From Germany to the United States and Much Later From There to Mexico
I’ve emigrated twice in my life, the first time when I was 12 years old and the second when I was 85. The fact that I came to live in another country—from Germany to the United States and 73 years later from the US to Mexico—is about all those two occasions have in common.
For the entire Weingartner family, that first departure was not voluntary. Years before the Holocaust, Hitler was progressively making life ever more difficult for Jews. We were very fortunate to have gotten out, with my brother and I young enough to receive an American education followed by careers in American institutions of higher education. People say that I have retained some European characteristic; maybe so, I can’t tell. I did retain an accent-free German, though I have to struggle some to write grammatically in that language. I don’t believe that I speak English with a German accent, as occasionally someone claims—if only after having found out that I was born in Heidelberg. For what it’s worth, the verdict of a speech test that we Columbia College sophomores were required to take was that I had something of a New York accent. So much about that first emigration; more can be found here.1
My subject now is that second one. It occurred in 2012 and was prompted, if that’s the right word, by the breakup of my second marriage, of which (since I do autobiography) I have given an account.2 It is obviously not a similar “flight,” though it is equally permanent. My interest now is to describe just one ingredient in my adjustment to my current (and, I hope) final destination—at least final on this earth. I expect to write more about my life in Mexico City, especially about the people in whose midst I am flourishing. I now mention them briefly before going on to what are perhaps unexpected ingredients in my adjustment.
I would not be here, were it not for the fact that my daughter, Eleanor has been principal clarinet of Mexico City’s Sinfonica Nacional since 1990, while Miguel, her husband (they were married in our house in Pittsburgh), is now principal oboe of the Querétaro Filarmónica. Max, the older of their children, will shortly start his third year at the Rhode Island School of Design, while this coming August Eva will take off for Chicago to begin her studies at the School of the Art Institute. We will miss the two of them. Then there is Patrik, a genial Belgian musician, long resident in Mexico, who takes walks with me and is most helpful to me in many more ways. In a later blog post I will have more to say about the wonderful way I have been received by that whole bunch.
Now I want to turn to three non-human items—for want of a better label—that have made this second immigration so felicitous. The first is the computer on which I am composing these remarks. I turn it on as soon as I am out of bed in the morning and off before I go to sleep at night. Much of the day’s first portion is devoted to the New York Times, whose excellent website is a good substitute for the paper copy I read all my life, starting with my daily trek on what was then the GG train from Roosevelt Avenue in Queens to within a couple of blocks of Brooklyn Tech, my high school.
Of course I have much more use for my Mac. It is the backbone of my only serious occupation, the blog you are reading now. But even though I am at best a most amateurish internet user, I turn to it all the time for information of every which kind. I don’t think I need to elaborate, since most of my readers are likely to be more extensive and sophisticated users of computers. However, I want to state emphatically that the computer has significantly facilitated my cheerful adjustment to this second emigration.
On a par in importance is the second “gimmick” I want to cite: email. Here I am, many miles from my (mostly) US friends. While I can think of three ways of communicating with them, two of them have serious limitations. If I had to write letters, there would be very few of them and most of them would be short. And I doubt that many of my correspondents would do much better. In sum, there would be infrequent and succinct (to use a misleadingly flattering adjective) exchanges.
I realize that for many people long telephone chats are normal. Long distance fees from here are very reasonable, so that’s not a bar. But long phone conversations have never been my practice and I make an exception now primarily for (son) Mark in Los Angeles. For the rest, if telephone were the only mode of communicating, it is likely that there would not be all that many calls. Moreover, telephone is intrusive in ways mail and email are not. The phone rings and you gotto answer. So I would not initiate a phone call without a good reason.
Email, for starters, is not pushy; read it when you want to; respond if you feel like it. You want to send a ten-word message? OK. You want to send the chapter of a book, OK, if best as an attachment. The medium is open to a great variety of possibilities and it is much the most important way I have of my staying in touch with my El Norte friends.
The third gimmick that is significant in the adjustment to my transplantation is the Kindle. While I’m not an avid, nonstop reader, nor a particularly fast one, I’m always reading something. Seldom fiction, but history, biography, politics, whatever pops into my consciousness, prompted by reviews or ads in the New Yorker or the New York Review of Books, to which I have subscribed since its first issue. But how to get those books? Surely not from the English books sold in stores near the center of town. Why on earth would they stock a biography of Schubert published a couple of decades ago? My reading habits were not catered to by bookstores in Pittsburgh, so why expect that here? While I could order them from Amazon.com, that’s expensive and, given Mexican mail service, unsure.
The answer to my problem, and an astonishingly good one, is the Kindle. The Kindle store has a phenomenal inventory of books, from classics to the latest. Their cost goes from nothing at all to somewhat less than that of a paper copy of a recent publications.
There is something well-nigh miraculous about getting the text of a new book into your gadget. Press a button and, unseen, the book flies in, 100 pages or 1000. The cost is simultaneously posted on my credit card. Is there a limit to the number of books I can store on my Kindle? I asked when I started out. I need not have, since the system automatically sends texts to a site in the sky, easily retrieved when needed.
These three modes of communication allow me to be in touch with the world at large as well as with my own friends and acquaintances. They also save me from what would be a huge handicap, the need to cope with a foreign language. My brain was too old to pick up a new language when I arrived here and, given the fact that the people in my immediate environment are bilingual, I could not see making the very strenuous effort needed to go beyond a very halting grasp of the local Umgangssprache. Not ideal, but what do you want from someone in his late eighties?
1Mostly About Me: A Path Through Different Wolds, my autobiography of 2003. See https://www.amazon.com/Mostly-About-Me-Through-Different/dp/1410743918/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469664674&sr=1-9&refinements=p_27%3ARudolph+H.+Weingartner
2 Mostly About Me: A Path Through Different Worlds Continued Herewith. This chapter, I call it the postultimate one, is not published. If you ask for it, I will send it to you as a Word document.