Sunday, November 15, 2009
Collecting People, Part 1
I have so much to write about, (and fiction has been calling to me in earnest and repeatedly since the trip), that I genuinely have no idea where to begin. My first thought was to list some of the people I'd met, their relative craziness or sanity, or-- in some cases-- clear-eyed lunacy, their stories, where we'd met, what I'd said. The truth is that I am always collecting people, but if I go too long without thinking of them or remembering what they said, they can get lost. So I figure they're a good place to start in recalling the past couple of weeks.
Starting backwards: on the bus from Berlin ZOB (omnibus station) to Central in Copenhagen, I met a guy named John Nations. Man is a professional street juggler. No lie. But actually, he's a perpetual traveler with what some would deem arrested development and others would call an enduring bohemian spirit. I don't know where I fall on judgment, but at this point, it isn't really about criticizing my fellow backpackers so much as understanding them.
So I met this guy. We rode a bus for 7 1/2 hours together up through northern Germany, crossed a corner of the Baltic Sea to Zealand (by ferry), and landed in Denmark, where I helped him catch his bus to a friend's in Amagerbro. Quite a character, as you can tell by his videos. On the ferry, he noticed some Danish 14-year-olds who had been at one of his street shows in Berlin, and made their night by doing an impromptu chair-balancing act in the middle of the boat's cafeteria. It made them clap like kids, and their teachers, the ship's staff, and I were likewise delighted and revived with his self-confident whimsy. Personally, I was just thrilled to find an American in the middle of Europe, after a good two days without familiar conversation. Not that there weren't Americans crawling all over Paris, Florence, and Berlin, but cringing away from them in embarrassment isn't the same as finding a gypsy street juggler from South Carolina next to you on a Greyhound.
Still going in reverse chronological order, on Thursday night I stayed by myself at a strange little hostel (10 Euro! Tell your friends!) called Lettem Sleep 7 in Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. I had rented a bed in a 7-person co-ed room, but there were only four of us there that night. There was Jaime from Gibralter, who had been an English major in Wales and who was more than willing to discuss the uselessness of the degree with me for hours while recommending Spanish poets.
In the other bunk were Tina and Simone from Russia and Sicily, respectively. And yes, I know that Sicily is a region/island and that Russia is a country, but I'm just telling you what I know. I don't know what city Tina was from, and I don't know where exactly in the south of Italy Simone had lived before they had packed up for Berlin and rented beds in the hostel for months, looking for work and apartments. These girls were fascinating.
On this strange little half-continent, it's insanely difficult for an American to guesstimate the ages of her European contemporaries. Tina and Simone looked my age, but Simone was a professional video editor with her own home back in Italy who had come to Berlin not speaking a word of German. Tina was a new student at Frie Universitet in the city who had just passed her German proficiency exam. Tina could have been 18 or she could have been 30, for all I know about the Russian education system. Both of them were thinner and better dressed than most American teens I know, and to top it off, although they had colds (everyone was sick everywhere), fabulous hair and skin. I don't know what it is about this area of the world, or what it is about ours that have made me passable for a 35-year-old since I was fifteen, but it's got to be something in the air.