Bavarian filmmaker Andreas Lechner (Butterflies of the Night) has been working on his first novel during his residence at Villa Aurora. He sent Michaela Ullmann of USC's Feuchtwanger Memorial Library--who often works in close partnership with Villa Aurora on cultural programming--an excerpt from the first chapter of Paseo Miramar.
A brief bio of Lechner follows the excerpt from his novel, including his character's arrival at LAX and first impressions of Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger's former residence, Villa Aurora. He previously read from Paseo Miramar at the Lawrence Asher gallery on Wilshire Blvd. Hans Jürgen Schacht translated the excerpt from the original German.
“Exile is the hotbed for creative action”
Chapter 1 (excerpt)
1. Arrival at LAX. Tom Bradley
Where is Radu?
The airplane arrived on time. When I was still in Munich I had contacted Radu to strike a deal for an inexpensive car rental. But Radu was nowhere to be seen. Is he a “Spooney”? That’s what Annett called everybody she thought of as a little fishy.
He had asked eleven hundred Dollars for a Ford Taurus for three months, plus two hundred Dollar deposit. I would be insured on his policy he wrote in an email. For more than a months emails flew back and forth between Munich and Los Angeles, the city of Angels, until the deal was sealed.
Here I was, right below the Alaska sign close to the baggage claim, waiting for an hour now but no Radu in sight.
Just a few minutes ago the terminal was packed with people but now it was deserted. I had always imagined the LA airport to be a cauldron‘24/7 but now, at around 8 p.m. I was all but alone, no Yellow-Cab, nothing! Did I end up in a village?
Just one police car, without lights and mute as a maggot, was gliding through the urban canyon of ready-mixed concrete as if looking for prey that dared to come into the open. Maybe they were looking for Radu?
Finally a green Ford Taurus drives up slowly. I detect a freshly shaved baldhead behind the steering wheel. That’s got to be Radu. He too seems grouchy as we shake hands. I hear an ominous creak when he opens the trunk lid and we stash the luggage into the trunk. I ask him where he is from and find out he is Rumanian. I am getting a queasy feeling in my stomach.
The green Ford Taurus moves smoothly through the streets of Los Angeles. We are on Sepulveda Boulevard and now there is no police car in sight to save me in case something would happen.
I say: “Where is my car?”
And Radu: “This is your car. Do you have the money? I will it advance and than you take the car!”
What if Radu just wants to steel my money? What if he drives into a dark alley where some of his Rumanian buddies wait?
“Do you from film?” he suddenly says and I remember that I arrive in the world capitol of the film industry where practically everybody is in film or got something to do with it.
Slowly my suspicion fades though one always should remain cautious in the film business, because that’s exactly where you find many wayward sons and daughters from all over the world trying to make a quick buck trying to bamboozle you.
“Yes, I’m a German film maker.”
“What films do you made?” he says.
I am evasive when answering. He wouldn’t know these films anyway and I am a little embarrassed, too, because they all were made independently which isn’t exactly an accolade in Old Germany.
Radu says: “I will see, if possible.”
I promise I will lend him a DVD and we drive on.
I am starting to wonder how to explain to him that I don’t have any money. I didn’t even bother to try the ATM because my card is frozen and I am actually fine with that. The Barclay Bank had frozen the account for my own security as I found out later.
And what if I would give the money to Radu and he would just disappear.
I wouldn’t have a car, which I really need, and no money either to rent another one.
Without a car you’re stuck.
On Centinela in Culver City he turns into a yard and parks.
Radu says I should follow him. We enter a building with a few apartments, Radu’s home, which he apparently shares with two Rumanian buddies. One of them sits in front of a computer, the other one does something, and I have no idea what. We decide that I am going to take a cab and return with the money tomorrow. Radu calls a Yellow-Cab and I give him my DVD, as collateral so to speak.
“Hey Honey,” the Mexican cab driver says, “How are you” and asks for my destination.
In Germany it appears cab drivers aren’t as nice. Anybody who took a ride with a frosty Berlin or Munich cab driver can tell you a thing or two about it. “It doesn’t really mean anything, this friendliness!” you hear over and over again and the perpetual “You’re welcome” is just tongue-in-cheek.
But isn’t it a wonderful basic notion of a whole nation to greet a stranger with a few friendly words instead of the dull Bavarian “Where do you want to go, hah?”
Or with the Prussian Ick-bin-ein-Berliner fuss: “How should I know, I don’t know, don’t you know where you want to go!”
Here it seems to me the stranger is welcoming another stranger and that’s just fine.
In any case, Berliners and Bavarians are alike in their dismissive posture towards anything foreign however different they may think they are in their nature. In this matter the Germans are all the same.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re Bavarian, Berliner or from Hamburg (the gate to the world according to couturier Carl Lagerfeld the Great), or Hessian, Saxon or Thuringian, and so on
I am giving him the address: Villa Aurora, 520 Paseo Miramar, Pacific Palisades. He types it into his navigator and off we go.
What a relief for both of us, the driver and the guest, that we are sure to get to our destination, not always fast, but for sure. Off Centinela we hopped onto the 405 and then onto the 10 Freeway, which turns, into the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and there it is in its dark glory, the Pacific where so many immigrants live. Among them still some who came with a ship to Ellis Island where they were quarantined. Many of them were rejected.
Somehow I feel like an exile as well even though I didn’t have to flee from Germany. Not for economic nor for political reasons or because I had to be afraid I was going to be gassed.
It is somehow odd and also absurd.
Without Hitler I wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t have gotten the film grant, wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to live in one of the most exciting and
beautiful cities of the world for three month.
Maybe the exile gene is in all of us, that of the wanderer, the nomad, that keeps driving us to explore other places, to make room where we came from for others who are looking for a place, who are chased away and for those who are restless, going from one place to the other. The modern nomads.
Paco, that’s how I will call the Yellow-Cab driver from now on, exits the PCH and drives up a mountain road through one hairpin turn after another while looking for street numbers with his flashlight. And then he stops at the front gate of the Villa Aurora, 520 Paseo Miramar. I hand Paco $40 and it’s a done deal.
There it is, the Villa Aurora, or better it hangs on the slope, the temple of peace, a hotel for thoughts. I ring the bell, it is late in the evening, but sure enough, I was expected. Anne, an intern from Freiburg, born in Göttingen, opens. Marko Ciciliani, a composer who combines electronics and light, is already there and even shopped a little at Vons: Diet Coke, bread, and cheese. We introduce ourselves, talk for a while and then go to bed.
Taking a taxi turned out to be a good move. Without the navigator I would never have found the Villa. I am pretty bad at reading maps. Anne shows me to my room. It is the room of Lion Feuchtwanger, right next to it Martha’s room. I will stay here for three months and try to get something done, maybe a novel.
A lavish bath with a large bathtub is right next-door; beautiful blue patterned tiles line the walls. I take a bath and this curious thought crosses my mind again. Without Hitler I would never have gotten here, one of the most beautiful places in the world.
My Blackberry buzzes. It’s a mail from Radu: „Tomorrow u bring the money, then I will you give the Ford“. We arrange to meet at around 2 p.m.
3. Villa Aurora
Well-rested I awake at 6 a.m. and relish the early day in the Villa. One feels safe here but at the same time it forces one into seclusion.
I check out the Villa and take photos with a Rollei which I got from Uli Z.. He works as a director for television in Old Germany and, thank god, sublet my apartment in Munich, paying the rent and now most likely has wild parties in my Salon with Annett who gave me incredible tips for L.A., and helped to seal the car deal with Radu before I left.
Feuchtwanger’s study with its balcony looks promising to me. Four writing desks, Wilhelminian style, are placed in the center of the room forming a square surrounded by books in white shelves covering half of the wall.
Photos of Martha and Lion Feuchtwanger on the wall, and of Bert Brecht who didn’t make it in America and subsequently had to return to Germany. A fireplace, a sofa. A double door leads to the small wooden balcony. The steep slope of the garden covered with holm oaks, lemon and eucalyptus trees.
The whir of the colibries in the glaring back light, a squirrel jumps from brench to brench. And below the Pacific, spread like a silvery, glittering towel. To the left I can see Santa Monica, Venice and the Malibu Riviera, Point Dume towards San Francisco. A most luxurious dungeon with an unobstructed view over avocado groves and slopes all the way down to the Pacific.
Next door another small room with one bookshelve next to the other, the so called Franz-Werfel-Room, with an old electric tyewriter and the three address books of Feuchtwanger next to it. Presumably Heiner Müller’s typewriter, I am later told by Anne. But nobody is quite sure of that.
Below in a drawn out left curve the street that leads to the back entrance of the Getty Villa confined by a huge trellised gate. Behind it a little sentry post with a security guard.
The Villa blends in with its Spanish style architecture, like many other villas built in the 1920ies, all of them created to empathize atmosphere and impression of a particular past.
It wasn’t easy for the exile architects from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland who came to California as emigrants or exiles but they had a tremendous influence in the development of an intrinsically California modernist architecture.
Those are the thoughts going through my mind.
4. Inn of the Seventh Ray
Not far from the Villa, in Topanga Canyon, is this restaurant I was told that next to a good European menu features exquisite wines, mainly from California. These California wines are a little overrated and therefore a red wine from Italy or France still is to be the preferred choice.
I think of the Riesling as the best white wine, and Germany is definitely leading in this department. Many of the young vintners, who have taken over the businesses of their fathers, have committed themselves to wines with high standards. And I can attest to the fact that California wines don’t quite live up to these standards.
Starting at the Villa we follow the serpentine road down to Sunset Boulevard stretching from the coast all the way to the Hollywood Hills and arguably could be called one of the most beautiful streets in the world just like the Panorama Street at the Cote d’Azur for example or the Amalfi Coast, that lured the film stars during the first Hollywood boom when many Hollywood movies were shot in Rome Cine Citta – the hour of birth of the Super-Star at the beginning of the talking pictures.
A woman sporting a bun, her sort of burlap outfit a mixture of Kelley Family and Bio-Cinderella, shows us to a table with small, chintzy Art Nouveau chairs in the garden, draped under old Holm oaks.
There is a prefab, gas concrete fountain dabbling even though the restaurant is nestled to a creek curling through the canyon.
There are at least 15 propane heaters cranked up to the limit. I feel like sitting in a sauna. The restaurant could probably be seen from a spacecraft in orbit because of the ozone hole right above it.
Anyway, I am trapped. I don’t dare to leave and sit down at a table in the garden. It’s as if Americans had reinvented Old Europe, maybe because it looked beautiful, elegant, and luxurious on a postcard or film. But sitting there in real life is like being a fixture in a backdrop. To make matters worse you are sprayed with Muzak of the worst kind, from Albinoni to the jingle-jangle of the Four Seasons by Vivaldi during a soft rinse cycle.
I am ordering Waguey Beef and a salad with garden herbs. The waitress smiles, the typical American friendliness, even though I am not ordering an appetizer or desert. The California wine, which is practically imposed on me, red wine from a Pinot Noir grape tastes just as I noted earlier, and even the expensive California Syrah to flush down the Pinot Noir doesn’t bring relief. But the beef, an offshoot of the world famous Kobe Beef from Japan, is done to the point and the garden herb salad is very tasty.
Suddenly the night symphony of creaking frogs begins and I take flight, drive back to the Villa in my green Ford Taurus looking for shelter in the center of the cocoon formed by the exile poets, in the sanctum with its main focus, the writing desk.
The recreation of order at the escritoire (desk) of the mind is the poet’s field of action. The reconstruction of the hard drive we call brain. Far away lies Germany, shrouded in darkness. The new home is the exile, where the desk and Laptop stand, the new old homeland, the typewriter.
The Berg-Film Web site includes a brief bio of Lechner:
The author, director, producer, composer and actor Andreas Lechner was born in Munich in 1959 and is currently spending a three-month artist residency at the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles.
Andreas Lechner studied music at the Richard Strauss Conservatory in Munich and founded the folk music cabaret group, Guglhupfa, for which he composed lyrics and music. He is also a founding member of the Erste Bayrische Filmfoniker (First Bavarian Film Orchestra), for which he plays double bass.
Andreas Lechner has worked for theaters in Munich, Berlin, Hamburg and Basel as well as for independent theater groups. In 2007 he released the monologue Frieda - eine Münchner Sitten- und Lebensgeschichte (Frieda - A Munich life story) and is presently preparing his movie Strassbergers Gold which features his grandfather Josef Strassberger (1894-1950), who won an Olympic Gold medal in Amsterdam, 1928, and Bronze in Los Angeles, 1932.