As you know, Journey To Munich, the 12th novel in the series of books featuring psychologist/investigator, Maisie Dobbs, will be published at the end of March. Not long to go now!
Following my visit to Munich last February, I wrote an essay on the Naked Authors blog about the experience—the places where my research for the novel took me. I thought I would share that essay with you in this newsletter, though as you will see, the scope of my thoughts following the visit to Munich went beyond the weeks in 1938 that Maisie spends there assignment for the British Secret Service (see the last newsletter for more on my inspiration for the novel). Here's what I wrote following my own journey to Munich:
Maybe it's my sense of irony, but of everything I've seen and experienced during my whistle-stop trip to Munich—including the beer hall where Hitler gave one of his first rousing speeches, the headquarters of the Nazi party, and Dachau concentration camp—the thing that will stick in my mind is walking through Marienplatz later in the day, and stopping to watch a Jewish klezmer trio busking in the square under the famous Glockenspiel. Children were skipping around to the music, tourists snapped photos with their smart phones, while others hurried to and fro carrying bags revealing their shopping habits—teens who'd been spending money in H&M, forty-somethings in Zara, and the wealthier of any age in Prada, Burberry or Chanel. Along the way a woman of Middle-Eastern origin held out a Starbucks cup to beg for money, and a couple of very blonde German twenty-something lads with shoulder-length dreadlocks bounced along to shared listening through earpieces attached to the same device. I stood there feeling as if I was having an out-of-body experience, and not for the first time in my life, a completely different memory converged with the scene—I'm strange that way.
I remembered the Point Reyes fire, not far from my home in northern California; it must have been some twenty years ago now. It was a massive forest fire that consumed over 10,000 acres in the blink of an eye. I remember riding my friend's horse to a higher elevation so I could see the fire in the distance, and being quite stunned by the power of the conflagration, even though it was some miles away. I moved off quickly in case the winds changed. But just a couple of months later, during a hike out to Point Reyes with one of my friends, I looked down at the burned remains of once-magnificent trees and saw the bright green shoots of life bursting up through charcoal stumps.
I don't know when the green shoots of life began to rise up through the terror that became Munich in the 1930's, but I know I have wondered, many times, why we have to go through this fiery experience we call war. As a child I meandered across a field where King Harold was supposedly felled in 1066—our teachers let us know how bloody a battle that was—and many years later I stood in exactly the place where Great War poet Siegfried Sassoon lingered to watch the opening salvos of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. I have peered into the achingly clear waters of Pearl Harbor and seen the ghost of tragedy that lingers just beneath the surface, and I have had a drink or two in the pub close to Biggin Hill in Kent, England, where young Battle of Britain pilots raised their glasses to those who hadn't made it home. I have listened to the stories of veterans, and in my time I have hoped someone I loved would come home from war. And I have come to believe that peace is the most precious jewel we humans can possibly have in our grasp.
Peace, the gift and all it encompasses—freedom from fear, freedom of expression, freedom to love and commit to whoever we want to be with in this life, and freedom to worship any deity—or not to worship at all. Seems to me that peace and freedom go hand in hand, and surely peace is a freedom in and of itself.
When I think about all the places in the world that have seen a terrible tyranny—and have come through it as if it were a sickness, a feverish epidemic of killing and inhumanity—I start to wonder why it happened in the first place, and I have come to the conclusion that it all starts when someone thinks they're better than someone else, when some sort of elitism plays a part in the conversation, and that a sense of being right and being better gives an out of control belief in an outrageous level of singular or collective power—and that power can be rooted in money, in education, cultural background, skin color, a mode of speech or any number of elements. It happens when one person thinks they're a notch or two above their neighbor, or there is cause to put another person down. It is the result of intolerance and a hunger to be really important—and many men and woman have put that into words far more eloquent than I could ever compose.
So, I wonder where the next regeneration will be. Will there be tentative green shoots of peace in Libya, in Syria, or in places closer to home where we're afraid to acknowledge discord as something akin to war? I wonder where, in time, music will be played loud at the site of terror, and where the children will dance instead of running for cover.
I walked back across Marienplatz, stopped to place some coins in the woman's Starbucks cup, and made my way to my hotel. It had been a long day, and had given me much to think about.
Journey To Munich, the book I was in the midst of writing when I traveled to Munich, will be published on March 29, 2016.
I'll be sending out another newsletter soon, with more on the background to Journey To Munich.
Until then, I wish you well,
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