Category Archives: City life

Take these hands

on busI buried my nose in a book most of the bus ride to work yesterday morning, but upon finishing a chapter I tucked my book in my canvas bag and attempted to read my fellow commuters as we descended into the heart of St. Paul. Continue reading

Advertisements

You can’t take it with you

dhl photoIt was one year ago this July when C and I flew home from Berlin while M stayed on one last week with our two other daughters: playing a few recitals, saying a few more goodbyes, wrapping up our affairs. M walked through the apartment with the landlord one last time; he returned borrowed items to the neighbors: mattress, floor lamp, patio table and chairs. And he asked our friend Doris to drive him to the post office to ship home a few boxes, the odds and ends of our accumulations in Berlin.

I picture Doris pulling up in front of our yellow apartment building in her small hatchback, waving to M up on the balcony. I can see her climbing the red carpeted stairs up to our flat once, twice, to help him carry down the three heavy boxes he’d prepared to send—boxes packed with our family’s winter coats and boots, the handcut wooden puzzles we found in Paris, hiking boots, stuffed animals, and other random items too cumbersome to fit in the remaining suitcases.

There was one last box that wasn’t quite ready to be sealed up and put in the trunk of the car when Doris arrived. Continue reading

Stepping on toes

skyway

A skyway connecting two office buildings in Lowertown, St. Paul

Recently I was sitting alone at a skyway-level Caribou in Lowertown St. Paul, drinking a holiday concoction that I never would have ordered if I’d been paying, this drink on the house to encourage my frequent buying habits. I was staring out the window at the glass skyway connecting two office towers, watching white-collar workers drift across the street suspended in air, coatless in their controlled environment. And watching this steady stream of largely undifferentiated, white, middle-aged workers crossing the skyway, I was reminded of standing in a science museum in rural Vermont on a previous sabbatical with my children, observing ants work their way through humid plastic tunnels, oblivious to the humans on the other side of the tube. So it was here too, lightly dressed workers plying the halls of the office towers, oblivious to the winter weather, carrying styrofoam cups of soup with plastic lids and takeout coffee and brown bags of subs and chips, making small talk with their co-workers, always moving, never stopping. Continue reading

Wilting

orhcidMy life seems to ooze out in all directions here in St. Paul; Berlin contained us, lifted us up out of our natural habitat like a sieve, straining out all possessions and people, plunking our fivesome in an alien place that looked familiar but wasn’t quite. It was as if we’d been scooped up from the ocean and released in a kid’s dug-out pool of seawater on the beach. We swam around there for a while with wide eyes so we could report back to our friends in the big ocean what life in the pool was like, knowing, always, that the arrangement was temporary.

Coming home is like the tide came in and swept us back up into the big churning sea. The ocean is far too vast to describe; it’s too familiar, it’s all consuming, and the long and short of it is I can’t figure out how to blog in this environment. How to write in this environment, I should say, because some people might insinuate that blogging is not really writing, but that was months ago, and I think I’m over it now. Continue reading

Have a scotch

river-road-bike-paths-diff_mainI’ll skip the beginning, though that was undoubtedly the best part of Sunday—a doubles row with a very able partner, then breakfast with a friend at Turtle Bread, a place I’d missed all year—to explain how it was that the Berlin year, and the time I’d begun to call “Berlin Plus,” came to a grinding halt. Continue reading

Twilight zone shopping trip

20070516_kowalski_market_2What is happening to me? I just went to the grocery store I’ve gone to for years, and I left bewildered. I wonder if this is how visiting Germans feel.

It started when I was biking down my street towards Kowalski’s, and I passed a young girl, maybe 10 years old, jogging on the sidewalk towards me. I glanced at her but didn’t recognize her, so I looked away, but she lifted her hand and waved to me and gave me a big smile. “Whose kid is that?” I thought to myself, but realized I did not know her at all; she was just being friendly. I think I returned the wave from my bike but resisted it; didn’t your mother teach you not to engage strangers?, I wondered. She was overly friendly, perhaps, but then I’ve come to expect that based on my recent dog walks in the neighborhood—my god, we’re a smiley people! Smiling at perfect strangers, exchanging “Good morning!” greetings as if we’d been friends for years, or making offhand comments as we pass, often to the effect of “What a beautiful dog!” or “Gorgeous day, isn’t it?” Continue reading

Tempelhof – From abandoned airport to urban park

Image

Lately my bike rides around town have included a loop around the runways at Tempelhof in Berlin. I can’t get enough of this former airport turned urban park. Like so many places in Berlin, it is the site of incredible history that in recent years has found new uses in today’s world. Continue reading