Sunday, May 08, 2016


Someone recently asked me what I like about writing. Well, many things, I told him, but one thing in particular is the transmission. I like to write because in doing so you can transmit things – images, sounds, feelings – to people. You can bring people to places they wouldn’t or couldn’t otherwise go. I’m trying to do a little transmitting with this post. Enjoy.

*Look up into the clear blue sky. Do you see that propeller plane with a banner tied to its tail wing? Can you read the banner? Is it an advertisement or is the message personal? 

*Do me a favor and come over here to the kitchen table. See the candle burning in the small jar? Put your palm over the flame. Yes, of course, make sure your palm is at a safe distance from the flame. But do you feel the heat? You notice, of course, how the heat increases when you move your palm closer to the flame. Blow out the candle. Don’t you love how the smoke curls up like that? Look at the wick. Notice how the tip of it is still burning a tiny bit? Blow on it and it will glow a slightly more intense orange for a second.

*Check out this photo of John Lennon. It was taken in Hamburg in 1960. Lennon is 20 years old in it. Look at his leather jacket and rockabilly hairstyle. Look at that knowing expression on his face. Lennon is in “Heiligengeistfeld,” which is basically a massive concrete lot in the middle of Hamburg. The lot is usually used to host carnivals. Anyway, look behind John Lennon. Do you see that blurred figure holding a bass guitar? That’s Stuart Sutcliffe. He was a member of the Silver Beatles, the first incarnation of what would later become the Beatles. Do you see that huge concrete structure behind him, there all the way in the background? That’s a bunker from World War II. The Nazis erected hundreds of bunkers around Hamburg and the one in this picture still stands.

*Get on the bus. No, don’t go up front and show your ticket to the bus driver. Just enter one of the side doors. Don’t sit down. Just grab onto this overhead handle. Are you secure? Good. Now look down at the floor. Do you see that intact cigarette? How did it get there? Just one single cigarette that hasn’t been smoked. Cigarettes don’t come cheap these days. It must have fallen out of someone’s pack or pocket. And now it’s just lying there. What do you think, will someone pick it up and smoke it? My money is on someone will.

*What are you doing? Do you have time to listen to something cool? Come outside. Do you hear those bells? Yeah, there are bells fixed to that building right there on the corner, and every hour they play a tune. Yes, yes, that is “Yesterday.” I know, it sounds a little funky, maybe a little off or something, but that is “Yesterday.” You can hear it, right? I believe in yesterday. Isn’t it crazy that a song written by Paul McCartney in 1966 is played by a bunch of bells that have been affixed to a building in Hamburg and are programmed to play a song every hour? I mean, where else is that song played every day? In how many department stores and supermarkets? In how many elevators? Yes, that absolutely is "Yesterday." I believe in yesterday.

*Do you see that woman holding a baby? She’s walking into the supermarket right now. At first you didn’t notice that she was holding a baby, right? If you were like me, the first thing you noticed was her short shorts and those tattoos. You don’t see? She’s got a five pointed star tattooed on the back of each of her upper thighs. It’s like some kind of rock-n-roll sexy thing, I don’t know. But, yeah, she’s holding a baby. I think it's swaddled in some kind of wrap that's tied to her neck.

*Do you hear that warbling and chirping? Those are the birds that live in the trees that line the street. You don’t see those birds, but they are there, singing and chirping and twittering away. When can you expect to hear their tunes? Around sunrise and sunset.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A visitor in the gazebo

So my girlfriend and I had a very interesting interaction with a stranger today.

It all started when we went to the park to walk our dog. Because it was raining, we decided to head over to an area in the park where there was a gazebo.

We were sitting on a bench in the gazebo, just chatting — there was hardly anyone else in the park because it was coming down pretty hard — when a small guy with caramel skin entered our vicinity.

The guy was wearing a heavy coat and had a wine bottle in one hand, and the first thing I thought to myself when I saw him was “Oh no, here comes trouble.”

He walked into the gazebo and began talking to us, but it wasn’t in German. He was speaking French.

“Joli chien,” he said and pointed to our dog. I just nodded and smiled. My girlfriend knows a little French and is currently taking a French course, so she said something back to him.

Though I didn’t understand what he or she was saying, I was able to gather quickly that this guy didn’t mean any harm. And since I knew that he was going to be more interested in talking with my girlfriend, I figured I would just observe.

He put his wine bottle down on the gazebo’s cement floor and again took interest in my dog, a grey Weimaraner.

“Joli,” he said and petted the dog. He then said a few things that neither my girlfriend nor I understood. When my dog walked away and returned with a stick, he picked it up and made a gesture as if he would throw it.

“Puis-je jeter le bâton?”

We nodded and he threw the stick toward a childrens play area, which was nearby. The man then asked my girlfriend if she spoke French. Though she said, ‘juste un petit peu,’ he replied to her with a quick and abundant stream of words. Despite our inability to understand the majority of what he had said, we were able to gather at least that he was from Dijon.

He then said something that I was able to piece together, “Le monde entier sait Dijon à cause de notre senf.”

I knew that “le monde” meant “the world” and that in German “senf” meant mustard, so I was almost sure he had said something like, “The whole world knows Dijon because of our mustard.”

When the dog returned, he said, “Ceci est un bon chien.” My dog had dropped the stick right by his feet and was looking directly up at him, indicating that she wanted him to throw it again.

“Le chien a fait un nom français,” – the dog has a French name – my girlfriend said. Though the man didn’t seem to notice that she had said this, when she said, “Filou. Le nom du chien est Filou,” he snapped to attention. “Ah, Filou,” he said.

He then said a bunch of things that my girlfriend didn't understand. Miraculously, though, somewhere in the middle of all that he had said, I heard the words “pit bull.”

“Oh, pit bull!” I said. “Oui, oui, pit bull,” he replied and looked at me. He had a thick black beard made up of straight black hairs and his eyes were a shade lighter than his skin.

He then said something in French that I didn’t understand except for the word “malady.” Once I heard that word, though, I said, “Oh, sick, malady.” “Oui, oui," he said, "malady.”

He then held up four fingers and in German said, “ende.” We gathered that he was telling us that he once had a dog and that dog had died at age four from a sickness.

My girlfriend expressed her sympathy and then pointed down to Filou, who had rain drops on her forehead and was hunching her back, expectedly waiting for the guy to throw the stick again. “Trois,” she said.

“Ah, trois,” the man said, pointing to the dog. He then picked up the stick and with an excited and mischievous look in his eyes told my girlfriend to go pick up another stick. She complied and he then told her, or more like gestured to her, that on his signal she should run from him in the opposite direction.

When he gave the signal, Filou followed her and at this moment, the man took off with his stick and attempted to hide it from Filou. But the dog was too smart, noticed what was going on and immediately switched her course and ran toward him.

“Non!” he laughed when Filou caught up with him by the childrens play area. Filou tried to grab the stick but the moment she made a move for it, he threw it as far as he could. He and my girlfriend then came back to the gazebo.

“Ç’est froid,” it’s cold, my girlfriend said. “Oui, froid,” he replied. “But,” she said, “you’ve got your wine.” At this he took slight offence. He said that it wasn’t wine he was drinking but another kind of liquor. To me it looked like a bottle of white wine.

“Cette boisson est forte,” he said and then turned the bottle to show us the label, which said that the beverage was 11 percent alcohol by volume.

 He then opened the bottle and took a sip. After that, he said something in French that my girlfriend and I did not understand. When he saw we were lost, he pointed to the roof of the gazebo and then made a wagging gesture with his pointer finger to indicate “no.”

“You don’t have a home?” my girlfriend said in English. “No,” he said, “no home.” Then in French and a tiny bit of German, he told us that because he is French, the German government won’t give him any subsidies or benefits. “Ils me disent qu'ils ne peuvent pas me aider parce que je suis français.”

He then said something about being French and how he always has his French passport ready if the police harass him.

When Filou returned with the stick and dropped it on the gazebo floor, we all had to laugh at how consistent she was. When the man again threw the stick, he said something in French that sounded mirthful.

By this point, though, I was very cold — it was a cold, rainy day in Hamburg, after all — and when my girlfriend told me that she was cold, too, I asked her if she wanted to go. When she said that she did, I stood up and zipped my coat up all the way.

The guy saw that we wanted to leave but said he wanted to show us something first and it was at that point that I realized how difficult his situation must have been.

He unzipped that big coat of his and underneath it was another coat. And under that was a huge fleece zip up. And under that was yet another coat. And in the pocket of that last coat was his passport. He wanted to show us his passport, but I couldn’t help but notice that his attire was definitely consistent with someone who lives on the street.

“Je suis un Français,” he said. He then pointed to his name on his passport and we repeated it just to make sure that we got it right. As we were doing this, my girlfriend noticed that he had just had a birthday two days prior. “Oh, it was your birthday,” she said. “Oui, oui,” he replied.

“Herzlichen glückwunsch,” I said, thinking that maybe he would recognize those words. He didn’t and he didn’t understand “congratulations” either. But when I gave him a thumbs-up and pointed at his birth date on his passport, he smiled and rolled his eyes, like “of course!” “Je comprends,” he said.

We all began to walk out of the gazebo and as we did he said something to my girlfriend in a lower tone. “Oh, yes, OK,” she said. She then took out her wallet and gave him the rest of the change that she had. I looked in his hand after she gave him the money and saw that she had given him about one euro and 60 cents.

When we parted from the guy, I said to my girlfriend, “Geeze, a euro sixty. I don’t think you’ve ever given that much money to any person on the street before.”

“Yeah, what can I say,” she said. “He needs it. And he played with Filou all that time and I got to practice my French. It was worth it.”

I nodded. “Yeah," I said. "I liked that guy...There was something about his vibe that I liked.”