Friday, June 15, 2012
Back in Berlin and What Have You
That's not how I roll.
I had previously never been to Rome, Greece, or France, and my reactions to those places are a little bit embarrassing. The rumors are true. Rome is oozing history everywhere--ancient, unbelievable history. St. Peter's is imposing and inspiring. The Vatican museum is absurdly well stocked. The Colosseum is truly impressive, and Italian food is delicious. I had kind of expected all of these things, but the degree to which they were true was staggering.
I expected Greece to be a trashy, run-down, lawless wasteland. I don't know why, because nothing could be further from the truth. Greece was astonishingly beautiful, clean, and full of friendly, helpful people. Also, Thessaloniki has some amazing seafood. This is coming from a severe seafood snob. The mussell, I realized, has been a heretofore under appreciated cuisine in my life.
And Paris.... For whatever reason, I had never believed that she had crimson sunsets splashed across cool violet skies, never believed that the Seine swirled under and around the greatest of Gothic cathedrals and majestic bridges, never believed that something as cliché as a night in Paris could be so enchanting.
Also, the Orsay is more fun than the Louvre, and while they have great croissants and onion soup in Paris, we've done a fine job replicating them in the States.
Now the big hitter: Berlin.
My first encounter with Germany's great metropolis was after my freshman year of university. I went to study German at the Goethe Institut in the capitol city. This was my first real experience as an adult. For the first time, I wasn't regularly eating food prepared by my parents or the cafeteria adjacent to the dorms. I had to shop for myself at the grocery store for the first time, and this in a foreign language and country. This was the first time in my adult life that I successfully made a new set of friends. It was the first time I really lived in a big city.
When I went back, I was expecting to relive some of those same feelings. But I'm no longer a bright-eyed, budding adult. If we're looking at a graph of Jungian individuation, I've been being my own person for a while now. Plus, I just didn't have the time to re-experience everything I wanted to there.
That's something I realized in my first stay in Berlin, though. There's far too much beauty in the world to experience in just one life. For example, I'm writing this in a second story internet cafe in London, and I just saw a double decker bus drive by with an advertisement to visit Louisiana. I'm a native Lousianan, so I can never know what it's like to discover Louisiana as a Londoner. I'll never know how that wild Louisiana English must sound to someone from Britain. Have you ever considered that? I don't know what I sound like, because I just sound like me. I figure I need about thirty lifetimes to really do this world justice. I'd like to spend at least one of them in Berlin.
Anyway, on this second trip to Berlin, I didn't get to see an opera or a concert at the Philharmonie. I didn't get a leisurely stroll down Unter den Linden or get to poke my head in the Neue Wache. But I did get to visit the gardens behind the Charlottenburg palace.
When I was first in Berlin, my brother had been living in Puerto Rico for two years, and I had had essentially no contact with him during that time. He flew out to visit me in Germany, and the first thing we did was walk to Charlottenburg. It's a well worn truth that we just can't communicate the sentiment or significance of our most poignant moments, but I need to add that disclaimer here anyway. I just can't illustrate the dizzying magnitude of our walk through that park. The way his eyes bulged and hands flailed with every story. The way the wind caught the autumn leaves in a smokey dance. I can unpack my arsenal of verbs and adjectives, but I really can't communicate what it was like. As I've taken to saying, we had a moment.
Back to 2012. When I was in the park again, many of those feelings came right back to me, and strangely it was then that I realized that I'd returned to Berlin with the wrong intentions. I can't relive exciting chapters from my life. I can remember and be grateful, but ultimately I should have been on the lookout for new lessons to learn.
So now I'm in London. The city of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Eliot, the Elizabeths and Henrys, Churchill, Cromwell, Bacon, and anybody who's anybody. I remember speaking to a pair of UKers, one from London and one from Glasgow, and trying to explain why London is so magical for Americans. I described it as visiting Narnia. In that vein, I'm about to run past this lamp post to a pub and pick up some fish and chips. Or maybe bangers and mash.