sometimes it seems only fair that uneventful travels be documented and recorded. not every day is spectacular. for every story a troubador recounts there are many less remarkable that he must live. and i am not really a troubadour, more like an active observer with a reasonable memory of places and faces. it has been a few days now. flew in to frankfurt on a sat. afternoon. sat next to a man from seattle on his way to a fortnight of hard riding through the french alps. a fortieth birthday present, he has to prove he can still crank
it up a hill. for the moment though we sip bloody marys, must stock up on those carbs. i suddenly realize that i can make the finale of the tour de france. the other guy is a young german who wants to learn spanish and make a bike trip through latin america. sometimes i surprise myself with obscure words in various languages that come out quite unexpectedly... i certainly suprised him with some weird phrases culled from nina hagen shriekage. frankfurt airport is like coming home, i spent a day and a half there once, homeless and hungry. i realized this time how relaxed i have become dealing with foreign train schedules, assorted signs, transport changes, money transactions all those nightmares of the modern day traveller. i usually make an effort to carry little phrasebooks, make an effort to melt into the culture around. this time i rely on
past experience, asking no directions, few maps, no lingual aids. it has been easy, like going about a daily routine but i am not sure thats a good thing. this is what happens when a traveller loses his innocence. when a traveller loses his curiosity as well he may as well sit home. i hope to regain the latter at least. anyway, i take the train to paris with a change in mannheim, two metro changes, two security codes and i am at maria's front door. maria lives at the trocadero, i can roll out of bed and watch the race start sun. morning under the eiffel tower. entrecote roquefort for dinner before i collapse. i seem to have gotten worse in dealing with jetlag. we watch the start of the race and then walk on to the champs elleyses for the final sprints and the finish. work through the crowds to standing ground by an englishman and his rather attractive daughter. every ten minutes a blur of colourful jerseys zip by. the riders keep a line so close to the crowd fences its
dizzying to watch them go by. spokes and cobblestone stroboscopic hypnosis. watch a speck in a yellow jersey up on a podium. the loudspeaker reaffirms its lance armstrong... i spring for an official yellow jersey that says 'this is my moon'! head back shower and meet up with helene and a couple of her friends for dinner at a place called le gare. helene is now a big marketing cheese at a start up telecom firm and none the worse for it. i have canette for dinner and its fantastic. the perfect weather finally gives in and it pours through the walk back to maria's. mon. morning i poke a finger at the map. the finger is in the middle of the ocean but the closest point on land is le havre, a coastal town up in normandie, a couple of hours by train. stop by rouen on the way. does not seem particularly interesting. look around at faces, doodle...
nostalgic man looks out the window and ruminates,
thinks he has a certain point of view,
hesitant man looks at his shoes and contemplates,
wishes there were things he never knew.
but i, i see it all through my weary eyes,
a sympathetic earth under crying skies.
it is pouring and grey in le havre. a perfect setting for a recently recurring pastime.
get drenched, get drunk, head to the beach, ruminate. the beach is deserted, cobbly and the water is surprisingly tepid. big ships out on the horizon. buoys bobbing to some transatlantic reggae only the ocean hears. two bottles of the cheapest vin de paiys de l'herault and one soggy sandwich later its time to head back to the train. pass out, wake in paris bedraggled but rested. head back to maria's find out that bernd needs me in dortmund tues. night. we have dinner in quartier latin. tues. is spent poring over an overdose of crepes and leffe for breakfast, take the slow train to dortmund, past mannheim, frankfurt and up the rhine. no time to stop in koln but i would in a few days. share a compartment for a few hours with an upbeat marketing man from cisco systems. sleep, play pinball, get an urge to code, quell the urge, watch castles along the rhine instead. am in dortmund by 10:30. verus grond has just driven all the way from kaiserslautern to the station to meet me. we are both exhausted and hungry. the pfeffercorn close to the station makes for a couple of excellent dortmunders and matjes. he drops me off at a hotel, its midnight, i drop. he shows up at 8 in the morning looking like he was waiting for me in the lobby all this while. we are headed to jena in east germany to meet some dudes with a holographic monitor. we stop outside of hagen for gas and breakfast. i get a banana and coffee, he gets cigarettes and a caffeine clogged red bull. he says some crazy germans mix red bull with vodka. i smile. he nudges people out of the fast lane doing 180kmh in a pint sized renault hatchback while chain smoking and handling sales support calls on his handy. at the next stop i take the wheel to jena. he knows where the speed cameras are. we avoid them. he knows where the traffic piles up courtesy hausfraus driving with faces squished up to the windshield. we avoid them. the renault handles remarkably well at high speed for its size. a koln radio station einslive plays techno trance in the background. we talk about women. he says german women are beautiful. i concur. he makes a few good locker room jokes. we laugh. we are in jena by 1. a sturdy east german township with big square apartment buildings, the odd lada relic and the usual post-wall influx from the west. the visit is interesting. i talk openGL with their techies, verus signs some papers, their monitors are large and impressive. the drive back is similar plus rain. we stop in gotha for a late lunch of thuringen brats and local pils. verus talks some more. he went to school in hagen with nena of 99 luftbaloons fame. says wuppertal is a nutty town with train tracks on a suspension bridge. a blue collar town. he calls it wuppingham. get to hagen by 7, i show him the dog and pony show i have for impending meetings over a weissbier and catch the night train to koln. blow off a possible trip on thurs. instead make my usual pilgrimmage to saturn records. trips to koln are always very educational musically. fri. is another relaxed day... a walk about neumarkt... an interesting statue i had missed before telling the folktale of the elves who did all the work by night till the cobblers wife spotted them... neugerig ist des schusters weif, it said. heaven and earth (himmel und erd), a kolnische speciality for lunch at the fruh brauhaus, blutwurst with pashed motatoes and apple stuff on the side. washed down with fruh kolsch. much talk about animation, ragas, quarter tones in arabic music, trip to a used art bookstore, two failed trips to prof. gunter von hagens corperwelt. an exhibit of body parts aesthetically preserved and presented by a process called plastination. there was a two hour long line at both 3pm and 11pm. kurt uncle and i wake up at 4 and sneak in at 5 am. it is open, empty and impressive. by 7 the mob has reappeared. sat. is yet another easy day. take the night train to munich...
in fact this is now, for the first time i am in the present tense, basking in the multipixel afterglow, praying to technology... an empty compartment, the window is down, the wind is blowing pretty good, light rain, accoustic allman bros. live on the mp3s, a bottle of pils by my side, the ticket lady has just made sure i am not headed to vienna, what more can i say, i'll be in munich by 7am. at the moment its time to write shamrock or stick my head out the window.
it is now past tense again. ...i had stuck my head out the window. the day in munich was long... checked into the holiday inn on leopold str. and then did the tourist traps... deutesches museum, hofbrauhaus, the augustinar brauhauhaus, english garten and some riverside under a bridge. had a great bavarian gut busting dinner with bernd at the spaten brauhaus. mon. is spent doing dog and pony shows at unmentionable automobile giants where you must hand in your passport to enter. microcosms with their own visa requirements. check into a hotel in stuttgart and have the a smacking italian dinner somewhere in city at da maurizio... totter back to the car and end the evening at the hotel with malteserkreuz aquavit firewater. tues. is the same, shows in stuttgart at the quiet village of weissach where the loudest sound you hear is the quiet roar of a 911 on the racetrack nearby. my eyes are a foot and a half in front of my face, my tongue is picking up residual rubber off the asphalt. a call to monica and averardo in tyrolean austria, to say i have not been able to postpone my flight so i see them another time... am back in frankfurt for the evening. bernd gets me a hotel in raumheim a 20 minute ride from frankfurt. i am a bit apprehensive of hanging out far from the city but hop on a shuttle bus with my backpack and then check in and head into the city on the S-bahn. stuck for almost an hour on the train, then asked to change trains at the flughafenbahnhof and even then the train stops at the hauptbahnhof. something is amiss. the girl that was sitting next to me replies in a barrage of deutsche to my broken question of "how does one get to hauptwache". i understand the bit that ...she is headed in that direction as well and so i become the sheep, and follow her as she figures a combination of a walk and bus that gets us into romerplatz. meantime i bumble along in german. i ask for food and drink recommendations, she laments her missed aerobics class because of the delay. i bumble more than is usual and at some point i throw in the towel and ask her if she speaks english and she makes me feel like a real idiot. then she offers to show me around her city.
...the dom, st. pauls cathedral, the opera house, an iron bridge across the river with an intriguing story of it being built by a thief in wood and then he was asked to build it in iron as a punishment and so he makes a deal with the devil to build the bridge in exchange for his soul or the first being to cross the bridge. ...and he tricks the devil by making a rooster cross the bridge first. some other stuff, goethestrasse, the 5th avenue of frankfurt. we talk about goethe and faustus who sold his soul to the devil. everybody from frankfurt seems to be into dealing with the devil. oh, the metropol cafe which is a good breakfast place and some chinese restaurant...
places in a city, i am a bit distracted... her name is tanja gittel, looks a bit like nicole kidman, she works for the marketing department at the frankfurt airport, she makes powerpoint presentations. we trade new zealand stories, she was in aukland with lufthansa. we go to her favourite cafe but its packed, so we go the hauptwache, the old city prison. we order eiskaffees, the waitress tells tanja that there was a bomb scare in the bahnhof, explaining our chain of events and that a number of people had paniced and bolted without paying, in the light of the bomb blast in dusseldorf a few days ago. its close to the last train, i head back to raumheim, she goes wherever it was that she was headed, its about 10 minutes away.
i get back to the hotel around midnight. a beautiful warm night, i sit outside for a few hours with a hefeweissen reading "into thin air" again, like an adrenalin injection for an armchair mountaineer. take the shuttle into the ariport wed. morning, leave a box of chocolates and a thank you note for tanja at the airport office, and am on another uneventful flight home. happy to find that i still have the curiosity, and i probably should reneg on that bit about an uneventful trip.