Saturday, 18 September 2010

Rolling on a - wrong - river. To Speyer, Spira as was

Another Heidelberg philosphe weg, my fourth, down to the new bridge, past the Irish bar that Angela said was good, but I don't do Irish bars unless they are in Ireland. Then a joyous pilgrimage down the Neckar river, as instructed by my lovely, old school, hotelier. All dams and fishermen and long shadow silhouettes and turns to see the castle and the wonders of Old Heidelberg. Dramatic clouds.

All wrong of course. Wrong river. You can't, as Goethe wrote, teach ein alt hund neue tricksen. I just will never get this real life GPS thing right; I'm saved by my IPAD - again.
I walk back, meet a bunch of youngsters running the toe-path, then their teacher. I ask him the way. I could walk to meet the Rhine, but that's to Mannheim. No.

What are the kids doing?
They're better than me.
You'll learn, good luck.

Back through neue Heidelberg, nichts so nice, and then the barnhof and the tourist information. A nice map-paper-based guide. Up past the station, watching a huge caravanserai of Audi cars of a train to Frankfurt. Then a US military base, some autobahn hugging, and then full Americana: Holiday Inn followed by drive through Burger King - where I buy water that comes in a carton, not a bottle. Then the paths open up on wonderful farmlands, and the sun is playing, doing marvellous dramatic things to the clouds, and the pylons and the church spires. I'm happy. The factory meets the fields meets the pylons and the spires - that light. I have those rapturous early Anita Baker songs in my head. Feel wind-blasted and demi-sun-kissed. A dauphin shortly to visit my summer palace.

It will be Schwetzinger for lunch and schloss. But - naturally - I am two hours later than I should be. Late because I necked the Neckar too long. But is worth it, a L'Oreal River.

Tired by Schwetzinger I carb on Carbonara, then walk to the schloss, whose labyrinthine, classically designed gardens are an hour's visual distraction, lovely. An elderly Mannheim couple feeding the aristocratically fat carp. They loved holidaying in Cornwall, in Penzance, in the old days. Live for pleasure, Sylvie says, but in moderation.

You will enjoy Speyer, she says, then quotes some Shakespeare, There is a time in the fortunes of man...You know that there's a story, a myth, that when the Emperors knew they were going to die, they went to Speyer. I don't know how many of them are buried there. How nice to know.

I'm in the Palatinate Emperor's summer residence, very baroque. Nice gig.

Outiside Ketsh, on the home run, Rhine-side, stunning late afternoon landscapes, sun-shadows, the river curving like it did outside Strasbourg, like Richmond, Surrey. Then, suddenly, a large caravan, clothes hanging by every window, a tractor to tow it. A bunch of women picking vegetables, fruit?, from a field. I take a photo.

No photos, no photos. A woman tells a man, he repeats the request. More Roma, more dispossessed. This is terrible, what does Sarkozy think he is doing? He should have married Joan Baez. Another miserable moment.

A few ups and downs, nothing too heavy, a air strip - gliders, oh Thomas Crown, c'est moi.

And then the view down the sun-darkened river to Speyer, four towers; that cathedral. Romanesque. Unesco, world heritage etc. 357 photographs down since Heidelberg.

A pedestrian town, pretty perfect, old town Rathaus and Tower. Canterbury without the students or the choirboys. At the guest house Ingrid is in russet. No nonsense. I complement her on the jacket. "I've had it 20 years. I bring it out for this week of autumn."

Over filet steak for energy I write up my day, and know that it does no justice to its elemental happiness.

Now, what is the bloody Romanesque?

Philosphies of Life

Lazlo runs a brand new vinyl store in the clubby street; the late night old town, about half a hiccough from my bridge-side Heidelberg hotel. In his stylish shop window there's a copy of the soundtrack to Stanley Donen's European road movie, Two for the Road. Ah, those days when Europe - to catch a thief, pussycat don't look back - was young again, and exciting.

The new Erasmus students, celebrating their pan-European cultural heritage and academic brilliance over cheap cocktails at the Brass Monkey (owner from Nottingham; ex-pat exile-drinkers unfriendly, suspicious of questions) talk party-party nonsense and watch Spain take a thumping from Argentina, live from Buenos Aires thanks to Mr. Murdoch. These kids look younger than policemen, not quite the heirs of Erasmus. Outside a boy and girl, complaining because one year in their supervisor has asked for evidence of work. Happy daze, I guess.

Earlier in lieu of England vs Switzerland - unsurprisingly absent from the plasmas of Heidelberg's finest Gerwurtz-ing Establishments - I watch Germany rip through Azerbijan. 6:1 finally. I do so in a small bar with a pair of sisters. one a sports student, the other a young publisher. They have one of those traveller's tales.

They grew up in Karlsruhe, not so far away, but it never felt like home. As they talk about Karlsruhe it feels as though they left some bad times behind when they moved, independently to Heidelberg. Both studied here. Their father is German; their mother from Brittany in France. Brittany is a kind of home, the parents have moved there finally. Beautiful, different, quiet. But not home-home.

The girls grew up in Buenos Aires, where their father taught German. First lessons were in Argentine Spanish. They still remember.

So where is "home"?

Florent says: "I was walking over the old bridge here, last year, it was cold, and I suddenly thought, this is home, this is where I want to be. It was a great feeling. I'm 24, and I'm home." Boyfriends arrive, a golf-pro with a gamy knee. The German team keeps scoring. Everybody is happy.

They are four: from all parts of Britain, young and my age, two men, two women. Business travellers, but not so that you would notice. We're in Destille, the Last Stop before Bed. They are IT people, work for a company that got bought, last year, by a German Corp. So now they need to upgrade the SAP, or whatever, here in H-berg. They are here a lot. In the modern way they live in different places in England but are connected by the network. One has been on the "tour" of Heidelberg, starts sprouting useful facts, facts I don't know. They are buried now in a Moleskine. Something about the castle, the ....Oasis close down Destille, and for once a mass rendition of Wonderwall seems an affirmation rather than a Dirge. As the cathedral bell strikes two, everyone is "After all, you're my..."

Heidelberg is split up for me by an emergency trip home, as careful readers of my Facebook pages may have spotted. Just five days, but it changes my attentiveness. On the mini-coach out to Frankfurt airport I meet an Iraqi Kurd who, at 44, has lived in many countries, fought a bloody war; survived. He was an art student, then conscripted aged 18, to fight against Iran for eight years. Then smuggled, fake passports, stick on photographs, to Moscow where he worked, but won't say as what, for three years. Then Hungary, Slovenia, Chechnya, Turkey....Lebanon, then finally Germany, a wife, children. A job. Home. "It's better now in north Iraq," he says. "My family is happy."

Back, days later, vibing into the mood. Angela is around my age, she writes about business travel. She woke up this morning in a South African themed hotel, all ostrich eggs and hunting rifles, in the Highlands of Scotland. Her luggage got left somewhere in Edinburgh. Tomorrow she flies to Malta; Monday to Japan. In the 1970s she visited Afghanistan. Everyone did. She studied at Heidelberg, so did her parents, and theirs. It is a family tradition, like taking a boat up the canal to Strasbourg for holidays.

There was an English boyfriend. He lives about fifteen inches from my old 1990s flat in Islington. Of course. For a long time Angela was a literary critic. She tells me about a highly autobiographical novel, just reprinted, by David Lodge, the Catholic-Campus guy that we all read and thought clever in about 1982. It's set in 1950s Heidelberg. (But not electronic yet, so it can wait...) Angela asks about the big novelists; I've grown up with them, the usual suspects, and can't suspend disbelief anymore, the offspring of their second marriages fleck the north London schools I know, pushy parents try and make their sons - those Tristrams - befriend them. And besides Saturday is quite simply the Worst Novel Ever Written.

"You will love Speyer, it's very...mystical," Angela says.

Lazlo is 30, his parents left Pest, well a little town just outside the Pest side of Budapest, in 1985, just as the Perestroikan Years kicked in. It seems a lifetime ago now. He's a musician and his vinyl store is a week old. "If I make enough money to cover my costs and make some music I will be happy." He plays me on ITunes some his moody modern jazz. Nice.

There is money in the rare vinyl biz. Lazlo sells old, cool, obscure, freeform, jazz on vinyl to Japanese buyers. He tells me about Drug Store, an old school men's coffeeshop, oaky and full of chess-playing Magyars.

Janos is pushing - well old. He has his own seat at Drug Store. He left Hungary just after the second world war, in 48, long before the failed revolution. He studied, but never got to work in his field. "I ended up in gastronomy," he says. With a chuckle. I show him the street in which I lived in Pest on my GMapp, app thing. Janos points at Margit island, nearby, where I used to run most, some, mornings. "Ah very beautiful," Janos says. "When I was a boy I went to the therme, the baths. Beautiful."

Across the smoke, yup despite the laws, there are ways around the smoking ban, it all depends on the size of a place and whether there is food cooked, old men open, defend, ponder and endgame. Often with audiences. Chess: never got it, but it looks cool.

Later a Scotsman with a wounded dog, who dates a barmaid here, tells me about his times in Budapest with a bunch of subsidised artists. After the wall came down and everything changed they lost their state salary. So they sued the new government - and won. Won the right to be paid to be artists. The free-market Insead-ers of Basel would not be happy.

And I don't think they're still getting their salaries.

There's jazz on somewhere, a little way out of the old town, almost no distance at all, but most centrists don't know. At nine, the newspaper says. I turn up fashionably late at 9.10 but there's just a guitarist and three guys in wooly jumpers, big bellies, beards. "The singer will be here within an hour," the guitarist says.

"Stay," says a wooly beard, "we brew our own beer."

It is 9.11, and I'm drinking wine in a restaurant opposite the unhappening jazz bar. Trestle tables, lots of them, platter food, big plates. An atrium, a back room full of 200 men talking turkey, in what sounds suspiciously, vaguely, like English.

I smoke, meet a marketing executive for a hedge fund guy, who is, in fact, heavily tattoo'd, I see the legal ones. When she divorced she got an abdominal one which reads, "through the darkness into the light". Saucy. Doesn't it hurt?

Life hurts.

Not just a marketing person, she also owns a couple of bars in Hamburg: one burlesque, one punky 1976, Ramoney Pistolian. I must visit, she says: then back to her bankers. Work, work...

I'm trying to figure out the ciggy machine. Down by the men's toilets. I've got my plastic ziggy card, I've dialled the number, and paid out my Euros. Nichts.

Three men, English speakers. We're all trying. They go get a "native" German speaker. I put in my credit card...Nichts again.

Who are you guys?
American military, sir. (I know, but what kind?)
Ok, what you all doing here?
We're at a conference.
Ok, about what?
Come on, who can I tell, I can't even buy a pack of (don't say fags, don't)...cigarettes.
It's about Europe.
(Slightly drunk guy, ominously): And Russia.

Ah. So 200 plus, Spook-sytle, intelligence men and analysts - because these guys don't look like the ones who hide behind bushes in Kabul - are two-day conferencing about Russia? What now? Bomb the spa towns, invade the Sushi bars?

Every morning, four times in total, I philospheweg. I cross the old bridge, climb an abrupt narrow trail, that puffing opens up to areas to "think", look across the river, and "philosophise." There's a circuit, old bridge to new bridge for those with the lungs to climb; other way around for those without. A famous route. Everyone's been at it, Goethe to Weber. Fashionable first in the early 1800s, in fact the Romans did much the same - only the walk was through their vineyards. Can't fail but feel connection to smart people doing this. Read Holderlin on the IPAD up high, contemplating the ruined castle. If I stay long enough, I figure. I'll write the Great European Novel.

Everyone should have a philospheweg.

In Destille three Siberians - one who is uncannily ABBA, despite being 17 - tell me that the Russian money in Baden-Baden in "new". No shit, Sherlockski. Actually, there's a lot of old money there too.

A Californian firegfigher, over - early - for Octoberfest, with many tatts too, wants to argue about mosques in New York. Do my elderly liberal stickt, and despite it being late o'clock he says, "yeah dude, you're right."

An electrician from a small town twenty kilometres away is in Heidelberg for an electrician's conference. In November he's going to New Zealand for three months. "Once in a lifetime thing," he says. "It will be so marvellous. Maybe there will be The Girl."

Going home now, a guy and two girls, trainee teachers, sitting out, wrapping. "Cool town," I say. "Is this it, nothing else tonight?"
"Nothing else."
A guy in a linen jacket, polyester pants, comb-over hair, comes over. "Where's the action?"
He says.
"No action," says the guy.
"Come on,"
"We're talking to Robin, he's fun."
"No, he's scary, I saw him before."

Linen/Polyster man disappears to his Travel Pussy, and I to my Happy Hof Hotel. Speyer in the morning. And mystical things, we hope. Back at the hotel a late night smoke with the night porter, Michael. He comes from a village in East Germany, there's no work there, everyone drinks. He commutes 90 kilometres to do this shift. A nice man.

Somewhere in another country the Pope is talking rubbish about atheists. He needs a philospheweg.

Or a travel pussy.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Heidelberg: philosophy compulsory

My favourite moment of the Baden-Baden Grayson Perry incident happens without him, back at the Capuchin-Radisson reception desk. An elderly German couple were, they explain, sitting behind me in the Travel Pussy cafe. They want to know, pretty simply - what the hell was all that about?

Neither my German or their English are up to the post-modernish complexities of Grayson Perry's life, art work, persona; the project itself; or Philippa Perry - yes, I keep saying, Grayson's wife. This is a stumbling block.

We use the receptionist, Russian, to translate - even then we are in Scarlett/Bill Murray land, lost in translation.

The photographs of the meeting with the BBC crew, the artist and his wife, are all on Facebook, so sign up if you need to see these, plus a ton of rapturous landscapes. One of the foibles of the IPAD is that it doesn't look as if I can post pix to my blog site, though Facebook is a simple email exercise. Well done Mr. Zuckermann. Sorry about the movie.

For those that haven't seen the pictures the point about Grayson Perry's persona, is that he is dressed in an exotic costume, a woman's dress that's a sort of space-cadet take on Tootsie, and it's all to do with someone called "Clare." There's a lot of iconography going on, but that's for real Freeze art critics, I've got enough on my plate with the catholics and protestants.

Heidelberg looks a bit grim @ the Banhof, then blossoms in a gorgeous triangulation of river, hills, ruins, and old town. It's raining and who cares?

It really has all happened here: Martin Luther, Goethe, Hannah Arendt and the American army (still based in a camp just outside town) have lived in Heidelberg. There's a pedestrianised old main street, with glossy stores and a Foreign-Student Pleasing Starbucks, almost empty. A fine bricked marketplatz and cathedral, a dominating, high on the hill.semi-ruined castle out of the imagination of every gothic novel, and then some. Only it is far older.

As Johann Holderlin wrote, in Heidelberg:

But heavy, hulking into the valley hung
The Fate-Acquainted castle, the vast, all Torn
And battered down to its foundations:
Neverthesless even there the sun now...

Coryat like the place too:

Moreover there are fome that affirmed it i called Heidelberg quasi Adelberg, that is, a noble City, in regard of the nobility, the elegancy, and fweetneffe of the fituation thereof...

I march up to the castle without funicular, the views are stunning, everything triangulates, seems whole. Even the hundreds of camera-friendly umbrella holders, Japanese often. At the arch to the old bridge, fifty metres from my hotel there appears to a continuous Japanese wedding taking place. I think for a moment of Barney and Bjork and their Japanese Whale Ship.

I miss lunch.

It's hard not to feel philosophical here.. Compulsory really. I walk back down windy curved streets and take in the university where Luther defended his revolutionary thesis, and kick-started the Protestant Revolution. And where 400 years later Max Weber invented the Protestant Work Ethic. Then a second hand book store, old boxed set DVDs of Fasbinder, Douglas Sirk, Catherine Deneuve.

I immediately imagine a Jacques Demy movie set here, The Philosophers of Heidelberg. Francois Dorleac as Hannah Arendt, Maybe Delon as Karl Jaspers...People next, I guess.

Grayson Perry and the travel pussy

It's one part Hugh Hefner to another part Bond this morning, the first time in my life I have spent from waking until late afternoon in a bathrobe. Frustuk in the Capuchin wing of the monastery (those old monks presumably spinning in their graves, perhaps they moved to CERN). High ceilings, last days of Marienbad vibe. I download - buy - Dostoievski, complete works for one pound ninety nine.

It is fantastic to be able to buy and then read the books referenced in a place. In seconds. Perhaps for many the e-book is a modernity too far, but for me - on the road and unable to have a sherpa carry my extensive library - it is perfection.

Dostoievski published The Gamblers in 1866; but reading the novella now on the sun recliner next to the thermal whirligig pool it is as fresh and relevant and contemporary - and as cynical - as an AMC series about Madisson Avenue ad executives.

I whirl and gig in between the duplicitous, tragi-comic chapters. The Gamblers is a pretty savage comic-mode death-job on spa towns. I know, but have no facts, that we British went crazy for German spa in the Victorian Era. I'm pretty sure it was to here, Baden-Baden that William "Vanity Fair" Thackeray brought his chronically depressed wife for - failed - treatment.

Thackeray was the Wayne Rooney of the Victorian Novelists - ballerinas were his WAGs; and he ate like food was going extinct the next day. In one of his travel books, From Cornhill to Grand Cairo, he records a 12 course lunch, more food than I've consumed on this trip.

The Gamblers is located in BB, and thematically at the nexus of money, sex, race, Europe, marriage - and gambling. Funny that the "new" post-Bankruptcy B-Baden, seems so similar.

My poolside companions (inside and out) are leathered and German. They fill out those books of games fur uhr upon uhr. I guess they think I am dull for playing on a computer for hours. But it's digital Dostoievski, so who cares? I start off feeling very white; later very pink.

At five I go back into town, and sit at the cafe which dominates the central crossroads. It's not anything very special except that yesterday in the basement loos I've first seen - shades of Chapman's Homer, Keats lovers - a "travel pussy." In a vending machine that in the UK would be full of condomania, are one kind of condom, one "mini vibrator" and two types of artificial vagina. They are doing the Vagina Monologues in Strasbourg in November, but this vagina monologue appeared more about not having to "speak to the hand." I needed a photograph.

Which is how I get to meet Turner-Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry.

The photographic plan was pretty simple, drink coffee, go for pee, take pix. But then as I am nursing another espresso (up to about eight a day, plus water and wine is my soul liquid intake...) when a slightly prim woman in vaguely punkish spex comes over. I guess because I have been looking over at the outdoor tables near me - where a large group of people dressed for a Hercule Poirot or Jeeves and Wooster shoot are drinking; a couple have wanderweg-ged over to a statue, a funny looking woman. Everyone is speaking English. About a millisecond before Punk Prim asks: "And who are you?" I hear the word "Grayson."

So my reply to the question mutates. I say: "Actually, I am a critic from Freeze magazine."
"Fuck, no!"
"That was a joke. I'm doing this walk..." Philippa Perry relaxes and we move into a long conversation about what's going on - it's a project for the BBC's very own Medici Prince, Alan Yentob. The only man who's nearly killed me at lunch. A long time ago at Kensington Place: I foolishly ate the monk fish, cue green skin, passing out....

Grayson is travelling - as his persona, "Clare" - Bavaria in a customised Harley Davidson bike, with a glass case at the rear where he keeps his teddy bear. The case is miked and camera'd to catch what the locals say. It's all very high-end conceptual meets dressing up day on a particularly bohemian cycling holiday. Philppa has just published a well-received graphic novel, Couch Fiction; a graphic tale of psychotherapy. I promise to read it, though suspect I'll have to wait for print, rather than IPAD download.

I meet the director, who asks about my shoes - he's always had problems. An actress who has just been doing Shakespeare at the Globe; a publisher who wanted to come along. The elderly gentleman and his partner who customised the motorbike and travel with the gang to keep the Harley fine-tuned. Very "Imagine"; very old school BBC, the kind of thing we may have to fight for soon. Lovely, in fact.

We say goodbye and I go back to my Moleskine. Then Grayson comes over and sits with me because he knows how lonely it is travelling alone. He mentions a visit to Japan. He's just ridden the Nürburgring with teddy. We get somehow onto mountains, church bells - how the English invented winter sports. He's a friendly, very clever guy. I wish I knew more about his work.

"In the Swiss mountains, and again, more recently, " I say, "I keep thinking about Casper David -
"- Friedrich," I know, says Grayson. "I was driving the Nürburgring, and it goes pretty high and I was thinking Friedrich..."
"It's funny how it took Romanticism to make people 'like' mountains."
"They finally felt safe, felt safety, I think. The mountains weren't the enemy any more."

I begin to talk about Matthew Barney and the Slaugen show in Basel."
"I have a problem with Matthew Barney -" But we never found out what.

Three London Biker-Geezers have arrived at the table. "I've got ten pounds says you were on 'Have I Got News for You?" a couple of weeks ago."
"Yes I was."
Big grin - tenners all around. "You were good."
"And what are you boys doing here?"
"We're motorbiking Germany."
"I just did the Nürburgring yesterday."
"So did I, what time did you do?"
"Oh, it was slow. Where are you all from?"
"I'm from Chelmsford [also Essex]."

We all get special Victoria Miro Gallery Postcards of the Project. The programme is out next year, 2011 - if the BBC still exists. I tell Philippa about the travel pussy. "We don't need them," she says, we'll all travelling with our fuckees."

The Travel Pussy is on the right

Later, winding home to the Capuchin Radisson, I stop at a posh bar in the hope of Russians, instead I meet a handsome local couple, Rainer and Renata (say), and they work as executives in one of the really smart hotels here. They're sharp and fun, and they talk of the long Russian heritage here. Rainer's just back from Argentina, lived in Chicago a long time. He loves the new bands, Hurts, and Delphic, and they're both coming here - yes here - shortly. Better than Deep Purple, or Barclay James Harvest.

A bus stops by our table. A - sizeable - Englishman, young jumps out. "Casino?" he shouts. Twice. Nobody says a word. I stand up and give him instructions - straight, right, look out for, well you'll find it.

"I thought I was back in Bournemouth," Rainer says. Then I work out that the pair come from the hotel where the 2006 English World Cup Wags stayed. "Oh we loved Posh," they say. Funny then, that this morning in a very Baden-Baden/Gamblers everything is for sale kind of way, that one WAG's life, or at least their public personna's life, has unravelled a little.

In the morning I begin to understand the Englishman and the casino. Tom slept rough the next two nights on the way to Heidelberg. I'm not doing that: it's a bitch with the wifi. So I walk to the railway station, a two hour plus feat, far away from the old town, past malls and media centres and more casinos. The railway station has been taken over by England football fans. There is a nasty dark menace to the cafes and - yes bars. Everyone is drinking, it is 10am. The England match is in Basel, across the border. I wonder if these guys might have been turned back on an airplane. I don't speak a word of English, but am so nervous, not speaking, I knock over and break a plastic moulded croissant. The boys just laugh. Two hours later I'm in Heidelberg and experiencing a spectacular time warp. Goodbye Proto Vegas; hello Second Athens.

Every biker needs a calling card

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

On the Road Road to Baden-Baden

I get good karma kudos at breakfast, as word seems to have spread that I'm a crazy English walker, and not an investment banker with IPAD fashion accessory. Over fruity fruhstuk I ask Dieter about the area around Ziebelhof. He doesn't go far, 6 kilometres is far enough - to the supermarket to get food for his guests. He'd like to hunt more, to shoot, but it's busy being a hotelier. A nod from a male and female biker team, good luck.

See you next time, Dieter says. And hey, next time be sensible.

Bring a car.

And I am walking again. Flat, fields of maize; Lichetenau soon enough, a small town, with active Sunday morning services, women priests again, as I'll find in Heidelberg too. Sun determinedly out, and Baden Baden not too far away - perhaps 20 kilometres.

I should say, perhaps, that despite the casual insouciance of these narratives I am a bad walker: I get lost all the time. Were it not for the compass cum travel guide that is my IPAD, I would by now be close to the Andes. I am really trying to re-invent myself as an accomplished walker, and I can do the distance, and the hills, but whatever nomadic DNA trace that remains has been systematically eradicated by the socialisation processes of my past 51 years.

I can't use the sun; I have no in-built radar; or even sense of direction. I do - now as a matter of course - ask the way every time I see someone. The problem is that many of these people also have lost the "walkers" perspective. Later, sweaty and very grouchy, I ask a couple how far to Baden Baden. They say 2 kilometres. In the end I walked 18 kilometres further...Not their fault, but an idea of how distance and our sense of it, has mutated. In cities and towns I am getting a feel for the subtle shifts of meaning and mood; even just a hint of Tom's time - and by this I mean beyond the recognition of buildings present in 1608, I mean the dynamic of church, bell, marketplace, river - media.

Re: grouchy. I haven't written about this before but travelling alone does encourage talking to oneself, particularly as the day passes by and tiredness is kicking in and the destination still seems miles away. I have a sort of pornographic/offensive/guttural/ vocabulary, the viler the better to ameliorate the paucity of signs, or the bad advice I've been given, or just the horribleness of walking on the autobahn, which I've had to do again today for a while. I won't give any examples, wanting to not be banned from blogging, but the screamed oaths are very satisfying.

Yes, lost again today. Wimbush City Limits. But no Ike and Tina. Oh Lord I know I have often lost my way in the Journey of Life, but get me back on fucking track. The Beemers pass at 160 kilometres an hour, the Beemers and Mercs and Porschsters...and I'm gingerly edging the tall grass alongside, wondering when I will see a sign for cyclists or walkers. When the sign won't say: Frankfurt 200 kilometres.

The first chills of autumn this afternoon, a little bite to the air. In successive conversations in what I believe to be the hinterlands of Baden-Baden I am told 2k, 2-4k, 5-7k, then 10k. Ten minutes, thirty.

I was three hours and 18 kilometres away still. When I leave Baden-Baden by rail, Tommy sleeping rough for two days before Heidelberg, it takes me three hours to walk, then find, the station - from the old town. Baden-Baden IS Los Angeles.

Crossed with Las Vegas. Or rather Saratoga Springs circa 1955 - when Ian Fleming visited (read Live and Let Die...).

There isn't a sign that says Baden-Baden ever on my walk there. I encircle, suburb, cut-through, turn back. Find a park - even the Rhine. But old Baden-Baden?

I really do stagger into town, Brokeback Digerati. I walk straight into the first hotel I see, a Radisson, far more upmarket than anything I've stayed in before. It is remarkably cheap, given that it has the full monty of thermal whiizzy whirligig stuff. And it was a Capuchin monastery in 1608...oh bingo. It is huge and fin de siecle-ly. I sleep, then go to buy some swimming trunks for the whirlpool thingy. The only ones in the hotel shop are 85 euros. And it is Sunday. I can wait.

Opposite the casino in the showy-off park, a temporary stage. It is the last night of the racing meet, and as the spring meet was cancelled because of bankruptcy, the town is happy. A band called - oh something grim, actually it is Groovin' Affairs - are knocking out Relight My Fire, Sweet Dreams, Tina/Celene, 80s....80s....80s...

The audience is my age, my people, only with less preposterous haircuts. They fist pump and sing and remember when they were young. A daughter carries out her drunk Russian mom at about 9.40. The curse of casino towns, I guess. I saw this before in Bad Ragatz.

Porsches and Ferraris are not unknown here. And there is a sense, only heightened tomorrow when I'll read Dostoievski's The Gambler, set here, that everything - everything - is for sale.

The local brothels take out page adverts in the local tourist literature, here at the Villa d'Fellatio we offer...blah blah. Very blatant, very part of the package. My hotel is part of the Royal Spas of Europe.

And Wayne Rooney has, my IPAD tells, just got caught in the Manchester version of the Villa d'Fellatio.

Now there is a surprise. The bar in the casino, recommended by my hotel, is probably the best example of 1970s sauna chic seen this side of a white flared-jean Belmondo policier. It is truly the grimmest place on earth. I last 3.6 seconds and retire to a MacDonalds for coffee.

It is the only revolutionary act I can think of. Tomorrow: more Russians, Grayson Perry - yay - and tales of the Wags circa 2006....

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Into Germany, leaving the Alsatians

The walking out of Strasbourg dismantles the theories of "tiny" spatial differences somewhat, but only because I can't knock on doors and check out the Biedermanns in their many forms in the massive mansion blocks. But, things change again long before I've left the old town canals. There's the "plage" boat cafe disco things that complement the canal cruises I've stayed well clear of.

The University, loving it's students, proclaims a large poster. Big wide Haussmann streets, shops not so frequent, shiny cars; then the Council of Europe and all those flags, quiet today, Saturday. Warm too. I zig through the Orangerie, pass the roller skaters and couples and boaters, and a lakeside cafe with a battalion of purple pool tables, as though in wait of the artist now known as Prince again

The other side of the park; suburbia, a turn and I am on the canal - well the Rhine, actually. Houseboats, swans, powerboats, and the inkling of heavy industry. A few wrong turnings and I'm peeing under a bridge at a dead end, a hidden spot, with a large Che graffiti and half a dozen beer cans.

Scramble back, and the industry starts riverside. Large wide low barges. A tow path for bikers. But first a long stretch of Berlin-style Checkpoint Charley wasteland - it is the route - that I walk in the sun alone. The Spy Who Came in from the Hot.

To my left a park with huge warnings about toxic waste and nuclear power, so maybe not. Then the walk. Five hours, straight. By the river, jealous of the power boats; even the container barges. The cyclists pass in singles, pairs and groups. I smile at each. But five hours later I am very tired, and Lichtenau, my destination, seems hours away yet. At one of those border restaurants (with added tourist office) I slump to be entertained by a waiter who speaks about a hundred languages. The tourist office says that Lichtenau is out of her jurisdiction, and books me into Ziegelhof - still Germany. Only two hours walk, she says - though she phones to warn the hotel I'll be, er, late.

Across the river; an autobahn, and a pit stop at a petrol station for ice-tea and chocolate reserves for later. Lost path, lost river. IPAD says go sort of 45 degrees. I ask: down there, past the lake and then the side of the village. Easy after that.

Long shadows now, and a punishing day already. I walk past a cement factory, and then the lake. The cars above are crashing past at German speeds. Into a small forest. A picnic, 20 people.

It isn't a picnic. It is three of four sets of Roma families, cooking rough. Out in the wild. They don't look at me, don't acknowledge. It is like a scene from a war; a scene of exile. I wonder if they have come over from France because of the French government laws. I feel terrible.

I take the village cut though. Past the factory with the long low wire fences. At about 6.30 as the sun is beginning to set and the shadows grow ever longer I turn to see two alsatian dogs, one black, one white, running at me from 200 metres. I genuinely think I am going to die. In a somewhat pathetic manner I cower.

They don't jump. Just go insane about four feet from me.

I turn around and walk through the village, and then another; fields playing Van Gogh tricks; Kiefer tricks. Rain. Lost. IPAD not helpful. Great sunset, another village, but not Ziebelhof. Nobody's heard of it.

A village, deserted, dead. And at its centre, The Pussy Cat Strip Club. Last used 450 millennia ago, it seems. Out of the mists along a track a 15 year old girl on roller skates. Ziebelhof, I say. Never heard of it. I'll go look.

She zooms off, a vision of wonder. Twenty heavy minutes later she returns. I've found it, keep going, not so far, stay to the road.

And with a sweet smile she is gone. The Gods have smiled on me for liking roller skaters, ever since early Switzerland. The visions have been wonderful today; the industry lurking just outside Strasbourg, Basel-esquely. The long stretches of river, very like, only far longer, that stretch of the Thames at Richmond which Turner and Wordsworth loved. I wonder if Tom, who knew that part of the Thames what with one John Dee or King or Queen or Prince - or another, thought the same thing. There's no doubting that we talked, Tom and I, for a minute during that part of the walk.

Dark now and Ziebelhof, five miles (now the signs tell me) from Lichtenau, where Tom stayed. The town is actually a motel, and two houses. Inside the motel there's a bunch of domestic bikers having dinner. Dieter, the owner, is an ex East German policeman, 28 years. "And then I had to start working," he says. He loves my IPAD; shows me his IPhone apps - the favourite? An app for streaming country music.

German country music from the 1970s.

What about the Pussy Cat Club? I ask Dieter. Ach, closed forever.
"Open, in fact," says a man who lives two weeks a month here, doing something with the electricity. "Even the coffee starts at 8 Euros."

I turn on the television and doze over wifi. Then some channel launches Help, by The Beatles. In German. I burst uncontrollably into tears. Then, in the post-modern way, post this fact on Facebook.

In the morning Dieter tells me about the "community". But that really is for tomorrow's walk; and my first real full day with German signage. Or indeed, its absence.

On Marrying Elvis Presley

There's a courtyard view from my hotel room; not looking towards the cathedral but away to another space I've not been. Leaving by the front entrance is a confrontational experience, fighting the many who sit in the cafes and restaurants, those fleeing the cathedral, the lost, the hawkers with head-umbrellas: they cluster. And eat cheese. Buy hats.

But here from my window is an almost empty courtyard below. In fact, as I GPS, it's in between the cathedral square and the street I've temporarily named rue de Aldolfo Domingez, as his fashion is sold there, Hermes is just up that street. It is in fact the Rue de Veil L'hopital.

I wind to the courtyard, and find a brasserie. The customers are different, local, tied up with reading the local paper, or a book, gossiping about something. We are twenty metres from the storming of the Cathedral and we could be in another country. It is a Friday; school's out by lunchtime and there are lots of kids smooching canal side, hanging outside the school gates. But here is contentment, of the local kind.

It is a very different mood in term time; I assume this only increases when the undergraduates, Erasmuses (more on them later), and politicians return for duty. At each turn away the alleys and streets and boulevards - but mostly the alleys - bring a new and more variegated community. The longer I travel the easier, perhaps, to sense difference. We are certainly, if temporarily, back in France. Though Strasbourg is "particularly" French, in the same way that Rennes and Cassis are particular. There is a sense of hermetic openness. Roman once, of course. Alsace now, more than most.

It seems, thus, ironic, that next week the Strasbourg parliament will debate, with vigour, the position of the French government in relation to its "Roma". The newspapers here - and all over the world - are full of the story. The sniff of exile, of the Rhine trail, of Guttenberg, who worked here, is all about. What is absent is the sense of the political; the people who make Human Rights Law. Who fight governments over Roma deportations. "They all live in the big apartments around the Orangerie," Jim - or Jules - said last night. "You don't see them." And it is true that the old part of town, which can seem many things, never feels like Brussels sur mer; or Westminster. Because it is Friday, perhaps, the shops and every cafe and bar hum from midday, at the centre, at the periphery, along the canals and tucked away in courtyards. Hum with locality. Not tourism.

There is a lot of middle aged snogging - tongues and all. This seems quite strange to an Englander. Especially at my hideaway local brasserie where a couple not so much younger than me, let's say maximum ten years, are nipple-tweaking and tongue-wrestling over a couple of espressos. This doesn't happen in the Columbus Circle Starbucks. My protestant puritanism, had I got any, would be shaken.

Later I ask the actresses about this. Binoche 1 says: "If you have it, you flaunt it, it's common here." What I'm - distantly - getting closer to is a sense of the smallness that cities once possessed, not exactly the smallness of Tom's Strasbourg, but the idea of the feet - metres - that change the social construction of "place". Interesting as I think back to those amazing north Italian towns, the Cremonas and Mantuas of the first trip, that I didn't think in this way: I thought about towns as entities, with commonalities. Now I begin to think about multiple entities with overlapping communities. This may be wrong; but no wronger, I suspect than the the lazy Baslers are different from Zurich people discussions of a few nights ago. I eat well for lunch, cordon bleu veal: tomorrow and the next day are country walking towards Baden Baden, and I don't know what to expect. France to Germany too...

At the roof top cafe of the modern art gallery I am feeling a little underwhelmed, though the nineteenth century landscapes I've seen, betwixt a bunch of sculptural installations that revealed not much, make sense. In fact I've found my entire art aesthetic, other than Barney, growing old and non-Italianate, northern in fact. There is plenty of torture and pain in the cathedral museum. It does increasingly make sense.

The wide shopping boulevards, pedestrian normally, do have a transcendent blandness, but where do they not? It is the average cafes and bars you judge, by attempting a kind of process that absents first rich tourists, then other tourists, bikers-by, then...well, whoever else doesn't seem appropriate. I'm trying a kind of unrecognizing. I think about Jim last night, his returning to the scenes of a broken love affair, trying to ignite a new one. As though, what? As though it is geography that creates the right environment. I think too of Barney's show, the "lines of restraint" he feels are embeddied and embodied in us all.

I met a black kid last night somewhere between Il Cherche Tourjours and Jules et Jim's Most Horrible Date. He had the most fantastic English accent, somewhere between a BBC newscaster and, say, the mottled mockney of Tony Balir. He looks like a young Hendrix and rides a mountain bike. He's started speaking because he heard me, and he "loves speaking English."

Where did you live in England? I ask, expecting a narrative of embassies and fee-paying schools and bitter nights on the training field. Instead: "I was just talking to English people, online, voice-chat, when I was gaming. Such a cool accent. No, not World of Warcraft, but Counterstrike." He's a musician too, but "it's really hard to be a professional musician these days." Later it becomes clear he's studying at the most prestigious place - well I think it was Environmental science and how to save the world, or something similar. He looks like he might.

It's mid afternoon, I've trekked my culture, and realised that the first leg, three years ago, in which I covered everything each city or town had created, was a Tom Trip in my pursuit of the constructed, which took me over kilometres of urban spaces but often left me exhausted for the "walks" and so these were often "augmented" by - no cars - transport, was a very different affair. Now I've walked as much as Tom, for two weeks, and he, despite his five week break in Venice (come on, he must have been a spy), was really pounding it out and doing his churchgoing - and in the intellectual centres, having the conversations. We've lost a little of curiosity stamina, I think.

This morning my hotel front-desk Penelope has written me an Odyssean list of cafes and bars that locals use. BTW only in France could the monthly glossy travel magazine be named Odysse. So I've checked out a coffee shop, and the old Irish bar, but it was blazer-heavy even if only metaphorically. I'm double-expresso-ing at the Bar Exile, on Rue de L'Air and I'm thinking, not nodal like the behemoths of Petty France, or the Cafe Broglie; the machines of the Cathedral square. Yet it is local.

Later still, but early enough, Jeannette et les Cycleux. I almost missed it. This is a cafe right opposite Le Cloche au Fromage where we've eaten cheese in spectacular lunches, I mean spectacular. This is a city of cycles and limos, I write. Because fifteen feet from Le Cloche, Jeanette's is another canton - with everything that this means. Unless you miss it, and its meaning. Which is easy to do. Here pearls and neck-tatts, crown-jewel fingers and harem pants all sit happily. I am beginning to see in other ways, perhaps.

I'm talking to one of chefs, who has just finished for the day. She's telling me about the local products she's sourced for the charcuterie, and about the Alsace bio-tech valley, from here to Basel is like a biological Silicon valley. She's helping to shape ideas about Alsace in relation to France, and German; suggesting the traditions and the laws are different from both. Her boyfriend, who will appear soon, is metis, mixed raced. A man, a DJ, from the Caribbean, French father, Caribbean mother. He wants to talk string and big bang and a new unifying theory called "E8" - I still haven't looked it up. "The spirit is different when it is white fathers, black mothers; rather than the other way around..." Mahta says, the tiny differences that mean a lot.

In Germany it will be easier to meet people Mahta says, "image is not so important." She's stopped going skiing - it is far too dangerous, I'd rather walk the mountains. And Florian just didn't get the snow ski climb thing.

I've learnt in Chur that, of course the English invented all that alpine adventure stuff in the nineteenth century, but that's another story. Although one that tells an interesting story about us - English - and our confused relationship to the Alps; to Germany too. Not so long ago it was a favoured tourist destination.

Mahta's father, a Swiss, loves the ritual of the ski.

Rosalind sits down and asks about media jobs in London. I am trying to work out why. In fact her story is the story of travel and love. She was in New York a while back, on her own. There was a boy in a (famous) book shop, the (ah ha) section. She saw; two days later they kissed; two more no need for the Harry/Sally Thesis...and then she must come home, on Thursday. That day Eyjafjallajökull went up in Iceland. Thus: two more weeks in Brooklyn....Now they are moving to London...

Rosalind tells the story of the cafe's name. In Alsace in the 1960s when boys didn't have cars, they had motorbikes, then as now, there was always The Girl. To try and impress her they would buff and customise their machines, so that in the coffee bar, the cafe, The Girl would notice. They would be The One. Except for one thing: The Girl is in love with Elvis Presley, and wants to move to America. (There was, I feel, a similar mythos around Julie Christie's character in Billy Liar. And didn't she end up on the train to London...)

Thus, the iconography of the rooms inside, bikes half embedded in the walls, photo images of French girls in cowboy shirts. It's very fine. "And that," I ask Rosalind, "is the story of Alsace girls in the 1960s?"

"No, that's the story of France now."

Mahta asks me to remember that the Swiss are famous for mercenary armies; the Swiss guard at the Vatican...but I can't now remember why. Also the toleration that allowed for Dominicans, and Jews to settle. (I note that I must check my history here; though later walking through the newer town closer to the EU buildings on a Friday night, I see a lot of Jewish families on their way to a sabbath service, or a Shabbas dinner).

Mahta and Florian are laid-back; bereft of the anxiety that can surround some here, those that critique the il cherche tourjours mentality. Those that get over-Proustian and weepy in old bars. There's a conversation going on behind me in English, though none of participants are English, it ranges over albums, tracks, computer games, festivals, arenas, DVDs.

When I was a teenager, travelling europe, the lingua-franca was the cod conversation about liking Pink Floyd; twenty five years later in Eastern Europe this had evolved to Radiohead. I wondered if I was in the midst of one of this meme's new pan-European moments. But when their dates, The Binoches, arrive I suspect I've stumbled onto a Jean Luc Godard casting, circa 1962. The roll-up cigarettes, the leather, the conversations about Moliere, Marivaux; learning about the word beuark. The hard years in the conservatoire, making it or not as an actress; the curiously interlinked world of the three French film production companies that get grants from the French government. Beart's botox - she now looks like a duck (there are other allegations, but the English laws of libel, even online).... The Cigogne, the Bird of Alsace, "if you don't see one flying just go to the tourist shops and ask to see a plate. The drink of the evening: rose pamplemousse. A local speciality.

A Strasbourg girl with a perfect English accent, who's dating the bass player of a local band - more Hives than Strokes, very Arktik Munkee - that just toured the Baltics, and also did a gig in the Hawley Arms in London, maybe. but certainly after a Chinese punk act that all wore dresses, starts talking to me about translation. She looks like a young Wuthering Heights Kate Bush. "But I don't av the ears," she says.I mean perfect Nrf lundon. Where were you born?


The accent is amazing.

I met an old Etonian on my Erasmus year in Berlin. His family had the whole thing, the "cottage" next to the main house, the chapel, the Porsche in the drive but no money, the strict no-tears rule when the dog died. They hated me, obviously. 'He' asked to delete me from his Facebook friends recently, because "he didn't like reading French in his news feed." The Binoches are rehearsing for a play, Sunday. Fables, Marivaux...will be fun. Binoche 1 played a punk on TV; Binoche 2 has done a film and dates a harpist, Binoche 3 is going to Brussels to study Arts Administration.

And then the casting is over. The lights are killed. The cathedral is still there. And in about six hours I have to walk into Germany, to Lichtenau - which is currently foxing the GMApp on the IPAD.

I'll get there. I'm just not sure how to edit tonight's movie to make it look like Band a Part.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Strasbourg (1) The Spaces in Between

It's warm in Strasbourg, the last days of real summer. Around the cathedral square and along the canals of the old city an influx of visitors are consuming. Wine, cheese, culture. More cheese. The flow around the cathedral is relentless, bus tours stop over for headphone commentary reconnaissances. Leather Road Warriors, bikers on their way from or to Milan or Paris, devil may care alpine crossings, pull over, turn off their machines and take a beer while they, at least look at, the amazing cathedral facade. Like a steep, sheer, giant Hindu carving, a supra-elaborate series of narratives.

The facade is stories, media. At 10 in the evening there is a crappy Queen-Concert light show; one might expect Brian May to pop up at the Quasimodo level and windmill arm a power chord. But, even so, the nooks and crannies are fill of tales.

I'm staying in the old town, right on the square. For some reason, perhaps it is the daily stampede around these streets, its easy to get a room. It may be different next week, when the politicians are back with their caravanserai of lobbyists and webmeisters and 'friends'. Who knows? I was here very recently with Portia: we ate the fine food, and made wine-tasting trips to Colmar, not so far away down the Alsace road. We hung in the French Quarter, relaxed on the roof-top cafe at the Modern Art Museum, the Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg, played backgammon all over town, and generally had one of those adult - kids with their dad - kind of holidays.

This time it was the same, but different. I know to visit the cathedral early; to avoid the presentation about the Strasbourg astronomical clock in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, I know to miss the tour-party dinner places; to not worry about exploring the arena around the EU. Tom was old town - my mantra - so I stay there, and wander there. Last time we got lost often in Strasbourg and I wasn't sure why. I wanted to know.

My thesis now is that we hadn't grasped the scale of the old town; by which I don't mean the considerable size, or the constant closeness to a canal, but to what - I am forced to call in a Rory Stewart echo - the Spaces in Between. Leaving the cathedral square north, south, east and west reveals almost different countries: if you are looking carefully. Different countries, that is, of experience.

It is in Strasbourg that I begin to appreciate the fine detail of distance, not just in the grand architectural lines of the cathedral, the ringing effect of the canals; the spectre of "otherness" somewhere close on the big boulevards that lead to the EU buildings, but in something else. The detail of social distance. In the same way that Basel and Barney helped me to, in a small way, take the Kunsthaus out of the art I consumed, so here I began to try and imagine the grand, but small, town Tom visited. He loved the clock, obviously: the cathedral was a tourist attraction long before his visit. I'll write about the clock and "time" separately, later, for now just in passing.

The social distance then, and in fact now, between the cathedral square, and the next, and the French quarter - not really five minutes away, is important. Cities as villages, and globalised in their way, then and now. The cathedral I must escape, because it dominates, an Eiffel of its time - the tallest spires in the "world", until Cologne cathedral's grand scheme was completed, finally, in the nineteenth century.

Inside, first, and the famous astrological clock. Impossible, in my era of GPS'd IPAD to imagine the impact of a machine that combines world times with a figurine march-past of symbols, overlooked by death. It is very different, this "northern" worldview.

So many media, then. The arrivals, and city gates; the central square and the imposing, competitive, spires. Bells, the higher the longer they echo; the sun overhead. High above Heidelberg in a few days time, walking my "philosopheweg" for the third time, following not Tom, but Goethe, Schelling, and maybe even Hanah Arendt's footsteps, I listen to the cathedral bells echoing down the Rhine valley, travelling as far - well, as far as "safety."

I try and imagine Strasbourg cathedral's media reach. When there was no new town; no court of Human Rights; and no hinterland.

Today every cafe and bar is full, noisy with transience. From the cafes to the north of the cathedral to the Irish pubs near the University, to the Django-jazz bars of the French quarter.

I am at the Beer Academy, on the edges of the "French" part of town. We are, I should remind us, "in" France, though this is, as the history museum so brilliantly and practically demonstrates (models of the armour from 1600 to wear, pull-out drawers with posters, explanations of "Argentina" - the Romans' name for Strasbourg, it being the tax collecting centre) a city with a complex paternity. I'm in the beer academy because it is slightly off kilter from the Django bars, and it is opposite a tattoo parlour, and I am - since Chur, and particularly since the revelations of both Barney and the "tortured" art of Basel, somewhat obsessed with both the "mark" and with "pain".

I sit and write for hours in the Moleskine, a new one, dutifully found in what appears to be a religious bookshop (I didn't ask). It's quite late now, still writing, Go outside for a ciggy. when I return the table in front of me, we're in small pew style seating, is amused. I start writing again. The relation of here to Basel, the French thing. the Jewish tradition. The hermeneutics of the amazing cathedral. I am in Alsace, that's the thing; betwixt in the real sense.

"Il cherche," says one of the boozed guys in front of me.
"Il cherche, tourjours," says another, surlier guy. Boozed up aussi. Boy Laughing, a la Anglais.

I think about this for a moment, and don't like my moment. "Yes indeed," I say, my first words to the table in front of me. "I do cherche tourjours. It makes life interesting."

There is an uneasy silence. Boozy Guys move into a more aggressive mode. We are, as usual, saved by a woman, the woman at their table. She translates, I explain about Tom, the walk, etc.

""Keep searching," I say as I leave for, almost, home. I'm not sure if the message got through.

So it is 3am in the morning and I am acting as a kind of marriage guidance counsellor to a young, handsome, Strasbourg couple, if we accept the slight detour from the Truffaut original, lets call the girl Jules and the boy Jim. I know...

They look the perfect couple, young, talking happily, together at 3am without seeming like a late night conjunction, fluent. We're outside, they approach. "We have a question for you," the boy says, let's call him Jim.

"Can a man and a woman have a friendship, be friends, without sex? Without them at least wanting to have sex with each other?"

Ah. The much discussed Crystal-Ryan Doctoral Thesis from 1989. When, er, Harry faire la connaissance de Sally. Hope that is vaguely right.

Well of course, I say. I ask about this late night dive, who's here, why it has the kinds of people it does...the usual, all bars of this kind have their rationale. Jules smiles broadly at my reply; Jim is not so happy. I think we understand the - universal - situation. I explain why I am here, my walk, the search for whatever it is, "Europe" I suppose. The old Europe I knew and this new hybrid. I tell Jules et Jim about "Il cherche tourjours." I'm rather pleased with it, an epithet suitable to sit alongside my own current tombstone request: Quick Wit, Slow Fuck (but in Latin, of course, so as no sensibilities could possibly be upset). Jules laughs; Jim says: I think I can explain what they were really saying.


The young man is saying you are a homo-sesschual (there is a long phlegmy, squelchy emphasis on the middle syllable that somehow reminds me of the name, Aschenbach, and thus ashtrays, in Death in Venice - I tell neither Jules nor Jim). I see, how interesting. Later I explain Beat's idea about finding the uber bar and watching the world go by, I explain that I've been doing that in Strasbourg.

Like where? says Jim. I quote Beat, Paris. I suggest the Marais, where people watching is fabulous.
"Famously homo-sesschual," says Jim. I'm getting bored now.

We walk back to the cathedral square without Jules, she's gone home (naturally). I hear the stories about the breakdown, the Proustian moments in the bar we've been in, where Jim cried because his last affair failed, and Jules saw, thus emasculating Jim. The switch from his academic career to being a baker; then back. Jim looks at the illuminated facade of the cathedral. I could tell stories about this for days, he says.

I'm not keen to listen now. In the spaces in between I've heard plenty of Strasbourg stories tonight.

Old school.