Busker in Berlin

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London…

He sang on Wilmersdorfer Strasse, dressed in khakis and a button-down shirt. If it weren’t for the fact that he was busking, he could be taken for any other professional walking up and down the busy shopping street. In fact, he probably was a professional, maybe a lawyer or a teacher, with a roof over his head at night, and maybe a family.

His hair was white and silky, and it fell almost boyishly onto his forehead. His face was wrinkled, and as his lips moved each line was accentuated, so that once you could see the deep lines below his nose and then you saw the valleys in his brow.

So how can you tell me you’re lonely, and say for you that the sun don’t shine?

He smiled at the photographer taking his picture. He looked to the photographer’s left, and saw a girl smiling back at him, so his own grew wider. He came to the delicate melodic part in the song that he loved most of all, and he closed his eyes as his fingers plucked the strings.

In our winter city, the rain cries a little pity for one more forgotten hero and a world that doesn’t care.

He finished the song and saw a Euro drop from the photographer’s fingers and into his small case, littered with coins. He nodded, grinning, at the pair, and they smiled back and walked on. He looked after them, although they didn’t look back at him. He saw them draw nearer each other, remembering that they had each other and being thankful for it.

He didn’t need to be out there on the streets of Berlin, singing and playing for strangers. At his age, he could retire comfortably and didn’t need the income. But he didn’t play for the twenty or so Euros that would accumulate within a couple of hours. He played for the joy and the sadness, for the truth and the lies and for everything else that a voice, words, and a guitar could express.

To Berlin!

Yes, it’s true, I’m going abroad tonight! Again! I know, I know, this is getting insane… But to be fair, this time I’m using my mileage on Swiss-Air to fund a flight! And I’ll remind you all again that flying to Europe from Israel is much less hassle that from North America, or indeed, Australia/New Zealand. It’s about three and a half hours to Frankfurt, where we switch planes and fly to Berlin.

Yes, this is the third trip abroad that Sir B. F. and I are undergoing together! The first two were to London, England, a place we both love beyond measure. London is fantastic city, absolutely amazing in everything from culture to architecture. But we’ve “done” London twice, and we decided we need a change.

Sir B. F. has a family member who’s relatively wealthy and he has an apartment in Berlin which we can stay in – there’s no way we could have succeeded in funding this trip if we’d had to stay in hotels. Even the cheapest of hotels cost about 100 Euro a night. But no, we get our own cozy little apartment in Charlottenburg, and we have the Schloss Charlottenburg, which is a palace with extensive gardens, right in our own neighborhood! It’s definitely a perfect location for us  – it’s quiet, so we can rest peacefully at night, but close enough to transportation so that we can get right into the centers of Berlin.

While I’m gone, I will try to keep up with everyone’s blogs as often as I can – and yes, I’m still visiting your blogs, but I’m just commenting less. I want to keep my circle of friends here, and I know that in the bloggy-world, the first sign of waning friendship is less commenting – so I truly do apologize, and I’ll do better in future!

I’m also going to try to write a bit (or a lot) while I’m there. I’m bringing my trust netbook, and we have internet in our apartment – plus, there’s neighbourhood-wide wifi connections in some areas of Berlin! Now that’s a service that I think every city should adopt. But back to the point of this paragraph – writing! I’ve already started my travel journal, which I intend to write in as extensively as possible, and if I have time then I’ll also try to continue with my own project which has slowed down a little, although things are getting clearer and closer to an ending, at which point I’ll finally be able to start working on a second draft! Woo!

And so I leave you now to tackle the rest of my day and half the night, as I wait impatiently for my exciting vacation to begin.

Ethan

It seemed that no matter how his hair fell, he looked fabulous. If it was in his eyes, it looked boyish. If it was curled up a bit, it looked sexy. If it was cut short, it showed off his perfect forehead. That was the kind of man-boy he was. He could wear whatever he wanted, and did. Anything from black boots, black jeans and a biker jacket to a waistcoat, pinstriped pants and loafers. In his pocket, you could easily find either a pack of cigarettes or a watch on a chain. If all that weren’t enough, he also projected his comfort and self-esteem and acceptance of who he was. His presence was enough to make anyone weak-kneed, men and women alike. He wasn’t even twenty yet.

He stood smoking outside of his apartment building. As I walked by, he looked up at me, and I saw that his eyes were wet, on the verge of spilling tears. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out “Ethan? You alright?”

He mutely offered me a cigarette, lit it for me, and leaned back against the brick wall, one leg going up to prop himself. He was wearing his black boots, I noticed. I stood beside him, puffing away, feeling more intimate with him than I ever had before, despite being his neighbour for over six months, and despite us having many mutual friends. It seemed that I saw him all the time – around the building, at clubs and pubs. He was a fixture of the Soho night-life, and I often found myself dancing just a few people away from him. It wasn’t that he was a snob, exactly. He wasn’t posh, his father didn’t go to Eton and he hadn’t even finished university. He was just a regular bloke like me. Of course, I couldn’t pull off half the image he had, but then, that’s me.

“Boyfriend,” he sighed. He took a last drag and then threw the butt down. He stomped on it with a force that made me shiver a little. He looked at me, and I think I must have looked a little guilty, since his eyes flashed from heartbroken to angry to resigned in quick succession. “You knew?” He’d already ducked his head, pulling out another cigarette from his pack.

I couldn’t deny it, but I didn’t want to let him in on the fact that, well, we all knew. We all thought he knew it, too. We’d seen them together almost every night of the past few months, but we all knew. The boyfriend lived in Manchester, only came to London every month or two. He’d been over just three weeks ago. So, obviously, we all thought that Ethan knew.

“Sorry, mate.”

He shook his head. His hair flopped, looking perfect no matter what he did. That hair, that hair that my eyes always fixated on, it was still as glossy, as perfect, as natural as it always was. But the rest of him… Well. For the first time since I’d met him, I wasn’t intimidated.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked. I knew it didn’t matter one whit, but I asked anyway.

“February. February 9th, ’88. Why?”

“No reason. You’re two days younger than me. I always thought you were older than me. Never mind. Come upstairs, come on, I’ll make you some tea and we can watch whatever football game is one tonight, right?”

He chucked his smoke way across the street so it hit the building across and a little spray of sparks shone red-hot before falling to the ground. Brushing a hand through his hair, he followed me into the building.

Sorry-Sorry-Service

The waitress was pretty, in a conventional way. Her hair was that sort of natural bright yellow that all those who dye their hair want to have. Her figure was trim but womanly, short without being stocky. Her eyes were big, brown and innocent looking. Her school-girl looks were probably the only reason people were being semi-patient with her.

She’d been running around tables all day. She had no idea why she was lucky enough to get this job at Patisserie Valerie, one of the most popular hangouts in Soho. She had no idea how she was there with her English being so imperfect. She also, unfortunately, had no idea whether or not she would be allowed to stay; so far, she was a disaster.

A group of three came into the cafe: a red haired woman, a girl in her late teens who looked like her daughter and a young man with dark, curly hair. They sat down at a table, and the waitress was shooed over to them by the woman who’d been helping her on and off all day. She bobbed over to the table and asked in her broken English what they wanted to drink. They answered, and the flurry of words was almost too much for her. She went to the kitchens to relay the order. Once she brought it, she realized that she’d forgotten two items. She hadn’t understood what they wanted, she supposed.

Asking about the food was worse. The young man, bless him, merely wanted the sandwich as it was written in the menu, but the woman and her daughter asked for all sorts of changes. Simple enough, if she could only understand what it was they wanted. She felt like her brain had turned to mush, and she only understood every third word, though she dutifully scribbled in her notepad obligingly the keywords that she could understand.

It took her three runs to the kitchens and back to make sure she had everything right. Then the kitchen botched one of the orders. She lost her head completely, and took the order out anyway, saying as she did so that she told the man what to do and he hadn’t done it right. She was about to set down the plate anyway, but the three stared at her uncomprehendingly and then asked her to please get them the order they’d asked for. They didn’t mind waiting, but they wanted to eat the food they’d ordered – not whatever the kitchen’s whims were.

The waitress felt the tears well up, but they didn’t break out. She quickly brought the things back to the kitchen. When she came back, finally with the correct order, she bobbed a sort of half curtsy and explained that “It’s my first day, so sorry, so sorry.”

***

The really strange thing was that when I returned the next day for another meal at the same place, I got the same waitress. It was, again, her first day – sorry-sorry – and again the orders weren’t done right. I don’t blame her. I’ve waitressed. It’s hard, it’s pressuring, and it requires some knowledge of the language. I do, however, blame the restaurant for not even pairing her with a more experienced waitress for a couple days. My mother tells me, however, that Patisserie Valerie has been known since she lived in London more than twenty years ago as a place with good food but notoriously bad service.

The food, at least, was indeed delicious.

Plinth People

Trafalgar Square is probably one of the most famous places in London. Every movie or TV show that shows a montage of London scenery includes it. The square is bordered by four plinths, three of which are regularly occupied by the same statues. This summer, however, the fourth plinth is being used differently. The full info can be found here: http://www.london.gov.uk/fourthplinth/

Basically, every hour of every day for the duration of the summer, a different person will occupy the empty plinth. The people are allowed to do whatever they wish, except, I assume, for blatant sexual performances or violence. Mr. B. F. and I made Trafalgar Square a hub during our visit to London. We kept going back, sometimes up to four times a day, so we could see what the current Plinth Person was doing.

Our first wasn’t very exciting. She was sitting up on the plinth in a folding chair, and sketching. She didn’t interact with the crowd, not even for a moment. I’m sure that she enjoyed the experience of sketching from such a spot, a place that there would be no reason for her to access at any other time, but the crowd around her wasn’t a part of her experience. There were quite a few Plinth People who were there in this way – writing in notebooks or on computers – but I shan’t elaborate about them, because I cannot speak of what sort of experiences they had.

The first Plinth Person we enjoyed seeing we referred to as The Lady in Pink. She was, indeed, dressed all in pink, holding a glass of pink champagne and standing on a pink rug she’d spread across the plinth. She was throwing pink paper airplanes into the crowd, and occasionally she’d toast the crowd and take a sip of her champagne. Then she started throwing candy, and the children went wild for it. We managed to find a couple of the empty candy wrappers – that’s how we figured out that this lady’s message was optimism. She’d written heartwarming compliments and phrases on her paper airplanes and tied encouraging little notes to the candies. My favorite was this: Someone is proud of you right now. Lovely!

The next interesting Plinth Person we got to see was a young man, early twenties probably, who was holding a megaphone and giving a history lesson. He’d brought notes with him, and was reading to the crowd, explaining some battle or another. He soon finished, and asked if the crowd wanted more. Some people, including us, cheered and whooped. He began then to tell us about Trafalgar Square itself; he told us about how it was a gathering place used for everything from protesting wars to mourning Micheal Jackson. He also explained that it was built to restrain such gatherings – the fountain in the middle, for instance, was a good way to break a crowd up and leave some movable space, also thus restricting just how many people could occupy the square.

Another of the fun Plinth People we saw was part of a whole group. She was young as well, presumable a student, and she was holding a sign which we could see from far off: FREE HUGS. We wandered closer, wondering how on earth she’d be able to give free hugs when she was on the plinth, secluded, with no way for anyone to reach her. As we drew near, we figured it out – she was simply the advertisement. A small platoon of her cronies stood underneath the plinth holding identical signs, and these were the ones who were giving the hugs away. I claimed one.

Our shared favorite, however, was a man we saw in the evening, around ten PM. He seemed to be in his thirties, but his hair was already all white. He was singing nursery rhymes – both aloud, and in sign language. He was teaching the crowd sign language in the simplest way possible – through Five Little Ducks and Old McDonald Had A Farm. It was wondrous. There were some women who stood there and sang along with him constantly, never missing a line, figuring out, as we did, what each gesture the man made was and understanding the words that went with the gestures.

If anyone is going to be in London by the end of the summer, I recommend frequent stops at Trafalgar Square. You’ll see some incredible things.

To the Land of Great Bands

As my Victoria story doesn’t seem to be doing very well, I’m taking a one day [hopefully] break from it to give this announcement: I’m flying again. This time it’s with Mr. B. F. We’re going to London together for the second time; we leave tomorrow, July 14th and arrive back in Israel on the 24th. This will be a vacation of the proper sort – lounging in cafes drinking cappuccinos, taking walking tours and going shopping at the myriad thrift stores. Basically, rest and relaxation only with lots of walking around in between the two.

England is definitely one of my favorite places in the world. Not only has it brought the world bands like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Queen, it is also beautiful and can boast one of the greatest cities in the world: London. And London itself is probably my second favorite city in the world – second only to Los Angeles, which smells like home to me in many ways.

Now London has its fair share of problems, I’m sure. There’s the issues of constant traffic, the congestion charges, the occasional breaking down of one tube line or another – but for a tourist it’s a fantasy-land. Full of history, full of FREE museums, full of marketplaces, full of large and small and medium sized streets that are simply fabulous to discover – it is incredible.

As always, I hope to be able to write regularly, and might actually have more of a chance to this time as I’ll have more free “down” time, but cannot promise.