Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Ghost Dance In Berlin: A Rhapsody in Gray by Peter Wortsman

 Author Peter Wortsman

Ghost Dance In Berlin: A Rhapsody in Gray by Peter Wortsman ( Solas House, Inc. 2013)  $16.95

Review by Doug Holder

I admit I am not a well-traveled individual like my friend the noted critic, Dennis Daly. Nor do I harbor a great interest in Germany. Being a Jew , and with Holocaust survivors in my family, my images of Germany have been of grainy documentary footage, with skeletal corpses heaped together outside a concentration camp--never again--I have said to myself--for more than one reason. But Peter Wortsman's memoir: Ghost Dance in Berlin.... A Rhapsody in Gray  caught my interest--not only because it was recommended to me by a writer I greatly admire--Alan Kaufman ( Drunken Angel and Outlaw Bible of American Literature) but because Wortsman brings the gimlet eye of a seasoned traveler, and the sensibility of a poet to his prose. 

Wortsman, who is a 60 something academic and accomplished writer, is an American born son of German speaking Jewish immigrants. The author spent time in a villa overlooking Berlin's largest lake. The spot became his sort of elegant cave--where he collected his thoughts, savored the rich German fare, and let his considerable imagination take flight.

There are many bases that Wortsman covers in this book. Being a lover of all things food, I found Wortsman lyrical description of cuisine mouth watering.  And yes between you and me, I savor shellfish, and a good pork loin like any of my Gentile brothers would. Here Wortsman describes the best and the worst of wurst and is a fly in the soup of any self-respecting veggie out there:

 " No foodstuff better exemplifies the German craving and the Jewish proscription for me than that quintessential Berlin dish, a veritable mountain of pork, comprising the joint between the tibia/fibula and the metatarsals, the tender, fragrant, fat and fleshy part of the trotter joining knee and hip, or elbow joint and foot. Classic fare, it's pinked, cured, poached, or boiled, and served piping hot with split pea puree and sauerkraut...

A positively Neanderthal spectacle on a plate.It's a dish that stirs up mixed emotions when ordered... Utter disgust on the part of avowed vegetarians, for whom it constitutes a blatant, in-your-face affront, the very incarnation of meat...And awe on the part of repressed, cholesterol-conscious carnivores, who themselves would not dare to go to such extremes in public to satisfy their lust, secretly considering it a pornographic craving  best indulged in private."

Wortsman writes eloquently about Berlin's Alexanderplatz, a famed plaza, and also touches on Marlene Dietrich , that icon of enigmatic come hither and get lost! feminity. Here he writes about Maximillian Schell, who produced a documentary about her.  Dietrich's one condition for filming was that she didn't want to show her face: Wortsman writes:

 " ... Marlene neglected to inform him, until he showed up with the camera crew, that he was free to film everything but her face. She, the original blond bombshell, would remain unseen, a disembodied voice, a teasing absence. But her smoky impression still filled the silver screen, her cigarette smoke grunt and growl made the movie more memorable than any other Hollywood biopic before or since."

But of course the ghost of the Nazis are never far behind. Wortsman, ever the engaged reporter, gives a good New Journalism account about some Neo-Nazis who were stirring up trouble, but were quickly squelched by the Berlin police.

This book can be read for two things: a travelogue, and the other an artful meditation on what it means to be German, Jewish, an American, and an artist.

Highly Recommended.

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