An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
New York Edition

September First marked a rather significant anniversary in the Life of Dave.  And also in the life of my best friend Jared.  As of 9/1/16 we’ve now lived longer outside of Maiden Lane than we did in it.  Talk about your mindfucks.  And I thought describing the currywurst bitches was hard.

Jared and I were roommates for ten – count ‘em: 10 – years.  Six years in Maiden Lane, and another four on Orchard Street.  Even now, we joke with our married friends that they haven’t made it until they beat our mark.1  Anyway, this sort of anniversary – if that’s even the right word – is hard to wrap your head around.

I mean, when we first moved in, the Fulton Fish Market was still a thing.  We’d walk outside in the summer and be hit with that smell.  Ground Zero was still Ground Zero and not the new Trade Center.  We could still pretend to afford the rent down there.  But all I’m saying here is that Manhattan changed.  The city changed.  That doesn’t even begin to touch on the heart of the matter.

When we moved in together – along with English Phil; it was a three-bedroom – we were, what, 23?  You think back to it, and you start to realize, this was an entirely different time of your life.  A different era.  What I’m going to say next is going to sound cheesy.  But, everything was still new.  You were discovering yourself at the same time as you were discovering the greatest city on earth.  You were properly free for the first time in your life.

Free, and yet poor.  My first year, I worked at Starbucks.  And Jared, I think, was still in acting school.  I’d come home from work with bags of expired scones and sandwiches and we considered it a bounty.  But we didn’t care.  Aye, we were ‘appy in those days, although we were poor.  Because we were poor!

But it’s strange to think back to those times.  Because it’s but two years ago that we were still roommates in Chinatown.  Yet even that was different somehow.  By that time, we were both in grad school, both looking more towards the future than towards today.  But Maiden Lane, those were the last days of youth, somehow.  The days when we were free from worry.

And of course that’s not true at all, is it?  It’s just, that’s how it feels now.  Not everybody gets to live their twenties in New York, but we did.  And we loved it.  And he’s still there, and I’m here.  And nobody knows what will come next.  But those days are gone.  The days of living with your best friend and facing the world together are gone.

As people get older, they move on.  Many people settle into relationships.  Others run away, as I have.  But in your twenties, it’s your friends who are the central figures in your lives.  Your friends are your family.  In your thirties?  It’s your boyfriend or your girlfriend, your husband or your wife.  And your friends fade into the background.  If you’re lucky, they become family.  And they have, for me.  My friends from home, Jared front-and-center, are my family.

But they’re family in the sense of a no-questions-asked-always-there-for-you kind of way.  Not in a central-figure-in-your-life kind of way.  I hesitate to speak out of turn regarding Jared, but I trust what I say here will not be taken amiss.  He lives now with his boyfriend Josh.  And I adore Josh.  That’s not hyperbole or polite blogque-speak.  I adore Josh.  And I am so words-can’t-express-it happy for Jared.  But his life now is with his partner and not his buddy-roommate.  And that’s as should be.  My life, for now, is here in Berlin.  We’ve chosen our paths.  And I don’t think either of us regret the paths we’ve chosen.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t look back upon the times-that-were and feel a twinge of nostalgia.  It doesn’t mean you don’t miss the times-gone-by that will never come again.  I texted Jared, on the first of September:

Dave: Congratulations, my man. We’ve now been outside of Maiden Lane longer than we were in it.

Jared: Something about that makes me sad.  Also I read that as I went into Starbucks so there was some synergy there.

Davie: Weird. Yeah man, little bit of melancholy. Little bit of nostalgia. Little bit of getting old sucks.

Jared: There it is.

There it is.  The Maiden Lane days were their own thing.  We would live tougher for another four years on the Lower Easy Side.  But that was its own other thing.  It wasn’t the same.  We were in our thirties.  We were going our own ways already.  By that point, I’d met Joschka and Vinny and Niki.  We were getting drunk in Williamsburg til 4am and finishing up with ‘breakfast’ at WoHop.  Meanwhile, Jared was doing his thang.  Even if we were still best friends in those years, we weren’t the team that we were in the Maiden days.

And now here we are.  Here I am.  An entire Maiden Lane Lifetime after Maiden Lane.  I’m trying to process it, but I can’t understand it.  But maybe that’s life.  You do your best to understand it when it’s happening, even though you know you can’t.  Then you try to understand it when it’s gone, and you can only grasp at the fringes of it.  You can try.  You should try, even.  But you can’t live in the past.  Enfin le temps perdu qu’on ne rattrape plus.

זיי געסונט

  1. Cheers to Keith and Heather, who only just recently beat us. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
19 October, 2016

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time cooped up inside.  Lots of reasons for this, I suppose.  Not wanting to spend money.  Busy with work.  Weather turning to shit.  Boredom.  Some reasons are better than others.  But today, I got off my ass and went for a five hour walk.  My main goal was to visit the Schwerbelastungskörper, on more which later.  My secondary goal was to get a currywurst from a particular stand on Tempelhoferdamm.  I achieved my goals.  I also achieved getting soaked by the rain, which was not my goal.

There are two types of walks that I undertake here in Berlin.  One is a blind wandering.  There’s no goal in mind.  I simply pick a direction and go.  These are great, because you never know what you’ll find.  The drawback is, you might find nothing interesting at all.  But at least you get some fresh air and exercise.  And obviously the Fußpils, the walking-around-beer.  The other type of walk is the one where you pick a point of interest beforehand and map out a rough route.  That was today.

My first stop was the currywurst stand on Tempelhoferdamm.  I’d been there once before and considered it to be one of the better currywursts that I’ve had in this town.  Certainly I don’t go for the friendliness of the staff.  I’m not kidding.  It’s run by these two old ladies.  Two old ladies who seem to have sticks or small dead animals up their asses.

OK, that requires some explanation.  The first time I went, I merely stumbled upon it.  I was wandering around the area, I was hungry and their prices seemed fair.  So I ordered the obligatory Currywurst mit Pommes – currywurst with fries.  I gave my order to the old blonde lady, but it was the old brunette who served me.  Somewhere in that handoff, she lost the fact that I had ordered my food to go.  So when I saw her putting it on an actual plate, I politely interrupted her.  Entschuldigung, kann ich’s zu mitnehmen haben?  Excuse me, can I have that to go please?  And wow, did she give me the dirtiest look ever.  I mean, it was all out of proportion.  Like, OK.  This is a minor inconvenience.  I get it.  But did I just ruin your whole godsdamned day?  Because you look like I just ruined your whole godsdamned day.  I wanted to apologize.  I probably did apologize, in fact.  But I did some serious eye-rolling.

Still though, it was as a good a currywurst as I’ve had.1  And the fries were solid, which is key.  Nothing’s worse than going for a currywurst and getting shit fries.  Contrary-wise, when you get a subpar currywurst but it comes with nice, thick steak fries, all is well.  All this to say, despite the customer service hiccup, I was looking forward to grabbing lunch from the old dames today.

And they didn’t disappoint, on either front.  This time, I went out of my way to make clear I wanted my food for the road.  So far, so good.  The brunette wrapped it up for me.  Which, I mean, is weird.  Like in New York, when you get a slice or two to go and the put the plate inside a paper bag.  On the one hand, thanks, I guess.  On the other, more realistic hand, do you not realize I’m going to start eating this the minute I’m out your door?  Why did you put that in a bag?  But that’s what they did, and I wasn’t going to ask them not too, lest I get the evil-eye again.

One thing you need to know is, you don’t eat currywurst with a fork, nor do you eat it with your hands.  You eat it with, what I call, a Nathan’s fork.  New Yorkers will know what I’m talking about.  When you get fries from Nathan’s, you eat them with this little red plastic trident.  It’s part of the charm, no?  Well, it’s the same for currywurst, although here it comes in all colors.

Anyway, here, they usually hide the spear under the paper plate when they wrap it up.  So you get that awkward fast food moment.  You know the one.  Where you don’t really know if they put a fork and napkins into your bag, so you just grab extras on your way out, just in case.  Well, that’s just what happened here.  Kind of.

They hand me my bag – and again, I’m going to eat this starting in three seconds, why did you put it in a fucking bag, no really, do you think I’m going to take it all the way home and proceed to eat it lukewarm? – they hand me the bag, I’m saying, and I think, lemme grab a fork/trident/spear.  Just in case.  After all, if you think I’m taking this “home,” you also probably think I have utensils where I’m going, yeah?

So I stretch my paw towards the pile of plastic tridents.  And get this.  The blonde lady literally slaps my hand.  Like I’m a fucking child that doesn’t know any better.  Slaps.  My fucking.  Hand.  And the brunette – who last time looked at me like I was the world’s biggest asshole for asking for my food to go after she’d put it on a real plate – looked at me like I was out of my mind.  “Alles ist drinnen” she said, or something like it.  Everything is inside.  Jeez, OK, fine.  Thanks, I guess.

So I took my package of junk food and found a bench by the river.  I opened the bag.  And yeah, I found my little spear hiding out under the paper plate.  But you know what I didn’t find?  Napkins.  So alles wasn’t fucking drinnen, was it?  And napkins would have been helpful, given that the whole Mischung was drowning in ketchup.  But whatever.

So I’m sitting there trying to enjoy my lunch.  But now I’m annoyed that, at 35 years old, I’d just had my hand slapped.  Like I was a fucking idiot child.  And I’m trying to figure out if this is normal on a cultural level and I just need to accept it, or if these two broads are just raging bitches.  Certainly Germans have a reputation for being direct – even severe – in ways that Americans might consider rude.  And sure, when you encounter this, it’s your job to recognize that you’re in their country and you can’t take it personally.  But this seemed a bit beyond that.  In the coming days, I’ll run this by some German friends and see what they think.  But at the moment, I’m thinking I can get my currywurst elsewhere.  Or, you know, eat something healthier.

Anyway, after lunch, I headed up to the Schwerbelastungskörper.  Beer in hand, obvi.  On the one hand, it was great to be out walking.  On the other hand, what a shitty day for a walk.  It was cold and grey and rainy.  Not freezing, not black, not pouring.  Good enough to manage, but still fairly shite.

So I made my way up Tempelhoferdamm, past the Ring-Bahn, until I picked up Baron-von-Richtofen Strße.  Baron von Richtofen, you will remember, was the Red Baron.  See, in the area around Tempelhof aiport, they’ve named the streets after famous aviators.  This particular street leads you through a rather posh neighborhood.  Well, it’s posh now, anyway.  When THF was an active airport, it was a different story.  Jetliners flying over your house at tree-top level aren’t great for property values.  But once they turned the airport into a park, this little ‘hood gentrified in a hurry.

Anyway, you walk through this little neighborhood a piece – and you have to know where you’re going – until you turn a corner and there it is.  The Schwerbelastungskörper.  This huge concrete cylinder, 14m high and 21m in diameter, just sort of sits there, in this little residential area.  An ominous reminder of what Berlin – Germania – might have looked like, if Hitler and Speer had got their way.

The structure itself was nothing more than a test.  It was never meant to be the foundation of anything.  Its sole purpose was to see just how much weight the marshy soil of Berlin could bear.  But it would provide critical information.  With this test completed, the Nazis could build their Welthauptstadt – world capital – with all the scary, imposing, monumental architecture their sick minds could devise.  Of course, they never got that far.

–Interpolation: I started this piece on October 13th.  It is now the 19th.  In the intervening days, I’ve been suffering from a real bitch of a cold.  In fact, I still am.  But I took a break from writing, as my usual habits seemed to me to be counterproductive as regards convalescence.  In other words, I though it unwise to stay up late, smoking my pipe and drinking wine in throes of this wretched cold.  I probably shouldn’t be writing tonight either, but I’m getting antsy.  So instead of wine, I’m drinking hot toddies, which I deem medicinal.  End Interpolation–

Anyway, the Schwerbelastungskörper was interesting and scary and awesome in the more literal sense of the word.  Interesting, obviously, as a piece of history.  And you can go inside it.  It’s almost like a bunker in there.  And while you don’t have access, you can see how far down underground it goes.  Scary because, you know, Nazis.  Awesome, however, is more complicated.

I have a weird relationship with Nazi architecture.  On the one hand, it is all “intimidation” architecture.  Like Versailles, it is meant to make the viewer feel small and insignificant.  But there’s no confusing Louis XIV with Hitler.  So there’s a creepy, evil feeling about it as well.  Walk by the old Air Ministry (the current Finance Ministry) and you will feel it.  Charlotte, who is not exactly a student of history, certainly felt it.

On the other hand, I have to admit a feeling of admiration for monumental architecture.  Especially when it’s influenced by classical architecture.2  Take for example the US Capitol Building, the Supreme Court Building, the Municipal Building in New York, and on and on.  And here you have this government that wanted to build things on a bigger and grander scale than anything that had ever been built before.  You imagine what these buildings might have looked like, and it is literally awesome.

Then you remember who these people were.  You remember that everything they built was built by slave labor or near-slave labor.  And it churns your stomach.  The further in time we get from these things, the easier it is to view them with a detached eye.  But it’s still difficult to balance your subjective feelings about the architecture with your objective knowledge of the bastards who built it.

Anyway, in the week since I started this post, I’ve had the opportunity to ask more than a few Germans about the “hand-slapping incident.”  To be honest, I was kind of expecting at least one or two people to admit, with a bit of embarrassment, that yeah, even if this wasn’t exactly normal, it wasn’t entirely unheard of either.  I encountered no such response.  To a one, I was met with looks of abject horror.  Each responded in turn with something along the lines of, oh my god, that’s fucking horrific and please don’t judge Germans by this.

So at least I know I don’t have to feel bad about reaching for the Nathan’s Fork anymore.  And I know I won’t be going back there again either.  It does mean, however, that I need to find a new currywurst spot.  Last year, there was a place in my ‘hood that was pretty great, and which served up some beautiful fucking steak fries.  But they seem to have gone out of business in my absence.

In other news, I started watching Deadwood.  Normally, I don’t much care for westerns.  But I knew the show was done by HBO, was quite popular in its time, and starred Ian McShane, whom I loved from his work on the short-lived (but totally fucking awesome) Kings.  So when I saw it on Netflix, I decided to give it a whirl.

And friends, it is basically Shakespeare transposed onto a western.  You don’t notice it at first, what with the costumes and scenery, the waterfall of cursing3 and the Old West dialect.  This to say nothing of trying to keep up with the plots and characters.  But once you get accustomed to these things, you start to notice the Shakespeare in it.

First, some of the characters are right out of Old Bill.  You’ve got your Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  You’ve go your Falstaff and your Macbeth.  And if I was more versed in Shakespeare, I could probably pick out a few more.

But more than this, there’s the language.  When the main characters embark upon long dialogues or soliloquies (and yes, there are soliloquies), the language is totally Shakespearean; if not in dialect, then certainly in syntax and meter.  In fact, I would love to do a metrical analysis on some of these speeches vis-à-vis Mr. Stratford-upon Avon.  I’m dead certain they would match.

As for syntax, the sentence construction doesn’t hold with the way we speak, but is definitely in accord with what you find in the Bard’s work.  To be fair, I’m not an expert on 19th century speech patterns in the American West.  But it’s hard for me to imagine that people spoke this way in their everyday lives, even if surviving letters support this to an extent.

And now here, I’m going to get into the weeds a bit.  I’ll do my best to keep this succinct.  In modern English, we have the “-ing” form of the verb.  When I teach, this functions in one of two ways.  The first is as a gerund, or a verbal noun.  For example, “I like running.”  Running is gerund.  It’s based off the verb to run, but it functions as a noun in the sentence.  The second, is as a participle, which is an adjective.  For example, “We have running water.”  Running is still based off the verb to run, but here, it’s an adjective, describing the water.  What we don’t really do anymore, is use the “-ing” form as a present active participle in the classical sense.

And here, it’s helpful to remember that our ideas of style – even today – derive from Greek and Roman ideas of style.  And in Greek and Latin literature, a sentence usually only has one main verb.  Of course, you can have subordinate clauses which can stretch a sentence for nearly a page.  But the main clause, the meat of the sentence, will have one verb.  For the Greeks and Romans, joining multiple verbs with “and” was suboptimal.  Of course they did it, but they didn’t love it.  What they preferred, was to have one verb and then use present active participles in parallel with it, when more verbal action was required.  OK, OK, shut the fuck up, Dave.  I know.

So let me try to give an example of what I mean.  Today, we would probably say something like “I went to the store and bought some bread.”  That’s one sentence with two verbs joined by “and.”  The Greeks and Romans, however, would prefer something like this: “Going to the store, I bought some bread.”  Still one sentence, but now only one verb.  The second verbal idea is expressed with a present active participle.  We simply don’t speak like this anymore.  We hardly even write like this anymore.

But Shakespeare certainly wrote like this.  And so does Deadwood.  They both also enjoy anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase.  So, putting the two together, you might get something like this: “Bullock, being an honest (fucking)4 Sherriff, can be counted on to act justly.  And acting justly, can be counted on to bring about a favorable (fucking) outcome.”

I realize this is an imperfect analysis.  But this is how I watch the show now.  I’m watching as much with an eye to the language and the style as I am for the story and the entertainment.  I’m constantly trying to put my finger on why this sounds and feels so Shakespearean.  This is what I’ve been able to come up with so far.

If you’re still with me – and I can hardly blame you if you’re not – I’ll begin my wrap-up here.  The only other thing worth mentioning is the ongoing apartment hunt, which is a living hell and hangs over me like a cloud.  I feel very unsettled, not having a place of my own.  Added to this is the fact that I know I won’t be able to extend my stay where I am, as my hosts have booked the room to someone else for next month.  So if I don’t find a place for next month, I don’t quite know what I’ll do.  I can hope to find a different AirBnB, if it comes to that.  And I have at least one friend offering a couch, which, while lovely, I don’t relish the idea of such an imposition.  So there’s nothing to do but wait.  Wait and see if I get any more responses to my room requests; wait and see if any of the people I’ve interviewed with deign to choose me.

Of course this will pass.  And even if I don’t find a permanent place starting next month, I know I will find one eventually.  But until I do, it’s a most unwelcome stress.

That said, I hate to end a down-note.  So I’ll offer this as a coda.  A few weeks ago, I interviewed at a language school where a couple of my CELTA classmates now work.  I had, of my own accord, sent in my résumé prior.  But I received no response.  However, both of my friends got in the guy’s ear about me, whereupon I received an email to the following effect: “Dear Dave, I’ve now had two of my teachers singing your praises to me.  Would you like to come in for an interview?”  Obviously I would.

The gent turned out to be a Yank, and was lovely as could be.  We had a very nice interview and he gave me a letter-of-intent on the spot.  This letter, I should add, is something I very much need for my next visa appointment.  So if nothing else, the meeting was already a win.

Anyway, in the course of the interview, it became clear that regardless of how our meeting went, he was going to write me the letter for two reasons.  The first, being American himself, he knew well the hardship of trying to get situated in this country and simply wanted to be helpful.  The second, he was doing a favor to his friends, who were also my friends.  And on some level, I think he wasn’t sure if I was truly looking for work or if I simply wanted said letter.  So at the end, I made clear that once I had my visa, I would very much like to work for him.  Whereupon did he make clear that he would be very happy to have me work for him.  And so, while I can’t work for him until I get my visa, it’s nice to know that I’ve got this prospect waiting for me.

And when I next saw one of my friends, he told me – unsolicited – that the guy had contacted him to report that he was quite pleased with me.  And this is no small matter to me.  Knowing, after all, that I only got the interview because of my friends’ intervention, it was very important to me to represent them well.  Hearing, then, that I had done so was a relief.

So that’s where I’m at.  Things continue to be tough at the moment.  But once my visa is sorted, once I have my own room, things are going to start turning in my favor.  The ass-end of 2016 is likely to be a struggle.  But the dawn of 2017 is full of promise.  It can’t come soon enough.

זיי געסונט

  1. Which, I mean, isn’t saying all that much.  Currywurst, like the Philly Cheese-Steak, is the local indigenous food.  And like the Philly Cheese-Steak, it’s second rate.  That doesn’t mean there’s not good ones and bad ones.  And it doesn’t mean the good ones aren’t quite enjoyable.  It just means, get over yourself.  Nah mean? []
  2. Speer had this concept of Ruinenwert – ruin value.  It’ll be easier just to quote Wikipedia (gods forgive me): “Ruin value (German: Ruinenwert) is the concept that a building be designed such that if it eventually collapsed, it would leave behind aesthetically pleasing ruins that would last far longer without any maintenance at all.”  In other words, after the thousand years of the Thousand Year Reich, there would be glorious ruins for thousands of years more; just like the Athenian acropolis or the Roman Forum.  Remove the Nazi aspect from the equation, and I can’t help but love this idea.  Especially when contrasted with the ruin we now call Penn Station, to give but one example. []
  3. I’ve never seen a show or movie make such use of the words ‘cunt’ and ‘pussy’ before. []
  4. I earlier referred to the ‘waterfall of curses.’  Let this also serve as an example of that.  And these words, being so bold, draw your attention away from the poetry that is being spun around them.  Which is why I only began to notice all this in the second season. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin

So in my last post, I mostly just talked about horseradish and the travelling shit-show of a circus that is Dave & Charlotte Roadtripping.  But I really didn’t say much about the places we visited.  So I should probably do that.  You know, before I forget all about it.  Prague first, then Saxony/Poland.

Right, Prague.  The stories are legion.  “Go to Prague,” they say.  “You’ll get beer for like 35 cents,” they say.  Well, maybe 10-15 years ago.  But not now.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  It’s still cheap.  Cheap compared to New York or Paris.  But maybe not so cheap compared to Berlin.  In fact, in most ways, I’d say the pricing is pretty comparable to Berlin.  So yeah, it’s cheap.  But it’s not like you go there and spend 35 dollars for a weekend.

Whatever.  It’s a beautiful city.  It’s beautiful in terms of its architecture.  You find neo-classical butting up against baroque butting up against art deco.  There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.  It’s just all there.  And it’s gorgeous, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense.  But here I’m talking about the larger city, in general terms.

The “city center,” the “old city,” was less than impressive.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s some fantastic architecture and a lot of history.  But it all feels very Disneyfied.  Kind of like Times Square, actually, but with older buildings.  Herds of tourists shuffling from one attraction to the next.  Street vendors selling useless garbage and subpar food at gougey prices.  Not to put to fine a point on it, but it’s a fucking rip-off.

C signed us up for a free walking tour.  This, in fact, was pretty great.  But I’ll come to it later.  Because, before the tour, we decided to grab a quick lunch in the city center, the old town.  Now look, we’re fairly experienced travelers.  We know that if we we’re going to eat lunch here, we’re going to overpay.  Cost of doing business and all that.  But there’s over-paying and then there’s getting ripped off.  And they ripped us off.  Or, rather, they tried to.

So enamored were we with the sausages and horseradish(!)1 from the night before, that we decided to grab a kielbasa (though I think it was spelled ‘klobasa’) and some kind of potato salad for lunch.  The posted prices were high, but not unreasonable.  Based on the signs, we calculated something 4-6€.2  So we were fairly shocked when the guy at the register asked for roughly twice that amount.

Well, what can you do?  We paid it.  I mean, we were in a line, in a rush.  And maybe we did the conversion wrong, who knows?  But we weren’t happy about it.  Still, that’s the travelling life.  So we took our food and found a bench.  Only, when we started eating, we were hugely disappointed.  The sausage was greasy and not very flavorful.  The potato salad was also kinda gross and there was way too much of it.  So we broke out the receipt and tried to figure out what the hell had happened.  And here’s what the hell happened.

On the sign, they quote you a price per gram or kilogram.  Then they give you way more g/kg than you could possibly want.  Then they insist that this is the standard amount.  In other words, they rip you right the fuck off.  So now, the food wasn’t good and we’d been screwed.  We were not happy campers.  It was at this point that C resolved to raise hell.

She picked up the bowl of shitty potato salad and marched back to the food stand.  Five minutes later she returned sans potatoes and with a crisp 200 Crona note, good for about 4€.  I mean, basically she made a scene until they paid her to go away.  Bless her.

But here, this is one of the mysteries of life, as far as I’m concerned.  I mean, in almost all contexts, it’s the men who are aggressive, confrontational, warlike.  It’s the men who conduct business.  But screw up the bill at a restaurant?  Well, hell hath no fury, nah mean?  So in the end, it worked out.  I mean, it worked out as well as overpaying for a shitty lunch can work out.  But at least we (read, she) made them pay for trying to fuck us over.  The point is, don’t fuck with a New Yorker.3

After lunch, we had our free walking tour.  Our guide was a Polish guy named Michal.  He described himself as an aspiring actor.  No surprise then, that his opening schtick was a bit heavy-handed.  But in fact, he turned out to be a great guide.  And when you got him to the side, when you were able to talk to him one-on-one, he turned out to be a great guy as well.

Anyway, we got some good history on Prague.  Apparently, the thing to do, when you’re unhappy with a public official, is to defenestrate them; to throw them out a window.  I’m no position to judge the efficacy of such a method.  All I’m saying is, if I was a corrupt big-shot in Prague, I might put my office in the basement.

So lots of old Prague then.  But for me personally, the highlight of the tour was the Jewish Quarter.  Now, we went on Saturday, so of course everything was closed.4  But we saw the Jewish cemetery and a couple of synagogues.  Worth noting, we saw the synagogue that is home to the mythic Golum, who even now, it is said, sleeps in the attic.  So that was very cool.

The next day, we walked around the palace grounds.  Which was definitely cool and very pretty.  Great views of the city too, as it is up a mountain and across the river from the Old Town.  But you know, seen one, seen ‘em all, kinda thing.  Much cooler was the classical concert we went to that evening.

It actually took place in a small, baroque concert hall (or maybe ‘salon’ is a better word?), where, it seems, some of Amadeus was shot.  This was a lot of fun.  The core group was a quintet.  But they had a guest singer as well as two guest cellists.  The set included Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the first movement of Beethoven 5, Spring & Summer from the Four Seasons, the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem and some other big ‘hits’ as well.  It was pretty interesting, as a lot of the material had to be (re)arranged for the small ensemble.  But they did a fine job it.  And I loved it.  I mean, I don’t even know what the last classical concert I’ve been to was.  I just know it’s been a while.

Which is kind of weird, really.  When I was in London, I’d go to two a week.  And even in the City, in my first few years, I’d go quite often.  But somewhere along the line, I just kinda stopped.  I don’t even know why.  So I’m not even sure I really knew how much I missed it.  But when they opened with EKN, and that rich beautiful sound filled the hall, I was in heaven.  OK, that probably overstates it.  But, I was in a wonderful and familiar place that I’d been gone from for way too long.

C, on the other hand, had never been to a classical concert before.  This gave me some mixed feels.  On the one hand, I was delighted to be the one to bring her to her first show.  I was delighted to share this experience with her.  And, as I so often used to go solo to these things, I was happy to have somebody to share it with this time.  On the other hand, I felt a bit of pressure.  I mean, she was 100% on board with going.  But it was really my idea.  I was the one pushing for it.  So if it sucked, or if she didn’t enjoy it, I’d have felt like it was my fault.

I needn’t have worried.  After the Beethoven, she turned to me and was just like, ‘wow.’  And yeah, wow.  Which is impressive, given that it was played by a fucking quintet.  No brass.  No timpani.  But they still rocked the hell out of it.  I mean, it’s Beethoven.  So it’s going to kick ass.  That’s what Beethoven does, right?  Bach is perfect.  Mozart is beautiful.  And Beethoven is the fucking destroyer of worlds.  In addition to being perfect and beautiful.  The point is, C loved the shit out of this show.  Big success.

So yeah, we might be disorganized and totally à l’arrache, but we get horseradish and Beethoven.  What do you get?  Nice hotels?  Pass.

We went back to ‘our’ restaurant for dinner.  We had to.  I got some huge pig’s knee, which was gross and fatty and delicious and came with pickled peppers and pickled onions and also just pickles.  C, I think, got what the English version of the menu called “gnocchi” but which was just another version of their awesome boiled potato dumplings.  Given that we loved this place so much, I feel compelled to mention that the night before, I got deer neck, which came with red cabbage, potato dumplings and an ungodly delicious sauce.  I mean, this joint was just brilliant.  Obviously we had lunch there on Monday as well, before we left the city.

Those, I guess, are the highlights from Prague.  Worth mentioning, but not going into detail about, were the TV Tower, the smaller Jewish cemetery in our neighborhood, the Charles Bridge and Borčak, which is a sweet, young wine that kind of tastes a bit like pineapple juice.  You could drink it all day, and never think twice about it.

Now for Saxony.  I say Saxony because we were kind of all over the place.  The original plan called for a visit to Dresden.  But the AirBnBs there seemed rather overpriced, and we had begun to think we’d seen enough of cities.  I mean, at some point, cities are all the same.  So let’s see something new, we figured.

Whereupon did we visit a place called Kromlauer Park.  No great reason behind this, other than that we saw a picture of a beautiful stone-arch bridge.  So beautiful were the pictures, we figured why the hell not?  And our hosts confirmed the Merkwürdigkeit5 of it, which was nice.  It did not disappoint.

The bridge is set over a small stream/lake/whatever in the midst of beautiful woodlands.  The bridge itself is shaped like a rainbow.  And the waters beneath it are so still that the reflection forms a perfect circle.  It’s gorgeous from any angle.  And we saw all the angles.  The rest of the park was lovely, to be sure.  But the bridge alone made the trip here worthwhile.  And being a bit off the beaten trail, it was not at all crowded; neither did it have the feel of being a tourist attraction.  Kromlauer Park ftw.

But wait, there’s more.  The place even had a bit of a fairy tale feel to it.  This owed in part to the scenery, but also to two young girls, seemingly about 8-10 years of age.  More than once, they seemed to appear out of thin air and to disappear back into it.  They also had a strange, almost enchanted look about them.

One was dark haired and seemed to ignore us.  The other was blonde and either smiled and waved to us, or sort of just stared at us.  We fancied that the dark haired one was an angel and the other a demon.  Adding to this feeling were two stone benches set into semi-circular stone “caves,” little concave huts, for lack of a better word.  On the map, they were called Himmel und Hölle – Heaven and Hell; one was of white stone, the other of black.  They must be the thrones of the two girls, we reasoned.

Before leaving the park, we made a little picnic, using an old tree stump as a table.  We feasted upon bread and meat and cheese and fresh tomatoes, washing it all down with a couple of radlers while listening to Abbey Road.  As fine a picnic as you could want, I tellya.

After lunch we drove down to Gölitz, a small city on the border of Poland, which lies to the South of both the park and also our AirBnB.  As I mentioned in my last post, this was my plan from the night before; but our hosts had confirmed to us that it was the nicest of the towns we had under consideration.

And indeed, it was quite pretty.  Our initial walk through the town was a bit odd, however.  The buildings seemed to alternate between grand old structures of great beauty and boarded up works in a dilapidated state.  Indeed, it had the feeling of a once vibrant city dying a slow death at the hands of a stagnant economy.

Soon enough, however, we came to the river, on the other side of which was Poland.  Now, technically, I’m not supposed to leave Germany at the moment.  My 90 days have expired; these are the 90 days you get as a tourist on an American passport.  I’ve been granted an extension to stay in Germany until my working papers are sorted, but my extension isn’t actually valid as a travel document.

However, Poland is part of the EU and there were no border controls at the bridge.  So obviously we had to cross over.  In fact, one of our original plans had us going to Krakow.  C had worked there in the past, and she very much wanted to see it again.  I’d never been to Poland at all, so I was happy to visit Krakow as well.  In the end, though, we decided not go there, as we would have had to fly or take a bus, and this definitely could have put me in front of the border police.

So we crossed over the bridge to the Polish version of Görlitz.6  Not quite Krakow, but at least we got to Poland.  And the first thing you notice when you cross over is that every third shop seems to be a cigarette depot.  In this respect, Poland seems to be Germany’s Indian reservation.7  By which I mean, tobacco is super cheap there, and apparently they do a brisk business selling cancer sticks to Jerry.

After dinner – which I’m sure I dealt with in my last post – we walked back over the bridge.  This time, we walked through the city center of Görlitz on our way back to the car.  This stood in stark contrast to our earlier walk.  Now everything seemed beautiful and posh and quite medieval.  Indeed, I’d go so far as to say it was even prettier than Prague.  But, as I say, it also felt rather posh.  So, nice though it was, we felt we’d made the right call dining across the border.

As we walked, C and I had an interesting conversation.  By way of introduction, I’ll say that sometimes it’s funny how two people can see the same thing and draw two totally different conclusions.  What do I mean?  Well, I’m talking about the role I played on this particular trip as ‘the German speaker.’

Here’s the short version of what I said to Charlotte.  Basically, I said that it was a nice feeling for me to be able to handle the language for a change.  See, every time we’ve gone somewhere French speaking – this year’s trips to France and Brussels, my previous trip to France, Montréal – I’ve always been dependent on her for the language.  I mean, yeah, if I’m on my own in a French speaking place, I can manage the basics.  But she’s the native speaker.  So she always just takes care of it all.  And in the States – or even Berlin, for that matter – well, she speaks English perfectly well; so she doesn’t need me.  But here, in this part of Germany, it was the first time we’d gone somewhere where I “spoke” the language and she didn’t.  So it was all on me, for a change.  Restaurants, AirBnBs, even just reading signs.

So I told her that this was a nice feeling for me.  It felt good to be useful for a change, instead of dependent.  The only thing was, she didn’t share my interpretation of the situation(s).  I think, first of all, that on some level, she could probably have managed with English if I wasn’t there.  Maybe I have that wrong, and if I do, I’m sure she’ll tell me as soon she reads this.  But the real surprise came when she told me how much she counted on me for English in the States.

For me, English in the States never came into this equation.  I mean, her English is really quite good.  And sure, maybe if me and Vinny are speaking at New York speeds in New York accents it can be hard to keep up.  But overall, I never really gave much thought to how hard living in English might have been for her.  As I say, she’s good at the language.  But New York is a funny place for English, I guess.  I mean, you’ve got people from all over the world.  So every day, you’re dealing with a panoply of accents, all kinds of broken syntax and odd idioms.  As a native speaker, you hardly notice this.  But when it’s your second language, it’s got to be a slog.

I know this just from living in Berlin.  There’s “proper” German, and that’s fine.  As I say, restaurants and AirBnB hosts are no problem for me.  But then I try to talk to the girl upstairs, with her speed-speak, Berlin accent and cornucopia of idioms, and…fuggedaboutit.  This is the long way of saying, I told her it was nice to feel useful – language-wise – for a change; and I had no idea how much she had been relying on me all along.  As I say, it never ceases to amaze me how two people can look at the same data-set and arrive at two totally different conclusions.

So much for Görlitz.  Back at the AirBnB, it was wine and music, Yatzee and Mikado.  And then up early the next morning and back to Berlin.  We drove straight to the airport, as homegirl was flying back to France on a 1:30 flight.  Oh, actually, wait.  I left out one thing.

Saturday night, my family was celebrating Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish new year.  The whole family was together; or at least, most of the whole family.  By which I mean, my dad’s side of the family.  This was tough for me on two levels.  First, it was hard knowing everybody was together and I couldn’t be there.  Also, my mom made brisket, and it was hard knowing I couldn’t have any.  I won’t say which of these was the greater hardship.

Anyway, I Skyped in and got a chance to say “hello” to everybody.  This was actually a lot of fun.  I tried explaining to C the difference between my mom’s family and my dad’s family.  Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I love them both very much.  It’s just that they present very different experiences.  With my mom’s family, it’s all quite formal.  There’s fancy china, assigned seats, shirts with buttons on them.  With my dad’s family, it’s (often-as-not) paper plates, buffet style, eat on the couch.  And so, as the phone got passed around, as I chatted briefly with cousins and aunts and uncles, there always seemed to be somebody in the background – my brother, a cousin – flipping me off.  In sign language, “I love you” is expressed with a hand gesture that looks like ‘throwing the horns’ but with the thumb extended as well.  In other words, a fist but with a index finger, pinkie and thumb pointing outwards.  But in Starr-family sign language, you say “I love you” by making a fist and extending your middle finger.

One of my favorite pictures in the whole freakin’ world now, is the one my brother sent me that night.  It’s the whole family – 17 people – giving me the bird.  It’s pretty perfect.  I showed it to Charlotte.  “This,” I said, “is my family.”  And that, she appreciated.

Anyway, we got to the airport with plenty of time.  It was weird to say goodbye.  See, C is going to Australia in November; length of trip: unknown.  Also unknown, when we’ll see each other again.  So it was a bit emotional.  More for me, I think.  Which is odd, maybe.  On a day-to-day level, she’s far more emotional than I am.  At least, that’s my take.8  But when it comes to big goodbyes, I can go a bit weak in the knees, so to speak.

My opinion is that she’s pretty good at compartmentalizing this stuff.  In other words, she’s pretty good at either not dealing with it, or else convincing herself that the goodbye ain’t for as long as it seems.  Or maybe she just doesn’t care enough.  Or maybe this kind of thing just doesn’t hit her as hard.  I’m sure I’ll get her two-cents on the matter when she reads this.  Point is, it was not an unemotional parting on my end.

But part we did.  And now her adventure continues in Australia while mine continues in Berlin.  Ah, Berlin.  Saturday night I was over at Joschka’s for dinner and drinks.  Sometime in the past year or two he’s become quite the mixologist.  I give but one example.  This weekend, he made one drink that included fresh rosemary, crushed ice and fire.  Yes, you read that right.  Fire was an ingredient.  You literally set the alcohol in the glass on fire.  It was delicious.

It was a very nice evening.  In addition to learning a great deal about cocktails and mixology, the lad has also taken a keen interest in cooking.  And while I have nothing to offer in the cocktail department, I do at least know my way around the kitchen.  So he made one crazy drink after another, and I cooked.  We had a very nice dinner, in fact.  Something with pork and Brussels sprouts and red onions in a white wine sauce.  And so many delicious cocktails.

If only I’d had a nice lunch.  I never considered that I was drinking too much on a too-empty stomach.  So we had a great time, sure.  And indeed, we hadn’t hung out in a while, so it was nice to catch up and just hang.  But wow, Sunday was a hot-mess.  I don’t think I ever got out of bed, unless it was to throw up.

In fairness to myself, these soul-crushing, body-destroying, day-wasting hangovers are not at all frequent.  But each one his harder than the last, at this age.  It’s a delicate dance, this whole aging thing.  I can drink a liter of wine on any given night and be alright.  But I can no longer hit the hard-stuff hard.  Not on an empty stomach, anyway.  The trick now, is to know that before it’s too late.  I don’t repent.  I don’t wish to change my ways.  But I do need to adapt.  “Adaptation is the key to survival.”  Who said that, anyway?  Pretty sure it was Evolution.

There is one last thing I want to touch on, before I close this post.  As I mentioned previously, it was recently the Jewish new year.  The exact date escapes me, owing both to the lunar calendar and the ad hoc nature of the celebrations.  But last year, I met an Israeli girl at a party.  And just before I left, we hosted a Shabbat dinner for our gentile friends.9

So now, this year, she decided to host a Rosh Hashanah dinner.  Sadly, it was vegetarian.  Which, I mean, is fine per se.  Just that it didn’t give me an opportunity to win back the brisket I lost by missing my own family’s dinner.  Nonetheless, it was still great.  It was a pot-luck affair, this one.  But Dafna – the only Jew I’ve yet to meet here – decreed a main ingredient for each person’s dish.10  And before we got into each dish, she said a brucha and told us the significance of the main ingredient to the holiday.

It wasn’t formal and it wasn’t “traditional.”  But it was pretty great, all the same.  I’m not a religious person.  If I was home, you can be sure I wouldn’t be going to Schul for the High Holidays.  But at home, I’m not an anomaly.  At home, there’s Jews everywhere.  Here, it’s just me.  So no, I don’t particularly care about the ‘religiosity” of it.  And I’m sure as shit not going to ‘repent’ for Yom Kippur.11  But it’s nice to have that connection.  It’s nice to feel a part of something.  It was nice, is the point.  And I’m thankful that my friend put it all together.

So that’s that.  Prague.  Saxony.  Happy New Year, and wash it down with a fancy cocktail.  In between, I’m teaching and looking for an apartment.  Which is hell, I don’t mind telling you.  The apartment hunt, I mean.  But all that’s for another day.  Now though, I just want to go to bed.  Until next time…

זיי געסונט

  1. “Horseradish makes everything brighter,” she said. []
  2. Despite the Czech Republic not being on the Euro, they do accept them at major tourist spots.  And although we were paying with Crona, we were always thinking in terms of Euros. []
  3. By which I mean, Charlotte, who lived in New York for two years. []
  4. Not today, boychick.  It’s fucking Shabbos! []
  5. Literally, the ‘worth-seeing-ness’ of it. []
  6. The sign on the Polish side of the bridge announced the city as Zgorzelec.  I didn’t have a chance to do the requisite research.  However, based upon the similarity of the names, I surmise that at some point, this was all once city.  Only with the redrawing of maps, I assume, was it divided between the two countries.  And indeed, everybody on the Polish side seemed to speak German.  How much Polish was spoken on the German side, I do not know. []
  7. Upon further reflection, this seems a particularly cruel analogy, given the whole Lebensraum thing. []
  8. Cf, same data set, different interpretations. []
  9. Well, her gentile friends, really.  The ones I invited couldn’t come. []
  10. For me, it was beets.  So I made a beet/cabbage soup.  Quite tasty, if I do say so myself. []
  11. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are together taken as the ‘High Holidays.’  The first is the Jewish new year.  The second is the ‘Day of Atonement.’  Yom Kippur is the day you’re meant to repent your sins of the past year.  Whereupon the big G either writes you into the ‘good’ ledger or the ‘bad.’  Personally, I don’t go out for this.  My feeling is – and has been, for a very long time – that there’s a tremendous amount of cruelty and suffering in the world.  And between me and God, only one of us is supposed to be omniscient/omnibenevolent/omnipotent.  In other words, only one of us has the power to end all these horrors.  And it ain’t me.  But I’m supposed to ask his ass for forgiveness?  Nah.  I pass.  Thanks, though. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
Horseradish Edition

It’s been a crazy last couple of weeks.  Originally, this post was supposed to be about my trip to Prague, which was the weekend before last.  I started writing it last week, shortly after my return, but I was hit with a bout of writer’s block and also general business.  Or is it ‘busyness’?  Odd thing, those two words.  Hashtag spelling.  Hashtag who cares?

Anyway, I was in Prague two weekends ago.  But this past weekend I was in Saxony.  And obviously Berlin in between.  So I’m no longer sure of the best way to structure this post.  I guess we’ll see what happens…

Ever since we were all in college and doing the whole travel-abroad thing, I’ve had friends telling me I had to visit Prague.  Well, this weekend, I finally got my chance.  And about bloody time, too.  I made the trip with – who else? – Charlotte.

Here’s the thing you need to know about Dave & Charlotte trips.  We are awesome at travelling.  We are also shit at planning travelling.  Case in point.  We left Berlin on Friday.  I don’t think we booked transportation or a room until Wednesday or Thursday.  We went by way of carshare1 and were dropped off at the central train station.  And it was only upon entering said train station that we discovered: Wait, so they don’t use Euros here, do they?  Madame et Monsieur à l’Arrache strike again.

But look, you’re either flexible or you’re not.  And we’re pretty flexible.  Which is why we’re boss travelers.  And yet, we’re not very good tourists either.  What do I mean?  Well, we’re flexible, like I said.  We can roll with anything.  We can sleep just about anywhere; back seat of a car if we need to.  We can hit the main tourist sites or just wander around.  It’s all good.

But the thing is, when you’re a tourist, you’re supposed to get up early and fill your day seeing the sites.  This, we’re not so good at.  Reason being, at the end of the day, we get back to wherever we’re staying and proceed to have our own brand of fun.  This usually entails several bottles of wine, dice and a guitar.  We have a tendency to stay up til 3am playing Yatzee and music, drinking all the while. This means we’re not even getting up until 11 or so the next day.  The tourist attractions are not on our clock, is what I’m saying.  But it works for us.

All this was doubly true, then, for our trip to Saxony this past weekend.  When we picked up our rental car on Friday afternoon, we still had no idea where we’d be spending the night, never mind what our actual travel plans would be.  Also, we fucked up the car rental.

A word to the wise: Don’t book your rental car when you’re drunk.  It was Monday or Tuesday night that Charlotte came over for dinner and to plan our trip for the weekend.  I cooked.  We ate.  She brought wine.  I bought wine.  We drank a lot of wine.  Then we did the rental research.  Indeed, we were quite pleased with ourselves when we secured a car for the weekend for around 50 Euros.  Or so we thought.

It was only when we showed up at the rental desk that we discovered that we’d actually only booked the car for one day and not two.  Well, that explained the price.  It also served as a fine illustration of the hot-mess-ness that is Dave & Charlotte “planning” a road trip.

But you can’t cry over spilled milk, as they say.  Unless they say “spilt” milk, which I suspect is more “correct.”  But we – by which I mean, English speakers – like to regularize verbs when we can, so I’m going with “spilled.”  Anyway, we forked over another 56€ and got on our way.  Whichever way that was.

The next part of the story is either romantic or stressful, depending on your point of view.  And I don’t mean chocolates-&-flowers romantic.  I mean, free to wander the face of the earth romantic.  Yeah, sure, the easy thing would have been to have already booked an AirBnB (or whatever).  But easy is for cowards.2

And so it was, with no real plan, that we pointed the car roughly towards Dresden and hit the road.  As I drove, C searched for accommodations, sending one AirBnB request after another.  As the night came down, and with it, hunger, we pulled into the town of Spremberg.  Not because we’d ever heard of it, or even because it seemed particularly nice.  I think we just stopped there because we were hopeful of finding a room and a place to eat.

There was a hotel with a restaurant.  I asked at the desk if they had any rooms.  They did, at the cost of 65€/night.  More than we wanted to spend, sure, but at least now we knew we wouldn’t have to sleep in the car.  But at this point, why rush a decision?  Whereupon did we resolve to eat first and wait to see if any of the AirBnB’s responded.

Dinner was nice, blah blah blah.  We had the fish, which was fine.  Nobody cares, I’m sure.  Anyway, we got a response from a couple in the village of Rietchen – maybe 45m away – who were renting out the second floor of their home.  It was cheaper – and looked nicer – than the hotel, so we decided to take it.  Though obviously we first had to stop at a supermarket to pick up a few bottles of wine.  I mean, at this point, the only way this night could end badly is if it ended sober.

So we got the wine and headed to the house.  We were met by the woman, who spoke no English but was sweet as could be.  The “room” was an apartment, as they’d converted the second floor of their home.  Style-wise, it wasn’t really our scene.  It was a bit hotel-ish.  By which I mean, it wasn’t a “lived-in” home.  But it had everything you could need, it was clean and it was comfortable.

Still though, we were in Rietchen, and where the fuck was that anyway?  And we had no plan for the next day.  So instead of playing Yatzee and music, we spent too much of the night googling places to visit.  No, it wasn’t ideal.  But we also had three liters of wine with us, so how bad could it be?

In the end, I drunkenly decreed a plan.  Or, at least, an outline of a plan.  We should go, I said, to Kromlauer Park in the afternoon.  After that, we should drive down to Görlitz, on the border of Poland.  They both looked pretty, and I didn’t want to spend any more time googling when we could be jamming.  C agreed.  Away went the computer and out came the guitar.  A few more glasses of wine, and then sweet sleep.

When I got out of the shower the next morning, I could hear the sounds of C talking to our hosts through the walls.  Knowing, however, that they didn’t really speak English, I thought it best to hurry downstairs, there to do my humble best as interpreter.  And so it was that I joined the parlay, soaking wet, in an unbuttoned shirt and boxer shorts.

I needn’t have rushed.  Homegirl was managing, as were our hosts.  But I jumped in and was able to expedite the process with my sorta-passable German.  The short version is, they were supportive of my/our plan.  Kromlauer Park was absolutely worth visiting, they assured us.  Likewise, Görlitz was older and prettier than Bautzen or Dresden, our other two choices.  So now we had a plan.  And I’ll just say now – since I’m about to change the subject – our plan came up aces.  But I’ll come back to all of that later.

If this trip was a shit-show from a planning perspective, Prague was less so.  But only slightly.  Our original plan called for us to spend Friday and Saturday nights in the Czech Republic, but to spend Sunday in Dresden.  However, we’d only booked the first two nights in Prague when we left Berlin on Friday afternoon.  Which, I mean, shit will work itself out, no?  It always does.

In the event, we found Prague so much to our liking that we decided to stay a third night, Dresden be damned.3  So once again4 we found ourselves wasting vacation time trying to plan the self-same vacation.  But this too worked out, as the place we found for Sunday was more or less perfect.  More, in the sense that it was in the area we wanted, was clean, comfy and cozy.  Less, in the sense that it also felt more like a hotel than a home.

Still though, we had a lovely stay in Prague, in both places.  Much of this had to do with the location.  However, when I say “location,” I don’t mean what this word normally means.  Usually, when travelers talk about location, they’re talking about proximity to the tourist attractions or nature or something.

In our case, “location” was all about proximity to a specific restaurant.  You see, we never met our host from the first place.  Her mom – an old lady with bright orange hair – checked us in.  Her English was a mess, but it was good enough for her to recommend to us a nice restaurant in the area.  And, umm, you guys, we fell in love with this place.

It was one of those places where you look at the menu and you just want to try every last thing on offer.  In the end, we did our level best to that end.  But more on that later.  The first night, we got a plate of sausages which came with nothing but mustard and horseradish.  Horseradish with apple, I should specify.  And it was uh-mazing!

It was funny too.  See, C had never had horseradish.  Or if she had, she hadn’t had it in any kind of meaningful way.  Meanwhile, I’d grown up with it as a staple of the Passover Seder.  As a kid, it was something that the grownups made.  Then, once I started living on the LES, I started bringing the stuff from The Pickle Guys.  Finally, this past year, I actually made my own.5  The point is, I fucking love horseradish.  And for me, it’s a very special thing, because you really only get to eat it once a year, at Passover.6

The point is, I came to the table with a love for the horseradish.  And I couldn’t hide it.  To the point where C was all, “dude, relax.”  Pff.  You relax, bitch.  So I’m sitting there giddy like a kid at Christmas Chanukah Passover, smiling like I won the lottery, and she has no idea why.  That is, until she tries it.  And it first, she’s making the “omg I can’t feel my face” face.  And I’m all like, “this is child’s play.”  But by the end of the meal, she was a convert.

And I had that feeling I got when my brother’s wife realized that rainbow cookies are the tits.  You know the one.  When half of you is all proud and superior feeling, being all “Right?  I told you this shit was amazing!”  But the other half of you begins to realize, “Oh fuck, Imma have to share this shit now, fuck.”

So I’m sitting there, watching her eat this horseradish, and I’m so conflicted.  Like, I wanna be all, “How dare you doubt me, woman?!”  And yet also feeling like, “Actually, it would be better for me if you didn’t care for this, so I could have it all to myself, mwahahaha!”  In the end though, you hope your humanity wins out.  You hope that you’ve found something beautiful you can share with somebody you care about.  You hope you’ve found a new memory and a new shared joy in the world.  I mean, you hope for this on a rational level.  On an animal level, you just want all the horseradish.

This, then, was in the background when we sat down to dinner in Poland on Saturday night.  We’d never even intended to go to Poland.  It’s just that it’s right there across the bridge from Görlitz.  And they’re not on the Euro either,7 so everything is cheaper.

I say “sat down to dinner,” but that’s not entirely accurate.  We’d had a late lunch in Kromlauer Park, where we used a tree stump as a picnic table.  (It was pretty awesome).  So when we sat down, we weren’t hungry.  We thought we were just sitting down for a drink or two.  We thought we’d have the drinks, walk around Görlitz a bit and then maybe come back for dinner.  Only we kept drinking.  Until we got hungry.  And then we saw there was something with horseradish and sausage on the menu, so we had to get it.  Oh, and also Pirogues.  Because Poland.

It was glorious.  Or it wasn’t.  But we enjoyed the hell out of it.  And if it wasn’t quite glorious, it was damned fine anyway.  Sausages, horseradish, cheese, pirogues, salad, beer, wine, coffee, and probably one or two other things besides.  The whole bill came to like 16€.  God bless eastern Europe and their depressed economy.8

So much for dinner.  And shitty planning.  We wandered through Görlitz – fucking gorgeous, btw – on our way back to the car.9  Then it was back to the AirBnB, where we’d booked a second night.  We played Yatzee, of course.  And also Mikado, which our hosts had for us.  I’d never heard of this, but I guess it’s basically Pickup Sticks.  Not that I knew this game either, but it was hella fun.  More music, more wine, and then bed.  And then back to Berlin.  Well, for me, anyway.  We returned the car at the airport.  From their, C caught her flight back to France.

In the end, it was a great weekend.  It was great, but not without stress.  Ditto for Prague.  This is the tradeoff when you do a shit job of planning your adventures.  On the one hand, it is actually more of an adventure in the true sense of the word.  On the other hand, you waste a lot of time that could be better spent having fun.

And so it becomes a matter of perspective.  It’s like when Luke says to Obi Wan, “Wait, what?  I thought you said Vader killed my father.  Not to be confused with Vader is my fucking father!”  And Obi Wan is all, “Uh, yeah, well, that depends on your point of view.”  And Luke is all, “Point of view?  What the shit kind of Jedi mumbo-jumbo is that?”  And Obi Wan is all, “Umm, Sand People ride in single file to hide their numbers?”  And Luke is all, “Stop changing the subject, Ben!”  And Obi Wan is all, “Actually, maybe it’s better if you just talk to Yoda.”  And meanwhile, Lando is all, “But we had a deal!”  And Han is all, “I have a baaad feeling about this.”  And Chewie is all, “Raaagghh!”  And I seem to have gone off on a tangent…

The point is, Charlotte and I either travel super fucking well together or incredibly poorly together.  And it’s subjective.  We talked about it, as we drove.  She seemed to lean more in the direction of, “We suck at this.”  In other words, she saw us as being disorganized and wasting precious time.  And of course that’s totally correct.

But I saw the same data and came to a different conclusion.  “We’re fucking awesome at this,” was my analysis.  For me, you can put us in the worst situation and we will find a way to come out on top.  Don’t know where you’re staying?  It’s fine, you’ll wind up somewhere great.  No idea where you’re going?  Nbd, we’ll have dinner in Poland.

For me, it’s all part of the adventure.  For me, it’s turning down a road and not knowing where it leads, but having the confidence that when you walk down the road together, you’ll wind up somewhere special.  And even if you don’t, you’ll come out the other end with a story worth telling.

Which I guess is an apt analogy for this whole Berlin adventure.  In the end, I don’t really have a plan.  I mean, I have a vague outline of a plan.  But I don’t really know what I’m doing or where I’m going.  It’s all part of the adventure.  As Bilbo Baggins said, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

  1. Which I described in my Barcelona post. []
  2. #amirite []
  3. “Dresden be damned” is perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase for a city that was once fire-bombed to oblivion. []
  4. Well, not really “again,” since this came first.  A bit “hysteron-proteron,” as Daitz would say. []
  5. At the risk of tooting my own horn, that shit was epic.  I was pretty proud of it. []
  6. Which is essentially true.  However, during my time living at my parents’ house, I started to experiment with using it more.  I was using it on pork loin roasts and other things besides.  My dad was using it with steaks.  It was getting to the point where we were just, “Put horseradish on all the things!”  It was great. []
  7. Again, who knew? []
  8. #amirite []
  9. We sat for a few hours.  C drank wine the whole time.  I had one big beer and one small beer, with a coffee in between.  I mention this only to specify that I was watching my alcohol intake, knowing I’d have to drive. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
11 September, 20161

So the reason I haven’t written in a while is not because there isn’t much going on, but in fact because there’s actually quite a lot going on.  Specifically, there’s quite a lot going on with respect to my work status and ability to remain here in Germany.  And frankly, it’s all been quite stressful and so I’ve resisted writing about it.  But now, I think, it’s time to say a few words.

I suppose I should explain how this all works.  Basically, as an American, you can come to Germany without a visa for 90 days.  While you’re here, you can dig around for employment and make arrangements, but you’re not allowed to actually work.  For that, you need a kind of work permit/visa.  Believe it or not, this is not terribly difficult or complicated.  At least not when compared with what’s required in the States, for example.  Still, there’s a fair amount of red tape and bureaucratic hoops to jump through.2

Obviously, you need to have a job offer, and preferably more than one.  Even this is not so onerous.  Because really what you need, is for somebody to write you a letter saying they’d be interested in working with you, if you can legally work.  That is to say, there’s no binding obligation.  So it’s a lower bar.  You also need to show proof of health insurance (easy enough), proof of residence (not quite as easy, but still manageable), and then bank statements, letters of reference and qualifications.

In fact, the hardest part is just getting a fucking appointment with the Auslanderbehörde, the ‘Foreigners’ Office,’ for lack of a better translation.  Because of the refugee situation, they are completely overworked and overbooked.  So just getting in to see them is a nightmare.3  And so, for quite a while, I’ve been operating under the assumption that I need to get in to see them before my 90 days are up, otherwise I’ll have to leave, no matter how valid my case.  And yet, the earliest available appointment wasn’t until November.  Meanwhile, my 90 days are up at the end of this month.  So yeah, I was stressing, big time.  It seemed like the only option was to show up at, like, five in the morning, be the first in line, and hope to get a number.  But even if you’re the first in line, there’s no guarantee of getting a number or of being seen.  My head was spinning.  But we’ll come back to this in a sec.

Now, as I said, you need to show that you have health insurance.  But not just any health insurance.  It seems Germany is quite particular in terms of what your insurance must cover.  Show up to your appointment with the wrong insurance and they could send you away.  To this end, I met Wednesday with an insurance broker who was recommended to me by my last-year-roommate Lisa.  And this wonderful woman peeled the scales from my eyes.  “First things first,” she said, “we need to make you an appointment.  Without that, all the insurance in the world won’t help you.”  “Sure,” I said, “but how do we get something before the end of September?  That’s when my 90 days are up.”  And that’s when she told me.

“As long as you book your appointment while your visit is valid and legal, then your legally allowed to stay here until the date of your appointment.”  Wait, what?  You mean, I can add another two months to my visit, just because they’re booked up?  Apparently so!  So we booked the earliest available appointment…for November 21st.  W.T.F.

The upside of this is, it meant I was legally allowed to stay in Germany until 11/21.  The downside, I wouldn’t be allowed to work until 11/21.  That’s quite the constraint.  Then she told me that once you’re in the system, you have rights to reschedule.  What this mean is, you can now check for cancellations and if a spot opens up, you can take it.  So she suggested that I check the system daily, on the off chance something comes free.

And that’s just what I did.  I met with this woman, Anke, on Wednesday.  Thursday night, I decided to try my luck.  Lo and behold, there was an open spot at 9:30 AM, Tuesday September 13!  OMG, OMG, OMG!!!  I jammed the ‘Enter” key like a million times and secured the appointment.  Right, so now, instead of having literally months to get everything in order, I have, like, a few days.

So I’m stressing.  Rather a bit.  And yet, everybody tells me there’s nothing to worry about.  Anke told me, and others besides, that it’s basically like the DMV.  They’re so overworked, and so generally annoyed, that if you show up, are polite, have all your papers in order and just make their lives easy, they want nothing more than to stamp your papers and send you on your way.  Gods, I can only hope!

Oh, I mentioned a job offer.  A mate of mine from the CELTA rang me up last week and said they needed a teacher ASAP at one of the language schools he works at.  So I went in last week for an interview and the guy “hired” me on the spot.  Which is to say, he said, “As soon as you’re allowed to work, I have a class for you.”  And he was only too happy to write me a letter to that effect.  So I’ve got that going for me in my interview on Tuesday.

Well that’s the story there.  By next writing, I should be able to say that I’ve got my papers, or that they’ve sent me away for lack of…who knows?  Anyway, that’s taken up most of my brain-bandwidth lately, leaving little room for writing or anything else.

But of course there are other things else.  There was the night out with a group of French and German people where the common language was actually German and not English for a change.  There’s the MaidenLane-iversary.   There’s the NWOBHM kick I’ve been on.  There’s the Yankees being all-of-a-sudden exciting.  The craft beer bar in Wedding.4   The BBQ in Tempelhoferfeld.  The apartment hunt.  And also Charlotte is coming to Berlin for a couple of weeks, and the road trips we are planning: Krakow, Prague, Bavaria.  So there’s lots going on.

But lately, this whole visa thing has overridden it all.  And now it’s all coming to a head.  Tuesday will be a big day.  The biggest of days, in fact.  So I think it’s best if I say no more until I’ve had my appointment.  Until then.

זיי געדנט

  1. It goes without saying that 9/11 holds a significant meaning for any American, and especially New Yorkers.  But for me, today, I’m reminded that 9/11/15 was the date that Charlotte and I embarked up on the most epic of road trips, and one of the best experiences of my life already. []
  2. Needless to say, I’m speaking from the perspective of trying to work here as a freelance English teacher.  Other types of employment have other types of requirements. []
  3. And while this is inconvenient for me personally, it’s hard to find fault with this.  I mean, of all countries, Germany has done more than any other in terms of accepting refugees.  And I laud them for it. []
  4. Wedding is the name of a neighborhood in NW Berlin. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
29 August, 2016

Sometimes, shit just falls in your lap, you know?  Like last year, when I got back from Berlin and had no idea what I would do next.  Out of nowhere, my friend tells me her momz needs some help around the house, as she’s remodeling.  $100 a day to go hang out with my friend’s mom and move boxes around.  And I love my friend’s mom.  I mean, they’ve had me over as a guest for their family’s Christmas dinner every year since 2010.  Anyway, this work essentially paid for my Great Western Roadtrip which I otherwise would probably not have been able to afford.

Only, when I got back, I still had no idea what I was going to do.  Enter Keith, who was then principal at a Yeshiva for special needs kids in the Five Towns.  He said they had an opening and thought I’d be a good fit.  So he set up an interview with one of the APs and I landed the job on the spot.1  At the interview, I told the woman I’d probably be leaving around February to go back to Berlin.  She said that was fine.  Obviously, I finished out the year.  I mean, I got attached to my kids.  Added bonus to that, I keep on getting paid through the summer.  So now I’m in Berlin, and so far, I’ve still had a steady paycheck.

Only, what to do now that I’m here?  Back around the turn of the New Year, Charlotte encouraged me to sign up to this free website called Superprof.  Basically, you post a profile as a teacher and wait for potential students to contact you.  I had precisely zero requests until around the beginning of July.  Then, I get a message from a student in Paris.  She’s a very nice girl from Sicily and is currently studying in France.  But she’s going to do a semester (or a year?) in California, so she wants to improve her conversational skills.

The point is, I get paid 20€ an hour to Skype with her and basically just chat.  All I have to do is correct her grammar, occasionally explain some constructions and teach her a bit of slang.2  We get on quite well, meeting once or twice a week for an hour each time.  And just like that, I’ve got some walking around money.

Meanwhile, while I was in Italy, I was contacted by a French bloke on behalf of a language school dans l’Hexagone.  He was looking for an English teacher to do remote 1-to-1 one lessons, primarily focusing on “business English.”3  Anyway, we had a couple of Skype interviews, at the conclusion of which he basically offered me a job.  That was at the beginning of August.  However, I didn’t want to put any eggs in that basket yet, at least not until I had a formal contract in front of me.  He said this would happen probably around the end of August/beginning of September.  Nothing to do but wait.

Well, here we are at the end of August.  And this week, it’s all finally begun.  To start, he set me up with three students.  I had my first lesson with two of them this week and I’ll start with the other on Tuesday.  The engagement with each student is for ten hours, 20€/hour.4  To put it another way, that’s 600€ in a city where you can easily find rent for under 400€.  And that’s only three students.  Last we spoke, he said he’s got perhaps another ten lined up for me.  Again, I’ll count those chickens when the contracts hatch, but it’s encouraging anyway.

As for the work itself, well, it’s almost laughably easy.  At least so far.  I asked my first two students what their objectives were and they basically said it comes down to wanting to improve their conversation skills for work; to feel more confident on conference calls, giving and/or listening to presentations.  So basically, we just chat on the phone5 for 30-60 minutes and I correct their grammar, fix their idioms and pronunciation, teach them some new words.  All from the comfort of home.

To be fair, there’s a bit more work on the back-end.  I need to find study materials for them in between lessons, and I need to do some admin stuff vis-à-vis attendance and progress.  But this is hardly intensive labor.  And maybe I just got lucky with my first two students, but they’re both lovely guys, easy to talk to, and – at first impression, anyway – motivated and interested.  And really, this is the sort of job I can do from anywhere, so long as there’s a decent internet or phone connection.  In other words, I could theoretically fuck off to Prague for a week and not miss a day’s work.  Though obviously I’d want to be quite a bit more established with the company before I start doing that sort of thing.

So this gig has a lot of advantages.  But there is a slight tradeoff.  On the one hand, it’s very nice to work 1-to-1.  You can more easily build relationships, you can tailor each session to the particular student’s needs.  On the other hand, you lose the performance aspect of running a class.  And I know from experience, I can have a lot of fun running a class.  I mean, that’s where you get to do comedy, you know?  Still though, this is a pretty solid gig.

The only question is, is it enough to keep me here?  The company is, after all, based in France, not Germany.  Now, the original plan was to get a work permit that would allow me stay in Berlin indefinitely.  And that may still be possible, if any of the language schools I applied to decide to get back to me.  But there are, apparently, two other options.  The first is a one-off six-month permit that allows me to stay here and look for work.6  The other is, from what I can tell, a sort of residency permit that’s not based around having a German job.  If I understand aright – always a question with German bureaucracy – you simply need to have either enough money in the bank or enough money coming in.  I’m hoping that if I can show a dozen or so contracts, plus maybe a letter from the company saying they intend to give me more, that this will be enough for either the six-monther or a general residency thing.  My 90 days are up at the end of September so I’ll have to make an appointment with the relevant Amt in the next 7-10 days.  I’m trying to be optimistic without getting my hopes up.  But at least it’s feeling more attainable than at any point prior to now.  But enough of this.  I’m superstitious enough to worry about jinxing it all right here and now.

Not that I don’t love being here, but things have been a little off lately.  I mean, I’ve been a little off lately.  I was trying to remember earlier what they told us before we went away for our semester in London.  They warned us that a depression or a homesickness or something of the sort was likely to set in around…well, this is the part I can’t remember.  Was it two months?  Whatever it was, in London, it happened right on cue.  For all of us.  And then it passed.

But that’s kind of where I’m at now.  Not depressed.  Not homesick.  But something.  Some kind of malaise.  I’m not getting out of the house as much as I should.  I’m not making enough of an effort to see the few friends I have.  I stay up very late studying or writing, so that my day rarely ever gets going before noon.  My German, which for quite a while felt like it was improving, now seems to be stagnating.

Maybe it’s the two-month blues.  Maybe it’s because I have no real routine or anything to keep me properly busy.  Maybe that’s all about to change as I start getting busy with work.  To combat this, I try to walk wherever I need to go.  The other day, I finally bought new sneakers.  So rather than take a 15-minute train ride to Alexanderplatz – which people here apparently simply call ‘Alex’ but which I like to call ‘Aliplatz’ – I opted for the hour+ walk.  It’s good exercise and its good podcast time, if nothing else.  But more than anything, it gets me out of the house for a few hours.

Today I went for a four hour walk.  This time, the goal was Treptower park, which is just lovely.  This journey took me to some places I’d not yet seen, including a section of the Berlin Wall which is now a canvass for all sorts of public art/graffiti.  I wasn’t able to determine, however, if this was actually a bit of in situ Mauer, or if it had been reassembled there for the purposes of being an art exhibit.  I shall have to do some research on this.

Either way, this kind of stuff is what makes Berlin so great.  Along the way, I passed by or through several parks.  I came across at least three live music acts.  And everywhere, you just see people out enjoying life and the city.  It’s got a great spirit, this place.

Anja, too, has been helpful.  She’s always pointing me to events via facebook, telling me about historical sights I should see or just slipping the odd flyer under my door for something she thinks I’ll dig.  I just haven’t done a great job (yet) of following up on this stuff.  And Mischa, bless him, is always leaving food for me on my shelf in the fridge.

I should say that I’ll be here again until the end of the month.  My original intention was to find a new place for September.  I mean, if I’m to stay here beyond 90 days, I really need to get my own place.  I can’t just stay on as a Gast indefinitely.  But really, it’s quite expensive here.  Which is not to say it’s overpriced.  In fact, I think it’s a great value, given the quality of the apartment, the people, all the extra perks and so on.  It’s just not really in my price range.  It’s fine when I’m on vacation, but if I’m going to live here as an employed person, I shall have to live within my means.

Be that as it may, I wasn’t able to find anything satisfactory for September.  And they, originally, weren’t going to rent the room, as they are going to Turkey for part of the month.  But when I asked if the room was free, they thought about it and said I was welcome to stay, because they know me by now.  Which, I mean, is just so solid.  So here I am for another month, and perfectly happy about it.

Oh, remember when I said I wasn’t homesick?  I mean, that’s essentially true.  But lately I’ve found myself dying for some properly good Chinese food.  I’ve yet to find a real-deal hand-pulled noodle soup, never mind soup dumplings.  Mind you, I had the same problem on Long Island.  It’s all “white people Chinese food.”  I mean, where’s the tripe?  Where’s the tendon?  Where are the ducks hanging in the window?  Not to say it doesn’t exist here, just that I haven’t found It yet.  Does Berlin have an actual Chinatown?  If so, can somebody please tell me where it is?  And also pizza.  My kingdom for a New York slice.  So maybe I’m just a touch homesick.

Going to sleep has been a different kind of adventure.  For most of my life, I’d always fallen asleep with music on.  But a few years ago, after all the Star Treks had come onto Netflix, I started falling asleep to that.  It was basically a kind of music.  I mean, I’d seen them all so many times, I basically knew them by heart.  I wouldn’t even watch them.  I’d just listen, and usually I’d be asleep before the opening credits kicked in.

But when I got here, I discovered that Star Trek wasn’t on German Netflix.  So I need to find something else.  This usually took the form of some David Attenborough narrated nature documentary.  That worked well enough.  Or there was baseball.  Yankee games start at 1am here, which is fine if I’m in bed before four.  I can always fall asleep to baseball.

Even nicer, though, are the nights when I do stay up til four.  I mean, sure I miss the Yanks, but the West Coast games are just getting underway.  This means the Dodgers.  Which means Vin Scully.  And there may not be anything better on the radio than Vin Scully calling a Dodgers game.  So that’s a guaranteed win, if I’m up late enough.

And now, finally, Star Trek is here.  For now, it’s just the original series.  But I believe the rest will soon follow.  Reason being, it seems Netflix will carry the new Trek series over here, when it debuts next year.  So I guess they got their hands on the old stuff to drum up interest.  Whatever the case, I can finally put some Star Trek on at bedtime, and this makes me quite happy indeed.

Well, that’s it for now, I suppose.  The next couple of weeks should prove quite interesting, and quite determinative as well.  And that’s not even talking about whatever travels I’m able to make in the month of September.  Surely there will be a few.  But that’s for another day.  Until then.

זיי געסונט

A brief note on the ol’ sei gesund.  I finally asked a real German person if this is a thing that anybody says in German.  She said no, you’re more likely to hear bleib gesund.  Different verb, same essential meaning.  So although the Yiddish version would be instantly understandable to any German, it would nevertheless sound a bit off.  But obviously Imma keep saying it.  Incidentally, I mentioned my blog to this same person, and she said, “Oh, what’s it called, Ein Ami in Deutschland?”  Heh, close enough.

  1. I later asked him how much he had to do with my actual hiring.  Almost nothing, was the answer.  Obviously he had recommended me, but really it was up to the AP.  “I’m your friend, I can’t hire you.  Conflict of interest.”  So while he got me in the door, apparently I scored the gig on my own merits.  Which is what you want, obviously. []
  2. For example, “You’re going to California, so you need to learn the word hella.” []
  3. Business English, btw, was more or less the focus of my CELTA training, as that what’s the school where I took the class focuses on. []
  4. 20€/hour was the price I had listed on my Superprof page.  However, I’m stuck wondering if I could have got more, because he agreed to that rate quite readily. []
  5. Or Whatsapp or Skype or Viber or whatever. []
  6. Though not actually to work.  But presumably this is good enough to get a job offer, and once you do, I gather it’s no big deal to change over to the work permit. []

Silly Fairy Tale, Part the Second

Silly Fairy Tale
Part the Second

(Part the First can be read here)

 The Story Continued…


Needless to say, the sassy black lady wasn’t about to teach Sylvana how to read, no matter how much she pitied the poor child.  I mean, ain’t nobody got time for that!  And so the girl left the Royal Department of Human Resources, full of hope and full of despair.  Full of hope, because she now clutched in her hand a list of names and addresses for all the woodsmen in the king’s service.  Full of despair, because she didn’t know how to read it.  Not knowing what else to do, she went back to the castle, whereupon did she bound right up the spiral staircase, run into her room, slam the door and crawl into bed.  And she started to sob.

This being a castle, however, and she being a pre-princess, there was no such thing as privacy.  Indeed, her very favorite lady-in-waiting was already in her room.  Waiting, obviously.  And when she saw the girl in such a state, she approached her and asked what was wrong.  The girl then told her the whole story.  When she’d finished, the lady-in-waiting smiled sweetly at her and patted her cheek.

“Be of good cheer, child,” she said.  “Though the hour seemeth dark, there is yet hope.  For I am a woman of letters, old crone though I be.  And t’would be my honor to serve thee in thy quest for thy father.  Ye have but to put yon parchment in my grasp, and lo, I shall be thy guide.  I shall be as thine eyes.  Such is my love for thee.”

“Oh my god!” cried the girl, throwing herself face-down into her pillow.  “You know I don’t understand you when you talk like that.  God, speak English!”  Whereupon did the lady-in-waiting roll her eyes.  Twice.  Then she facepalmed herself.

“I said,” she said, “don’t get down, girlfriend.  I know shit be lookin’ bad right now, but it’s all’a work out.  I mean, I know how to read, hun.  Even though I’m old.  And I’m tryin’a say, I’d be happy to help you look for your pops.  All you gotta do is gimme that there list, and I’ll take care of the rest.  You dig?”

“I dig,” said the girl, drying her eyes.  Then she threw her arms around the lady-in-waiting’s neck.  “I love you Brangien (that was her name), you’re the best!”  And Brangien hugged her back.  “But wait,” said the girl.  “You really know how to read?  I mean, you’re…a woman.”

“Of course I do, sweety.  Back in my country, I have a – “

“Lemme guess.  A PhD, right?  Apparently that’s a thing now.”

Anyway, they soon got started.  Led by the noble Brangien, Sylvana visited one woodsman after another.  But none of them were her father.  Wouldn’t you know it, but they even visited her father’s flat.  Only he wasn’t home at the time.  Madison answered the door.  He was very surprised to see Brangien.  Sylvana was even more surprised when the two of them kissed each other passionately on the lips.

“You guys know each other?” asked the girl, clearly astonished.

“Oh yes,” said Madison.  “We were at school together back in the old country.  We even dated for a bit.”

“What happened?” asked the girl.

“The war,” they said together.

“We were both taken prisoners,” said Madison.  “And we never saw each other again after that.”  Then he looked at his old flame.  “I had no idea you were here,” he said softly.

“I had no idea you were still alive,” she whispered.

“Well, here we all are now, happy together again,” said the girl impatiently.  “But more important, I’m looking for my father.  Have you seen him?  He’s a woodsman in the king’s service.”

“I see,” said Madison.  “And what’s his name.”

“Oh my god, why do people keep asking me that?!”  The girl was clearly annoyed.  “I’ve only ever called him father.  I don’t know his name.”

“Well, what does he look like?”

“I don’t know.  He looks like a man.  With a beard.  He has big strong forearms, stout legs and a barrel chest.  He usually likes to wear plaid flannel and a knit cap.”

“So, you’re saying he looks like a woodsman.”

“I guess, yeah, I mean, like, I don’t know what other woodsmen look like.  I just know that’s what he looks like.”

“Right.”  Madison pondered this for a moment.  “Well, look.  My roommate is a woodsman, and he fits the description.  But he’s never said anything about having a daughter.  Not that we talk much.  Honestly, he’s kind of a xenophobe.  I mean, I don’t hold it against up.  He lived his whole life in the woods, probably.  Never met anybody from anywhere else.  I suppose it’s only natural.  Point is, we don’t talk much.  So maybe he has a daughter, but what do I know?”

“So there’s nothing to indicate that he has an important person in his life?” pressed Brangien.

“Now that you mention it, he keeps this little square wooden frame next to his bed.  I once asked him what the deal with that was.  He said it was a ‘picture frame,’ whatever that is.  But I think it’s meant to symbolize somebody that matters a great deal to him.”

“Like a daughter?” asked Brangien.

“Yeah, maybe.  Or a wife.  Or a mother.  Or a dog.  I’m not really a fan of hypotheticals.”

“Please mister,” whined Sylvana.  “This is important!  Like, très important.”  And somewhere, the sassy black lady was all, Oh, you know how to use très in a sentence, but you didn’t get my clou joke?  Shiiiit.

“Tell you what, child,” said Madison.  “Why don’t you come back tomorrow around supper-time and you can meet my roommate.  Maybe he’s your daddy, maybe not.  But there’s only one way to find out.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” cried the girl.  And she gave him a big hug.  Then she turned to her lady-in-waiting.  “OK, Brangie, let’s go.”

“Actually,” she said slowly, “I think I’m gonna stay for a bit.  Madison and I have…a lot of catching up to do.”

“Oh, you mean like telling stories about all that’s happened in your lives since you were separated by the war?  Sure, sure.  I get it.”

“Umm, yeeeahhh, that,” said Brangien and Madison together.

Whereupon did Sylvana take her leave and headed back to the castle.  And she strolled the city streets, she wondered to herself, what kind of hipster name is Madison?

Anyway, to make a long story short – or rather, to cut out the bits that arent’ really relevant – the next night, Sylvana returned to chez Madison around supper time.  The woodsman wasn’t home yet, so she just sat on the couch and drank tea with upwardly mobile emancipated slave.  At last, the doorknob turned, the door opened, and there stood the woodsman.  He looked at the girl.  She looked at him.

“Hey, chief,” said Madison.  “Homegirl here thinks she might be – “

“My daughter!”  And they raced to each other and were soon locked in a warm embrace.  And when they had broken off their hug, the woodsman looked once more upon his daughter’s face.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Looking for you, silly!”

“No, I mean, what are you doing in the city?  Do you live here now?”

“Oh my god, I didn’t even tell you!  I’m engaged to the prince!” she squeeed.

“What wonderful news!” exclaimed the woodsman.

“Say what?” blurted Madison.

“Yeah,” she started.  “He, like, just found me in the woods one day and wanted to marry me!  Can you imagine?  Marry a prince?  So obvi, I was all, ‘yes,’ and shit.  And here I am!”

“Ain’t that some shit,” muttered Madison to himself.  “Here I am, with a PhD in advanced mathematics, and I’m bustin’ my ass, just to get emancipated.  Ten years working in the Royal Office of Accounting, and all I got to show for it is this lousy flat and a xenophobic roommate.  Meanwhile, homegirl here get’s to marry into royalty, because why?  Because she’s pretty?  Homegirl can’t even read.  Ain’t that some shit.”  But the girl and the woodsman heard none of this.

“Daddy, I’m going to bring you to live with me in the castle.  It’s going to be uh-mazing!”

And that’s just what she did.  I suppose I could end the story here.  I suppose I could just say that she married the prince, her dad moved into the castle and they all lived happily ever after.  Which is basically – Spoiler Alert – what happened.  But why not tell the story the right way?

OK, so the woodsman moved into the castle.  And for two months, father and daughter were delighted to be together again.  I mean, it was a little awkward.  After all, there was indeed a rather high degree of class-bias at court.  Everybody sort of looked down on the woodsman, with his beard and his flannel.  And while there was plenty of talk behind his back, everybody saw how happy the soon-to-be princess was and so they basically just put up with him.

Well, after two months, it was time for the wedding.  There was, of course, a royal wedding planner.  She took care of renting the hall.  Or rather, reserving the hall.  The hall, of course, belonged to the king, so they didn’t have to rent it so much as just raise taxes for a few weeks to cover expenses.  Obviously not a big hit with the locals, but it’s not like they could vote the king out.  So what can you do?

Anyway, the royal wedding planner had hired (read: conscripted) a decorator for the event.  Only, nobody was really happy with him.  I mean, he was very good.  But his style was rather rococo.  A bit over the top.  It didn’t really fit with the hippy girl from the woods.  That’s when the woodsman had an idea.

“You know,” he said at a wedding planning meeting, to the prince, and his daughter and the wedding planner, “my old roommate is actually a great decorator.  He was always doing the loveliest things with flowers and drapes and…doilies?  Is doilies a word?  Why don’t we see if he can help us?  I’m sure he’d do a great job.”

“Hmm, yes” said the wedding planner, trying to be polite.  “But this is a royal wedding.  Isn’t your ex-roommate a…slave?”

“An emancipated slave,” said the woodsman proudly.  “And he has a PhD in advanced mathematics.”

“Typical,” said the wedding planner with disgust.  “All these immigrants with their advanced degrees.  How are we citizens supposed to compete for jobs anymore?  And anyway, advanced mathematics is not decorating.”

“I’m telling you he’s good,” insisted the woodsman.

“We want to give him a chance,” added Sylvana.  “Don’t we, honey?” she said, squeezing the prince’s hand.

“Anything for the little lady,” said the prince, displaying no trace of independent thought.  “Make it so.”

“As you wish,” said the wedding planner.

An hour later, the four of them were knocking on Madison’s door.  And they explained their proposition to him.  And when they’d said their piece, he looked confused.

“I mean, I appreciate you guys thinking of me, honestly,” he said.  “But, you know I’m not a decorator.  I’m just gay.”

“You mean…” said the woodsman.

“I like men, yes.”

“But what about Brangien?” asked Sylvana.  “You said you guys used to date.”

“Girl, it’s a spectrum,” answered Madison, waving her off.

“I don’t know about this,” said the royal wedding planner.  “A gay, decorating the royal wedding?”

“I don’t know about this,” echoed the woodsman.  “A gay, decorating my daughter’s wedding?”

“Oh, daddy,” said the girl, gripping her father’s epically massive forearm.  “Don’t be like that.  Madison is allowed to love whoever he wants.  Who are we to judge him?  And anyway, it’s not like he’s a Jew.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Madison, facepalming.

“See?!” exclaimed Sylvana.

“You will, of course, be paid quite handsomely,” said the royal wedding planner.

“Money, I got,” said Madison somewhat indignantly.  “If y’all want me to decorate this shindig, you’re gonna have to do better than just a big fat check.”

“A what?” asked the royal wedding planner.

“Gold coins, whatever.”

“What’s your price?” asked the prince.

“I want a transfer out of the Royal Office of Accounting.  I want a position at the Royal Institute of Mathematics.”

“You want a RIM job?!” asked the prince incredulously.  “You.  An ex-slave.”

“That’s right, and I won’t settle for anything less.

“Oh, let him have it, honey,” pleaded the girl.  “It’ll be so worth it.”

“Very well,” said the prince.  “I will personally see to your RIM job.  On the sole condition that my bride is satisfied with your services.”  Whereupon did Madison extend his hand to the prince.  Whereupon did the prince look skeptically upon the ex-slave-hand before him.  But, after a quick elbow to the ribs from his fiancée, they shook on it.

Well, needless to say, the wedding went off without a hitch.  The decorations were beyond fabulous.  Everybody had a great time.  And when it was all over, the prince took his literally criminally underage bride up to his royal quarters and there did what all medieval princes do with their more-often-than-not criminally underage brides.  It wasn’t long before she got preggers, and the whole kingdom was rejoicing at the news of it.

So now the girl-princess, the royal-by-marriage woodsman and the prince were all living together happily in the castle, enjoying life with their children/grandchildren and basically making a story-book existence of it all.

Not that there weren’t rough patches.  The princess opened up a little menagerie on the castle grounds, where she brought her bear and squirrel friends from the woods to live with her.  And for most of them, this was great.  There was a never ending supply of nuts in the castle, and fresh fish every day.

But one of the squirrels soon became a little too enamored with life at the royal court.  It wasn’t long before he started hanging out with the wrong crowd, spending way too much time with the idle, foppish dilettantes who clung to the king.  And being of the aristocracy, they were very free with spending their fathers’ money.  You know the type.  Anyway, this particular squirrel soon developed a nasty coke habit.  I mean, you think regular squirrels are fast.  You should’ve seen this guy go after a couple of lines.

It got to the point that the princess – to say nothing of the other squirrels – was really starting to worry about him.  But she figured it was his business, and she didn’t want to intrude.  But he made it personal when he stole one of her pearl necklaces and sold it for two ounces of coke and a bag of chestnuts.  The princess, bless her heart, wasn’t so much angry as hurt.

So she, and the other squirrels, staged a little intervention.  And they told him that if he didn’t “straighten up and fly right,” they’d kick him out of the castle and send him back to the woods.  It was hard, at first.  It always is.  But eventually, the squirrel got his shit together, and he’s been clean ever since.

And so that brings us to the end of our story.  The princess and the prince were a happy couple.  The woodsman and the girl were happy to be reunited.  The animals were living it up.  Even the courtiers had begun to accept the woodsman, as he was often carving little trinkets for them.  Oh, and Madison got his job at the Royal Institute of Mathematics.  Not only that, but he and Brangien got back together, only this time, it was in the form of a poly relationship that included the village blacksmith.  As for the sassy black lady, well, the princess never forgot how she’d helped her.  So she saw to it that a proper window was installed in the Royal Department of Human Resources.  To which, SBL said, “Oh, thank you, child.  You’re a sweet thing,” before adding under her breath, “Ex-slave gets a RIM job and all I get is a stupid-ass window.  Shiiit.”

And they all lived happily ever after.

Silly Fairy Tale, Part the First

Silly Fairy Tale
Part the First


            Not wanting to do another actual blog post, and having completed my Hebrew studies for the night, I find myself still wanting to write.  To write something.  And so I am remembered of a game Charlotte and I used to play.  The game goes like this.  Charlotte asks me to tell her a story.  Whereupon do I proceed to invent a fairy tale out of thin air.  What follows is the sort of story which I’d usually make for her.  In fact, I think it’s probably based on one I’ve already told.  But it’s also different.  I made this up, just now.  For fun.  I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it…

The Story So Far…

Once upon a time, there was a woodsman, who lived in…well, he lived in the woods, obviously.  His job, basically, was to chop wood for the king.  You see, the king lived in a big old palace.  And in the winter, it would get very cold inside those drafty stone walls.  So the king always need firewood.  And so it was that he contracted with several of the local woodsmen to provide the royal kindling.

I say “contracted,” but this was really a feudal sort of arrangement.  Because fairy tales almost always take place in feudal times.  And this might sound romantic, because fairy tales are always romantic.  But it was not romantic.  It was a raw deal, not to put too fine a point on it.  See, the woodsman worked the king’s land, but most of his labor-product wound up in the castle.  He had very little left to himself at the end of the day.

And the woodsman was, perhaps, peripherally aware of all this.  But he was not an educated man.  Neither was he a revolutionary.  He was just a guy that chopped wood for a living.  And it wasn’t a very good living.  Still though, at least he had a little cabin in the woods.  So it was better than working in the salt mines.

Of course the salt mines were in Africa.  Salt was brought into the kingdom by Arab traders.  So really, the salt mines were an abstraction.  But there were rumors.  And the rumors made the salt mines sound pretty terrible.  All this to say, the woodsman was not entirely chagrined by his lot in life.

And anyway, he had a daughter.  Now, the woodsman loved his daughter very much.  She was the apple of his eye.  Or, at least, she would have been, if he’d ever seen an apple.  But all fresh fruit went directly to the castle.  So he probably had some other metaphor that he used to describe his daughter.  Something lumberjacky.  But if he did, it does not come down to us.

The point is, he loved his daughter very much.  There was nothing he wouldn’t do to make her happy.  You see, it was just the two of them.  I know what you’re thinking.  The mother died, right?  Maybe even in childbirth?  Because that’s how it goes in fairy tales.  Well, not this time.  This time, the girl’s mother was this weird hippy chick that lived in the woods.  She was really into prancing around the forest naked, but it was all PG because her hair was so long, you couldn’t see anything anyway.

Well, years back, the woodsman and the hippy girl shacked up for a bit.  Neither of them were really happy.  See, she was all “Why do you break your back for The Man, maaaan?”  And he was all, “Why can’t you settle down and get a job?”  So they didn’t really have a lot in common.  It was more just that they were the only two people within miles, and they did what people do in those situations.

It was only a matter of time before the hippy girl got preggers.  But of course, she was all “I refuse to be pigeon-holed by gender stereotypes.  Just because I’m a woman, how come I have to be the mother?”  And he was all, “Ugh, fine, but coat-hangers haven’t even been invented yet, so what do you want to do about it?”  And she was all, “What’s a coat-hanger?”  And he was all, “I literally have no idea.”

Anyway, what happened was, she carried the baby to term.  Somehow, in that age before medicine and real doctors, she even managed to survive childbirth.  But once that baby was out, so was she.  That very night she was splitsville, never to be seen again.  Although even now, there are rumors of a crazy hippy lady dancing naked in those very same woods.  The police even tried to find her a few years back, but all they came up with were a couple of teenagers smoking pot.  But never mind about that.

So she had the baby, and it was a little girl.  And the woodsman couldn’t be happier.  He’d always wanted a daughter, and now he’d got one.  He named her Sylvana because she was a child of the woods.  But she never liked this name, and so she took to calling herself Cinderella.  Unfortunately, she soon received an anachronistic cease-and-desist letter from the not yet incorporated Walt Disney Corporation, whereupon will she have had to let it go.  So she took to calling herself Winter, because she was sad in her heart.  Sad that she would’snt be allowed to go by Cinderella, and also sad because she never knew her mother.  Needless to say, the woodsman thought this was all ridiculous teenage melodrama and so continued to call her Sylvana.

But enough of this.  One day, a knight-errant, on a mission from the king, came to see the woodsman.  “Stout yeoman,” said the knight, “the king requires your services in the castle.  Wherefore must you pack your things and come with me.”

“But what about my daughter?” asked the woodsman.  “Surely I can bring her with me?”

“I’m afraid not,” said the knight.  “Tax revenues this year were pretty low, to be honest, and the king can’t afford to put up whole families.  You’ll have to come alone.”

“Well what am I supposed to do with her, then?” asked the woodsman.

“Not my problem,” said the knight.

And so the woodsman explained the situation to his daughter.  He was worried that she’d start crying, but she actually took it quite well.

“Why are you taking this so well?” he asked.

“Because while you’ve been out chopping wood, father, I’ve been studying.  The squirrels have taught me how to gather nuts.  The bears have taught me how to take apart a deer carcass and how to fish.  And the owls have taught me how to catch mice, though now that I say that last part out loud, it doesn’t sound so useful.”

“And what will you do for clothing?” he pressed.  “You know nothing of tanning leather or weaving wool.  Not there are any sheep in the woods, so I guess that’s a moot point.  Still, though.”

“Who needs clothes?” she guffawed.  “I’m going to be like my mother now.  I’ll dance naked in the woods under the starlight.”

“I never should have told you about that,” said the woodsman, rolling his eyes.

“Honestly, father, I’ll be fine.  Go serve the king.  Make me proud.”  And she smiled the sort of wild-eyed smile her hippy mother used to smile.  Whereupon did the woodsman kiss her tenderly upon the forehead before departing with the knight.

So.  Whose life do you want to hear about first?  The woodsman or the girl?  Let’s do the woodsman.  Right, so the king – or rather the Royal Department of Human Resources – set him up in a small flat.  It wasn’t in the best neighborhood, but at least it was within the city walls.  It was a tiny little two-bedroom, and he shared it with an upwardly mobile emancipated slave, who had been captured during the last war with the neighboring province.  His name was Madison.

“What kind of hipster name is that?” asked the woodsman when he moved in.

“It’s not a hipster name,” said the ex-slave.  “I’ll have you know, James Madison will be the father of the American constitution one day.  It’s a very noble name.”

“Father of the what?”  The woodsman was confused.

“The American constitution.  You know, as in America?  As in, the New World?”

“New World?” asked the woodsman.   “What are you talking about?  There’s just the world.”

“Yeah, here there’s just the world.  But what do you think is on the other side of Ocean?”

“I never thought about it,” said the woodsman slowly.  “I guess I just always assumed that when you get to the end of Ocean, you fall off the edge of the world.”

“You know, in my country, I have a PhD,” said the ex-slave, facepalming himself.

“Why do immigrants always have to say in my country?” retorted the woodsman.

So no, they weren’t off to the best start.  But they figured it out, after a while.  Anyway, the woodsman soon found that his new gig wasn’t so bad after all.  Instead of simply chopping firewood, as he’d done in the forest, he was now apprenticed to the master carpenter.  And soon, he was turning out work of expert craftsmanship.  Indeed, it is said that the king’s very favorite chair was made by the woodsman in those days.

Also, the pay was a little better.  He actually had spending money in his pocket.  He could buy his own bread and cheese and wine now, so he was feeling pretty good.  He could even afford a ticket to the yearly jousting tournament.  And the jousting tournament was the highlight of the year.  Not because of the sport.  No, the woodsman viewed that as barbaric.  But the tournament attracted food vendors from all over the world.  His favorite was the chinaman, who made these things called ‘dumplings.’  They were like pierogies, but more savory.  They were like knishes, but lighter, and also untainted by Jew-hands, polluted with the blood of Christian babies.  Yeah, I know how that sounds.  But fairy tales always take place in the middle ages, and you know what they were like back then.

Anyway, the woodsman was living a pretty good life, there in the city.  Except for one thing.  He missed his daughter.  Terribly.  Every day, he woke up thinking about her and every night, he went to sleep thinking about her.  And she was all he thought about as he toiled away in the carpenter’s shop.  Hell, he even kept an empty picture frame next to his bed.  “As soon as they invent photography,” he’d say to himself, “I’m going to put a picture of her in there.”

But what about the girl herself?  Well, in the beginning, she was pretty happy.  You know how teenage girls are when it comes to their independence.  She’d spend her days gathering nuts with the squirrels or fishing with the bears.  At night, owls would bring her dead mice, but that got old fast.  And in between her hunter-gatherer routine, she’d dance naked in the woods, like nobody was watching.

Only somebody was watching.  Not in a creepy, pervy way, mind you.  More in the, you can’t really ignore the naked girl dancing in the woods kind of way.  But it wasn’t just anybody who was watching her.  It was the king’s son.  The bloody prince, he was.  He was 22 and she was 16.  And by today’s standards, this gets all kinds of wrong in a hurry.  But back then, it was all kosher.  Though they didn’t use the word kosher, because anti-Semitism.  And anyway, she’d grown her hair out, just like her mom, so you couldn’t see anything anyway.

Well, one day, he rides up to her on his white shining horse.  And he gives her the whole fairy tale prince routine. You’ve heard it before.  “You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.  Come live with me in the castle.  Come be my bride.  Yadda yadda.”

And she thought about this offer.  As she saw it, this whole woodsy-hippy thing was getting old.  And winter was coming.  She didn’t know how to chop wood to make a fire.  She didn’t have any clothes.  She’d always supposed she’d just hibernate like her bear friends.  But really, she’d never thought it through.  Anyway, this was a better offer.  Of course, between the age difference and the royal-v-peasant dynamic, it wasn’t really a fair offer.  Not that the prince was some kind of medieval Roger Ailes, of course.  Far from it.  It’s just, well, they weren’t really on level ground.

But this is where she differed from her mother, whom she never knew, but about whom she’d heard an awful lot.  Her mom was the sort of feminist that would reject the proposed arrangement on the grounds that she didn’t need any man to make her happy.  The girl, on the other hand, viewed herself as being rather empowered, and had no qualms about marrying a freaking prince to advance her station in life.

Also, she really missed her father.  Every day, she woke up thinking about him and every night, she went to sleep thinking about him.  She would have kept an empty picture frame next to her bed, but she lacked the perspicacity to envision the invention of photography.  And anyway, she didn’t have the carpentry skills to make a picture frame.  So instead, she’d gotten into the habit of carving the word father into tree trunks.  Only, she didn’t know how to write, so it was always just an odd assemblage of random angular scratch marks.  But it said father to her, and that was all that mattered.

In any event, she agreed to go with the young (albeit older than her) prince, and to be his wife.  Also, she reasoned secretly with herself, if she moved to the castle, she might get to see her father again.  But she didn’t mention this part to the prince, whom she suspected was possessed of a certain degree of class-bias and might frown upon her familial relations.

So they moved into the castle.  And life was, well, it was boring.  It was a whole lot of sitting at court.  She had all these ladies-in-waiting, but all they ever wanted to to do was gossip and bathe her.  And having grown up in the woods, she was not a really a big fan of baths.  The prince, it should be noted, was a perfect gentleman.  He never once laid a hand on her, as they were not yet married.

If anything, he was kind of boring.  He’d read her love poetry or show off for her in archery.  Which sounds nice, except the Prince had this awful lisp, and so she had a helluva time trying not to laugh at his recitations.  And as for archery, well, he was pretty second rate.  What I’m trying to say is, nice guy though he was, the prince was not exactly a winning argument for hereditary monarchy.

Anyway, one day, the prince was out hunting.  By which I mean, the prince was out riding with professional hunters whose job it was to make the prince look like he knew how to hunt.  Never one to waste an opportunity, the girl decided to use this alone-time to try and find her father.  And so it was that she gave her ladies-in-waiting the slip, and made her way to the Royal Department of Human Resources.

“Can I help you?” asked the large, disinterested black lady behind the desk.

“Wait a second,” said the girl, with a hint of confusion.  “Aren’t you a bit early for this trope?”

“Girl, who you callin’ a trope?” said the large black lady sassily.

“I’m sorry,” said the girl hastily.  “I didn’t mean anything by that.”

“Mmmhmm,” hummed the black lady.  “Typical.  White girl walks in here like she own the place, throwin’ around fancy white people words like ‘trope.’  Meanwhile, I’m stuck behind this desk, butsin’ my ass for the man, sunrise to sunset.  Shiiiit.”

“Look, I said I was sorry,” pleaded the girl.  “But, I mean, I am engaged to the prince.”

“Uh-huh, and I’m Malcolm X.”


“Never mind, child.”  And the sassy black lady smiled a half-sweet, half-condescending smile.  “Now what can I do for her royal highness.”

“Well, I’m not a royal highness yet.  We’re only engaged.”  The sassy black lady shook her head.

“Girl, there’s a nail shop down the street.  Go buy a clou.”

“I’m sorry?”  The girl was totally lost.

“Honey, that’s a bilingual pun.  Didn’t they teach you French in fancy white people school?”

“I never went to school,” said the girl, blushing with shame.

“You know, I have a PhD back in my country,” mumbled the sassy black lady.  “Fine, what can I do for you today?”

“I’m looking for my father,” said the girl proudly.  “He’s a woodsman, in the king’s service.”

“Oh, well you’re in luck!  We only have one of those in the whole kingdom!  Why, that must be your father!”

“What a relief!” cried the girl.  “Where can I find him?”

“Honey,” said SBL, shaking her head, “were you born yesterday?”

“I’m sixteen, going on seventeen,” said the girl proudly.  SBL facepalmed.

“Look, child, there’s a great many woodsmen in the king’s service.  If you want me to find your father, you’re gonna have to give me some information.  For starters, what’s his name?”  The girl thought about this for a moment.

Father,” she said confidently.  “His name is father.”

“So lemme get this straight,” moaned SBL.  “You’re looking for a woodsman in the king’s service, by the name of father?”

“That’s right,” said the girl.  “Can you tell me where to find him?”

“Lemme ask you something, child.  You gotta name?”

“Sylvana,” said Sylvana.

“Right.  So, in other words, your name ain’t daughter.  What I’m sayin’ to you is, your father probably has his own name too.  And it probably ain’t father.  You feel me?”

“I haven’t even touched you,” said the girl, slightly horrified.

“It’s a figure of – oh, never mind.”  And the sassy black lady looked out the window.  Or rather, where the window would have been, if there had been a window.  The Royal Department of Human Resources was underfunded, so windows simply weren’t in the budget.

“Look, can you help me or not?” asked the girl, unable to hide her frustration.

“Oh, sure.  Tell you what, how about I just print out a list of all the woodsmen in the king’s service.  And you can just go down the list until you find your daddy.  How does that sound?”

“That would be amazing!” cried the girl.  “Thank you so much!”

“OK, so I’m just gonna ask you to have a seat and wait patiently until they invent moveable type.  I mean, it’s first come-first serve, so you’ll have to wait while we then knock out a couple thousand Gutenberg Bibles.  But you’re next in line after that.  You should have your list in time for the Reformation.”

“But I don’t care about the Reformation, whatever that is – “

“Whatever that will be, you mean – “

“Whatever whatever!” cried the girl.  I just want to find my father.  And as she said this, she slumped down into a chair and started to sob.  This, it seems, melted the sassiness of the token black lady’s heart.  Whereupon did she take pity on the girl.  And so it was that she wrote out, by hand, a list of all the woodsmen in the king’s service.  And when she’d finished, she handed it to the girl.

“Here you go, child,” she said sweetly.  “Now, will there be anything else?”

“Yeah, one thing, actually,” said the girl under a furrowed brow.

“And what’s that?” asked SBL.

“Can you teach me how to read?

“Oh, child.”


End Part I.  Tune in next time for the conclusion of this very silly fairy tale.



An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
23 August, 2016

Having just banged out three (rather long) pieces vis-à-vis my last trip, I suspect it’s probably too soon for another post.  On the other hand, it’s early (12:40am) and I’m bored.  I mean, I just took care of my weekly Yankee post and edited another of my colleague’s posts as well.  More on this in a sec.  That leaves me with a couple of choices for this Monday evening.  I could get back to work on Hebrew, but I’m too tired.  I could read some Homer, but I’m too lazy.  I could do some work related stuff, but I’m too lazy for that as well.  Or I could watch some Netflix.  But I’m not really in the mood to just lay around watching TV.  I want to do something.  I guess I’ll write.

So the Yankee blog.  Earlier this year, in February I think, I was approached about writing a weekly blog on New York’s AL baseball club.  The details are tedious, but suffice it to say, I was recommended by a friend.1  There was no talk of money.  This was purely a labor of love.  But I looked at it as an opportunity to keep writing, and to write on a subject I don’t normally deal with, however much I may care about it.

Well, here we are at the end of August, and I’ve been churning out one piece a week.  And it’s been a lot of fun.  Somewhere along the line, we joined our fledgling group to an already established site, with an established readership:  Our original group had mixed feelings about this.  Our initial site was our baby, our project.  In joining Page2, we’d be giving up our identity, our independence.  But not, apparently, our autonomy.  We were promised the freedom to continue writing, and that’s exactly what we got.  Zero complaints.

But quite recently, and rather abruptly, the guy who got us all together in the first place, left for greener pastures.  I think.  I don’t actually know the details of why he left.  But leave he did, and that put the rest of us in an interesting spot.  On the baseball side, there were only four of us.  And in truth, I’m delighted with where we’re at.

Somewhere along the line, our Founder established Nate and myself as the baseball editors.  He gave us the freedom, not only to write what we wanted to write, but also to mold our two staff writers as we saw fit.  Nate and I viewed this as a truly exciting opportunity.  After all, we had a shared vision of what our baseball writing was supposed to offer.

The idea was this.  You can go any- and everywhere for baseball coverage.  In other words, you can get stats and recaps and journalistic2 analysis all over the net.  We realized early on that, if our site was to have any merit, it would have to offer something unique.  But since none of us are accredited journalists or professional statisticians or experienced baseball scouts, the only thing unique we had to offer was our passion as fans.

With this in mind, we cobbled together a framework wherein we and our writers would publish pieces that came straight from the hearts of real fans.  Passion, we told our guys, was the only thing that mattered.  Form and style were up to them.  And so we have one guy who is just plain funny.  I love reading his stuff, even though I disagree with him half the time.  Because he makes me laugh.  And his passion for the game shines through.  You can – and if you’re a baseball fan, should – read his work here.

The other guy is not funny.  He doesn’t write comedy.  He’s totally different than Matt, linked above.  But he writes with stoical passion for the game and with an eye to detail.  When he first started, his writing was not particularly polished.  But he eagerly absorbed all the constructive criticisms that Nate and I sent his way, and he’s really grown as a writer.  It’s been lovely to watch, and I genuinely enjoy reading his work now.  You can too, here.

Nate, my co-editor and fellow CUNY Grad Center alumnus, ostensibly writes about the Mets.  But as their season has trended downwards, he’s branched out into writing about broader baseball themes.  He did a multi-part series asking whether home-field advantage makes a difference in the World Series.  He’s now running a multi-part series wherein he picks a “face of the franchise” player for each team.  His work shows a marked fondness for clever wordplay and, again, a passion for the game.  But perhaps the thing I enjoy most about his work, is that whenever I read one of his pieces, I know I’m reading Nate.  People talk about writers having a “voice.”  Nate has this.  And it’s a good one.  You can read him here.

As for me, well, I’m not going to toot my own horn.  If you read this blog with any kind of regularity, you know what my writing is like.  I take the same approach to Page2.  And where our other three writers have branched out into broader baseball themes,3 I’ve continued to write exclusively about the Yankees.  It’s been a lot of fun.  And I’ve had the freedom to write however I see fit.  I’ve done things full of classical references, likening the Yankees to the ancient Romans.  I’ve also done mock dialogues, satyr plays (if you will), showing what goes on behind closed doors in the Yankee kingdom.  I can’t say that every thing I’ve written there has been the best thing I’ve ever done, but I’m proud of my work.  You can read it here.

It’s also been a welcome connection to my life back home, my life as a New Yorker, my life as a baseball fan.  Coming to Berlin, for however wonderful it’s been, has necessitated leaving behind certain things.  Baseball is one of them.  I simply can’t afford the digital package that would allow me to watch games online.  But I do subscribe to the package that gives me access to all the radio broadcasts.  Which is great.  But you have to remember, east coast games start at 1am here.  I might put one on as I’m going to bed, falling asleep to the dulcet tones of John Sterling and the familiar whine of Suzyn Waldman.  But it’s a rare thing that I catch all nine innings.  Writing about the Yankees gives me a way to stay connected.

There are other things I miss from home.  To say I miss my family and friends is so obvious as to be redundant.  So I’ll just say I miss them, and assume we all have roughly the same human experience, such that this requires no further expoundation.4  But there are two other things which I miss immensely, and which I’ve been wanting to comment on for a while; howsobeit, until now there have always been more pressing things to talk about.

The first is hockey.  I’d found myself a regular weekly gig playing goal for a group of older guys in the Spring and Fall the last few years.  I’d been playing with them long before that, of course.  But always on a “we need a goalie, are you free?” basis.  Somewhere along the line, though, this turned into the regular gig.  Depending on who showed up, it could be a truly exhilarating game, or rather kind of a bore.  But either way, it was a regular game, and it was a good group of guys.

And I fucking love hockey.  I love being on the ice.  I love the exercise.  I love the challenge of playing goal, of testing myself against skilled guys, against impossible situations.  And I don’t have that now.  I miss it.  Dearly.  And apart from the game itself, there’s that moment when you first step out onto the freshly cut ice, and you just fly.  The bite of the cold air, the ease, the speed.  There’s a freedom to that, and I haven’t found it anywhere else.

Funny thing about the group of guys I play with.  They all belong to a country club.  That’s the group.  In the winter, they play outdoors on the ice at their club.  And let me tell, you playing hockey outside, at night, under the lights, in the frigid cold of winter, it’s poetry.  No wonder Canadians are so nice.  If you grew up with this in your soul, you’d be happy all the damned time too.

But the guys, that was the point.  I mean, with the exception of one or two of the fellas, I have zero in common with them.  They’re wealthy.  They work in money-making fields.  They’re generally right-leaning in their politics.  We don’t live the same lives.  But none of that matters when we get on the ice.  We have one thing in common, and that’s that we love hockey down to our bones.  And while I don’t think any one of them would ever consider having me over for dinner or meeting me out for a drink, I know they respect me as a hockey player.  They respect me as a guy who loves the game, as a guy who shows up every week ready to play and ready to leave it all on the ice.  And I feel the same way about them.  And in a strange way, I miss these guys, who aren’t really my friends, but who aren’t strangers either.

Which is not to say we don’t get along.  They are, to a man, gracious to me and welcoming and friendly.  And they’ll chat me up in the locker room.  They’ll celebrate with me on the ice.  And when I make a really nice save, I don’t know who’s going to congratulate me first: the guy I just robbed, or my own teammates.  But that’s about as far as it goes, all of what I’ve just said.

In fairness to them, though, many of the walls in these relationships I put up myself.  This comes from being a goalie.  I’d be blowing smoke up your ass if I said something like, “I don’t like to talk in the locker room because I’m mentally preparing for the game.”  I mean, it’s true on some level, but that’s not why I have a hard time interacting.

The truth is, I feel like an outsider.  Which I am.  So it’s very important to me that I come across as being serious about the game.  Let me try to put it another way.  They don’t invite me down to play because I’m their friend, they invite me down because they need a goaltender, and they trust that I will deliver.  You have to understand, not matter how gratifying it is to score a goal, these guys would rather play a 2-1 game and feel challenged and stymied than play a 15-14 game, hat tricks all around, but feel like their goalies aren’t up to the challenge.

I know this, so I take it seriously.  I’m there to do a job.  The social fun comes from playing with their country club buddies.  The hockey fun comes from having a goalie who is on point.  I say all this, because I want you to understand how I feel when I step into the locker room.  I don’t ever want to appear lax or easy going or like I’m not taking things seriously.  I don’t want to joke around and be one of the guys, because I’m terrified that if I do, I’ll go out there and stink it up.  And if I do that, they’ll see me as a guy who doesn’t take the game seriously.  That they’ll go find somebody else who does a better job getting in front of the rubber.

So I go in and try to be serious and business-like.  I try to send the message, “I appreciate you guys choosing me to play goal for you tonight, and I won’t let you down.”  Maybe that’s silly.  But it’s the only way I know how to be.  And it works, I guess.  Because they keep having me back and we enjoy playing together.

And although there are one or two guys with whom I’ll speak freely (always after the game, never before), if there’s a real exception to this rule, it’s the other goaltender, whoever that might be on a given night.  With the other goalie, I can talk shop, let loose a little bit.  And I always root for the other goalie.  I love to see the other guy have a great night.  We, at least, are in the same fraternity.

But I’m going on and on.  The point of all this is simply to say that, for all that Berlin is amazing, for all that my travels have been full of wonder, there’s a price on it.  And that price is I don’t get to play hockey here.  And I miss the shit out of it.

The last thing I’ll say on the subject is this.  When I played my last game, back in June, the guys were really great to me.  And the one thing they kept saying was, “Dave, I hope everything works out in Germany.  But I also hope it doesn’t, because we want you back here.”  Whatever the dynamic of our relationship, that about it sums it up.

OK, I was going to move on to the second thing I miss.  But as I was writing about hockey, it brought to mind an experience I had with this group, and I really want to say something about it.  To a man, we have all of us done things in our life, or acted in a way, that we are embarrassed by or ashamed of.  This happened to me, several years ago, when I was in grad school.  And it happened with these guys.

There’s one guy in the bunch whose job it is to secure the goalie for any given game.  For the majority of my time with this group, it was a guy named Andy.  First off, he’s a lovely guy.  But he’s a gorgeous hockey player too.  Not because he’s particularly good.  In fact, he’s not.  But there’s no quit in him.  He never stops moving his legs.5  And while he rarely scores a goal, he also rarely makes a mistake.  He’s exceedingly responsible, at both ends of the ice.  If he’s on my team, I always feel good when he’s out there.  My private nickname for him is, “the waterbug.”  Because he just goes about his business, tirelessly, and there’s no stopping him.  It’s a cliché to say he plays the game “the right way.”  But he really does.6

Anyway, Andy.  When I was in the throes of grad school, and living in the city,7 he’d regularly text me, asking if I wanted to play.  And I was always torn.  On the one hand, I absolutely wanted to play.  On the other hand, I was drowning in school work.  And playing meant two hours on the train, plus 90 minutes on the ice, plus dressing and undressing, plus waiting for the train itself.  It was basically a whole day gone.  So I was torn, as I said.  But rather than answer honestly, rather than saying, no, I was too busy, I’d put it off.  “Aaagh, lemme think about it.  I can’t decide now!”

And it got to the point where I simply stopped answering his texts altogether.  Which was just plain rude, no two ways about it.  Here was a guy offering me free ice time, again and again, and I didn’t even have the decency to reply.  And I knew it was wrong, but I was so far up my own ass at that point, I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

Well, one day, I finally get down to the club.  Somebody else – not Andy – had called me, and for whatever reason, I felt I was free enough to play.  And so there I was.  And there was Andy.  And he wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.  He wasn’t rude.  He didn’t reprimand me.  He didn’t tell me I was an ingrate.  All things he fairly could have done.  He just didn’t make eye contact with me.  And that hurt more than any words.

So I approached him.  And I apologized, hat (or helmet) in hand.  I told him I was wrong, that it was disrespectful of me, that I should have been grateful for every opportunity he offered me, and that I was sorry for the way I’d acted.  That he didn’t deserve that.  Not easy to do that.  Especially in front of a locker room full of guys you don’t know very well.  And he could have told me to go fuck myself.  But he didn’t.  I remember him saying that it was OK, and that – I remember this – “I just thought you didn’t to play anymore.”  And he looked hurt when he said that.  I mean, I don’t know if he was.  Maybe I’m projecting.  But he was so gracious in that moment, because that’s the kind of man he is.

I tell this story because it’s Andy who decided to have me as the regular goalie for their Spring and Fall sessions.  It’s Andy who looked past all that, accepted my apology, and gave me a second chance.  So when I say that I miss hockey, when I say I miss my regular game, it’s also to say that I’m grateful to Andy for giving me that second chance and for welcoming me back into the group with literally zero hard feelings.  I could have seriously jeopardized, indeed forfeited, something that means so much to me.  But because of one decent man, I got to keep playing the game that is most dear to my heart.  In other words, thank you, Andy.

I said there were two things I miss.  The other is my Homeric Reading Group.  As many of you should already know, I spent five years reading Homer with a retired professor in his living room on the Upper West Side.  Every Saturday, 10-12, with summer breaks.  It was a fixture in my life.  Which isn’t to say it was easy.  I mean, what late-20’s/early 30’s dude wants to get up at 830, every Saturday, to go read Greek with old people?  Well, I did.  It was one of the joys of my life.  Then I took a break to take a French class.  Then Daitz died.  And it was over.

But then, this spring, Nat emailed me.  Nat, I should say, was the other mainstay of the group.  An elder gentleman, he teaches Latin and Greek at a private school just north of the city; though he lives on the UWS.  Anyway, Nat emailed me saying he had two or three other interested people and would I like to restart the HRG?  Of course I would!  More than anything.  And this with me living on the Island.  In other words, three hours of travel for 2-3 hours of Greek.  Didn’t matter.  I was in.

So we started up again, with Iliad 24, the last chapter of the epic.  Nat, bless him, is just a fountain of knowledge.  There’s hardly a word that goes by that he doesn’t have some kind of insight on.  One of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever known.  But more than that, it was just great to read with him again.  I’d have to write a whole separate post on what this means to me and what reading with him is like.  But here, I’ll just say it’s a joy.

And I have an odd relationship with Nat.  When we’re together – whether it be in the old Daitz group, or the newly formed version – we get on great and genuinely enjoy each other’s company; to say nothing of the mutual respect that flows in both directions, though I’m always a bit embarrassed that he lowers himself to considering me on his level.  And I think that had we been the same age, had we been in school together, we would have been very close.  I get the sense that our alcohol habits are/were similar, to say nothing of our love of, and opinions on, Greek.

But he’s always been hard to get to know outside of the group.  He doesn’t really respond to emails, or does so but sparingly.  And he’s never shown any interest in spending time together outside the group.  Which is fine.  It’s just that it doesn’t seem to jive – at least to me – with our in-group dynamic.  But that’s Nat, and I accept it and love the shit out of him unconditionally.

Anyway, he makes this move to restart the HRG and I am all hands on deck.8  And within five minutes of our first meeting, I knew.  I knew I needed this.  It was missing from my life.  Homer had been missing from my life since Daitz died.  But so had Nat.  So had the discussions, the arguments, the opportunity to show off arcane knowledge that didn’t mean anything in the real world but was more valuable than gold here, with these people.  There couldn’t be anything more inconvenient than trekking out from Long Island to the UWS on a Saturday morning, and yet, there was no way I was not going to be there.

There was another guy in our group, David.  He’s a Judaics Studies professor at Brooklyn College.  His Greek is more than alright, but his background is biblical, not classical.  It didn’t matter.  He came to Homer with a passion.  It was just his passion, not ours.  And this was great, because he was bringing entirely new points of view – on language, on poetry, on history, on all sorts of things.  And he’d give these mini-lectures on Hebrew and Jewish history and regional history and whatever else.  And we’d just sit there with rapt attention.

And this was an added bonus for me, as I was – and continue to be – in the process of studying Hebrew.  And Nat too had, years ago, studied some Hebrew.  So we were attentive students.  And then, when Nat and I would talk about Greek, he was the attentive student.  It was a new dynamic.  This group was taking on its own life, its own shape and form.  And I was loving every minute of it.

In fact, David had me back to his place twice after our HRG to read some Torah.  At first I was worried that I wasn’t far enough along in my studies to make it worth his effort, but he said I’d be fine.  And I was.  When I didn’t know something, he’d walk me through it.  And next thing I knew, we were reading Genesis, trading off verses.  And I felt like I belonged.  It was wonderful.  And then it was over.  Because that’s when I left for Berlin.

So not only do I miss reading Homer with Nat now, but I miss this inchoative reading of Hebrew.  I would have loved for that to continue.  I learned so much in those two sessions, and gained so much confidence.  And David is so knowledgeable.  It was like auditing a class, with the attention of a private lesson.  I regret losing that, before I ever really even had it.

But the big loss, the thing I really miss – which was supposed to be the point of all this rambling – is reading Homer.  Particularly with Nat.  It felt like home.  That was my intellectual safe-house, my nerdy security blanket.  And there was a bitter-sweet melancholy to it too.  Because at least a couple of times per session, Nat and I would look at each other – after reading a bit of Greek – and one of us would say to the other, “Now, Daitz would say X about this…”  And that was a connection that’s hard to explain.  Orphans?  Exiles?  Evangelists?  I don’t know what the word is.  Were we saying it to each other, to remind ourselves of the Words of the Master?  Were we saying to the new guys, as stewards of a proud tradition?  I don’t know.  Maybe both.

But it was very intimate, in a way.  Because, we could look at a bit of Greek, right?  And one of us could say, “Well, here, Daitz would say…”, and the other person could finish the thought.  We’d spent so many years reading at the foot of the master, we both knew his teachings inside and out.  And when that would happen, there’d be this moment, where we’d miss the man, and miss those times.  And then we’d realize that those days were gone.  That this was our group now.  And so we’d turn to the group and explain that which to us needed no explanation.  And that’s how it goes, I guess.  The disciples – that’s the word I was looking for – need to keep the teachings alive.

So Daitz was dead.  But this new version of the Homeric Reading Group was my way – and Nat’s way, I think I’m allowed to say – of keeping him alive.  I’ll be forever grateful for all he taught me, for all the time and patience he gave me.  But if I’m to honor that, I need to pay it forward.  The new version of the HRG allowed me to do that.

But that’s “noble” philosophical bullshit.  The truth is, I simply loved reading Homer.  And I loved reading him with Nat.  And I soon loved reading him with David.  And now that is gone from me too.  It’s the other thing I truly miss, while I’m here in Europe, living some other kind of dream.

And now for some housekeeping.  Charlotte pointed out to me some errors that I’d made in my France/Spain Saga posts.  And while I could have simply published them as comments to the relevant blogs, they would have then been rather a bit ex post facto, and I doubt anyone would have seen them anyway.  So I’ll address them here.

  • The interlude ruins everything. (This was her comment vis-à-vis my paratactic discourse on wrestling).
    • Well, that wasn’t for you, dear. So kindly fuck off.  I love you.
  • Paragraph 3 after the “interlude”: that’s funny you mention how much you loved that chocolate sorbet. It was raspberries. And why was it so? Because you fucking love raspberries, OK! Banane!
    • Yeah, she’s totally right. It was raspberry sorbet.  And it was glorious.  And I do love the shit out of raspberries.  Remember the fresh ones I bought in the market at Prades?  The chocolate sorbet actually happened at the refuge, up in the mountains.  Also glorious.  Btw, if you’re wondering, banane (the French word for banana) is apparently a mild insult in French.
  • I wish these posts were public
    • I’m publishing them here. Jeez, get off my back, femme maudite!
  • Paragraph 12 after the “interlude”: I know you visited both France and Spain during this trip. Therefore, I’m not sure where you stand regarding the ownership of Cataluña. Judging by how you spelt the guy’s name, I have my idea… but guess what? The genius who built that fort was FRENCH and was called VAUBAN [vobɑ̃], not VUABAN [vwaban]. No matter how Spanish you’re trying to make it sound!
    • This was a typo on my part.  I guess I spelled it Vuaban, instead of Vauban.  I told her this, but I guess I missed the point.  Seems she knew it was a typo and was just “being clever.”  I mean, not what I’d call clever.  But what can you do?
  • Still paragraph 12 after the “interlude”, and following quote (paragraph 14) : MILLE is invariable. ;p
    • This is a bit of French grammar, with respect to the “thousand steps” or “mille marches.”9 The idea is this.  Some words you don’t pluralize.  “Information” in English, would be an example.  You don’t say, “I have a lot of informations for you.”  That’s nonsense.  Same with mille (which means 1,000).  It’s always just mille.  No plural “s.”  But maybe you begin to see why, in her capacity as French teacher, I call her Madame casse-couilles.10
  • And finally – though this didn’t come by way of blogue comments – I erroneously stated that the village where G&J were borrowing the apartment, where we slept on Sunday night, was Los Masos. It was not.  The name of the village was, in fact, Vernet-Les-Bains.  So there’s that, too.

So much for that.  The next 2-3 weeks should prove interesting.  It’s in this time that I’ll be able to determine whether I’m staying in Germany past the end of September or not.  I don’t want to get into details, because I’m fearful of jinxing things, but I am, at least, hopeful.  With any luck, I’ll have more to report soon.  There’s also the question of where I’m going to lay my head next month.  And that too suddenly became more interesting.  But for the same reasons, I shall refrain from speaking further until I know more.  Until then.

זיי געסונט


  1. My buddy – and kindred spirit – Nate, from Grad School. []
  2. Or journal-esqe []
  3. As opposed to the individual teams they were originally assigned to cover. []
  4. Which is probably not a word, except, why not? []
  5. This, I think, is the greatest compliment you can ever give to a hockey player. []
  6. By contrast, there’s another guy (whose name I won’t mention), whom I feel plays the game “the wrong way.”  He’s got a crazy skill set, but I always feel like he’s lazy, selfish, and doesn’t respect his opponents or the game.  And when he’s on my team, I never feel good when he’s on the ice. []
  7. All our games are on Long Island. []
  8. Can I say that?  Does “all hands on deck” not imply a crew of people, rather than just one person?  I guess, metaphorically, I was “all hands on deck” with respect to myself.  Maybe “body and soul” would better.  But I like this.  Maybe because I keep reading Jules Verne, with his Nautilus and Albatross and Africa-crossing-balloon and whatever else. []
  9. Or, as I apparently spelled it, milles marches. []
  10. Which translates as, Madame ball-breaker. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
20, August 2016

Welp, I guess this is Part III.1  This marks the third time in three nights that I’ve sat down to blogue,2 and all this about one particular road trip.  I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I used to be in the habit, back in the days when I travelled solo, of journaling by hand at the end of each day.  It’s not something I’ve been able to do these last few years, for various reasons.  So in a way, I’m treating these three posts as my journal for the trip, in a way that I don’t normally use my blogue.  In reading over the first two parts of this saga, I’ve found I’ve given myself to more detail and more storytelling than has been customary for my American in Berlin series.  I can do nothing but beg your indulgence on the matter, and hope that you have derived some enjoyment in the reading of it.  And so, without further ado…

I did not have the best night’s sleep in Los Masos.  Sure, I passed out promptly, exhausted from the day’s adventures.  But after about four hours, I woke up scarcely able to breathe through my nose.  Whether this owed to the environmental conditions of the apartment, the locality in general, or something else entirely, I cannot say.  All I know is, I woke up in great discomfort and had a hell of a time getting back to sleep.  Several hours – and many podcasts later – I finally passed out again, with the aid of a nasal spray and the rearrangement of some pillows.  In the end, I guess, I slept “enough.”  But it was a rough night.

This is Monday now, and the plan was for Charlotte and I to take our leave of Gaëlle and Jerome3 and thereafter to drive to the city of Montpellier.  There’s nothing particularly stand-out-ish about this city per se, but it’s where Charlotte went to school.  She’d spent a few years there and so, for her, it was imbued with a certain significance.  This was enough for me, on two levels.  One, I’m always up for seeing new places, simple as that.  Two, for as along as I’ve known the girl, she’s been talking about this place.  So I was, in fact, rather excited to see this town, to walk the streets that she’d walked, to see the sights that she’d seen, to share in her past and her experiences.

I mention this because it was entirely out of my way.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but it was in the complete opposite direction of where I needed to end up, i.e. Barcelona.  But so what?  You’ve got to seize these opportunities, and if it builds a bit of inconvenience into your travel plans, you just deal.  The gain is worth the hassle.  Though in the end, there was no inconvenience or hassle, because the carshare I took from Montpellier to Barcelona turned out to be a huge fucking win.  But more on that later.

To say that we had “half a day” in Montpellier, stretches the semantic value of “half a day.”  We got there around 115pm and Charlotte’s carshare was due to leave around 5.  So we had enough time for her to show me where(s)4 she used to live and to have a drink.  And I’m glad we did this.

Look, I’m not gonna lie.  Montpellier is not the greatest place I’ve ever been to.  It’s not the greatest French place I’ve ever been to.  It’s not even the greatest South-of-France place I’ve ever been to.  It has much to recommend it, to be sure.  But if you don’ have an actual reason to go, don’t rush to put it in your Top-Five is what I’m saying.  But all this is beside the point.

The point is, when you care about somebody, you want to share in their life.  And not just their life where it is today.  You want to share in the whole thing.  You want to know where they came from, you want to feel, as much as possible, what they felt.  And so, for me, this was the real gold.  Seeing Montpellier brought me closer to my friend.  If you ask me what the best part of going there was, it was probably this.

That said, I don’t mean to give the impression that this is a second rate town with nothing to offer.  Far from it.  The cathedral is stunning, and entirely unique, with two stone towers rising before the main doors, joined by an arching bridge of stone.  The old town is marked by narrow winding streets and old stone structures.  In this way it’s like Eus or Villefranche, only it feels more like a city than a village, though don’t ask me to put into words what that means.

There is also this odd, weird, beautiful, modernist, Greek influenced area.  I don’t even know how to explain this shit.  It’s like people in the sixties used modern technology to build Greek-ish type shit.  I think the area was called Antigone.  And there are streets named after Zeus and (probably) Apollo.  There are statues, which are copies of ancient statues.  And there are columns, which are modernist interpretations of the classical orders.  Fuck me.  I don’t have the training or the vocabulary to describe this accurately.  But, hey, there’s Google, right?  Point is, it was impressive.

I visited this part, though, after Charlotte had left, but while I still had a few hours to kill.  After I’d seen it, and was on my way back to the old town, some old dame stopped me and asked, in French, if shit was still open, if there was anything going on.  I tried to answer her in French, but she wasn’t having it and switched to English.  #davefail.  Not my finest moment.

When I got back to the old town, I found I still had about two hours to kill before meeting my carshare.  So I stopped into the café where Charlotte and I had earlier shared a drink.  It just so happened that C’s first apartment in Montpellier bordered on this square.  This imbued it with an extra sense of specialness.

I suppose I could have done anything there, as I sipped my pastis.  I could have read my book (Jules Verne’s Robur le Conquérant), or read the paper on my phone.  But I opted to break out the Yiddish book, which I’d bought in Berlin back when I’d first arrived.  Up til now, I’d engaged the book on a pretty casual level.  What I mean is, I’d tried to read it as if it were a German book written in a different alphabet, without really diving into the particulars.

But now I had time.  And a dedicated notebook.  So I got to work, I and my pipe and my pastis.  So in the back of my notebook, I began jotting down quite basic vocabulary items.  On one side of the page I’d give the Yiddish word, and on the other, the corresponding German word.  But in the front of the book, I began to confront questions of grammar and syntax.  In other words, I was making an active effort to understand how Yiddish works, as opposed to simply trying to read it passively as a sort of odd German.  It was a beautiful way to pass the time.

Straight up, I’m pretty drunk right now.  And yeah, I’m always a bit tipsy when I write these posts, as there is always a bottle of wine at hand.  But this is something else.  I went out around 730 to go read in the park.  After that, I hit the supermarket to pick up a bottle of wine and a bar of dark chocolate with orange.  When I came home, sometime after nine, I found A&M and the pretty girl from upstairs sitting around the kitchen table.

I joined them.  Whereupon Mischa did his Mischa thing, which was to start pouring me wine and never letting my glass go empty.  But of course simply doing that fails to meet his baseline level of graciousness.  So he he offered me a Schnaps, in this case Johnny Red.  And, of course, this glass wasn’t allowed to go empty either.

The funny thing is, he doesn’t even like scotch; has no need for it in the house.  But he’s like, “Well, Dave’s coming, he’ll drink it.”  And so he just keeps my glass full.  Both glasses.  The wine glass and the whiskey glass.  Mind you, I didn’t ask for any of this.  It’s just what he does.  But, I mean, I’m not gonna say no, am I?  Which is how I got to where I am.

 Around 750ish, I met my carshare people.  OK, so I’ve been putting this off. I now need to explain carsharing.  Basically, it’s like Airbnb, but with cars.  The idea is this.  Somebody has a car and is driving a long distance.  They want to defray the cost.  So they agree to take on complete strangers as passengers, for a fee.  On the flip side, as a wayfarer, you have the opportunity of traveling long distances for a fraction of the cost of a bus or train.

And although Charlotte had vouched for this system, having done it many times herself, I was still a bit skeptical.  Anyway, I met my ride at a nearby tram station.  It was a Spanish couple.  The other two passengers were a quiet French bloke and a leggy blonde girl.  Both were taller than me, which meant I was getting stuck in the middle seat.  Well, fuck.  Still though, it was far cheaper and faster than the bus.

We all politely introduced ourselves in the beginning, but on the first leg of the trip, nobody really spoke to anybody.  I mean, the couple spoke to each other.  But they didn’t speak to us.  And we didn’t speak to each other.  It was only when we made a pit stop for some food that things got interesting.

As we got out of the car, our hosts starting asking us where we were from.  Jacque McSilenttype said he was from France.  Suzy McLeggsfordays said she was from Germany.  That was enough for me.  Straight away I started talking to her in German.  And what a fucking relief, you guys.  After four days of struggling to keep up in French, of fighting for every word that came out of my mouth, I was suddenly freed.  All of a sudden I was talking in German and the words just flowed.  I was unchained.

And look, I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  This sort of shit is easy now.  The “where are you from” or “what do you do” and so on.  That’s the easy stuff.  When you move into real conversation, the wheels come off pretty fast.  But this, this was easy.  And it wasn’t easy in French.  Just introducing myself in French feels like a boxing match.  But in German?  A walk in the park.  It was like a vacation inside a vacation.

But enough of this bullshit.  There’s a bigger picture.  And the bigger picture was that we soon realized that everybody in the car was, at least on some level, some kind of bilingual, if not more.  English and German and even a bit of French for me.  German and English for Legs.  French and English for Jacques.5  Spanish and Catalan and English for our driving couple, named Maria and Angel, btw.

And so all of a sudden, we had some kind of weird bond.  Next thing I know, I’m talking to Angel about Catalan history and language and culture.  And he’s all, “I can’t believe you, an American, knows anything about any of this!”  And I’m all, “people from New York know shit, son.”  Though in truth, I was impressing him with Catalan history I’d only just learned in Villefranche and Fort Libéria.

Still though, what should have been a 30m rest stop turned into over an hour of just hanging out and chatting.  It was a genuinely great time.  The only thing was, I was due in at an Airbnb, and the later we hung out, the later I would get there.  Which, if I already had keys, would be no problem.  But this would be first night, so Oscar (my host) would have to be up to let me in.  And at this rate, I was due in well past midnight.  Also, Oscar barely spoke a word of English.

Here, Maria (the carshare host(ess)) stepped up and offered to communicate in Spanish with Oscar on my behalf.  What a doll.  In the end, I got there past 1230, but it was no problem thanks to Maria’s help.  The room was a tiny little thing with no windows.  But it was clean, and there as a fan, and I slept great.  It was also smack dab in the middle of town.  So for one night, it was perfect.

Next day, Tuesday, was the last day of my trip.  I didn’t really do any research on Barcelona, so I just sort of wandered around, schlepping my backpack.  I figured I could do this until it was time to head to the airport.  But in the end, I didn’t have to.

See, we had all gotten on so well in the carshare that Maria texted me asked if I’d like to meet her and Angel for a coffee.  Not only that, but they had to pass by the airport on their way home, so would I like a ride?  What?  Of course!

I mean, this is where you just get lucky.  You sign up for a carshare, and basically just hope you can tolerate each other while you get from A to B.  But instead, I actually made friends.  People who the day before were ready to charge me money for a ride, were now offering to meet up for a coffee and drive me to the airport, no charge!

But I want to be clear, these guys were awesome.  Angel has an interest in history and very much likes to chat.  Maria is just a doll, one of the sweetest people you could ever meet.  Together, they’re adorable.  At first though, I was all like, fuck these people.  I mean, the whole drive, he’s holding her hand, kissing her hand, touching her knee, all the lovey-dovey shit.  And in my middle seat, I have an unobstructed view of all this.  And I’m thinking the same thing I always think when I see PDA’s: “Happy cunts, I hate you all.”

In the end though, they were really quite sweet.  And as we sat having our coffees (OK, tea for me), I got to know them more as people and as a couple.  And they’re the sort of couple where the guy does all the talking and the girl rolls her eyes a lot, but you can just tell that they adore each other, and that’s, well, it’s adorable; hatred of happy cunts notwithstanding.

So at one point I said to them, “You know what I like about talking to you guys?  I get to hear what you think,” I said, looking at Angel.  “But I get to see what you think,” I said nodding to Maria.  And that’s just how they are.  And they’re lovely.  Most likely, I’ll never see them again.  Yet if they ever come to Berlin (or New York) I would be absolutely delighted to spend more time with those fuckers.  A-plus fucking people, those two.

Cleary the thing that bonded us was language.  Maria is a student of language, while Angel is a student of history.  But they both, I think, see themselves more as Catalan than Spanish.  So there’s a crossroads there, where everything sort of comes together.  And I found myself talking to Angel about Catalan history while asking Maria about Catalan grammar.

And I was going to write a whole thing about Catalan grammar.  In fact, I did write it.  Then I read it.  And that’s when I realized, there’s a reason I have no friends.  So I’ll forgoe my observations on Catalan grammar, except to say that it’s mostly pretty easy but for they use auxiliary verbs in the past tense in a way that would strike the rest of us as totally backwards.  And when I brought this to Maria, she 100% agreed, noting that this odd reversal gave her more than a bit of trouble when she studied French.

If there’s a larger point here – and I’m not sure there is – it’s that my two favorite subjects (language and history) allowed me to make new friends where I least expected it.  I say “friends,” though I really don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.  But I sure as shit hope I will.

Barcelona was cool.  I mean, I mostly just wandered around, which was great.  You know they have Columbus Circle there?  No, seriously.  They have a roundabout, at the center of which stands a giant column with Columbus at the top.  In New York, Columbus Circle makes sense.  After all, motherfucker “discovered” the New World.  But why should Spain give a flying one?6

I stopped at a café for lunch.  I ordered patatas braves, which Maria had recommended to me.  It’s meant to be fried potatoes with some kind of hot sauce; sometimes tomato based, sometimes mayo based.  I was hoping for the former, but got the latter.  It wasn’t nearly as spicy as I’d hoped, but it was still nice.  I closed with a glass of red vermouth, served over ice with a slice of orange.  Apparently, it’s quite Spanish?  It was tasty, anyway.

The truth is, I don’t have much to say about Barcelona.  It mostly felt like any other European city.  Except for Gaudi.  This guy is obviously a big deal, as most people well know.  And I know I’m supposed to go on about how amazing his work is.  But in truth, I wasn’t feeling it.  My take was, here was a guy who dropped a shit-ton of acid and then set himself to designing a bunch of gingerbread houses.  That was my feeling for the Sagrada Familia as well as Park Guëll.  I mean, I’m glad I saw it.  Life experience, and all that.  But if you want to look backwards, give me Rome.  And if you want to look forward, give me New York.  Only if you want to get high and listen to Pink Floyd and jerk off to architecture, well, only then, give me Gaudi.  If that makes me a Philistine, so be it.  Still though, glad I saw it.

So I had a lovely time meeting up with M&A for coffee.  And it made my life so much easier that they drove me to the airport.   But that was the end of Barcelona.  Soon enough, I was on the plane.  Which is not to be confused with, “soon enough, I was on my way.”  Because I wasn’t.  There was a one-hour-plus delay.  After we were on the plane.

I had an aisle seat, and the across from me, on the other aisle seat, was some German broad who wasted no time asking about compensation for our delay.  Ugh.  Can’t we just sit here in silence?  Apparently not.

I’m listening to the Black Sabbath album Heaven and Hell as I write this.  What a magical album.  And it’s magic no matter how or when you listen to it.  But I think we have a tendency to listen to this album diachronically.  In other words, we listen to this album as we hear it today.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  I mean, Dio, Iommi, Geezer.  And produced by Martin Birch.  It’s magic.

But what I love, is tying to hear it synchronically, in its own time.  Listen to the last two Ozzy Sabbath albums; Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die.  They’re slow and stodgy and not very good.  And then, out of nowhere, Dio comes along breathes new life into the band.  And it’s like, it’s like you’ve had weeks of rain and all of a sudden the sun comes out.  Like, you resigned yourself to living in a grey, dreary world, and then, why would you do that?  Life is free and fun and beautiful.  It’s spring, after the worst winter you’ve ever lived through.  Fresh air in your lungs.  A smile on your lips.  How could you ever be sad when there’s such joy in the world?  That’s Heaven and Hell.

And it makes me so happy to listen to this record.  And it makes me so sad too.  I don’t get attached to rock stars, I don’t idolize them.  I don’t have any interest in meeting my heroes.  But there’s something about Dio.  He was different somehow.  He meant something, and when I listen to his music I feel shit in my heart.  And he’s gone now, and it makes me sad.  And there’s lots of dead rock stars that I adore.  Bon Scott, Freddie Mercury, Phil Lynott.  I connect with their music, and I can’t imagine my life without it.  But it’s still an abstraction, it’s far away, it doesn’t really touch my day-to-day life.

With Dio, I don’t know.  It’s different.  It’s personal.  Sometimes I listen to Rainbow and I just get sad, sad that he’s gone.  Even now, as I’m listening to Heaven and Hell, I have tears in my eyes.  And I shouldn’t, because I have such joy in my heart.  But I miss you, Dio.  And I don’t generally miss dead people.  There’s three, and three only that I miss.  I miss my grandpa, and I miss Daitz, and I miss Dio.  And everyone else can fuck off, is how I’m going to end this interlude, because I’m tired now of dealing with my emotions.

 Well, we finally got back to Berlin, well past midnight.  To get home, I needed to catch a bus to a train, and at this hour, they were probably the last bus/trains that were running that night.  Anyway, who do I find when I get to the airport bus stop, but that girl from the flight, who wanted to know how we’d be compensated for our delay.

At first, my reaction was, oh no, now I have to talk to Type-A German girl?  I just wanted to get home.  But in fact, she turned out to be quite nice.  And we had the same route; her U-Bahn stop was two after mine.  So we wound up chatting while we waited for the bus, and then on the bus, and then on the train.  It was quite nice, actually.  If nothing else, it passed the time.

On the train, we traded fb info so that we might later meet up again.  Whether we do or not, I have no idea.  But the truth is, I don’t know that many people here.  So if she winds up being somebody I can grab a drink with here and there, so much the better.  And if not, well, it made my ride home much easier than it otherwise would have been.

Right, well, I guess that’s the end of this particular adventure.  I never meant for my accounting of it to go on this long, but what can you do?  Of course I have much more to talk about, whether it be my Hebrew studies, my job hunt, or just life in Berlin.  But all that can wait for another post.  This story, at least, has reached its end.  Until the next time…

זיי געסונט

  1. Parts I and II can be found here & here. []
  2. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve invented – or at least adopted – the spelling “blogue” (as opposed to the usual “blog’), as it seems kind of Frenchish, and therefore more sophisticated. []
  3. And, of course, little Nino.  But how do you say goodbye to a two-week old proto-human?  Well, I did it something like this: “Goodbye, tatela.  Now, stay out of trouble, OK?  Listen to your mom.  Don’t drink, don’t smoke, and don’t bring girls home after 11.”  I’m not saying I win father of the year.  But G seemed to appreciate the effort, and that ain’t nuthin’. []
  4. Yeah, that’s me trying to pluralize a preposition.  Because she lived in more than one place.  So she didn’t show me “the where” she lived, but rather, “the wheres.”  This one of the things I love about English.  Breaking rules.  Come at me, bitches.  No, but seriously, in a way, it reminds me of the Music Theory class I took in high school.  Our teacher, Mr. Dolgan, would talk to us about Bach.  Bach, who you must already know, was boss, fire, dank, and any other contemporary baller epithet you can think of, broke all the rules.  But, we were taught, you need to know the rules before you can break them.  So when I pluralize a preposition – which is definitely not a thing – I do it knowing the rules.  Which is not to say I’m so bold as to consider myself the Bach of English, but, well, that’s the idea.  Also, I’m considering now just deleting this whole footnote.  But Imma leave it; as témoignage to how my brain works.  #sorrynotsorry []
  5. Who’s actual name was Hugo. []
  6. I’m kidding, of course. []