Tuesday, February 22, 2005


I don't know about that T.S. Eliot guy, but for me, February has always been the cruellest month. Nor am I alone in making this observation: I tossed off the comment in an e-mail to a friend in the States and she wrote back that she'd already heard it twice that week, both times from writers. Maybe it's the unfairness of paying the same rent for 28 days that you pay for months where you get 30 or 31 days for your money or something.

Last Monday, I opened the roll-down shutters to a landscape of white and had a surge of good feeling. Finding that odd, I tried to figure it out (I was still half-asleep, after all) and the phrase "snow day" came into my head, a relic of childhood when too much snow would close the schools. This was probably due to having been in touch with my sister about the death of the last of our aunts the week before, but it didn't take long for the feeling to go away. It was gone before I'd finished my coffee, in fact.

February in Berlin seems endless, and this is odd. After all, scientists say that Seasonal Affect Disorder is linked to photo-period, the amount of daylight in a given 24-hour period, and yet in December, when it started getting dark at around 3:35, I was still in a pretty good mood most of the time. It may have been dark a lot, and it was certainly cold, but the mood wasn't oppressive. Even January seemed pretty okay.

February, though, isn't.

Nor is it just me: this is the time of year when people get really down. I check in with friends and find them weary and depressed. One friend has just suffered a serious meltdown, and a couple of others are missing in action. You get worried when stuff like that happens. You get worried about yourself: I found I was sleeping nine hours or more each night these past couple of weeks, which is one of the symptoms of actual clinical depression. Why get up?

I spent a lot of yesterday in transit or just walking around, due to a couple of things I had to do, and it came to me clearly, the source of the February malaise: I've had enough. It was right around freezing, the ground had patches of ice and snow, the wind blew so that there was no sense of warmth anywhere, my nose was running, and the sky was a dirty white color not unlike that of the snow. From time to time, some sort of moisture would blow in my face, and although it didn't stick on the ground, it was unwelcome.

"I've had enough." For me, right now, that means I've had enough cold, enough dull light, enough wind, enough crappy weather. What worries me is that some people just think they've had enough, period. There's a sense of needing to move on, of wanting stuff to happen that just doesn't seem to be happening, and just the same, you can't seem to make it happen.

I'm luckier than most. In a little over two weeks, I'll be headed to Texas for a couple of weeks, participating in South By Southwest in Austin, where at the best it'll be sunny and warm and at worst humid and thundery. A nice break, because when I get back it'll still be February here, the superficial name-change to March notwithstanding. Not so for most folks here, though. And I've got to say, just taking possession of the documents for my plane ticket, my hotel reservation, my registration for the conference, has energized me, given me something to hang on to as these days of February grind on. Because make no mistake about it: it's not the photo-period at all. The days have gotten longer; it doesn't get dark until 5-ish these days.

That doesn't make it any better. Just longer.

Berlin is at the same latitude, I once figured out, as Edmonton, Alberta. (For comparison, New York is a little bit south of Barcelona). No wonder people here will gather at outdoor cafes, still wearing thick coats, as soon as the sunshine gets a bit more prevalent around the end of March. No wonder you can't open a film here in the summertime: nobody will go see it, because they'd rather be outdoors as long as they can. This is what the concept of the beer garden is all about.

This all seems unimaginably far in the future. It feels that way every year. Right now, yeah, I've had enough. But very fortunately, enough is not yet too much. In a week, February will be wearing its March name. I'll be counting the days until I get on that plane.

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