Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.

PHB

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Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at www.peterbehrens.org I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ghosts & Novels & Rotterdam

One bright winter day a year ago I was exploring Rotterdam with an amigo, the brilliant Dutch translator Guido Goluke. We drove there from Wassenaar in his tough little truck/van...
Back then, I was halfway through this novel, which has drawn a lot on my father HHB's complicated upbringing in Europe...
The story in the novel was partly inspired by HHB's deportee/refugee history. Some of HHB's most intense refugee days were passed in Rotterdam. In January 1919 he, his Anglo-Irish mother, and his German father arrived at Rotterdam on a steamer from Hull. They were being deported from the United Kingdom, where my grandfather had been an 'enemy alien' prisoner held in the Alexandra Palace in London, which operated as an internment camp during WWI. The three of them had expected to continue by train into Germany, but with violence, revolution and strikes of the 'German Revolution' most trains were;t running. They finally got themselves passage on a freight barge heading up the Rhine. That was my 9-year old father's introduction to Germany.
            Twenty years later, HHB found himself unexpectedly back in Rotterdam. September 1939. War had started. With thousands of other people he was trying to get out of Europe. My family aren't Jews--they're Catholics--so there were thousands of people in more dire straits in 9/39 than HHB was. But still, he'd fled Germany with his Canadian passport...
...just as war was declared, not wishing to get trapped in the wartime Reich and made to join the heer, or worse. He spent two weeks in Rotterdam living in a cheap hotel and budgeting his money day by day before he was able to book passage on a Holland-America ship, SS Volendam, to New York. 
Guido and I spent  a most un-Dutch day in Rotterdam. Clear cold blue sky, fresh white snow. Windy open spaces, towering skyscrapers--it reminded me of....Calgary. 
I liked Rotterdam. And I had HHB's old passport with me---seventy four years since it had last been in Rotterdam. Guido and I had a great lunch at a cafe, with several glasses of Brand beer and the passport, and the passenger list from the Volendam...
.. then we walked around the quays. There is a superb maritime museum--and the old Holland-Amerika headquarters, where HHB would have bought his ticket in 9/39...
...is now the New Yorker Hotel, and we had a great cup of coffee there, and I sensed the ghost, and the  ghosts. And now I'm sitting in a coffeshop in Portland ME reading through the novel ms., which weighs in at 525pp., and wondering what HHB would think, and wishing he were around to give it a read.



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