I’m in Essen staying with the German girls I met with Matthew when we were in London last year. They never thought I’d actually come to see them but they met us in New York in September and I told them I’d come to see them and when I say something I damn well do it.
Nora cancelled her date with the hot Greek laryngologist to come pick me up. But after the four hour bus ride during which I met a Congolese man who said that his passion was helping his countrymen, but which I inferred to be something different altogether, after he told me how he wanted me to pitch his company to American businesses, I arrived at the station and she wasn’t there. That’s fine, I thought. I said more like 11 and it was only 1050. So I waited and walked back and forth in the station, upstairs, downstairs, out front, in back. But half an hour later I started to worry, because maybe she and Kathi had come during 1045 in the morning (I hadn’t given them army time) and since I wasn’t there had figured maybe I decided not to come. But I had checked my mail at the Celtica when I wrote that post about Bruges and Brussels, and hadn’t seen anything so I don’t know what happened.
I walked across the street to the hotel with the $100,000 Porsche parked out front. They said the internet was 3 euros for 15 minutes. I wasn’t that desperate. I could always find a park to sleep in. Sure there were lots of drunks but they’d probably leave me alone…
But seriously, I needed to check my email. McDonald’s usually has internet. “Allo, you have wifi password?” “?” “Internet?” “Ein minute.” An English speaking McDonald’s employee asked if I had a German cellphone because that’s how they send you the password but since I didn’t he had to get his manager. His manager came over and gave me the right website, put in his number, received the text message, entered the password and gave me an hour of internet. And as soon as I signed on Facebook Kathi told me that they had gone to Dusseldorf to pick me up because Nora had confused it. But that’s fine because at least I didn’t have to sleep in the park with the drunk bums.
I thought about what to do in the meanwhile. Get a McChicken. But the line was long. I thanked the first guy who helped me, his boss was in the back and I wanted to thank him personally, let him know it was all all right. But he was working. I thought about what Anthony would do– food or beer? I went into the market around the block and walked back to the front of the station drinking a delicious German pils not caring about anything in the world, feeling safe. Soon a Volkswagen pulled up (I knew they’d be driving a Volkswagen) and Kathi came out and I hugged her nice and good and gave her a peck on the cheek and then I hugged Nora and put my stuff in the car and kept drinking my beer and felt good.
Kathi went home and Nora and I caught up since we haven’t seen each other since the end of September. I slept on the sleeping couch, which is a lot like a futon, but German.
This morning we had a nice German fruhstuck (breakfast) with fresh brudchen Kathi brought and Nora’s perfectly hardboiled egg with orange yolk, which was hard to peel it was so fresh (so her mom says).
Charlotte came over and we walked through the hospital on a beautiful German day. All the German girls are almost doctors, which is nice because they’re caring and maternal and also smart and not yet weird or corrupted by their practicing medicine, so they can still enjoy a beer and smalltalk. I wished I hadn’t brought my sweatshirt it was so warm. On to the Zentrum we went, stopping in a supermarket because that’s how I like to judge a culture. What most surprised me about the Essen supermarket were the gelatinous vegetable wursts and the lightweight sugary Coke+beer mixes. I’d’ve figured that the Germans would want to keep their beer pure, but they mix it with lemonade (radler), coke, banana, whatever you can think of, for two percent alcohol concoctions. When in Germany, I guess…
Through the park down the shopping street where we had krunstenbraten at the Schlemmermeyer which was crusty moist pork on a roll with sauerkraut and mustard. But Kathi had to go in to the hospital for her research project and so Charlotte and Nora and I went into the church and saw a thousand year old gold-encased statue of the madonna with child. It was ugly and primitive, but ancient and gold. On the way we walked through the Ostermarkt with its quaint Tudor-style vendor huts, selling fine mustards and silver jewelry and chips and chocolates and the cherry blossoms above, blumen, all so fine and we laughed feeling alive, and glad to be in each other’s company again.
Sabine was going to meet us so we decided to get coffee und kuchen at the Overbeck bakery, which was full of grandmas in pink blouses and orthopedic shoes and gold bracelets, all enjoying the beautiful fruhling day. The whole time I’m practicing my pronunciation and trying to build a vocab because I appreciate their speaking English to me and want to maybe be able to get by on my German by the time I leave for Poland in a couple of weeks.
And with the sun shining and the people passing, my plum cake which was a touch bitter like rhubarb and the coffee, the bells dinging behind me, Sabine showed up and I think she lost weight. We decided to take the tram home by 330 because we had walked about three miles and were kind of tired, especially if we were going to go out tonight. Alex, who I didn’t know, was at the park and there was talk of a barbecue so we went there without beer because we were still digesting. We sat on the still wet grass, laying our outer-garments out beneath us, getting them muddy and wet. Around us were people in different stages of life, the scene very Breughelian, children playing, youths kissing, and without her noticing me I noticed the almost strawberry blonde of Nora’s hair as she looked down at the grass and I remembered that here I am in the bloom of youth, and one day I’ll be old and I’ll remember this sweet sadness and all the life I’ve lived and feel ready to die but so far I am young and alive…
Everyone was a doctor and the party grew from six to eleven when a pretty mother and her baby showed up and some other fellas on bikes showed. I wrapped my head in Charlotte’s scarf to protect myself from the sun, since yesterday in Brussels I kind of got sunburned while smoking a Romeo y Julieta in the Botanique. A girl had brought some of that 2% Coke+beer mix. Nora had a bottle. I asked for a sip. It was girly and sweet, but not altogether bad. Lisa showed up; she had broken her leg but it’s healing and she looked good. Kathi’s boyfriend joined. Everyone knew him and his name was Achim, but after he found out I’m American said, “You can say “Akim,” but I said no, out of politeness and because that ch sound is crucial if I’m going to get better at German. Cigarette smoke floated. It was a veritable party.
Ah but the sun descended and our thoughts turned to evening. Nora stood and I put on my jacket which because it’s dual-layered was wet but wouldn’t affect me. And as I waited for us to move I noticed an old man walking with his daughter and thought again of Breughel and the stages of life. There he goes. This is probably the highlight of his day. It’s probably the highlight of mine too. Are we so different? Is he pitiable in his old age, just because he’s closer to death? In my gut I said yes, but maybe not, maybe he was even happier than me to be walking with his daughter, to see another spring day, one of the many early spring days he’s seen in his life, to have lived so long and so full a life, to remember all he’s done…
Lisa offered to drive us home to recuperate before meeting later. We listened to The Wombats as we drove through the campus, back to Nora’s where she cleaned her leather jacket of the mud, and where I sit writing alone and happy.