Flickr

A couple years ago, my computer got a virus and I ended up losing everything I had saved. Luckily I backed a lot of it up in my Yahoo email acct., so it wasn’t a complete loss. Since I’ve been in Berlin, I’ve taken hundreds of photos. For fear of getting a virus and losing them, I have just backed (some of) them up via Flickr. The pics there so far are from my first 3 weeks in Berlin. I’m gonna be downloading more soon (downloading pics is about as fun as laying mulch), but here’s the link to what’s there now:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/berolina1132/

Ich bin Berolina1132

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A Poorman’s Tom Jones

I know someone is worth writing about when, like a hawk eyeing its prey, I become suddenly entranced. I study carefully their mannerisms and their features, listen to the way they talk, the inflections in their voices. I devour them with my fascination, but I do it quite covertly.

Last night, I was drinking beer with two friends at a bar called the Blarney in the Kreuzberg borough of Berlin. The European soccer championships were on, and we were sitting at a short mahogany table watching England against Italy. The first half of the game was more exciting than the second. Although there was no scoring in the game at all. Not until the penalty shots anyway. Italy, who were clearly the better team ended up winning the shoot-out 4-2. But before that, a little after the game started, an Englishman strolled into the bar. I’d seen him many times before, and he fascinates me every time. He’s about fifty-seven years old. He looks a little like Tom Jones, and when he came in he was wearing a backpack, a gray sleeveless shirt with sweatstains under his armpits, faded blue jeans with no belt holding them up. His jeans seemed to really accentuate his flat, square-shaped ass. His gray sleeveless shirt seemed to accentuate his arms, which were kind of flabby, but a little muscular still. My guess was that he’d just come from the gym on his bike.

I watched him get a beer from the bar and move to one of the back tables. He put his backpack under the table and sat down facing the TV. I was under the TV on one side, so every time I turned to the left I could see him. He had short, curlyish brownish hair that I think he must’ve dyed recently because there was no gray in it this time. His eyes were blue, sensuously lidded (bedroom eyes), his nose aquiline, cheeks somewhat collapsed with age. You could tell he was once quite handsome. Probably a ladies man. No, he was a ladies man, but his best days and his best conquests were behind him. He was still on the hunt though.

He was like an old baseball player in his twilight years. Still a professional, still able to hit a pinch-hit home run now and again. But his legs were stiff and his back and shoulders were stiff. And his reflexes weren’t what they used to be. And the clock was hammering away.

I stole a glance his way.

“Cheer up, Mike,” said my British friend Dave from across the table. I think he took my looking away from the game to mean the game was boring me. But I wasn’t bored at all. If fact, I felt pretty good. I had someone interesting to observe. My prey.

At halftime, half the people in the bar went outside for cigarettes. I went out there. The Tom Jones replica went out there. We both stood on the cobblestones under a little yellow streetlamp where the lip of the sidewalk comes up and started talking.

I’d met him several times before, but alas, he didn’t remember me. Probably because I wasn’t a woman. His prey. Some people only remember something if it titillates their senses.

We started about the game, about American football and baseball. He just didn’t get baseball, he said. The game was too slow, he said. It reminded him of cricket.

As for American football, there were just too many breaks. There was really only a few minutes of action in the game, he said, whereas soccer (or footie, as he called it) was non-stop action.

We talked then about travel in Europe and a few other things, but the whole time I got the impression his mind was elsewhere. He kind of had this languid expression on his face with his bedroom eyes kind of seeing something unknown and beyond, and I suspected he was either thinking about some woman in the bar (although there were very few there last night), or he was looking at me longing to be my age again (40), studying my features, my hair, noticing my height and build, wondering about the “action” I get, the “conquests” I’ve had, wondering if I was noticing he was still handsome.

In a word, his mind far away. And I doubted he’d remember our discussion later. And I was sure next time he saw me he wouldn’t remember me. Because I did nothing in the way of titillating his senses.

We stubbed out our cigarettes, nodded at each other, smiled, and headed back inside for the second half.

There was no scoring, as I said, and then the shoot out came.

England scored first. And then they scored again. I took a heavy pull from my beer on the second goal and glanced back and saw him cheering, his arms over his head so you could see his armpits and the two sweatstains were still there. And he was smiling. His bedroom eyes were smiling too.

But I was pretty sure his mind was elsewhere. And I was sure he wouldn’t remember any of this.

The Sun Also Rises

I have read a lot of Hemingway, but never The Sun Also Rises. I just finshed it, and loved it. I think it’s his best novel. I kept wondering throughout how he was going to handle the scenes in the bullfighting ring. When he finally got to them, in the end, he didn’t let down. He wrote them with more fluidity and grace and truth and music (not lyrical music, subtextual music) than I ever could’ve imagined. Perfect! Probably the best chapter in any novel I’ve ever read. If not, damn close.

Pedro Romero had the greatness. He loved bullfighting, and I think he loved the bulls, and I think he loved Brett. Everything of which he could control the locality he did in front of her all that afternoon. Never once did he look up. He made it stronger that way, and he did it for himself, too, as well as for her. Because he did not look up to ask if it pleased he did it for all for himself inside, and it strengthened him, and yet he did it for her, too. But he did not do it for her at any loss to himself. He gained by it all through the afternoon.

I’m now reading The Red and the Black, by Stendhal. It’s good so far, but after Hem, it might be a come-down. Stendhal (and we soon shall see) might’ve been too military and too hard and serious for his own good. Just like Solzhenitsyn was too Gulag for his own good, not enough writer. No one wrote better about a Russian prison than Dostoyevsky in House of the Dead. But my favorite Russian of all, my favorite writer of all is Turgenev, who by the way, Hemingway happens to (admiringly) mention in The Sun Also Rises.

R**

In looking around Berlin for people who interest me enough to write about, I have found R***. I am a regular at a bar in Kreuzberg called Travolta. He stops by every night with his rat.

His sales pitch was simple. He’d approach you with the rat on his shoulder, mutter something in half-coherent German, seize the rat suddenly and offer it up just a little under your nose. Then with his other hand he’d raise his newspapers up and observe with his dead fish eyes the plane and shape and topography of your face, your reaction or lack thereof. Some people would just look away, some would pay him to leave, sometimes there would be a great commotion and much laughter. But Robert would never laugh. He’d never even smile or show even traces of a smile. He’d go on murmuring with his dead-pan stare, gazing through and probably into some murky unknown nocturnes of your soul, his cold dead fish right eye flinching ever so slightly, as if there was a piece of dust in it.

Neue Nationalgalerie

The Neue Nationalgalerie at the Kulturforum is a museum for modern art in Berlin. I went there today, and I must say, with the exception of a bird sculpture and a painting by Picasso (who I’ve always loved), and two paintings by Francis Bacon (one of my favorite 20th century painters), I was thoroughly unimpressed. “Felt cheated” would be a more accurate term, although it wasn’t too bad since I have a yearly pass to the museums around here.

I just can’t get into modern art. Blank canvases with some squiggly lines splashed on. A blown out hole that beeps if you get too close to it. Some squares behind some ovals behind some parabolas. A lot of the paintings I saw today tried to pass themselves off as Cubism, Expressionism, the Bauhaus or Surrealism. And you could tell the artists really wanted you to believe there was some profound thought behind the crap. But, in the end, if you put a dwarf on stilts, he’s still a dwarf.

Everything there paled compared to the true and deep and sublime creations of, say, Egon Schiele. Or Delacroix. Or Van Gogh. Or Cézanne. Or Rembrandt (whose house I’ve been to in Amsterdam). Or even some of the lesser known lesser talented 19th century German painters (German painting isn’t much, by the way – the German is better when he sticks to music and poetry and sculpture and beer drinking).

I know I’m not saying anything new here, but I’ve always felt this way: when a painting looks like something any old plumber or goat farmer or lawnmower mechanic could muster up, it’s probably just not that good. There was a Warhol there, for instance. Warhol has always been hit or miss for me, mostly miss. When I think of the Factory I think of a warehouse where a buncha vainglorious posers got together. And posed. Anyway, this was a large photo of an old electric chair with a smoothly-worn leather seat. Apparently the photo was taken in the late 60s when the death penalty debate was raging in New York. I studied it over for a while, thought about people dying in electric chairs, thought about the politics of people dying in electric chairs, remembered a story Turgenev wrote about a public hanging, and tried to get something else out of it. I couldn’t. Sue me. It was like squeezing blood, as they say, out of a turnip. I didn’t think it belonged in a museum. On TV or on the internet, maybe. Plastered around a telephone pole would be even better.

There’s a pink folding chair on my balcony, and looking at it now, I am reminded of what W.S. Burroughs once (correctly) said.

“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it “creative observation.”

The back of my pink chair is cracked. That’s why it’s been retired to my balcony. Looking at it now, I think about some of the writing I’ve done in it. I started my novel in it. I think about all the hours I spent crouched over on it, getting a sore back, pecking out words.
I think about some of the different people who’ve sat on it. They’re like dreams now, as all people are when they’re not around.

If anything, I can say this.
Warhol got me to think about my pink folding chair.
And that’s something.
I guess.

But…

The message I get from the Moderns is that ANYTHING can be art, if you look at ANYTHING the right way. And that’s true. But I don’t go to a museum to see ANYTHING. I can see ANYTHING ANYWHERE, but it’s not ANYWHERE you can stumble on a Van Gogh. Or a Delacroix. Or a Cézanne. Or what just so happened to be one of the 2 or 3 good mistakes housed in the Neue Nationalgalerie. To wit, Francis Bacon: