Monday, May 9, 2011

Frankfurt, a.m.

The a.m. in Frankfurt does not stand for the morning but for the river: Am Main. On the Main, its banks and the park surrounding it were among my favorite places to walk around, to relax whenever I visited the city that Manhattan invented. Its memories keep coming back as if asking me to reproduce them, to relive each one of them again. Frankfurt, Old San Juan before becoming a post card, Merida in Yucatan, and Manhattan are some of the places that shape a certain personal narrative. A narrative that, as one gets older, serves to provide closure, harmony; to interconnect what has been experienced with the new sense of the world. Perhaps is not to recreate or to give cohesiveness to the narrative; but to hold on to the memories in order to validate them: to say as Neruda said, “confieso que he vivido.”

A friend once asked me why I continued to visit Frankfurt. She knew that my love for Gunter was not enough reason to go back to the banking city. Years later I realized that when I first visited the city I was able to face an approach to living that was not completely possible in the USA. Discovering in Frankfurt a familiar environment, gay liberation movement and leftist communes, but formulated by a generation that had to face the demons of their parents forced me to reformulate my own ideas about autonomy, race, class, ethnicity, nationality, and etc. etc. etc. My friends on the Main could not engage in the love movement without talking about the hate of the recent past as that generation was formed by the children of those who lived during the Nazi regime. And as I got to know many of them, they were not willing to compromise. Their honesty, brutal at times, was an eye opener for someone coming from the touchy-feely USA. It was also the period when Nina Hagen abandoned the East Berlin Opera to create her unique approach to music, Fassbinder was redefining cinema, the gay movement on the Main was not separated from the plight of the guest workers, and AIDS was forcing all of us to mature real fast.

For a person raised in the Caribbean there was never a real summer in Frankfurt. Its damp, grayish, cool summer nights seemed like a permanent autumn. And the Spanish word for autumn applies not only to the season but to one’s older years. Frankfurt prepared me for the autumn of my life. Seeing my friends facing their demons also taught me how to reflect upon my life and history. When meeting a non Puerto Rican for the first time, in the USA I was my ethnicity first and then I was myself. So many times I had to explain why I was how I was as stereotypes were what led non Boricuas to question me or my ways of being. As my friends in Frankfurt were forced to talk about stereotypes and genocide when meeting me for the first time, I was an individual first and then my ethnicity and history would enter the scene, the discussion.

If one allows oneself, old age can hold the framework to reflect upon the past and not to have to ask the same questions again: who am I and where am I going? Instead you can ask: why was I who I was and why? And then, enjoy the past and since it cannot be repeated, one can create a narrative to tell a story and see life as it was or you imagined to be. As la Koester recently told me: the North End neighborhood is no longer occupied by the leftist communes as it was gentrified by the yuppies and its intellectual wannabes; la Voegel no longer holds court in his anarchistic island in the middle of the river; so many of my friends are dead and beer is not longer served at the Strand Café since it was sold to some religious group. But the Frankfurt on the Main is the city I once knew, and the one to dream about when thinking about growth. Perhaps it is time to go back and face reality again; reality check as my ex-therapist used to say.

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