To be or not to be…

These famous words that everybody knows and cites have now another meaning for me and it’s not about Shakespeare.

 

I just finished reading the novel “In One Person” from John Irving.  

 
The novel starts in the late 1950’s in New England. It’s about young Billy, in school, having trouble finding who he is. He lives with his mother, a weaker woman that copes with his education relying on the help of her family, especially her father.  They don’t talk much about Billy’s father and he only knows some war stories and of what a hero he must have been. His grandfather loves to play theater and he mostly disguises himself to play women roles. His mother starts a relationship with the literature teacher in Billy’s school who loves Shakespeare. Richard, this new man in her life, offers her and Billy some stability and hold. He is also in charge of the theatre workshop in school. Later on Billy will act in some small papers in school plays. Thanks to him, Billy decides to start reading books where he can find some answers to his adolescent questions. He wants to know more about real love and later on about “having crushes on the wrong people”. 
In the library he meets the librarian Ms. Frost, a middle aged lady, who understands his troubled mind and suggests him some classical readings starting with Jane Austen. He reads many books until he gets to his main topic “crushes on the wrong people”.  Billy feels especially attracted to her and they start meeting after the library’s opening hours.  Billy isn’t sure about his sexuality. He hopes to find answers first in literature, then in Ms. Frost and also in his schoolfriend Elaine. 
Leaving school and knowing that he likes boys and girls as well, he decides to continue his studies and hopes to find inspiration for his writing in Europe where everything should be more open. He lives for a while with an opera student, an attractive woman,  in Vienna and he also meets another male American writer like himself.
He stays in contact with his school friend Elaine who had also had a crush on the wrong person.  They meet again twenty or more years later and talk about their lives, common friends and crushes.  At the end of the novel they have both lost some gay friends to AIDS and even visit some of them together.  Billy is happy to have survived the devastation in the 80‘s and would have been even happier, if homosexuality and bi-sexuality wouldn’t have been tabu.

I had never really lost thoughts about anyone being bi-sexual and I think that most of us have heard that it is weird and that it is just like being gay. Following Billy’s steps you realize that it is not that way. Bisexuals simply like to be intimate with both sexes. They may have a preference for one or the other and they don’t have to look especially different. Of course, being bisexual doesn’t mean that they are automatically promiscuous, this is a separate category that may apply to all sexual preferences and genders.  

 

The novel confronts us with this controversial topic starting in the ‘50s and going to the 21st century.  It’s a topic that is rarely discussed openly and it is not easy to imagine someone just talking about it as if they were talking about their favorite ice-cream.  It’s not “to be or not to be”, bisexuals simply like both are both.  Being bi-sexual, gay or lesbian is definitely not being weird.

 

Just to finish, when I was young, it was impossible to mention the word “homo” or “gay” in a “decent” conversation and the term “lesbian” wouldn’t be in a dictionary (exaggerating…). Nowadays you can talk quite open about it and I’m very glad for everybody who can simply live the way they prefer. I’m also proud of having friends with all preferences. Yes, with all. Oh, and don’t start guessing 😉
Nevertheless, I was quite shocked to know that there are still parents in my age or even younger who cannot accept to have a child who isn’t “straight” or as they say “normal”. They prefer to have them out of their homes and out of their lives, if they don’t “change”.  I thought that in Germany, this wouldn’t happen anymore, but now I really wonder… 
I still hope that we can contribute a little with our thoughts and actions to help others accept their children and, of course, friends and everybody the way they are.  

The question is not: to be or not to be “different”, but to treat everybody with respect.
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Past, present and future

Although I’m a language teacher, the topic of my blog is not verbal tenses in any language. There are moments in life when you take a look at your past, consider the present and decide to maybe take a change of path or continue in the future with the route you’ve taken.  It sounds, easy, but it really isn’t.
 
Las week I watched the film “Le passé”.  The précis in IMDB: “An Iranian man deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland. Meanwhile, his wife starts up a new relationship, a reality her husband confronts upon his wife’s request for a divorce.”
 
 
This description only tells you about the very general plot and the facts that are obvious at first sight. You may think, do I have to go to the cinema to see another couple getting a divorce?   In our modern society this wouldn’t be attractive or special enough.  However, because of the title, I decided to go anyway.  I also wanted to see Bérénice Bejo, whom you know from “The Artist”, in a dramatic role.  The film has got a lot of publicity and good critiques. 
 
What is the film about?  — No spoilers… I hope…
Marie (Bejo) lives with her two daughters, her boyfriend’s son and her boyfriend in a patched type of family. She finally wants his ex to sign the divorce papers and asks him to come to France. Although he insisted on staying at a hotel, she asks him to stay at her place. This is where the plot really starts. Coming back from Iran, Ahmad, finds chaos. There are many unspoken conflicts in their daily life: the effervescent son, Fouad, eight years old or so, doesn’t want to live with Marie. Her teenage daughter hates her mother’s partner, and the youngest daughter is the only one who makes Fouad have some fun.  Her actual boyfriend, Samir, is not really free to marry her…  All these open unspoken conflicts are going to be dealt within two hours. There are a lot of disputes, shouts, struggle and psychological violence. However, watching the film is like sitting on your chair and watching these happenings through a window.  Samir thinks that the past should be left in the past. Marie changes her convictions while Ahmad has the difficult role of a mediator and tries to solve the problems talking. It is true that most of these conflicts could have been resolved, if all family members would have spoken clearly and honestly about their feelings in time. The present conflicts, started in the past, have been carried to the present and were they not discussed. If carried on to the future they would cause not only misunderstandings, but also a lot of remorse.
 
In my opinion, we all know how to speak, we do it every day, sometimes thinking more on what we say and the way we say, but usually just “chatting” around. We need to communicate because we don’t know what the others are thinking. Imagine, 
it would be awful, if we could read the minds of others and “see” what their thoughts really are.   However, I’m convinced that there are times and situations in life when it takes a lot of guts to address issues that may be uncomfortable or that may hurt a lot.  
 
I read this in Facebook on the wall of my cousin: “Want to know your past? Look into your present conditions. Want to know your future? Look into your present actions.”
It would be a good idea to start right now. 
I leave you now with your thoughts till next week.
 

Meaning and Life

Last week I went to a very interesting talk with the topic “Giving Meaning to Life” in the “Literaturhaus” http://www.literaturhaus-muenchen.de .

 

It was the presentation of the book with the same name (“Dem Leben einen Sinn geben” ) written by the philosopher Wilhelm Schmid.  Mr Schmid presented his thesis in a well toned monologue that wasn’t either boring not slow. In the last minutes of the presentation a professor of sociology asked some questions to give the chat a dialogue form.  
This all sounds quite dry and it was quite a shock to me when in the first sentences of his talk, Mr. Schmid tells the audience that the meaning of life is to live in a relationship.  My first thought was: “ OMG! Lets see if I can find any appropriate singles in the audience!”
Having taken a quick glance at my neighbors, I decided to keep the search for later. Most of them were elderly ladies with white hair and glasses.

Living in a relationship gives some meaning to life, yes, indeed. However, you cannot achieve a satisfactory relationship with another person, if you don’t have a good one to yourself. Knowing oneself and listening to our inner voice. I personally find this idea to be very true. To love another one in the best way, I have to love myself in a good way too. 
Going from the love to oneself to the love to a partner, he mentioned that some of us think we have found our meaning in life loving our other half. Mmmm, that is ok, if we have one… Does it mean that our life has no meaning, if we are alone? And the worst thing, that we lose our meaning in life, if the relationship goes wrong?  At this part I almost started to bite my nails, which I’ve never done before…

However, listening to a friend of mine sitting next to me, who took a deep breath because she’s also single, I continued listening to the talk. To my relief Mr. Schmid defined the term relationship.  Relationship means to relate, to love someone or something. That means, you have of course many relationships in your daily life: to all the people you love, like family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, teachers, etc. and that you also have relationships that can be very gratifying and intense to animals and things. You may love music, a special book, a kind of food, meditating, exercising, and, of course your pet or pets.  By this time my friend and I were sitting more relaxed and comfortable in our uncomfortable chairs.
Then he continued with the very new idea that you also have a “love” relationship with your enemy. At that point the whole audience kept their breath and looked skeptical around. “Love my enemy?”   The first thought: I have no enemies, and would I have some I wouldn’t love them… Would I?   The idea behind this is that you also have a relationship with your “enemies” and that the best we could do is to try to forge a “social” bond or relationship with our foes. He mentioned that he didn’t think the religious idea of everybody being friends and trying to be friends with everybody was ideal. Enemies could also give your life a meaning. By then an old comic book came to my mind: Donald Duck fighting his neighbor, and I thought, well, to a certain extent this idea is also true. You dedicate your energy, which is the result of a relationship, to keep going. However, I liked the idea of positive relationships better.

He then change the subject to partnership. An important key in a relationship to a partner is the way you manage four very important components: money, socks, power and sex.   At first, I listened to these elements shaking my head because I thought my mind had wandered so far away that I had misunderstood the second word, socks?   Looking at my other friend, who was sitting a chair apart, and realizing that she had also reacted to that special point, remembering our past relationships I couldn’t but laugh aloud.  I thought, very true, at some point in every love relationship these topics have to be discussed and defined, if not they are going to cause a lot of trouble. I immediately remembered our old washing machine, and got suspicious of the new one… Looking at my friend and knowing what happened to her socks I also looked at her with a wry smile.

We had almost reached the end of the talk and Mr. Schmid mentioned that for many people religion can also offer meaning to life independent of the beliefs. However, he didn’t say much about this topic, but explaining that he devoted a whole chapter of his book to it.
By the end of the talk the sociologist asked some questions about definitions, society and modern life. To get a good inside to everything, the best would be to read the book “Dem Leben einen Sinn geben”,  only in German by now.

 

I loved (= good relationship) the evening with my friends and having said it a lot of times before, we really love each other and enjoy sharing a good part of our lives with each other. 

I ‘m looking forward to our next talk and hope that you’re looking forward to reading my next post, too! 🙂

 

Berlin, Berlin…

Last November I spent two weeks in Berlin. For some of you Berlin may be of no interest or it may offer less compared to Paris or London. For others, Berlin as the capital of Germany may have a difficult or bad reputation.
 
I’ve been living in Germany for more than twenty years and had the opportunity of experiencing the Fall of the Wall here. Before those years I had only been once in West Berlin. The city was very crowded and the Wall was impressive. In the West part of the city there were observation points where you could take a look over the Wall at the East part. The German Democratic Republic was really another country although everybody was German. To be able to get an idea of this period in time there are some locations in Berlin to visit. First of all, Checkpoint Charlie which was the official point to cross from West to east Berlin during the Cold War and which has some old pieces of the wall left. 
 
Another interesting place to visit is the DDR Museum that offers a vivid view of every aspect of life in the German Democratic Republic. It is interactive and some products of the old DDR can be bought there, too.  A nice film to watch, Goodbye, Lenin.
Leaving the Cold War era, Berlin has experienced a fast modernization and is a proud example of modern architecture. Nice buildings are in and surrounding the Potsdamer Platz. One of the most famous is the Sony Center finished in the year 2000. It has place for restaurants, cinemas, offices and some living area. Next to the Sony Center there is a very big complex with more restaurants, cinemas, a new shopping mall, a theater and some first class hotels. 
If modern life with all its glamour gets to be too loud and “schrill” or jarring in about 15 walking minutes distance you can find a cultural oasis called the Kultur Forum. The famous Berliner Philharmonic is the first building that will attract your attention. If you cannot visit a concert there, take a tour and enjoy the building. Another idea would be to go on Wednesday afternoon to the small conference room where they show cultural films and other cultural events. And don’t forget that there are also “lunch concerts” to enjoy.
 
 
Next to the concert hall is the Gemäldegalerie or Picture Gallery where you can find the Old Masters of the European painting. The Gallery also offers special exhibitions like last year’s ‘ Picasso, women and animals’.  Funny title, but I loved the pictures.
Crossing the Matthiasplatz in front of the gallery, is the New National Gallery in an impressive modern building with glass walls and almost no columns to sustain the roof. It is dedicated to the twentieth century masters.
 
If you rather prefer to enjoy fresh air and green areas, very close to Potsdamer Platz you can visit the zoo or simply take a walk through the many paths along the water behind the zoo. You can smell the animals and can take a short look at some birds and lamas without having to pay an entrance 😉  If the weather is sunny and more or less warm, you can enjoy the hidden Biergarten close to the zoo. 
 
Berlin has many green areas and parks. The Spree river and its affluents offer idillic views that you can admire  taking the U-Bahn line, German for subway,  that goes to the Main Train Station. If you take one of the S-Bahn trains and leave the city for a while you will be surprised by the many lakes and woods that surround the capital. Very beautiful!
 
Going back in time and reviewing history, there is a very special area that you shouldn’t miss, the old Jewish Quarter with the New Synagogue and a lot of jewish shops and cafés. There is a building complex called Hackesche Höfe that has been modernized keeping the fashionable architecture of older times.
To handle this difficult topic, it is a good idea to visit the Jewish Museum from Daniel Libeskind. I found the building very impressive because it makes you feel the tragedy with only walking through the long aisles.  After the visit and to get you moods up a nice hot-chocolate in the coffee is the best.
 
 
Last but not least, the nightlife in this extraordinary city. Every neighborhood has something to offer:  the alternative bars in Prenzlauer Berg, the Turkish and Arab coffee shops in Neu-Kölln, elegant and classy restaurants in Berlin Mitte or nice places in other bourgeois neighborhoods like Charlottenburg or Steglitz.
Berlin is a very open minded city and you can find the best gay cafés, shops and clubs in Schöneberg ever since the 1920’s.  This makes me think  of Marlene Dietrich and her unforgettable “Blauer Engel”  and of “Cabaret” with Liza Minelli. 
 
 
 
The city hasn’t changed that much. There is fun for everyone: men and women, men and men, only women or all together… Why don’t you dare visiting a club where not only the doors swing? That would be another side of the wonderful city, Berlin. 😉