13 August 2011

Munich: The End of Invincibility

The hospital in Munich doesn't smell the way I expect a hospital to smell.  The walls are still gleamingly white, the floors are solid and polished with strips of dark gray tile accenting large paths of even more gleaming white.  It's the sort of decorative palette that is designed to be easily cleaned and disinfected.  But, there is no lingering smell of disinfectants here.  It smells more like an office building than a hospital.  The waiting room has lockers, just like the hostel we're staying at.  Lockers 0024 and 0025 are the only ones being used.  Germans are waiting patiently and unhurriedly.

An elementary school; maybe this hospital reminds me of an elementary school in rural Virginia in the quiet moments between classes when the halls are eerily empty.  Except there are no crayon drawings or motivational posters on the wall.  I am beginning to lose faith in my elementary school comparison.  A proper metaphor needs to somehow encompass more accountants than an elementary school ever could.  It is a new cubicle at an accounting firm.

It's our second time here.  I would describe yesterday as uncontrolled; inarticulate; inconsolable.  Our passive-aggressive snarkiness and possibly elitist superiority complexes giving way to infantile anger and the sorts of grandiose statements that belong nowhere else but on early morning talk radio shows.  I don't remember most of it today, but that's how we got to the hospital.  More or less.

And the reality is that, as it was foreshadowed on a park bench in Amsterdam, we are not invincible.  We do not always make good choices.  We are flawed and weaker than we acknowledge.  Life and nature and gravity are all things that are bigger than us and they quite frankly don't give a rat's ass about our delusions of grandeur or the pseudo-humanistexistential philosophies we've been trying to weave together since we got on the first train together.  When it rains, our metaphysical quilt might as well just be another ratty, wet rag.

But, that's not to say that I'm depressed about it or that I am even doubting that we've been pretty much right all along.  Instead, I am just feeling a certain sort of resignation to accept that yes, I have been running away from a lot of things in my life.  I have chosen paths that weren't easy but ones that weren't as hard as I could handle.  Those choices have left me occasionally feeling like my human potential has become sterile or impotent.  Lost.  Surprisingly needy (between bouts of reckless independence.)  Like my personal identity hasn't really existed, that it was only ever a reflection of the people I was around; of the people I was trying to please.  A sense that good things in my life weren't necessarily deserved - not because of my own lack of effort - but because I should have done more.  Still more, ever more more more.  So many things that I haven't done that I could do.  That I still could do, and that, I suppose is the silver lining of this whole accountant smelling hospital business.  The things I will do.

I read a message on the internet from a girl I know today that read, "A little less conversation, a little more action please."  That message probably wasn't actually aimed at me, but considering our history together it could have been and it might as well have been.  She has always been something that I've run away from.  So much so that I've stopped trying to figure out why I ever ran in the first place.  But, it's time for me to stop running.  With any luck, I suppose.  It's a happy thought for me.

The hospital waiting room has been silent since I started writing, with the exception of the tap tap tapping of a woman pacing and one friendly cheek kiss from a nurse to a friend.  Locker 0026 has now been claimed and the glossy floors echo the chunky sound of the turning key.  Sartre said that we are never truly helpless victims, regardless of what Man or Nature or Gravity manages to do to us.  We always have the choice of how we will handle ourselves in the face of adversity.  Actually, maybe Sartre didn't say that, it sounds awfully cheery to be Sartre, but I'm pretty sure that's more or less what he meant through all the "life is miserable" commentary.  You see where I am going with this?  Halfway through this trip I mused that I didn't feel like it had really changed who I was, only reinforced certain ideas I had about myself and the world.  But, now I think that assertion was probably both presumptuously premature and naive.

I am coming home in less than a week, and I'm ready for less conversation and more action.

14 February 2011

The Spring From Whence I Came

I never met my great-grandfather, but I can clearly remember my great-grandmother from my childhood. I remember her gardening; pulling up weeds and pushing a lawn mower when she was nearly ninety-nine years old. Whenever we visited her, I always wanted to play in the creek by her house. The tiny stream rushed over boulders that I would climb up and down. I would find rocks to build dams in the stream. It was one of my favorite games. I suppose the game didn't really have a purpose other than to create something. And maybe to assert control over something strong and relentless like nature; something like water that can't really ever be tamed. But, that's not how I saw it as a child. I just thought that rivers and streams and creeks were fun as hell.

I remember my great-grandmother seeming tough but graceful, even in her old, old age. She was always smiling when we visited and seemed to be infinitely gracious of everyone around. My mother says she was an amazing cook when she was younger. The recipes I grew up eating were derived in her kitchen. The biscuits were masterpieces made from scratch; made with real lard. 

There was a mentally handicapped man named Carl that lived next door to her who was a savant banjo picker. She took care of him until the last day that she was physically able. He passed away not long after her. The doctor's called it something or another - he was pretty old, after all - but, everyone around knew the truth. It was her glowing life-spirit that was keeping him alive all those years. She nourished the people around her with it.

I remember my great-grandmother's house. It was old and it felt old and it smelled old. It was often covered in black dust from the nearby coal mines and the trucks carting the country’s energy up and down the mountainside. The floor plan was laid out such that it was one big loop; a young child’s racetrack of old books and black and white photos and dishes and one thousand other things I didn't comprehend then and didn't really care to. Intimacy made me nervous when I was young - even familial intimacy. I was embarrassed to hear family stories and mortified when someone asked me if I had a girlfriend.

There was a real fireplace in her house and I remember seeing pieces of coal burning in it. There was a sun room with green carpet that made me strangely uncomfortable. The house's exterior was partially constructed from stone that men in the family carried there from a nearby creek bed. More art than science, each misshapen stone had to be closely examined and re-examined to assemble the castle-esque puzzle.  Each stone had to be a perfect fit; they were massive and moving any one of them was a huge undertaking. But they finished the walls and they never crumbled.

I once sat in our car in her driveway that was cut out of the hillside with two tall walls on either side of us while a rare mountain tornado passed right over our heads during a violent thunderstorm. The transformers on the power line in front of us exploded one after another like dominoes triggering fireworks.

She once told my sister that she had always grown a few cotton plants in her garden to remind her of her childhood. She said they always grew fields of cotton when she was young; that some of it was a kind of special cotton; that as a little girl, she knew some of the men that worked the fields would sometimes pick some of that special cotton and go out behind the barn, roll it in tobacco leaves and smoke it.

She hadn't been expected to live as long as she did. Decades earlier she had fallen extremely ill. The situation was so dire that there came a time when the doctor who was visiting her home took the waiting family outside and told them all that she was on the edge of passing and that they should say their final goodbyes before it was too late. But, when everyone came back into the room she was sitting up, revived and asked, "Where have you all been?" as if nothing were wrong. My mother was always very close with her and she later confided that when everyone had left the room there was a bright, warm light that slowly crawled up her body. And she was better. This is story that my family tells. When they recount it, their faces are grave. She lived another thirty years or so.

I never met my great-grandfather, but I was told the story of his wedding day wherein he married my great-grandmother. It was supposed to be a shared wedding. Him and his brother were marrying my great-grandmother and her sister. It all seemed picturesque on paper, but when the wedding day arrived the brides were dressed and smiling and the grooms were nowhere to be found. But, strangely, no one panicked. Everyone waited. And waited. And waited. When they all got hungry, the guests began to eat the food meant for the reception. They picked at it until it was all gone. And still they waited.

The sun was setting when my great-grandfather and his brother finally arrived on horseback. They had decided that morning to celebrate their upcoming nuptials with a round of whiskey. And while the guests were waiting, the whiskey kept pouring. And pouring. And pouring. At some point in this misguided (and certainly inebriated) celebration of their good luck in love, my great-grandfather accidentally shot himself in the leg with his pistol. When their horses trotted into the ceremony his leg was still bleeding.

Although it was nightfall by then, the pastor had waited patiently for the arrival of the grooms. The guests were all still waiting. A doctor amidst them bandaged my great-grandfather's leg and the vows were said. The reception meal had long since been consumed, but the guests had mercifully left the wedding cake. The cake was sliced and the bond of marriage was formed, even as the whiskey tinged blood soaked slowly through the bandages.

12 February 2011

150 Days Since Paris

I really have no explanation as to why I've been paralyzed from finishing my thoughts on Paris. It was amazing. Maybe I'm afraid that it's gone beyond my grasp. Maybe it's a secret; a dirty secret; a filthy, scratch your back in a dark alleyway secret.

Each time I've set foot in this city I have this feeling that it is where I belong. I know it's a crush; infatuation. But, as I sip Beaujolais from some vintage year that isn't actually all that impressive (as if I would even know) and struggle to hack out the French "R's" in every word I try to voice (remembering the smile on Margot's face when I actually pronounced her name correctly) I am nothing but transfixed and inebriated with my own passion for this place. Even now, 150 days later I am still descending the stairs from the picturesque Montmartre to the seedy red-light district and into the red, glowing bowels of a darkened absinthe bar with peeling wall paper. Elated.

03 December 2010

Paris: Le Battement de Cœur et Les Rêves - Part 2

Antoine's flat was in a neighborhood known as Oberkampf in the 11th arrondissement.  Most travel guidebooks this year will tell you that Oberkampf is an up-and-coming neighborhood near Place de la République that features good restaurants and bars that have a slightly grungy, contra-tourist, "authentic Parisienne" atmosphere.  

My personal first impression of the neighborhood differed significantly and was dominated by a string of video game themed stores, one after another.  This block in Oberkampf will forever be remembered by me as the Paris Video Game District.  The directions Antoine gave us to find his apartment said to turn at the big, yellow "games" sign.  The Games District block was dominated by big, yellow "games" signs which rendered these instructions much less useful than we'd originally assumed.  After a few missed turns that led us deep into Video Game Land, I was more or less unsurprised when I saw that the view from the front door of Antoine's building was a life-size image of Link from the Legend of Zelda wielding a sword.  The block would have been heaven for a twelve year old boy.

When we arrived at chez Antoine, we were given keys from a girl named Julie who was dutifully waiting on the stoop.  Julie didn't say much to us besides a polite "Bonsoir!"  We never actually met Antoine and we never saw Julie again.

We decided to stay in a flat in Paris because we were going to be there an entire week and it turned out to not be much more expensive than a hostel.  It certainly felt far more glamorous to have our own private residence.  The flat itself was a cozy, top floor studio with a back room that someone (who I would venture is Antoine's main squeeze) was using as a small workroom for fashion design projects. It was filled with scraps of materials, old portfolios and box of g-strings.  

The kitchen was small and cluttered; its wooden floor sloping severely.  The angle of the floor was so pronounced that the doors of the banquet hung wide open, causing night time bathroom runs to be alarmingly hazardous to our travel-weary knees.  I tried to keep them closed with rubber bands, but when the rubber bands both snapped I grudgingly accepted that the doors were simply happier swinging freely.  (Liberté.)  For a French kitchen it was shockingly under-supplied.  It seemed to be more or less unused except for the preparation of a number of fancy-smelling herbal teas which were clustered by the sink and microwave.  The kitchen was stocked with a box of potatoes and onions, but I suspected that they had been largely forgotten about; the potatoes had sprouted a labyrinth of offshoots before reaching a nearly liquified state of decomposition by the time I found them.  

The main room served as both a common room and a bedroom; neither area was separated from the other by anything but logical space.  There was an old leather chair in a state of such disrepair that we were sure the bottom would drop out of it at any moment.  It was alarmingly comfortable.  The bed was a full size mattress laying on the floor in the far corner of the room.  There were two windows, both of which opened widely to the chilly September air of Paris.  On the wall was taped a set of Polaroid photographs of other photographs of models posing in that avant-garde, high-fashion sort of way.  I amused myself by taking photos of the photos of photos while marveling at the meta levels of recreation like staring into a mirror with another mirror at your back, trying your damnedest to see what infinity looks like.

20 October 2010

Paris: Le Battement de Cœur et Les Rêves - Part 1

It's only fair to begin writing about Paris with a confession.  I loved this city before I ever arrived and all my thoughts about it now are the hopelessly skewed thoughts of a young lover still too infatuated with a distant, lovely mistress (which he has had scant few real conversations with) to really consider any of the realistic downfalls she almost certainly has.

It's not even just Paris.  It's France.  It's the French language.  I am enamored by it all.  The mere sound of French flowing into my ears is enough to make my heart start throbbing; make my lungs feel strained from the breaths I'm holding back.

I suspect this all started really, really early in my life.  When I was a kid, we didn't have television at home.  Or, more accurately, we did have it, but not in the way that most people had it.  The technology that was used to bring the television signals into our home was a large, white satellite dish that stood prominently in our yard.  In order to set this satellite dish you had to physically go out and crank the thing up and down, degree by degree.  Our version of "channels" mostly consisted of a set of lines hand cut into the crank shaft to mark specific orientations that we had empirically shown to receive viewable signals.  The only real way to find those orientations was to go outside, crank the dish up one or two turns, walk back inside, check all the knobs on the television set (which predated remote controls) and if you found anything at all, mark the shaft.  It took hundreds and hundreds of cranks to span the entire range the satellite could cover.

The difficulties did not end there.  Once the satellite was cranked to a position where it was actually receiving some sort of signal there was still a question of whether or not you could actually view it.  Often the signals were encrypted or "scrambled," a phenomenon known to anyone who's tried in vain to catch a nipple slip through the static of a hotel television screen when you haven't paid for the adult channels.  You could buy a dubiously legal box called a "de-scrambler" that could turn those channels into real television.  We did not have a de-scrambler. 

Finally, if you were able to find a channel that appeared clear and un-scrambled, there was the problem of scheduling.  The satellite we had was generally picking up the broadcasts from a parent station to local affiliates.  As a normal television consumer you may not realize how this whole process works.  What typically happens (or at least, how it happened when I was a kid) is that the parent station, Fox, for example, broadcasts a whole week's (or month's or whatever) lineup of a particular show or particular time slot to their local affiliates (like Fox 5 DC or KPTM Fox 45: Omaha) who record the shows and replay them later according to their own programming schedule.  (I'm sure this happens digitally now, but I assume the process is comparable.)  What that really meant to us is that if we were going to watch a show, we typically were presented with five or ten episodes of that show at a time.  When episodes of a show weren't being broadcast, all that you saw were those rainbow colored bars on the screen accompanied by a very steady, persistent and annoyingly loud ring tone.  This "no signal" screen was not entertaining for very long.  Our solution to the scheduling problem was to act like our own local affiliate station, figure out when the broadcasts would happen by trial and error, record all the shows onto a VHS cassette when we got it right and watch the episodes later at our leisure.  For all the difficulty involved, we really could fast forward through all the commercials even in the 1980's, so I guess our unconventional system wasn't entirely without merits.  The original Tivo, I suppose.

Because of all the difficulties and complexities involved, usually our television could only show one channel at a time, and it would show that channel for months or years until we lost the signal.  Luckily, when I was very small, the one channel we got played age-appropriate shows for me like Sesame Street.  The problem was that the broadcaster was CBC, i.e. the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  The feed we were receiving was aimed at affiliates in Québec, which leads me to the moral of this whole discussion about my television.  I watched Sesame Street like any other American kid, but when I watched it, it was bi-lingual, half in French, half in English.  I could count to ten in French before Kindergarten.  "Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, seis, sept, huit, neuf, dix."

When I hear French now, on some level it feels comfortable, safe, nostalgic.  It was integrated into my childhood mind irreversibly.  Lost, waiting to be awakened.

13 October 2010

Amsterdam: The Unrequested Baptism in Highly Undervalued Shoes

Is today the day?  Yes, today should be the day, it feels right, it's noon and I'm not sick.  But it's cloudy.  It's been raining again and the park will be muddy and wet.  It's probably going to rain more.  But where else should we go?  There's no place better.

It's better with chocolate, but save some for later.  You never know when your life might demand more chocolate.

I can't believe the trees have golden leaves that are falling on the ground.  It's my favorite time of the year but it's too soon, it doesn't make sense that it's happening already.  But I like my sweater, covered in little golden leaves.

The dogs in this park are the muddiest, happiest dogs in the entire world.  They run up and down the paths by the old Dutch ladies on the park benches chasing tennis balls with their muddy paws and muddy bellies.  A man hits his tennis balls with a racket, far out into the marsh.  His muddy dog loyally jumps into the water.

This park bench is a good place to call our home, beneath a tree with little golden leaves on a path with little muddy dogs and in front of the plaza with the red flowers and the hedges shaped like a page from a Geometry textbook.  My best math subject in high school.

The Turk tells us that he is a famous salesman who could make the rain stop.  I watch the wave of rain come across the water behind him as he boasts.  I'm sorry, I don't really want your Heineken today.  The Turk is sad that he isn't making money today because of the rain.  No one wants to drink Heineken in the rain, apparently.  He has a cigarette (on us) as consolation, sits for a minute quietly and disappears.

A little muddy dog runs past.

The sun finds it's way around the clouds which roll past pulsing and throbbing through little golden leaves.  The cloud separates and spirals around itself like a page from a Geometry textbook.  I can't look at the tree, only its happy little golden leaves that frame the symphony clouds.

In that one brain of mine is all the memories I have ever created.

My parents are discussing whether or not I am ready to go to school at four years old.  I'm technically ready but they're not sure if I'm social enough.  I am coloring at the foot of their bed.  No, he'll be fine.  I'm scared to go.

I have this computer game.  You conquer the world in it.  You should come over to my place and we'll stay up all night until we beat it.  We'll buy the soda with the extra caffeine to make sure we don't sleep.

I am in my apartment that I pay for with my own money wishing that I could sleep.

I talk all night on the phone during the summer to the guys from school.  Then we talk on the phone all night to our girlfriends.  Then I fall asleep on the phone with my girlfriend.  Then I whisper to my girlfriend on the phone I fall asleep with and learn why she breathes so heavily on the receiver at night.  Then I fall asleep after phone sex with my girlfriend.  Then I fall asleep after real sex with my girlfriend.  Then there are other girlfriends.  Now there are none.  Now there is a park bench and little golden leaves.

Do you know how to tell if berries are poisonous?  First you take one berry and squeeze the juice out on the back of your hand.  Then you wait an hour.  If your hand hasn't broken out in hives by then, then your throat probably won't either.  Then you take one berry and squeeze just a little of its juice onto your tooth.  Slide your tongue over your ambiguously poisoned tooth and wait an hour.  If you aren't sick after an hour you can continue.  Take one berry and eat it.  Wait an hour.  If you're still alive you can try to eat five berries.  Wait an hour.  Et cetera.  It's a lot of work for berries that probably aren't even very good berries, but it could make the difference between being alive and being dead.

When I met Brandy with a "Y" I knew who she was but had never spoken to her.  I had never intentionally been in the same room with her.  "I'm sorry, do you mind if we stop here first, it's our friend Brandy (with a 'Y') her father passed away."  When I met Brandy with a "Y" she was standing in a parking lot crying.  Her father had slid his tongue around the barrel of a rifle like a poison berry he hadn't sampled first.  Brandy with a "Y" hugged me.  "It means so much to me that you came."

Brandy with a "Y" surely doesn't think about me now.  I met her on an unplanned side trip, founded on a friend's apology on the way to somewhere like a church meeting for a God I'd already started making mocking jokes about.  I flip through the Bible looking for pages on sex and slavery and bears that eat children.

I think about Brandy with a "Y" all the time.  But not her, really.  I don't know her.  I know that parking lot.  I know feeling ashamed that her father's shortened life didn't impact me at all, that I didn't know her before that moment.  That I was really there just for me (and barely even for me) and I'd never considered her emotional state for even a second before that parking lot.  I know hugging back and meaning it and kissing her soft blonde hair and saying that everything was going to be okay and wanting to be the one who loved her instead of the abusive boyfriend who didn't even show up that night.

The first time Brandi with an "I" fell asleep on me it was on a bus.  She listened to my "Guster" album.  She smelled like "Ralph" by Ralph Lauren, which I was later informed was a perfume for sluts by girls who said "sluts" extra scornfully.  Slutty girls that fall asleep on buses with boys who pet their hair and still never really kiss them except maybe once in the back room for a second that honestly doesn't even count.

Now, I prefer a much more refined Chanel.  But sometimes Ralph makes me smile.  I can smell it from across the room, inhaling deeply.

There are only maybe five spots on the "cool" bus for freshmen, we have to make sure we get on that bus.  We got on that bus.  I had my first kiss.  I wonder if anyone ever tried to get on my bus to have their first kiss or if there even was a cool bus after the cool bus crowd graduated high school and went away.

The deep deep heavy breathing on the other end of the phone line.  The extra long phone line I bought so that I could lay in bed while I listened to raspy breaths.  The extra long phone line that was too long really, coiled copper intercepting the phone calls of strangers and we played the game where we were very very very quiet, trying to listen to whatever they may be saying to each other and wondering if they could hear our raspy breaths and orgasms.

The odd, odd feeling of having grown up with so many people that are so far away that I feel like I grew right past them.  And they stayed where they were, staring at me like some curious anomaly.  "New York?  Isn't that place really fast?"

Catherine, saying to me in a non-ironic fashion:  We are the fucking elite.  There are rules for other people that don't know how to get around them.  That doesn't apply to us.  We are above it.

The sun is out as the clouds dance in their kaleidoscope geometry book page behind the little golden leaves.

We are above it.  I empathized far too much with Raskolnikov when I first read those pages.  I was him.  I can get away with it, I am that strong and you can't stop me.  I can do whatever I want and I will.

The clouds are suddenly darker and rushing and squeezing and swirling and the birds are audibly upset.  There are no muddy dogs with muddy dog bellies.

And I stare into the eyes of whatever God is. If he has eyes I don't know but I stared past little golden leaves into them and said I can do whatever I want to do and I spit into his eyes whether they existed or not.  I spit and I laughed and I cried and I spit and I laughed.

And the rain came down.  It didn't hesitate, the Sky opened up and It is coming and it came and it will come and it fell on us like the hand of a God with spit in his eye that doesn't exist.  My jeans are soaked and my sweater (that I like) is soaked and my socks have become a hilarious parody of what socks should be and I could step straight in to the canals of this city and be drier than I am right now as God himself humbles us on our park bench that we call home.  The two spoiled children who are (kind of) right when they say such bastardly, over-confident things but they can't stop the rain any better than a sad Turk Heineken salesman can and the lightning flashes above us as we get up to leave.

Where can we go?  Nowhere.  We don't actually know where we are.  There is no shelter here, but the joggers are still jogging in circles so we will just drippedly walk through the rain.

Over there is a covered stage with a man with a beard that says to me that we probably don't have the same religious background and he says something incomprehensible to me in Dutch.  I say, "I think it may rain."  And he throws his head and his beard back and laughs and shakes his head.

A man in a tiny car opens his door beside the dry stage and plays strange music.  American top 40's with the same cheesy station identifiers that we know back home, wherever the fuck that is.  I don't know the address but I know the sound of the station identifiers.

There is a girl with a bike with a plastic bag on her dry seat and an umbrella and she is the most Dutch thing I've seen all day.  But her smile is French and it radiates the kind of cuteness and shy passion that makes me say that your face is the only thing I can see when I close my eyes at night and ma cherie ma cherie your name is all I hear when people are speaking and the gods themselves lament for ever having made eyes as perfect as yours because there will never be a pair of eyes again that can compare and I will buy you pearls and watch you put on your make-up and kiss your neck in the mirror and fill your womb with our children that we will love wholly, even if imperfectly as our skin withers but our hands with our withering fingers can still never be happy unless they are intertwined like our legs were after our first night of passion together, ma cherie, ma cherie.

We eat chocolate.

The rain slows down and the man with the tiny car drives away and the man with the beard says that we have no more music.  I say, "No.  Music is kaput."  The man with the beard throws his head and his beard back and laughs and shakes his head.

The lights in the park blink on in a wave and it's time to go, sloshing in my sad wet cold shoes.

I bought the shoes three days before I left the country.  They weren't the color that I wanted (and I care about color.)  They were a half size too small, which was noticeable.  They told me that they could order me the shoes I wanted and they'd be ready in two weeks.  I don't have two weeks.  I bought the shoes in the O.K. color that were a little too small.  I paid forty dollars and change.

And, I suppose to prove a point my second choice shoes said to me that they'd samba my feet that can't samba in rhythm with the steps of a Brasilian and that they would carry me to the top of a mountain that is higher than the clouds are and throw me right off the face of it and that they would carry me across beaches and up stairs and stairs to monasteries and up towers painted with demons who eat sinners like me for breakfast.

I took off my clothes and stared into a mirror and realized that I'd lost some of the baby fat that I could never lose before.  My skin is red and rashed from too much walking.  I turned on the shower and the water was warm.  So much water falling from the sky today, but this was not water of wrath, this was like my mother soothing my wounds.

In Denmark they have a word, "hygge," that roughly translates to a sort of familiar coziness - the kind of coziness that brings joy to winter days that spend eighteen hours each in the dark.  I want to fall into the arms of a beautiful woman who isn't a stranger right now.  I want for just one second her to tell me that everything is going to be O.K. in a parking lot maybe and maybe also wake up beside her while she's still sleeping and make french toast - because I can do it quite well with brioche and Grand Marnier - and because she'd love it and I love giving her the things that she loves and then I could go back to being the pillar, the stone that I am - that I can be, the infuriating stone, unfinished Michelangelo marble with unpolished hammerstrokes emerging from my sleeves like trophies or scars, the stone that spits at God's eyes that don't exist until the sky opens up and erodes it into dust.

I want to know what people will think when I say that this girl is the most Dutch thing I've seen all day.  Or how it rains and I say, oh this is just Holland.  That street has the good croissants.  As if I should know where the good croissants are in Amsterdam.  I know a great place to have your hair cut the next time you're in Stockholm and there's this little tent in Switzerland that is the only place with affordable beer in town, they'll even play your own music if you make a playlist on your iPod.  Really just having to have olives with my beer and saying things like how French that is while I shrug or that babies at home aren't as cute as babies in Scandanavia.  Scoffing at dried pasta.  The path through this alley that is a street but doesn't even look like a street is the shortcut home.  Whatever home is now.

Argentina has beaten defending world champions Spain 4 - 1.

I apologize to my shoes.

I close my eyes and listen to heavy breaths and the distant conversations of strangers and static.


My nostrils were filled with the sweetly burning aroma of whiskey as the man with long, blonde hair fell into me next to the jukebox.  He was Danish and he was happily singing along with a bar full of his countrymen to "Sweet Home Alabama."  I caught him and stood him back up.  His friends told me that they had been to a whiskey festival earlier in the day and that he had drank far too much.  It was apparent as he dropped three cigarettes on the floor, one after another, trying his best to light them.  His friends went on to tell me that he doesn't normally get this drunk, that he used to be an officer in the army and that now his job was to walk the streets trying to save the world.  They told me that because of what he does for the country if he wants to spend a night completely pissed then they'd be here to take care of him and make sure he gets home in one piece.  He interupted the conversation and tried to convince everyone to migrate to a bar where we could order "One very well served beer."  I would later find out that this somehow involved an aging stripper and her aging vagina and a fairly steep price for a single beer, if you ask me.  Three other Danish men independently tried to get me to go to the same place before the night was over.

As the evening wore on, the blonde haired hero sobered up just enough to tell me more about what he did for a living.  His job was to walk the streets of Copenhagen looking for homeless people; anyone on the streets.  He would go to them and talk to them to make sure that they were ok and that they knew that the Danish government would happily step in and take care of them, give them a home, healthcare.  That no one in this city had to sleep on the streets."But some of them, they just want to sit on the streets anyway.  You know?  They've chosen it, to be anarchists or whatever.  Just remember, when you see them, they're choosing to be there.  Don't feel sorry for them.  Don't give them any money."

"So, what do you do when you talk to them about their options and they don't want to accept any help?"

"Nothing.  You can't help anyone that doesn't want help.  I just let them sit there."

Nicholas was staying in my hostel.  He was German but he had been living in Australia for over a year.  He spoke German with a strange Aussie accent.  It was impossible to tell where he was actually from when he spoke.  He told us heaps of stories about his wild adventures in Australia.  If even half of what he told us was true, then Nicholas is easily one of the craziest people I've ever met.

"I mean, I never thought it would work but my friend just kept telling me to do it, 'They'll never know, man!  They won't know anything about Belgium, just go for it."

Nicholas had been pretending to be the Prince of Belgium.  He was cocky enough that people actually believed him, or, believed him enough to get him in heaps of trouble.

"I have been seeing this girl, and you know, I am thinking she is the one for me.  We will probably get married.  But, she is, you know, she is not here now, right?  So I am going to go talk to that girl that's dancing over there."

I was horrified and thoroughly amused.

Standing outside the bar an ex-employee of IBM was groaning over the homeless man across the street.

"It makes me so angry to see that.  I really want to apologize for it.  I don't want you to get the wrong impression of our city.  There are no homeless people in Copenhagen. These people just choose to live this way."

I walked along rivers and canals and glossy sex toy boutiques in the main shopping district and an amusement park called Tivoli with rides that induce as much g-force as a space shuttle launch and a small community that had declared its independence from the rest of the world decades ago.  Aging hippies still live there selling pot on the streets.  It's called Fristaden Christiania and it's apparently easier to just let it exist than to try and clean it up.  There seems to be an understanding with the residents of the area and the police that as long as the hard drugs stay off the street, they can do what they like.  The neighborhood self regulates the drug trade as a survival mechanism.  Photography here was strictly discouraged.

Copenhagen reminded me immensely of Brooklyn.  I could see myself living here in the endless sun of summer and the endless nights of winter.  Maybe.  Probably.  I don't know.  It is a wonderful place; a dirty city full of beautiful people.  Sharp, jagged edges wrapped with foam and silk sheets.