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Back in Deutschland, week 3

August 25th, 2013 No comments

My last week in Germany was even less “eventful” than the first two, but that’s absolutely fine by me. It was nice to just be back in Ichenheim and spending time with all these people again.

Things here are the same as ever, except that Ralf and Myriam have a baby now. Savio is 21-months old and super cute. He was a bit shy at first but warmed up to me pretty quickly and I’ve had fun playing with him. He’s just starting to talk but it’s all pretty much incomprehensible to me with the baby-dialect on top of the Ichener-dialect which is already hard enough to understand. I was able to get him to say a few Japanese words, but I’m sure they won’t stick, and it’s very unlikely he’ll remember me at all the next time I see him. Such is the case with babies.

I spent the days hanging around, going jogging, bicycling around, and (of course) drinking lots of beer. Dieter and Frederick were working on a house they’re building where my grandmother’s old house used to be. Frederick will live in the downstairs part when it’s finished and rent the upstairs to someone. Ursula had to leave on Thursday to go to a rehabilitation clinic in Davos to treat her psoriasis, so I only got to see her for two days. Myriam and Ralf took holidays on Thursday and Friday so I got to spend a bit of extra time with them. And on Saturday night I went to the birthday party of Dietmar and got to see a whole bunch of people including my Aunt Fannie, Gabi, Marius, Melanie and her new husband Timo.

And there’s not much else to say. It may not have been the most interesting vacation of all time, but I certainly enjoyed it. Last year’s vacation was much more “interesting” due to the visa situation, and because of that I had a hard time just enjoying it. I definitely prefer this kind of holiday.

Tomorrow I fly back to Japan. It was nice to get away from that world for awhile, but I’m definitely looking forward to going back.

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Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Outside The Wall

June 4th, 2011 No comments

When I heard last year that Roger Waters was going on tour to perform The Wall again for the first time in my lifetime, I immediately went and bought tickets for the first show he’d be doing in Germany, which was yesterday in Mannheim. It later occurred to me that it would be even cooler to see the show in Berlin—I can think of fewer cities in the world in which “the wall” concept would have more significance within the people’s living memory—so I bought tickets for that as well.

Official Roger Waters website.

I had no idea that the concert would happen to fall right on the day after the last day of Rheinfest, and I would have stayed in Ichenheim at least another day if it hadn’t. But I had to alter my plans and buy a ticket to Mannheim for Friday afternoon and another from Mannheim back to Hannover this morning.

Yesterday morning I was relieved to find that I wasn’t too hung over—no headache or throwing up—but I was significantly out of it to the point where going to see a concert I’ve been wanting to see for my entire life seemed like too much too fast, especially considering the emotional significance of what had transpired the previous night.

I also want to correct the record and say that contrary to what I’d been thinking when I wrote the first paragraph of the previous entry, that was absolutely not the most drunk I’ve ever been in Germany. After writing that and posting it I began to remember all kinds of wilder nights, from all-night-long parties during my exchange student year in Frankfurt to the madness of the Berlin pub-crawl, I have in fact been significantly more hammered in this country than I was that night—though that at least made the Top 10.

Anyway, back to the story. It was a fond farewell to my family in Ichenheim, something I hadn’t been looking forward to but which went well enough. I hate goodbyes, and I know it could be quite a number of years before I see any of those people again, but at least I’m fairly confident I’ll make it back before too long. By then, Myriam will have had her first child (I found out this visit that she’d gotten pregnant—something she’d always wanted but didn’t think she could) and things will be much different.

[At this point I want to warn readers that unless you are a Pink Floyd fan I can’t imagine anything other than severe boredom being your reaction to the rest of this entry, so you might consider skipping it.]

After being dropped off at the Offenburg station I took the 50-minute train ride to Mannheim while listening to Wish You Were Here, then took a cab from the station to my hotel because I was carrying a bag that weighs almost half as much as I do. I checked into my single room (as I get older I find the extra price of privacy while travelling to be well worth the cost) and attempted to take a little nap before going to the concert, as I was still dead tired. But it was too noisy outside and I had too much on my mind, so I just lied there for about an hour until 7:00, one hour before the concert.

“Man, I do not feel like going to a Pink Floyd show right now,” I said to myself before leaving. “Maybe I’ll just stay here.” Haha.

At least by then I was feeling better physically, although mentally I was still very out-of-it and not sure that my emotional state would be conducive at all to the special meaning The Wall holds for me personally. I’d just spent the last week doing battle with my wall, smashing away some of those bricks to what I certainly consider great success. The Wall is a very depressing piece of music, and I was rather happy. Still, I would just have to go and do my best to get into it, and the whole time I could take comfort in the fact that if I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I should, I’d have another chance in a couple of weeks in Berlin.

I reached the SAP-arena with about ten minutes to go before 8:00, but I needed a drink of water so I waited at the first service stand I came to. Beer and bratwurst were being served like at all German concerts, but much to the credit of the crowd, no one seemed to by buying the wurst. Seriously—bratwurst and The Wall just do not go together.

But lots of people were buying lots of beer and the line was taking forever. I was so worried that I was going to miss the beginning of the show that I asked the guys standing in front of me if they could order a water for me if I paid them for it, and they agreed but the water dispenser ran out of water just as mine was getting poured so it took another five minutes to get it. I hurried off to find my seat and discovered—naturally—another service stand just a bit further down the hall with no line whatsoever. Live and learn.

Luckily though, the show hadn’t started yet. I found my seat and was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. Disappointed because it was way off to the side and in the very back row, The cheap seats.and relieved because there was nobody directly in front of me to block my view like back at the Australian Pink Floyd show. The people around me also seemed to be okay, the guy on my left just quietly enjoying the show and the couple on my right drinking and singing along a bit but not obnoxiously so. The arena was apparently not completely sold out because there were a few open seats to the right of the couple on my right and the row in front of them, but other than a few scattered seats at the very back it was completely full.

I’d apparently just got there in the nick of time, because less than five minutes after I sat down the show began. When the first notes of “Outside the Wall” began playing softly I got all Enigmal, and again when the first notes of “In the Flesh?” blasted suddenly forth to interrupt the quieter music. And then there was Roger Waters literally in the flesh, walking triumphantly out on stage to the massive cheering of the crowd. This was the fourth time I’ve actually seen him in the flesh, the first being at Live 8 with the rest of Pink Floyd (best concert experience I’ve ever had or ever will have) and the other two times as solo concerts of his with Corey (the second of which was the second-best concert experience I’ve ever had or will have). Roger waved up in my direction as he entered, so perhaps he saw me and remembered me from the other three times…

What to say about the show? Of course it was fantastic, musically perfect and visually stunning, a concert experience leaving absolutely nothing to be desired. Watching them gradually build that wall across the entire stage during the first half of the show is certainly a sight worth seeing, and of course the music is some of the best music ever made.

There was a heavy political element to the show with quite a few projections containing anti-war messages and things of the sort, but I’ll be much better able to comment on them after seeing the show a second time. For now I’ll just keep the description mostly limited to my own personal experience. Regarding that, I certainly enjoyed it thoroughly and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but I can’t help attaching a “but” to the whole thing.

Actually, I have to attach two “but”s to it. The first was the fact that I have a camera now and had to deal with the whole annoying mental struggle of should I or should I not attempt to take pictures or videos of the show? I always looked at people who take their shitty little cameras to rock concerts with contempt as they take their blurry photos and the poor-sound-quality videos, but now I was one of them. I figured I should take a few to see how they would come out, but every time I did it would mitigate my enjoyment of the song somewhat because I was more focused on the photo than the music. I also decided to try the video during “The Happiest Days or Our Lives” and the first verse of “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” because that was about as iconic Wall as it gets (and I’ve already seen it live several times), but nothing particularly visually interesting happened until the second verse, when a chorus of kids came out to sing the verse and then do some excellent dancing during the guitar solos. As much as I was enjoying it I was also thinking, “damn me, I should have taken the video now.”Not blurry but still not worth it.

Now that I’ve checked the photos and videos it’s clear that it’s probably not worth it to make a  second attempt at the next concert and that I should just enjoy the music, but while most of the photos were just a useless blur I did get a few nice ones, and the video I took—when the camera wasn’t shaking—actually came out much better than I’d thought it would, allowing me to see more detail in Roger’s face that I could with my naked eyes from where I was sitting.

I really should have taken a video just before “Mother”, as this is apparently when Roger takes a moment to talk to the audience, and what he says is probably different for every show. He mentioned a couple of dates and nearby cities to the audience, saying, “Does anyone here remember such-and-suchadate in Dortmund? I was there. I remember it well.” No idea what he was referring to, but had I taken a video I would have been able to look it up. At least I’ll definitely get a video during that part of the show in Berlin.

One thing of note is that during one of the songs, a bunch of highly recognizable brand logos are projected falling down the wall, and one of the first to show up was the Mercedes logo. Apparently a lot of people in Mannheim work at the Mercedes plant because the logo got a very loud and ironic applause. There were also a few German phrases projected on the wall at random points like when he sang “Mother, should I trust the government?” there was “No Fucking Way” written on the right side of the wall and “Auf Keinen Fall” on the left, which also got a big applause.

The other “but” regarding the enjoyment of the experience is the more important “but” and it had to do with my emotional state.  During "The Last Few Bricks"As I said, The Wall is very depressing and I was feeling good, too good to really get into a lot of the songs the way I used to. The Wall meant so much to me in my youth because it was the first album I ever heard that really spoke to me deeply and made me feel like some of what was in my soul was also apparently in the souls of the writers of this music, and it greatly influenced how I look at life. I’ve since bought every single Pink Floyd album ever made and now listen to The Wall with probably the least frequency out of all of them (except perhaps the Ummagumma studio album). The fact is I’ve grown up a lot since those angst-ridden days of my youth, I’m not as stuck behind my own private wall as I used to be (though it certainly still exists—as last Sunday’s journal entry made clear), and the music was more of a nostalgia-trip than a genuine emotional experience.  Had I been able to see the show as a teenager, it would easily have been the experience of a lifetime.

Ironically, had things gone worse for me on that last day in Ichenheim I probably would have appreciated the show more as well. If I’d had terrible failure with the girls-of-interest, been too scared to try and talk to them and just ridden the emotional downward spiral all the way down like I had on Sunday, I would probably have been more into it. But a lot of the lyrics which would have really touched me had that been the case just kind of bounced off of me as I realized I don’t actually feel that way anymore—that I can no longer stretch the metaphor to identify with the character Pink the way I used to.

Although I suppose, in the end, that’s a good thing.

I switched seats during the intermission to get a slightly improved view, and took a picture of the completely-built wall which had projections of pictures of people who’d been killed by violence in the Middle East that had been sent in by family members. The pictures would change every few minutes, and at one point I looked over and noticed a face and name I actually recognized: Neda Agha-Soltan, the Iranian woman whom I’d written about during the Green Revolution in Iran a couple of years ago, the one whose gruesome death from a bullet-wound was caught on film and spread across the internet like wild-fire. That had a profound effect on me when I saw it, and it touched me to see her face among all those others.

In Memoriam The one in fifty-million who can help us to be free.

For the second half of the show I’d resolved not to take any more pictures, but there were some I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, most are just blurs anyway.

The highlight of the show, naturally, is Comfortably Numb, and while it was certainly awesome and certainly affected me deeply like it always does when I hear it live, there was just something that detracted from it because the guitarist was behind the wall while he played the solo. Snowy White did such a damn fine job of it that I wanted to be able to see him, but instead it was just Roger banging at the wall while the lights and projections provide all the fodder for the eyes. Still, those projections got increasingly awesome until an amazing climax where it looks like the wall opens up and the sun shines through it. When it was over the crowd went wild—I assume most of them haven’t heard the song live before—and the applause lasted for a solid five minutes if not longer. I heard the couple next to me say, “Das ist richtig gut Pink Floyd Musik.”

After the lovely “The Show Must Go On” interlude (at which point they brought some of the band members and their instruments back in front of the wall again) came the full-length “In The Flesh” and after Roger sings “if I had my way, I’d have all of you shot!” he points to a few people in the audience, then takes out a fake gun and fires at them. He pointed and fired directly at me, probably because—as I said—he recognized me from the other shows I’ve been to.

After “The Trial” came the big finale when they actually knock down this whole gigantic wall they spent the first half of the show building, and I took a video of it which I won’t make the mistake of trying again because the light was low and it barely came out.

With all the rubble on the stage now it was clear there would be no encore. Only the whole “Outside the Wall” song and then final bows. He gave the audience a lot of Most of the photos came out worse than this.heart-felt thank yous, and I’m sure he really felt it too because the audience had been wonderful. Now that I’ve been to a few concerts in Germany and compared them to the concerts I’ve been to in America I think I can safely generalize that audiences here are just better. They were all really into it, all really loving it, clapping along whenever there was clap-conducive music, and remaining pretty silent during all the more subdued emotional parts. They gave him a standing ovation which lasted about five minutes even after his final exit.

And just before he left he pointed again to a few sections of audience with special thank yous. “Thank you in the back” he said, then turned to me and said, “And thank you up there!” just before leaving. Yeah, he definitely recognized me. For sure.

So that was that. It was a great experience but I’m really glad I’ll get another shot at it because I feel like I could have appreciated it more than I did. Next time I’ll be sure not to get drunk the night before. And maybe I’ll deliberately put myself in a bad mood….

The rest of the night consisted of me taking the tram back to the station and walking from there to the hotel, getting some water and something to eat along the way. It was a lovely night and if I hadn’t been so tired and out of it I might have considered going out and seeing what the Mannheim night-life had to offer, but after the heavy ordeals of the previous night and the show I’d just seen, I just went back to my room and went to bed.

Just a word of warning—if you ever go to Mannheim, especially on a Friday night, do not stay at the Hotel Luxa. The hotel itself is fine enough, but it’s on the loudest street I’ve ever slept at, and that’s no exaggeration. You could hear drunk people “woo-woo”ing all night long. Every couple of minutes you’d hear loud “woo-woo”s from people, though I have no fucking clue what there was to “woo-woo” about. Just “woo-woo”ing the fact they were drunk I suppose. I don’t remember “woo-woo”ing when I was drunk on Thursday night, at least not after the music ended.

For the first couple of hours I drowned it out by listening to The Wall and some other Pink Floyd on my headphones, but even when I finally turned to try and pass out at around 2:30 it was still going and indeed continued until the sun started rising at 5:00 a.m. Every few minutes: “woo-wooooo!!!” as if done for the sole purpose of keeping everyone on that street awake. I wished I had Darth Vader powers and could choke them from far away. If I hadn’t been in such a good mood in the first place I might have seriously lost it and gone out there to try and find these people and shove my socks down their throats.

But at least I was able to get some sleep between 5:00 and 8:30, before getting up and taking the train back to Hannover. And now I’m back and still awful tired but still with a few things to get done before I can relax, writing this journal entry being one of them. I really hadn’t expected it to be this long but that’s how it typically goes with me. Apologies if you read this entry and found it painfully boring—at least I warned you.

So that was the end of a pretty incredible week for me. My last visit to Ichenheim, an unexpectedly awesome epilogue to a significant event from seven years ago, and the fulfillment of a near 11-year-fantasy of being able to see The Wall performed live. Regarding both the girls of Ichenheim and The Wall concert: here’s to things that happen that I never thought would happen!

End of an Epilogue

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

On my first night at Rheinfest seven years ago I got ridiculously drunk. I brought things full-circle yesterday by getting even more drunk. I’m not sure how it happened—it must have been around the 50th or 60th beer or so—but I probably got more drunk last night than I ever have in my entire time in Germany. Writing this entry is going to be somewhat challenging, as it’s only 11:45 on the morning after and there’s still a substantial amount of alcohol swimming around my brain.

I’d thought I drank too much the night before. At Ralf’s birthday party I had five hefeweizens and a Schnapps, and I was still feeling the effects when we rode our bikes to the festival grounds at two in the afternoon. Frederick had arrived the night earlier and was already there with Dieter when Ursula, Myriam, Ralf and I got there. I took a bunch of photos as well as a video to get that out of the way, not realizing just how many more photos I’d end up taking.

A lot more people today. The dead guy hut.

Germans in their natural habitat.Elke, Myriam, Ursula, Ralf

We found Frederick and Dieter at a table outside, pretty much the same location we were at on Sunday, and ordered food and beer when the waitress came. Ursula had brought a few Geflügelwursts (turkey sausages) with her so I could order currywurst—the first I’ve eaten in about six years—because I don’t eat beef or pork. There were a lot more people there than on Sunday so it took awhile to get what we ordered, and for that first hour and a half I only had one beer.

I had no plans or expectations going in with regard to the female-situation. I figured it was likely that nothing of any significance would happen and I’d travel down the emotional spiral just like Sunday, only this time I’d accept my fate and just appreciate the feeling. On our way into the tent I spotted a blonde waitress in a blue tank-top standing outside smoking and talking to her friend, and she was clearly hotter than any of the girls I’ve mentioned in this journal. Easily the hottest girl in Ichenheim, but I could tell from her facial expressions as she talked to her friend that inside she was probably a raging bitch. I figured all those girls probably had shitty personalities anyway so it was no big deal that I couldn’t talk to or flirt with them.

But it turned out that this day would have even more significance as an epilogue to the Musik Club Offenburg night than I could have ever imagined.

First of all, as we were waiting for our food I spotted Tanja walking into the tent. The real Tanja. The fat girl I’d seen on Saturday (and at the Christmas concert several months ago) was apparently just a decoy, maybe a cousin or younger sister. The actual Tanja was still looking pretty good, so all the schadenfreude I’d allowed myself to feel over the decline in her appearance relative to the improvement in mine was instantly dissolved.

She came out and stood in clear view of our table while talking to three of her friends, and Dieter turned to me and remarked “vier leckeres Mädchen”—the direct translation being “four delicious girls” which might not sound as dirty in German as it does in English, but Myriam still told him that he’s too old to say things like that. He asked me if I knew any of them and I told him that I remember Tanja but I wouldn’t say I “know” her. He informed me that she’d recently spent six months in India, which I filed away in my brain under “useless information”.

I spotted Simone sitting inside the tent and talking to her friend, but if she also saw me she gave no indication. I figured the whole day would go by without my talking to her, which I wouldn’t have a problem with at all.

Then as I was finishing my meal things suddenly started to happen. Tanja and a couple of her friends came over to say hello to everyone, and she sat down at our table across from Frederick a couple of places down from me. “You know what?” I thought to myself, “I’m going to go ahead and speak to her. Just so I can say I did.” The information Dieter had given me before might not be so useless after all.

I waited for a break in the conversation to say, “Tanja, I heard you were in India. Did you like it?” In German of course. She politely replied that she did, and the next thing I knew both Dieter and Ursula got up so I could scooch over and sit next to her. Apparently they figured I was now going to work my irresistible charm on her and end up with a girlfriend in Ichenheim, which I know would please them.

Of course my charm is nonexistent, but I handled myself pretty well. I told her I was going to Japan later this year, that my plan was to travel the world teaching English, and that India is one of the countries I was considering. I asked her what she did there (she was a Project Manager at a German firm), what the people were like (mostly nice), and what her living arrangements were like (pretty much just like Western accommodations). She answered all of my questions but didn’t ask me anything, thus confirming what I already knew: she doesn’t like me. Never has.

Our chat died a natural death but we continued sitting next to each other for a few more moments as the others around us talked, and she eventually excused herself and went away. It had literally gone as well as it possibly could have, and I mean “literally” in the most literal sense of the word—because she doesn’t like me, that’s as good as it could have gone.

No sooner had she left than I turned to my right to see none other than Elena sitting on the bench on the other side of Ursula. Perhaps I ought to make it two-for-two and speak to her as well, although I really have nothing to say. I listened to her chatting with Ursula to see if maybe I could contribute something to the conversation, but they were in full-dialect mode and I barely understood anything. Eventually I asked Ursula if Elena was her cousin, also looking at Elena in case she maybe wanted to answer me, but Ursula just informed me that Elena was her niece and explained how they were related. Elena might have said something during the explanation, but the only word I might have exchanged with her was “ja”.

Nice shot with Elena.

Dieter’s band began to play as I returned from my first bathroom-break, and I took a couple of pictures before returning to my seat. Whenever they finished a song I’d turn my head around to look at them and clap, and as Simone was sitting in my line-of-sight between me and the stage I’d see her every time. At one point I figured “what the hell” and waved to her, pleased to find that she waved back.

What I didn’t expect was that she and her friend would then get up and come over to sit at our table, but that’s what happened. At least this time there was no pressure to say anything as Ursula, Frederick, and Simone’s friend did most of the talking. The only thing I could think to say to her was to ask her if she’d been there the day before and how many people were there. Apparently there were even less people there than Sunday, probably on account of the bad weather (the weather today, incidentally, was much better).

Simone left shortly thereafter, giving me a friendly “Tschüss” as she left, and that was the last I saw of her and maybe the last I’ll ever see. That also went literally as well as it possibly could.

You might find the attractiveness of these girls rather underwhelming, and I wouldn’t blame you. The only reason I’m so emotionally invested is because of their significance from many years ago. There were far more beautiful girls there but I wasn’t as interested. There was, however, one girl from the band that had played previously who was sitting directly in my line of sight and she was absolutely gorgeous. Brown hair, brown eyes, short but slim, and a Jessi-like face (Jessi being the last girl I ever fell in love with in case you weren’t aware). I did a great deal of glancing in her direction, always smiling in case she looked back. At one point she did look back, and while I can’t be certain she was looking at me I’m fairly positive she was. I held her gaze with determination that I wasn’t going to be the one to look away first, and this lasted for an absurd length of time—about ten full seconds maybe—before she finally looked away. About fifteen minutes later while she was sitting across from a guy who might have been her boyfriend our eyes met again and I went ahead and winked at her. She immediately turned away and grinned widely, which might have been at something her boyfriend said but I’ll just go ahead and assume it had to do with me. Sadly, she left shortly thereafter, but it was still a pleasant little distraction.

Another nice distraction (though I’m not sure what I was being distracted from) was Analena, the 8-ish year old daughter of Stephan and [forgotten wife’s name here] whom I’ve mentioned in a couple of my Christmas entries before. Not that I’m attracted to her—I most certainly am not—but I just find little girls pleasant in general and it’s not often that I get to interact with them. Analena was pressing Myriam to play patty-cakes with her and Myriam didn’t feel like it so she told her she should play with me. She was a bit shy at first but I was now pretty buzzed and I put her at ease. I haven’t played patty-cakes in about twenty years, so that was kind of surreal, but it was still fun. I even taught them a game we used to play in elementary school (“Down by the banks…”) where you slap each others’ hands and have to pull away at the last moment. Somehow I still remember the words.

Frederick arm-wrestling Analena.

We also arm-wrestled and I intended to let her win but I didn’t have to because she cheated anyway. And for awhile I taught her how to write some Japanese. She’d ask me how to write a simple sentence like “I like horses” and I’d write the Japanese characters and she’d copy them perfectly. She also wrote “I like Japan” on my arm, which I might have forgotten if I couldn’t still see faint traces of it now.

That was Happy Hour, the last hour of which I have significantly clear memory. You could buy two beers for the price of one, but since only Frederick, Ralf and I were drinking beer we’d just order six and each drink two at a time.VERY happy hour

Elena’s parents were sitting by us for awhile and Elena came over for a bit. I asked them if I could buy one of the “Musikverein Ichenheim” shirts they were wearing as a souvenir, so that also counted as kinda sorta talking to Elena. But unfortunately those shirts were ten years old and not for sale.

I also went up and bought a round of six beers for us before Happy Hour ended, and because Tanja was working the cash register I got another chance to say a few words to her as well.

As I said, things started to get a lot more blurry at that point and the rest of the day went by in a flash. But thanks to the minor successes I’d been having with the various girls throughout the afternoon, I was feeling unexpectedly good and enjoying myself substantially.

Eventually the band finished playing and most of the people went home, but we stuck around for quite awhile and [apparently] drank more.

When I was hungry I went up to the kitchen to ask for that last Geflügelwurst Ursula had brought, and at that point Elena was the only one there so I finally got to speak directly to her. She knew all about the wurst and told me she’d bring it out to me when it was done, which she did and it was a damn good wurst. I also asked her if she works every single day of every single Rheinfest and she laughed that yes she does, and I asked her if she earns any money and she laughed harder that she doesn’t. We exchanged a few more words then, so that clearly counts as a genuine full-on “chat” with Elena. That was the last I’d see of her, but I’m quite glad I got to talk to her before the end.

One of the un-anticipated advantages of having a camera is that it remembers things your brain might not, so when I examined the pictures from last night I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of images of things I have no recollection of. I know that a bunch of young people including Tanja were sitting at a table and I went over and sat and talked to them, but God knows what the hell I actually said. Probably talking about Japan or something. But I think they liked me because apparently they bought me beer and took pictures of me with them. I’d thought that the picture I snuck of Tanja way earlier would be the only image I’d get of her, but I was shocked this morning to discover that I have a bunch more, including some of me with her!

Beer being drunk. Me being social.

Tanja looking lovely. Me being drunk.

Frederick being drunker.Tanja being funny. I really like this one. My favorite. 

Oh Tanja, I can only wonder what you might think of me. You certainly seemed to dislike me on that Musik Club Offenburg night so many lifetimes ago, but I’m sure I changed your impression somewhat yesterday, just as I changed Simone’s impression as well. I might have been embarrassingly drunk but when I’m drunk I’m even more me than normal (if that makes any sense), and since I’m so frickin awesome I must have been super-duper-über-frickin awesome last night. How’s that for an epilogue?

But it wasn’t even over yet. The next matter was actually getting home, and let me tell you that riding a bicycle while completely hammered out of your mind is actually not quite as easy as you might think. I had an incredibly difficult time maintaining my balance and I was swerving all over the road. I even toppled over a couple of times and smashed up my cellphone (I discovered this morning that the display is completely busted), but I just thought it was hilarious and I laughed every time I fell.

Somehow, miraculously, I made it back to the house to find much to my great surprise that Tanja and her maybe-boyfriend were also there! I hadn’t realized they were such close friends of the family, but I suppose they were having a good time and recognized that we were having a good time and figured they could join us for the good times to continue.

MORE beer! Lovely Tanja

Tanja and her maybe-boyfriend

I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t have the pictures to prove it, but there was apparently even more drinking when we got back. We were sitting around their basement bar and I remember struggling with the stereo to put on some music and failing miserably. It’s a wonder I didn’t break it. But I eventually just gave up and brought out my I-pod and speakers (and apparently the mouse from my computer as well for some inexplicable reason) and played Dark Side of the Moon.

The next thing I remember was waking up in the morning, so if I said goodbye to Tanja that memory is lost. I probably did. I was a bit worried about how I might have acted around her (lord knows what kind of shit came pouring out of my mouth last night but no one’s said anything) but when I looked at the pictures and realized she and everybody else were probably just as drunk as I was, I was no longer worried. The epilogue to the Musik Club Offenburg night thus ends with a climactic bang the likes of which I could never have anticipated.

All in all, it was a great way to spend my last night in Ichenheim and I couldn’t be more pleased with the experience. I’ll have to wait for the alcohol to wear off completely before I start drawing any conclusions about life-lessons-learned, but I can already tell how much I’ve grown since seven years ago. I’m still getting blackout drunk from time to time, but that’s something plenty of adults do anyway. At least I’m far more outgoing and self-confident, which is the most important thing.

I’m really going to miss you, Ichenheim. I know I’ll be back one day. We’ll just have to wait and see what fate has in store for me then.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , , ,

Not So Dramatic

May 31st, 2011 No comments

My last entry was kind of an old-school throwback to the over-emotional, super angry journal entries I used to write all the time. At least I admitted at the end that I was closer to apathy than despair, but the rest of the entry probably gave the impression that I was ready to go jump off a bridge somewhere.

So I just want to set the record straight and say to anyone who might care that I’m fine, that when the morning came and a full night’s sleep had washed away the mix of alcohol and anger I was back to my normal state of not caring.

The truth is that while I tend to blame everything from the circumstances of my childhood to the physical structure of the universe for my problems with women, deep down I do admit that I could probably find one if I really tried. The biggest reason I’m still alone is that I’m perfectly content to be alone.

That wasn’t always the reason—and I can legitimately blame my childhood circumstances and the laws of the universe (certainly with regards to the evolution of the brain as it pertains to sexual attraction) for my 100% failure rate with women in my youth—but these days I’m sane enough and mature enough to know what it would take to get a girlfriend and I simply don’t want to do it. All those games you have to play don’t appeal to me at all.

So I hope that clears that up. There’s really nothing to report from yesterday, but I have to correct something I wrote before and explain that while the next day of Rheinfest is Wednesday we won’t actually be going. It’s Ralf’s birthday and we’re celebrating here. So it’s a near-certainty that nothing of emotional significance is going to happen until Thursday.

But now that I’m an amateur photographer, I don’t actually need an actual story to crank out a journal entry. I can just post the pictures I took yesterday.

Where the rain-water from Ichenheim goes.

I went for a bike-ride with Dieter in the afternoon through the spectacular weather.  The first two pictures are of a nice area near a little hut by the woods.  The third is of a little lake nearby where apparently my grandmother used to go swimming when she was a kid.

 The hut is barely visible behind the hedge. The "Müllbach"

These pictures speak for themselves—just a couple I took along the way to the Rheinfest grounds.

 The Swansons Nice day.

We stopped at the festival grounds, now completely empty, and Dieter opened up the hut where he had couple of beers waiting for us.  I learned that the wooden hut is named for Wilhelm Schwärzler, who was born in 1901 and died at Rheinfest in 1979 on that very spot.  As you might imagine, that festival ended pretty quickly thereafter.

Hut / Memorial Slightly fewer people than Sunday.

Here’s a picture for the ages, as it’s where I spend the bulk of my days here in Ichenheim.  Just about every single journal entry from Ichenheim has been written from this spot, including this one right now.

The view from right here.

My grandma’s sister Fannie came to visit us after dinner in the evening, and I snapped a few casual shots.

 Fannie and family. Ein bisschen Gemütlichkeit...

...und noch mehr.

The view from the house at sunset, about 9:30 p.m. at this latitude.  The house has a great location at the edge of the village, so most of the view is of fields and farmland.

Fields to the southwest.The patio, facing west.  

So now you’ve got a better idea of what a nice place this is.  I’m going to miss coming here.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Epilogue to a Premature Epilogue

May 29th, 2011 No comments

Oh life, I know you too well. Brain, I know YOU all too well.

Things went about exactly as I anticipated on the second day of Rheinfest. Simone was there but she never even made eye-contact with me. For the first hour or so we (me and Dieter, Ursela, Myriam and Ralf) were sitting at one of the tables outside the tent and Simone was sitting a couple of tables down with her back to me, but even when she turned around she never looked directly at me—at least not while I was looking directly at her, which was often.

Hey, there we are.

It’s funny how that works. If there had been no history at all with me and her, I wouldn’t have given her in her present form much thought at all. There were younger, more beautiful girls there that also served to distract, frustrate, and depress the hell out of me, but because I’d made such a big deal out of the Simone situation most of my emotions revolved around her.

I spent the bulk of the morning and early afternoon yesterday composing that over-the-top journal entry, which I ended with a premonition that turned out to be as true as I’d feared. Anything less than a full-on conversation with Simone would have been a let-down, and a let-down it was. A big old “schwang wang wang” as Cenk Uygur would say.

For most of the day she was working the hefeweizen stand, and while it would have been easy to go up and chat with her while I ordered one, the others kept ordering beer for me so there was no real opportunity to go up to her.

Photo snapped on the way.As for the festival itself, the situation was rather bizarre. Last year there weren’t very many people there because—we’d thought at the time—the weather wasn’t very good. But today the weather couldn’t have been more perfect—the sun was shining and the temperature was neither too cool nor too warm—but somehow there were even less people there than last year.

Maybe it had to do with the fact that one of the only two bands scheduled for the day had cancelled, and the only band that came played relatively boring music. Dieter certainly complained about it, explaining that last night the music had been very lively and fun while this band was only playing old classical music that nobody could dance to. It was a band from another nearby town, but it was mostly younger people and reminded me of a high school marching band. There were a lot of young girls playing, many of whom were rather lovely but whom I didn’t spend much time focused on because my mind was too full of Simone-related thoughts and feelings. Not that their presence didn’t affect me—young girls that I’ll never get close to let alone speak to always have a depressing effect on my mind.

Also there were a few other girls I’ve mentioned before in this journal. Elena was of course there but her lack of conscious contact with me is something I’m quite used to. But the fact that her boring, über-normal boyfriend was also working at the time and I’d get to occasionally see them cuddling up to one another in loving-relationship lovey-doveyness didn’t help at all. It’s not that I’ve ever thought that I might ever have a chance with Elena, but seeing her hugging and kissing another man couldn’t realistically not affect me.

There was also that girl I mentioned in one of last year’s Rheinfest entries—the girlfriend of the scrawny acne-ridden kid who is apparently still going out with him (I got to see them kissing a few times as well). Apparently in Ichenheim nobody ever breaks up with anybody.

I sat outside with the others for hours, eating a salad for lunch and smoking a cigarette every two beers until I was so bored from sitting around that I had to just get up and move around a bit. I rode my bicycle to the Rhein and south to a nearby quarry, which was full of sand and very difficult and strenuous to maneuver around in so it wasn’t quite the relaxing, contemplative experience I’d been hoping for.

Lovely lake by the quarry (left).Lovely lake by the quarry (right). 

I’d had it in my mind that when I got back I’d go up to the hefeweizen stand and order a few for whoever wanted one with Simone, thus giving me a chance to at least say a few words to her and hopefully get a better impression of how she felt about me now, but Ralf also wanted a hefeweizen so we just ordered one from the waitress who got it from Simone and the girl who was at the stand with her.

It was a lovely evening in terms of weather and temperature, so it’s not as though it was a terrible experience. It’s just that I couldn’t keep my mind off the fact that I’m so fucking alone and always have been and always will be, and that I’m fucked up for feeling such strong desire for all the very young girls who were there as well and whom I have no business feeling any amount of desire for. Such is my life.

Man, I can’t wait to go to Japan and get cancer.

A bit later in the evening I smelled an opportunity, as both Ralf and I were out of beer and it didn’t seem like the waitresses were waitressing any longer. Almost everyone else had gone home and Dead festival.those of us who were there were among the only non-workers left at the festival. I asked Ralf if he wanted another and after a moment of consideration he decided that would be okay.

I took our two empty beer-glasses to the hefeweizen-stand and finally made contact with Simone in the most anti-climactic way imaginable. “Would you like two more?” she asked me in German—no ‘hallo’ or ‘wie geht’s?’—and I just said, ‘ja, bitte.’

The other girl there asked to confirm my order and Simone said, “zwei ‘ja bitte’” as though mocking me for some reason.

My fucking god are women strange creatures. One day they’re extremely warm and welcoming and the next they’re cold as ice for no comprehensible reason.

When she brought me the two full beers I said a few chat-conducive words, asking her why she thought there were so few people there today, but she just said she didn’t know. I said hopefully there would be more on Wednesday and Thursday and she agreed, and that was obviously that. I said goodbye to her and brought the beers back with me, now in a state of full ironic-amusement that my premonition had in fact proved correct and that anything less than full-on friendliness with her would flush me down one of my all-too-familiar emotional downward spirals.

But I’ve gotten much better at hiding such things than I used to be and continued to talk and laugh with Dieter and the others, the whole time uncomfortably conscious of Simone’s presence and always feeling like her judging eyes might be on me at any moment. Unbelievable how much I suddenly cared about what a totally-less-than-spectacular-looking-woman might think of me.

Irresistably pretty picture. We were the last non-working-people left at the festival as the sun was setting, and everyone else was stacking the chairs on the table-tops and whatnot while we finished our beers and prepared to leave. When it was finally time to go I found myself following them up to the counter and the hefeweizen-stand as they all said goodbye.

Just before we left, Simone did make eye-contact with me and clearly say “Tschüss” to me which I returned in a friendly and casual manner that I’m sure completely concealed any other emotions I was feeling. The fact that she actually said goodbye directly to me somewhat mitigated the negative feelings I was feeling, although at that point I’d already slid so far down the downward spiral that it made little difference. Although it did make some difference, I must confess.

The bike-ride back to Ichenheim was actually unbelievably pleasant—the sun splashing all kinds of wonderful colors across the landscape. I had to stop a couple of times to take pictures, which Dieter was more than happy to accommodate. When we got home we watched the end of a “Freundschaft” soccer match between Germany and Uruguay (Germany won 2-1) and I smoked one last cigarette outside before coming down to my room and banging out this journal entry so I don’t have to do it tomorrow.

Ichenheim at sunset. It really is a lovely place.

The next two days are non-festival days, so I may not write again until Wednesday or Thursday, and those two days will ultimately determine how I ultimately feel about what went down this week.

As for how I feel at this exact moment, it’s somewhere between apathy and despair, though probably a bit closer to apathy. Certainly I was reminded of that fact that in spite of how far I’ve come in the last seven years, I’m still a million light-years away from the kind of person who can attract women and it seems as obvious as ever that I’ll just never have one. The conclusion I reached as far back as nine years ago—that There Is No Hope and I’ll always be alone—holds firm.

In spite of the new light that last night’s conversation shed on the infamous night of the Musik Club Offenburg, what I felt that night remains valid: I am not desirable. I never have been. And while sometimes, occasionally, some women might look at my physical appearance alone and think that perhaps I might be somewhat attractive, the more time that goes on the more time they have to realize that below the surface there’s actually nothing that interests them.

At one point today, Myriam’s grandmother (from whom I’ve consistently felt vibes of dislike since the moment I met her) asked me if I’d found a girlfriend yet in Germany. I just laughed and shook my head, and Myriam suggested that I should just say “two.”

For all the massive amounts of thinking and contemplating I do, I still just can’t grasp how it is that normal people find each other and enter into long-term relationships with one another. Not only does one person have to be interested in the other, but the other person must actually return those feelings. It boggles my mind that this seems to work for most people, as it has never, ever, never ever, not one single goddamn motherfucking time in my entire time on this god-forsaken planet, EVER happened to me. And I just can’t imagine that it ever will.

So all I can do is continue doing what I’m doing and do my best to live my life in such a way that the love of another human being is not necessary for fulfillment. And the only thing that suffices to fill that void is travel. Seeing the world. Experiencing as much as I can possibly experience in the time that I’m here. Everything except sex and romantic love.

I suppose in the end, life can be worth living without those things. But when confronted so directly with my lack of them, it’s hard not to desire an early death.

The downward spiral goes down very deep, and my anticipation of riding it today apparently failed to prevent it. As I said, I know life too well and I know my brain too well. This is how it is and how it always will be.

“Now I’m in Ichenheim and preparing for something of an emotional roller-coaster which always seems to happen while I’m here, especially during Rheinfest.” –Me, 5/28/11 (two days ago).

“Simone will be working there today and…the odds of another pleasant chat are very slim. And I’m worried that anything less than what happened last night will feel like a let-down. I just hope that being mentally prepared for that will prevent it from happening, but I know how my mind works.” –Me, 5/29/11 (this morning).

“It all points in one direction. It has all along, the Publius Faction leading me to formulate my one and final Conclusion: There Is No Hope.” –Me, 4/23/02 (nine years ago).

An Ichenheim Epilogue: 7 Years Later

May 29th, 2011 No comments

Almost every trip to Ichenheim seems to bring with it events of personal significance, and what happened last night felt monumental. Not because it was life-changing in any major way, but because of the time-scale involved. Have you ever had a story in your life—a particularly memorable one—that happened a long time ago and you thought was over and done with forever, only to have some new event come along much later in your life and completely alter the meaning of it? That’s what happened to me.

I still find it strange that some people actually enjoy reading my personal journal, but for those who do I strongly recommend you follow this link and read the story of my night at the Musik Club Offenburg. It took place near the very beginning of my exchange-student year in Frankfurt, and it was one of the most awful-yet-memorable nights of my life. But my written account—an e-mail to Corey later incorporated into my journal—turned out to be one of my favorite entries of all time. Although the writing quality is noticeably worse, you’ll probably enjoy it more than this entry, but you won’t be able to appreciate this one unless you’ve read the other one first.

So most of the day yesterday was spent taking care of various business on the computer, with a brief jogging interlude in mid-afternoon. Dieter went to the festival before the rest of us because the band he’s in would be playing music for awhile, and the rest of us rode our bikes there around 6 p.m. Ursela, Myriam, and Ralf went directly to the festival ground but I rode about 500 meters further down the road to make the very first picture I took with my new camera a picture of the Rhein. It’s a spot I try to come to every time I’m in Ichenheim, and I’ve done much thinking/brooding/pondering there:

The historic first photo.

After riding along the river for a little bit I headed to the festival ground myself where I found that the others hadn’t even made it inside. They’d run into some people they know outside and got sucked into a chatting session. It would probably be awhile before we found a place to sit down and commence drinking.

Rheinfest from the outside.

As we were walked into the tent, I spotted Gabi and Dietmar—they lived at the house I stayed on my first Ichenheim trip—sitting at one of the plastic tables outside the tent (barely visible on the left in the picture above). I chatted with Gabi for awhile as she explained to everyone she was with who I was and what I did. They suggested I stay in Ichenheim and teach the whole village how to speak English. It’s not the least tempting idea in the world, but I’d rather stick with Japan. Gabi also made sure to tell everyone an embarrassing story about how when I came back from my first night in Rheinfest back in 2004 (kind of a prologue to the Musik Club Offenburg night) I was so drunk that I stumbled up the stairs and grabbed hold of the dresser at the top thinking it was attached to the wall and I pulled on it, it toppled over and all the contents fell all over me. Apparently this is what she remembers most about me.

When I glanced inside the tent I noticed my grandmother’s sister Fannie sitting at a nearby table and I politely said goodbye to Gabi and made my way to say hello to her. We exchanged a few words, which was difficult because the brass music was so loud and her dialect so strong, but we somehow managed. I made sure to get a picture of us to send to my grandmother, which I think she’ll appreciate. It also gives you a good sense of what the atmosphere inside was like.

Rheinfest from the inside.

We eventually got outside and sat by Ursela’s sister and her husband, whom those of you who’ve been reading for awhile might remember from the Easter story a couple of years ago. It was amazing to see their little baby daughter now at age 3 (and apparently no longer afraid of me). It really gives me a sense of how long I’ve actually been living here.

I apologized to them from the start for not remembering their names, and they told me they remembered mine but it was okay. Petra and Friedhelm—now stored forever in my memory bank. Friedhelm asked me a few questions about English because he’s been trying to help his 12-year-old son with his English homework and having some difficulty, so I had to slip into teacher-mode for a moment and explain the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect, which is the most difficult grammar for Germans to grasp because they pretty much only use Present Perfect. Explaining that to him was pretty much the only time I used English the whole night.

Of course my going to Japan always comes up in conversation, and Petra expressed serious concern because of the radiation. I suppose it’s nice that she’d be concerned, but the whole Fukushima thing is just so annoying. Before when I told people I planned to go to Japan they’d think it was great and exciting, but now all anyone brings up is Fukushima and the fact that I must be crazy if I want to go there now. I try to explain that Japan is very big and most of it wasn’t affected by the disaster, and that even if levels of radiation are hundreds of times the normal level it’s still not very dangerous to human health, but nobody is convinced. All I can say is that I’ve been dreaming about going to Japan my whole life and if I were to let this disaster change my plans…well that’s just not who I am.

What I can’t explain to most people (but which I’m perfectly comfortable mentioning in a public journal entry—go figure) is that I’d be more than happy to get cancer and die an early death anyway. I’ve still got a bit more of my youth left to enjoy, but growing old and alone isn’t the most appealing idea in the world to me.

They left and took their kids shortly thereafter, and as they walked away I called out “Petra und Friedhelm” to let them know I wasn’t going to forget their names again, and Friedhelm gave me a smile and a thumbs-up.

Dieter’s band, “The Old-Timers”, finished up and he came out to join us, at which point the beer-drinking started to accelerate. I got a photo of everyone there at that point. The empty chair between the two tables was where I was sitting, Ursela and Dieter were across from me and Myriam and Ralf are to the right of them.

Wir sind hier und trinken bier.

Can you believe I’ve made it this far without getting into the whole attractive-female aspect of things? Well, the rest of this entry will be all about that.

Elena was not one of the girls from the Musik Club Offenburg night (I’m not 100% certain but I just don’t think I’d be able to forget a face like hers) but she’s related to Ursela somehow and is a close friend of the family so she would frequently come around to chat. I’ve never been introduced to her and for some reason nobody did it this time either, so I couldn’t really say anything to her without it being awkward and weird not to mention in front of half-a-dozen people who are aware of my attraction because I told them on my first Christmas visit after I first saw her. So all I could do was admire her incredible face without being too blatant about it.

There was also the matter of getting a picture of her without being too blatant about it, something I’m now going to have to sort out in my mind now that I’m living a picture-taking lifestyle. It’s already a slight sort of violation to write about people in my journal when they don’t know what I’m saying about them, but after much consideration of the moral issues involved I’ve decided that it’s really not so bad as long as I leave out last-names and any information which might identify them.

But posting pictures is another matter entirely. I know the people who read my journal really want to see what these girls look like but it just feels wrong to post them in public entries. But it’s not like I have a million readers—it’s mostly only family and close friends who read this—and I wouldn’t consider it wrong to show friends a photo of a girl I think is beautiful. And if I were in their position and one day found out that some girl I barely know had snapped a photo of me and posted it on her blog to show everyone how attractive she thought I was—I would just feel flattered.

Please let me know what you think of this. In the mean-time I think a good compromise is to post those kinds of photos in private entries that can only be viewed specifically by people to whom I’ve given permission. If you want permission, just register for the blog and send me an e-mail with a request.

Back to the story. As Elena came and went there were a couple of other girls walking around taking orders and bringing beer and food to people, none of whom were particularly gorgeous so my shallow self did not focus on them. But at one point when one of the girls walked by Dieter he called her name to grab her attention so he could order another round: “Simone.”

Ho Lee Shit. That’s Simone?! Damn. Wow.

When she came to the door on the infamous Musik Club night, she’d struck me as the most gorgeous German girl I’d ever seen. She was a slender brunette, and now she was blonde and substantially heavier—though still far from anything I’d describe as “fat”. I’d only seen her once since that night (or so I’ve assumed) at last years’ Rheinfest when she was serving beer at the Hefeweizen stand so I could only see her face. She looked different then too, but someone had mentioned it was her so I noticed. And back then she still had brown hair and because she was behind a counter I couldn’t see her body. But she looked so different now that I hadn’t even realized it was her.

Incidentally, Tanja (spelled “Tanya” in the 2004 entry) was also there but seeing her wasn’t a big deal because I somehow seem to spot her at least once every single time I come to Ichenheim. But just this past year she’s inflated like a balloon and got her long blonde hair cut short and died brown, so she looks completely different too. She was kind of a bitch to me that night and never acknowledged my existence ever since, so I don’t feel too bad writing that I derived some amount of schadenfreude from the fact that her appearance has declined so dramatically while mine—I now admit to myself—seems to have improved with age.

At one point when we were still outside and the sun was setting, I happened to be looking off in a direction from which Simone was coming and when her eyes met mine I reflexively smiled. What’s this? Did she just smile back at me? I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything, but it felt nice anyhow.

I should explain that after my behavior that night, especially after refusing to go back in the club and making her drive me home, I assumed that she had formed a pretty negative opinion of me. Back then she’d actually volunteered to take me out with her friends, so the fact that such a thing never happened again was enough to confirm my impression.

So when the same thing happened about 20 minutes later—us reflexively exchanging smiles as she walked by—it felt rather bizarre. For seven years she’s just been a character in a journal entry to me, a symbol of my eternal difficulty handling myself in front of attractive members of the opposite sex, and now she was there in the flesh and smiling at me. Bizarre.

When it started to get cold we all relocated inside the tent and sat at one of the benches nearest the counter. I was “lucky” enough to be sitting facing the counter where not just Elena but Lara too (from two of the last three New Years’ Days) were working. I experimented with the video feature of my camera to capture a bit of the atmosphere as well as perhaps capture some images of said girls, but the camera’s memory card filled up almost instantly so the video was only two seconds long.

By now everyone was pretty drunk and the band from the nearby village of Altenheim was really pleasing the crowd with their variations of hits like “Tequila” and “La Bomba”. Whenever they finished the people would cheer loudly for an encore so they kept going. At one point a bunch of the musicians got out and started standing on the tables, calling on everyone to stand up and follow along with them, clapping at the appropriate time. I hastily deleted a couple of photos in the camera to make room for a snapshot of this.

The small but loud late-night crowd.

So now we’re finally getting to the important part. On my next trip to the toilet I was walking out of the tent while Simone was walking in. I smiled at her again but this time I didn’t see her smile back. Suddenly the nice feeling I had evaporated and I wondered if that tiny little virtually insignificant bit of nothingness was about to lead to some kind of wildly overreactionary emotional downward spiral that happens all-too-frequently when I’m drunk and feeling even the slightest twinge of rejection or inadequacy.

Luckily I was far from drunk and my mind was operating with clarity. My first thought as I emptied my bladder was that I’d just missed a perfect opportunity to actually say something to her, and that I had a perfectly appropriate thing to say because I could just ask her if she remembered me from seven years ago. But I quickly decided—and rightly so—that the opportunity was actually not that perfect because I really did have to pee at the moment.

When I got back inside there was someone sitting in my seat, which was quite fortuitous because now I had an objective—I was going to talk to Simone if I got any hint of another opportunity—and if none came I’d make it happen. Dieter offered to scooch over and let me sit down but I declined and said I felt like standing now.

So I sipped on my beer while standing up and continuously glancing behind the counter where Simone was engaged in conversation first with another girl there for about five minutes and then to Marius (the son of Gabi and Dietmar) for another five. Because I kinda know Marius I thought about approaching both of them at the same time but decided against it. In any case, when they were done talking she came back out from behind the counter alone, not carrying any drinks or anything, and it was clear that The Perfect Opportunity had now arrived.

Maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was the fact that she was no longer stunningly gorgeous, but I felt not the slightest trace of nervousness as I walked up to her and opened with, “You’re Simone, aren’t you?” Actually, I said this in German and continued in German the whole time but for the sake of this journal entry I’m just going to translate everything into English.

She confirmed that she was, and I asked her if she remembered me. “Yes I do,” she said. “I was asking about you.”

I thought: Really? We both laughed for a second, and I said, “I believe it was seven years ago.”

“Yeah, I drove you home from the Musik Club Offenburg.”

“Right, I’m sorry. I was pretty bad that night.”

“Eh, it’s okay. I don’t hold any hard feelings against you.”

So that was musik to my ears, and now that the seven-year-old ice was broken and we were back on speaking terms I proceeded to enter advanced-German-chatting mode. I asked her where she was living now and she said a nearby village called Dundenheim with her boyfriend. The word is actually “Freund” which very annoyingly can mean both “friend” and “boyfriend” depending on the context. I assume she meant boyfriend because she’s living with him.

I found out she’s working as a nurse at a hospital in Offenburg, and apparently has no long-term plans other than that. She told me that she heard I was moving to Japan—apparently she really had been asking about me—and I told her a little about that. Thankfully she didn’t give me any shit about radiation, though of course it had to be mentioned.

When I talked about learning Japanese I explained that it was actually a much more simple language than German, which I still haven’t mastered. She told me that my German was actually much better, and I agreed that it was probably a lot better than it was seven years ago. Back then my lack of German-speaking ability had been the most major obstacle to actually talking to the girls, so I guess I’ve finally progressed beyond that.

Still, the conversation was jam-packed with awkward pauses and nervous laughter and I expected her to break away from me any moment, but she miraculously remained by me for what I think ultimately added up to a good 15-20 minutes. I kept thinking of things to ask her about and occasionally she’d think of something to ask me to break the silence. She’d worked as an Oper for my relatives Sue and Lance on Long Island and I asked her what she thought of the kids, although that was five years ago and they’re all much older now. I could also ask her if she visited New York City often while she was there, as the city is a pretty good topic of conversation for me and I always like hearing other people’s impressions of it.

As we talked and I got a good close-up look at her face it was clear to me why she’d struck me as so beautiful seven years ago. She’s still very attractive in spite of the extra weight, and I was happy to get the impression that she was also attracted to me. I could almost imagine myself asking, “So if you wouldn’t mind cheating on your boyfriend a little, we could go out behind the tent and passionately make out for awhile” which I would have greatly enjoyed. But of course I said no such thing.

At any rate, the others decided to leave at just the right time as Simone and I were pretty much completely tapped out of things to say to each other and it provided a very nice natural end to our chat. I said goodnight to her and I rode my bike back into town with the others, just absolutely flabbergasted at what had just gone down.

I listened to music for about an hour before going to sleep last night just to derive as much joy as possible from the experience. It felt like this giant weight in the shape of the Musik Club Offenburg was now lifted off my shoulders, and that all of the negative lessons I’d learned about myself that night were now reversed. Most of the personal flaws that caused me to have such a horrible time that night I seem to have overcome. In spite of what she said, Simone has no doubt remembered me less-than-fondly all these years but now I’ve completely altered that impression. Whatever Tanja and the now-forgotten others may think, at least Simone now knows that I’m not who I was back then and that I have in fact gotten better as I’ve got older.

But I write this with a little bit of trepidation, as I know it’s not over yet. Simone will be working there today and she’ll just be there in the audience on Wednesday and Thursday, and I highly doubt that things are going to go even a fraction as well as they went last night. As I said, I think we ran out of conversation topics so the odds of another pleasant chat are very slim. And I’m worried that anything less than what happened last night will feel like a let-down. I just hope that being mentally prepared for that will prevent it from happening, but I know how my mind works.

Of course I’m also considering the possibility of trying to talk to some of the other girls I’ve had my eyes on for so long, just for the sake of doing it, but I really can’t hold myself to that because The Perfect Opportunity might never come with them, and with them I can’t even envision what “The Perfect Opportunity” would be like.

So I’ll just go into it with the same attitude I had yesterday: just relax, take it easy, and try to enjoy myself. Try not to fall into any of the downward emotional spirals I know I’m capable of falling into and which Rheinfest has brought me down in the past. But if I do find myself sliding down the hole, I might as well enjoy that too.

But whatever happens, the story of my night at the Musik Club Offenburg—which I’ve always thought back to nearly every single time I think about my difficulties with women—has now been altered forever thanks to an epilogue seven years later.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , , ,

Last Time in Ichenheim

May 28th, 2011 No comments

I’m once again visiting part of my large German family in the little village of Ichenheim where my grandmother is from. Later today we’ll be going to the first day of Rheinfest, the little music festival they hold every Spring in a big tent near the Rhine, about a fifteen-minute bike ride from the village. The first time I ever came to Ichenheim was with my mother and grandmother in 2004, and Rheinfest was going on then as well. It’s appropriate that it should mark the occasion of my last visit as well.

Of course I imagine I’ll come back eventually, but probably not for quite some time—a few years at least. So for now I’ll be thinking of this as the final chapter in the book of my visits to Ichenheim that started in 2004 and have continued sporadically until now. It’s got the same primary cast of characters including Dieter and Ursela whose house is where I’m staying, their daughter Myriam and her husband Ralf who live upstairs, and their son Frederick who lives in Nuremburg and will be coming later this week. There are also the peripheral characters including my grandmother’s sister Fannie whom I try to visit every time I come as well as other distant relatives like Hans and Gerlinda. Finally, of perhaps the most personally-emotional significance are the lovely young ladies of Ichenheim whom I’ve been admiring from afar since first meeting them at the first Rheinfest and falling out of favor with them during the infamous night of the Musik Club Offenburg in which I learned the devastating lesson that being foreign doesn’t improve your chances at all with girls—at least not German ones.

This time I’ll have a camera, so anyone who has actually read the accounts of my previous Ichenheim trips can finally see what these people and places look like. I assume I’ll have some pictures up as early as tomorrow, but as of yet I haven’t taken any.

There are a couple of minor things I feel would be worth recording for posterity’s sake. Thursday, the day before I came here, was one of the busiest and most productive days in recent memory and I just want to jot down everything I did. At 6:00 I pried myself out of bed to get the jogging out of the way, and did a nice 50-minute run in the crisp morning air—my favorite time to go but also the hardest to make myself do. After getting home I shaved, showered, had breakfast, and still managed to read a couple of blog entries before going to work. I had an English lesson from 8:30-10:00 and another from 10:00-11:30, after which I was technically finished with my obligations but the work was just getting started. I came home and had lunch, wrote up my monthly bill for Planeo and rode my bike to their office at about 13:00 to drop that off. The next thing I did was optional but I wanted to do it before coming to Ichenheim—I rode to Linden to get another hair-cut (only my 3rd in the three years I’ve been living in Germany). I like having longer hair but it was getting wild and unruly and it’ll have to go before I go to Japan anyway so I figured I might as well get one now to look a bit more presentable in Ichenheim—both for my family and perhaps the ladies as well. That took almost two hours because the girl there was so slow, but she was very attractive and spoke decent English so it wasn’t too bad. After that I had to go home and completely clean my apartment because I hate coming home from a holiday to a dirty flat. When I was finished at about 16:00 I squeezed in a bit of Japanese-studying followed by a 20-minute nap which was essential for maintaining energy. At 16:45 I headed out to the U-Bahn to ride some distance north to the Media Markt where Oliver recommended I buy a camera. I picked a medium-priced Fuji camera because Oliver recommended it and I think having a “Fuji” camera would be appropriate for Japan. After that I went to KFC for a quick dinner because it’s one of the only KFCs in Germany and it was in the area, but I was disappointed to find that they no longer had the “Zinger Tower” which was the best sandwich by far and which only seemed to be available in Germany but apparently not anymore. After dinner I headed home, took care of one last personal matter, and then at 19:00 it was finally time to pour myself a glass of whiskey and slip into extreme-relaxation-mode. More than any other day so far this year, it really felt like I’d earned it.

Friday was significantly less stressful, though for some reason I still found myself having to rush to get packed and ready to catch my 12:40 train. There’s something worth noting about the train ride, as when I boarded and found my reserved seat there was an attractive young woman sitting next to me who spoke to me to make sure I didn’t have that seat reserved as well. I said no and we exchanged a smile as I took my seat, but before I knew it I had my I-pod on and she’d put on hers as well. Realizing I’d just passed up a perfect opportunity to strike up a chat with a good-looking woman which is exactly my problem because I do it all the time, I began thinking of how I might somehow rectify the situation. It didn’t seem possible with her I-pod on and I thought I’d blown my only chance until I noticed her take her ear-buds out as we approached the next station. I took mine off as well and turned to her and just casually asked where she was going.

Man, it’s easy to talk to other people—even attractive women. I can’t believe I’ve had such a hard time with it for my entire life, but there it is. Our conversation was by no means fascinating—it wouldn’t even qualify as mildly interesting—but at least we had one. We’d chat on and off for the whole first half of the train ride until she reached her stop in Frankfurt, and I told her a bit about myself (her English was bad so I stuck with German the whole time) and learned that she’s moving to Bayern to try and get a job in “confectionery” as apparently such bakery-jobs are almost impossible to come by in Northern Germany. I was quite surprised that her career is making pastries, as her body was perfectly fit. She had a pretty massive overbite but that was her only physical flaw, and if circumstances were different (i.e. if we spoke the same language and lived in the same place) I might have even pursued something with her, but my only objective was to just prove to myself than I can handle talking to women I’m attracted to, and I did. Just to seal the deal I got her name before she left: “Wiebke”, a name I’d never heard before, and we parted on very friendly terms. I could even imagine that she found me attractive as well, perhaps thanks in part to my new haircut.

But now I’m in Ichenheim and preparing for something of an emotional roller-coaster which always seems to happen while I’m here, especially during Rheinfest. I’m pretty much guaranteed to see all the girls who’ve been mentioned so often in these journal entries and who have grown to become virtual icons of un-attainability in my mind. Elena with the perfect face, whom I first noticed at the Christmas concert two and a half years ago and didn’t see again until last year’s Rheinfest—I’ve never actually spoken to but she’s with a long-term boyfriend and they’ll be married soon if they’re not already. Lara with the perfect body and lovely smile, whom I first met on New Years’ Day 2009 and saw again the following New Years’ and at the last Rheinfest—also with a long-term boyfriend. Tanja with her lovely eyes, whom I first saw at my very first Rheinfest and who was a significant part of the Musik Club Offenburg experience and who either doesn’t remember me or just deliberately acts like she doesn’t. Simone with her classic good-looks, who was the star of the Musik Club Offenburg night and whom I didn’t see again until last year’s Rheinfest and who also didn’t seem to recognize me. And a few other girls whose names I never got but who have caught my eye at some point during previous visits to Ichenheim. For some reason these girls seem more significant to me because I only see them sporadically.

At any rate, I’m in good spirits now but I expect that soon enough I’ll start to get into that mind-set that results from being around normal people living normal lives of normalcy and looking at myself in contrast. It’s not that I’m desperate for things like a special-someone or to be surrounded all the time by good friends and family—those things would be nice but there’s a lot to be said for my kind of lifestyle as well. And at least mine is far more unique.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I’ll just take it easy, try to enjoy myself, do my best to avoid letting my mind go off in the direction it always wants to go when I’m around families, and see if there’s anything left for me to learn about myself here.

Weinachten in Ichenheim III

December 28th, 2010 No comments

This is actually the fourth Christmas I’ve spent in Ichenheim, but only the third in a row. If you want to know what this one was like, you could basically just go back and read my account of last year’s Christmas or the one from the year before, as this was practically a carbon-copy of those other two with just a few slight differences. That’s the nature of tradition though, and it’s nice to do the same things every year in spite of the fact that it gets less and less interesting each time. I still feel obliged to record the events, but I’ll keep it brief and only highlight aspects in which this Christmas was different from the previous two.

Thursday the 23rd, I arrive in Offenburg in the early evening and am driven back to Ichenheim by Ralf and Myriam, who almost don’t recognize me with the short hair. We have a nice dinner and nice conversation until about 10:00 when we all go to bed.

Friday the 24th, we head to Hans and Gerlinda’s for Kaffee und Kuchen just like the last two years, and just like the last two Stefan and Evelyn are there with their daughter Analena who looks one year older and one year chubbier. When I’m not trying to follow the mostly incomprehensible conversation my mind is thinking about Lea, whom I just received an e-mail from before leaving. I’d just about given up hope on hearing from the woman I’d met the previous week on the plane, but she wrote to me after all and it put me in quite a good mood.

After a couple of hours and a few glasses of wine, we head back and have the traditional fondue dinner, the only difference this year being that we eat upstairs at Ralf and Myriam’s as opposed to downstairs at Ursela and Dieter’s. We don’t go out for a walk afterwards because it’s been snowing all day and the roads are covered. I’m glad I finally got to see Ichenheim in the snow, as this is the first year we’ve had a white Christmas that I’ve been here.

Saturday the 25th is almost completely uneventful except for the annual Christmas concert of the male voice choir that Hans is a part of. Last year they held it in the church which made for some really nice acoustics, but this year it’s back at the school (apparently there was some tension between the Catholics and Evangelicals). This was where I first noticed Elena two years ago but she doesn’t come tonight. I do, however, get a rare Tanja sighting. She now has short hair and she’s getting progressively chunkier, but she’s still got a really nice face. And she still either doesn’t remember me from the infamous Musik Club Offenburg night or she insists on acting like she doesn’t.

Also present is Lara of the infamous previous-two-New-Years’-Days, apparently still with the same boyfriend, the son of the obviously-gay man who is also in the choir. Because I won’t be around for this New Years’ (I’m going to a party in Hannover with Oliver and Lena instead) I know this will be the only time I see her this time around. As we’re leaving the school when everything is over we pass her and her boyfriend. I shake the boyfriend’s hand and wish him a “Schöne Weinachten” and Lara is looking at me while I do so I go up to her as well, take her hand and say, “Lara, Schöne Weinachten” and she wishes me one as well with that adorable smile of hers. I suck up all the appreciation of that pointless little moment as possible and head my merry way. I wonder if she processed the fact that I remembered her name and not her boyfriend’s, but I doubt it.

Sunday the 26th is the big day when Ralf’s parents and brother come over and we have a giant lunch of geese and mashed potatoes and red kraut. It’s all very delicious and all exactly the same as the previous two years. Only this time our post-lunch walk is out in the snow, which is especially beautiful now under a blue sky. After Ralf’s family leaves the rest of us remain upstairs and continue to drink wine and talk, followed by drinking beer and eating a small dinner, after which Dieter invites me to come out for another little walk. But instead of walking around he suggest we go into the local hotel bar for a beer and I don’t refuse. There are a few random people there and Dieter knows all of them. The bartendress is a very cute lady apparently the same age as Myriam, and when I ask how old this hotel is Dieter asks her and she informs us that it was established in 1775, which I remark makes it one year older than the United States.

Also there to pay someone a visit is Elena’s younger brother whom I’d previously mistaken for Lara’s boyfriend in a journal entry about Rheinfest (now privatized). I’d taken note of him because he also had a really beautiful girlfriend and I couldn’t believe such a scrawny acne-ridden guy could get such beautiful girlfriends. But apparently it was two separate scrawny acne-ridden guys with two separate beautiful girlfriends, so that cleared that up.

Monday the 27th there is absolutely nothing going on until the evening when Dieter, Ursela and I pay a visit to my grandmother’s sister Fannie because I won’t be around on New Years’ Day when we normally go. She’s happy to see me and we have a nice meal as my mind drifts between attempting and failing to understand the conversation and thinking about the e-mails I’ve been exchanging with Lea.

And today is Tuesday the 28th and there is also nothing going on today, nor will anything noteworthy happen tomorrow. I’ll head back to Hannover on the 30th so I’ll have a night to myself before the New Years’ Eve party on the 31st with Oliver, Lena, and a bunch of her socialist friends. I’m going to invite Lea to come but I assume she already has plans and won’t be able to. But I assume I’ll be able to see her again sometime soon, as she won’t be working at all this month.

Regarding Lea, I’ve learned that she is actually Russian, her family having returned to Germany in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She’s also an avid reader and likes to read true stories and biographies of famous people. She seems very interesting, and while I honestly don’t see any kind of relationship forming (I’m *probably* going to finally go Japan this year after all) it would be nice to make a new friend.

And that’s really all there is to write about for now. This may be my last journal entry of 2010. It’s been a mostly dull year with a few scattered notable events. Seeing Green Day, going to CeBIT, joining the anti-war protest with Lena in Hannover, and of course going back to visit America for the first time in two years. Finally topped off with that excellent weekend in London for the Japan job interview and meeting a couple of potential life-long friends. It wasn’t a wasted year by any means, but hopefully 2011 will be far more interesting.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , , , ,

The Iranians: Supplemental

May 15th, 2010 No comments

There were a few details about my conversation with the Iranians on the last night of Rheinfest that I left out of the entry, and because I consider that encounter to be one of the most significant I’ve yet had in my travels, I feel compelled to record them before they are forever lost to my memory’s slow decay.

Both Mozhgan and Kiyoumars were offered beer by the locals, and she drank one out of courtesy while he had two. It’s not something either of them were used to, her especially, as drinking alcohol is illegal in Iran. Some people make their own alcohol and it’s much stronger and more dangerous than it would be if it were regulated (like drugs are in the U.S.), and anyone caught drinking it goes to prison. They have their own drink which they drink socially, but it doesn’t contain any alcohol and is supposedly actually healthy for you. They were surprised to learn from me that alcohol was also prohibited in America back in the 1920s. They hadn’t known about this.

They both had their hair covered, but that was the extent of their religious attire. She was otherwise in plain-clothes, though in Iran she’d have to wear a burqa in public.

While we were discussing politics, they said how they believed the Shah is a good man, a man of God. The German man who had been sitting with us at the time told them how when the Shah had come to Germany in 1979, students had protested and called him a dictator, and they were both very surprised by that. But they seemed to credit America with giving protection to the Shah. As for the Ayatollah, they believe he’s not a man of God at all, and that the government only pretends to follow Islam.

This interested me because I’ve assumed that the Iranian government actually does consist of religious fundamentalists who want to see Islamic law imposed on the rest of the world. It’s the basis on which we believe it would be so dangerous for Iran to get nuclear weapons—if they’re serious enough about their religion and believe it’s their God-given duty to wipe out Israel, they might actually use their nukes and start WWIII. But this couple doesn’t believe they’re sincere at all about Islam, and they don’t understand why their government keeps pursuing nuclear weapons, especially when it brings about sanctions that only hurt the common people.

The people aren’t terrorists, she insisted. The governments are terrorists—all governments are terrorists. They control the people through fear, and they maintain hostile relationships with other governments to serve their own purposes. As I wrote before, it’s to the mutual advantage of America and Iran (and according to them, to Israel as well) to continue to posture as enemies. As long as the people of each nation believe in an existential threat, they’ll go along with the government.

Finally, I’ve given off the impression that this was a very somber, serious discussion, when in reality it was very light-hearted with lots of smiling and laughter. At one point, Kiyoumars stood me up and put his arm around my shoulder, inviting me to join him in some kind of dance which involved lots of bending of the knees and kicking. It was slightly embarrassing and I totally fucked it up, but we all had a good laugh. It was clear that those two beers went straight to his head, which is to be expected from someone who spent most of his life in a country where drinking one beer could land you in prison.

As for the story of the raven which accompanied them on their journey, I’m too much of a skeptic to simply accept them on their word that it was the same bird every time. She said that at first they also chalked it up to coincidence but over time they came to believe it was protecting them and showing them the way. I think it’s far more likely that it was a different bird each time, and looked similar enough to allow them to believe they were being guided by a spirit. Still, it’s so much more preferable to believe that the bird was a spirit than to dismiss it as coincidence coupled with wishful thinking. Hearing their story made me long for the days when I could accept such things on faith, but those days are over. I’ve accepted the more scientific approach of never accepting extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence. Sadly, when you take that approach to its logical conclusions you wind up with a universe completely devoid of any higher value or deeper significance. Life is empty. There’s no real reason to live—the best you can do is live for a small reasons. Love would be enough of a reason for me to live, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. Instead, I’ve settled for experience. If there’s really nothing more to the universe than particles and forces, then even that is inherently devoid of value, but on nights like that one it almost feels like enough.

Rheinfest Lessons, Part 2: The Iranians

May 13th, 2010 No comments

It’s still the night of the last night of Rheinfest and I’m extremely tired but I have to spend most of tomorrow on the train, so if I don’t write this down now it won’t be nearly as fresh in my mind as it should be.

I learned a lesson from the first half of Rheinfest: I’m still fixated on my lack of a romantic relationship, and when I’m around beautiful women I can’t have that’s still all my mind can think about. I only feel as though I’ve grown out of it because now I can avoid it most of the time. But I learned a much different lesson from the second part of Rheinfest, one much deeper and more important.

Although last night was the third night of Rheinfest, I didn’t end up going. Wednesday was the only good-weather day of the entire week, and I spent a good two hours riding around the little villages on a bicycle, stopping at the Rheinfest tent for only a short time while Dieter and a small group of others (Elena included) were setting things up for the night’s festivities. They would be singing old folk songs that evening, but nobody else wanted to go so I didn’t end up going back at all that night.

Tonight, Thursday—Father’s Day in Germany—would be the last night I would spend at Rheinfest, and we all went together at around 2:30 in the afternoon. For the first two hours or so it was no different from my experience of the first few days. Elena was there, as was Lara and that girl with the boyfriend I’d been focused on during the packing-up operations Sunday evening. As the bands played and I drank my first few beers, I would just keep moving my eyes around the room from girl to girl, attempting to “appreciate without desire” but not quite achieving that goal.

I discovered soon enough that I was sitting right across from the parents of Tanja, one of the girls from the night of the Musik Club Offenburg—one of the two that stuck out most in my memory as being rather beautiful. She was working there too, just like Elena, Lara, and the mystery no-name girl, but occasionally she’d come up to talk to her parents and I’d get to admire her up-close. We made eye contact a few times but there was no indication that she remembered me from that night.

After the first band finished a small group of pre-teen kids got up and did a few numbers, so I got to admire some younger girls as well, though I actually found myself more emotionally affected by the actual songs they played, which included the themes to Jurassic Park and Forrest Gump, two films very close to my heart (for very different reasons). When they finished, it was time for the final band to play—the “Old Timers”—which included Dieter and many of his friends, and they played for a solid four hours with only a few pauses in between.

They’d frequently stop to call attention to some of the people working there or visiting, and at one point the man with the microphone called for a round of applause for the two women at the hefeweizen stand, one of whom was Simone. Well holy shit. I hadn’t noticed, but there she was. The very same Simone who had been the main focus of the Musik Club Offenburg night all those years ago. She definitely looked the full six years older, and much less attractive than I remembered but still with a very nice face. It was surreal for me to consider that there I was in the same tent with both Tanja and Simone, the two most memorable girls from what was undoubtedly one of the most memorable nights of my life nearly six years ago—the night when I learned that I was just as incapable of attracting German girls as I was of attracting American girls. The night when I completely solidified my conviction that There Is No Hope for me in terms of ever being with a woman. For years these two girls have been nothing more than a vivid and significant memory, but they were both there in the flesh tonight.

Several beers in and I was already feeling the urge to die. But then my mind began to take a different turn. The man with the microphone took a pause to recognize a woman who was sitting at a nearby table, this ancient-looking woman with more wrinkles than I’ve ever seen on a human being. They raised their glasses to her and sang her a song, as she was the oldest guest at Rheinfest at the staggering age of 95. For awhile my mind dropped its focus on the unattainable girls and started thinking about this woman and how old she must have been at various points throughout the century. Born in 1915, this woman was my age in 1941. She probably had kids already when the Second World War began, and undoubtedly lost some good friends who died fighting for Hitler. She was already 69 when I was born. If I live to be her age, it’ll be 2079. Unbelievable. And there she was alive and well—not only that but clearly enjoying herself, singing along to all the old folk songs the band was playing.

But the most interesting part was yet to come. After another few songs the man with the microphone brought a couple of dark-skinned people to the stage and asked everyone to welcome these people, an Iranian couple, to Rheinfest. Apparently they’d been traveling all the way from Iran and throughout Europe by bicycle, riding as far north as Denmark and then coming back, stopping by chance in little old Ichenheim during what just happened to be Rheinfest.

For a little while I just glanced at them every now and then out of the corner of my eye, sitting alone at a table near the counter, behind which were Elena and Lara who still got most of my attention—the mystery no-name girl having gone home a short while earlier. But as the moments passed by I began to feel a gradually increasing urge to go up and talk to them. If they’d been traveling throughout Europe they must be able to speak a little English, and how often do I get the chance to speak to genuine Iranian citizens?

So after another couple of beers I did something very uncharacteristic of myself and got up and walked right up to them, waving hello and introducing myself. I asked if they spoke English and the woman said she did. I started off trying to make small-talk and quickly learned that they had nowhere to sleep for the night, and had been offered only to pitch their sleeping bags in the Rheinfest tent after everyone had gone home. The weather being particularly cold and shitty for the middle of May, this was guaranteed to be rather uncomfortable, but apparently they’d run out of money in Denmark where they couldn’t camp and the hotels were ridiculously expensive.

I said I’d ask my family if they had some extra room for them to spend the night with us, and went back and told everyone—except Dieter who was still playing music on the stage—about their situation. They were not too enthusiastic about the idea of opening their doors up to these strangers from Iran, but as I kept talking about them word spread throughout our table that the Iranians were low on money and had no place to stay for the night.

I went back to them and said that we weren’t sure if we had enough room for them to stay with us that night but we’d ask Dieter when he was done playing, and they made it clear how much they appreciated my efforts. The woman said she was very uncomfortable asking other people for charity, but at this point they had no choice. A short while later, one of the men who had been sitting at our table when I explained the situation went up to them and spoke to them himself, apparently wanting to offer some help.

After the next song, that man took the microphone and called upon everyone at the festival to chip in a few euros for our Iranian friends. One of the young girls who’d been playing music earlier went around the tent with a little collection tray and everyone tossed in a few euros like a Church collection plate. Needless to say, this warmed my heart immensely, as I had been the catalyst for getting these people some help.

I remained at my table for a little while, as the man who’d initiated the collection and his wife were now sitting and talking with them, but once the collection tray came back to them I glanced over and made eye contact with the couple, who smiled at me and waved me over.

So I got up and went back to their table, sitting down and joining in the conversation they were having with the German couple, who apparently spoke just enough English to be able to communicate with the woman, who apparently was an English teacher for schoolchildren in Iran although her English was far from perfect. She would translate for her husband, and the German couple seemed to understand well enough, but I could also help out when they couldn’t find the right words.

What followed was hours of fascinating conversation. We spoke about the political situation in Iran and how the government was abusing Islam for its own purposes. They apparently believed in Islam but in a very stripped-down way, accepting that there was a God but not that He favored Muslims over other groups. They believed in a common spirit shared among all human beings, and that people were the most important thing. The husband was apparently also a lover of philosophy, and he was very excited when he found out that was my area of study. Apparently he was very interested in Socrates and Aristotle, but he also recommended someone named Carlos Castaneda whom I’d never heard of before but fully intend to look into.

The German woman, Petra, was equally drawn to these people and remained with us over the hours even as her husband went about the tent talking to others. But he apparently found someone willing to take them in for the night, which was great news. The four of us talked for hours and hours, and I wish I could recall all that was said but what’s more important is the fact that we formed such an intimate connection over this period of time. We made sure to exchange names and information with each other. The woman, Mozhgan (which apparently means “Black Eyelashes” in Farsi) spoke about how their main desire in traveling was to meet other ‘deep’ people from around the world and connect on a human level. The man, Kiyoumars (named after an old Persian king) insisted that this was the most important thing in life.

At one point, he asked me—through his wife’s translation—what made me come up to them in the first place. I replied in all honesty that the moment I saw them I felt that I could learn something from them. Petra said she felt the same thing. He responded by quoting an old Persian poet who wrote about how sometimes when you meet people it’s as though you already know them. He put out his hands for me and I took them, and we looked at each other for a solid minute, smiling at first but then becoming very serious, staring deep into each others’ eyes as though in an effort to see beyond them at what lay in each others’ souls. This moment will live forever in my memory, as I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a connection to a complete stranger as I did then. We were communicating without words, reaching a level of understanding that most people never find with each other even after years of knowing one another. We let go just before our eyes began to tear up—it was an indescribable feeling.

So much was said about so much, including how so many people in our countries misunderstand each other and judge one another by our governments. So many people dismiss all Iranians as terrorists just because of the nuclear ambitions of their government, but these people were a couple of the kindest, most good-hearted people I’ve ever met. One thing they said that surprised me but that made perfect sense after a moment’s thought is that the United States government and the government of Iran were working together. It’s to their mutual advantage to remain enemies on the global stage, as this allows the industries to continue to build weapons and keep the money flowing to the hands of the privileged few while the rest of the people remain mired in hatred and mistrust of one another. Mozhgan said that people need so very little to be happy in life—just a little food to eat and a place to sleep—but that so many people don’t understand this. I completely agreed, adding that too many people—especially in America—see life as a game with winners and losers and the goal is to get as much as possible for yourself. I could tell they shared my core belief that experience is infinitely more valuable than possessions. She said that this experience—the moment we were experiencing right now—was eternal.

The music had long since finished and Dieter and the rest of the family had already gone home by the time I was ready to leave. I hadn’t wanted to leave when they did, so Petra agreed to give me a ride when I was ready. Everyone around us was busy packing up as we were finishing our conversation. Elena herself came by and said something to Petra, and I laughed inside my head—oh yeah, she’s still here. Tanja and the others were long gone. I hadn’t even noticed them go.

Sensing the need to get back to the house so I could write this all down and get a good night’s sleep before the journey back to Hannover tomorrow, I asked Petra to take me home. I bid a fond farewell to Mozhgan and Kiyoumars, with whom I’d exchanged e-mail addresses and a promise to keep in touch. They welcomed me to come visit them in Iran sometime, at which I replied that I thought Americans were not allowed in Iran but they said they could get me the necessary documents. I would love to visit them in Iran, I said, and I sincerely hope that’s something I’ll end up doing one day.

Kiyoumars and I embraced each other before saying goodbye, making sure to fully appreciate the moment of intimate contact that might never come again. Mozhgan took my hand in hers and bid me a fond farewell with the promise to keep in touch and the hope that we may meet again. After that I left, and Petra took me home.

What may have been the most interesting thing they said to me all night had to do with how they ended up there in the first place. I’ve recently been chatting online with some other people who are also philosophically inclined, debating the merits of supernatural beliefs—and I’ve been arguing against the likelihood of God or any deeper metaphysical realities. But Mozhgan said that throughout their whole bicycle trip, a raven had been flying overhead. Whenever they came to a fork in the road and didn’t know which way to go, the raven would be sitting on one of the paths and that was the one they would take. Earlier in the day, that raven had led them down a road which had led them along the Rhein, and when they heard music playing they asked someone what was going on, and that’s how they came to Rheinfest.

Were we really connected on some deeper level? I had certainly felt drawn to them from the moment I saw them, and the fact that I actually went up to them was something I would almost never do. But there we all were, I an American and they two Iranians in the same obscure little German village during their annual spring festival. I was there because it was the place where my grandmother had happened to be born. They were there because a raven had happened to be sitting that morning on a path that led them there. I wouldn’t by any means call that conclusive proof that there’s a deeper nature to life in this world. But it definitely makes me wonder.