Monday, July 05, 2004


Normally on Sundays I just lounge around the house, doing a little maintenance work on the piles of stuff that always threaten to take over the apartment, and almost always doing some laundry. But by 4 yesterday afternoon, I had two loads of laundry drying on the rack (no one here uses clothes dryers; they're thought to be environmentally insensitive) and there was no denying the warmish sun outdoors. I was out of bottled water, and, although I only had a little over a Euro to my name, I decided to walk down to the Pilan Markt, a Turkish store that's actually, in some ways, better than my neighborhood supermarket.

Once there, though, I realized that what I wanted cost more than I had on hand. This isn't the case at the regular supermarket, but Mr. Pilan knows that in exchange for the convenience being a family-run business offers, he can charge a bit more. And normally I would have been fine with that.

Anyway, I walked back out, and started home, and the sun felt good on my back, so I decided to keep walking. It was one of those days that seems cold unless you've got the sun on you, and then it's pretty nice. Anyway, I walked down Torstr. for a while, and then I got to Rosenthaler Platz and decided to walk that long block, so I turned left. This put me on Brunnenstr., with its miscellaneous businesses all closed for Sunday. There's everything from a Beate Uhse sex shop to the darkest, dingiest supermarket in the neighborhood to the usual Vietnamese crap stores with their gaudy plastic clocks and knockoff bomber jackets to a couple of bad art galleries to a tiny bar that I swear only holds about six people.

When I got to the end of the block, I thought, hmm, this is silly. So I decided to turn left again and head towards home. Now I was on Invalidenstr., and the sun was still shining, and once again, the businesses -- pharmacies, a wine shop, a florist, a tea shop -- were closed. Once past the market-hall, which basically contains a large supermarket where I do most of my shopping, and which was, of course, also closed, I was on my familiar route back home from the store.

Except that these days, I make a detour. I'm not proud of this, because it bespeaks cowardice. In the winter, I try to make the shortest point-to-point routes anywhere I go, because the bitter cold blowing in off the Russian plains is painful to walk in. The route to the store inevitably takes me past the bar, Jarman, I mentioned some posts ago. This is presided over by a dour Scotsman named Daniel Jarman (yes, cousin to the late filmmaker Derek, and a childhood friend of his), who's also an artist and a cook. But a complex series of events earlier this year means I no longer like to walk by and wave at him as I was used to doing, let alone go in for a beer, when I can afford one.

Okay, not so complex: I met a woman there. Things progressed pretty quickly, and it was a bright spot in this otherwise dark existence I've been leading. Smart, articulate, good English, born in East Berlin, lived a block away from me, had wildly varied interests...I felt pretty lucky. Just before Easter, things hit a new high, but she was off to the Czech border with her family for a long Easter weekend. When she got back, she was going to be working at Jarman on weekends so Daniel could visit his girlfriend in Poland.

Something happened. I'm not sure what. She stopped talking to me, stopped communicating with me, and was icy cold to me when I dropped in on my way to the store if the place was otherwise empty -- which it often was. At one point, she went to Dubai for a ten-day vacation. In May, I went to the open house the American Voices Abroad held (see yesterday's post), and dropped into Jarman with a friend for a beer afterwards. The woman was there, engrossed in conversation with a guy at the window table where Daniel sits when he's waiting for customers. My friend and I sat at the bar and ordered beers. Daniel dropped a bar mat in front of me that said Irish Castle Dubai on it and cocked his eyebrow. The woman continued to ignore me.

Attempts at communication with her since then have failed, and I had half a conversation with Daniel last month in which I told him I wasn't going to be by for a while because I didn't feel welcome. I also meant to tell him I'd pay my bar bill, but he scuttled off into the back of the place on some pretext and didn't seem to hear me.

So I've been taking the long way around, which doesn't feel good.

And yesterday, before I realized it, I was there at the top of Gartenstr. wondering if I should turn down it and go home. The sun felt good. Daniel apparently thought so, too, because he was sitting at one of the tables outside the bar in the sunshine, reading a paper. At the moment I noticed, he looked up, saw me, and waved. I waved, too, and thought, what the hell, I'll keep walking. So I kept on walking down Invalidenstr.

Then I remembered reading that there was a good restaurant disguised as a bar at a very obscure location nearby, and, thinking I'd seen it during one of my aimless walks through the neighborhood -- much like this was turning out to be -- I thought, hell, I'll go look for it. So I walked down to the big intersection and turned right. Now I was on Chausseestr., which is mostly abandoned factory buildings. Some of these, I've heard, have good clubs in them on weekends, illegal, of course, and you have to go with someone who's known there, but if you look at the buildings, you can see little clues of where the entrances might be. The buildings themselves are all falling apart, and there are fences around them, breached in some places. Pretty bleak, but so are the few remaining residential buildings.

In fact, as I turned down Schwarzkopfstr., I realized this was about the bleakest part of my whole neighborhood: the standing buildings after the war had been hastily and poorly renovated, and the new buildings were of the worst East German architecture. The old buildings almost certainly still had coal heat, which more buildings than you'd think have here. They may even have had toilets in the hall, shared by everyone on the floor, and no bath. There are no galleries here.

The bar/restaurant was there, though, and I had to give it full marks, on inspection. For one thing, it's closed Saturday. That's brave. For another, there was no sign up advertising the European Cup finals on television. There was no printed menu, either; just a drinks menu and a little sign that said, in English (sort of) "Home drinking is killing wirts business." Funny, but not translatable, really. Anyway, it wasn't due to open til 6, and it was only 5, and the Euro in my pocket had failed to reproduce, so I walked on, making a note to come back next time someone wanted to go out for a beer.

I didn't want to go further north, because it gets more into a Turkish slum with lots of tanning salons and gambling parlors, so I crossed Chausseestr. and started walking back down. I didn't want to go home, but it wasn't as warm now. Something drew me down another side street, and I found another street off of that, which turned out to be a cul-de-sac. Something was bothering me, since clearly the modest goal of finding the bar had been met. Chagrinned at being hemmed in by the street with no outlet, I walked back out onto the side street and headed back to Chausseestr.

I guess it was the cul-de-sac. I realized I was in one. As I walked back down, I realized I was going to have to pass the woman's house. And I realized that I couldn't let her own my neighborhood. I couldn't let her stop me from walking down a street. And I promised myself that when the money I have on the way now comes, although it'll mean taking food out of my mouth, I'm going to walk into Jarman and pay that bar bill. It's a matter of honor.

As I walked down her street, it got much darker. Little pellets of rain hit my back, where just an hour or so earlier the sun had warmed me. As I walked past her apartment, I looked up and realized she wasn't home anyway. But, a few minutes later, I was.

And the storm hit just a few minutes after that.

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