Saturday, May 19, 2012


Something is wrong.

My garden looks good.

Better than it ever has.

I'd like to think years of hard work have finally paid off, but more likely it's because it's May. The deer and the weeds haven't yet organized their coalition attack.

We'll be away for two weeks; who knows what we'll return to. Nipped peony buds, munched elderflowers,

fading foliage where the spring ephemerals once danced.

For now I say slange and raise a glass of elderberry wine (2010), feeling pretty proud of myself and my garden.

Not to mention the elderberry wine. An extra year in the bottle has made it sing.

Friday, May 18, 2012

spinach, mushrooms, olives, and roses

I'm not sure how or why tastes change, but this afternoon I was forced to admit I may love roses. Sure, I've smelled a fragrant rose or two in the past and thought, hey, that's not bad. But then I've wondered if it was worth the black spot and the pruning and the thorns and always decided that no, it was not.

Today I stepped out onto this Soho terrace and gasped.

In the month since my last visit the roses had exploded, producing long canes laden with absurdly lush and abundant flowers. Soft, pillowy, silky, fragrant, clichéd, irresistible.

As I weeded and deadheaded and swept I kept moving back to the roses, pushing my nose deep into the center of one flower, then another. I have been seduced.

Because I am a bad, bad gardener, I can't tell you what they are, only that they are both David Austen roses from Gowanus Nursery. When I'm back in the city I'll check my file for the names of these beauties, both perfectly perfumed, one only slightly more orange pink than pink.

In PA the deer would make short work of them, but on a New York City terrace where the air circulation is brisk and Bambi non-existent, these plants are heart-stoppers. Bestill.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Liebe Suse

When I was 22 I moved to Germany. I had a Rotary fellowship, a love of foreign languages, and no immediate desire to enter the workforce. So I headed for the Goethe Institute in Freiburg-im-Breisgau and hoped that during my 6 week language intensive I'd be able to find housing and make a plan for the year to come.

Learning German was a lot easier than finding an apartment. After weeks of disappointment, I found myself sitting in a crowd of students, waiting to fill out an application for yet another tiny room. The landlord was late and we were tense; I felt very foreign indeed. A young woman in a French fisherman's jersey asked me, in English, if I was American. That's how I met Susanne Anschuetz.

Susanne had a lead on a larger apartment, one she couldn't afford on her own. On impulse she asked me if I wanted to be her roommate and equally impulsive, I said yes. Maybe because we were young, maybe because we were desperate, maybe because we recognized a kindred spirit, we both made a leap of faith.

For a year we shared an apartment in the Kartaueserstrasse. It was an open-plan apartment, spacious, but with only a curtain separating the sleeping alcove from the living room. The apartment came furnished with one, green velour, king sized, platform bed. Funny the things you accept at 22, without blinking an eye.

Susanne was from Heidelberg and had spent time in the U.S. studying English. I can't imagine what that year would have been like without her. She introduced me to her family, her friends, the idioms of the language, and the intricacies of student life in Germany. She made me feel much less foreign.

We kept in touch. She visited New York a few times with her family and we'd talk on our birthdays. In December she said was coming to NYC with her husband to celebrate her 50th and asked me to check out the hotel.

A few weeks ago I began to wonder why Susanne hadn't answered my last email, to firm up our plans for the end of the month. I even sent an old-fashioned letter thinking maybe her email address had changed. Today, not knowing what else to do, I googled her, looking for updated contact information. Instead I found an announcement of her death, following "eines tragischen Unfalls" in February.

A fire. I felt awful asking her mother what happened, but I had to know. And now what?