Check out these photos from my return trip to Solitude and Stuttgart last month. The trip was pretty successful, I think. There was a great response at our performance of “Omaha Uninitiated: Stateside Race Riots & Lynching in the Aftermath of World War I,” the multi-media contribution Darren Keen and I put together for Akademie Schloss Solitude’s “Quotes & Appropriation” symposium. The room was nearly filled for the performance. I couldn’t ask for more than that.
It was a lot of fun to bring so much of the research that went into writing my chapbook On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown and the related novel (still in manuscript) titled The Uninitiated. Trying to guess how an audience will react (or if they will react at all) to a piece is a constant obsession for most writers, so actually being up in front of a group of mostly strangers and talking to folks afterwards was a nice culmination of sorts, and a commencement too. Knowing that I can get the attention of a room full of Germans and artists from all of the world interested in the history of Omaha is heartening to say the least. There’s still the matter of getting the novel version of this material published, and published well, and then promoting that, but I’ll enjoy this for a little bit, while I can.
Reconnecting with the wildhogs of Rotwildpark.
Not so much traveling around European elsewheres this time–but plenty of exploring Stuttgart.
Hanging out at Super Popular Sanchez in Stuttgart.
The courtyard, host to many events last summer, in a very frosty state.
Darren and Lu getting set up before the show.
(Photos of the presentation were taken by Franzi Ziegler.)
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.
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]comicologyabout 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.
-A big one being that I read as part of Solitude Night here at the Akademie on July 5. The experience was a pretty cool one, not the least because my literature compatriots–Irish poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin and German playwright Anne Habermehl–shared their outstanding work. Also, the stage was built on the steps of die Schloss, with the reader facing the castle and the audience seated on the steps, facing the valley. I read from two pieces, some of “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown” and the opening of the new novel I’ve been working on here. It was kind of nerve-wracking to present work that was written only a few weeks ago, but I feel like it went over okay. A number of people have told me they enjoyed the reading–and since they’re passing on good news, I have no reason to doubt them.
Thanks so much to Claudia Gehre for setting up the reading so beautifully and introducing us readers. And thanks to Akademie Director Jean-Baptiste Joly for selecting me to read on the big night.
-Also, if you haven’t seen, Akademie Schloss Solitude is now accepting applications for its next cycle of fellows, with residencies from 2015 to 2017. Residencies are typically pretty long, 6-8 months or so, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. Stipends, lodging, and studio space are provided, along with some travel and project expenses. Writers, artists, dancers, musicians, mathematicians, chess players, art administrators, philosophers–it’s a pretty big tent out here. I’ll vouch that Akademie Schloss Solitude is certainly an amazing place to write and create, and hike, and is pretty centrally located if you’d want to do some sideline travel while in Europe. The deadline is Oct 31, 2014. Here’s a list of conditions and benefits for the fellowship. Check it out.
-After Jordan I didn’t do much traveling the past two weeks. Explored more of Stuttgart on foot, found new areas of the forest to hike, managed to turn a two hour leisurely walk to the bank into a five hour power-hike after I took a wrong turn in Wildpark. Oops.
-Today I did venture out of Stuttgart again with a trip up to Landstuhl. There really isn’t too much there, except the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, with Ramstein Air Base also in the area, so it has certain significance to recent US military history–and more to the point, a character in my new novel (Jim Allen from my story “Welcome Home” is a big character in the book) is sent to the medical center for a brief time. So it was kind of research for the novel, kind of just being curious to see what a US military town in Germany is like. I wasn’t sure if I should still go up there. There are a million other places to visit here that offer more in the way of culture and sights. The trip itself was longish, about three hours each way by train, although a lot of that was through the scenic Rhineland area, so not much to complain about there. So I went.
This morning I was surprisingly emotional about going to Landstuhl. The medical center served as the primary hospital to treat injuries suffered in both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it’s seen a lot of traffic in the last decade. I read last night that the hospital was for several years among the world’s most active hubs for organ donations. A sort of benign fact on its face, but devastating in its implication. This really stuck with me this morning.
I didn’t do much while there. Walked up to the medical center and around its gates. Everything is secured so there really wasn’t much to see besides dozens of signs promising that bad things will happen if you take any pictures of the facility. (Note: I really admire those who live by the edict that when someone tells you to stop filming, that’s the most important time to be filming. Further note: I’m not one of those people.) So nothing profound, but I’m glad I went. Like a lot of things, the process of getting somewhere is most of the trip. And I did get a few details that will make it into the first draft of the novel.
-Arriving back into Stuttgart was pretty interesting this evening. There was a big Palestinian demonstration going on all along Königstraße, a pedestrian drag through the main tourist and cultural part of the city. A little different from what I expected walking out of Hauptbahnhof train station. Lots of flag waving, some chanting, many head scarfs, a few burqas. Polizei in full-on paramilitary gear, berets, rifles, some with riot gear handy, just in case. (I’m assuming a lot of the police presence was just in case a group of fascist, anti-immigrant thugs showed up for a confrontation–something becoming more common in some places–but I’m not really sure.) Meanwhile, the Schlossplatz (castle square) is hosting its annual week of free jazz performances. So, while the the protest wraps up, there’s a jazz quintet on a bandstand playing “Everybody wants to be a Cat” from Disney’s The Aristocats (you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried) with a bunch of hipster swing kids strutting their stuff. Kind of a strange dynamic. And a nice little microcosm for how this whole trip has gone.
I’ve been settling in after arriving for my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart.
Some things from the first week:
-First and foremost, they take their foosball very seriously here. If you’re going to step up to the futbol table, you better bring it.
-Lots of weddings at the castle. This is my sixth day here and I’ve spotted four brides so far–including two this morning. Besides all the art and music and interesting collaboration going on, this place would be a wedding crasher’s dream. Free champagne four times weekly! On the other hand, it seems like a lot of the wedding parties merely come here for pictures and have the reception elsewhere. So far, four brides, but only one beer delivery truck. Caveat emptor, wedding crashers.
-TSA took my toothpaste, so one of my first tasks in Germany was picking out a new tube of toothpaste. I probably should have made more of an effort to learn functional German. Seems to have worked out okay, on the toothpaste score at least. My teeth are intact, and only a little gritty.
-Really enjoying all the courtyard cafes. I’ve noticed a few biergarten, but haven’t stopped in yet. Mostly I’ve been getting by on bread rolls, salami, and granola bars. There’s lunch here for fellows during the week, which is something to take advantage of whenever possible. A bus runs right by the Akademie, but it’s kind of expensive to make a bunch of casual trips. Otherwise it’s at least a thirty minute hike down to the village supermarket. Maybe double that coming back, as Solitude sits at the top of a pretty heady incline. I get the feeling that not many of the other fellows are hiking as much as I’ve been, as I haven’t seen anyone else drenched in sweat all the time, huddled over with shin splints. Oh, well. With my spartan diet and all that hiking, hopefully I won’t be so doughy by the end of summer. Or I could act like a normal person and just take the bus.
-I haven’t done a ton of writing so far. One short story is drafted, a story I’ve been trying to write in some form or another for nearly a decade–I think I found the right form and voice this time around. That seems like good production for what’s been a pretty fraught week. Been doing a lot of thinking about the new novel I’m starting, while hiking, before and after napping. I’ve been reading a lot too, which usually precedes writing output. Anyway, nothing comes easy when mostly I’ve been moping around feeling bad about what an asshole I am for being here in the first place. It was very hard to leave home.
-I’m thinking of doing a little side trip, maybe next week. Friedrichshafen sounds nice. It’s the home of Zeppelin University, which I will repeatedly mispronounce as Led Zeppelin University. Imagine how different my life could have been if, when deciding on colleges while in high school, I’d known (mistakenly) there was a Led Zeppelin University. Anyway. Lake Constance is there. There’s a company that does Zeppelin elevations and rides. It’s pretty close and would be an easy way to test myself on the regional trains. I should do it, right?
Here are a couple more YouTube videos I found that relate to Akademie Schloss Solitude. I’m not sure how interesting these are to anyone else, but it’s my blog, so, yeah. Enjoy!
Der Solitudebolero oder Raskolnikowbesessenheit, a short film by Bulgarian director Javor Gardev that was filmed at and produced by Akademie Schloss Solitude in 1998. I can’t translate the dialogue for you, but I can only assume the film depicts the everyday life of fellows at the venerable Stuttgart institution.
Being that the Stuttgart-area is known for its automotive manufacturing and is regarded as the “Cradle of the Automobile” (see Gottlieb Daimler) it isn’t too surprising that Schloss Solitude doesn’t limit itself to just architectural and artistic wonders, but is also the site of Solitude Racetrack. There hasn’t been much racing activity there since the 1950s, I guess. Although there appears to be an annual race, Solitude Revival, with late-model cars. Of all the benefits and opportunities my fellowship to Akademie Schloss Solitude will grant me, this is probably the first that will truly make my brother jealous.