It's safe to say I had an unusual childhood for many reasons. Not the least of which was my father.
My old man, probably because he never read them when he was a kid, never read us children's books. So while my four-year-old friends were snuggling up to Peter Rabbit or Winnie the Pooh, my father was pouring me stronger brew.
My old man must have read somewhere that Alexander the Great, he who, before the age of 30, had conquered most of the known world, slept with two things under his pillow.
One, a dagger, to protect him, Philip of Macedon's heir, against assassins. Two, a copy of Homer's "Iliad."
My father eschewed the cutlery, but read us, in sonorous tones, the Iliad--Lattimore's Iliad, in its contorted and baroque English. He read us the Odyssey. And, Virgil's Aeneid.
He read us the great histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. He read us Plutarch, and Ovid, and even, when he was feeling his oats, he read us Martial's Epigrams.
My lack of connection to the present day--which haunts me still--began then. I was way more cognizant of the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome than of my dingy surroundings in Yonkers, New York, USA.
When I got to be about eight, my father, who still insisted on reading to me before bedtime, brought into the room I shared with my brother, a black-covered hardcover emblazoned with a giant white swastika. William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." All 1046 pages of it.
This became bedtime reading for the better part of a year. Lest we forget.
Today, I leave for my first trip to Germany. I will be there for business, but I hope to have some moments to myself to see Berlin.
I will see a contemporary city of art and commerce in a thriving country. Full of friendly, funny, and alive people, living in the present day.
I will also see Shirer's Berlin.
And I will hope for the best.