The cab driver picks me up outside of the apartment I’ve been holed up in for the last ten days, sleeping in the four-foot-tall nook I’ve affectionately dubbed “the rat hole.” Get me the hell out of here, I think. For one of the first times ever, I’m ready to leave Paris, the adorable Marais having suffocated me with its cobblestone sidewalks and its very French Frenchiness.
He asks me what terminal my flight departs from and for the first time I actually know because I’ve printed out my itinerary for each and every leg of this journey, thawing out from the paralyzing incompetence of my Maldives faux pas back in March.
Everything is stapled together, organized. I’ve got my flights around Germany – Paris to Berlin, Hamburg to Paris, my flight back to the US a week from today, a receipt for my accommodations in Hamburg on the 11th for two nights.
“2D,” I say, reading from today’s sheet of white paper. “Air France.” Charles de Gaulle to Berlin Tegel departing at 10 in the morning, arriving at noon. Jonas is picking me up from the airport. I don’t have to think about anything beyond this, which is an incredibly foreign feeling.
I haven’t planned a thing.
I didn’t buy a book or a map.
I know nothing about Berlin.
I have a few emails from American friends filled with suggestions for restaurants, museum must-sees, areas they liked when they visited – none of which I researched further, and it won’t matter anyway, because when I show Jonas the list, he tells me it sucks.
For as little as I know, however, it seems fitting that the man I end up sitting next to on the flight is a grizzly bearded, Prince/ Shakespeare hybrid – a modern pirate with an embroidered jacket from The Globe Theatre’s costume department and a pair of khakis from the GAP. He could have easily been street-cast for that Forrest Gump protest scene on the National Mall, where an in-uniform Forrest runs towards a pot-smoking, longhaired Jenny. Right on, man! Peace and love! Hippy shit, yeah!
He flips through the pages of an appropriately hippy shit book with a chipped, orange-lacquered fingernail. When the male flight attendant comes over the loudspeakers and makes breathy, indecipherable announcements in French, Neo-Shakespeare chuckles and mutters responses in a one-way dialogue with no one, satisfied with his cleverness.
He bothers me immensely.
“LAAAAYdies and gentlemen!”
The French flight attendant has now switched over to butchered English, which is infinitely better than any French I have ever attempted. The only French words I know are clothing related: Could you unbutton the gilet, please? or The hair needs to be in a nice, tight chignon or something about making a shirt bloussant, which I don’t even know is how you spell the word “bloussant” or if it’s a noun or a verb.
In English the flight attendant sounds like he is making the opening announcements for a boxing match, over-exaggerated and comical. And for a second I think he’s actually trying to be funny, until he uses the same pronunciation for “LAAAAYDIES” the next three times.
And in this corner!
Thirty minutes later, he’s holding up two bags of carbohydrate options in front of me. “Uhhh, do you, uhhh, want ze biscuits or ze, uhhhh, crackers?” he asks, and I say crackers but point to the biscuits because my brain isn’t working after a month of not being required to think about anything beyond changing in and out of pants and wearing skirts and shirts off of the racks for Resort 2013, spinning around in shoes that aren’t my size like a bored rotisserie chicken.
He hands me a brown packet of two cookies.
Damn you, brain.
While Neo-Shakespeare nibbles on little white sticks covered in chemical pesto, I am stuck with my sickeningly sweet Les Gallettes des San Michele. He lifts them to his lips, his silver rings and the white embroidery on his navy coat catching white light from the Plexiglas portal to his right, the countryside of Germany edging out the countryside of France, until – with a tidy, well-executed thud – we land in Berlin.