Paris, Stuttgart and Rome…with Small Kids!

paris brunch
Brunch in Montparnasse.

Nicole and the girls stopped by for a three-week visit recently. Here are some highlights:

-We met in Paris and stayed four nights. It didn’t seem like the best idea to jump into such a bustling world metropolis right off the bat, but things actually worked out better in the end, I think. We had an apartment in Montparnasse through AirBnb–so there was a kitchen, separate rooms for adults and children, and the flat usually was home to two boys the same ages as our girls, so there were toys and appropriately sized beds that allowed for a long nap once the family arrived. Maybe I’m remembering things rosier than they actually were, but the time difference wasn’t such a massive problem as I feared it would be. For one thing, we kept finding ourselves stranded from the apartment late at night. Since we didn’t bring along car seats, this meant long walks through the city after midnight. Daughter 1 put in a lot of miles over a couple nights, with complaints that seemed to taper off as the routine of getting lost and marching, marching, marching took hold. I think she was a little excited/scared to be out so late too, even if it only felt like late afternoon to her body.

I had one night in Paris before the family arrived and also spent the night wandering around Montparnasse. As someone who’s spent a lot of time walking at night, Paris after dark was irresistible.

Notre Dame along the Seine.
Notre Dame along the Seine.

In general the girls got along pretty well in Paris. Everything was new and exciting. We had that on our side. Look, the Eiffel Tower! Look, Notre Dame! Look, Van Gogh’s Starry Night! Look, jugglers on a Seine quay! Only about every twenty minutes did one of us stop and ask, “What the hell were we thinking?”

Daughter 2 developed an interesting habit of shouting out dire warnings at inopportune times. Like, “Everybody get off this airplane now!” And, “Oh, no! The Eiffel Tower is falling down! It’s broken!” Luckily she doesn’t actually have the shining. None of her visions came to pass.

I was pleasantly surprised how helpful a lot of Parisians were too. Like when we kept getting trapped in Metro gates because there isn’t enough time to push through two small kids while carrying luggage, stroller, etc, so the backpack or an arm gets clamped in the gate. Or the lady at our neighborhood bakery understanding my broken Franglais, sometimes sprinkled with Latin, sometimes Spanish. The waiters in the cafes we visited were particularly helpful. Very surprising. Checking three times if, “Yes? You know steak tartare is raw meat?” before being served at Au Pied de Fouet. Getting high chairs and complimenting Nicole’s French. Always having special desserts for kids–ones that didn’t have egg wash baked on top, so daughter 2 could eat dessert too, even with her egg allergy. Not batting an eye when daughter 2 knocked a glass of water over the table. (Even though I haven’t gotten over the fact that she washed the au poivre sauce off my steak. I’d been waiting my whole life for that sauce!) I feel like most places in Paris (within our price range anyway, which maybe pointed us in the right direction) were pretty accommodating.

-Next we took the train to Stuttgart. After sweating it out in the city, the castle and surrounding forests at Solitude were perfect. We ran around the tunnels and corridors of die Schloss, hiked in the woods, went to the city for dinners, kicked a football around the lawn. We also napped.

It seems like we didn’t do a ton in Germany. As Solitude was home, we mostly tried to recover from Paris and prepare for an upcoming trip to Rome. There were a few events around the Akademie, including an exhibition of fellow Samir Harb’s comics Introduction to [Arch]comicology about Palestine. There was getting groceries and walking out to see the horses that live here. There was finding snails and slugs and frogs on the hiking paths. Getting stuck in rainstorms on the way to Bärenschlössle im Rotwildpark, twice! Mostly we just enjoyed Solitude. It’s an amazing place up here and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share it with my family.

-Then there was Rome. We stayed four days at Lido di Ostia, a beach resort community on the coast. This is technically part of Rome, about an hour away by train, and was the seaport of ancient Rome. More recently, the area experienced a boom in the post-war years as a tourist destination for modern middle class Romans, and apparently hasn’t been redecorated in quite some time. Everything was so wonderfully 1960s, when Federico Fellini and other Italian cinema icons transformed this stretch of beach into the Roman Riviera. Between a couple days at the beach and strolling the boardwalk, we took the train to the city and saw some sights from ancient and modern Rome.

Italy kind of surprised me. I guess I’d always thought of Italy as more-or-less the same as Western Europe, with some Southern European flair. The loud cousin, right? However, I was reminded much more of the Middle East than anything being there. This makes sense, as Italy is the gateway between Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Just walking the streets. The attitudes and postures, the way people spoke and argued. I found it very interesting.

-A few more days at Solitude followed before a return trip to Paris by train. We stayed at one of the American style hotels by the airport. The girls were besides themselves they were so happy. Room service. Big rooms with hideaway couch beds. Showers with drains that worked. Kids’ play rooms off the cafe. Daughter 1 wasn’t shy about letting me know that this was what she expected when we told her we’d be staying in some hotels in Europe. Duly noted, kid.

-Below are some more photos. (The good ones were taken by Nicole.) Just a couple more weeks before I head home.

 

 

Chicago, 2013

Below are some highlights from our family trip to Chicago over the weekend. Maybe tears were shed–some even by the children–but some day we’ll look back fondly on all the fun that we conceivably had.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Akademie Schloss Solitude

My new digs?

I’ve been sitting on some big news for a couple months now. Something very difficult for a guy like me who, while sneaky, is no good with secrets. So I’m excited, very very excited, to announce that I’ve been awarded a fellowship and three-month residency from Akademie Schloss Solitude!

There are many cool things about the fellowship, some of which I will enumerate here. Paid airfare to/from Stuttgart, Germany, where Solitude is based; studio space and lodging in a baroque castle surrounded by forestland (Castle Solitude, pictured); a monthly stipend to cover living expenses; a double-housekeeping benefit to help supplement my rent at home; the opportunity to live in German culture (Swabian to be exact) for an extended period, sort of a reverse of what the characters of my novel do, my German-Americans; a chance to research and work on my next novel, part of which will take place at and near Ramstein Air Base.

A view of the western district of Stuttgart from Castle Solitude.

Best of all, families are welcome to join artists during the residency, so Nicole, Maddie and Clara will be coming over for at least part of next summer. This is a pretty rare thing for residencies. Among the many things I’m grateful to Akademie Schloss Solitude and the state of Baden-Württemberg for, the opportunity to share this with my family is up near the top of the list. In fact, we’re so excited that we’ve decided to change the spelling of our youngest child’s name from the Anglican/Latinate Clara to the Germanic Klara as a sort of tribute to my benefactors.

You can read more about the program here and its vision of Esprit Solitude here, and see what past fellows were up to during their residencies here, but the gist of it is that Baden-Württemberg funds this program in order to encourage emerging artists from around the world to expand and further their work in ways they wouldn’t be able to within the strictures of their normal home life. It’s really an astonishing investments in the arts, and a recognition that personally elicits massive amounts of humility and gratification whenever I think about it. I was actually offered an eight-month residency, but it seemed like that might be too much of a good thing. I’ll be spending the summer of 2014 in Germany.

My sincerest thanks go out to juror Maxi Obexer, who selected me as a fellow, Jean-Baptiste Joly, who is Director of the Akademie, and Silke Pflüger, who, as Grant Coordinator, has been dealing with my many questions.

This continues a good run of recognition for my novel, as my application was accepted based on the strength of a full manuscript version of The Uninitiated. This manuscript also took first prize in Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist competition, while an excerpt is forthcoming in Boulevard this fall. A different excerpt was a finalist in the recent Summer Literary Seminars contest. And now, Solitude.

Clara Lynne Comes Home!

 

 

We were able to bring our baby home today. She was born on Friday (8lbs, 5oz, 20.25 inches long). The delivery went pretty smoothly, both Nicole and baby did great. There was some trouble with Clara’s breathing that led to five days in the NICU, but all is well now and we’re grateful to be on familiar footing.

January in Review (2012)

-It was a pretty slow month on the blog last month. There are two reasons for this. First, I spend eight days in Key West for the Key West Literary Seminar. (Here’s the recap of my time there.) Second, I received an offer late in the month to take the reins as Online Editor for Prairie Schooner! I accepted. Technically I don’t start until today–and the paperwork hasn’t been started either, so hopefully I’m not jinxing that–but I’ve been getting a feel for the job over the last week or so. I’m very excited to take over the position from Timothy Schaffert. The new website is up and running, and we have an awful lot of cool things in the works. It’s a very exciting time to be involved with the journal.

-The edits for my novel are coming along. I’m hopeful to have it ready for my top readers here in the next month or so. Nothing monumental to announce, but I feel like the book is coming along. It’s tightening up in ways that lead me to believe that it’s close to being done, at least. Of course, the feedback I get from my readers will probably blow a few things wide open again.

-I did add my 2011 Year in Photos post last month, in case you missed it.

-Just two months until the new baby arrives. Eep.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Maria Eigler knew what she liked. She built a world around herself that reflected her preferences. She loved conversation and children and music. She liked to make hearty food and see all of it eaten, to make up beds and see them slept in, to have a full, vibrating house. She tolerated conceit in people she cared for, but found it the most contemptible trait among others. Maria was not pretentious, but she didn’t stoop to putting on an air of ignorance either. She was a wise and deceptively cultured woman. It didn’t surprise Jacob to learn that Maria attended a women’s seminary when she was young, in Missouri. She studied Greek drama for two years before she married August. It was Grenville Dodge who moved them to Council Bluffs, before they moved themselves across the river. Maria would sometimes say a phrase in Greek, to show where an English word came from, like alphabet or apology or muse or martial. The way she talked about Greek drama, all the time in her buoyant kinderfrau voice, she made it sound like those plays could explain everything in life. Love, betrayal, war, language, fate, death. And if you were lucky enough to get the chance to really study them, and understand what they meant, then you’d be well off. You’d know enough to maybe let everything else in the world well enough alone.”

Just Finished

This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann. What a beautiful book. Very affecting and well done. The book begins with a focus on the sandhogs who tunneled under the East River to build the subway tunnel connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan, which I found incredibly fascinating. McCann gets a lot of attention for Let the Great World Spin, but don’t miss out on this remarkable book either.

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda. A coming-of-age novel about a young girl left to fend for herself in the Nebraska wilderness in pioneer times. The book kind of read as a survey course in early Nebraska history at times, although it has its moments too. There are lots of interesting characters that come and go throughout the book. The most interesting ones never stayed as long as I would have liked them to.

Leaf House by Karen Brown. This story collection, Brown’s second, won the most recent Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction. I was lucky enough to get a preview of the manuscript in order to interview her for the PS blog. (Here’s the interview, if you’re interested.) It’s a very good book—Brown is an awesome young writer—and I’m eager to see how the final version comes out.

Now Reading

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño.

Up Next

The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper.