A Mad Woman in Berlin

She leaned over the back to back metal benches and asked the pair of English tourists if they smoked tobacco. Her accent was thick, sometimes sounding German, and at others Russian, although her English was good. The man, glancing uneasily at his partner, answered that he did. When the woman asked if she could have some, he looked confused for a moment. His partner told the woman that they only had cigarettes. The woman nodded eagerly, and asked if she could have one. The man smiled politely and produced a pack of Camels. The woman asked for a light, and the man leaned over toward her and lit her cigarette, which she sucked on greedily. He then turned to his partner, and they both spoke for a while in another language.

The mad woman didn’t quite fit the stereotype of a homeless person, living on the streets. Her hair was a shock of grayish-brown and her skin looked almost healthy. She was somewhere between forty and fifty, but wore the age well on her face, which was elegantly lined, although her cheeks were still full and youthful. Her clothing was oddly fancy, or at least the top half was. She wore what looked like a light brown leather jacket and her handbag was of similar material and color. The mere fact that she had a handbag was strange. Her skinny legs were wrapped in tight pants in shades of brown, olive and black, like a military uniform made into fashionable jeans. The mix between the pants and the well-kept leather jacket were perhaps an indication of her madness. Still, she could have been an eccentric fashionista and nothing more.

Except, that is, for the fact that she was talking to herself loudly and was holding a pink carton of cheap wine.

“It is security, you see. I don’t trust a man, and security is inside me. You have to stay inside the clothes, inside the pants. The pants are protection, they protect me. But I am an attractive woman. If another man come near I go away. But if another woman approach me,” and here she sounded a little defensive, “then that is okay, I mean I am an attractive woman. A woman can look at a woman and appreciate her and I don’t mind if a woman looks at me.” She took a drink from her pink bottle, and the smell of wine washed over the English tourists as well as the others on the platform. Just then, the train arrive, and everyone boarded, including the mad woman.

She sat across from the English couple and fell silent for a time. When a fat man with a tiny dog boarded at the next station and sat next to her, she got up at once and moved into the narrow space between the Englishwoman and a bearded businessman. She started talking again. “It is like the jackets, do you know the jackets in London?” she turned to the businessman. It wasn’t clear whether he ignored her or nodded for she kept speaking almost at once. “There are nice jackets in London, long coats. Every person should have them, they are made of good fabric, of, what is it called… Not wool, it’s not wool. It’s not like the jeans. There are jeans that are made of denim, and they are the color of – the color of indigo. How do you say indigo in German?” she turned to the Englishwoman.

“I don’t speak German, I’m sorry,” the tourist said, shrugging and smiling, but drawing closer to her companion so as not to brush the woman’s jacket.

“That’s right, you’re not from here,” the mad woman dismissed her at once and continued speaking of fabrics and jackets in America as opposed to those in London. She got off at the next stop, still speaking to herself in a loud, coherent voice, as if she were having a conversation with someone else. The English tourists probably never saw her again, but there was no way they would forget this strange and lonely woman who chose them as smoking- and seat-companions on a short journey on the U-Bahn in Berlin.

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.

When It’s Hard to Write

It’s hard to write when you’re on a bus, holding a notebook in your lap.

It’s hard to write when you’re so tired that you can barely keep your eyes open and your brain feels like it’s melting.

It’s hard to write when you feel like you have nothing to say, or at least nothing new.

It’s hard to write when you’re not feeling well and your hand is shaking as you hold the pen or type.

It’s hard to write when you’re in a noisy and dark bar.

It’s hard to write when someone’s watching over your shoulder.

And, apparently, it’s hard to write when you’re on vacation and spending precious time with people you rarely see.

Arrived

Los Angeles is one of the most special cities in the world. Even when the weather forecast announces that it’s going to be overcast with possible showers, you can still feel the presence of a bright yellow sun behind the clouds, and within hours the sky clears and that bright orb makes its appearance just in time for a last walk in the sunlight before dusk falls.

Beautiful as it still is and will always be to me, there are things that have changed. Nothing that’s unique to LA, but rather things that have changed across the United States. Melrose, the hip-happening street of fashion, food and fun, has now more FOR LEASE signs that it ever has before. Shutters are drawn across the empty store fronts, and the glass looks dusty, as if it’s been waiting for a new tenant for longer than it’s used to.

When we ate lunch today, a dark-haired, scruffy, tall homeless man walked over to the table behind us and took the tip that was left there for the waitress. We saw it, as did a woman inside the restaurant, and none of us did anything. It seemed to happen so fast. We all were sure he was going to take some item of food, but then he was gone and so was the waitress’ tip. What do you even do in a situation like this?

I’ve been taking photos. Too many, and probably mostly bad ones, but I’m finally going to try to catch some of the essence of this bizarre half-city-half-suburb in more than words.

I’m jet-lagged and exhausted and our trip took more than twenty-four hours. I think now is the time to sleep.

Freakout

Tears swell up.

Bile churns.

Head aches.

Heart burns.

*

Muscles tense.

Thoughts amass.

Hands shake.

Words turn crass.

*

Flying away.

Later today.

Not to stay.

But that’s okay.

*

Freakout.

Walkabout.

Lipsapout.

I’llsortitout.

Travel Fever

There are two kinds of travel fever, as far as I am concerned.

The first is the one that can be a curse, but is ultimately a good feeling. It’s that itch, that undefinable wiggle in your heart that tells you to go, to get out, to move, to travel, to be somewhere else. It’s that feeling that begins to mount inside your chest two or three months before the blessed event of the vacation or trip – that stomach-leaping, heart-racing, whoop-of-excitement sort of fever that grips you joyfully in moments when you don’t expect it. It’s that feeling of anticipation that’s almost unbearable because it’s so wonderful and intense.

Then there’s the second kind of travel fever. This is the kind that is only a curse, and comes with some similar symptoms. This time, though, the stomach leaps with fear and nerves, the heart races with anxiety and worry and the sound caught in the throat is more of a moan, a stifled sigh, a cry of dismay and exhaustion and an instinct that says that home is the best and travel is unneeded, a hassle and a trial. It’s the kind of travel fever that puts the entire household into a bad mood, that makes the various packers snap at each other and rush around trying to recover lost objects while inevitably finding them in the entirely wrong place and blaming everyone else for it. It’s the feeling that grips your very guts as you push yourself through the various tasks and chores of lugging, checking in, being polite to security and trudging around dismal shops in the airport.

I am in the grips of this second travel fever. My mother and I fly to New York tonight in order to complete that dreaded chore – vacating my dorm room and putting all my things in storage to await my return, hopefully, in the fall. We will be flying back on Friday, and this is most assuredly not a pleasure jaunt but more of a necessary and emotionally painful inconvenience. Hopefully, all will go well and we’ll suffer no travel delays due to various weather conditions!

Jasmine’s Alarm

Jasmine lay on her back with her head turned to one side, looking at the big red numbers of the electronic alarm clock. 6:57AM. She turned her head the other way, her eyes falling on the back of Jordan’s head. He lay beside her, on his stomach, just barely snoring as he slept. One of his arms was tucked close to his side while the other was flung out casually, resting on Jasmine’s stomach above the thin blankets that covered them both. Three more minutes, Jasmine knew, and the alarm would ring.

She shifted her eyes back to the clock and then to the bare ceiling above, slightly stained from that leak that Jordan had discovered last year but had done nothing about. She pondered the stain for a moment, thinking again how much Jordan needed her when it came to stupid things like taking care of his rented flat, before another image came to her mind and made the stain blur as her eyes lost focus. The image was of a large, rectangular room. In one corner, next to one small window, was her bed. Two more beds and two desks separated it from her desk, by the corner next to the door. She then thought of her roommates – one whom she liked a great deal and another whom she pitied for her lack of style and seeming lack of the capacity to relax. She thought next of the pile of books under her bed, books she’d barely glanced through at all this year.

The next image that came to her mind was that of Jordan again, but this time a fuzzy Jordan in the screen of her computer, speaking to her through a web-cam image, as he’d been doing for the last month. She hated the way he looked in that camera image – like a pale ghost, disfigured by the insecure Net connection. Just then, Jordan turned her head towards her in his sleep and she saw his real face and the lovely, normal color of his skin.

She tore her gaze away from his face, soft with sleep, and looked back at the clock. 6:59AM. She thought of the airport, the bustle and hassle, the packing she still had to do and the bother it would be to lug all her things down the stairs. All at once, she made a decision. With a deft flick of her finger, she turned the knob on top of the clock from “ON” to “OFF.”

When Jordan woke her with a panicked tone of voice four hours later, she pretended to panic too. “But the alarm-” she said. “What happened to the alarm?” It was no good panicking, though. She’d already missed the flight. Jordan confessed to her that night that he was secretly glad that the alarm hadn’t gone off. Jasmine smiled and kissed him, leading him by the hand into a dimly lit pub where music was blaring and a young crowd was milling about. All feigned upset and distress were gone from her face and she drew him close to her, holding a beer in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. This was the life, she thought. This was the life.