Wow, things really have gone quiet around here. Well, "quiet" isn't exactly the right word. I seem to have a knack for living near sound-enhancing bricks. In Austin, I lived behind a school, which had a big playground, and the walls of the school bounced any sound made on the playground right over to me. Now, you'd think that this would be a pain during the day, but kids make so much noise you can't tell how loud it really is. True, there was a lesbian who came to practice bagpipes, enamored of the brick acoustic effect, but she wasn't there all that often. (She managed to scare the lizards in my garden, though: they immediately changed color and scampered away). No, what was bad was the nighthawks.
Nighthawks have an amazingly annoying courtship ritual. The males soar high, then drop with outstretched wings, and recover before they hit the ground. This makes the wings vibrate and create a zooming sound. So when the neighborhood nighthawks discovered the amplification qualities of the schoolyard, every horny male nighthawk in Texas went over there to broadcast amplified zooms. And they were loud. Naturally, as you can tell by the name, they did it at night. Late at night. And there was me, trying to sleep with the windows open. Fat chance.
There are no nighthawks in Berlin, of course, but there sure are crows. Not those small, glossy ones you have in America. These guys are big, and are properly referred to as the hooded crow. And they make a variety of sounds, all vaguely cawing. I have no idea if some of these are mating strategies, but several of them have discovered the brick wall in the parking lot outside my window, so that when they call, they sound like they weigh about 25 pounds. There are those who say crows can be domesticated and kept as pets, and that they can be trained to talk like a parrot can. I can't verify the former, but there's one crow who's been visiting this year whose cry, I swear, is "VALLLLyum!" Perhaps this is a new species, and we can add to the hooded crow and the carrion crow the new mutation, the Valium crow.
Or maybe he's just as annoyed with the little electric toys the neighbor kids zoom around the parking lot in as I am.
Some time ago, I mentioned that our building had acquired a real live Countess, although you'd never have guessed it from talking to her, and I wrote a post about minor German royalty and how it's all over the place. The Countess got a little upset because I gave her name, and she was Googling herself instead of doing her schoolwork and found the post, so I removed her name at her request.
I walked into the courtyard the other day, though, and saw her directing a fleet of movers who were packing her things into their trunk. "I'm outta here!" she said in her fine Valley Girl accent. "I gotta have my space!" So now my landlord's here getting the apartment ready to rent again, and no doubt worrying about it, because this is the worst possible time to have a vacancy: the rental market in Berlin is wide open (especially for office space), the universities are out, and nobody has any money.
So now my building is full of no-counts, and we have no Countess. We still do have Herr Böse and Herr Schlecht, though. And, unfortunately, for a while longer, Herr Ward.
One industry that's going great guns here is graffiti. The owners of the building next door have decided that the best way to stop the tagging on the wall closest to the street is to hire a crew of professional graffiti painters, and I have to say, what they've come up with so far is horrible. They keep overpainting stuff, though, and maybe once they get things layered a bit more it'll look better, but I could have come up with a dozen locals who could have done better than what's up there right now.
On the other hand, creative graffiti still pops up now and again, and one of the best new tricks I've seen was when I was walking down Bergstr. on the way back from the supermarket and saw some strange English written in chalk on the sidewalk. It took a minute, but it dawned on me that I was reading the lyrics to ABBA's "Super Trooper" backwards. As I got to the Ackerkeller, the gay bar that took over the space that was formerly Bergwerk, a student bar, I found the start of the song, along with the inscription "Street Karaoke #2: Super Trooper by ABBA." And just on the other side of the bar, there was Street Karaoke #1, some German pop song whose lyrics seem to be so twistedly psychosexually right for relationships in this country (something like "I know you lie when you say you love me, but you are mine and I am yours, so I lie, too, when I say I love you") that I'm sure it was a hit.
Still, I like the idea of street karaoke, and pass it along to others who might like to experiment with the idea. Good penmanship, though, is a must.
I'm wondering if I'm so out of it that I've missed the idea that every European household has to have seven or eight shishas, or elaborate Arab hookahs. That's the only reason I can think of for the fact that there are, within two blocks of my house, two huge stores selling them, everything from five-foot-tall floor models to portables which come with their own intricate wooden case. One of these stores is in a really big space which used to be a bank. I have never seen anyone except the shopkeepers in either one of them, which makes me suspect that, like the dozens of Arab-run Internet cafes which erupted like mushrooms after a storm around here, they may not be in business strictly to make money.