Frankfurt Book Fair, Day One

Guten nacht from Frankfurt.

It’s 10:30 pm here and I’ve been up since Tuesday night. This will be such a fun post. I might accidentally make sense.

The adventure so far:

Yesterday morning, my tooth broke. Yeah, the same front tooth that broke a few months back. I was in a total panic because I was flying out that night and suddenly, I needed to get an emergency visit with my dentist. Which I did. Thank you, Dr. Mittl. “Don’t eat anything chewy or hard,” she warned on the way out. If you see a woman gumming her food on one side, you’ll know it’s me.

I managed to do my laundry, pack, pick up the boy, and still make it to JFK by 7:00 pm. I stand in line at Singapore Airlines, get to the front, and the lady keeps swiping my passport and frowning. Then she walks over to another station to talk to an official somebody. He looks at me, looks at the passport, looks at me again. Then he makes a phone call. I’m starting to feel like Cary Grant in “North By Northwest.” Official Guy walks over to two more official guys. They converse. He asks me to step to the side. I’m glad I packed the trench coat because this scene calls for one. Finally, after about twenty minutes, he gives me my boarding pass with a smile, and I half expect him to say, “Have a nice flight, Dr. Jones,” but he doesn’t, thereby ruining my delusions of grandeur-espionage fantasy with the realization that it was just some bureaucratic blip, and I’m not so interesting after all.

In line, I strike up a conversation with a woman who is there with her adorable toddler son, her mother, and her great aunt. The great aunt, Bittl, is traveling to Frankfurt by herself. She’s in her seventies and sad about leaving her family (she’s a recent widow), and her great-niece asks me if I will look out for her. Bittl doesn’t speak any English and I speak no German, but it’s okay. Because we’re in this together, and sometimes that’s enough. So after I share my Mickey D’s French fries with the completely edible Nathan-the-toddler, Bittl and I stand in the world’s longest security line. She talks to me in German, and the weird thing is that I sort of get the gist of what she’s saying even though I don’t understand the words, and she sort of gets me. I look up the words for “shoes” and “jacket” and point to the gray security bins. We board the humongous Airbus as if we are old friends. We’re not seated in the same section, but the flight attendant assures me that we can exit the plane in Frankfurt together.

I’m seated next to a nice lady who speaks both German and French and a little English. I pull out my very, very rusty college French, and somehow we manage to communicate: Her sister lives in Paris, she and her husband are traveling on to Singapore. I tell her that I am in Europe for two weeks and that I would like to see Paris. I tell her my name and she tells me hers: Genevieve. Silently, I vow to practice my French.

If you can, learn another language now. Join the global village. I hate that I speak only smatterings of phrases in other languages. I feel embarrassed by it. Anyway, that’s my PSA.

Singapore Airlines believes in feeding you. Often and a lot. So if you’re hungry, I highly recommend flying Air Singapore. I pick at some mashed potatoes and cheese and scarf down a Klondike ice cream bar the size of my purse. I manage about an hour or so of restless sleep. We land in Germany and Bittl and I wait together at the luggage claim until her driver comes for her. She says something to me that I don’t really understand and so I nod and then we use the universal language of a hug and a wave goodbye.

I meet up with the lovely Anna from the publicity dept. at dtv, my German publisher. “Wow. You brought two suitcases!” she notes. I’m too embarrassed to tell her about the scarves, and I don’t know her well enough yet to say, “Yes, for the dead body.”

Anna and I take a taxi to the hotel where they have a hotel mascot–a six-month-old English bulldog puppy named Emma. I immediately make a fool out of myself by making kissy noises at Emma who eyes me warily, as she should. (She wasn’t in this evening. Apparently, she is only available to charm visitors between the hours of 9:00 and 6:00.) Anna graciously offers me coffee which I suck down like it’s a jet-lag antidote, which it is. We take a taxi to the Frankfurter BuchMesse. (Frankfurt Book Fair.) There I meet up with my publisher, Anne Schieckel, and the rest of the fabulous dtv crew: Thomas Zirnbauer, Maike Kolbeck, and my editor, Anka. Anna F. and I wander around the halls and take in an exhibit of Turkish design and photos (Turkey is the guest of honor country this year), read up on Turkish writers, and run from building to building in the rain. I have a lovely chat with Thomas and Anka, who make me laugh and feel at ease. Then Thomas, Maike, and I go to hear an American author, Anya Ulinich, read and speak.

Anya is very smart and funny and, it turns out, lives two neighborhoods away from me in Brooklyn. Small world. We make a plan to have a playdate with our kids and she graciously signs an English-language version of her book, PETROPOLIS, for me. Then we all go to dinner along with Jasmine T. (who read Anya’s book aloud in German) and Pietra, who conducted the interview and whose name I am sadly butchering in print here. (Note to self: write down the correct spellings of first and last names.) Over a delicious and hearty dinner, we discuss politics, the upcoming election, immigration (Yasmine grew up in Iran and Anya lived in the former USSR until she was 17.), books, movies, and all-in-all, it’s a wonderful evening. I am grateful to my dinner guests for keeping me awake.

So that was day one. Tomorrow, I have six interviews back-to-back from 10:30 am until 3:30 pm followed by a dinner. And Saturday is the public reading:

*Saturday, October 18: Frankfurt Book Fair 2008*
3.00-4.00 pm: Public reading: FOCUS Forum Hörbuch, 4.1., audiobook-speaker Julia Nachtmann, presentation: Tanya Lieske, Deutschlandfunk

Just before I left NYC, they announced the National Book Award Nominees, and I was thrilled to hear that my pal, E. Lockhart, was nominated for the absolutely wonderful THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS. This is one of my favorite books of the year. If you haven’t read it, grab a copy. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Congrats to all the nominees.

Alrighty. I think it’s time to take the battery pack out of my back and try to crash. More tomorrow.

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