After 3 weeks of hard work and some play, Mr. Toutmerde and I are heading home. The past few weeks have been very intensive and productive work-wise, but I was very interested in the work I was doing, so that is always a plus. And it was great to see Olaf and the gang in Hamburg, I have been here enough times over the past few years that it feels a bit like a second home. I am currently at the Hamburg airport awaiting my flight to Oslo, where I will have about a 3 hour layover before flying on to NYC. I supposed it is a good thing I will have that layover time, because the airline I am flying with (Norwegian) refused to check my bags through to New York, even though both my flights (from Hamburg and Oslo) are with them. This is apparently due to the fact that I bought these two tickets separately, but this still seems ridiculous to me. So once in Oslo, I will have to get my bags, then check them in again. Whatever, I will be happy to be back home, it has been non stop travel since October.
Today was another gorgeous fall day out, and so we took the bikes and rode downtown to walk around and do a little window shopping. In particular, riding past the Alster on the way was so beautiful, the trees are all changing, the fall colors fully out but the leaves still mostly on the trees. It was warmer out than it has been too, and it was perfect for a ride. Today was my last full day in Hamburg. Tomorrow I fly to Marrakech for work, and then back to New York on Saturday, finally. I will miss Olaf and our time together here, but I know we will see each other again soon and that I will be back to Hamburg at some point.
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A couple of days ago, Olaf told me he had to go to a “reunion of his old classmates” (basically a high school reunion, they were all together in school from the age of 13 to 18), and asked me if I would be interested in going. I said sure, as it seemed like it could be a strange, fun event — especially if I could show up as his flamboyant gay partner dressed in something tasteful like chaps and a neck scarf. But alas, Olaf had already been out of the closet at that time, so my enthusiasm for giving a shock to his old classmates completely deflated and I wore jeans and a sweater. I really should have thought the whole thing through before going, though, as when we got there it was a little awkward to make all his friends speak English. Despite what you may have heard, it does not come all that naturally to most Germans, despite their English being far superior to almost any American’s German skills. Not wanting to get in the way of their reminiscing, I stayed a bit off to the side and checked email for a bit at first, then was lucky enough to hang out with the other odd man out in attendance, a guy named Fred who was the partner of one of the other gays in the village, and who (like me) knew no one there. The reunion was held in a pub in a mini mall in kind of suburb of Hamburg, not far from where they all grew up and attended school. Through my conversations with Fred and the surroundings, I learned quite a few interesting things:
1. The pub we were in was called Humboldt, after one Alexander von Humbolt (and/or his brother Wilhelm, it wasn’t clear). He is apparently quite famous here, although I had never heard of him. His work apparently laid the foundation for the field of biogeography (something I had also never heard of specifically, so there you are). To be fair, most people in attendance couldn’t exactly explain what he was known for off the top of their head. Fred thought he had invented the compass or something (although that I knew had in fact been invented by the Chinese.)
2. Octoberfest is more celebrated in the south (and was already over), but for some reason this pub was decorated to celebrate it, and we had Octoberfest beer and food (Brätwurst and Sauerkraut)
3. After using my translator app a few times and discussing various things with Fred (whose English was quite good), we realized that the Germans have no word for wander. We were attempting to translate the word for hiking, which in German is Wandern, obviously from the same root as our word for wander. But when I explained to Fred that it was different from hiking in that there was particularly no destination implied with the word wander, he explained to me that the Germans had no single word for this. They would have to say something like “to walk or hike with no destination”, which I found hilarious. Of course Germans assume there is a point or destination to everything. Why would you just “wander” with no idea where you were going? I also realized that the word quite neatly describes much of my life outlook. I love not knowing where I am going exactly, that is where I discover the most amazing things.
It was a beautiful day out yesterday, so after a small amount of work in the morning, we decided to take advantage of it. Olaf suggested we go mushroom picking and I of course said “Sure…Wait, come again? Mushroom picking?” Yes, he wanted to drive 30 Km or so to a public forest and go looking for mushrooms. I guess I lump this in with other forms of German “Naturism” where they get “back to nature” by removing their clothes in open fields or grassy areas near lakes at any opportunity. Looking for mushrooms in a dank, smelly forest filled with bugs and boars and shit must likewise feel more “natural” to them than surfing the internet or having a beer at a pub. And since my own, personal aesthetics compel me to try anything I have not yet done before at least once, I agreed and off we went. I imagined it would be difficult to find mushrooms, but in fact they were everywhere. Except for the fact that the most common orange ones I saw all over the place were apparently not the ones we were looking for. I learned to identify at least a couple of types and found a few of the edible ones, as Olaf pointed out to me that the other ones might be edible, or they might be poisonous, or they might just have little to no flavor. Of course the ones we were looking for were hiding a lot of the time, covered up by grass and a color of brown at the top that tended to aid in their camouflage. It actually turned out to be kind of meditative and nice, one really needed to slow down and pay attention to the surrounding area to find them, and it really made you notice all types of thing in detail in the forest. Things like the beetles, the ticks, the broken branches, the grasses and mosses, the texture of the ground, the slimy coating on so many things, the smell of decaying trees and boar dung, and every so often, a prized mushroom. We collected a bunch of them (well, Olaf did; I collected about 5 or 6, but was happy to have found any since I was off to a slow start) and last night had a delicious mushroom pasta. Having woken up this morning not poisoned and still very much alive, I count yesterday’s adventure as a success.
In addition to going to the market and doing a lot of work, Olaf and I took a little walk around the Alster this morning and it really hit me that Autumn is here. The leaves are changing color and falling all around, the wind is blowing and there is a chill in the air. It is somewhat melancholy, but beautiful at the same time. It marks a change and makes me feel a little homesick, but not for any place in particular. And for some reason at the very same time, the weather makes me really happy to be spending some time with my dear friend Olaf. We can be quite silly together, reciting our favorite lines from various comedies and generally being catty, but with great affection. I have been in Hamburg enough times before that there is an easy familiarity here, and I always enjoy my visits.
Olaf and I got a lot of work done yesterday, and then in the evening went to a charity auction that the archive that Olaf runs had donated a photograph to. We first had to deal with the fact that I had nothing appropriate with me to wear. I borrowed an ill-fitting jacket from Olaf and spruced it up with a large scarf, feeling a bit silly, but Olaf assured me it looked fine, so off we went. The auction/benefit itself was interesting on a number of levels. It seemed filled with the kind of people that make themselves feel better about all the money they have by going to upscale benefits where they never really have to mix in any meaningful way with the yucky poor they are supposedly there to help. This evening’s benefit was for Sierra Leone, but it wasn’t entirely clear to me what the money raised would be used for. And I guess the crowd may have had a few native English speakers in attendance, because the auctioneer kept peppering her auction spiel with numerous English words and phrases like “last chance” and “gentleman in the corner” and “nine hundred euros” and the like. One of the funny things about the photography on auction was their stated values before auction, which Olaf told me are not independently assessed, but rather at the whim of the person or foundation that is donating. This allows them to assign some pretty ridiculous numbers and puff up their self image. (One image in particular had valued itself at 45000. It went for under 2000 I believe.)
It was a bit of a long journey yesterday to get here from Venice yesterday, as there were no direct flights and we were required to spend a few hours at the Copenhagen airport, but we are now in Hamburg. This part of my trip is much more work-related than the past few weeks, I will be working on a web project with Olaf while here as well as some of my other project work for about a week. Of course, how dull would it be to be in a foreign city and do only work, so I am sure we will have a few play things in store as well.
I have been in Hamburg enough times, and stayed here at Olaf’s enough times, and long enough, to feel loser to it than most other places. If not exactly home, it is a kind of home away from home, and I always enjoy hanging with Olaf and getting reacquainted with the people I know here (and meeting new ones). This particular trip I have stayed longer than any other visit, and so it is a little sad to say goodbye. That said, I have an exciting few weeks ahead of me. I will leave today for Paris to meet my brother and sister in law, and on Thursday we will take a rental car south towards Nimes for the night, then to Nice the next day. From there we will take a train to Genova (Italy), spend the night there, and pick a car the next day to head to Florence. In a villa just south of Florence, we will be staying a week with much of the rest of the family (My mother, father, sister, brother in law, niece, and nephew). And like us, they are converging from all over Europe on trips of their own this summer. After that, I will go to Florence and Modena to stay with my friend Jonathan for a few days, then fly to London to stay 11 days with my friend Arnaud before heading back to NYC finally on the 8th of August. Whew.
Things are winding up here in Hamburg. I fly Monday back to Paris for two days and then back to New York. I am pretty happy with the site I have just finished, I think it looks good and works well. There are as always more things that could be done, but overall it is pretty spiffy. I look forward to feedback on it when it launches in a few weeks. Tonight we are going out to a celebratory dinner of sorts in one of the fancier restaurants of Hamburg. Stay tuned for the details, it should be fun.