Kindness in the Laundromat

Dealing with the fallout of a broken washing machine, today I made my way to the closest “wasch salon.”  I bought time on washer Number 9 along with a heaping cup of soap powder.

Everything churning away, I bought a cup of coffee from a machine for €1.  The manager paused in his machine polishing to ask if one could drink that.  That was what I understood, though he kept talking for a minute or so in a mouth-full-of-mush native Berlin accent.

A moment later, I took my coat off and knocked the coffee cup onto the floor.

I asked him for a rag, intending to clean it up myself.

“Oh, ya gonna make me work today!” he said cheerfully.

I said how sorry I was not to be able to tell hime how it tasted, as it was all over the floor.

He cleaned it all up, chattering the whole time, while I looked silly and penitent (not hard).

Then he gave me my Euro back.

Catching my breath

   I’m in Berlin! It’s been raining frequently like at home in Olympia, but colder, and so much wind.  
   Slowly fading is the pre-travel insanity — the take-it or leave-it decisions, the simultaneous move-out and move-in with my new tenants, the chock-full storage space, the sale and donation of furniture. Other people do a liver cleanse, or a gut cleanse, or a general liquid fasting cleanse. I do periodic possession cleanses. I suppose it has to do with coming from refugee stock — nothing of mine came over on the Mayflower! So much of it is just “stuff” — easy to come by, easy to let go of.  
   My cat, Eddie, who ran away from his cat-sitter a week before I left, was considerate enough to return the night before my flight. Holding that purring little rascal never felt so good. And now I miss his infuriating little self.
   Then at the Seattle airport with my 70-pound rolling suitcase, my two carry-ons, my passport and my cat, Zadie, who was to accompany me, I realized I had left her paperwork behind in Olympia. The health certificate signed by the vet within ten days of departure, the rabies certificate, the email from the director of the rescue she came from stating when she had been microchipped, the whole stack of papers, stamped by the USDA, was neatly paper clipped together and sitting on the front seat of my car. So she is keeping Eddie company in the Land of Old Lady Cats until I figure something out.
   Being in Frankfurt first, and now in Berlin, is one long mindfulness experiment. I have to think out each impulse, action and interaction — how do I say this, obtain that, get somewhere and back? Everything I experience here is muffled by the scrim of language and the subtle but very real differences in culture (cold cuts for breakfast, anyone? Lunch is served only between 11:30 and 1:30. Stores and restaurants are closed on Sundays till early afternoon if they open at all). I think this is one reason I love travel — exhausting as the process of making my way in another country is, it helps up-end my everyday assumptions and habits and cleans off my nerve-endings as effectively as years of meditation.

Here we go

January 12, 2017

The other night listening to President Obama’s farewell address, I was struck by this poignant time of endings, and beginnings.  That first family, those four tall and graceful people, who seem to genuinely like each other, will be departing.  The incoming administration is a bit of a cypher.   It feels a like a step into the unknown.

On February 16th, I will fly to Frankfurt, on my way to three months in Berlin.  I’ve been fiddling with a historical novel (set in Nazi Berlin) for a couple of years now.  I thought I could do enough research on my October trip, but saw pretty quickly that a longer attempt is needed.  This trip feels like a step into the unknown.

Our family lived in Germany when I was ages nine to eleven.  It was a tough time — my German-born father had severe PTSD (forced-labor camp during the war), and we, his children, young and powerless, got the worst of it.  Our fear and isolation, his rage and personality changes, the German language and people’s stares all got mixed into one big “ick” for a long time.  On our last trip, my sister and I agreed that we no longer felt the need to protect ourselves from “Germany” and the feelings it brings up.   How will that be, I have to wonder, when I’m there without my sister?  It feels like a step into the unknown.

I’m leaving my little yellow house in good hands — my neighbors Dustin and Kelsey will be renting it with an option to buy.  They showed me a little map of their plan for the back yard last night before we signed the lease — many good and beautiful ideas that they are young and strong enough to make into reality.  Hard to admit it, but I overshot with this house — so much renovation needed and even though I did a lot to it, I gradually ran out of money and energy and enthusiasm.  Yet i certainly got used to having a “home base.”  Not having that feels like a step into the unknown.

Travel:  A ticket.  No keys.  A limited choice of shoes and clothes.  Two heavy suitcases.  A cat in a carrier.  Another cat left at a friend’s house.   A step into the unknown.

There is an insight-gathering tool that uses ancient Scandinavian symbols, the Runes.  One of them, Dagaz, looks like an angular infinity symbol.  It speaks of “radical trust” and “an empty-handed leap into the void.”  I think of this now, as our nation prepares for a new president, and as I start this journey.

One foot is suspended over the void.  Now the next step.

Here we go.