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Jana and Valerie in Rothenberg
Jana and Valerie in Rothenberg

Excerpt from Striking Through the Masks
P. 410

We drove the back roads of Bavaria, eating and sleeping at local beer halls. We toured all the old towns on the Romantic Road, which brought home to the girls how much Germany resembled the fairy-tale world of the Grimm brothers. We also visited the Chiemsee, a huge lake with two islands, on one of which sat mad king Ludwig’s half-built replica of Versailles, and we spent a sunny afternoon at Schloss Linderhof, another of Ludwig’s fairy-tale palaces, both of which, like so much built by the king, were celebratory memorials of Wagner’s music and vision.

After that we drove over the alps to Italy and explored the museums, streets, and alleys of Florence and Rome. We also spent several days in Assisi, a medieval hill town that Jana, who was enthralled with its most famous citizen, St. Francis, insisted on seeing. But for all the small adventures we had in Italy, the one that comes to mind again and again occurred as we meandered through the narrow, shadowy lanes and over the humped stone bridges of Venice. In Venice, meandering is not as easy as one might think. We were pulled along with crowds from one piazza to another, trying to escape the press of rushing tourists around us, looking for a side street. Suddenly we saw one. The crowd continued in another direction, as we veered off into a shadowy passageway that was more an alley than a street. After several hundred yards, we turned a corner and found ourselves in an empty piazza. A profusion of sunlight lit the plaza like a stage set waiting for the entrance of the actors. The silence was particularly noticeable after the boisterous crowds. We looked at one another other and up at the signs and realized we had entered the old Jewish section of the city. Around the edges of the plaza were shop fronts and residences with uncurtained windows. Inside were tables and chairs haphazardly positioned and covered with dust. Shafts of sunlight fell on them through the grimy panes. I shivered. It was like looking at a museum display that had nothing to exhibit, just an indication that once there had been a people and a story there. No one knew any longer who the people were nor what their story was. It was a museum of the anonymous dead. Jana and Valerie looked at me uneasily, and I knew they were thinking the same thing. Despite our discomfort, we didn’t leave. We went up to one empty building after another and peered in the windows as if paying homage to our ancestors. The girls and I traveled together for three weeks.

In the end, I thought we were closer than we had ever been, and I hoped we had memories to share far into the future.

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