PARADISE TO GO
Five meters through the air, and I can still remember it all as if it were yesterday. A flight that ignited my passion for words. Following the bike accident, I had to stay put for a month, and my parents supplied me with books to keep me occupied. And the more books I read, the more they had to bring me; and by the time I was finally on my feet again, I was hooked.
I was twelve. By fifteen, I was already hard at work on my first novel. 180 pages in, however, my father literally dragged me back to earth–and a good thing, too. I would never have passed to the next grade.
Over the years, that fire continued to flicker. And here, at long last, is the upshot.
But what has Paradise to go to do with Wiener schnitzel?
The book was written, in part, in the Black Forest, and, in part, in the Big Apple—the big, gold, capitalistic apple—worlds that couldn’t be more dissimilar.
On one hand, Strittberg. With its panoramic views of the Swiss Alps across the river Rhine, its invigorating mountain air, its clutch of farmhouses, and its rustic country pub—a tiny hamlet some called home and others sought for holiday—a peaceful refuge and, for me, a solitary one. I went there to write. That, at least, was the plan. That my monkish life soon turned less than lonely, I owe to Olga.
I’ve no idea if Olga was actually her name. No matter. For me, she was Olga from the instant we first met. The name simply came to me, and it stuck. My Olga, by the way, was a cow.
At 10:00 o’clock each day, I’d interrupt my writing to clear my brain and stretch my legs. My stroll would take me past a field of cattle. One of the herd would give me more than a cursory glance before returning to grazing, and that was Olga. The single thing that stood between us was an electric fence. One day, I simply introduced myself and inquired after the quality of the grass; told her what I’d had for breakfast, and how my book progressed. And she…listened.
Our second encounter was much the same. I’d stopped, and one of the cows separated herself from the others and approached. And before long, I’d reach the bend in the road to find her awaiting me by the fence. Did she possess an inner clock? OK, I was out every day at the same time–but how did she know when it was 10 o’clock? And how long before I came this way again?
Olga! She had the most alluring eyes I’d ever come across: soft and round and deep, with a tacit understanding of life. No matter how exasperated I felt on any particular day, I’d dive straight into those eyes, and all was right with the world. Like a powerful stream, that swept us away to the exhilarating shores of the unknown. And as long as I had Olga, there was nothing to fear.
Once, I’d thought all cows the same. But now, I knew how much I’d miss her when I had to return to civilization for a while; and I went to say goodbye. I’d grown accustomed to her every curve, the unmistakable way with which she moved. In a herd a thousand strong, at a glance I’d readily have known her. When I came back, my way next morning was immediately to her; and we continued, picking up where we’d left off the time before.
The day came, however, when I was away almost a year. When I at last returned, yes, beyond the fence there was still the herd, the cows. But no Olga. That evening, when I went to the country pub, I thought to ask Frau Ebner where Olga was. But…did I really want to know? Looking back, I suddenly remembered—following the long journey and glad to find the pub still open late—I’d hungrily ordered Wiener schnitzel, and yes, dined with hardy appetite.
Now do you understand what Wiener schnitzel has to do with my novel? And why, ever since, I find myself ordering far less meat than once I did? Whenever I see schnitzel on the menu, I think of Olga …
On the other hand, the Big Apple: Greenwich Village.
Across the street, the White Horse Tavern, an old artists‘ pub dating back 1880, where the great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, fell from his stool for the very last time following eighteen straight whiskeys. Years before, his ‘Under Milkwood’ had impressed me deeply. And, in Berlin, one of my friends was a gifted translator of his works. So, in life, what goes around, somehow comes around.
Looking left, coming out on Hudson Street, I’d see the soaring twin towers of the World Trade Center. Unforgettable, in the clear New York morning air, an immaculate blue sky above; or, in the evening, as night fell and all its windows aglow against the fading red beyond the river. Today, the towers are gone, of course; and I turn quickly to the right, and east along Bleecker, where the eager millenials, cell phones in hand, await their turn along the street outside Magnolia Bakery…
Rante, a young, good looking actor, finds himself again unemployed when he encounters the love of his life, Amina. For her, he would catch all the stars in the sky—but will he be able to secure a reasonable life for their future? Yes, as it happens. But an entirely different life than he’d ever dreamed.
Like a pile of old clothes, Rante soon discards his old existence, to embrace a glittering new one. A life he will buy with a lie—a lie that may well lead to his ruin. And he hopes, of course, that day never comes …
The journey of a charismatic social climber, a charming lady-killer. A story fraught with power, corruption, sex—and the ever fascinating game of love and chance. The time: 1967 – 1975.
The European overlay also provides the non-European reader with the pleasures of a tourist—first-time or habitual—in traipsing back and forth across the Continent, taking him from Berlin to Copenhagen to Paris, from Heidelberg to the Rhineland, and on the Greek Isles, the South African Tsitsikama Forest, and ultimately to Rante’s own amenity-laden condominium Utopia on the Baltic Sea.
“I found myself thoroughly immersed from beginning to end…” (a reader)
“A real page turner, I finished it in two days…” (a reader)
“I really enjoyed “Paradise to Go.” Rante’s adventures and misadventures kept me riveted throughout…” (a reader)
“Enjoyed every moment of it. Can’t wait to read it again…” (a reader)
Whimsical (excerpt of a mail from a close friend)
Whimsical is a bit funny, a bit ironic, much like the book
itself. And Rante, of course. A good word. I meant it in
the best of senses. It provokes a warm smile.
The book has a lot of humor. A human comedy, full of
moments we all recognize in ourselves. And we smile,
as Rante struggles, because we KNOW exactly how he
feels. Whimsical is a great word, and you’ve written a
wonderful, witty and moving story. One that carries
underneath, the whimsical turns of fortune.
I love the book. I love it because it is whimsical. And moving.
But after that, I was in! And I took off down the West Berlin Avus, flying into the final stretch.
And then, the terror returned. Alone, at night, beneath the canopy of Harry’s immense four-poster.
He was already off on tour, and the flat was mine till the end of August. Before going to sleep, I went over once again the details for the morning, to make sure I was completely prepared. I was. I re-read my lines for the scenes tomorrow. And I had them cold. I ran them again and again, half-asleep, just to be sure, mumbling to myself the whole night long.
I got up feeling absolutely wretched. And couldn’t remember a word. My head was as empty as if I’d never set eyes on the script.
What was the first take? What was my first line? What about a washing machine? I needed the script, the script…ah, yes…department store…my mother…I was supposed to say, ″Yeah. A new washer ain’t no luxury. The old one makes such a racket…drives me up the…what?…the something something wall.…″
Raining buckets at 7 AM, when I left the flat. I was due on location at 7:30. On the Kudamm. A department store, not far from where Dutschke had been gunned down. Last night I’d driven by, so I’d know exactly where I had to go.
Ten past. Far too early. I parked on the divide. The radio had the Stones. ″No Expectations″.
No expectations? This didn’t fly. On the contrary, I had huge expectations—while, nevertheless, I was in a blue funk.
I cranked the volume as loud as I could—hoping, I guess, that some of Jagger’s wildness might just pass to me. Nervously, I pulled at my cigarette. And inhaled deep. I was really scared. I looked over and noticed the two Alia Film VW buses parked next to me. So, I wasn’t the first one here.
As soon as the song was over, I killed the radio and got out. The clothes they’d asked me to bring were in my shoulder bag. The first scene said ’somewhat casual‘, and I’d dressed the part. Tight jeans, bulky-knit sweater, red. A little on the loud side, maybe. Or was it? The main door was locked. I found my way in through a side door, and someone said, ″Up one flight.″
And there they all were.
The lights in place, the crew in preparation for the shoot. I found Hubmann standing beyond the hustle and bustle, talking to a bearded guy with a huge mane of hair. I went up to the two of them and tried a professional well-here-I-am-what-now? Hubmann gave me a quick hand, interrupting his conversation only long enough to tell me to go wait in my dressing room.
″Through the door, first left, first room on the right.″ And with that, back he went to the bearded mane.
Is this the way he treats his leading actor? Through the door…left, right… I’d expected better than that.
The dressing room was occupied. An old woman sitting in a chair, reading a newspaper, smoking. The moment she saw me, she leapt to her feet with a dexterity I wouldn’t have dreamed possible.
″Fritzie…right? Come on in, kid, lemme give ya a hug.″
Berliner accent. Voice, a nicotine rasp. She was fatter than Amina’s old friend Hilda, and her face read like a bas-relief—bags under the eyes, two rainbows of plum-tree gum.
She hugged me. And stepped back, beaming. ″Oberdorfer. But you call me Gaby. I’m here t’polish yer nose, kid, and put the final spit in your hair. Let’s see what we can do with the mug.″
Eight. Time to start. Hubmann was outlining the first shot to the actress playing my mother. The bearded mane turned out to be the cameraman.
″OK. The two of you come down the aisle, camera tracks back ahead of you,″ Hubmann turned to me, and in a soft voice and grand effete gestures: ″At this mark, the camera goes left, and you, Rante, stop on the mark in front of the washing machine. You, Frau Brenner, just after, on this mark here. Look at the washer, everyone loves the washer, yes? Then, dialogue dialogue dialogue…Clear? OK, let’s do a dry run. Quiet please!″
Mother and I went to our starting marks. Silence, and everyone seemed to be watching us.
″OK then…action!″ shouted Hubmann. And off we went.
Three steps and, ″Cut!″ yelled Hubmann. And stared at Frau Brenner. ″That’s the way you intend to walk?″
″I’m sorry. Is there something wrong?″
″Is there something…? You walk as if, excuse me, as if you spent the whole night fornicating.″
″You don’t, as a rule now, waddle, do you? Legs spread wide. Now, what’s the problem? I trust I won’t need to show you how to walk?″
″No, Herr Hubmann.″
″Then let’s all go back and take it from the top.″
We went back, and I heard Hubmann swearing under his breath. The woman was at least fifty. A worry-worn mother-type, perfect casting for part. Beneath the makeup she’d gone white, lips trembling.
Hubmann stood five meters off, watching us like a hawk, one finger up his huge beak—enlarged, no doubt, by this nervous habit.
Once more, dead in our tracks.
″Frau Brenner, spread your legs all you want, in the privacy of your own home, but not, I repeat, not in front of the camera! I don’t care what it was you were up to last night, but you’re not going to tell me, Frau Brenner, that this is normal!″
The crew worked hard to stifle a laugh.
″I…I…″ The woman at my side was shaking like a leaf . Well, we are off to a fine start, I thought. I just prayed he wouldn’t pull the same stunt with me.
″Action…!″ Take three. Off we went again, one ear cocked, waiting the interruption. And it came. ″Not to be believed! Now she’s so knock-kneed, you’d think she just had her what’s-it sewn up. Jesus-Mary!″
A loud sob uttered next to me. We hit our marks. I stopped by the damned washing machine. Now, dialogue, dialogue… Why didn’t Hubmann stop us? What now, keep going? I glanced out the corner of one eye.
″Now what?! Lines, boy, say your lines!″ he screamed at me.
Gone. Up. Completely blank. I couldn’t even remember I was supposed to be interested in the whatever-it-was-called in front of me.
Helpless, I shrugged.
″Herr Kleinknecht. We don’t pay you to hold your tongue. We pay you to say your lines. Please…″
″I…I’ve gone up. Sorry.″
″Sorry? To me? Christ! this all costs us time and money! This is what I get, working with amateurs! And what is this? What is this? Red? The sweater is red? Why?″
What could I say? Better keep my mouth shut. Before I find my foot in it.
Dangerously quiet, Hubmann stood feet planted, finger in his nose, head to one side, eyes searching the answer in his shoes. ″Who’s the wardrobe? If I remember right, we did…did engage someone to handle wardrobe, am I right?″ His head jerked up and he screamed, ″Gruen! Your department, unless I’m mistaken!″
He didn’t need to shout like that. Frau Gruen, who’d seemed happy with my outfit, stood just two steps behind him.
″I’m…here,″ she peeped.
He turned on her. ″What’s this? Is this your doing?″
She swallowed. ″Casual. Jeans, sweater. I think…that’s the look.″
″Is that so!″ Hubmann flashed, devastating her. ″You think that’s the look! And in view of the circumstances, do you still hold to that opinion, may I ask?″
″I thought, after all—″
″I’m not interested in what you thought. I’m only interested in what I see under the lights. And what I see is shit. Shit, understand? And I’ve no use for shit.″
″No use for…″ She was absolutely beaten.
″What the hell kind of film do you think we’re shooting here? Some left-wing agit-prop documentary? Red!! Is this free publicity for your political persuasions?″ He was relentless. ″We are attempting…we are attempting here to create something of social significance, if you have any idea just what that means. Tell me, what have the Commies to do with social significance?″
She silently implored him.
Hubmann shot her a final glance, and turned away. ″Can you believe it? The kind of people I have to work with! Doesn’t understand at all the point we’re trying to make here. But the money. Ah, that she understands!″ He spun back and screamed, ″Two minutes, and I want this man in another sweater or I am going home! I’m not here for my own amusement, you know. Charcoal-gray, loden green, Frau Gruen… I don’t care. But red is absolutely out!″
Frantic activity. Hubmann stood like a Doric column, spellbound, eyes fixed on his watch. One of the extras was asked to lend me his sweater. Frau Gruen, trembling with fear, pushed me in front of Hubmann, and stood, cowering in my shadow.
″Will this be suitable?″ obsequious as she could muster.
The tiniest trace of a smile. ″Not bad. Beige, hmmm. Considering the mood of the scene. You see? You can do it, you can come through if you try. Is it always necessary for me to lose my temper first?″
Once more, dry run.
This time, he picked away at his nose in silence. And this time, like a miracle, my lines surfaced. ″Yeah, a washer ain’t no luxury. One we got makes such a racket, drives me up the goddamn fuckin‘ wall!″
″But we can’t afford it, son.″ My mother took my arm. ″Come on.″
Hubmann sighed, satisfied. ″OK! At last, we can shoot this thing!″ Then to me, „Why are you making like a scarecrow? Hands, dangling as if they belonged to someone else. Put them in your pockets.″
″Jeans are pretty tight.″
″Are they. A jacket then. Frau Gruen!!″
″Herr Kleinknecht here needs a jacket. With pockets. So he has somewhere to stick his fucking hands. Get one. Fast! We’re just about to shoot this.″
Several minutes ticked by. Hubmann leaned against the wall, intent upon his watch. ″Exactly six minutes, thirty-five seconds,″ he grumbled as Frau Gruen returned, several jackets over her arm. ″Never heard the old adage, ‚time is money‘, Frau Gruen? Do you think all of this comes for free?″
″I’m working as fast as I can,″ she stammered.
″Then I’ll have to resign myself to that, won’t I? Let’s see what you’ve brought.″
I tried the jackets.
″Too short. Jesus! what was in your mind when you picked that?…Disaster, total disaster…Take that off at once!…Breast pockets? God! you’ve got to be kidding…! Like to hear honestly just what I think, Gruen?″
″There’s one more. But you won’t like it,″ she whispered.
″How do you know? Are you able to read my mind? Let’s see it, let’s see it. God! who is this woman?″
She scurried out, and back. Red knit. Red. I was helped into it, while Hubmann brooded. Hands thrust into the baggy pockets, I waited on Armageddon.
Hubmann stood for some time, submerged in his assessment of the garment, everyone on the set held their breath.
A smile. Hard to believe, but in fact, he smiled. Almost shy and tender. And took one step back. ″Do you see what I see?″ he asked, almost piously.
″What do you think, Gruen?″
She stepped forward, her face one giant question mark. ″What…is it, that you see…Herr Hubmann?″
Instead of answering, he went over to the poor woman and gave her a kiss on the forehead. ″Gruen,″ he said solemnly, ″this is it. Precisely what we’ve been looking for. You’ve outdone yourself this time. Yes, yes—perfect!″
″Do you really think…?″ She was giggling in hysterics.
″Brilliant! And the colors—beige, red. This combination. My God! the character!″ He seemed genuinely moved. ″An inspiration—the colors—an inspiration! Now at last, my children, back to work! Red points the way to the future. At the same time, moderated by the beige, an earthy paean to the fundamental meaning of life. My profoundest admiration, Frau Gruen!″
″Thank you,″ she gasped, just before going to pieces.
″Avanti! avanti! let’s go. Nothing stands in our way now!″
The set began to hum.
Gaby lumbered over to me. ″Lemme powder the nose, kid.″ Helpless, I stared at her, unable to say a word. All of this was too much for me.
She dabbed the sweat off my brow. ″Chin up, kid. Don’t let it get you down. Hubmann’s an old pain-in-the-ass. He always behaves like this at the start of a picture. Just his way. Don’t look like a monkey on a string.″
Back to the top. My head, a whirlwind. The lights, blinding.
″Sound!″ Hubmann called.
″Rolling.″ It began to purr.
A man stepped in front of me with a clapboard. ″38—take one!″ And slated the scene.
My legs felt like rubber. I was fluttering like a frightened bird. Hubmann picked away with excitement. Ahead, the big white machines, in front of them, our marks. A new dishwasher. Help! not dish…the one for the laundry…what? I hit my mark, out of control. Now the lines, lines! We needed a machine…like that, white… The camera purred away. ″We need…please, mother…″ Desperate, I stared at my partner. She was blank. ″We need this…machine…″ I saw the tumbler. What the hell was it we needed? ″…washing machine…the fluttering of the dishwasher…ah…ah…washing machine…that!″
That’s it, I thought. Blew it. Why didn’t the ground just open up and swallow me? I didn’t dare look up. It was my turn now, and, man, was I ever going to get it!
I felt him moving in. He stopped. Dead in front of me. I waited for Mount Vesuvius to blow. He laid a hand on my shoulder. Why? I looked up. And encountered the understanding, fatherly smile.
″What can I say…I…I—″
″No problem. Absolutely normal.″ His voice lapped gently. ″Don’t worry about it. You’ll get it.″
″Please, let me try and ex—″
″The way you look: the character, exactly. The way you moved—ah! gorgeous, gorgeous—tension, completely gone! Just a little shaky on the lines.″
″I know them…really know them cold—″
″Of course you do, of course. Let’s take a moment, talk it over. Trust me. Coffee break!″ he shouted so loud, my ears rang. ″Take ten!″
He took me under the arm and led me to the café. Good, the feel of his touch. There he was, the famous director, sitting opposite me, and ordering coffee. I no longer understood the world.
He reached across and patted me on the arm. ″Nothing to get worked up about, Rante. Your first time in front of the camera. I know how difficult that can be. Many of your well-known colleagues experienced exactly the same thing. Cream? sugar?″
And did they all experience directors like Hubmann? I wondered. The director himself was the only one to blame for the debacle just now in front of the goddamn camera!
″From now on, you’ll see, like butter, my friend, butter. I’ve always had a nose for talent. Trust me.″
Something was still nagging at me. I plucked up my courage. ″Herr Hubmann, you mentioned when I read, that we’d be shooting in black and white.″
″And now, we’re shooting in color?″
″Alas, no. Far too expensive. Why do you ask?″ He regarded me with something akin to astonishment.
″Well, because you made such a point over the color of the sweater. Is that important in black and white?″
″Strange you should ask me that,″ he drawled. ″But, I am going to, nevertheless, answer, given that you are still new to the game. It’s like this: color is, for me, a vital necessity. My artistic inspiration, come what may, hinges on it. I am so sensitive to it, so dependent, that the wrong color, wrong combination, can wreak havoc with my artistic impulse, to say nothing of my personal vision. Can you understand? And this—this alone—is the reason I have to fight to the death to get the balance of color exactly right.″
″I see,″ I said.
″But now, back to work! Drink up. I’m sure everything will go off like clockwork now. You are going to surprise yourself, all of us.″ He got up. ″By the way, would you like to join me for dinner tomorrow? We could talk more at leisure over the approach to your character and so on. Would that be convenient?″
Gaby fussed over me. ″Nix, nix, kid. Shame on you. You do that again, and you’ll end up taking a hike.″
″I’ll do my best. Promise.″
″Hubmann’s good. And he’s loyal. Once he takes you to heart, you’re with him for life. I’m on every film he makes. So’s she, Brenner. And that idiot, Gruen, what a goat, makes you wonder.″ She warned me, in her Berliner fashion, ″Old pain-in-the-ass is queer. And you seem to tickle his antennae. Saw it right off. So watch your crotch, kid.″
Clockwork. Hubmann was right. And he was kindness personified. ″Can you feel, Rante, how the character begins to grow?″ He even found a few kind words for my mother. ″Nice, nice. So much more human.″ To the script-girl: ″Print that! But just to be on the safe side, we’ll do one more. Places, please!″
We did a third as well. During the second, a light exploded with a bang. But by then, Hubmann seemed content. He was in a great mood, the mood was infectious, and it colored the entire day.
In spite of that, I was completely wiped out by the time I hit the flat. I dozed off in front of the TV, running over the scenes we’d finally shot.