Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Aqaba, Jordan glitters in the Dead Sea. The water looks like oil bubbling in a frying pan. A faint row of silver lights hovers in the mountains above the city, like an alien space ship too afraid to land. 

Hebrew words are being spoke in a sing-songy intonation. Someone is having a playful fight. Light family drama, from what I can tell. A comedy of (no) manners.

The electric hum of a passing golf cart interrupts the conversation. Resort patrons must be taken to their rooms in the utmost of comfort. A cat darts from corner to corner, rubbing herself against anything she can find, as if modeling. A woman coughs. 

My hands stings from chlorine. I'm reminded of all of the pools in which I've lounged today, trying to not think about what I'm leaving and what's going to happen next. If my thoughts listened to the scent, they would take an anti-depressant. This is the scent of waterslides, of manufactured aquatic entertainment, of leisure industries.

There's a thought about work, delete it. Press the space bar and get to the next sentence. Drink some water, feel how cold it is in your warm body. Dab a finger in the rich chocolate spread you bought instead of Nutella -- which had the import tax. Maybe read Haaretz. No, don't read Haaretz.

Pretend the sights around you are actually teaching you something. Egyptian border is a mile away, that's inherently interesting. How many cars go through every day? What kind of security is there? Isn't it strange to even think about Egypt?  

Today, a camel came into your life. That was weird, huh? Just waltzed in with her cartoonishly large eyelashes and let you sit on her like it was nbd. She was cool with being your slow-moving car for 10 minutes. She had to scratch herself because the flies LOVE camel skin, so it kind of felt like driving a car during an earthquake, but still. Range Rovers can't scale mountains the way a camel can.  

Then you sat in a bedouin tent and drank a Coke. Dabbed a warm floppy pita in a bowl of zatar and olive oil. Tried to make small talk with a man wearing a turban, but he was busy playing with his iPhone 5. The waiter was shy, maybe gay? You stared at the oriental rugs on the walls, trying to not be distracted by the sounds of traffic. The store was half-indoors, half roof-less. Just you, a couch, a road, some pita and a coke. 

The headache is back. The heartburn will come. The coughing has started. The allergies will strike. But right now it's peaceful anyway. Jordan's still shimmering. The vast expanse of Saudi Arabia is barely out of your field of vision. Warm air from the Sinai is here. If you know what's good for you, you'll breathe it. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

5 Things You Instantly Miss About Berlin The Moment You Leave

Try to go somewhere else and not miss these things...

5. The Nightlife

In Berlin, what you do at night is almost always more exciting than what you do during the day. Maybe all you did today was buy a brötchen with cheese and download some new tracks you found on Pitchfork. Ho hum. But at night, you're suddenly in a new club you've never been to before, talking to a performance artist from Majorca and her ballet-dancing Finnish friend who just arrived last night and who wants to stay out until dawn. Are you going to turn them down? Of course not! So you're up until 6am dancing in a warehouse together. That's an "average" night out if you really commit yourself. 

However, in most other cities, an average night out involves paying a massive coverage charge so that you can listen to sub par remixes of the latest Britney Spears song, sip an $8 sugary cocktail and watch lots of obnoxious people you've seen before attempting to hit on one another. You need a back-up friend at all times just so you have someone to laugh with about how shitty and stupid everything is. It's not transcendent, you don't learn about a new culture and you're probably back home before the reruns of the nightly news.

4. The Anti-Consumerism

I'm not saying Berlin is some Soviet backwater, but the advertising is less pervasive here than in most other places I've lived. Rarely am I walking around the city feeling like I need to buy something ASAP so I can feel better about myself. Most of the ads I see on the U-Bahn or on billboards around the city are for things like "Learning English" or "Building a new kitchen" or aren't really ads at all but rather public service announcements about diversity or how to treat people who are living with HIV. German TV is so bad that I never watch it, but when I do the ads are usually for beer.  Compare this to the States and it's like two distinctly different planets. Whenever I go home, I'm suddenly like "maaaaaybe I need a smartphone that can work underwater", and "what's with these at-home soda makers?" and "Wait, JC Penny has cute clothes for dudes all of a sudden? FUCK I'M POOR."

The worst offender, however, isn't the States; It's London. Never have I ever encountered so many florid descriptions of average things. A tuna sandwich at a grocery store in London is a free-range whole chunk albacore sandwich on watercress salad wrapped in whole-grain sweet oat bread. Then there's a little poem on the back about how happy it will make you feel about life. 

The constant talk about money, the desire to have more of it, and the feeling that you're not going to really be happy until you can buy a blahblahblah is what makes me want to fly home to Berlin after just a few days in most other places.

Berlin is so anti-capitalistic that Levi's made their anarchistic ads there -- even filming protest scenes from the May Day demos in Kreuzberg to show off how youthful and carefree their brand is. Everything comes full-circle. Lovely, ain't it?

3. The People

Berliners = greatest smorgasbord of laid-back individualists I've ever encountered. Okay so they're not all super motivated all the time and it can sometimes feel like none of your lives are really going anywhere, but you're learning so much about other people that you just gotta shut up and enjoy the ride. Who knew you would fall in love with a gaggle of Swedish students, a Dutch party promoter, a Finnish actress and a cackling Ukranian? Because there's no real dominant culture to fit into, people tend to stay true to who they are, which makes the diversity of personalities all the more striking.  On the downside, some people are flaky and a few get lost in the party scene forever.

2. The Public Transportation

I used to spend more than an hour and a half on public transportation every day in Berlin, shuttling back and forth between job and apartment. Thing is, I didn't mind it. The train was almost always on time, the seat cradled my bum and people were usually quiet enough so that I could read something engrossing on my Kindle without interruption. An hour long movable office space? Don't mind if I do! I'm not even counting the number of lines which criss-cross the city, taking you to every single place you could ever want to go at almost any hour of the day. Without public transport, Berlin would cease to function because, let's face it, most us are too poor to buy a car.

Even in other cities with excellent transportation systems, it's still almost impossible to get to some obscure address at 2am on a Tuesday. I laugh at you, MTA. BART can eat my butt. Seattle's Sound Transit? Don't be outlandish...you can take me to the airport, Nordstrom and Columbia City. 

Being able to get almost everywhere at any given moment means you can never really turn down a Facebook invite because the event is too far away. In this way, Berlin is like a good mother, forcing you to socialize with people you don't know so you can become a better human. 

1. Galleries, Museums, Concerts, Film Festivals, Etc., Etc., Etc..

On any given year, Berlin receives close to a billion dollars in arts subsidies from the German government. 400 million goes to the Berlinale and Museum Island, 100 million goes to Berlin's three opera houses, 100 million to the state theaters,100 million to independent arts organizations and 120 million is doled out by the districts of the city to individual artistic initiatives. This is an insane amount of money, and you can feel it everywhere you go in the city. There's nothing BUT art. Because there's a significant amount of money to go around, artists aren't fighting with each other over who gets that one public art grant. You meet more working artists than you've ever met in your life. Musicians, painters, actors, directors, dancers, performance artists, whatever. Drizzly outside? Go to a museum! Need a break from your own life? Watch some mesmerizing modern dance. Going stir crazy? Spend all weekend at art markets.

I know I've missed a whole bunch of things, so let me know...what do YOU miss the most when you leave Berlin?

Photo credits:
Kater Holzig -- www.die-unschuld-in-person.blogspot.com
screaming partygoers -- www.berlin-artparasites.com
BVG tram -- www.wikipedia.org
Brandenburger Tor with Metropolis film -- NYTimes.com