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The past ten days

Updated: May 19, 2023

le week-end passé

And here again, so many days have passed. I’m standing outside on the train platform in the heavenly sun, wearing just a T-shirt and light sweater, occasionally closing my eyes but mostly squinting into the screen. Thinking how after so many cold, wintry weeks, this kind of warmth is a luxury.

 

Last Saturday, I met Leonie and her boyfriend Nick at the antique market at Fehrbelliner Platz, an U Bahn stop. The morning was drizzly grey: when Leonie and I saw each other we both zipped our jackets to our chins. The market was small and took only about 30 minutes: the thing I wanted most was an oversized plush mouse, an almond-shaped one with a black puff for a nose. I contemplated buying a pair of shoes, but everything feels like an inconvenience in that kind of weather; to survive the tundra you keep your limbs by your side and your socks in your shoes.



I knew Nick’s mom was coming into town from Bremen that afternoon and they didn’t have much time, but still we meandered to the perfectly cozy Café Eulinchen about 15 minutes away. Leonie and I each ordered a bread plate with a croissant, marmalade, butter, and slices of baguette, plus chai tea lattes, the first one I’ve had since home. The snarky (but friendly) waiter brought me a serrated knife when he saw me try to cut my croissant with a butter knife and informed me the croissant was for dipping. I pulled at the soft buttery dough slowly as we chatted about our jobs and hiking and biking and wild animals, pet crocodiles and coyotes and Wildschweinen, and Leonie smirked like, they won’t eat you up, they’ll just trample and leave you in the woods. She dipped her croissant in the latte as I ate the last of my breakfast, a bite-sized heart shaped cookie tucked next to the glass.



When the waiter cleaned up our plates, he commented how Leonie had left a little of her “very expensive” marmalade on the plate and then saw mine and was like, even worse. When I tinked my spoon against the glass to get the last bit of froth, he said something about that too, about all the ladies with their spoons, making a racket.

 

I’m still at the train platform, waiting for the S Bahn that is now 20 minutes late, and the platform has filled with all kinds of people craning their necks over the tracks to the west, wondering when it will come.

 


The rest of that rainy Saturday I stayed home, and into Sunday too, sipping tea, listening to lo-fi, and designing on Illustrator. I was feeling strange, introverted and almost sad, in a contemplative way. I forced myself out of the house on Sunday for a short walk, but it was sunny and warm in a way I hadn’t expected, and the entire walk smelled of spring: sweet flowers and fresh mowed grass. There were small pink petals that blew over my path, and in the distance the door to the Kühnbaum bakery was wide open and suddenly I was alone on the patio, eating an apple streusel cake as slowly as I could. Savoring the sugar crystals and buttery crumbs, the moist apples folded into the dough. Watching a couple on bicycles pull up, hop off and then order coffees and treats.



I noticed a little black duck in the creek on the way home, but when I hovered over the thickets of weeds to try and listen for it, all I heard were some chickens behind the fence.

 

A woman with headphones speaking loudly on the phone just said to her friend, jetzt kommt Zug, warte, and then there was the deafening sound of the ICE, which zooms by every so often in a silver flash.


Monday-Friday

On Monday, I went to Oma's after the gym. I overcooked chicken breast in butter and oil and slightly over-steamed the green beans, but still Oma said how wonderful that I come all the way from America to be her personal chef. We rode the buses together to Opa, where we shared a couple slices of Obst-Sahne-Torte that I bought at the bakery the day before. It was creamy fresh and surprisingly still cool with bright green kiwis on top; Opa's eyes were big when he swallowed: Schmeckt gut!



The nurses left the windows open, and the breeze was so strong the sheer curtains tried to sweep me away. I asked Opa if he’s been outside yet, and he said a couple days earlier they’d wheeled his whole bed into the sun. It was the news I’d been waiting for, and I guess I’d hoped it would change his life, and transform him into someone who could walk and be well again, but still he laid there in the bed, occasionally pulling up the sheets.

 

On Wednesday I left the house around 3, thinking I’d take a leisurely few hours to walk around Kreuzberg before my 7 pm bachata class: it was warm enough without a sweater, and I put on wedges and a breezy floral shirt and tied it above the waist.


I indulged in half of a greasy apple fritter that wasn’t very fresh and popped into a few shops and an art gallery too. I marveled at a perfectly cheerful plate with delicate flower stems weaving around the edge and then swiped a gummy worm from the candy bowl. It was so stiff that I realized it might have been sitting there not just for hours but days. I suddenly wondered if the random sugar crystals were specks of strange dust and whether the gummies were just for display. I awkwardly held the worm hoping the artist wouldn't see, then distracted her with a compliment that was nonetheless true, that I loved so much all the colors, the bright reds and yellows and blues. People need color, during the pandemic especially, she explained. People walk in all hunched and bothered, and leave relaxed and smiling. She had a point; I walked out onto the sidewalk and chewed the worm and decided it was exactly there for me. I killed the next couple of hours walking in big circles and hopping on random buses and nibbling a trail bar because it was cheaper and easier than making decisions about dinner, and I realized what I actually wanted was to be back in the apartment, making more art.

 

The bachata class was a recap of the previous three weeks, the tango ochos and the fast bachata bounce and the cradle position to the pull-through. There weren't enough men, so the lady instructor tried to fast-learn the lead, and on the bachata bounce she didn't step twice in the direction we'd learned, and when I asked her about it she said well, it doesn't quite matter, because I should follow her lead regardless. Another of the leads was getting frustrated with me, too, saying I was anticipating too much, and I kept thinking: we are in class learning specific moves and how to do them correctly, why should I anticipate anything else? But they have a point, and sometimes I think the more I learn something the less organically it comes.


Afterward I stayed for more than an hour at Havanna, switching between the bachata and salsa floors but mostly staying in salsa. I swear the men here salsa differently, they move the follows in big circles and do so much more with the arms. The man I danced with at the end told me that I was holding my hand too tightly against his, and so I noodle-armed it and still he said my grip was too strong.


After I retrieved my backpack and jacket from the coat rack check, I darted out the place and put my shoes on outside, since I didn't want to be approached by the men who'd tried to talk. One of them walked out after me and said bye, and I passed him again at the bus stop I was supposed to take so I kept walking to a different station and crossed the road for a falafel sub that really was not good, just red onions and spinach and a few pieces of parsley that at least made everything better. Half of the sub sat sadly in my lap on the way home, first on the bus and then the S Bahn, slouching in aluminum foil that was too broken to cover it.


I chatted with Austin on the mile home from the station and then a couple hours into the night; we talked about Spain and how I'll be there so soon, how eight weeks away means only five left in Berlin.

 

On Thursday I stayed in bed until nearly 11 am and then worked until after 9 pm; I interviewed a source for a work report I'm writing for Baltimore, and when I said "hi!" all cheery over the video call he wrinkled his face like Trump and re-positioned himself in his fine-pressed corporate suit, and made almost a physically painful effort not to smile.

 

At the gym today, Oma called me freaking out, wondering where I was. I'd texted her this morning while I was waiting on the train and told her I'd be over by noon, but she always talks about messages disappearing and the scrolls being confusing and her not being able to "find me" once she puts me away. When I opened a WhatsApp message she hadn't seen and played the audio recording, she spoke to it back and even said bye. She says all the time how technology doesn't work on stupid people, and maybe I should remind her more that sometimes the technology itself is the stupid thing; but I think she knows that, too: when she complained about the caller you're trying to reach is not available right now, she wondered why "the voice" can't just report what Opa is actually doing, and why he can't come to the phone. I should tell Oma that it's not that she's too old for this, but that she's way ahead of her time.

 

After Oma's homemade chicken soup, we went into the garage downstairs, a place I hadn't been since 2012. In front of the bike was Opa's little blue car, and part of me wanted to just ask for the keys, to say fuck it, I can do it! despite all the tiny streets and parallel parking and so many pedestrians and bikes. But instead I left the garage on two wheels and biked the five miles home, and within the first couple of miles I was so thirsty that I felt like I was swallowing sandpaper, but I couldn't drink the tiny bit of water I had left because I already had to pee. I rode through a cloud of construction dust, and some of the path was right on the street without a dedicated lane, and there are elderly people on the sidewalk that you'd rather not hit. And my mind was somewhere far away, mentally excavating my luggage to try to figure out where I'd left my American passport, imagining all five AirBnBs I'd already stayed at and the drawers I could have left it in, and whether a kind soul was already mailing it back home. As soon as I got to my apartment, I rummaged through all my drawers and bags again, and my suitcase a third time, and then there it was, tucked in its little black folio between bathing suits I'd packed for Spain.

 

This evening I biked to Lidl for water and bread, more for novelty than necessity. As I pushed the bike across the first pedestrian crossing, I realized that it's not the best idea to overload your front basket with so many bottles, and so I got on and off the bike multiple times until finally I had it all balanced. I pedaled mostly slowly and approached a skittish cat, who pranced past me wide-eyed with a fresh kill. I didn't want to stare but how could I not--there in its sharp little mouth was a tiny. adorable. squeaking. maus. that must have come from the weeds. RIP, little one.

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