Sorry to keep you waiting, mate. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather. I still am in fact: my head feels like there is a gnome brass section practicing Berlioz melodies with my cranium serving as the music house.
Slide those trombones as low as they’ll go, my little gnome trombonists! Slide, Captain, slide!
I get a little weird when I’m ill, old friend. But you know all about me and being sick, I’m sure. Used to be a time when there was a very specific prescription for my very explicit sickness, but I ain’t that kinda sick anymore, Dionysus.
I digress, however. So where were we? Layovers in Paris, I believe.
For a long time I would tell people that I had been to Paris so they would find me more worldly and experienced and sophisticated. I would never mention, of course, that I had only been to its airport for the span of about an hour while I waited to take the last leg of my flight to Berlin. Details are and always have been exceedingly important to me (especially in storytelling)– except when they were inconveniencing, of course.
But we’re trying to be honest here, aren’t we?
I only spent one hour in Paris and it was spent entirely at the airport where I drank a couple beers and didn’t see anything of note except a lot of dead pigeons strewn about outside. I still can’t figure out why there were so many pigeon carcasses or how they got there, but France was a far more cultured place than America, so I didn’t ask any questions.
Although that airport looked pretty much just like the airport I had departed from, it somehow felt differently. Because now I was in Europe, Dionysus. I was in a proper civilized nation with proper civilized people and proper cadaverous pigeons and I could properly feel it in my proper bones. Everything was proper because it was Europe.
Proper proper proper as punch.
But the hour eventually passed and it came time to bid adieu to gay Paris. We boarded our flight, which would be a brief two hours. We were too tired to talk but too tired to sleep, so we spent most of the time staring out of the windows at the earth rolling beneath us. The buildings and streams and trees and farmland looked a hell of a lot better to me than their Californian counterparts, mate. And I had my first real German beer on that flight. I don’t recall what it was, but it cost five dollars and came in a small can and tasted fantastic.
After an uneventful descent and landing, we arrived: We were on German soil.*
We exchanged our American money at the airport. When I got my Euros, there were two things that immediately struck me: 1) How terrible the exchange rate was for us Americans and 2) How much cooler European currency was than American currency. They had all kinds of artsy stuff all over their dollars and coins: buildings and sculptures and other such monuments to human creativity and ingenuity. And we were stuck with dead white men on ours. Now, I happen to love dead white men, but it was no contest as to who had the better currency.
Perhaps you’ve noticed a trend in my thinking by now, Dionysus. Simply put, everything European was, by default, superior to its American counterpart. Beer? Superior. Currency? Superior. Dead pigeons? Superior. Europe was progressive, cultured, and modern; America was regressive, uncultured, and outdated. You can be the judge in regards to what extent my feelings were self-propagated and trumped up, but I felt as if I was coming home, not leaving it. Finally, at last, I would be amongst people who would understand and appreciate me, unlike my dull and neanderthalic countrymen.
Or so I thought. I would discover, much to my chagrin, that my own Americanisms were much more deep seated and pronounced than I care(d) to admit.
It was a constant exercise in national comparisons from the very start. Riding that bus from the airport through the city to my aunt’s house, I could see loads of readily apparent differences. And I had to point them all out to my friends, naturally.
“Look at that! We don’t have that at home.”
“Think you’d ever see somebody like that in Orange County? I think not!”
“Imagine that in California! Not a chance!”
Essentially, I was just pointing out everything I laid eyes on and expressing how it was intrinsically superior because it was in Berlin, Germany and not Orange County, California.**
If it weren’t for Yorick, we likely would have never made it to my aunt’s place. We were from Orange County, Dionysus: figuring out bus routes and subway stops simply wasn’t in our transportation lexicon. Fortunately for us, Yorick turned out to be a regular first class navigator and could decipher maps with ease. It was all Latin to me and Franky though.***
My aunt lived on Kantstraße (named for the philospher Immanuel Kant) in the Charlottenberg sector of Berlin. In Berlin, they named streets after great thinkers and artists and scientists; where I was from, streets were named after flowers that didn’t even bloom there and Spanish words that were stolen which nobody knew the meaning of and lanterns of all different colors because the city planners were lazy and stupid and American.**** Score another point for Europe, love.
My aunt lived in a large flat on the second floor of a building that faced the street. She had lived there since the 1970s, and because of radical German laws, paid essentially the same rate about thirty years later as she had when she first moved in. This allowed my aunt to rent out the four spare bedrooms at a dirt cheap rate to students and travelers and drunk roustabout nephews with their drunk roustabout buddies. She was a saint, Aunt Germane was.
She had left keys for us in the mailbox along with a note saying that she would likely be asleep and to just try not to wake her and her guests as we found our rooms (which the note also contained directions to). We opened the heavy door to the building. There were double doors on the first floor that were closed, although we could certainly hear people’s voices inside. It sounded like a party of sorts. Suddenly the door opened, and a youngish blonde woman in heavy make up and a sheer black dress poked half her body out to look at the three of us wayward American travelers.
“Uh, hi.” I said with an awkward smile that undoubtedly betrayed my Americanism.
“Guten Nacht.” She closed the door and we all looked at one another.
“What did she say?” Franky asked. None of us knew a lick of German.
“I think she said she wanted you to go in there and give her your virginity, Franky.”
We continued up a very very narrow stairwell and let ourselves in Germane’s front door very very quietly. There was one long hallway that spanned the course of the entire flat and each bedroom and bathroom connected to this hallway, as did the kitchen. Franky and I were to be sharing a small room with bunkbeds, while Yorick got his own room. After all, he was the eldest. We put our luggage away and found a meal awaiting us in the kitchen that consisted of tofu and vegetables, as Germane was a vegan. I myself was vegetarian at the time, so it suited me just fine. Yorick and Franky were a bit put off at first but, as I was so quick to constantly remind them, we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Or Orange County. Or wherever we had come from, which may as well have been fucking Narnia as far as I was concerned.
That place and its happenings no longer concerned me in the least, for I was now committed to an entirely new endeavor: I was to become a European, Dionysus. Even though I had absolutely no idea what the meant outside of the conception I had gleaned from history books and foreign films and Günter Grass novels, I was going to become a proper Berliner.
Call me Ickbin. Ickbin Einberliner.
</3 Sir Rateval Hurtlinge
P.S. I still think of Paris everytime I see a pigeon–especially a dead one.
P.P.S. I still find American currency, like, totally unsophisticated.
*Or linoleum or something.
**I still solidly stand behind this line of reasoning, Dionysus.
***Or perhaps German.
****Golden, Amber, Silver, Blue, Green (not Hal Jordan).