Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Karin, Dear Karin

One of the most wonderful things about having the archives in my home for so many years was being a host to many interesting and often brave thinkers. This is my sedate way of telling you how hard it was to see Karin, whom I first met when she came to do research at LHA over 30 years ago, leave our flat to return home to Copenhagen. I am so seldom now in this part of the world, something that I wish was not true but is, that I am so grateful to those who break into the flow of their every day life and make their way to where ever we are just to renew old ties, to enable new reflections about all life has brought in the ensuing years. Liz and Bobbi, Dawn and Linda are other dear friends who have endured disruptions and long plane trips so that we, La Professoressa and I, may share more time with them.

For many years, Karin and my partner of the time, would have our reunions in New York City, but then it got harder. Still, we managed to meet almost every year--one year in Copenhagen where the three of us spent cozy nights watching the Danish Crown Prince marry the Tasmanian "commoner", with Karin translating particularly juicy parts and then during the more boring segments, switching to the Eurovision music spectacular. It was in Karin's darkened living room that I came to appreciate the wonder that is the Danish Queen, in her green puffy sleeved dress, tall and raw boned and very strong. The camera would focus in on her red nailed hands flicking her ever present cigarette into a royal ashtray, impatient with the hoop de lah one felt and when the newly married couple were slow to take to the dance floor for their first ceremonial flourish, the Queen seemed to physically shoulder them on to the floor to perform their national duties. She is definitely a woman of interest.

One afternoon we found ourselves in a packed cobblestone square facing a huge tv screen. The three of us stood watching the guests arrive for the youngsters' wedding. Only then did I begin to appreciate the depth of fascination so many commoners have for their royal families. Soon we were squashed against the barrier and as soon as the women on either side of me discovered I was new to such things as royal families, I had pouring into each ear, introductions to all the princes and princesses of Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Stereophonic swoonings for the gowns, for the beauty of the wives and husbands--several soon to be divorced in the months after this celebration--and barbed criticisms of the unlucky royal socialites who simply did not make the grade. And there was Karin, dressed as she always is impeccably, in clothes she often makes herself, smiling as she watched her Bronx friend being introduced to Queens and dethroned Kings.

Herring dinners, boat rides through the old canals, visits to the Resistance Museum, a touch on the head of the much traveled mermaid, looks up into the palace balconies, train rides to digs where the bones of Viking ships had been unearthed and walks around the art museum where Karin pointed out to us a famous elderly conductor and his new mistress, one of his hands resting with great control on her rounded derriere. Karin speaks fluent French so I find myself lapsing into her second language when ever her perfume floats through my memory.

Karin and La Professoressa bounded immediately, their teaching concerns, their love of shaping fabric and thread into beautiful things, their industrial manner of doing what must be done and doing it well, and between them me, imperfect and round, and totally in love with them both. A heady femme fantasy mix. Two years after our Copenhagen experience, Karin made her way to our home on Fitzgibbon Avenue, a major accomplishment. I will always remember watching her emerge into a wet Melbourne night from the day liner from Sydney, picking her way carefully over the unfinished pavements of the new train station. From Danish Squares steeped in European oldness to an unfinished, still becoming skyline and street scape, our dear friend had made her way. With her, we saw the flying foxes leave their nesting trees on a soft Melbourne dusk and and like a fog with wings sail over the Yarra and us to find the botanic sweetnesses they needed to flourish.

I will not go on. Karin, author of a new book--she has written several on the life of her city and on Danish lesbian history--about her family discovery that her mother was Jewish and had lived her whole life in Denmark without sharing this secret with anyone, a story that Karin expands into questions of the stories families tell themselves about national identities and that has been a great success in Denmark and that I wish would be translated into English--has always been a source of great delight to me, to us and to so many of us scattered through out the world, entered the lnarrow lift and passed from our view. I do not know when again I will hold her in my arms or learn from her delights as we did in the Victoria and Albert Museum, when her Danish intakes of breath always take me by surprise, when we stand together in front of exhibitions in the Jewish museums of the world, an old Jew and a new one, when she will say, in that moderating voice, "but, Joan, you know you always..." I have to let go of my dear ones who live in other worlds, in other national histories, but how they have made my life so much richer, studding it with their expulsions of differently historied breaths, with their embraces spanning the years and cultures, Joan from the Bronx, such a lucky girl.

This morning, Karin e-mailed that she had arrived safely home and was already deep in her professorial duties. "What a lovely time we had, as always."

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