Saturday, August 20, 2005


It is still a bit of a vague concept to me, this saudade from the Portuguese, but I am now aware of how it can feel. It is partly homesickness. It is partly the feeling of missing tastes, smells, textures. It is partly being hungover. It is partly having had so much fun or love or bliss that you hate to see it end. It is partly like dying must be in that last few seconds when your conscious-mind has been holding on so tightly to life and then releases, letting your soul fly freely. And it can happen for more than one thing at once. Today, I have saudade because my journey to new places is over and I am going to be backtracking from Berlin to London and then to Dublin and Philadelphia before arriving home again in Raleigh on Monday night.

I had been experiencing saudade for my family, my friends, my dogs and my home in North Carolina, but once I reached Germany, I found a new energy to continue my journey and the film project. Having friends in a place makes all the difference in the world and I made friends in most of the countries that I visited. Now, as I pack my things to go home, I have developed premature homesickness for the people I will be leaving behind. My bags are lighter, I think, from things that I threw out, but my memory is laden with thoughts and observations that I hope to put into words--words to give my thoughts to the wind, as Paula Sousa would have said.

º º º

Yesterday, I slept in a bit and took a leisurely pace to getting out of my hotel room. Eventually, I worked my way down to breakfast, then took my camera and went to film some interviews in the city. My first stop was the park where there were naked sunbathers, and I immediately saw the man for my film. He was nude, with a big mane of hair, and he was seated on a towel near the edge of the lawn so there was no one behind him that might object to being filmed. I introduced myself and explained the project to him. Fortunately, he spoke English quite well, I wired him up and interviewed him for about 15 minutes.

(Above: A small section of the Tiergarten in Central Berlin, August 2005.)

(Left: Stellae from the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Central Berlin.)

I next headed to the Jewish Holocaust Memorial to find an interview and I discovered a young woman dressed in red sitting atop one of the stellae in the expanses of the monument. She too agreed to be filmed. Among the things that she expressed was that as a Polish woman, she was not sure that people understood the significance of the memorial, because it was being treated as a playground for many to play hide-and-seek, or places where people were standing on the monuments, smiling broadly for the camera. In trying to find others who would be interviewed, I was unsuccessful, but I did find a few who expressed the feeling that it was better the memorial be treated as both a sacred site and a playground than to have no one visit it at all.

(Left:A couple of cranes, perhaps, wading in one of the lakes in the Tiergarten in Central Berlin. Interestingly, their behavior is not unlike that of the nude gay men in the park! When one is looking away, the other is checking out the goods.)

After lunch, I headed back to my hotel via the Tiergarten park and found the sunbathers again. This time, I joined them in relaxing rather than trying to find someone willing to be interviewed. I stayed there until about 5 PM and then started back to my hotel. Along the way, I got lost and suddenly found myself face to face with a flock of pink and orange flamingoes. I realized then that I had come upon the back of the Zoologisches Park and the banks of the Landwehrkanal where sightseeing boats take tourists along for a ride.

The walk began to feel endless, especially after I passed the llamas and their odor began to waft into my path. I started thinking that it would be nice if there were a shortcut through the fences of the zoo, but then the idea revealed itself to be quite stupid: what can get in can also get out, so having a breach in the fence would not be a good thing for Berlin. I momentarily flashed back on a story from my friend Steph who told me that there had been an emu on the loose in East Durham earlier in the summer, and no sooner did that idea cross my mind that I realized that through a thicket, I was being stalked by a flock of emus in a enormous cage. I quickened my pace, and soon found myself back at the S-Bahn and a short ride home to my hotel.

º º º

I took the U-Bahn, U7 to be exact, from Wilmersdorferstraße to Bismarckstraße and then changed to U2 in the direction of Pankow. I was told to investigate the area around Nollendorfplatz because it was reputed to be a large gay district. When I descended from the train, I set out to find a place for dinner, stopping first to have a cappucino in a corner bar. Afterwards, I resumed my exploration, following small groups of guys as they walked together toward some apparent destination.

I ended up finding a nice Spanish restaurant and was seated near a table of Venezuelans who were speaking Spanish. I was so close to them that I could not help but overhear their conversation and I was amazed to find how much of it I was able to understand. Soon, the restaurant began to fill up with gay couples and I ate my caricolas (escargots), my gaspacho and my chicken breast in garlic sauce while enjoying the view. When I left, I decided that since it was my last night in Berlin and effectively my last night before returning home, that I would have a beer.

I found a nice sidewalk bar and ordered a couple of beers, actually, and then found myself so bloated from the food and the beer that I had to walk it off a bit. I started looking for something to do and passed by a bar that seemed to be quite popular, with a huge crowd of gay men spilling out into the streets. I kept walking, but finding nothing that looked as interesting, I returned to this place and walked in.

When I see photos of myself, I do not find my appearance to be what it should be. I see the hollows in my cheeks that have developed in the past year and the overall loss of body weight. I feel that I am an obvious image of HIV/AIDS infection, but if one doesn´t know me, I apparently am more attractive than I thought. It wasn´t long before I noticed that there were several guys checking me out and found that quite fun and exciting. I ordered one more beer and realized that I needed a stop by the loo for a minute.

When I got into the bathroom and was in position to relieve myself, I noticed one of the other patrons from the Spanish restaurant was in the same line of urinals. He spoke to me in English with an Irish accent. I had seen him dancing out in the bar and his moves made him a very sexy man with a couple of caveats. First, his hair was heavily moussed and formed a kind of hair meringue/spikey-mohawk kind of thing. Secondly, he had a lower lip piercing with a spike through it in blue titanium, I would expect. Finally, if you can imagine Shemp of the Three Stooges as having a sexy face even with all its hardness, add all of that to the ensemble and have him dance for you and he is one sexy dude. My friend Ben reminded me this morning of the term "sexy ugly" from the movie "Kissing Jessica Stein". That totally described this dude, by the way.

So he and I started to chat there in the bathroom and he soon said to me, "Come here. I wonder what is down here?" It was a darkroom, of course, and he led me down there, then turned around and kissed me once we had reached the shadow of the room. By this time, my beers were kicking in and I responded with as much passion as was natural for me. He pulled back after a minute and said "Ay, ya bugger, you would have to be a good kisser too, now wouldn´t you? They´ll be missing me upstairs, so I have to go." With that, he pulled away and went back to the bar.

I soon went back upstairs myself and passing by him, noticed furtive winks being sent my way on occasion when his date wasn´t watching. At that point, I met Andy, the self-described sole heterosexual in the bar, who told me his life story after I mentioned my film project. He was the last of a family of eight, a very Catholic family, that had been forced to attend church by the patriarch. He moved to Berlin, and being very naive, came to this gay bar we were in for three years before he realized it was gay. The owner, a woman, eventually met him and they married, despite the fact that she was previously married to a gay man with children and now there are eight of them living together, including the gay ex-husband. For whatever reason, this straight man, who now works at the bar, started buying me shots and when I tried to refuse, he would tell me that I couldn´t refuse. It was an insult. So I had several shots....and the night continued in just such a way, ending in that bar around one in the morning, and being followed up around the corner with two new friends at a leather bar.

While in the leather bar, I noticed a blond man wearing yellow gauze pants come into the place and enter the bathroom. When I had to relieve myself again, I found that he was in the bathroom removing his clothing. Later, I came back again to find him sitting naked on the floor between urinals, fondling his genitalia. His demeanor was like that of a young child who had done wrong and who was expecting his punishment, but apparently his punishment, becoming a human urinal for anyone who wanted to have a go on him, was also his pleasure. Two sides to everything did you say? I guess you really have to be part of the fetish community to understand his reasons, and knowing that this is not unique to the gay community makes me feel a little better about the fringes of society.

I stayed at this bar, mostly because the owner was cute and flirtatious, until four am and then started walking home under my second full moon in Europe this year. It took me about an hour to get home by foot, so I arrived at my hotel still quite inebriated and asked the desk clerk to extend my checkout time until 6pm so that I can take it easy today. That has been done...and given the amount I drank last night, it was easy to take it easy today.

My plan now is to take a short nap, then to check out and head for Schoenfelder Airport to catch my late night flight to London Stansted and to check into a bed and breakfast at the airport so that I can catch my flight to Dublin early the next morning.

Saudade has two sides at least: the joy of the gain from experiencing life and the sweetness of the loss when that part of life ends.



Blogger Erin said...

All I'm gonna say is: I grinned like a Cheshire cat all the way through this post. The nude sunbathing, the flirtiness, the winks and the kiss - damn well made me nostalgic!

8/22/2005 04:35:00 PM  

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