An American in Berlin
18th May, 2015
It’s amazing how fast the day – that is, the useful part of the day (and by useful, I mean from a things-being-open point of view) – goes by when you wake up at 12, 1 o’clock. Or, to better get in the local habit, 1200, 1300. Well look, it’s not like I’m sleeping 14 hours a night. I suppose I usually go to bed between three and four. Which is not far off from what I was doing when I had to get up at seven for work.1 But I still have a hard time getting moving in the “morning.” So instead of going on some multi-hour trek, I find it’s easier to just go grab a beer, sit in the park and read for a spell.
What am I doing up so late? Mostly reading Greek and doing this stupid blog-thing. So it’s not like I’m not being productive. But I think this week I’ve got to make more of an effort to get out and see more of the city. So I should set some goals here, publicly, thereby hopefully forcing myself to meet them and report back. I should go see the Olympic stadium.2 You know, that place where Jesse Owens made an ass of Adolf Hitler.3 And I should walk in a direction I haven’t yet walked before.
I went to a group conversation exchange event last week. That was pretty cool. Everyone was lovely. I’m not sure how much it actually helped my German, but it’s a good way to meet people. You know, putting yourself out there and all that. There was only one other native English speaker, an Australian bloke. We got on well and met for a beer a few days after.
Honestly, when I came here I had sort of decided I wasn’t interested in meeting other native English speakers. But it turns it it’s actually really nice to have somebody with whom to compare notes, somebody who’s going through all the same stuff you are. And he’s been here since October, so he’s got some good pointers as well. So I’m going to limit my previous prejudice to Americans.
That said, outside of the conversation meetings, I’m not having the easiest time meeting people. I popped into a bar around the corner the other night which seemed from the outside to have a good vibe going on. But when I got in, I didn’t talk to anybody. I was either too sober or too chickenshit or both, and likely one being dependent on the other. Conclusion: I need to try harder. Or drink more. Or both.4 But, you know, per aspera ad astra5 and all that.
So the blonde girl brought over some cake for us that she had made. And she specifically made it clear – if I understood my roommate;6 I wasn’t home at the time – that one slice was for me. Which is really lovely, right? Except. Blueberry cheesecake. So clearly she didn’t like me, and after one encounter has taken it upon herself to poison me. It’s the only rational conclusion. Right? Maybe I can feed it to the cats.
Oh man, the cats. So, talk about things I didn’t see coming. I kinda love these cats.7 I think we’re becoming friends. Except when I break out the guitar. Then they go running.8 But really, I kinda dig the little fuckers. They’re like semi-sentient animatronic stuffed animals.9 Not that I’m ready to deify them, Ancient Egypt style, but I’m forced to admit, I like having them around.
Tuesday I’m supposed to cook dinner for the roommies (and possibly Blondey). I’m a bit apprehensive, only insofar as foreign supermarkets are always weird. Like, I don’t know how to find – or if they even have – half the stuff I’m used to buying. So I doubt I’ll be able to make something that I know I can hit out of the park. But I can usually improvise pretty well, so I’m sure it’ll be fine. And maybe I can coax these jokers into a pre-dinner ciggy so that they don’t really taste anything anyway.
The last thing worth mentioning is, I’m still trying to get a room sorted for June. It’s starting to become a bit stressful. I suppose, in utter need, I can grossly overpay via Airbnb, but I’d prefer it didn’t come to that. It is strange, and perhaps even a bit ironic, to now be on the other side of this experience.
When we lived on Maiden Lane, it always fell to me to deal with the whole find-a-new-third-roommate situation. Of course I always tried to deal fairly with people: respond in a timely manner and all that. But at some point, I always had to turn somebody away who seemed like a good fit, and that was never a good feeling.10 And now here I am. I’m the one hearing, “Well, you’d definitely be a good fit here, but I’ve a few more people to meet. I’ll let you know.” It’s frustrating, I ain’t gonna lie. But that’s life in the big city, I guess.
I want to shift gears for a moment before signing off. In high school, we had this English teacher, Ms. Young. She was brilliant.11 Anyway, she had this idea about storytelling, namely that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Ok, for the last year or so I’ve been working my way through the Grimm fairy tales.12 And in doing so, you sort of mentally file away the tropes. Now tonight, I’m reading a bit of Herodotos, and that’s where it all sort of starts to tie together.
So, in Sleeping Beauty, the king get some sort of prophecy or warning or whatever that his daughter is going to get pricked with some kind of needle, which will result in her death or long-lasting coma or whateverthefuck. So what does he do? Well, obviously he banns all sharp pointed metal objects and then locks his daughter in a tower, for good measure. And what happens? Some witch or whatever bullshit, but yeah, she gets pricked, and bam: Sleeping Beauty. Nice try, Your Majesty, but it was always a losing battle. Because Fate.
But now here’s Herodotos, in the mid-400’s B.C. And he’s telling this story about King Croesus.13 And in this story, Croesus has a dream that his beloved son14 is going to die at the point of a spear.15 So what’s he do? Well, obviously he takes all his armaments off the walls – because gods forbid they fall off the wall and kill the kid – and locks them away. But of course there’s some wild boar and the kid has to fight it, and well, you know what happens. Anyway the parallel struck me. And meanwhile I get annoyed when they reboot movie franchises. But really we’ve been rebooting our stories for thousands of years.
Ok, so I did that in two half-cocked16 paragraphs. Feel free to call bullshit. But I’m going to jump to a couple of conclusions. 1) Ms. Young, as always, was right. 2) For all the difficulty involved in learning – and then actually reading – Greek, Herodotos is so worth it. And sure, you could read him in English. Just like you could go watch J.J. Abrams take on Star Trek. But man, don’t you just love The Original Series?
- Screw you, job! (Also thanks for the years of employment, insurance, $, etc). [↩]
- Because NS architecture is alluringly creepy. Or creepily alluring? [↩]
- Cos that was hard to do, said no one ever. [↩]
- Let’s start with drinking more. [↩]
- Ugh, this doesn’t mean I like you, Latin. [↩]
- Always a big “if”. [↩]
- Sorry, Dad. [↩]
- Well, you would too. [↩]
- Semi-sentient animatronic stuffed animals that sometimes make a break for the open window. Down! What’s the matter with you! Oh, you don’t speak English. Verdammt! [↩]
- Actually, I usually stuck Jared with that business. But I didn’t feel good about it anyway. [↩]
- Full disclosure: she was never actually my teacher. But I spent many free periods chatting with her when she was on hall duty. [↩]
- You know, to improve my archaic German vocabulary. [↩]
- Kroisos, would be the better spelling. But why fight it? [↩]
- As opposed to his deaf-and-dumb non-beloved son. [↩]
- ὡϲ ἀπολἐει μιν αἰχμῆι ϲιδηρέηι βληθέντα (1.34.2). Lit: That he would die being stuck by sharp iron. But αἰχμή, while literally meaning the sharp tip of a spear, is so often used synecdochially (or possibly metonomically; I always get confused with those two) for the spear itself. I know. Nobody cares. [↩]
- And let’s be honest, half-drunk. [↩]