An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
1 June, 2023

Originally written in early-mid May…

Hi.  First of all, how is it fucking May already?  Banana pants.  Anyway, here I am back in Berlin after five weeks of being, well, elsewhere.  Let’s see, I covered Paris in the last post.  Straight from Paris, I went home for two weeks, which was pretty great.  Generally, I don’t like to write to much about my stateside adventures, as that doesn’t really fit the ‘American in Berlin’ vibe.  Having said that, it was an excellent visit; the only downside being not having enough time and not getting to see all the people I wanted to see. 

After a brief 2.5 days back in Berlin, it was off to Italy.  I fucking love Italy, as you know from the last post.  What I don’t love is missing my flight, which happened.  What should have been three hours of travel turned into 13.  I don’t want to talk about it. 

Anyway, to start off, I had an evening in Rome to myself.  I was staying at an Airbnb hotel right off the central train station.  Clean, comfortable and with a strong wifi connection, I was able to teach my classes in the mornings, which was good.  Anyway, first night, I went in quest of dinner.  The goal, pasta all’ Amatriciana (or, in the Roman dialect apparently, just ‘Matriciana).  There was a list of recommended restaurants in my room, one of which was noted for its Matriciana; naturally I decided to go and find it.

But when I got there, there was a line around the block.  Hard pass.  Fortunately, on the way there, I had passed by a cozy looking place which marked Matriciana as one of their specialties on the chalkboard outside.  So I headed back to that place for dinner.  It was late by that point, so it was fairly empty.  Lovely little joint, friendly staff.

The food was excellent.  And cheap.  I got my pasta, an appetizer (fried zucchini flowers, yum), a glass of wine and a bottle of water, plus a grappa at the end, all for 33 bucks.  I was very happy.  Went back and read for a bit before bed. 

Next day, Joschka and Vinny arrived.  I had to work in the morning and Joschka had to work in the afternoon.  So I met Vin when I got done and we walked over to the Forum and the Coliseum.  I gave him a bit of Roman history, but he didn’t seem terribly interested.  Mostly we just talked about food, cooking, sports and politics.  All while trapsing around the Eternal City.  Obviously it was cool to be in Rome, but honestly, we could have been anywhere.  It was just good to catch up.

Once we’d seen everything there was to see – the above mentioned, plus a walk through ye olde Circus Maximus (now a park), we settled into some sidewalk joint for the obligatory Aperol Spritz.  As we were finishing our drinks, Joschka showed up, so of course we got another round.  From there, we made our way to a restaurant Joschka had found on some app.  The place looked amazing.  In the end, it was just alright and a bit over-priced.  But the atmosphere was nice and it was good to have a dinner out with the lads.

And it was good just to have the three of us together again.  For all the time we used to spend together in NY, and then later at the festivals, it’d actually been quite a while since the three of us were in the same place at the same time.  We fell into our usual shtick pretty much straightaway.  And we do have a shtick.  Vinny is the social misfit, I’m the clown, and Joschka is the proverbial ‘adult in the room.’  We laugh a lot. 

After dinner, we walked back to their hotel (they were splitting a room at a fancier joint) and had a beer at the bar.  Technically, the bar was closed.  But the dude at reception opened the fridge for us.  We chilled for a bit, but everybody was pretty tired, so we soon called it a night.

Next day, same routine: work in the morning for me, work in the afternoon for Joschka.  Vin wanted to see the Vatican, so we decided to hoof it.  I asked him if he cared which way we went; he said he didn’t.  So I took us on an out of the way ‘scenic route,’ in order to avoid crowds and tourists.  Had we gone in a more direct route, we could have got there in about 45 minutes.  In the event, it took two hours.  So of course Vinny had to bust my balls about that for the rest of the trip.

I didn’t care though, and neither did he in the end.  It was a beautiful day and a good walk.  We got to see a part of the city that was a bit off the beaten path and did indeed escape the crowds and tourists for a while.  Along the way, we stopped at a little café for the Aperol Spritz.  When we finally got to the Vatican, we just kinda hung out in the plaza (or piazza, I guess) in front of St. Peter’s.  Vin didn’t seem particularly impressed.  I guess he’s not much for architecture or history.  Didn’t matter.  As with the day before, it was good just to hang out and shoot the shit.

We had dinner reservations at some joint that’s apparently known for its carbonara.  For weeks leading up to this, me and Vin had been sending each other videos and recipes for various takes on this famous roman dish, so we were pretty pumped about it.  However, we got to the general area of the restaurant a bit early, so we sat down outside at yet another café for yet another Aperol.  As with the night before, Joschka showed up as we were finishing our drinks, so we snuck in another round before dinner.

Dinner also went about the same as the previous night.  The food was good, but overrated.  Vinny was clearly disappointed.  And again, it was probably overpriced.  But of course the point was just to have dinner out in Rome and hang with the lads.  So in that sense, mission accomplished.  After dinner, we had a nice long walk back to our hotels, more shtick included.

I forget which day, but me and Vin had lunch near the Trevi Fountain.  We got porchetta sandwiches which were honestly out of this world.  Crispy crunchy skin on the outside, succulent meat inside with delicious herbs wrapped into it.  Plus the bread was incredible.  The fat from the meat kinda cooked itself into the bread resulting in just the richest, tastiest stuff you can imagine.  Me and Vin (and later, me and Charlotte) just always marvel at Italian food, the way it’s so simple.  Just a few ingredients, but good quality, always fresh, and prepared with great care.  A little goes such a long fucking way in Italian cuisine.

If you’re not a philistine, that is.  See, what happened was, this American couple – in their 50s or 60s I’d guess – sits down at the table next to us, at the porchetta joint.  We didn’t interact with them, just, you could hear they’re American.  I’m sure they’re lovely people, whatever.  Anyway, at one point, the man goes inside.  When he returned to his seat, he must have said something to his wife, though I didn’t hear it.  But Vinny had this look of absolute horror on his face.  “Did you fucking hear that?” he whispers.  “Hear what?” I ask.  “This fucking guy just told his wife that they don’t put mayo on the sandwiches!  Can you believe that?  He fucking asked for mayo on her porchetta sandwich!”  Good grief, no wonder the world thinks we’re a stupid people!  Needless to say, we were shocked, outraged and more than anything, embarrassed.  Like, “Um, we’re not with them.”  I mean, I just got done telling you about this perfect sandwich, what the bread was like…and these clowns are asking for mayo.  I felt shame.

I can only hope that this was perhaps their first time in Italy.  I hope that when they finally got their sandwiches and tasted that culinary work of art, they looked at each other and said, “Oh yeah, now I see why they don’t do mayo.”  In which case, all is forgiven.  We all have to learn, right?  There’s no shame in that.  But if they bit into those sandwiches and said, “Yeah, it’s nice, but it’d be better with a bit of mayo…”  I shudder.

Anyway, that was it for the Vinny and Joschka portion of the trip.  It was short.  Too short, I dare say.  And yet totally worth it.  I wish the three of us could get together more often.  But getting together for a couple of days in Rome?  It could be worse.

I had one more day in Rome after they left.  Unfortunately, something I’d eaten the day before was playing the devil with my stomach and so I wound up just laying in bed all day, which is regrettable.  Silver lining-wise, I was able to get a fair bit of reading done, which I’ll come back to actually.

So that was Friday.  Saturday, I took an early train to Bari, where I was meeting Charlotte.  It was a four-hour ride, and for whatever reason, upgrading to first class was only an extra ten bucks.  Needless to say, I jumped all over that.  And it was so worth it.  First of all, the seats were mega comfortable.  Beyond that, the first class cars are organized with two seats on one side and only one seat on the other.  Naturally, I reserved myself one of those single seats.  In other words, I had a window seat and an aisle seat, all at the same time!  Plus, free tea/coffee/snacks.  Talk about riding in style.

So I met C in Bari, which was cool.  Just getting off a train in a foreign city and, oh hey, there’s my bestie.  We had about an hour to kill before our train to Lecce, our ultimate destination.  So we hung out on a park bench and she told me about her ferry ride, which she loved.  But whereas I did my ferry ride on the cheap, sleeping out in the open on deck with the friends I’d made on board, C had gotten herself an actual cabin.  It sounded like she enjoyed the hell out of the experience and had even made a friend of her own.  That made me happy, both for her to have that experience and also for me insofar as I’d recommended the ferry ride in the first place.

We get to Lecce and walk to our Airbnb, which we’d rented for the week.  It was a proper two-bedroom apartment, and it was just so nice.  Nice old fashioned, wooden furniture, clean, with a full fridge, kitchen and dishes.  We knew right away it would be a great place to spend a week.  We could cook, hang out, play dice, drink wine, work (good wifi again) but also have our own space.  Big win, that place.

And across the street was ‘our’ supermarket.  The name on the sign read “Mr. Mart.”  Cute, right?  Just a little grocery store really.  But like, a real mom-and-pop operation, had a real family-owned vibe to it.  And the people there were just so nice and friendly.  We were in there every day for something.  Sometimes just for some fresh bread or a bottle of wine, sometimes to get whatever we needed to cook dinner.  But we just loved going in there, loved interacting with the people in there.  Just good vibes. 

And our Italian got better by the day.  First day, we just muddled through in English as best we could.  But I immediately got to work on DuoLingo.  Plus, C had taken like three years of Italian in HS.  On top of which, it’s Italian, so it’s not that far off from Spanish or even French.  To be sure, Charlotte was much better with the language than me.  She could really manage things, whether with “the Marts” (as we called them) or with people at the train station or whatever.  But by the end, I was able to mangle some very basic phrases and ask for things without resorting to English.  I’m talking shit like, “One bread please” or “Do you have grappa?”  But hey, that’s more than I could do when I first showed up.

The first day, we just kinda explored Lecce.  The old town is cute, small, beautiful in the way that Italian towns are beautiful, with all the old stone buildings and gorgeous churches and whatnot.  We had an afternoon Aperol at a café sporting a pride rainbow in the window.  Everybody that worked there just looked cool.  Cool haircuts, cool dress, cool tattoos (not that I care for tattoos, but it fit their vibe; and the vibe was good).  Dinner continued the streak, in that we found a well-rated restaurant, but decided that the food was perfectly fine though nothing special and again overpriced.  But again, nice to have a dinner out on the town. 

From there, I get a little fuzzy on the chronology.  We made two day trips, one to the hilltop, walled town of Ostuni, the other to the coastal town of Otranto, which sports a castle/fort as its centerpiece.  I just don’t remember which days we went where. 

Ostuni was really cool.  We walked from the train station to the town itself, which was all uphill, so it was a bit of a hike, though an easy one.  The town itself was gorgeous, because Italy.  Another Aperol Spritz, if you’re keeping score.  And you know what, it’s fun to explore these little towns, to see new places, to say “Let’s go down that street,” just because it looks interesting or mysterious. 

In Ostuni, we stopped into a little gourmet shop.  I forget what we’d originally intended to purchase.  No wait, I do.  The one classic roman dish I didn’t get to eat in Rome was cacio e pepe, so I’d decided I wanted to cook that for us in Lecce.  So we went in to this little gourmet shop ostensibly to get pecorino and fresh pasta.  But once we were in there, we kinda couldn’t help ourselves.  In the end, we got the pasta, but also a little tin of local olive oil, some tomatoes, a jar of tapenade (I don’t know if that’s the Italian name, maybe it’s Spanish?  Anyway, olive paste/spread), some locally made capocollo (gabagool!) and some cheese.  The only thing was, they didn’t have fresh pecorino, so we had to settle for a bag of pre-grated stuff; which in the end was perfectly fine for the cacio e pepe.  But it was a fun experience.  We were like, “OK, so we just need x.  But actually, can we get some y?  Oooh, and z looks good, let’s have some of that too please.”  Tremendous.

And the lady in the shop was a doll, with pretty good English to boot.  At one point, we were like, “Can we please get some cherry tomatoes?”  She looks at her business partner (and possibly husband?) who shakes his head and says something in Italian.  And she’s like, “Actually, no you can’t.  See, tomorrow is a big holiday and there’s like a festival.  And we’re going to need all the cherry tomatoes for tomorrow, so we actually can’t sell you any today.”  Huh.  Unexpected, but fair enough.  “Well, alright, how about some of these other tomatoes?”  Again, she looks at Mr. Man who again shakes his head and say something in Italian.  And she’s like, “Well, we can sell you three.”  Huh.  Well, you’ve got a business to run, fair dues.  “Very well then, we’ll take three of your finest other tomatoes.”  Which she gladly gave us.  But then she asked if we were planning on coming to the festival.  And that was nice.  Because it didn’t feel like she was asking in a banal small-talky kind of way.  It had the feel of, “We’re proud of our festival and we’d be happy to share it with you, you’d love it.”  Which was super sweet.  But of course, we weren’t actually staying in Ostuni and so, sadly no, we wouldn’t be there to partake of the festivities.  But we’re sure as fuck looking forward to making an on-point apéro with this gabagool and cheese and whatnot.  Ten, maybe fifteen minutes in that little shop, but what a lovely vignette, ya know?

I don’t remember what we did the next day.  Perhaps we did some more exploring around Lecce?  In any case, I made the cacio e pepe.  Never made it before, but it came out pretty well.  From the videos I’d watched, I guess it could have been ‘creamier’?  No matter, it was delish.  And C declared that the pasta was cooked to perfection.  Not only that, but her skinny ass went back for a full bowl of seconds, so that was all the affirmation I needed. 

Such a simple dish, I will be adding it to my rotation going forward.  Simple, but not necessarily easy.  It’s sort of the epitome of what I mentioned before, in that it has literally three ingredients: Spaghetti, pecorino, pepper.  OK, salt and olive oil, but we don’t count those.  And when I say ‘not necessarily easy,’ what I mean is, it requires attention and care.  First things first, get your water going because you need your pasta cooking while you work.  Meantime, crack some fresh pepper[1] into the pan with a bit of OO to toast it up nice-like.  Next step, you’d be grating your pecorino, though as mentioned, in this case, it was pre-grated.  By now, your pasta should be almost but not quite al-dente. 

Pasta water is your friend, never forget that.  So reserve yourself a nice bowl of that starchy goodness before you drain the spaghetti.  Next, spaghetti into the pan, where it will continue to cook.  Now all you have to do is sprinkle in your grated cheese and spoonfuls of pasta water; this is your sauce.  But you can’t just dump it all in at once.  In that sense, it’s kind of like risotto.  You add a bit of cheese, a bit of water; stir, flip, however you roll.  A bit more cheese, a bit more water.  Rinse, repeat, capisce?  And feel free to add more pepper as you’re working.  Use your eyes, but also taste your work. 

Simple, easy.  But your full attention is required.  I said three ingredients, but really it’s four.  The fourth ingredient is – say it with me now – love.  You gotta be standing over the stove, constantly mixing in, watching the balance, tasting the result.  But in the end, you get there.  And when you do?  Mama mia!  We ate well that night, is the point.

Otranto is super fucking pretty.  You know that turquoise kinda blue you see on postcards from the Caribbean?  Well, that was the color of the water in the harbor of Otranto.  What a sight.  And the rest of it was, well, Italian.  Beautiful churches.  Holy fuck (erm, no pun intended).  We went into this church with an out of this world mosaic floor.  Like the whole fucking floor is just mosaics of bible shit.  And then the ceiling?  Just, wow.  I don’t know how to describe it so, um, follow me on insta?  I posted a long-angle shot from inside the church which, for me, the point of it was the mosaic floor.  But my cousin Fanny (who’s Italian nfn), was like “That ceiling tho!”  She ain’t wrong. 

There was also a chapel.  Lots of churches have little chapels in the corners.  (lol @ ‘corners,’ like that’s an architectural term.  Situated off the nave?  Under a flying buttress?  Parallel to a transept?  I know some words.  It’s possible I don’t know what said words mean).  Anyway, in one of these chapels, the wall panels are glass.  And what’s behind the glass?  Oh, you know, just skulls and bones and shit.  The technical term may or may not be ossuaries.  But it’s like, “Oh hey, what’s up statue of Mary standing atop an altar…in front of literally two dozen human skulls and a shit-ton of other human bones…just chillin’…behind glass…because…Jesus?”  But as a Yid, you kinda gotta feel like, “Eep, that’s gonna be awkward when Moshiakh comes.”  And then you remember that פאַר די גוים, he’s already come.  And also went?  And is coming back?  My head hurts.

The trip back from Otranto was…a trip.  So C looks at the train schedule and is like, “Shit, bruh, we gotta hurry.”[2]  Fair enough; nobody wants to miss the last train outta Dodge.  So we jog/power-walk (uphill) to the train station, where we still need to buy our tickets.  But due to our hustle, we arrive with minutes to spare.  How many minutes?  Depends who you ask.  When I tell the story, it was eight minutes.  When she tells it, it was four.[3]  So realistically, we had six minutes to spare.  And as she’s buying the tickets, homegirl is all, “Go to the platform!  Make sure the train doesn’t leave without us!”  To which I’m like, “Bitch, we got 8 minutes, what’s the rush?”  To which, she’s all, “Four minutes, asshole, tick-fucking-tock!”  Six minutes was plenty of time, is my point.  This from the guy who missed his flight.  Ain’t nobody perfect, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, we get on the train (with plenty of time to spare, thank you very much).  And as we pull out of the station, Dave does what Dave does.  Dave falls asleep.  Because when you put Dave in a moving vehicle, he falls asleep just as surely as a body will fall to earth at a rate of 9.8 m/s2 .  (Assuming said body is not a fucking feather anyway).  Anyway, Dave wakes up with maybe ten or fifteen minutes to go before arriving back home in Lecce.  And he wakes up to a rather disgruntled Charlotte, who is all, “This has been the worst train ride ever.  You have no idea, Dave!  First of all, this train is so slow!  Second of all, we’ve stopped at literally every station along the way!  And on top of that, when we stop, we stay at each station for like ten minutes!”  Well, she was right about one thing.  Dave had no idea.  Dave was sleeping.  For Dave, it was a most pleasant ride upon the railroad. 

I cooked one more dinner.  Maybe it was the next night, I’m not sure.  I don’t even remember what the main course was.  I just remember I’d done some kind of fried zucchini something as an app.  But C was hangry.  She was all standing over my shoulder and shit while I was trying to cook.  Being generally impatient and grumpy.  So that was interesting.  Because I was thinking, “Oh, we’ll have a nice night in and I’ll cook and we’ll eat and just enjoy being in Italy.”  And I guess, from her perspective, it was more along the lines of, “Me hungry!  Me want food!  Now!”  Which, hey, we’ve all been there.  #hangry

And that was perhaps not my very most favorite part of my week in Italy with my dear friend Charlotte.  But also, I’m gonna let this bother me?  Come on, I’m in fucking Italy!  So my attitude was, this is vaguely annoying, but also, Charlotte’s gonna Charlotte.  Whadya gonna do?  The nice thing was this.  After she got some food in her, Hangry Charlotte reverted to Normal Charlotte.  And she said something like, “That was not super nice of me.  But I’ll tell you what I appreciate.  I feel like with a lot of people, that would have escalated.  And you just let it be, and nothing negative came of it.  And that’s thanks to you.”  So that was nice to hear. 

But really, I know how I am.  I know the ways that I act out, the ways I get super grumpy and bitchy when I’m in a mood, be it from hunger or allergies or just my general impatience with all things.  I know what I put people through: the people who love me and care about me.  The shit I make them put up with.  My parents, my brother.  And invariably, they’re always like, “Well, yeah, you were kind of an asshole.  But also, we know you’re kind of an asshole in general, so we don’t take it personally.  Also, thanks for dinner.”  So I mean, come on.  If the people who love me are gonna be patient with me when I’m in a mood, that teaches me to be patient with the people I love when they’re in a mood.

Changing gears: Greek.  So I’m reading three Greek texts at the moment.  Ajax with George,[4] which he pointed out we started in “4Q21,” in other words, a year and a half ago.  I’m also reading the Odyssey with the Homeridai.  And most recently, the NT. 

Now here’s an interesting thing.  The NT, because of its (comparatively) low level of difficulty, combined with the way my edition is organized, is rather easy to read.  During my travels, I was reading it on trains and planes as well just sitting in bed.  Which means I’d gotten into the habit of reading a little bit every day, much the same way I used to read French every day when I had a regular commute to work. 

And I think it’s making me much better at Greek overall, even though (as George says) it’s just “Dr. Seuss Greek.”  But we all read Dr. Suess before we read Shakespeare right?  Except in Classics, where after two years of elementary study, they drop you straight into Xenophon or Herodotus (think Dickens or the like) or Lysias (think maybe JFK’s inaugural).  Like, what?  Maybe we should spend a year or two reading children’s books, just like in real life.  I mean, even when you learn a modern language, there’s a stage of progressing through graded readers and mid-level stuff before you get into proper literature.

Anyway, I feel like my Greek is suddenly much better.  Like, when I’m reading Sophocles with George…well, it’s still hard as fuck, and we need to look up many of the words.  But in terms of understanding how shit fits together, how thoughts are organized, I’ve noticed just in the last month or two that all of a sudden, shit is just clicking, coming to me more easily.  And that’s such a good feeling.  Honestly, I feel like this may be the best I’ve ever been at this language.  Praise Jesus?  Okay, that was weird to write.  But also, maybe a little.  Or at least, Matthew and Mark.  Anyway, it’s a small sample size, so let’s see if it holds up.

What I do know is this.  After blunt-forcing my way through Le Comte de Monte Cristo (which basically took an entire school year), I came out the other side just being able to read high level classic French lit and think nothing of reading that shit on the subway now.  Now, Greek is much harder than French.  But if after working my way through the whole NT (and this could also take a whole school year, even reading every day), wouldn’t it be something if my Greek hit some version of that level?  We’ll see.  But at the moment, I feel like I’m in a pretty good place with it.

As for the NT itself, some of this stuff is just plain weird.  First of all, there’s an awful lot of exorcism.  Did you know that?  I didn’t know that.  It seems like every time Jesus stops into a new town he’s exorcising demons from people.  Literally.  Which raises questions historical context-wise.  Like, did people in Roman Judea just take it for granted that demonic possession was a part of life?  Because none of these people in the NT seem to think it’s weird that they or their loved ones are possessed.  They’re just generally sorta annoyed by it.  And then Jesus shows up and they’re all, “Hey, so I heard you might able to do something about my daughter’s ‘situation’?”  And he’s like, “Well, I am the son of man.”

Which is also weird for me.  Isn’t he supposed to be the son of G-d?  He certainly refers to G-d as ‘my father.’  Here it’s worth noting that Greek has (at least) two words that can be translated as ‘man.’  One is ἀνήρ (anēr), which is literally ‘male-person,’ and whence we get the ‘andro-‘ prefix.  The other is ἄνθρωποϲ (anthrōpos), which is gender-neutral and is more accurately translated as ‘human.’  Anyway, Big J is always referring to himself as ὁ υἱοϲ τοῦ άνθρώπου – ‘the son of man’ colloquially, but perhaps more literally, ‘the son of humanity.’  I’m really not sure.  So I asked Josh about it (he knows about these things) and he said it may have something to do with being ‘god made human flesh.’  Well, alright. 

There’s one episode that showed up in Matthew and now again in Mark that I find particularly strange.  So the Pharisees (who it seems are the forerunners of our modern rabbis) ask him, “Hey, what’s up with your apostles?  How come y’all don’t wash your hands before you eat, as it is commanded.”  And it is commanded.  There’s definitely halakhas on washing your hands before meals. 

And Jesus’ answer seems to be just to play what-about-isms.  Like, “Well how come you guys take sacrifices which should be going to people’s parents?  Isn’t it also a commandment to honor your mother and father?”  Weird answer.  But it gets weirder.  Cos then Jesus is like, “It’s not what goes into your body that will make you impure.  Rather you should worry about the bad shit that’s in your heart that comes out of your body, because that’s what really makes you impure.”  I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but that’s essentially the argument. 

Also, the word I’m translating as ‘make impure’ is κοινόω (koinoō).  My book translates this as ‘make unclean.’  My actual dictionary gives ‘defile, make profane.’  Just to be clear on that, whatever it’s worth.  But anyway, what?  First of all, I don’t know about defiling or making profane, but the shit you put in your body can absolutely make you sick.  Even without germ theory, they must have known that, no? 

But more to the point, how are these things mutually exclusive?  Like, what does not talking shit have to do with washing your hands before you eat?  You can have both, is what I’m saying.  Like, is disavowing hygiene the hill you want to die on?  And the answer is apparently ‘no.’  I guess Golgotha is the hill he wanted to die on.  But you know what I mean.  Anyway, I just think it’s very strange. 

Anyway, when I was home, I was talking about this NT mishigas generally with Josh, who has a background in the stuff.  He said he’d be happy to do a little Zoom bible study here and there.  So I’ve been writing down some questions and observations.  When I have enough, I’ll reach out to him and see if we can have a chat. 

Because what I’m realizing is, I’m just reading this text on its own, as if it were any other book.  But of course these texts don’t stand alone.  There’s millennia of theology, dogma and exegesis that’s grown up around them, an entire context and world-view in which they’re understood by those who consider them holy.  I mean, it’s the same with our Jewish texts, right?  We don’t just have the Torah.  If you want to understand the Torah, you need the Mishnah, the Gemora and a whole host of commentaries.  Same with this shit.  So I’d be fascinated to discuss all this with someone who has the background, who has the context.  How is this shit understood by the people who consider it sacred?  That’s very interesting to me. 

Started work on Carsten’s new podcast project this week.  Such an easy guy to work with and he’s said more than once he genuinely likes working with me.  So this is a good thing.  When we had our prelim meeting to discuss the project, he mentioned (again) that at some point down the road, he’d like to make this whole podcasting thing his primary focus.  I took that as an opportunity to tell him that beyond working with him personally, I really quite like the work itself and would be very interested in going down that road with him.  He sounded glad of that and indicated that I could be his regular sound guy.  Obviously there’s quite a ways to go between here and there, but it would be pretty great if this were turn into something more regular and I could start replacing some of my English work.  Beyond simply paying better, in some ways I enjoy it much more than the repetitive grind of teaching. 

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’d ever want to give up teaching completely.  But if teaching could be the side gig and audio work the primary, that’d be pretty sweet I think.  Plus, it just fits my lifestyle better.  I took a late evening nap tonight, made a late dinner and got to work around 130am.  For me, that’s a helluva lot better than starting work at nine or even ten in the morning, right? 

Anyway, we’ll see where it all goes.  But for now, I’m just glad to have this work at the moment, since everything else teaching-wise is super fucking slow.  It’s kinda gonna save my ass this month.  After this month?  That’s a problem for future Dave…

Addendum, 1 June, 2023

Finished the podcast work.  Carsten seemed quite pleased with it.  An interesting project.  Without getting into too much detail, he went down to Africa (I want to say Kenya, but I don’t quite remember) to conduct a series of interviews.  Each episode consists of monologues from the people he interviewed interspersed with his own narration/commentary which he did himself in studio, back in Germany.

What made it interesting work was, each person he spoke with was in a different environment.  Sometimes outside on a city street, other times in a crowded room or hall, still another in a taxi.  There was even some excerpts captured from a radio broadcast; but not like a direct line from the radio, just out of the speaker in a living room.  On top of that, the interviewees were a mix of men and women, some with super low bassy voices, others rather high pitched. 

(All of them very pretty, I’d like to add.  I know it’s pretty ignorant to speak of ‘the African accent.’  Obviously there’s a host of African accents, each colored by the native language of the speaker; or if they’re native English speakers, then colored by their native culture/environment.  That said, if I may speak of an ‘African accent’ broadly, it’s one that I’m quite a fan of.  There’s just something very musical about it.  It made working with these voices a lot of fun).

Anyway, it made for really interesting work.  Particularly managing the environments.  For me, the trick was to eliminate as much ‘noise’ as possible while maintaining the ‘atmosphere,’ or what most people would think of as ‘noise.’  For me, ‘noise’ means things like hiss and hum and whatnot.  But there was a lot of ‘noise’ that was important to Carsten in terms of atmosphere: motorcycles passing by, glasses clinking, rain falling, birds chirping, etc.  So cutting as much noise as possible while maintaining the atmosphere all while getting the voices to shine, that was my job.  A fun challenge.  But I think I was pretty successful, in that Carsten seemed quite pleased.  “You can hear the voices so much better now!”  Or something to that effect. 

I also had the job of finding the appropriate (rights-free) music, which I then had to cut and stitch together to create an intro, outro, music to fit under his narrative bits, plus what he in his radio jargon calls a ‘stinger’ and a ‘drop.’  That was easy enough, if a bit time consuming.  But he seemed happy with that as well.  The only thing that didn’t really work out was, he asked for some kind of ‘wooshing’ sound effect, which I tried to create manually.  I didn’t love it.  (A Foley artist I ain’t).  I guess he didn’t either.  He never said anything negative, but in the end, I don’t think he wound up using it.  So that’s a skill I need to work on, creating sound effects. 

All in all though, a fun project.  Some good challenges too.  Really enjoyed it.  And I do think he was pleased with my work.  The only thing is, he said we should wait another week or so in case the client requests any changes.  But hopefully this is another step towards us collaborating again in the future.  Time will tell.

One last thing to cover.  I know, it’s a long post already.  But I haven’t written in a while, and it’s been a busy couple of months.  Anyway, my friend (and I’m pretty sure we’re proper friends at this point) and khavrusa partner, Yael, invited me to spend Shavous with her family.  That was pretty cool, and actually meant a lot to me.  I mean, Deb had me over for Passover a couple of years back, which was pretty great.  And Akiva, while he was here, had hosted some stuff.  But this felt a little different.  More serious.  I guess cos Yael and her fam are pretty frum.  So this was serious business for them and she wanted to include me.  Nice.

Anyway, to start with, she gave me the wrong address, and of course her phone was off, because Shavous.  So I tried different permutations (if that’s the right word) of the house building number she gave me until I found it.  But find it I did.  When I finally showed up, she was so happy.  “Ah, Dahvid! [her Italian accent, you know?]  I thought you maybe weren’t coming!”  And I’m like, “Girl, you gave me the wrong address.”  And she’s like, “Oh no!”  So we had a laugh about that.

So when I finally showed up, three of the four other guests were already there.  Three young ladies, in their twenties I guess.  One I’d met through Akiva in passing.  Another I vaguely know from the Kollel.  The third, I gather, was the gf of the second.  All nice enough.  The last guest was a young feller, apparently the boyfriend of the first girl.  A med student and also super-frum, he was an interesting cat.  Anyway, he showed up with Yael’s husband; they’d been at shul.  Once they arrived, we had dinner.  Dinner was very nice.  Good food.  They even had fish, which was nice surprise.  (Everybody’s so vegan these days, I just got used to expecting there not being meat of any kind).  After dinner, the two girls who were a couple departed.

Now, apparently, a tradition for Shavous is to stay up all night ‘learning.’  I didn’t know that until Yael told me a couple of days before and asked me to bring ‘something interesting,’ whatever that meant.  I did my ignorant best.  I’ll come back to it.

First up was the dude.  He wanted to discuss Song of Songs, which I’d never read.  Still haven’t.  Turns out the point was not to read it, but to discuss the particular aspects of it that he wanted to discuss.  I’m not complaining.  That was the point.  Just, I didn’t quite know that going in.  Anyway, it was the text itself and an associated page of Talmud, what he brought.

Next up was Yael’s husband, who also had a page of Talmud.  He wanted to discuss Song of Songs in connection with מתן תורה, the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  He also had some excerpts from Spinoza (in German) in connection with this. 

I want to say they were both interesting.  And to the extent that I understood what was going on, they were.  But both their presentations/discussions were in German, and at a very high academic level of German.  I was in over my head.  But I need that.  They asked if I’d prefer to do it in English, but I flatly refused.  I’ll never get better at German that way.  And I didn’t move here to do this shit in English.  So I just did my best to keep up.  But it was a struggle and a lot of shit just went over my head.  Well that’s how it goes.  The only way I’ll ever get myself up to that level is to just keep doing shit like this.

I was up next.  What I brought was not nearly so erudite.  I brought a passage of Josephus (a the Jewish-Roman historian from the 1st century AD), in which he talks about the sacrifices that Jews were bringing to the Temple on Shavous in his time and then contrasted that with what’s called for in the Torah; plus a bit of associated Mishnah.  Pretty sure I didn’t come off as an intellectual heavyweight, but at least it fit the spirit of things.  Plus it accorded in nicely with a discussion from earlier in the evening about traditions and how they change over time.  I felt a little self-conscious that what I brought was not up to the level of the shit the other two guys had brought.  But to their credit, they showed enough grace to take me seriously and treat me and my texts with dignity.  Like, even if I was clearly the lightweight at the table, they were careful not to make feel like it.  I really appreciated that.

The two fellas left shortly after 4:00 AM to go to Shul (again) and with them, the young man’s gf (to go home, I guess).  So then it was just me and Yael.  Which was nice, as it gave us a chance to catch up.  And when it was just the two of us, I felt much more comfortable.  Maybe because we were talking in English.  But also because she’s my (new) friend.  We talked about the Kollel (and she went out her way to say how much she likes learning with me; the feeling is mutual, I made it clear).  We also talked about Greek and Latin (did I mention she’s a Latin teacher and studied Greek in school?) and even theatre (apparently she’s done directing in the past; I told her about my experience as well).  We have so many shared interest and get along so well.  And we have the same ‘sensibility’ (her word).  I’m just so happy I found her.  She’s a special one.  I stayed for maybe another half hour or so before I finally left. 

A word on Yael’s husband.  I guess he’s ‘modern orthodox.’  I don’t know if he’d describe himself that way, but that was my read.  Anyway, just a lovely guy.  Warm, smart, funny, super learned.  But what I really appreciated was, he made me feel welcome in his home.  I mean, he’d never met me.  I was there on Yael’s invitation.  But he never made me feel like, “Well, I’ll make my own judgment about you.”  Right from the get, I had the feeling of, “Yael invited you and that’s good enough for me.  Glad to meet you.  Glad you’re here.”  When he left, I thanked him for including me and he was like, “Of course.  I hope you’ll join us again.”  Said I would be very happy to.  Which is obviously true.

Thanked Yael too, when I left, for inviting me.  And though she phrased it differently, the sense of her response was basically, “Are you fucking kidding me?  Obviously.”  Love it.

Apart from the end of the evening, when it was just me and Yael, it’s hard for me to say I felt like I was in my element.  It wasn’t necessarily an easy night.  But it was certainly כדאי, certainly worth it.  Learned a lot.  And just to be welcomed into someone’s home like that, it’s a good feeling.  Like when I visit C in France, or the peeps in Bavaria.  It’s not just visiting my friend, it’s visiting a whole family and being made to feel welcome.  Why this shit keeps happening to me, I have no idea.  Grateful, obvi.

The walk home was nice.  Y lives just down the main avenue from Joschka (and kind of around the block from Deb), so it was the usual 90m, 2-beer walk home.  Lovey weather, but this time of year, I had sunshine most of the way, which is just weird.  I’m not complaining.  Just a different experience.  I’m getting the hang of these walks though.  I know where I can get a beer at 4-5am.  I know the route that takes me past a (clean and free) public restroom just about halfway.  And at the end of it, Neukölln.  Civilization.  Such a simple thing, but I do love these long, late-night walks. 

And I guess that’s as good a place to end as any.  Stay tuned…
*Oh shit, you guys!  I just realized.  This is officially my 100th American in Berlin post!  Ain’t that some shit?!

זײַ געזונט

[1] Oh right, we also bought black pepper powder at the gourmet.  Ideally, you’d want full pepper corns that you’d grind at the time of cooking.  That said, the powdered stuff was top notch.  C commented that, despite being pre-ground, you could easily tell this was good fucking pepper.

[2] She probably did not call me “Bruh.” #poeticlicense

[3] And we did tell the story, to her friend Magalie, who joined us in Lecce on my last full day.

[4] Actually, we finally finished the Ajax this week!  I’ll talk more about our next project in a future post.

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