An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
10 July, 2022

Just spent the last weekend in Bavaria for Rudi’s Summerfest.  There’s not a whole lot new to say here in that it’s kinda the same shtick every time I go down there.  Though that’s not really fair.  It’s not that it’s the same.  It’s more just, how many times can I write about how great these people are, the way the welcome me into their lives, the way they have of making you feel like family. 

But it’s not exactly the same.  This time we stayed at Anna and Rudi’s.  The first time I’d ever been to their place.  And they have this big old dog which hardly troubled my allergies at all, much to my surprise.  I also met Rudi’s mom.  She’s a real pistol.  We hit it off pretty well the first night when everybody was drunk.  So that was fun.

We all – the kids, I mean – also went out in the old city.  That was my first time doing that as well.  The city, by the way, is called Weiden, and it’s more of a town than a city.  But by medieval standards, it was a city, and part of the old wall is still standing.  The old city is really nice, but there’s too many Americans, as there’s an army base nearby.  We stopped into one bar, an Irish pub, but left before ordering a single drink, much to my dismay.  Toby wasn’t feeling it, wasn’t into the vibe there.  Which I guess, if you’re already showing up with your girlfriend, then why do you need to be in a crowded bar with a bunch of young and loud folks.  So we’re leaving and I ask why.  And Tobi’s like, “I don’t like it here.”  To which I replied, “Ja, junge Mädels mit dicke Titten, aber gut, lass uns gehen.”  Which Anna thought was like the funniest thing and would retell that story at least three or four more times over the course of the weekend. 

We also went to a wine bar.  The wine bar was called Milch Bar (Milk Bar), because why wouldn’t it be?  At one point, the bartender (and possibly owner?) came over to our table.  An older dude, he spoke with a heavy accent and in a low and soft voice; so not necessarily the easiest guy to understand.  Anyway, the rest of the people at our table (Anna, Rudi, Toby and Marina; Joshcka hadn’t arrived yet) got into a discussion with him.  I didn’t participate, I was just listening. 

At the end, someone (I think Anna) asked me if I understood what they were talking about.  At which point I basically repeated the conversation, point by point and in my own words, pausing after each point to make sure I’d gotten it right.  I got all of it right.  And they were like, “Wow, Dave, your German is getting really good!”  I still suck at taking compliments, but rather than deflecting, my stock answer at this point has become, “Well, after six years in this country, it oughta be.”  I’ll allow myself the odd back-handed compliment, I guess is the point.

But in point of fact, I got quite a few compliments on my German this visit.  Like, Rudi’s mom for example.  At one point, she was just like, “You know, Rudi said I would need to speak slowly to you, but I can just talk to you like normal.”  Which was great.  But then I looked at Rudi, and I was like, “Dude, really?”  He kinda shrugged and smiled and was like, “Well, I said she’d need to speak clearly.”  Which was funny because Rudi kinda has a mumbly way of speaking himself. 

But also, he wasn’t wrong.  Because what I found on this particular trip was not so much that I felt a language barrier per se.  Right, it’s not like when I’m in France.  In France, I just miss a lot of stuff.  My ear isn’t good enough.  But here, where I had the most trouble, was the Bavarian accent.  It’s weird.  Sometimes, I feel like I tune into it really well.  And that’s a really cool feeling.  Cos it’s like, yeah, I speak German well enough at this point that you can change up the accent on me and it’s not a problem.  But then there’s other times where I just can’t hear through it, you know?  And then it’s like, yeah, as good as I am at this (or if not objectively good, then at least so much better than in the past), it’s still not my language, at the end of the day.  And new accents are a lot of work.

But of course there’s accent, and then there’s dialect.  Accents are a challenge, but dialects are sexy, you guys.  Dead ass.  Cos that’s where the language gets real.  It’s not just sounds, but it’s a whole new way of expressing words.  I’ve written that I’m pretty comfortable at this point with the Berlin dialect.  I’m prepared for the non-standard vocab and the particular and peculiar way that words get contracted, mushed together, here. 

I’ll give one example, from Bavarian, that I can remember. I was talking to Anna and this other girl Tamara who I’d only just met.  And I guess I said something about myself that this girl Tamara had already learned from Anna.  So T says – and I hope I get this right – she says, “Ja, Ich hab sho-ghert.”  And I’m like, “Shoghert?  Was heißt shoghert?”  And Anna looks at me and says, “Ich hab es schon gehört…hab shon gehert…sho-ghert.”  And I’m just like, whoa, mind blown.  Like, you’d just never hear that particular way of combining those words in Berlin.  And I thought that was so cool, you know?

Another cool thing about Bavarian is that in many ways it’s actually quite similar to Yiddish.  And that’s not just my own personal observation.  I’ve had that confirmed to me by a number of people who are familiar with both.  But this time around, I actually heard it much more than I ever had.  Just one example.  In standard German, when you want to say that somebody has left, you say “Sie ist gegangen” – she left.  But in Yiddish, you would say, “zi ist avek (or, in German orthography, sie ist aweg).  And sure enough, at some point, Anna was talking about some girl who had left, and she said that exactly, Sie ist aweg.”  And I was just like, Oh shit, cool!

So I decided to, well, not exactly speak straight up Yiddish, but to really Yiddish up my German when speaking with the Bavarians.  Just to see how it would go over.  Would anybody notice?  Would people understand me?  Would people think it was weird?  I’ll give one example.  Standard German, like English, abhors a double negative, even though it’s very much a living feature of the language.  Consider “ain’t no,” for instance, as in “I ain’t got no time.”  It’s a valid English expression, but it’s non-standard, and you can find plenty of people who think it’s just straight-up wrong.  Same in German.  But in Yiddish, the double negative is actually the standard.  Let’s use the same example.  In standard German, you would say “Ich hab keine Zeit.”  But in Yiddish, you would say, “איך האָב נישט קיין צײַט” (Ikh hob nisht keyn tseyt).

Now, I can promise you that if I were to say that at band practice, if I were to use a double negative with Ralf and Bibi (or really with any of the non-Bavarian Germans that I know), they’d be on me before I even started the next sentence.  “Dave, double negatives, just no.”  But I’d heard that the double negative is a valid feature of the Bavarian dialect.  So I decided to try it out, just to see what would happen.  And sure enough, nobody batted an eye.

But what I also noticed is how much Berlin is just fixed into my German at this point.  Now, remember, my brain knows it’s speaking German, no matter how much I might try and Yiddish it up.  At the end of the day, I’m speaking deutsch.  And so certain features of Berlinisih are just part of the way I speak German now, totally unconscious at this point.  Like replacing ‘g’ with ‘j/y’ in past tense forms (e.g. “jemacht” instead of “gemacht“).  Or replacing certain instances of the letter ‘t’ with ‘s’ (e.g. “wat” for “was”).  And other such examples of pronunciation aspects that I wont’ get into here.  The point is, for this weekend, my German became this very odd mix of Yiddish and Berlinish, in a much more extreme way than it ever is up here.

One last example.  In standard German, the first-person plural subject pronoun (“we”) is wir.  And the first-person singular dative pronoun (“to me, for me”) is mir.  But in Yiddish as well as in Bavarian, mir doubles also as the first-person plural subject pronoun.  So in standard German, to say “We are drinking beer,” you say “Wir trinken Bier.”  But in Yiddish and in Bavarian, you say, “Mir trinken Bier.”  And more than once, I’d be talking to someone and they’d reflexively say mir and then instantly correct themselves to say wir.  And it just made me laugh, you know?  Like, guys, I get it. 

But that’s also an example of how there are limits to how much I can Yiddish up my German.  Like, when my brain knows it’s speaking Yiddish, saying mir for ‘we’ is no problem.  But trying to force that into my German, even when I’m trying to bridge the gap between Yiddish and Bavarian, was super hard.

One last thought on my experience with Bavarian this weekend, or more precisely with my being able to recognize and understand it.  It’s no secret that our friends, when they get together with us and the rest of the metal gang, go out of their way to try and speak a more standard kind of German.  You might catch them falling into dialect a bit here and there amongst themselves, but it’s quite limited.  This weekend, though, we were in their home.  At their party.  With all of their friends.  And so I think they felt much more comfortable speaking something closer to their own dialect than they otherwise normally might.  And that was even more true for some number of their friends who don’t have much reason to get out of Bavaria and therefore have less experience in the code-switching department.  All to say, it was a real feast for the ears.  Like, beyond the fact of just awesome people and loads of fun, it was a real linguistic adventure to boot.

Anyway, it’s Germany, right?  And the party is cookout/bbq type of affair.  Which means, just, loads of Bratwurst.  The point is, on the first day – the day before the party – Rudi asked me if I can eat pork.  So of course I told him that it’s no problem, I eat pork all the time, it’d be pretty hard to live in Germany and not eat pork, etc.  I assumed he was asking to make sure the party menu would be ok for me. 

But in fact, that’s not what he meant at all.  He didn’t mean can I personally eat pork.  He meant, Halachacly speaking, was I allowed to eat pork.  But of course “Halacha” is not in his vocabulary, so he probably said something along the lines of ‘according to the rules or the laws.”  Anyway, it turns out he had a personal reason for asking.  See, his grandfather had owned an inn of sorts.  And owing to a large Jewish family in the village – the Mandelbaums, apparently – it seems his grandfather had kept an entirely separate set of cookware so as to be able to serve kosher meals.

Which I just thought was really cool, you know?  I mean, sure, objectively it could have just been a good business decision.  But anti-Semitism being what it is, it very often trumps what’s good for the wallet.  And look, it’s not like I have any doubts about my friends in that regard.  Nicht im Geringsten.  I’m also not in the business of judging my friends today for what their ancestors might or might not have done.  Nevertheless, knowing that this is how his grandfather had run his business was somehow quite comforting.  Like, not that I needed any kind of reassurance, right?  I mean, you’d never even think to ask such a question.  But learning that, it’s just like, yeah, I’ve not only got good people around me, but they also come from good people.  Respect. 

Moving on, I was told that there would be another Yank at the party.  It seems one of Rudi’s cousins is dating some dude in the army.  And my reflexive reaction was just like, “Ugh, I didn’t come here to talk English, let alone hang out with another Ami.” ((Here’s a funny thing.  German and French share some two-part words.  Pommes-frites; döner kebap for example.  And in normal speech, they refer to these things by only one of the words.  But different words.  So in France, fries are frites, but in Germany they are Pommes.  In France, you get a kebap if you’re hungry, but in Germany, you grab a Döner.  Anyway, the French refer to us Yanks as les ricains.  To the Germans, we are die Amis.))  Which  admittedly is not fair to this person I’ve never met, nevermind being selfish for my own part. 

So of course I got “stuck” talking to him.  At one point, I’m sitting there minding my own business, and this dude just turns to me and says, “Hey, I heard you’re also American?”  Oh great, here we go.  And of course he’s got this thick southern accent too.  Because of course he does.  But I know how to be polite and I can manage small talk in short doses.  So that’s how that started.

And just to prove the point that you shouldn’t prejudge people, he obviously turned out to be a pretty solid dude.  Given that he’s in the army, and that I don’t know anybody in the army, I took it as a learning opportunity.  I just asked him a whole bunch of questions and let him teach me shit.  Turns out he’s airborne.  And I went skydiving once.  So we actually had a nice discussion about the experience of jumping out of an airplane and how counterintuitively peaceful it is on the way down, once the chute opens.  I also asked him about if and/or how the war had changed things for him.  We talked a bit about his being from Kentucky and our different accents.  His girlfriend, Rudi’s cousin, was also there.  She’s in the army too, I guess.  And she was also really nice.

But later on, we got to talking – me and Kent; that’s his name – about the experience of living abroad, experiencing new cultures, learning another language and all that.  And this is where he turned out to be a really good guy.  He basically told me that a lot of guys on his base are pretty closed-minded and not interested in learning a new culture or examining their own preconceptions.  But that for him, living a new country was a real eye-opener, that he loved learning about different ways of seeing and understanding things, that he wanted to learn German and was indeed learning some very little bit from his boo.  So yeah, just a good, solid dude.  And in the end, I really enjoyed talking with him.  Sure, in the future, I’ll continue to avoid Americans.  But I’ll try to remember this experience and avoid them in a less judgey way. 

Funny follow-up to this story.  Later on, one of Anna’s cousins came up to me – I already knew this dude, good guy, a highway cop on the Czech border – and he asked me in German what I though of the Ami, cos he noticed I’d spent some time talking with him.  And without actually saying anything about Kent personally, you could see he was kinda skeptical.  Now, I made my answer honestly and said what was on my mind, which was basically what I’d just written above.  But I happened to notice, by chance, that his gf happened to be standing nearby.  And I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was trying to furtively listen in.  So while I didn’t change my answer because I knew she had an ear on us, I did make a point of speaking loud enough for her to hear.  After all, I only had good things to say, and I thought she might like to hear that. 

Anyway, after I said what I’d had to say, she came over and was like, “Hey, just so you know, I was kinda secretly listening to you guys, and that was really nice what you had to say.”  I mean, yeah, you could tell it made her happy to hear that her bf had made a good impression.  Later though, Fabi – that’s Anna’s cousin – came up to me, and you could tell he was kinda embarrassed.  He was like, “Dude, I didn’t know his gf was standing right there when I asked you!  Why didn’t you say anything?”  And I was just like, “Well, why would I?  You didn’t say anything bad, and I only had good things to say.”  In the end we just laughed about it.  But it was just kinda funny that, the whole time, I knew she was listening and he had no idea. 

I guess the last thing to say about the party is about how it ended (at least for me).  Which is to say, it ended how these things always end.  With me playing guitar and singing for whoever happens to be left awake.  In this case, it was Joschka and Anna, plus that girl Tamara and her bf Daniel.  Tamara and Daniel: nice Hebrew names for a coupla goyim. 

In one sense, there’s really not much to say, because these things are always the same.  Either people get really into it, or at 4am after a day and night of drink, it hits them like a lullaby and they fall out one by one.  In this case, Anna was the first to get sleepy and go to bed.  Daniel followed not long after.  But Joschka and Tamara were in for the duration.

I said these things are always the same, and they more or less are.  But each time it’s a little bit different, each time is a little unique, and this was no exception.  See, there’s a certain core group of songs that I always play, that people come to expect at this point.  And I did those.  But I also added some new ones.  One of them being ‘Runaway Train’ by Soul Asylum.  It’s a 90’s song and American, so I had no idea if anybody would actually know it.

But sure enough, I look at the gang as I’m playing and there’s Joschka and Tamara singing along, knowing most of the words.  Cool!  A new one to add to the usual list.  I also threw in ‘Otherside’ by the Chili Peppers.  That one was for Joschka, as I know he loves that tune.  And again, they’re just singing right along.

So that was already cool.  But also cool was the reaction I got from Tamara.  It’s not so often that I get to play for new people at this point.  I mean, it’s pretty much just the usual suspects when we get together.  So this was new for me, but also for her.  And man, she loved it.  I mean, she was gushing.  “This is so fucking cool!”  “Dude, you’re really good!”  “I fucking love this!”  That kinda shit.  And yeah, that’s nice to hear, נישט אזוי? Yeah, זיכער אזוי!

And I mean, it’s nice to hear, no two ways about it.  It’s nicer still when it’s coming from a pretty girl, which she is.  But like I said, her boyfriend is sitting right there with us, also enjoying the music.  So after one particularly effusive compliment, I just looked at her and, in German, was like, “You got a sister?”  And she’s like, “Yeah.”  And I’m like, “Single?”  And she’s like, “Married.”  And I’m like, “Happily?”  And then she frowns.  “Yeah.”  Verdammt.  Well, what was I gonna do with a girl in Bavaria anyway?

And then of course there’s the inevitable German improv towards the end of things.  Look, are there mistakes in my German when I do this?  Of course.  Nevertheless, I don’t know how I ever pull this off, just making up funny songs in German on the fly.  Obviously the booze helps.  But that’s always so much fun for me.  I never know what’s gonna come outa my mouth.  And I relish the challenge, you know?  Not just finding shit that makes some kinda sense, but actually figuring out how to make it rhyme off the cuff.  Just a blast.  And they’re always joke-songs, right?  Like they’re meant to be funny.  So when you see people laughing, you know you’re doing something right. 

And people remember them too, or at least the gist of them.  Like, for me, they’re gone as soon as I finish singing.  I could never recreate a one of them.  Nevertheless, they have a way of sticking with folks; or at least the feeling of them does.  I mean, Anna still brings up ‘The Squirrel Song” from like six years ago.  They still talk about the “Fuck Palace” song from last summer.  Come on, that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, another party, another gem; if you can call them gems.  But people fall apart laughing, which is good enough for me.  And at the end, I managed to stich on the chorus of this song we always sing at the festivals.  That caught people by surprise, but like, in a good way.  Like, “Oh shit, I did not see that coming!”  But they hopped right on and started singing along.  Fucking great.

I wrote in the last post about how nice it is, not just singing with Charlotte, but singing for her.  And this was no different.  It’s obviously gratifying to see people rocking out to your music, and of course the compliments make you feel good.  But it’s no less gratifying to watch people fall peacefully asleep.  The power of rock and the power of a lullaby, all in one.  It’s a very warming feeling is all I can say.

Also, it’s not all I can say.  Look, I love everything about this.  I think that’s clear from what I’ve written; not just here, but in other posts too.  So what I’m gonna say next is not a complaint, not in the least.  Just an observation, a curiosity.  I do wonder why it is that I’m the only one.  Like, how is it that nobody else plays or sings, that we might do some songs together?  Well, that’s just how it is.  I guess it makes me a sort of travelling troubadour.  And that ain’t so bad.

And I guess that’s enough.  Another trip to Bavaria, another great weekend filled with wonderful friends, drink and music.  When I moved here six years ago, I never could have dreamed of any of this.  And now look.  Pretty spec-fucking-tacular, if you ask me.

Quick band update before I close.  We had a gig maybe three weeks ago or so.  And to be honest, I was pretty dissatisfied with it.  I felt it was sloppy and that we were underprepared.  And the more I thought about, the more I realized I was growing rather dissatisfied with the way we do things in general.  So I met Bibi for a beer and decided to tell her what was on my mind.

The first thing I did was to put a simple question to her.  Was she satisfied with how we were operating?  Because if she was, I’d keep my mouth shut.  But if she actually wanted to grow this thing, actually get better as a unit, I had thoughts.  This was not a question, it turns out, that required a lot of thought on her end.  Straight away, she’s just like, yeah, I want us to be better, tell me everything.

So here’s the short version of what I said.  We’re a band that, at best, practices two hours a week.  And that’s exactly what we sound like.  People need to be responsible for their parts.  I can’t be telling Ralf – on stage – if a song needs a capo, and if so, on what fret.  I can’t be reminding people when it’s their verse or not.  For myself, I needed to shore up my solos.  I’m a little too content to improvise and it doesn’t always work out.  Finally, for the love of all things holy, the two of them need to be ‘off book.’  I mean, when we play at this café, her and Ralf show up with music stands and iPads and because they haven’t memorized the lyrics or the chord changes.  I basically finished by saying that if this were my own band, I would not go on stage at a bar or a club as things were.

I tried to be direct without being an asshole about it.  The good thing about Bibi is, direct is her language.  You might annoy her, she might disagree vehemently.  But you’re not gonna offend her by shooting straight.  So that was good.  Anyway, she heard what I had to say and thought it over for a few seconds.  At which point, she was just like, “You know, you’re right.  Let’s do it.”  The only thing was, we’d have to have this same conversation with Ralf and see where he stood.

But there was one other thing.  After I’d said my piece, she looked at me and was like, “OK, now I need to tell you something.”  OK, shoot.  And she’s like, “You need to take more of a leadership role in this band.  You’re the only one of us with actual band experience.  We don’t know what we’re doing.  You need to take more charge of things at practice.”  And look, she’s not wrong.  I mean, it’s not my comfort zone – like, at all – but she’s not wrong. 

It’s just funny, cos I remember how this all started.  How shy I was in the beginning.  How I felt that this was their project and that I was just there to add some color.  I really didn’t want to assert myself.  I didn’t want to suggest songs, I didn’t want to sing unless somebody told me I should, all that kinda stuff.  But as time went on, I stopped feeling like a hired gun.  I have suggested the odd song.  I’m very comfortable now hopping on the mic without prodding, adding harmonies on my own, even asking if I can take the odd verse.  But for all that, I still didn’t really want to assert myself.  They’re much more in tune with each other in terms of the kind of music they want to play.  And I’ve always been content to follow their lead in terms of how much work I’d put into this project. 

And just in general, it’s never really been in my nature to dictate pace.  Whether in school or hockey or whatever, I have a tendency to work or play at the level of the people around me.  If I was playing hockey against properly good skaters, I’d do everything I could to play up to that level.  But if the guys in front of me were no great shakes, I’d be pretty content to coast.  In high school, and even college, I was always content to roll along at a high-B or low-A if my classmates were more or less average.  But in grad school, surrounded by the super smart, it forced me to up my academic game.  And that’s how I’ve been with the band this whole time.  You guys don’t want to learn the songs by heart?  Fine, I’ll just hang back and do my job.  But rarely would I go the extra mile.

Only now, I was being asked to set the pace.  Like I said, that is not my comfort zone.  But like I also said, Bibi was right about it.  So, time to grow up and step outside the comfort zone.  But first, we needed to talk to Ralf.  Which we did; and he was on board.  Now that we were all on the same page, we decided to choose five songs to focus on at the next practice. 

Which we did.  And at the end of practice, I told them that the thing to do was, next practice, we start with these same songs.  If they’re tight, we play through each one twice and move on.  If they’re not, we keep working.  They agreed.

Anyway, this week was the second practice.  Four of the five songs were in good shape, and twice through was enough.  The fifth required some extra attention.  But we were able to move on to some different songs as well.  And I gotta tell you guys, we’re making real progress here.  And I wasn’t shy about asserting myself either.  Instead of asking if the others wanted to go through a song again, I simply said, “OK, that was good.  Now we do it again.”  Even when Ralf was like, “Hey, that was really good!”, I was still like, “Yes, it was.  Now we do it again.”  And we did.  Ralf gave me some shit about ‘cracking the whip,’ but it was all in good fun, and in the end, if I said a song needed another run through, he didn’t argue.  And look, I’m certainly not trying to be a dictator here, or even a ‘band leader,’ whatever that means.  But I am trying to provide some structure and some guidance. 

And they seem receptive to it.  For now, at least.  But it’s good.  It’s important for me.  It’s similar to working on our stuff in the studio.  It’s kinda on me at this point to try and get the most out of my bandmates.  Sometimes that means using a soft touch, some times it means putting my foot down a little.  But if they’re serious about taking this thing to some next level, then I know for myself the standard we need to reach for me to be satisfied.  And I guess I’m gonna push them as far as they’re willing to be pushed.

But let me tell you this.  After just two practices, already it’s making a world of difference.  Like, I’m watching Bibi now, working without a lyric sheet.  And it’s almost like we got a new singer.  She’s working the mic instead of just singing into it.  There’s more energy in her voice.  And unencumbered by the crutch that is the iPad, she’s doing more to make the songs her own.  Instead of just following a wrote melody, she’s putting her stamp on things.  And Ralf too, there’s more energy in his playing.

So it’s a big step up in terms of individual performance.  But more importantly, we’re playing more as a unit now.  Paying more attention to each other, feeding off each other.  What I really want to say is, for the first maybe ever, I really felt like I was playing with a band.  And man, that felt good. 

Now look, there’s a long way to go.  At this point, out of twenty-odd songs in our repertoire, we’ve got maybe, maybe, seven or eight ‘off book’ like this.  So we’ve got a lot of work to do, to get the other tunes into shape.  And then there’s the question of maintaining this, building momentum, establishing this in our bones as our way of doing business.  We’ve got our work cut out for us.  But yeah, this is far and away the best I’ve felt about this project since I joined on. 

It’s funny, in a way.  Funny in that, for the most part, we’re not playing music I’d choose to play on my own.  Sure, one of my own songs is in the set.  And yeah, one or two of the songs we do were at my suggestion.  And yeah, there are more than a few others that I’ve grown really fond of for various reasons.  But still, even as we’re – very slowly – growing into a proper band, we’re never gonna be a rock band of the sort that I’d personally choose for myself. 

But then I think of how I’ve grown as a result of my participation in this project; musically, but also as a person.  I bought a bass and learned the rudiments of that instrument because of this project.  I’ve learned to harmonize on the fly because of this.  I’ve learned to be comfortable taking a lead vocal, singing into a mic, singing to a crowd. 

Of course there’s some cross-pollination here with my own work.  I’d have had to get and learn to play a bass for my own studio work.  I’d have had to learn to harmonize for my own songs.  And in terms of lead vocals, I’ve learned more on my own, in my little studio, than I have with the band.  And it’s the same on the personal level.  In the studio, I’ve learned how to ‘handle’ artists (for lack of a better word), to get the most out of them as studio musicians.  And now, I’m learning how to ‘handle’ my bandmates (for lack of a better word), to get the most out of them as live musicians.  The point is, they feed each other.  My own work is better because of my work with the band and vice versa.

One thing I don’t ever want to lose track of here is, how much I owe Bibi in all of this, how thankful I am to her.  Part of this goes back to how direct she is in her speech, right?  There’s just no beating around the bush with her, no bullshit.  Not in my comfort zone?  Too bad, do it.  But that’s the point.  She’s pushed me when it was clear I wasn’t going to push myself.  She’s the one who encouraged me to just try harmonizing all over the place.  She’s the one who pushed me to take a turn here and there on lead vocals.  And now, she’s the one who’s pushed me to take more of a leadership role with band. 

As much as I try to grow on my own, sometimes I need that push.  It can’t all just be me being all cloistered in my room studying dead languages, right?  I need to grow out there in the real world too.  And she’s been just tremendous in helping me do that.  I owe her a lot, and I’m deeply thankful for it. 

I played in bands for many years.  Good bands, I like to think.   But here I am now, doing things with this band that I’ve never done before.  And helping them to do things they’ve never done before either.  I might be 41, but it turns out this old dog can still learn some new tricks…

זײַ געזונט

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin

1 July, 2022

Note: About two thirds of this post was written over a month ago, shortly after I returned from second trip.  The final third was written this week.

Well, I’ve just been to France twice in the last month, so that’s probably worth a post on ye olde blogue.  Both trips were for the expressed purpose of visiting friends: The Morgenstern clan in Paris and Charlotte in/around Lyon.  Hard not to be happy about that.

Paris first, according to the order of the trips.  Look, Paris is great, right?  So much to see and do.  Architecture, museums, the various neighborhoods.  But let’s be honest.  This adventure was really about seeing my friends, eating and drinking.  And we did well in that regard.  Real well.

I was there for five days.  This time, I sprung for my own hotel room.  See, the last two times we did this, somebody was good enough to get a cot in their fancy-pants hotel room for me, as a way of easing the monetary costs involved on my end.  In Paris, just before the last New Year’s of The Before Times (2019), Monica (hereafter MoMo) set me up with a cot.  And in 2018, in Florence, Jared and Josh did the same.  And I’m sure we could have worked out a similar arrangement this time around.  But honestly, at the age of 41, I felt like it was time to do this trip like a grownup.  So I got a room near the Opera.  Nothing fancy.  But it was an absolute luxury to have my own, private home-base this time around.  And it was 10 minutes walking to MoMo’s hotel, 15 to the Morgensterns’.  Plus, there was a subway stop around the corner.  So it was quite practical as well.

I don’t really have much experience staying in hotels by myself, so it’s hard to form a basis for comparison.  But it was a nice experience, with the staff and all.  I was able to manage entirely in French with them without them ever having to switch to English on me, which was nice.  Nothing major, but things like asking for a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, asking about checkout times and if I could leave my bag before and after checking in/out. 

And the staff were really nice.  Like, after the first day or so, they knew me by name and room number.  I sprang for the daily breakfast, just a little continental deal, nothing special.  But a nice way to start the day.  And the girls who ran the breakfast knew me too.  After the second day, they stopped asking me if I wanted coffee or tea and simply brought a pot of hot water to my table.  So it was a pretty positive experience.  Sometimes, being a grownup ain’t so bad.

It was great to see everybody of course.  Not just Jared and Josh, but Paul and Carol (the parents), Amanda and now four-year-old Sabine, MoMo and her sister Andrea (hereafter DreDre).  Great to catch up, eat, drink, laugh, tell stories and forge new memories.

On the food side of things, Paul had restaurants picked out for each of the first four nights.  Some really nice spots.  Good food and good wine, always.  The last place we went to was this place they called “Louis’,” although I think the full name is something like “Chez l’ami Louis” or some such.  Apparently, it’s Paul’s favorite restaurant in Paris.  So I asked him how he came to know about it.  He said he’d read about it in the Times back in the 90’s (I think) and had been coming ever since.  So I just said, “Well, thank you for sharing it with us.”  To which he replied, “You know I don’t do this for just anybody, Davey.”  What a thing to say, you know?  Just lovely.

Every night after dinner, some smaller group of us would go to one of the hotel bars (i.e. either Jared’s or MoMo’s hotel bar) for drinks.  Sometimes it would just be Jared and Josh, sometimes MoMo and DreDre would come; even Amanda would show up for a bit, after putting Sabine down or leaving her with the ‘rents. 

I don’t remember if it was the first or second night, but after the post-dinner drinks, Jared and I decided we weren’t done yet.  So we went in search of a bar.  Turns out it was some kind of public holiday, so lots of places were closing early.  After being turned away by three or four different establishments, we stumbled upon a bar.  “Trop tard?” I asked the barman; “Too late?”  He looked at me like it was a stupid question and waved us in. 

So in we went.  And it was just like old times, drinking scotch and talking about any number of things.  It was great to have that time, just the two of us, just like the old days.  We really tied one on, such that I don’t remember everything.  Jared tells me I wound up speaking German with one of the waiters at one point.  Who knew?  Anyway, that was a definite highlight of the trip.  Also, there’s no way I could ever find that bar again, no matter how hard I might try. 

Another night, post-dinner drinks were held at MoMo’s bar.  This time, all the kids were there.  At one point, some guy at a neighboring table interrupts us to tell us that he overhead something that Amanda had said (I don’t remember what) and that he really appreciated her words.  The guy had a slight accent, so I asked him where he was from.  He said California.  Sure, why not?

Well, we’re talking with the guy for a few minutes longer, and he recommends a restaurant called Balagan.  Balagan is a Yiddish word, borrowed out of Polish.  “Balagan,” I say.  “That just means ‘a mess.’  Odd name for a restaurant.”  He says, Yes, it’s an Israeli joint ((‘Balagan’ is one of those Yiddish words that’s found a second life in Israeli Hebrew.)).  Israeli.  Ah, now I had his accent.  And that kind of made me laugh.  I mean, here we were, a bunch of Jews sitting around a table in a Paris hotel bar, shooting the shit in our Lon-Gisland accents.  And this guy with a clearly Israeli accent chats us up and tells us he’s from California.  Like, who are we kidding and why are we pretending? 

Come to think of it, it reminds me of a story from that Yiddish memorial book Bartek and I are translating.  In the story, this guy is telling of journey he was making by ship.  And the ship is full of Jews.  And yet, all the other Jews are speaking Russian because they don’t want to give themselves away.  Jews are speaking to other Jews in Russian instead of their native Yiddish, just because they never knew who might be listening.  Some things never change, I guess.

There were no post-dinner drinks on the last night.  Or if there were, it was very short, on account of everybody else had to a catch an early flight the next morning.  Meanwhile, my flight wasn’t until 8pm.  So finally, after four days, I decided to do some walking around, do some sight-seeing.  And that was wonderful.

I walked along the river to the Eifel Tower, resplendent in its nighttime illumination.  From there, I made my way to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées before ultimately heading back to the hotel.  The weather was perfect.  And it was just nice to walk around alone, get some fresh air and take in the sights.  I mean, yes, I’d seen these things before.  But the last time I was down that way was probably 2003, when I visited the city during my semester in London.  So I was due for a reaquaintance.

On the last day, owing to my late flight, I basically had the whole afternoon to kill.  So I made a quick stop by Notre Dame.  Not much to see there, as quite a bit of it is covered in scaffolding and walled off with the sort of wooden fencing you find around construction sites.  But the island it’s on is quite nice.  And that, I did not remember.  Old buildings, old and narrow winding streets.  Quite charming really.

After that, I made my way to the old Jewish Quarter.  In French, it’s known as Le Marais.  But apparently it has on older Yiddish appellation, דאָס פּלעצל (dos peltzl), which means ‘the little place,’ or possibly ‘the little plaza.’  I bought a little magnet in the shape of a Parisian street sign with the word פּלעצל where the street name would normally be.  It is now on my fridge.

Anyway, I found a really nice bookstore, a proper Jewish bookstore.  I mean, one of the lads working there was even wearing tzitsis.  It had loads of fancy religious texts, prayer books, bibles, volumes upon volumes of Talmud, and so on.  But it also had a world of secular books.  Lots of stuff I would have loved to buy, but which I didn’t have the space to carry.  I did, however, find one actual book in Yiddish, and that I did buy.  A book on the 6-day war, originally written in Hebrew but translated into Yiddish. 

When I brought the book to the register, the lady who took it from me opened it up to find the price, as is so often the case with used books.  And seeing that the book was Yiddish, she raised an eyebrow, looked at me and nodded approvingly.  Given that there were other books I would have liked to buy, I asked in French if they shipped to Germany.  She said they did, and not only that, but if there was something specific I was looking for, I could always call or email.  And then she added, with a smile, that she couldn’t guarantee they’d have anything more in Yiddish.  Well, that’s alright.  There’s more than enough there to keep me busy. Oh, and I also bought a little French paperback on Rashi.  Ostensibly it’s a historical overview of his Torah and Talmud commentaries, but it includes a biography of the man himself and some history on Jewish life in the France of his day.  It’s quite interesting and I’m about halfway through it.

There’s one other highlight from the Paris trip I need to include, and that’s the fact that I had the opportunity to meet up with Anne.  We wound up going for drinks at the same bistro ((Bistro.  I’ve learned two things about this word.  I don’t know about you, but I just always assumed it was a French word.  Apparently, it’s actually Russian, and means something like ‘fast’ or ‘quick.’  Also, in France, it seems they spell it with a final ‘t,’ bistrot.)) where we went last time we met in Paris, in 2019.  Not only that, we wound up sitting at the very same table.  How about that?  Anyway, it was great to see her and catch up and laugh and drink.  Added bonus, Jared came along as well.  That was really great, and I’ll tell you why.

See, Jared and Anne are two of my best friends, two of my favorite people.  Why shouldn’t they meet, you know?  And of course they hit it off, because why wouldn’t they.  At one point, Jared went to the bathroom, and Anne took the opportunity to tell me how great she thought Jared was.  And Jared had the same to say about her after we left. 

Now, maybe it’s a bit of an odd thing to say, but I was actually kind of proud of that encounter.  Like, proud to show off the quality of people I have around me to those who are dear to me.  I’ve been over this ground a thousand times, how lucky I think I am to have found the friends that I have, how that’s not to be taken for granted.  But I don’t normally have the pleasure of introducing my friends here to my friends from home.  So to have that opportunity, and to have each of them see what I see, it’s a good feeling.

I said I was proud to show off the quality of the people I have around me.  But ‘pride’ isn’t really a great word.  After all, ‘pride’ can often carry with it a sense of haughtiness or self-aggrandizement, which is not at all what I mean.  To really capture the feeling of my emotion here, I have to turn to Yiddish; English just doesn’t seem up to the job.  So rather than pride, I would say either קוועלן (kvelln) or שעפּן נחת (sheppn nakhes).  Those will have to stand as they are, since if I could translate them, I wouldn’t have needed to write them in Yiddish in the first place.

And those are pretty much the highlights from Paris.  A strange trip in that it wasn’t so much Parisius gratia Parisii, but rather Paris as background for a social gathering.  Yet for all that, it was nonetheless a great time.  And just a 90m plane ride away.  Sometimes I love Europe.

The Charlotte visit was no less excellent, but quite different in nature.  Instead of hotels, there were couches and futons.  Instead of fancy restaurants, there were homemade sandwiches and salads.  Instead of rounds and rounds of drinks at bars, there were bottles of wine and beer at home.  And while I certainly enjoy being pampered, enjoy eating at fancy restaurants, if I’m being honest, I’m probably more at home in this simpler environment. 

After landing in Lyon and taking two trains into the heart of the city, I met Charlotte and her sister Chloe down by the riverbank, where Chloe’s little son, Emil, was joyfully picking up little fistfuls of mud and throwing them into the water.  Believe me when I tell you, this kid is cute as all get out.  I’m talking million-dollar smile over here.

After hanging around by the water for a bit, we made our way into the city for drinks at a random café; an Aperol Spritz, for those scoring at home.  After that, we went up to Charlotte’s friend Rapha’s place, where we’d be spending the night.  I’d met Rapha briefly, a million years ago back in 2013, the very first time I visited Charlotte in Nice.  In fact, I’d met Chloe even earlier, when she and her dad came to visit C in NY.  But I’d also re-met Rapha a few years back, the first time I did Xmas in Nice with C and her fam.  At that time, I’d also met her boyfriend, Charles.  A lovely guy, we’d jammed on a couple of Irish tunes.  So while I wouldn’t call them friends, at least I knew and liked these people who’d be putting us up.  The only difference was that now, they had a little baby, Daria.  Beautiful child, another million-dollar smile.  And so sweet and peaceful.  I don’t think the kid cried once the whole time we were there.  Apparently she sleeps through the night too. 

For breakfast the next day, Rapha hit up the bakery.  Fresh croissants and sourdough bread, among other delights.  Friends, this is a country that knows how to do bread, I’m just saying.  All to say, it was a very nice visit with them, albeit a short one.

Not long after breakfast, we began our journey to Joyeuse, the village where Charlotte is currently residing.  The first leg of the journey was a train ride to Valance.  We only had an hour to kill there, but we did some walking around, found a lovely park overlooking a valley and the river beyond.  Very picturesque, though annoyingly windy.  I reached out to a former student of mine who lives not far from there on the off chance that he might be able to pop over for a quick coffee, but in the end it didn’t work out. 

We sat for a while at a café across from train station having seltzers and something like a ciabatta baguette with baked-in emmental cheese and olives; delish.  Across the street, there stood a statue of a man with a raised arm and open hand, as if reaching for something.  I asked C if she knew the story about this man.  She laughed and said, “No, but I’m sure you do.”  So I said simply that the poor guy had lost his balloon.  She laughed again.  After all, the dude really did look like he was reaching for a balloon that had only just escaped his grasp.  From there, I made up some story about how he had followed his balloon all the way from Paris to Valance.  He never did get his balloon back, but he wound up meeting his wife in Valance and they raised a family there.  Moral of the story, never stop searching for your balloon.  You never know what you’ll find.  Who knows, maybe I’ll write it up into a real story one day.  In any case, it helped pass the time until our bus to Joyeuse.

The only thing was, the bus didn’t quite go all the way to Joyeuse.  So in the event, we wound up hitchhiking the last 20km or so.  Hitchhiking?  I know.  It’s not something I’ve ever done, or would ever have considered doing.  Too many horror stories, right?  But I guess she does it all the time, and alone too, as a female.  Apparently the south of France, especially in village country, is just a safe place.

And so of course – I mean, fucking obviously – some dude in a literally windowless van picks us up.  And I’m just thinking, “Welp, this is how it ends.  At least it’s in a beautiful place.”  But the guy turned out to be really nice.  Not only that, it seems he’s an actor of sorts in some kind of local community theatre.  He even had posters in the van for his next upcoming show, to which he kindly invited us.  (We didn’t wind up going in the end, though it hardly seemed like a bad option).

Anyway, the guy drops us off and now we’re in this little village of Joyeuse.  Well, I say “little,” but C informed me that as villages go, it’s on the larger side with *checks notes* all of 1,500 inhabitants and its very own supermarket.  I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess that more than 1,500 people lived on my side of the street on my block in Chinatown.  I guess it all depends, as Obi Wan Kenobi said, on your point of view.

Be that as it may, it’s a lovely little town.  As best I can describe it, the village is bisected by the main road that runs through it.  On one side of the road is a hill, upon which are built all these old, stone houses, the sort you expect to see in the southern French countryside.  Lots of winding little streets to go with little stone alleys and passageways cut with stone staircases going from one level of the hill to the next.  The other side of the road is downhill and leads to the river.  It’s on this side where the supermarket, bank and most of the bars and restaurants are to be found.

Charlotte’s apartment is up on the hill, on the ground floor of one of those old stone houses.  It’s what we would call a studio.  But really it’s a converted ‘cave,’ that being the French word.  Really it was designed as a root or wine cellar.  Just a small room of arching stone walls outfitted with a kitchen, bathroom and some wooden shelving.  But the stone walls are painted white, and the furnishings are rustic in a very cozy kind of way.  Gemütlich would be the German word.  ‘Cozy’ is the best I can do in English.  But really, the best way to describe it, is to say that it’s actually a kind of Hobbit-house.  Not a rich Hobbit like Bilbo, but a hobbit of average means.  For those who are not LOTR fans, I should emphasize that I mean this as high praise.

In any case, she is subletting the room from the woman who lives upstairs.  Also, the woman who lives upstairs happens to be one of her very best friends, Annelise.  Annelise also happens to have a nine-year-old son, one Django.  I’ll come back to him in a bit.  But it’s such a homely vibe they have going on there.  We were sitting on C’s little patio in front of the apartment, drinking our beers, when Annelise appears above, sticking her head out over the balcony to chat.  Soon after, Django’s head appears, and then that of their dog.  And from where, I’m sitting, craning my head back and looking up, I see three upside-down faces looking back at me. 

Like, on the one hand, it’s comedy.  It reminded me of The Honeymooners, how when Alice and Trixie wanted to talk, they would just open their kitchen windows and call up/down to each other.  But it was also very sweet, very homely, very gemütlich.  Just a good vibe, you know?

Not long after I got settled, Django popped down to meet me.  He knew I was coming and wanted to see what I was about.  This kid, lemme tell ya, he’s a trip.  Good heart, that much is clear.  But he’s also definitely a little hell-raiser.  Shoulder-length blonde hair.  Full of energy, as boys that age are.  I can’t describe it exactly, but something about this kid reminded me of a little D’Artagnan from The Three Musketeers.  Like, he’s a got a clear sense of right and wrong, has a good heart, like I said, but also quite mischievous.  Anyway, that first day, he and I played some card games he’d brought down with him.

It was all I could do to keep up with his French patter, especially after C went upstairs to hang with Annelise.  On the one hand, he speaks like a nine year-old, which is to say not overly complicated.  But on the other hand, he speaks like a kid, which is to say, fast and with no sense of how to moderate his speech for a foreigner.  But I was able to keep up sufficiently to play the games and even trash talk a little.  And when I say ‘trash talk,’ I just mean in the way that you joke around with kids.  Like, “With this game we will see who’s the best.  Also, I am the best.”  And he’s like, “No, I’m the best!”  That kinda shit.  It was fun.

They also had an acoustic guitar which they let us borrow for the duration of my stay.  Which was key, right?  Because any time me and C get together, there must be music.  So of course we played a bunch of songs we’ve been playing forever.  But we also worked up two new ones, which was definitely fun. 

I’ve said it before, but I love playing music with that girl.  It’s always free and easy, always just fun.  No egos, no bullshit.  Very different from playing in a band.  And honestly, she’s like the only person I do that with.  It’s one of the best things about spending time with her.  But beyond playing music with her, it’s also really nice to play music for her. 

It’s the same as with the metal crew when we get together.  As we get into the small hours of the night, as people get tipsy and tired, it seems that that’s the moment when people want somebody to sing to them.  Whether it’s sitting around a fire with the metal gang or in an apartment with Charlotte, it’s a special feeling to sing to people and watch the effect that such music can have on the spirit. 

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a beer-swilling German metalhead or wine-sipping French girl.  You can just see the power of music, how it brings people to a particular state of contentment.  As much as it’s a good feeling for them, it’s a good feeling for me too.  It also doesn’t hurt that C had some really lovely things to say about my voice either.

Tellya what surprised me though.  One night, I’m playing the ol’ guitar and C is laying there on the couch with her eyes closed.  And then she’s like, “Hey, can you play that Mary Jane song?”  And I had no idea what she was talking about until she fished some partial lyrics out of the depths of her memory.  Then I realized she was referring to a Ramones song I used to play back when I was still living in Chinatown.  I hadn’t played that song in years, probably, although it came back to me pretty quick.  Anyway, she starts singing along.  Knew every fucking word.  Of this song I last played for her – quite probably – some eight years ago on the other side of an ocean.  And while she has recording of many of the songs I do myself or we do together, I don’t think we ever recorded that one.  So, yeah, I was pretty surprised when she a) requested it and b) knew all the words.  Surprised, but in the happiest of ways.

Other highlights of the visit.  We went for a hike, which was just lovely.  At some point, we ended up on some cliffs overlooking a small canyon with a river running through it.  Look, there’s a reason people talk about the south of France the way they do.  We shoulda brought more water, but other than that, good stuff.

We went to some hippie-ass carnival, which, admittedly, is not really my scene.  There we watched a performance by this girl who was doing a…well, I don’t really know.  I mean, it was like an aerobic-hula hoop shtick, but also kinda interactive; geared towards the kids in the crowd.  Lotsa kids at this thing, btw.  Anyway, the girl seemed to be a novice of sorts.  Like she seemed nervous and there were some mistakes in her routine, which I couldn’t decide if they were intentional or not.  Charlotte found it all a bit cringe, I think.  But I thought it was actually rather endearing.

When we left, we had to hitch a ride back to her place.  This time, a young woman picked us up.  A mother, she had her two little kids in the back seat.  So I mean, for me, yeah, this was preferable to a windowless van.  But I was surprised that a mother with her own children in the car would pick up a couple of strangers.  Sure, we looked pretty harmless, and we were all coming from the same carnival.  But still, to me, that’s unusual.  Except, in that neck of the woods, I guess it’s not.

I also took C out for a nice dinner.  By which I mean, we went to a local restaurant and I paid.  This was not a big deal.  But it was just nice to go out, you know?  Like I said, everything else was homemade sandwiches and salads and what not.  So, nothing fancy, low maintenance, but still dinner at a restaurant.  Good vibes. 

We also had a picnic in the park near the river.  We brought the guitar and a homemade salad.  That’s where we knocked together a version of the theme song to this Japanese show we both love (Midnight Diner, it’s called); so C sings in Japanese now.  Nothing really else to say about it.  The only reason I bring it up is because, also at the park, was a donkey.  Yes, you read that right.  There was a fucking donkey.  Tied up to a tree, as if it were nothing more that someone’s dog.  Umm, ok?  At one point it brayed.  That shit is loud, you guys.  So I guess the short version of this story is, I went to France…and saw a donkey.  Hey, you travel to forge new experiences, right?  Well, that was…one.

My flight back to Berlin was ass-early, such that there was no way to get to the airport from C’s place on the day-of.  Thus, I wound up going back to Lyon a day early, by myself.  Rapha and Charles put me up again, and of course they were just lovely and gracious as could be about it.  It also gave me a chance to explore Lyon on my own.

It was alright.  I mean, I didn’t fall in love with the city or anything, but I had a nice time.  Saw the cathedral, as one does.  Visited the ruins of the Roman amphitheater, which was pretty damn cool.  Oh, and I stumbled upon a public urinal.  Which, already, is a great thing.  But, what makes this noteworthy, is that this public urinal had a built-in cupholder!  And this, friends, is why I love the French.

I also stumbled into a cloister-type museum.  See, the cathedral and amphitheater are way up top of a very large and steep hill.  It’s a schlep, is what I’m saying.  And on top of that, it was roughly one million degrees.  So when I saw this little cloister-thingy about two thirds of the way up, it seemed like a good place to stop and have a bit of a rest.  Which is all I did at first; just sat and relaxed in the courtyard.  But when I saw that there was a museum as well, I decided to check it out.  Turns out it was about some early Christian martyrs who were put to death by the Romans back in the day.

When I went in to buy my ticket, I chatted briefly with the only two people working there.  A young woman working the register and an older dame who was the resident tour guide.  Lovely people, they asked me where I was from and all that jazz.  And even though I didn’t pay for a guided tour, the older woman escorted me to the first room of the museum and explained to me the nature of the videos which were to be viewed there.

After watching the videos and taking in a few other pieces, I returned to the register area.  The girl at the counter pointed to where I should go next, assuming I was lost.  I actually knew where to go next, but had another question.  See, it was already late afternoon, and I wanted to know how much longer they’d be open.  Then the girl frowned and said I only had about 15-20 minutes.  Then she asked me how long I’d be in Lyon, because given the time and how late I showed up, she’d be happy to let me back in the next day, free of charge.  Which, I mean, how classy is that?  But I told her it wouldn’t be possible owing to my early flight.  At which point, the older woman took it upon herself to give me an express version of the guided tour, also free of charge.  Pure class, like I said.

The tour was basically of the catacombs.  This was where, at first, the martyrs had been imprisoned before dying the usual martyr deaths at the hands (paws? teeth?) of wild animals or else being sworded to death somehow or another.  The catacombs, originally a prison, had since been turned into a shrine of sorts by the faithful.  Anyway, for all how fast it was, it was nevertheless quite a nice little tour.  My guide was quite knowledgeable and friendly and quite ready to answer any questions I might have. 

And all of this was in French, btw.  My interactions with the girl at the register as well as the tour.  And that’s gratifying, you know?  I mean, they knew I was from New York.  And they’d clearly heard the poor state of my French.  Now, maybe they just didn’t speak any English; a distinct possibility.  Nevertheless, they just talked to me in their normal, everyday French without any apparent doubt about my being able to handle it.  So we’ll call that a win.

I had a rather unexpected reaction to the story of these martyrs as portrayed by the museum, btw.  See, as a Jew, we are accustomed to thinking of Christian fanatics as the ones having power, as the ones doing the oppressing.  But in this case, these poor bastards were the powerless, the oppressed.  And it was hard not to sympathize with them, it was easy to empathize with them.  Poor religious wierdos, they just wanted to do their thing and be left alone.  But of course the bloody Romans would have none of that.  Off with their heads.  Throw them to lions.  What on earth for?  I must confess, I don’t normally give much thought to the early Christian martyrs.  And when I do, it’s with the hindsight of knowing what their progeny would become.  So to be in this place, to be forced to consider them in their own context, it put a whole new spin on things for me.  By the time I’d left, I had this feeling of, “Wow, you know, we were all in the same boat, once upon a time.  Why can’t – or couldn’t we – get along?”

I really wanted a burger for dinner.  So a found a diner that looked fitting.  I asked the waiter for a glass of pastis.  They didn’t have any.  I ordered the burger.  It was not great.  Can’t win ‘em all.  Then it was back to Rapha and Charles.  We didn’t really hang out as they were both exhausted, but like I said, they were most gracious.  Next morning, 5am Uber to the airport and then it was back to Berlin.  Thus ended my second trip to France in a month.  Sometimes I just kinda love Europe…

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