A Lovable Nut

“There is only one way to salvation, and that is to make yourself responsible for all men’s sins. As soon as you make yourself responsible in all sincerity for everything and for everyone, you will see at once that this is really so, and that you are in fact to blame for everyone and for all things.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

It’s raining in Wuppertal and has been raining all morning and all night and it rained all day yesterday and my first pair of socks got wet so I had to switch to a second pair of socks and luckily these more or less survived the trip to the grocery store in the evening where I stole someone’s shopping cart and bought cheese and meat and bread and a cucumber and brought it all back to my apartment where I made a little dinner for myself and watched videos on YouTube and thought about my upcoming trip to Paris and what I’m going to do after and also what my evening is going to be like tonight with getting to this soccer game and then getting back late.

There is no bad weather, only bad clothes, is what the Norwegians apparently say, and I think this is true. The weather is not bad right now, I just have shitty shoes that let water in and I didn’t have the foresight to plan for this kind of weather. So I shouldn’t blame the weather. I have only myself to blame and my lack of foresight. If I had my Xtra Tuffs, for example, I’d be fine. I’d wear them to the game tonight. Oh, how wonderful it’d be to have those boots. And I do have a rain jacket but it’s a crappy rain jacket and the rain no longer beads on it like it’s supposed to do but rather just soaks into it. So it sort of works, it’s better than having nothing at all, but still less than ideal.

I’ve been in this apartment all morning, not daring to leave. I’ve done jumping jacks and had tea and breakfast and listened to a couple podcasts. I’ve written in my journal, which I’ve been keeping assiduously lately. I did my physical therapy. I’ve noticed great improvement in my wrist and hand when I don’t drink and when I eat decently and sleep decently. And now that I’ve stopped drinking caffeine I do sleep decently. I sleep great, in fact. Whenever my body’s tired I just fall asleep. On the bus to Paris tomorrow, for example, I’m guaranteed, at least at some point, probably passing through Belgium, to be completely dead to the world, blissfully asleep. I hope we pass through Luxembourg but don’t think we will. And even if we do I don’t think I can count it as another country visited because my criteria for visiting a country are to at least get out of the airport and have a meal. Before it was to spend a night in the place but then I went to Lichtenstein and it seemed kind of ridiculous to spend a night in Lichtenstein, but if I remember correctly I did at least have a meal there, so that has become my new criteria.

I actually thought the rain was backing off a bit but it doesn’t seem to be at all. Apparently the precipitation is supposed to drop off sometime around the afternoon, but it’s only 10:46am. I’m going to take an extra pair of socks with me, and I should probably take my notebook so I have something for the many hours I’m going to be spending on trains today. Because you see I couldn’t stay in Dortmund because it was prohibitively expensive because of the game. I stayed in a hotel two nights ago in Dortmund for example that cost 30 euros. Granted this was a screaming last minute deal, but to give you an idea of what a Borussia Dortmund football game does to the area, this same hotel is now going for nearly $500 tonight. Whenever there’s a Dortmund game half of Germany, half of Europe, descends on the city and so there’s no lodging, no Air Bnb’s, no hotels.

I haven’t really talked to anyone in a couple days and yet I feel quite happy. The guy on the podcast just said that doing the right thing at the right time can create an upward circle, but that knowing you should do something at a certain time, even though that thing’s difficult, and then not doing it, can create a downward spiral. The question is, how to break this downward spiral? I’m sure he’ll explain.

I just made another cup of peppermint tea, which is what I’ve been drinking exclusively lately, and I’d love to go for a walk but I can’t get my shoes wet right now, not on a day like this. I need to save my shoes for the walk to the train station, and also, like I mentioned, carry a pair of extra socks. Dry feet are my number one concern today. Unfortunately I’ll probably have to leave the game early if I want to get back at any kind of a decent hour. I came all the way to Europe to watch Christian Pulisic play and he’s not even going to play tonight. He’s injured. But that’s OK, sometimes things are supposed to happen like that. It’s kind of funny and I can imagine telling my grandkids someday, “One time I went all the way to Germany to watch my favorite soccer play. And guess what: He didn’t even play!” And then my grandkids will look at each other as if to say, “Oh, grandpa, he’s got a screw loose but he’s a lovable nut.”

Maria

I have just alighted upon a train headed for the western part of the Czech Republic, and I’m imbued with that sense I love so much that comes with traveling: that anything could happen today, that anything will happen.

Last night I lay in bed wondering what would happen if the sun went out or if a meteor crashed into the earth. These are the sort of thoughts you have at 4am when you can’t sleep. Then I remembered that Tim Ferrrrrrrrrrisssssss had something in one of his books about playing Tetris before you sleep, how it helps to put the bits and pieces of your brain in order so your mind isn’t in a million places. My mind was just in one place. The day before I’d had a coffee and then promptly taken a nap, with the idea that I might wake up and go out on the town. But the nap became something of a “sleep,” and soon it was past 1am in the morning. This of course led to what it almost always leads to: Trying to find a pirated stream of a World Cup qualifying game, in this case the high-octane, no prisoners clash between Peru and New Zealand. I stayed awake just long enough to see that Peru was going to dominate, much to my chagrin since I’ve long been a Kiwi fan, and then went back to sleep. Or rather I lay there, thinking about the sun. How if the sun went out not only would everything be dark, but we would more or less instantly freeze to death. I had this notion of all of us huddled together, eating ramen noodles and thinking, Man, it’s cold ever since the sun went out — but at least we have each other. But no, we would all pretty much instantly freeze to death.

The “one place” my mind was in that I alluded to earlier and why I couldn’t sleep is something I’ll tell you if you promise not to laugh at me or say, “God, here we go again” and if you promise not to judge and if you promise not to think that I’m pathetic or lost or anything like that, and if you are going to judge that you look within yourself and see that in the past you might’ve behaved similarly at some point, and thus who are you to judge, though I will be the first to admit that judging is natural, and if I read what I’m about to read I would judge too, I would most certainly judge, so I guess what I’m saying is that you have my permission to judge, not that you need it, but that you please do so consciously, or conscientiously, or, at the very least, compassionately.

Because you see I met a girl.

Her name was Maria and she was half Bolivian and half Peruvian and I think she might’ve even been a little American, too. We met by the clocktower in Prague’s old town and then wandered around a bit, talking about who knows what, looking for a bar and then finally finding a place that didn’t look like much from the outside but was student-y and weird and cheap inside, and within five minutes of getting our glasses of red wine I’d said at least four times, “This place is awesome.”

She concurred that the place was, in fact, “awesome,” but didn’t seem to be quite as swept away with the nondescriptness of it all. I said when I travel I like to see how people live. That’s why I was thrilled to stay in a student dorm in Copenhagen. She said this was something she also liked, and that before coming to Prague she’d been in Paris staying in a random part of town with a family and that one evening they’d smoked sheesha and she’d thought to herself, This is so much cooler than seeing the Eiffel Tower. This is something few tourists get to see.

After the bar we walked across the Charles Bridge because she still hadn’t done that and it’s one of the most famous places in Prague, if not all of Europe. We were ostensibly trying to find food, but the only thing we seemed to find was wine. Everyone was selling wine. It seemed like every corner we turned there was a table with people huddled around it like they were at the North Pole, drinking Dixie cups of mulled wine for 30 Czech Koruna, or $1.33. So we got mulled wine before crossing the bridge, and then mulled wine after crossing the bridge, and then we found ourselves in a bar that only had Czechs and a guy was smoking a cigarette right in my face and he looked at me and said (or at least I’m pretty sure he said because I don’t speak Czech), “Is my cigarette bothering you? Because if it is you can leave.”

I assured him everything was fine and we got a glass of red wine because the place didn’t have any food. Within a few minutes a Czech man with shoulders like a yak had started talking to us and his English was limited but his enthusiasm was not. He showed us pictures of his family and of himself in uniform. Then he pulled out some dog tags that had been given to him by an American solider, and he was very proud of them. I can’t remember why the soldier had given them to him. Maybe they’d exchanged dog tags. Either way a couple minutes later he learned that we hadn’t tried some kind of Czech national drink and proceeded to approach the bartender, a middle-aged woman who just a few minutes previous had been dancing with the old bald man who’d blown cigarette smoke in my face, and ordered two glasses of some kind of red liquid that looked like liquid rose petals or maybe blood, and then we stood around sipping it and remarking how tasty it was. A couple times he looked at Maria and then back at me and raised his eyebrows as if to say, “Good job,” which was of course embarrassing because Maria saw this and Maria and I were just friends.

When we finally left the bar it was colder outside and also quieter, and it seemed as in the bar we’d gone through some kind of time warp and now were rejoining the real world where time advanced at a normal rate. We kept walking, still trying to find food, and somehow we were in the general area of where I was staying and Maria, probably miffed at our failure to find food, ordered an Uber home. This was understandable, in retrospect. But in my liquid rose petal addled state I just found it confusing, so to cope I went to McDonald’s and ordered several cheeseburgers and devoured them immediately after ripping off the wrapper. A few minutes earlier, when we’d be standing outside, I’d pulled her close to me and kissed her. That’s all I wanted to do, pull her close to me, though with the amount of jackets and layers we had on it was a bit like hugging a pile of down comforters. And then suddenly and, I might add, tragically, she was many meters away from me, a mirage on a cobble-stoned street, getting into an Uber, and I was in McDonald’s, and then I was in my apartment alone listening to classical music and drinking tea and texting her about how we should meet up the next day, and then I was in bed falling asleep and not thinking about what would happen if the sun went out, not thinking about anything at all really.

So that’s the “one place” where my mind was and why I couldn’t sleep and why I downloaded Tetris on my phone, a game I probably haven’t played in 20 years. But it’s not like Tetris requires much of a refresher, so within a few minutes I was stacking the blocks on top of each other, creating solid lines, getting the blocks to disappear. I found myself thinking a thought anyone who’s ever played Tetris has thought: “Man, I hope a long one comes soon.” Tim Ferrrrrrisssssss said you need to play for at least 10 minutes, and that’s what I did. When I stopped playing it was just after 5am, and this time I fell asleep. To say that my sleep schedule has been weird since coming to Europe would be a statement. What would also be a statement is that the day after Maria and I met I went looking for her at the main castle, convinced we’d have some kind of romantic reunion, though what really happened was we never saw each other again and now I’m on a train leaving Prague and we’re going through mountains and over rivers and next to houses that look German and in a couple hours I’ll be in a different city, Karlovy Vary, in a new apartment, enjoying my last day in the Czech Republic before heading back to Germany. The train is hot and I want to open a window but can’t. The lady in the seat in front of me has a dachshund and now we’re passing a castle and I’m sick of not knowing where my heart is, and when we get to Karlovy Vary the only thing I’m going to do is drink coffee and walk around and look at all the Russians. It’s not a beautiful day but it’s not terrible either. There’s a layer of clouds that looks almost red and everything has an air of softness about it, and even though it’s not hot or sunny one thing’s for certain: The sun hasn’t gone out yet and doesn’t show signs of going out anytime soon.

A bus to Prague

Sometimes you get on a bus to Prague. Granted, usually you don’t. Usually you wake up and go about your business. But sometimes, if the conditions are just are right, the only acceptable course of action is to get on a bus to Prague.

That’s how it was this morning, or rather right now. This morning the only acceptable course of action was to buy a bus ticket to Prague, since I couldn’t stay in Berlin because it was too expensive and I have it in my head that Berlin hostels are dirty and full of dirty people. This probably isn’t true. But maybe it is. And in Prague the hostel will cost $6 and if it’s dirty (it won’t be), or people are snoring (I’ll be snoring), I can just get a room for $20 a night and bask in anonymity and loneliness and a strange desire to drink gross amounts of pivo.

Though to be perfectly honest, I prefer tea.

People are filtering onto the bus, and one of them looks oppressively Czech. Maybe it’s the mustache. This bus continues on to Vienna, which seems a small miracle. Travel in Europe always seems like a small miracle. If you get on a bus for five hours in Washington State, the most interesting place you could go is Spokane, a city known for cold weather and felonies. But if you get on a bus for five hours (or less) in Berlin you can get off in Hamburg, or Denmark, or Poland, or Leipzig, or of course Prague.

After Copenhagen, Berlin was a boost for my soul. I’m going to be honest: In Copenhagen I went off the rails a bit. What does going off the rails entail? For starters, it involves spending too much money. It also involves drinking too much beer, though for me at this point in my life anything more than a sip is too much. I don’t know what happened, but my body no longer tolerates beer. It makes me tired and cranky. Wine I can still sort of drink. I like to have one glass of wine, sip it slowly, barely feel the effects, and then after an hour inexplicably feel relaxed and jovial. If you don’t want to drink beer, you’ll feel like a bit of an outsider in Berlin. Though to be fair this is probably also true in Prague. I don’t know. This is basically my first time in Prague, since I don’t really count the real first time. The real first time was in 2012, and it was not ideal. I stayed with a girl who I thought liked me, but it turned out, to make a long story short, as they say, to sum things up, as they say, to put it in a nutshell, as they say, to cut to the chase, as they say, to “go to the grain,” as they say in Spanish, to get to the point, as they say, to spit it out, as they say, to tell it like it is, as they say, she didn’t like me. Not even a little bit. You might even say she “disliked me,” though at this point it’s a hard to tell. The whole situation was confusing and involved sleeping on a couch and hugging at a bus stop. The situation also involved not really seeing Prague, since my mind was in another place. But this time my mind is in the right place. My mind is focusing on the already waning light of this Berlin afternoon as we struggle to make our way out of the city amidst confusing roads and hordes of cars. My mind is more at peace than it was this morning, because I know what I’m doing, at least for the next few days. I’m going to Prague. I’m going to the Czech Republic. Who knows after that, and, to be frank, who really cares?

Breakfast in Berlin

The apartment I’m in right now smells like cigarettes. Why does it smell like cigarettes? Because it’s directly above a bar that’s vaguely Mexican-themed and that allows smoking inside, and that smoke drifts — seeps rather (though seeping is usually associated with a downward motion) — into the apartment above it. When my friend Magda greeted me the other day I thought to myself, “Since when did Magda start smoking?” I was a bit intimidated, but as I soon learned neither Magda nor her brother, Alex, had been smoking, though they certainly smelled like it. “How many stars did this place have on Air Bnb?” I asked Magda, not being able to fathom how an apartment above a bar that has constant music pumping (they were doing karaoke last night; Germans can’t sing) and also a pungent cigarette smell could have more than two stars and she said, “I don’t know.”

This morning we went to breakfast at Cafe Bilderbuch, where we communicated with the waiter in German for the first four or so interactions. I was impressed, because Magda barely speaks German, and her brother even less. We got the Hansel and Gretel breakfast, which was a plate piled high with all sorts of meats and cheeses and spreads, smoked trout and smoked salmon, sweat cheese, paprika spread, grapes, melon, pineapple, deli meats, accompanied by a bread basket, accompanied by pots of tea and cups of coffee and glasses of orange juice. It was a festive affair. There was a baby that looked like Cousin It from The Adams Family sitting directly across from us and I wondered to myself, “Do these people know their baby is ugly? Like, do they realize people look at their baby and are terrified? Do they realize because they brought their baby out in public today my sleep is going to be troubled tonight?” We shared a table with two middle-aged gentlemen because I hadn’t made a reservation and when we walked into the back room, usually the best place to sit because the furniture is old and ornate and there’s the feeling of being in a mausoleum, the waitress said to me,” Wait you don’t have a reservation? That’s bad. Try the front.” So we went to the front, which was considerably livelier apart from the baby that looked like it was out of a Steven King novel, and the two men shared their table with us. Apart from a slight odor of sausage and feet, everything was perfect. We lingered over our meal and enjoyed each other’s company, saying we were full and then always going back for more.

Afterward we went for a walk and Magda and Alex were instantly soaked. It wasn’t a hard, but an insistent, rain. We stopped by a flea-market where they were selling everything from old shoes to VCR’s to, well, basically just old shoes and VCR’s. I wondered, “Who the hell buys this stuff?” I mean I can’t imagine any rational human being in the year 2017 walking up to a booth and seeing an old Samsung remote and thinking, “Score.” But obviously people are buying this stuff. I mean, if there are people selling it must be because people are buying, right?

The flea-market was right next to the entrance of Volkspark so we stood on the bridge above the Rathaus-Schöneberg station looking at a little pond where swans were dunking their heads underwater next to floating trash. Then we got on the U-Bahn, which never fails to fascinate me, I’m fascinated by trains and parks and eating, all of which we did today, and the U-Bahn brought us to Alexanderplatz which, if I’m not completely out of my mind, that is, if I’m not a complete fool, that is, if I’ve ever been to Berlin before or looked at a map of Berlin, that is, if geography even remotely interests me, that is, if I’m not mistaken, one of the most important landmarks in Berlin. We saw a massive nativity, at least 50ft high, that was waiting for the Christmas festivities. They were also putting up the stalls for the Christmas markets, and we discussed how if you’re going to come to Berlin at this time of year you should come in December, because snow is better than rain and then at least at that time you have the Christmas markets and festivities and everyone is guzzling hot chocolate and feeling merry. But November is just dreary. Granted, it wasn’t dreary for us, because we were in our own insular world of traveling happiness.

After Alexanderplatz Magda and Alex had to meet Magda’s friend Henrik, and I went with them even though I planned on leaving shortly thereafter to go back to the apartment to chill and do my physical therapy exercises and secondhand smoke through my pores. I had a day pass for the metro and buses, and felt immensely free because of it. I could get on any bus or train I wanted. I could get on a 100 buses or trains if I wanted. I could get on for one stop and then get right back off. Or I could just stand there and watch all the buses and trains going by, and never once get on any of them. The world felt like my oyster, or at the very least like my razor clam.

Lemon Water in Copenhagen

I’m getting my money’s worth out of this cafe in Copenhagen where I just paid the frightful sum of $6.86 USD for a cup of tea. Granted, it’s more than a glass than a cup, and granted, this is normal for Copenhagen, but I’ve still been parked here for well over and hour and just discovered that they have a pitcher full of lemon water, the contents of which I plan to empty into my stomach over the next hour more.

Copenhagen is, well, like pretty much any other town in northern Europe. It’s apparently the “cool kid” of Scandinavian capitals (according to Lonely Planet), and I’ve sort of seen that with its Christiania neighborhood, a hippy neighborhood on an island with no cars, only pedestrian and bike paths, where men sell hashish at little stands at night and where people from Greenland gather to, according to my friend Linda, “drink all day.” You feel like you’ve traveled back in time a century or two being there. It’s ideal. And last night, after we walked through Christiania we went to a sort of Danish dive bar, and that’s where the real fun began. Have you ever heard Danish? It SORT OF sounds like English. Emphasis on the “sort of.” And also on the “like.” And also on the “English.” And also on the “sounds.” It sounds like the kind of English a group of Americans from Virginia might speak if they’d been marooned on a fishing boat in the North Sea for 20-100 years. We sat in a smoke filled room with a bunch of old men who apparently were there for some kind of billiards tournament and then to eat potato salad (I saw potatoes and fish and nothing else), and I had the pleasure of listening to a group of seasoned bargoers bantering in Danish at close proximity. I was delighted. They would look at me when saying the punch lines, and of course I would throw my head back with laughter even though I didn’t understand a thing. And then I would grab my beer and shake my head as if to say, “Oh Magnus, he’s such a character,” while inside I was thinking, I have no idea what’s going on right now. To be fair, some things I DID understand, just because they sounded very similar to German, and I’ve lately developed an affinity for this Teutonic tongue. For example one of the guys said something to me, and then said to Linda, “He didn’t understand,” in Danish, but I DID understand, because the sentence “He didn’t understand” in Danish is similar to “He didn’t understand” in German. But he didn’t understand that I understood.

Understand?

After the bar we went to eat “Danish street food,” which was not on a street but rather a dock and certainly not street-like in price. I paid almost 16 dollars for a smattering of meat with Moroccan bread, and that was on the CHEAP side. I don’t even want to know what the “expensive side” looks like in Denmark. I imagine an expensive dining experience looks something like this: You sit down, you drink some wine, you have a bit of rye bread with cream cheese and a piece of dead fish on top, and then the bill comes and you have a heart attack and they cart away your lifeless body. I imagine most restaurants, like the famed two star Michelin-rated Noma restaurant, have a cart in the back for this very purpose.

Anyway. Denmark. Copenhagen. This is actually the “Kingdom of Denmark,” which I didn’t realize included such far-flung locales as the Faroe Islands. There actually is a ferry to the Faroe Islands that leaves every Saturday and which I’ve been eyeing lustily over the last few days, but I probably won’t go, especially since I’ve just bought a ticket for Berlin.

I don’t particularly like Berlin, but I’ve found myself there a fair amount over the last few years. The one thing I do like about Berlin is its relative cheapness, and also the ease with which one can be anonymous. Nothing sounds better to me right now than getting a cheap yet comfortable hotel room and walking many miles around the many parks that Berlin boasts, talking to no one, getting coffee from time to time, scribbling in my notebook, getting another coffee, still talking to no one, and then, just when I’ve finally had enough solitude, getting another coffee, but this time with someone, or better yet getting breakfast in a place called Cafe Bilderbuch, a place I wrote about in Roads in Kingdoms even though they changed the title to make it atrocious (they love atrocious titles), and also they edited the article more than they usually do, but they did leave the only good line, which was about the bread having seeds big enough to “choke a ferret.” Which is completely true. The bread in Germany is delicious. And tomorrow I’ll have some. But first I’m going to focus on Denmark.  And drink a little more lemon water. And maybe empty my pocketbook for another tea.