An American in Berlin
25 February, 2023
American in Paris Edition
Welp, I’m off to Italy in a few hours. It’s just after 3am and I have to leave here sometime around 530 for any early flight. At this point, it doesn’t really make sense to sleep, so I figured I’d catch up on a bit of writing.
A while back, when Jan and Zibs were visiting me in Berlin, we hatched a plan to all meet up in Paris, and to try and rope Anne in on the deal. Well, we did that at the beginning of April. It was a short visit, only three days for me. But it was a good time. I mean, fucking Paris, right?
J&Z found themselves a hotel in the neighborhood of Les Batignolles, which I want to say is the 17th arrondissement (but I’m too lazy to look it up). In any case, it’s in the NW quadrant of the central city, not too far from Montmartre. I’m not entirely sure as to how they settled on that particular part of town, but I figured it made sense for us to all be in the same general area. With that in mind, I booked myself a little Airbnb apartment not far from where they were staying.
The first night, we decided to just walk around and look for a restaurant that seemed nice. Which was not too hard to find. Because fucking Paris, right? Anyway, the first place we stopped into was full, so we kept moving. The second place, though, had a table for us despite not having reservations. Name of the joint: Comme chez Mama [Just like at Mom’s].
Anyway, we step inside and of course J&Z are expecting me to do all the talking. Because apparently I can French, right? Well, alright, I’ll do my best and hope I don’t embarrass myself in front of my friends. So, we go in and I’m asking the waiter if he has room for three, no we don’t have reservations, this table will be fine thanks; all in French right? I’m helping them with the menu. And in the end, I wind up doing all the ordering for the table; again, in French. At this point, Jan is like, “Damn, Dave, I’m impressed. You can actually do this whole French thing for real. Points to you.” And I’m like, “Are you fucking with me?” Because while, yes, I’d just done all that, I did sort of feel like I was speaking at a fourth grade level. I was getting by, no doubt, but ideally I’d like to a do a little better than ‘just getting by.’ But no, he was serious. So that was kinda cool.
And now, an unexpected detour into the world of professional wrestling. It doesn’t really exist so much anymore, but in the old days of regional feds and before national television, there was an aspect of professional wrestling called Kayfabe. Kayfabe basically meant, whatever your character was inside the ring, that’s how you were supposed to act outside the ring. Reason being, to maintain the illusion of reality. For example, if you played a heel (bad guy) in the ring, then you would be mean to the children asking for your autograph, so that they would believe you really were a bad guy. In those simpler times, it lent an air of credibility and excitement to the experience. Like, wow, that guy really is a bastard! Boo!
As such, the last thing a wrestler wanted to do in those day was to ‘break kayfabe,’ to show themselves in real life to be different from their in-ring personae. Because if you broke kayfabe, the whole illusion shatters, right? How can you boo the guy who’s being nice to children or having a pleasant evening out with the family at a restaurant? And wrestlers took this really seriously back in the day. Like, one of the worst things you could do as a professional wrestler was to break kayfabe.
Think of André the Giant. Later, of course, we would learn that he was an extremely kind, gentle and generous man. But for most of his wrestling career, there was no daylight between the invincible monster he played in the ring and the man you saw outside the ring. The guy was so big and so strong, nobody was ever really sure if he’d go along with taking a loss; nobody could force him to, after all. And he totally played into that mythology. In real life, he was too decent a man to go against an agreed outcome. But he played the role in such a way that nobody could ever really be sure. André did not break kayfabe.
So why am I talking about kayfabe in the middle of recounting this tale of dinner at a Parisian restaurant? Well, I walk in and start speaking French to the waiter. Of course he knows I’m not French, between my accent and just general shitty grammar, syntax and usage of idioms. Maybe he spots me as an English speaker, or maybe he just spots me as some kind non-native speaker in general. But the point is, I walk in playing the character of a person who speaks French. And for his part, he plays along. He only speaks to me in French. Maybe he doesn’t speak English. Maybe he figures, hell, it’s my country, why shouldn’t we be speaking French if this clown can halfway manage it? Maybe he doesn’t think about it all. But again, the point is, he’s playing the character of a waiter who doesn’t need to speak anything but French. Fine.
But of course, at the table, the three of us are mostly speaking English. And it’s a small room, the waiter is everywhere. He surely overhears us. And at some point, Ziba is like, “You know, I think this guy speaks English. I’m pretty sure I saw him smiling at that last funny thing we said.” So she decides to test it. She waves him over and orders water or something in English. And straightaway, the guy is just talking to her in English. So it turns out he could English all along. Not only that, his English is, if not better than my French, certainly more confident and comfortable. Great.
So just like that, Zibs broke my kayfabe. And his kayfabe. Kayfabe was broken. From that point on, it felt silly to try and speak French with the man. We’d outed ourselves as English speaking tourists and outed him as a perfectly competent English speaker. The illusion was shattered. I wanted to tell her, “Good job, Zibs. You broke kayfabe.” But she wouldn’t have known what the hell I was talking about and I didn’t want to explain it. So I let it go. Anyway, yeah. Kayfabe.
In any case, dinner was excellent. Because of course it was. Because fucking Paris. Me and Jan split something like a French porterhouse. Côte de beouf, I guess. Gorgeous. For an appetizer, we got this ham-wrapped asparagus in an avocado sauce that was out of this world. We had a bottle of wine. I got a glass of Armagnac for desert. It was one of those places with a tiny little menu. But because there’s so little on offer, you know each dish is just gonna be slammin’. And everything we had was indeed slammin’. And this was just some random restaurant we happened to walk into. Fucking, and I cannot stress this enough, Paris.
The next day, we met up with Anne. We had lunch at a Chinese joint called The Dancing Noodles. Well, it had a French name, but I forget it. That was also excellent. From there, we walked around Montmartre, stopping at a café for afternoon drinks on the sidewalk. This before going back downtown to a bar for more drinks, where Anne’s bestie and also her boyfriend met up with us. Then we finished up at a sort of chain, casual restaurant. Beouf bourguignon for me; yum. And of course more drinks. We talked, we laughed. Good times were had by all. And it was great to have the old gang back together for an evening. These are, as you know, three of my very most favorite people.
Day three, and it’s just me, J&Z again. Mostly a sightseeing day. We walked around the grounds of the Louvre, strolled the island whereon sits Notre Dame and just generally promenaded about. I wound up assuming the role of quasi-tour guide, on account of their never having been there before. And by now, I kinda now my way around the heart of the city in a very general kind of way. So I was able to do a bit of, “Let’s turn left here; we’ll get a nice view of x if we take this street; down that way you can see y.”
Again, Jan was seemingly impressed. “Damn, Dave, you really know your way around Paris.” I played it cool. “Meh, I’m a man of the world, squire.” You know how it is. But of course, it was just last spring that I’d met the Morgensterns and Monica in Paris and had done quite a bit of walking around and exploring on my own. In other words, the memories were still fresh. So I was able to make it look like I knew what the fuck I was talking about and whither I was leading us. Still though, it was kinda cool to be able to show my friends around Paris a little bit and make it look good, you know?
Anyway, by early afternoon, those two were feeling pretty tired and wanted to take a train back up to our neck of the woods. Walking would have meant another half-hour or so. And we’d been walking all day. Personally, I’d have been very happy to hoof it. But I forget that most people don’t like to – or aren’t used to – walking the way I do/am.
One example to illustrate that point. Sometimes people ask me if the school where I work is far from my apartment. I tell them it’s actually pretty close. In the morning, I’ll take the train and it’s barely 20m. In the afternoon, if it’s not raining or snowing, I’ll walk home. After all, it’s ‘only’ 90m. Which, for me, is nothing. I’ve got music, I’ve got podcasts. Plus, it’s Berlin, so probably I’ve also got a beer. What could be better than a 90m walk home? Is how I see it. But when I tell that to people, they’re always kinda shocked. “Ninety minutes? That’s a short walk for you?” Well, maybe not short. But certainly easy, pleasant, something to be enjoyed; looked forward to, even. I guess that’s just me.
And I forget that sometimes. So when J&Z were like, “Our feet hurt, let’s get a train,” my first reaction was, “What on earth for?” And then I was like, “Oh, right. Yeah, okay, let’s do it.” We got dinner at some South American restaurant of all places (I forget which country). Didn’t matter, food was still great. And that was that. That was Paris. Tremendous. And just, I kinda love living in Europe. Where you can just call up your friends and say, “Hey, you guys wanna fuck off to Paris for a few days?” “Sure, let’s do it!” That’s the life, brother.
And in a few short hours, I’ll be fucking off to Rome. Fucking Rome, you guys. Originally, I was just supposed to be meeting Joschka and Vinny for a couple of days. And indeed, I’m kinda excited about meeting Vinny in his ‘old country,’ you know? We’ve been discussing the carbonara we’re gonna eat for weeks now. Unfortunately, the three of us will only be together for two days, which is not nearly enough. But I’m sure we’ll make the most of it.
On my end though, it seems kinda silly to fly down there for only two days. I mean, fucking Rome, right? The last time I was there was in 2003, when I was doing my semester in England. And let me tell you, it was a pretty transformative experience. That was my first time travelling alone in a foreign country, for one thing.
But it also jumpstarted my love affair with modern languages. At that point, I’d only just been introduced to the Greek texts (in English) that made me want to learn that language. But I hadn’t even taken my first steps in that direction yet. I’d taken years of Spanish in middle and high school and didn’t enjoy it all. But when I got to Italy, that was the first time I fell in love with a foreign language. I wanted to learn Italian so badly. It was musical, mysterious, exotic, exciting. All the things a language should be, right? For the first time in my life, I wanted to learn a foreign language.
Meanwhile, here I am, exactly twenty years later. French, German, Yiddish, Greek, Hebrew, some bullshit smatterings of Latin and Aramaic. And still, Italian eludes me. Che cazzo, is what I’m saying. And possibly porca miseria. And that, right there, is fifty percent of my Italian. ‘What the fuck?’ and ‘Miserable swine.’ But I can also say ‘thank you’ (grazie) and ‘excuse me’ (scuzi). I guess it’s a start.
Anyway, two days is not enough for the eternal city, so I’m going to go down a day ahead of them and stay a day after. That’ll give me at least a little time to enjoy the city on my own, which’ll be nice. And that would have been it. Just a short visit. Except for one thing. Fucking Charlotte.
See, it seems homegirl is, even now, making her way back to France from the Orient, or South Pacific, or wherever the fuck she’s been for the better part of the last six months. And it just so happens, she’ll be sailing into Italy just as Joschka and Vinny are leaving. And I do mean sailing. Or steaming. Or Dieseling. Whatever. The point is, she’s taking a ferry over from Greece to Bari. Which was actually my suggestion, as I’d made the same journey in reverse back in 2010 when I myself visited Greece. I told her it was a great experience and a fun way to travel, so she signed up for it. I’m looking forward to hearing about it.
Anyway, we decided to rent an Airbnb in southern Italy for a week, because why not, right? We’ll be in a town called Lecce, in the region of Puglia, which is the heel of the boot so to speak. I don’t know anything about the place other than the pictures I googled, but it looks just lovely. So I’m looking forward to that, it goes without saying.
Plus, traveling with C is always a good time. We had that Great Western Roadtrip. We’ve been to Brussels, Prague, Saxony, Copenhagen, all over the south of France, plus Berlin and New York together. We travel well together, which is not something one should ever take for granted. So yeah, I’m expecting a nice relaxing week, full of good food and wine and just good times in general. And then, it’s back to Berlin and real life. But by the time I get back, it will be properly Spring. Time to start skating at THF. Time to get back to some carpentry projects for the apartment. Time to get back to music and all the rest of it. But first, fucking Italy. Fucking Europe. This is the life, brother.