Friday, May 30, 2008

Way Ta Go, Weltstadt!

Over the weekend, I ran into a couple of old friends, and among the info I picked up was a rumor that the plug was about to be pulled on Radio Multikulti, Berlin's absolutely unique radio station. Further research turned up an article confirming this.

Now, I'm in a bad position to defend Radio Multikulti for a number of reasons. First, I never listen to it. I never listen to any radio unless I'm driving. I've got too many CDs, and too little time. But that's neither here nor there.

Another factor is that I'm always uncomfortable with German multiculturalism as it's officially expressed. I've touched on this before some years back. And, for all the good work it does giving foreign residents of Berlin a touchstone, Radio Multikulti also fuels that syndrome.

A third, personal, factor is that when I moved here, one of my employers was a Big Honcho in the local world music scene who went on to become even bigger when he joined the staff of the brand-new Radio Multikulti. This guy was a piece of work: he was the first West German I'd ever met who hated Americans. There were three of us on the job, and he stiffed us -- and just us -- our last month's salary. Just because. I asked him one day where this bizarre animus came from, and he told me "It's because you destroyed a civilization. You did absolutely nothing to stop the Vietnam War, and this meant the destruction of Vietnamese culture, a very old culture." In this particular year, when the media is making so much noise about the events of 1968, the idea that Americans, especially young Americans, one of whom I was at the time, did "absolutely nothing" about the war in Vietnam, may seem a bit odd. But he believed it, he really believed it.

So I can't say I'm the biggest booster of Radio Multikulti, but I can say that this turn of events is both sad and unsurprising. Sad because this station, in both its avowed mission and its execution, is unique in the world, as far as I know. A radio station that both attempts to help immigrants integrate into an alien society (well, exotic immigrants, anyway; we Euro/American types are on our own), while seducing the locals into acceptance by playing them "world music," pop music from foreign climes (except, again, Euro/American styles, but I don't have any complaint against that: there's enough of most of that around), is, at least on paper, a good idea. And, since it's run by human beings, and, thus, imperfect, what actually comes out of the speakers has been pretty good every time I've heard it.

More to the point, pulling the plug on yet another unique, interesting, popular cultural manifestation in Berlin not only deprives Berliners of yet another of the things which ameliorate life here, it also proves that the people who make cultural policy here are totally unconcerned with Berlin's hip! edgy! image -- which is attracting who knows how much money to this city -- and only interested in supporting the most mainstream, culturally conservative institutions. Since another villain here seems to be ARD, the central public radio-television network of Germany, I'd say this de-funding also brings up questions of just how welcome immigrants -- particularly ones outside the Euro/American ambit -- actually are, not just in Berlin, but in Germany generally. Funny how that question keeps popping up.

Anyway, I'm glad to be leaving. At the rate this city is self-destructing, I can see myself coming back to visit friends in a couple of years and realizing there's nothing to see or do here while those friends are at work and I have free time. Berlin will have committed cultural suicide and become as fascinating as Bochum. Well, almost as fascinating.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nachmieter Gesucht And Other Crumbs

It appears that the money is now in place for me to get an apartment in Montpellier when I get there the week of June 16. I've been ransacking the Montpellier equivalents of the website that got me the place I'm in now, and have actually found two apartments that look good, although one of them, I believe, was vacant when I was there in March, which is a bit ominous. But nobody's putting up the students' apartments yet, so I'm sure I'm just seeing the tip of what'll be a huge iceberg once I get there.

And, although nothing's signed yet, I should probably be looking for someone to take over the lease here. It's listed as a 2 1/2 room place, around 60 m2, but if someone wants to work on the loft-bed frame in the smallest room, which isn't as sturdy as it ought to be, and is also incomplete, you could actually fit three single people in here. Gas heat, although none in the room I use as a living room and office because the guy who turned on the heat in the kitchen and bedroom couldn't get it to work and then never showed up again. But the landlord's said he wants to hook this place up to the central heating anyway. At the moment, of course, it doesn't matter. Neighborhood couldn't be nicer; there are yuppies moving in, but there are also a lot of young American, German, and French hipster-types living around the 'hood, and a ferment of cultural activity, including a literary magazine being published by a couple of Americans out of this very building. The downside is that the apartment doesn't get a lot of light, and that gets a bit oppressive in the winter. Gas stove, which is pretty unusual -- and a real boon for those who like to cook -- and the refrigerator and washing machine are going with me, because, well, they're mine. Rent is €430, and you'll have to take over my €500 deposit. Available July, exact date uncertain. Tell your friends, send an e-mail if you're interested and set up a time to look at it.

I'm not sure what the exact legal requirements are -- I once heard something about my having to present three candidates -- but I'm pretty sure that if you want it and I want you to have it, you'll get it.

* * *

And with the prospect of leaving the city I've lived in for almost 15 years, naturally comes a bit of trepidation. I know this place, I'm somewhat identified with it (dang, I'm going to have to get new e-mail addresses!), and I've got a nice network of friends at the moment (although I'm sure that a sizeable proportion of them will, like the others I've had, move on after a while in frustration). I expressed this ambivalence to a friend, who wrote back that he understood perfectly; this often happens to men in prison, who find the life inside easier to cope with than life outside. Okay, that worked. I'll start packing.

There was a very good article by Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times this week which ostensibly dealt with the fate of Tempelhof Airport, but also had some excellent insight into Berlin that, for once, didn't sound like the paper was trying to offload some Prenzlauer Berg real estate. As the story moves from the hard news of the "referendum" on Tempelhof, it makes telling comments on the inability of the city to get anything done about, seemingly, anything, and its almost knee-jerk negative reaction to any kind of change. The reference to the destruction of the Palast der Republik despite its ongoing viability is telling, and the reference to the new Schloss -- if it ever manages to get built, which is looking unlikely at the moment -- as "a forthcoming Potemkin village and a sad excuse for a showpiece in a city that prides itself on its cultural sophistication," is dead-on. Berlin desperately wants that cultural sophistication, but it expects others to actually produce it, offering no help in the form of subsidies or venues. It starves the avant-garde which made it famous in the immediate post-unification days in favor of maintaining three major (and at least one minor) opera house and has shut down every major avant-garde musical venue in the city. And Kimmelman's right on the mark in zinging Berlin for "provincial megalomania," and comparing the situation at Tempelhof with the destruction of New York's Penn Station. Read it, particularly between the lines.

I'm happy to be flying one last time out of Tempelhof on June 5, because I agree with Kimmelman about how nice it is. And no, where I'm moving has nothing like Berlin's cultural scene. But then, increasingly, neither does Berlin.

* * *

There's a car I've been seeing parked around my neighborhood with a great sign in its back window. There's a heart, a peace sign, and what looks like a stick figure hoisting a barbell with one arm. In English, under each glyph, it says "Make Love," "No War," and "Wear Glasses." It's an ad for an optician, and every time I've seen it, I've said "Man, if I ever need glasses, that's where I'm going." Then, last Sunday after a day at the horse races at Hoppegarten (with very possibly the worst selection of nags I've ever seen there, which is really saying something), a screw fell out of the post of my very nice Ray Bans. Hardly a major operation, but, I thought, the perfect excuse to hand over a couple of euros to Mr. Love/War/Glasses.

Haven't seen the car since, of course.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Emigrant's Dilemma, Chapter 3: Running the Numbers

Yesterday, my Yahoo horoscope said it was a good day to face a task you didn't want to do, because it would prove easier than you thought. That was enough of a goad for me to sit down and start putting together a budget for this move. I divided it into three categories: Berlin, Trip, and Montpellier. The first is for expenses I'll incur here, the second for the forthcoming Berlin-Fes-Montpellier trip, and the third for money I'm going to have to have once I get there.

Weirdly enough, the figure I came up with is very, very encouraging. I don't have all the money yet, but I'm working on that. And it's a worst-case figure, in any event: I spent an hour the other day paging through websites dedicated to renting, very much like the one I used to find this place, and discovered that even if I have to use a real-estate agent, which, given everything, I may not have to, my total move-in would be around €2100. That's rent, security, "charges," and agent fee. I'm going to have to not only raise this by June 16, when I start looking, but I'm going to have to figure out a way to get it after I hit town. I do not want to go running around the Fes Medina with a couple thousand euros in my pocket.

Another encouraging thing was running into someone whose friends had just moved from Berlin to Brittany, and who remembered how much the moving van cost. It was far less than I'd thought: around €1500. But that brings up a question I haven't figured out yet: how much the last day costs.

Let's say I get the movers in, they empty the apartment, and now what I want is to be at the new place when they get there. How on earth am I going to do this? It's at least a 14-hour drive, and I don't want to do it alone. In fact, I can't do it alone: if I rent a car, the drop-off fee would be equivalent to actually buying one! Plus, of course, when I did drive, I took two days. That's too long a haul for me.

So what are my options? Can I ask the movers to hold off a day? Flying is prohibitively expensive, but taking the train isn't: I can start in Berlin at 8:32 and get in at 9:48 in the evening, but where do I go? To a hotel overnight? The apartment will be utterly empty, as only a European apartment, devoid of lights and everything else, can be. But I'm equally sure the movers won't move me in at ten at night.

This is where I'm stuck. As soon as I can calculate costs for the last day -- and for the movers more accurately, since I haven't actually called any yet -- I can come up with a solid figure.

I guess I should also start looking for a Nachmieter, someone to move in here, but I don't want to do that until I secure the next place, although interested parties should get in touch. With any luck, by the third week of June, this should all be worked out.

Then comes the next stage. Scary. But I think I'm up to it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thank You For The Liberation

Around this time of year, posters get slapped up all over town, the same ones every year, printed by the FDJ, of all people (and who knew they were still around?). In three languages, they say "Thank you for the liberation," and feature crude black-and-white photos that I guess depict the events of May 8, 1945, when control of the city was wrested away from what was left of the Nazi government.

What came next was the Occupation. It's somewhat bracing to remember that when I moved here, I was living in an occupied city. Certainly the first time I came here, in 1988, I had to change planes in Frankfurt because I was flying Lufthansa, and that airline was owned by the West German government, which was prohibited from operating in the occupied city. Back then, I didn't particularly notice the division (except for the obvious one made out of concrete). The British, American, and French zones all looked alike, and there weren't any obvious signs which you were in.

The key word there is "obvious." I'd assumed that where I spent all my time on my first couple of visits -- Schöneberg, Moabit, Charlottenburg -- was the American sector, so I was amazed to discover that, according to this map, it wasn't. In fact, but for a short visit to Kreuzberg, I never entered the American zone at all. But then, I never saw any soldiers except at obvious places like Checkpoint Charlie, or, during my first hours in the city, by the Brandenburg Gate when a Lada with a couple of uniformed Russians pulled up next to the car I was in. Boy, that gave me a start; I hadn't realized I was quite the child of the Cold War that I was.

It seems that it was obvious if you lived here, though. I had a friend who grew up mostly in Wedding, in the French sector, and she said (although I have no other proof of this) that the French were notoriously worse in their treatment of Germans, and that the locals went out of their way to avoid contact with them. As far as she was concerned, there was spite in their occupation -- and given the history between the two countries, who's to say that she might not have a point? At this very moment, there's a large contingent of French expats here, and I'm told they never socialize with the locals, since they've settled here because they have European passports and it's so much cheaper than Paris. I do know that they have their own free newspaper, which you can pick up in pubs, and which, as someone who tried and failed to establish one in English here for many years, makes me very jealous.

On the other end of the scale was a friend I'll call Z, because he lived in Zehlendorf, right in the heart (spiritual, if not geographic) of the American zone. A total Americanophile, he was working as a book translator at that point, and had been an exchange student not once, but twice, in the United States. ("Hey," he said, "if you'd had a teenage kid like me, wouldn't you have wanted to ship me half-way around the world to get rid of me?" He had a point...) After I moved here, it was becoming obvious that the Allied troops were going to be leaving, and he was dreading the day. There were second-hand bookshops run by Americans in Zehlendorf where he'd shop, and there was a pizzeria called Four Brothers which started as a fried chicken joint run by three black ex-soldiers from Philadelphia and was failing spectacularly (you can not get Germans to eat fried chicken: just ask the Colonel) when a fourth Philadelphian, an Italian-American, joined the team, turned it around to make pizza instead, at which point they started printing money. Having had carry-out from there at Z's house, I can attest that it was the best pizza in town -- if you wanted American-style pizza.

By early 1994, some American troops had already left, and Z had turned me on to Truman Plaza, on Clayallee, across from the American Consulate. Here, there was an American newsstand open to the public, and the PX, which wasn't. But outside the PX was a bulletin board, and when I needed a stereo, Z urged me to head straight to Truman Plaza and check the bulletin board. A brilliant idea: the PX sold stereos at cost, but they were, of course, for European, not American, voltage. I scored a couple of pieces of equipment which I still use, far better than I could have afforded new, from a soldier and his German wife who were headed back in a couple of weeks. Both of them just couldn't wait to get out of Berlin, and he was totally shocked that I didn't want his television and a half-dozen other appliances, too. (Totally unrelated PX anecdote: I once went to a party where I was charged with making hamburgers from my secret recipe, part of which involves sprinkling them with Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, which I'd smuggled in after a trip to Texas and made a big "you can't get that here" deal about. One of the Germans at the party looked at my precious canister of the stuff and said "Oh, yeah, Tony Chachere's. You could get that at the PX. We always had some around.")

As the day for the troops to leave approached, Z was more and more distraught. The bookstores closed, the Four Brothers (which depended heavily on the military for its customers) closed, and he made me promise to meet him to watch the final parade down the Strasse des 17 Juni, which was going to happen on June 19. I'd already missed enough history here (I left town in 1989 the day before the Wall opened, and on another occasion, I missed the last Pan Am flight out of Berlin, an emotional occasion because they'd donated many airplanes to the Berlin Airlift) that I wasn't going to miss this -- plus, the parade route was only a few minutes' walk from my place in Moabit anyway. The New York Times story will give you the factual background, but my memory also includes the low-flying aircraft flying flags, and trailing red, white, and blue smoke from their exhausts (convenient for the Americans, British, and French!) while soldiers stood in their open doors at full attention, which certainly got my acrophobia going. The other memory of that day certainly didn't make the Times: Z was openly crying.

It seems weird at this point in history to think that someone like him would be so deeply affected. It's not that he wasn't a proud German, but he'd spent 35 years in either the American zone of West Germany, or West Berlin, and his most important cultural touchstone was being ripped away from him. He'd been occupied his whole life, and he'd formed a bond with his occupiers, whether he was reading their pulp fiction or surreptitiously smoking their pot and drinking their beer in one of their high schools. German identity, whether some people would like to admit it at that point or not, was partially dependent on the occupiers reminding them of why they were occupied. From this day on, they'd have to go it themselves. I suspect this provoked a tinge of fear in some people.

Anyway, I think of Z every year when these posters show up. He abandoned our friendship long ago as he quit his translating job and got into the film business, where he's produced some of the very worst teen comedies this nation has ever offered to a reluctant movie-going public. He's a millionaire now, I suspect. At any rate, he's been liberated from who he used to be.

Me, too, as almost 15 years in a foreign country will do to you. Not that I've gone native, as some expats do. But I've become accustomed to some of the European norms which are pretty much universal in the countries I've visited: a different pace of life, an acceptance of universal medical care as a human right instead of a privilege, an abandonment of puritainsim, a scepticism about nationalism, and a feeling for cross-border cooperation. I think you can be liberated from the United States without becoming a subject of where you live, too, in the same way that the Italian-Americans I grew up with were both Italian and American. I think of myself more as an American-European in that sense, and, like those Italian-Americans, I can live with the best of both cultures and make a new one out of what I've been dealt by life here.

So, much as I bitch about Berlin and much as I can't wait to get out of here, I gotta say it: thank you for the liberation.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Emigrant's Dilemma, Chapter 2: One Wing Down

Okay, I'm happy to report that as of this morning, I've got one part of this upcoming journey, which is only the prelude to moving, fixed: I've booked myself to Marseille.

For those who are interested in the ins and outs of travel within Europe, I'll set down how I did this. I started by going to this site, which has all the cheapo airlines: Ryanair, eaSyjeT, Berlin Wings, and so on. It proved a little less than satisfactory: the search results came up with the starting-point and destination reversed, and then there were links for each airline. But those budget outfits sometimes have only one flight a day, and, serving peripheral airports a lot of the time, you can't always coordinate them. Thus, I could fly to London Gatwick on one budget flight, but then I'd have to connect an hour and a half earlier to one out of Luton. Which, not quite yet being the master of space and time I aspire to be, I just couldn't do.

So I ran the changes at Mobissimo, a pioneering early search engine, which has the disadvantage of not including the Ryanairs of the world in its search. BA came up cheapest, but running a close second was Brussels Air, which is part of what became of Sabena when it fell apart. And I discovered I could get a flight out of Berlin at a convenient hour, make a quick transfer in Brussels, and then be in Marseilles in time for lunch, all for less than €200. Of course, I realized too late, I'd also be in time to make a leisurely transfer for my flight to Morocco, had I booked it on the right day. So now I've added the price of a hotel and a couple of meals to the trip. Stupid.

But one thing I can do is use Mobissimo to check out hotels in Aix and Marseille, or maybe even Priceline. That's going to have to wait, though, until my bank account fills up again. I'd forgotten how expensive euros are for those of us who earn in dollars.

I also checked flying back from Montpellier and discovered that not only could I fly Ryanair for free (plus 29 euros tax or something and a few more in charges, so no, not free), but I could even switch to Germanair or something for another 39-euro flight. I'm considering it, but I hear too many horror stories about Ryanair, and I might well need the relaxing train ride to contemplate whatever decision I wind up making in Montpellier.

Next up: train from Marseille to Montpellier, hotel in Montpellier, scrounge local parks for beer bottles to turn in for deposit so I can raise the dough to get the apartment.

But at least the first half of the prelude is written.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Emigrant's Dilemma, Chapter 1: Get Outta Town

In which we begin a long series on moving to France.

And we start with the visit to find an apartment. This, I thought, would be ultra-convenient: I'd been invited to the World Festival of Sacred Music in Fes, Morocco, an event I almost went to last year, but was forced to cancel because I couldn't interest any magazines in the story. This year, though, I've found one, and it even pays okay. Now, you can get to Fes on Royal Moroccan Air, which will be picking up the flight, via a number of different cities. In Germany, you can fly from Frankfurt or Düsseldorf; in France from Paris...or Marseille. The flight from Marseille is non-stop, leaving at 11:25 in the morning and arriving at 6:30 at night, plenty of time to get to the hotel and make the opening concert. I'd return the day after the final concert, overnight in Marseille, take a train to Montpellier, and look at apartments.

So far so good.

But...I'd have to get to Marseille. I've managed relatively inexpensive travel to France in the past, and didn't see why this should be any different. Checking this and that, I discovered that the Marseille airport is actually the Marseille-Provence airport, and not far from Aix-en-Provence, easy enough to get to via Deutsche Bahn and the French TGV. So I'd take the train to Aix, overnight there, and catch a bus to the airport the next morning.

Then, upon my return, I could take a train from Montpellier to Paris and thence to Berlin. Easy, right?

Well, no. For a start, as I knew, you can research like crazy on the Deutsche Bahn website, but as soon as it involves crossing (most) borders, you won't get a price. So I found a convenient train to Aix and noted it down, then did the same for the Montpellier-Berlin leg.

Uh, but now what? Go down to Hauptbahnhof, stand in line for thirty minutes to get a quote, and then walk away? Talking to the Dancer on the phone the other night, she hit on the obvious: "Go to a travel agency. They don't mind answering questions. And then you can go in there to buy your ticket instead of standing in line."

So that's what I decided to do with this afternoon. Mondays are slow: America doesn't really get working until what's the end of the afternoon here, so I had lots of time to work with. There was a travel agency nearby; I'd go there. But when I got there, there was no DB insignia in the window. The guy inside confirmed that they didn't handle train tickets. "In the Center," he said, gesturing to the mall known as the Schönhauser Arkaden. So I walked over there, went into the travel agency I see when I head to the store there, and waited for the guy to get off the phone. There was also a woman waiting, and she was there first. When he finally hung up with whoever he was talking with, she said "I have to make a trip, but it's got about 10,000 connections." I looked around the shop to see if the other two desks would be occupied anytime soon, but nobody else was there. But the guy was nice enough to ask what my question was, and immediately confirmed that they didn't sell train tickets, either. There was, however, another travel agency on the top floor, so I headed up there.

At this agency, there was a nice woman who had trouble with the French names, but was otherwise very competent. Unfortnately, she couldn't get any data up on her screen. "We have a lot of trouble with the French railroads..." she said. And no wonder. I mean, if you're in the Gare d'Est in Paris sometime with a few minutes to kill, read the memorial plaques there. German trains arriving in France usually meant bad, bad news, and I'd had no idea that hundreds of thousands of young Frenchmen had been worked to death by the Nazis. I'd be reluctant to give up information, too.

At long last, the woman gave up. "Go to Gesundbrunnen," she suggested. "They have a pavillion there." And she was right: I'd forgotten there was a "DB Store" at the other nearby gigantic shopping mall.

It was a nice day; I decided to walk. As I walked, I remembered the horoscope Yahoo put up on the page I start the day with, urging me to make a budget for a big dream project: it might cost less than I thought! Of course, that was sometime last week. I've been trying to avoid running the numbers on this for fear the final sum would be unattainable. But then, over the weekend, a friend told me she knew a couple who'd moved to Brittany from Berlin, and it had cost either 1200 or 1500 Euros, she couldn't remember. That gave me hope: I'd estimated twice to three times that. The distance is slightly longer, but that suddenly made this look more affordable.

I finally got to the DB Store, and a harrassed young woman asked me what I wanted. I had the times of the trains I wanted, and asked if she could give me a price. The names of the French towns gave her conniptions. I had to repeat "Aix en Provence" six times. She refused to even say it, calling it "your destination" or "this town here." She was actually sweating trying to get the price out of the machine. Finally, we had part one: a 5-stop train leaving here at 7:37, changing in Mannheim, Offenburg, Strasbourg, Marne la Valée-Chessy, and, finally, Aix en Provence TGV station and a bus into the city.

Total price: €283.60. Which, I reflected, was ridiculous.

She then set to work on the Montpellier-Berlin leg. This was a quickie: Montpellier-Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport-Brussels-Cologne-Berlin.

A mere €258.50.

She printed it up and glared me farewell. Stunned, I walked back to the house. On the way, I did some more thinking. How much, I wondered, would it cost to fly these legs?

Back at the house I puttered with the SNCF website to see if I could do better. Not only could I not do better, it was impossible to find the trains I'd found on the DB site. I kept getting offered sleeper trains, something I will never, ever do again. Okay, then, plan B.

I can fly from here to Marseille for €139. I hate flying, but boy, I hate spending money worse. Plus, I bet I could get a cheap airport hotel, take a bus into Aix or Marseille for dinner and/or some sightseeing, and have a good time. (I also noted that some of the flights were on Air Brussels out of Tempelhof, the airport they're shutting down. I wonder if those flights are still going...)

A flight to Berlin from Montpellier, on the other hand, costs upwards of €375. So it's the train on that one.

Thus, so far, we have €397.50 to get in and out of France, overnight at a hotel on the way out and on the way back in, an as-yet-unresearched ticket from Marseille to Montpellier, five nights at the hotel there at €58 a night if I can get a reservation (and I'd better get on that), about €30/day expenses in Morocco, and two or maybe three months' rent to secure an apartment lease that starts on July 1. I'm not sure what this adds up to (not forgetting meals in Montpellier, either, as well as the June rent here), but I can guesstimate just enough of it to know that if everyone pays up on time I'll have most of it just from what I'm owed so far, and that's not counting work I haven't done yet -- and will be starting this week.

Of course, that's if everyone pays up. Let us pray.

Meanwhile, what are the chances of my being able to find what I want when I get to Montpellier? Well, I've already had one firm offer, and I'm waiting on another, and you'll never believe where they came from: Facebook. There are two Montpellier groups there (well, actually three, but the third one is debates on what are the best restaurants in town), and I posted in both of them in March. Never heard anything while I was there, but when I got back here, I heard from a guy with two places, and then last week from another guy who said his father has some places for rent. All are pretty much just where I want to be, too. The one guy who made me a firm offer has given me the address of the place, and I used this neat gizmo that the French Yellow Pages has to type in the address of the place and "walk" around it and look at the neighborhood. I guess Google Maps can offer much the same thing, but this'll do for the moment.

There's more -- I still do need to get estimates from the movers, and no, I have no idea where that money will come from -- and I'll need to find someone to take over my lease here, and I also need to go through some of the stuff I moved to see just what the hell it is and whether I really need it. I don't want this move to be as chaotic as the last one, especially since I can't hop into a taxi and go back to the old place in ten minutes because I forgot something.

But, even though I'm no further ahead than I was this morning, at least I feel like I made some progress.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

It Must Be Spring

More in the nature of a collection of crumbs, but...

First, there's the matter of the arboreal genocide on my street. The aftermath has been interesting: on the stub (it's not tall enough to call it a stump) where one of the trees was someone has taken a Christmas tree outline, made of stout bronze wire, and screwed it to the former living tree. On the end of each of its "branches," this decoration has a candle-holder, and various residents have stuck candles in there and lit them. There's nothing in them as of a few minutes ago, but this may change. In the meanwhile, it's been festooned with strings of tinsel and ribbon.

A few more trees on other streets have gone, too, and apparently there are plans for even more. One, I noticed, only got severely trimmed, perhaps in deference to a very large bird's nest near its top. Species-ism, if you ask me.

The comments on that item were interesting, too, as were backchannel e-mails like the one from Gary detailing a homicidal Californian tree. I suppose that kind of thing can happen anywhere, but maybe a tree living in a place where people retain a vestigal communion with tree-spirits makes it happen far less frequently. Makes me wonder if it happens at all in Latvia. I was also sent a tree-hugging joke by Friedperson, but if you know her, you know it's not the kind of thing one can post on a family-oriented blog like this one (stop laughing). Mature adults can apply via e-mail. The easily offended need not bother.

Across the street from the former trees, a local child is attempting a social experiment: hanging from one of the building's balconies by a stout rope is a small felt basket. If you look in it, you'll discover candies and a note asking you to take one and leave another behind. This has been going on for several days now, and I'm amazed to see that there's been a steady change in the basket's contents. Yesterday, someone left a banana instead of candy, thereby teaching the kid that there are health-food nuts everywhere. My guess is that the basket gets hauled up every now and again and the really good stuff is impounded.

It's not just the sap oozing from the tree-stubs that reminds me it's spring, though. The windows can be open most of the day now, and there is actually sunshine outdoors. Plus, of course, last night was Walpurgisnacht, which then segues neatly into May Day rioting, that old Berliner tradition. The park near my house was, for some reason, closed off and police stationed to check people coming and going, and there were helicopters late into the night. Now, I know there was also a Howard Carpendale concert last night, but somehow I don't think the security was about him. Today, broken empty bottles of horrific sorts of alcohol I didn't even know existed are all over the street, and, for the first time since I've been in this neighborhood, there've been police sirens at regular intervals.

All of which makes me nostalgic, because it now looks very much like I'll be leaving here come July. Details -- many, many details, you can be sure -- will follow as things fall into place, and no, I don't have the money yet, and yet it's more likely than ever that I will when the proverbial push comes to shove. The first item on the agenda is an apartment search, which will follow closely after a week in Morocco. After that, it'll be back here to pack.

And, of course, this scares me to death. I don't know many people in Montpellier, and two of the folks I do know are leaving for the summer; I don't have a job there (other than the writing I do which can be done from anywhere), and I'll be moving somewhere that's a bit more expensive than Berlin and where I'll be paying more rent than I am here. Plus the usual unknowns on this end. If experience is anything to go by, I'll both fall in love with someone who can't move and be offered a totally fantastic job here about three days before I roll out of town.

I also won't be living in a town with loads of brilliant artists who do events involving head-lice.

Not that, at this point, I'm going to let that stop me.