Is there ever a time you can’t muster a high? When you scoff at such a list; mind blank and steeped in bleak forecasts?
A year to confront aging. A unknown father rushes in moments before a school holiday concert and mouthes “sorry” to his annoyed wife. As he brushed past me (proud aunt in the front row) to take his seat down the row, I found myself breathless-he was so very very young, this tardy father. Suddenly I was seized with panic. I was that wife, when? Yesterday, wasn’t it? We were the parents with little ones in concerts we never missed. Now I’m…what? Old?
Let’s meet in Berlin.
You fly in from Athens and I’ll fly in from Toronto and we shall see if four days in this city of creative expressionism and tumultuous history will leave us as inspired as the thousands who come to live. Freedom, is what one transplanted Berliner told me. This is what I came for. Freedom to be whatever I want to be.
So went mom and daughter, she now grown and working in another historic city. This is our way now, these brief interludes of togetherness, and I shall learn the notes soon enough, if not the goodbyes. Travel buddies we are, with sneakers and trench coats for melancholy weather, weather that seems a good match for sombre sites like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: giant abstract blocks erected in 2005 covering an entire block near the Brandenburg Gate.
These clear and present memorials are hardly hidden: my excellent free walking tour with Sandemans expressed this amply. In the Topography of Terror, erected in 2010 on the historical site of the main organs of Nazi terror between 1933 and 1945, we (and several tour groups) walked through fifteen comprehensive stations detailing the horrors of the SS. In the Jewish Museum (the largest Jewish museum in Europe) we watched in stunned silence as visitors were invited to walk noisily over ten thousand faces made of steel in the Memory Void; created by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman in one of two buildings designed by Polish architect Daniel Libeskind(whose studio is based in Berlin)—Torontonians will recall that name from our own infamous ROM crystal. Also at that museum, a moving exhibit (continuing to April 2019), Welcome to Jerusalem, an immersive experience using film and audio clips, art, maps and more, all highlighting the many contradictions of a sacred city.
Next door was the Berlinische Galerie.
Sleek and clever, housed in a former glass warehouse, here was one of my favourite exhibits on this visit: a permanent collection of art produced by Berlin artists from 1870 until the present. These artworks are presented in chronological order with a helpful dotted route on the floor to lead visitors into each historical period from Expressionism to Dada to Art under the Nazis…and so on.
Art spills out of every corner in this city where museum hopping could saturate any schedule: we also saw Nefertiti at the Neues, Dietrich at the Berlin Film Museum (you knew I wouldn’t miss that one), and a bevy of nudes at the Helmet Newton Foundation.
According to the German culture secretary Tim Renner, the majority of the artists featured in the 2016 Venice Biennale live in Berlin. The city resides continuously on the brink of action. The tension between policing and anarchy, uniformity and debauchery, rules and social unrest, as well as a bristling right wing intimidation is also tangible. This makes it a fertile space for activism, creativity and agency that artists record and channel into their work. Many also come to Berlin for the (still) affordable studios and space that allows them to nurture their practice.
Hodge podge architecture lends Berlin’s avenues a storybook sheen, but we know none of it is fiction. If museums daunt, walking throughout the city’s boroughs would offer too its own lessons. Most visitors (three million a year to this site alone) find their way to the East Side Gallery, a series of murals painted on a remnant of the Berlin wall; explosive art that make up the largest open air gallery in the world.
Walking makes us hungry. Shall we go to the market? Which market first?
Perhaps the Turkish market?
Or delicious Reubens at Mogg…
Or wine at Café Jacques…
Or twenty miraculous offerings at Ernst (once we discovered the secret door)…
None of it…none of this heady activity prepared us for The Long Now, the closing event of MaerzMusik Festival. Held in the magical moody setting of Kraftwerk Berlin, this wildly popular event includes concerts, performances, electronic live-acts, sound and video installations to form a study of time and space.
Here is what we were told going in:
“Embracing musical worlds from early Renaissance polyphony to the musical avant-garde, experimental electronics, Ambient and Noise, this fourth edition of “The Long Now” allows for sonic and bodily experiences of an exceptional kind. Visitors are welcome to spend the entire duration in the powerplant, sleep over, or come and go. Beds will be provided. The Long Now is a place for the enduring present. A space in which time itself can unfold and the sense of time can take uncharted paths. With a duration of more than 30 hours, the project invites visitors to detach from the clocked pace of the present and indulge in the chronosphere of “The Long Now”.
Here is what we knew going out: we want to, need to, MUST go back. No, we didn’t live out our wristbands allowing us to stay until 8am—packing loomed for flights the next morning—yet stretched out on a cot beside hundreds of others of all ages, all shapes, listening, no, absorbing the strangest music—beautiful, sad, enthralling music—we locked arms and floated on this surreal pillow of possibility…this here, this long now is all we have, this place, this is Berlin. All of it pushing forward in relentless modernism…No posturing here. This surely was the absolute expression of freedom.
And this too…my cab driver en route back to the airport. My wife knits, he told me.
What a city!
You might also enjoy:
By the time March arrives, the Canadian landscape out my writing window offers little inspiration. Bleak skies begone! Behold a bevy of bougainvillea!
Wrap me in it and set me alight on a frisky wave. A strawberry daiquiri to go? Surely you jest? I like your style, and yes, I’ll have another.
Sun, sand, salt: how I love thee! Friendly winds whipping up waves for those unfazed by losing a bathing suit in the fray…this is the stuff of winter daydreams. An invitation to join my sister on vacation in Captiva, Florida, was an easy yes for this writer.
While in this charming corner of the planet, I had occasion to taste two delicious desserts. You know already what the next part is, don’t you? Read More
Thirty years ago I left Montreal with the kind of longing you pack away but never leave behind. It was here film became a passion, and broadcasting a career path to pursue. Here I learned life begins after midnight, or it did for those college years, where hours stretched into the horizon. Away from home, away from a city where everyone seemed to know someone in my large family— few from my high school came here out of province then— in this exotic place, I was free to dance, dally, and doze if I wanted. Check. Check. Check. We were never going to grow old, fat, or faded. I don’t remember all of it. That’s why journals were invented.
Alas, once I settled on a career in media, I knew my French, merely functional, wouldn’t get me far enough in this bilingual town. Back to Toronto I went, degree and radio demo tape in hand, and the rest you know ...
It’s helpful to forget a little. Now I have a daughter having her own love affair with this magical city. Life on campus is as charmed as ever. McGill Homecoming twinkled for a weekend of memories. Can you go back?
Being chubby is okay when you’re naked in an Algonquin lake. Floating is for round people. So there, skinnies. We own this activity. Are there Olympic medals for floating? Read More
I am here in this ancient city to oversee yet another move. It’s been a year of heaving stuff. None of said stuff is my own. I’m still trying to figure that out. When I do, I’ll let you know.
My eldest will begin an internship here in Athens on Monday. While she’s at it, she may just unlock the secret room to her father’s character. We all have them. His may just be in the country of his birth. There could be profound truths. Or maybe she’ll just learn how to make the most delicious snack this side of the Atlantic.
Screw you spring. So you want to take your time? That’s okay. I’ll make do with hot blooms*, and well…there’s always mangoes.
Living in a big city like Toronto means finding these fruits will not require a trip to the Caribbean. Mango lovers can find a fantastic variety of this juicy stone fruit at most grocers, and they’re in season now. I found these beauties, the Palmer variety from Brazil, at Longos this week and cranked the music up. Grab your sarongs. Yeah baby. It’s a mango party.
Showing off in the Tropical Treats chapter in my food memoir is a very dangerous cake. I usually make it with four small Ataulfo mangoes, but if you’re able to get your hands on one of the Palmer mangoes, one mango will do the trick.
You’ll need rum too. Sip it slowly as you make the easy peasy caramel that coats the bottom of the pan. Thanks Mom, for this tiny perfect copper pot: my new go-to for wee cooking matters like the caramel syrup in this recipe.
The amount of rum that actually goes into the cake is tiny and no, you can’t taste any alcohol, just a gooey rich mango-banana flavour that is (almost) as good as a trip to the beach. If you want the recipe, I’ll happily send it, along with my buzz sheet that goes out to subscribers. Sign up is easy on the top right of this site. Or order my book and you can have all the recipes to yourself.
Throwback Thursdays (colour therapy after all) in the long slow thaw are a little easier with a crisper full of the tropics!
For more mango (yes please!), try this smooth and very sexy gelato recipe or a zesty mango salad,
Coming up soon…Coconut mango crisp. Mmmmmmmmmm…..
Can’t find mangoes? Hop down to the Shrangri-La Hotel where this incredible virgin cocktail is on the bar menu. Hong Kong Lemonade, a sheer shot of
adrenaline sunshine, is a blend of juices including ginger, yuzu,orange, cranberry, and lemonade.
*blooms courtesy of Kindness Queen Stephanie Black, who popped into Anne’s kitchen with Junior Star Baker Chloe for this week’s edition of with love and sugar bakes. Who will be our guest next time?
Spring cleaning is a ritual in these parts, clearing space to make room for green. Tools are easiest to find near the equator, where they get a jump on these things.
Find me some ferns to whisk away winter gray…
some rainbow blooms to brighten any smudges…
and swaths of sea water for dousing doldrums.
Look sharp now. Spruced up and decluttered, you’re ready for all sorts of meditative practices.
Traveler alert: The Gros Islet Jump-Up in St. Lucia is held every Friday night year round. If it’s been awhile since you got down in the thick of it, the island of spectacular mango valleys and rainforest magic is also a very reliable source of spring cleaning know-how. All sorts of mental meanderings are possible. Rumour has it four Toronto students cleaned house by climbing to the top of the island’s iconic Piton peak. Steep and just this side of dangerous? Phooey. There’s one way to shake your booty-from the top of the mountain.
Did they shout IN YOUR FACE, WINTER WUSSES ? Only the tropical breeze knows the answer…
Best spot to bury dreary thoughts: in the basket on a wire heading down to a private table on the rocks. Let the waves crash. You’re just getting started.
(View from The Cliff at Cap Maison, home of the divine passionfruit mojito and other heady delights)
Best way to determine if all your winter pilates classes have paid off? Get this guy to judge.
(Limbo show/fire eating entertainers at The Windjammer Landing
Best reason to endure a long and bumpy road that gives new definition to hairpin turns, then a water taxi gliding past ginormous yachts that just might hide a Matt Damon or two? Dinner at the exotic Rainforest Hideway in Marigot Bay.
It helps to have the Most Interesting Man in the World on your next trip. That is, find your own. This one’s all mine.
Stop hissing, whiners. There’s other ways to get at spring. Get thee to a market and find some rhubarb.
HAPPY SPRING!!!! Time to dig out the polka dots!!!!
(yes, this is same island, same jump-up fans circa 1992)
I flew to the tropics when the ground was frozen and the schedule wasn’t. If there was poetry to be found in winter, my ankle wasn’t finding it, healing from a fracture last fall. Colour me snow happy when I can ski and skate. I’m not one of those who glom on to the winter hysteria either. It’s CANADA. We’re supposed to be cold. Yet, stuck inside to stare out at a relentless white, the mood withers. Snow isn’t the only thing that drifts.
Turns out I needed only a new palette and a punch, straw being optional.
Bring along my favourite crew and….
Travel the world and still, find spots stained forever in your heart. We tumbled onto St. Lucia as newlyweds and behaved in unoriginal fashion.
Rainforest showers were brief, tropical backdrop resplendent.
A minute later, we were back with kids and memories.
There’s been jaunts since, here and there, north and south, east and west-the world’s wonders are endless-but we knew we’d be back. You can’t say goodbye to old friends. You just plan for the next time.
St. Lucia is best seen from the water where the stunning coastline stretches for miles.
Or venture into the rainforest to spot native fruit trees of mango, banana, papaya, coconut, avocado, starfruit, soursop and hog plum. Flowering shrubs of hibiscus, bougainvillea, oleander that I long to grow inside back home but houseplants are for attentive lovers-I’ve only got eyes for the outdoors and my houseplants know it and behave accordingly with a big middle finger.
Friends who ski on their school breaks wonder what on earth do you do all day? I will concede there’s glory in family ski holidays too—my knees still remember—but sunshine restores my merry tribe to their best selves.
Or maybe it’s just as simple as a passionfruit mojito.
We need to quench ourselves in colour and wobble up and down in the warmth of the sea. A breeze floats by and with it, winter, wrinkles and worries.
I hoard moments in my beach bag, guarding time with these young adults that still like beads in their hair.
Can we read in the bed with you? Will you come swimming with me?
Just ordinary miracles, ordinary miracles
But all the same they’re miracles to me
The days that I’ll remember well
Have a simple kind of wonderful of ordinary miracles
Tomorrow…a tropical dessert for those who can’t fly south but need to feel as if they did.
Winter snow, winter blue sky, winter dreams.
A recent video sparked this return trip, in my head anyway, to another blue sky on an eastern high point.
Seeing a whale spout on the ocean from a nearby boat easily counts as a great thrill in my life. We were in the Bay of Fundy, sailing out from New Brunswick’s Grand Manan Island. As family travel goes, it was as good as it gets.
Our sailboat slowed down, fellow sailors stopped talking. Seeing these great creatures in their natural environment will silence most, as I wrote in my poetry collection Holding Glass.
Easy to see then why this video stood out among a rash of orca spotting videos online. We didn’t see orcas nor were we as close as Laguna Beach paddle boarder Rich German. He encountered five orcas off the California coast recently and shot this beautifully serene video. What rings true is the quiet. It made me remember the magic.
An excerpt from Whale Breath
Motor off, we turn
A shout upfront.
We peer, cheeks raw
eyes squinting from the Fundy glare.
Suddenly a belly,
beyond the bow.
great heart beating,
through wave curtains.
I feel a squeeze.
In my palm, my daughter’s hand
feels smaller, pulsing.
We are soon surrounded,
ensconced in a great mammal ring.
I sense the graceful rumbles
under our rolling feet
and strain to see a whole
but catch mere parts.
A fin spray tantalizing close
grey streaked belly heave,
wet shiny wonders.
I lean back against the stern,
listening for the low hollow rasp
of a whale’s breath.
It is a sound from a child’s toy
a long plastic tube once blown
emits the same strange serenade
out here as we rock in the radiant blue.
We hear it again, again, again
amidst the splash and whip
of our humble boat.
The pod leave us.
From Holding Glass, 2001
Copyright© Anne Langford
For more on family travel possibilities to this great Canadian island of puffins and the best homemade bread in the country, read here. Happy dreaming.