20 January 2014

A Suitcase in Berlin

"I still have a suitcase in Berlin 
That's why I have to go there sometime soon. 
The joys of days gone by 
Are all still in my little suitcase.  

I still have a suitcase in Berlin 
It stays there, too, and that makes sense. 
In this way it's worth a trip, 
Because whenever I'm homesick, then I go back."*

Nobody delivers Ich hab' noch einen koffer in Berlin like Marlene Dietrich, though Hildegard Knef, with whom Marlene "shares" the above video, comes close. The lyrics are evocative, poignant, and tug especially hard at the heartstrings of those of us who live far from our former homes and have bits and pieces of our lives folded, boxed and stored all over the place. A friend of ours here in Búzios, a chef, has her winter clothes hanging in a closet in Amsterdam and a trunk full of summer dresses in Cannes. Now that she's between jobs, she also has an entire restaurant's worth of kitchen equipment sitting in her mother's house up in the Brazilian mountains. Mark and I still have a couple of boxes of stuff in a basement in Massachusetts, including my 46-year-old collection of theatrical playbills, ticket stubs included. And my hard-won high school trophy pictured here — second place for original oratory in the National Forensic League's 1967 district tournament — still sits on my mother's fireplace mantle. Well, at least I think it does . . .

Virtually all of us have had the experience of leaving some of our things in our parents’ attics when we go off to college, or to settle into our first jobs. Then we start spreading out, leaving toothbrushes and a change of clothes with boyfriends/girlfriends. As we mature we start to consolidate in homes of our own. But life takes its twists and turns, we start moving and changing course, and before we realize it we once more have "stuff" all over the world, and we’re the subjects of one of George Carlin’s most brilliant riffs:

In this five-bedroom house Mark and I currently live in, we have what we call our Room of Last Resort, the fifth bedroom that just naturally turned itself into a storage room. We may not have any children who can leave their "stuff" with us in that room, but over the years this Room of Last Resort has become a repository for the personal effects of homeless or (sadder still) deceased friends. When our friend Hugo died, another friend who was clearing out his house asked if we could store some of his possessions until his family was able to come from Argentina and take charge of it all. Of course we said yes, and for at least a year we stored boxes and boxes of Hugo's personal effects. It was a bit morbid, I admit. I teared up every time I wandered into the room and something of Hugo's caught my eye. But Hugo's family finally came and took most of his stuff back to Argentina with them. They didn't take everything, though, and to this day we still have some of Hugo's stuff. Not to mention Hugo's girlfriend's artwork, which hung all over his house. Living now in Buenos Aires, she's told us that she doesn't want the art back — it's too painful for her. So that, too, sits in our Room of Last Resort.

    Some of the unclaimed artwork . . .          

. . . in our Room of Last Resort.

And then there are our temporarily dispossessed friends. We stored a king-sized mattress and box spring set for a former employee of ours for six months, while he was in the northeast of Brazil going through his final training for work on Petrobras offshore platforms. And if you read my prior blog post, you'll recall I spoke of a friend who lost her house in a landslide in December. Whatever she was able to salvage is now stored in three places, and one of those places is — you guessed it — our Room of Last Resort. Sie hat noch einen koffer in Búzios.

*Ralph Maria Siegel, composer/Aldo von Pinelli, lyrics

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