Monday, February 11, 2008

scary dentists?

First time at the new dentist. Arrived half an hour late, a basement of an apartment house, her son working in the reception. It was no problem, no one was waiting. Lying down on the chair with my head resting against her large grandmothers bosom as she hummed softly and cleaned my teeth.
It took no more than 10 minutes but for the first time I didn’t resent paying 6x my hourly wages for it.
I was half expecting to get a hug as I left and a little bit of pocket money thrust into my palm.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Beautiful Berlin morning. Rainy London lunch. Icy night in Iceland.

January 16th 2008 1.30am
The pilot has just announced that we are just passing over Manchester. 26 years and 1 month ago, almost to the hour, I was born there. It’s a funny feeling.
I am also listening to an interview with Tom Waits after his album Real Gone came out. While I write I don’t hear every word said, but this I heard just now.
Anything you can think of is true.
It is one of my favourite lines from his lyrics and it makes me happy that he quotes it.
Anything you can think of is true.

Like my day for example. This journey. A100 years ago someone might have never believed this could be possible.

Berlin said goodbye to me, sun shining, it felt almost like spring. Out of the train window on my way to the airport everything looked beautiful.
I just about made it in time. As the lady at the check-in announced that they were open for 5 more minutes I let down my 22.2 kg rucksack with relief and banged my lip on the desk. No charge for overweight. As I rushed away from the security the officers called after me, holding up the boarding pass I had left on the conveyor belt. As I thanked them and ran off again I could hear them making jokes and laughing.

In London I just about missed the shuttle-bus from the airport to the train station. Couldn’t really run very fast with the whale of a bag on my back, just reaching the bus stop as the bus pulled away. But the bus driver noticed and stopped opened the doors and smiled while I lugged my stuff on board gratefully.

After lunch with my grandmother and it didn’t really feel like I woke up in another country, or that I would go to sleep in yet another.

Then, the middle of rush hour on the London underground, hoping I would be more timely for my next check in.
Luckily, no delays.No cue at check in. No charge for overweight.
Then, a looooooong delay. Engineers working on the airplane, trying to figure out the problem. Announcement that we might have to spend the night at the airport. 20 minutes later we are boarding. Tired and apologetic looking staff. Still friendly. No one seemed too annoyed. The flight was scheduled for 9 pm. I looked at my watch as the plane let go of the ground. Midnight. Exactly. Almost makes it worth the delay. 00.00 is a much more magical and interesting moment to take off than 21.00.

In Reykjavík everything is covered with snow. I got home at 5am, almost 24 hours after I woke up in Berlin.

It is good to be back.
I forgot how magical the winter mornings here can be. 9am. I have been up for 2 hours. Been swimming. Walked on ice to the swimming pool. Swallowed and hidden by the mist and steam. Come out and walk through the parking lot. Still the black of night and everything so still. I can see the cars driving. But mute. There is a special silence. Like the snow and the darkness swallow all sound.

Louis the 14th owned 413 beds. This is what Tom Waits said.
Do you know how many beds you have slept in?

Friday, January 4, 2008


A nice evening turned sour. Turned into not such a great evening. Embarrassed good-bye. 5 o’clock in the morning. Come out of an apartment building. Whatever. A little drama. Forget about it. Not too far from home luckily. Unlock bicycle and walk to the gate. Try to open, realise that it is locked. Walk back to door. It is also locked. No idea which doorbell. Not a clue. No mobile telephone. No window to throw stones at. Walk back to gate. Locked. Other gate. Locked. Search for other exit. Nothing. No other way out, nor in.
Stuck in a courtyard. In December. No one around. Great.
Slight deja vu.
Contemplate going to sleep in the courtyard. Rather not. Walk around for a little while and come to a conclusion. There are two options.
1. Climb a tall cement wall topped with masses of barbed wire. Hope to live.
2. Try to squeeze through the bars of the front gate. Hope not to get stuck.
Neither can be done with a bicycle so lock that again. Consider the options. Reflect. Bars in gate seem too close. Climbing in high heals and a dress does not seem like a good idea either. Luckily sober. Still, squeezing seems like the more feasible option, perhaps embarrassing but definitely less dangerous.
Walk back to gate. Examine. There is only one possibility. On the right, down by the street. All the others are definitely to tight. Bend down, try to put legs through first. No way. Head first. Ok. Down to shoulders. Ok. Breasts. Ok. Down to waist. Ok hips… bum… hmmm… not so easy. Not so easy to go back either. Ok. Push. Squeeze. Push. Bum is too big. Fuck. No. Have to push. It’s soft flesh, must be able to squeeeeeeeeze…
Stand up. Dust off. Feel a bit like a hero. What is the address? Walk back and look at building. Write down house number. Pick up bicycle tomorrow. Sigh. Start walking slowly away. Someone is coming. Did he see? It’s not illegal to break out of a house. Is it? This is Germany, who knows! He walks to the gate, takes out keys, opens it.
Run back before he closes it again: 'Oh, excuse me, entschuldigen! My bicycle.. Ich habe mein Fahrrad… ummmm… kan Ich...?'
Man nods, pushes gate open, walks to other gate and opens it too. Leaves both open and goes inside. Unlock bicycle. No hurry. No need for squeezing this time. Walk back through gate. Cycle home in a little bit of rain.

That was 4 weeks ago, and it was the last stupid situation I got myself into that year.
During my almost 2 months in Berlin everything else has been wonderful. And to be honest, even that was kind of wonderful… in an embarrassing, momentarily unhappy kind of way, it’s true, but still, It makes me kind of happy to think about it.
Now I have 10 days left of my stay here and I look forward to every one of them.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

‘Brauchen Sie Vorhänge?’

... who can chose their own curtains?

I was standing by the counter at the charity shop, searching my bag for my money when someone tapped on my shoulder and said something I didn’t understand. I looked up at the lady shop assistant standing in front of me and replied: ‘Entschuldigen..?’ She repeated herself and held up a bundle of old bedding with an abstract floral pattern. I tried to explain that I was ok, had found all that I wanted, but she repeated herself again and spoke more slowly this time: ‘Vorhänge… Brauchen Sie Vorhänge?’ I saw her eyes flicker down at the rather odd assortment of clothes I was wearing that day and then back at my face and with a kind smile continued ‘…für Weihnachten.’ Now I understood. She was asking if I had any curtains and wanted to give me the fabric… for Christmas. I didn’t particularly want the fabric but it seemed simpler to accept than to start trying to explain something in German and her generosity and kindness was very moving. Besides, I can always find use for old fabric. I thanked her and opened my purse to pay for my other items, only to realise that I had less money on me than I thought. I checked my other purse and all my pockets but all I found were a few coins, not much more than 1. I looked at the lady apologetically and asked if she could keep the things for me while I popped to the bank for some cash, I would be back in a minute. Another knowing smile. It was of course no problem. When I returned and paid the 6 for my pullover and handbag she stuffed a bag full of tablecloths and odd pieces of fabrics and handed to me, all smiling and jolly. We both giggled and wished each other a happy Christmas and as I walked out with my bags, waving and thanking her once again, it occurred to me that her ‘Happy Christmas’ actually meant something. This young Turkish woman has probably made a few people’s Christmases at least a little bit happier.

The event reminded me of something that came up a little while ago in a discussion at dinner with our downstairs neighbours.
We were talking about how hard it is to make a living from acting, and art in general, and why it has to be like that, that someone working in business or banking earns so much more than artists, who often have to work for free and even support themselves with extra jobs to be able to do the work they want.
Why on earth there is such an imbalance between classes and why people accept that a football player can get more in a day than a teacher in a month is a whole other discussion I am not going to get into now.

However, the way I see it, is that we always have a choice. Whether it is fair or not, or makes sense to us, we know that there are certain jobs that pay more than others, and that in most cases the jobs that pay most have to do with business or commerce where there is a high stress level and little room for creativity and making mistakes. If we really want to make a lot of money, those are the kind of jobs we should be aiming for.
If on the other hand we want to work as artists we should know that we might spend a lot of time being broke.
Art is a necessary and vital, but it is also a privilege. Or at least I feel privileged to be able to have a job which I enjoy so much and where I can be so free. Like for many other people in my profession this sometimes means that I don’t get paid for my work and some people don’t think that is fair. But that is my choice. If I need or want something I can’t afford from working as an artist I might have to work on jobs I don’t enjoy as much for a while. It’s all a matter of value.
How many hours do I have to work in order to be able to buy a new coat that I really like, or a cup of coffee every morning, or a pint of beer every night, or a massage, or a subscription to the swimming pool, or a packet of cigarettes, or organic groceries, or a meal out, or a holiday abroad, or a dentists appointment, or quality time with my family and friends, or going to the theatre, or two weeks working on something I find exciting and interesting?

So instead of being fixated on the things we can’t have or afford, look at it this way. You can spend all your time working for money to buy things, or you can spend that same money on time to do the things that you want.
I think it’s important for us to remember that there is nothing that says that we should be able to have all of those things at once. Chose. And be grateful because not everyone is given the luxury of this choice.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

‘Oh, so you knew each other before you came to Berlin?’

I admit it is not something I imagined would happen, or that I thought it would be a particularly good idea to live with someone you had been practically married to. And I realise that for the people that shuddered at the thought of having enormous posters of an ex-boyfriend all over town this might sound pretty awful.
I’m not going to go into how it came about that we both happened to be in Berlin in the same time or why we ended up sharing a flat. It wasn’t planned. But here we are. Víkingur and Eva. Sharing two rooms and a kitchen with a bathtub.

We sometimes get funny looks or raised eyebrows when we meet people here and it comes out that, yes we did know each other back in Iceland. In fact, we used to be a couple… for four and a half years actually… but broke up a year and a half ago and now are just good friends and flatmates.

‘ahaaaa… I see’
wink wink and a smirk, even a little nod.
Are you thinking what they are thinking?

In many ways I think this is the perfect living arrangement.
We know each other inside out, have done it all before and we know each other’s habits, peculiarities and insecurities. We have run into our conflicts and know how to avoid them or work with them. We had a long enough time together to have developed a liking for a lot of the same things. We are a bit like an old couple like that, with our ways and rutines and roles.
Víkingur sleeps in the living room where we both also work during the day. I sleep in the bedroom where be both keep our clothes. When we go to bed we can chat through the half open door. In the morning we wake each other up and eat breakfast together. If we feel like a cuddle or snuggle we can have that too and I admit it is very nice to be able to do that sometimes. But that is all it is and neither of us tries to turn it into anything else. If we were not over the sexual tension or excitement or curiosity, that often comes up between flatmates or close friends I don’t know if this would be possible.

Of course it is funny in some ways and I know it is unusual. Like sitting and talking on skype with webcams to my mother, or to Víkingur’s children and ex-wife.
But to be absoluely honest, it really does feel like the most natural thing in the world. It's great!
And why shouldn’t it work out when we had a great relationship that worked out for almost five years? We were the closest friends then, and we still can be now, just in a different way.

And if we want to have lovers?
Well, it might be better if we hang out at their place anyway…

Monday, November 26, 2007

how does it make you feel?

I was sitting in the Berlin underground, or the U-Bahn, with my new friend and co-worker, Jing, on our way to a cheap fabric outlet in Spandau. We had been lucky enough to get seats and a few people were standing. Sitting across the isle from me was a lady. I guessed she was in her 60’s, although her clothes; leggings, a purple bomber jacket and furry boots, might have looked more in place on a slightly younger person. She was a little plump round her hips with blond hair that she wore up and a weary. She wore no make up. Suddenly, a man, obviously not of German origin, started playing a violin in one of the isles, close to where we were sitting. He played beautifully and almost everyone started reaching into their pockets and purses before he had even finished a song. When he walked around with a little paper cup collecting contributions from us, most people smiled and some had even applauded. Although the lady opposite didn’t look like she didn’t have a lot of money she gave some to the violinist and thanked him dearly, taking his hands in hers. Her face had brightened up when she smiled and I noticed how pretty she actually was, and cold imagine how she had once been very beautiful. When the busker had finished collecting, she signalled to him, asking him to play more, which he did. At the next stop he got off and again a few people applauded. As the doors closed, blocking out the sound of the man tuning is violin on the platform, I looked around the carriage to find it full of smiling faces, a much warmer atmosphere than I am used to on public transport.

I had just looked away from one of these smiling faces when another young man came down the isle, stopped by where we sat and started addressing us. I was trying to explain that I didn’t understand, my German not being very good, when the lady opposite, still smiling and staring dreamily at a distant point, interrupted. A few more women sitting around us joined into what became a somewhat heated discussion, which I also didn’t understand very well. What Jing and I got from it was that the ladies were asking him why he wasn’t working and explaining to him that they had to work hard for their money and why should they give it to him. The man argued a little and then got off at the next stop. No one had given him anything and the atmosphere had suddenly shifted. There was an embarrassed air in the cabin and most of us went back to the normal procedure of avoiding eye contact.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

not flirting, just friendly..

I have been told that I flirt. That I am a flirt. I’m not by any means trying to imply that I don´t. Anyone who knows me would laugh at me if I even tried, apparently I have been practicing this activity as long as any of my family members can remember as my grandmother is happy to tell anyone who is willing to listen.
In fact I like flirting and I will even go so far as to claim that without it life would be just a little bit less fun and am certain that many situations can be improved by a little flirting.

On the other hand, sometimes I don’t think I am flirting and then people still claim that I am. I am not sure what to make of this. I really don’t think I am so unaware of my behaviour that I do it constantly without even realising.
Come to think of it, what is the definition of flirting anyway?

flirt v
1. vi to behave in a playfully alluring way
2. vt to flick or jerk something

somebody who behaves in a playfully alluring way

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Aha. Playful. This must be the key-word. So. What if I am behaving playfully but not in an alluring, but in fact a friendly way? When does playfulness cross the line and become flirting? I could argue that just being playful always has a certain allure to it and is by that definition always flirting. Another possibility is that the presence of allure part can be determined by the 2nd or even 3rd party and is therefore always a matter of interpretation, even an imagined factor.

‘Allure is in the eye of the beholder’?

I think in fact that simply being playful and nice can often be mistaken for flirting because if you are nice to the people you meet they are generally more inclined to liking you, and are also more like the conclusion that you might like them in turn. Often they will be right in assuming so, although the nature of this liking might not be clear at this point. I can recall more than one occasion where I hoped and even assumed that someone was flirting with me when in fact, they were just interested and enthusiastic about whatever we might have been discussing.

Does this indicate that if some people’s mischievous eagerness, or even just honest friendliness is commonly mistaken for flirting that perhaps people in general are not friendly enough,. On the other hand some people might argue that I, or anyone else who is subject to frequent accusations of flirting, should reduce their friendly- and or playfulness to avoid these kinds of misunderstandings.

A third option, and probably the most realistic one, is to accept that flirting will always be subject to interpretations and therefore misunderstandings and if we can’t beat it, we might as well try and learn how to deal with it.