A Berliner Darkly

“Creativity needs constraint. Otherwise it’s just emotion.”

–Brook McCarthy

I’ve been struggling with figuring out what to write. I wanted to provide some grand historic perspective on Berlin to put into context my views and observations on its people and culture, but I’m in a funk. I’m ear deep in my novel, trying to figure out the direction I want to take it in [and simultaneously fighting off thoughts about why this is a horrible idea]. I’m at the tail end of a cold that’s been haunting me for weeks [and my period is coming, naturally.] My wallet was stolen over the weekend [I got it back, without the money, of course] and I’m trying to figure out if there’s a nice way to say that this city’s ubiquitous attitude towards smoking is making me homicidal…without offending my friends who smoke [there isn’t.]

So since I can’t NOT offend…I might as well go all in: People smoke everywhere. EVERYWHERE. In restaurants, bars, nightclubs, train stations. They don’t even wait to exit the train before they light up. Once, I was riding the U-Bahn to Alexanderplatz and someone sat right across from me, pulled out a handmade cigarette, and lit up without any fear of consequence…staring straight at me, daring me to make the slightest indication that I gave a fuck. I just sat there, eyes burning from the smoke, tears streaming down my face, stomach rolling, choking on my own pride [and vomit.] When all I wanted to do was…

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Even now, as I sit in bed typing this out, I can smell the cigarette smoke coming from my neighbor’s flat. And while I understand autonomy, respect, all the things that underlie a democratic society…a small but very real part of me wants to punch her in the face so that her physical appearances matches her lungs.

There. Now we never have to speak of it again.

Let’s start with the book.

…Why? Why am I doing this? Most people are content with graduating college, possibly graduate school, possibly with a gap year in-between getting wasted on a beach in Thailand, then treating their STDs before getting married and then having children. I think it’s obvious by now that I’m an idiot, and therefore no such life suited me. And when I’m up at 1am surrounded by books, empty yogurt cups and chewed apple cores, staring at an unfinished sentence that’s been haunting me for the past 45 minutes while my neighbor blasts DMX at full volume, rapping in her thick German accent…I can’t help but wonder about my life choices.

I could have been an attorney. I almost was. Dad likes to recall how I have the mind for one. He thinks that me taking him down in arguments [namely because his argument consists solely of the words “because I said so”] is the same thing as writing complex legal documents loaded with incomprehensible jargon or cutting deals with corporate psychopaths who have all the money, power and means to keep things in litigation until the four horsemen of the apocalypse come riding through Kreuzberg to damn us all. The truth is, I have a good mind for solving problems, but I’m way too sensitive to cut straight to solutions mode, without first having a mini crisis of my own, especially if they’re my problems. I can’t count the hours I’ve spent sprawled out in bed, staring up at the ceiling, recounting any number of missteps I’ve taken that have caused an undesirable outcome. And I waste far too much time in blaming myself for the mistakes and shortcomings of others. It’s inefficient to be so involved with one’s own feelings. How on earth would I have been a good attorney when I waste far too much time trying to make sense of why people do horrible things?

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Getting my wallet lifted last weekend is a prime example of that. I was in a bar with a friend. I was distracted. My bag was on the table right in front of me. The lights went off, my bag was suddenly on the chair next to me, it was open and my wallet was gone. Nobody saw a thing. Nobody said a thing. A posse of thieves stole 80 euros and for about 24 hours, my sanity. And all I could think about, was not what undeniable bastards could do such a thing…but how on earth could I have been so stupid as to not be aware of it at the time? Pure, irrational emotion. Followed by the most intimate rage.

So! While I can [and often have taken tremendous pleasure in] methodically breaking down the arguments of others, nothing in this world makes me happier than puppies. PUPPIES. Small fur balls of piss and shit that bounce all over me and lick me in the face until I squeal. Puppies, pastry and Chopin. In that order.

Proof [you may want to turn down the volume for this one]:

I was riding on the S-Bahn yesterday and a woman sat across from me, pulled out a bottle of wine, unscrewed the lid and starting drowning her sorrows right in front of me with tears streaming down her face. The first thought I had was “Are you a writer too?” the second thought that crossed my mind was that I wished I brought those tissues that are sitting on my night stand. She probably would have knifed me in the neck for my watch if given the opportunity…

I have the mind of an attorney…but not the heart of one.

Sorry dad.

Mama said there’d be days like this

So what? I’m anxious, flawed and obsessed with reversing the appointed order of my maker. Who isn’t? That doesn’t mean that I can turn all that nervous creativity into a novel, especially a novel that people will enjoy. But it’s not so much about others, so much as it is about channeling all that nervous energy into something that doesn’t tear my mind up from the inside out.

It’s a feat. And I’m realizing that the only way to get it done is to 1. Have a routine, and 2. Have a creative community off of which I can bounce ideas and receive feedback. I’m no Henry David Thoreau, Berlin is far from Walden, and very few literary masterpieces were conceived in pure isolation, surrounded by empty yoghurt cups and chewed apple cores. I joined a writing workshop back in September, comprised of journalists, poets, romantics and idealists from a variety of disciplines. In it, we undertook several exercises to help us define our story outlines, develop our characters and refine our literary voices. For all intensive purposes, they were incredibly useful…but the classes often devolved into therapy sessions in which participants hijacked the conversation to discuss their insecurities as writers, an underlying personality trait we all share, but which I had no interest in discussing when I’m paying to develop the skills that would undermine the need to have that very conversation with a group of strangers in the first place.

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Even though I am no longer continuing the workshop, for a variety of reasons, I got what I needed out of it – my first few chapters. And I’m equally as surprised as I am pleased to say that I’m actually very happy with them.

No, I’m not going to say what it’s about. In stages as early as these, there’s no point. But here’s a fun fact – everything that goes badly, or rightly for that matter, stands a 50/50 chance of going into the book in some way, shape, or form. So when it’s all said and done, and you pick up my debut novel from the bargain bin at the airport bookshop, just know that there’s a 50% chance that what you’re reading actually happened during Jennifer’s Berlin years.

Was Jennifer actually stalked by a crazed Norwegian filmmaker? Maybe. Did Jennifer fall into an underground drug ring run by former high-level officials of the GDR? Maaaybe. Did Jennifer sometimes hang around music clubs where she met several other band fans, formed a band, they got together on weekends, wrote songs about heartache, hit the road with pennies in their pocket, get discovered by a fat-bellied British tour manager with a cockneye accent who then propelled them to fortune and fame before Greta’s nasty drug habit brought everything crashing down minutes before they were to announce their first worldwide tour?

Maaaaaaybe. Maybe Greta only thinks about herself. WE HAD A CHANCE, GRETA!


…if you’re name isn’t Greta, Beverley or Dean, that last paragraph might be lost on you.

All writers write what they know. And anyone who says otherwise is lying…or they’re Toni Morrison.

A Berliner Darkly

Is there such a thing as a romantic realist? Someone who, for example, fantasizes about the Paris of the 1920s, when Stein’s Salon was the cultural epicenter for creative dialogue…and then who quickly rationalizes why it would not be a good decade to repeat because of pesky little things like war, the impending global market crash, rampant racism, sexism and syphilis. Am I the only one who does this?

Yes, I would have liked to sit down at a table with Hemingway and Picasso. Yes, they probably would’ve hated me in equal measure after repeatedly calling each of them out for mansplaining.

Through this lens, I’ve realized that Berlin is both a city thriving on creative freedom, and still in many ways struggling to sort out an identity after being ravaged by a war that ended more than seventy years ago [which, in the grander scheme of things, really isn’t that long.] People in this city are still struggling with abject feelings of purposelessness, especially when compared to the rest of the country.

While its politics are super progressive, you also get the distinct feeling that the ruins of war still plague its ability to move forward. There is a kind of emptiness to the soul of Berlin, and it’s filled with people who are obsessed with their own image, but don’t know why. This, in direct contrast with Munich, which has a booming manufacturing industry [and the snobbishness to prove it] feels like Berlin hasn’t fully recovered. And the people remember. And pride, regardless of which side of history on which it’s placed, is a difficult thing to repair. Taking into consideration the fact that the wall only fell in 1989, I’m really living in a place with no as yet clearly constructed identity. And a city without identity represents tremendous opportunity for freedom, expression and heartache.


Berlin is in a weird existential struggle. It’s at the center of free tertiary education. It’s at the center of tenants rights. It’s at the center of open border policy, environmental recycling reform and gender equality…but it is still not as yet comfortable with cultural convergence, globalization or heterogeneity. Does Berlin want to be the moral authority of the twenty-first century? Is it even possible given the guilt and shame still so visceral in every part of its culture? The jury is honestly still out…and the rising right-wing sentiment happening in parts of Saxony and the outskirts of Berlin are testament to that.


There is no greater evidence of this than the Ausländerbehörde, the federal VISA office where hundreds of Auslanders [foreigners] line up every single day with all their legal documents to plead for a chance to stay in Germany. You have never seen people treated with such disdain before in your entire life. For all of Berlin’s ethnic diversity, there is still an attitude among the local bureaucracy that non-Germans aren’t equals. The recent influx of refugees has only intensified the situation, making government workers stressed and easily annoyed [not as stressed as people fleeing war-torn countries, but still!] The day before my appointment, I was speaking to a friend about what I should expect and she told me quite plainly that I could very well get my VISA, but that I would also likely leave the office in tears. That’s what happens to everyone. They get their paperwork, but only after being humiliated by people who just don’t want us here.

Everyone else I spoke to confirmed this.


So the morning of my appointment, when my translator couldn’t make it and my period decided to fill in, in her absence…I was already in tears. I clutched a bag full of forms, translated documents, articles, bank statements, IDs, statutory declarations and letters of offer and spoke through broken German…to the nicest woman I’ve ever met. So nice, in fact, that she granted my VISA on the spot. And when I asked her why she had been so accommodating, she explained quite simply that it was because I had cited Australia as my first nationality. If I had put American down instead, I would’ve gone to the floor above, where they really…really hate Americans. That’s what she told me.

…I didn’t see that one coming. I skated out of that building with two passports and a brand new visa like…

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So, now…I have an apartment. I have a visa. I’m writing…for money. I’m speaking German??

And despite the several very inconvenient setbacks of being robbed, assaulted, and stalked [you know, when I list it like that…] I woke up one morning and realized something:

This is what happiness feels like.

Jump, squat, stick it, stretch, repeat

So, what about my routine?

I wake up in the morning around 6am and write. Before the sun has fully risen, before opening up the curtains, before eating breakfast or responding to text messages from overseas, I write. I write about whatever is on my mind, but I’m disciplining myself to focus on the plot of my novel. Now that it’s getting colder, I stay in bed longer. I wear knee-high black socks, propped up against large pillows and turn my phone over on its face so that I don’t get distracted. I keep a bottle of water next to my bed, and sometimes I’ll consult a growing pile of books about literature, politics or sentence structure.

And I write…

I do this for about 5 hours every morning until my stomach begins to chew itself up from the inside out from hunger. Hunger, I’ve realized, is a powerful creative device when it comes to weaving intricate, beautiful phrases like “wispy-haired troglodyte” and “coterie of cunnilingus” [not to self: I haven’t used that last one, but now I kind’ve think I have to…] In those 5 hours, I am at my most clear-headed, creative, unencumbered best. I’m not yet bored by administrative concerns. I’m not yet annoyed by your ridiculous Facebook arguments. I’m not yet afraid of the impending election or infuriated by the general apathy amongst so many in my social circle. I’m just light…and words pour of me like warm honey.

After that, I eat so that I don’t kill anyone. Eggs, meat, fruit with yoghurt, peanut butter on dark toast and peppermint tea. Then I exercise ferociously until it hurts to breathe. Then I do my German homework, from which I’m often distracted by incoming calls from Australia. I need to get better at not doing that, but there is often an hour between exercise and class where I feel my heart suffocating from the distance between me and my loved ones, and I give in because the sound of a friendly voice from back ‘home’ is just as crucial to my psychological health as breakfast and exercise are to my physical health. I save all those photos of your little ones. I save all those photos of you watching documentaries on the sofa. I’ve put them into a folder on my iPhone that I look at when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Walking through Neukölln I pass by all the Turkish cafes and Arab restaurants. There’s one run by a man named Arman who makes me tea in the eving. It’s strong and bitter, but invigorating. He’ll ask me questions in slow punctuated German about how I’m doing, and listens patiently as I stumble my way through the replies. He doesn’t charge me, because he says he remembers how difficult it was for him when he moved here. One rainy Sunday evening, I went into his café for some takeaway [grocery stores are closed in Berlin on Sundays] and he asked me what I felt like. I told him that I felt like eating everything in sight because I was on my period and I felt ugly and gross and that I was on the verge of a crying fit [I said this in English]. He gave me shaved meat, salad, chips, bread and chocolate pudding and he said to me “du bist sehr hübsch” [you are very beautiful].

Now, when I go into his café, it isn’t for the food. It’s to see a friendly face, and to bathe in the warmth of company in the icy Berlin autumn.

I did to German class for three hours a day and sit amongst Brazilians, Turks, Brits, Colombians, Americans, Russians, Pollacks and Italians. Now I go for an hour and a half twice a week. We exchange startled looks with one another as we struggle to wrap our brains around the multilayered complexity of the German language. We stutter over how to properly conjugate the suffixes of adjectives according to whether or not they’re in the normativ, akkusativ or dativ tense. We list modal verbs and smile nervously at ourselves, squinting, grimacing and yes, laughing, while our brains slowly rewire themselves to account for learning a language that sounds like we’re berating prize-winning livestock.

I stand up in class and let people describe what I’m wearing in German, and then we switch places and I do the same. I’ve met some beautiful people in those classes. A kind-hearted Canadian illustrator with the softest voice and sweetest demeanor which truly becomes the stereotype of Canadians…a Russian club kid with a superb sense of humor and a talent for saving me during confusing grammar moments, a stunning Brazilian fashion student with a punk rock heart who turns heads wherever she goes…and Colombian graphic designer who tugs at my heartstrings with her smile.

I’m in class to learn German, of course, but I’m in THESE classes because I get to learn German with them. My teacher, Mortiz, teaches us not only about the language but about the historic idiosyncracies of German culture. In his class, I’ve learned that Bavaria is thriving with secessionists who view Berliners as parasites who suck the money out of the economy without giving anything in return. Like most places you only ever want to drive through, they even have a phrase to distinguish themselves from the rest of their countrymen: “Wir sind wir” which roughly translates to “We are us.”

And yes, it does sound ridiculous.

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Moritz is hilarious. He wears dated 90s attire, like puffy jackets and acid washed denim jeans with high tops. He wears a platinum chain around his neck, which he chews on when he’s annoyed with the class. He’s small, but walks with pure German conviction and makes us play silly games, which have proven extremely effective in expanding our vocabulary. If he asks me a question and I stumble my way through the answer, he’ll hang his mouth open, raise an eyebrow, think to himself “you poor, beautiful idiot” then completely regain his composure before explaining the concept all over again. He’ll give me a dozen scenarios and hammer home the grammar until he’s 100% convinced that I’ve gotten it, and even though it’s incredibly painful…it works.

Now I’m in a class with professionals who work during the day, and have no interests in evenings, or ideas. They work on computers and don’t laugh at any of my jokes. But I do this so that I can work more during the day.

On Wednesday and Thursday nights, I do comedy. Well, most Wednesday and Thursday nights. I have several new sets about Donald Trump, about life in Berlin…I throw myself completely into character for 5-15 minutes at a time with my comedy family and then we talk for hours after the show has ended over drinks and leftover pizza. This is how I met Rachman Blake, an American comedian who is slowly making the Berlin comedy scene famous – and Elena Gabrielle, an Australian cabaret performer who is, in my awesome opinion, absolutely KILLING it in Berlin. It’s kind’ve funny the number of lovable Australian performers I’ve met in Germany so far…and they all came to Berlin to escape the non-lovable Australians [yeah yeah…not all of you.]

On Fridays I don’t have class, so I do admin. Paperwork, bills, pitching, pitching, pitching…and now that some of the pitching has paid off, I do paid writing.

On Friday evenings, I sing. This is a relatively new development, a continuation of something I just began to do again in Melbourne. Through the power of Facebook connectivity, I’ve met some incredible musicians with too much talent and who smoke too much weed. Performances have been sporadic but life-altering. A performance I did a few weeks ago in Kreuzberg didn’t start until 3am, and it went on until brunch time. Afterwards, we piled into a taxi and rode to Prenzlauer Berg for breakfast and coffee where we wrote furiously on napkins and harmonized between bites of sausage and toast.

Last month, a friend I haven’t seen since high school [but whom I am nonetheless so incredibly in friend-love with] Facebook introduced me to a friend of hers, also living in Berlin, Jessica. Jessica has since invited me into a whole new world of brilliant, talented, passionate, hilarious people of colour. Artists, writers, musicians, rebel-rousers, misanthropes…they perform poetry, hip-hop, they create and promote intellectual artist talks, interviews and panels to discuss everything from immigration to black hair. We gather on weekend evenings to listen to music, eat homemade food, talk about politics and dating and laugh about absurdity. Now, when I’m feeling lonely, I meet them at cafes. I talk to them on Facebook messenger. We exchange stories and listen to Solange Knowles and paint each other’s nails and…

…yeah, this is what happiness feels like.

It was worth the risk.

Berlin and the battle of one

“… But while my loved ones was fighting a continuous war back in the city, I was entering a new one.”

-Kendrick Lamar [Hood Politics]

Summer is officially over. The days are shorter and the air has cooled to body temperature. The sky has taken on that faded haze, like God is smoking a joint and can’t be fucked dialling up the colours any more. The birds are gathering in their murmurations and mesmerising the pedestrians who walk beneath them…or maybe that’s just me.


Autumn is here. Before I lived in Australia, it was my favorite season of the year – the sky was bluest and the trees were at their loveliest. Cinnamon. Cloves. Pumpkins. Halloween. I never wanted October to end…but after 7.5 years in the Southern hemisphere, where I often spent these days dodging large magpies with razor-sharp beaks and drunken carnival attendees on the tram, it feels different. It feels like winter is coming…and it’ll be my second one of the year.

To say I’m dreading it would be an understatement. I think back to just 6 weeks ago when I was traipsing through Leipzig on a bicycle and laid out on the beach of Cossi baking beneath the sun amongst a sea of nude Europeans and I want to cry. Or closer still, performing at Köpi with Lisa Skye on a warm night while punk rock bands made the walls of the squat complex shake. I miss walking through Mitte on a weekend and eating strawberries by the punnet. I miss opening my windows the moment I walk into my flat to get air circulating, instead of pulling on my Converse socks to keep my feet from freezing on the wooden floors.

I HATE the cold. I say that as someone from Chicago. I hate, hate, hate the cold. But here it comes…like a sledgehammer.

…and it’s going to hit a wall.

No, wait. That’s me. I hit a wall.

Rather, I crashed into one…head first. No seatbelt. I moved into my flat, which is small but perfect, and the excitement that might normally be expected to follow was replaced instead with severe anxiety.


Life in Berlin is hard, not impossible, just hard. The air is hard to breathe. The city is hard to live in. The language is hard to learn. The people are hard to decode.

Only a month into what I can hope is my tenure in this city and I had already encountered the following characters:

**A narcissistic paediatrician, bordering on psychotic, who I believed to be a friend until he proposed to me in a WhatsApp message while on a combined MDMA/LSD trip. He laughed like a villain from an 80s action flick and had hair all over his neck and back that looked like he was smuggling an exotic carpet through customs. He made consistent attempts to touch my hair while it was an afro and bragged about the women in Africa who threw themselves at him while he was working for MSF in Cameroon, refusing to acknowledge the unique position he was in to exploit their socio-economic desperation as the privileged white European doctor he was, taking his pick of women who didn’t have better options, while reducing them to a colour fetish.

So! After declining said proposal [crazy, right?] and telling him that I didn’t want to see him anymore in any capacity, he followed up with a detailed outline of our life together for the next two years, in which I would abdicate my freedom during winter in Berlin to be his live-in warm hole while he saved lives in Mozambique. Needless to say, I wasn’t persuaded. Upon declining yet again, he followed up with his most charming suggestion to date: “Well, we should at least have one good fuck.” I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this naturally concluded in one of the most severe responses I have ever issued to a fuckboy in my life, which included the words “fucking you would be beneath me” and “If past lives are real, I hope I come back as you so that I too can experience your level of entitlement.” He subsequently blocked me and retreated to his lair to lick back to health what I can only assume are the festering wounds once occupied by his fragile ego, before I crushed it to pieces. Meanwhile, I was over here screen-shotting that conversation and sending it to my girls like…

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And while I normally believe in extending the respect a pseudonym would naturally imply to almost everyone in my writing, this motherfucker who makes more money than god and trounces around the world using his status to his advantage to exploit women of colour as his personal sex slaves [and BRAGGING about it] can go straight to hell, or to your Google search…you just have to ask me if you want to know his real name.

**I also had a female stalker who, for all intensive purposes, was a lovely human being, but deeply unhinged. As a woman who has grown up in the loving presence of a mother with severe mental illness, I think I am more finely attuned to picking up on the mental health issues of women than men. Men still get past my radar [as evident by the above] because social expectations have conditioned them to hide emotional distress and disguise it as masculinity [rather than the vulnerability to which they’re entitled]. I still fall for that some times…that macho bullshit that makes me think I’ve done something wrong to agitate a man who simply is not equipped with the psychological tools to unpack his own emotions.

…But women…when I see it, it hits a personal nerve, and I run. I run because I know there’s nothing I can do. In Leila’s* case, I saw someone who was desperate to connect to another human being, but I could’ve been anyone. I was open and playful and we appeared to have a lot in common, before I realized that she was merely aligning her interests to match my own after asking many in-depth questions to figure out what they were:

“Oh you like Tori Amos? Me too. Oh ‘Winter’ is your favourite song? MINE TOO. Oh, you were deeply unhappy at your last job? What a coincidence! I HAD A COMPLETE PSYCHOTIC MELTDOWN.”

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[…it’s funny, because Pocahontas is actually my cartoon twin.]

After our first coffee catch up, we were sending each other daily WhatsApp messages, throughout the day. Or rather…I was responding to them…trepidatiously. When I became sick, she checked in frequently to see how I was feeling, which felt nice being in a new city and so far away from a familiar face. She even offered to help me move into my new flat…after one coffee. After our second catch up, this time over dinner and sekt [sparkling wine] we found ourselves at Rose’s Bar in Kreuzberg where she unloaded a series of unfounded emotional confessions that had me sinking into the sticky leather couch until I swear I became part of the fixtures.

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…for real.

Leila was intense. Leila was talking like she was in love. Leila wanted to see me naked, photograph me, take me places and build life together from scratch to the soundtrack of Morrissey [and, sure, probably Tori Amos]. And despite Leila’s loveliness, Leila was freaking me out…hard core. I went home alone that night…and the next day, after waking up to no less than a dozen texts from her [and more than 50 Instagram notifications] I told her that I didn’t want to be friends any longer, and wished her the best. She responded calmly, even though I felt terrible about the idea of hurting her. She really did just seem lonely…

…until she showed up on my doorstep. Twice. Once at 6:30pm and another time at 12:30am. My AirBnB flatmate at the time, who shooed her away on my behalf, laughed and shook his head at me. “Oh Jennifer,” he said, “You pick ‘em.”

**By the way, it’s also worth mentioning that the woman who ran my second AirBnB stole a pair of my underwear. It was a pair bought for me by a stranger while I tried them on in a luxury lingerie store in Mitte called Blush. I loved that underwear. I hate her. She smoked in her underwear in the kitchen at 1am with the windows closed and had a hoarse cough that sounded like sandpaper.

**Three French girls who wound up on my doorstep when they realized that the AirBnB they had paid for [another one in my building at the time] didn’t actually exist. My host was in Mallorca at the time, so I snuck them into my flat and they stayed in one of the free bedrooms, leaving early in the morning before I woke up, after folding up their blankets and washing the dishes. I liked them…I hope they’re okay, wherever they are.

There are many other people, of course…some are worth mentioning: comedians with brilliant wit and severe cognitive dissonance, neighbours who drink themselves into a stupor and then play KRS-One at 2am on weekdays, another female stalker I met at Kit Kat club, a lovely British Masters student with whom I bonded after we both crashed a networking event for the free food, hilarious German classmates with unique, charming personalities and equally as brilliant German class teachers.

…and then there are some people not worth mentioning at all. **pours some sekt out for the homies**

I guess all of this would be okay, if it hadn’t been compounded by that one time I was followed home by three men from the U-Bahn station. They grabbed my hair and my arm and called out to me in English.

“Hallo princess.”

“Hallo goddess.”

They laughed at me when I swatted them away, and when I realized that we were the only ones on the street, and when I saw how they were looking at me…well, let’s just say, I know when men are showing off, and when they have intentions to do harm. In this case, it was definitely the later. I felt my stomach lurch like it does when I’m sick and adrenaline flooded my body. So I ran, and I knew it was the right thing to do when they ran after me. I got to my building before they did, and shut the door on them hard, after which I had two thoughts: 1. I’m okay and 2. They know where I live now.

I called Darren and he came over. He stayed with me until the police arrived and I was able to tell them what had happened.

There was a woman, whose name was not visible, whose name I will not repeat. They walked and spoke and looked at me like cops do…skeptically. I didn’t exactly feel comfortable having them in my home, or anywhere near me, but I had hoped they would be different from the police in America or Australia. After telling them what happened, in detail, they said they couldn’t do much. They didn’t grope any of my girly bits, they didn’t threaten to rape me, they didn’t pull a weapon on me…so the assault was too minor to be, well, an assault. “If they had done more, we could do more…”

“Well, I’m kind’ve glad they didn’t, you know, ‘do more.’”

She shrugged. “That’s Neukölln…this isn’t the safest area.”

Right.

I escorted them out of my flat and Darren, offering much support and several hugs, left shortly after. I took a hot bath and a sleeping pill then stared at the ceiling all night.

The thing is…I feel about 90% certain that the leader of the three was a man from the hair salon where I got my twists in. He had an unusual hair style, dark on the bottom and blonde on the top with a cut through like a bad 90s hip hop video. He stood behind me for 3.5 hours while the salon owner did my hair, and stared down at me, through me, like he saw nothing but reproductive organs. And when I shouted at him what he found so interesting, the woman who did my hair said “Oh what do you expect? He’s a man. Men stare at beautiful women.”

…but he wasn’t a man. He was a kid. I would be surprised if he was older than 20.

But the night I was followed, it was dark. I wasn’t sure if his hair was blonde on top or if the street light just reflected off of his dome. I didn’t get a good enough look, and because I couldn’t tell the cops with absolute certainty that it was definitely him, they didn’t do anything, and racial profiling is an issue I want to avoid as much as anyone else wants to avoid being the subject of it.

Still…say it with me now… “If only you had been assaulted more…”

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In the aftermath of the incident, I became a little paranoid. The next day, I had a business dinner in Mitte and rather than go home so late, I crashed with a friend close by. I began to tie my hair back, so nobody could grab it. I stopped walking around with my ear buds in so that I could hear the noises around me. I made sure my glasses were always on so that I could clearly see faces, hairstyles, hands, eyes…everything. My friend Mareen gave me her kubaton, a hand-held weapon that can only be described as a combination between a metal dildo and brass knuckles. I still walk home with it in my hand.

…but then, I dunno…I don’t know. Life. It just doesn’t stop for anyone, does it? Eventually, I got back into the swing of going to German class for three hours every day without looking over my shoulder. Eventually I started to relax again when men stared at me on the train. I even made a game of it – snapping pictures of them on my phone and sending it to the Instagram account “men who stare” [hilarious if you haven’t seen it] and eventually I started venturing out at night again. It didn’t take long, actually. It’s amazing how quickly the brain recovers…and if I see those chumps again…it is ON.

Coincidentally enough, the day of the incident, I skipped my German class to spend time with Darren. We had lunch in the sunshine and went to the Bahnhof [train station] to take the S-Bahn to Ostkreuz to see Mareen. She got her dogs and we walked to the Stralau Inselspitze, where we sat on the grass overlooking the river and took pictures of the sun reflecting perfectly off the water, unloading our frustrations on each other.

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I suppose Berlin is not too dissimilar from any other big city in its criticisms. It’s large and dirty. People are rude and disconnected from one another. It’s status quo to have a lot of acquaintances but few friends. I could’ve just as easily described New York or Los Angeles just now. But unlike other large cities, or the large cities I’ve been to, it’s a city of extremes. It’s just that here, there’s only one extreme…all the way up.

Mareen warned me, she warned both of us back in June. It wasn’t enough to keep us away and I’m glad I came in the end. But in that moment, sitting at the river and reflecting on her initial warning, both Darren and I had to nod solemnly in agreement. This city is exhausting. The intensity of the social climate spins out most people too quickly and results in fried nerves and empty pockets. I realized that I would need to take extra care not to end up amongst the pile of human waste that Berlin spits out like chewing tobacco.

The thing is, I’m a severe introvert [not to be confused with ‘shy’ which I definitely am not]. I love my friends and meeting new people, but I naturally find it exhausting to be around others. Being alone replenishes my energy supply, in the same way that being around others energizes an extrovert. So my first month in Berlin, where I had to throw myself into the lion’s den to meet people, make friends, date, network and mingling with strangers…was more effort spent in socializing than I’ve exerted in the past three years combined. It’s no wonder I crashed. Head first…without a seat belt.

I wasn’t just fighting to make a life here. I was fighting my own anxieties and pushing my limits to a brand new place, in a brand new language, with brand new people…and now I was experiencing the snapback. It’s an uncomfortable feeling…

One day in September, one of the last beautiful days of Summer, I took the train to Potsdam where I rented a bicycle and rode around town for six solid hours. Potsdam is a gorgeous place – filled with breathtaking Prussian architecture, clean cobblestone streets and charming corner cafes. I turned my phone to silent and took pictures of roses and small castles and tree-lined streets. I rode my bicycle down steep hills and shouted “WOOHOO!” as I passed picnicking families and romantic couples, who stopped to stare, smile, scowl or cheer me on. I didn’t mind any which way.


That same day I had several invitations to spend with others, but I knew none of it would have done me any good. I was flat and I needed a come up. I needed a break from people…and expectation and pressure…I had some travel coming up to promote my literary services, and I knew I wouldn’t be any good at those engagements unless I re-centred myself.

So, instead, I listened to Kendrick Lamar and ate pretzels topless in the sunshine next to a river while people canoed past.

…and when he spoke about fighting wars on your own, I knew I would never hear truer words in my entire life.

Which leads me to German bureaucracy. Let’s get into that after my VISA interview next week…the moment of truth.

From Berlin with love: Achtung baby!

“She did it anyway…because she is brave.”

-Unknown

**This series will be published in instalments to avoid burnout**

Very recently, Facebook reminded me that I moved to Japan ten years ago. In fact, I arrived in Tokyo on 7 August 2006. From Tokyo, I took a plane with a dozen or so other new college graduates to Yamaguchi, where we were all divided into even tinier groups and shipped off to various parts of the prefecture like neatly wrapped parcels. And like parcels, we carried with us a multitude of different ambitions. Some wanted to learn Japanese. Others wanted to bed as many Japanese women as possible [spoiler alert – I wasn’t one of them].

…I didn’t know what I wanted. Reading my writing from back then, I see that my thoughts were disorganised and emotive [but hilarious].  Still, it feels like I was fighting to shed a skin that didn’t fit me, living a life that wasn’t meant for me and walking against a very strong current telling me that I was wrong to question any of it…I mean, aren’t we all?

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I remember so clearly the acute frustration at being unable to do simple things, like buy bread from the baker at SunLive [pronounced ‘Sun-Lee-bu’] because I didn’t know how to tell them to slice it in Japanese. So I lived on onigiri [savoury rice paddies] from the Kombinis [convenience stories] instead. I remember feeling heightened levels of anxiety at the idea of going out with friends, and having to work myself up to take the train for day trips…often leaving at 2-3 in the afternoon. I remember how I would put off going out to cafes by myself, unless Hannah or Ashleigh were available to join me. And I remember riding my bicycle through Kudamatsu in the winter, chasing the sun so I wouldn’t have to worry about getting home after dark, at which point my sense of direction became drastically unreliable. I was overwhelmed by everything and deeply isolated in the heart of a beautiful but lonely place.

And that…was the beginning of a journey that has since taken me around the world…and landed me in the city of my dreams ten years later.


…it’s hard to believe that so much of my life since that day, comes down to just being confused as fuck. But that’s been a constant theme in my life – admitting to myself that it’s okay not to know everything.

I moved to Berlin on 1 August 2016, almost ten years to the day after I moved to Japan…and man, what a difference a decade makes…

Lesson 1: Gratitude

The primary difference between Jennifer in Berlin and Jennifer in Japan is gratitude.

I’m grateful for [almost] every little thing that has happened to me since I landed in this crazy, amazing city. I’m grateful for the filth, the smells, the sounds, the colours and the frustrations that wash over, through and around me like a tidal wave. I’m allowing them to shape me into the person I need to become in order to write this book so that I can die in peace [hopefully, not any time soon].

I’m grateful for a long overdue challenge, and an opportunity to fall in love again…not with a person, but with my life. I feel humbled by the day-to-day difficulties of learning German, and empowered as the words slowly drop into place in my brain like a puzzle, once jumbled by impatient hands.

I’m grateful for…

iPhone music mini-concerts in the park with French artists. Curly fries with South African idealists. Coffee dates with a Bavarian poetess whose voice sounds like honey.


Rooftop sunsets with new and old friends.


Writing workshops with British iconoclasts. Tutorials on German curse words with chocolate treats and Turkish apple tea. Open air cinema and sweetened popcorn [even though sweet popcorn is just WRONG] on warm summer nights that quickly turn cold.

Bike rides through Potsdam and picnics for one on a river while children swim past.


Salty pretzels at beer gardens shared with retired men thankful for the company of a young, pretty Auslander [foreigner].


Nights of open air comedy on the river with tree houses and neon lights. Rooftop yoga with kind-hearted vegans. Burlesque, baklava, beach and sweaty dances with big-hearted sports nuts.


I have a feeling my life here will be a revolving door of lovable characters and guest star appearances, but it’s really too early to say for sure.

But I’m also something else I wouldn’t have called myself ten years ago – ballsy. Yes, I will get up on stage and perform standup comedy. Yes I will try my German at every available opportunity. Yes I will get on that train and ride somewhere new and different to explore, meet new people and have new adventures. Yes I will put my heart on the line and read my writing before an audience of strangers. Yes I will stand in line with your for 2 hours to get into that club and get shoved around by nude gay men during the biggest queer party of the year. Yes I will open my heart up to a beautiful stranger to see what’s possible. And no, I won’t let any disappointment of the aforementioned make me regret the attempt to do so.

Berlin and I have a lot to prove to each other, but here’s what I already know about myself – I am fearless.

And I remind myself of that every morning, as I sit on the ledge of my window with a cup of peppermint tea and honey, swatting away flies and holding ladybugs in my hand. I remind myself to take it in stride, to breathe through the highs and the lows…and to just keep swimming.


Lesson 2: Wilkommen in Deutschland

The excitement I felt when I initially landed in Berlin is difficult to describe. Everything was new and amazing. I got a warm, tingly sensation when an ambulance came racing down the street because the sound a German ambulance makes is so different from the sound an Australian [or American] ambulance makes.

The air pollution made me happy – “Yes! Yes! Fill my lungs with your aerated raw sewage!”

I enjoyed getting yelled at when I crossed a street during a stop signal. “Yes! I’ve never felt so alive!”

I thought to myself over and over again “I live here now…how can that possibly be?” I imagine people who climb mountains have similar epiphanies, except when you’re climbing a mountain, the worst thing you can do is break your neck [Adam Courtenay if you’re reading this, don’t do that when you ascend Everest].

When you move your life to a different country, you also risk breaking your spirit…or rebuilding it…let’s hope it’s the former.

Living in Berlin is like…I came from a world of black and white and then, all of a sudden, someone handed me a pair of glasses that put everything in a Snapseed Instagram filter. And I’m not talking about the colours…I’m talking about the attitude. This city is teeming with it. From its green-haired residents to the crude graffiti on the Kindergarten walls, everything wants to make a statement. People don’t move out of the way for you on the train. Even the dogs who lie in the middle of a crowded car will, at a moment’s notice, tell you off for looking at them the wrong way. People smoke cigarettes in your personal space and blow smoke rings into your kid’s bassinet. Then your kid sits up, takes out his pacifier, takes your cigarette, puts it out on his tongue and lays back down.


BEHOLD! The land in which Berliners grow their fucks…lay thine eyes upon it and thou shalt see that it is barren!

Berlin will put hair on your chest, make your testicles drop and put that bass in your voice. Berlin is for hustlers.


But while it’s easy to become hypnotised by the attitude, endless counter-culture and fascinating history…I know I was… it’s also a city that strips layers off of its inhabitants like a cheese grater. There’s too much emphasis on appearance and distinction and not enough on, well, depth or compassion. People are lonely and everyone has an agenda. The city doesn’t produce much, so what we’re left with instead of industry, is counter-culture…a LOT of counter-culture.

Before coming to Berlin, I had always considered myself left of centre. But that was before I came to a city where everyone is in an open relationship, and every person in that open relationship separates their collective garbage into four different bins and then they take turns having sex on those bins while listening to a techno remix of Morrissey’s “Meat is Murder.”


I’m not working on a short film about two cousins who fall in love with each other, you know, “despite the odds.” I’m not starting a new cult that mixes astrology with obscure 12th century Pakistani polygamy. I’m not building a start-up that aims to educate children in developing countries on the benefits of a raw vegan diet because…DO I EVEN HAVE TO FINISH THAT SENTENCE?

I don’t want to drop pills and party all night in a fishnet body suit.

I’m writing a book. And that might have been a noble pursuit back in Melbourne, but here, in Berlin, that’s the most ordinary thing I could possibly do with my life.

To be fair, some people have been really fascinated with the idea. So much so, in fact, that I’ve had to create a cover story in order to avoid revealing the actual premise of my novel. And then…there are the people who feel like my ambitions aren’t unique enough.

So let me be clear – I was raised in a conservative, religious household. I didn’t have access to normal social circles of friends. My parents’ biggest fear was that I would one day become sexually active, so! I was kept under lock and key for almost my entire adolescence and the only escape I had was literature. Except it wasn’t an escape – each book was an opportunity to live a life I would have otherwise not experienced. Each story, autobiography, tutorial and deconstructed lesson helped to shape my world view at a time when I was as yet unable to experience the world itself.

These critical lessons, moments and periods of self-reflection have been replaced in recent times by social media. People growing up now actually think that a world view should be shaped by the views, status updates and Snap Chats of others. The entire process of creating an identity has become an external exercise, where who we are is relative to how others see us on a platform made up of binary code.

I understand I sound like a curmudgeon. I know I sound old. But I want to participate in the tradition that helps people to look inward for answers, instead of desperately asking others.

…To be continued.

 

 

Epilogue:The beginning is the end is the beginning

“Forward.” -James Blake

You know what the easier part about moving is? Leaving. All I have to do is sit on an airplane, consume copious amounts of Hollywood blockbusters, read books, eat cafeteria food and try not to inhale the airborne toxins unleashed by my lactose intolerant neighbors. It’s a deceptively simple way to conclude weeks of loose ends, administrative chaos and emotional farewells…which have been anything but simple. In fact, let me clarify this right now – it’s easy to leave, but it’s hard to say goodbye.

I hate that part.

You know what else I hate? The endless transition, the piles of rubbish, the sifting of memories and the distribution of prized possessions amongst loved ones like the activation of a living will. The online ads of furniture and kitchen appliances worth five times more than what these students with poor manners and deep pockets are willing to pay. The gradual deconstruction of a home I spent years building from the carpet up into boxes, suitcases and lemon-scented garbage bags and the inevitable last-minute frenzy of stuffing leftover items into pockets that don’t make sense because I’ve run out of time and patience.

This is what it’s like to uproot your life. It’s madness. It’s frustrating and stressful and it shakes loose the cobwebs of doubt and fear and anxiety amongst a landslide of memories that you reconcile a thousand times over in your head with words like “This is my chance” and “If not now then when?” and “I’ll find something better when I get there.” If you’re lucky, like I am, you have someone to help you do it – someone who tells you that they’ve never seen you wear that dress and that they’ll keep those books safe for you. But at the end of the day, only one person sleeps beneath those bare walls, surrounded by boxes, and thinks to herself “What the fuck am I doing?”

I’m spitting my fear in the face and I’m starting over…again.

So let’s cut to the chase and get to the FAQ’s [frequently asked questions]:

What prompted the move?

The most popular question just so happens to be the most difficult to answer. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when I said it was time to uproot and move on. It was a growing feeling seething at the bottom of my belly for years…similar to hunger. If you’ve ever seen me hungry and lived to tell the tale, then this will make perfect sense. It begins as a mild rumbling in my stomach, before it starts to twist my guts into knots and God help the people around me when it reaches that point. I become straight up vile if denied food. One time, at an engagement party, the bride-to-be kept pushing back the food service until more guests could arrive. I had been helping her since morning, which meant I hadn’t eaten since around 9am. I marched into the kitchen and gave them two options: Feed me or start counting bodies.

It was a similar series of physiological and psychological responses that prompted the need to move. One day, I realized that I was starving and that moment coincided with the month I spent in Europe, specifically the week I spent dodging latex harnesses and waxing lyrical with subversive writers at a university workshop in Berlin. But I also think it’s important to point out that I’ve moved around every three years or less since I was born, up until I came to Australia. Change is as indelibly part of my genetic makeup as the kink of my hair. I’ve been consuming the world one place at a time since before I was born, and I’d be lying if I said that a part of that wasn’t driving me now. And as much as I’d like to say that I’m not a creature of habit, the truth is that we all are.

What happened to London?

I love London. London loved me right back. But as I sat wrapped up in my red blanket on the sofa in Elsternwick watching the results from Brexit roll in, I thought that maybe the United Kingdom, as a whole, might have mixed emotions about someone like me. I mean, it didn’t call, it didn’t write, it didn’t even send me a friendly winky-faced emoji. The UK just straight up ghosted me and many other doe-eyed hopeful immigrants, and left me [and I assume others] considering their options. Germany calls. Germany texts back the next morning. Germany isn’t a complete narcissist with commitment issues and erectile dysfunction.

Wait, what? That metaphor went too far.

I **LOVE** London.

But the truth is, I have never felt a stronger affinity with a city as I did with Berlin. People love to fantasize about “soul-mates,” but is it possible to have a “soul city” instead? Berlin and I…I mean, we were made for each other. It loves my chunky thighs and curly afro, and I love how its smoky coffee breath burns my lungs when I’m walking through Neukölln, which I’ve never before tolerated in a city. We knew each other’s life story before we even met, and it only took a day before we were finishing each other’s sentences and engaging in impassioned eye-fuckery in broad daylight…in front of children, no less! Now I have to say, that any time I spent hoping to one day feel that way about just one person, when I could have that in an entire community instead, was a well-intentioned exercise in setting my standards lower than I deserved.

So, London will have to step aside for a moment until it learns to appreciate a good thing when it comes knocking on its tube station doors. I’m not ruling it out in the future, but I’m starting here.

Am I scared?

As I sat in Singapore’s Changi Airport, ignoring messages from people asking me if I’m freaking out yet, I realized something: I’m not. I won’t. Every time I’m tempted to succumb to my latent neuroses, I remind myself that I moved to Australia to be with a dude I met on the internet. Then I’m like “Nah, homie, it’s cool.”

I spoke to my bestie when I touched down this morning in Berlin, and I told him something that sums it up best: It’s like I just had a 7.5 year layover in Melbourne and I’ve just hopped back on the airplane again.

What will I do here?

I have a lot of options, but here are two that I’m going with for now: The freelance VISA or the (shuddering) job seeker VISA. I have the option of a writer’s residency, but that would mean applying for a student VISA, and I don’t want to do that, as that would limit my ability to work freelance or otherwise. I have appointments at the Foreign Registration Office for both VISA’s so we’ll see which works out best for me, but I have all the documentation and required proof for both and I confirmed my eligibility with the German Consulate before I bought my ticket back so I feel confident about my chances here. I can still workshop at FUB [Freie Universität Berlin] to write my book and network, but under my terms, which is the most important thing for me.

That’s the end game – to write my book. I’m following a long tradition of American authors who have planted themselves in Europe to write their novels against traditional conventions of university sanctioned education, and I’m giving myself a two-year deadline to do it.

I’m saying this “out loud” (so to speak) so that you can keep me honest [looking at you, Ayush!]

What’s the book about?

This is a rational, reasonable question. I understand exactly why people ask me that question…repeatedly, which why I curb my exasperation whenever I’m on the other end of it. Let me just say this – any author who has finished a book will say that it often ends up as something very different than its original premise.

I have an idea, an outline and a few chapters already written, but the process by its very definition dictates that even this is just a mere skeleton; the flesh and bones come later, as I submerge myself in the thick of Berlin life. What I will say is that the setting is critical to the story, which is why I’ve gone through such painstaking efforts to move my life here. At the expense of sounding like a pretentious ass, Berlin has inspired a story in me that needs to be told, and I can do that best from here.

To conclude…

With all the volatility of the global economy and current political instability the world over, I can’t help but remain somewhat skeptical. Skepticism is the adult version of fear. There was a point in time when we could look at the world, and realistically imagine what it would look like in two years – the colour and the shape of it, the mood and the atmosphere…who we could realistically expect to win a particular party nomination, even! That time has passed. Now, it’s difficult to know what the world will look like in two months, let alone two years. I could very well end up somewhere else…we’ll just have to wait and see.

Enjoy reading about all the misadventures, language-related misunderstandings and culture shock between the digital pages of my heart.

A tale of 3 cities: London calling…again


“People only get really interesting when they start to rattle the bars of their cages.” -Alain de Botton

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Dungeons be damned, Jennifer! What happened to Robin Hood?

Well, he never really went away. In fact, we had been WhatsApping regularly since I left for Amsterdam. We continued our political debate and that conversation evolved into a discussion on a number of things from jazz to autoerotic asphyxiation [naturally]. We sent more songs back and forth to one another, along with video observations, photos and, of course, thoughts on the EU referendum. It was flirtatious, fun and felt completely natural. One of the reasons why I don’t normally drink [and why I’ve never tried drugs] is because alcohol tends to act as a facilitator for people who struggle to be themselves while sober, giving them tacit permission to enjoy the kind of social interaction [or intimacy] with which they might normally struggle.

I say this because, after the liquor left our systems, I wasn’t expecting RH to be so responsive.

At the most, I was expecting an awkward “um…hi” followed by the inevitable steadily increasing time gaps between responses before one of us eventually disappeared into the ether. I had gotten a kiss. As far as I was concerned, I had already bought all the railroads in the [adult] Monopoly game of life.

But it turns out that there was more. In fact, if I’m going to be completely honest, RH was the reason why Sven, Duncan [the Irishman stuck with me behind the bar] and various seedy Dutchmen really didn’t register on my radar at all. I know that sounds silly…I didn’t even know the guy. And I’m a hot-blooded polemicist engaging in all manner of seductive eye-play with a number of willing European men; but the ignorant teenager in me who hasn’t learned shit from her failed romantic endeavors had already met my ideal of male beauty and, psychologically, I had already shoehorned his personality to fit into the mold carved out by his pretty face, soft whiskers and razor-sharp wit.

I had begun to look forward to waking up to witty message that made me laugh out loud. Sometimes we bantered while I was waiting for a connection in an airport. Other times we exchanged Nina Simone songs and I added them to my travel playlist, which, along with Supercat, provided melodies, lyrics, and moods that became the soundtrack to the countless hours I spent navigating mainland Europe.

It was fun, flirtatious and completely unexpected. I had never done the whole travel romance thing before. I now understand why people do it. My Robin Hood fixation added a layer of depth to an ethereal experience. When I think of my comedy performances or the things I ate, I only have the imperfection of my memory to relive those moments. And in time, those memories will change in color, smell and sound to become completely alien to what they actually were. But a romance roots those memories in flesh and blood, things that aren’t transient or imagined. It adds more meaning to those performances and those culinary delights. It slowed time down and increased my travels in depth, in color and in richness. Yes…Robin Hood did for my travels what red wine and black vinegar does for pasta sauce.

I told him when I decided to come back to London and we made plans for the day after I flew back in.

Greverley was beyond excited. I greeted them back at the flat with a couple of bottles of Merlot and some crisps, and we sat around the back patio toasting to me ‘being home’. They devised all kinds of interesting theories on what kind of guy RH was, they theorized about our future wedding and what our kids would look like.

Though, to be fair, that was mostly Greta. Beverley and I had a much more subdued response where, in-between sips of wine, one of us would say “Hmmmm,” give each other subtle looks [a slightly raised perfectly manicured eyebrow] and then psychically convey to the other “Oh I just love her. Don’t you just love her? I fucking…love her.”

The next day I had lunch with Greta and her friend Susie, an equally as inappropriate, cheeky, unapologetic, charming friend of hers who also shamelessly segued into tangents before coming back to topic. She had a beautiful smile and made self-deprecating jokes about her [chosen] people. We sat on the roof of her building in the sun and ate sandwiches and salads by M&S and bitched about contemporary art like complete iconoclasts. It was brilliant. I would have stuck around for more, but I had to go get ready for RH. Greta and Susie wished me luck and Greta fist pumped in enthusiasm.

I didn’t really know what to expect and experience has taught me that reunions often fail to live up to initial meets. We feel more open to being ourselves when pleasantly surprised by intimacy rather than planning for and subsequently demanding it. That’s not how the heart works.

And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t work by submerging it in copious amounts of wine either. So I was working at a disadvantage when I decided to both A. Be myself and B. Do it while sober. Of course it won’t end well!

…but maybe I’ll get to touch his floppy hair!

The next day, I met RH at Burgess Park for an outdoor music concert.

The last time I had seen him, I was drunk, fruity and escorted home by Luke, my lovable concerned coked-up friend. But it was dark. We made out in the dark. I didn’t regret it, but let’s be honest –there’s always a part of you that thinks “did I invent this person’s level of attractiveness? Does he really look like Robin Hood as a fox, or the Sheriff of Nottingham as a gremlin?”

I texted him that I was on the footpath to the garden in which the performance would take place and he approached me from the other end. I saw him before he saw me and I hid behind an enlarged map of the park to adjust my clothes before wandering out from behind…playing on my phone, pretending like I was doing something important. I was doing something important! I was being coy, damnit!

He called my name and I did my best to invoke my middle school drama days to convey surprise. He was unimaginably attractive. Tall, lean, kind-faced, whiskered and floppy-haired. When we hugged, all those preliminary anti-male feelings I had brought with me to Europe in May disintegrated between my feminist fingertips replaced, instead, with warm, gooey infatuation. I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to pinch him to make sure he was real. I also wanted to antagonize him and bait him and make him say something incredibly truculent so that I could convince myself he was a prick and return to Melbourne no worse for the wear.

…unfortunately, he was a complete gentleman. Just my fucking luck.

We went for snacks and I told him about all the trouble I got into in Berlin [more than I detailed in my last blog, by the way…remember, parents]. Then we sat closely together in the garden of Burgess Park and listened to full-hearted singers, song-writers and instrumentalists fill the air with music. First a folksy female singer with a guitar and a voice the sounded like a sad melee. We moved closer to listen to a sitar player from India play melodies which he called homages to evening, romance and stars.

Yes, I know I sound like a hippy. I’m not. I’m a jazz-loving, blues-singing, Chopin-playing metal head. And being a connoisseur of music in all its genres, to me, means abandoning identity politics from time to time and enjoying music not just for the skill or the social struggles they often narrate…but for the majesty.

[That’s easier said than done. How many tradesmen listen to Adele in solitude?…thought so.]

The music was beautiful. And with a bonfire to my left and a gorgeous man to my right, I had never been more aware of the imperfection of my memory as I was that night. I was worried that I’d forget or distort something. I made a conscious effort to speak as little as possible, to make it easier for me to internalize everything around me without distraction.

Even then I said to myself “This won’t happen again. Don’t ruin it by pontificating about the superiority of Danish butter…again.”

Despite the fact that this was clearly a date, and that we were clearly attracted to one another, and being sober [and in person after several weeks of correspondence] introduced a new layer of awkwardness, I ran directly into another challenge I had not expected: his Britishness.

Because I’ve dated Aussies [and one Kiwi] for the past X number of years, I’m used to the heavily ingrained parentage of the Queen mother, but even they seemed like rakish scallywags when compared to someone from the homeland.

He wouldn’t make a move. Robin Hood, true to the legend after which he is named, was devastatingly polite. We joked, we talked, we laughed and ate…but he wouldn’t touch me. We sat there with our hands in our laps occasionally bumping shoulders before recoiling in an awkward game of “Oh, I’m sorry.” I began to wonder if I had hallucinated the attraction altogether and the Legally Blonde Musical melody instantly began playing in my head: “Is he gay or European?”

…and then the sitar player spoke up and said “This next piece…is called romance,” and RH leaned into me to say, “I requested this one.”

Ah-HA! Gotcha…

I slipped my arm through his, resting my other hand on top of his arm, and leaned into his side, putting my fluffy head onto his shoulder. He instinctively reached around with his other free hand and squeezed my hand in return and I think we both exhaled audibly. He didn’t have to say it, but I heard it nonetheless go through in his head: Thank God…

AND OF COURSE, that’s when the sitar player’s percussionist asks us to clap. OF COURSE. There was no better time to do that. I LITERALLY COULD NOT HAVE PICKED A MORE PERFECT TIME TO START CLAPPING THAN THAT VERY MOMENT.

RH was deflated. “Awww…” he said, and we both pouted, but went along with the crowd. We clapped until he messed up the rhythm, I naturally made fun of him [“You’re terrible, just stop”] messed up my own rhythm, and he naturally imploded by trying not to make fun of me in return. Like I said…British. I didn’t waste time getting back into his nook after giving up on audience participation. I preened myself at his side, and welcomed his arm around my shoulders. I wasn’t wearing much, but the bonfire kept we warm and adrenaline pumped through my veins making me feel extra alert. I wanted to climb on top of him like an insect and peck him on the mouth until his skull cracked open and bled all over me. Instead, I let him hold my hand and I contained by enthusiasm behind a smile that felt like it would split my face in half.

I didn’t even care when it started to rain. I pulled out the mini umbrella from my bag and we sat underneath it while the quartet continued to play. A lot of other people dispersed, but some didn’t, opting instead to take off their shoes and dance in the mud around the bonfire…they were hippies.

RH and I sat there, wrapped up in the arms of the other, beneath my umbrella, peeling bugs off of our necks listening to a stand-up bassist, violinist, percussionist and guitarist make music that made me feel like we were in our own Wes Anderson film. I didn’t want it to end.

Afterwards, we walked through the park arguing about rugby. An American living in Australia who cheers for the All Blacks intrigued him one minute, and my lack of patriotism infuriated him the next. I taunted him with it. My free, classless approach to sport [and politics] was antithetical to his Britishness. While I normally have to work just a little bit to upset people, his outrage came so naturally! I mocked him and his disapproval made me feel alive!

I didn’t kiss him until his skull cracked open, but this was just as good.

…I hardly noticed that we had arrived at his place until he invited me up for a cup of tea.

Sometimes these stories end here, at the doorstep of someone’s place, after a night of music and rain and committing the feeling of someone’s hands to memory.

Sometimes those stories end with backbreaking sex…not my back, but you know…somebody’s.

Sometimes, they end with me climbing out of a window onto a balcony, beckoning my would-be lover to do the same and kissing him in the dark before I lose my nerve.

Sometimes they end in all-night conversations where people say things in the dark, fully-clothed, they would never dare to say to each other during daylight. Where full-on confessionals become thumb wars, and the victor falls asleep listening to the heart beat of the loser as his chest rises and falls.

And sometimes those nights end in the same way, as does a night of clubbing in Berlin. When the sun comes up, it’s time to go.

The point is I’m not going to say what happened. I’d prefer you used your imagination. But the best part about being adults is the recognition that intimacy comes in all different forms. Memories are made in all different kinds of ways. And each story has a sliding door of alternate endings. Our story didn’t end there.

As it turned out, both of us are major foodies eaters. I took him through my Instagram showing him my culinary creations. This inspired him, so the next day he took me on a food market tour of South London, specifically Bermondsey, where we delighted in freshly baked pastries, Jamaican street food and smelly French cheese. I was so happy. At one point, he clutched me around the shoulders, told me to brace myself then spun me in the direction of a stall that sold cultured butter by the glob. I actually screamed, and he laughed in such a way that the skin at the corners of his eyes creased making him even more delightful. He put his hand on my back and rubbed it sweetly while I jumped up and down in my flip-flops saying “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.”

“…BUTTER…”


I bought a block for Greverley. I also bought them three kinds of righteous French cheese, recommended by RH [who spoke fluent French because OF COURSE!] I could’ve kept going, but it began to rain. RH and I ducked into a bakery that smelled like someone figured out how to aerate multiple orgasms and shared a raspberry twist that fell a part in my hands like mist. It began to rain harder so we waited on the front stoop of the bakery beneath my umbrella and kissed. I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach him and I leaned into him as he wrapped his arms around my back. I got a little lost so my feet slipped as the ground got wetter, and then I realized that it was almost over.

A woman came out holding a toy poodle and I squealed, reminiscent of the first time I had met the man in whose arms I now was, at which point RH squeezed my shoulder gently and whispered in my ear “Settle…”

…I just laughed out loud now thinking about it again…

“I’m right here,” he said, slightly agitated by how easily distracted I become with dogs. And he was.

I didn’t want him to be anywhere else.

It was approaching 3 so I knew I had to get back to Greverley’s to get ready for dinner, and RH had to go back to Kent. The rain had lightened up and with it, the spell under which I had [barely] been functioning. Silence descended, though I’m not sure if he noticed or if he was just being polite [you know, British] as I prepared myself for the great come down.

While hopping over puddles and trying not to slip, I reached for his hand. I’d like to think that he squeezed it back and ran his thumb over my fingers because he was hoping I would do something like that and not because he was just being courteous.

But you never really know, do you?

We rode the bus back to London Bridge with his arm around me, and my head on his shoulder. I don’t know how we got onto the subject of my indigenous heritage, but that’s what happened. It was one of those rare moments when the nerves did the talking for me, and I didn’t realize it until I went into a story about the bear claws tradition and I asked myself “Why the fuck are you talking about this, Jennifer?”

I guess I was trying to use language to stabilize my thoughts. So I hid in that illusory permanence, jabbering away, as the world passed by, one bus stop at a time, bringing us closer to the awkward goodbye. We kissed and hugged at the tube station and he told me to look him up when I got back to town.

And I thought “I will.” Why wouldn’t I? I loved London, but with so much uncertainty looming, I wouldn’t know for sure for a few weeks, before booking my return ticket.

That night I went to dinner with Greverley, Alex [from Ightham Mote] and two new people, James and Rosie. We went to an incredible steak restaurant and ate multiple courses of mussels, steak and waygu beef burgers with blue cheese and bacon that smiled at me beneath the bun like it knew exactly what it was doing to me. We ate warm bread with chorizo butter and crunchy chips with chicken salt. They ordered multiple bottles of wine, we shared desserts of spiced apple, salted caramel and buttery pastry and we talked about the upcoming referendum.


Brexit had been lurking over my time in Europe like an unanswered text message. Everywhere I went, it was a topic of discussion – from the brothels of Amsterdam to the basement of Cosmic in Berlin. London had cast a dark shadow on itself. While it was still vibrant, fun and a veritable coterie of promise, there was also a corporeal fear lurking just beneath the surface of its carefully crafted façade of sarcasm and wit. People were genuinely afraid of what the results of the referendum would be. They were afraid that it could potentially reveal that their colonial past also painfully lingered in the present, and nobody likes to be reminded of their mistakes, especially when they’ve dedicated an entire culture to feeling superior to everyone else in spite of it.

Still, we thought… “That’ll never happen.” We drank and ate and shared awkward dating stories and made crude jokes and we said over and over to ourselves… “That will never happen.”

I don’t remember the point at which I put my koala mask back on, but it was before we migrated from the dinner table to the bar. I felt numb and weird and uncertain of my feelings. I never feel numb and weird and uncertain of my feelings. I see things in black and white and I spit on the grey with impudence. But I didn’t that night…that night a blanket of uncertainty descended upon me, pushing me into unfamiliar terrain filled with doubt and fear. But I didn’t want to entertain those thoughts. I was still in London. I was still with friends. I was still having a wonderful time. So I did the only thing that made sense in that moment…I put on my koala mask. Because if anything can protect me from confronting the reality of a major international move, it’s a felt marsupial.

Everybody in the restaurant saw it, but nobody said anything. Diners went out of their way to smile, nod and maintain composure at all times. We migrated to the bar because Greta had her heart set on two-for-one cocktails. Alex and I bought each other rounds and beat our chests about the death of Muhammad Ali, ranted about the rise of Donald Trump and Australia’s obsession with being completely unremarkable. We made bets about whether or not the bartenders would crack and say something, but nobody did. One guy’s veneer wobbled, but when I called him out on it [“What? Is something funny? You got something to say?”] he quickly retreated, not making eye contact [apologizing, even!] and Alex and I laughed like demented people.


I spilled my guts between colourful alcoholic concoctions about Robin Hood and my frustrations with Australia and America. I effused over Greverley, their friendship and support and love. I confessed that I longed for a life where I wouldn’t be punished for calling out racism and could live a life without pretense, where being upfront about who I am and what I want wasn’t a social death sentence. It was uppity, snobby behavior – a writer waxing lyrical [drunkenly] to a philosophy professor over gin cocktails in London. Dear God, even describing it makes me want to take myself down a peg. But he was Australian too and understood the strange waiting room in which I found myself, wanting to make a move, knowing what it would entail…unsure of how to proceed.

Nothing got resolved, but I did have an epiphany – I suddenly realized why people go to bars and drink with strangers. I don’t think people do it to forget. I think they do it to remember. I’ve seen a lot of people drink themselves stupid, and not one of them said “Oh it’s good to not remember that one painful/beautiful/infuriating thing that happened 25 years ago. I think I’ll sit here and feel nothing now.” They drink and they start talking about fathers, mothers and lovers long past. They call people still painfully edging across their hearts like slugs and make all kinds of crazy, beautiful, terrifying confessions.

“I love you.”

“I hate you.”

“I’ll never forgive you”

“Can you come over? I want to be with you.”

…and the hardest one of all, “I’m sorry.”

None of that comes from forgetting.

What I remembered that night, drinking with Alex in that koala mask, was how unhappy I’ve been in Australia. I don’t know where it began. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment, but I had been out of my mind with unhappiness. From lackluster work to the impossible task of trying to connect with another human being, to constantly dealing with the dismissive attitudes on racism and bigotry, I realized that I had exhausted the people around me, and I had exhausted myself. In Australia, I felt isolated and misunderstood. Socialising had become an exercise in restraint, where carefully crafted, banal language replaced brutally honest discourse. I was frustrated with trying to decipher people’s codified language, because nobody says what they mean. I was sad a lot, and when I wasn’t sad, I was angry. I worked out a lot and read a lot and spent increasing amounts of time alone. Comedy helped. Comedy was a god send, but it wasn’t enough. Confronting all of that was to ask myself if I had made a mistake in moving there to begin with, and nobody likes to be reminded of their mistakes especially when they’ve dedicated their lives to feeling superior to everyone else in spite of them

But it wasn’t a mistake, of course. The mistake would have been in not trying.

And now, the mistake would be in staying in the same place.

I left the bar with Beverley. Greta, Alex & Co stayed on. I kept the koala mask on the entire way home. I don’t know how I didn’t trip and fall and crush my glasses. I didn’t take it off until I was in my room.

I’ll pack it in my suitcase. I leave 30 July.

A tale of 3 cities: BERLIN, we go hard

“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom”

-Lady Bird Johnson [my thoughts on Berlin]

I made an observation once about Germans while climbing mountains in Queensland that I shared on Facebook last November. I said that Australians are for some reason identified as the world’s most intrepid travellers. It’s true we get around for being so far away from the rest of the world, but I corrected that perception citing that it had to be the Germans – everywhere I went, every mountain I climbed, every rainforest I trekked, there were Germans… “smoking cigarettes, quoting Hegel and looking cool as shit.”

If Amsterdam was like a scratchy vinyl song, then Berlin was like The Rebirth of Slick.

I quickly learned that seduction happens in an instant in Berlin. People had entire conversations using mere seconds of eye contact. Without a single word being said, men and women agreed to exchange phone numbers, drinks, kisses and maybe more. While ascending an escalator at Alexanderplatz, a man descending from the same platform locked eyes with me as we crossed paths suspended above ground level. He was olive skinned with dark eyes and had the rough beginnings of a black beard, and I returned his wink with a smile before quickly looking away, thinking that was the end of it. When I got to the platform, I realized that I was on the wrong one, and turned around to find the stairs, only to run right back into him. He had followed me to ask for my number. He spoke not a word of English and I spoke not a word of German [or Arabic] so we were at an impasse…and I recognized a guy who calls twenty times an hour when I see one.

I bit my lip to keep from appearing too smug, but it didn’t work and a ridiculous smile plastered itself on my face. I barely managed to keep from rubbing my legs like I often do when I feel awkward.

That was all it took to convince me to keep my eyes trained on the ground or straight ahead when on the move. I feel an inward pull of embarrassment that comes when placed in an uncomfortable situation where I like the attention, but don’t know what to do with it. Berlin taught me a lot, but it also reminded me of how wary I had become of the male gaze…and unless I instigated some manner of contact myself, I treated it as hostile…always.

Alexanderplatz is one of the main transport stops for the train, tram and bus, because it rests in the centre of the city. Leaving the station, the first thing I saw was The Fernsehturm, the Berlin TV Tower, cutting through the misty, overcast sky.


Men and women with perfect hair hurried in its direction, and Japanese tourists posed somberly for photographs with the tower positioned expertly in the background. It proved an ideal place for people watching and striking up conversations with strangers.

I met a brain surgeon with a Mohawk while buying a cheese pretzel at the convenience stand, and we spoke about the graffiti of red dicks sprayed all over the ceiling of the U8 [subway]. How on earth had anyone managed to get up there to create such perfect depictions of junk without breaking their necks? [Or maybe they had.] He sat with me in the sun and shared his strawberries with me while I obsessed over his gorgeous all-black German Shepherd. Strawberries were in season so they were sold throughout the station in 500g and 1 kg quantities, making the heat seem worth it. His dog licked all the red juice off of my fingers and I squealed in delight; it was such a perfect moment that I didn’t realize how in-love I had already become with the city.

I had a lot of conversations on my first day in Berlin. I willfully instigated them much to the surprise of the other unwitting participants, but I couldn’t help it.

It seems fitting to describe my time in Berlin as a series of conversations because the city itself felt like one continuous, dynamic repartee between opposing solar systems of philosophy and thought. I think this is most likely facilitated by a distinct absence of class. People go out of their way to seek difference and, as a result, difference is attracted by the hordes and absorbed by the masses. The richness of counter culture and its synthesis with the ‘norm’ at all levels of the socio-economic hierarchy, I believe, is evidence of this observation.

I know that sounds impossible…it is. I even Googled it: “Is Berlin a classless society?” Unfortunately, I didn’t get a clear answer…but I was pointed to a NY Times article that spoke about diplomats who were put out of work after the wall fell, and it made me think…if a country has lost enough to understand the transient nature of intangibles like class and status, then maybe they’ll actively seek to deviate from rebuilding a society which depends on its people’s submission to those very social constructs.

…what a beautiful thought.

I imagine that Paris felt like this in the 1920s or that New York felt like this in the 1980s – open, so open you’d fall off the edge of the earth before you found the limits of what is acceptable. The city, which in my mind is personified like a Valkyrie rising from the ashes in her winged helmet, reaches out with her ropey arms and says: “Give me your poor, your tired, your hungry…your deviant, your subversive, your dyed eyeballs and your foot fetishes…”

And there they are, walking hand in hand with doctors, lawyers and diplomats.

That’s Berlin.

I’d heard about the cold nature of Berliners, and in my mind I pictured them as a people who could part a cloud of rolling fog with their icy bedside manner. But I found that Germans in general don’t like to waste their time stating the obvious. They hate small talk, mind games, nonsense and, of course, inefficiency.

I mean…who am I to hate on that?

I happily bounced from person to person wasting only as much time as I needed to talking about the weather, and I was better off for it.

But Berliners love intelligence, ingenuity and subversion. They enjoy being pleasantly surprised, even with the grotesque. They work hard and I have never seen people who party harder.

…more on that later.

Cosmic Comedy is run out of an underground bar in Rosa-Luxemburg-straße, managed by two UK expats, Dharmander and Neil. Dharm is cheeky with a large, elastic smile, and a long ponytail. He proudly boasts that he comes from the same part of England as John Oliver, and speaks just like him to boot. Neil, Dharm’s hetero life-mate, looks like a surly Scottish teddy bear had sex with a Grateful Dead roadie with his long hair and his band t-shirts, but he’s a math and programming whiz with an algorithm tattooed on his forearm. Because of Neil’s SEO expertise, I found Cosmic and booked in a spot well before landing in Berlin. Both of them love comedy and have dedicated their business to growing the English-speaking scene in Berlin, which is such a bigger world than I ever would have imagined it would be. They handed out shots of apple liqueur at the door and small buttons with dogs and cats vomiting rainbows [I took several for Greverley]. We had a full line-up and an audience of about 30 punters from America, England and Germany who came for the show, which, to me, seemed quite large, until Dharm told me that it was smaller than usual.

“What are you doing in Berlin?” they asked.

“Well, I’m thinking about moving here to live,” I said.

They both erupted, high-fived each other and exclaimed at the same time: “If you’re thinking of moving here, then you will. That’s just Berlin for you. That’s what it does to people.”

Hmmm, I though to myself…I just got here. I wasn’t convinced by their enthusiasm, but I was by their delicious lollipops.

Germans aren’t known for their sense of humor, so I was prepared to…as we say in the performance world… “eat a massive bag of shit” and chalk it up to a learning experience, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about the success of the evening.

If Berlin’s subculture was anthropomorphized into one person, with all its eccentricities and weird charm, it would be the performer who went on before me. He had bright green hair complemented by the bright green muttonchops tattooed on his face. His ears were stretched out and his arms were covered in rainbows of ink. He performed a cabaret style of comedy that started with him hammering a nail into his head through his nose and concluded in him squeezing his body through a tennis racket, resulting in him stripping to his lederhosen. As far as performances were concerned, he was completely out there and loved what he did. It was vibrant, engaging, fun and sure…a bit gross…but he destabilized the seriousness of the atmosphere with complete abandon and entertained the audience to tears with his recklessness. The people in the first few rows on their cracked red couches visibly responded with fits of laugher and moments of total discomfort. It was awesome…but man was I shitting myself to go on after him.

Fortunately, poking fun at the British and my [perfect] Kiwi accent elicited a fantastic response. The audience was fully engaged and I felt comfortable on stage noting my preliminary observations about Germans, which I had written while waiting for my connection in Copenhagen earlier that day. I never felt so good about a performance before and Dharm had to kick me off stage because I was enjoying myself too much [or should I say, for too long?]

After the show ended, Dharm introduced me to another African-American female comedian named Tammy who has lived in Berlin for years. Her delivery reminded me of the vaudevillian loud and proud style of Leslie Jones, where dance, vocals and routinely insulting the audience are equally as much of the performance as the actual jokes. She was unapologetic, funny as hell and expert at heckling [though, in America, we call it ‘audience participation’]. She even heckled me! And it filled me with all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings…We spoke in detail about life in the city after the audience dispersed. Various Americans, Brits and Scots gathered to offer their opinions on what life for me would be like in Berlin, suggesting VISA alternatives and offering names of people with whom I should get in touch.

Neil and Dharm invited me back the following week to perform again, and I agreed happily, too excited to tell everyone back in Oz [and Greverley] how well the night had gone. They also invited me to another comedy performance the following night. Dharm promised that it would be “authentic squatting culture” at its finest. How could I resist?

When everyone else had left, Neil lined up shots of Jagermeister on the bar counter and we toasted to a fun, successful night of comedy.


I instantly regretted the decision, having only eaten strawberries and half a soft pretzel since morning. I stumbled through the yellow subway back to Sonnenallee and face planted on my bed, WhatsApping with anyone who would listen about the butterflies in my stomach fluttering around from pure happiness.

The next day I got to know my AirBnB hostess Marcela, a Chilean fashion designer studying abroad. Her flat had large bedrooms with high ceilings and wooden floors that creaked incessantly. The light was glorious. It streamed into the bedrooms in broad beams through the bay windows and warmed everything in its path. Through them, you looked out onto a courtyard with a cobblestone foot path, beautiful green garden and bright red roses, several of which she had potted and placed on my window sill. We spoke in Spanish instead of English or German and she told me about all the haunts of the neighborhood, gave me instructions on how to get to Brandenburg gate and sent me links to VISA information about living in Berlin.

Sonnenallee is a multicultural suburb comprised predominantly of Middle-Eastern immigrants. Leaving the flat I heard Arabic, Farsi, French, Swahili, languages that I’d never heard before and could not place, English and occasionally German. Women wore hijabs and balanced infants on their hips while tugging their dirty toddlers by their hands. Men sat outside of cafes with unbuttoned shirts and sucked on hookahs while drinking aromatic coffee, scowling at each other while discussing all kinds of things I couldn’t understand.

I stumbled over crates of fruit and hyperactive children whenever I left the flat, and like children do, they fell over, smashed their faces then got back up and ran around smiling like nothing had happened.

I’ll admit it, the day after Cosmic, I had a whole new swag in my step. It’s not every day you kill a comedy set in Berlin and I wanted to celebrate the only way I knew how…food. While wandering through the city the day before looking for the club, I found a burger joint that had free Wifi so I stood outside and leeched it shamelessly to message people and map out my journey. Heading back there seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my first German performance.

I’ve had a lot of burgers before. I love meat like fat kids love cake, so I had high expectations. But when I tell you that I should have sat on something absorbent before eating this BBQ burger from Burger Vision in Berlin, I mean it was the most satisfying physical experience I’d had in months. It awoke something in me only previously done by inspirational Civil Rights heroes and piano pieces written by Chopin. That burger was a concerto and the “I have a dream” speech copulating in my mouth, and it gave me new life. Was it the meat, or was it the intrinsic satisfaction that only comes with successful creative endeavours? The point is, for me, the two are not indelibly linked in my head, and every time I think of Burger Vision, I will think of doped-up joy.

Large Arab men danced slowly to hip hop blasting on the speakers while they flipped patties like it was their destiny. So when I heard “Diva” by Beyoncé start to play, I couldn’t help but think she was talking to me.

I only feel moderately embarrassed to admit that I walked out of that burger joint with that song added to my travel playlist, mildly popping my hips on the sidewalk and on the U-Bahn like…

…on the way to Brandenburg Gate to sightsee the pomme frites off of my hips before I joined the comedy crew that evening.

Berlin Siegessaule, The Reichstag building and Brandenburg Gate are large, imposing monoliths that attest to Germany’s fortitude…not the liberal charm with which Berlin itself is often associated. Before the counter culture, green tattooed muttonchops and latex fetish ware, Germany was a mighty military force that conquered half the known world. And man…are they something to behold.


I made good on my promise, and sweated out my burger and chips through the afternoon. I took selfies and drank water and tried not to make eye contact with the trucks and trucks of police lingering at all the government buildings and national monuments. The State Department had issued a travel warning not soon before I arrived in Germany, so there was a distinct edge to an otherwise jovial summer atmosphere. I’m wary of the police wherever I go, but when I walked past them visibly dying of thirst, and one uniformed gentleman handed me a bottle of water with a nod and a smile [or was that a wink?] I relaxed. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m not in Chicago anymore…

My friend Mareen, based in Berlin, had been out of town with her boyfriend when I first arrived but she told me to get in touch with Darren, another contact from Melbourne who had recently moved to Berlin. Darren and I met at our friend Viktoria’s [Mareen’s sister-in-law] wedding back in 2014, but I didn’t know him well. Still, I was in a new city without many contacts…and did I mention how badass I was feeling? I reached out to him on Facebook and invited him to the comedy gig later that evening.

I made it back to the B&B with just enough time to eat, shower, change and take off again. I was heading to a night called “Knuckle Up Comedy” at the Kopi squatter complex in the heart of Berlin. The sun had started to go down and everything began to feel cool. Approaching the courtyard from the subway station, I passed a junkyard filled with broken bicycles and used car parts. On another side was half a trailer with someone inside making noise and banging pots. The courtyard itself was flat and at the center of a large run-down building covered with the most spectacular graffiti I had ever seen. All around me were comedians, musicians, DJs, artists and poets, wearing whatever they wanted…or nothing at all. Someone pedaled into the courtyard with a boombox on wheels, laced with green Christmas lights and pumping out house music. Someone else rode in with a bicycle attached to a wheelbarrow filled with liquor and ice. Dharm and Neil were already there, drinking beer and going through the rundown of the evening. They introduced me to other comedians, including a few Australians, like one Imaan Hadchiti.

Imaan and I quickly struck up a fantastic conversation about comedy, about Australia and about life in Berlin. He had just relocated to the city and he encouraged me with all his scruffy might to make the move. I felt instantly at home with him, sitting on that cold asphalt in that neon-lit, graffiti-covered courtyard. I didn’t talk to anyone else. I felt like I had found a piece of home in a place that was rapidly beginning to feel like the new home I had always wanted.

Eventually, we wandered downstairs into knuckle-up, which was plastered in posters, tags, paint, and god knows what else. A pop-up bar had been created, where two incredibly attractive men served cheap booze and pretzels. I felt like there had been a mistake, and I had been invited to a secret clubhouse meeting that was way too cool for me. I geeked-out hardcore on the inside, afraid that any minute people would see right through my amazing Afro and curvy form to spot the years I spent committing Tolkien novels to heart. So when I finally burst from happiness, leaking all my social decorum onto Dharm with the words “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO FUCKING AWESOME!” hearing him say back to me “All good my dear, I was hoping you’d love it” was the final blow that made me implode from the inside.


I can’t even describe how happy I felt, and privileged to be living these experiences at the peak of my life.

The inside of Knuckle-Up was a cave, a literal cave! It was carved out of stone and rock and set up with old classroom desks that cut me as I tried to squeeze into them. It was cold too, and smelled earthy like a storm had just passed.


There was room for maybe 30 punters and a few more people who didn’t mind sitting on the ground. A group of students sat in front of me, and a gentlemen with acne and a bad haircut moved closer to me out of the blue to ask me for a kiss on his cheek. I thought “why the hell not?” and leaned in to oblige, but then he moved his face quickly to trick me into kissing him on the lips and I dodged him expertly to land one square on his nose. We both laughed and I pushed him away and told him to pay attention. He couldn’t have been any older than 23.

The man with the green hair was MCing that night, and Imaan, Dharm and several other comedians from around the world performed an amazing evening of comedy.


Darren came and brought his friend Julien, a gorgeous German intellectual with a dirty blonde man-bun and a sweet, satiny voice that made me smile whenever he spoke. We sat outside during intermission and drank alcohol that ran all over my face with its froth. It was saccharine and heady and made me feel intense. We sat outside in the dark, caught up in the evening’s frivolities, illuminated by neon paint, Christmas lights and a small bonfire on the other side of the courtyard. We talked about the performers and shared stories as if we had known each other our whole lives. I began to notice how open I felt there, without the usual trepidation that governed my every day life back in Melbourne. I was saying yes to things I never said yes to, and doing it with virtual strangers.

Speaking of…

After the comedy show, Darren and Julien said they wanted to take me dancing. The Kit Kat Club was right down the street, and was world-famous for its seductive shenanigans and hedonism. Its outside appearance was super low-key. I had walked right past it earlier on the way to Knuckle-Up without even noticing that it was a nightclub.

But when we headed back that way around midnight, it was heavily guarded by large men in black who project managed the attire of everyone they allowed to enter. We checked our bags and our mobile phones at the door.

“Pictures aren’t allowed,” Julien whispered to me.

An older woman with an angular face covered in heavy makeup lectured us at the counter to look out for one another; I wondered if we were entering a biblical neverland of good and evil and seriously contemplated retreat for about two seconds before going “what the hell.”

I’d been doing a lot of that lately.

Darren and Julien, unfortunately, weren’t allowed in with their jeans, so they stripped down to their underwear. If that sounds unusual, then clubbers in latex bodysuits, leather harnesses, rubber briefs or, in many cases, nothing at all…will probably shock you. The women behind the bar were completely topless, and the DJ wore a pair of pleather briefs with a large silver zipper in the front. Friday nights were “slow” for Kit Kat, so only one of their five dance floors was open to the clubbers. There was, on the other hand, a pool…with a swing, and it was put to good use by many randy couples who dunked in and out periodically to rinse themselves of the sweat they accumulated on the dance floor, and occasionally copulate.

Darren casually explained to me the meaning of nudity in clubs in Berlin, that the human body wasn’t sexualized like in other Western countries; that nudity was seem as a completely normal thing, something to be celebrated, not fetishised…

And I knew that, I’d heard about that, I’d read about that…but something about seeing it again, after many years in Australia, made me suck my lips in, bite them, and giggle profusely on the inside like a dipshit.

Hehehehehehehehe…doodles.

Around the pool, people lazed about nude, or partially clothed, kissing and touching, talking and drinking, smoking and dancing. Inside, on the dance floor, people stripped themselves of all social decorum and openly embraced nudity, sex and song all at once. The room was decorated with glow-in-the-dark paintings of nude women with devil horns and couples touching each other. There was a pole up on an elevated platform, and a golden cage for people to dance in, if they were so inclined.

Darren kept buying us shots of tequila, and I clutched a bottle of water close to my chest while we jumped around the dance floor in between the man with the cock ring and the woman in the black latex body harness. I felt loose-limbed and silly; gradually my self-consciousness wore off and I was fist pumping and grinding with everyone else like I had done it a thousand times before.

Off to the far side of the room was a row of beds covered in rubber sheets, where I saw one older man masturbating enthusiastically to hordes of naked dancing bodies.

I could have stripped to my underwear [but I didn’t] and I still would have been the most overdressed person in the room.

Off to the other side of the dance floor was the dungeon, a dark room completely removed of light where people wandered in to have sex, watch sex and engage in a variety of sex-like acts, like S&M and bondage.

I thought to myself “This is the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing ancient Rome.” Kit Kat was a veritable bacchanal of bodies, drink, dance and sex. It was the other side of German industriousness. It was the price for admission to one of the world’s most hard working economies…complete abandon.

Because my parents might read this at one point, I’ll leave my observations at that.

I went into the toilets at one point and ran into a woman with a bright red latex harness on which I complimented her. She was tall and thin with long dark hair and very pretty in the face. She thanked me and invited me into her studio. She said she was a fashion designer and wanted to dress me. I agreed, committing the information to memory for a later point in time before joining my friends outside again.

While sitting by the pool [again, still clothed] I noticed a man to my side with dark golden hair and matching whiskers [I…shut up, Vik]. He wore tiny boy shorts with the large silver zipper in front, and nothing else so I admired his physique as he danced to the music thumping away in the background. Red lights washed over him and he faded in and out of focus while speaking with his friend, dressed in a vest, underwear and rider’s hat. I pointed him out to Darien [Darren + Julien] who then told me to ask him for his lighter so they could smoke. I did it without thinking…and he winked at me.

I froze. My mind, normally filled with words and thoughts and things that resemble intellect instantly dissipated, replaced with goo. I buried my head in conversation with Darien, suddenly feeling more flushed than I had all night. I collapsed my body into a shell and giggled like an absolute idiot.

I’m cool like that.

I’m cool like that.

I’m cool like that.

I’m cool like that.

We went back onto the dance floor where Darren bought us more tequila shots, and we ended up positioned within eye’s view of the man I had been admiring by the pool. I went from moving rhythmically and freely to being a tin man on the dance floor, one whose joints had not been greased in a decade. It’s a miracle I didn’t slap someone across the face with my long, awkward orangutan arms. Darien danced closer to me to edge me over to the man, and eventually, I was right next to him.

“Touch him!” they yelled at me. “Put your hands on his chest and tell him you think he’s hot!”

“NO!” I shouted back. “That’s creepy! I’m violating his personal space!” They both shot me a look that was somewhere between amusement and overt disapproval. Julien, a quieter enabler than Darren, mostly smiled at me with silent encouragement, but he endorsed everything that Darren said.

“You have nothing to lose!” he said and went back to being adorable on the dance floor.

“That’s how they do it in Berlin, honey!” Darren shouted at me. “Just put your hands on his chest, tell him you think he’s hot and kiss his neck!”

…I didn’t do that. I did some of that, all but the kissing part. Because…ew, NO. SIDE NOTE: Why do I keep taking romantic advice from same-sex couples? Gay men do not operate with each other like men operate with women. But…I digress…

His name was Sven. He put his arms around me and we danced, the four of us together.

We danced all night.

Before I knew it, the sun had come up above the pool. I didn’t even realize it was open air!

The moment I saw day break I felt naked and strange, like night had cast some kind of weird spell, now broken, and was ushering me out of the door and back to Sonnenallee. I felt capable of almost anything beneath a dark sky, but when the sun began to rise all I could think of all the things I shouldn’t be doing…like functioning after a night of no sleep. I can’t completely explain it, but I had to go. The impulse to leave was so strong it almost pushed me out of the door. Darien followed suit, though I told them they didn’t have to, and collected their clothes at the door. The woman with the angular face and heavy makeup raised her eyebrows at us as we left, as if to ask “What are you doing?”

Darren explained to me later that people often went clubbing on Friday night and didn’t leave until Monday morning. Saturday night was the peak, and late Sunday was the wind down, so us leaving after only one night was almost unheard of. For me, it was about as much nightlife as I could stomach, even while technically on holidays. I longed for my bed and the squeaky wooden floors of my B&B. Leaving the club, we faced an onslaught of seedy drug dealers selling MDMA, X and LSD, but we declined. Darren and Julien went away together and I rolled into the U-Bahn on my own covered in smoke, sweat and giddiness. Sven had gone long before, and I felt a quiet satisfaction knowing that I had outlasted a native on his own turf.

Before I left the club, I managed to take this shot of a gorgeous mural overlooking the club. It seemed appropriate for some reason.


There were a few others around me who looked like they had some from similar venues, wide-eyed and vapid like ghosts. The streets were empty when I arrived back in Sonnenallee. The sun was shining, but through the overcast skies everything seemed blue and grey. I stumbled back into my B&B and threw the covers over my eyes.

It was close to 7am. I slept until 11.

When I managed to rouse myself from the flat, I went back to Burger Vision for a repeat of the previous day’s foodgasm. Using their wifi I looked up the fashion boutique of the woman I had met in the toilets at Kit Kat Club…It was right up the street, and seemed like the perfect thing to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Her boutique was a fetish store, and the clothes were made almost entirely of latex and leather. Whips hung on the walls and ball gags were positioned beautifully on crushed purple velvet in glass display cases. The woman, Melody, was working and welcomed me with a large smile and a warm demeanour when I entered her store. She told me to take off all of my jewelry, because it might damage the material so I did, and she dressed me in half a dozen skin-tight outfits that molded to every curve on my body like plaster. She expertly smoothed out the creases with her hands in swift, hard motions and placed me in a pair of red leather platform pumps, instructing me to walk up and down the store to see if I felt comfortable.

I didn’t. I felt the opposite of comfortable. I felt like a piece of glass about to shatter all over the floor and gouge somebody’s eyes out…but I did look good.


Each “piece” was 400 Euros or more, and I couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on clothes that I could only wear at clubs named after cheap chocolate candy. But we did talk about comedy and burlesque and exchanged phone numbers for when I came back…if I chose Berlin as my new home. She was friendly and sweet, and had a pleasant voice that made me feel very comfortable. I hardly noticed that I looked like a seasoned dominatrix that charged $1000 an hour…

I spent most of the following days wandering and connecting with people online who might be able to help me with work. In-between I went to Museum Island and marveled at the Berliner-Dom, ate as much sausage as I could and perused the outdoor summer markets. Marcela worked at the markets so I paid her visits and tried on her clothes. I met her friends who worked as tattoo artists and musicians. We sang to each other and I made jokes. I ate street food on the other side of the Ease Side Gallery and stumbled into artist communes where people made prints with controversial political slogans, and brewed homemade moonshine that filled the studios with a smell that resembled rubbing alcohol.

I found myself locked in a bathroom with an Irish man, and we exited by climbing out a back door and over a bar counter, over which he helped me. We laughed about it, and ended up in a corner where we told each other embarrassing stories of other bar blunders until I excused myself with the delayed awareness that he wanted to hookup.

Before I knew it, my second performance at Cosmic had come and when I showed up to the club, I learned that I was closing out the show as the headliner. Instantly I felt something I rarely feel when I perform…nerves.

People piled in by the pairs, from America, Australia, England and Ireland. I made friends with a delightful Irishman named Reuben who kept feeding me lollipops, because I didn’t have any other vices to which they catered. He sat with me until my friends arrived and recorded my set from the back of the room. I squealed when I saw Mareen. We hadn’t seen each other since her brother’s wedding [to my friend Viktoria] back in 2014. Every familiar face is a beautiful face when you’re travelling, and hers had a special connection back to my Australian family.

The show was a success, and several Americans came up to me after to hug me and tell me they loved my jokes. I met several more comedians including an incredible Dutch comedian named Sam who was on her way to America to try and break through. I have a strong feeling that she will…

The next day I packed up my stuff to go to Mareen’s. Since she had come back in town with her boyfriend Gerdy, I was going to stay with them for the last two nights.

First, Darren and I had lunch in the sunshine at the incubator from which he works and spoke about the upcoming American election and the EU referendum in the UK. Then I migrated back to Sonnenallee to see Dharm and Neil, who paid me for my performance. We sat outside on the sidewalk while they smoked pot and we made jabs at each other, as comedians often do when they enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company. I picked my bags up from Darren and then headed to Mareen’s where her dogs greeted me with enthusiasm and cuddles. We walked them and caught up on life. Gerdy came home and we went grocery shopping where I observed how very much in love they are.

It struck me somewhere between watching them recycle plastic bottles and make double-entendres about eggplant, that Gerdy worshipped the ground Mareen walked on, and it filled me with warmth. It’s the way he smiles at her when she’s not looking.

That’s all I needed to know to see that she was with a good man.

Mareen and I spent the next day together, eating strawberries and walking along the East Side Gallery looking at the street art I had only seen before on Google searches.


It was mostly behind chain link fences, but I still took my time going from one piece to the next…I felt like I was absorbing history and I didn’t want to miss a drip. I feel the same way when I go to historic museums…people went through so much trouble to put that information together, the least I can do is show it respect by learning whatever lessons it has to teach.
We ended the day by taking photos in the infamous 2 Euro photobooth.


Later, Darren came over and we walked the dogs and watched the sunset while talking about the future.


It had been a huge week for me, and I sat there with them absorbing the enormity of it all with quiet reflection. I was so quiet that Mareen asked me several times if I was okay. I was, but I was going through a mental list of all the things in my life that were about to change dramatically. It scared and excited me. But…I was angry at myself for feeling afraid…angrier still for entertaining that fear as a viable excuse to keep me from making the change I needed to be happy. I pushed the thoughts aside for the moment and went back to being with my friends, who were encouraging and kind. That was what I needed in that moment more than anything else.

We were all at interesting crossroads. Mareen’s had led her to recently become a yoga teacher and would possibly see her hitting the road for work. Darren’s had taken him to Berlin.

Mine…well…mine would be decided in a week’s time…after heading back to London.

I left the next day.

A tale of 3 cities: The Angels of Amsterdamage

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”

-John Green

 

The first time I took the Eurostar was back in 2001, when Claire and our other various high school graduates went from London to Paris. I don’t remember much about it, other than how it went dark when we entered the Chunnel and thinking “Oh what pretty green hills and OH MY GOD AM I UNDERWATER NOW?!”

I took the Eurostar again from London to Amsterdam, via Brussels. I hadn’t been that excited for a commute since I first rode the Shinkansen in Japan back in 2006. Trains are my favorite form of transportation. Faster than cars, slower than airplanes, and all the beauty and calm lost amongst the others. If you’re American [or Australian] then Europe is especially beautiful by train, because it’s the closest you’ll ever get to stepping into an actual storybook. All those backdrop settings you read about in fairytales by Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm just come to life, even more so for me because I know all of those stories by heart. It sounds dreadfully romantic, and Australia and America are bloody gorgeous countries, but it’s just something about all that green…it looks like it would smell sweet. Anything in Australia that’s green [or red, or yellow, or blue] just looks like it will kill you…because it will.

This time, it was grey, overcast and lightly raining. The train went so fast that the raindrops slanted at a complete horizontal across the window, and aside from the occasional babbling of the self-important film producer sitting next to me, inside it was silent as winter. I’m sure it sounds cliché to talk about rolling green hills again…you would think I’d have come up with better adjectives and nouns in the past 15 years, so I’ll just say this: it’s more beautiful than I remembered.

Amsterdam feels like a song. Not a song you can stream on Spotify. Amsterdam feels like an old, scratchy song that occasionally goes to loop on a record player. That’s the first thing I thought when I stepped out of the Station, so that’s the music I listened to. Amsterdam felt like watching an old black and white movie of a city that shouldn’t exist anymore, but does…and it exists with copious amounts of weed and sex workers.

Amsterdam Black and white

Amsterdam felt beautiful, and moody and a little at odds with the rest of the world. Amsterdam felt like Nina Simone’s blues sessions. Amsterdam felt like “Do I move you?” and “In the dark” and “My man’s gone now.” Sometimes, when the sun decided to shine and I got lost between the canals trying to relocate a bakery I had passed before without properly committing the address to memory, Amsterdam felt like “Sinnerman” – quick-paced and vibrant. Sitting in the middle of the plaza in front of the National Monument on Damstraat, eating churros smothered in Dutch chocolate, watching pigeons steal food and young lovers kiss, Amsterdam felt like “Feeling Good.”

DSC_0858

Walking through the Red Light District at dusk, Amsterdam felt like “Blues for mama.” As it got darker, and the crowds became leerier, The Red Light District switched genres completely and felt like “Our ride to the rectory” by Team Sleep. It felt like a place that doesn’t belong to women who don’t work in the sex trade. People opened up their windows high above and shouted down to you, beckoned to you, made offers to you that were meant to be enticing but felt, to me, laced with an underlying disdain, bordering on hatred. No doubt because I was a tourist, not a customer, and they didn’t owe me an ounce of respect. One couple, half dressed, tits hanging out, threw a dildo at me from their window. It bounced at my feet and I kicked it into the canal where it bobbed pathetically down stream and disappeared between two houseboats.

The women behind the glass wore latex underwear and leopard print bikinis with pleather boots. Well, some of them did…some of them wore school-girl outfits, edible bikinis, fetish costumes…some wore animal heads. I saw a woman in lacey black lingerie and a horse’s head, galloping back and forth on a broomstick in the narrow space of her room. They were young, old, fat, skinny, black, white and every shade in-between. They danced mechanically to music I couldn’t hear and stared you right in the eye as you walked past, their faces illuminated by the red glow of the Christmas lights lining the display. If you’re a tourist, they stick their tongues out in suggestive manners and press their bodies against the glass, throwing your classist disgust right back in your face. They know exactly who the tourists are – the ones that came to silently judge them or, in my case, the one with the camera bag bouncing off of her hip. Dead giveaway.

Out of respect to the sex workers, I didn’t take photographs of them…unlike many others. They didn’t appreciate that. The title photo is from a Google search.

Sex workers are understandably kinder to the people who came to spend money. They take their hands and caress them as they enter the buildings, laughing at what they say or smiling alluringly.

After dark, the tourists are meant to scatter, but instead we loiter at pubs [some of which are quite good] and take in the full neon-list spectacle as men enter and leave the buildings, tucking their shirts back in as they disappear between narrow cobblestone streets. Because it’s summer, the sun doesn’t set until around ten, but when it does finally go dark, the entire district lights up bright red like it’s been set on fire, and we bask in its unceremonious glow.

It’s an appropriate vibe.

If I’m being honest with myself, Amsterdam felt a little bit lonely. It’s a city both modern and classic, but it’s missing something of depth. The character of the city felt skin-deep, from the people to the architecture. Sure, the Dutch are insanely tolerant, but not very accepting. They tolerated the tourists, and the fanfare, and the spectacle…but they also removed themselves entirely from it, like something foul-tasting you push to the edge of a plate until it falls off. Sure, you have Renaissance-era buildings and their distinctly chiseled facades, but they’ve also been gutted from the inside out and fitted with wifi, shopping malls and weed shops.

Speaking of, I thought the locals would be more discrete with their drug consumption. No.

No, no, no.

Everyone smokes weed in Amsterdam. Shop keepers, doctors, lawyers, primary school teachers, pilots, preachers, nuns, sex workers, engineers, cops, house wives, businesspeople and café owners. I saw a tall blonde Dutchman with a severely angular face in a tailored suit and shiny leather shoes cycling through the canals with a spliff hanging out the side of his mouth. He puffed on it casually from a street corner and winked at me as he rolled on past, nearly crashing into another cyclist, and not perturbed about it in the slightest.

He might have been heading to [or from] a board meeting for all I know…or running one.

Not soon after arriving, I realized that “Coffee shops” were not what I thought they were. On the outside was the letterhead and the signage, on the inside was lava lamps illuminating dark corners, glowing felt cannabis posters, reggae music and an entire coterie of “special” brownies, from white chocolate to dark. The people of Amsterdam are true connoisseurs of their craft. In a town so small and antique, you’ve never encountered so many different ways to get fucked up. There were pot cookies, brownies, drops, lollipops, twizzlers, chocolate drops and candy canes. I felt like I had stepped into some weird adult version of The Gingerbread Man…if stoned Dutchmen with dreadlocks had written The Gingerbread Man.

Even while riding in the taxi from the station to my AirBnB, the driver asked me why I had chosen Amsterdam as the second city in my trans-European adventure.

My response? “Culture, I suppose.”

He retorted cleverly with: “The kind of culture you can smoke, or the kind of culture you can snort?”

SIDE NOTE: The truth is, I chose Amsterdam because it has a large English speaking population, proximity to all the places I wanted to go, a rich tradition of art and a ton of money. I wanted to know if it would be easier to live and work there than in London.

The taxi driver dropped me off in North Amsterdam, where I was staying at an AirBnB run by a widow named Lia, and her sidekick, six-month old shaggy floor-mop, Dodi. I don’t know how old Lia was, but she had amassed a wealth of artistic accouterments in her home, adorning every space on her walls, her cupboards and windowsills. I saw the pictures on the website, but they didn’t do it any justice. She had Japanese sumi-ink paintings and ceramic plates of of fat, rosey-cheeked children with gold trim. Her cabinets were stacked with fine crystal plates, bowls and goblets…GOBLETS! So packed within a small space that they almost looked randomly placed when, in fact, they fit perfectly where they were. Everything fit perfectly where it was. I can’t imagine how many years it would have taken to create this multiethnic ecosystem of clever craft, but it was gorgeous. If a house has ever been an expression of its owner’s personality, this house was Lia, her life, and her love all in one place.

 

My room looked like a Van Gogh painting, the one of his bedroom in fact. The walls were purple and I had a single bed with a yellow pillow and comforter. The ceiling cut at an angle, like it collided directly with where an attic would begin. I had a window that opened and overlooked a green hill with flowers that were most fragrant at night.

In the mornings, Lia served exquisite breakfasts. She presented an assortment of fresh, buttery pastries, smelly Dutch [and French] cheeses, cured meats, dark crusty breads, fresh fruit, muesli, sour Greek yoghurt and boiled eggs [which she served within a woven sheep casing, to keep them warm!]. She sat with me and the other guests, sometimes it was a friendly Austrian entrepreneur named Lisa, sometimes it was a student from Princeton named…I forget his name.


We spoke about travel and love and loss. Her dearly departed was a doctor, her doctor, who fell madly in love with her while struggling to end an unhappy marriage with his first wife.

“He told the best jokes and made the funniest faces,” she told me.

Lia recalled how she would walk past his office, and he would catch her looking at him unbeknownst to his patient, and give her funny faces that made her laugh hysterically, even as she discussed them now…decades later. I loved Lia. She belonged in a storybook with her overly-rouged cheeks and her dimpled nose. She sat out on the back porch in her bathrobe, amongst her flowers, and smoked flavored tobacco from a pipe, sometimes cigarettes, looking at nothing while Dodi terrorized hairbrushes at her feet.

She moved like a time lapse, or an image that kept fading, flickering in and out of focus on a projector screen. I asked her if she ever felt lonely, because I did and couldn’t explain it completely. She seemed genuinely surprised at my question. “I’ve been loved enough,” she replied.

That seemed perfectly fair.

While I normally try and abide by the whole “When in Rome…” philosophy, I simply had no desire to try pot. Besides, all the seedy un-showered men beckoning to me from the doorways of their shops felt like a violent encounter waiting to happen. That’s the thing about travelling on your own as a woman…every recreational activity is an exercise in calculated risk.

If I go to this club on my own, what are the odds that I’ll be battling off men and their hands all night?

If I smoke this pot, what are the chances that it’s laced with something else and I’ll end up reciting songs by the Grateful Dead in a chicken coup in Eindhoven by the end of the night?

If I accept this drink from this stranger, what are the odds that I’ll end up face down in a puddle behind a dumpster, nude and raped?

Because as any woman who has travelled by herself knows, any man who tries to talk to you, can’t be immediately trusted. That’s why I tend to approach them myself, if I want to. This way, I catch them off guard and take control of the situation.

On the flip side, meeting people while abroad can be a wonderful thing, because it heightens the experience of travel like good food and good music. Sure, it all plays into this “fantasy,” but it can also unlock a part of yourself that’s more open when removed from the every day pressures of work and responsibility. I find that I’m more myself with people while abroad than I am when I’m home. I’m not stressing about deadlines or balancing social politics. I’ve shed that skin completely. It’s when I come back and become re-immersed in the banality of a life I don’t want that I become a true stranger to myself.

That’s the deception – that when we’re travelling, we’re “in a fantasy,” and when we’re home we’re “normal.” I would argue it’s the other way around except, depending on the condition of your life, it can feel like more of a nightmare than a fantasy.

Somewhere between my first and third day in Amsterdam, between Anne Frank’s house and the Rijksmuseum, I decided to go back to London after Berlin. My freelance jobs had been pushed back, and another extended, freeing up my time to re-examine the feasibility of living in London and work from a place more pleasant than cold, dark Melbourne…plus, I have to be perfectly honest, I missed Greverley. I missed them a lot. I missed talking to Beverley about food and Greta’s lateral thinking. I missed Beverley’s funny foreign accents and Greta’s memorable one-liners. I missed watching them bicker, and watching the bickering devolve to bantering. They are two of the wittiest, smartest, funniest and entertaining people I’ve ever met, and they love each other ridiculous much. Being around two people who love each other as much as Beverley and Greta love each other makes me feel…bandaged. As in, healed. I don’t think they knew the full extend of it, but I felt pretty broken by the time I boarded the plane from Sydney to London. I was happy, I was thrilled, I was excited…but I was also an emotional pulp of my former self…all nervy and on-edge, balancing anxiety attacks with feelings of complete hopelessness. A miserable work life will do that to you.

I texted them my idea and they responded enthusiastically, so I changed my flight. There was no need for me to end the trip any sooner than I had to.

Meanwhile, outside of Jennifer’s head…

I really wanted to get away from the tourists. They didn’t venture out any further than two streets away from the station, which had the highest concentration of drugs and crap food…well, crap food if you’re not stoned, I guess. Every corner had a pizzeria, but the thick, doughy, smothered-in-unnaturally-orange-cheese pizza that shone like plastic beneath the heat lamps. There were kebab shops run by bored shop owners who smoked blunts outside in their dirty aprons and pomme frites stands, which lined up tourists by the dozens, serving freshly cut potatoes smothered in thick mayonnaise from a paper cone.

I searched far and wide for a restaurant with a menu articulated by words instead of neon images. I stumbled upon a chique, dimly-lit nook called Stout. It was run by smartly dressed twenty-somethings with sharp faces and the customers were fashionable and attractive. I sat at a table for one, next to an American man and [I assume?] a Dutch woman, eavesdropping shamelessly in on their conversation where he attempted to articulate his dismay at having received a paltry 20,000 Euro bonus the year before. I realized then that Amsterdam was probably a very expensive city in which to live.

I ordered chicken poissin with chorizo galette, spinach and an apple reduction. Heaven. My waiter was young, with a blonde goatee [what is it with the Dutch and their goatees??] and flirted with me between taking drink orders from surrounding tables. He was very young, and I recognize an afro fetish when I see one. I told him I would pass.

Over the coming days, I explored further. I wandered into a suburban café where I befriended the owner who looked like Sebastian Koch. He wore his hair slicked back and had delicate spectacles which hung round his neck by a gold chain, and he had a pocket watch tucked neatly into his vest pocket. When I sat down with my maps of Amsterdam, he parked himself in the chair opposite of me and struck up a conversation. He asked me what took me so far away from the tourist strip of the city, and I told him that I wanted authentic Dutch food. He fed me veal crochettes with mustard dip, rye bread, and a small crisp salad. For dessert, he suggested poffertjes, tiny Dutch pancakes covered in powdered sugar and salty butter, which I had with hot chocolate so thick it ran down my throat like syrup.

It’s at this point that I should reveal that I had another show in Amsterdam, a burlesque comedy show. I was MCing a bracket in-between sex performers and saucy strip-teasers. I was told that I would have to dress the part, which I anticipated would come in the form of a vintage corset with French-lace stockings and ruffled underpants. So, in-between discovering new and interesting ways to fatten myself up, I burned calories among the cultural delights of Mueseumsplein, inhabited by the world famous Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. My years of studying art history came back to me in waves, and I marveled at all the Dutch masters who painted pictures of saints and demons like liquid porcelain on the canvas. These paintings, though centuries old, have a life about them that is missing from contemporary realism. I have no idea what it is, whether the vibrancy of the paints used or the technique of the time, but you will never see anything anywhere else like it. It’s better than the Renaissance. It’s better than the Baroque period. It’s an art form since gone entirely extinct…and it’s been mummified in the weed capital of the world.

This is me photographing myself in an antique mirror within the Rijksmuseum.

I wandered the halls of the museums while listening to Nina Simone. Her piano-work on Sinnerman, coupled with seeing Rembrandt’s The Night Watch for the first time, was nothing short of sensory overload.

Power!

Power!

Power!

And I prayed between verses that I had been active enough to still look attractive for my cabaret performance.

I knew pretty quickly that Amsterdam would be a good city to visit, maybe less so to live. It was charming, but small, far too small. A lot of Western European countries flourished after the war, finding their own way to relate to the rest of the world. Germany owned manufacturing. The UK became a finance beacon and a military superpower. Scandinavia took on energy, education and gender equality [show off]. The Netherlands…have weed [and a rich heritage of design, but you know…meh].

Aside from that, Amsterdam is a city that seems ambivalent to growth, maybe even a bit resentful of the concept. It’s a place that’s perfectly happy to exist, but not to triumph. The Dutch are liberal, but also extremely rigid. There is a strict point of separation between the Dutch and the tourists, where none ventures to assimilate with the other. Even within the Dutch community, there’s a strict border drawn between the ethnic Dutch and the Dutchmen and women of colour. It was all very bizarre.

While many people were friendly and intrigued, I received more than a few glances of disapproval through sharp, beady eyes and muttered words beneath breath, and it was mostly when I ventured to the local spots. Speaking of, if you put German, Swedish and English into a blender, along with a shot of espresso and a drop of LSD, you would have Dutch. It is the most incomprehensible language I have ever heard; with words so long and consonant-laden you would think it should only exist within the pages of a novel about hobbits.

Still, the city is undeniably gorgeous. It belongs in a snow globe. I would love to go back at Christmas, and sit again in the plaza in front of the National Monument to re-observe the city, its fowl and its lovers, covered in snow. Even with the smell of weed drifting through the air, it feels like stepping back in time.

I hate the smell of weed. I’m not against it as a substance. I was thrilled when Colorado passed the use of recreational marijuana in the states. But, to me, weed smells like dirty gym socks that have been fermenting at the bottom of the laundry basket all summer.

It was the worst when I rode my bicycle through the Red Light District, where I met with the Madame running the comedy burlesque night for a costume fitting. Unfortunately, I got my dates confused and showed up to the venue one day early. She, “Lissett,” didn’t mind, and offered me a ticket to watch that evening’s live sex cabaret instead at Casa Rosso, which I accepted.

[SIDE NOTE- “Lissett” asked me what I do for a living and I told her I was a writer. She asked me if I would write about her and I said I would. She asked me to change her name, so I have].

Normally, tickets would have cost around 40 Euro [Approx. $80 AUD] so I couldn’t really refuse even if I wanted to. I wanted a Dutch experience, and I was being handed one free of charge. Casa Rosso is a large venue, it’s clean inside and gets packed after dark. I sat close to the front, but was warned against using my camera, so I tucked it beneath my seat. The show was as you’d expect – S&M, latex, bondage, whips, feathers and very high heels. There was dance, music and song. The main part of the act was an intensely choreographed sex performance between a man and a woman, where they wielded their bodies like weapons at times, and finely tuned instruments at others. They used sex toys for penetration and performed orally on one another in a way that was more comical than erotic…but you did get the distinct impression that they really enjoyed what they were doing.

To call it ‘voyeuristic’ would be an understatement. I found it utterly fascinating, entertaining and fun…but by the end, I was completely turned off from the idea of sex. What I enjoyed was how having a sex industry like this probably reduces the taboos around sex exponentially, and facilitates a better conversation on sexuality, desire and the human body…which I appreciated most of all. The performers looked like ordinary people. They weren’t surgically enhanced. They weren’t smothered in fake tan. The men were slightly round, and slightly skinny, but still very attractive. They had dark hair on their chests and grey hair on their heads, great butts and large, erect penises. The women were beautiful, and looked like they ate sandwiches sometimes. They had cute bellies and small, pointy breasts, and large hips with dimpled butts and large breasts that sagged a bit with wide nipples covered in sparkly pasties like disco balls. It was a celebration of the human body as it actually is, not as portrayed by the silicon injected roid-ragers flexing at The Arnold Classic.

Everyone enjoyed themselves, the dancers included, and afterwards I joined them for a drink. They asked me what I thought about the performance and I managed to stumble my way through a semi-literate response, which I imagine they found quite amusing. The truth is, I was raised in a strict, conservative, Christian household where my parents tried like hell to convince me that sex before marriage would turn me into an undesirable trollip. So if I appeared shocked, it was only because I can’t believe how far I’ve come [or should I say ‘strayed’?] from that thought process. How are the mighty fallen?…or is it, how are the mighty arisen?

We left the venue and sat along the canal where they smoked pot and drank Belgian beer that smelled like wine. I had a glass of Chardonnay. It was getting late and I was exhausted, so I left them to migrate. I learned very quickly that The Red Light District is not the best place to be after dark if you’re a woman alone. Men, over-stimulated and chemically enhanced become even more brazen than usual and treat any woman passing by like property, no longer interested in who’s working for it and who isn’t. They grab and grope, make vile comments and crude gesticulations. Their faces, tinged with red neon glow, turn already garish looks of desire into something particularly nefarious. I got lost and I was tipsy, but managed to find my way to a bakery where I bought some poffertjes to soak up the booze. I become completely disoriented at night, and without Wifi, self-direction becomes even more hazardous. Eventually, I wandered back into the city square and found the tram heading back to the station, but because my card was empty, I just followed the tracks back by foot, rubbing my hands together to warm them up. Amsterdam isn’t that big. It didn’t take that long.

The next night was my performance night, 1 June. I had miraculously retained some shape, despite all my previous attempts to masticate myself into a diabetic coma. I went from shop to shop looking for a corset. I was going for something between sexy vixen and brutal dominatrix…but the only corsets I could find left me looking like a damn cupcake. Pink, periwinkle, lemon yellow…they looked like corsets picked out by a pedophile. I had left my search too late, and the clock was ticking. The kind of corset I wanted required a fitting further head of time, and cost a lot more than I had hoped to spend. So, I branched out, and went with two lacey jumpsuits – one red, one black, one long, one short. I borrowed a pair of large, black platform pumps [from one of the transgender performers, none of the women had feet as big as me] and teased my afro out as large as it would go.

The crowd was English speaking, drunk and rowdy. I knew they wouldn’t respond to my clever jokes about race and gender…but they would respond to jokes about the differences between Donald Trump and a massive dildo…

Who wouldn’t respond to that?

I’ve never performed in such skimpy attire before, but it was a bit…liberating. It’s all about what you believe, isn’t it? If you walk onto a stage in a red, lace jumpsuit nestled firmly up your ass, and look like you believe in yourself, then the audience will love you. If you walk onto the stage in a red, lace jumpsuit nestled firmly up your ass and look like you’re about to piss yourself stupid, the audience will eat you alive. It just so happens, I’m very comfortable in a red, lace jumpsuit nestled firmly up my ass telling jokes about Donald Trump and dildos. Who knew?

One of the acts that went up was a couple with a t-shirt cannon, but instead of t-shirts, they fired dildos. DILDOS. What is it with this city and rubber penises?? The crowd laughed and dove for them as they came flying out, holding them up in triumph like Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans. It was all well and good until a middle-aged man got hit right in the eye with a big pink one, so hard they had to temporarily stop the show to see if he needed medical attention.

So when I got back on stage, I knew I had to liven the crowd back up. Naturally, I said “What’s the matter? You look like someone just got hit with a giant dick in the face?”

That was the best audience response I’ve ever received…

[SIDE NOTE – Later, Robin Hood (oh yeah, he’s still around) referred to it as “Winged Willies and the Angels of Amsterdam” which I quite liked, and told him I wanted as a title. He demanded 60 per cent].

Afterwards, the performers and I gathered on stage for a bow and we got a standing ovation. Lissett bought everyone shots of tequila, which I declined, and we sat around talking about burlesque, comedy, art and sex. It was truly one of the most European conversations I’ve ever had.

“What’s the secret to great sex?” I asked one of the S&M performers, ‘Cosette.’

“Do it with someone you hate,” she said.

Damn…that’s some real talk right there.

At the end of the night, people took home lovers with whom they had not initially come. Their eyes were liquid with desire, and they settled on who was ready, willing and able. I was none of those things, so we hugged and kissed goodbye.

I changed into my jeans and t-shirt and made my way back to Lia’s house. I had the time of my life in Amsterdam, but it was clear to me that opportunities were few unless I wanted to work in financial services or sex work. Neither appealed. The town was sleepy, but lively, small, but vibrant and very multicultural for its size. Still, I felt like a life there would be overshadowed with boredom once I had exhausted the museums. Four nights was long enough.

I was happy to be leaving the next morning for Berlin.

A tale of 3 cities: London is for lovers

By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.

-Samuel Johnson

NOTE: I stupidly forgot the USB cable to my DSLR, so all photos throughout the series have been shot on my iPhone. Better quality pictures to be uploaded soon…ish.

I met Greta on a Saturday morning back in 2009 when I was working as a waitress at Veludo on Acland Street. I had been in Australia for less than a year, and spring had just sprung. I was working the outdoors section, which I didn’t mind, because the sun was shining and winter had been full of terrors. In that section was a table of hung over miscreants who kept ordering round after round of bloody mary’s. They wore sunglasses and a few of them had their heads on the table, grunting their way through orders of sausages and eggs. They chatted me up between drink orders, even though it was a busy morning, asking me where I was from and why I was in Australia. I got that a lot while working in hospitality, so I had my answers pre-prepared. Normally, people leave me alone after the initial small talk. Greta, Mark, Rachel and Adam, on the other hand, didn’t. Instead, they slipped a 20-dollar note in my apron as a tip to keep [tips were normally split between the wait staff] under the proviso that I came to their backyard party after my shift ended. They denied my protestations and somehow knew that my integrity would get the better of me – so when I finally accepted the money, it was basically a done deal that I would be doing black Sambuca shots in their backyard within a matter of hours.

This is about the time when I say that I’ve never been a big drinker, and that I went the vast majority of my life without having even tasted the stuff. Australia changed that. Australia changed a lot of things. That was the first time in my life I had ever had alcohol…and I did it with complete strangers whom I had met in-between cleaning plates of bubble and squeak.

These are the foundations upon which lifelong friendships are built.

Or in this case, the past seven years…which, for people in their early thirties, is just as good. Greta took the reigns of the friendship, and through her I came to know Rachel, a brilliant and beautiful bombshell with a passion for helping others and a tremendous heart, Adam, a kind-hearted, fun-loving musician with the best gooey smile, Marc, a deliciously dry-humored gentleman who would pick you up from a tram stop late on a cold night and drive you home, and Dean…hot ass.

Greta eventually went back to the UK, and I stayed in touch with most of them on and off throughout the years. Last year, Greta came back to Australia and that was when I met her partner Beverley. Beverley is my Anglo twin. Beverley and I love the same things [food] hate the same things [small talk] and eat our eggs the same way [with a bite of toast in-between]. Greta instantly loved and loathed her decision to introduce us. Greta and Beverley extended an invitation to me then, that should I ever find myself in London again, I was welcome in their home. Even though I thought: “Sure…whatever. One day.”

Then one day came last month.

It’s impossible to discuss the enormity of this trip without discussing the first time I came to London when I was 18. Back then, it was my best friend Claire and I, along with a handful of high-school graduates, many of whom had never left the country before. We saw all the touristy things – St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster, Shakespeare’s Theatre. At night, we bought European versions of magazines and took the love quizzes in the back, marveling at the casual openness with which sex was discussed, poking and giggling at each other about it like morons. We were just 18, after all, and everything was foreign and amazing and different.

But London at age 33 feels completely familiar. It sounds familiar. It tastes familiar. I’ve hardly noticed the century-old buildings jettisoning through the skyline to suggest anything different. Going through passport-control at Hearthrow airport even, answering the scripted questions by the rosey-cheeked Scotsman behind the glass felt like walking down the street of my home in Elsternwick on the way to the grocery store. I can sense a heightened state of readiness in the increased police presence everywhere, undoubtedly due to the State Department’s recent warning about potential terrorist attacks, but I also sense a kind of confidence in the everyday state of affairs. The assuredness with which Londoners function, knowing who they are, having a history that clearly dictates a distinct national identity, reinforced time and time again in culture, commerce and art is kind of enviable. While the rest of the world struggles to figure out the kind of country it wants to be [largely due to the imperialism and colonialism forced upon them by countries like The United Kingdom] Brits seem to know the answer to that question so well, it bores them even to be asked. Imagine knowing yourself so well that the subject no longer seems interesting.

Instead, Londoners are interested in being enticed. They’re interested in interesting people, even if they’re completely different from the norm. But it takes awhile to get their attention, and when obtained, there’s a curmudgeonly aspect to it that’s difficult to ignore.

The hierarchical structure of social class is prevalent. Gentrification is rife. Ambition appears to belong to the few…many accept the predisposed order of their maker [whether divine or Darwinian]. Sarcasm is the tongue of the educated and the non-educated alike, but wit, yet again, proves the province of the resilient.

It’s been an especially interesting time to be in London with the EU referendum approaching [on 23 June]. Had I planned this better, I would be here throughout the vote, documenting the public response through words and photographs. What makes it so interesting isn’t that it’s happening…when politics have become as toxic as they have in the UK [and the US for that matter] the upcoming vote seems less arbitrary than it looks; many I’ve spoken to have described it as an inevitability of the continued internal power struggle amongst the Torys…and, you know, racism.

What’s interesting is that The UK, the most historically established monarchy and English-speaking superpower of our time, is now asking itself what kind of country it wants to be. This, here, is a critical point of self-reflection in which they evaluate at the most granular level their relationship with the rest of Europe. And as the world becomes smaller through trade deals and the proliferation of technology, it feels…from an outsider’s perspective…completely counter-evolutionary [is that a word?] to remove the country from an economic model that will not only benefit more than it disadvantages, but will also prevent the continent from warring against itself again.

Some of my more conservative British friends have spoken about the concern of immigrants flooding the country, putting undue pressure on the NHS and stealing jobs from native-born Brits. I mean…I don’t want to sound like I understand the situation from all angles, because I don’t, but it does sound awfully familiar like the neo-conservative rhetoric used by Americans to elect self-serving ass-clowns like Donald Trump. So while I’m sure there are problems, however many or large they may be I will leave up to the good people of this country to determine, but from a practical standpoint, it seems to make more sense to address them head on, through diplomacy and good policy, than by withdrawing completely. It just feels like The UK is prematurely ejaculating from the continent. That’s not the best way I can describe it, buuuuut…it seems fitting to leave it at that. Because erectile dysfunction disappoints everyone.

The first few days I was in London, I caught up with old friends from Bauer and from SAIC. We debriefed over drinks and lunches, gallivanted through museums and posed hilariously with the art.

tate modern

Greta and Bev took me to the Shard for the fanciest mocktails I’ve ever had, and then we met with Dean for dinner afterwards where I poked fun at his alopecia and we stole bites of dessert off of each other’s plates. Greta had made me nap earlier in the day so I rode through the first few days high as a kite, feeling invincible against the might of jet lag. The weather was beautiful – chilly, but blue and crisp and as good as it gets in London really. The sun sets late at night right now, so I often came home later than I realized, finding Greta and Bev in their PJs watching Game of Thrones and eating popcorn.

london 1

I met with Hannah, a friend from the Japanese Exchange Teaching [JET] program, who trained down from Reading to meet with me and introduce me to her adorable little girl. Hannah was just as I remembered her, but…as I kept reiterating… “…a mom?!” Difficult to imagine and yet perfect in every way. Our time together was brief, but deeply meaningful. Watching someone I love become a parent never stops blowing my mind. And as uncertain as I feel about the subject of having children, watching people as beautiful and intelligent and witty as Hannah do it, affirms to me why it may seem like the right thing to do…one day.

hannah

I wrote new jokes for a performance at Heavenly Comedy in Shephard’s Bush and recited them to myself while riding through the tube from here to there and everywhere in-between. I arrived there early the night of, paranoid that I would be late and that Njambi, the woman who runs it, would tell everyone in the comedy world about the lazy Aussie who couldn’t get her shit together. I sat in the comedy room, going over my jokes, meeting new comedians as they trickled in. That’s where I met Daniel, an actor and father with a dry wit and a charming delivery. I met Aydin, a musician just hanging out. I met Luke and Andy, friends of Greta and Beverley who came to support me…under the proviso that I was actually funny. Blair, an old friend from SAIC, came out with her husband as well. All in all, a very supportive crowd.

It was a great night of comedy, packed to the doors with punters and brimming with amateur talent. You gotta give it to the British – dry wit, when done well, is impossible to beat. I wish I had more stories about the people who went on after me, but by then my invincibility to jet lag had faded noticeably and I had begun the famed violent head-bob of resistance trying to stay awake, when what it must have looked like was me jamming to a heavy beat by myself in the second row.

I will say this…I was well received, and this filled me with an enormous sense of self-satisfaction. Jennifer Neal…international comedian.

The next day, I took the train to Bristol to reunite with an old friend I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. He told me repeatedly to put more time aside for his fair city, and I should have, because I was overwhelmed by the youth of the place. Tattoos, live music, large parks, old cathedrals, interesting cafes…and Banksy! Everywhere you look, Banksy. Mark and I walked throughout the city posing with the art like we used to do in Japan on the weekends, making funny faces and debriefing on our fellow JET colleagues…where they are now. I ran into another ex-JET, Matt, and we all posed in front of an amazing mural of Boris Johnson making out with Donald Trump.

bristol

Later that night, I met Mark’s son, Jun, and kissed him bunches and bunches through squeals of laughter as we watched Totoro and drank rhubarb soda. Mark put Jun to bed and then he, his wife Rie and I stayed up late in the kitchen talking about life, and people and politics and love. They drank wine and I entertained them with my romantic follies. We laughed so loudly I have no idea how we didn’t wake up their son. Jet lag snuck up on me again but I powered through it just enough to plant the idea in Mark’s head to come visit Melbourne and explore our coffee culture himself.

The next day we had trouble coordinating lunch and I had to get back to London to meet with a friend of a friend for a catch up in the evening. I was so sad to leave them, not knowing when I would see them again…but mollified by the fact that I would.

I got back to the flat where Greta and Beverley were sitting outside pondering our choices for the evening. I was unable to coordinate with my acquaintance between broken access to Wifi, and in the end…neither of us wanted to train 25 minutes to meet the other, so I went to the pub instead where Greta and Beverley fulfilled their promise to get me intoxicated before the week’s end.

Greta was especially excited about this. She fist-pumps and dances to music that isn’t there when she’s excited. It’s incredibly adorable. Beverley’s wry sense of humor compliments it perfectly; she wields her words like daggers with a straight face and a glass of wine in her hand [preferably with some smelly cheese on a plate]. Together, you have never seen two people so psyched to get me out of my own head.

Luke came out to join us and, upon finding some cocaine residue lining the edge of a men’s toilet, became the life of the party. There’s nothing particularly special about The Gorringe Pub, but it did provide an interesting anthropological study on the state of drunken Brits. One thing you can’t help but notice about the British, because it’s an attribute common amongst its English-speaking commonwealth brethren, is that alcohol facilitates the transition from corporate worker to semi-seductive night-owl. In other words, you get to the heart of a Brit by giving him or her a few drinks…well everyone except Greta. She needs neither encouragement nor audience…but it helps!

Not that long after we settled into the pub I noticed Robin Hood on the other end of it. I’m calling him Robin Hood because if you gave him a pair of tights and a feathered-cap, that’s exactly what he would look like…but not the Cary Elwes version…this guy:

Robin Hood

Yes, I’m saying I found myself attracted to a man who looked like the anthropomorphised version of a cartoon character/animal/garden nuisance. Did I mention I’d been drinking wine?

But don’t let my weird, Freudian subconscious deter you. He was genuinely foxy **shifty eyes**

…sorry. I…anyway.

He had floppy sandy-blonde hair and large blue eyes with soft blonde whiskers. He stretched along fully in the booth, extending his limbs and gesticulating casually as he conversed with his mate, a dark-haired fellow with a full, brown beard…and from what I could tell, impeccable teeth! Seriously, when you spend an extended period of time in London, teeth become a thing. I thought it was a stereotype. It isn’t.

RH [Robin Hood] had a sweet face and a sexy demeanor off of which I couldn’t keep my eyes. I’ve been so un-attracted to men lately, I thought something was wrong with me. Before leaving Sydney, my friend Aija suggested that maybe I have a romance [or two] while abroad, and my reaction to the idea was reminiscent of an 8-year old who just discovered cooties: “Ew! Yuck! Gross…NO.” Liar liar pants on fire. Death to the opposite sex. Girls rule, boys drool. But there I was…drooling over a man who reminded me of an animated monophyletic group of mammals.

I pointed him out to Greverley [Greta + Beverley] and they both agreed that he was a very handsome find, and they encouraged me to approach him. I refused. I adamantly refused.

“Look at him,” I thought… “Looking all fine, occasionally running his fingers through his hair, not paying any attention to anyone else but his friend. He’s surely gay…or dumb…or a serial killer. It can only be one [or more] of those three things! No…I’m traveling. I’m looking for a new home. I’m focused. I’m…drunk.”

Eventually, Greverley, Luke and I went outside and sat in a hut so they could smoke. Greta bought an entire shopping cart of potato crisps and I continued drinking wine. Greta bought petron café tequila shots. Greta…is an enabler. But I must admit, there is a method to her madness. Several glasses of wine, a tequila shot, and various political banter later, I decided to follow Greta back upstairs to the bar to see if RH was still there. He was. Greta was at the bar already and knew before I said a word what I wanted to do.

We chatted amongst ourselves for a few minutes, devising ways by which I could approach the handsome man on the other side of the bar. Occasionally, I would have to look over my shoulder for information on his dress or his demeanour, anything that would give me “an in.” Annoyingly, every time I did, an elderly gentleman with HORRIBLE teeth fell within my line-of-sight, interpreting my glances past him as advances on him, and returned them with lewd, loose-gummed enthusiasm.

Eventually Greta suggested the straight-forward approach: Hey, I saw you, think you’re kinda hot, wanna hang out?

Personally, I think it’s a horrible suggestion for a surgeon, but we had run out of time, the gummy man was coming for me and I wasn’t getting any more sober.

So I straightened myself, walked confidently over to the table where RH and his friend were, with Greta supportively by my side and I said “Hi, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I noticed you from across the bar and I thought I’d come and tell you how attractive I thought you OH MY GOD YOU HAVE A DOG!”

Yes. Several hours of pumping myself up to make an advance on this Viking-esque hottie, only to be distracted by the white toy poodle tucked at his friend’s side…Wooster. I wasn’t the only one geeking out. Greta had to make overt efforts to contain herself [she later told me that by playing with the dog she thought she had benefitted from this interaction more than I had]. RH handed us both treats to feed the dog and we did before she ran away to her owner again. We introduced ourselves to one another, and RH invited us to sit down. I’ll admit, I didn’t plan on it getting this far…I scavenged my mind for things to say and I have no recollection of what it is I actually said, but I assume it was witty and interesting because RH’s friend had to take off, and he took Wooster with him, so Greta invited RH to join us outside in the hut…which he accepted.

My nerves got the best of me in that moment and when asked if I wanted another drink I said no and told him that we would be right outside in the hut to come and play with us. When I got back downstairs to the hut, Greta, Beverley, Luke and another random woman who was feeling Beverley’s tits all scolded me for leaving him behind.

“He’ll just leave!”

“You didn’t accept another drink? You’re supposed to accept another drink!”

“Wait with him and talk to him before joining a large group! Jesus! What were you thinking?”

Forget about the fact that at least half of the objections are coming from lesbians who can’t remember what a dick even looks like. In my lubricated mind, they were making perfect sense. I fucked it. RH had run away and taken his fabulous hair with him. Just as Luke decided to chime in, telling me to play it cool, in pops the head of a man whose stature just kept going.

I didn’t realize how tall he was. The man just kept on going before he plopped himself right next to me and we began our rounds of chit chat between glasses of wine, pints of beer and bags of crisps. Again, I have no idea what we discussed. It was one large cloud of white noise occupied by drunken friends with various accents, and this continued until late, when the pub had to close. I’m told that I’m quite eloquent when I’m intoxicated, but I doubt my physical appearance reflects this. I can feel myself trying very hard to look composed, balancing my chin on cupped hands and sounding out the words in my head before they escape my lips, which come out in a slow, charming drawl. So when I suggested that RH join us at the next venue, I like to think it sounded like honey dripping off the tongue instead of a leaky faucet that just won’t.stop.running.

We migrated over to the Little Bar, where Greverley bought me a spritzer [something they believed wouldn’t fuck my head up] before disappearing into the night, sending a text message of encouragement and the post-code for me to find my way home.

…and then there was RH and myself…off my tits, drunk.

WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO NOW?

This is where my memory comes into better focus. I found myself in a heated argument with RH over American politics, in which I somehow managed to articulate myself in a manner that was comprehensible, but that he found completely disagreeable. I sensed his exasperation, which became apparent the more he ran his fingers through his hair [side note – I resisted the urge to replace his hand with mine]. He was intensely engaged in the argument, and his gesticulations had gone from mild to animated. I was unmoved in my argument, and that…to my immense satisfaction…irritated him even more. But the conversation was fun, interesting and didn’t bore for a moment. RH was intelligent, funny, charming and personable…and I met him at a pub. I excused myself to the bathroom and stared myself at myself hard in the mirror, grasping the edge of the sink and examining the liquidity in my eyeballs.

I had decided to kiss Robin Hood. I checked my phone – Greverley endorsed this idea, and when the Tiger Lesbians that project manage your life give their approval, it simply must be done.

When I walked out, the bar was closing up and the staff had begun putting chairs up onto the tables. RH was standing and everyone waited for us to leave. But because I didn’t know where he was going, and because I wasn’t sure if I would see him again, I made the move right then. I asked him if I could kiss him, and he responded positively with a robust “SURE.”

I finally ran my fingers through his floppy blonde hair, which was hard to do even as I stood on my tiptoes. I finally touched his soft whiskers. He tasted like gin and cloves. The staff began yelling at us to leave, at which point I felt RH’s hand behind my back go from between my shoulder-blades to what Beverley calls “flicking the V’s” [meaning – fuck off]. We left the bar with his arm around my shoulder and exchanged numbers on a cold street corner in Tooting, our phones in one hand, my other hand, slipped through his other hand. We kissed more and parted ways for the night. I skipped back to the flat happily…nothing involving someone as handsome as him ever ends as well as it did that night, so I celebrated the only way I knew how in my giggly inebriated state – by dancing. I danced myself into bed. I probably fell asleep with the same ridiculous grin on my face.

The next day Greta was hung over. Truly, madly, deeply hung over…the kind of hangovers of which sonnets are written. She peed with a piece of fried chicken in her mouth and bathed until life ran through her veins again. Beverley prepared breakfast in the form of sourdough toast, crispy bacon and mashed avocado. We had pastries with our tea and coffee, and when we were done, I had a message from RH. It was a message, wishing me a good morning, and a song – My Girl Josephine by Supercat.

Again, I found myself in the position of not knowing how to respond…or what to do. Again, I didn’t think it would get this far. I mean…a song?? That’s way too considerate for the morning after gratuitous drink. And a good song…an obscure song, a song surely only recognized by people with impeccable taste.

I thought a little too hard about my response. I actually sat at the table with my hands steepled and my eyebrows furrowed until I decided that the only appropriate response would be dance. That is, after all, what the song demands.

My response to RH was based less off of the enjoyment of the exchange, and more on the fact that I simply like I had to “one-up” him. You want to send me a song? Fine. I’ll send you a video of me dancing to it.

THAT’LL TEACH YOU.

[Side note – WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME? Only an over-analytical intellectual would turn a dancehall song sent via text into a critical chess move].

Beverley recorded a video of Greta and I dancing to the song, and I sent it back to RH. In fairness, it started out as a beautiful day, and the sunshine from the back garden only encouraged my shenanigans. I would’ve danced on camera anyway. I think anyone would have! Shortly there after, we all jumped into the car to pick up Alex and Kerry for our day trip to Ightham Mote in Kent [a national trust site replete with a period cottage, pristine gardens, enormous trees and a large green paddock].

It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen…like something out of a Jane Austen novel. Until Beverley reminded me “No Jennifer…this place is far too old for a Jane Austen setting.”

**grumble grumble**…know it all.

We ate scones, crumble, potatoes and quiche in the cafeteria and toured the halls of the cottage, where volunteers had taken especial care to retain the architectural integrity of the edifice and its historic accessories. Small bouquets of dried flowers had been placed on chairs so that nobody would sit on them. Large laminated pages explaining the historical significance of the paintings, the wallpaper and the unfamiliar instruments were handed out by the volunteers. Beverley bought these amazing animal masks, one for each of us, which we wore at random points throughout the day. When we did they often came accompanied with my particular brand of narrative, where the masks were somehow at the centre of a story about an abandoned orphanage where the children would wear them and haunt visitors until their last, dying breaths.

ightham mote

…did I mention how much wine I had the night before?

Alex and Kerry were interesting as well. So far, all of Greverley’s friends have been amazing. Funny, quirky, brilliant in their own right, entertaining and inexplicably kind-hearted. We all picked up with one another as if we’ve known each other our whole lives, and it felt perfectly natural to wear a koala mask with these people, squeal with them at the site of large century-old trees and sing Queen with them in the car as we drove back to London.

An open bottle of luke-warm prosecco, Freddy Mercury and the rolling green landscape of Kent in the background…is there anything else more quintessentially British?

London had presented an immeasurable number of delights. It was clear that my largest base was here, presenting a strong chance of prosperity. And with Greverley at my side, it’s impossible to think that I could ever go wrong. I had met with various recruiters and media contacts, old work colleagues and potential new ones, all giving me the confidence to think that I would be just fine in London if I wanted to make it happen. It was the perfect way to start the trip, and left the rest of Europe with big shoes to fill.

The day came to a close, and the crew eventually fucked off to the pub. I stayed back at the flat to take a hot bath and repack for then next leg of my trip.

I was taking the train to Amsterdam the following day.

A tale of 3 cities: Prologue

“Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

-Albert Einstein

 

If you’re feeling a bit romantic, I would recommend watching a movie called Away We Go. It came out shortly after I moved to Australia, though I don’t think it ever made a huge splash in the cinemas. The movie is about a young unmarried, interracial couple, newly pregnant, who decide to find a new home by exploring several cities in which they knew people or had friends. They had high hopes, witty exchanges and nothing to lose by picking up and trying to move on elsewhere.

By the time it had come to our television set, maybe two years later, my then partner and I had already experienced a number of environmental challenges that stood to threaten our relationship. We seriously discussed packing our lives up from Melbourne and trying out a new place. We discussed the Middle-East, Europe, Thailand and South America. We could be just like the couple in the movie…without the baby. Well, without the baby yet.

But as life goes, it didn’t happen. We stayed in Melbourne and tried our best to weather the challenges through immediately accessible support systems, which exhausted themselves around late 2012, so we split up. We never re-enacted the film’s premise. I used to wonder if we would still be together if we had, but I don’t anymore. Both of us moved on long ago.

Instead, I recently found myself in a position where I asked myself if I could do it on my own…no partner, and [still] no baby.

Initially, I had planned a 3-week holiday. London, Amsterdam [possibly Belgium] and Berlin. But after leaving my most current role, completely broken by the madness of it, my thinking expanded to something of infinitely greater significance – what if I didn’t going on a holiday anymore, but a reconnaissance mission to find a new home?

I have lived in Australia longer than I’ve lived anywhere else – 7.5 years. I’m an Australian citizen now. I have friends now…good, amazing, beautiful friends who have sustained me during some extremely tumultuous times. I have a great gym, and a creative community in the form of comedians, writers and artists. I have a flat that I love, mostly because I don’t share it with anyone else, and a kitchen fully stocked with every kind of culinary device you could think of…I also have a red shag rug that proudly declares to ANYONE who enters that you’re in my home. These are all important things [red shag rug included].

I also have a tremendous hole in my heart that has only grown in size and depth from a number of failed professional and personal endeavours, capsized by challenges, many of which, I would argue, are indigenous to Australian life. For all of the good Australia offers, none of which should be dismissed, there are large elements of the culture with which I find myself constantly at odds. It’s often here, at this point, where I find myself particularly aware of what I say, because Australians, more than any other nationality I know, react negatively to criticisms of their culture, especially when articulated by a non-native-born…even if she is a citizen. My audience reduces precipitously when I talk about racism, or sexism or the growing anti-intellectual movement exacerbated by the increasingly xenophobic politics of our current government. These aren’t things that just stop at Parliament…they sneak nefariously into our everyday lives, right down to the water cooler conversation had at work, and the awkward small talk used to break the ice on a first date. You don’t want to hear it, that’s fine. But know this…I have not had a single job, or romantic relationship in that country, unaffected by these things.

So, because I want you to really hear what I’m about to say, I’ll summarize those thoughts and feelings with the following: Increasing bouts of frustration, anxiety and dissatisfaction with…well, the direction of my life, I guess…have led me to re-evaluate every aspect of it, from employment, to romantic relationships…and, last but certainly not least, location, location, location…

In short, it’s time for a change.

I’m not foolish enough to ask for your unmitigated joy. I understand if you’re upset, or angry or sad…or maybe just confused.

What I will ask is for is your understanding and respect. I deserve that, and I demand it.

You might be tempted to accuse me of running…I wouldn’t if I were you.

That’s an accusation I would be more interested in entertaining if it was October 2012, when Josh and I were just splitting up. I thought about running. I almost did.

Instead, I stayed in Melbourne, put myself through Graduate school while working a full-time corporate job for two years before moving into a new role, what I then described as my dream job, as a digital content editor. I did all of this to give myself the best chance of making a self-sustaining life, independent of the relationship that initially took me there. I exhausted every resource available to me to make the kind of life I wanted, and pushed myself in ways unimaginable to create the happiness I deserve.

…aaaaaand it didn’t work.

Three and a half years later, I can safely say that I’m not running…I’m flying. And I’m free to start over.

Somewhere between my last day at work in Sydney and boarding a 26-hour flight to London, I decided that that is exactly what I’ll do. And this series follows the unfolding of that mentality across Europe over the past four weeks.

Someone mentioned to me that my story is just like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. Minus the “pray” part…and the “love” part…well…*scratches behind ear*

…we’ll get to that.