Saturday Night in Sylt

Last Saturday night in Sylt Shona and I went to ———. Boris made reservations. By the time we arrived things had already grown complex. We had only been at Boris’ two nights but they were already rubbing each other the wrong way. Shona was annoyed because Boris, amongst three of his business contacts whom he’d invited for dinner, kept asking her for the time. Why? Because he kept trying to draw attention to the watch he bought her, a Rolex which he’d sent her to a Hamburg boutique to pick up. I looked at the bling display which featured a series of tiny twinkling diamonds and a rose colored face and I felt it a slightly silly gift. But then again, I’m not terribly materialistic. Then again, neither is Shona but the men who happen to love her are. Boris and Shona are not in a relationship. But he wishes they were.

When we arrived at his house, giggling like two school girls, we leapt on the bed and flung open the windows to smell the salty North Sea air. In the darkness, the island was already beautiful to me and too slightly mysterious. The gardner had just come that day to trim the rose bushes and their pink-violet blossom scents wafted through the air. As we climbed into bed, I confessed to Shona that I felt sorry for Boris.

He’s lonely and it’s been four years and he keeps buying you these ridiculously expensive gifts and sending you on trips. Last week he even started texting her pictures of engagement rings. Then tonight he actually showed me pictures of this 9 million euro property in Mallorca he wants to buy if only you agree to live with him there part-time. This is crazy. The relationship is totally platonic. Do you really think this is fair? Each time he gets too close to you, you look as if you might leap right out of your skin. He just doesn’t get that you will never ever be romantic with him. He just refuses to accept that you will never love him. She shrugged. I know. We’ve been talking about this for years but what can I do? There’s no button I can push to make me fall I love with him. I’ve told him this. Well, I said firmly: you can stop accepting his gifts and leading the poor guy on. He is clearly suffering.

Two nights later we were seated in the restaurant packed with people. Shona, Boris announced across the table loud enough for everyone to hear, what time is it? When Shona raised her wrist to look at her watch, Boris grinned like a Cheshire cat. I shook my head and ordered another plate of pomme frites to go with my beet root carpaccio which was marginal at best. The restaurant was filled with people, overflowing really. Everyone was dressed overwhelmingly German-casual. But there was one gentleman at the table behind us who I noticed was dressed in a beautiful pair of perfectly tailored cornflower blue trousers and a pair of gorgeous brown shoes. This shocked me. Never had I seen a German man so elegant. He was also handsome. He was tall and silver-haired and seated with an equally tall stranger, a man with a beard, perhaps forty-five. The bearded stranger smiled at me. I shyly smiled back and then rose to go to the restroom. When I returned the two men were gone. Boris was looking at photographs of little Diana, my cousin on my iPad. He had bought her a beautiful little dress for her first birthday. I told him he didn’t have to but he insisted. Suddenly I looked up from the pictures of Diana and the man with the beautiful shoes and his bearded friend were back. The man with the beard said something to me. I couldn’t hear him over the noise. But he gestured for me to come over to their table and invited me to sit down. I did. At this point, Shona, slightly shocked by my forthright acceptance of their invitation, began nervously telling the other diners that I used to work in publishing.

I’m sure they’re people she knows from Berlin. The guests, including Boris believed her. In the meantime, she pulled out a few of the magazines I had formerly edited buried deep in my bag and to detract from my hasty exit, began talking about the novel I had written.

She’s writing proposals to finance the editing which will be done by a well-known editor in New York. Just to polish it before she sends it out to more agents. The business men each nodded eagerly, clearly intrigued.

Meanwhile, at the table the two men and I chatted. They wanted to know where I was staying on the island. I sat next to the dark-haired man with the beard who had asked me over. He lives in Hong Kong, he said. But he is Austrian. I listened to him speak and noticed he had almost no accent. At which point he told me he had gone to university in the States, done a masters there. I asked him where. The Boston area, he said. He had gone to Harvard Business School.

He told me he has a company, that he was in manufacturing. That he had a few factories. But after having been in Hong Kong for twenty years, he was tired now of it now and he was tired of business, really and he wanted to go somewhere he could rest. He had considered Paris and London but was settling on Los Angeles.

Oh, I really don’t like LA.

Suddenly his demeanor, which had already been quite serious, grew even more serious. What about Santa Barbara? Would you consider moving with me to Santa Barbara, he asked. I didn’t say anything. The only thing I could think was, this guy can’t be serious. He just met me fifteen minutes ago.

He told me he was headed to to Sardinia the following week and after that to a wedding in Tuscany.

Would you like to come to a wedding with me in Tuscany?

I was too stunned to answer.

The conversation went on for more than an hour. He asked me to come out for a drink with him. I told him I couldn’t. It was late and I couldn’t leave Shona and Boris. The two were now each in mutually foul moods. I could see it across the restaurant. Boris continued to ask Shona what time it was and she continued to look dutifully down at her watch and tell him. The routine had become dull. Boris had clearly had far too much to drink and was yet again pressing Shona for a commitment and waxing on and on about the Mallorca property. It was obvious, asking them to join us for a drink at another bar would have been a terrible idea and I did not wish to climb in the car with these two gentleman, no matter how refined they appeared and drive to another place on the island alone at near midnight. So the bearded gentleman accepted my no with grace and wrote down his name and mobile number and email address. 

He said he would be in Hamburg in the next few weeks. He asked if I might be in touch with him so we might get together for lunch.

I told him sure.

The next afternoon, I googled him.

I thought you said he was just some guy with a company, Shona exclaimed as a slew of news and magazine articles and press photographs appeared all across the screen, articles in German, English, Mandarin. Charitable foundations, factories all across China, Pakistan and Indonesia. Are you kidding me? There are pictures of him with French billionaire socialites.

I looked at all of the press. I didn’t know what to think.

Call him! Shona practically yelled. I don’t know if I should. Suddenly, I was fretting.

Is a guy like this, some global corporate mogul, going to ‘get’ me as a writer? Would I be able to talk to him about ideas I have for books, film? Is he going to appreciate my work? Will he get my blog?

Will he ‘get’ ‘The Fifty- Seventh Room’ ?

By this time Shona was verging on irate. Forget ‘The Fifty-Seventh Room’! Who cares about that? You need to to CALL HIM. If he asks you again to that wedding in Tuscany, you had better go.

I thought about it. I’m still thinking about it. He called me the next day as I was standing on the train station platform, headed back to Hamburg. He wanted to meet for breakfast but I was already leaving…

Note: Shona’s name is not really ‘Shona’. ‘Boris’ is not ‘Boris’. Every character I have written about and too, in part, the circumstances have been disguised. This as in a roman a clef.






More on Auster and Hustvedt

I just discovered an article published early this month on Siri Hustvedt in the ‘Hamburger Morning Post’. I’m posting part of the article here. In the meantime, I’m also embedding an interview with Auster on his unconventional memoir, ‘Winter Journal’.

Siri Hustvedt stellt ihren Roman im Schauspielhaus vor
Von Maike Schiller

Ach, die Kunstwelt, diese abgehobene Parallelgesellschaft, auch sie meint es selten gut mit den Frauen. “Artemisia Gentileschi, von der Nachwelt gering geschätzt, ihr bestes Werk ihrem Vater zugeschrieben. Judith Leyster, zu ihrer Zeit bewundert, dann ausgelöscht. Ihr Werk Frans Hals zuerkannt. Camille Claudels Ansehen ganz von Rodins verschluckt. Dora Maars großer Fehler: Sie schlief mit Picasso, eine Tatsache, die ihre brillanten surrealistischen Fotos auslöscht.”

Man kann es paranoid finden – immer sucht dieser vermaledeite Feminismus das Haar in der Suppe! – oder schlicht konsequent: Harriet Burden (und also, das darf man wohl unterstellen, auch deren Schöpferin Siri Hustvedt) weiß genau, wo welche Künstlerin zurückstecken musste. Die immer unsichtbare Frau. Burdens Plan: diesen Mechanismus offenzulegen. Die ganze Mischpoke bloßzustellen. Endlich den Respekt zu erobern, der ihr – meint sie – seit so langer Zeit zusteht.

Mit ihrem aktuellen Roman “Die gleißende Welt” und der eigenwilligen Protagonistin Harriet Burden hat Siri Hustvedt eine Figur erschaffen, die der Leser so bald nicht vergessen wird. Schon weil der kluge, verspielte und ungewöhnliche Romanaufbau, eine Art vielstimmige Collage aus Tagebucheinträgen, Interviews, absurden Kunstrezensionen und Protokollen, sich derart geschickt gestaltet, dass man sich kaum wunderte, tauchte Harriet Burden irgendwann tatsächlich in einem realen Kunstlexikon auf. Vielleicht unter “B” wie Burden, was natürlich nicht zufällig, sondern lustvoll aufdringlich “Last” bedeutet. Oder unter “H” wie Harriet, seit ihrer Kindheit Harry genannt, was das Spiel mit den Geschlechterrollen verdeutlicht. Oder unter “L” wie Lord, der ebenfalls sehr sprechende Nachname ihres flamboyanten Ehemanns, eines reichen Kunsthändlerdandys, dessen Prominenz die Wahrnehmung der kunstschaffenden Gattin deutlich überlagert.

The remainder of the article can be read here:




Paul Auster on Film as Literature

Early Sunday evening. I just watched a documentary on James Dean. It was so-so but it took me back to a time in my early teenwhen I compulsively read biographies on actors, directors and playwrights. Tonight I’m having an early dinner and thinking about what Paul Auster (see my blog below on Auster’s memoir, ‘Winter Journal’) has to say about the intersection of film and literature.

Reinvestigating the Treatment

It’s Sunday morning. I’ve just had a cup of lemon tea. Today I will attend hot yoga with Shona but before I doing so, I wanted to post something. This morning, I decided to return to my film treatment which I haven’t worked on since late February when I took a two month break from blogging and began re-writing my novel. By late February, after settling into Hamburg, I finally got around to developing the second half of this treatment. I fleshed out a lot of dialogue. Mostly dialogue between Anton Sautin and Vincent Lee.

In all honesty, the second half feels a bit cut and paste. But some of the dialogue between the characters is quite good. It does have interesting potential. This, I can see clearly. What the second half of the treatment needs is organization, more of what is motivating the main characters to do the things they do and a concise structure.

This morning, I decided to post the very end of the treatment here. For readers unfamiliar with the story, Sophie, my main character is a young American photojournalist found dead off the waters of the island of Koh Rong in the Gulf of Cambodia. This after boarding a small yacht chartered by a man with whom she was having a long-term affair. The man is Anton Sautin, a German-Russian property developer, and he has just been convicted of being responsible for her death. Dominic Laird is the reporter who travels to South East Asia to investigate.

The following scene has hints of magical realism akin to the film ‘Charlie Countryman’, a film I fell in love with. Oddly enough, I knew nothing of ‘Charlie Countryman’ when I wrote this scene.


After boarding a boat to the Cambodian island where Sautin is imprisoned, Laird walks down the dingy corridor to Sautin’s cell. We see Sautin, bearded and haggard. A guard walks back and forth just beyond the prison bars. Sautin, speaking in fragmented Cambodian, asks the guard for a cigarette. The guard gives him one. Lights it through the bars. The day’s heat is merciless, the sun shines through the prison window. From the prison courtyard we hear the sound of a lone bird singing. As the guard lights Sautin’s cigarette, we suddenly see Sophie. She is dressed in a pretty white cotton summer dress. She walks up behind Sautin and rests her head gently on his shoulder.  He turns to look at her. She crosses the room and sits in a small battered wicker chair.

The guard who had momentarily disappeared, resurfaces. This time with a visitor. The guard unlocks the cell and Dominic Laird enters. The two men look at one another. Finally, Laird breaks the silence. Do you mind if I sit down? He gestures to the chair where Sophie is seated. Before Sautin can answer, Laird does. A tense moment of comic relief. Sautin now seated on the small prison bed, Sophie suddenly transported, is seated beside him. Sautin continues to smoke. Laird is struck speechless at the entirely changed look of the developer, who is disheveled, in a white crumpled shirt which sticks to his body along with a pair of rumpled chinos. Sautin, in bare dust-marked feet. The developer stretches out on the cot. Sophie gently rests her arm over him. The two lovers and the reporter remain like that for a long while, wrapped up in the sweltering heat of silence.

Laird, now back on the boat crossing the Gulf of Thailand. Its turquoise waters shimmer in the sunlight. The journalist pulls the now battered newspaper article from his wallet which reads ‘American Journalist Found Dead in Cambodia’ and features Sophie’s picture. Laird tosses it into the Cambodian Gulf and watches it drift out across the water.




If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a starj
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are
How fragile we are how fragile we are

Zadie Smith on the Idea of ‘Multiculturalism’

I haven’t got a lot of of time for a blog posting today. Why? My two days in Berlin at the beginning of the week left me a bit behind. The trip there was rushed but full of things I simply had to get done. My time here in Hamburg in the aftermath has been terribly social. I met with a friend of Shona’s who would like me to begin working with his son one day a week on his English. He wants to pay me. I think that is a silly idea and I don’t want him to do so. But I also have to be practical, something I am not terribly good at, a fact which has historically troubled each of my parents. So I met with him, the guy who wants me to begin working with his son, at his office near Jungfernstieg on Wednesday.

Yesterday I had a brilliant coffee with Chiara, a new friend from Milan, a scientist, she studied physics and mathematics in Heidelberg and then went on to study for a degree in economics at the University of Hamburg. She is also a musician, a violinist who plays locally. When I exclaimed she must be some sort of genuis, she blushed. She walked up to me in a cafe a few months back and asked if I was a writer. A very nice conversation ensued.

Anyway, Chiara and I met yesterday because I secured a translator from Bologna to work on adapting a segment of my novel, the chapter entitled, ‘The Fifty-Seventh Room’, into Italian. Since Chiara is a native speaker, I wanted to get her impression of the translation. She gave interesting feedback which led me to believe that translation of the literary variety is far more complicated than expected. I had the piece adapted so I might approach a few literary agents in Milan since my book has an Italian main character and a small back story which relates to a segment of ancient Roman history.

I have no idea if I’ll be able to post the blog on Zadie Smith’s ‘NW’  this weekend, so I’m embedding a small clip of her talking about the concept of multiculturaliam here.

I am in a rush. If there are typos, and there generally are, I beg your pardon.


Dinner at Leaf. Birthday with Eva und Carmen

Birthday with Eva und Carmen.

Carmen nit my gift

Carmen mit my gift, Summer Solstice dinner at Leaf.

I’m in Berlin at the moment. I’d hoped to meet with a translator here, one who is most excited to adapt my novel into German. But our schedules have been tight, so we will have to meet another time. I’ve had a series of emails back and forth with a well-known editorial consultant in the States. She’s read excerpts of the book and would like to work with me to further craft some specific aspects of the narrative. I’m attempting to secure funding to work with both, am writing a proposal which underscores my newest work with them. A beautiful birthday with two good friends, and too much wine. A very good time. I am on my way back to Hamburg today and will have no time for an update until later in the week. Hopefully my blog will be up on Zadie Smith and her novel ‘NW’ by the upcoming weekend.