Origins

I’m having a series of epiphanies as I read my way through the Capital Hill History Project, an oral history of the neighborhood I grew up in for 19 years before coming to Germany. The memories of many of our old neighbors are there, going back to the the 60s, and it’s simply amazing for me to read what they write now, in retrospect, and me looking at it all from this vantage point so far removed from theirs, and to think about how they must have experienced those very same streets I called my home that even today look and feel and smell like home through I hardly know anybody.

I’ve been reading Rosetta Brooks’ story today. She was my second ballet teacher at St Marks, after my first year in the baby classes – I started at two and a half, she came in 1965, so she got me at three and a half, and I stayed until 1969. That’s when I changed schools to go to the German school out in Potomac, Maryland. It meant that I subsequently spent little time in my own neighborhood, and became rather alienated from it. I later did go back to take ballet classes with Rosetta as a teen, around the age of 14.

I now see that St. Marks  was Rosetta’s first job. She says that she began dancing as therapy after having her clubfeet operated on. That she tried studying it at Howard, in the Athletic Department. That is was horribly painful, so she got a business degree instead. But then St. Marks advertised for a teacher. Respect.

The Capitol Hill History Project naturally focusses on how people experienced integration, from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech on the Mall to his assassination and the ensueing riots. Rosetta talks about how in 1968 her soon-to-be husband was the shop manager at Kinneys Shoe Store on H Street – “it was his first store that he actually managed. Like I said, this was a guy who — went from stock boy — was not allowed on the floor, because he was black — to own his first store. It was at 11th and H Street NE.” And she describes how the two of them watched as that store was detroyed, fully stocked with merchandise, by a molotov cocktail. So this was 1968, and I must have been in her classes when it happened.

She has been working at St. Marks ever since, with other jobs, too, on the side, putting her two daughters through college on her own after her husband’s death. She no longer lives on the Hill, having moved out to Vienna, where the public schools are better than in DC, for the sake of her daughters.

Something she says strikes me: She notes how children’s bodies have changed over the last 10 years, saying they’re no longer limber. Limber. That word resonates. She’s till going strong.

Other people I remember so well from my childhood are Chris Calomiris, the Greek grocer at Eastern Market, across from where my mother had her dresshop;  Pat Driscoll, mother of three brothers I was friendly with as a teen, who it turns out was a real actress at one point, though she never talked about it, and her close friend, librarian Joan KeenanBarbara Held (Reich), one of the early realtors working on Capitol Hill as gentrification got under way; she at one point gifted me with her gorgeously flamboyant 60s earrings; historian and project head John Overbeck, who shared his house with Boris, an artist friend of the family’s I learned silkscreening from (who doesn’t get a mention); Peter Powers, a friend of the family whom my mother admired because he had the kind of culture she could place, and who worked at the Smithsonian; and our Irish parish priest, Father Michael O’Sullivan, who came in 1970, injected life into the parish and started rebuilding St. Peters from the run-down school my parents had taken me out of, to create a secular charter school.

I want time off just to dive in and read all of these stories. This is simply amazing, I haven’t thought about these people in years because I lost touch in 1981, and in fact hadn’t been in touch for all those years before, when I was at the German School, so it’s like that part of my identity has been amputated. Now it’s coming back, emerging from a dense fog.

I love imagining hearing the voices in these dialogues. Longing to belong.

My family isn’t in this picture. Anywhere. Noone mentions them.

There’s a story bubbling up inside.

Ruby’s shoes, ruby shoes

“The Problem We All Live With”  by Norman Rockwell is currently on display at the White House, just outside the president’s office. It shows Ruby Bridges, the most famous of the children who in 1960, at the age of 6, walked into an all-white school and helped desegregate the schools of New Orleans. Daddy’s brave little girl, indeed. Never forget. I’d like to believe that the Civil Rights Movement has become a part of the core of our civil religion.

Ruby’s shoes. Ruby shoes.

In the song Ruby’s Shoes by Lori Mckenna, from 2002, it seems to me her story has become almost generic. Ruby is Everygirl, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, whose ruby shoes in the film help her get back home to Kansas. Ruby is Everygirl, just like Anne Frank.  – Ruby Bridges recollects:

Scenes from a Disney, made for TV movie. Some very nice Norman Rockwell-like scenes of the intact black community.

Ruby’s Shoes, 2002

by Lori McKenna

Ruby’s shoes would take her
A mile or so to school every day
Where the white people hated her
They’d scream and hold signs and tell her to go away

But Ruby’s will was stronger
Than the bigots with the signs could ever know
She stopped every morning on the corner
And prayed that someday the pain would go

And she’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She was only six years old but she knew
Walk a mile in Ruby’s shoes

Ruby sat alone in the classroom
She never dreamed the other children wouldn’t come
They hated her for the color of her skin
Well color is such an amazing illusion

She’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She was only six years old but she knew
Walk a mile in Ruby’s shoes

Now Ruby knew about Dorothy
And the ruby shoes that she wore
She wondered about Oz sometimes
Well, well no other child ever walked her shoes before

And she’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She was only six years old but she knew
Walk a mile in Ruby’s shoes

Ruby, if birds can always fly
Why oh why can’t you and I?

Ruby’s shoes would take her
A mile or so to school every day
Where the white people hated her
They’d scream and hold signs and tell her to go away

And she’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She’d stop and she’d pray
That no other children would be raised this way
Ruby’s shoes

If birds can fly
Then why oh why
If birds can fly then why oh why can’t I

Features of connected speech:

assimilation: when words are spoken together and the sounds at the word boundaries change
s can change to sh: this shop => thish shop or Ruby’s shoes =>rubysh shoes
t, d, n at the end assimilate to the place of articulation to become bilabial: in bed => im bed
d can change to g: good girl =>goog girl
voiced can become unvoiced: have to go => haf to go
d and y can fuse to j: how d’you do => how jou do

elision: omitting sounds, esp. d and t, between words
next please => nex please
Ruby’s shoes =>ruby shoes

vowel reduction and weak forms:
You and me => You
ənd me
If birds can fly => If birds cən fly

She should əv known better. She shəd ə known I’d wait.

laison: her English => her ringlish
brother and sister => brother rən sister

intrusive r and w:
no other => no wother

Marlene Dietrich: Falling in Love again – Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss

Marlene in English and German and then again in English, great German accent; followed by Caroline Nin singing franco-anglo-tinged German.

ICH BIN VON KOPF BIS FUSS AUF LIEBE EINGESTELLT
(Friedrich Holländer)
Marlene Dietrich

Ein rätselhafter Schimmer,
Ein “je ne sais-pas-quoi”
Liegt in den Augen immer
Bei einer schönen Frau.
Doch wenn sich meine Augen
Bei einem vis-à-vis
Ganz tief in seine saugen
Was sprechen dann sie?:

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Denn das ist meine Welt.
Und sonst gar nichts.
Das ist, was soll ich machen,
Meine Natur,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

Männer umschwirr’n mich,
Wie Motten um das Licht.
Und wenn sie verbrennen,
Ja dafür kann ich nicht.
Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

Was bebt in meinen Händen,
In ihrem heißen Druck?
Sie möchten sich verschwenden
Sie haben nie genug.
Ihr werdet mir verzeihen,
Ihr müßt’ es halt versteh’n,
Es lockt mich stets von neuem.
Ich find’ es so schön!

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Denn das ist meine Welt,
Und sonst gar nichts.
Das ist, was soll ich machen,
Meine Natur,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

Männer umschwirr’n mich,
Wie Motten um das Licht.
Und wenn sie verbrennen,
Ja dafür kann ich nichts.
Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN
(Frederick Hollander / Sammy Lerner)

Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can’t help it

Love’s always been my game
Play it as I may
I was born that way
Can’t help it

Men flock around me
Like moths around a flame
And if their wings burn
I know I’m not to blame

Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can’t help it

Love’s always been my game
Play it as I may
I was born that way
Can’t help it

Men flock around me
Like moths around a flame
And if their wings burn
I know I’m not to blame



Also recorded by:
The Beatles; Diahann Carrol; Chas & Dave; Petula Clark;
Rosemary Clooney; Sammy Davis Jr.; Doris Day; Roy Eldridge;
Marianne Faithful; Brian Ferry; Crystal Gayle;
Benny Goodman; Billie Holiday; Nana Mouskouri;
André Prévin; Alan Price; Linda Ronstadt; Nina Simone;
Jo Stafford; The Three Degrees; Don Williams; … and others.

America 100 years ago on film

The Library of Congress a few days ago uploaded a playlist to its YouTube channel entitled America at Work, America at Leisure, containing 150 motion pictures from 1894 to 1915. “Highlights include films of the United States Postal Service from 1903, cattle breeding, fire fighters, ice manufacturing, logging, calisthenic and gymnastic exercises in schools, amusement parks, boxing, expositions, football, parades, swimming, and other sporting events.”

I watched in amazement the videos relating to the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 which featured, among other things, the “Esquimaux village” where Eskimos showed off “typical Eskimo games” like leapfrop for popular enjoyment, and a sham battle between Native Americans and, I guess, the US cavalry (part 1 and part 2). The things people found exciting back then. I once almost wrote my PhD on shows like that, you know.

But it also contains this lovely little scene, children in the surf at Coney Island. Remember, Helmut, that Russian bar on the boardwalk?

Don’t miss the boats from minute 3:02!

I stumbled across these short silent films while checking what Uwe Klemm at Eventualitätswabe is up to. And you can bet I’ll be using them for storytelling in the coming weeks. But enough for now. Happy weekend to everybody!

Tiny Tim: Tiptoe through the tulips

My niece left us again today, sadly, and she left us a lovely bouquet of orange tulips. We’d talked about how valuable tulips were in the 16th and 17th century, when the bulbs that we consider commonplace were very rare and were traded for enormous sums of money. The tulip mania led to especially frenzied trade in Haarlem during the height of the bubonic plague from 1636—1637, when bulbs were treated as currency. — So, Tiny Tim, sing it for us: A one and a two…

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Oh tiptoe to the window, by the window that is where I’ll be.
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me!

Oh, tiptoe from the garden, by the garden of the willow tree.
And tiptoe through the tulips with me!

Knee deep in flowers we’ll stray, we’ll keep the showers away.
And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight, will you pardon me?
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me!

song of the week :-) englisch lernen mit liedern

R is for the 3 Rs

The three Rs? They are “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic”.

Sir William Curtis (1752-1829) called the foundations of a basic education, reading, writing and arithmetic, the 3 Rs around 1825, when he was well over 70. Was he aware of the irony of his words? Was he funny or illiterate?

Sir Billy Biscuit’s origins were modest. Born in East London, William was the son of a manufacturer of sea biscuits, a ship’s staple known as hardtack in the US consisting of very hard unsalted bread. Business boomed during the Napoleonic wars, and so William became a very wealthy merchant. He founded a bank and then entered politics to become Lord Mayor of London and MP of the City of London, where he defended the interests of the mercantile community in parliament. He befriended King George IV and was made a Baronet in 1802.

Though he was a keen business man and politician, he was said to be almost illiterate. Yet Sir William was also an amateur cellist and owner of fine musical instruments. Surely a musician will have been able to read?

A satirical book plate making fun of him bears the Latin words for “We conquer by degrees” — and a sheep’s head!

And the wall come a’tumblin down

I’ll never forget the day the Wall came down. I was living in a big group house, actually a collection of six or seven group flats in a sprawling house on the edge of a small town on the German border. Our major arguments were about:

  • The new organic hens in the garden that meant we’d have no place for our table
  • The new goldfish in the pond that were eating up the frog eggs, which would cause the mosquitos to multiply
  • The neighbor not allowing us to collect the chestnuts that fell on our property.
  • Oh, and Bourdieu, Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Habermas, Luhman, Luckmann, Goffman (and man or men in general) and other sources for late-night, wine-driven discourse.

So when the pictures of the East Germans standing on the Berlin Wall flickered across the screen, my flatmates were less than excited.

“I don’t want those squares over here!” they said. “All they want is bananas! They get all excited when they go through the aisles at Aldi!”

We had a serious disconnect.

We read and loved East German literature, but were totally clueless about the people in the Trabis.

I’d lived in West Berlin for a few years (1983-5) and had visited a friend in East Berlin repeatedly during that time. After the Wall came down we had a little trouble meeting anew and reconnecting on unfamiliar ground in West Germany. I had also worked for the museum at Checkpoint Charlie. But most importantly, I’d grown up right behind the US Capitol during the Cold War. So perhaps I had a slightly different perspective. The wall that was coming down – or rather was starting to come down – wasn’t just the one between East and West Germany. It was the wall around Germany as a whole. And it would take time.