Twenty-Eighteen

This was quite something. Thinking about it and going over last year’s events, I’m not quite sure how all of it ever fit into one year. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on a red couch with a piano nearby while the wind is blowing outside, I just had some tea and mini pizzas, and, honestly, this is the best I could wish for.

And, in good old tradition (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017): here goes. —


The months

January

Last year with a treasure hunt in Tuscan vineyards, and the new one starts with a dog by the fireplace, pretty horses, and cold, sunny days. I buy too much olive oil, wine, and too many cookies, and have significant excess baggage. Spending just enough time at home to do the laundry before heading to Asia for the first time in my life. I travel to Hong Kong for work and stroll through the streets in the mornings and at night, trying to grasp the impressiveness of this place. And then, the view from the hill, these narrow streets, the trees and roots everywhere. Have lots of very good food of which I only remember the taste, and the hope to return one day. Travel onward to a Thai island for a few days right after – it had looked so close on the map, and is still a day’s travel away. I get off a bus very tired and suddenly the air is warm and humid, and the beach is only a minute away. Trying to find a helmet to wear while riding a scooter, and even the largest one I can find sits on top of my head (yes, there are ridiculous photos). I ride a scooter for the first time, have the best pineapple I couldn’t even have dreamed of, almost blow up a gas station, climb through a cave, go snorkeling and see incredibly beautiful fish, get horrible sunburn and have to go swimming wearing my “don’t look for love, look for pizza” shirt, spend days with friends at the beach, in the hammock, and in the inflatable pineapple, floating in the water, looking at the star-strewn sky above.

February

I get home and immediately want to leave again. I quit my job and accidentally eat heart-shaped pizza on Valentine’s Day. See a Belle and Sebastian concert and visit the the local animal shelter. Other than that, it’s a pretty uneventful month with very bad weather which doesn’t really matter, I have a lot of memories to process and big change ahead.

March

Spend a lot of time with very good dogs in the park and the forest. Take a trip outside of Berlin and landed in the snow. Realise that, after years of remote work, I don’t own interview-appropriate pants anymore. Meet someone who wants to take a selfie during our first date to commemorate it, in case we last (we don’t). Have my last day at work and start an interview marathon. Rearrange my apartment. We welcome a new dog into a friend’s life.

April, May

I celebrate my birthday a few months late, and it’s the most wonderful night with drinks that taste like salt and pineapple, and beautiful friends in one of my favourite neighbourhood bars. I try to find a good dress. Still looking for a new job, I spend a lot of time preparing for interviews, in interviews, on my way home from interviews. My job search takes me to New York, where I have a lot of good pizza, go to my favourite book shop, finally see MoMA and fantastic exhibitions (Adrian Piper was so good, and I walk into a Monet painting, completely flabbergasted), and meet some of my favourite people.

There’s a gentle feeling of spring in the air and, as always, my stay is too short. A dog moves in with me [eventually, he’d only live with me for a little while, and is now thriving and living a very happy life in another home]. I go to a wedding, nervous and exhausted, get to show a favourite person around a favourite place and have ice cream in the place I used to go to every night, and have drinks and Schnitzel on a boat. I finally sleep, for once, wear a beautiful dress and look fabulous while meeting a lot of people I haven’t seen in a very long time. I briefly wave at what could have been, and return feeling so much better. When I get home, my cacti blossom.

June

Spend two nights by a lake. I’m back to work, and go to San Francisco for a few days for the first time. I’m still trying to understand this place, and how the tech industry has impacted it. I go to SF MoMA, sit by the water for a while, eat a grilled cheese sandwich and fresh yellow cherries, and watch the seagulls. This is the furthest West I’ve ever traveled, and I’m horribly jetlagged for over two weeks.

July

We sit by the canal very far in the West. Back to riding my bike everywhere I go, and it brings me so much joy. I contemplate moving house and end up not doing it. I attend a dinner with a bunch of lovely women, speak at a D&I panel and meet a few very good people. Enjoying a bunch of late-night bike rides home. Spend a lot of time in the park and by the lake.

August

We see the blood moon over the water by Berlin Dome. A lovely friend is visiting, and we sit outside over drinks and watch people pass by, and nudge each other when we spot a good dog. Another D&I panel and meeting old acquaintances again. I take a few trains to get to another wedding, enjoy looking out the window and seeing this familiar landscape pass by; spend the weekend in the countryside, meet goats and horses, I wear a suit and my favourite bowtie, dance until the last song, walk home past 5 in the morning, and sleep in a bed that’s too short and too narrow. The stars are brighter than I’ve seen in a long time. On a whim, I buy an inflatable donut. I spend a week working from a lake house with a few friends, we go for swims in lunch breaks, float across the lake, watch the clouds and waterlilies, find a frog, make barbecue in the backyard, and have dinners on the balcony, almost seeing Mars.

September

I have visitors and get to show them around town; we spend a wonderful weekend together, going out and wandering the parks of Potsdam. I start taking piano lessons again. Spend a few days in New York, meet friends who help me stay awake with pac-man and ghost-shaped dumplings, and another friend and we share a cheese plate. I get myself the most wonderful gift. Another round of apartment rearranging. I get back to a balloon donut and brunch with my best friends and the best dogs. I find the first chestnut this autumn. I find a piano teacher and take my first piano lesson in a very long time, and it’s mind-boggling.

October

I miss New York and good bagels, and while I can’t bring the city to my home, at least I can make bagels. I go to Hamburg for a night to wander around this city again (it’s been too long) and see Ólafur Arnalds at Elbphilharmonie, which is absolutely phenomenal. Take a train back home and perform my first stand-up comedy bit; needless to say*, I’m killing it. (*Absolutely not needless, I was incredibly nervous and anxious, which is the whole reason I even did this in the first place; but that’s another story for another time.) I see Ólafur Arnalds once more, this time in Berlin. The leaves are turning yellow and we marvel at the trees by the lake. I get sweet treats from a fabulous new bakery in my neighbourhood. Friends host a Halloween party and I get to dress up and turn myself into the Pizza Witch that I’ve always been.

November

Many walks in the park, as long as there’s daylight. There’s less and less light, and it’s really wearing me out this time. I spend a particularly dark and rainy afternoon in one of my favourite museums in town and probably trying to see three exhibitions in one day was a little too much. Speak at a local meet-up. The sun is out for a few days and I hope it never ends (it does). Go see a musical and end up closing my favourite bar with the staff; have gin truffles for the first time, and it turns out they’re even better when you have them with extra gin on the side.

December

Spend the weekends with friends. Make a new batch of pizza dough. Go to New York once more, meet up with friends and finally make it out of Manhattan, have a little pizza, buy a few books, go to a social justice holiday market (and it’s as fantastic as it sounds), stand by the water looking at the skyline, and wear the bowtie again. Get home, jetlagged. Spend a few days with friends and dogs in a house in the countryside and it’s marvelous. Learn what it’s like to really fall in love with a dog. I meet calves and watch dogs playing and staring out the window, we go for long walks, make cookies, cook dinners, get milk from a farmer, have homemade gelato for dessert, unfortunately have no panettone, and I finally get to play card games again.


2018 in numbers

(I like numbers)

  • Traveled around 82,934 km: returned from Italy, went to Hong Kong, Thailand, New York, Vienna, San Francisco, Stuttgart, two villages by lakes near Berlin, Hamburg, a village by the Baltic Sea, and another village near Denmark,
  • spoke at two conferences, one of them my first management conference, hooray!
  • wrote not much, really (and as always, I wish it was more),
  • posted 540 Tweets,
  • way too many Instagram stories,
  • took more than 11,033 photos,
  • read 21 books, plus 12 Mio. words in Pocket (they say that’s 163 books, whatever that means),
  • Bought way too many books. Finally got a book shelf.
  • listened to music for a lot (my last.fm counts 14,867 songs),
  • went to see live: Belle and Sebastian, Ólafur Arnalds (twice), Welcome to Hell (a musical),
  • Quit my job. Found and started another one (yay!!).
  • made 68 contributions on GitHub,
  • accidentally quit drinking coffee regularly; probably got to around 50 cups over the year,
  • Listened to 4,839 songs and over 72,000 hours of music
  • The 11 songs I listened to the most this year:
    • Keaton Henson – Beekeeper (made it into this list again)
    • Blondie – Call me (it’s not a song, it’s a mood)
    • Santigold – Disparate Youth
    • Portugal. The Man – Feel it still
    • Django Django – Marble Skies
    • The New Pornographers – The Bleeding Heart Show
    • Sequoyah Tiger – Sissi
    • Flunk – Only You (Yuleboard Live Version)
    • Chromatics – I’m on Fire
    • Cosby – Everlong
    • Fruit Bats – Humbug Mountain Song

Bits and pieces

  • Learnings: Realised how hard it is to make friends as an adult (still working on it, but I got very lucky a few times this year).
  • Best decisions: Starting a new job. Not moving house. Taking piano lessons again. Not dating anymore (for now, sigh).
  • Endings & beginnings: a bunch.
  • Change: Went through some big personal changes, which I’m really excited about. I’m, probably unsurprisingly, turning another year older next year, and still grappling with it; also still thinking a lot about this thread, and what it means to be the age that I am.
  • People: many good ones.
  • The day I ran out of fucks to give: January 29

2019

Doing more of the things I greatly enjoy and am not doing enough of: Meeting friends, meeting new people, making new friends; protesting; dancing; practicing piano more frequently and learning exciting new pieces; cooking better food for myself; baking more. I’d like more dogs in my life, more nights out, more park time, more good books, more photography, more ice cream, more learning, more floating on lakes, looking up into the sky.

The biggest lesson I learned from my piano practice over the last months is: even on good days, you’ll rarely play perfectly, and that’s okay. But don’t let it keep you, don’t restart – when you fail, what matters most is that you find a way to recover, maybe even with grace (or at least a little dignity), find a way get back on track, and keep going.

And on this note: happy 2019 to you. May it be a good year for you.

Eleven rainbows: Melbourne in Winter 2017

This is a diary of my time in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, containing musings, thoughts, notes written down in June and July 2017. Edited in August 2017 and February 2018. The number of rainbows is true and something else; everything else is as true as you need it to be. 


Day 1

A bird on a daring flight crashes from the sky, down, down, down, approaching us, this crowd waiting at these traffic lights by the library. Only right before hitting the ground right in front of us, in this very last fraction of a second, it comes to a halt, seems to pause in the air, before it rises back into the sky again. I’m in awe, I almost want to applaud the performance (even though I despise birds). I look around me to find out if anyone else has seen what I just saw there. Only one man and me noticed. His and my eyes meet and lock eye contact for a second. We both nod, knowingly, turn our heads and go our ways.

This is how it begins.

I’m overcaffeinated and underloved and most of my misery stems from distances and men. (This might as well become the title of my autobiography one day.) It’s been six and a half months since my last visit and I’ve been counting. Now, I’m back here to find out what has changed since, but much more interested in what hasn’t.

I’m so tired. Just so, so tired all the time. I stay in bed as long as I can, refusing to open the heavy brown curtains that block the overcast sky from my sight. I spend the mornings, the evenings and late nights working, because time zones are not my friend these days, and everyone I work with is so far away. In between, I face fundamental questions about the work I do, where I do it, and why. A friend talks me through a Visa processes for Australia and I’m tired.

Does Superman take superpower naps?

My dreams are mostly nightmares these days. Meanwhile, I learn that Berlin is having a few summery days, with temperatures around 35°C. Much later, I will learn that this time already came to a close after four days, and this was all of summer that Berlin got that year. And much, much later I will find out that this will be my year without a summer.

I’m so tired, and so cold. It’s cold, everywhere and always. When I’m outside, I hear the people here talk about winter like it meant something. Sometimes, when we’re out together, you’d spot dogs in the streets for me; the bouncy dogs look so happy when they’re walking. Walking by myself, I’m too tired to try. As I stroll past the library and cross paths with a seagull (we ignore each other; until today, it’s unclear whether it was polite or passive-aggressive ignorance), I watch a group of 50 blue suits collectively cross the street on the other side. All suits are the same shade of dark blue. It’s so close to #06224f. Right next to me, someone holds a phone to their ear, listening with eyes closed; they open their eyes and look straight ahead saying: “Take everything, nothing matters to me.”

A child smiles at me. I think about what matters and still wait for the traffic lights. Jaywalking is practiced on a regular basis here, even during traffic as heavy as this one right now, so it is very surprising that so many people have gathered here and stayed for so long that it allows for a glimpse into their lives, or this version of their lives that’s right here, waiting as much as I am, or even more.

I find an “I heart NYC” sticker on a lamppost. I do heart NYC as well, and I’d love to go back. It’s funny how, no matter where we are, we dream of being somewhere else. Maybe it’s this casual unfulfilled thought of escapism, the inner sticker on a lamppost, that keeps us from running wild right where we are. It’s not always the light that makes a city special; sometimes it’s only the façades that create reflections.


Day 4

The weather is bad, but at least it’s authentic. These are days for velvety coffee and dreams of the sun. I admire the dip section in the supermarket and am very happy about the opportunity to finally try French Onion dip. As I tell someone about it (very proudly), they break into laughter and tell me that this has been absolutely out since the 90s, and I tell them that it’s still absolutely en vogue in my life.

In front of the museum, there’s a white van parked close to a wall, doors slid open. There’s only one woman inside of it. She sits in the middle of three rows of passenger seats, close to the door, her chin leaning on her arms that are resting on the headrest of the seat in front of her. She looks out into a distance that’s not there.

In the first exhibition, I see: a baby donkey; a dolphin; a woman dressed in a long red skirt, forming a bridge with her body; a baby’s and a grown-up’s feet; a collection of circles and paper balls; the question of all questions. As I walk out, they’re playing my favourite Elton John song.

In the second exhibition, I see colourful paintings of unspeakable things, pieces of leather and branches, sculptures of ghosts throwing shade, and so much art that was shaped by violence, racism, abuse, and colonialism.

On my way out of the museum, a museum guard named George tells me stories of Aschaffenburg and Fiji. When I’m back on my way in the rain, it takes me a while to wrap my head around the beauty of this encounter. I cross a bridge, turn around, the sun comes out, I take a photo of the dramatic clouds and it’s only on my tiny camera display that I notice the huge, half-faded rainbow. Seconds later, it fades. Leaning on the bridge railing, I keep staring in this general direction, waiting for the rainbow to come back.

It never will.

The crows are flying towards the sunset, into a sky full of dark grey clouds set against a bright yellow and blue backdrop. I watch the sunset and I care more about the way it’s reflected in the building next door. At night, I watch other people do Karaoke. I love Karaoke, I even maintain a list of songs I’d sing during Karaoke, and I always want to sing during Karaoke (kind of). But I never do: all of the songs I enjoy singing will kill the last sign of good mood in a party crowd. So I only watch and listen. With every new 90s song that’s on, I actually listen to the lyrics for the first time in my life, and this way, with every new 90s song that’s on, another childhood memory of mine gets destroyed forever. Here’s one advantage to growing up listening to pop music while not speaking English.


Day 8

On my way out of the city, I stand under a sign saying “Hail tram here”, and I look up what “hail” means, just to be sure. And as the tram approaches, for the first time in my life, a I hail a tram. The tram stops and I get on. Inside the tram, there’s an old man carrying a lion balloon.

As I get off the tram, a child gets on the first step leading up into the tram, stops on the first step, looks back over their shoulders, says “bye bye park!” at the park behind them as if it were the best and most exciting thing in the world. And it probably is.

A palm leaf strokes my hair. I meet a woman with an incredibly fluffy dog and she tells me the dog’s name is Ewok. There’s an amusement park with a rollercoaster and a ferris wheel and I wonder why I know the word ferris wheel. I think about what the loneliness of riding a ferris wheel by oneself feels like. The palm leaves keep sizzling in the wind. It might as well be spring. It might as well be good.

There’s an ice skating area under palm trees and a sign that says LOVE right next to a fortune teller’s tent. The palm trees are wearing fairy lights, and it might as well be spring. And then I stand on the green area between two roads and for the first time in my life, I see two wild, light pink parrots sit in the grass just a few steps away from me. I keep walking down the road, and then there’s the sea, that’s so calm and quiet today under this overly shiny sky. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to walk down a beach without looking for shells and stones. I sit down on the beach and look straight ahead, narrowing my eyes because the sunlight is so sunny and light, and then I drop there, into the sand, right where I stand, in my winter coat and sweater, my boots, my tiredness, and my emotional exhaustion, and I just stay right were I am and look straight ahead. A container ship lingers on the horizon at ten o’clock. And oh, the waves.

On a tram back into the city, I sit by the window. A drunk man squeezes himself on the seat next to me, then onto me, and blows his drunk breath into my face. I say excuse me, get up and head over to a different seat on the other side of the carriage, a seat that allows me to keep an eye on him. As I sit down, I think about apologies.

I see a man sitting on a wall hug a backpack and lightly rock it as if it were the most wonderful, precious thing in the world. As the tram keeps moving, I see a tiny dog stick its head out of the backpack, and I finally understand. Someone on the tram keeps saying “last stop” over and over. We’re still very far away from the last stop of this tram, but maybe it means something different for them. Also on this tram: a woman looking at food photos on Facebook; a man making a phone call and taking a photo of a photo on his second phone. Outside: an advertisement to “earn your black belt in 18 months”; a mattress shelter under a bridge. I love trams for their ability to gently drive us past each other’s lives, while giving us this smooth transition between where we were and where we want to go.

I get off the train and suddenly find myself whistling along to a Vengaboys song that’s playing in a store I walk past. I meet a dog again that I last saw six months ago. His name is Doc. I take a picture of your window as the sun is hitting it.

My fingertips keep tracing the shape of a snail shell in my pocket. I walk past a drawing saying “Colour the dream”.


Day 13

Standing at a bus stop at a major crossroads, trucks blasting past me, I think about my life choices. But then I’m on a bus out of the city and as we drive past houses, trees, houses, I keep wondering where the city actually ends. The grass is glowing in the milky light of this day and I can sense, hear, feel your affection when we’re close; it’s so hard when we’re apart. I walk past a garden center, their slogan: Our reputation is growing.

A child walks out of an enclosed part of the park asking their parents: “why are there no snakes?” One parent responds, “because it’s too cold.” The child responds, a disapproving look on their face: “but I’m bored!”

I wonder about the plastic that’s wrapped around the trees and it’s only days later that I learn it has to do with possums. Someone walks past me looking at their phone, which has the picture of another person as a home screen. I always enjoy seeing this: it must mean this person has someone in their life who means that much to them.

There’s a girl throwing red leaves into the air; a giant walnut sculpture; a bush with leaves that smell very familiar, but I don’t know the origin of the familiarity; a child looking at a sculpture, wearing a jacket with golden dots; frames with yarn woven through them into beautiful shapes;

I’m drawn to a tree carrying tiny orange fruit and white blossoms. I pick up one of the fruit from the ground and hold it in my hands. I want to know what it is, and I want to eat it, but I don’t dare. The more I see of all this, the more I want to show you what my life was like many, many years ago.

On the other side of the park, I find a giant apple tree. I stand under it and smell the sweetness of the overripe fruit. I close my eyes and dream of falling asleep and three weeks later, I would wake up again and I would be in a different life. Time goes by much more slowly when I’m alone.

Someone writes me that they’re living vicariously through me, which is funny because, while this is so exceptional, I’m trying so very hard to find a sense of normality in all of this. And most times, I fail horribly. I fail myself, and I fail us.

It’s late and dark as I head out to go home. Out the door, right, down, half-left to open the door, left, right, down the road. I’m incredibly sad. On the next corner, the keyboarder that always plays here has set up shop again. As I approach, I hear some chords. A group of people is standing around them, all filming on phones that they’re holding up like trophies. I get closer and as I hear the first sweet bites of a melody, the rest of my gut drops right to the spot where it hurts so much, and I want to break down and cry. I keep walking, past the shops that are now closed for once but are still blasting music onto the streets, through groups of people chatting, and even as I’m way further down the street, I still hear the keyboarder play.

It’s a night for a half moon, lying on its back.


Day 17

The coffee place is still at the same place where it was back then. I enter, the brick walls are still white, the sign in the back corner is still there, I walk up to the counter, and there’s someone I know. They look up, look at me, with something in their eyes that says they recognise me. Just a little later, it turns out that it’s T., someone I met six months ago three times for very brief interactions over coffee, – they still know my name, they still remember my story; and I remember theirs. It’s so funny how sometimes people just see us, and we see them.

I walk up towards the market. There’s a parking space on the left hand side of it. The last time I was at this parking lot was last summer, the same time I met T., when it was more than 35°C hot and I sat out there in one of the few bits of shade, leaning against a red brick wall, sending WhatsApp messages back and forth, waiting for someone to go to sleep and a phone call between a Wednesday and a Tuesday on the other fucking side of the world, sixteen hours difference, finally picking up the phone and staying there for four and a half hours, only moving to follow the shade, curling up as much as I could, making myself invisible to everyone passing by. The connection kept dropping, and on the other side of the line, there was someone very far away, much too far away, and I tried to hold it all together. I couldn’t, and we ended up crying together. A day later, I was on stage to give a conference talk. Life is a funny thing, but many times, just a fucking sad thing.

A man rides past the coffee shop on a BMX bike, with a transparent glitter balloon attached to it. Somewhere in the room, hanging from the ceiling, is the question how you want to be remembered.


Day 22

There’s construction work happening outside of my building. A construction worker wearing a hard hat (I still am amazed by the beauty of the term “hard hat”) stops traffic so I can cross the road. The sign in his hand says “drive slow” on one side, and “stop” on the other side. I’d love to have this sign. (And a hard hat.)

I watch a dog run away, pet a cat, and have my portrait taken and eggs and conversations about bureaucracy. Meanwhile, there’s an outrage on the internet about something that I’ve never even heard of. In a very small tree, a very large bird is trying to sit comfortably. A young woman asks me to help her navigate. She seems nervous and insecure, she tells me that she’s from a small city on the other side of the country (which also means the other side of the fucking continent), and that it’s her first time here. I try to calm her down and we figure out directions together. I watch her walk away with her suitcase. She reminds me of myself, a long time ago.

A woman with a guitar standing at a corner singing very sad songs makes me very melancholic. (I have a soft spot for women singing sad songs.)

At a feminist theater play, one of the parts contains a fantastic bit about proposals, which contains the punchline “Let’s blow up the local Woolie’s together”, which I will heavily re-use in the weeks to follow. ”I am not sorry about the watermelon.” – ”It looked like wastelands where we thought we were building mountains.” I go back home feeling like I could achieve anything. On the way home, I stop for a bit to look over Yarra river at night and realise that I don’t care about the city if you’re not in it. A busker has a sign saying “Rock’n’Roll ain’t noise pollution”. I fall asleep over the idea of a beach.


Day 27

I have a theory of a secret net of book stores world wide which are connected through a door hidden behind the poetry section. (The theory may or may not be connected to my love of books, my admiration for good poetry, and my deep hatred towards distance.) There are at least three versions of every one of my stories, and sometimes that’s eating me from the inside.

I cross a wild road like I knew what I was doing, and I think that’s actually true. I take a walk back to where we began, and I wish I could go back there in time. I’m really starting to know my way around here. I realise that it’s because home is where you are, I can’t help but see this place as home.

Everywhere I go, I ask myself could I imagine? Could I imagine living here? At the same time, I don’t know what home is anymore. The birds are singing songs I don’t know.

For years, I’ve now been thinking in English. And I’m starting to lose vocabulary in my native language, this language that I’ve nourished and broadened and deepened with so much care and dedication. At the same time, I’m lacking words, so many words in this language that’s dominating my mind. And it’s frustrating me. I don’t have names for the things around me anymore. I only resort to categories: palm tree; christmas tree; tree; thing. Flower. Bird. I am back to painting my language with very broad brush strokes. I miss the ability to have accurate words at hand when I need them, where I need them. Instead, I have to search, look all over the place, sift through drawers in my head to find them (and, more often than not, I fail). All of a sudden, as I feel it fading, I feel much more connected to my native language and my home than I’ve felt in more than a decade.

Everything in my brain needs to be adjusted. Everything is like what I’m used to, but it’s still not the same. Everything is similar, but still off by about three to twenty-eight point seven percent. It is like when you’ve just woken up and everything looks a bit hazy, foggy, in weird colours, and you have to blink a few times and rub your eyes and it slowly adjusts. I carry this feeling with me all the time. An incomplete list of what feels off by about twenty-eight point seven percent: the birds, the trees, the rose hips, snakes in gardens, daffodils blooming in July, the intense greenness of the grass, wild orchids, the brownness of the river, the red brown of the soil, the traffic, “kiwi fruit” (you just don’t say “there are kiwis on the counter”), the backyards with their walls, the architecture, the cricket grounds, the footy, the undergrowth, the bushes, the way the forests smell.

No matter how often I rub my eyes, it’s just still off.


Day 33

On a train down the coast, I can’t stop starring out the window, admiring those great open skies over wetlands, the reflections of light, the fields, the trees.

As we arrive, a rainbow is here already. Finally, a place to start and finish a thought, and a place to take endless pictures of the sea.

The next morning, I wake up to a garden view and the sun. We walk down to the beach and I want to open my eyes as wide as I can, to capture all this beautiful light. I look at your eyes, overlooking the open water. The tide is high, and we need to run from the waves. Getting a sense of connectedness with nature has always been fundamental in my life, and I seem to have lost it. I think back to the time when I tried to photograph exactly what you can see when you look at the dunes at midday in sunlight and half-close your eyes.

There’s this one moment when the sea holds its breath.

I take too many pictures of the sea.

As I walk to our place by myself, I smile at the dogs and their people don’t smile back. The soft smell of freshly cut grass in the air. I walk up a hill that people only seem to drive up with cars, and I’m starting to get a sense of how lonely I could feel out here. The bushes look soft in the late afternoon sun.

There’s a rectangle shaped spot of light on the wall, like a second window into a sunnier world. The days go by so fast, and I realise that I only have very few nights left. I’ve known it all along, but now, the realisation sets in: you can’t stock up on anything that really matters.

I begin a thought about belonging and have to drop it, before it makes me too sad. I’m not ready to leave you, nor to get back to my life as I’ve known it so far. The promise of another summer doesn’t make the current winter less sad. I always think that it just can’t feel closer to being over. Then, another second goes by. This was a day of five rainbows.

A moon is out, shining bright over the bay. I want to go down to the beach tonight and walk straight into the sea.

The next morning, we need to head out early. The sky is blue, and a double rainbow is stretching across the sky. Our bus departs in an hour.


Epilogue (Day 34/35)

This is the time when I can’t go anywhere without thinking that it’s the last time. I had more than five weeks to prepare for this, and I didn’t. The pain hits me right as my last airplane touches the ground. And here I am, a body that has traveled maximal distance, waiting for a suitcase at luggage belt. As I open my suitcase, I take out the donut I bought. Twenty-eight hours and a lifetime ago. And this is how it ends.

We were beautiful before this went down
We were beautiful before the years came
And turned it upside down
We were beautiful before we got wise
We were beautiful with sky and blanket laying low


These and more photos are also on Flickr.

January 2018

Found

  • The dog
  • A better understanding
  • Shells
  • Stones
  • Sticks
  • Not what I was looking for

Wrote

Overheard or said

  • “I accidentally hit him with my pineapple.”
  • “Are you fighting the coconut again?”

Read

A few links to articles I enjoyed reading.

Was

The best pictures

  • The sun shining a bright light onto the forest on the hill, with a backdrop of a very dark sky.
  • The hills in twilight.
  • A sky so full of stars.
  • Opening the curtains and seeing the sunlight through the olive trees.
  • Sitting on a wall, having gelato, watching the sun set over the hill.
  • The view of the city from the top of the hill.
  • Piña Colada on the beach.
  • The jungle, after coming out of the cave.
  • The fire show that ended before it’d really begun.
  • The time I almost accidentally blew up a gas station.
  • The lighthouse.
  • Butterflies, bigger than the palms of my hands.
  • Standing on the boat, the wind blowing the wind into our faces.
  • The rainbow-coloured fish. The corals. And the turquoise sea.
  • The time we got into a fight with a monkey gang.
  • The time someone™? fed the monkey with papaya peel.
  • The time a monkey peed on my shirt.
  • The dinner in the restaurant that was likely not actually a restaurant.
  • Floating in the warm ocean water in the dark, looking at the lights on the beach, the moon and my favourite constellation above my head.

Did

  • Take a horse-fie.
  • Find out that there’s a version of my face without dark under-eye circles.
  • Lock myself out of my suitcase [sic], three hours before a long-haul flight.
  • Forget my wallet at home.
  • Build a LEGO tower to represent myself (it was made of Duplo, had a turtle as foundation, and included a polar bear and an airplane carrying a tiger, a dolphin, and angry superwoman).
  • Drive a scooter for the first time
  • Have the best pineapple of my life
  • Wear a helmet (and we’ll never talk about the ordeal of finding one again; also, let’s all pray that the pictures of that helmet, that was mostly on top of (instead of on) my head, never end up on the internet)
  • Snorkel.
  • Swim through a cave
  • Save a guy from the jungle (not kidding)
  • Make decisions
  • Climb a mountain

Had

  • The most wonderful New Year’s eve with a treasure hunt, outstanding food, and lovely people.
  • The best pasta in the world, cooked by the 87-year-old Nonna.
  • An anxiety attack over the thought of my vacation ending.
  • A very dirty car.
  • A good cry while driving to the airport.
  • Oversized luggage because too many edible souvenirs.
  • A breakdown on a Monday morning.
  • Drinks with dog.
  • Six nights at home.
  • Tim Tams.
  • Tepache.
  • Chinese cucumber salad for life.
  • Thai food every day.
  • Pineapple and fresh coconut all day every day.
  • An in-depth conversation about dragon fruit.
  • Thai pancakes. And sticky rice with Mango!
  • A good conversation about caring, and what happens if you don’t.
  • Another good cry while driving to the airport.
  • The worst cold in combination with a long-haul flight.

Books I finished

  • (having quite a few in progress is also important though!)

Heard

  • The wind in the olive trees.
  • The city.
  • Tongue twisters in three languages.
  • The waves.
  • The honking scooters.
  • The strange birds.
  • The loudest crickets alive.
  • The humming of the machines.

Watched

  • This is Us: Season 1&2 (FINALLY)
  • Grace and Frankie: Season 4
  • Rita: Season 4

Listened to

Thought about

  • How things end

A brightness, a view, a poem: Porto in Winter 2017

Musings, thoughts, music, notes. Written down over the course of a few days in December 2016 and January 2017, while meandering through Porto, Portugal.


Prologue

I get home to a freezing cold flat at 9pm. Two hours, some laundry, dinner, a phone call, one unpacked and another packed bag later, I go to bed.
Six hours later, I am standing in a queue at the airport.
Eight hours later, I see Paris at night from a window seat on a plane.
Nine hours after going to bed, I see fog crawling through light green Portuguese valleys like spilled milk.
Ten hours later, I see a blue sky and the sun shining a golden light onto the ocean.
Leave my world just black and white, snatch the sun out of the sky. For the only colour in my life is the memory of you and I.

And this is how it all begins again.


Day 1: The picture

If you knew what to look for when you look at me, you’d know exactly what is actually happening. I fool myself into believing that this is just a passing feeling.

I have coffee and Pastéis de Nata, and believe me when I say that everything I said about pastry another time was a blatant lie. I take a train and think of the last time I took a train on a holiday. It was in another life, at the time I was backpacking in SardiniaAnd when we kissed I felt the deep blue sky.

As I’m heading to a supermarket to get some groceries, I feel the tiredness crawling up my bones. It’s 2pm local time, and by now, I’ve been up for 11 hours. I pass a busker who has a voice like Tom Waits. The supermarket smells like chlorine and dried fish. As per my failure to learn Portuguese, I try to combine some Spanish and French and pronounce it in such way that I feel like it might pass as Portuguese. – It doesn’t.

As I stand in front of the cheese shelf, a very (really very) short elderly lady approaches me and asks me something. At first, I don’t understand what she wants from me – but then she points up the shelf and says something about A vaca que ri, and then I understand – A vaca que ri is La vache qui rit, which is The laughing cow, which can be found on the top shelf and which she wants. Two, actually. I get it for her, and she’s so happy about, and I get so angry at myself for not being able to say more than you’re welcome to her, and try and make sure she understands when I attempt gestures that mean to say my pleasure.

I can at least in some way make my lack of language skills up to her later when she loses 20€ at checkout, and I find them under her shoe and get them back to her. But, once more, she’s so excited, and I don’t even understand it, nor can I say anything nice back.

I go into a bakery and buy random pastry items; later on, half of them will turn out to be sweet, and I’ll find out that the rest is filled with either ham, or cheese, or both. As I go back to my place, I walk past a wall on which someone has sprayed E urgente pensar o amor, It is urgent to think of love. Over the next days, I will walk past many, many more of these.

A vida e super.

Right before sunset, seagulls circulate above my rooftop terrace. Oranges on a tree across the yard are glowing in the low light. A dog watches a seagull fly by, a not even remotely interested look on his face.

The photographer is not in the picture. That’s one of the things I most love and despise about photography, and about being a photographer (when travelling alone, I sometimes rather despise it).

We tend to forget that the photographer even exists, because all we see is what they saw, and the parts of it which they want us to see.

The photographer is never in the picture, but always is.

All alone, all alone, in the darkness of the night.


Day 2: The fire

While, over the last days in another country, I saw several Santas running across (a different) town, now I see Santas climbing up walls. Today only, I saw six of them. I’m fueled up and high, a man among guys.

A vida e dura para quem e mole. — Life is hard for who is soft.

At the farmers’ market, I walk past piles of fruit, buckets full of olives in many shades of green and black; past flowers, honey, all things made of cork, vegetables. I buy some bread and water at a very sweet elderly woman’s place. After she gives me my change, she smiles at me and tells me that I’m very beautiful. I tell her that she’s very beautiful (she is). I may not speak much Portuguese, but that much I understand (and can say).

The January cherries bloom / burn not in you, yet not in you.

I walk past fish, past meat, and past a guy making obscene gestures at me. The sun is setting.

I sit down on a square, where a bunch of teenagers with string instruments are sitting on the floor.

I have some pastry, watch the sunset, walk up to a church and walk on.

Down a different road, I pass a bunch of men hanging out on the sidewalk in front of a garage. As I look inside, I see, in the following order:

  • a crowd control barrier,
  • straw on th floor,
  • a small shack,
  • Joseph, Maria, Baby Jesus, a goat, donkey, some more animal figures,
  • a Christmas tree –
  • and two fire engines.

The men on the sidewalk were firemen, the garage is the fire department, and they haven’t yet gotten rid of the nativity scene they set up.


Day 3: The view

For someone who’s afraid of birds, this is not an ideal place to be.

I cross the bridge, walk up a small hill, and sit down on a bench to enjoy the view.

One minute later, a man approaches me, tells me how pretty I was in three languages, and after I tell him in two languages that I’m not interested in a conversation, he goes on harassing me. I get up and walk away from him and the fucking view. These are the times when one can’t even enjoy a fucking view for fucking five minutes without someone feeling entitled to one’s attention. Among many other things, cis male entitlement can also fuck right off in 2017.

In the middle of a square, there’s a giant Christmas tree ball which looks like a meteor that crashed down from space right into this square (and left a giant crater). The body as a subconscious, and desire takes place somewhere, everywhere.

Later this day, I will accidentally buy a ticket for a concert that starts 45 minutes later, get locked inside (!) my apartment and not manage to get out for 20 minutes, almost give up just before I get help, run through the night like I never ran before, out-run what a map app estimated as my time of arrival by 50%, get there just when the concert starts, walk past 500 people because my seat is in the middle of the front row, sit down, and only then realise I ended up at the local music school’s annual end-of-year concert.

Three hours and a much more relaxed way home later, I will be very happy I went there.

Shouldn’t I be okay out here on my own?


Day 4: The signal

I remember how good it is for me to do some exercises in the morning before I start my day. How my body feels more set, and how I feel more together; more prepared to take on what the day will bring. As I have my morning coffee on the square by the fountain, I just sit there and wonder if I’ve finally achieved some inner calm, or if that’s just another level of tiredness (again). You let your feet run wild. Time has come as we all oh, go down.

While I was chasing the sun in Helsinki, now I’m looking for shade. Aside from that, what I’m looking for hasn’t changed.

I accidentally run into a herd of peacocks, which, of course, reminds me of the conversation I had with a couple of friends a few weeks back, and reminds me that it’s not called a herd in English, but a muster, ostentation, or pride of peacocks. Really, English? — Really.

In the park, I walk between trees, stand on the tips of my toes to see the river behind a wall. There are so many rose bushes, and a perfect rose lying on the floor; I wonder why it dropped. I have so much to say, but much more that’s not for everyone. Remember the heart, the one that beats beneath you.

All my plans, like ice cream vans in the summer, they go by with hope still in my eyes.

I remember a question I saw a long, long time ago on a dating platform about which way one prefers to show affection: Touch, actions, gifts, or words; pick one. All the air is glitter. In a pastry shop by a graveyard, I get into a conversation with an old man who works there. He says you’re one of the nicest Germans I’ve ever met, and I’m not sure what to make of that, and then he teaches me how to say Happy New Year in Portuguese.

There are so many more things that I would have wanted to know; so much from your past that would help me understand so much of my today (and possibly future). But we never got to talk. Midnight where we used to dance underneath the ugly halogen lamps. Oh, it all went away so fast.

After almost seven years in Berlin, I have mastered the art of eating Döner. But will eight days in Portugal be enough for me to master the art of eating Pastéis de Nata without looking like I just got into a puff pastry storm? — Stay tuned.

One of my all-time favourite lines from a book is from one of my favourite authors who once wrote Ich bin beschädigt, ich habe Zeit — I am damaged, I have time. I read this line for the first time many, many years ago, and it has come back to me many times ever since.

It all breaks at the moment you float down the stream and if I won’t be by the shore, I’ll wait for you inside the sea.

A butcher is standing in the door to his shop talking to a woman. Her dog is a little bit too excited to see the butcher. This is the day of very random songs being stuck in my head with no reason. In order of appearance: Rocking around the Christmas Tree, Only You, Walking on Sunshine, Last Christmas, Bang a Gong (Get it on), Are you gonna be my girl. Com a insistencia, vem o triunfo. — With insistence comes the triumph.

Two dogs in the middle of a barking battle. More street harassment along all ways (and I only won’t mention it further over the notes for the next days because why even). Excuse me Mr I’ve got other things to do than to stand here listening to you.

Sometimes I try to parse the signals that my body is sending me like they were a foreign language.

Nobody here that keeps you in the shade and ever owned you.


Day 5: The music

I find Paredes que falam – walls that speak. It took me a long time to understand that it’s possible to trust myself, while still staying able to question my own work, beliefs, and view of the world. All our running is a crawl, and burns for us right through the fall.

A busker sitting on the street side that I walk past is singing Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A few minutes later, I return. He has stopped singing, stood up, and is tracing a sign at a storefront. The sign says últimos dias – last days.

A tag on a wall says I bleed.

I look at your silhouette in the mirror and I wonder about your dreams last night.

I get this feeling like it all could happen, that’s why I’m leaving you for the moment.

Sonho que um verso meu tem claridade
Para encher todo o mundo! E que deleita
Mesmo aqueles que morrem de saudade!
Mesmo os de alma profunda e insatisfeita!

I dream that in just one of my lines is a brightness
enough to fill the whole world! Delighting,
even those whose hearts are sore and broken!
Even those with profound and yearning souls!

(Florbela Espanca, excerpt from “Vanity”)

No matter where I go, there is one thing that is already there, even before I arrive. I have reached a point now where I can laugh about it and almost mean it.


Day 6: The dance

On another day, in another time, there’s a van driving a giant pink heart around town, and it makes me equally happy and sad. The noctuous heart beats loudest, the old and steady and content.

I rarely find comfort in the company of strangers. There is a dividing line cutting through the will and the design.

The thing with scenic outposts is that people easily forget that there’s often so much more beauty of a different kind in the opposite direction. – And forget to even take one look that way.

A woman passes me. She’s walking a black dog and asking a seagull what’s going on. The air in the tunnel smells of fried fish and piss. A couple of pigeons are feasting on a can of pringles that someone tossed near a garbage can. A tiny puppy, only a few months old: runs across a square, stops, looks at me, and starts following me.

Everything that you’re going down, you will go back up eventually. You will have to go back up again eventually.

An old man feeding birds. I wonder if, when I’m old, I’ll become an old lady who feeds birds (despite my current fear of them). And how much shorter I’ll be by then. In a museum, I find a portrait of a woman that has the same facial expression like me when looking at my unfiltered mentions on the website www dot twitter dot com. I get ice cream.

In another museum, I look at photos of a woman and a man, trying to hold each other, but also not. The last piece in the exhibition is a film of a printer that prints photos of the couple, which are transported on a conveyor belt, and shred to pieces at the end of it. The hurricanes, they always come. We won’t stay here too long.

And then there’s always the question if we’re dancing or just walking around each other. And the question who follows whom. And then, how do two people even find balance, when they’re each only tiptoeing on one foot? And when you hit the pause button, does anything really pause, or don’t we at least have to keep breathing?

How I wish you there running to me silently.

Back outside, I take my camera out of my backpack again, and accidentally drop the backpack. It lands in spit. I don’t have anything on me to clean it. Now I’m carrying someone’s spit around town. The rotten air is stuck in the narrow streets today. I have menstrual cramps from hell.

Much of my last year has been about getting used to silence in a very, very different way; it went much better than I had feared. You will stay with us.

If I’m honest, all I want to do is become stronger. I’m moving on. I find a lamppost that has two stickers on it: one saying j’existe, another one with je suis partout written on it. If you show willingness to get out of people’s way, they sometimes misunderstand that as an invitation to get into your way.

Even if some things go as good as they possibly can, it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be tough as fuck anyway. Let me just tell you this one thing.

Even when you’re very certain, be careful when you tell yourself that a certain time in your life is over and never coming back. Among all life events, such times are the shoulder patches, and they’re going to get another revival within the next decade.

I feel sad about the many books I can’t read in their original language they were written in. I know how carefully I choose each word I use, how often I compare or weigh options from my vocabulary against each other. I’d like to be able to see the options a writer originally chose.

(But then, I don’t see many new languages in my near future, since I already know I’ll have too much to do this year; and it’s only January 02. Thinking of this date makes me think of someone’s birthday. It’s a thought without emotion, except for traces of a feeling of tragedy.)

I go out on the balcony and look at the streets at night.

As I return to my room, what I see is a bed that’s covered in several books spread across it, a laptop quietly playing some calm music, a phone, a water bottle (no, autocorrect, it’s not a water buffalo; although a water buffalo in my bed sounds cool, but may also be frightening), half a dozen pillows, a few pens, and some notebooks. And somewhere in the middle, there’s still a tiny crater with the shape of my body. I look at it and think to myself that this is, unintentionally, probably a very accurate picture; though not a picture of what it seems to be.

I get along swell by my goddamn self.

I count and I guess I said about 70 words today; it might have been less.


Day 7: The art

A tourist guide approaches me and asks need a boat?, and I want to say yes. The sky is cloudy, but the sun is shining, and every once in a while, it comes out for a bit. I sit down by the water and look at the waves, the sparkles of light on the water. Em qué esás a pensar? The light has lost its warmth, and its ability to warm. A black pigeon crosses the street.

I think back to last year and some things I did, other things I had to do, some of which I was anxious about for weeks. I need more islands. I need less extremes, and more islands.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed how some things start at different levels nowadays. Less casual, more serious.

There’s one piece of street art that I keep walking past, and that always fascinates me. On the side, it says:

Minh’alma de sonhar-te anda perdida meus olhos andam cegos de te ver não és sequer razão do meu viver pois que tu és já toda a minha vida! – My soul is dreaming you are lost, my eyes are blind to see you, you are not even the reason for my living, because you are already my whole life.  — Florbela Espanca

I take a photo it on my first night.

It is only a few days after my return home that I find the picture and translate the words on the side. That’s when I realise I read these words somewhere else – the poem they’re from is in one of the anthologies I bought during my stay.

I go out onto the terrace and look onto the streets. An almost romantic scene: down the street to my left, a group of young people is laughing and the LEDs in front of the stores are blinking like it’s a competition. A few people with pizza boxes are crossing the square to my right, lightened by the remaining Christmas decorations. Straight ahead, the big spotlight on the crane is producing light like daylight, and my uterus is cramping like there’s no tomorrow.

An almost romantic moment. And the question is, what am I getting myself into? And how about you?

I realise that, if there’s anything that happened in these past weeks, it’s that I’m suddenly very comfortable with having nothing to keep my hands busy, and nothing in front of my face – neither camera nor book nor notebook nor display (except for the glasses, these I’ll keep on).

It doesn’t matter so much where we’re going, as long as we’re enjoying the journey. (But then, how much and how far can you travel, do you want to travel.)

No matter how many streets I wander, I keep seeing you; you’re in the way this one person holds their coffee, in someone else’s hair, or the way their shirt is lightly blowing in the wind around their body. No matter where I go, I keep seeing you. There’s no way to tell you that, and there never will be, because things are what they are now, and they will stay like this forever. (I don’t believe in forever; but there’s only so much one person’s beliefs can do.)

It’s time to take my own / take my own advice.

I’m very happy I got to make my first mobile typing experiences on a phone with keys the size of my fingernails and T9. I would like proper keys and T9 back. Kids, those were days.

Not all the things that you gain can be, can be possessed.


Day 8: The ride

When memories fade, it’s funny to see which bits stick in the end. And the remaining pieces that remind me of you, where they are, what they look like, and why, are for another story and another time.

I love when the music I’m listening to functions as an actual soundtrack: when the music gets to the most epic point exactly when a plane takes off; when people around me unknowingly walk exactly to the beat; when the song gets faster as the train speeds up, and suddenly, the sea is right there.

I finish up some writing, then look out of the train — on villages, small houses, olive trees, lakes. Mini forests, citrus trees, gardens; beach houses, wide gardens full of fruit trees; pines; reed.

I fall in love so easily: with one line in a song, even if just a few seconds long; with a few words in a poem, a sentence in a book, a line in a piece, a detail in a painting. Every one of them I want to hold so close and store deep inside of me, and never let them go. Falling in love with art is easy, it’s unconditional, it’s fast, it doesn’t require lots of work (except for finding what to fall in love with; but that’s usually the bigger problem anyway). Falling in love with art is amazing.

Villages composed of a few houses between forests. Industrial complexes, steam rising from chimneys. Orange trees, orange trees everywhere. Flooded acres. Tiny rivers. Maybe, one day, I’ll be a person who wants a garden with an orange tree. A ceramics factory in a red brick building. A graveyard. Lemon trees. Dried, brown corn plants on a field. Dark grey sheep.

No matter how hard we try, there’s always so much that gets lost along the way – words that drop in calls, gestures that are too fast for cameras to pick up, facial expressions that get lost when the video call connection slows down; meaning that doesn’t come across in written form, intentions that remain unclear, feelings that are never expressed, thoughts that aren’t understood, ideas that remain unspoken, thoughts that are forgotten.

I sometimes wonder if there’s a place where all of these lost pieces are collected, stored, waiting for someone to pick them up – waiting for someone to collect all these lost details, nuances, meanings, and give them a new place to live elsewhere. I write an incomplete list of items that belonged to me and someone else, and that I’d like to pick up again, just in case such a place exists.

I don’t know yet what I’d do once I’d picked them up. The least I’d try would be to re-deliver them. But with some of them, that won’t work, since the pieces are the same, but the space in which they were transmitted in the first place doesn’t exist anymore. I might put them into tiny frames and put them up on my walls. Collages of what we never knew we lost, but are lucky to have found again

Slim white birch trees. Dark green bushes close to the ground, lit by bits of sunlight. Light travels fast, sound travels fast (though slower) and brains process fast. Still, all we see, hear, notice is past. Like all on this train ride, and like I didn’t know how much I wanted you until I looked back.

White, brown, black horses. Sheep. I’m not a fan of demands to “live in the present”, because they ignore so much, and often come from such a privileged position. But I wonder what it takes to notice more, see more, appreciate more.

White and dark brown sheep in a field of dried corn. Red soil. A white goat under an orange tree in a back yard.

Over the past weeks, I slowly decreased my walking pace. I stopped walking in a way that would almost qualify as running, and started actually walking. Meandering.

The train goes from blue skies and sun to fog and sun to blue skies to fog… for the next hour.

We approach a hill full of dark trees above a valley in which the air is still clear, and fog is rolling down the hill like it was poured onto it from the sky – while the sun is still lighting the whole scenery.

One of the things I admired most in Porto where the colours and shapes of things. The vibrance.

As the airplane takes off, as we get past the dense fog and clouds, the lights of the cities under us are orange and white dots on a black rug of clouds. Night has fallen and all the stars are coming out. A few minutes later, I see my favourite constellation. It’s the same constellation which I saw for the last time many, many hours further south, under a very different sky.

And this is how it ends.


All photos are also on Flickr.