Talking Turkey

“Is this the American? Your pute is ready to be picked up at the butcher’s,” the woman said.

There must be a mistake, I thought.  I ordered a turkey.  My pocket translator advised me to ask for a truthahn.

“Nein!  Truthahn!”  I wailed into the phone.

I had no idea what a pute meant, except a nasty Spanish word for a woman of low to non-existent standards, but I sure wasn’t cooking an unidentified fowl or a Mexican prostitute for Thanksgiving dinner.

An hour later, my German boyfriend found me under the duvet muttering about the baby pute. He ran across the street to the butcher’s and returned carrying a small parcel.

“It’s a small, female turkey!” he grinned. “Must be Bavarian!”

I’ve lived in Bavaria over twelve years.  You have to live in New York for a decade before you can call yourself a New Yorker, so by now, I should be an official Bavarian with two years in extra credit. But my insistence on cooking a Thanksgiving turkey every year is proof that Bavaria has not beat the American out of me. Every November, Bavaria raises it stakes and dares me to meet the Thanksgiving challenge.

For my first Bavarian Thanksgiving, I had been living in Munich for seven months and felt homesick.   Trying to appear as a good sport, I’d agreed to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my boyfriend’s dental school ex-girlfriend and her husband.  In addition, the ex-girlfriend requested I cook the turkey on Saturday.  Gum cleaning in Bavaria knows no holiday of Pilgrims and Native Americans.

My turkey and I remained doomed from the start.

I don’t remember how my pute tasted, but I do remember chugging red wine and chain smoking in the kitchen by myself while the ex-girlfriend cuddled next to my boyfriend sharing stories about their university days. I secretly named that day the Puta Thanksgiving, because it turns out there was one at my house after all.

The next year, we celebrated our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. I cooked only a pute breast for the two of us.  We made a toast to our future Thanksgivings together.  It was small, perfect, and puta-free.

Then came our first Thanksgiving with a 7 month old baby after our move to The Village, a small Bavarian town where my husband had his dental practice. I passed a butcher’s several times a day on my walks with my colicky baby. I was now a pute veteran, I knew what to ask for and my German was passable.

“I need a baby pute at the end of November for Thanksgiving.  About six kilograms?”

“Nein,” he said.

That, even in deep Bavarian, I understood.

He muttered in dialect about needing pute for Christmas orders, and they could not spare one for me for Thanksgiving.

Then came “I Don’t Even Know My Name Anymore How in the Hell Can it Possibly Be Thanksgiving Again”. I had a seven-month-old baby boy and a two and a half-year-old girl who was training to qualify for the Olympic tantrum trials. If washing my hair and clothing myself proved to be a challenge, then dressing a turkey had no place in my life.

That Thanksgiving, I opened the bag to prepare the bird and gasped at the sight.  Quills covered the back, sides and wings of the bird.  A four-inch neck curved from the carcass and hung in a stiff “U”.  The inside had not been carved out and heart, lungs and all innards remained attached.

I had never performed an autopsy on a pute before, but for the sake of my family and American tradition, I can now claim that as one of my working skills.

After four years of searching, we found a house in The Village.  Its best feature was that I could walk to the rumored best butcher in five minutes.  I began my Meat Team courtship carefully, visiting weekly, waiting my turn with sweaty palms.  They won me over with their roast beef, but I’m not going to say it was smooth sailing with my new Meat Team.

Last Thanksgiving, when I arrived to pick up my turkey, the Head of my Meat Team struggled under the weight of the bird.

“How much does he weigh?” I asked, getting anxious.

“8.7 kilos,” she replied.

I knew my pute size. It was not 8.7 kilograms (19.14 pounds).  It wasn’t going to fit in my oven.

After turkey rejections in the past, I had no choice but to smile and accept the fowl.

I wedged the raw bird into my turkey roasting pan as best I could.  The neck and tail pressed against the walls of the oven. The wings dangled over the pan sides like a starlet on a raft in a pool.

I packed the bird back in the bag and dragged it back to the car.  The Head of my Meat Team looked at me with wide eyes as I entered the shop.

“Please,” I begged, “do something!”

“We need the saw,” she said, shaking her head.

I cringed hearing the harsh whining of the metal disk boring through tendon and bone.

The result was a double partial amputation.  It looked as if the poor turkey had backed himself in reverse against a wall and that wall was a rotary saw.

The cooked bird itself?  Absolutely delicious, even if it was a little hard to look at and didn’t match up with the vision of an American turkey.

These are the things you remember, not when things go smoothly, but rather that which must be conquered in order to emerge as a survivor.   In the past twelve years it has never been an option to skip Thanksgiving.

It’s in my blood as an American. At the beginning of each November, I wonder what turkey adventure awaits me. Of course it will be something I haven’t experienced before, but I’ve proven to myself year after year, that there’s nothing this American Puta can’t handle.

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9/11 – This is What I Remember

 I woke early that clear, sunny and warm September morning. I showered quickly and ate while getting dressed, in order to catch an early F train from Park Slope, Brooklyn to Manhattan. I was co-director of a photography gallery on the Upper East Side and with the transfer, my commute could take up to 40 minutes depending upon if I made my connection at Bleecker Street. My stomach churned from nerves. I was behind with my invoicing and wanted to get as many completed before my boss arrived.

 I scurried to the subway station, ticking off items on my mental checklist and the usual details for my line of business: remembering I had to confirm the framing on several print orders, making sure each client’s special requests and specifications were seen to, remembering which photographers I had to contact for prints.

 I unlocked the door to the brownstone on East 76th Street and climbed the stairs to the first floor. I turned off the alarm, turned on my computer, left my bags under my desk and headed to the tea kitchen to make coffee. While I waited for the coffee to perk, I smoked a cigarette while listening to a cd and typing invoices (Yes, it was allowed because my boss chain smoked, as did I at that time.).

 I wasn’t even half an hour into my work when my boss burst into the gallery. She dashed to the boom box, turned off the cd and frantically began twisting the dial to find a radio station.  

She blurted out desperately, without a greeting, “A plane hit the World Trade Center!” 

 She continued to fumble with the dial until she found the news.  
 

I shrugged, muttered “Good morning,” and continued typing.  

 “Christina. STOP. Stop working. A PLANE HAS HIT THE TOWER.”

 I didn’t understand. How could I? A plane crashed into the World Trade Center? What did that even mean? What was she talking about?  
 

“What? A pilot just lost control?”

 “They don’t know. The think it might be a terrorist attack.”


The the radio announced that a second plane crashed into the second tower.  

The chain of events are foggy. My co-director arrived. The phone rang off the hook. I couldn’t reach my family in Ohio to tell them I was ok because all cell phone connection had been shut down. My ex-husband managed to get through to the gallery, for which I was grateful, as he could pass on the message to my family that I was ok and far enough from Ground Zero.  

 I may have been removed from the events at Ground Zero as I was on the Upper East Side, but it didn’t make the brush with terror less scary. From the window next to my desk I could see into the neighboring brownstone. A blonde woman sat glued to a television in her kitchen, watching the news with the same loop of a plane flying into the second tower again and again. Her husband worked in one of the towers.  

 My boss closed the gallery and said that we would be in touch about if we were to come in to work the next day or not. The unspoken words were actually, “If we are still alive in the next days.” Because that was how we felt. Would we even be alive on September 12th? 

 My colleague and I began the long walk towards Downtown. I would head to Chelsea to pick up my roommate. We chose Park Avenue thinking it would be less crowded. Not so. We walked down the sidewalk passing military jeeps, soldiers marching and carrying machine guns, and actual TANKS heading down Park Avenue. The military had taken over the Armory Building. 

 The only thought in my head was, “This is what war must feel like.” 

 And the paper. There was paper everywhere. Letter sized sheets of papers floated from the sky. Everywhere. White sheets caught the wind and lazily floated with the current until landing on the ground.  

 I collected my roommate at the Magnum Photos New York offices in Chelsea. A quiet, sombre staff greeted me, contrasting the constant ringing of phones and the shouting of the editorial and managing directors in the conference room. They directed the photographers to various points around Manhattan to secure as wide photojournalistic coverage as possible.

The rest is a blur. I remember crossing the Brooklyn Bridge by foot and being relieved to finally step into Brooklyn and leave Manhattan. It felt safer to be across the river.  

After hours of being glued to the television, I went to bed that night with the constant drone of helicopter blades in the background, fairly confident I wouldn’t be alive the next day.  

Waking the next morning, I truly couldn’t believe we didn’t have another attack in the night and that I was still alive.  

There was dust everywhere and the stench in Brooklyn of charred flesh was overwhelming.  

This is what I think about every September 11th. When I consider what happened, I had a very sheltered 9/11 experience. I’m grateful that my experience wasn’t worse. But it was close enough for me.  

It’s That Time of Year Again

 “Can you maybe suck in a little more?”
 “My ribs? My ribs don’t suck in.”

 I looked down at the top of the sales lady’s head as she pulled and tugged the fabric around my waist and ribcage then began to nimbly fasten the hooks of the corset.  

I couldn’t help thinking of Scarlett O’Hara clinging to the bedpost while Mammy pulled the corset strings tighter.  

 Only I was just trying to fit into a dirndl, Bavarian tracht (traditional dress) and push up my boobs to make a boob shelf like in the Bavarian Bier commercials and advertisements for Oktoberfest. The corset of the bodice pushes the breasts higher, upward and outward, creating a marvelous décolletage and a skinny waist à la Scarlett O’Hara, albeit not 18 1/2 inches. Combined with a full, flowing skirt, to hide too many chocolates, Schweinebraten or Lebkuchen consumed, the dirndl makes a beautiful, elegant and feminine silhouette. Not a praying mantis, but rather a curvaceous, healthy, potato and pig knuckle eating, buttermilk drinking, Bavarian form. 

 The longer I live in Bavaria, I realize I misunderstood the dirndl when I moved here in 2003. Forget what tourists may think or believe of the dirndl’s partying, excess of Oktoberfest meaning. Forget the beer commercials and “sex sells” marketing strategies.   

 Ask a born and bred Bavarian. A dirndl is made to look “gescheit,” well-dressed, like a businessman wearing a suit. As a woman living in Bavaria, this is our suit. A dirndl can be worn to a child’s first day of school in the first grade (mega deal in Bavaria and Germany), school fests, luncheons, brunches, weddings, funerals, evening meals, picnics, dates, etc.  

  Crucial to the drindl is the apron, in particularly the knot holding the apron in place. The placement of the knot corresponds to your marital status. In traditional Dirndl Apron Tying there are four possibilities: tied on the right side, married; tied on the left side, available/single; tied in front, virgin/young girl; and tied in back, widow or waitress. I supposed restaurant owners don’t want waitresses to get in trouble for soliciting, I mean advertising. Remember that this comes from the days before internet dating.  

  I’ve lived here long enough to know better, but I still have to Google the tying of the apron every year to make sure I have the tie on the correct side. Last year’s Volksfest, The Village’s small scale version of Oktoberfest, I skipped the internet search and asked my neighbor in her 60s who has never left Bavaria

 “Married is left side,” she stated.  

 “Are you sure? I don’t want to get in trouble with my husband.”

 “Absolutely,” she confirmed.

 We attended Volksfest with my husband’s staff, and no one noticed or at least didn’t say anything about my apron knot. We ate our half a chicken with semmeln (bread roll) and sauerkraut. Then we noticed friends of ours partying a couple sections over. We joined them for a bit and the band began their next set. Our table jumped up on the benches and began rocking out. My husband kept eyeing our friends’ wives and then looking at me. I didn’t take offense because I find every woman looks attractive dressed as Miss Oktoberfest and I assumed he was taking in the scene of Bavarian beauties.  

 “What are you looking at?” I shouted over the music.

 “Why is your apron tied on the left and all the women at this table have it on the right?” he shouted back.

 Indeed.

 “They got it wrong. Married is on the left,” I strained to be heard above “You Shook Me”. 

 “Are you sure? They’re all married and Bavarian and you’re the foreigner. Or are you trying to pick up men?”

 Grrrr.

 “I know my dirndl fashion,” I shot back.

Once the set finished and the band took a break, we took our seats, had a drink and Daniel asked the women why they had the ties on the wrong side.

 “What do you mean?” one answered. “We’re married. Married is right.

This year for Volksfest in The Village I played it safe. Before tying the knot on my dirndl apron, I turned to Google.  

More German than the Germans


I opened the bathroom waste basket to retrieve the garbage bag and was appalled by the contents. The offense was so high on the list of no nos, I gasped when I saw it. I know your minds are racing through a number of possible faux pas. None of those. 

Our bathroom garbage can has two receptacles. The left for garbage and the right compartment for recycling waste made of paper and plastic.  

Poking out amongst the mascara covered cotton pads and ear wax covered cotton swabs (I know, please don’t lecture me all you wannabe ENT doctors, and actual ENT doctors too- I’ve seen the Q-Tip ads: nothing smaller than an elbow in your ear) stood a shampoo bottle.  

“Are you (insert favored profanity) kidding me!” I screamed. 

I grabbed the bottle and stomped down the stairs into the living room where my family peacefully ate breakfast. 

“Do you know what this is?” I shrieked, holding up the offensive item like a guillotine master would a severed head.

“Your shampoo bottle?” our son, always eager to help, asked.

“Yes, but would you tell me where I found it?” I seethed.

“I chucked it in the garbage,” my husband replied between spoonfuls of yogurt and Müsli.

“Exactly!” I yelled, “In the garbage! That’s where it was!” I paused to catch up to my ragged breathing.

“Was it still full?” our daughter asked, clearly wanting to gather further information before committing to a side.

“No,” I said with a sneer in my husband’s direction, “it was empty.”  

“Uh oh,” my daughter said, now understanding the severity of the situation. 

“You yelled at me last time for keeping empty bottles in the shower,” my husband blandly replied.

True. He almost had me there. 

 I continued in my rage.

“Where do empty shampoo bottles go?” I asked raising my voice and leaning towards my husband’s ear.

“In the garbage,” he said lifting his shoulders in a shrug.

The children covered their mouths in horror.

My eyes widened from the shock and I clutched my throat as if in pain.

“No! Not in the garbage! For thirteen years you’ve made me separate thin plastic, thick plastic, paper, batteries, food scraps, aluminum, green glass, brown glass, clear glass, broken electrical equipment, clothing and shoes. And YOU throw away a shampoo bottle?”  

“Papa, it goes in the white garbage can behind the kitchen door,” our daughter stated.

“Yes, Papa, in the yellow bag in the white garbage can,” our son added.

“Exactly, children. If I see this happen again, I’m taking away privileges. That means YOU,” I said to my husband.

The result of my being more German than the Germans is that nothing is thrown away. At least not immediately. Of course garbage and food scraps are pitched, we’re not gross. Papers stack on tables to be sorted and eventually thrown in the blue recycling bin. Glasses, jars and aluminum cans rest in bags on top of the crates of water and juice bottles waiting for the next trip to the canister collection stations. Let’s not forget about the yellow bags filled to the brim with plastics stored in my basement until the next recycling truck makes its monthly pick up.  

These are not the signs of a hoarder in the making.  

I’m just waiting for my next trip to the recycling center. 

Driving Lessons: Part Two

Photo (c) Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart, 2017

This photo arrived in the mail. Not my best side, I admit. I’d post the entire document but I don’t know the rules about that as it’s from a speeding ticket. I remember the moment well, I was navigating through Stuttgart construction trying to find the zoo while my mom carried a running dialogue next to me, the kids kicked each other in the back seat, and an ambulance followed by a police car (no lights on, therefore no emergency) tailed me. No pressure… Seeing my portrait reminded me of a visit from the police 8 years ago:

 The door buzzer hummed. 

 I jumped up from the sofa, startling my infant son who had fallen asleep nursing. My daughter followed me to the door.

 I pressed the intercom handset to my ear.

 “Yes?” I asked.

 “Mrs. Tolan?” a gruff voice inquired.

 “Yes?” I replied.

 “This is the police. May we come up?”

 My heart leapt in my chest. Was my husband okay? He had walked to work this morning, just right across the street. 

 I opened the door and waited for the officers to reach our second-story flat. One was older with a salt-and-pepper mustache, and the other younger. Both were wearing matching forest green sweaters and had guns in their holsters. 

 The senior officer showed me a black and white photo. 

 “Do you recognize this person?” He asked.

 I leaned in, pulling the baby closer to my chest. It was a small, 5 x 5 cm black and white photo, but not small enough to not see who was in it. 

 It depicted my husband, wearing his bug shaped, mirrored sunglasses, driving my car the day we got “blitz” (German for flash) photographed going through a speed trap in a construction site on the A8. We were on our way to the mountains and I told him he was going too fast.

 I KNEW he had been speeding.

 “Yes. That’s my husband,” I answered in my ‘talking to police officers’ voice.

 He glanced at his colleague.

 “You’re sure?” he asked me. 

 “Of course. It’s my husband. He’s driving my car.”

 “License plate number VV CT 24?”

 “Yes,” I confirmed.

  “Where is he right now?”

 “At work. Across the street. Is he in trouble?”

 “Would you please give us the address?”

 All I really needed to do was point, but of course, I obliged. This was the police! They had guns! My daughter forgot her hunger and whining and followed them with her wide eyes.

 They left with a polite thank you.

 “YOU DID WHAT?” was my husband’s response when I informed him of his imminent visitors. “YOU sent them to my work?”

 “What else was I supposed to do?”

 What I was supposed to do was what his mother did some 15 years ago when the police showed up at her work with such a photo that captured him speeding in her car. 

She took a quick glance and said, “I’ve never seen that person in my life. Now I need to get back to my patients.” 

 And she shooed them out the door. 

 Apparently there is a rule allowing you to either say that you don’t know, or you can state, “I don’t want to say anything,” essentially “pleading the Fifth” in American terms. 

 Of course, that leaves the question quite open as to who exactly the speeding Mystery Man in your car is. Did he steal your car, speed around, then return it? Did you just forget that you loaned the car to someone else that day? 

The Blitzer Police, the team of officers employed to set up speed traps (“Blitzer” being German slang for speed trap, not to be confused with ingesting copious amounts of alcohol), love to decorate the Autobahn. The A8 Autobahn is notorious for its traffic jams, this being one of few routes to the mountains and lakes south of Munich. There is a patch where major freeways merge into the A8, and if you start out too late, you will find yourself trapped for hours, as we learned while also in the middle of the construction zone with a speed limit of 30 km/hr. Whenever a gap appeared, my husband attempted to bust through the zone and pass the stationary vehicles, utilizing his up to 20 km/hr over rule. POOF! went the red light of a blitzer, the red light flashing like the diffused light of a professional photographer in the studio, and in my mind, this is the sound it makes.  

 “Maybe there’s no film in the camera, “my husband commented.

 It did. The speeding ticket came in the mail, and unknown to me, he had contested the ticket and requested proof of the blitzer photo. 

 The police gladly acquiesced, and came to our home with the photo in hand as requested. There had been film in the camera. With excellent resolution.

  My husband was furious with me for turning him in to the police. That would be the last rule for his driving catalog: If the police come to the house with a photo from a blitzer speeding ticket, then you are to say, “I don’t know and if I did know I wouldn’t say anything anyway because I got hit by a plank that day and had amnesia and I could have handed my keys over to a Mystery Man but I can’t say.”

 Again, maybe that’s another rule I missed by not studying for and taking the German driving license exam. 

 Perhaps it’s time to enroll in German driving school.

Crossing the Horizon          by Laurie Notaro


 CROSSING THE HORIZON – A NOVEL, Laurie Notaro’s first historical novel, is a delightful read. Set in the 1920s after Charles Lindbergh’s inaugural crossing of the Atlantic by airplane, three women attempt to follow in his flight pattern and fight to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.  

 CROSSING THE HORIZON provides three strong, female role models, unbending in their determination as they strive to achieve their dreams. The reader follows the willful adventures of Elise Mackay, the English daughter of an Earl and talented pilot in her own right; Mabel Boll, a feisty, American widow millionairess; and Ruth Elder, an Alabama girl from a humble background who entered beauty pageants to earn prize money to fund her flying lessons and secure her pilot’s license. 

Laurie Notaro whisks her readers away to an era of flappers and fashion on two continents in addition to the freedom of flying high above the clouds. Prepare to be inspired by the courage, motivation and determination of these three outstanding women.   

 Brace yourself to be entertained by Laurie Notaro’s clever and engaging accounts of the Atlantic crossing attempts of Elise, Mabel and Ruth. Ms. Notaro wows her readers with her meticulous, in-depth research, attention to details and spot-on recapturing of the time period in her vivid descriptions, use of language of the time for sparkling conversations, and animated narrative voice.   
 I highly recommend CROSSING THE HORIZON as a fun, beautifully written, historical novel with strong female role models. CROSSING THE HORIZON is motivating, inspiring, and an enchanting read.

Peter Lindbergh –  – Kunsthalle München


Kate Moss, Paris, 2014, Vogue Italia (c) Peter Lindbergh

Peter Lindbergh “From Fashion to Reality” Kunsthalle München – until August 27th, 2017
As a teenager living in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, I dreamed of living in a world like Christy, Cindy, Linda and Naomi. They lived the life of glamour I’d read about in Cosmopolitan like “How to Apply Mascara in a Taxi Without Poking Your Eye Out” (only apply at stoplights).  

 I knew theirs was a world of designer clothes, the perfect high heeled shoe, photographers, celebrities, writers, actors and models.  

 I sought a world where people attended gallery openings, museum exhibitions, an artistic community that made art and fashion and influenced the world of beauty and expression. 
 

Fashion magazines transported me into this world. I saved my babysitting money to buy coveted clothes from The Limited. I also regularly purchased my other favorite indulgence, Vogue Magazine. I anxiously waited until mid August for the September Issue, the manual for the Fall season. I carried the two inch thick volume to the pool with me, careful not to splash water on its glossy pages, and studied each page, mentally noting which colors, shoulder cuts, skirt and sleeve lengths were highlighted for the upcoming season.

Peter Lindbergh’s photographs graced many of these pages. Walking into his exhibition at the Kunsthalle München was like greeting dear, old friends at a party. Here were the ladies who captured my attention on the pages of Vogue. I especially remember the ‘Wild Ones’, with the models wearing Versace biker outfits, lined up on a Brooklyn street with the Manhattan Bridge in the background.  

 Mr. Lindbergh’s images are not just photos of women modeling clothing. They are portraits, searching into the soul of the individuals before his camera. He references Dorothea Lange and August Sander, photojournalistic portrait artists of the 1920s and 1930s.  

 

Mr. Lindbergh’s work also serve as documents of his subjects, in capturing their emotions, inner lives, what they are thinking at that precise moment their guard is down and their true being revealed and captured on film.
 The models were no longer nameless figures wearing designer clothes, but rather became recognized by their names, and first names at that. Mr. Lindbergh helped make the supermodels.  

 The exhibition at the Kunsthalle München transported me back to the Ohio girl inside me, memorizing the designers, labels, clothing and accessories displayed in Vogue, like walking through a portal of beauty, style and elegance.  

 I reflected that years after studying Vogue by the pool in the suburbs of Columbus, would be that woman in a taxi rushing to a client to check the condition of a valuable photograph that had been damaged in transport. was the woman retouching my Rouge Noir lipstick before pulling up to the client’s Midtown skyscraper.
 

I love the knowledge that fashion continues to produce and inspire, with geniuses like Mr. Lindbergh documenting, preserving and leading the way.