Travel Diary: Hostel

By: S. Davis

September; Berlin:

Evening.

What a night in this jubilant city. Not only am I burning the candle at both ends, I’ve dipped it in diesel fuel, hopped on the back of a dragon and tossed it into an active volcano. Am I high?

Did I coherently write that incoherent statement above?

I’m staring directly at a raucous Friday night after getting home just after 8am because Berlin gets in your bones and implores you to stay out. You find yourself in abandoned warehouses and office buildings dancing with people who can’t speak a common tongue but you connect with in…other ways. These last 24 hours have been a futile exercise in squeezing – or at least, attempting to squeeze – an abundance of activities to fit into a block of time that isn’t ample by any means.

Renate was calling to me; with their live circus, inside of the dance club, so everything in the last 8-10 hours was an exercise in body management while pushing through sleep deprivation. You only live once, right? I’m tired. I’m ready for tonight’s possibilities though.

I went grocery shopping to prepare my dinner. The local food is flavorful and plentiful but a few nights of expensive cab rides makes one reconsider taking another trip to the ATM for euros. Pasta, artisanal sauce, fresh baked bread, salami and green tea are on the slate. I didn’t cook too often in France so I’m walking as fast as I can to get this main course prepared. Damn it, I have to put these bags down and find a place to piss.

Why did I walk into that kitchen?

So I just survived a small accident on my way back to the hostel, partly due to the fact that I was processing one million fucking issues at the same moment and almost lost a leg. I just don’t feel like myself. I wasn’t myself in that brief episode. Trust me when I say that it has nothing to do with the scant nibbles of sleep I’ve been teasing my body with. I was off. Period.

After blazing through the room like tornado force winds – and ignoring Whitney who was fine-tuning her makeup and starting her pregame with wine to kick the night off, I dropped the bags and went to the shower. I needed to hear…just…water. I had to be alone at that moment. Between Whit and our kick-ass, cool, roommates I wasn’t in the proper frame of mind to be social – and I know I would’ve been pulled into the conversation so I had to be the one to remove myself…for now.

Once I turned the lock and heard the audible click, I pressed my forehead against the door. The pace of my heartbeat began to gradually decrease. I turned on the water from both the faucet and the shower and fixated on the liquid as I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath. I exhaled once, then twice – and a third. My attention turned to the puddle resting in the sink and I stared for about 10 minutes without moving an inch before stepping into the actual shower. I studied the pellets dancing down my forearm. The off-white shade of the soap in my hands and the faint scent of rose hips emanating from it danced up my nostrils along with the steam.

I was searching for zen. It came. I recharged, dressed and headed for the community kitchen to eat, alone, and get myself ready for the club with a LIVE circus INSIDE. Is this city from a weird, children’s book or something? That’s a compliment! It’s time for some fuel.

Sean, why did you walk into that kitchen?

Upon keying in the code and entering the dining area there was a woman preparing…yeah, pasta. Having the space completely to myself was out of the window at this point. Whatever. Sand colored eyes framed by a gentle face…accompanied by a stern facial expression that could melt brick. Did I just infringe upon her search for tranquility while enjoying her meal?

Very brief “hellos” were exchanged. She told me where to find the clean pans and assisted me with the oven controls as they were a bit tricky. She mentioned how “dirty” the other guests left the kitchen when she arrived – and she was correct. I got started on cooking and took care of the stray dishes with full portions of rice and meat resting atop them as my pasta started to boil.

As I took a seat, a small conversation began to develop. Similar interests? Yes. She turned her attention to the shredded cheese she had to the left of her plate. “It’s ok.” It leapt from her mouth as if she wanted to convince herself that it was true. She shrugged her shoulders and said it was as if the cheese wanted to be mozzarella or parmesan but it “failed” at both.

She insisted that I try it. I did. It hit my palette and my brain surmised that it seemed as if mozzarella and…cheddar, I guess, had a baby so it was perfectly adequate. However I don’t favor a cheddar-lite taste with my pasta. I snickered about the cheese and we both laughed. A genuine smile formed upon her face. Her eyes were illuminated. They were suddenly green.

I went for my food, topping the pasta with olive oil, sauce, her depressing cheese, bread and thick slices of aged salami. She packed her plate with a second serving, emptying the contents of her pan. She eats, twice, and both of her servings were as large as mine. That’s rare – and a positive sight to behold. Honestly, I have to admit I wasn’t keeping score. I was having dinner with a compelling stranger from another country…in Berlin.

Further conversation birthed more laughter than anything else. My dinner was completely satisfying and I realized that I didn’t want to be alone in that kitchen at that moment. She mentioned her four-hour visit to New York City during Easter weekend a few years back and she described how, in her country, retailer H&M has a limited collection compared to other countries. We then discussed film production and our views as creative artists.

We described the day’s events in Berlin, our schedules over the preceding hours/days, being tourists, wandering, snapping photographs and enjoying the city. Her thoughts shifted to a local film festival and a movie that piqued her interest. She “might” see it in a day or two. “Or I might not,” she casually uttered as she stabbed four noodles onto her utensil. She then offered an invite.

“Maybe.” We finished our meals and started to tidy up. I cleaned all my dishes before eating my meal but I wanted to lend her a hand.

Why did I walk into that kitchen?

There wasn’t a romantic tone throughout our interaction. I’m speaking for myself but that energy didn’t come from her either. To be frank I turned off my body language meter once I got back to the hostel as my brain had other stimulation to occupy itself with. No touching of one another, none of those corny gazes; no.

I’m sorry I brushed against you…but secretly I was trying to brush against you. Were any of those moments present? Not a single one. She’s attractive, that’s actually a gross understatement, so there’s no disputing that but that’s not the reason I remained engrossed in the conversation. It was her mind. Her tone, direct, with no room at all for gray area when expressing her point of view; the piercing look on her face, it was her intelligence that was enthralling.

We shared a few laughs and exchanged contact information as we finished cleaning together. I did I swift profile scan of her. She’s a stunner. As we sat at the same table where we ate a few minutes prior, she released her hair from its tie. Part dark blonde, part brunette, curled, it fell to about her shoulders.

It would have been much easier to go buy dinner, Sean. I mean, really? I mean…

The focus, my focus, that was scattered earlier had been engaged and sharpened. Slow down, this isn’t the part where I go into pursuit mode. No. However I was aware that I was no longer viewing her in the same capacity. Honest.

I marked my groceries and she talked about her remaining days in town – as did I. Evening plans? She was thinking of shooting pool downstairs and then turning in for the night. I told her that my itinerary for the night wouldn’t truly begin for hours. She welcomed me to send a text and “if not, cool.” I told her that I would do so in “a few minutes.”

I caught up with Whit, grabbed a sweater and headed down. The hostel was awake. It was noisy. The music pulsated throughout the entire first floor. Chatter among travelers filled in for the lyrics. Girls were dressing to go out and guys were, well, trying to see where they were off to. I love it. Energy.

There was an active game of pool going with a large number of spectators and yet there wasn’t anyone who was next up. I sent a text and…a response: Hold the table! I told her that she didn’t need to worry. Two or three minutes passed before I noticed her approaching with a purpose. An abundance of eyes and neck turns were left in her path, I have to admit. I met her a quarter of the way with two pool cues. She smiled. I nodded. She snatched a cue from my hand and told me, confidently, that she was going to win. Escalation much?

Confidence. She boasted about her skill level. Her trash talk was sharp and she did back, most, of it up. I playfully ignored her which earned me several middle-finger salutes. She nudged me with her hips, pushed me, and completed the assault by aiming the cue at my head. Can I report this to someone? Ha! Ultimately the focus was on the competition; winning the match and all that. She prevailed.

Immediate rematch? Yes. This game moved at a quicker pace than our initial meeting. There was considerably less chatter but more gestures: eye rolling, laughing, mocking, blocking each others’ walking path, etc. I took the rematch, naturally. We rested the cues atop the table to dive into conversation. She mentioned her thoughts on how the tie-breaker could be postponed until tomorrow night. I was fine with that. Once again her thoughts turned to the movie she was interested in seeing at the festival. She started to search for the show times but her phone consistently lost the connection to the wi-fi. I didn’t mind. She talked, I listened. Staring at her phone, she then blurted that she’s “impatient.” I asked if that just occurred to her and she burst into laughter; I followed shortly thereafter.

Whit came over and asked if I was having a good time. “Yeah,” I replied. “It sure looks that way, Sean.” I blew off her response. I knew where she was going with the comment and it wasn’t something I was ready to acknowledge or even entertain. Go that way, Whitney. Thank you.

Naturally, I’m respectful to women. Additionally my default behavior is to be kind, attentive and charming. That’s not flirting. It’s my standard modus operandi. Now has it been confused or taken as “flirtatious behavior” from the opposite sex? Yes. Women have perceived it as such whereas I’m just being kind. True.

I never initiate physical contact with women. Key word: Initiate. I could be on a date for hours and I won’t touch her at all. If we’re on the dance floor, that’s one thing, but taking that atmosphere into consideration my hands are on her hips for the time we’re that close. It’s about respect and I wouldn’t want to make someone spending time with me uncomfortable in that manner. I leave it to the woman to dictate the physical terms. I might gently tap her shoulder or softly place my hand on her back if I need to get her attention.

Anyway…my dinner mate/pool adversary returned just as Whit strolled away with the cheesiest grin on her face. A pool cue was thrust into my chest and so the final round was set to begin. I kind of felt like I didn’t have a choice; I doubt I did. Whitney returned, “What about tonight? Are we going to see this circus…in the middle of the club?!”

Remember how I spoke about throwing the candle into the volcano? How my body has been alarmingly without rest? Whitney and I walked over to the bar to discuss the night ahead. She had a look on her face that I recognized. I had that look after a few hours of sleep earlier in the day while brushing my teeth in the mirror. She, too, had been pushing herself to the brink in Germany and she, mentally, wanted me to confirm her true line of thinking. She didn’t want to go the circus, not because she wasn’t game for it; she was tired. She also had a date on the other side of town that she didn’t want to miss.

She needled me about my new friend to which I simply stated that we’re having a “good time.” Whit and I continued on just as my competitor started the game. Whit finished her beer and uttered, “I see chemistry there.” My brow furrowed slightly and I shook my head before stating, “No, Whitney; I don’t think so. I’m not paying attention to that.” She took a drink of water and replied, “It sure looks like it. No?” She giggled with her entire upper body, we hugged, and she left me with another cheesy grin as she vanished into the swath of travelers at the hostel bar.

Round three began and it was much slower than the previous two matches but there was much more talking and laughing. I noticed the streaks of blonde in her hair, her posture, her smile and her walk. I won the game and we hugged. She wanted to turn in for the night. I understood. We went to a quiet corner of the hostel and talked for few minutes about…life. About 20 minutes later we walked to the courtyard and shared a few more stories before hugging. She told me to “be safe” and I wished her a blissful evening of sleep. Goodnight.

Why did I walk into that kitchen?

I glanced at my watch for the first time all day and it was a few ticks before midnight. I grabbed my phone from my locker and did a final scan in the mirror. Yeah, I’m looking good.

I exit the hostel and walk a few blocks away. Groups of people are buzzing around from every direction; into and out of cabs. A bar on the opposite of the street seems promising. One, two, three, four, five…six women just emerged from a taxi and entered the front door. It’s obvious where my night will begin.

There’s a faint smell of rain in the air. I take a massive, deep, breath. I begin to walk. Alone. I’m in Berlin with a whole night to explore. I don’t need to be anywhere else.

Cooking dinner was a smart decision.

 

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport
Part 5: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant
Part 6: Salzburg Airport (Departure)

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Travel Diary: Salzburg Airport (Departure)

By: S. Davis

September; Austria:

I’m about to fly out to ole England and I’m furious and depressed. This is leg four of my trip. The only flight remaining after this is…home. Ugh! Push past it, Sean; we have time in London – which will be the first international city I’ve returned to. I’m looking forward to it.

I want to staaaaaaaaaaay in Salzburg for a little while longer. Maybe an extra day? Who am I kidding? That’s not enough time. At every airport I’m both excited and sad: elated to get to the next destination while lamenting that I have to leave the current one.

I really wish this annoying dog would stop pawing at my feet. Doesn’t it know that I’m trying to sulk in my despair while making eyes at the red-head with the braid crown? I softly pat its head which exacerbates the issue and it stands on its hind legs with its front paws on my knee. I try to ignore it by staring at my phone screen but the curious critter licks my knuckles. My cold, dead heart melts so I place my phone into my pocket to give him some attention. His owner laughs as I surrender.

I’m going to miss Salzburg. It’s a stellar city. From just about any corner of it, taking a photograph is a carbon copy of any expensive postcard you will ever see or purchase. Inch by inch it is quite possibly the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. The mix between contemporary and traditional architecture, the seamless balance between nature and city life; the fortresses, castles, trees, food, etc; it’s going to stay with me for an abundance of reasons.

That fresh air! About that air…

A major part of this trip centered around World War Two history. Berlin is a lively city – and I enjoyed that but I wanted to really see it: Bradenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Wall, etc. There’s an energy in the city that’s aware of its past and that’s never lost no matter where you happen to be.

I’ll get to that in a future entry, I promise. It’s going to take a while to craft – and honestly, to sit down to type it all recalling those moments, hours will be tough. The entry’s already written but I’m missing a page that I’m positive is somewhere in my messy bag – that’s still unpacked from the trip. I’ll locate it and it shall be posted.

 

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport
Part 5: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant

Travel Diary: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant

By: S. Davis

September; Berlin:

It’s been a blur the last few days. Partying in Paris all night, riding the train to the airport – during rush hour; that was smart – and making it all work while not speaking French at all. I should work a little harder on that at some point. I’ve always been pretty good with directions. Being a native New Yorker, all I need is a local train map and I’m comfortable anywhere.

I should be pacing myself better but being away feels gratifying and energizes me to the point where my internal battery is fully charged. It’s not, by the way. Does this sound corny, Sean? Yeah, it does. As much as I’m working to create my own luck and career in Los Angeles, if I could travel for a living I would sell all my belongings, break my lease and grab my backpack and passport in a second – and head to LAX.

When I’m enraptured in a new culture and I have my passport, backpack and foreign currency I’m as close to experiencing nirvana as I’m ever going to be. Berlin doesn’t feel foreign. I’m not sure there’s a major city that will ever feel unfamiliar. Boy I’m happy that I grew up in New York City. I have a big city perspective that allows me to navigate other cities around the world with a confidence that would take years to build.

I’m sitting in La Parrilla Steak Restaurant as my two main courses are arriving. Currywurst, fries and salad along with a lamb plate with two chops, green beans and fried potato-ish rolls. Think fried yucca or a potato knish, rolled and breaded. They’re about the size of an adult index finger. Wait, I think these are actually croquettes. They are.

While all the flavors are a treat to my palette, the green beans are the champion. They’re delicately sauteed, al dente; still firm and not mushy at all. Olive oil, garlic and onions make the vegetables excel. The portions are Sean approved as well. No offense, France, but I like a heavy plate. It’s simply another reason why I love Italy and Italian cuisine.

Money isn’t a factor as it pertains to my stomach – or when I travel for that matter. I like to feel completely satiated after a meal. It’s vital to the overall experience. I’m ordering two tonight because I’m a fat ass.

This city is for walking, biking and public transit…like somewhere I know well. Large pockets of Mitte and greater Berlin feel similar to the West Village – or for those familiar with Los Angeles, West Hollywood; while not as flamboyant. I like the energy I feel on the streets of Berlin.

A newly relocated resident, from Bensonhurst, asked if I could see myself living here a few nights ago. “Who knows, anything’s possible,” I said. I went on to explain that Rome sits comfortably atop any list addressing an international, permanent, move. It has everything I get from NYC – and on a smaller lever, LA – with better food and a city that manages to balance it’s past and future in such a stellar manner; no small feat. The city also showcases some of the most stunning women on par with any region on this planet. Rome burned its way into my soul. NYC is my wife but Rome is the ex that visits when my wife’s away and we have these moments together that are unforgettable. Is that unfaithful of me? Shut up. I’m single and I have an extraordinary imagination.

Tackling the nightlife had me wiped out all day yet I’m sure I’ll be going out again this evening. I’m on vacation and there are hundreds of women I haven’t had the chance to meet…yet. I’ve been drained the last few days – fours hours of sleep seems to be the culprit I’m sure – but all the natural energy I have flowing through me makes it hard to sit idling. However my body actually proved its limits on my two-hour flight from Paris. I fell into a deep slumber for the majority of the flight, with the exception of the last 8-10 minutes. I went out so swiftly that I don’t recall the flight ever leaving the ground. I do remember the pilot announcing our approach to Berlin. Once we did, I clapped as I always do in that situation and I was amazed that I slept.

My final night in Paris was a late/early one so I just accepted that I would zombie through my first few hours in Berlin – which still happened by the way. The fact that I had a true moment of sleep on a flight is an accomplishment as it’s never happened before. The longest time I’ve grabbed any portion of sleep was my departing flight from Barcelona when I may have stolen 40 minutes of real slumber. A two-hour nap for the record books! Thank you, Paris.

I like it here a great deal. Berlin. The pace I’m pushing will require a vacation – from my vacation. Now if I come across a German Wonder Woman, my itinerary will definitely change. I have a few days on the back-end of this trip that I can move around. Sorry, England. Some of the reactions I receive when locals hear me speak are hilarious. I don’t know what I sound like so I can’t relate to what they process but it’s always a positive interaction. It’s led to some memorable interactions with women…

 

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport

Travel Diary: Salzburg Airport

By: S. Davis

 

September; Austria:

Berlin tried its best to kill me and although I resemble humans I’m not of this earth; I’m from a planet long ago destroyed by the name of Krypton. My resistance to alcohol, nightlife and women are far greater than that of mere mortals; well…let me think about that last one a while longer.

When the bus shuttled across the tarmac to meet the humming jet for my next flight on this trip, longingly I wanted to remain in Berlin. Let’s stay another day? We can push the itinerary out! No! Dude if we stay longer we’ll have less time in Salzburg – and Austria’s a large component of this trip. Besides those German women are smart; if I’m exposed to them for another 24 hours I’m sure a shard of kryptonite will miraculously appear and then I’ll have to worry about applying for a work visa, future residency, a shotgun wedding and learning a new language. That escalated swiftly now didn’t it?

We’re approaching the landing strip and there’s a 360 degree panoramic view of glorious mountains, luxurious green spaces and clouds both thick and thin. How is this an airport? I admire how the city engineers drew this up when they were mapping Salzburg. I feel as if I’m going to a camping retreat of some sort.

I clap and whisper a prayer to God as I always do when I land safely on solid ground and power up my phone. A cool text from Sprint greets me, welcoming me to Austria and I check my messages to see if there are any new replies from Nina. The flight from Berlin was delayed and she and I were messaging up until I had to power off the phone. Her message explains that she’ll run home to charge her phone battery and drive back to pick me up.

As the staff lead us off the aircraft I take in the view and feel my lungs expand. That’s no exaggeration. My chest inflated, as if my lungs got an upgrade and went to higher level, similar to a video game achievement. The sinus pressure in my head and ears were released like the air from a tire and I truly thought I was on the verge of levitation. At least that’s what I was hoping to do. I still think I’m going to wake up one morning and fly; I want to be Superman. Don’t judge me, please; like you wouldn’t want superpowers.

I check my mobile: She’s waiting.

As I stop in my tracks and smile at the buffet my eyes are feasting on, an older couple smiles and I wave in response. I snap a few photos. This is how you greet visitors or locals to Salzburg? I like this.

We’ve all seen movies, television shows or other people have someone waiting for them at the airport, right? Isn’t that cool? I’ve always thought it was. Specifically, as in a person there as you enter the airport waiting for…you. Neat. I breeze through baggage claim as I’m reasonable enough to travel with one carry-on (with a backpack that collapses into it if needed) even though I’m on a month-long voyage. I don’t have time for extra weight. With my personality, if I felt my bag was too heavy I would either throw the extra clothing away or wash them and find a local church for a quick donation. I actually feel this bag could be lighter. I’m into my third week in Europe and I have shirts I have yet to wear.

As the automatic doors slide open I see a familiar face. “Seaaaan! Heyyyyy, you’re here!” We laugh, we hug. I thank her for coming to collect me from the airport to which she tells me to “shut up.” Yeah, that sounds like the drummer girl I met four years ago when we were both figuring out what the hell we were going to do in Los Angeles. Her, a talented musician looking to follow her career path away from her home; myself, a writer and actor chasing a purpose, happily, with New York City in my rearview mirror. Los Angeles is definitely a city that brings dreamers together. That should be the official slogan of the city tourism board.

She expresses herself in the most straightforward way; blunt and unapologetic. Intelligent, funny, kind and her accented English is a treat to the ears. Make no mistake she’s fluent although she’ll ask me if she’s expressing herself correctly. Like I created the English language; keep on talking Nina. Ha!

“It’s been four years since we were in the same place,” and she nods before laughing. Her maniacal driving forces me to tell her about it and she says she’s not “that bad” as if she’s aiming to convince herself. Ugh! I haven’t had to drive in over two weeks and I’m getting flashes of the assholes on the 405. I’m sorry Los Angeles; traffic on that slab of concrete bullshit will hasten my move back to NYC before anything else does.

We mention how glad we both are that we stayed present with one another. It wasn’t always consistent communication but we hovered around one another through our fb inbox. She’d send a message, I’d send a Motorhead song and we’d remain active, I would say, in each other’s lives. Months ago she sent a picture of the Hohensalzburg Castle with a caption that read, “Get your ass over here!” She should teach English. I remember getting the message and spitting my drink all over my laptop. It was worth it.

In the car she’s going from topic to topic, all over the place but under control at the same time and I just nod my head. Her hair’s dark again, letting go of her blonde look of years prior. She still has that weird smile and her eyes are as expressive as I remember. Bright. She laughs with her whole head and neck as I recall. This is familiar again, it’s like we left off at the hostel or when we were roaming Hollywood after leaving Denny’s on Sunset Boulevard because she just had to eat pancakes…again.

She doesn’t put up with bullshit and I think that’s the characteristic that resonated with me. I think I have to keep her in my life – or make the attempt to keep a line open to her. That was the most potent thought in my head once I left the hostel in LA. I’m not the type to stay present with people – a characteristic related to my upbringing – and it’s not that I pull away from those that matter, it’s just…I’m comfortable living my life without updating every one on every thing…for large chunks of time. As crass as it may sound, it doesn’t bother me if people I care about are upset over that. If they truly know me, they know me. They know that. We stayed in touch and it wasn’t the least bit weird when we were in the car, talking, after all these years.

We dropped my things off, went to pick up groceries, eat and then stroll around her neighborhood. This is crazy! We walk about five minutes from her apartment and this is the type of view Salzburg supplies:

I haven’t been in town two hours and I want to live here. Or over there where the horses are eating…five minutes from Nina’s apartment. Oh, wait there are cows over there. We talk about deep, life, subjects and we’re blowing past all the superficial friendly talk and real substance is on the menu now. It’s seamless, it’s raw, it’s heavy, it’s funny…it is real.

As we walk along another path a kind stranger waves at me, specifically, obviously, as if he wants me to know he’s welcoming me to his country. Nina and I look to one another, I shrug my shoulders and then we both laugh. Without missing a beat, “Yeah, he thinks you’re a refugee.”

We both laugh, loud. “I’m American; I’m not here for your jobs!” This becomes a running joke for the remainder of my trip with Nina coming close to taping my mouth closed at every inappropriate public place that I utter it. With the way things are in the United States, I might have to seek refuge soon. I might be back in a few months for everyone’s jobs. Did everyone on the flight think I was a refugee? That charming couple on the runway that smiled at me?

Her skills as a tour guide are without peer. “Fortress, fortress, fortress, green, green, green…take pictures here or do whatever. You already paid me so let’s get on with this.” I’m so glad she’s a musician because she’d be an abysmal person to lead tourists. They’d get lost while she’d be drumming somewhere or eating noodles.

We’ve got a week to renew our friendship. I’m glad we didn’t lose touch. I’m glad we didn’t lose touch. She’s unique.

 

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin

Travel Diary: Berlin

By: S. Davis

September; Germany:

Why am I crying? Of all places, here?

As I’m connecting the dots over the last 24 hours and strolling to the Naturkundemuseum with a chunk of cheesy bread in my mouth the noise of the city begins to dissipate, as if the volume is controlled by a DJ. There are fewer people on Chausseestr and it’s now silent in the early afternoon. Shops are busy, life is abundant yet you can hear whispers as if they were screams. According to my map, I’m a few blocks away from my destination – which happens to be in close proximity to the Berlin Wall Memorial as well. I have this afternoon filled just like that.

My neck is tight. What the hell happened last night? Did I go clubbing again or did Whitney and I get drinks? Was it both? Was I with Natasha yesterday? Maybe I should check my phone for clues. That’s not going to shed any light on what happened before I fell asleep; my nights are meant for memory-making and not picture-taking, especially when I’m on vacation. My phone spends most days, shut off, and in my locker. There’s no real point to being on vacation and being tied to an electronic leash. Its primary use is as a backup camera to my traditional model.

I’m rambling now and I’m flummoxed as to why my neck feels like someone put a screwdriver through the left side of it and kicked it through, puncturing the skin on the right. I need to eat more. Rewe’s right over the bridge…done. Wait, I already went there and I haven’t finished the bread or fruit cup yet.

The clouds are gathering once more – and I’m certain it’s about to rain shortly. It’s quiet, even the cars are less noisy along this street. Greenery, fantastic; oh, this isn’t a park in the city. It’s the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery. It’s so peaceful. Tranquil. Is it open to the public?

I have time. I can walk around for a bit, I think. Let’s put this food away, this is not a space of recreation at all. After taking a gulp of water I carefully enter the gates and feel the ambience. Two senior women are wrapped in a conversation on a nearby bench and smile as our eyes meet, I smile in return. I examine the headstones: the names, dates of a human’s existence, the family plots, the long lives and the incredibly short ones all resting here.

Pellets of rain rest on my right hand and I look to the sky. There’s still a great deal of sunlight so I have some time before I have to find cover, maybe 15 minutes or so…I guess. A marble headstone catches my attention and then an intricate tomb, another plot holding several generations of an entire family line, a teacher, a wife and her husband, a mother and her son, a beloved brother, the headstone of a child; the rain subsides.

My feet swiftly become fastened to the cement. My shoulders feel heavy. I rotate clockwise and counter-clockwise. I’m centered and I’m not able to move forward or backward; I stop spinning. As I look to the sky, the tombs, the women on the bench near the entrance and the dog walking its owner along Chausseestr…

Why am I crying? Of all places, here?

I spent hours at the Holocaust Memorial and I felt intense gloom. The lives shattered, entire families wiped out of existence; pointless extermination. Murdered; killed for no other reason than they were born and were labeled by a tyrant as different. Some of the notes I read at the exhibit forced me to sit and soak in the despair. Why didn’t I shed tears there? A few times I felt as if I was on the verge especially when I listened to the story of a woman in Nazi Germany, her name adorned the wall from the projector and under her name was a date of birth yet there wasn’t a date of death. It was empty. I’m melancholy as I type this with that image so clear in my mind. I’m in that room once more; that sad, elegant, respectful, poignant, tragic presentation that I listened to for a long stretch of time.

Tears traversed my eyeballs and not a single one escaped my eyelid. Could it be that I expected to cry, at least subconsciously, and therefore it didn’t materialize because of that same underlying expectation? There’s no answer and I’ll leave it at that.

Clouds are beginning to block out the sun as a tear runs down my cheek. I focus intently as it splashes on my sneaker and I look up at a statue of a pained woman. She’s braced on an urn, unable to stand upright with her grief. It took wind out of my chest. Maybe I’m repressing inner pain but I bent over, almost taking one knee, stared at my sneakers and let the process take over. It hurt and I was heartbroken.

I licked the tears from my top lip and exhaled. There was a child’s headstone that took me to another level. I’ve been in cemeteries before – and I’ve never had a reaction like this…but on this day, for reasons unknown, it was befitting. I grieved and didn’t wipe a single tear from my face. I wanted to feel it all. There are times I can be robotic, to the point where I even question what’s brewing within my soul. My heart’s beating and I’m in tune with my emotions. A human exists; Sean is still there.

Death doesn’t shake me; I’ve been exposed to it more than I’d like to admit. When life gives you lemons, right?

My brain begins to send signals to my feet and I’m able to move again. The tombs are intricate, large and small. Some are worn and others look new or freshly cleaned. A small portion of the headstones have recent dates of death and those affect me immediately. A light drizzle turns on a dime and the rain intensifies which forces me to pull on my beanie. I feel angry, I feel depressed, I feel weak, I feel strong, I felt it all. I shut my eyes and say prayers as I walk along the resting.

I mourn. I’m sure the emotion here is connected to this cemetery, these people, and the experience at the Holocaust Memorial. This was a slight detour. The ones I love when traveling without a plan. It’s the reason why I don’t make any.

Lastly, to the three joggers and two bikers: You’re assholes.

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)

Travel Diary: New York City (JFK)

By: S. Davis

September; New York City:

Strange. Odd. Revealing. Empty.

I sit here waiting for my connecting flight to Paris and…nothing. No anger or sadness, no happiness, excitement or joy. I’m home – as much as I can call an airport that, but nonetheless I am technically in New York City and not a single emotion is rising to the surface.

Apathy?

I’m thinking about all my failures, mistakes and questionable decisions; good, bad…unclear. The outcomes those choices yielded – and how I processed and lived through them. What were the lessons, the silver linings? I can’t find a single one at the moment. I’m sure they exist but I feel like a robot at the moment. The planes are rolling around, awaiting signals to reach the runway, outside of the window and I’m staring at Queens. I am in my city, my heart deeply in Brooklyn yet inside my chest is silence.

My eyes fixate on five birds; it all seems so simple for them. Envy? Sure. The simplicity fascinates me. I place my hand over my heart to make sure I’m actually existing in this moment and I haven’t died in a plane crash or I’m deep into a dream unaware it’s time to make my way to LAX. Am I asleep?

After stepping away from the window I press my right hand into my chest – to the point of discomfort in order to feel my beating heart. Faint, eerily so. My cellular battery is at full capacity thanks to the charging station. As I sit, I contemplate every woman I dated, my education and, above all else, my childhood. My mother, my sister; the concept of home.

What exactly is home?

Where have I gone? What have I accomplished?

Besides surviving some cruel luck I can’t answer that in a tangible manner. I love my true friends with every bit of my heart and whatever’s remaining of my soul but I hate when they attempt to sing my praises for overcoming a devastating upbringing. Life doesn’t award medals just for living it, I suppose. Actually I’m sure it doesn’t. My sister didn’t celebrate a tenth birthday and I’m older than my mother was at the time of her death. Is that true? It is. Does a silver lining exist there?

There are times when I’m maniacally convinced that my life is being televised to another dimension where wagers are being placed on the exact time I break, mentally. Twelve? I was on the brink. Fourteen? Fifteen? Sixteen? Twenty-four? Twenty-nine?

Why am I at my happiest with my backpack, foreign currency and a map finding my way through a foreign country?

I would sell every one of my possessions and leave everything behind to travel the world for the rest of my days. If I found a career path that paid me a salary to travel, I wouldn’t need a full week to shut down my life in Los Angeles.

I’m trying to create luck and opportunities for myself but, personally, I feel that I’m failing, once again. I’m acting, writing and performing but not to the point where I can pursue those avenues solely according to the standards I’ve set for myself.

Shockingly, I find myself inundated with anxiety. I’m bathed in the shit. It’s like a sticky, thick, pungent film that I can’t seem to wash off. It’s resting in my subconscious and it invades my sleep. It won’t subside even on the days I feel like I’m progressing. It’s eroding my ability to self-motivate. I’ve never been a person to fall victim to that emotion and now it’s a consistent, troubling insecurity I cope with.

I’m 37. I’m running out of time.

Travel Diary: France

By: S. Davis

 

For three weeks of September I was in Europe behaving like a caveman pumped with gallons of absinthe. It was fantastic. The last time I had a chance to travel – over international water – was 4-5 years ago and that was a crazy jaunt through the majestic island of Puerto Rico.

Since I have a few of these journal entries – I bring a small notepad to write during quiet moments – why not publish them? I have some that go back as far as eight years ago that I have to track down and once I read them, they’ll be here.

This overseas voyage took me through France, Germany, Austria and England. I’m not publishing these in order because I don’t always value linear storytelling and they weren’t written in that fashion to begin with.

September; France:

A few days into the trip; I’m eating dinner at Le Café Palais Royal, directly facing the Louvre. This has been a looooong day, though it started at a snail’s pace. However it’s one of the hidden nuggets of travel that you uncover while in the middle of it: The day always finds a way to fill itself out, no matter the beginning.

Paris is a beautiful city. The Eiffel Tower is worthy of its reputation yet I find myself exponentially drawn to the Louvre over anything else I’ve seen thus far. I love museums; I could spend an entire day browsing. In fact I spent my first day in Paris within the massive structure for over six hours. I could’ve stayed longer if I didn’t want to eat my arm for dinner.

I admit it wasn’t one of my brightest ideas when you include that I didn’t sleep much the night before and my body refuses to relax on a plane. Additionally, I spent over 12 hours in combined flight time getting to France so my internal clock was flummoxed, not to mention the two-hour tarmac dance at JFK. Aren’t there regulations against that sort of thing?

First, we were delayed an hour and then it took another 60 minutes until we got to the runway, hoping for an opening to takeoff. Akin to painfully cruising through the parking lot of a packed supermarket while fighting the urge to urinate on yourself while at the same time holding the urge to scream waiting for a car to open up an available spot. Just like that…but worse.

Side Note: The elongated game of “Will We or Not?” most definitely cost me a chance at a fun flight with a stunner named Chellie. So I arrived at my aisle seat to find this striking woman sending a text and resting her head on the window. I checked to make sure my seat was correct: 39 H. Yes, it’s on my boarding pass. She’s seated in 39 J. It could be much worse. She’s got the window; I have the aisle and the near future includes a seven hour flight to get to know her. Why wasn’t her seat 39 I? It comes after H in the alphabet though. Sean!

I’ll get back to the Louvre in a second…

Once I sat, I smiled to myself as I absorbed the scent of vanilla, cinnamon, lilies, peach, coconut and baby powder seeping from her skin. Mistakenly I kicked her foot – not a mistake – to get her attention. I apologized and she politely waved it off with a smile. She returned to her phone and as hard as I tried I couldn’t get a sight at who was demanding so much of her attention. Boyfriend? Husband? Girlfriend? Has to be, right? Now there wasn’t any bauble on her fingers but what does that mean? C’mon what are the odds here?

After placing my backpack in the overhead compartment I sat down and she placed her phone into her purse and fussed with reading a novel adorned with a fluorescent cover in…French. This is it; my opening to diplomatic relations with France. Our countries need a better working relationship and I’m the guy for that.

Now over the last few years I’ve felt that my future wife won’t be American. I feel strongly about it. It’s not that I don’t find American women attractive – they’re women, attraction takes care of itself. Emotionally and mentally, there’s a connection I find with international women that I just can’t explain. There are sensibilities…about life that I share, overwhelmingly, with women of an international upbringing. It’s lacking with the women in my country and I’ll simply leave it there. The woman who gets me to utter, “til death due us part” will, more than likely, have an international passport. French women were on my list but in the bottom half of my top ten. Where is my list?

Back to Chellie: She skimmed over a few pages, checked her phone one more time before sliding it into her cappuccino colored, leather purse. She rested her head on her chair and gazed out to the sunny, New York, afternoon with a great view…of the airport terminals. Ugh! I was reading an article on my phone and she took a deep, long, breath followed immediately with a long sigh. I looked over. “Let it land, give her a few seconds before you go all Sean.”

I let a moment pass and inquired about the reason for the sigh. “A little tired,” she spoke softly, barely above the volume of a whisper. She rubbed her eyes and then checked the time on her wristwatch. “I’m Sean, hello.” I extended my hand and she sat forward, “I’m Chellie, nice to meet you.” Then the conversation picked up for about two minutes until the captain announced a delay – which prompted her friend to walk over to our section. Miraculously there was one open seat in the cabin to which she wanted Chellie to fill. What are the odds? Yeah…so that was curtains for that.

So I now had two seats to myself. Yayyy! Ugggggggh! The flight was banal, unspectacular. Totally memorable as I hate flying but I love seeing the world.

Tangent over…

The famous glass pyramids of the Louvre courtyard is ripe for those looking for selfies and such but the actual collection of art itself surpasses the grandeur of the unforgettable glass structures. Impressive is an understatement – and I’ve visited some of the most renowned museums in the world. Hell, I’m from New York City and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is my gem along with a trove of other popular collections of art. The Louvre is damn special. Truly.

Honestly I was dragging my body through the halls and I felt the weight of each individual limb. With the exception of a brief nap, really brief as in I dozed off for 14 minutes before my body remembered that I was on a flying bus and responded accordingly, and flying across several time zones – departing from LAX is abhorrent – I was sleep deprived for over 30 hours. It wasn’t the ideal way to begin my tour of Europe but I’ve done it before. Taking a look back the two-hour delay was a blessing as I was scheduled to arrive in Paris at 7am instead of the 10:30am(ish) time the plane landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport (from which I hopped on the train to my hostel).

There was a stretch of time where I sat for an hour in the museum, people watching mostly, until my legs ceased throbbing. I had a moment where it was obvious that my body had enough. I’ve prided myself on being great when it comes to directions: Where I am in a foreign city, how to get home, what wings I’ve seen in a particularly massive museum, etc. I knew my tank was on empty when I was walking in circles, walking through corridors I’d previously visited, seeing the same staff members in the same places as earlier and trying to find an exit when a kind employee gave me clear instructions on how to accomplish that. Clearly my brain was powering down all systems.

I yearned for the two glasses of red that I had on the flight but I knew that it would be a bad idea to stop for more considering my energy level at the Louvre. It rained for the entirety of that afternoon and the downpour only intensified as the sun fell. I gathered myself and looked at my city map. “Where exactly is the Eiffel Tower in relation to where I am?” The night was here and I was collecting my jacket, having found my way to the main hub before exiting. Boy was it a great idea to buy a jacket before leaving the weather-averse confines of SoCal. I don’t own a coat at all. I donated all of my winter garments before leaving NYC. Being from the east coast and innately familiar with the weather patterns in the beginning of the fall, I knew I would need something heavier than a simple sweater but less clunky than a legitimate winter coat.

My calves burned but I wanted to get the Eiffel Tower done. I have this drive to knock out several major attractions within the first two days in an international city so the rest of my time there I can mill around aimlessly. I was determined to get it done. It was a chilly, rainy evening but those are the types of nights I ache for now that I no longer live in New York City. I’m doing this!

After passing over the Seine River – by the way of Pont Du Carrousel – and seeing the tower illuminating the sky I ignored how the water began to add weight to my jacket. Maybe I should’ve gone with a waterproof option? No question. I made my way down Quai Voltaire/Quai Anatole France with my pace speeding up as the rain become more unrelenting. Underneath my jacket was a simple v-neck t-shirt and I was warm but my forearms were cold. I felt goosebumps. I knew exactly what was happening. I stopped at the Musee d’Orsay to get out of the weather. Rain had penetrated my jacket to the point were there was one layer keeping me from feeling like I was standing in the shower, drenched. D’Orsay was closed but I stood there to track my position on my map and remove my hat which was saturated with enough water to where my head couldn’t possibly remain dry for more than five minutes of consistent exposure.

I wasn’t that far. I murmured to myself as I fished my scarf from my backpack and wrapped it around my neck. I took a brief detour down Rue de I’Universite, Rue de Bac, Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue de Varenne for no particular reason. I can look a little disjointed at times but it’s fun because I allow myself to get lost in order to remember neighborhoods, restaurants, etc. Streets, monuments, shops get burned into my brain that way (more on that in a later entry) and yet this was not the time to explore. I picked up some euros from an ATM and scurried back to the shelter of the Musee d’Orsay. My will finally, mercifully, listened to the message my body, and more importantly, my brain were sending: You have to punt on the Eiffel Tower tonight. Reluctantly, I listened. As I crossed the Seine for the second time and was on the cusp of crossing Quai Francois Mitterrand along Place du Carrousel I noticed the Eiffel. I snapped a grainy, wet, photo and smiled. Maybe my camera had enough too; the battery indicator was blinking; drained. Poetic.

I made it back to the hostel, soaking wet and exchanged pleasantries with fellow backpackers I would have time to converse with throughout my stay. I flirted with the women and went to my room to change. There are new encounters to be had in a new city. Hell yeah! I fought my body for as long as I could. Whatever, brain, I’m going out to meet some women.

After sitting to peel off my wet garments and feel the warmth of the room – I really should’ve remained on my feet – my brain vetoed any further actions along with my carnal desires for the evening. I completely powered off. I was on auto pilot so I was able to hang my clothes and keep my area neat before falling swiftly into a deep slumber. It was a long day. Europe will have me for a month; a night of rest was needed. A night of rest it shall be.