This would have been a hell of a lot easier if I had just asked my dad a few more questions.
Questions about life in Berlin; where he lived and worked, when he left, how he got out.
Questions about life in Shanghai; where he lived and worked, when he left, and how he got to the U.S. from there.
(Similar questions remain regarding my mom’s journey from southern Germany to Scotland, and finally the U.S.)
Maybe my therapist—or, mental health provider, in more genteel terms—can explain why I have been so obsessed, as of late, to find out more about my parents personal history; even just the basics as to where they lived B.F.F. (Before Fantastic Frank).
I am willing to bet that my very important life back then—like watching hours of television, cruising main street, worrying about getting a date—took precedence over learning about the amazing stories my parents could have told. I suspect that it was generally universal for us first-generation children of foreign-born parents to assimilate rather than differentiate.
In other words, we wanted to fit in as typical American teenagers, not stand out as somehow different.
Unfortunately, since the funeral for my dad was almost 40 years ago, unless you know someone well versed in the fine art of conducting a séance, I am left to digging up other sources of information—if you can excuse my pallid pun.
(Ditto for my mom, just not that many years ago.)
Nowadays, I look for whatever clues might be out there; whatever crumbs might lead me back “home.”
Last November, an article in the Sacramento Bee, by Victoria Dalkey, caught my attention with a full-paged spread about one of the world’s most iconic photographers, which was headed with a compelling picture of street life in Shanghai during the time my dad lived there.
Dalkey’s story was about the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) exhibit on Henri Cartier-Bresson.
This exhibit, for which I finally made the trek to the big city to see, was said to be “the first large-scale retrospective of his work to be shown in the United States for more than three decades.”
There was a previous exhibit on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York during World War II. As it had been thought that Cartier-Bresson might likely have been killed during the war, especially during his three years in captivity in a German labor camp, no one expected to see Henri.
The possibly posthumous exhibit was humorously nothing of the sort when quite unexpectedly Henri showed up.
“SUPRISE…I’m really not all that dead.” (My words, not his quote…as far as I know.)
Or, maybe he could have quoted Mark Twain and said,
"The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
Well, that would have been true, at least until seven years ago.
But my favorite quote of the exhibit was painted on the wall, although I am not sure if the words were actually Cartier-Bresson’s or the person who set up the current exhibit.
Nevertheless, these should be the words to live by for any world traveler, wannabe writer, and someone wishing to “capture life’s decisive moments on film,
“The street is a theater, admission free.”
Simple. Elegant. True.
The exhibit runs through the end of this month and supposedly contains some 300 black & white photographs, including many very artistic pictures of very naked women.
All this personal pilgrimage stuff made me thirsty, so it was around the corner to Thirsty Bear Brewing Company.
I often gravitate towards the “smooth mouthfeel” of ales pushed with nitrogen (you beer aficionados know what that means) so I tried their Kozlov stout, which advertises the flavors of espresso coffee and bittersweet chocolate (for sure on the espresso, the chocolate was a little more “subtle.”).
For you beer snobs, the numbers were 14.5 Original Gravity, 35 International Bittering Units, and 6.3 Alcohol by Volume.
O.K. I have no idea what those terms and numbers mean—well, I understand alcohol—but the beer was one of the best I have ever tasted.
While I did spend quite some time carefully looking at the Cartier-Bresson exhibit, I never saw a picture of my dad, but I did have one humbling experience during my visit.
There was one picture of some men standing outside a building in Paris, with one older gentleman who was clearly balding and with a typically European nose (but, was definitely, NOT my dad). Anyway, two women were standing behind me looking at the photo, then looking at me, and then looking at the photo, and finally said,
“You know, you look just like that guy in the picture.”
If that had been said with a picture of George Clooney or Brad Pitt, I would have walked away all puffed up and proud.
As it was, the comment made me walk a little more bent over and feeling all the almost-sixty years old that I am.
And, that was about the time I left the museum and went for that beer.