Chapter 9 - Glass Sculptures
Glass Sculptures are sculptures of light,
as are the sculptures of our Love
Our spirits weren't quite as high the next morning when we stepped through the Iron Curtain into East Germany at Checkpoint Charlie. I had traveled through this gate in the Iron Curtain many times during the Anderson affair. It seemed to me that one never gets used to facing submachine guns and the overriding sense of the cheapness of life in the communist world that these guns signified. The tense feeling was impossible to suppress. I could close my eyes and still see the open muzzle stare into my face, knowing what it has been made for.
As I made my way past the concrete barriers that were originally erected against tanks. The dark image of a fascist world that stood unseen behind that muzzle, hit just as hard that day as on many previous occasions. It seemed that this part never gets any easier.
"What a contrasting world East Germany is!" said Sylvia once we were through.
I agreed. I couldn't help notice the contrast every time I passed into the East.
Going through the checkpoint turned out be a sobering experience for all of us: a creepy, frightening step through a gateway into a world that I had learned to loathe and yet had learned to treasure at the same time, because Steve and Ushi lived there. I felt the same feeling again this time around.
I telephoned Ushi as soon as we got to Leipzig after a two-hour drive on the autobahn. I meant to surprise her by phoning her from right outside her office. But it was mostly for security reasons that I phoned. I recalled that there was a public telephone booth in front of the great medieval castle called the Rathaus, where she worked. I knew that she could see the booth from her office window. She had mentioned it once before.
When she heard my voice she let out a shriek of delight. "Are you really here?" she asked.
"Just look out the window and watch me wave to you."
"Gosh, I can see you. Is it really you? Wave again! Why don't you come up, Pete?"
"Maybe you should come down, I have a still bigger surprise for you," I said. "Sylvia is here with me and Tony, and Heather, and Heather's future husband, Ross, a nuclear-power genius that Steve might want to meet. Except Ross has given up on science in America and became a birdwatcher for the military instead. Still he remains what he was, a genius."
"Wait please, I'll be right down," she said. "But first I must call Steve. We'll have to have lunch together."
"OK, that sounds fine, but supper is on me tonight," I warned her. "Can you recommend a place, one with dancing?"
"You bet I can!" she said and hung up.
We met her outside her place of work, right in front of the great copper-clad door of the Rathaus. The door looked as heavy as I remembered it. Its imposing size and weight provided a perfect introduction to the system that it guarded. Also, there was this contrast again, of the bombastic standing in opposition to the superlative that Ushi personified, someone delicate and beautiful. No embrace could have been warmer than ours, or a face more radiant than hers as she stepped through the giant door to greet us. She warmly embraced Sylvia, and then Heather. Afterwards she hugged Ross and Tony, too.
"Steve will meet us at Cafe Intourist," she said later. "He will come right after his last lecture."
I remembered the Cafe Intourist. I had dinner there, once. As I recalled, it was only a few blocks from the Rathaus, the right distance for walking, and of course for exchanging stories. And oh, did I have a story to tell her!
At first she said no. Then she said, "Italy sounds exciting!" When I mentioned Venice, the 'no' became a 'maybe.' When I finally explained the importance of the project to both the United States and the Soviet Union, she was with us one hundred percent. I added that the matter is so highly sensitive that it takes sensitive persons like her and Steve, to handle it.
She looked at me and shook her head. "This goes one step too far!" she protested. "I'm honored, but I can't accept. The responsibility is too tremendous. What if I fail?"
"What if someone else tried and failed more miserably?" I asked in return. "Can you think of anyone better qualified than you and Steve to do the right thing when there is no way of telling what the right thing is?"
She shook her head. Some tears came. Then I told her our submarine story, how close the cruise missile had come to Washington D.C. and that this happened less than three days ago.
"OK, but Steve won't go along with this," she said. "He never misses a semester opening. It's important to him to be there. He says that the first weeks are critical."
"The future of humanity is at stake," I said quietly. "Steve will adjust his priorities."
"Ok, I'll ask him for you, Peter."
We walked arm in arm into the restaurant. Ushi's eyes were still wet.
Steve was already there. He waved us to his table.
"Pete needs you in Italy tomorrow," she said to him bluntly and without a comment as if none was needed.
Steve looked stunned. "Another nudist beach project?" he asked jokingly.
I shook my head. "Something much bigger, Steve! The beach isn't important at the moment. Something much bigger is happening."
"Didn't I tell you, you blew those 90,000 bucks?" Steve said and began to laugh.
"Steve, hundreds of billions are at stake. It's that big a project. It could be a turning point in history. The future existence of mankind may hang in the balance! You had told me once to invite you to my opening show. I am inviting you now. We are about to stage the opening show for a new future for mankind."
Steve laughed, but immediately his smile faded. "You are not joking?"
Of course I had to repeat the whole long cruise missile story all over again.
"Venice," he repeated, "the SDI is being scrapped there!" He shook his head. "What a coincidence! Did you know that Venice killed Dante?"
"There is no connection," said Ross. "The project that we need your help with might open a whole new horizon that will resurrect Dante. The Venetian won't shut this one down."
"I hope you realize what this means to the Soviet Union," said Steve. "They feel terribly pressured by the SDI."
"Who has the SDI first, controls the world," said Ross.
I explained to Steve that the cancellation was perceived as a first step towards better relations, a sign of respect, and hopefully also a step closer to the end of the nuclear arms race. "My boss Fred invited you to become involved, because of your network of contacts that is reaching deep into the Soviet Union. He thinks it is of utmost importance that this gift to the Soviet Union is not being perceived as a trick of some sort, but is seen as an honest gesture, which it is."
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