Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Food On The Go

I'm sorry to say that I didn't get nearly as much great food on this trip as I'd hoped. Some of that was due to my insane schedule and the amount of running around I had to do, and some of it is, I think, due to the fact that the cool little dives which once existed in New York have been priced out of what is now a grim, expensive city.

I was also based a lot of the time in suburban New Jersey, as opposed to what I'd call exurban New Jersey (Jersey City, Newark, etc), although there was a good pizzeria (two, actually) in the town I stayed in, as well as the worst Italian place I've eaten at in ages. (Garlic powder in the "garlic spinach" sauce on the pasta? That's impressive in this day and age!) I had a fine sausage-and-peppers sandwich one day and a slice of pizza stuffed with baked ziti (which would have been better if the red sauce that came with it had been edible) another day that brought back some distant nostalgia.

My first evening's meal in New York sent me and my friends to the Saigon Grill on University Place, where there were tremendous summer rolls and a mindblowing "Vietnamese bouillabaisse" so full of seafood (including real crab, not surimi) that I almost ignored the sweet-spicy broth. Highly recommended if you're in the neighborhood, although there's also a branch of Madhur Jaffrey's highly successful and mega-tasty Cafe Spice very nearby. Didn't get there this time.

The next night, although I wasn't wild about more Indian food since I'd just had some on Air India, I met with some folks at a place called Angon on East 6th St., in the middle of that gaggle of Indian restaurants. I was afraid it was going to be like all of them there, but it wasn't. It wasn't unlike them, but it was different. The samosa chaat and the pani puri appetizers were quite distinctive (even if the latter was rather bland), the the khichuri rice dish was another change from the usual stuff.

The next day I met a friend for a really forgettable lunch at a supposed Thai restaurant in the Village. I was already suspicious when the waiter took our orders in Chinese, but soggy pad thai noodles clinched the deal. For dinner, I was with the guy who'd recommended Saigon Grill, so his recommendation of another Vietnamese place, Bao Noodles, was eagerly accepted. Sad to say, they were having an off night, and we were disappointed.

Then it was off on the train to Montreal, fortified with a bagel and coffee from Seattle's Finest (Starbuck's hasn't won -- yet), and I've already commented on la cuisine d'Amtrak. The first dinner was an amazing cassoulet at my hosts' place, with an equally stunning wine I forgot to note. The meats were all hand-picked by the legendary M. Yves at the Atwater Market:

Dessert was a selection of about seven Quebec cheeses, which offered stiff competition to any I've had in France. Man, Quebec's come a long way since I first visited in the mid-'70s!

The next morning, I got a long-held wish, which was to taste the legendary "steel-cut oats" I'd read about. I'm no oatmeal fan, but these barely qualify as oatmeal, especially after a long cooking, dressing with warm cream, and maple syrup bruléed on top with a blowtorch -- not to mention a short shot of whiskey. After that, it was into the car, and a wild trip through Montreal intended to prove to me the superiority of Montreal bagels:

The pictured ones are at St-Viateur, shortly after they've been expertly thrown through the air off the narrow paddle on which they're baked into the pile from which they're selected by customers. I was impressed by the huge stack of 100-lb. sacks of sesame seeds in the bakery area, since apparently the iconic Montreal bagel is a sesame one, but they had other flavors, too. From there we sped to Fairmount Bagels, the dreaded competition, for another dozen. I dutifully sampled each, and, while I agreed with Victoria that the Fairmounts were just a bit better, my problem with Montreal bagels overall is that they're sweet, which bagels should never be unless you're making blueberry bagels or some other form which must be prohibited in the Torah, if not the Old Testament itself. Maybe toasted and buttered they'd be better, but I prefer to think of them the way I think of Cincinnati chili, ie, as a similar, but different foodstuff entirely.

From there it was time for my hosts to do their weekend shopping, which meant stops at both of Montreal's stunning markets, Jean Talon (for vegetables) and Atwater (for meat). Both are available at both places, but it must be admitted that each seems superior to the other in just that way.

It was mid-October, remember, so the glories of the harvest were behind us. I can't imagine what the place must look like in high summer, what with a pepper display like this:

Not to mention psychedelic cauliflower:

Victoria and Rodney patronize M. Charles' vegetable shop, just outside the market, for a lot of their stuff, and he proudly uncorked a box of white truffles he'd bought. Unfortunately, it was one of two, and the other one had walked out as he was helping several restaurants get their orders together. He said he knew it was someone from one of the restaurants, but he was damned if he could tell whom, or even which restaurant. The display at his place, though, was astonishing.

From there it was off across town to the Atwater Market, where, in addition to even more temptations, they were having an "Octoberfest" of micro-brews from around Quebec that I was in no shape to try due to a cold. Here, the mighty M. Yves plies his trade, and my brain was about to explode from the assembled goodies. As arranged, we met my college pal Terry there, and I escaped with him back to his house for some long-delayed catching up. Victoria pressed the remaining bagels, a wedge of local Shropshire Blue cheese, and a little basket of assorted chiles on him.

Dinner that evening with Victoria and Rodney was at Au Pied de Cochon, a place Anthony Bourdain likes a lot, and it was easy to see why: it's not fancy, but it's exquisite in its quality, which means the prices aren't so high. Oh, there's the odd $1700 bottle on the wine list, but we had a microbrewed stout which suited the meal just fine. I'd settled on a bison rib, after one passed me on a plate, looking perfectly barbequed, and, because they had the gall to offer it, I ordered French onion soup for a starter. What a cliché! What a amazing rendition of it, too! Man, it must've been the onions, because I can't think of what else would have imparted such a rich, sweet yet vegetal flavor to the soup. I almost stood up and cheered. Sadly, the rib, although absolutely perfectly cooked, was marred by a "barbeque" sauce slathered on it which was way too sweet. Because I like this place so much, though, I offer the following advice to them: in Texas, they don't use sauce at all. Really. What they do use is a salt-and-pepper rub, and hey, you folks know, just like I do, that there are salts and there are salts, and there are peppers and there are peppers. I offer this as a clue, and look forward to seeing you deal with it next time I'm up there.

The next day's eating was unmitigated disappointment: bad Jamaican meat patty and bad empanada at a bakery near Terry's house, followed by a meal at a Caribbean restaurant which started out fine with good appetizers and then went sharply downhill. If that's jerk chicken, you guys, then...ahhh, there's a jerk joke in there somewhere. Fageddit.

Tuesday saw me hit Philadelphia to say hi to the Fresh Air crew, and record a couple of pieces. As I traditionally do, I lunched at the Reading Terminal Market, getting a "super Italian" sub at Carmen's-Formerly-Known-As-Rocco's. Dinner was along the same lines, although it was home-made, an Italian sausage lasagne at the home of the Philadelphia Inquirer's blogger Dan Rubin, along with his wife Mimi, my sister, the Rubin twins, and my nephew Peter. And because of a screwup with the hotel I'd been stashed in, I wound up at another one just two blocks from the Reading Terminal again, so I got to eat breakfast at their famous Down Home Diner, which was a bit of a disappointment. Dang, I shoulda ordered scrapple!

The flight back on Air India was smooth, the food good (but not as good as going over, possibly because I passed on the mutton curry and went for the vegetarian dish, which I swear the flight attendant said was "bunny"), and my fellow passengers just as anarchic as before. I got a great meal (my usual: duck terrine, steak au poivre with potatoes au gratin) at Chez Paul, and the next morning I was on my way back to Berlin.

And a surprise awaited me: I got in too late to shop (and was in no condition to do so anyway) so the dancer, who met me at the station, and I decided to investigate Toco Rouge, the Chinese-fusion joint that sprung up in the space where my late lamented Döner place had been. We each had a different soup and entree, and I have to say, this place looks like it's really happening. Open for lunch, too, so I can see soup for lunch in my future. What a pleasant surprise! Hope it lasts.

Of course, Monday took me to the supermarket, where I beheld acres of empty shelves. Okay, home again.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

More Transportation

Last night I staggered off the train from Cologne, which I'd boarded after getting off the train from Paris, fifteen minutes late, the apologies of the train crew, broadcast on the intercom, still ringing in my ears. What a difference from Amtrak, I thought.

I'd wanted to visit Montreal on this trip, because I hadn't seen my old college friend Terry in what turned out to be 19 years, which is way too long. I also wanted to visit a couple of friends I knew only from the Well, and, mostly, I figured that after four days, I'd want to get out of New York. I'd remembered how wonderful the trip up there was when I'd taken the train -- a long trip, sure, ten hours or so, but among some of the most gorgeous scenery the East Coast has to offer. Idly, I went by the website and found I could make the round trip for a whopping $113, or just under half what a similar trip on Deutsche Bahn would cost. How could I resist?

So last Friday morning, bright and early, I found myself in Penn Station, sticking my credit card into a machine which identified me immediately, had me punch in the code they'd sent me in confirmation of the purchase, and seconds later two tickets slid out. Boy, that was easy. Easier than Deutsche Bahn's website, which works until you get to the moment of purchase, and then crashes, and which won't quote you fares or sell you tickets if you're leaving Germany, for some reason.

At 8:30, we pulled out of Penn Station on schedule. I found it rather odd that, although the ticket said "reserved" on it, there wasn't a seat or car number on it, as there would have been in Europe. Still, there weren't enough people on the train to make that an issue. Unfortunately for the scenery, it was raining hard. Maybe, I thought, this will let up at some point. Didn't really matter when; the whole trip, pretty much, is scenic.

It was at our first stop that I noticed the first big difference between Amtrak and European trains. There's a board by the exit, just as there is here, but it only gives you the name of the train, and, for variety, a couple of ads for Amtrak, including one for something called Rail Fone, long superceded by the cell phone. Where were we? I had no idea, and, having grown up in the area, I had some interest in knowing. But there was no indication from the board, and no announcement over the loudspeaker. Nor were the signs at the station terribly visible. It was Yonkers, I think.

Later, I discovered that in the snack car there was a stack of timetables, French on one side, English on the other (hey, it was going to Quebec; no sense in risking a fine!). This was good as long as you were capable of remembering what the last stop was or could find a sign (some of the stations we stopped at were so small only one car was opened at the stop, while the rest of the train slopped over each end). But really, folks, what's wrong with making an announcement? Or jiggering the sign so it shows the station, and maybe even the next station with estimated time of arrival and all?

Sad to say, as we proceeded up the Hudson, the scenery was behind a scrim of driving grey rain, so any sightseeing was restricted to the marshes just off the river and the river itself. There was an awful lot of wildlife: several species of ducks, blue and green herons, and, once, a glimpse of a group of those flat-shelled, bottle-nosed snapping turtles. I'd have thought it was too cold for them by now.

Once past Albany, though, you're off the Hudson, and you plunge right into the fall foliage as you work your way towards several other lakes, winding up with the huge one which divides Vermont from New York, Lake Champlain. This is summer tourist country, and yet it's very nice at this time of year (well, it was a week ago: a couple of good cold rainstorms and that foliage just says good-bye). The train zips through some nice granite outcroppings, and you realize just how depopulated bits of upstate New York are.

Poor, too. That was one thing that shocked me. Of course, the nicest parts of anyplace are rarely found by the railroad tracks, for obvious reasons, but in Europe that usually means either industrial or immigrant areas. You don't see rural poverty in the parts of Europe I've ridden through on trains -- largely Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Norway. Only in Poland have I seen dwellings I assumed belonged to poor people. But it's a shock in America: some of the houses out there in the country are downright hovels, and yet there were people living in them. This was a shock not only after relatively affluent Europe, but after deeply sanitized New York, which seems to have had a soulectomy since I was last there about eight years ago.

The border check was painless. We'd been warned at the start of the journey to attach tags which had been stamped CANADA onto all of our bags, and I, of course, managed to drop one on the way in. I was afraid my camera or my laptop would be impounded on the way in. Fortunately, I found it on the floor, but the conductor said there was no worry about them anyway. The Canadian border guards were friendly, joked in French and English with the passengers, and got in and out fast.

By then, the sun was going down, and it looked like we'd make our destination only a half hour late -- not, again, that anyone was telling us this except for Dean. Dean looked like one of the Village People, specifically the one with the leather cap, and was one of a number of homosexual stereotypes in our car; perhaps there was a convention that weekend, because there were two more of them sitting across from me, going "Tsk" loudly every time Dean made or received a call on his cell phone. Oblivious to the fact that we didn't all want to know the intimate details of his life, he shared them with his friends and us in a voice that I'm sure carried to the next car. It was, however, useful for knowing how close we were to Montreal.

Thirty minutes late is early for Amtrak, sad to say, although things have improved since the day in the early '70s when, frightened out of the sky by a plane ride from hell that had nuns praying at the top of their lungs and the businessman who just a moment earlier had been saying how boring flying was yelling "I don't want to die" at the top of his lungs, I took the train from San Francisco to Austin -- well, San Antonio, which was as close as it went -- for my first visit to that city. It was understood we'd take the bus to Oakland, because there was no train from San Francisco, but when we got there -- and I am not making this up -- the train from Seattle was 24 hours late. Thus, we took the bus from Oakland to Los Angeles, where there actually was a train.

The ride back from Montreal, though, wasn't nearly as punctual, and this one was more of a nail-biter, because I was staying in New Jersey, and the trains there don't run all night. The U.S. border guards took several people for questioning into the snack car, but they all -- all the ones I saw, anyway -- returned to their seats without incident. We were a good 2 1/2 hours late getting to Penn Station. No apologies, let alone the discount cards Deutsche Bahn hands out when things like this happen.

Oh, and I mentioned the snack car? I'm going to do a post later on some of the food I encountered, but let's just say that Amtrak is still upholding some great traditions: I fondly remember biting into a roast-beef sandwich on that early '70s trip and finding the center frozen solid. This time, I bought an "Italian sandwich" on the way down, fairly certain I'd get back to Jersey too late to get delivery pizza, even (I was right), and although the guy stuck it in the oven for a goodly amount of time, when I took it out of the cellophane, there was a comforting cold, wet spot directly in the center. The mighty Hudson still shows off its colors in the fall, and Amtrak still can't manage to defrost a sandwich.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Very Public Transportation

I'll have to confess: ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to fly Air India. Many years ago, someone told me the world's best Indian restaurant was the Air India flight from New York to London. London was someplace I wanted to see, and getting there with good food just made it all the more attractive. But when I finally did get to go to London, economy won out over gastronomy, and I flew, uhhh, whatever was cheapest from Austin.

But it was "whatever was cheaper" that got me onto Air India for this trip to the States which started on Monday. Rock-bottom prices from Paris made the deal inevitable, although I'd been warned that the flights originate in India and can be late. Mine was -- by 90 minutes. But it was an education.

It had originated in Bombay -- or Mumbai, if you will -- and there weren't many places for us Paris-boarding passengers. But that didn't matter, because I had a center group of seats in the aging 747 all to myself. But I'd never been on a plane like this. Not the equipment -- I've been on plenty of 747s -- but the social scene. I've never been to India, but I'd be willing to bet that a significant number of my fellow-passengers were flying for the first time, and likely not urban dwellers. How else, after all, to explain the video demonstrating how to flush the toilet? (Which, I hasten to add, unlike on other flights I've been on, they did, thank heavens).

Another way you knew it was an Indian flight was that the little map with the little plane on it was interrupted now and again by a screen that said "Physical features map only. NO POLITICAL BORDERS DEPICTED." Take that, Pakistan! Oh, and the entertainment, which alternated between the most lascivious (and unintentionally funny) rock videos ever (yes, there were a couple of clowns in that party scene where the guy gets shot, although what they were doing there was obscure) and Hindi TV shows, American TV shows I'd never heard of, a film about basketball which reinforced every stereotype about black people the NAACP has been trying to overturn since Reconstruction, and a ludicrous Indian film about entrepreneurs called Corporate, which I dozed through.

Not that I could have accessed the soundtrack if I'd wanted. I was delighted to see a channel of Indian classical music, but apparently the sound system didn't work at all. Not surprising: the video was so out of whack that everything showed in sepia, giving an appropriately antique touch to things.

But the food made up for it. With drinks we were served some astonishing little chips, pillow-shaped, made from potato flour, and spiced just enough to make me sit up and take notice. They were called, appropriately enough, Mo'pleez, although I notice the website given on the bag is a list of janitorial services. After a decent interval, the meal was wheeled around, and I got the Indian one, non-vegetarian, with a chicken curry called Dum Ka Murg, okay pilau rice, and a nice dal. I even ate the dessert, which was very low-sugar, unlike any Indian dessert I've ever had, something called Shahi Tukla, which had little cubes of what seemed to be dense bread in a sauce made from concentrated milk, the whole thing dusted with crushed pistachios. I'd tried to order a Gujarati meal from the bewildering variety offered by the Air India website, but twice got back an enigmatic e-mail saying Mr. Gomes was not in the database. I don't care about Mr. Gomes, I want my Gujarati feast!

When the plane touched down in Newark the entire cabin rose as one man and started stampeding to the door, despite the fact that the plane was still taxiing down the runway. The cabin attendants beat them back, and only had to restore order twice more.

India is a place about which I've always quipped that I read about it obsessively to keep from actually going there. I think this flight actually added a bit of reinforcement to that theory, although I gotta say, I can't wait to see what the grub on the return is going to be like. But...I've got to wait a week to find out.


Footnote: The biggest disappointment about not being able to hear the audio on the flight was that the classical channel heavily featured my new favorite Indian classical musician, Amjad Ali Khan, who plays with all the clarity of a well-performed Mozart piano sonata. He communicates so well that I believe someone who knew nothing whatever about Indian classical music could pretty much get the basics after one of his better-performed ragas (the titles I'd point you to are on CDs I burned from eMusic downloads back in Berlin, though). Anyway, I was walking past Carnegie Hall yesterday and was astonished to see that Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan Ali Khan, and Ayaan Ali Khan were playing there on Sunday, with tickets maxing out at $90. I don't know if anyone reading this has that kind of dough or that kind of interest, but boy, if I had the money, and was going to be in New York at that time (I'll be in Montreal), I'd have walked in and snapped one up. Adventurous New Yorkers take note.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Crumby Miscellany

First, a word to regular visitors that I'm off on Sunday morning for a trip to New York, Montreal, and Philadelphia, among other places, and won't be back until the evening of the 28th. My newly-repaired (and, seemingly well-functioning) laptop will be making the trip with me, and I may add a word or two while on the road. Or not.

The main aim of the trip is to push ahead the acquisition of my book, which got rudely interrupted when my "agent" turned out not to be one this summer. I've rewritten the pitch, and it's already been turned down with a great deal of snark by one publisher. But I figure over ten million people hear the words "Ed Ward lives in Berlin" on Fresh Air with Terry Gross each week, and if one percent of them ask themselves "Why on earth?" and are willing to spend a little money to find out, I'm in good shape.

Plus, it's, like, a good read.


I splurged a few Euros for something to read on the trip, and thus went to the "culture department store" Dussmann down on Friedrichstr. Interestingly, the new hotel on Friedrichstr. whose construction has blocked the sidewalk and imperilled foot-traffic for well over two years is open at last, and you can walk on the eastern side of the street without a Berlin driver trying to pick you off. I walked past the place and it looked like, well, another high-end hotel. Just what we need, with almost no tourism and virtually nothing in the middle-price business-traveller class.

But its gift shop had a sign in the window advertising a perfume called Berlin (no, not the Joop fragrance; it apparently has no web presence) for men and women, each variety of which comes in a bottle shaped like the Fernsehturm. Its motto is priceless:

"As diverse as its city will never be
But always will be becoming."

Get back to me when you've got that figured out, okay? And no, it doesn't make any more sense in German.


More news of NIke! The torso of the woman on all fours which I blogged last October vanished overnight. It had already been defaced days after I shot it last year by some idiot with a sharpie showing off. I suspect this disappearance, though, was intentional. The former White Trash club location has been taken over by one of Berlin's worst art galleries, one which professes feminism while showing art which seems to prove that women shouldn't even think of becoming artists. Honestly, if junior high students did this well, they'd be called "promising," but adults should be held to a higher standard. I suspect that Nike's torso (which I'd begun calling Ostrich Woman because of her weirdly elongated neck) was so much better on both a conceptual and technical level that the jealous gallery folks decided it was showing them up. I don't get to meditate, now, on the mysterious inscription ("You mustn't think...") every time I pass it.


I occasionally get criticized for never saying anything positive about Germany. I think it's more accurate to accuse me of never saying anything positive about Berlin, but I was quite amused by this cartoon in Salon the other day. Our own Sauerkrautmeister (in his "Steven Augustine" disguise -- and no, that's not his real name) comments and plugs this blog, but I think the cartoon's got some points.


Anyway, time to hope my meager packings meet the latest standards of the security guys and it's an uneventful flight. After I get there, that's another matter.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Last Nice Day

Around about noon today, the phone rang and it was the guy at the repair shop telling me my iBook was ready, so after I'd done some stuff around the house I headed for the U-Bahn and went down there. It was about 2 when I got out, and, checking my change, I saw I didn't have enough to take the U-Bahn back. This is one of the more annoying innovations of recent years: it used to be that your (slightly more expensive) ticket bought you two hours of riding the public transportation system. Now, it only goes for two hours in one direction, although if you keep going and make creative use of the Ringbahn, you can likely make it home from the opposite direction from which you left.

Still, although I also had a €20 bill in my pocket, I figured that, with the weather in the mid-60s, no clouds in sight, and the sun warming you further when you stood in it, it might be a good day for a slow walk home. Not that I had nothing else to do, but it's almost inevitable that within a week or so our usual winter weather's going to start closing in, not to lift until at least May. Gather ye rosebuds and all that good stuff.

The repair place is in a rather nondescript section of Kreuzberg below Oranienstr., so I headed up towards it and then headed north on Heinrich-Heine-Str. This was to be what the Germans call a Bummel, a stroll without any particular urgency, and one of my Bummel-rules is always to investigate placards and historical markers. That's how I found the marker for what had been the Heinrich-Heine-Str. Checkpoint, a German-German checkpoint in the Wall. Several people had been shot trying to escape, and a truckdriver had rammed himself into the West, only to die as soon as he got there from his injuries. There's a photo of his wrecked truck on the glass placard.

The last time I'd walked back from the place (and then I really didn't have €2.10 for the ticket) I'd headed down Köpenicker Str., but this time I just kept heading straight ahead as the street turned into Brückestr. Sure enough, as I'd thought, it ended at a bridge right by the Chinese Embassy. I decided to walk west along the water instead, because this was the neighborhood I'd worked in when I'd helped put on the music conference here in 1993, after I'd moved -- the event had been held at the Haus am Köllnischen Park, a ratty little convention center.

Pretty soon the bulk of the Märkisches Museum rose in front of me, and I decided to take a look at it again, my first in about 13 years. They'd added some slices of the Wall to the mix of miscellaneous bits of stone on the grounds, as well as an audio stand where you could hear important excerpts from radio programs about the Wall, as well as speeches in the Bundestag and the like. Another thing I hadn't noticed back then was a statue of Heinrich Zille, the famous Berlin caricaturist, cartoonist, and photographer, standing with cigar stub firmly clenched in his jaws, drawing something, while a kid looked over his shoulder. The Märkisches Museum I remember as a dark, disorganized place filled with badly sourced and badly selected exhibits. I remember one, about iron works in early Berlin, showing some iron tools and hinges and the like with a caption that said something like "The products of the early Berlin iron works probably looked like these," and going on to say they were from a whole other part of the country. Didn't make me want to go back.

Anyway, as long as I was there, I figured I'd go pay my respects to the official Berlin bears. I used to be able to look out the window of the Haus and see Tilo and Maxi pacing around, but today there was only one bear, not distinguished by name. A drunk came by, making odd noises and yelling things I couldn't understand, and the bear looked at him with disdain. "But it's true!" the guy said, before lurching off in the direction of the museum. By now, I was beginning to regret not taking my camera, but I had no idea I was going to end up at the bear pit, or, indeed, taking this walk.

At any rate, I turned the corner and there was the seafood restaurant I'd noticed when I'd first come here. The fish they offered back then was all fresh-water fish, not much to my liking, and today I didn't investigate the menu so much as a freshly-cleaned bronze plaque which proclaimed the house which contained the restaurant to have been the headquarters of some Prussian maritime union which held the fort against the forces of counterrevolution after the First World War and always took the side of the proletariat. No points for guessing the vintage of that plaque.

I crossed a bridge and found myself on Fischerinsel, the smaller of the two islands on which the city was founded. Here there's the Historic Harbor of Berlin, an institution I've never figured out, but which seems to be a collection of old boats, some of which are available for rent, some of which are just sitting there. There's apparently a museum on one of them, but I've never seen any sign that it's ever open (although the website indicates otherwise). At any rate, it was nice to see the old boats sitting in the algae-choked water.

Fischerinsel leads to Museumsinsel, the larger of the two founding islands, and one which, while very central, still holds some secrets. Approaching it from the south, as I did, by the Gertraudenbrücke with its mysterious statue of St. Gertrude, the gooseherd, and the mice (again, I have to photograph this bizarre statue), if you walk along the east side of the river (as you have to, thanks to construction these days), you find remnants of an 18th Century neighborhood that's worth roaming around if you have the time. There's another obscure museum in here, in a former wealthy doctor's house, but I'm not sure what's in it. These houses have yet to be fully restored, but once they are, I bet they'll go for a ton of money. You'll also come to Berlin's oldest intact bridge, the Jungfernbrücke, with its four wheels attached (once upon a time) to the chains which can raise and lower it for boat traffic. Nearby, there's a small metal placard with a photo on it taken around the turn of the century, showing the neighborhood as it was, complete with vanished streets and a lock in the Spree River where the Schleussbrücke, Berlin's oldest bridge, but bombed and rebuilt dozens of times since the 1650s, stands. The photo reminded me that this was one of the neighborhoods the great Willy Römer had documented.

I walked the Spree all the way to Tucholskystr., and noticed a lot of fishermen, which brought up two questions: what were they fishing for, and, you're not going to eat it, are you? One guy hauled in a three-incher as I walked past, and a woman gave him a horrified expression. I didn't stop to see if he threw it back. And as I got to Tucholskystr. I saw that the ship which has been anchored there, the MS Marie, was from the Historic Harbor. They play bad Shakespeare there and give salsa-dancing lessons, although my guess is it's going to shut down pretty soon.

After all, the nice days are just about over.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Neighborhood Noodlings

I guess someone's been reading this blog; immediately after I complained about the second-rate galleries springing up on Brunnenstr. just off Rosenthaler Platz, Nike got to work:

Thanks, Nike! And this makes a real nice contrast with the canary-yellow Statue of Liberty the travel-agency in the building to which this is affixed puts out on the sidewalk during opening hours, too. My only concern is that this painting is dated '04, like most of them are, and I'm wondering if there's any recent work. Still, the pink handbag and rather ambiguous nether regions are all part of that weird primitive Nike vibe, so long may she wave.


Long ago, I posted two paper graffiti naked lady wrestlers who appeared on a doorstop just a few buildings away from me, and I forgot to document how, in the middle of a particularly cold winter, one of them got warmed up with an "I [heart] NY" t-shirt. The same artist, though, appeared a few months ago just a block away, and I'd been meaning to shoot this funny piece for ages. Got it today while I set out for the Nike shoot, though:

The name in the heart tattoo is in Russian, a language I simply can't read, but what the photo really fails to make plain is that he's only about nine inches tall and the rose bush he's standing by is over six feet tall. I like seeing him as I walk down Torstr., with his mixture of awe and determination as he gets ready to trim the giant rose.


Finally, the late, beloved Bistro Tor, the Döner Kebap place which stood for years outside my place, and which closed suddenly and permanently a couple of months ago, is slowly turning into something called Toco Rouge. There are Toco Rouge stickers all over the neighborhood, as well as on the bikes of the folks who are busily working inside. From the fact that they all look Thai or Vietnamese, and the fact that, in a rare moment when I could see inside, there were woks on the stove, I'm afraid we're in for another "Asia Food" place serving brown glop on glass-noodles. Gotta have glass-noodles: I was in a Japanese restaurant a couple of weeks back, and the meal began with a small glass-noodle salad, which would certainly have puzzled any Japanese person who ate there. Anyway, my expectations are nil for this place, and I'm wondering where I can get a decent Döner -- something I eat about once a month, if that often -- close enough so that in the cold weather it won't totally cool off before I get it home.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Weekend Wordage

Blog Post of the Week: When belledame222 gets mad, she doesn't hold back. I was absolutely thrilled by this post, even though she didn't write a word of it herself. Errr, not that she couldn't write that well if she tried, he said, not wanting to incur her wrath.


In other news of the blogosphere, some months ago I was astonished to find an outpost of the extreme American right blogging here in Berlin. Called Davids Medienkritik, it analyzed German media for "anti-American bias," and not only found loads of it lurking in the mainstream media, but found actual socialism happening at the highest government levels! Like most of the echo chamber, they don't take well to criticism, and so Radio Free Mike, who freelances for Spiegel Online, has been taking crap from them recently. If you've got an interest in this sort of thing, I invite you to go over there and check out the ongoing battle. You can find Davids Medienkritik's link yourself, if you see fit. I don't much feel like giving them more hits, for some reason.


In a daring experiment, the government, this weekend, allowed stores to open on Sunday for a few hours. The reason is that German Unity Day, Oct. 3, a federal holiday, falls on Tuesday, so this Sunday opening takes the place of that. Not that anyone was at the Stupidmarket when I was over there just now (including the personnel in the fish, meat, and cheese departments), but it was nice not to have to jam everything into a Saturday rush. It appears also that a lot of art galleries took advantage of this, particularly the brand-new ones on Brunnenstr., which seems to be picking up the second-rate gallery banner from Schröderstr., which now only has one mediocre gallery on it. But Germans still haven't picked up on the idea of Sunday shopping, and they may never do so.

As for me, I hope to enjoy the holiday at the last races of the season out at Hoppegarten. From the looks of things, fall is coming in, and one last day in the sun sounds like a real good idea.