In Godfather III, Michael Corleone dies a dog’s death in the relentless Sicilian sun. He topples over from his throne filled with hate and holding an orange with a dog next to him, his face hitting the arid sand. Sans family, sans love, sans everything.
Michael Corleone, the only son with an American name, begins the story in the film dressed in military uniform returning home a war hero and bringing home an American girlfriend, telling her that (violence) is my family it’s not me. But every time he interacts with the outside world, they see him through his family, they see mafia guinea. When Michael does finally pledge his allegiance to his father, who doesn’t feel a certain joy when he says I’m with you now.
If in a Balzac novel the social climbing hero recently moved to Paris has to shed his provincial ways to make every gesture one of social grace or else he’d give himself away, then in America he has to erase traces of his heritage. No more buying oranges, lawyers not violence, and get that cannoli out of my house. Along Michael Corleone’s journey to becoming American and less Sicilian, moving from the criminal underworld to the world above, you have other Americans who came and settled just a little bit before him, telling him no matter how much money he makes or how much he tries to be, he will never be American. You’ll always be a puppet you muppet. But the world above has just as many crooks and dishonest men as the world below, different weapon same intent.
The higher he climbs and the cleaner he makes his money, the more he loses his loved ones. His intentions were good and yet where does Michael Corleone go so wrong, even he wonders by the end “why am I so hated?”
There were two books lying on top of a row of books. When I picked up one in an excited manner, the other one fell behind the other books.
“I wrote my masters thesis on this book!” (It was Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)
“I’m interested in the other book.”
He walked over and reached his hand behind the books to pick it up.
“Pick any line from this book and it’s wisdom,” he said. For him, that book was love.
I looked over and read the title, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)”
“But Andy Warhol was an asshole.” I took the book in my hand and briefly scanned it, thinking wisdom?
Long after this conversation ended and I was no longer apart of his life, I read as much of Andy Warhol as I could but there was no other line I liked more than that phrase inside the parentheses outside on the cover. So I kept using it and repeating it like this… from A to B and back again.
“Something beautiful. Something true … then, out of nowhere, a flock of birds flew by the window, extremely fast and incredibly close. Maybe twenty of them. Maybe more. But they also seemed like just one bird, because somehow they all knew exactly what to do…” Foer, found right in the middle of the book.
The next day was one of the most important national holidays in France, Labor Day and everything was closed. My friend decided not to join us as we wouldn’t be able to visit the Palais de Toyko. This left the two of us in the rain without a plan. It was a miserable four hours before my flight back to Berlin. He looked disappointed my friend was not joining and he became critical and behaved like a boyfriend before they want to break-up.
At our first cafe of the day, he noted, “I think you’re lost and I hope you find yourself.”
At our second cafe, I ordered a crepe without even powered sugar on it. They were the saddest two little crepes I had ever seen, dry to eat and probably equally unappetizing to the person seeing me eat it.
I said, “Maybe my ordering the crêpes was Freudian, representing how I feel right now.”
He replied, “Freudian has to be sexual, like a dry crepe with nothing inside.”
I answered, “Yes.”
At our last cafe/hostel bar next to Gard du Nord, we each had a glass of Guinness. We shared our mutual love for the creamy, rich foam on top and how the rest possessed a heavy, getting it over and done with feel. We agreed the top was like the beginning of life and the bottom, analogous to a retirement home eating pizza. He said he felt he might not be able to love again, that he was exhausted. I told him maybe he hadn’t met the right person.
I told him about Shakespeares’ seven ages of man, the first an infant, then a schoolboy, a lover and a soldier. He said he was a soldier. I said I was too and that I hoped to one day leave that stage. Being a soldier sucked.
His parting well wishes to me were, “You’re going to find love, I can see it in my Guinness glass. My Guinness says so.”
He hugged me tightly and kissed me lightly, two soldiers parting to fight the world alone. However that wasn’t our last goodbye, distracted and full of thought, I went through the turnstile and saw an escalator going up and concluded I could not go down in that direction and walked straight through another exit turnstile. He came running out and breath but first laughing to tell me I had just exited.
His last words to me were actually, “Just follow the RER sign… ! ”
He told me about the girl he was once crazy in love with, ones he was just in love with, girls that were just 2.1, one that was the craziest thing he ever did. I was just the girl he wanted to kiss in Paris.
The first thing he said to me on Tinder was that he really liked my photographs, at least my Instagram photos. He wrote, “I just wanted to say….” I wondered whether that was all he wanted to say. Yes, those nonsensical thoughts occur in my mind. I asked him a question in return.
I later found out he almost swiped the other way for me, as I only had one photo. He was perplexed and exasperated, who puts up only one photo! Apparently someone like me. He had turned Tinder into Glimpse. From the beginning, he identified me as a photographer. I didn’t persuade him otherwise. He thought in principle, Tinder was superficial since at least at parties you could talk to someone for 30 seconds before you made a decision. But would talking to someone for 30 seconds make them otherwise attractive? Maybe my problem was that at parties it took me 30 seconds to respond to a meaningless, “What’s up?”
I kept it to myself that he also wasn’t a resounding and immediate right swipe for me either. He had traveled to countries I had little interest in and was a closet musician. Having dated a closet pianist/ opera lover, I knew there would always be a lack of understanding between me and musicians but he had a boyish face and described himself as a world traveler, so I swiped right for him. He had several meaningful photos of himself and in various countries and environments, showing the mundane and adventurous in places like Egypt and China. He had wanted to show his love of Indian desserts, his latest, most amazing travel adventure, and a close-up of his face. His bathroom selfie reminded me of a portrait used for an old cover of Stendhal’s The Red and the Black. How close I was to the truth of his history just from this resemblance.
When he arrived 30 minutes late to our designated bar, he immediately apologized and said the drinks were on him.
I told him it wasn’t a problem and immediately blurted out as we took a seat, “ You’re the first person I’m meeting from Tinder.”
“You’re also my first person.”
The first question he asked me was uninspired and obvious, “How was your weekend?”
Even with a full Manhattan in me, it momentarily caught me off guard, those generic questions are an introspective person’s worst nightmare because we think deeply about them and no one, especially new acquaintances, ever understands why it causes such a stumbling block in the conversational flow. They just end up thinking you’re slow or awkward.
After a few seconds I answered, “Good, I went to Görlitz yesterday, the city where Wes Anderson filmed The Grand Budepest Hotel. Have you seen it?”
“No, you mean the guy who directed the film with the kids?”
“Kids, no I don’t think so… (after some silence and the appearance of my thinking face) you mean Moonrise Kingdom?”
“Yeah that one, I didn’t really like it. It didn’t seem to be about anything, it had no … (he scrunched his face) depth.”
“You didn’t like it !!,” I said stunned but still smiling, although my tone was leaning toward disbelief.
He immediately tried to recover his comment. “I was going through a really bad time in my life, maybe that’s why I didn’t like it. Perhaps it would be different now. (pause) My ex slapped me…” He looked forlorn, his head hanging down. I was already sipping my second Manhattan so I remained optimistic and understanding from my buzz but open to the real possibility he was not over his ex. I felt empathy for him but I also didn’t know what to say and he still had his head down.
He shook his head to snap out of it and asked, “Tell me about your photography.”
“There’s not much to it, no depth.” I wasn’t just making a play on words, my photography is mainly intuitive and I rarely have to think about it. I have to see it, to create the shot, not the other way around.
“So it’s gonna be like that,” he replied jokingly.
“Tell me about your work in China.”
A few minutes later I told him, “German guys never flirt. They’re kind of effeminate, they don’t hit on girls. Most of them are just too cool to hit on you, at least that’s my experience.”
“I don’t date girls in China, they’re usually not that well-traveled and they all just want to get married. And they can be real aggressive about it too.”
I wondered if this was my cue to realize, he wasn’t looking for anything serious. “Yeah, I heard in Japan, girls not married by 25 are like after Christmas …”
He interrupts me. I was 33. He was 26. “They say worse in China. In China, I know so many guys who think if they only made more money, they could get the girl. Before they’re married, the girls treat them like crap, and then after they’re married, the guys treat them like crap.”
“Really? That’s a cool insight.” I laugh.
We must have talked for another hour until the bar closed. I remember colleges being shared. He dismissed his getting into an Ivy league due to his low income high school. We bonded over coming from lower financial backgrounds as opposed to the universities we went to. I also told him I liked rum based drinks. Information he used at the next bar we went to. I could sense him storing away information about me, just like I did with my crushes. I do however remember him making this one additional comment.
“Most of my friends are girls. Its because I like to talk about my feelings.”
Although he was so late arriving to the bar, no part of me was angry. I was enjoying ichating with my friend.
She wrote “A date at 1am is a booty call : )”
“No booty is seeing the light of day and the bar closes in an hour.”
In the s-bahn going to the bar, I saw my eyebrows looked kind of crazy reflected in the window of the train. I chatted my friend, “I didn’t have much time for makeup, I feel it’s a bit clownish.”
“Don’t overdo it with makeup!”
“This is only my second date with an American.”
“That’s kind of funny. Have fun!”
“Oh my god, my eyebrows are crazy.”
“Hehe, you pencil your eyebrows?” I’m actually the victim of eyebrow hair loss. Striking eyebrows are the ultimate beauty mark, second only to a nice nose.
“Yes but it’s too late. Hopefully I can drown a cocktail before he comes. Somehow my glasses are dirty.”
I arrive at the bar. “Don’t have too much alcohol.”
“I only have 20 euros and there are three Asians in the bar and one is sitting alone next to me…. might be confusing. She is at the bar. I am at a table.”
“Only you can get in these predicaments. It’s like a Woody Allen movie.”
I had tried to meet him the night before but my Tinder unknowingly crashed. The saddest part was my makeup had been perfect the night before. I had to wash it all off at 5:30am accepting he must be at Berghain by now. Before I knew the app had crashed I thought it was because I had asked him an asinine question as I couldn’t decide which bar to meet at. Or that he had gotten drunk and had simply forgotten about me. The possibilities were endless and I was too embarrassed to ask what had happened without a response. I had asked him what kind of bar he wanted to go to and he had replied, vibrant but quiet enough to talk and then laughed at himself for not narrowing down the options much further.
“Vibrant pretentious, artsy, hipster, convenient, laid back?” I asked.
After I asked this question, I never got a response. I reprimanded myself, thinking oh why did I ask that question, I should have just decided on a time and place. As I washed my face, I repeated to myself, “I have not lost faith in humanity.”
The next morning, I decided to respond to another guy on Tinder who had been asking me one question a week for the past month. The message would not go through. I deleted and downloaded the app again and that is when I saw his response.
“Is vibrant pretentious a word, don’t you need a comma?” Ten minutes later, “I say artsy then.”
I then proceeded to explain what happened, ending every sentence in an exclamation point and gave him the phone number to my WhatsApp. He didn’t message me till around 10:30pm that evening. He said he had just received my message. We lamented how sad and disappointing it was not to have met the other night. I thought he was already in Paris but he was still in Berlin. We planned to met at a bar halfway between us at 12:30am. He would be coming from a part of town where I only knew one cool bar, so the choice was easy and WhatsApp delivered my messages in real-time.
My date suggested we go to another bar and asked the bartender for a recommendation. He wrote down the name and address of another bar on a piece of paper and gave us a free shot with a knowing smile. We arrived at the second bar by taking a taxi around what seemed like a street corner. I was too drunk to think I could enter the address in my iPhone. We walked into one of those bare Berlin punk bars staffed by an old man that opened later than 2am on a Sunday evening. There was one other male patron and a wide open space. We sat at the bar. He ordered the drinks, a gin and tonic and a rum and coke. I didn’t protest. Although I did like rum, I didn’t like coke which made me always order a gin and tonic.
My inebriated memory remembers saying these key phrases. “I picked a class based on oh… (to emphasize how clueless I had been) this prof has a cool name, and others knew he was a Hegelian scholar.”
“Boston Consulting Group,” to which he silently corrected in a whisper BCG.
“McKinsey.” “No, I’m not still in love with him.”
I remember laughing while answering this question. His conclusion had been so off. Not only was I over him, forgiveness had come into being and I wished him well. I even enjoyed seeing his bad photographs on Facebook with his wife. He wasn’t even close to coming to that stage with either of his two former loves. One he still hated one and the other, perhaps was still in love with. Not since I was 20, was I more ready to fall in love with someone than I was right then at that bar. I was being a drunk, prestige name dropper by loose association. I obviously had no strategy or objective nor one that would eventually work for my own benefit or good character. I made a mental note to myself to never mention these career brands on any other future dates. Everything else spoken was lost.
The next day while chatting he kept telling me he already knew this or that piece of information, as I had told him the night before. To my chagrin, I had also said something offensive toward him about wealth which he hadn’t taken offensively. I couldn’t remember what it could be. He had however made a mental note. He admitted that I said I liked the boyish look, that I was quiet and awkward when sober, and that I was bohemian but liked nice things. My relationship toward money was paradoxical, I suffered from embarrassment because of a lack of it but I didn’t want to fear money and I looked upon professional misers with disdain and tended to respect spendthrifts more. The extraordinary lengths I saw others go to saving it was not the way I wanted to live my life. I remember paying 12 euros for both drinks, he went to the restroom before we left.
Outside the bar, I heard, “Can I kiss you?” I laughed and he kissed me.
I don’t know how long we were standing there but the old German bartender finally came out the door and stood like a giant over us, looking down disapprovingly. We ran across the street. He directed us toward what looked like a Brooklyn stoop in the middle of Berlin. On the steps, he suggested I take off my glasses which I imagine had been hitting him in the face as I moved my head around. At some point, I remember leaning in to kiss him again and his face wasn’t there, he was trying to direct me somewhere else. A water bottle also vaguely comes into memory. Somehow I had directed us to my bus stop at Nollendorfplatz and saw that I had missed my last bus at 4:35am. I mourned this and checked my wallet and saw I only had 8 euros. I verbalized all of this and so he gave me 10 euros against weak protest and put me in a cab. I don’t remember saying goodbye or seeing his face. Just the 10 euros and the backseat of the cab. I don’t remember paying, I don’t remember how I got home.
The next morning, I wasn’t sure if I would hear from him again. I also realized my shirt smelled like old sweat as I had been wearing it for the past few days, a dry clean sleeveless I tried to wear for as long as possible before it needed professional cleaning. Against my friend’s admonition, I had drank too much and I threw it all up as a colorless liquid in the toilet.
The first thing my mind thought back to was an image of a girl I had briefly seen on his phone as I was drunk on the street. It was of an tall, statuesque Indian girl, looking more Dynasty than postmodern, wearing a long fitting evening gown. Her hair was up and the girl looked like she could have towered over him and could have slapped him hard. She also had noticeable breasts. The next time I saw his phone, the picture was no longer there. He had changed his screensaver to his nephew.
She had treated him exactly how I had treated my last ex. When I didn’t love someone, everything they said and did just made me angry. I showed little patience or tolerance or lovableness just irritation and anger. I couldn’t help but think he, my Tinder date, had brought that same anger out in her, Ms. Dynasty and how much it must have hurt him and chipped away at his ego and sense of self-worth.
Much later, after everything was over, I went to his Facebook profile and saw photos of who must have been his best friend who happened to be a girl. From her deeply tanned skin and low cut revealing summer dress and her active and animated hands, she gave off an air of the bubbly and vivacious. One hint of vivacious and I wanted to plant a white flag and throw in the towel. Having lost any trace of vivacious at the age of three, it was an adjective I never tried to compete with. If you like vivacious, you wouldn’t like me. With the fleeting glimpse of the girl on his phone and the adjectives he had used to describe the kind of bar he was interested in, “vibrant but quiet enough to talk” my mind began to construct his ideal woman. A smart, practical girl, tall and dark-skinned who was vibrant and outgoing. Someone he could talk to. I wasn’t any of those things. I was well-read but not smart in the logical / lawyer sense, unpractical, the palest Asian of all my Asian friends and subdued in every aspect of my being. Vibrancy was my antonym. I was already starting to imagine myself fading aways, disappearing from his life.
An ex once concluded after hearing all my whack theories of who he was actually in love with, “I have never met anyone come to such wrongheaded conclusions from the skimpiest fact base.”Indeed, my ex never ended up marrying any of the girls I thought he was in love with. He ended up marrying a violist, an instrument he thought was retarded.
The morning after, I had not only lost parts of our conversation but I could only recollect his face from the beginning of the evening. I couldn’t precisely say if he had been clean shaven or scruffy, which he found amusing during our chat earlier that afternoon. He was killing time with me before he could check into his room. I continued to ramble inappropriate and random thoughts, letting my mind and the conversation drift from AIDS to Professors to my family background. I wanted to think it was a spontaneous outburst of self, a WhatsApp stream of consciousness but mainly I think I confused him and occasionally made him laugh. Perhaps even unconsciously associated myself to deadly sexual diseases, I didn’t even have. He had almost missed his flight that morning, hadn’t slept, and had stepped in dog shit to the smelly misfortune of the guy sitting next to him on the flight. I felt it was apt to tell him how I had once stepped in fresh dog poo while wearing flip flops. I was trying to be one with his dog shit experience but probably not the best image for him to have of my toes. The recounting of his misfortunes after meeting me sounded ominous. I was starting to feel like a bad luck charm. He signed off by telling me to enjoy my upcoming trip to Croatia and Bosnia. I again wondered if this was his last goodbye.
As the day went on I began to desire and fantasize about him asking me to come to Paris. He had casually mentioned it before as part of the game of possible future romance rhetoric but I couldn’t take it seriously until now. Around midnight that evening, my teenage heart girl fantasy came true, he wrote, “This is insane. I know. But if I bought your ticket, would you come to Paris?”
Within a second of reading his message, I chatted back, “I can buy my own ticket.” Novice response…
His response was not immediate. A simple, “Just an offer.”
My low probability answer had definitely freaked him out. That was the beginning of the end.
We hit all the main sights of Paris, starting with the Trocadéro walking to metro Jasmin, on to Montmartre and then to Notre Dame. While walking through the 16th, I tried to take us off the main road, a surprisingly large one for Paris and found he was trying to take us to a specific point before we wandered. Before we hit this predetermined point, we passed a branch of Pierre Hermé. My friend loved their artisan jams and since they didn’t ship to the U.S., her supply came from my sporadic endeavors. We walked into an empty store, even the shop assistant had left her post. He went straight to the macaroons and I went straight for the jams. My hand reached up to a top shelf to grab an Ispahan jam, her favorite. They were stacked going no higher than two tiers. I reached for one on the bottom, suddenly causing one from above to crash to the ground. The shop assistant came out and looked over with a sigh of oh well to the splattered jam. I apologized and she motioned such things happen.
When we had first arrived at Trocadéro, I had given him this piece of chocolate I had saved from my Lufthansa flight breakfast. A little Berlin bear holding an “I love Berlin” red heart made by a local chocolatier Fassbender & Rausch. Why do we like to give little sweets to our potential sweethearts? After taking in the always surprising view of the Effiel Tower from Trocadéro, I was moved enough by the view to muster some courage, to give him what I had wanted to give him at Charles de Gaulle.
“I brought something for you from the airplane.” Oh the elegance of my conversational prose, blunt and simple like a butter knife.
“That is so sweet, let me guess. Is it sweet?”
“Is it chocolate?”
I fished in my overloaded Longchamp bag and brought out my Berlin bear.
“That is so sweet. I’m going to eat it right now.”
I felt so much better after he ate the chocolate, I felt accepted again. I was thankful for this, I had feared his refusal of the Berlin bear. On my return flight to Berlin, I again received a Berlin bear from Lufthansa which I ate myself. There was less cacao and more sugar than a 27% chocolate.
At Pierre Hermé, I only picked one macaroon being conscious of the money he was spending. I later regretted not having taken more. I picked a light-colored mint macaroon flavored olive oil & vanilla and he got the same. He mimicked my orders till dinnertime and for the first time in my life, I never had a problem deciding what I wanted to order. No endless deliberations. During the course of the day, he picked three bugs out of my hair and exclaimed in amazement that my hair attracted an abnormally high percentage of bugs. I wondered without him, would I just be walking around cities with bugs in my hair.
Having been a high school drum major, he had theories on the character traits of each of the marching band instruments focusing mainly on the horns. He shared this with me in the metro. I didn’t pay attention to which metro, he always knew where we were going.
“You played the clarinet. I can totally see you as a clarinet,” he said.
“That is not the instrument I would have chosen for myself. My dad picked it for me.”
“Which instrument would you have chosen?”
“You’re not a cello, you’re a clarinet. I always liked clarinets and trumpets the most. Clarinets are the nerdy, quiet ones. The flutes are like the town hoe, the French horns are usually arrogant and egoists, trumpets are more relaxed and easy-going and then it just progresses to more relaxed and more (he slightly hunches over) the bigger the brass instrument, like the tubas.”
“So are you like a French horn?”
“I used to be more arrogant.”
“Because you were smart?”
Earlier that morning, walking under the Eiffel Tower, I had tried to show off my one piece of knowledge about French horns which wasn’t even from my own astute observation but rather one of the few things about classical music I had taken away from my classical music lover ex. My ex had hated French horns in the orchestra. He thought they ruined concerts and were lazy, all around bastards for being the culprits of destroying his musical transcendence. A missed note at the end of an orchestral piece to send him toppling to the ground “Damn the French Horns!” He lamented that all they had to do was hit the last note in the piece and they couldn’t even do that because they were probably just sleeping or just lazy.
“Someone once told me that French horns ruined orchestral concerts by hitting the wrong note at the end.” Delivering my 2 cents worth of French horn knowledge.
“That’s true. There are times when I think, there is no way I am hitting that note. That is why you see a lot of horn players doing this.” He uses one hand to replicate the up and down motion associated with male masturbation. I laughed.
As we walked down into the park below Trocadéro, I needed to use the restroom. He expressed what he thought we could be doing in the Jardins du Trocadéro.
“I was thinking we could get a blanket and some wine and sit here, what do you think?”
“Sure, sounds good.”
It never happened, not even an attempt to go into a grocery store. The idea came and went like a passing thought. When I saw two restaurants along the edges of the park, I made my way over. The first cafe asked for a euro so I went next door and the guy reluctantly let me go for free. When I came back out, I saw him sitting on the edges of a flower pot with his head in his hands, looking as if in deep despair.
“You look like you’re in despair.”
“Despair, that’s a great word.”
We walked along an nondescript boulevard away from the park and away from a lovers lounge in the park. He asked, “Who did you sell to?”
“I was actually pretty good at it, I disarmed them with my quiet demeanor.”
“You have a nice voice, I can see that. You know what I do also involves selling myself.”
“I found that its easier to sell to men rather than women. I never had luck with women. Its just a lot of objection handling with men, if you can convince them logically, they will buy. Its different with women.”
“It was the opposite with me. I had more luck with women. I think with women you have to appeal to their imagination. Funny how that comes into play.”
We circled around back up to Trocadéro. “Have you thought of going back to Academia?” he asked.
“I like their pursuit of knowledge but I don’t think like an academic. You need to be thorough and analytical. I’m more creative and not thorough.”
“I think artists are the most ethical of the professions.”
“But they’re not ethical when it comes to sex. They’re the most amoral in that respect. Sex is apart of their creative process, so they’re free.”
Thinking back on this response, I wasn’t referring to myself but to a 19 year old Canadian artist I had recently met in Berlin. Unfortunately, he didn’t know this.
I continued, “You know my half-brother couldn’t understand what I could possibly be doing in Berlin, so he asked if I was a librarian because he knew I loved books.” We laughed.
We made our way along another nondescript boulevard into the residential 16th arrondissement. For all the tiny sidewalks, he liked to direct us onto decidedly unParisian roads. Once we began to wander off the main road, into the heavily quiet, empty and residential, we crossed several tiny streets with no traffic. I suspected he picked this based on my now mysterious comments on wealth, which I no longer remembered. The buildings were uniform in material and design, establishing an air of order, stately and grand but a bit uptight. No window showed a burst of individual eccentricity. As soon as we began to cross a street, I would feel his hand on my back. At one deserted crossing, his hand lightly tapped my back twice.
“What was that?” I laughed.
“To make sure you crossed the street safely.” He smiled.
At the start of our wandering point in the 16th, he also noticed that my shoulders and the entire back area behind my shoulders were tense.
“This whole area is tense. I”m going to have to give you a back massage one day.” he said as he touched that area.
“Its always tense there. I’m eventually going to become a hunchback. You notice everything.”
It was true, my shoulders felt more tense than usual. Exactly one skinny, stylish French girl passed us while we were walking in the 16th. She was wearing various layers of black and leather and her walk suggested she had better things to do than walk behind us. He made a negative judgement toward the rich looking pretty girl.
“I was explaining to my Moroccan friend the meaning of the word ‘bitch.’ When I finished, she said, you mean French girls?” As the girl walked pass us, he said, “Kind of like her.”
We passed by a compact, vintage, boxy car. One that gave off the image of being an old classic but was brand new.
“I like small cars, like this one,” he said as he walked around to look into the driver’s seat. “I don’t understand why people like big things… big cars like SUVs. That’s why I liked Bruges. I loved the buildings there. Have you ever been?”
“Yes, I understand.” I liked guys who were not characteristically tall. And it was a good sign when they liked small things. I felt it meant they liked themselves.
“If you could live anywhere in the world regardless of money, where would you live?”
“Also language?” An obstacle I considered stronger than money.
“I’d live in Rome. What about you?”
“I’d want a place in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Another place somewhere along the Mediterranean. I’d like a place in Bruges and maybe a house in China.”
“That’s a lot of places.”
We came across a neighborhood church. I always go into churches. When we entered, he bent down on one knee and crossed himself. He tried to instruct me on doing the same, but I continued to the pews.
“Are you Catholic?” I asked.
“No, but I like to show respect when I enter any church. I sometimes pray.”
“I’m not religious but I also pray.”
We took a seat and stared at the large crucification cross in front of us. It was a modern interpretation made of wood, with the arms of the cross rising into victory arms.
“I’ve never seen a cross look so happy,” I observed.
“I like it. You know there are some denominations that are happier.”
He took out his camera and took a photo of the happy cross. “I used to pray to St. Jude, the saint for hopeless and desperate cases, for hope when I was unemployed and back home,” his face serious in reflection.
Outside we walked past a men’s clothing store and he stopped and looked into the display window. “I like suede shoes, like these.”
My thoughts naturally drifted back to his morning story of the 45 year-old and the suit. In thought, not only did I momentarily stop listening, my eyes stopped looking too. As he looked, I was lost in negative thought.
“Why do you like suede?” I presently had on a suede jacket and suede shoes.
“They’re easier to clean.”
Brought back to the present, I tried to recover how one cleaned suede, but I was looking in a foggy mind. We left the window and I never saw the shoes.
Somewhere deep in the 16th arrondissement near metro Jasmin, we took a cappuccino break and I insisted we sit at the bar instead of one of the outside tables. I recounted my lesson in the necessity of bar seating for cheaper coffee prices. The entire cafe was empty and all the Parisians were just like us clambering to the bar. One old guy dragged a stool right behind us as we took the last two seats and asked if he could be considered as bar seating. They told him he could sit by the window and still be considered at the bar.
He liked the cappuccino and the conversation veered to Asian fetish. I said “Everyone thinks just because I live in Germany I only like blond guys.”
“I know, I once dated a black girl and everyone said I had Jungle fever.”
“You know there are some Asian girls that only date other Asians.”
He nodded his head.
I continued, “The first thing I have to do with these girls is prove that the guy I like does not have a thing for Asians. I also used to think it was a bad thing (and in some cases it is) but when you actually think about it, I want the guys to like Asians. I’m Asian.”
“But don’t you want them to like you uniquely as Johanna.”
“Of course, but I am not a free floating entity. I exist in an Asian body, that is also part of who I am. Do you have a type?”
“I don’t have a type, you’d have to ask my friends.” He seemed upset by this question, which made me think I wasn’t his type.
I discovered a song with my name in it while watching Us Dead Talk Love by Ed Atkins.Walking into the room, I was first attracted to the sweet voice of the speaking cadaver and a recurring slightly curved black line, cutting midway through the images like the first stroke of calligraphy writing, the focal point and the leitmotif to a love story. The slash rendered as eyelash took on the dimensions of an objet petit a. Two wide screens were alternating images of the cadaver’s severed head complete with high definition zits (the head kept making me want to leave but I stayed for the voice) and the iconography of romantic and erotic symbolism depicting falling apples and reclining marble statues.
Later, as the rambling narrative mentioned an eyelash and foreskin along with the meandering stream of words evoking fossilized time, the understanding of “I,” the metaphysics of representation, and the human body in biological terms, there it was, the obvious confession by the cadaver “as in, I love you.” As the images flashed binding the eyelash to a dream world and the melody of the voice feeling like love’s own caresses, the instrumental sampling from the musical Todd Sweeney comprised of horns and percussion rose to a climactic crescendo as I was lulled into my own reverie of eyelashes and eyebrows.
My beige suede ankle boots were thrown out the door, in a rather gentle act of aggression, landing softly not far from the doorway. A long time ago, in another country, this was practiced to wish someone good luck before a journey. My psyche pretended this was the case, whereas the shoe thrower was plunged into a momentary blackness as an epitaph to the encounter. My brief presence had taken his psyche to social modernist buildings found in Belgrade. Vacated buildings blackened in a fire complete with torn curtains billowing like rags and shattered glass windows. About as nourishing as a carbohydrate on carbohydrate snack.
When your shoes are traveling in mid-air and crossing a threshold through no volition of your own, you wonder maybe it’s not time to leave the apartment but rather the whole damn country. What was this journey I had already received well wishes for? The signal came in the form of Christo’s Floating Piers, an invitation to walk on water to an island on a lake, its pathway covered in a bright orange cloth. I went from two boots out the door to the country as boot. I had been thrown out into the world (Heideggerian thrownness).
Drunk on Campari, every month I went to the land of Campari, slowly making my way further and further south to where the lemon trees grew. Land had supplanted man. I went back and back, again and again. Without ever having written a book, I was living somewhere between Henry James’s Italian Hours and Goethe’s Italian Years – a form of Juni’s Italian Days. The train ticket prices found on Trenitalia were like a gift from God.
Southern Italy was an unknown of which I had formed a picture with my ears and the things I heard whispered was not safe. When I googled Sicily thinking of lemons, I found instead the African migrant crisis on the island of Lampedusa. I saw refugee eyes peering at me through the branches.
After my trip to Naples, I was ashamed of myself for having put one bank card in my jacket, some cash in my shoe, another credit card in my bag, and my passport in another pocket so that I wouldn’t lose everything at once if a scooter riding mugger snatched my bag off my shoulder. Now having to be mindful of my shoe, bag, and jacket, I found myself in a lively residential neighborhood in the center of town where people brought home 5 pizza boxes for dinner on their scooters. They actually had no free hands to make a getaway with my bag. Nowhere in Italy did I feel more taken care of by the community even as a tourist. One cappuccino later, and my order was remembered the next day.
Having my shoes thrown out the door intentionally, was unintentionally a blessing for my Italian days.