, he invited us to stay for a night at his multi-generational family home down the coast from Malmö in Höllviken.

Thomas was born the same year (1969) as our son Robin.

I wanted to go to Malmö in part because it is a great word, a bit of a cookie and a dog, and just plain cute. It also was a way to see Sweden, a place in which I have greater interest than an overnight: the films of Lukas Moodysson and Ingmar Bergman, the plays of August Strindberg, the European country with the most heart, welcoming of refuges regardless of origin. One day is better than coming close and missing entirely.

Thomas met us at passport control and walked us to the car where his 85-year-old father, Thorsten Lunderquist, a retired judge from Malmö, sat in the driver’s seat. En route, Thomas assured us that his father had never had an accident and simply liked to drive. He took the backseat and talked to Lindy, while I talked to Thorsten, a man of relentless irony and teasing. There was no option but to joust back. His English was decent though a bit vague so that I didn’t always understand the joke, drawing an occasional light jab of the judge’s arm.

It is wonderful how in travelling you just plop down in the most random situations that instantly become nonrandom and heartwarming, in this case the family of Thomas, Thorsten, Thorsten’s wife (and Thomas’ mother) Maud, and Thomas’ sister Sofia and her two visiting friends—a Swedish summer weekend at a beach house on the Baltic (in the family since 1947). Interestingly Maud is Jewish, though raised in Malmö after her father’s escape from Poland, while Thorsten is Lutheran, making Thomas and his sister half-Jewish like our kids.

`           It happened to be the day that Sweden was playing England in the World Cup quarterfinals in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the streets were filled with people in the bright Swedish national color yellow, close to my favorite shade of my favorite color. I do not follow European football, but I joined Thomas for a while before the t.v. and amused him with my few literary references to “soccer”: Roddy Doyle’s Patty Clarke, Ha, Ha, Ha; Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric; and my friend (and NAB author) Bruce Lee’s vilification of American football as being ridiculous for its staccato rather than continuous action (Elvis Costello’s base player, Bruce wrote books we published on Bruce Lee, Wing Chun, and Kung fu). England took a 1-0 lead on a header and looked to be the better team (they ultimately won 2-0). Thomas walked his parents and us to the Falsterbo Canal and Baltic Sea beach before hurrying back to watch the second half.

The canal was presented as a stretch of water opened to the Baltic by Swedish engineers during World War II in order to get ships out around German mines. The Germans blocked had Swedish and Danish vessels going between the Öresund and the Baltic around Falsterbo and Skanör. The canal is slightly salty, without fish, and quite cold—a popular swimming site, though only one woman was there because everyone else was watching the football. Torsten and Maud went right down the ladder into the frigid water from decades of acquaintance. Lindy followed soon after. I had had an earlier summer encounter with a cold river as part of a ceremony in New Hampshire, so I took time framing my reentry. Cold is transformational and, after getting in, I swam underwater. It was too cold for longer than a minute.

After a half hour, we left the canal and walked to beach on the Baltic, a hike through heather, reeds, rib grass, and rock roses, with quails and rabbits scurrying through the brush. The sand on the beach was soft as powder and it vibed with healing properties. The aroma of rotting seaweed was sensuously sulphurous. We spent several hours in lazy talk with Maud, feeling the sand, idly burying feet and arms. I took the extra step of applying it medicinally to my body as an experiment. It was so fine and dry and full of negative ions.

Thorsten had gone back ahead of Maud, Lindy, and me to fix the dinner, another prerogative he insisted on. On my earlier request, the chicken was, in his words, “fed only corn but is not eating much now.” At eight (20:00) we had a lively family dinner on the back porch during which Thorsten diagnosed each of the foreigners’ manners, and Lindy couldn’t live down her many ice cubes in red wine—he said she was clearly not European. I was identified as American for eating my small round potato with a fork without using my knife.

The rise of Hitler in Germany was discussed at length—it is still current. Thorsten had many opinions as to how he took power with only 32% of the vote. The conversation moved to Trump, and Lindy and I had ample opportunity to discuss American politics with Swedes, a fertile territory because one has the America-centric illusion that everyone else gets our melodramas and the nuances of our electorate and political parties. They don’t, and there were many openings for our opinions and comments on them. The topic eventually ran its course, and the evening rolled on, as evenings in the north do, toward 22:00 sunset. Three wood pigeons, plumper as well as more individual and aggressive than the more familiar (to me) urban pigeons (they don’t flock and they keep better hygiene), engaged in a ferocious battle or courtship on a tree branch and then the garage roof. Thorsten said that they hired these birds for the summer to entertain their guests. Later he intentionally confused what Lindy was saying into a claim she was about to take a course in Yiddish in Lithuania (closer to what Thomas was doing for a radio show). she delighted him with her outrage.

Folks are in fact still talking, and I am writing, catching up with the days, but the journal ends here, leaving us in the warm evening of Höllviken summer. This is what one travels for, a family dinner at a Swedish beach house providing only its own context.

An interesting aside before closing: as the discussion turns to swallows (for which they seek the English word from the Swedish), I realized that if we weren’t there, they would be having almost the same conversation but in Swedish.

 

July 8

The bright yellow Swedish sun is not the color of the Swedish flag or football team but the subtler yellow of morning, the garden, doves cooing, and a wisdom outside of time, drenching history, drenching knowledge, drenching a multidimensional Earth. It fills this summer house by the seaside, by the sand, by the cat Timon meowing in his feline timeless time. The flow of esoteric information is not but might as well be Swedenborgian for its capacity to erase everything else for a moment and be only itself. It is erotic intelligence, telling me that deeper eros is not what is tagged as erotic but flows from those old apples in the grass and the beach roses and reeds. It is an essence and sorrow beyond thought.

The Swedenborgian catharsis expands dreamlike into its own mineralogical philosophy, filling the morning with bird cries as swallows swoop—what other word is there for what they are doing in the high air, as they own the English “sw” field above this house? The Lunderquists prepared bundles of dough the night before and have put them into the oven. Now they produce hard rolls with rye and oats mixed in with wheat. We share a long family breakfast on the sun porch.

Thorsten and Maud leave early with towels, touting the water and proselytizing and teasing us about what we will be missing. No one but them wants to venture into the sea that early. After breakfast Lindy and I make the trek together in the crowds on Ljungsätersvägen—no football game today, the local papers thanking Sweden’s star for the ride, bright yellow back page of Sydsvenskan reads, “Tack for fest, Granen!”

A flow of families is walking, electrobiking, biking, wagoning, and autoing toward the white sands and Baltic. We go to the pier on the canal. The water is a tad warmer today but still an icy plunge. The body goes, sensations flow through the body, too many of them to account or arrange, so it is a mixture of psychic and emotional fields settling in the swim. I like being a ray-like starfish under the water, immersed and radiating as a different kind of creature. Maybe it is its own atavistic astral visitation. I say all this now, but at the moment it was just the water, its bone-deep icy vibrations, their liberation of a lifetime of feelings, rising to a Sweden of many people in the canal: little blonde girls and their parents and older people, everyone in body and spirit cleansing.

Afterwards Lindy and I walk through the reeds to the Baltic shore and lie in the white powder, soft and deeply grounding, full of mineralogical philosophy and vital energy pulled out of the sun and up from the earth. One can simply lie in its orgone bed and feel excess emotion and energy and grief pulled out.

 

Thorsten again insisted on right of driver, to take us and his son back to Malmö, about thirty kilometers and minutes. The outing concluded with a fast tour of residential Malmö, where we first got to see the house where Thorsten raised his family, including his fruit trees and vines, grapes that produced forty bottles of wine one year and a new apricot from which he insisted Lindy get the one ripe fruit of the day.

After dropping Thorsten off, we went to Thomas’ house to see the new floor he was installing. That led to a garden tour with an emphasis on tasting currants, admiring the apple and plum, and evaluating the shade cast by the neighbor’s giant maple, which Thomas reckoned was out of scale with the neighborhood—these were small yards with gardening space elegantly apportioned—hence the tree should be cut, though he hated killing any tree. I was most taken with the tansy in front. I consider the tansy blossoms of New England almost perfect yellow-orange, but these were even yellower and five times the blossom sphere of any tansy I have seen. The alchemically medicinal smell, a little tangier here, never fails to elicit Mediaeval apothecaries as well as the beating of my own heart.

We were next taken to the center of town: the library, museum, and train station. Malmö has several architectural marvels including a tower with a DNA helical twist and a new branch to the library with ceilings that seem stratospheric with a radiance of soft light through near total glass. We were finally left at the art museum’s restaurant so that we could eat lunch before boarding the train back to Copenhagen. Large numbers of fresh breads and hard dark Scandinavian crackers covered a table for taking by diners. I ended up with a pickled salmon dish I might have avoided in the States for the heavy sour cream, but fish, onions, warm potatoes, radishes, and lettuce mixed perfectly. Lindy had a thick tannish-green cauliflower soup with a gourmet flavor. All with the breads and crackers and ginger juice.

The bookstore had a section for local Swedish avant-garde writers, and my attention fell on a pamphlet called Male Gazes by a female-to-male trans. Alternating Swedish and English pages offered passages that cut through the mediocrity of Western sociopolitical life:

“I used to be a woman. I didn’t realize how much I was objectified until I became a man. Suddenly, my presence became less viable…. Like, somehow I’d become the default, no longer something special or view-worthy. I like that—not being gazed at anymore by men. It feels more powerful. But that’s not why I became a man. It’s just an unforeseen bonus.

“As a woman, I was self-conscious of my appearance. As if all the years of being looked at and assessed caused me to internalize the notion that my presence served a particular purpose—to reaffirm masculinity and the tacit right of all men to tell me who I am. I appeared as I did out of obedience. The reward was affirmation. I sought the satisfied glances of men as confirmation that I had successfully fulfilled my role. I was someone worth desiring, therefore I was someone. Invisibility as a woman was the most horrifying prospect of failure.”

“The male gaze is everywhere. Even as a well educated, thought-driven woman, at least a few times a day my mind returns to thoughts of my body and whether or not it’s good enough.”

“I was thirteen when I lost my virginity to him. From then on, my kindness and warmth consisted and was measured in the amount of times I said “yes.” Now I am soulless and merciless, for every man has heard a “NO.” I love being soulless if that equals self-respect. I love being merciless if that means loving myself.”

“The male gaze is of no importance.”

 

My response is yes! Even to the degree I don’t suffer the male gaze on me, it radiates and splinters through my cultural and personal space. I am male. I don’t deny the gaze, but the mindless mass capitalization of it has hijacked the culture and hijacked the connection between upper and lower chakras that allows the gaze to transform and redeem itself. It is a prison.

 

We arrived in Sweden at 15:00 and left at 15:30 the next day on the train to Copenhagen. The Copenhagen airport station of our debacle seemed months ago. The local geography now made so much sense, explaining the Swedish family sitting next to us on that first ride to Hellerup. We switched to the S-Tog to Charlottenlund, caught a train just at the closing doors. David by chance picked us up walking from the station, and we shared some fruit before heading out on our own to the Asian-fusion Koii on Jaegersbord for dinner. We were pros.

 

July 9

Lindy went horseback riding with Marianne at 10:00 in the morning, her first such outing since her teen years. She got to guide and trot and communicate with Marianne’s Icelandic pony, while Marianne borrowed a friend’s and they went on some trails. Her account is in her own travel journal.

I eventually took the train into town, exiting at the Nørreport station and walking aimlessly for the next four and a half hours. It wasn’t totally aimless, as I had goals, but they never came to much. The event was the walking, the neutrality of being in another country and observing with sustained curiosity, thinking my own thoughts in the shifting scenery that balanced their flow.

I wanted to see Christianshavn, so I walked there initially, falling in with a hippie family (a couple with young teen boys) who invited me to follow them after I asked directions upon nearing the bridge to that section of town. Christianshavn looked like the rest of Copenhagen more or less, a bit more funky local street activity. It also turned out that the last canal our tour boat went down was Christianshavn. Now I got a chance to look up close at floating homes with vegetable plots.

I walked all the back to Nørreport with the goal of going to see the butterflies at the Botanical Gardens but turned the wrong way and wandered into and through a large park with lakes (it turned out to be Örstads Park) before asking two old guys on a bench for the Gardens and getting turned around and sent back the other way. Not that it mattered much where I walked. Plus, all museums, including the butterfly greenhouse, were closed on Monday, disappointing many other arriving visitors.

I hiked from the Botanical Gardens to Central Station, a complicated course as well as a good distance, getting off-course many times while passing sites from the walking tour. They had a different feeling come upon them randomly, as my geography of Copenhagen deepened. Wandering with goallessness is easier in a foreign city where there is so much to observe. I chose not to ask my way to the station for a long time, content to intuit streets and see what appeared, a pleasant lassitude. I almost stopped at a few restaurants but wasn’t hungry enough to break the rhythm of the wander. I passed crowds in squares, listened briefly to jazz bands (jazz week in Copenhagen), walked in churchyards, sat by fountains and tracked sprinkle paths of water, looked in store windows, watched boats and birds—all the things that go with a full meander. I finally had a ginger drink at the health-food store and boarded the S-Tog as Central Station.

 

Night. Totally, totally different. David and Marianne invited Lindy and me to the third floor for a dinner they had prepared, and for two hours we had the sort of lively exchange that one might expect with people who do energy work and reflective-listening therapy during much of the day. Some of the exchange followed from the horses and led to a discussion of animal intelligence and human-animal dialogues. The meal was on their back porch and the topic came to include wood pigeons on the roof and a hornet that kept buzzing the beers before having to be rescued from mine—always back to how to people communicate with animals without imposing prerogative and authority, lots of criticism of horse whisperers by Marianne (especially the generic book), then a side trip through how democracy can sustain itself in light of the impact of fear and conspiracy theories to parts of the brain that are millions of years old and go back at least to fishes as opposed to the types of reflection needed for governance that arise in parts of the brain maybe 200,000 years old. We evaluated the near inextricable entanglement of progressive liberalism with scientism, hence liberals’ own susceptibility not to conspiracy theories as such but the corporate packaging of progressive materialism (as against alternative medicines or the communications of tree through their root systems or other things outside the box that many liberals assign to the same quackery as denial of climate change). On the whole, a mare’s nest of complication.

The greater course of discussion was through systems of therapy and their differences and changes from the eighties to the present in Europe and the States, the gist being that most prior dynamics had been abandoned or transformed into new methods of individual and mutual reflective listening and a systems approach here in Denmark—Marianne doesn’t teach in the U.S. anymore because the different therapy communities in which she worked are not open to the new synergistic methods developing in Denmark, Germany, and Holland. One oversimplification I can produce is that it is impossible to get people to levels beyond where they are, which is what therapists do, so how to reach people where they actually are and enable them to develop from their own resources.

We segued to David’s energy work, querying him on how it is done, ways to reach the dying, either to bring them back or allow them to pass (reading their state), and how that related to the overall auric field in which they had incarnated and drew from. Part of the issue raised is that the energy finds its own directions, and in the work you learn to read it and guide it and, to some degree, restore its direction and vitality. But you don’t interfere with it. Unfortunately I have reduced a twenty-minute map to a few stray gleanings. His presentation had the urgency of his enthusiasm, particularly his realization that all the years of his practice had made it possible for him to feel energy at its core like a psychic x-ray. He shifted my query about whether the energy he tapped was particularly etheric to the more embracing notion that at his level the auric energies flow from all frequencies and sources simultaneously and he dowses the total field beyond names.

The currants from our picking the other morning made their way into Marianne’s dessert as a sauce with other berries and whipped cream.

After Lindy went downstairs, I stayed with David and Marianne for what I expected would be an additional half hour of discussion and it exploded into one of those epitome conversations you have with people who go there: the nature of souls in the universe, the effect of the collective in trauma, etc. Marianne surmised that particularly powerful traumas like the one that led to suicides in my natal family cause individuals to lose personal identity or form imperfect boundaries and then they merge with the collective trauma which is boundaryless and cannot be encompassed … from there to what our roles must in redeeming the collective trauma individually. How do we change its condition in the world and the civilization, though it dwarfs us? We passed from the role of the collective in generating atrocities like concentration camps to the work of humans in the crisis of their own existence, the nature of esoteric process, the relationship of the erotic and the esoteric, the communication of souls, etc.. I can’t begin to replicate the scope our dialogue, but it went for another two hours. It stretched me to my furthest wonderings, convictions, fears, and hopes. At one point, brilliant Marianne pulled together mystical Christianity (Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, etc.), Buddhist nonduality, Seth, Jung, shamanism, and a lot else in one fell swoop (causing David to jokingly insert, “You’ve got it, Marianne”), culminating in an image of the soul attempting to evolve, to touch matter and suffering, and spread its light into the darkness. She was talking about the nature of our journey and why we suffer, as we all batted back and forth notions of the Divine in relation to the Creation. I provoked the trail by trying to square Marianne’s deeply committed nondual Buddhist practice with notions of the individual soul. She smiled and said, “But I’m a Christian mystic and a Jungian too,” and went on to prove it, that she could hold duality and nonduality, the collective and the personal, suffering and redemption, and a bunch of other dichotomies simultaneously, as she did so in a tour de force. Then David and I held our own multiple polarities and we blended them into a revelation past anyone’s capacity to stay awake. I don’t stand a chance of capturing more than a smidgen, but I will end the day in its spirit.

 

July 10

Lindy and I decided to go to opposite attractions across the street from each other near the Nørreport station. First we walked to the Charlottenlund S station, our most familiar journey in Denmark, a ten-minute stroll through swish suburban streets, lots of colorful gardens and a few massive apartment buildings at the end. At the okologiske Bread Garden alongside the station, you can dip samples of the most recent loaf out of the oven in olive oil or get a large cookie or raspberry tart.

We had finally mastered the shining blue dot of the ticket machine. The trick is that the machines differ. There’s no absolute autopilot protocol. You have to reason with the screen. The one at Charlottenlund accepts the + for the second passenger at a different point in the sequence than the one at Nørreport or Central Station. David says the system ran over-budget, we are told; then its technology was dated by the time it was implemented. We boarded a quick-arriving train.

Lindy wanted to see a Danish castle, and the Rosenberg castle was across the street from the butterfly house and Natural History Museum—a perfect contiguity. After leaving her in a queue at the castle, I walked half of a long block to the corner, though my target was directly across the street (traffic travels fast and is pedestrian blind). I came in through the museum courtyard and wandered back into the Botanical Gardens. I got on the short line for the butterfly greenhouse, following a crowd of many ages and nationalities, bought my ticket, and entered. Not reading Danish, I walked an entire greenhouse of cactuses looking for butterflies without a one. I dawdled, at least appreciating the cactuses, bright yellow and red flowers on giants of the deserts displaced to meditate and bloom in the north. Then the exit from the cactus greenhouse became the entrance to a double greenhouse of butterfly madness.

Butterflies bring lightness, color, dance, surprise, but mostly lightness, large fluttering wings bearing a neutrally awake worm. There was so many of them that we visitors experienced brief landings on our clothes, hair, hands. A sense of their world was conferred by touch. They said silently: “We alight, we like your colors, we are not afraid of you. What do you think of us, big ones?” My version of unconscious “butterfly think.”

According to the wall chart, there were about ten or so varieties. My favorite by far was the Blue Morpho, significantly larger than the rest, with iridescent wings: its blue glowed. How often do you see giant blue butterflies on the loose, let alone in numbers? Their wingspan gave them a more stable gait in the air than the others, as they seemed to float around each other, chasing in pairs and trios. The wall chart attributed natural selection of their iridescent blue to the fact that it scared predators, e.g., more blue ones survived. I am a neo-Darwinian by education and birth, so I will buy it, but add a touch of Steinerite Paul Klee blue for the Lemurian vibration seeping in. Blue for poison, but also blue for mystic light.

Four of the varieties were orange, identified as Julia, Postman, Tiger Wing, and East Mexican Banner. With the morphos, they flapped a quiet symphony in orange and blue, though there were some yellows and some flying things with transparent veined rings.

I did not feel bad for the butterflies’ captivity, though I had imagined I might. Their zoo was planted with their favorite flowers and, if that wasn’t sufficient, their hosts had hung thin cross-strips of banana, orange, and watermelon from the ceiling: high-surface-area candy wafers delicacies for clustering. Others were strewn in the dirt around the plants. It was butterfly nirvana.

I walked the short distance from there through the Botanical Gardens to the Natural History Museum.

People in Denmark are assiduously ethical. If I had wanted to go to both the butterfly house and museum, I should have bought my ticket at the museum and gotten a discount. When the young woman at the counter informed me of this after I had paid, I said I had already been to the butterflies. She took my ticket back (despite my saying it was okay), deducted the cost of the greenhouse, and sold me another, juggling the difference in her computer. Since there was no one behind me in line, I asked her for help on the location of the next museum Lindy and I wanted to go to. She went onto her computer to see, then found and marked a map and gave it to me. The whole interaction, six or seven minutes, was so gracious you might miss that its innate generosity came automatically to her.

The Natural History Museum was nicely contained and manageable for only one hour to look. I grew up in NYC going to the local Museum of Natural History, and it required multiple several-hour visits for the barest coverage. The entire Copenhagen MNH could have fit in one of its exhibit halls. Its first floor was divided into (1) astronomy (with emphases on asteroids, meteors, Mars, Vesta, and a film on the Big Bang and formation of the Solar System), (2) geology (galena, dolemite, iron pyrites, and the gang), (3) the formation of the Denmark shelf from pre-Cambrian through Pliocene times, and (4) a room loosely dubbed The Cabinet of Curiosities modelled after the collection of sixteenth-century Danish physician Ole Worm; it included birds, bones, fish, spears, rattles, antlers, small-animal taxidermy, the figure of an Eskimo, a kayak, etc. Some of these were in separate exhibit cases, and a portion of it was in a large reenactment of Worms’ museum. The room reminded me of Portland, Maine’s Museum of Cryptozoology.

The sense of “museum” as a Foucaultian “legenda” (“things told”) pervaded the Copenhagen gather and it didn’t just apply to one room. The whole gestalt was a legenda for its single fragments of Moon and Mars, one-of-a-kind rocks, assortment of sea-heart nuts washed up on Danish shores from tropical rainforests, reconstructions of Pliocene underwater snail, fish, and plant life (including a grouping with charmingly Ikea-like names: snegl, haj, moler, fugle and musling—what child wouldn’t want to swim in their palaeo-wonderland?).

The Copenhagen NMH’s second floor was devoted entirely to dinosaurs skeletons and models of dinosaur eggs and late embryology.

I have a tendency to go peripheral and subjective in halls of all sciences like this. It’s a habit that got me in trouble in anthropology graduate school where you were expected to stick to facts. I’m attuned differentlt. Yes, I managed to learn requisite data about geological eras and fossil evidence and passed my M.A. exams, but I also wrote poems about the geological eras and then the whole of Solar Journal. Later in The Night Sky I mixed chapters of pure orthodox astronomy with zodiacs, astral realms, shamanic heavens, and Pawnee stars maps. I felt the whole CMNH thing as a single wave: early stars building up elements through iron, secondary explosions seeding contemporary space-time with elements, Earth forming in the solar gyre, Cambrian lavas, trilobites and sea worms, an expression of awakening predatory and afraid reptile consciousness in the explosion of giant Triassic and Jurassic forms, the mammals and forests of the Pliocene, Cro Magnon intelligence coming finally to the cabinets of curiosities and civilized cities of Holocen Earth. The wave awakens me from torpor and roots me in a wide space.

I won’t claim a clairsentient vision; it’s more that the entire pattern has an implicit shape and emergent form for me. It is all legenda, hence sticks together as a super-fairy-tale of a strange place (Earth after the unknown astral kingdoms of Lemuria and Atlantis, unknown because they were pre-physical vibrations). It is what Rudolf Steiner and his associates called “physical evolution ascending” to meet “spiritual evolution descending”—two interfusing polar waves. It may be my own imagination, but they resonate as real somewhere deep inside me.

The Museum of Natural History not only taxonomizes and analyzes morphologies; it can’t help but show, in its rush of organized language and strict symbology—those blond- bearded, smiling young Danish astronomers on the video speaking to a docile public like priests—the emergence of a shape that transcends its individual parts and brings seashells and suns together in a singular etiology or archetypal morphology. D’Arcy Thompson got its essence in his 1900 classic On Growth and Form. The CMNH was a Museum of Growth and Form.

Nice tiny stuffed dinosaurs in the gift shop, but no room in my suitcase to cart them back for grandchildren.

I met Lindy outside the Rosenberg castle. She distinguished from the one we saw in Ireland last year as being the home of a big-deal king rather than the large house of a feudal noble keeping up with his neighbors in Mediaeval suburbia. It had guards around its crown jewels.

We started the long trek toward the Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, aiming on my map. We set out in the general direction of Christianshavn. The Art Center was farther out on the same spit of land.

We didn’t know yet that it was unrealistic to think we could walk the entire way. It was not unrealistic to walk; that is, to get going on foot to the right part of town, eat lunch somewhere en route. We trekked deep into the inner city—ten minutes, twenty minutes, a half hour, our avenue bending away city center to aim for the bridge over the canal. We passed through more conventional neighborhoods without the usual tourist crowds or scenic sites (cinema museums, t.v. stations, all of it interesting). We settled on a modest basement Japanese wok place: a tall young long-haired Dane guy taking orders and a grizzled old Japanese chef working beside him on a grill—tight quarters, only a few tables. While building our respective noodle dishes from three columns of categories (noodle, vegetable or meat, and sauce), we learned from the young Dane how far our destination was—much too great a distance to walk. His recommendation was to take the 9A bus—its route passed very near. Getting to its correct avenue was too complicated. Once on the street, we found his combination of a right followed by two sort-of lefts (an uncertainly wavy hand confirmed by the nodding chef) impossible to apply. Instead, we took a taxi from a waiting row. We hadn’t splurged on one yet, and this was the moment.

The driver was voluble, telling us, among other things, what ordinary words in Danish were insults in Swedish, then narrating the list of drugs you could and couldn’t buy, none of them legal, in Christianshavn as we passed through it. Somehow I had missed its core on my walk, the converted Army barracks of Christiana, dense wild-looking hive visible through openings. We saw it tantalizingly from the cab: combination Stone Age village, carnival, farmers’ market, and Burning Man. I wished I could have entered for a close look, but we sped on after briefly slowing for a view. I reminded myself: One has to be careful not to get caught up in scoring tourism points.

The Culture Center was in its own converted military facility—Navy in this case—in a remote part of the city still mostly undeveloped but beginning to come to life with new businesses and lofts. The district itself, Refsholevej, was significantly beyond Christianshavn (more than half the entire cab ride). Then the Center, hard for the driver to find among obscurely numbered zones, was at the farthest tip of the district. It would have been at least an hour’s walk after reaching Christiana.

The Center was sparer than spare, three exhibits in a gigantic space that could have housed a whole modern-art museum of hundreds of paintings. Lindy noted its contrast to the Rosenberg castle, a new avant-garde Denmark against an old royal one.

We had missed the display of model Korean-War-era U.S. jets filled with dirt and plants, but photos of them get across the CCC’s radical aesthetic. The current exhibits were less political One room held about fifteen three-person metal swings for swinging together. I held off doing that with Lindy till we were ready to leave because I had gotten a bit motion-sick from the taxi driver’s lurching style.

The second room was a giant silver ball swinging from the ceiling like a pendulum—and I mean gigantic. If it had fallen, you might have heard it in Sweden. It was silver like a mirror, so you could see your reflection and those of others, including the children lying on their backs, squirming and showing it their bellies. Your image changed in size and distortion as the ball swung. You could also walk around the room and change your position and size on the sphere.

The third exhibit, a video installation, took up most of our time at CCC. Song 1 is a thirty-five-minute-long projection on roughly sixteen screens in an enclosing circle, put together by Los Angeles artist Doug Aitkin. Sixteen screens means sixteen coordinated projectors in a dynamic and varied flow. The content was L. A., but the technology, spaciousness, and audience were Danish—I don’t think there were other tourists in our small cluster. The film involved eight or so individual musical artists, many of them well known, singing “I Only Have Eyes For You” in different eras and styles for Aitkin’s lens. They included the Flamingos’ classic doo-wop version and Tilda Swinton’s new Piafy torch performance. All of these renditions arose in a rhythmic flow of video clips that oscillated between the singer and L.A. past and present: performance of the song was mixed into the heartbeat of the metropolis around it.

The screens usually showed the same image on all of them, which was a grand crescendo in itself; they sometimes showed an image flowing from screen to screen, and sometimes they brought all sixteen screens together in a single huge, wide image. Less often they kaleidoscoped the image into complex abstract forms while continually changing the  kaleidoscope’s depth of field and focal point. The sound was either “I Only Have Eyes for You” in one or another version, solo or group, male or female, young or old, the song breaking abruptly in (and then abruptly out) at one part or another of its own lyrics and melody, or a sustained din or sustained silence.

The montage of images was a mix: of course the singers or singer performing the song, then the same performers, in awkward or thoughtful silence being probed by the camera while standing or walking in L.A., then all sorts of street scenes from car lights to garages to folks moving about and hanging out, in studios, cafés, traffic, then just lights, then the inside of a factory with laborers at different work stations (the complex Google-like image of the entire floor of the factory with its individual activities filled the screen). Then two of the workers became singers of “I Only Have Eyes for You” as if the scene foreshadowed La La Land” (the video was 2012), then the factory kaleidoscoped, then what looked like hundreds of L.A.’s superimposed on each other in a galaxy of stars surging together (or maybe the video itself dissolving). Cut with these were frequent images of old-fashioned studio sound-tape winding, the reels kaleidoscoped periodically or otherwise changed in scale and relationship to the frame.

The entire installation could be watched from within the circle (most people were lying inside the concavity) or on a mirror-image convexity from the outside. Inside the circle, the experience was upbeat, revelatory: high-quality sound of one mysterious song in sync and syncopation with rushes of images playing out on multiple possibilities of sixteen screens. Avant-garde art, at its best, integrates structural imagery with obscure feelings without having to name them, bringing them to momentary peak clarity (probably different for each viewer) that dissolves into the next montage.

This kind of projection was its own medium, a different way to tell a story: part painting in motion, part performance piece, part cylindrical installation, part movie, part immersive rock video, part surveillance camera bank, part dance, part Stan Brakhage redux, and so on. It defied genre, yet had a redemptive, irregular beat like atonal experimental music, pulling everything in it up to the level of—well, a Song, as “I Only Have Eyes for You” gave it a broken melody.

The bathrooms almost constituted a fourth exhibit. One entered their zone like the hall of swings, each toilet a private elegant room in a row of such rooms. Where is the line between exterior exhibit and interior function in such a place? Spaciousness, deconstruction and reconstruction of expectation, and attention to subtext were everywhere.

The cab had to the Culture Center had cost the equivalent of $40. It was not necessary to spend that much again (or more: Central Station, our target, was farther than the Japanese wok place). We took the 9A bus back into town, which wasn’t hard to locate on a spit of land, as there was only one eligible street. We just missed one, but buses proved plentiful because the line otherwise ran through the center of Copenhagen and each one had to complete its route here. The journey didn’t take much longer than the cab, and we could our same transit cards on a shining blue dot. At Central Station we caught the train to Charlottenlund.

For two hours in the late afternoon, we sat in David’s office, working on reflective listening. We had paid him for a hands-on demonstration. Like all such systems—I felt yes, okay, and no, get me out of here!—clarity followed by its own obfuscation. Key dyad: “I say…..”  “What do you think I said?” “Here is what you said. Am I right?” “Yes, now it’s my turn.” Or “No, here is what you missed….,” and so on. Passing a pen like a talking stick.

It’s fine to learn new techniques—can’t go wrong with knowledge itself—but don’t forget William Blake: make your own system or be enslaved by another’s.

 

July 11

Last day in Copenhagen, taking stock. Such a flow of images and feelings, from within, from without. I am lost in a traveler’s maze without a roost.

I like it here. I don’t want to leave. I am dying to get out of our cloister and away from the “perfect” couple in whose reflection we are daily cast.

It rained last night, a fine drizzle. We walked to and from Koii in the rain for dinner. It’s been so sunny that the rain was a mood shift, an automatic deepening. It’s sunny again this morning; magpies, wood pigeons, and smaller birds congregate at the feeder by the new fountain, roses in full pink and yellow bloom, squashes and squash flowers in a thick basil patch (we had basil salad with hand-made Cretan olive oil two nights ago with David and Marianne).

Marianne’s concept of “civilizational trauma” stayed with me all morning. I accepted it as premise and went back to my current practices: moving auric energies, dissolving pictures. More arose each time as soon as I did—so dissolve those too, and the next ones, and the next. We come from electrons, we contain electrons, so in the auric field, which is not bound to mass and its friction, we can be as fast as electrons. You don’t ask what the picture is (it goes by too quickly anyway), you don’t have to ask, and you can’t and don’t know. You do as bid from within. Then I went through my t’ai chi set very slowly under the magpies’ instructive gaze: keep light, use wings for balance, stay pouncy and alert.

I sat in the sun by the herbs and roses and apple tree and felt the pictures return, their false and unknowable futures, their stale and stuck pasts. I couldn’t do the work of a lifetime in five minutes, but that was the job anyway. Civilizational trauma. Personal trauma. The privilege of light and sun and embodiment.

The flapping of wood-pigeon wings was as loud as if someone were shaking rugs. Present time. Always only the Now.

 

Marianne had offered to take us to one special Danish site for the afternoon, a rare time free of work for her. We settled on the Viking Museum at Roskilde, a forty-minute drive from Charlottenlund. It was built on a fjord where five partial Viking ships were found on the shoals. Salvage of them began in 1962, and a museum and center were created around their reconstruction, featured the Viking era in general.

I preferred to her other options: Deer Park, downtown wharf, Christiana. During my graduate-school years I read books on the Vikings and parts of the Sagas themeselves, not for any academic reason but because I was taken with pre-Columbian contact between Europe and North America. I was developing my own theme about four badlands: the Prairie, the Ice, the Moon, and the City, which became the basis for a literature course I taught five years later at Goddard. Students read poetry and prose on all four environments and evaluated and compared what made them badlands.

Another inducement: my favorite boat as a child was also a Viking ship. It had no sails or accoutrements, just the wooden shape, but it was the winner of many of my bathtub races.

The journey also afforded us a chance to hang out in the car and continue our endless seminar qua coffeehouse chatter in a post-coffeehouse era. En route, we talked about the difference between spiritual and psychological maturity from the standpoint that intentional communities and charismatic spiritual teachers, especially in the West, suffered from unbalanced development. The thread started after a traffic incident with my mention of how some advanced Buddhist practitioners I know expressed road rage in a form no different from a cut-off truck driver or gangbanger. What did that mean? Highway and car seemed to give a regressive permission, but it was still life and should still be practice.

Marianne talked about the differences between the skills, emotional paths, and neurological and brain development of the two modes (spiritual and psychological). People can learn, for instance, to be good at meditating, but the ability often remains encapsulated and doesnot carry over to interpersonal relationships. She concluded, “If you want to address road rage, then you have to practice working on road rage, or any other personal characteristic. You don’t get rid of road rage on a three-day sitting retreat.”

We wafted over Chogyam Trungpa, Adi Da, and Andrew Cohen individually under the rubric—each of us had stories, guru gossip. We landed on the guru’s claim that his initiation can be transferred sexually, hence building spiritual harems. This is a much discussed topic, especially in light the Me Too movement. Marianne brought a different contemporary view from her own blend of spiritual and psychological practices and her knowledge about emotional development and the brain. I don’t want to inflate her take—there are lots of valid views around the larger topic—but she does bring clarity and conviction from decades of Buddhist practice combined with forty-five years training psychotherapists.

She proposed that many gurus can’t tell the difference between their own process and that of the student’s. When sexual transference doesn’t work, they get frustrated, lose erotic interest, and create the equivalent of spiritual boot camp for their former lovers. The women are harangued and made to meditate under harsh conditions, ostensibly for their own good, as if to bail out the mistake.

“I go with Townes Van Zandt,” I joked. “It’s noooo deal, / you can’t sell that stuff to me.”

Marianne laughed too, so I finished TVZ’s trope, “It’s no deal. / I’m going back to Tennessee.”

Somewhere at the heart of the modern crisis, where rubber hits road, is the failure of egocentrism to get outside itself and empathize with the entire collective that it is suffering and reflecting its suffering through each member. Instead it chooses a particular community or ethnic group or ideology or the abstract planetary environment. It tends to shift only to the next rung of its own narcissism: my practice, my sect, my country, my people, instead of recognizing itself as one’s 7.6 billionth part of collective karma.  This is a bit of a non sequitur, but it is hard to reproduce a conversation discontinuously interspersed with commentary on the Danish landscape.

The museum was both wonderful and tedious, as museums are. It is difficult to generate hours of viewer fascination from a few rotting timbers of thousand-year-old ships, but the curators did a decent job of creating context. Ship-building crafts were presented on site. You could see movies of each of these activities, but they wouldn’t have the smell of fresh wood and sharp penetrating aroma of wood tar or the up-close whooshing rhythms of a bellows melting metal for nails, blowing off excess heat onto our face and in our noses, the intimate touch of carved and sticky wood. You wouldn’t feel the breeze off the fjord as sample ships sailed across it at full mast. Reality is reality and can’t be replaced by virtual forms in fewer dimensions.

Other stations showed the making of ropes from animal and plant fibers (a very strong tar aroma there), the melting of raw metal (children in line to shape and then pound newly formed nails), the looms to weaves flax sails.

I had loved the Viking mold as a child, perhaps because something archetypally reached me from the fond objects. The deep curves and imbedded spirals of the ships reflected basic spiral patterns in the universe, from the transdimensionality of the Qabalistic Tree of Life to microdimensionally fabricated DNA. Great ships even if mean sailors.

Outdoors between the stations and the indoor museum were Viking games for children (and adults), for instance tossing a wooden hammer at statues of giants. Neither Lindy nor I knocked one over, though Lindy hit one squarely. Marianne deferred.

The lecture tour was tedious—canned descriptions and stock history from a young man who kept looking at his cue cards and reciting practice English. Bored children amusing themselves in spontaneous games transcended the spiel. We eventually bailed and walked around to museum exhibits. The actual five restored ships from surviving timbers were the highlight; none of the ships had even forty percent of their wood, but the preserved boards were fit into reconstructions of the whole shapes.

The ships were not accidentally downed in the fjord. They were located atop one another in a stack in the main channel and weighted down with stones. They were likely retired boats with many voyages and much salt in them, sunk there in order to block Roskilde from invaders.

We visited a shop full of Northland souvenirs and read walls of historical maps and displays with quotes from the Sagas and other sources from the Viking period, roughly between the eighth and eleventh centuries. Viking piracy and the ensuing culture made a unique Scandinavian bridge between Mesolithic and the Mediaeval landscapes.

The most existing exhibit was two authentic three-quarter Viking ships (the other quarter was cut away for “passengers” to climb aboard) in a darkened room. We could sit on the boards like rowers while speeded-up projection on the walls took us through twenty-four hours: darkness with constellations and a moon in the sky, the burst of sunrise, a swiftly climbing sun, water all around for a long stretch, then a thunderstorm with darkness, lightning, and tumultuous waves. The scenery was not a movie; it was a digitally stylized and arty scrim—more grainy and calligraphic more than realistic. That somehow enhanced rather than detracted from the sense of voyaging.

On hooks hung Viking costumes, robes and headdresses, for mostly (but not sole) children to put on and be photographed aboard ships. We skipped the dress-up but “sailed” through an entire night and day.

For all its mythological and cosmological import and ship-building acumen, the “Viking” cult valorized a cruel primitive marauding of peaceful village for personal gain and ethnic superiority. Nice ships—very nice ships—but terrible manners. Vikings sacked mostly English and Celtic communities and monasteries (sometimes Russian ones); they conquered lands and took slaves, especially women. The description of their practices with women (as described on the wall) uneasily recalled the discussion of gurus on our drive out. The latter has been mitigated and ameliorated by modernity but is fueled by the same narcissistic draw to the combination of eros, terror, and knowledge— to dance with Shiva. The pillaging, raping, torturing, and killing of captured slave women speaks in a different way to a profound confusion about the relation of spiritual and emotional life. Where that always lands whenever spiritual practice or ritual is involved is an attempt, often desperate in its symbologies, to make a passable bridge between the land of the living and the land of the dead. Painful stuff to read and impossible to hide even in neutralized museum parlance. In Viking funerals, the violated slave women were cremated beside dead lords with their murdered horses and various jewels and other treasures. In high Viking society, the goal was to convert the secular gains of the living into a phase that could be carried with them elsewhere in spirit synopsis. No one wants to lose status or power gained on one plane when being forced to cross to another. But death permits no bargains, even for modern gurus with all their clever bardo language—hence, all the more powerful the ritual displacement and consolation.

All the big guns are in play among the Vikings: sex, murder, consuming fire, transubstantiation. No apologies for the Norsemen, and none given by their descendants. Consider that Lindy’s 12.5% Scandinavian DNA is ostensibly from Viking invasions of the British Isles. She is roughly 37% English-Irish-Celtic-Welsh, thus expresses more chromosomes of victims than intruders. Yet she has both. Like the rest of the habitants of the modern world, she is the descendant of a dialectic. Collective karma has an exquisite way of continually setting itself before us at multiple levels of paradox and challenge.

Café Knarr ostensibly served Viking-oriented food. I suppose my flatbread and currant juice qualified. I would have preferred Vinland cloudberry juice, though I don’t know if I would have liked it as much as I like the name.

On the trip back I took the opportunity to hone in on how Marianne would interpret my childhood family dynamics, how they might tilt into her themes of inter-generational and collective trauma. It was like an ad-libbed psychoanalytic session in an electric car on a Danish highway, Lindy chiming in with questions (she had had her own formal session with Marianne in the morning). I don’t automatically take Marianne’s view as gospel, but it adds to my growing wisdom of a lifetime about the strange situation in which I was raised. The suicides of my mother, brother, and sister speak for themselves, but so does my own survival, especially given that I was considered the single crazy member of the household while my siblings and I were growing up. That could not be a coincidence.

I don’t experience the old terror in the way that it once played such a big role in imagination as well as in each of my family member’s suicides, but I experience an occasional horrific sense of time stopping, of being frozen in space-time. Nothing I do or think fits the world I am in. Marianne recognized it at once not only from her clinical practice but occasional flare-ups of her own trauma, though from an entirely different etiology. She described it as being like a fly caught in amber and interpreted it as the moment or crack in which personal trauma is inundated by collective trauma, which way too much for any person to handle so personality structure breaks down and pereived time stops.

Right or wrong in whatever way any such explanation could be, it’s a good story to put with my others. Marianne went on to say that constant collective pain would be too overwhelming, so we have to tap collective, archetypal joy too, to antidote it.

That was the marquee for my life: joy and sorrow, epiphany and terror. I quoted another song for her, Dion and the Belmonts’ “Teenager in Love”: “One day I feel so happy, / next day I feel so sad. / Guess I’ll learn to take / the good with the bad.”

            “You got it,” she said.

A bit on, she affirmed my roster of psychic techniques for working with trauma, changing its shape and energy, but we agreed that it wasn’t something that got cured. You add texture, depth, and context, and that allows you to find your way through life

We moved to the question of murderous rage I sometimes intuited in people such that it was difficult for me to tell the difference between rage that was murderous and rage that was only weird mad. I had chronic paranoid fantasies that someone was going to murder me or me and Lindy while we slept. “The collective can’t distinguish,” Marianne said. “In the collective, all rage is murderous rage.” The Holocaust, operating archetypally, gave justification and manifest form to that. Paranoia is revelation at the wrong frequency.

Leaving to go inside, I teased, “You didn’t know you were getting so much psychoanalytic discussion when you invited us.”

“I didn’t,” she agreed, “but I’m such a psychotherapy nerd I love all the information I can get. And it’s not just psychology. I’m pretty nerdy in general.” I suspected as much when she didn’t want to throw the hammer at the wooden giants. But then she is a horse whisperer.

 

July 12

Up at 4 a.m. for a 7:20 flight from Copenhagen to Berlin Schonefeld. It’s hard to get to sleep when you know you have to wake so early. At dawn we pulled our stuff together for the first time in eight days: change of cities, change from public transportation to awaiting rental car, change from being in company to being on our own, change from an upscale Western city to the Eastern bloc.

David and Marianne drove us to the airport, kind of them to get up and participate in the ritual of our departure. I was half-asleep in the car.

Copenhagen’s airport proved vaster than I realized on arrival. Much of it was made up of duty-free shops. Their modernistic screens took the form of tiny lit cubes like E.T. heads on stalks that should have been disaplayed at the CCC. Here they were advertising perfumes, clothing, and electronics. It seemed that the majority of energy had gone into creating a giant shopping mall that dwarfed the actual departure gates and made ours hard to find.

An international crowd in the airport and at the boarding gate: African families, Middle Easterners with head scarves, Chinese groups, Japanese couples, a Babel of language across the Germanic/Slavic axis, some irritatingly on cells in a crowded boarding area.

Norwegian Air has a great reputation for a budget carrier, and everything about the check-in and boarding process confirmed it. It was succinct and professional. We boarded so fast, though having to walk on the tarmac rather than through a covered passageway, that we pulled away from the gate ten minutes early. Why not? The plane was full, and every ticket-holder was accounted for.

We took off over Copenhagen and the bay, the same veiny pattern of rivulets visible across the harbor; then we ascended over a stretch of land, then straight above a second shoreline and the Baltic.

It was a cloudy day, and we bumped through cumulus layers in rising, then penetrated higher altocumulus clouds and sailed above them. We at our cruising altitude only about five minutes before beginning our descent into Schonefeld. The time in the air was forty-five minutes. It was raining and windy in Berlin, and the descent was quite turbulent, though it never seems as worrisome when you are surfing like a rock through a medium with currents.

 

It took almost two hours at the Avis rental agency through which we had gotten our car via Auto Europe. The single baffled attendant was delightful to watch, both during his routine with the party in front of us and us. He seemed like a flummoxed Weimar Republic hotel clerk, as he turned filling out the form into an act of light comedy. It wasn’t exactly a Groucho Marx routine—I don’t watch enough World War II movies to name the precise character—but “Groucho Marx” gets across the spirit of it. He asked himself the same questions over and over in German while also asking his customers, laughing as if it were all part of the routine and they were helping zero in on the advanced algebra contained in the form. I was sleepy enough not to care and stayed amused and happy, while Lindy went back to the terminal to eat. By the time she returned, his supervisor had just appeared, an efficient, helpful woman. That speeded things up—she could answer his questions rather than having him asking himself—but she let him proceed as her trainee. She was in her early fifties, he in his later fifties, but she was the manager and he was clearly a beginner. While he labored away, talking to himself, she took the time to go over our instructions for finding the highway to Poland, over and over until she was sure we got them.

Truth was, the clerk was a very affable guy and eager to please, us as much as her. At her suggestion, he accompanied us to the car to answer questions and help us with the GPS. She had tried out my Auto Europe GPS and said the car had a better one, but it needed to be changed from German to English. The guy walked alongside us in the rain, as he helped Lindy with her suitcase and carried an umbrella. . The car was a Leon, an equivalent to the VW Golf. Its GPS came on in German a while talking to himself in German again, to get it to English, but he was gallant and patient, finally also switching the country to Poland, though failing at our address in Poznań. We settled on entering on destination Poznań. That would get us most of the way.

After the Avis clerk left, the rain turned into such a deluge that one would think twice about driving in it, let alone in a strange car in a strange country with an untried gear shift. People stop under bridges for downpours like this. I used the time to take a spin around the lot and then parked. I decided to get my raincoat but couldn’t open the trunk. We looked at the manual, but it was in German. I hurried back to the Avis office, about a minute away running, and got totally drenched. A customer on line at Avis explained: you have to hold the key next the rear emblem and reach under it, something that would have taken me a long time, if ever, to figure out. I returned and quickly opened the trunk and my suitcase. By then I had decided to change my shirt, socks, and shoes; they felt like wash that hadn’t even gone through a spin cycle. I got in the driver’s seat, started again, and discovered I couldn’t get the car to back up. After a futile minute of my attempts to pull the ball in various directions. Lindy wanted a shot and succeeded after a number of attempts. It worked the opposite of the previous summer’s shift—you had to push the ball down to go into reverse. Her success rewarded her with being the first driver.

The rain had subsided somewhat, and the woman’s directions had been memorized and applied like a charm. We went first toward Berlin and Dresden on 133; after about ten minutes (the computer voice confirming) exited for Frankfurt Oder and Warsaw (there are two Frankfurts in Germany, and they are distinguished by their local river). That put us on A12/A10. We thought that would sufficient to enter and cross Poland, but we needed to switch to A/10 after forty-five minutes or so, which led to a last-minute crossing lanes amid huge industrial trucks with Eastern European plates (mostly Poland—PL—but also Latvia (LT), Lithuania, Hungary, etc.). Cars’ driving style reminded us of Italy. They came up behind you in the left lane at 100 mph or more, forcing you immediately to the right. Most of the speeding vehicles had Russian plates, but a few were from other Eastern European countries.

There was no passport control at the Polish border, but a toll ticket was soon issued by machine and we wondered how we would pay without Polish currency. The change in country was marked at once tall thin pines with high canopies and a more consistently rural landscape. Slavic letter combinations replaced Roman orthography, many more z’s as well letter combinations that don’t in Romance or German tongues (“zl” for instance; later we saw “zb,” “zdz,” “zwl”).

We were hoping for a credit-card option for the toll and were glad to find one as we approached Poznań a couple of hours later. By then we had stopped at a gas station to switch drivers. The GPS, which only took Poznań in Berlin accepted the hotel address, Aleje Karola Marcinkowskiego 22 there. Construction in the city created a complicated labyrinth of cobblestone streets and street-car tracks, more crosswalks than traffic lights.

The main thing that jumped out at me was the wear and poverty, on buildings and the people. It felt a bit like New York’s Spanish Harlem, but it was that only in the broadest millennial migration pattern, east to west across the globe. It was Eastern Europe, part of the World War zone. How quickly we got here from Berlin (three hours) reminds me of the German tanks and what happened not so long ago.

Fair Swedes and fair Poles are both common in the States, and their looks overlap: pale blonde men, women, and children, light colored eyes. But the vibes are slightly different. In Scandinavia I felt the liberated, somewhat carefree north. Here I sensed the interior of Europe, its conflicts, its emergence from crisscrossing Neolithic migrations, ancient farms, early so-called barbarian kingdoms beyond Rome, then Christianization, feudalism, the Reformation, international markets, and the birth of nations. Genes, race, agriculture, commerce, and the dialectics of history have left their marks. I do not want to go back over worn territory, especially in a quick journal, just to say I feel something and see it and feel privileged to be on site at last. That’s what travel is. We can’t go to other planets in the Milky Way or other galaxies, but we can go to other places on our sphere. Poland isn’t Africa, Asia, or the Peruvian rainforest, so I don’t claim an exotic adventure, but it also isn’t Boston or San Francisco.

We finally hailed Hotel Rzymski and parked right in front. Easy check-in, convenient underground city garage a few blocks away, ticket to be redeemed. A trolley ran on tracks with an electric line on the cobblestone right outside our window, a treat to listen to on its rounds— music of steel and stone, a heavy percussion with a rattle and slight clangs or clinks, plus the long flute and panpipes of gradually responding brakes, all together a repeated John Cage adagio. It was also a pure train from an old sound-effects record, a band called “Polish trolley stop.”

Poznań was arbitrary in its selection. I picked it as roughly halfway between Berlin and Warsaw. I figured that what was already a complicated day didn’t need a herculean push to Warsaw. My distant DNA relative in Warsaw Ewa Sokolik chose it over the farther shot of Łódź.

We went out into the street headed for the Old Square, prepared to be satisfied with anything. It was Poland after all, with all that that entails, historically, culturally, mystically.

I thought to inventory the people on the street for this journal. I asked myself, what distinguished them from elsewhere? It was hard. Faces are not my strong suit, so bear with my amateur (and I hope not ethnically insulting) inveventory. I saw a Mongolian steppe Polish look, a wide pancaked face (more noticeable in women), also punk Poland, redneck Poland, beer-belly Poland, Roger Maris crewcut Poland (reminiscent of Andy, the young Polish dude who presides over organic Thai food at the Berkeley farmers’ market), fashionable Poland in female riffs off the latest international styles, fairy-tale damsel Poland (our waitress when we stopped at an outdoor café), Raquel Welsh pout-face Poland (older teen girls), mysterious magi of hermetic Poland (looking like John Dee with their pointed beards and deep gazes as they hurried to their rounds), Chopin Poland (potential orchestra conductors), plus lots of good old boys and good old girls who could just as well be in Akron. Okay, enough.

The introduction of a new language, Polish, was musical with its own rhythm and melody, whether lilting or booming or in shouts or conversations passed, a twang reminiscent of Slavic tongues in the States. Noam Chomsky, before he became mainly political, proposed that all languages share a deep syntax and move through identical logic strings into varying morphophonemics. I assumed that some deep neurological grid attuned the English melodies in my mind with the Polish melodies in the street.

Poznań’s Old Square was stunning beyond any expectations. You could not have gone to Rome or Florence and seen more magnificent buildings. The town hall was a tour de force: porticos on balconies, vertical gold on lavender-backdrop icons of saints, a long horizontal row of them near the roof, plus a gold decorated clock at the peak suggesting the Prague astrological one. The hall itself looked like an ornate chess piece or a composite tarot card. We ate facing it. The meal was pleasant but overly starchy—I got potato soup and cabbage dumplings, Lindy breaded veal—this is Poznań not Paris. We sat for well over an hour watching the action in the Square: young Polish couples, gangs of duded boys, kids chasing each other and pigeons (of course), baby carriages bouncing babies on cobblestone, jugglers with soccer balls, a gypsy boy and girl (probably brother and sister) begging with an accordion they took turns at, and the always ubiquitous urban pigeons, one of whom pulled in his legs and rested his belly on a cobblestone startlingly near us, relaxing in the late sun. When Lindy rose to look (because a pillar blocked her), she was sure she would scare him off, but he twisted his head and flashed a brief unconcerned glance of his black dinosaur eye.

Across the courtyard (and elsewhere in town), buildings were stuck together in Italian-like Renaissance façades with fancy turrets and crowns. Each was painted: light blue, gray, pink, light green, light orange, dark brown, etc. On some of these were engraved figures: a duck, a cat (or perhaps not a cat but a dancing cow), a flower pot, a devil or demon. At a distance they looked like woodcut stamps. Up close they became colored stone reliefs. The building with the demon, some sort of amorphous homunculus figure, seemed to top a fraternal lodge or what was once a lodge; it was now a shop, but it was hard to tell because the building was closed and dark. The hermetic tradition of Western Europe certainly extended to old Poland.

What added to the delight of the Old Square of Poznań was that it was pretty much local. Not entirely without tourists—we were there, after all—but with tourists well diluted in the townie activity. It felt like a lively Mexican town square.

After dinner, we continued to the end of our side and found ourselves a magnificent church: enormous, orange-tinged, with multiple towers, fronts, crosses on turrets. We could have been in Rome, but then there would have been Roman crowds. This was the centerpiece of the Catholic archdiocese, a max of splendor and artistry: Renaissance Poland counts as much as Renaissance Italy. We walked in.

Having been raised a participatory Episcopalian, Lindy had enough high church in her to bow, walk to a pew, and put her head down. The interior was, to use the word of decade, awesome. If you enclosed a small city block inside a cathedral, raised its ceiling three or four stories, and filled its cubic space in every nook and cranny with elaborate religious icons, statues, gargoyles, icons, saints, altars, and naves sprouting other naves (like the inside curves of a Viking ship projected into sacred space), you might get an idea of what the Old Square church was like. The altar glowed with a gold luminosity. To look at it was to feel the permeation of the Divine down to your cells and bones.

We sat respectfully as music began—an engulfing organ sound, full of timber and spirit. Suddenly priests appeared by the altar in robes and sang in Polish. Then one spoke at length, his words projected on a screen.

Most of the people participated in the language and ceremony, crossing themselves when appropriate. Polish Catholicism is no minor province in the hierarchy of Rome. We were in its sanctum, and we let its sound and faith radiate through us. Not knowing the language kept it numinous. Even in a Slavic tongue I did not miss invocation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—that devotional three-beat acknowledgment of the Trinity. I believe in it what it is invoking—something about divinity, faith, the magic of incarnation, the atonement of sin—and not just because the guy was a rebel rabbi. We may each receive it in different ways, but its persistence shows it to be an authentic vibration in the evolving noosphere of the planet. The Christ message, even if misheard and misused in these shadow lands below Eden, is real.

We stayed for a while, considering rude to get up and go after blundering into a ceremony. We picked a change in voices after a resumption of organ music to bow and leave. A woman’s voice was picking up the ceremony.

Outside, we reversed our traverse of the square, going counterclockwise this time, and came back up the hill to Hotel Rzymski, its name an orthographic rebus in its own right. Before turning toward it, we went to the adjacent Wolnosci Square, which sported a significant fountain, a modern bee-hive-like cuboid structure of plastic or glass lenses, vaguely resembling a collapsing tetrahedron. Wolnosci was a modern hangout, especially by comparison to the Old Sqyare. Water cascaded down the structure’s cubes, their irregular and precariously tilted wings leading to increased turbulence and off-splashing. It was still not enough for boys who filled soda bottles and ran around shaking them and spraying each other so that they were all dripping wet.

One could walk right through the center of the fountain pretty much unscathed because the artifact was divided in two, sort of left-brain, right-brain and you go down the corpus callosum. The music on the other side was decidedly not Polish. A Hindu band of three guys and two young women on a blanket was playing paired drums and a sitar and chanting ecstatically. It was a full authentic sound. One girl with dreadlock-like knotted braids and an urchin’s face carried the mantra deeper and deeper as she swept bowls in front of her with an almost distracted hand bearing a brush. She was my star because she deepened the sound in my brain and when I looked at her eyes I saw she was penetrating deep dangerous space. The dyed-blonde girl next to her was much more spectacular, a flamboyant costume and lots of up-and-down belly-dancing-like motion. She was a much bigger person too and more conventionally charismatic in the usual. She stole the show for most, but every time I looked at the eyes of the chanter, I felt an immortal summons and a sense of eros beyond beauty or gender.

Poznań is a chaotic mix of the ancient and the new, so the transition from the sacred church to the street band worked. Two young girls in dresses and long, formal coats roller-skated around the Hindu band on fancy slim blades, giving the scene the feeling of a rock video in the making.

We returned to the square at nine for dessert (cheesecake and raspberry mousse with pressed apple-pear drinks). We sat and watched the activity and darkening sky, Earth lights like stars, fires of torches heating the customers at the cafés, a light cacophony in the air. Darker yet, more lights, a louder, spunkier din. The one band across the row was not Polish but Latin, outside Café Havana. It put out an adeptly quickened “La Bamba.” In the years since the fifties and Richie Valenzuela’s death, the melody has become more and more occult and salient; it calls for something revolutionary that is not a jihad.

Till late at night and beginning early, the trolley turned the melodic weight of gravity into a huge xylophone, wheels distributing the resistance of ground, the stringency of the rail holding its reality together in a beautiful extended squeal.

 

July 13

Most of the morning in Poznań was given to catching up on our respective trip journals. We hung around the hotel breakfast room which had enough smoked fish, olives, and fruit, etc. to cover for other deficiencies. I could put my fennel tea bag in their hot water.

We walked to the Square to get food for the trip east: lamb and chicken pockets some pastries at a bakery. My food standards had dropped through the floor, forget okologiske. I did manage to get an extra bottle of cold-pressed beet-apple juice during dessert the night before.

Axiomatic that it is difficult to travel in a country where you don’t know the language; that problem dogged us through the day. I guess you could call it “lost in translation” except “translation” was minimal.

I was the one who parked the car in space 126 in the underground garage, so I was the one to go retrieve it after getting my stamp on the ticket from the front desk. I have a bad feeling about parking garages since having gotten stuck in ones twice in the last decade, first in Berkeley, then in Portland, Maine, both times through no punishable mistake of mine. It took over an hour to get out of each. That same parking-garage karma came into play.

I got in the car, ticket on the seat beside, backed out of the tight space, and wound around the snail shell toward daylight. But there was no one at the electronic gate and no way to inform the card-reaching machine that mine had an ink stamp on the back. Cars began backing up behind me, some swerving abruptly to the only other exit lane.

It took twenty long gruesome minutes to resolve the affair during which cars had to recognize the problem, back up, turn their steering wheels sharply, and switch lanes. As the object of everyone’s distress, I sat there dripping sweat from my forehead in the hot and muggy, wishing to disappear. A guy came from the office eventually came in his surprisingly leisurely time, took my ticket, and went back to the office to check it, leaving me at the front of the line for more almost ten minutes. The backup became truly epic when four guys in a sports car blocked the only other exit gate and began yelling at it. No one in the office apparently considered the situation urgent.

I finally left the car and went to the office. A man and a woman were in debate with each other while on the phone with the Rzymski. It turned out that they were waiting for the hotel to verify my identity. Even after they did so by room number and name, it turned out that the stamp only gave me a discount, not free parking, something (according to the garage folks) on the Rzymski routinely misinformed guests. Hard to believe that such a thing could go on for two days, let alone years, but apparently it had. I paid, got a ticket to put in the machine, and left. The youths in the sports car were gone, but there were four cars behind me, waiting, probably not realizing no one was in the car. I barely got the Leon into first in time to beat the closing gate.

I immediately ran into crisis two. Getting to the garage had been an easy two-block shot from the hotel in the direction of traffic. Leaving the garage in the only direction offered put me on a fast-moving one-street plunging away from the hotel. I hadn’t thought to put the Rzymski’s address into the GPS—I could see the hotel from the garage. I didn’t even have it with me or know how to recall it from the system. I was swept into traffic on a series of one-way streets, traveling quite a few kilometers through the busy inner city and away from the Rzymski. My attempts to get going in the right direction put me in a complicated loop that I completed three times before I realized I was going in circles.

Time for crisis three. To break the loop I went down a street with trolley tracks, something I saw cars doing. Only this set of tracks one was not for auto traffic. Cement ended, and I got marooned in soft dirt before the pavement recommenced. The car barely made it over the ridge back onto stone.

Finally some good luck. I saw signs for Al. K. Marcinkowskiego and followed them to the street itself. I was so turned around by then that I was looking to make a U-turn to get on the side of the street of the hotel when I pulled up right alongside it. Lindy was waiting in the lobby, and we got our stuff into the car.

Then I remembered something from my walk to the parking garage—a regret at the time—and ran down the block to remedy it, dropping five of my coins into the cup of the beggar woman sitting on the corner. She was a throwback to people I routinely gave money to in childhood. I lost the knack at some point because I couldn’t tell who the people were anymore, what was real poverty and what was trolling for drugs or a scam. I have a few Berkeley horror stories of trying to help a street person and getting in too deep for where things had progressed to, but not for here. I have no idea how much money I gave the woman, but her smile made any amount worth.

While we were parked in the hotel loading zone, we tried entering Królewska 47 in Warszawa, but neither of the GPS units would accept the address. I settled on entering Grzybowski because the Airbnb apartment was described as overlooking a plaza of that name.

The drive to Warsaw was about three and a half hours, and I did most of all, all except the last twenty miles after we stopped at a gas station for a rest stop. We tried unsuccessfully to address again.

A2’s challenge was the same A10 from Berlin into Poland. The right lane is packed with giant trucks moving merchandise east, going fifty to sixty miles per hour. The left is effectively without a speed limit, so cars hit a hundred miles per hour or whatever the engine will deliver. The faster lane also includes people passing the trucks, a regular necessity, especially when they line up in convoys. This creates a situation where, after a careful look, you bolt into the passing lane and are confronted with a fast-approaching car having to slow down to your mere eighty to eight-five, not happy, often honking, hanging dangerously on your bumper, threatening sometimes to pass on your right which would result in a crash. Sometimes just stubbornly hold your ground because you see a convoy of more trucks ahead. Other times you dive back into the truck lineup. I got into a good rhythm, averaging 120-140 kilometers per hour with the iPod shuffle on, as Lindy slept a good portion of the way.

Somewhere short of midway to Warsaw, we stopped for gas. This was before our final stop to change drivers. We have yet to find a gas gauge on the Leon. After scrupulous searching, I don’t believe there is one, the car must have another way of telling you are running out of fuel, probably in German. We stopped as a precaution—after all, we had come all the way from Berlin on one tank.

Getting gas at the stop provided a “lost in translation” moment. No one spoke English, and there was no credit-card access on the pumps. The lady at the cash register kept talking very fast in Polish despite my language deficit and continued responses in English. Finally I figured it out. It was not self-pump. An attendant walked outside with me, filled the Leon, and walked me back in to pay. Attendants were doing that for everyone, not just lost Americans. Duh! Try looking around the next time instead of assuming.

Gas stations on Polish highways serve as their rest stops, so there were picnic tables, and we ate our pockets and a few bites of the supersweet pastry.

Entering the outskirts of Warsaw, we ran into a clash between the road signs to Warszawa Centrum and the voice on the GPS telling us to exit at seemingly unlikely spots well out of the center. We decided to override the voice, choosing to get deep into the city before leaving the mainly traffic flow. The voice graciously accepted and reprogammed. Eventually the tall buildings at city center showed that we were aimed bull’s eye at Centrum.

In a magical way, a modern city deepens like a dream. I have found this to be the case from Halifax to San Diego. Outer streets and stray warehouses become avenues with buildings. Fast-moving habitation zones sprout dense thoroughfares. Suddenly you are in busy streets full of urban traffic. The GPS ran out of instructions as soon as we hit Grzybowski Street. We had no idea where Królewska was, and none of five people on different streets knew, even two Policja in their official vehicle who each looked carefully our printout and shook his head.

It took three more stops and quizzing people to get ourselves to the apartment stage by stage. We weren’t that far from it where the GPS ran out, but with heavy traffic, lots of road construction, one-way streets, and avenues forbidding a U-turn, it took that many modifications of the instructions to hit Królewska in the vicinity of Grzybowski Plaza. To see the word “Królewska” on a road sign was a relief, almost magical, after so many street signs with long Polish words that were beyond the phonetic capacity of the GPS. It was usually, “Turn right in two hundred meters at —you’ve got to be kidding!— eight garbled syllables followed by Ulrice.

A doorman at the Westin Hotel got us going in the right direction, e.g., the wrong direction: away from our destination but toward the approach to it through the labyrinth. When we had no idea how to proceed further, a stopped cab driver provided us three complicated, valuable turns that we had to hear several times to memorize and place in correct relationship to each other. From there, he said, ask someone.

I did—a delivery-truck guy who proposed an illegal U-turn, then turning down what looked like a dead-end alley. It came out on: Królewska! There was even one parking space right in front of us. These were parallel park, front wheels on the curb—I was driving by then and warned Lindy about a major bump coming up. The curb was precipitously high for such a maneuver, but I had already escaped trolley tracks. I stayed with the car while Lindy went looking for 47. She came back reporting not only that she found it but the door code f worked. As for the parking space, without any Polish, we couldn’t get the ticket machine to issue a ticket from my Visa card, and I stopped trying when I began to worry the consequences of pressing random buttons. It turned out not to matter. We later walked out on the street with Ewa, and the space was free from 18:00 Friday till 8:00 Monday.

I had called Ewa twice while stuck, but she didn’t own a car, so was unable to figure out our spots or give location help. Once we were in the apartment, though, she promised to come by in an hour.

A trivia point about Polish lifts. The ground floor is always 0 (zero), not G or M. I had pictured something spiffier from the Airbnb listing. We are on the fifth floor of mainly student housing. Someone had clearly purchased an apartment in order solely to rent out to tourists. It was a mess, and it took a phone call to get the Internet to work (the owners provided both the wrong server and the wrong password). It was really small. People bigger than us could not have fit in the cubby for the toilet and would have had to angle their legs out. The bed filled the bedroom entirely. The curtain springs were broken and required climbing on a chair to raise and lower.

At least the site was close to the center of town. It looked one way on modern Warsaw, which could have been New York City or any 2018 international urban cluster. It looked the other way on a torn-down strip of apartments, innards of bare exposed stone with plywood inserted where window slots had been, an incomplete renovation (Ewa said) from the Soviet era. Warsaw is perceptibly remaking itself from the inside-out, cancelling World War II as well.

I discovered Ewa Sokolik this way: I submitted my saliva swab to Heritage.com and got a DNA profile: 100% Ashkenazi Jewish. That meant that neither my paternal nor maternal lines bred with offspring out of a European Jewish community or, if they did, the contributions of DNA segments were meager enough to get filtered out.

Since I was thirty-one, more than half my life, I had assumed that my blood father was Bernard (Bingo) Brandt, a man I never met with whom my mother had an affair while married to Paul Grossinger. I have written about this matter in Out of Babylon. When I discovered my Brandt origin, I tried to make touch with my father, then with my half-brothers, buit the Brandts did not want any part of the story or my kinship and friendship. Since those early years, I have made decent relationships with two genetic half-brothers, one of whom I met only three years ago. Neither of them, however, is interested in DNA or tracking down ancestral family in Europe.

My DNA sample did lead to a number of other relatives internationally, though my maternal and paternal lines were not distinguished from each other. I did not share anything like first-cousin level DNA with anyone new. These were more like second cousin three times removed or fourth cousin twice removed—enough segments to show common ancestry but not enough for actual genealogy. One of my distant cousins living in Jerusalem persuaded me download my DNA from Heritage and upload to another site called Gedmatch, which broke it down into segments. That enabled him to analyze my lineage and conclude that he and I shared a relative in Hungary sometime before 1700.

A more surprising result came later. A genealogist in Atlanta, Gary Palgon, who was constructing a family tree for a woman I didn’t know named Dara Grossinger, came upon me as a distant relative sharing DNA with her; yet he read in my Heritage profile that I did not consider myself a genetic Grossinger. He wondered if I would help clarify the situation, since I was related to Grossinger folk. I agreed to his request to send a swab to Family Tree DNA for a Y-DNA analysis, which would yield just my paternal line from males. In order to make a definitive link or nonlink, Gary also had to submit a sample from Dara’s late father Jerome, a relative who could be traced directly to a brother of my legal grandfather Harry Grossinger (he had left behind saliva for the test). These showed that I was definitely not in the Grossinger lineage, somewhat of a relief, since I resemble the Brandts  and don’t look at all like the Grossingers. The Grossingers are mostly very large, the Brandts significantly smaller. Clearly, though, the families share a common ancestor way back in the centuries.

My own Y sample showed a close link to a Sigmund Shvimer living in Boca Raton. I contacted him and got the following (I have shortened his reply for this journal):

Regarding paternal DNA test: I guess, you’ve got J1-M265 paternal linage like me. This is very well studied and called CMH (Cohen Modal Haplotype) it means only one thing: all of your paternal linage takes path from Aaron, brother of Moses…. I knew that I am a Cohen, in Jewish community this knowledge passes from generation to generation and considered to be a big deal. I knew that I am a Cohen, in Jewish community this knowledge passes from generation to generation and considered to be a big deal.

My grandfather Joachim Szwimer (Polish variant of Schwimmer) was a real Cohen, religious and dedicated man, he had 11 children including my dad. I was in Poland last year. Jews came to Bedzin in 1226 from Spain. Three of Joachim’s brothers emigrated from Poland in 1910-14 to Canada and USA.

My father was born in Poland, during WWII escaped from Nazis to Russia, survived the war and had four children. I am the baby in the family, born in 1950. I came to US from Russia in 1990 (Detroit area), five years ago relocated to Florida…. I am an engineer with my own firm, still working.

As for your travelling in Poland, I have two cousins in Warsaw. Zosia Sokolik does not speak English, however her daughter Ewa does. They are very nice and would be glad to meet you in Warsaw.

Basically Sigmund’s father and Ewa’s sister were siblings when he fled East to Russia (rather than try to go West through Mordor itself). Then he raised his family there, including Sigmund. By the time he made contact with his Polish cousins, a generation had passed. As per his suggestion, I contacted Ewa and then spoke to her on Skype. She picked out our apartment from the ones listed on Airbnb, and we made plans to get together in Warsaw.

An hour we made our base at Królewska 47, Ewa arrived. I wasn’t looking for a lost sister and didn’t expect a close resemblance. I was look for something intuitive or energetic. She represented my paternal line about which I knew little. I could provide nothing to help tie Sigmund’s ancestral story to the Brandts.

Ewa (pronounced Eva) fulfilled the energetic aspect. She resonated with something slightly familiar and totally unknown. About five foot four, reddish-haired, with a wide face and bright, intelligent eyes behind her glasses, she engaged both of us with cautious curiosity and sophisticated articulation, given that her English was spotty or rusty. Her enthusiasm for conversation and our bond grew as we walked into the twilight. First, we checked the parked Leon to make sure that it didn’t violate the Polish instructions on the meter and street. Then we walked about six blocks through a spiffy part of town to a restaurant called Der Elefant, a coincidental choice since I was wearing a San Diego Zoo T-shirt with an elephant and elephant baby on it. Der Elefant was three restaurants in one with an overlapping menu. Ewa negotiated our way into the lesser of of them, though all were packed. We were seated at a table beside fish offerings on nearby ice. I ordered stuffed European river bass. What arrived a small browned fish with a lot of prickly rosemary hard for the tongue to distinguish from bones.

Ewa provided no connection to Jews in Poland or the Holocaust. Her father was Catholic, and she was raised Catholic, though she emphasized that her parents were atheists and she had no religion. She said that she was Catholic only in the sense that ninety percent of Poland was nominally Catholic. No family members she knew had died in the Holocaust and, given her birth year (1975), she related more to escaping the shadow of the Soviet occupation. Her mother didn’t even disclose her Jewish heritage very till recently and in the context of first cousin Sigmund contacting them. Since Zosia didn’t speak English and Sigmund didn’t speak Polish, they communicated in Russian. Given the power and extent of the Holocaust in Poland, it was remarkable that it left no mark, but then Ewa didn’t identify as Jewish.

A psychology major at Warsaw University, she worked as Human Relations manager at FedEx, which had bought the Warsaw company at which she had been employed. Her life had been conducted mostly in the Warsaw area; she had travelled only briefly to Krakow, Berlin, and Budapest and had recently been to the U.S. with her mother to go to a reunion of Sigmund’s family in Boca Raton. We would cover more ground in Eastern Europe in two weeks than Eva had in her life—part of incommensurate destinies on the paradoxical levers of modernity. I had earned something in my life but not the mobility I had relative to Ewa. The migrations of our shared Spanish and Eastern European ancestors, parallel for generations, had separated dramatically sometime before my blood father passed his DNA onto me during his brief acquaintance with my mother.

After diner, Ewa walked us back to Królewska and showed us our neighborhood so that we would know where to go for breakfast or groceries. We walked around the fancy redeveloped side of the block, full of eateries that could have been on upper Madison Avenue in New York. The large number bikers and walkers led Ewa to recall her surprise about the car orientation of American, how strange it was not to see lots of people walking.

We had grown up in different worlds, but the fact that we shared some segments of DNA gave a subtle to our reunion—two faces of an ancient wandering Semite witnessing each other in an unknowable future world.

 

July 14

Ewa showed up at eleven a.m. to take us out for the day. We had walked only five or six blocks and we about to cross a park when dark clouds appeared overhead and raindrops began to fall. The temperature dropped palpably. Since the sky in the distance was even darker, we hurried back to the apartment and changed clothes. Ewa had an umbrella. We didn’t, though I had a light poncho-like raincoat.

We entered the park with its towering horse chestnuts. Rain, which was in the forecast for tomorrow (Sunday) but not today, began to fall in earnest, as Lindy crowded under Ewa’s umbrella. I relied on my waterproof jacket and hood. For a while the leaves held most of the moisture, but that could only last so long before we began getting wet. Ewa changed plans and we made a beeline for the nearest museum, a distance of about six blocks counting both the park and streets on the other side. Lindy thought that another umbrella was the first priority, but Ewa insisted that shelter should come first because there was no nearby shop at which she might buy one.

We climbed a temporary ramp to stone steps and became the only patrons standing outside a museum whose doors were locked. A tall, thin young blonde woman arrived just after us and pounded on the door and called with no success. She said in fluent English that she was late for work and assured us that the place would open in a minute or less. She left in exasperation for an employees’ door. A docent finally opened the doors at about ten minutes past the listed noon time.

I had no idea what kind of museum it was, and the name, Zacheta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, gave no clue. I didn’t much care as long as it meant getting out of the rain. I would have looked at Greek statues, Mediaeval tapestries, or Polish abstract expressionists. A white marble Caesar holding a trident of Neptune overlooked the entrance halfway up the stairs suggested baseline “classical” and that’s what I expected, but the statue turned out to be so unlike anything else in the museum that, when we left, the figure seemed to preside in pure irony, a collateral of time travel, unsure where to point his scepter. Zacheta Galeria was a Warsaw version of the Copenhagen Center for Contemporary Culture. More than a dry spot out of the rain, it mesmerized Lindy and me (and maybe Ewa somewhat) for the next ninety minutes.

At spots like this, it is hard to know what to include in a travel journal. You don’t need a museum tour from me, so I will try for an overview and general impression. Some exhibit description is unavoidable.

We began at a section called “Amplifying Nature” or maybe that was the name of the entire show and the exhibit area was called “Tango on Sixteen Square Meters.” Either is possible. Its rationale was practical as well as well as aesthetic, to show how we needed to sprawl less and occupy smaller multi-use spaces as the population increased in what the curator’s text called the Anthropocene. Emphasizing the precariousness of current urban dwelling situations, the exhibit offered architectural responses and remedies, showing ways to intensify space and integrate Polish habitation patterns with emerging global phenomena.

Rooms and buildings were reduced to their essential parts. Bedroom, computer space, and dining area were shrunk to a pittances, as images and figurines lived their lives within their own arm-spans. Ornate older rooms were shown side by side with synopsized equivalents, as eating, working, and sleeping occurred in the same adaptable spaces. For instance, beds vanished into walls, sinks became tables, and wash hung from an extended shower nozzle. The exhibition was subtler than mere shrinkage; at one point it incorporated an edited English translation of Borges’ short story “The Lottery” as a way of understanding civilization’s wagering of possible futures. Not a great account, but it’s the best I can do.

The most striking part of this exhibit was a 1980 film Tango by Zbigniew Rybczyńsk.It wasn’t exactly a movie, more like a series of animated cartoon loops with real people. The same characters repeating their identical actions like bodies in prescribed orbits in a dining-room-like space with a new character added every few loops until the room became as crowded as a mammalian anthill. Since the characters were on loops, they continued their identical activities without interacting or even noticing each other. You can watch the film for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JPZm1vM3gU. My own account is from memory and I am not going to rewatch it to check.

It starts with a boy bouncing a ball through an open window, retrieving it, and going back out. A nursing mother offers her breast to a baby, then puts it in a crib. A man delivers a package and sets it on a shelf. A thief slinks along the wall, makes his move, and steals it, leaving by the window. A woman in a long coat brings soup. A handyman enters and stands on the table to change the light bulb, then falls off and through the floor. A young man begins exercising, flexing a bicep like Popeye and then standing on his head on a chair. A plumber carries a toilet to install. A woman cleans a fish. A unformed officer looks around and departs. A man takes out the trash. A cleaning woman begins sweeping. Each of these people enters and leaves the room, returning to repeat the action, as the space becomes fuller and fuller, the loops flowing together.

Later arrivals are edgier. A drunk staggers through the room while imbibing from his bottle. A blonde woman takes off her dress, stands totally naked, and puts on a new one and fresh panties. A young man and young woman enter kissing and have intercourse on the couch. After they leave, a man brings in a dog, set it on the couch, and reprimands it. Meanwhile the thief keeps stealing the package, the light bulb keeps getting changed, the ball keeps coming through the window, the baby keeps getting nursed, the woman keeps undressing and putting on her new dress. Then the cycle reverses and the room empties out in loops. At the end, the boy throws the ball out the window and does not return, a man is left sleeping on the bed. If you watch it, you can assess my accuracy. It seemed to be in the exhibit to address the sense of crowded urban space.

In surrounding rooms, a series of connected exhibits featured the minimalist art of Japanese-born Polish artist Koji Kamoji (he had been in Poland since 1959). In printed statements, he explained his art as Buddhist-inspired spiritual exercises for the emergence of spirit and as a conversation with himself in which an outward image could reveal a hidden inner one. His work included child-like paintings and drawings, some in color, some in black and white; various sizes of sculptural objects of plywood, rocks, metal rods, paper, and aluminum, suggesting both a child’s primitive simplicity and aesthetic sophistication, and a room of paper lantern-like objects with holes forming a tunnel to look through at each other. Another whole room used aluminum foil to mimic water and allowed visitors, even though in wheelchairs, to traverse the water on ramps. That was our late guard was working, making sure visitors behaved as they walked alongside the aluminum sea, though she was enjoying her cell phone instead.

These exhibits were upstairs and we walked them first. Downstairs was a combined curation of three important Polish architects who were also social activists, animators and, for lack of a better term, morphologists. Their interests matched my own aesthetics, for I have been drawn to dimension-teasing topologies going back to my mathematician friends in college. The trio—Jerzy Soltan, Lech Tomaszewski, and Andrej Jan Wroblewski—explored complex three- and four-dimensional objects and their geometries in developmental drawings and mathematical diagrams, made small moebius-strip-like statues, and created calligraphic splashes, swirls, and asterisks in indefinite space so that human intention interfered with repetitive forms of a seismometer- or electroencephalogram-like pen. Many objects combined sculpture and painting, e.g., colorful Joan Miro-like petroglyphs covering Hans Arp-like sculptures. Along the way, these guys designed stadiums, pieces of furniture, vehicles, and houses.

My description may contain assignments of art to the wrong artists and transpositions of what I saw into what I remembered. If I were an art critic doing a review of the show, I’d go back and check it out. Instead, this is an intersection of the objective show with my subjective takes and the flaws of memory.

I was also working with psychic energy, trying to project energetic forms from my aura into the art and initiate an informational exchange not all that different from what most of the artists proposed they were doing in their descriptions of their works. They were all shooting for magic and perceptual transformation. I directed streams of excess energy in my aura into the forms and let them contain, cleanse, and dissolve them. As Koji Kamoji proposed (my inexact quote), “I call it ‘annunciation’ with caution in a Christian country, but all art is religious art, the emergence of spirit and the will to live.” Amen.

Ewa, Lindy, and I proceeded outdoors many major buildings including the presidential palace, but in the rain I was not paying much attention or inventorying. What stayed with me was sculpture of steps leading upward to nowhere that commemorated a 2010 plane crash that killed ninety-six people, most of them government officials and including the president at the time, Lech Kaczynski, and his wife Maria. The crash, though it took place in thick fog, has since given rise to conspiracy theories regarding political assassination, especially since the crash was in Russia, a paranoia that for Poles (and Americans these) never stops feeding its baby wolves. Demonstrators around the statue were setting flowers for photographers. Ewa said that the crash was still referred in Poland to as “the catastrophe” and had entered into the national psyche on conflicting levels; for instance, the activity around the statue we saw was controversial, as right wing and left wing battled to claim the event. It looked right-wing to me, but I didn’t ask. There is a certain patriotic righteous at which they converge.

There was another demonstration at the presidential palace with photographs of many plausible rallying events among three of a goat. I have no idea how the goat got implicated in politics, but I didn’t pursue my question because the increasing rain was crying out for shelter or an umbrella.

Umbrella came first as we passed a row of vendors who offered a few well hidden among stacks of souvenirs, true treasures. Under umbrellas, we went into Warsaw’s Old Town (Stare Miasto) and visited a square similar to the one in Poznań, though more modest. That reflected an era when Warsaw was a modest settlement and Poznań was the virtual capital of Polish territory. Ewa made a reservation down a small alleyat a restaurant called Karmnik. Her mother Zosia was to join us there in an hour. I asked the meaning of the name. Ewa didn’t know it in English but said it was a feeding place for birds.  We walked from there for a ways up a kill to an iron grillwork filled with lovers’ locks. We looked out over the Vistula, the river that divides Warsaw, at hills and buildings on the other side. Ewa pointed to places where she lived. After that, we walked back to the Square and into a church to get out of the downpour and tourist rush. We rested in a pew for twenty minutes. When we left, the rain was coming down so hard, we ran to the restaurant early and sat waiting for Zosia who came a full hour later than expected, so we did not begin eating till 15:30. By then (almost two hours sitting in a restaurant, waiting), any excitement of Warsaw dwindled into weariness and a wish to be home. Finally Zosia appeared with a vigorous nod of the head and an equally firm handshake.

Since she does not speak English, Ewa had to interpret. A more mature and hardened version of Ewa, the mother was concerned at once to know if I was really a relative or my DNA was “just a coincidence.” I tried to assure her, but she did not believe that Brandts and Shvimers were connected in any way. She got out her copy of the book of the Shvimer recent family reunion at Sigmund’s in Boca Raton. We looked at many family trees and photographs, some pictures from going back three generations in Poland and Russia. Most, however were of those black robed and bearded folks’ descendants gathered safely in Florida. We saw Sigmund as a baby, then a young boy, and at present with a beard. When I suggested that Sigmund’s grandfather was a Cohen and a religious man (as Sigmund proposed), Zosia scoffed and demurred through Ewa, “He was a tailor, not a rabbi.”

I felt that some of the Shvimer clan looked like me, but it was more a Hebrew tribal resemblance than the particular lineage. Zosia continued to ask for clarification—she had left home in the rain—so there at lunch I emailed genealogist Gary Palgon, asking him how, if Y DNA could go only from father to son, Brandts ever diverged from Shvimers, let alone Cohens. In a return email, he put the matter in perspective:

“Surnames typically were only taken in the late 1790s to the early 1800s so the relationship goes back further than that. The Y-DNA goes back to about 25 generations so at 25 yards per generation as an average, that’s 625 years, which would date back to 1393!”

1393! Zosia’s look on hearing this was a nonverbal “I told you so! What good are you?” In one sense, she was right. She, Ewa, Sigmund and I did share a common ancestor, but a lot of water had been under many bridges since, migrations from Western to Eastern Europe, and naming and renaming of clans. Our last common family could have lived in Mediaeval Spain. The DNA that had brought us together in modern times was not a bad thing, though it was unsatisfactory to someone looking for functional family ties. To Zosia, 1393 was ridiculous. But distant tribal connection means something. Ewa accepted our kinship and acted in terms of it, and that was enough.

After we treated them to the late lunch at Karmnik (I had a vegi-burger and they all had goose dumplings), we walked back through the Old Town and various squares. A fistfight broke between two young men right in front of us, and I realized how rarely I saw people violently and audibly sock each other’s faces. It happens in New York and Detroit too, but it seemed closer to the ambient crowd energy here. On either side of the tourist flow were men holding bottles and arguing, but like those loops in Tango that never connect.

We left Zosia at the tram, and Ewa walked us back to the apartment just in time, for a deluge followed. A parade of dark clouds continued over the city for the rest of the day with periodic dumps on everything while temporary night ruled.

After napping, I went for a long exploratory walk under the umbrella and met a lost Frenchman who fell in with me for a few blocks. He initiated conversation at a long traffic light. Relieved to find someone who shared any language with him, “even my poor English,” he said that being confused was what tourism was about “what do you Americans call it?, rolling with punches.” He added he preferred the rain to the current heat wave in Paris. Tourism is also about meeting chance people on the road of life and death.

During my reconnoiter, I never found the organic market listed on the Airbnb map in our room, my main goal, but I come upon an automatic teller with English and a restaurant based on a mixture of Hebrew and French themes where L and I went for dinner under an umbrella.

If it is not clear already, tourist weariness, genealogical disappointment, and heavy rain dominated the day, though it had its moments.

 

July 15

A third bullet dodged: first the backpack in the Copenhagen airport, then the credit card at the Charlottelund train station, then not waking up with the flu or a bad cold today. I got soaked and chilled yesterday and had chills and a difficult night. I felt sick in the morning but nothing like I feared . With heavy rain continuing, it was a time anyway to rest. We didn’t set out till a break in the weather mid-day. Our goal was the Warsaw City History Museum or Museum of Warsaw, recommended by Ewa as the best of all the options.

We decided on a cab because of the weather and also not knowing our way. We drew a bad bull. A cabbie shot in the front of one we hailed and we docilely got inThe driver claimed never to have heard of a Warsaw History Museum or Museum of Warsaw. Lind said that Old Square would sufficient but, in his partial English, he proposed instead to take us to the Jewish museum. Since that was on our list, we agreed.

He was a middle-aged bruiser, a skinhead with a series of bizarre shoulder and head twitches, a scary guy out of a mafia movie. He drove very fast and ran red lights by margins beyond plausible denial, yet he took much too long getting to the museum, about fifteen minutes, for which he charged us $40.

How much of a scam he was didn’t registered until I used the GPS on my cell to find our way back to our place on foot after we emerged two and half hours later in late-afternoon sun. Even going slowly and stopping to look at things, plus a phone error that required backtracking, we made it in twenty-five minutes. The guidebook had warned of that sort of cab ride In Warsaw.

Maybe it was a godsend because the Jewish Museum was a revelation, bringing together many themes on the trip and in my life in general. Whatever his motive, he made the right choice for us. Maybe it took a skinhead to deliver us to the Jewish Museum and overcharge us by three for the privilege.

The Museum was a gigantic modern structure at the end of a long, spare memorial plaza. Entering it was more stringent than going through security at an airport. After putting belongings on a belt and passing through radar, everyone was individually checked by a guard with a hand-held device. He took his time, having us hold out our arms and turn. Even as a ritual, it served as a resounding symbol of changed times and power.

Once inside, I went to check out the cafeteria because we hadn’t had lunch and I had barely had breakfast. While I did, Lindy bought tickets and got us automated hand-held speakers describing the exhibits. We ate first: groats, apple pancakes, hummus, and matzoh-ball soup—it was a Jewish museum.

We entered the exhibit area not knowing the lay of the land, but it soon became clear that discrete ones joined in chronological order, each integrated with the next in theme and development— a slow meandering trail up and down through the bowels of the building. The exhibits themselves were intricately designed in multi-media: models, wall charts, movies, display cases of objects, audio outlets, interactive screens, etc.

Unless I am in error, mainly ordinary Poles predominated, treating the place just like any other attractive museum on a Sunday: whole families and children, though they were selective—no children in the Holocaust section.

You followed the arrows and numbers. Numbers pushed on the voicebox tripped a description and historical background for the exhibit of that number.

We did not realize for a while that there were sixty exhibits, so we dawdled from 1100 AD to the sixteenth century. When we realized we had used up much of our stamina, we skipped ahead to World War I and continued from there. Here are some of my impressions in no particular order:

Being Jewish has always a challenge. I relate to some parts of it and fight against others. I am appalled by any implied association with Zionism and the fascist Jewish state. I am repelled by many of the religious superstitions and overwrought ceremonialism, but I love the mysticism, occultism, and carryover of spirit into pop culture and science, everything from Einstein to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Leonard Cohen.

I look at pictures of historical Jews and feel like running from the exotic, bedraggled appearances. I am not one of them. I look at historical Jews and see the long, strange path by which my historical body and mind were given. I accept.

I am happy to have ended up in the Jewish Museum, but I got there mainly by chance. The genealogical confirmation I sought with Ewa and Zosia was in the museum in a way in would never be in Shvimer family records.

Jews from Spain discovered Poland (Polin) very early, in the eleventh century I think, well before it was a cohesive political entity. It was a magical, mythical place for many of them, and they used a false etymology of Polin to view forested land to as a destined home in exile.

Why Jews wandered from the Middle East to Mediaeval Spain is its own matter, but from Spain they continued to follow trade routes east, making livelihoods as traders, merchants, and incipient bankers. Their friendships and business ties were prized by Polish nobility who like their transport of desired goods, accurate accounting, and investments in their domains. Jews who settled in Polish territory were integrated into Polish life and given full and event exceptional rights, for instance were allowed to mint their owns coins (some of the oldest artifacts in the museum).  Entrepreneurial business is in the culture or blood or both. Jews married into Polish families. Whether the “Esther” of one exhibit was the wife or concubine of a Polish king is unclear from conflicting commentary, but she bore him children in his lineage.

The Museum depicts multiple aspects of Jewish economic, political, and religious life in Poland era by era with sample books, documents, and objects of trade. Communities in Warsaw, Poznań, Krakow, and other cities are covered in depth with urban maps and displays, showing Jewish settlements. One can hold objects, sit in facsimile reconstructions of temples, print pages on old Jewish presses, and participate in interactions and debates of the time.

Historically in Poland, Jews were prominent publishers and bookpeople, but also often the local tavern- and inn-keepers (Poles tended to prefer the Jewish style of hospitality). The former speaks to my own career, the latter to that of the Grossinger family; Grossinger’s Resort was a Polish-Jewish inn writ large.

Jews were already in Poland when the first major political-geographical entity in the region formed: the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. In it, Jews stepped into a major political and economic role. They had already been in the culture a long time.

The Holocaust caught the Jewish community by surprise in Poland because, by then, they had been there for so many centuries and generations and were so interwoven in economic and social life. To themselves they felt inextricable and immune.

Yes, there were periodic spates of racism and jealousies and reprisals from Christian neighbors who felt Jews were getting special treatment or becoming too prosperous and powerful; by comparison—and there was always the church problem of the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and the New Testament as a holy book equal to the Old Testament. These turned out to be foreshadowings of the reckonings to come, but they also could have died away. Both aspects were present at some level throughout: acceptance and inclusion; resentment, threats, and isolated incidents of mayhem. Through the centuries, Jews feared being murdered in their sleep; this collective trauma was written on the walls of the Jewish Museum as clearly as Marianne’s excavation of it. But the balance could have tipped either way—that’s the case in any such situation from Rwanda to suburban London and Paris.

The first major upheaval was when Cossacks, Tartars, and Ruthenians from the ast wreaked havoc on the Commonwealth, killing Poles as well as Jews. I believe this was in the seventeenth century. The awakening from epochs of peaceful coexistence led to Jewish messianic movements: shades of cargo cults and ghost dances but with a Zoharic flavor.

Poland only formed as a modern national after World War I.

The German invasion, concentration camps, and Holocaust are covered in depth through ten-plus exhibits, each with its own artifacts, films, sounds, quotes on walls, and narratives, from displacement and ghettoization to overcrowding, disease, and starvation in the ghettos; then removal to concentration camps and the industrialization of mass murder. You can sit in an imaginary Warsaw trolley and watch window screens showing the round-up and slaughter of Jews in the. The Holocaust is always lost in the reductive power of videos, documents (Nazi decrees, forged passports, etc.), and the inevitable miniaturization and dissociation of technology, but the psyche absorbs these images, records, and testimonies, and tries to reconcile and find any rationale or explanation. A lot of bad things have happened since, but the character of the Holocaust remains unique in its systematic dehumanization and the scale of the breakdown of empathy. The removal of indigenous peoples from their ancestral homelands and slavery are just as horrific and on a greater scale, but there is something about the cold industrialization and ideological purism of the Nazi affair than stands alone.

Despite all prior representations of the Holocaust—and they have been legion: movies, books, long editorials, etc.—the Warsaw Jewish Museum’s World War II rooms add context, poignancy, recognition, and waves vicarious grief; it is wrenching to watch the plight of people—any people—long integrated into a society being uprooted, isolated, ghettoized, and mechanically slaughtered. The story never loses its power. Walking through the exhibits, I am overwhelmed by layers of sorrow. I can’t tell the collective from the personal, the Holocaust from the suicides in my family, the Jews of Poland from the Armenians of Turkey or Tutsis in the Congo. I walk from exhibit to exhibit, see films of the masses herded, stare at documents and personal belongings, numb and dissociated and, at the same time, drenched by waves of something more occult than simple grief. It is at the level of stars and galaxies and evokes the cosmic portal of Renaissance Jewish bimahs, altars, zodiacs, and holy books in the exhibits.

What ceremony is being played out in the universe at large as it plunges into its own fathomless depth (look at the starry night), seeking some sort of compensatory devastation and sorrow to elucidate the sheer texture and majesty of being rather than nothingness? How much farther have we to go? How can I bear it?

The museum provides a symbolic representations and tellings. One exhibit is divided into black and white sections, black for Jews who escaped or tried to escape the Holocaust by hiding in cities and forests and bunkers, white for those who passed or tried to pass as Catholics in plain sight, using forged papers and/or by changing their names and identities.

Lists of the dead are inscribed on walls. We walk on the names of streets where Jews were collected. The curators try repeatedly to get the scope across, to save the dignity of individuals whose dignity and identity were stolen, to make it real, and then to make it real again. Grzybowski Square, where we briefly reside in privilege and freedom a mere seventy-five years later, was a major assembly point for Jews being gathered for dispatch to concentration camps.

Actual rubble on the museum floor matches the rubble in the photographs.

About ten exhibits represent the post-Holocaust years. The Jewish population was reduced by ninety percent in the Holocaust, but afterwards Jewish culture and social life reignited. The museum tracks Jewish politics and political parties in Polish life from the nineteenth century: pre-Zionist, Zionist, nationalist, pre-Communist, Communist, religious but anti-Zionist, etc. Exhibits cover emigration to America, Sweden, Israel, and other twentieth and twenty-first-century destinations; suppression and persecution under Stalin; identification pof some with Communism, blame of Jew by Poles for Soviet collaboration, finally films of the current revival of Polish Jewish life.

 

We walked back in sun, wending our way with a faith in the GPS despite its periodic contradictory instructions, e.g., turn right and turn left at the same corner. At such points, we showed the screen to a pedestrian, ideally someone on a bike, and got directed.

Warsaw was at peace and friendly.

A Jew, if that’s what I am, could walk its streets in confidence. I was an American and tourist first.

Heavy showers returned in the evening.

We walked to the same Hebrew-French restaurant, Menora, for dinner where they were celebrating Bastille Day and a football victory. Crowded among young diners, Polish and American pop music, maybe Spotify, on a spaker, the sound of Polish conversations locating us continually in Warsaw, I think of how special and specific it is to have done this. Menora is in Grzybowski Square, and space-time is pouring through its portal like a river that cannot be stopped, even then, even now, even yet.

In the morning we will sit at this same restaurant for breakfast and watch fashionably dressed women ride by on bicycles, likely en route to work, six hours later they will do oikewise in New York City and Boston, though more probably on foot. The views, imagined and actual, match. It’s a global economy. A massive old church, a stone’s throw away, is shrunk onto a historic page by massive glass skyscrapers and glass towers in the near distance, several blocks further away.

German planes bomb this same zone to rubble in repeating film clips in the Jewish Museum, over and over. But human life rises like exotic mushrooms or crystal hives from its genome’s DNA. A hundred years from now, what? What here? What of us? What yet of them, twelve million Jews and Poles? Where has the universe, the Akashic field, placed them? What has the Torah and the Zodiac in store for us?

I find comparisons of Adolph Hitler and Donald Trump specious and ideologically indulgent, but there are unmistakeable correlations.

The intentional goading and rabblerousing of anti-intellectual masses, outraged by any king but a jackass king, especially after one with African blood.

Xenophobia in spades, blaming the outsider for the intrinsic problems of a rigged oligarchic, plutocratic economy—a glorified Ponzi scheme— for the woes of samsara too.

That Jews can be woven warp and woof, thread and pixel, into the socioeconomic structure and political hierarchy of a community, into its pop culture—as concubine, as son-in-law, as lawyer, as banker, as spice merchant, as seer and publisher, as shaman—and then unwoven from the fabric, thread by thread and pixel by pixel.

Maybe it will be the Mexicans, Malians, Syrians and Sikhs this time rather than the Jews, but then they are the Jews, and eventually the Jews will be there too because the real blessing of God on Abraham and descendants eludes the Netanyahus and the Israeli Settlers, despite avid, even hysterical claims to the contrary. Jews can wreak holocausts too.

The real blessing is the capacity for empathic suffering—suffering, depth, and common cause with the dispossessed and impoverished of the Earth. That is the legacy I would claim and hope to earn, beyond relativity, gematria, and “the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.” Beyond, and yet all that too.

At night like on our other two here, the sounds of drunk carousing break the night outside our window, sounds of glass smashed, pro forma for weekend partying. From the fifth floor it is a removed echo of another world.

 

July 16

Warsaw to Krakow was supposed to be a three-to-four hour drive and, by leaving early, we hoped to have some of the afternoon in Krakow. Plans like that are guesses. It took over almost seven hours to get from our parking place on the street in Warsaw to our hotel in Krakow. The main encumbrance was road construction: three different junctures where traffic from each direction had to alternate with traffic from the other direction, meaning long waits for our turn. There were other slowdowns: most of the way was not on superhighways like A2. We passed through towns with their own traffic jams, pedestrian crossings, and cars turning. It also continued to rain, sometimes lightly but occasionally in blinding enough torrents to slow traffic.

It was all engaging to look at: farms, fields of grain, meters of corn, wildflowers, distinctive small towns. If one could be transported to such vistas on an average Monday or Thursday, it would be worth any trouble—and it was.

I needed to correct an error. Ewa writes me that our language barrier led to a misunderstanding. She is more much widely traveled than us: “almost whole Europe, Brasil, Russia, Egipt, Asian countries, not to mention about the whole Poland.” I got the opposite impression from her answers to questions about herself, but if you only overlap on maybe twenty percent of language, wrong connotations slip in. For instance, if I asked her where she had travelled and she had taken me to mean in the last few months, I might have misconstrued her response, then developed a concept that didn’t apply to her.

Getting into Krakow was its own challenge. About five miles from our reservation at Hotel Dom Polonii, Rynek Główny 14, traffic slowed to bumper to bumper, moving in spurts, but stopped for long period. After an hour of this, I suggested that Lindy try her cell to see what it said about the address. The Maps program had an entirely different idea of how to enter town, calling for an immediate U-turn. That was appealing because traffic was moving freely in the other direction on the opposite side of a brief mall. I took the next available left and started the other way. We were soon directed to the right into the city with the two voices squabbling, as Lindy couldn’t get the car system shut off.
As we edged through narrow, crowded to within less than a kilometer of Dom Polonii ((by both assessments), logic broke down; neither program could offer more than “Return to the route.” Rain was heavy just then, and we were in a densely populated area of the old city alongside the campus of an old university. It looked as though either Martin Luther or Paracelsus could have delivered theses from its steps. There was also little maneuvering room for cars going two ways, especially with pedestrians using the street. I saw a parking spot and dove in, ran through the rain into a shop, and asked the woman for directions by holding out my reservation printout for Dom Polonii.  She didn’t speak English but pointed in the opposite direction from where we were going and to the right. Taking her at her word, I was able to make a U-turn at the end of the street by the campus. I came back up the street, made a right, and turned with the street. At that point, the combination of pedestrians in the road and car gridlock prevented progress. Both GPS’s said in slightly different language, “Walk from here to your destination.” Luckily there was a parking spot available. Lindy put her cell on “Walk” and we continued on foot. Even then, the instructions were confused, telling us to turn right, then left at the same corner. We picked the right. We entered the Old Square (Stare Miasto). Almost immediately it said that we had arrived at our destination, though there was no hotel in sight. The Square was a tight landscape of large churches, shops, and tourists—a noisy carnival.

As we walked along, looking, I saw the words “Dom Polonii.: It wasn’t exactly a hotel. It was an opera house selling tickets to the evening’s performance of arias. We had to show the reservation to get past the ticket-taker at the door.

Inside, a tall, pleasant-looking, bespectacled young man with attractively messy facia;l stubble and a smattering of English led us up three long flights to a woman in an office who requested payment before further discussion. We asked about the room and parking. She shook her head ambiguously and got on the phone. Pointing to it, she said, “Boss.” Her boss apparently told her to have the young man help us. She shouted for him, gave him keys, and he led us to our room: another flight up. There was no lift, and it wasn’t four normal floors. Each was a double story with a landing. It was eight floors. There were only three guest rooms in the establishment, all ofthem on the top floor. At the end of our ascent, we got a grand old spacious room, worthy of a manor, and a view overlooking the OId Square, but was it worth the hassles and climb? Dom Polonii was likely a mistake. I had fallen for an online advertisement, touting the value of being right on the Old Square. It didn’t mention eight stories, no lift, and no access by car.

Lindy stayed in the room, as I led the guy back to our parking spot, fingers crossed that I could reverse my path through the labyrinth and find it.

I was relieved to see its EU AZ license mid-block after consecutive lefts. The Dom Polonii employee proposed, in roundabout phrases and sign language, that he meant to take our suitcases back from there to the room (great!) and also for me to re-park the car because I was in a fifteen-minute zone. “Fifteen not fifty,” he clarified when I asked because I had already been there a half hour. “Must move. Ticket.”

He walked me several blocks downhill and around two corners going different ways to an outdoor lot of dirt and broken concrete in a converted courtyard reached by a short narrow alleyway. We walked back to the car. I got out two suitcases and pulled up one handle. He pulled up the other and left, wheeling one in each arm much I had done the same getting from our parking place in Warsaw.

To get to the lot, I had to make a U-turn in the only way it could be done on such a narrow street, by using the opposite sidewalk. With heavy pedestrian traffic on both street and sidewalk, you don’t want to watch this. It happened by sheer intention and gradual meticulous degrees, back and forth, turning the wheels as pedestrians ignored the disturbance. I found the alley, not a sure thing. I followed the instructions of the attendant to park, paid him by credit card, grabbed both our backpacks with computers and retraced my steps to the Dom Polonii. By then, the rain had let up enough to make all this possible without an umbrella.

We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we went down into the Square. As noted, it was packed with tourist crowds walking in more than two directions. There were also horse-drawn carriages, solicitors with handouts, and performing costumed figures trying to entice people into exhibits—for instance, a guy dressed entirely in mirror tiles (face included) and another with movies running across his body.

Krakow’s Old Square is spot-on remarkable, but you have change your view and filter out the noise to see it: giant churches, old statues, restored buildings, both in the Square and on the streets leading to it. With this many tourists, barkers, and the general chaos of mobile modernity, the scenery dissipates and loses its integrity. It becomes more like a fake stage set of itself, much as a Vegas reproduction of the same buildings would be. It isn’t quite that bad—you are in a real place, and some of the grandeur and historic integrity sticks—but the view is moment-to-moment higgledy-piggledy versus the architectural landscape that has supposedly drawn the masses. And then the horses! Two double-horse carriages, each horse decorated with metal-embossed frocks on its body as if from an imperial stable, went back and forth, back and forth, clop clop behind you, forcing pedestrians out of the road into near gridlock on the sidewalks amid cigarette smoke. But you came here to see what it is and be there, so it is not unpleasant or oppressive; it is human and more than possible, calling for compassion and forgiveness, for being bumped into distractedly, for being who they are, for the endless riddle that travel imposes on you.

We hadn’t gotten far past Dom Polonii, maybe forty feet, when a tall pleasant-looking young man accosted us in Polish, then changed at once to English. He assured us that the restaurant he stood in front of had the best food in Krakow (we later realized that most restaurants around the Square employed such a fisher in the crowd-stream). He went on to describe Marmolada’s superlatives: home cooking, Italian and Polish or Russian food whatever you desired, a terrace in back so you could sit in light out of the rain.

We were hungry, had no idea what we were looking for, plus it was easier to comply than resist. It was actually tasty, well-cooked food, especially the mushroom soup and potato dumplings, but it took forty minutes from when we ordered for dishes to appear.

Waiting in a restaurant can be more tiring than walking. I felt enervated in Warsaw when we had to wait over an hour with Ewa for her mother. At moments like that you wonder how you got yourself to these coordinates in the universe.

At one point I used the restaurant rest room. It called for going down two winding flights into a basement, across a dirt-floor wine cellar and behind a door that looked like something on a jail cell in a dungeon. It felt like a mafia scene, but I kept up my gumption and got to pee.

After food, Lindy wanted to rest, so she took the long journey up the stairs and I set out on a hike to the one site in Krakow I wanted to see: the Vortex at the Wawel castle. According to the guy selling opera tickets at the door of Dom Polonii, Wawel was only a seven-minute walk along Grodzka Clowny, the continuation of Rynek Clowny.

I learned about the Vortex in an old guidebook. It is in the Wawel courtyard of Wawel, which could have been anywhere within ten kilometers of Dom Polonii but was just a few blocks off the Square. It is considered by Hindus to be one of the most powerful energy sites on the planet, apparently the conjunction of multiple lei lines. Since there few comparable vortices,  yogis and other pundits come all the way from India to Krakow just to visit. The guidebook treated it tongue in cheek, as a legend, but it was an active legend leading to real pilgrimages. As long as we were in Krakow, I wanted to go test it and see if I could feel it.

Grodzka would gradually out of the old Square. One church stopped me for its spectacular, ornate construction but mostly  an unusual row of full-sized religious statues spaced on a row of pedestals in front, giving the edifice another axis or fourth dimension.

Wawel was an immense, full-fledged castle and castle grounds on a hilltop. You could be born in such a place and not see all its rooms in a lifetime. It more accurately enveloped the hill it sat on. Access to its grounds was not immediately evident from Grodzka, but I followed crowds around the corner, down an adjoining street, and up a very long ramp. I ended up in a courtyard, but where in relation to the energy sink? There were several adjoining courtyards and, to make matters worse, I had neglected to bring pages torn from the old guide.

I did have my cell and looked it up. There was nothing tongue in cheek about the Internet description. This was as real a vortex as Sedona and much more highly regarded for its depth of energy. The site of the vortex’s strongest radiation was at the northwest corner of the central courtyard under the chapel connecting the castle to the cathedral on its grounds. A tunnel-like passage connected the buildings, as proposed, in the second courtyard I entered. I saw no wandering holymen or anyone aimed toward the chapel, but I walked to the spot, suspecting I would feel nothing.

As I entered the tunnel under the chapel, I felt a sharp tug, unmistakeably tangible. It went from my head down my spine and felt the way a magnetic field might. I stood at its strongest grip for a few minutes, experimenting with its shape and degree of tug, shifting my position and then coming back to central current. As I stood there, people walked through the tunnel joining courtyards as if it were nothing but a conduit. No one else was interested or noticed. Where were the Hindus? Where were the hippies? Had no one else read the guidebook or found the vortex online?

I began to doubt my perception. Maybe I was feeling tension and weariness in my neck from the long drive. Three times I went elsewhere among the courtyards and returned. On my departure, the sensation diminished at once, disappearing entirely with distance. It came back as I regained the spot: strongest down my spine.

I looked again at the people strolling obliviously through the tunnel chatting, kids running. I wanted to scream “Vortex, vortex ahoy!” but most of them wouldn’t care, and no one was speaking was speaking English anyway. Among the passers-through were one Indian gent and a cluster of long-haired, piercings-bearing young millennials gabbing in Italian. Did they feel it? Did they know nothing of the force?

After a while, I remembered that I should receive the current and not go out after it. I did, closing my eyes. The inner-eye image was of an axis passing through the Earth, and not just the Earth but beyond, perhaps the galactic center. It was dark and dense, powerful and stable. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I received the energy neutrally and let it give me what it would.

I walked back to the room and, after the walk from Wawel and ascent up the stairs, I collapsed on the bed.

That evening around 7:00 p.m., Lindy and I went on a long saunter, past the churches, past Wawel, over the trolley tracks, into the Jewish quarter. In 2018 it was just a somewhat rundown section of town. An evident large old synagogue and a few buildings with Hebrew letters were the only old indicators of pre-Holocaust Polish Jews. To peek into the synagogue required a fee, so we skipped the look. It wasn’t just the minor cost; it was the aggressive woman at the door. She bordered on the sort of money fixation that makes me not want to be Jewish. I can’t remember a single church in Europe that charged a fee, let alone had a collector at the door. She didn’t even look official. She could have been a scammer, but I didn’t think so, as she grabbed the arm of a man slipping by unaware, held out her box, and said, “Must pay.”

A much subtler level was at work for me, I guess in my aura. Walking in the Jewish quarter at night, on narrow streets, away from the crowds of the Square, in relative silence (an occasional hollow sound or voice) resonated with something old and familiar—and did again even more strongly later when I went out alone, downhill to the car to retrieve a few things. In a subliminal unnotable way that blended with ordinary reality, I felt akin to these streets. I naturally melded into them. Perhaps it was creative imagination or wishful thinking, but I had an intimation of ancestral presence. Even if it was imagination, it gave me a feeling of sanctuary and drama, the drama of a lifetime that is essentially unknown in its passage, like at every moment, from the unknown to the unknown in relation to any particular other lifetime of myself or of any of my ancestors or other selves. The mystery was ambient but palpable. That was the main import of Krakow to me—currently a modern Jew on its streets. The sensation could have missed it for its quiet and subtlety, but I am tracking such stuff now.

On Lindy’s and my way back from the Jewish district to the Square, a guesswork of crisscrossing streets at twilight, we passed a vegan Indian restaurant we had seen en route, a good sign. We stopped there and ordered the light dinner: papadums, lentil mash, rice, and naan. It took half an hour, but least, three women on a makeshift stage sang Sanskrit ragas and prayers; the trio were playful and soulful both. The youngest found immediate deep epiphany but broke into shy laughter like a young girl every time she caused a screech of feedback from her mike.

A final reason not to book a room on a Stare Miaso. The noise never stopped. In fact, it got worse into the a.m hours: singing, shouting, exulting, lit drones and kites and balloons flying by our window. I was tired enough to sleep through most of it and turn the rest into a dream.

 

July 17

I made an abrupt change in plans yesterday. We were supposed to head to Budapest today, but it took so long to get to Krakow that it didn’t feel right to leave right away the next morning. We also wanted to do a daytrip to Auschwitz.

That sounds wrong on two levels. It disrespects those who had to go there, and it turns a deeper summons into a tourist destination. One goes to Auschwitz because it is an obligation, to bring yourself as witness to where it happened, to respect the dead, to acknowledge the horror and inhuman suffering.

We moved our Budapest reservation ahead by a day and planned to stay somewhere in between Krakow and Budapest in Slovakia overnight after visiting Auschwitz. Our four-day landlord in Budapest was graciously willing to reduce it to three, but plenty else stood in the way of Auschwitz that morning.

I was sick. I never got the immobilizing flu or cold I feared, but I know what “sick” feels like. I didn’t want to do anything—I didn’t want to eat, move about, and certainly not deal with being six floors up in a converted old opera house and having to leave it, get all our stuff to the car, and drive elsewhere. That seemed at herculean scale to the state of my body and brain. And it was raining hard, with the forecast’s “heavy rain and wind” still ahead.

Lindy went out for breakfast. I went back to sleep. When I got up, she still wasn’t back, so I found a place on the Square for takeout pancakes. They came covered with sweetened fruits, but options were few. Most places did not do takeout.

I met the manager of the Dom Polonii, a man my age. He was as copious and beneficent as a mafia don and as situational. It was our problem, he deemed, to get our suitcases down eight flights and to the car. I slowly established rapport—eons ago he had lived three years in Chicago and was inspired to talk about it, how you could fit all of Poland into that one city (I figured he meant the population). We chatted about the States, the history of Dom Polonii. I praised it. After a while he said he would find someone of the proper age to help us get our suitcases downstairs. We could handle getting them to the car. I wondered about driving in front because I had seen vehicles there, but he said that the street and adjacent streets closed at ten, half an hour ago, so we would have to wheel them.

We had managed the same in airports and, though the lot was many blocks away, it was no different than going from an airport to a train station. Krakow is pure touristville, so there were people rolling suitcases all about us. With our backpacks on, bags of food and takeout in hand, we covered the distance of about six blocks, over cobblestone and mixed concrete and dirt.

Lindy felt a lot better than I did and she had also had breakfast, so she drove. The passage out of Krakow by GPS was unsettling. We went due north, back toward Warsaw, away from Budapest. It took confidence in the GPS to proceed in the opposite direction to where you were going. Lindy was more actively worried than me, but I reminded her that it was the same leaving Warsaw—you had to go north to go south, you had to enter the greater highway system away from the city. She was inclined to bail, get off, and ask someone, like at a gas station, but that seemed dubious in unknown territory on a busy highway in rain. We had three GPS’s if you counted the cells as a single one, and they all said the same—north—so we stuck to the highway toward Warsaw.

It would have helped matters if we had thought to phonetically translate the town that kept coming up in the system: Oświęcim. That is the Polish name for the place. Auschwitz is merely Germanized phonetic and orthography orthography. The GPS had inicated Auschwitz but Oświęcim, but it was the same place if you pronounced the Polish properly instead of as Oh-wee-essem.

Lindy’s fear of being on the wrong road was soon contagious. The day had hardly begun, and I felt wiped out and daunted. Everything seemed against our getting to Auschwitz. I was tempted to say, “Fuck it. Let’s just put Budapest in the GPS and skip the whole deal.”

Now picture our worsening situation. As the road finally turned west, we encountered the heaviest rain and wind of a pretty much unbroken series of squalls since Berlin. The storm was blinding, as wind battled the car’s acceleration. It balked at going forward and swayed on the road. We had to blast the heater to keep the window defogged. By usual standards, this was dangerous to the point of insane. Our friends and family, if they could have seen us, would have been rightly concerned. It was a terrible day to be out on the road, but we stubbornly persisted.

Auschwitz was supposed to be about seventy-five minutes from Krakow on a course mainly due west. Under the conditions, it took more like a hundred. After we exited at Oświęcim (an hour or so), we followed a series of roads and roundabouts into countryside. That made sense. By putting the camps where they did, the Germans tried to hide Auschwitz-Birkenwald from the world. The many consecutive rural roundabouts baffled the GPS, and on one occasion we were sent in the wrong direction, then onto a side street and down an obscure dead-end lane, as it tried to compensate. There is no script-writer skyhook to get one out of situations like that. Patience, faith—that’s the allotment. You make a U-turn, retrace, get back confidence. The language barrier is constant—road signs and pedestrians can resolve the most basic issues. One craves English like water or air, though I hated such provincialism in myself.

After the phonetics finally snapped in, the name Oświęcim became a more reliable guide than the GPS. Finally, at three kilometers from the site of the concentration camp, signs began indicating the Auschwitz Museum under Oświęcim. The absence of signage to that point was either fabulous understatement or an unconscious continuation of the German wish to downplay the place.

I had surmised that the harsh weather might at least have driven down the crowds. That was an utter fantasy. Like us, others had made their schedules and one day inked in for Auschwitz. The parking area was jammed with tourist buses and cars trying to maneuver around one another. It took a while to pay for parking and then find a spot deep in the lot.

We trooped with crowds toward the buildings. By then the rain had subsided to an ordinary downpour. There were lines for headphones, souvenirs, sausages, drinks, headphones, tour groups. It felt like outside a ballpark; only the game would have been rained out long ago. Among all that, nothing registered as an actual ticket window. We asked a guard. Tickets were the longest of all the lines, queueing in a giant curve on the outskirts of the area by a wire fence. I had looked at that line and dreaded its meaning. We got on the end.

As we stood under the umbrella among other people with umbrellas, still getting wet from windblown droplets, occasionally having to step through puddles because rain had saturated the ground in great swaths, I wondered again if we should bail for Budapest, maybe get halfway there. I made a half-serious suggestion to Lindy that if we hadn’t reached the windows of a far-off building, where presently two boys in yellow raincoats stood, by 1:30, we should give it up and go. That seemed past the halfway point to the ticket windows. Lindy concurred. The line moved slowly, but it moved. We got to the spot of the yellow raincoats by 1:25, forty minutes after I set the deadline.

Four ticket-takers should have had the line zipping along, but completing the purchase was a several-stage process. First, it cost a hundred zlotys each, so a credit card was produced. Then the female ticket seller needed our IDs for recording; then she had to assign us to a group, you couldn’t march in and look around like in other museums. Access to the camps was strictly monitored and controlled. The woman put us in the next English tour, starting at 2:15. She pointed to where it was already queueing in the rain. There was fifteen minutes, so we went inside instead, found the cafeteria right away, and got lunch. I found the options more suitable to my state than the starch-dominated stuff I had been eating since we got Poland: chicken soup and a plate of string beans; I decided to forego a main dish. I’m sure the chicken wasn’t organic, but to worry about such a thing at Auschwitz bordered on sacrilege.

The cafeteria tables carried polyglot to almost symphonic level. Some of the audible tongues sounded like nothing I had ever heard. Perhaps Martians or Pleiadians were among us, checking out the cosmic disaster that happened here. That’s how many of them looked, or maybe they looked like ghosts of the Auschwitz dead, even the young somewhat, a bit feral and primitive, including the scowling young E.T. dude at our table who kept rolling a cigarette (no smoking allowed) he never lit. The ambiance was spooky, but the attendance impressive. Whatever their reasons, people were here to see a death camp. Then suddenly we had to hurry not to miss our tour.

Bathrooms downstairs cost two zlotys, there was an attendant making sure to collect from each non-optional customer. Lucky we still had coins.

We queued for English. Then in the unabating rain, we slogged through mud, people trying to keep their umbrellas from bumping each other’s. The line moved sluggishly because security was serious: emptying of pockets and X-raying. Then it turned out that you needed your credit-card receipt as well as your ticket for entry. Lindy had to quickly dig ours out of her hand bag. The ticket had a different use. It unpeeled, to be pasted on one’s jacket. Ours said “English.”

We passed into a courtyard where groups for different languages clustered, looking for their leaders. A small composite image of an American/British flag designated our tour

We were dispatched at once to get headphones and a little box. That was not for recordings but to listen to our guide. Our aggregation was large, so he spoke into a mike. His voice reached us through the earphones, though I heard him a lot of the time without them

Logistics and timing were strict, almost martial. Groups in English, French, Spanish, German, Polish, Hungarian, Greek, Hebrew, and other languages were being led on the same procession in close sequence like planes on a runway. As one group left an area, another group streamed in. The system was well timed. We never had to wait to enter or delay the group behind us.

The guide was impeccable in both tone and content. There aren’t many ways to tell the things he had to say. He was flat, neutral to the point of offhand. At first, he seemed cold, but I grew in admiration, especially as more neurotic and ideologically driven members of our group tried to provoke him into emoting or giving his opinion. He had what I came to think of as the Polish tone regarding Auschwitz: “Some really bad shit went down here, but we didn’t do it. We were victims too. This was solely a Nazi production. The concentration camps were built on Polish territory by occupying forces of the German Third Reich. Remember too, this is a death camp. Move in quiet and respect. Please do not take photographs here. Sir, I said no photographs here. Please don’t talk. This is a place of death.

“Here you may take pictures if you want, but no flashes. Respect those who suffered here.”

Only at the end did he reveal that SS soldiers occupied his family house, as they did of many Polish families in the region, evicting the residents. But occupation was only reason the building survived the war. He expressed remorse for this minor collaboration.

How to describe the carnage and its artifacts, evidence, and ghastly remnants and mementos? We saw all the things you would guess we saw: blown-up photographs of people arriving and being situated (desperate haunted faces that are iconic, but being on site gave them new meaning and power); cramped dwelling quarters with mattresses or straw on stone, animal-like urinals and wash basins, torture cells, gallows, racks, a crematorium, gas chambers, rooms where medical experiments were carried out on mainly women and children, an electric fence and guard station, etc. We walked on crushed bricks and mud through yards and into buildings—no mitigation of a reasonably realistic reconstruction of the camp. Our guide said that this was a difficult day to do such a tour, “so, please watch the hazards.” There was no way to avoid getting soaked, shoes and socks and pants cuffs, but (again) we were the lucky time-travelers.

Auschwitz Camp Number One had perhaps forty buildings or maybe more; after all, it was a former Polish army barracks. We entered maybe five and spent an average of fifteen minutes in each, going through its corridors and rooms in detail.

Two things stood out for me: (one) six or so huge museums cases filled with objects taken from prisoners by the Nazis (our guide said “Nasis” which gave it an uglier flow).

Those dragooned to the internment camp, mostly by train in box cars meant for animals, were told that they were going to live here, so they hauled their belongings in sacks and suitcases. They thought they would eventually go home. The guide remarked dryly that in fact they were there to be executed, so the only way out was through the chimneys.

They were ordered to leave their possessions outside in piles (plenty of photographs of the moment of grim recognition). There the Nazis sorted through them, sending fine things to Berlin and poorer things to factories for salvage and recycling.

Each museum display case of items was deep, tall, and wide behind glass that removed the stench. They were greater scale than ones that show mammal activity on an African veldt with taxidermy and deep landscape simulation. One case was filled with scalpings: women’s hair stacked up, tens of thousands of individuals’. Think of all that dry, faded hair piled to waist height, so much hair that it was beyond calculation or reckoning.

A smaller case demonstrated how this hair was used to make mattresses. The SS similarly removed the gold from teeth and turned it into bars in Berlin.

Another case was suitcases of those who entered Auschwitz, most with names still on them, familiar names and surnames, just different people. They thought that were coming to a settlement camp, so they labelled their belongings. It was a trick not only to make them compliant travelers but to have them cart merchandise for confiscation by the Nazis.

Another case was filled with shaving-soap brushes and hairbrushes. Another was filled with kitchenware. A smaller one had cans of facial and hand cream, discolored and rusted.

The sheer scale—the compulsive sorting of plunder alongside the industrialization of slaughter by the daily thousands—was overwhelming. Yet we kept moving along through it, the guide’s voice framing the obvious

Imbedded in a glass shrine were ashes and bones gathered from the crematorium grounds: ground litter. The main residual material of bodies was dumped into the Vistula.

Then (two) there were two corridors of faces of the executed, many of them Poles since no record was made of most of the Jews. Mugshots of the condemned had been methodically taken by the SS, eyes at the cameras like deer in headlights. The negatives were secretly saved and smuggled out, I believe by a Polish worker to stand witness to the “disappeared.” The museum printed these in identical size and put them in frames on the wall, men on the right, women on the left, in a second vestibule where Jews joined the photographed Poles, men on both sides.

I stared into the eyes of the condemned, as many as I could assimilate while moved, each an intentionally full snapshot into my brain.

I knew these people. They were my friends and neighbors and fellow citizens. I had seen them in summer camp and classrooms and on subway trains, in crowds on New York and Berkeley streets, in the starting lineups of football and baseball teams. I knew their descendants and tribesmates and genome.

I tried to acknowledge each that I had a moment to focus on, turning ceremonially from right to left, man, then woman, then man, then woman, as we moved in a stately procession.

They were beautiful. They were ugly. They were resolute, defiant. They were defeated and grim. They were laughing. They were resigned and already dead. They refused to die, to disappear. I thought, “I SEE YOU.” I didn’t use those words. It was a pure psychic and heart beam.

That it was seventy-eight years later merely added to the impact of our meeting here together today. “I SEE YOU. I WILL ALWAYS SEE YOU =. YOU WILL BE SEEN EVERY DAY BY SOMEONE. YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.”

That’s not true; of course, they will be forgotten, as we will be. In a mundane sense, nothing lasts forever. We will forget history, so we will repeat it. We already have. But the sentiment has to be thought and spoken silently because our word makes it true, even beyond universes, because we were given consciousness and words, to use and empower blindly, and that we shared forever with those on the wall.

I did the same meditation with less sustained attention as I stared into the giant photos in earlier rooms: eyes of women and children getting off the train, being evaluated for death by the SS guards, standing in line for the gas chamber: “I am here. I can’t know what you are suffering, but I will take responsibility for my own life from here on out and live in accordance with your courage, your effrontery and faith. I understand what it is not to be you, and I respect that as much as I respect your suffering. I must respect it in order to honor you. I must live the life you would have if you had escaped from here.”

My own cowardice shamed me, and I felt raised to a new standard of candor and innocence.

I am moving toward another big thing, maybe the biggest for me there as well as a secret reason I wanted to come: my lifelong terror. It always contained Auschwitz-like images even when I was too young to know. The initial trigger of my childhood panic was a radio voice sending a figure down the dungeon stairs.

I am not arguing for a simple, linear past life, that I died here and was reincarnated in New York. I was born on the November 1944 day that most scholars set for Anne Frank’s death at Auschwitz-Birkenwald, but I take that symbolically more than literally. I am thinking too of collective trauma. Or maybe it was a past life out of which I flew into the seed of my mother’s fling with Bingo Brandt.

In any case, from whatever belief system, I tried to read Auschwitz psychically. At first, I was too overwhelmed emotionally to read or switch vibration. All I felt was rushes of heart energy, grief, and an ancient numbness in the aftermath of my own unearned survival. Then I remembered to receive.

It has always been striking to me how ordinary are the most profound psychic transmissions. What I received when I simply listened was the last thing I expected to feel: relief, wave upon gentle wave of relief.

The images outside matched the terror within. Something that had been numinous and spectral and traumatic was also irrefutably real.

Prisoners had to bathe in cold water in the winter. They were starved and asphyxiated, hung above the ground in such a manner that their arms broke (then executed because they were useless to work), put in cramped stone enclosures without being able to stand, executed for helping others. I didn’t feel relief from that. I felt fresh shock and horror and dismay at the darkness that permeates Creation despite its source luminosity. There was no redemption in these events. The suffering and pain were beyond recall by anyone who had lived it and died there. They traveled as collective trauma, lodged in amnesia.

On a subtle-body level, though, I witnessed an inkling of what it was or that it was. We left with a great gift—our lives—and a weighty obligation, to live well enough and in enough honesty to atone even a small amount for these deaths, to let their ghosts transubstantiate, to breathe hope for both of us back into the world.

Our entry fee entitled us to a second two-hour tour, at Birkenwald, but it was 3:45 and we needed to get a start toward Budapest, plus we were exhausted physically and emotionally, and very wet. We walked out of Auschwitz Concentration Camp One. We went back to the car.

 

Change of tone and content.

If we had thought that driving through a bit of Poland, all of Slovakia, and a bit of Hungary to Budapest was a fun road trip or duck soup like crossing Nebraska, think again The reality was sobering. Eastern Europe is still relict Soviet era and impenetrable. Between Oświęcim and our apartment at Szervita ter, 5, in Budapest was a series of obstacles, curves,  surprises, hazards, riddles, and “perils of Pauline” escapes, each one a relief from the worry that we would be stranded in the middle of nowhere, nowhere to us. Then came the next curve.

It started out deceptively easy: the GPS turned us around, put us on a decent rural road; we stopped for gas, got assurance from a fellow driver at the next pump that this was indded the right road for Slovakia and Budapest and there were no tolls in Poland. We turned our last zlotys into gas so as not to waste them.

I figured that we could put in about three hours, maybe four, and do half of what was listed on the GPS’s as a six to six-and-a-half-hour trip. Then we could stop for dinner and stay at a hotel. Divided into two days, the drive should have been relaxing and easy.

We were coasting along, following the GPS’s instructions for working our way through and around a Polish village called Kozy on a rural back road when the road just ended: sand. We could see the concrete surface continuing up a hill ahead, but there was a significant drop onto the dirt, no cars anywhere in sight, no indication that the road above was passable, no signage even in Polish. A man beside the road looked as if he might speak English—yes, there is a look, usually in error. He didn’t and couldn’t communicate anything useful in sign language, though he tried. There was a third option, a side road that was neither where we had come from nor the sand. As we tried it, the GPS went crazy, telling us to turn into tiny lanes that led into farmland or down local streets, then to make an immediate U-turn. It took us back to the dirt or we could retrace our steps back toward Auschwitz. We chose the dirt. There was a significant thump, but we got down and then back up again without damage or the tires spinning. We continued on the pavement, but after the road curved, we came to another break in the concrete, this one with a much more significant drop and all sorts of wire mesh extending from the concrete above the sand. It was not the type of thing one ever drove into. It looked like too much of a fall for the car plus too great risk of puncturing a tire on sharp metal.

We turned around and went in the only other direction, but that road led to homes and a cul de sac. We were now trapped between sand and a dead end and feeling desperate. It looked like endgame, a jam with no way graceful or even ungraceful way out. What do you do? Find the police? They might not even speak English. This was actually scary.

A teenager strolling along the street presented an option. Unlike the previous guy, he did not look as if he spoke English. He was large, oafish in gait, and had earbuds on. I pulled over, got out, and hurried up to him. He looked startled as he took out the earbuds. In fact, he spoke perfect English. He tutored it in his high school.

We carry hidden biases, some of which underlie unconscious racism. This youth was a gem, intelligent, articulate, and fulsome. Looks were deceiving.

He first suggested that we change our GPS destination from Budapest to Bratislava because he said that aiming at Budapest would get us in a lot of trouble locally throughout Poland and Slovakia.

He then explained that we had no choice but to go through the second sand hazard. If we did that and then continued on the road and took the second left, it would lead to a major highway. We thanked him copiously.

When we returned to the drop, we saw that other cars managed by getting their wheels onto a narrow rise in the sand and stone, which let them avoid the metal. We picked the same spot and plunged over the edge as slowly as motion would allow. In fact, one car coming from the other direction lost patience with us and went flying up over the edge at high speed. It was still quite a thump.

After we exited sand hazard two, the second left did lead to a highway, not a major one but, after our plight, it felt like 401 through Canada. Euphoria lasted about seven minutes. Then traffic stopped totally. We were in a row of mostly giant trucks, and we could see unmoving trucks on a hill far ahead. It looked like hours of waiting, nowhere to go, nothing to do but live it out. The GPS had warned of deteriorated road conditions and the need for an alternate route, but we hadn’t taken it seriously—we didn’t know alternate routes. And we trusted the Polish highway authority. The delay turned out to be an hour and thirty-five minutes. Then we saw what was holding things up: a missing stretch of concrete, this one on the highway, three lanes from three directions being siphoned into the one remaining lane with ours getting the worst deal because there the feeder lane was to our right. I had wrongly guessed that it was an accident.

Lindy described Slovakian roads as bandaids between open wounds. The first hazard was in Poland, but we thought we were in Slovakia, a detail which amused our high-school helper.

It was getting late, but we were finally moving, so we zoomed along the superhighway. We didn’t know when we entered Slovakia—no signage—but after a while we figured we had gone too far for it to still be Poland. The superhighway eventually downgraded into more ordinary highway, then slow rural roads, but we kept going partly because there were no hotels or restaurants. In fact, there was little of anything but homes and occasional factories and mining pits. It was truly desolate and almost all trucks. We were a lone car. It was also raining hard.

Around 7:30 p.m., traffic stopped again for no evident reason—it was moving well in the other direction. As we crept along, we were tantalized by an unlikely godsend: the first hotel indication in Slovakia, that they actually had then. We saw signs for Hotel Centrum and kept seeing signs for it. Finally at 8:15, having covered only eight kilometers in forty-five minutes, we were rescued again—a sign with an arrow, a right turn onto a road, a small town with a shopping center, up a rise about a kilometer, a left turn for Hotel Centrum.

Hotel Centrum was a squat round tower, incongruously modern-looking for the placement. Two young women stood outside smoking. I asked them, negligent of language, “Is this a real working hotel?” One of them nodded vigorously as she put out her smoke, crushing it on the ground. She pointed to a door to her left, not the obvious main entrance—the main door was locked. I went in and addressed an older woman at the desk. She responded by shaking her head; she had no English. The young woman came rushing in and took over—she was an employee. She had the barest smidgen of English, but it was more than anyone else and it served, and she was one of the great giggle girls of all time with her one piercing of a little gem above the midline of her upper lip.

It was only her second week of work, and she had trouble with just about everything—the registration form, the credit-card machine, the government form for foreigners (she had to register our passport numbers and file at once with the local police, an unhappy Slovakian surprise). When she saw that we were from the United States, she was beside herself with giggles. She kept bending over laughing and then apologizing. She finally got across that she had never met an American before. The mere fact made us movie stars.

She was not only a giggle girl, she was a standing “lost in translation” machine. She described how to get to our room four times, and we went in three wrong directions: upstairs to a banquet area, outside around the corner to warehouses, and to the left into the gym. The correct staircase was actually just to her right, but she was giggling so much, probably at using English for real for the first time for real, that she never tried to back up her words. It was as if they were just practice.

There was no lift, and the room was three flights up. I left my suitcase in the car and carried Lindy’s.

The giggle girl directed us to the one restaurant in town, and we spent forty minutes looking for it without success, first on foot, then by car. We had her sheet of paper with the name, Rustica, to show people, and we produced several attempts at sign-language directions from people who didn’t speak English, the most ambitious by a sprightly complement of three teen girls who also taught us that the local name for pedestrian crosswalks, English in fact: “zebras.”

No luck even after their valiant attempt. Everything locked up and dark. One block revealed just how impoverished this area was beyond the Centrum’s modern tower, satellite dishes, and an Internet signal: apartment buildings made of crumbling, stained cinderblocks that looked like demolitions more than habitations. They were surrounded by men drinking from bottles and children running around. The garbage cans smelled so strong that it was hard to walk on that side of the street.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Czech Republic dumped what it regarded as backwater Slovakia for more than just ethnic reasons.

Only after we gave up, returned to Centrum, and admitted that we hadn’t found Rustica did our girl shake her head in consternation, leave the desk, run outside, and point outside. It was directly across the street in the tiny mall. I had initially asked her if that bar was it and she said, “No, not there.” In the same conversation she declared Rustica a ten-minute walk. When Lindy thought that it sounded a little long for that late and so dark out, she said, “Maybe five,” complying by instantly moving it closer. That was how uncommitted she was to the meaning of her words. We went across the mall. By then (22:00), the kitchen was closed, but the waitress nicely got them to make us a pizza.

The Centrum was a strange mixture of modern and throwback: full sports-equipment room but no elevator; dark halls with lights that came on very late as you walked past them; a chair in our room that didn’t merely collapse but pulverized when Lindy sat typing on it. This passes for modernity in many areas of the world, rural Slovakia among them.

The town was Čadca. We looked at a map in the morning and realized that we had made little progress on our larger journey. Putting Bratislava in the GPS had sent us mainly west along the mountain ranges. We were still near Poland and at least six hours from Budapest.

 

July 18

The day didn’t have an agenda beyond getting to Budapest, and it took the full day. We left Čadca around ten and arrived in Budapest close to five. We ate some of the minimal Centrum breakfast, then our own snacks, skipping lunch. What did we encounter on our Slovakian transit?

Rain. Lots of rain, often torrential, no surprise by the weather system we were in or forecast. Bandaid roads: stretches of highway that ended in dirt or an unmarked detour. At one such spot way out in the country, we made a bad choice and got told so repeatedly by the GPS that it seemed hysterical, “Make an immediate U-turn, make an immediate U-turn,” so we did. It turned out that you could cross the dirt if you waited. We went back to the spot of decision. There had been no other vehicles when we arrived, so we didn’t understand the options. Now we saw: traffic from opposite directions got alternate turns crossing the desert.

At another problematic detour we were forced off a main road, maybe G6, onto a tiny side road, maybe 2142, just off into vast fields. Both roads are too tiny for me to find again on my map of Slovakia; the numbers are from the GPS map on the car screen. As long it said we were 2142 and the mileage to Budapest (around 240 kilometers at that point) went down, we felt we were okay. Also an occasional bus or truck from the other direction was reassuring: we were not alone in highway exile.

The road felt almost happenstance; it seemed to end at a barn or quit into a resting state at a pasture, but it always found a way to keep going. The scenery was drop-dead beautiful: long flat stone houses as if exhibits from the eighteenth century or even mid-Renaissance, town by town. If you could relax, it was a gift disguised as a troubling detour; the gift was Slovakia.  If you planned sightseeing in rural Slovakia for a day, this was the plan’s gold standard. Under the pressure of a day of driving ahead and a goal, it also felt like slow torture. Both. We did about thirty miles like this in over an hour.

There were the mountains of Slovakia. People spoke of them in awe. Whenever I asked for driving advice—best roads and approximate time frame across Slovakia—in Poland, I got told, Slovakia is counter-intuitive because the mountains scramble everything. Those are mere words until you are crossing one high pass after another and descending into valleys behind huge trucks, with equally huge trucks barreling around sharp curves from the other direction, spraying water over the windshield as the wipers cleared it. It reminded me of a quote that my Amherst classmate put on the back of his surgery memoir we published: “A surgeon can kill you, and you’ll sleep right through it.” We whizzed by trucks whizzing by us in rain for three hours, every one a potential wipeout. At times, it seemed there were only mountains, slow, winding roads for a hundred kilometers to the next range, and often driving rain.

But the landscape was sumptuous, melancholy, and lush—like a rain forest at times, trees hanging from small cliffs and outcroppings right over the road— fairy-tale-like. God do we rush through the interstices of modern life. We lose the metabolic capacity for the “here” as well as the “now.”

We talked of stopping for lunch but never saw anything worth breaking our marathon. We stopped only for gas and rest rooms and to change drivers. No one spoke English at either of two stations. They didn’t respond to the word “English.” At one, it was a chore to figure out the sequence of pumping and paying. The woman seemed perplexed when I tried handing her my card before getting gas. She kept giving it back. Driveaways were not a problem here.

Progress was almost always slow with periodic detours and backups but also some superhighway bandaids when least expected but also ending abruptly. We went through three sleek modern tunnels. One of them was maybe two kilometers with huge venting fans.

The mountains ran almost the length of the country but dwindled in size as we got more south, away from the Baltic and toward the Black Sea and Mediterranean.

Slovakia was not meant to be a major part of our trip, but it was absorbed in depth. I saw a lot of it and have an impression of a land of contrasts: sprawling wilderness and succinct intense habitations. modernity struggling to take root and sticking in fits and starts, tradition and custom holding on vigorously, decay and poverty in between.

We went from Čadca to Zilina to Banska-Bystrica (our 2142 detour somewhere in there) to Zwolan, eastward to Ziar to Sahy at the border. Slovakian Route 66 covered the last hundred or so kilometers: 90 kilometers per hour between towns, 50 within, lots of police cars parked on side roads facing the highway. Thoughts of possible encounters gave rise to Kafkaesque paranoia and plots with the Slovakian language the medium of negotiation out, so I kept to the speed limit religiously.

No marker or checkpoint for Hungary, but letters of words changed from a Slavic look to that Uralic Hungarian-Finnish outlier with its odd apparent resonances to Korean and Italian (where are you, Noam Chomsky and glottochronologiy boys?). The road crossed seamlessly into Hungary, changing numbers (E77/R1, I believe). After some ninety kilometers through Hungary, Budapest came on suddenly, and we were in a huge city resonating New York and Paris. We crossed a bridge over the Danube and looked at magnificent public buildings, the tastefully colored stone of apartments and townhouses covered with elegant sculptural reliefs on the sides and rising to spires and statues.

The GPS went smoothly, making eight or nine street changes toward our address, but the last eight kilometers took an extra hour, bumper-to-bumper 17:00 traffic, about five green lights for every one made. Then GPS said we were there on a busy street of shops with a different name but—another bailout—a woman pulled out of a parking spot in front of us in an area so busy and filled with construction that cars were double-parked on the sidewalk. From there we phoned the rental manager, a middle-aged woman named Zsuzsa. From my reading aloud from store names, she said we were very, very close. She walked to our spot, identified us, directed us at once to get money from an exchange on the block to pay the parking machine (whose instructions she read aloud); then she helped with our baggage.

Once at Servitza Terrace 5, it took an hour for us to be initiated into entrance and exiting.

The apartment was rented from a friend who owns several rental properties in Budapest. He is, more accurately, the friend of a friend. John was a home-exchange partner in New York City in 2002, a law professor who connected us to a retired law-professor friend who had just moved to Berkeley, who then became a good friend of ours, and he reminded us earlier this year of John and his apartments in Budapest when we talked of going to Eastern Europe.

First you needed a key or code to get in the outer door through an alcove set off from the street. Then you took a rather lift in an unsettling free-standing shaft. You got off at the fifth and top floor and immediately needed a key to open the gate to two fifth-floor apartments accessed from their balconies, meaning a walk past Hitchcock vertigo drop of five stories with only a narrow passage to stand on and none-too-impressive iron grillwork alone keeping you from the edge. Zsuzsa said the first gate had to be locked or the neighbor got furious. Three steps beyond was a private gate to the apartment, then in another five the door to the apartment itself. Each gate had a different sort of lock and its own key. Each had to be locked both entering and exiting, and two of the keys and their locks were very sticky. The apartment itself was nice with a kitchen, and loft, and many residential conveniences, but you had to do the gauntlet each time exiting and reentering.

Zsuzsa indicated that our vehicle had to go in a “parking house”; it wasn’t safe on the street and we didn’t want to have to keep updating the meter. She had helped guests from airplanes and trains but did not know where to go for a car. She spent fifteen minutes looking on her pad and calling around before settling on a parking house that she indicated was somewhat far to drive (fifteen minutes on complicated one-way streets) but a short walk back (five). She gave it to us by coordinate code. I had never entered one before, but the cell accepted it. Problem was, it didn’t actually know how to get us there. In slow-moving rush-hour traffic, it provided contradictory directions, lefts where there were no streets to turn on, instructions that changed as we were carrying them out. It sent us in a circle. Just when we had gotten fifteen minutes till arrive down to three, it bumped it up to nineteen—one-way streets making a minor mistake consequential, as short distances became extended roundabout journeys.

It seemed that there was no way to find the garage and no way to get back to our place without stopping and reentering its address. Then I saw a big P to the right and dove across two lanes and down an entrance to the underground. It wasn’t Zsuzsa’s structure, but who cared? It ate cars. We paid in advance for three nights (63 euros). I backed the Leon into a tight spot by the office where friendly guys calculated the florin-dollar exchange rate (.00036), so that we didn’t think we were paying $50,000 for our overnight space.

The cell couldn’t get us back to the apartment by walking directions any better than it could find the parking house. It didn’t grok Budapest at all. In fact, the little ball kept moving away from the blue line of route while we were standing still. It was saying, “I am trying to find you from satellite.” We switched to Lindy’s phone, ignored the map and followed the voice. It got us close enough that we were able to improvise the rest.

We went out later for our first real meal of the day—big city after the mountains—and settled on a nearby Syrian restaurant with outdoor tables. It turned out to be a good choice. The hummus tasted like fresh-made halvah, and a sesame-yogurt-fava mix was interesting (the menu called its dominant vegetable horse beans).

The best part of the meal was two bright young Swedish guys travelling through Europe together (they had come from Bratislava, were headed to Lisbon). They sat at the next table, and we talked periodically about Sweden, Euro and American sports (hockey, football), movies (Lucas Moodysson), Portugal, Slovakia, traveling, etc. One guy was medium dark and in finance, the other was classic Swedish blond and in digital (as he put it). They spoke sophisticated English and were sophisticated in general. The data guy’s description of a high-school year in Iowa had a wry de Tocqueville wit, as he sorted rednecks from his beloved pop culture and rock music.

Sometimes you encounter other tourists who are enough on your wavelength for real camaraderie, despite differences of age, interests, or country of origin. A long, long day crossing Slovakia ended well.

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