While I am busy with little things, I am not required to do greater things. ~Saint Francis de Sales
Reading these words felt like a gentle slap across the face. I really, really needed to hear them in a way that should have been more obvious to me.
For the majority of my life, I’ve always sought out those “big moments”, whether it be the crucial play of the game in sports or grand romantic gestures for a love interest (which usually only took place in my imagination instead of reality). Unfortunately the side effect of this type of movie magic romanticizing was that I often found myself bored with the everyday moments, the little things. They just don’t capture the imagination quite as dramatically, do they?
Last week I took a break from writing. If I’m honest… I just didn’t feel like it. I sat down a couple times and stared at the keyboard endlessly before ultimately giving up, again and again. Coming off a couple tough weeks, I was lacking the creative inspiration. And when paired with the lack of momentum of habit, there just wasn’t anything there. So I gave myself a break. I decided that if it wasn’t going to be authentic, I wasn’t going to do it.
One of the other problems with this “seeking the big moment” approach is that, by default, I am constantly putting myself under the pressure to one-up myself in a way that can become unhealthy. Not to say that reaching higher is bad, it isn’t, but there is an intelligent balance to be struck, and I’m not always very good at finding it.
So lately, I’ve been trying to find more quotidian things to mindfully appreciate and enjoy. It almost feels uninteresting to write about them, but I suppose that is kinda the point, if I’m serious about learning this concept. Some of these simple things have been making my own coffee (I buy my beans from local roasters i really like and I use a Moka Express to pull espresso shots), or riding my bicycle (which i haven’t done regularly since childhood), or building playlists on Spotify and channeling my inner high school kid making mixtapes.
Yesterday I woke up and made myself a beautiful cup of coffee. I took my time to grind the beans extra fine for the espresso I desired and spent a whole minute just appreciating the aroma of the fresh grind, taking note of the differences and similarities between scent and taste, and the gift to appreciate as I began brewing with my Moka Express, I added a little oat milk to make a cortado and then slowly enjoyed the complex flavors of such a remarkably simple beverage.
Not long after that, I was on the road, muscling my way through a 20 mile ride (which isn’t impressive to serious riders, but I’m just getting back into this!). I took particular pleasure to feel the wind in my face and the burn of my lungs and legs as i pushed myself faster and harder along the bike path. I stopped at the halfway point at a park and laid down in the grass, soaking up sunlight, imagination drifting along with the clouds in the sky as I listened to my American Southwest-themed playlist. I imagined I was a cowboy resting alongside my old horse in the middle of a long journey in search of some wistfully unknown adventure. It was a silly little fiction in my mind, but I let it float along until it ran out of energy. I then practiced a breathing exercise for 10 minutes before hopping back on the bike and finishing the ride.
It was an incredibly simple day filled with numerous little things. And yet, when I was finished and laying in my bed that night, it felt like one of the greatest days I’d had in a very long time.
i had been exploring budapest without much of a plan. i had basically been picking a direction and just setting off and taking in whatever i stumbled upon, and while fun and easy, i’d gotten the sense that i was missing some key things i probably didn’t want to miss.
luckily, before i’d left the girls’ apartment from the incredible first night, i’d exchanged information with each of them, and ironically enough, the quietest one of the night, gabby, had been the one who had maintained most contact. i hadn’t wanted to stop hanging out with them because they were such a fun group, but they all had jobs and classes to go to, so i knew that wasn’t going to be realistic. but when gabby had reached back out to me, i humbly asked if she’d be interested in meeting up again for a drink and maybe a walk around the city to show me some things i might not have encountered on my own. i was so happy when she agreed.
to describe gabby as simply “shy” wouldn’t really be fair to her. when i first met her, we were in a very loud environment, and not one that was necessarily conducive to meaningful conversation, unless you enjoying shouting at your friends. so granting that, the other thing i didn’t realize was that gabby probably spoke the least English out of the group, and i think she was a little intimidated by the skill levels of her friends. during the conversation that first night, it was difficult enough for gabby to keep up with all the snarky back-and-forth between me and the others (these girls are all legitimately hilarious, i laughed hard that night), but to ask her to translate her thoughts and then shout them into the conversation in a timely fashion was probably asking a little too much. i know exactly how she feels, as that is pretty much my experience every time i am around Spanish speakers. i can understand generally what is going on or being said, and i can usually think of something i want to say, but by the time i figure out how to say it in spanish, the conversation has moved on, leaving my comment irrelevant.
so i adopted a slower pace of speech to make it a little easier on her. gabby was volunteering her own time to hang out with me and show me around a city that i honestly knew nothing about (other than where it’s located on a world map), and this is something that, and let’s be honest here, most tourists will never get this kind of experience. no, your tour guide you booked through a travel agent does not count. a real life person who lives here every day, taking you to their favorite places, showing you how things are done like a local. this is traveling, and something that i crave everywhere i go, but seldom find. people like gabby are the good Samaritans that help turn a vacation into an adventure, and without them, traveling just wouldn’t be as fun. i like to call them “coyotes,” because in america that’s what we call people south of the mexican border who get paid to help smuggle people across into the USA illegally. okay, it’s an ugly comparison at best, but it makes me laugh. anyway, if gabby was going to be my guide for the day, the least i could do was help her with her english a little.
we had agreed to meet at a location that was only 5 minutes walking from my apartment, but i got lost anyway. since i don’t have a working cellphone, gabby didn’t have a way to contact me and almost gave up, but after 15 minutes of waiting i arrived with a sheepish apology. we first found a small café to have a light dinner at. gabby had already eaten, so i had to embarrassingly speed through my meal while she sipped a drink patiently. in between bites, i tried to keep the conversation easy and light so gabby would feel comfortable exercising her english muscles. at first she was very self-conscious, and i could tell that she was holding back, whether because she was embarrassed about trying to pronounce certain words or because she just didn’t know the words in english, i don’t know, but whenever i could sense hesitance, i would encourage her and coax the words out of her, reminding her that this was the only way she was going to get better. giving a shy smile, she would eventually start constructing the sentence, and usually she would surprise herself, as she would get the point across perfectly and i wouldn’t even have to help her.
after i had finished eating, we started walking, heading down all sorts of wonderful looking streets as the day began to fade into the night. as we made our way down to the riverside, gabby’s confidence had grown considerably, and there was no more encouragement needed; we were having a full conversation in english without any hesitation anymore, and i was really starting to get a sense for who gabby is. i was impressed, but i didn’t say anything because i was enjoying the conversation and i didn’t want to derail it.
gabby stands at about 5’ 7”, thin, with beautiful pale skin and dark brown hair and big brown eyes. she has a very effeminate nature, and i don’t think she has an aggressive bone in her body, though if you prod enough, you can eventually find subjects that will get her riled up and show a little of that hungarian passion. but normally, she has a passive style of conversation and just likes to laugh at things, making her a thoroughly enjoyable person to be around.
now when i think of gabby, i think of this look that she would get on her face after i had said something ridiculous, or when i would tease her about something she had said or done. basically anytime i was being myself, she would look at me with this not-quite-disapproving but also not-quite-approving look where she would tilt her head ever so slightly to the side, purse her scarlet red lips together, raise one eyebrow and give a half-smile, as if to acknowledge whatever I had said but also to let me know I better watch myself, in a playful way. i could try and explain further her personality, but it almost doesn’t seem fair to try and condense someone’s essence down into a paragraph, so i prefer to hold onto these small moments instead, which help me remember who someone is better than any grouping of words ever could.
but i think my favorite thing about hanging out with gabby was just getting to see the metamorphosis that took place before my very eyes over the course of just a few hours. i saw her go from being a quiet, shy, stoic introvert, content in merely being present, to this confident, opinionated, and complex woman, all in one day. it was fascinating and fun, at the same time, and while all of this was taking place, i was getting to see some really great parts of the city. the waterfront was beautiful, but the main bridge that crosses it, the széchenyi chain bridge was breathtaking. as was the view of the parliament. we also passed a number of statues, that really made it quite apparent to me that budapest really deserves more credit and attention from americans as an architectural wonder of europe. people don’t talk about it enough, and they really should.
after a few hours, our feet had grown tired from all the walking, and we had grown a little weary as well. luckily the crew from the other night had all finished work or whatever else they had going on that day, and they were meeting at another local ruinpub. Gabby and I made our way over and rejoined the group.
i actually enjoyed this ruinpub even more than the previous one. more simplistic than the other one, this one was a little smaller with a patio with lots of bench seating and a large retaining wall that was decorated with a huge painted mural of the ocean, with a huge blue whale taking the centerpiece. hanging from the ceiling were dozens of lamps with modified coverings meant to make the lighting look like a school of multicolored, illuminated jellyfish, drifting all about the covered patio. the effect was fantastic, as it really provided a unique ambiance to the place.
it was a monday night, so the already cheap drinks were now basically free by european standards. i couldn’t believe it again, so i offered to buy all the girls a drink, to which they happily obliged. they joined me at the bar. as i approached i was immediately taken aback by their menu. the bar was about 50 feet long, and above it was a large chalkboard stretching from end to end, divided up into sections of available cocktails by the base liquor in each of them. vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, rum… each liquor had at least 20 drinks to choose from. it was pretty impressive, but i quickly and skeptically assumed that any of the whiskey drinks wouldn’t be of the caliber that i normally pay top dollar for. so i settled for a whiskey sour and watched amusedly as the girls all indecisively quibbled back and forth over what new drink they were going to try. lilla tried to order something basic like a vodka tonic or something, but i quickly intervened and forbade her from ordering something “usual.” i insisted that she try something weird or crazy sounding to her. after enough snarky remarks and sarcastic retorts, she conceded and ordered something with rum in it or similar, i can’t remember but i know it was something i wouldn’t have ordered, and i offered my approval but i’m sure she didn’t care much what thought anyway. She did enjoy it, whatever it was, but on the next round she went right back to whatever it was she was drinking before.
i joked around with lilla for awhile because i knew she was leaving early that night. lilla is an engineering student in budapest and i can tell she gets high marks because all joking aside, she takes her studies seriously. not much gets by her either, as she is very perceptive and has a very quick wit. she’s a short little thing, at around 5’3”, but it would be unwise to hold her lack of height over her head (see what I did there?!), as it wouldn’t be hard for her to find a way to enter into a battle of wits and sarcasm, which would surely be a losing battle for the other person. lilla is also a very talented photographer, and one of the ways she spends her spare time is with the occasional wedding or special event, or just a casual day out and about with the camera, catching whatever catches her eye and committing it to digital immortality. she had shown me some of her work, because obviously i was curious, as i am quite new at the photography thing, having never taken any photos with the camera, only extremely amateur videos (i am using a canon rebel t3i ), so any chance i get to look at other people’s work, i try to get inside their mind so i can improve my own picture taking – or video, for that matter – skills. by the way, if you’re interested in seeing any of my previous videos, you can check them out at www.vimeo.com/brandonmiq but fair warning, some of my older videos are horrible. i’ve been learning this stuff as i go.
anyway, my favorite thing about lilla is that she is easily the mischievous firestarter of the group. she is always game for a prank or a joke, she’s always the first person in the group to jump up and do something or try something new. these are the people who make life really fun, and i think that every interesting group of people needs one of these. i can think of friends at home like micah or travis who are always coming up with unique ways to interact with the world around them, and always looking for opportunities to involve people creatively. these people are the movers of the world, the networkers, the conduits who connect people to each other and make the world around them stronger and more alive.
when we returned to our seats, we found that another group had taken them. unfortunate, because the room was now quite packed, and there weren’t any other suitable tables for the 5 of us. luckily, one of adrienne’s ex-boyfriends happened to be sitting in a small group nearby with a little bit of room available. he offered to allow us to squeeze in around the table and we gratefully accepted. i don’t remember his name but he was a really nice guy, and had remained good friends with adrienne over the years. they reminisced about different travel stories, notably one time when they had gone to washington dc together and gotten a little drunk and a lot lost. it was a funny story, and fun to listen to them recall how they experienced the american culture through their eyes, a unique perspective that i’ll never be able to possess.
the conversation waxed and waned, bouncing back and forth from english to hungarian, and when it would drift to hungarian i would wait patiently for it to drift back to english or for someone to interpret for me so i could contribute, but i was mostly just enjoying the atmosphere. it was the same as your normal bar, just like anywhere else. and yet it was also different, in a way that i can’t quite specify. there seemed to be an air of familiarity in the place, as though everyone here was supposed to be here, and everyone knew that everyone else was supposed to be here, so everyone was just comfortable. nothing to prove and nowhere to be, but only to enjoy this drink and the people around.
i listened to adrienne and her ex speak for awhile longer before we eventually got into a debate about politics and then cultures, which is something i typically try to avoid, but for some reason this time seemed particularly tempting. they had told me a little about how the relationship between the US and hungary was a little strained at the moment due to some sort of paperwork issue with a hungarian diplomat where he was then refused entry to the country or something. this was in combination with a couple other foreign policy things that i was unaware of which made americans look kinda like assholes, which i obviously didn’t feel good about so i apologized (i haven’t had to do that as much as i anticipated when i was preparing for this trip. with all noise that people and the media make about how the rest of the world hates us, i am surprised i even left my house. to the contrary, my experience is that just about everywhere i’ve gone in europe, people love americans. yes, they admit we can sometimes be a little too loud or unaware/ignorant of local custom or social appropriateness for some people, but we’re generally very polite and we tip like idiots, so what’s not to like?!), and then the conversation started winding around into other areas that i can’t quite recall, but there was a moment in the conversation where i felt i was able to see straight into adrienne’s soul, and see everything that she was, and it was beautiful. we were talking about differing types of people to some degree, the type of conversation that is wont to make broad, sweeping assumptions about groups of people unfairly (probably about the different types of “travelers” you find in the world), usually for the sake of humor, but one that is unfair all the same. the ex-boyfriend and i were agreeing about something humorously and adrienne had gotten quiet, listening patiently, when suddenly she took a hard stance out of nowhere and refused to agree with anything we were saying on the topic. not in an angry sort of way, because mind you, this was a harmless conversation over beers, but i could tell that we had just touched on something that was against adrienne’s nature. i asked her to elaborate, and she tried, but i could tell she was frustrated. she couldn’t articulate exactly why, but she just knew we were wrong.
the ex-boyfriend casually dismissed it, but i persisted, and eventually i realized that adrienne is one of those rare souls that just genuinely believes in the good in all people, and means it, down to her very core. i think she’s one of the only people i’ve ever met that so fervently holds these beliefs, that there’s not a thing anyone could do to change her mind, no matter what. i tried to shake the tree a little, providing hypotheticals or proposing dilemmas, but there were no peaches falling, she was completely unshakeable. it was no wonder she had drawn such a clear line in the sand, because this was the foundation of her ethos. i started to piece together all of the stories she’d shared with me in the short time i’d known her, and they all started to fall right into line with her personality. it was one of those rare moments of clarity in life where you see a person’s heart, made increasingly rare by the fact that this heart in particular was so pure and honest, and willing to defend or find the redemption in anyone, regardless of crime or sin.
it made me feel a little guilty about myself, and just how jaded i have become in my life. have i really been through so much pain, loss, or failure that i’ve gotten completely lost from the concept of hope and faith in the world? how beautiful it must be to always see roses, even when others only see thorns. it is a sad state when skepticism has taken root and choked out the light in a room. and while i wouldn’t go as far as saying that i have no faith or hope in people or this world, when you meet someone like adrienne, it puts into perspective just where your own ideals lie and sometimes that illumination can be a little painful or even embarrassing. suddenly i wanted to be a better version of myself, for no one other than myself, because that type of optimism is truly what brightens the world we live in. those people are the visionaries, the builders, and the caretakers.
all in all, i was extremely grateful for meeting this group of funny, quirky, and fun girls, and especially in the manner in which it happened. they helped create memories for me that i will always take with me, and it was actually budapest that would prove to be the lynchpin for my own liberation in my future travels, helping put at ease some of my minor anxieties about traveling or being alone. that night i said my goodbyes to the girls, i knew i would miss them.
the following morning i met back up with robert and we visited a unique site just south of budapest called “memento park.” after the soviet union had been kicked out of the central european countries, many of the main cities went through minor makeovers, where they burned and melted down the icons and statues the soviets had installed and replaced them with art more representative of the local people. budapest was a little different, however. rather than just trash everything, they shipped many of their statues and bronzes and installations out to a graveyard of sorts, called memento park. i’m not sure who had the foresight to do this, but in my opinion it is a brilliant preservation of the greyed out world that a system like communism creates. the effect this park achieves is a quirky, often humorous look at just how bad communist art was, and how the budapest natives felt about it. it only took about an hour to make our way through the whole thing, and i actually really enjoyed seeing this unique look at a forgotten aspect of the hungarian history.
once we had finished with memento park, it was time to depart. robert and i were splitting up, as he was heading back to vienna and i was headed for the mountains. up until this point, i had spent a majority of my time in europe in big cities, and they were starting to take their toll. i needed a chance to escape to the deafening silence of nature. i needed to walk, think, and appreciate something other than buildings and crowded city centers. i had heard from a few different people about a place called zermatt, switzerland, where the mountains were breathtaking and the hiking easily accessible. i didn’t take much time to research, i simply booked a cheap flight to salzburg, austria (not wanting to retread areas i’d already traversed) and had decided to try and work my way west from there.
my goodbye with robert was relatively unremarkable, just a handshake and a hug with an accompanying expression of gratitude, but i really was thankful of my time with him. we had spent 3 weeks tramping around some of the most incredible places in the world, and he had shown me his way of exploring those cities. while we didn’t always share the same ideas of fun or the same desires on things we wanted to see, i learned and stole a lot from him in the way of exploration methods. he taught me how to wander intelligently, rather than just blindly stumbling around a city without a goal or idea. he taught me how to find an interest that takes you to places in the city you might not see otherwise (for him, it was the search for the perfect cappuccino and the third wave coffee shop. for me, it was bourbon and music). we had a lot of great conversations about life and meaning and purpose, and everything that fits somewhere in between, and i always respected robert’s practical and utilitarian perspective on things. without my time with robert, the rest of my time in europe may have been very different.
i took the metro train to the airport, took one more long breath of the crisp autumn air, and stepped onto the plane, vowing to return to hungary someday.
for today’s soundtrack, we’ve got a quieter, subdued, and sadder song. the type of song that takes a little beauty and mixes it with a little melancholy nostalgia, creating a perfect bittersweet winter song. “dreams/my rope” is a perfect track from portland artist “st. even.” this song was released in 2011 but earlier this year st. even released a new album that deserves a lot more attention than what it received, as it really is a perfect relaxed rainy day album. if you get a sec, have a listen, and if you’ve got an hour, listen to the whole album. enjoy…
and if you’d like to listen to all the song selections for this blog, here’s the spotify playlist:
the days following hamburg and oldenburg flew by. berlin is truly a unique city, one that views like a good book reads, where each successive chapter continues to build and surprise, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, it surprises you again. when i had initially started outlining last summer what countries i wanted to visit on this trip, berlin was just a city that had made the list because it was simply on the way to other places I wanted to go and it would have seemed idiotic to leave out. i knew that i would be interested in the history, but i didn’t really know why else i was going. this thought occurred to me on the train over from hamburg.
an old friend from my youth had seen some of my instagram photos pop up on his social media account and, having a few weeks for himself to do some traveling, decided to join me for a couple weeks. he chose berlin as the rendezvous point. i suppose reuniting with an old friend after more than a decade seemed only appropriate in a city like berlin, but that comparison is probably eye-rollingly obvious. i was more than grateful for robert’s arrival, as i was still a little shell-shocked from the language barrier/loneliness issues from paris, and i was worried of a repeat performance in germany (now that i was truly out on my own and had no more options of meeting up with old acquaintances and friends from my past). plus, when you’re exploring new places, it’s always more fun when you have people to explore those areas with. you get to share the experience with someone else, see the things they see that you missed, see the world through their eyes, get their perspective. you also have the added benefit of external opinion. one of the toughest things about traveling alone is, ironically, decision making. i thought this would be the easiest thing, because i am a decisive person and i do not have to worry about accommodating anyone other than myself. but on the contrary, the problem is one of surplus of choice: you have too many options. sometimes having to appease someone else’s wishes and desires is actually really nice, because making the decisions (or even caring) can often be a daunting task for yourself, especially if you don’t always know exactly what you want. game-planning is something i have always been good at, but when you’re doing it all the time, it gets exhausting. arriving somewhere new and trying to figure why it is cool and what you need to go see, what you need to eat, what you need to drink, who you need to meet, and trying to fit all that into a window of three to six days becomes a juggling act in a revolving door.
so i was glad to have a friend along for the ride. robert and i became friends through a long-disbanded group of buddies that all used to play a particular computer game together. it was called “delta force: blackhawk down” and it was a 1st person shooter that mimicked the types of battles fought by troops in the crisis in mogadishu in the 90s (made famous by the movie of the same title). our group had a “clan” which we’d cleverly (read as: immaturely) named “cleavage.” each member of the team had a code name or “call sign” that fit within the theme. an exclusive club, we really only had 2 criteria for membership: we had to know you personally and you had to be funny. some examples of “call signs” on the cleavage clan were as follows: left breast, right breast, perky breast, saggy breast, fake breast, etc. et al. the members of our team would log on together from our own computers at home, join the same team, and then we would wage war against other doritos-eating-mountain-dew-downing-teenagers until the wee hours of the morning. and we were good. our team members had different roles to play within the team, and we played them well. rarely would we lose, thanks to aggressive domination from the likes of core members andreas, terry, ardy, Robert, cody, and myself. it was good clean fun. mostly.
anyway, robert is a complex individual with a firm grasp of who he is in the world and what he likes. a coffee enthusiast, he’d modestly tell you that he’s only just learning how coffee really works since he’s only been in search of the perfect “flat white” for a couple years now. but in the time I’ve been traveling with him, i’ve learned more about coffee than i ever desired to (i don’t really drink coffee, i know that will cause me to lose touch with a couple readers. sorry. i am what i am) in just a handful of conversations with him at cool coffee houses that he somehow locates with some sort of coffee bean sixth sense. he also knows more than most people i know who drink starbucks religiously.
robert is a front-end software engineer who has found his way into freelancing as a way to help him balance out his need to travel off the grid from time to time, but still stay connected to the tech world in silicon valley and beyond that his career has tied him to. i’m a little envious of skills and abilities in programming as I think if I was able to “freelance,” i’d probably live the rest of my life on the road, rambling from town to town, only stopping to work whenever I found a reliable wifi signal and a contract i liked.
we met up at a little hostel in the mitte neighborhood of berlin. it’s a cool and clean neighborhood that some might call “yuppie-ish,” and they’d probably be right, but it’s got a great charm to it. it’s pretty safe and is handily located next to a few metro stops so it is easy to get to and from. once we got our bearings, we wasted no time at dissecting the city, knocking out tourist mainstays like the brandenburg gate, the reichstag building, and checkpoint charlie within the first couple days. when we were done with those, we would wander for hours through random neighborhoods that robert had found while searching for his hipster haven coffee shops. while i don’t really partake of this pursuit of his, i’ve been thankful for it because it has often led me to places i probably would not have found on my own. often times while in search of a cappuccino shop that robert had seen good reviews for, we would wander down some random wrong street and find some ornate clocktower that wasn’t visible from the main walkways. Or we would see some really cool graffiti that one would have no clue was there had they never left beaten path.
speaking of graffiti, berlin has to be the best city in the world at embracing its graffiti. they don’t even fight it. in the US, if graffiti ends up on a wall somewhere, it’s rarely clever or intelligible, and it is usually covered up or painted over expeditiously, and the eyesore is gone before you know it. in berlin the graffiti is EVERYWHERE, and often times it has a very clever message about consumerism, or it pokes fun of itself, or even makes you think deeper thoughts about your own existence.
everywhere i went, i found myself really enjoying graffiti even more so than some of the sights. i even began to notice some of the taggers’ calling cards. i could tell which neighborhoods belonged to which artists. and when a commissioned piece had adorned a wall in giant mural fashion, there seemed to be a respect among the taggers. they would usually leave those walls alone. or, if that wall was tagged, it would be tagged around the mural, so as not to disturb the art, and the new tagger would only hit an area that was empty and unoccupied by paint.
my guess is that a lot of this acceptable culture comes from the acceptance of living with a giant wall running right down the middle of the city for 30 years. the amount of decoration and graffiti that came to adorn this monstrosity likely spilled over into the rest of the city as years wore on, and now its just a badge of pride. but that wall is something else. i can’t even describe how i felt as i walked along segments of it during the week i was in berlin. trying to put myself the shoes of someone living in this city during the soviet reign made my head spin countless times. the thought that i could be living on one street corner one day and the love of my life might be living on the other side of the street, and the next day a giant wall went up between us and i might never see her again… this scenario kept resurfacing in my mind for days, until i saw the following scribbled on a section of the wall near checkpoint charlie:
i knew that it had happened to someone at some point; it had to. but the reality of loved ones being separated during this conflict suddenly became real to me when i saw a heartbreaking message scrawled onto the wall with the words “to astrid: maybe someday we will be together.” i stared at the message for at least 10 minutes while the light rain fell around me. i was overcome with sadness, despite the fact this tragedy had occurred decades ago. eventually i moved along, but this moment has stayed with me during my trip.
this city grew on me every day that i was there. if a trip to europe was a march madness college basketball tournament, berlin was the dangerous 14 seed that was starting to upset all the mainstays and work deep into the tourney. berlin was the darkhorse.
i think one of the things i liked about it so much was that everywhere you looked, there were old remnants of painful memories of the city: the past was never far. just like people, i like them better when they have a story to tell. especially if that story hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. the pain of berlin no longer holds its citizens back, but it is always lurking in the shadows warning just how far a city or a person can fall if they are careless with the world around them.
or maybe that isn’t the message waiting to be interpreted. for the life of me i couldn’t decipher what the history and identity of berlin was. was it the powerhouse city of the north that was a haven for the nazi empire that crumbled and has been slowly rebounding ever since? or was the city a victim, that had been subjugated by a radical aggressor in the nazi party and was then taken advantage of by another meddling power in the soviet union, which then suppressed and abused the people and city for decades, and now they were finding their way out of the dark?
or is the identity something completely different altogether? perhaps berlin is a place that, through ages of darkness and consequence, knows the weight of action and reaction, and now uses that knowledge to its advantage to help shape its future and rebuild a brighter and more prosperous outcome (which it is easily succeeding at)? surely this is the identity, and the longer i spent in the city the more confirmation i received. berlin is a bastion of hope, and one need nothing more than to walk its streets for a day to see why. it exemplifies that no matter what happens, no matter how grave the circumstance or the situation, nothing is completely beyond saving. one need only the will, the discipline, and the desire to restart from the bottom, and any height can be achieved.
today’s ear candy is a new single by zola jesus, and i. love. this. song. can’t get enough of it. this girl can sing, but she has this brooding, deep baritone pipes that just strike a chord in all the right ways for me, probably because she sounds so different than most singers out there in pop music. i first heard her sing on the first track of the m83 album “hurry up, we’re dreaming” that blew up the whole world a couple years ago but i confess i never really sought her out to see what she was doing on her own. i can tell you now, however, that her new album is fantastic from top to bottom. enjoy the video…