AMSTERDAM, OR: ON THE ROAD, DAY 65

October 5, 2004

Greetings from Amsterdam!

To say that there is a lot happening in the Sander Zone this fall is to understate the case.

1) THE BOOK, or: Author! Author!

As some of you will have heard by now, I have published my most recent book, “The Frank Family That Survived.” Inspired by the documentary I wrote and narrated for BBC Radio 4 three years ago, the book, which I consider my magnum opus — at least as a writer — officially came out about six weeks ago.

The book was officially launched on September 8th at a memorable party at the exclusive Savile Club in London, at which I was pleased to be joined by my mother, Dorrit Sander — who, of course, is one of the “stars” of the book. It was quite a night, as my mother and I said our respective thank yous to some of the people who helped make our dream happen, amongst them the fine literary support team at Random House and Curtis Brown, Ltd. Also present was Sir John Keegan, who wrote the introduction to the book, which is published by Hutchinson, a division of Random House.

I am very proud of it, and am anxious that it achieves its full potential in the literary marketplace, both in Europe, and the rest of the world. Tha — along with my foreign correspondence (in addition to the usual Baltic Babe factor) is the primary impetus for:

2) THE VOYAGE, or: Around Northern Europe in 80 Days(or: if it’s Tuesday, it must be Tallinn…)

As the dateline above denotes, I am now on the 65th day of this, the longest, most eventful, most exciting — and, inevitably, the most stressful — trip of my adult life.

Over the last two months, I have been to five countries — Finland, Estonia, Sweden, England, Holland and one archipelago, the autonomous Åland Islands in between Finland and Sweden, that really are in a space of their own. On one level, I have been busy promoting the book, as I just did in London, where I visited just about every bookstore in the greater London region, signing copies of the book (which I am pleased to say is selling).

At the same time, I have been working on various essays and articles about the places I have visited, as well as developing or researching ideas for future articles and books. Thus, in Helsinki, I spent two days in the extraordinary Military Museum there, viewing the displays relating to the 1939-40 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, one of the last major episodes of the war that has yet to be given just historiographical due — at least in the English-speaking world.

Then I crossed the Baltic by fast boat to Tallinn, where I researched a major essay about the state of Estonia on the tenth anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the sinking of the Estonia (which, as some of you may know, I covered for The New York Times). Then it was on to the magical islands of Åland, which I am also writing about. That — especially the two days I spent on the “outer island” of Foglo, bicycling around the near deserted isle, talking to God, etc. (thank you, God! You threw me one!) was the period of this voyage that came closest to being a vacation. And incidentally, may I suggest that you take your next holiday in Åand. “Heaven on earth!”is the way the owner of the Wardhus guesthouse on Foglo exclaimed when I arrived on his corner of paradise. He wasn’t far off…

Then came Stockholm, which, as always, was a blast, and where I stayed at the Grand Hotel, which I wrote about in my infamous GQ article in 1993 (you remember, the one about my friend Don and I, and how he was always staying behind…) and the equally fabulous Berns, where I had the penthouse suite. What a view! What a city! I still think that Stockholm is the most beautiful city in Northern Europe. One of the most memorable moments of this trip occurred one night, when I was walking across one of the many bridges that link this svelte city, and found myself simply gazing out at the lights of the boats, stretched across the harbor, like so many pearls — awestruck at the sight, as well as my good fortune at simply being there.

Then it was onto London and the launch of the book. Somehow I wound up spending a month in my former hometown. I have to say that London has changed a bit since I moved back to the States in order to be artist in residence at Cornell. Maybe it was because living in Ithaca has re-sentivized me (whatever that means), but the Old Town seems rougher than it was when I left, more of an assault on the senses. In fact, London and New York seemed to have switched personas, the new, brash, superfast, and-not-so genteel London reminding me of nothing so much as the old, pre-Guiuliani and pre-9/11 New York, from the days before Rudy & Company — including my brother Lee, his Lordship’s Transportation Commissioner — made the city run again, and before that horrible day, when hitherto immortal New Yorkers were reminded of their mortality, and began treating each other as human beings again.

I still love London, of course. I am still a Londoner, just as I am still a New Yorker. But quite frankly, I couldn’t see myself living in either city these days.

Nevertheless, it was great to see my old friends there, especially the Keegans. Of course one Saturday afternoon I found myself taking the train to the West Country, and then a cab out to the tiny Kilmington, where John and Susanne live. And there I was again at the same kitchen table where I first listened to my BBC broadcast three years ago, and where, in a sense, “The Frank Family That Survived,” the book version, was born. To paraphrase Robert Penn Warren, all roads lead to Kilmington.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon it really does feel like the center of the universe.

I also was attacked by a swarm of killer midges (as gnats are called thereabouts) one night, as I lay beneath the log roof of Kilmington Manor, the fruit of late summer. Between my talks with John and Susanne, and frantically myself, it was quite a visit.

Then it was back to London and the madding crowd and signing books and pitching article ideas related to the book, and looking through the newspapers for reviews of the book. The ones that have come so far — mostly from Scotland, Northern Island, and the regional papers have been wonderful; soon the nationals will chime in. The best moment, at least from the authorial point of view, was when I visited Hatcherd’s, the great bookstore on Piccadilly, and the flagship of Waterstone’s, and found that the store had sold out the first complement of 18 books — the biggest order in the UK, I expect — that I had signed several weeks before, and had another bunch ready for me to sign. When I emerged into the sun-showery afternoon there was a double rainbow in the sky over the statue of Eros. I thought that was a good omen.

Somehow, between my authorial activities and seeing old friends — and it was gratifying to see how many good friends I did make during the five years I lived there — I managed to spend a month in the Old Town.

And now, as my circumnavigation of Northern Europe enters its ninth week, here I am back in Amsterdam, signing books, seeing old friends, etc., etc. It was quite a moment to see my book, which of course mostly takes place in Holland, in a Dutch bookstore.

Later this week I go to Germany, where I again will be flying the flag for “The Frank Family That Survived,” as well as writing an article about the Rhineland area and my return to Breitenheim, the little town in the Hunsruck region where my grandfather, Myrtil Frank, was born. In a way, this strange, wonderful, exciting trip will reach its climax there. It will be quite a moment to revisit House No. 61 in Breitenheim and give a copy of the book to the current owner.

Then it’s on to Tallinn, where I am publishing a photo essay about the Baltic model scene (tough work! Did I tell you about my photography?) and Helsinki and back to New York on October 20th. Or roughly 80 days since I left. And THE VOYAGE will be over.

For now…

3) THE SANDER ZONE, A.K.A. THIS WEB SITE

This week, my Multiplex Man web site, which is being designed by David Schoonover, the resourceful Cornell student who also worked with me on The Frank Family, goes “live.” That should be quite a moment, as well.

And so the beat goes on in…The Sander Zone.

Onward! Stay tuned for the next dispatch from The Sander Zone! And to all of you wonderful people out there who helped make this voyage possible:

THANKS!

Always,

Gordon

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