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Flip The Script: Lea Goldberg, Lady of the Castle

Today was graduation day here in Madison. For so many, it was the first day of independence, of freedom, of new lives…but for me, it was just another day. Of course, I’ve been there – twice – and I’m sincerely happy for everyone, but a part of me is a little nostalgic. So many people will be leaving Madison (and me) behind.

Life goes on, though; ironically, a feature of the bone-chilling play I read today, so here we go:

Flip The Script: Lea Goldberg, Lady of the Castle

Recap:

One night in 1949, Michael Sand and Dora Ringel find themselves in the library of a castle in Central Europe where Sand has been doing research, seeking to spend the night there rather than face the raging storm outside. Zabrodsky, the groundskeeper, initially discourages them from staying, but quickly changes his mind when Dora suggests the castle might not be the best place to spend the night. After he leaves to prepare a bedroom, Dora becomes frightened and asks Sand to leave, but before long Zabrodsky returns with the news that there is only enough room for Dora; Sand will have to stay in his own bedroom with him. Dora asks about the history of the castle (she is interested, since she works with Jewish children who were hidden in places like this during the war), and Sand asks suggestively if the castle has any ghosts or secret doors, and when Zabrodsky gets defensive, he apologizes for them, but gets more than he bargained for when Zabrodsky reveals that he is not just the castle’s groundskeeper but its resident ghost. Sand, ever the interested researcher of oddities, asks to see a cuckoo clock on the top shelf, and is told by Zabrodsky that it is broken and should not be touched. Upon Zabrodsky bidding Sand and Dora good night and Dora retiring to the next room, Sand sneaks up to the top shelf, retrieves the clock and a key, which he uses to wind the clock. It is indeed functional, and doesn’t just bring out a cuckoo, but the spirit of a young girl who screams and collapses on the floor.

In Act II, Sand tries to comfort the girl, whose screams have brought Dora back. The girl, who reveals herself to be a Jewish girl named Lena, refuses to believe Sand and Dora when they tell her that World War II is over, she is safe to come out, and “the Count” (Zabrodsky) has been denying her freedom this whole time for no reason. Lena slowly believes them, but still clutches onto an amulet, which she claims was a gift from her mother, but Sand discovers it’s a poison pill and tries to wrest it from her. Dora explains that she is a “Youth Aliya” worker, working to help children like Lena who have been hidden in Europe, and bringing them to Israel for societal rehab. Lena then turns to think that “the Count” is not her oppressor and that Dora and Sand are indeed Nazis, so she runs to get Zabrodsky but cannot make it down the stairs. She then starts to entertain the thought of leaving with them, especially when Dora discovers Lena’s last name and determines that she knows Lena’s Aunt Lisa, who is alive and well in Palestine, when Zabrodsky storms in.

And that’s when things get weird.

Act III begins with Zabrodsky entering with anger that Lena has escaped and Dora and Sand have spoiled her with news from the outside world. Lena harbors rage against Zabrodsky, who admits his lie, but he also admits his love for her and his desire to keep her safe. As he debates with Dora and Sand, the rain has stopped and Lena leans out the window, the first time it’s been opened in over two years. She then has this insane monologue about wanting to go outside and smell the rain. Dora says that she can have all that if she comes with them, but she gets scared and runs back through the secret door from whence she came. Dora and Sand scream after her, but Zabrodsky seems to snap back to reality, wondering why they’re screaming and who Lena is. He then insists that they have been the ones yelling and opening windows, and when Sand pulls back the curtain behind which Lena disappeared, there’s no secret door present. Zabrodsky then tells them that, like Sand’s earlier joke, he too joked about being a ghost and that the two of them must have had some sort of hallucination. Dora and Sand defend themselves but start to back down when they realize how silly they sound…and then Lena comes back out and nobody knows what to believe. No longer in her nightgown but rather a proper dress, Lena announces that she’s ready to go with Sand and Dora to Palestine. Zabrodsky gives her permission, and they leave him behind in the castle as the clock strikes midnight.

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Groove Is in the Car

So, two summers ago, I went on a family trip to Germany. By family, I mean myself, my sister, my dad, and two cousins, because my mom’s ideal vacation is preferably within walking distance of our house (okay, my dad came up with that one), but you get the picture. The first part of the trip involved flying into Frankfurt, spending a day there, then renting a car and driving around Bayern (Bavaria) to see the house where my grandmother was born and the town she and my grandfather lived in as a married couple (which was also his hometown; people didn’t go too far to meet their spouses, kind of like Tinder, only with more actual tinder since they lived in the countryside). Also, to visit the gravestones of our great, great-great, and great-great-great-grandparents, which involved some breaking and entering (but that’s another entry). So it was basically our death tour of southern Germany. We joked that Christians go to Europe on church tours, and we Jews go to Europe on the death tours. We would then get rid of the car in Fuerth, which was incidentally where my aunt was born, and take the train across the border to Prague, Czech Republic for Phase II of the trip, which still managed to venture into death tourism. But more about that in another entry.

We arrived in Frankfurt sometime in the afternoon and checked into our hotel to catch up on sleep, so we could check out and get the rental car first thing in the morning. I’ll point out that I was not as tired as the others, since I decided to pack everything in one large backpack as opposed to a rolling suitcase. A rolling suitcase is better for the back, but – shocker! – Europe is the land of stairs and cobblestone streets, especially in Germany, and I’ll never forget bounding up the stairs out of the metro station in downtown Frankfurt with two weeks’ worth of belongings strapped to my back like nobody’s business, only to realize that I was standing alone on the street level, looking down at everyone else who were trying to lug their suitcases up, step by step; unfortunately, a recurring theme throughout the trip of me waiting at the tops of staircases. But I was probably tired anyway, so I slept.

The next morning, we eat breakfast, during which time my dad and one of my cousins goes to get the rental car. I’m kind of excited; this might be my first chance to drive in a foreign country, as all of us on the trip except one cousin had licenses. After a long, long, long time, they come back with good news and bad news.

First, the bad news: the car is a stick shift, and my dad is the only one of us who knows how to do that.

Then, the good news: since my dad hasn’t driven stick in a long time, my cousin got to laugh at him attempt to figure out how to do it.

This was clearly going to end well.

So, we grab our stuff and troop around the corner to the rental car lot, and load in. That was the easy part. Then came the task of turning the car on and driving it out of the parking lot. We had a couple of backfires and rocky starts, but before any nausea could set in we were off on the road.

And that’s when it got worse.

I don’t know much about driving stick, but apparently there is gear switching involved, and other things, so my cousin told my dad when to shift gears from the passenger seat, while my dad was driving down the open road and attempting to navigate us toward Wurzburg. If you’ve ever driven in Germany, constantly stopping and starting the car on the road is never a good thing. One minute we’d be sailing along, then it would get clunky for the gear shift, then it would settle out again. All the while, my dad is not watching the road as closely as he should, so we have a few close calls and swerves into wrong lanes, and plenty of honking German drivers. Plus, there’s the fact that we’re in a foreign country and we don’t know where we’re going.

Eventually, my dad gets accustomed to the car, but by this time we’re a little off course. We have the voice GPS on, but she’s speaking in German and we can’t figure out how to switch her over to English. Also, it’s getting stuffy in the back, and we need some A/C, so my cousin hits the button, and what comes out isn’t air, but…

“I couldn’t ask for another/I-I-I-I-I/I couldn’t ask for another/I-I-I-I-I/Groove is in the heart…”

And I broke out laughing.

Because when you’re driving down the roads of rural Bavaria at 9:00 in the morning while trying to figure out how to work a stick-shift, the perfect soundtrack is 1990s one-hit wonder “Groove Is In the Heart” by Deee-Lite. It was just such an irreverent moment, and the spontaneous remergence one of the most awkward songs ever really captured the zeitgeist (German word, yes!) of the moment. Not to mention that the song is probably still on the German pop charts.

Sometimes things are upsetting and funny all at the same time; and then that moment hits where the right song comes on.

And of course, I had to awkwardly do hip hop while belted in the middle seat, between my cousin (who was not born when this song was a hit) and my sister (who does not approve of dancing in the car).

Nice to see that song still has relevance.