Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Villa Decius Writer's Guesthouse Rogue Gallery

But before we start, let me introduce you to the players.

Writers, always secretly aware that they really have no social standing whatsoever and forever striving to improve on that condition, are constantly competing among each other to be cool.

It's in the way we dress (or refuse to dress well). It's in the way we talk about art. It's in the way we seek out the perfect description for a leaf and hope it will be recognized as much better than someone else's description of a leaf. It's in the way I try to tear down sacred cows and provoke a fight by claiming that everything about art is crap. (It's not true of course – as Sturgeon said, only 90% of everything is crap. Nor did it work. My game is an old game and no one took it seriously, alas.)

It's a competition that is never spoken, never acknowledged and is often subconscious, but deep inside we are always competing to be Coolest Writer. So now that the competition is over, here are the winners.

One more thing: Over nearly three months I learned to respect and love all these people, though I hardly know most of them and will see few of them ever again. In some way I consider all of them friends. The Villa Decius experience was only partly about Krakow. Mainly, it was about them.

Most Mystical: Ambrosi Griszikaszwili

Ambrosi won the prize hands-down for Best-Dressed Man, which automatically puts him in close competition for Coolest Writer. But he is disqualified by the fact that he has already won the prize for Most Mystical Personality.
Ambrosi looked good in a three-piece; he had taste in color combination, a woman would not fear to venture into the opera on the arm of this man. In fact, he was always going off the opera or something like that. He looks not only cultivated, he looks like he has a job. Hell, he does have a job. He is an economist, works in the public relations department of the National Bank of Georgia (next door to Russia, not in the Southern US) and is a regular contributor of learned articles on the economy to various Georgian publications. So what is he doing in a literary charity house with a bunch of loser-poets?
Ambrosi's true love appears to be literature and he indulges his love by translating literature from the Polish into Georgian. Translation is a money-losing proposal in most countries, and it is that even more so in Georgia with its population under 5 million people. But Ambrosi has found a way to do it and finance the venture as well: He translates books (in this case, a book by a great Polish journalist) at his own expense, then he pays for the printing as well, bypassing a publisher altogether.
Then he takes the copies to the Polish ambassador or other Polish institution and hawks his books to them, who buy the books in order to redistribute them to their contacts in Georgia – for them, it is a way of spreading Polish culture. Does he actually make any money this way, or does he simply cover his costs? I have asked him that several times, but I don’t think I got a straight answer. But he is an economist, he must know what he's doing. Maybe all writers should start out as economists.
One day he cooked for us. That is, he imported his ex-wife and son, and she cooked for us, a Georgian dish they called "cold meal." It consisted of cold chicken in a cold sauce of nuts and something else. Whatever else it was, it was fabulous. She gets the Prize for Best Meal Cooked in the Villa Guesthouse.
Ambrosi speaks limited English and my Georgian is also limited, and that difficulty of communication did a lot to form his personality as perceived by those of us who did not speak Georgian. Whereas lack of language would make another man seem simple, it lent him an aura of transcendency. With or without language, Ambrosi was forever calm, satisfied and grounded, but he employed his English to make himself seem wise. Though he was often a good sport enough to join us at the table and try to communicate in English, just as often he .limited his language to a knowing "Ye-e-s." There was something about that "Ye-e-s" that radiated calm, even wisdom.
For a long time I thought he was using that "Ye-e-es" in the sense of "Yes," but after a while we learned that there was more to it than that. Andi picked up on it first. We passed Ambrosi as he was leaving the Villa on a bike and asked, "Where are you going?" He answered: "Ye-e-s." Andi asked me, "Did he not understand the question, or did he understand it better than we?" Yes, there is a there. There is only one there. No need to say where it is, it is the only there where worth going to. The question is only whether we are going. And yes, Ambrosi was going there. He was perhaps the only one of us who knew that the there was there.

Most Enigmatic: Larysa Andriejewska

Tall and shy, Larysa wins the prize for Biggest Enigma. She levitated through the house like a ghost. She would appear in the kitchen late at night, nod and say "hello," one of the few English words she knew, and make tea, and then you would turn around and she was gone again. Leaving lots of speculation behind. Was she shy or did she just hates us all? I asked her to dance with me once – it happens once in a while when I am in a very good mood – but she declined, citing a cold.
She tended to have breakfast around 2pm and dinner after midnight. One morning around 5am I came down to the kitchen to get coffee so I could wake up and found Larysa and Tanja, both being Ukrainian, wrapped up in conversation. But Tania refused later to tell us what it was about. On another occasion, she poured some kind of vodka into a pan and lit it on fire and served us all a warm, spicey drink. After she won the Nobel Prize wager (see below), she cooked us a heaping, steaming platter of Turkish rice-and-chicken-dish and thereafter would dare to come among us on some occasions and sit and drink or smoke and nod at certain points in the conversation. It was then we began to notice a beautiful smile.
Larysa, it turns out, is a translator. I could not figure out what she translates, other than from the Polish into the Ukrainian, but I did learn that her husband is a famous Ukrainian poet and her daughter has already translated Stephen King short stories into Ukrainian. Somehow, both facts made her very cool. Here is a poem by her famous husband:

by Ihor Rymaruk

Keep talking, keep talking.
You’ve managed to utter just one word —
while hundreds of words keep disappearing,
keep getting lost forever, with no return,
the eyes needlessly
leap over the cemetery gate.
Keep talking.
Why do you keep silent?
Perhaps for years you’ve shuddered
at every knock on the door?
Or, perhaps, like a movie camera,
glory closes in on you now —
for that one word?
And so — to ennoble the film,
you’re scrubbing away everything else from your memory,
like blood from the floor.
Is this not why your spirit
is so silent and stubborn?
Just like the wax figure of Karmeluk*
standing in a refurbished museum tower —
holding a sign: “Do not touch.”

*(Ustym Karmeluk (1787–1835) was a Ukrainian rebel leader who fought against social and national injustice. A wax figure of him is at the Kamianets-Podilsk fortress.)
Unbeknownst to us, she was secretly famous in her own right. One day, Katja came back from an expedition into town and announced that she had seen Larysa outside the university surrounded by eager students. Apparently she had given a lecture there on translating, but when confronted directly about it, she admitted nothing, but instead only nodded and smiled and retreated into her room. Leaving us to speculate in an almost jealous, admiring way.

Most Heartfelt Patriot: Andrej Chadanowicz

Andrej gets the prize for Most Heartfelt Patriot

More than anything, Andrei the Patriotic Belarussian (whenever anyone said "White Russia," which is the literal translation, he immediately corrected them: "I am from Belarus") is a physical poet. It's the way he lifts his arms straight out from his shoulders, like a champion flexing his muscles or a bear about to embrace or squeeze you.

Here's a German translation of one of his poems (courtesy of, which has more of his poems and spells his name Khadanovich.)

Brief an die Freiheit

Wir sind noch eine ungeborene Nation,
wir sind Häftlinge versteinerter Eizellen,
wir sind wirr denkende Vegetation;
mancher schon ein Spitzbube, mancher noch ein Bub,

mancher schreibt und führt die jungen Männer
mit althergebrachten Phrasen in die Irre:
Kämpfer, Fleißiger, Held, Draufgänger
Titan oder Titanik der lokalen Renaissance.

Verdrossen zählen wir den Lauf der Jahre,
Jahre im Gefängnis schleichend, lang wie Schlangen!
Wo ist sie denn, die vollbusige Dame,
mit der wir auf die Barrikaden gelangen?

Was wir besitzen, würden wir ihr zu Füßen schleudern!
Und die Wächter hören unser Flehen,
wenn wir nachts in unseren bunten Träumen
diese Beauté mal unbekleidet sehen.

Wir fällen Bäume, behauen Stein,
Wir graben Gruben, konzipieren Kanäle,
erwarten Besuch, ertragen die Pein,
zählen die Tage, vergöttern unser unübertrefflichs Sein.

Denn wir glauben, der uns umgebende Dreck
wird noch zu wunderbarem Mist in unsrem Heim.
Durch das vergitterte Fenster mit Schreck
härten wir den Atem für das Atmen in der Freiheit.
At his readings, he plays guitar: Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, the Eagles' "Hotel California" and a few others, all translated into Belarussian. He sings in a sensuous voice that has a firm yet gentle grasp of the melody, and when he gets to the chorus of Hotel California, he doesn't sing "Welcome to Hotel California" but something like,

"My heart belongs to Belarussia,
My heart is still there,
I love my native land
Like I love you."

In that moment his voice in full of longing, and you understand how close patriotism comes to love.

Hippest Pa: Serhij Zhadan

Serhij changed radically in the last moments of his stay in the villa guesthouse.

Rumors were attached to him when he came. He was a big bestselling writer in the Ukraine. A hipster, an author of cool and dangerous novels and poetry, and a rock 'n' roll singer too. He gave a reading in the Ukraine before I arrived, but the others traveled hundreds of miles to attend it and reported to me later that he was surrounded by admiring female fans. I witnessed him in action in Krakow: He shot the words off the page as if he were a verbal machine gun, chopping the air with his hand as he did it (see below).

He was stand-offish. I learned nothing about him from himself. But one night I was talking to his fellow Ukrainian Tanja told her, as a joke, that Serjih had spoken to me about her, and said that he thought she wasn't a very good writer. Poor Tanja. Always joking, never taking anything seriously – when I said that, her face dropped, she nearly choked. It was the worst thing she had ever heard and I had trouble convincing her it was just a joke. That told me something about Serhij. But he made one false move. A few days before leaving, he showed up one morning with a young blond boy in tow: Ivan, his son. Suddenly the cool chain-smoking, cutting-edge hipster was a tender, responsible father. We watched in awe as they cooked hot dogs together. And this just in (Jan '08): His book "Anarchy in the UKR" has just been translated into German and published at Suhrkamp. Spiegel Online gave it a good review and called Zhadan a "post-proletariat punk" (here) and it's available on

Best Poet's Poet: Nicolai Kobus

Kobus is a poet's poet. He dresses like one – pony tail, jackets and often in black - he talks like one, he thinks like one. He's not about turning his personal experiences into poetry, he is about poetry itself, in the sense of "There's a hell of a of poems out there and I want to read them all and nothing else." I have never met anyone who knows so much about German poems and poets. That is the world he lives in and that is the world he writes about.

I think I feared him most. He seemed most closely attached to the German high culture establishment and it was clear that we would rub. How was I to know a poet's poet could love pop culture? And have a sense of humor? And be good to hang out with? And be vodka-proof? I ended up really liking the guy, and that's when I took a second look at his poetry.

I liked his cycle of poems best called the "Calendar of Sighs," in which he writes a love poem to "Anna" for every month of the year. The first time I heard them, they seemed incredibly sexy. When I took a closer look that them, I realized that there is hardly any actual sex in them at all. It's just the language. Kobus may be describing water, rain, drainage, but his lines still exude sex. Here's one of them:

ach anna


ach anna im januar bin ich ein könig. ein könig im regen mit tropfnassem haar. Es braucht so wenig bewegung ein könig zu sein. eigentlich reichte es ohne regung als ein stein die wolkenbrüche durchzustehn und um sich die pegel steigen zu sehn.

mittlerweile anna weiß ich es ist gleich ob ich gehe oder renne im regen – ich werde in jedem fall weich und nass. ach anna ich sag dir was: im januar bin ich der könig der siebenundzwanzig stürzbäche. könig der reißenden rinnsteinströme. könig gefluteter abwassersiele. Mein reich liegt jenseits gebrochener deiche. überspülte felder bis zum horizont.

am morgen anna bin ich das nordmeer. Ich bin eine wasserpfütze. des abends trockne ich aus von den rändern her.

But most of his poetry I heard or read while I was in the Villa guesthouse is poetry-referential. He takes an unfinished poem by Gottfried Benn and finishes it. He takes Rilke's "The Panther," renames it "The Poet" and has the chutzpa to correct Rilke, making the point that animals don't really dislike their cages. I like that. Here’s an anagram he wrote based on a Trakl poem (the original first, the anagram second):

Rondel (Georg Trakl)

Verflossen ist das Gold der Tage,
Des Abends braun und blaue Farben:
Des Hirten sanfte Flöten starben
Des Abends blau und braune Farben
Verflossen ist das Gold der Tage.

lodern (Kobus)

dass inselvers oft: rage geld tod
daneben bussard und fernab blaue
feen sehn trist da raben totenfels
und faerben laub absurden abends
gold der tage: verfassend solist

After he had written this in Krakow, Kobus realized that Trakl had died here, of a cocaine overdose.

Here's one based on a poem by Gottfried Been entitled (something like) "Come, let us gather together, he who speaks not is dead." Kobus turned it into "He who fucks not is dead":

oder was dichter wirklich zu sagen haben

komm, vögeln wir zusammen
wer vögelt ist nicht tot
es zittern doch die strammen
schenkel sehr vor lauter not.

komm, treiben wir’s im freien
komm, das ende droht
wir sabbern, stöhnen, schreien
wer vögelt ist nicht tot.

allein lässt sich die wüste
lust doch nicht verdaun –
du, streichle deine brüste
laß uns das bett versaun!

und schon so nah den lippen
sie sind so prall und rot –
komm, fang jetzt an zu strippen
wer vögelt ist nicht tot.

If I were a publisher, I would hire him to write a lexicon of German poetry – from Goethe to graffiti - in the form of revisions, corrections, anagrams, parodies, inspirations etc. Poems about the history of poetry. I would buy it.

His prize: Best Poet's Poet.

Most Interesting Way of Looking At Life: Katja Thomas

Katja is a tall, lanky girl in her mid-twenties whose charm is one part her affinity for birds, one part her sense of humor and a third part the fact that she has never grown up and probably does not have the least intention of ever doing so. She has a way of fumbling about with her long fingers in front of your face when she talks, and often she'll let off a barely audible, breathy laugh at some little thing she's seen.

One day she told us a story of how she washed her outside windows from the inside: She thrust her arms into the air, pulling the window down, stooped, twisted, got her arms up on the outside of the window, all the time dancing back and forth like … well, like Big Bird in a matting ritual. It was a joy to behold.

She likes little things. She once told a story of how she left a single potato on her plate and began to feel sorry for it, as if it felt lonely. While the others fought about Marxism, the only references to news articles she ever mentioned was about a swan in some lake somewhere that had fallen in love with a peddle boat shaped like a swan, and followed it around the lake all day in total devotion.

Her mother sometimes tells her to write something funny. I have to say, I tend to agree: Katja has a quiet sense of humor that does comes across in her work, but I’ll bet there's more. I suggested to her a compendium of stories about unlikely animal love stories and I think she's even considering it. Just you wait: If she does it, it won’t be what you expect.

As a student at the Leipzig Literary Institute, Katja writes "texts" of the kind that are popular in our disoriented society. They are called texts because they are not short stories or articles or poems or anything else that you can put your thumb on, yet, because they are written with a certain expertise, are still literature. In other words, bits and pieces. Descriptions of this and that. Thoughts on this and that. But she is so devoted to finding or creating a new perspective on something other people haven't noticed, her texts slowly suck you in until you are seeing the world not full-on, but from around some corner you didn't think existed. Katja knows it exists.
Here's one of her short texts:


„Ich habe gerade 38 SMS von dir bekommen. Sollte das so sein?“ Ich hatte dir keine 38 SMS geschickt und kannte dich nicht. Als wir uns dann das erste Mal trafen, sagtest du: „Ach das macht nichts, jeder hat mal so einen Pickel. Man kriegt sie immer dann, wenn man sie nicht will.“ Wann will man Pickel? Du küsstest knapp daneben.
„Wie oft muss man Gladiolen gießen?“, frag ich dich, du hast sie mitgebracht. „Ins Wasser stellen, nicht gießen“, antwortest du. Gestern habe ich verweste Rosenblätter von der Tischplatte gekratzt und es wurde Zeit, dass neue Blumen kommen. Ich habe nur eine Vase mit Vögeln, die farblich nicht zu den Gladiolen passen. Ich niese gegen die Vase. Du sagst, ich erkälte mich, weil ich draußen in der Kälte immer den Mund aufmache. Ich dürfe kalte Luft nur durch die Nase einatmen. Du willst dich nicht anstecken.
Ich sage, gut, dann also keinen Kuss jetzt, das passt mir gut.
Du sagst, immer dreh ich dir die Worte im Mund rum.
Ich sage, da komm ich gar nicht ran. Ich glaube eher, sie verrutschen dort von ganz allein.
Du meinst, eher verrutschten sie in meinem Ohr.
Ich höre immer ganz andere Sachen, als du sie sagst. Ich liebe dich nicht an den richtigen Stellen, ich weiß.
Ach, ich geh ins Bad. Dort sitze ich auf der Toilette und merke dann so richtig, dass du nicht mit im Bad bist. Nur deine Zahnbürste. Und dein Shampoo für feines Haar.
Ich sitze auf der Klobrille, bis ich einen roten Druckring auf den Beinen habe.
Ich finde, so feines Haar hast du gar nicht.
Es ist elektrisch aufgeladen, aber nicht fein. Aber das macht nichts.

I wish I had more, but that's all she gave me.

Her Prize: Most Interesting Way of Looking At Life

Interlude: The Loading Bar

Toward the end of our stay, I asked Katja how much progress she was making in her project of finding herself. She said she couldn't attach a value to it. Germans are always avoiding questions by saying "I don’t want to generalize," or, "You can't express it in numbers."

I said, "Yes you can: If the project of finding yourself were a loading bar on a computer, at what percent would it be right now?"

She refused to answer that question for several days, but shortly before we had to leave, she gave me an answer: 80% I was surprised. I would think that of all of us, she would be least "loaded."

"But there's another loading bar going at the same time," she said. "Deloading. That's at about 50%."
I asked Kobus if the project of finding himself were a loading bar on a computer, where would it be now? He said: "At about 75%. But frozen there."
My Loading Bar:

If I had a "becoming myself" loading bar, I think it would be closer to 51%, 52%. Maybe that's not true. I am very set in my ways, I have strong opinions about who I should be and I am well into the second half of my life. Probably it should be about 80% or more. But I can’t bring myself to do that. I want it to go on and on. It feels like I have only recently earned the right to find myself ion the first place, or gotten on the right track. I want it to go much further than just another 20%, and I don't really care where.

Best New Writing Hope: Tanja Malarchuk

"I don't even want to be a writer," said Tanja, who has published two books of novellas and has a contract for a fourth. "I think I will never write anything again. I hate writing."

Ironically, though we hardly spoke, and though I could never understand what she wrote, I had the feeling that Tanja was one of the most interesting writers there. She never took anything too seriously, which I thought was a good prerequirement for writing. She was always laughing. When I asked her what she regretted about her stay in Krakau, she said she should have not bothered to write a word and simply used the opportunity to travel all around the place and see everything she could. She didn’t want to leave.
She wrote about her family, which grounded her writing in the real. And then there was her tendency for big myth. She told me tales of the forests and countrysides in the Ukraine, where she is from: the molfars, the mavkas, the legendary robber Ivon Soly whose ghost still roams the highways, the ghosts of dead women that haunt the forests and are beautiful, but have holes through their backs, and when they seduce young men, they eat them. She loves that stuff, and she loved watching old Hollywood movies on DVD in her room. We discussed the proper way of doing the Robert De Niro-in-front-of-the-mirror scene in Taxi Driver. I thought: That's a real writer.
So I told her: "You're a writer, Tanja, I can feel it."

She said: "You only think that because I talk like one when I'm speaking English. But when you speak a foreign language you are a different person."

I told her: "You have to get out of Kiev." She gets the prize for Best New Writing Hope.

Best Friend: Erica Fischer

Did I ever mention that journalists are the best people in the world to hang out with? They are generally well-traveled and informed, much more so than most people, more so also than most other kinds of writers. And because they have seen so much, they are relaxed, they have developed a distance between themselves and what's going on. They have a good bullshit-detector. They take everything with a pinch of salt and a sense of humor. This way of seeing the world is far more grown-up than most other ways. They also know how to hold a conversation.
So I was glad to find out that the journalist Erica Fischer was among us, and, predictably, it is she I hung out with most. When she was younger, Erica was a diehard feminist, maybe even close to a militant feminist, in Vienna, where she grew up. When I took a look at her website (, which has a photo gallery of all the fantastic things she did, I realized how much she believed in what she did. She was really out there protesting, activating, working at creating a better world. I don’t think I've ever believed in anything enough to do something like that. Her passion and courage was overwhelming. I was impressed, and – I'm not ashamed to admit it – a little bit in love.
Now, she writes mainly about Jewish themes. She had a bestseller with "Aimee and Jaguar," the true story of a German woman and Jewish woman who fell in love during the Third Reich. I accompanied Erica to a theater where the film made from her book was shown and where she had a discussion afterwards. She was quickly surrounded by beautiful young women – lesbians - whose lives she had touched with that book. She wishes her book and the movie would have more effect on people in the sense of teaching them about the Holocaust than it does on young lesbians. But what she forgets is that people don’t write fan letters to authors who have opened their eyes to anti-Semitism. But the effect is still there.
Here at the Villa Guesthouse Erica finished her next book (her twelfth, I think), a very personal book about her relationship to her tyrannical mother and her troubled, suicidal brother in Vienna. She read a few pages to us: It is personal, intense, lyrical, powerful and fascinating, and I think there is potential here for a big success. I keep telling her that, but she doesn't believe me. But no one believes an American. She doesn’t believe me when I say Marx didn’t understand a thing about the economy, and I am right about that, so maybe I will be right about this, too.

Here are the first few pages:

Der Schmerz sticht zu wie ein Messer, ein starres Korsett umklammert Nacken und rechte Schulter. Ich kann den Hals nicht mehr drehen, Zurückschauen ist aussichtslos. Sogar das Atmen tut weh.
Zu spät. Das Telefon schrillt in Pauls Wohnung sechshundert Kilometer entfernt, dreimal, fünfmal, zehnmal. Die Wohnung ist klein, bis zum zweiten Klingelton ist der Flur von jeder Stelle aus zu erreichen. Dort steht das Telefon auf einem niedrigen Schränkchen, gleich neben der Eingangstür. Beim Telefonieren kann man sich im Spiegel sehen. Drei Schritte rechts das Bad mit dem Klo. Daneben die Kammer für den Staubsauger und die Urlaubskoffer.
Die Wohnung ist leer, ich kann es förmlich hören, der Klang der Klingel hohl. Dieses widerwärtige schwarze Telefon mit dem Schmutz unter der Wählscheibe. Der Hörer schwer und unhandlich. Wie oft habe ich ihnen gesagt, sie sollen ein neues Telefon bei der Post bestellen, es kostet nichts. Ein modernes Tastentelefon, mit dem man telefonieren kann, ohne sich den Finger zu verstauchen, neu, leicht und sauber. Doch alles Neue macht ihnen Angst.
Oder: Mein Bruder liegt röchelnd auf dem Bett, würde nicht abheben, auch wenn er noch könnte. So ist es schon einmal gewesen, vor zwanzig Jahren.
„Ruth, Paul röchelt!“ Die Stimme der Mutter am Telefon hysterisch. Sie wollte über Nacht wegbleiben und kam überraschend zurück. Er lag auf seinem schmalen Jugendbett im Kabinett und röchelte. Über ihm türmte sich seine Bibliothek. Die Dichter und Denker schauten teilnahmslos auf ihn hinunter.
„Mach kein Theater“, schnauzte ich die Mutter am Telefon an. Wenn sie Gefühle zeigte, wurde ich zu Eis. Dass sie es damals schaffte, die Rettung zu rufen, wundert mich heute noch. Wohin er gebracht wurde, ließ sie mich nicht wissen, ich musste es selbst herausfinden. Das hatte ich davon.
Im Spital klang Pauls Atem wie durch einen Lautsprecher verstärkt, Plastikschläuche überall, der Magen bereits ausgepumpt. Er warf den Kopf hin und her, und wenn er die Augen einen Schlitz weit öffnete, sah man nur das Weiße.

Es ist tief in der Nacht und plötzlich stiller als sonst. Meine Berliner Wohnung liegt an einer Pflasterstraße. Wenn ein Auto vorüber fährt, poltert es. Rund um meinen schmerzenden Hals ist die Welt erstarrt. Meine Stimme am Telefon klingt fremd, wie eine automatische Ansage. Die Kusine. Merkwürdig, dass ich in Wien tatsächlich eine Kusine habe, wir sind einander in der letzten Lebensphase meiner Mutter näher gekommen. Sie hat sich um sie gekümmert, und um Paul.
„Warten wir bis morgen“, bittet sie. Sie ist erkältet, und draußen türmt sich der Schnee. Doch warten kann ich nicht.
„Ich melde mich wieder.“
Das Kreischen des Telefons durchschneidet die Stille.
„Ja?“ Meine Stimme ist tonlos. Die Feuerwehr ist über die Balkontür eingestiegen, berichtet die Kusine, auch krank und um drei Uhr früh immer noch effizient.
„Wir werden ein neues Glas in die Balkontür einsetzen lassen müssen.“
Sie denkt immer an alles. Die Wohnung ist leer, sagt sie, mustergültig aufgeräumt. Auf dem Couchtisch ein Schlüsselbund, die Schlüssel passen in die Wohnungstür. Daneben drei beschriftete Kuverts. Sie hat nichts angerührt. Sie klingt erleichtert, eine aufgeräumte Wohnung ein Zeichen von Normalität. Gewiss ist sie froh, kein Blut vorgefunden zu haben, keinen am Fensterkreuz hängenden Paul, ja nicht einmal einen röchelnden Paul. Eine aufgeräumte Wohnung beruhigt.
Ich rufe eine andere Kusine an, in Sydney. Vorher überprüfe ich, welche Tageszeit dort ist. Auf keinen Fall will ich sie wegen einer Frage wecken, deren Antwort ich schon kenne. Meine englische Stimme klingt noch fremder. Noch nie habe ich mit Australien telefoniert. Wenn man in Wien aufgewachsen ist, telefoniert man nicht mit dem Ausland. Nein, Paul ist nicht hier, meldet die australische Kusine als ob sie die Frage nicht überraschte. Macht nichts, war nur so ein Gedanke gewesen.
Ein neues Leben in Australien beginnen, Pauls Traum. Oder in New York. Die Emigranten von damals haben es auch geschafft, sagte er. Sie kamen mit nichts und haben sich ein neues Leben aufgebaut.
„Damals gab es Hilfsorganisationen“, wandte ich ein, „du bist kein Flüchtling. Die Schoa ist vorüber. Das Leben in den Vereinigten Staaten ist hart. Wenn du es schon hier nicht schaffst, wie erst dort?“
Das war böse, das hätte ich nicht sagen sollen.
„Du weißt nicht, mit wem du es zu tun hast!“, blaffte er zurück.
Ich verstand. Immer diese Drohung, seit Jahrzehnten schon.
Als die australische Kusine und ihr Mann ein Jahr zuvor in Wien waren, ging ich mit Paul das Nachtmahl einkaufen. Meinl am Graben, das vornehmste Geschäft der Stadt. Er suchte die teuersten Sachen aus, Käse, Schinken, Lachs, Wein. Ich wollte ihn mäßigen. Die Familie hat immer sparsam gelebt, große Sprünge konnten sich unsere Eltern nicht erlauben. Nach dem Tod des Vaters war die Mutter stolz, mit der kleinen Pension so gut zu haushalten, dass immer noch Geld für den Urlaub blieb. Der Urlaub musste sein, seit den fünfziger Jahren fuhr die Familie jedes Jahr in den Urlaub, nach Italien, Jugoslawien, Griechenland. Für diesen Höhepunkt des Jahres musste man sich im Alltag einschränken. Und jetzt Meinl am Graben. Paul war wie im Rausch. Aufgeregt packte er immer mehr Köstlichkeiten in den Einkaufswagen.
„Es ist ja nur für dieses eine Mal“, sagte er.
Er sagte nicht „das letzte Mal“, das nicht. Aber es klang so.
I was in awe of her and I still am. She's a freelancer like I am and has the same kind of financial insecurities that I do. I asked her how she manages to deal with it and she shrugged and said, "I'll be working till the day I die. That's fine with me." That's courage.

Her prize: Best Friend.