Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Coming up on 10,000 visits (flash post)

Since I began the blog Chapter This, the blogspot tracking feature (a google service) has measured more than 9,800 page visits. That means if you come and read the latest entry and then look at a slide show or visit older posts, each one of those is counted as a page visit. In the last month, traffic was 1,100 page visits, which includes the post Anniversary approaching, the most popular post to date. At this rate, 10,000 visits is not too far away. For me and my four-year-old blog, that's a solid number.

What do I know about the readers of Chapter This? I have four email subscribers (see the left side bar to sign up--this is a painless way to receive an email that includes all texts and images of new posts). Another bunch of people seem to head to my blog when I announce a new post on facebook. Otherwise, I know only that most readers are in the USA, followed by Germany. After that, Russia in the lead. Are you a reader in Russia? I'm curious to know. I think my Russian readership is actually robots and search engines that slip under the google radar. Perhaps the same is true for other countries (Ukraine, Poland, China, Turkey?), or perhaps I have reached readers I don't know about.

In any case, if you are a real peson reading my words and enjoying my photos, I'm glad you are there! I will continue to observe, sense and feel the world around me, and I will write my impressions here. I love hearing from readers. I understand the comment feature is not terribly user-friendly. To avoid spam, I moderate the comments and post them as soon as I see them. You can also reach me via email at <>.

Come on 10,000! Have you missed some posts? Use the left side bar to find the full history, the most popular posts, and labels that take you to varous topics (e.g., "poetry" and "grief"). I update Slide Shows, Language and Such, and Currently Reading sporadically--see the left side bar for the newest dates.

Thank you for reading!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Trailing the Berlin Wall

On Tuesday, August 12th, I visited the Berliner Mauer Gedenkstätte, a memorial to the Berlin Wall that runs about 6 blocks (1.4 km) along Bernauer Strasse in the strip once occupied by the fortified barrier between East and West Berlin. I was in Berlin again, along with Markus and Miriam, visiting my sister-in-law and her husband. Berlin: so much culture to see, so many places to shop, so many movies playing in English! It's hard to pick what to do with your three days in the city.

We'd planned a bike trip on Sunday, taking a train out to Chorin, where we rented bikes and pedaled up and down the country hills. Organic farms line the roads (Demeter). There's a cloister ruin (active as a concert site, but roofless) and lots of lakes. We had a lovely ride and capped it with an hour bathing in a lake tucked beyond a no-car road. We always feel lucky to travel with Christina and Peter, who have decades of exploration to share.

For those who know Berlin and the former East Germany, you will know that the city and its environs bear the legacy of Germany's division. When you're out in the country, as we were, you know you're in the former East. In this case, scantily populated areas are a clue, as are brightly renovated buildings, like the train station in Chorin. But the main clue is the knowledge that West Berlin was a small island that bordered East Berlin and was surrounded on all sides by the German Democratic Republic (DDR). If you leave Berlin by land or water today, you are soon in the former East by default.

Nearly 25 years since reunification, you don't necessarily notice where you are at any given time, east-west-wise. That is, buildings and space have become quite blended. I feel anachronistic when I wonder if I'm currently in the old East or the old West. The good news is it no longer matters. Throughout the city, the Berlin Wall is marked by a double line of square pavers. The line is visible at the foot of the Bernauer Straße U-Bahn station, famously made obselete by the sudden border closing in 1961. This station marks the northeast end of the memorial.

You can also see the path of the wall in the photo of me, standing just on the former West side of the line marking the wall. Alexanderplatz and its TV tower, a pride of  East Germany, was visible to someone looking over the 3.6-meter wall from West Berlin.

Bernauer Straße, northwest end of the Berlin Wall Memorial

The Berlin Wall Memorial fills the space that once was the Todesstreifen (death strip) with grassy lawns and exhibition elements in rust-brown metal. (We chose the same material for the monument to our son--see slide show 4). Adjacent buildings display large-scale graphics. Here, a famous photograph of a fleeing East German police officer, who jumped the barbed wire laid around the non-Russian sectors when the border was closed on August 13, 1961.

Iconic photo of escaping police officer.

You can listen throughout the memorial to recordings of historical speeches by functionaries and eye-witness stories. The former wall is marked by vertical rods, placed somewhat at random and providing a see-through delineation. Here the rods meet a large cube shape. And here is where the particular story of Bernauer Straße becomes clear. 

Memorial to the former apartment buildings on Bernauer Straße.

Berlin was divided up after World War II into four zones: Russian, French, British, and American, just as all of Germany had been divided this way. The divisions must have been bureaucratically drawn and made no real sense. Before the erection of the wall, people's lives involved passing through the four sectors. Suddenly, passage was forbidden. The border ran down Bernauer Straße such that buildings were in East Germany and the sidewalk to the street was in the West. At first people fled, some by jumping out windows into fireman's parachutes in the West below. The authorities began to brick in the West-side windows. Residents were resettled. Ultimately, the buildings were demolished and replaced by wall. Imagine suddenly not being allowed to go out your front door, or anywhere on that side, anymore. Recessed metal lines mark the former layout of the homes located on (and sometimes bisected by) the border.

The former Bernauer Straße 7.

Once the buildings stopped serving as an escape route, the land beneath them was dug to create escape tunnels. These are marked in the memorial with a zebra-stripe line. In the above photo, you can see a boy running along one of the tunnel lines.

Escape tunnel.

Along the memorial, daily life occurs in normal rhythms out on Bernauer Straße.

Ambulance passing.

At the midway point, there is a monument reconstructing the actual wall and the no man's land with all its fortifications. Full scale. On the old West side, you can mount a four-storey viewing tower to see down into the site. Also in the middle of the memorial is the outline of the Church of Reconciliation, a church that stood for decades in the no man's land, beyond the wall, locked away from its parishioners in the West. It was demolished in the 1980s. A new Chapel of Reconciliation, an eco-award-winning building of adobe, now stands on the site. Both of these elements escaped my photographic activities, but you can follow links to see them.

The far end of the memorial is the site of the Documentation Center, where you can view films and visit a gift shop. Walking toward it, you reach another sobering aspect of the wall and the destruction it caused. This end is a cemetery, and significant portions were flattened to make way for the wall. The following photos show the grassy expanse with children playing and people relaxing on the lawn, a stone element inside the current cemetery, and a monument marking the graves that were destroyed.

The former cemetery end of the memorial.

The memorial borders the cemetery here.

Monument to destroyed graves.

On previous visits to Berlin, these rusted rods have caught my attention as I passed by on the street car. At last we've spent a slow day absorbing the space, the beauty, and the somber, perplexing history.

The old wall. The new memorial. Reminder.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Dragonfly visitation

Last fall, I admired this butterfly in a garden in the front of the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden Baden. Markus and I had gone with my parents, who were visiting, to see a retrospective of paintings by Emil Nolde. The exhibit included gardens inspired by paintings in the exhibition. That's a nice concept, in case you're in the museum business and can put the idea to use.

As I sat, a creature came flying through the air. It was an enormous, vibrantly green dragonfly. Hello! I said, as I always do. They are such graceful and playful characters, zipping this way and that, their long bodies stretching back from busy wings. The photo above looks like sidewalk and grass until you see the intersecting lines of a dragonfly in head-on flight. I took exactly two photos at considerable distance with an iPad, and here they are.

This evening, I saw a line of motion in the yard with a cat running in lively pursuit. A dragonfly! I'd never seen one in our backyard in Flein before. Yesterday on a hike we saw shimmery blue damselflies above water lilies on a woodland lake. Back when we lived in Salt Lake City, dusk would bring a swarm of the black and white striped dragonflies I call zebraflies. They clustered over our front lawn as if they were holding a convention (we think it was because we never treated our lawn with chemicals and because of the desert flowers in the curb strip, but secretly I always hoped they came because Simon sent them). The dragonfly I saw this evening was large, like the green one in Baden Baden. It flew in circles around the sculpture in our backyard. That gets my attention, because the sculpture is a companion to the one on Simons's grave in Salt Lake City (see slide show 4). 

The cat in the photo above (from a while ago) is Sam. He's the nearly identical brother to our other cat, Simon. Yes, we have a cat named Simon. And a deceased son named Simon. But it's more normal than it sounds. The cats came with their names (and probably caught our attention that way). Simon-the-Boy knew Simon-the-Cat. There has never been any danger of mixing them up.

Simon-the-Cat looked five years younger than his current eleven as he followed the dragonfly this afternoon. Then suddenly he was aloft, his long body stretching four or five feet off the ground. The dragonfly slipped away from his reaching claw, flew higher, and disappeared over the trees.

The tenth anniversary of Simon's death has given impulse for deep reflection. The Anniversary approaching post with all its links remains available for reading any time, but I'm removing the link to the video with the slide show of Simon's life. If you missed your chance to view it, drop me a note, and I'll figure something out.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Simon's Life in Picture and Song

Ten years ago today, Simon left this life. In the face of such a powerful illness, it was all he could do. And all we could do: let him go. Sometimes the inevitability of his death makes it impossible to imagine things any other way. Sometimes, though, I can free my thinking into a different mode. Simon's illness was a tough part of life for the last three years, but it was not the main part of life. Not ever. Simon was a happy child with a playful spirit and great energy for life and learning.

This video link is a slide show (posted below for a few days only) put together a couple of years after Simon died. Over the past weekend, Miriam and Markus helped me update the photos and create a new movie file to get the quality closer to today's standards. (Miriam is quite handy in iMovie.) It shows his life from birth to death, telling the story whole. The amount of happy is not exaggerated, neither is the pain, but the biggest part is love.

November 2004
Uintah Elementary School
Gemini concert
The song "You've Crossed Over" was written by Laszlo Slomovits, a dear friend and fantastic children's musician in Ann Arbor. He contacted me around the time of Simon's death and said he'd written a song, would that be all right? Laz's song was played via recording at Simon's memorial service in Salt Lake City. Then Laz came with his brother San for a Salt Lake City residency (they perform together as Gemini) sponsored by Simon's memorial fund. They performed "You've Crossed Over" at Uintah Elemenary with the entire class of 100 2nd graders joining in singing and doing sign language on this song.

When we held a memorial service in Ann Arbor in June 2005, Laz and his wife Helen provided the music, including this song. In the slide show, you hear the song once as voice and guitar and a second time with more instrumentation. (I think of the recordings as "living room" and "studio.")

Our Simon slide show

I'm posting this special family video in honor of the 10th anniversary of Simon's death. I'll leave it up only for a couple of days. Simon, you amazing and beautiful child, we remember you!

Remembering Simon from Mary Craig on Vimeo.

The date of August 6th

7:28 a.m. I roll over and notice the red numbers in the black rectangle of my clock. My alarm will ring in about two minutes, depending how far off my plug-in digital clock is from the bang-on real time of my iPad, of the radio station.

7:29 a.m. (on the clock) Flick, flick, bang! Wham! Some building across the backyard and down a ways seems to be undergoing demolition and/or renovation. Apparently, they're allowed to start making noise at 7:30 in the morning.

7:30 a.m. Electronic marimba sound. I open my iPad and press play on the radio station I cue up for the morning (SWR2). (Rattle, wham! Wham!) I nestle back into my pillow, shoving off the comforter that's suddenly too warm after the cooling of night. Two cats trap my legs against their heavy sleeping backs.
August 6, 2014. On this date 69 years ago the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing 70,000 people...
The dying continued over ensuing years, the announcer goes on, with a toll of 128,000. He says something like that. I'm only half hearing because of the noise outside, because I'm still partly asleep.

Sixty-nine years since a bomb was dropped, an untested event. Yes, the bombs had been infamously tested in Western deserts, sickening people there. But could anyone have known what would happen to a whole city with a bomb like that? The same excuse does not hold for Nagasaki. They knew what would happen (not entirely, perhaps, just three days later), and they dropped it anyway.

There are only 365 days a year. You can't have a date all to yourself. This day, August 6th, is certainly most occupied in collective memory by the bombing of Hiroshima. It's a heavy-duty date, like September 11th, although when you compare the death toll, Hiroshima becomes distressingly unimaginable.

I won't dwell on it today. I wrote in 2013 about August 6th and my time in Hiroshima (For the solemn date of August 6, part 1 and August 6th, part 2). It's a powerful date. I will move into a separate post to think about Simon, who died on this date in 2004.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Anniversary approaching

 The tenth anniversary of the day my seven-year-old son Simon died is near: August 6th, 2004. I register its approach in several ways. It comes heavily, and I feel the weight in the heat and stillness of summer air. Even though the climate is more humid and less hot in southern Germany compared with the Salt Lake Valley, the "anniversary effect" of the season still happens. The angle of summer light, the daylight lasting into the evening, the crinkly tug of sun on skin. The late July/early August season takes me back to the last weeks of Simon's life. I don't seek this effect. I barely notice it sneaking up. Then a late afternoon rain shower throws a rainbow in the sky. Or summer sweat dries on my neck like rubber cement and my mind is sent back to the pathways I took around the Utah house: the kitchen, outside in the yard (to the pumpkin), from bedside to bathroom and quickly back. Simon died at home, in a process as fully integrated with our daily lives as it was extraordinary. The memories feel like that, too.

I've been doing exploratory writing about the summer of 2004, looking at the two months of time that passed when we knew Simon was dying. That writing has also stirred up memories and sent me into the archives of Simon's life. In anticipation of the anniversary, I want to present a review. Some of the readers of this blog followed Simon's Place as events unfolded. Even if you've read some of these postings before, I think you will be amazed, as I am, at the extensiveness and beauty of the record.

The summer of 2004

Looking back, I've always identified early-mid June as the time we knew for sure that Simon's disease would run its course and he would die. Yet there seems to be no point in June at which we wrote "Simon is dying." Early in July, there's a footnote that explains his transition into hospice care to help him "die as peacefully as possible." I don't believe we were trying to protect the information so much as we were in a process. Even after the June conversation with Simon's doctor in which he predicted "weeks, a month, maybe two," I think we moved forward day by day. Simon was living, and we were parenting and caring for him as we always had. I don't for a minute believe we were in denial of his approaching death. But we couldn't know what it would be it until it happened.

Since the Simon's Place entries are reverse chronological, you may want to scroll to the bottom and work your way up on each page. I've written (RC) for those links. If internal links on Simon's Place send you somewhere, navigate by date. (Some pages have since become archives.)

What's Happening June 2004 - (RC) the month we learned Simon's cancer was terminal

Photo Gallery June 2004 - Simon looked and felt pretty great in early June but grew sicker

Celebration of Life Party on July 1, 2004 - Simon's chance to invite all his friends (posted one year later)

Celebration of Life Photos - the short version, note Simon's striped chair (I think of him every time I sit in it)

Celebration of Life Photo Gallery - lots of people, lots of photos (web photo galleries have come a long way since then!)

What's Happening July 2004 - (RC) using good moments despite advancing disease

What's Happening August 2004 - (RC) Simon died on August 6th

Grann's Prayer over Simon's Body, August 6, 2004 - a moving and brave offering of thanks

Simon Says June-August 2004 - (RC) especially here, scroll to the bottom and read chronologically

Simon's Memorial Service - the invitation says a lot about what was important to us; remember Mapquest?! Note the links Mary's Remarks at Simon's Memorial Service and Lullaby: Der Mond ist aufgegangen.

Simon the Dragon by Erik Troberg - Erik's tribute, read during the service, is one of many moving tributes linked at the bottom of the Tributes page.

Message Board at Simon's Place - (RC) July and August 2004 carry the sadness of many people. (You can still send a comment there via the link at the top of the archive page. The current page is here.)

Greetings for Simon from All Over the Place!  - if you sent one, you may remember


For the anniversaries I'm posting something for each year. A few things I've never written about elsewhere, so I'm adding a few photos as well.

First anniversary 2005

Two of a Kind concert at the Hogle Zoo - sponsored by the Simon Craig Vodosek Memorial Fund

Second anniversary 2006

What's Happening 2006 - (RC) a lot of this writing is anniversary-ish

Simon's Way at Brighton Ski Resort - a commemoration in April 2006 (amazingly, the media links are still live)

Third anniversary 2007

What's Happening later years - (RC) I can't recall yet where we spent this anniversary. The bottom-most entry, 2007, is the original Simon's Pumpkin post.

Fourth anniversary 2008

Simon's grave monument (slide show 4) - erected on August 1, 2008 exactly. It took us four years.

Fifth anniversary 2009

The Simon Craig Vodosek Memorial Fund sponsored this cute guy on the new carousel at the zoo.
Conservation Carousel at the Hogle Zoo
in Salt Lake City: River Otter
Photos from August 3, 2009 remind me we were with the Craig clan in Ohio that summer, and we toured the Mansfield, Ohio factory where the carousel had been made.

Beginnings of a horse.
Another otter...

Sixth anniversary 2010

We placed a gravestone to mark the burial spot of the urn next to the monument at Mt. Olivet. Just in time before moving to Germany that summer. Miriam and I visited the grave (and Carl's mom's) with Carl and Natalia on August 6th.

Natalia, Carl, & Miriam

There was a rainbow.

Seventh anniversary 2011

After another Craig clan gathering in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, we visited in Utah and took a wildflower hike to Catherine Pass with Utah friends.

Eighth anniversary 2012

Posted on Facebook, August 5, 2012:
We joined the people of the Arlington Street Church (UU) for worship this morning and took part in their Joys and Sorrows (great format, by the way, with a half-sheet to fill out before the end of the first hymn and then it's read aloud by a minister who invites you to stand as he reads, over Spirit of Life softly on the piano). We shared: 
We remember our son and brother, Simon, who left us eight years ago tomorrow. We love you and we miss you! 
And we were lifted up by the caring of strangers. After church, we took a ride on a swan boat.
Ninth anniversary 2013
Tenth anniversary 2014

Stay tuned.