The little bald citizen from an Otto Dix painting asks Veer ah yoo go-ink and Frederick shrugs so slowly the gesture becomes strange to him before he completes it. The last thing he came to Berlin to do is sit beside a panting homosexualist as the lights go down in a movie house. He doesn’t know what he came to Berlin for but he knows it wasn’t that. He knows so little so well. He can feel Herr Ludwig watching from the kitchen as he saunters up the street with his hands in his pockets under fizzy warm twilight with a hetero set to his shoulders.
It is an omen that The Sheltering Sky premieres the very day he lands in Berlin though Debra Winger playing Kit Moresby (playing Jane Bowles) elicits a sneer as he waits in line to buy a ticket thinking of apter actresses. Dressed in a light gray three-piece summer suit and Italian shoes that Bowles himself would approve of he eases into his dirty velour seat and nods off dreaming Herr Ludwig is Paul Bowles in disguise. A ruse to test Frederick’s sincerity.
“But how could I have known?” pleads Frederick.
“To be is to know,” chides Mr. Bowles, stripping out of his bathrobe. He has beautiful breasts.
Shoved by an usher and reluctant to go home Frederick wanders a bus route through Turkish neighborhoods. He hears fruit vendors wailing and sees burka’d matrons like piles of coats that have walked off from their respective parties. He thrills to bold glances from sloe-eyed houris the color of smoked meat revealed in the slutty garb of the West. The Germans he sees remind him of UN inspectors. On Marburger Strasse he finds a nightclub called Limbo. The doorman nods at Frederick’s suit.
Frederick is staring at a black-haired girl at a table under the window of the DJ’s booth.
Winter comes to Berlin as a sick sweet dream of bunker life i.e. drinking and smoking and fucking in darkness. Back in his room on Hauptstrasse, where Herr Ludwig gives voice lessons at his baby grand to the great-grandniece of Gustave Mahler, Frederick masturbates under a borrowed duvet pretending to torture the caterwauling Mahler. His orgasm fails to silence her.
Frederick takes the black-haired girl to a Hitchcock festival in a cinema so small the ceiling is someone’s bedroom floor. Watching The Birds in German.
Out the Ausgang and on the street into the night they walk for a block of ruminative silence until Sariah, who emigrated from Iran with her dissident mother as the Khomeini came to power in ’79, says I believe that is the most religious film I have ever seen.
“Religious?” guffaws Frederick. “Au contraire. The most misogynist rant in film history! Fellini’s City of Women is nothing compared to The Birds, as far as that goes, my dear. ‘Bird’ is working class British slang for ‘girl,’ as you know. Don’t forget Hitchcock was British.”
“I mean, what, you have this hen-pecked bachelor, no pun intended, played by Rod Taylor. Rod. Right? And all the other important characters of the film -his girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend, his little sister, and his mother- they’re all women.”
He ticks the points off on his fingers. “The girlfriend’s a frigid tease, the ex is a slut … that’s why her hair is dark… and his mother is a clinging, emasculating shrew and his little sister is a brat, also dark-haired, implying that she’s going to grow up to be a slut too. Meanwhile, the mother and the girlfriend are almost mirror images of each other. Their hairdos are identical, which means a lot in Hitchcock, who was the most hairdo-obsessed director in film history. Our hero, Mitch …rhymes with bitch, if you please… wants to, ahem nest… with a girl who looks like a young version of his own mother, invoking the Oedipus complex. Which ends up putting out the eyes not of Mitch himself but of his ex-girlfriend, in a perfect example of substitution, since the resemblance between Rod Taylor and Suzanne Pleshette, who plays the ex, is uncanny. The birds, like Freudian harpies, pluck out her eyes.”
“The female romantic lead, his girl friend, Tippi Hedron, she goes from being a perfectly-coiffed snob and a tease in the beginning of the film to a disheveled, catatonic loony by the end.”
“Remember that the first blood drawn in the film, in fact, is from Tippi, who’s trying to strike a silly, an absurdly elegant, pose in the prow of a beat up old motor boat. She’s wearing a jade-green Dior dress or what have you. As a matter of fact, as I now recall, she’s even got the nerve to be freshening up her makeup with a compact as she’s sitting there in this filthy boat, proving how vain, how shameless, how typical, or Tippi-cal she really is. Her nose is in the air, her bosom is high and hard, her spun-gold hair is immaculately coiffed.”
“Between the tease, the shrew, the slut and the brat, this guy, Rod Taylor …Rod, for Chrissakes… he doesn’t have a chance! The illogical savagery, the unpredictable pattern of violence, of the birds, is just a metaphor for the daily reality of life for a guy among these women. All women.”
He looks to see that eleven of tears. He feels long and red and sort of amorally malarial later climbing over her with the tiled stone headache of the heated stove at their feet. Her Bible hair and her cunt the black lamb with its fiercely trusting grip. She resists very subtly at first or wants to control how it plays out but he pushes through that. He jigs her legs around his waist to cross the room and slam the door with her back while Fraulein Mahler wails against Herr Ludwig’s piano. Sariah’s homework is spread on the parquet and Frederick slips on world history coming.
She is always all over again so sweetly tentative, so eager and afraid because her virginity heals between fuckings. Frederick thinks she fucks like dogs swim and records this thought in a notebook. They always seem so surprised they can do it.
She has her eighteenth birthday. Frederick extends his visa. Herr Ludwig discusses opera in German with Sariah at the table while Frederick washes the dishes in his silk pyjamas. She looks so worldly with that cigarette in her mouth.
Summer is the relief that everyone promised. The city gushes foreign greens and the Tiergarten is heavy with stone-white tits and root-red cocks and Sariah studies the earth at her feet as she follows Frederick traversing a field. Her mother isn’t even aware of Frederick’s existence for that first half year. Sariah calls Frederick from pay phones or leaves notes about when and where to meet. The day before she tells him she’s pregnant Frederick dreams it following a long trail of tiny prints in warm snow to a tree which stinks of pillows.
So it is at Chez Jacques Sariah tells him and Frederick finishes his spaghetti in the tender light of the dingy Moorish pale gold walls of Chez Jacques and he looks at Sariah and sees a mistake the size of a grapeseed and asks for the bill.