According to the German Bread Institute, there are 3,200 kinds of bread in this country. One important reason for this extraordinary diversity is political: the fragmentation of what today is Germany into as many as 340 different states, city-states and duchies for a period lasting from the end of the 13th century through most of the 19th century. Bread varied, and still does, from one town to the next, its distinct textures, flavors and shapes rooted in local traditions.
In Northern European fairytales, bread is meant to be shared. The miserly woman who withholds bread from her poor hungry sister to her horror sees blood gush from the fresh loaf she cuts for supper (“God’s Food,” collected by the Brothers Grimm). A selfish girl who steps onto the loaf of bread she is meant to deliver to her old mother because she wants to keep her shoes clean, is swallowed up by the bog and sinks down all the way into the terrifying realm of the Marsh-Wife, the Elf-King’s sister (“The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf “, by Hans Christian Andersen). I was therefore delighted to find the Lithuanian folktale of the little wheat roll that runs away from its human and animal pursuers only to be waylaid by the fox. The fox bites it in half, eats the soft crumb and then … Well, see, it’s hard for me to tell you the rest of the story. To hold a fresh loaf of bread in my hands, whispering with oven heat, seems to me an act of worship that transcends time and place and culture, no matter how many kinds of bread there are.
Late on the evening of August 8th I was walking home through the quiet leafy streets of my neighborhood, my thoughts with my sister, walking away from me toward her place on the other side of the busy street that divides our neighborhood into her Nord and my Mitte. One of us often accompanies the other all the way to her door only to then retrace our steps together to enjoy each other’s company for a little while longer. This time we had said good-bye on the steps of our favorite neighborhood hang-out, and I was trying to dispel superstitious dread--her walk was longer than mine--when I came across what I can best describe as a pop-up sidewalk garden: buckets filled with flowers, bright spots of color visible even in the darkness. There was a wooden stand with postcards. I took one and stepped out of the shadow of the Linden tree to read about the sisters who had once lived in the house whose lovely façade I had often admired. On August 8th, 1938, they took their own lives after turning their apartment into a sea of flowers, “ein Blumenmeer.” They were Jewish.
Among Grimms’ fairytales there are plenty of stories about sister rivalry, about the good sister and the hateful one. There is only one that I remember where sisters step into adulthood as friends rather than foes. It’s called Snow-White and Rose-Red, “Schneeweisschen und Rosenrot.”
Some days are filled with pigeons, smashed beer bottles, and the smoke of fires of all kinds. You want to make it just a little better and take a bite out of a juicy piece of plum tart. Unbeknownst to you, a yellow jacket has already staked out its claim. On days like that you long for that pub where everybody knows your name, where everyone has a yellow jacket story to share. Yet all you get is the Big Bad Wolf Café.
There's a pub in my neighborhood called "The Big Bad Wolf", one of many reminders that I live in the country of the Brothers Grimm. Both, in fact, lived in Göttingen, in the Kingdom of Hannover, until they ran afoul of the king, who in 1837 dissolved the Parliament and demanded an oath of allegiance of the university professors. Seven refused to sign, among them the two brothers. Jakob, head librarian and professor of German Studies, was deported, and his brother Wilhelm soon followed him to Kassel, at that time capital of Hesse-Kassel. Today, as I worked on the image below, I happened to listen to the TED Radio Hour on NPR. The topic was "Stepping outside one's comfort zone." Maybe both the wolf and the child are doing just that, though the child, not having been bitten before, is more trusting than the older, warier wolf. Who, after all, isn't bad. He's just a wolf. And so there's hope this story will have a happy ending.
I've moved, again, and have taken all my wolves with me. Since they are here to stay, I picked the biggest one to watch over me and my daily work, and so far this has been working out quite well. She reminds me of the fairytale forest at Shinglemill Creek on Vashon Island, the foggy winter nights in Northern Brittany, and the deep dark woods we all must traverse from time to time.
You'll find news here of what's happening in my studio, and sometimes of what's going on outside, in this very strange land of my birth.
My recent moves together with a need for thriftiness have made me turn to cardboard and found materials. Most of my recent paintings are on heavy-duty cardboard, like my wolf and many of the pieces featured on my Art page. Two weeks ago I found a stack of old cardboard button boxes in front of a sewing shop ...
I paint and write and live mostly in a country of my own making. I've shown my work at cafés and galleries in the US, Spain, France and Germany. Among my children's books are El Loro Tico Tango (The Parrot Tico Tango), El Fandango de Lola (Lola's Fandango), both published by Barefoot Books, and the stories for the Tikitiklip Precolombino series of children's videos (Producciones Ojitos, Santiago de Chile).