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.

Farmer’s Market Singers

When we got there, the bar was already in full swing, open to the elements, right in the middle of a little junction of the tight avenues inside Farmer’s Market. The occupants ranged from just turned twenty one to middle aged to elderly gatherings still enjoying the gargle on a Friday evening.

The stage was low, the microphone basic, but the speakers were more than adequate. The man who was on stage when we happened upon the place was bald, beer-bellied and had to be at least sixty. He was just wrapping up a song to applause and cheers.

The DJ announced that next up was Phil, and from the table right in front of us rose a large, pink, white-haired man with a tight shirt and a smile stretched across his meaty face. He looked to be  at least seventy, but when he started to bellow into the mike, he had the vigor of a much younger man. He sang like Louie Armstrong, with a growl and a grin.

An extremely inebriated but happy man in his thirties followed. He was tall, maybe a surfer-dude turned corporate but out for a fun evening with friends. He sang the B-52’s Rock Lobster perfectly, with added dance movements for the long pauses between the sung lines. We cheered like crazy, and I even managed to snap a few photos of a father dancing with his two-year old daughter, teaching her how to turn under his arm and then swinging her around in the air.

We left to buy lemons, and when we returned we were rewarded with the best yet. She was tall, with baggy pants and tennis shoes, a jeans jacket hugging her thin form. Her hair was blonde-going-grey, and she sang like an angel. One hand casually hanging in her pocket and the other holding the microphone, she sang sweetly in a country-singer’s sweet but slightly rough tones, and her partner and friend cheered and took pictures of her while she sang. The crowd went nuts once she was done, clapping and cheering.

When the next man started singing about Jesus being right for him – and we weren’t sure whether he was being sincere or ironic – we decided to leave. But my mind is still swimming with the variety of cultures represented in the crowd, the different age groups and social dynamics that could be found there. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to watch the karaoke at Farmer’s Market on this cool Friday night.

“Watch the Leather”

I have no memory of when I wrote this song, but I think it was sometimes during my earlier teenage years. I happened upon it tonight and it struck me as rather creepy and gloomy, which is odd since I truly don’t have any clue as to what prompted me into writing it in the first place… And now, without further ado, some lyrics from my (apparently) dark teenage years:

In her mind, a shining knight
of blue blood and court days.
She's stealing kisses in the night,
Slowly feeling her new way.

Listen closely at the window
Of a lover's engined hideout.
Not sweet nothings will you hear,
Just a grunt and then he'll cry out:
"Hey, watch the leather"




Romantic girl, this ain't your world,
Sonnets dead and gone,
Rosy girl, this a thorn filled world,
Survival's for the strong.


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.

Everpresent

Sometimes I find it amazing that humans have managed to exist as a conscious race at all. Think about it for a moment – we’re each stuck with our own mind and our own emotions all the time. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, there isn’t any escape. When we live with other people, we have to “endure” them all the time as well, but we’re only dealing with the outward projection of this person’s thoughts and emotions. Even living with children, who speak out about what they need and want rather more than adults, isn’t the same as how we live with ourselves.

If I sound rather gloomy or negative here, I apologize, for that is not my intention at all. Of course we all have painful moments where we have a difficult time with ourselves and we feel the need to escape from something that we can never escape from. But that’s not what I’m alluding to in this post – I’m mostly thinking about the mundane, everyday thoughts that we deal with. Our minds are always buzzing with thought and emotion, always trying to figure things out, always thinking things we’d rather not think about. We have control over ourselves, but only to a point. How many times have we tried to get rid of a tune or song that’s stuck in our head? We only succeed when we’re truly distracted by something else, outside of us.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it’s incredible so many of us are still sane, stuck with ourselves as are.