Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I've been to the mountaintop ...

He wasn’t sleepy so we went for a walk in the park. The sun came out in the early afternoon, just enough to chase away the bitter cold of early morning. We were in the Stadtgarten, the oldest park in Cologne, with trees wide and tall that remind me of the live oaks I used to know as a child in South Carolina, although these trees bare no moss and this is clearly not the Deep South. I expect that many of us have had moments like these, perhaps they were experienced on a mountaintop after a heavy snow, when the clouds cleared and the world was laid out before you in all it's glory. I remember a passage in “The Snow Leopard” a marvelous book of self-discovery by Peter Matthiessen. He was in his tent, high in the Himalayas, I think he had just smoked a bowl of something he had been carrying with him on his long journey from New York following the recent death of his wife … It was a moment of realization, of cosmic clarity, when for some reason he, a mere mortal, was given a glimpse of truth. Today I was sitting on a steel bench in the Stadtgarten, and had not been smoking anything exotic; the only stimulus I’d imbibed was a strong cup of coffee made with a bag of Aldi’s best. But what I experienced was no less remarkable than a moment of truth on a mountaintop.
A little before 1:00PM a train passed by, it was the sound of the train that captured my attention, then I noticed the dappling of light in the bare tree limbs above and then I saw my son, all 15 kilos of him, struggling to pull his body up the last two steps of the ladder to the tall red slide, the same slide that only yesterday he cried for me to stand under while he climbed those same steps. He didn’t announce that he was attempting the ascent on his own for the first time, nor did he call to me when he approached the summit, he simply walked with conviction to the slide, addressed the ladder and climbed.
When I saw him there at the top of the steps I nearly wept, I knew I had witnessed something momentous in his life, a marker, another signal accomplishment in his steady migration away from the nest we have so lovingly crafted for him and out into the world that could care less who he is or if he lives or dies. I was instantly sorry that his mother had not been able to witness this moment with me … I had slipped the camera in my pocket before we left the apartment and later restaged the event for her, but that could never compare with being where I was on that park bench this afternoon, and I know that and she knows that, although it will never be spoken between us. How life tortures us, spacing these moments of pure joy, with certain pain.

The search continues ...

Tonight we looked at what we hoped would be our new home for the next ten or twenty years. His Holiness and I arrived early and met the owner at the front door of an amazingly well kept pre-war building in the Belgian Quarter. It is a fourth floor walk-up, something I would not have even considered in New York, but here in Cologne all the really cool apartments are in Altbauten (old houses) and none of them have elevators, so that is that. I’ve known about this building for about three weeks since the ad first appeared in the local papers, and have walked by a dozen times to stare up at it’s gargoyled façade and imagine the perfect space within. The owner was waiting for us at the front door this evening at 6:30 when we arrived. Accompanying him was his secretary/partner/lover – I don’t know who she was or what role she plays but she was a perfect specimen of Germanic womanhood – tall, blonde, beautiful and dressed in that conservative-hip-sleek style I find very attractive. She didn’t say a word all evening.

The apartment is on the top floor of the building, which I was built in the mid 19th century. The ceilings on the lower floors are just ridiculously high – the ceilings on the top floor are comfortably normal. There are three bedrooms (all small) a nice bathroom, a very nice terrace with a view of (what else?) the Dom and the killer – a very nice sized living room/kitchen combination – just the way I like it. Now the only two drawbacks to this being an otherwise perfect space are the too-small master bedroom and the stairs. The stairs can keep you honest – I won’t be tempted to slip back into cigarette smoking with steps like that to tackle two or three or four times a day. Aside from these two items – the place is ideal. To top it off there is a wonderfully romantic, almost storybook café on the ground floor … with red lacquered fixtures, good music and a soft-spoken waitress who my two-year old son has fallen in love with. He calls her “the lady” and follows her around the café while she attempts to service the other clientele. I could envision spending far too much time in that café.

We will thrash it out in the coming days and make a decision. It is so difficult deciding where to settle down. In my experience, the first place you live is the only place you live … at least that was the general rule of thumb in New York City … Real estate prices rose so dramatically that once you found a place you liked and could afford you stayed there. I expect things are similar here in Germany where you have the added task of installing a kitchen – which is no small expense. This space will be the subject of much discussion at the dinner table in the coming days. We love the area, the building, the space, (except the small bedroom and the high floor), but there is always something.

More anon …