Tuesday, June 19, 2007

keep it like a secret

Last night we went around to R. and M.'s place for dinner, our very first social engagement with them. R. said something to us on our way out, after four hours and about as many bottles of wine: "Basel is really the only small town worth living in anymore. It's true. Whenever I go back to Berlin or Vienna, I'm always a little desperate because it takes so long to get anywhere."

And today I had breakfast with Se. after what felt like an age - and was likely at least a year - and our time together stretched until 4 pm. We walked along the Rhine to the Museum Tinguely to see the Situationist International exhibition. The water was turgid after all the storms we've been having, but that didn't stop dozens of intrepid swimmers. After we left the museum, we stuck close to the river, stopping for ice cream before camping out at the Schmale Wurf for Panaches and cigarettes, the first I've had in months. She said that she felt that Basel was the best kept secret and that she didn't want to tell anyone because she doesn't want it to change. Then again, her friends in Paris won't come and visit her here. The rest of Europe loathes Switzerland because, as she put it, "their biggest problem here is boredom."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

a metaphor these days

this way, that way in essen

vastly improved

The second time I traveled to Düsseldorf was a vast improvement over the first. My maiden voyage to the capital of Nordrhein-Westfalen took place in January, under the cloud of my nervously awaiting the repair and return of my laptop from abroad after a suitcase had fallen on it during a train ride over Christmas. I had neglected to bring an umbrella and it rained the entire time. My second night was spent in the only central (and rather seedy) hostel in the city, shivering from a fever and mercilessly roused to wakefulness in the small hours of the morning by two drunk Australian teens. What is more, the works of art at the Stiftung Insel Hombroich that I had made the trip to see were incidentally the only ones completely under wraps as they were renovating the room in which they permanently hang.

This time around, I fared much better. I decided to stay across the river in Oberkassel at the DJH hostel. When I travel alone – or with others too, for that matter – being in the thick of things is less important than someplace quiet in the evenings and pretty to look at in the day. The hostel is surrounded by a neighborhood that appears to have been spared by war bombing, unlike the city center, and a lovely riverside park that is home to hundreds of bunnies. Their presence in the park is inexplicable and oddly appropriate: think of the scene in Guy Maddin’s Archangel, where it starts to snow bunny rabbits in the trenches. No one can say why, but it somehow works. I wondered why not all parks have bunnies rather than their less savory counterpart, the squirrel. The tram to the center of the city crosses a bridge over the Rhine, and looking south one morning, away from the park towards another green bank, I saw a gigantic herd of sheep out to pasture. I must be honest and confess that I was not prepared for such arcadia in the urban heart of the Ruhrgebiet.

I have discovered that, in addition to Ohropax and an eyemask, there are three other items worth having on hand for communal bunking: a pair of flip-flops for showers, a towel, and the best map you can get of the place where you are. I also realized this time around that the only thing I do these days to really plan for a trip (other than book a room and the transit to get where I’m going) is to look up the cinema program for the city and note what films are playing that I want to see and when and where on the nights that I will be in town. I also always have check that foreign films have subtitles instead of dubbed voice-overs: I haven’t been able to bear a dubbed film since Pippi Longstocking ran on Sunday morning television circa 1982.

you're pretty but you make me sneeze

foggy morning in düsseldorf

Monday, June 4, 2007


One of the unexpected perks of living in a country where you don't speak the language all that fluently is the capacity to switch off your comprehension skills when someone decides to lecture you or yell at you or chew you out for some specious reason. Whereas in English my impulse would be to stick up for myself and engage in verbal battle, here, when someone gets officious or testy, I can just refuse to concentrate sufficiently to understand what is being said and can walk away without any residual ire. At least on my part.