If I lived here, I could tell myself: Perpetual building lot in front of the Misirlou.
I look out of the window, at the buildings, read: Tausendschön, Glaube und Wahrheit, Liebling, Zu mir oder zu dir.
I look into a last warm light. The sun is fading behind the half naked trees. And fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight and everybody goes –
I picture her, how she enters the café, couldn’t imagine her without a duvet jacket, not here, in November. Along with this jacket come fur-lined sneakers. Or high leather boots. Tight jeans. Maybe a cap, probably a cap, because her hair is as short as fingers. She’d say, I think winter is slumbering in the open air.
She’s only a hundred meters away from me now, but she’s working, that’s why she’s not coming. Besides, it is neither the time nor the weather to leave the house on purpose. I’m online, adding Berlin as the town I’m living in, posting a photo of my rose tea, in which a bud is slowly opening.
And then Harriet embraces me, as if we have seen each other only yesterday.
I flew to Berlin too early. The devil takes the hindmost.
For instance he takes a home which, in the end, you cannot keep.
Don’t worry, Harriet says, as if it doesn’t mean anything.
As if I don’t know it wasn’t easy to lodge me in her landlord’s guest room for three days. A smell of fresh laundry in the air, a taste of snow and apple seed. I lie down in this smell, in coat and boots, and stare at the yellow-green striped wallpaper. I listen to sounds not existing, on a French balcony. The door in the courtyard closes with a click.
In the morning Harriet is making coffee. She pours it into a big bowl, spreads butter and jam on a piece of spelt toast, places that on a tray and carries it into her room. She doesn’t leave any stains, I feel a bit rural next to her.
In her room, packing cases are stapled, since I moved in three years ago. Scattered clothes on two chairs and the wall is shimmering concrete.
The guest room is the opposite: Opera guides, gallery catalogues, travel guides, sex education pamphlets. Everything in precise order. A hat with purple and golden feathers graces a mannequin, in the centre of the room a fake white fur carpet. Above the bureau the photo of a very blonde, very naked man. It is a colour-coordinated arrangement.
A snowball with a puppy in it.
A dog accidentally put in a fireplace in place of a log.
A frozen willow tree.
In the morning Harriet wears thick woollen socks. She freezes easily, I only know a few as fragile as her. Harriet correlates with this place, I have observed the people on the streets: It is an extensive feeling.
The extent on these streets is so enormous, an Austrian can only dream about it. The streets are as wide as autobahns and the languages sound strange. Even German echoes like spoken through milk glass. I forget the size of the city, the noise and my lack of knowledge, forget what I am afraid of and that I don’t know where I am. Senefelderplatz, Dresdner Straße, Helmholtzplatz.
The city is my home because it is hers.
At noon Harriet is working. I’m chugging to Ostbahnhof and back. The tram goes along the remains of the Wall, I realized that only later. Why they built a symbolic wall with iron pillars I don’t understand. The tourists do: They stand in the rain, warping taking pictures. The overall length of the soviet retentive structure around Berlin amounted to 156,40 km.
Berlin is north of London, nearly on a level with Tallinn. The sky above Berlin is grey in November. It’s a matter of perspective: When the sun breaks through the clouds on some days, the graffiti on the fireproof walls and broken buildings could be paintings as well.
On the third day I have to move on.
With my big suitcase I take the tram to Ostbahnhof, run along Warschauer Straße, run because in Berlin nobody walks. Jump and run. WAMM! A bullet loosens from the gun. She is stopped mid-run and thrown back. Construction site, wet autumn leaves, dog turd, tourists. And looked up, saw, that the rain was still hanging down in sleazy cords, and decided for the latter.
The last house is situated at the tramline. A scaffold covers it. I remember that I have eaten in the pizzeria on the ground floor. I ask myself how often I have been to places that I will –
I will live here.
I sit in a kitchen.
I sit in his kitchen. Roberto, seated at a table with five coffee cups before him, was awaiting someone’s arrival. While smoking, he stirred his coffee, then poured sugar into his cup. He makes coffee in an old Italian machine, which shows bar pressure. We smoke. We drink Café Crema from espresso cups. With foamed milk. Foot tapping. Spoon clanging. He wipes the sideboard, his trousers, loads the dishwasher. He apologizes with a smile. What for I don’t know.
Roberto: Look, what you do?
You know, I just relax, sit around, maybe have a cigarette.
You know, cigarettes and coffee go together good. You drink too much of it?
Roberto: No, coffee is good for healthy.
I like to drink before I go to sleep.
Garbage bin sound.
Do you want to see your room?
My room has a balcony with a scaffold, a daybed, a colossal desk, a shelf out of flake-board-cubes. It doesn’t look very solid. I compliment it nevertheless.
The furniture is by my mother, he says. She’s a designer.
Do you know my mother?
Do I know your mother?
No, I don’t think so.
The tops in the left cube, trousers and tights in the middle one, underwear in the right one and the books and notebooks, and take everything out again and back into the suitcase. I sit down with book and case on a bed, which is a sofa.
The bookcase in general denominates the part of the book, which fits around the block, protecting it.
I am at home.
I am where I belong.
WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO?
I don’t know.
I pace the neighbourhood, circle the blocks in squares until I reach the next autobahn. People move through the streets, imagine a thousand things about one another, meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses. The camera slowly tracks back.
In my room flowerpots vibrate. I catch the sound of a film from the neighbours. Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, apocalypse, maybe Clint Eastwood. In the opposite restaurant a man, he is smoking. He sits by himself, dark hair, a receding gentleman, he is lonely, maybe.
You are a beautiful man.
I decide to put a plant in this room, whose walls are naked, whose lamp is a light bulb, and write postcards.
On the fifth day it is barely five o’clock and the day pretends to be night already. Water drops shimmer in the streetlight. I ask myself if it snows in Berlin, in November. I ask myself if it snows in Berlin at all. If I should go to see this man in the restaurant, sit down at his table and all of a sudden an entirely new life would open up to me. But I don’t have a reference point. Since I stopped living with Harriet the city has become a big place.
– You have never slept with a woman?
– I don’t know. Do I have to?
We agree on five o’clock. We agree to tell no one, none of our friends, tonight is ladies night, none of our friends Harriet hasn’t yet kissed, I am no exception.
Nothing is easier than going out in this city.
My reference point is white leather boots.
Harriet in laced underwear, hot pants, light fabric, boots white or beige, or light shoes. Golden particles around her eyes and only lipstick for you sweat when you’re dancing.
I have to warm up, Harriet says. I think she deludes herself immensely.
My gaze prowls around with the lights. Searches for someone who correlates with me. Harriet dances with me as if I was her lover, there is a moment and the next and the next Vodka-shot, cheers to Berlin, a spherical space of bass and melody, Lights in the Dusk, a stroboscope, fine white smoke from tiny cones. Imagine a thousand things about one another, surprises caresses kisses bites kisses. The child is getting scared.
Why should I convince a man to come with me?
Harriet knows men.
Harriet knows how to store money in a boot and which drug you need for what state of consciousness. She knows the song, the clubs, the bar, the DJs, the UK Russia Italy and how to have sex with three guys in one night. Harriet says: Sex is a flow of energy and you can plug into it.
I know few who are as caring as her. It reaches physical dimensions. For that matter, most of her life she loved women. Now she also loves men, maybe simply humans.
I try leaving lipstick blossoms on my glass. I’m not able to. I have reached the sensory threshold.
You said, you might meet someone in Berlin.
In my world, words like these have meaning. The city is the scenery, the play remains the same.
November 12th, Monday.
Woke up knowing that I am actually someone else.
Too little sleep. Came home at 9 AM, people in the streets, peanuts for breakfast.
November 11th, Sunday.
On a boat, two men chase me, I climb down, into the water, jump in, hide under water, dive around, they don’t find me.
Indian girls performing on some sort of fair, they dance ballet in a hall, I watch.
A cyclone is building, which sparkles on the inside, on closer inspection.
I avoid Roberto and ask myself why. Just because we don’t connect doesn’t mean at any point that I cannot have conversations with him like a grown-up person.
November 10th, Saturday.
Dream of a parallel equation, my/a bed and another. I get up from my bed.
Sine my arrival I seem to have lost my abdomen. I refer to my legs, which are missing. That I am rooted in eternity I cannot say, I drift through space. Yesterday I worked on a text, cooked Indian gravy with H., then we went swimming. Art nouveau style.
My reference point is Harriet, always Harriet, the light skin, tall, soft lips, her eyes golden like her hair, only darker, slender smothered in a decent scent of perfume. We go to an ancient transformer station, young men in nothing but neon coloured underpants and a smell of masculinity, we stand at the bar and the techno aches in my chest. I cannot drink so much as I feel sick. We move along electronic music da capo al fine and my gaze prowls around.
You said, you might meet someone in Berlin.
In my world, words like this have meaning.
You said, don’t look for him, you will block it.
You, my oracle, strange yet familiar, dark eyed beloved. I cannot let the matter rest. Not in Berlin, the city that offers so much matter for interpretation.
I am good at being alone you know that. But I am not made for it.
The morrow wakes me with tram ringing, a gauze-curtain of milky yellow light exploding like spiders across the ceiling above daybed and mother-furniture. Smell of a bygone night, the fingers of peanuts and nicotine. I rotate once, turn around, bright eyes, my body wrapped in down, the toes like ice cups, strangely remote, turn around, I pull the pillow above my head, turn around, look through the little triangle between fabrics, one breath at a time, until the oxygen is sucked up. Oxygen therapy, sleep therapy and cluster headache. I writhe out of my rabbit hole; sooner or later I have to face the day. Of late there is a beer bottle in front of my window. The sounds are crystal clear: A floorboard creaking, hoarse coughing, voice on the phone, steps in boots on the street, plentiful.
The only place in Berlin so quiet you can hear your own steps.
Be gentle with the machine.
The beauty and the horror.
Where you go to. Or: Where to go to.
Cold clear air smelling of brick, petrol and snow. All of a sudden the sun breaks in, and the city looks as if it had been pulled out of the fog, onto the shore, by its indefiniteness the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows, a colourless all-colour of atheism, including houses and passers-by. I’m doing laps with retirees and young men, the alcohol in my blood wears off in chlorine smell and steam, showering with little girls and their mothers, were are all naked before the eyes of our own kind. My body demands food as I return to the house at the tramline. Quinoa-Amaranth-rolls eco-mushroom-paste rocket parmesan black Cafe Crema.
I am waiting. I am waiting for news while the light diminishes. Days are getting short in Berlin. What’s the catch? Sunset will be an hour earlier, so it’ll be getting dark at a soul-perturbing 4.43 PM, and even earlier (by 100 seconds a day) every day after that. LET DARKNESS REIGN.
My landlord is a shadow, lying behind the closed door latently. When we meet in the kitchen, in the hall or in front of the bathroom, words trickle from his mouth like the leaves in front of the house fall into puddles. Delicately.
Nearly half-time in Berlin. I arrived too early, years too early. Do you understand, through the cracks in the window-frame my time vanishes, scarcely perceptible and I am waiting. For news, for Harriet, for someone who might not even know that him and me, we exist at the same time.
Way too late and out of a clear sky, as it seems to me, I start working. Choose the right background music, weave the first words into a carpet of sounds and build a fishing-net, searching for syllables, sentences and languages in this ocean to insert into my story. I am constructing a love story.
The Internet puts its oar in. Finally. News.
We’re just getting up.
It is seven PM.
To pass the time between one thread and another, I create wishing-lists in online shops. I create a new self: Black leggings, sequined tops, high heels and Calvin Klein underwear. My alternate self has many faces. Is elegant in the little black dress, casual with new sneakers and a heavy winter coat, playful in a mille fleur dress and Louboutins. I take a break from my timeout and turn everything off. The city, however, I cannot dim, she shines through the window, painting light triangles onto floor, bed and me.
Don’t worry, Harriet says, as if she knows how important it is to have a reference point. I disappear from the graffiti in the hallway, the smell of urine, tourists, dogs, and beer bottles. The tram departs, screeches around Frankfurter Tor, steering past parks. I count seven stops until Harriet. Glaube und Wahrheit, Liebling, Zu mir oder zu dir. My capacity for remembering finds façades, houses, paths.
I look into a first warm light: The sun behind half naked trees.
Everyone needs a Harriet, I know that now, everyone needs a motherly partner in crime, a beautiful listener, a spontaneous, embracing woman with a British accent, a traveller who is always there, even if she sits a thousand kilometres away en una morada, habla de esto y lo otro y lo de más allá.
Right now she plunks a key into my hand and says: Come and go whenever you want to. It’s nice to have you around.
I would love to take a bath in her apartment. Instead I sit down in the guest room, under wallpaper that has the same colour as the leaves on the tree in the courtyard. Sometimes I hear coughing, screeching. Sometimes the silence in this flat is hardly bearable for me.
Sunday shopping. According to the Internet there’s a supermarket at the Ostbahnhof.
Night owls populate the concrete, I meet Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Bombay Sapphire in human forms. My shopping bag is filled with the ever-same avocados, tomatoes, pine nuts, rocket. I wander past rummage tables, contemplating if I should bring souvenirs, finally deciding not to. There are several critical dimensions that create differences between tourist behaviour and consumer behaviour. One such major difference lies in the extended phases that surround tourist activities, like anticipation or on-site experiences. Consumer behaviour is centrally focused on the choices of products and the satisfaction with these products. The lady in the queue right before me is as trashed as the sidewalks. Black mini dress, her wrists covered with marks and tattoos, bony thin legs in outsized boots. The rules and regulations of this city are as loose as the kerbstones in the Kiez.
[18.11.12 11:58:31] you said I might meet someone in berlin
[18.11.12 13:00:18] did I
[18.11.12 13:02:31] feel like I’m trying too hard
[18.11.12 13:05:14] if you try too hard, it won’t work
[18.11.12 13:06:31] but the heron catches the fish, doesn’t it?
On the table a half full bottle of Martini, plates with leftovers, an ashtray. Through the open window you can hear the rain, neighbours, sometimes footsteps. A cool draught comes in, flies by the plates and bowls, shower sounds and steamy clouds.
Harriet in the kitchen, half-full Martini glass, laughter. In the milk-glass-window the outline of another woman, putting on clothes in brand new underwear. Harriet in the hallway, she puts banknotes in her bootleg. The glass drops.
It’s eleven PM.
The broken glass stays where it is.
High-heeled footsteps on the stairs.
The man takes off his hat and puts it on my head.
He asks: Have you guessed the riddle yet?
I have not the slightest idea.
He takes back his hat and takes out three white pills.
I accompany her on her trip. I don’t do drugs because it might conclude in my head bouncing off or my heart exploding, as the case might be. The fact you don’t need MDMA Ecstasy or Meow Meow is not easy to convey in this city, yet easy to understand, I find. From the outside it’s barely measureable which state of consciousness is reached, with or without substance.
I accompany Harriet on her trip, to the toilet, Harriet and a guy, to watch them obtain white powder from a telephone, extracted through a 50 Euros note. Leaning at the smudged toilet door I can hardly focus, holding my breath, I hear voices and laughter, rustle and talking and glasses shattering. I tilt and pan, someone’s knocking, the next want to enter. Before we exit Harriet draws me towards her and KISSES me.
She takes the needle off a record. The Dusty Springfield song stops.
In the morning Harriet will get up, take her clothes out of the washing machine, take a bath – at least for an hour – will wash her hair and her body and when she feels clean again she will air the apartment and cook: mushroom risotto with lettuce or spelt-spaghetti Bolognese and Cappuccino with frothed eco milk or a cuppa tea on a tray carried to her bedroom sunk into the bed, drunk in bed and Charlie will show up.
Charlie is Harriet’s boyfriend.
When I zoom at Charlie I can hardly grasp how beautiful he is: American-appealing, pretty much overwhelming. So slender and well-groomed, in jeans and suspenders, strapless shirt, slight muscles, as flawlessly desirable as only men can be whose point of interest other men are. Charlie also has other ones. But Charlie and Harriet are a team. They spend time together, sleep together and make no secret of doing that with others, too. I ask myself where I would draw the line.
Harriet and Charlie are an uneven couple but match like Bonnie and Clyde. She is tall, he is not, they are companions for all that is shimmering and hot: Two naked bodies, nearly translucent, white skin and freckles, sticky warm fragile hands, broad big fingers.
A laughter that spreads from one mouth to another and bursts in the middle and remains there. A glint in the eyes, a freshness, youth, beauty, that exceeds the cell’s age and displays curiosity that cannot be satisfied. A breath surrounded by wood and soft fabric and. They share a view of the world, which is open and tolerant; share their love for love in which everyone is welcome, even someone like me.
The man at the entrance knows my name. I can see it at the way he drinks from his water bottle. He swallows and nods and ticks us off. The moment slips away like the taxi. It sputters and splashes. We dive in, into a curtain, unseen, stumble down into a room full of visions omens hallucinations and I know the man at the desk, know his name, I realize that because I raise my head.
We lean at the counter. We talk about the possibility that Harriet might not be with Charlie forever. We talk about the inevitability that she will spend her life with Antje. Though they’re not together anymore. Harriet smiles and twirls her hair. Harriet twists her hair only around her fingers when she feels agitated. The counter is crème-coloured and the bartenders exchange glasses faster than we can drink. Harriet says, I think I might have to end it, and by looking at her hair I know she won’t. The playlist for the night: Doze, Timeless Reality, Post Reunion.
The audience is indecisive and I too cannot penetrate looks or rhythm. In front of the bathroom people sit on leather sofas, as if it was two in the afternoon, Harriet’s words slip in. We just don’t understand each other in so many things. And I don’t understand why I cannot find anyone in Berlin, albeit you told me so.
I awoke in an apartment once, you know, in Berlin, not long ago. In the apartment of someone I knew ephemeral, he looked just like the man at the desk. Met in the morning on a Berlin street, instantly wrapped in a full-bodied embrace. We went into a bar, the night wiped away like the crumbs from your eyes, the sun was rising burn, burn, burn and we said out loud words the other one was thinking, dreamlike, as only moments bewilder you in which you’re not quite all there and for just a moment I reached the point that I always wanted to reach, the complete step across chronological time into a timeless magic moth-swarm of heaven.
I remember African flutes and drums and that I could hardly sit still in my hypertonia, on a grey sofa, high blood pressure, we were smoking, heightened muscle pressure, heightened internal pressure, heightened tautness in the eyeball and then I must have fallen asleep and when I woke up I was freezing so badly, as cold I have been only once before; on a mountain top in Tamil Nadu. And the strange part of it: Far away I heard footsteps and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen seconds, I wasn’t scared, I was just somebody else.
I must have been somewhere in the East.
On my way to the underground, a bus or a tram, a car stopped next to me, two gorillas sat in it and invited me to a film festival. I felt like a monkey, towards this man, because I left without a saying. I still feel like a monkey for you know: The man at the desk is not only in my imagination the one from the apartment.
I find Harriet at music’s outskirts and whisper: You don’t have to do anything, what shall not be will drift apart, naturally, like the continents drift apart. It cannot be foreseen how the lands will spread in 200 Million years time. For instance, India will shift under the Himalayas for some more time and might actually disappear completely underneath Tibet. Harriet closes her eyes, gracefully, like a cat.
Have I ever told you about Harriet? I know her, like you, from India. We tied invincible friendship bracelets to each other’s wrists, thus we remember from afar.
And the last door closed at 4 AM and the telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and visions like candles across the stars and Karl Lagerfeld says: People who wear jogging pants have lost control over their lives.
The threads of my socks get caught on the shavings of the wooden floor and from the kitchen I hear: fridge opening, cutlery drawer opening, gas hissing, match burning, pot clanging, water piping. I place my forefinger on the door and push it open carefully. I stand in the kitchen, his kitchen, hovering at the edge, until enough courage has accumulated inside and I am able to say: I think I have to move out earlier.
White envelope, pushed across the table.
White envelope, opened.
Roberto puffs on his cigarette, then raises the cup to his lips, with an uncontrollable nervous tremor in his hand.
Roberto: What’s this?
In my mind I say: I cannot stay here, do you understand, I cannot stand it, the tram rattling, the cold, nothing here is warm and –
There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
It’s not you, Roberto.
November 26th, Monday.
Open the kitchen door, gloomy light, Roberto says something of importance, and while I enter, all of a sudden, a tooth falls out of my mouth, rolling around the floorboards.
I hate dreams about teeth.
Dreams about bread aren’t that dangerous.
I say aloud: I have to leave soon, actually. I have a dentist appointment. I don’t want to go, because I don’t like the dentist. But I have to.
I brush my teeth, image of his checked shirt, I wash my face, smell of the towel.
I go to sleep.
As I awake I pack my big suitcase, put a white envelope with two hundred Euros on the table, go seven stops by tram, run along Dunckerstraße, run, because in Berlin you don’t walk but run.
If I lived here, I could tell myself: Perpetual building lot in front of the Misirlou.
I walk past the Café and look into a last warm light above her house. The sun is fading and fabulous roman candles and everybody goes in and out and in and out.
It is a dark blue afternoon in Harriet’s guestroom, in which I spend three more days. On the windowsill I smoke, the only sound the neighbour’s footsteps in the yard and the only image two leaves on a tree.
Harriet is brewing black or herbal tea, pouring it into a big bowl, cookies aside, puts everything on a tray and carries it into her room. She doesn’t leave stains like I do. I think we complement each other well.
November 29th, 2012.
Putting old things in line at the riverside, at a bonfire, at new moon.
Washing away in Harriet’s bathtub. Writing. Smell of lavender. Listening to music we heard together. Finalizing the story.
I imagine how she enters the room. She wears a top with an asymmetrical collar, woollen socks and golden clips in her hair.
She says: I will take you to the train. I think Winter is slumbering in the open air.
We are blazing-red queens. Between our fingers gleaming light oscillates, on a moonless sky, the night growing as lonely as the world. Nothing but ghosts, imagined away during a day. And fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes away anyway.
I will keep looking for someone like us.
Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis
Lola runs, Tom Tykwer
Stephan Ludwig. Zorn. Tod und Regen
Coffee and Cigarettes, Jim Jarmusch
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Wim Wenders, Emotion Pictures
Marcelo Deguchi, Facebook Post
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Tourist Behaviour: Themes and Conceptual Schemes, Philip L. Pearce
Louis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino
Howl, Allen Ginsberg
© Marianne Jungmaier, Varkala 2013