A Good Day to You and A Good Day for Me

Something I wrote when I was in Salzburg, Austria.

Salzburg 1I’ve been kicked out of my hotel. Nah, I’m just being dramatic. I needed a reservation to extend my stay there and they do not allow on-the-spot extensions. So, I was let out of my room with a view of the center of Salzburg from the second level of an 800-year-old building. During my two-night stay there, I loved tiptoeing towards the toilet with my toes curled as my bare feet felt the cool and roughly-hewn steps. At least the cleaning lady was kind enough to give me a fridge magnet before I left.

I am dragging my plum trolley bag with electric blue zippers on the street parallel to the Salzach river. This is a shorter way than walking through Getreidegasse in the middle of old Salzburg – the route that we took when we were looking for my hotel after first arriving here two days ago. I am making my way towards Staatsbrücke, built out of bricks by the prisoners of war in World War Ii. You found it admirable for the townspeople to put up a sign dedicating the bridge to those who died building it. The street leading from this bridge goes directly to your hostel near St. Sebastiankirche. The brick bridge links our respective parts of the town. You mocked me for staying in the posh area where Montblanc pens have their own shop. I smugly scoffed at your ghetto neighborhood where people shop for bargains. Salzburg 2

You are greatly amused when I showed up at your room and announced my spectacular fall from high society. I had checked into your hostel and am taking your place when you check out later. This is a mere formality for I had spent more time in your hostel yesterday than you. I availed of the facilities and even stole your wifi access

I could not go with you when you explored Salzburg yesterday. Certain points of my feet, a little above the ankles had sustained blisters. Seven days of frenetic walking in leather shoes while in Vienna caused my skin to chafe and even break. The black Converse shoes with outlines of motorcycles etched in white on the sides did not protect my feet from the cold. It rained yesterday and the sky was gloomy all throughout the day. Even the locals kept out of the cold and there was hardly anybody out except for the tourists.

I do not have any problem with cold feet. It is quite tolerable. It was the agony of the blisters that made me walk very slowly. With each step, pain radiated from the spot where the blisters rubbed against my socks and the inside of my shoes. The pain was made worse by the cold. Each step was like having my feet simultaneously bitten by two snakes and their venom flowed through my veins. I had to grit my teeth each time I took a step, fighting off tears.

Since, it was impossible for me to go with you to the hills of Hohensalzburg and Mönch, I decided to do my laundry at your hostel. At Universetatplatz, you told me to buy good shoes and a coat then you set off for the hills. I took the agonizing walk to your hostel as the day gradually got colder. Throughout the afternoon, the hum of the washing machine and the occasional thunk! of the Coca-Cola dispenser kept me company while I cursed the cold, my socks, my shoes, my blisters. I took naps on a stone bench with my back and head leaning on a wall.

It was around early evening yesterday that you asked me where I was. I had gotten back to my hotel, with laundry in tow, after what seemed like an eternity of pain and with cold winds from the river hounding my steps. We met up at the brick bridge and you left me to dine over Salat Greco and Spaghetti Aglia and Olio at a pizzeria. You went back to the hostel. I had figured out that folding my socks down and exposing my blisters to the air considerably lessened the pain. My blisters were free and I was free to walk in stride with you.

Salzburg 3You brought the Austrian wine we bought in our first night in Salzburg and two paper cups. We walked along the river while joggers and cyclists whizzed past us. We sat on a bench and you poured the wine. We watched the gentle flow of the river with the imperfect reflections of the city lights rippling on its surface. Fastung Hohensalzburg was a fortress of light on top of its hill. The spires and domes also glowed in the town below: a city shining steadfastly against the encroaching night.

The wine kept me warm as we talked of things, of places, of people. We also strolled further down along the river, sipping from the paper cups and hiding the bottle in a paper bag. We crossed the foot bridge were people had attached locks as a testament to their undying love for each other. But, the night grew much colder, forcing us to agree to retire.

We went back to the end of the brick bridge on your side of town. We stopped at the food truck that sold sausages that only appeared during night time at the exact same spot. I had a couple of Münchner sausages and you watched me dip sausage slices into some mustard. The food gave me warmth as I listened to your travel plans. It was enough warmth to carry me across the bridge and to my hotel in my side of town.

Now here we are, on our way to a park that you wanted to see. We are walking along the river watching a flock of seagulls screech at each other. The wheels of your trolley are rolling audibly against the pavement. It is still cold but not as cold as yesterday.

We have now reached the park and are walking on its pathways. You have just spotted a statue of a thinking man and are now telling me to go in front of it and pretend I am explaining something to it. I am doing it while you are taking a photo, laughing. I am asking you what time your train is leaving and I am telling you that I plan to go with you to the train station to ask about train schedules for my trip to Prague. Salzburg 6

We are slowly walking up a mound in the middle of the park. You are walking towards a bench while I am standing near a tree enjoying the view from the top. The sun breaks through the clouds and the slowly browning trees and the green grass are bathed in light. Warmth is caressing my face.

“It is a good day today”, you said to me. “You should enjoy this day. You wasted half a day yesterday.”

“Yes, it is a good day. Maybe I will”

We discuss our plans to possibly meet in another city, in another continent, across the Atlantic Sea. That will probably be a year from now. Or maybe it will be years before we see each other face to face again. You are saying goodbye and I am saying goodbye. The sun is shining brightly now.

I walk away without looking back. I go back the way we came from and the sun is glistening on the river. More people are out with their dogs. The tourists have poured into the streets basking in the sunlight. Fastung Hohensalzburg has captured the sunlight on its white walls, glowing amidst a backdrop of green trees.

Salzburg 7I turn right towards your hostel, no, my hostel, and I see a store selling the shoes you suggested I buy. I walk into the store and ask the lady if I could wear them immediately. My feet are warm and the pain that tortured me yesterday is absolutely gone. I go back to the hostel to leave my old shoes. I am excited to see city anew in this bright warm seemingly perpetual morning. I breathe in the air. Everything is as it should be. It is a good day.

 

A Little Panic Here Tonight

My status update on April 2, 2016 while I was in Budapest, Hungary.

Hostel WIndow
View from my hostel room in Budapest, Hungary

So, there was a little panic here tonight.

There was an urgent knocking on my door whilst someone was talking rapidly in the hall. When I opened my door, a group of four – two brunettes, a blonde, and guy – were cramped in the hallway.

“Yes?” I asked patiently because they looked very distraught.

“Did you see an iPhone?” one of the brunettes asked with her hands clasped together.

“No. I just arrived this evening. I came from another city”

They nodded and I closed the door.

The discussion continued. I listened through the door. I learned that one of the brunettes had gone to the bathroom and went back to their room to get something. When she went back to the bathroom her phone was gone. This happened ten minutes before the commotion. Someone was suggesting calling the police.

I stepped out to join in and pretend to ask for more information. It would have made them suspicious that I already knew the details. “When did this happen?” I asked the guy who was inspecting the bathroom. He asked the brunettes. They might have been speaking in Portugese. The brunette retold her story.

“Ten minutes ago?” he exclaimed, putting his hands to his head. I suppressed a smile. Something definitely got lost in translation. He began to pace. “I thought it happened this morning or a little earlier!”

“We should call the police and call the owner” the blonde repeated her suggestion.

“What will the police do to us?” asked the brunette.

“They will ask each of us questions” I replied. Maybe I should tidy up my room a bit, I thought. If I was going to be investigated, dirty socks and underwear should be taken care of. Their paranoia had started to infect me.

“Did you knock on all the doors?” asked the blonde. You seem pretty helpful and concerned, maybe it’s you! I thought. Sometimes, the perpetrator is the one who acts the most concerned.

Meanwhile, the guy was busy containing his panic. Your reaction seem to be very exaggerated, maybe it’s you! Perpetrators can be the ones who exhibit the most exaggerated reactions to incidents of crime.

I looked at the two brunettes. Could this be all just a ploy? Are you two playing some sort of game or con?

There were also other two ladies in the room next to mine. They did not come out despite the hullaballoo. Maybe they were already plotting how to get rid of phone before the police arrived!

“Maybe whoever stole it could have already thrown it out of the window. It could be on the street” the brunette theorized.

“I will go down and take a look for you” volunteered the blonde. I looked at her suspiciously.

The other brunette went inside their room while the discussion was going on. She came out and waved a phone. The phone was in their room all along.

Everyone gave a sigh of relief and had a laugh. Another door opened and a bald man stepped out to use the kitchen sink. He looked at us quizzically and someone said it was fine.

The brunette apologized. I was comforted to know that I was surrounded by strangers who are willing to help and jump into action. I will sleep well tonight.

The brunettes and the guy went back to their rooms while the blonde went out. I went to the toilet. As I was about to go into my room. The door next to mine opened and one of the two ladies went out.

“The thing about the phone, it’s fine. They found it somewhere”

“Super!” she replied.

How Film Festivals and Anime Helped Me Survive Abroad

I like watching subtitled movies, but now it’s getting harder because my eyes are almost useless. While I was in school, I would occasionally skip classes or spend weekends going into screenings of European art films, particularly the French ones. When you’re a student, you have a knack for finding free events to get into. It also helped that I hung out with kids who were into “culture and the arts” and shunned whatever was considered mainstream. Yes, we were pretentious little nitwits.

I also love watching anime with subtitles. And I would only watch a dubbed version if it’s in Tagalog. Somehow, Tagalog captures the intensity and emotions expressed in the original Japanese. By watching subtitiled movies, I became familiar with the sound of the languages spoken and picked up some words along the way.

Other people thought me weird. They also questioned my dedication to the “obscure”. Those are not entertaining and serve no practical value, they argued. And I proved them wrong(I like proving people wrong. It’s a hobby that annoys everyone).

The French are notorious for refusing to speak English even if they could. Personally, I think it arises out of discomfort with the English language and not out of snobbery. It’s similar to people like me, who speak Bisaya and formally trained in Tagalog, who respond in Bisaya even if addressed in Tagalog.

Paris 1The first European city I’ve visited was Paris, which was in 2014. I was only armed with a map of the metro stations and the address of my hotel written in French. I was going to commute from the airport all the way to the hotel.

I was fortunate to have encountered very friendly and helpful people. The warm Filipino smile can do wonders. A pretty woman, after I smiled at her, helped me buy a Paris Visite pass from a machine. A good-looking man, after I caught his eye, taught me how to get from Gare d’ Nord to Gare l’ Este. He was even willing to buy me a ticket and take me to the platform. A kind janitor, who noticed that I looked confused, pointed me to the train that went to Peletier station.

While in the midst of transferring through three trains, I realized that I could understand, speak, and even read a little French. I was able to approximate the correct pronunciation of the words so that locals assumed I was a fluent speaker and they would talk very fast. While on La Fayette, I smiled broadly at a woman who was lining up at an ATM machine. “Bonjour! Excusez moi. Rue Peletier?”. She replied to me in French and pointed out the street and told me that I should go straight until I reached Boulevard Haussman.

JapanLater in 2014, I found myself in Tokyo, Japan for the 2014 International Bar Association Annual Conference. While I hung out with a group of Japanese lawyers, I asked them about some things concerning Japanese mythology and pop culture over beer and grilled fish slices. “Your accent is perfect! How do you know the rules of Japanese language? You must really love Japan!”, they said. Thank you, Uzumaki Naruto. I was warned by a friend who spent some time in Japan that I should never say a particular word in public. I asked them about hentai. The talkative and tipsy Japanese fell silent. But, I did get cheers from my table when I asked for water: “Semimasen, mizu kodasai”.

LongchampIn July 2015, I was back in Paris to attend a training on investment-treaty arbitration. Because of my halting French, I was designated by classmates to give our orders at restaurants or even buy sandwiches for lunch. My halting French and Japanese skills were also put into good use when I bought more than ten Longchamp bags at Benlux Louvre because the sales lady spoke only French and Japanese. I described colors in French while I counted the items in Japanese.

Most recently, in December 2017, I was in Madrid. While I was in the vicinity of the Prado Museum, I had this exchange:

Waiter: Comes aqui? (eating here?)
Me: Comer aqui(Eat here).
Waiter: Habla Español?(Speak Spanish?)Atun del Rey
Me: Habla Español poco. Habla Ingles(I meant: I speak a little Spanish. I speak English)
Waiter: Poco Español. En España, habla Español.(A little Spanish. In Spain, speak Spanish)
Me(big grin): Menu por favor. Voy a tener Atun del Rey con cerveza. Gracias(Menu please. I’ll have Atun del Rey and beer. Thanks)

Whenever I was in a linguistic bind, I always thanked the weird and pretentious younger me for having interest in things even though they seemed totally superfluous. Knowledge is knowledge, whatever it may be. It’s just a matter of when and how you’ll use it in your life.

A Cancellation, Two Misses, and A Flight Delay: Notes on Stupidity and Bad Luck

I was having a chat with a friend yesterday and he brought up missed or cancelled flights. He asked me if I ever deliberately missed or cancelled a flight. Stories came back from the depths of my memories. I did not want to bore him with details so I just said “Yeah, I have.” Our conversation gave me the idea to compile my air travel mishaps.

Note that I have kept a couple of these stories under wraps out of embarrassment. I only told my family and very close friends. But, some of these events happened years ago, and the lovely thing about time is that shame tarnishes as the years go by. So, below are my notes on my stupidity and bad luck.

First Act of Stupidity

The first time I ever missed a flight was on January 2, 2010. It was a 4 a.m. flight from Cebu to Manila. That time, a colleague and I were uprooting our lives in Cebu and transplanting ourselves to Manila – whether that decision paid off is yet to be seen by me, eight years on.

Anyway, we woke up two hours before the flight. Back then, you can get to the airport in about 15 to 20 minutes during very early dawn. We were complacent. We did some last minute packing; we took our time bathing and grooming. It was less than an hour before the flight when we were ready to leave my apartment.

We got to the airport five minutes after the gates closed. The staff at the counter was unyielding. We booked tickets for the next flight at about USD120 each. Good thing the office allowed us to claim a relocation expense refund but we got the money months after we filed our papers.

Second Act of Stupidity

Atkinson CLock Tower
Atkinson Clock Tower in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

I missed a morning flight to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia on October 26, 2013.

A couple of weeks before, I booked a promo fare on Air Asia – a round trip ticket for USD160. I excitedly booked a hotel, did research on things to do and see there for five days, and filed my request for vacation leave.

To compensate for my absence from work, I did a lot of overtime and beat multiple deadlines. I bore it all because I was going to have a blast – a light at the end of the tunnel.

The night before my 9:20 a.m. flight, I worked up to 10 pm just to finish everything. After a late dinner, I got home around eleven. I was too tired to pack so I set my alarm to five in the morning. I plopped on my bed in my office clothes and passed out.

I opened my eyes and saw the sun through my window. Adrenaline shot out of my nose and I bolted out of my bed. I looked at the clock – it was 8:00. a.m.! Either something was wrong with the clock and it did not go off, or I did not hear it and it got tired eventually so it shut up.

I hurriedly took off my clothes and stuffed some clothes and underwear in my backpack. I grabbed my passport, credit cards, and wallet and dashed out of my apartment building. I figured I’d buy clothes and toiletries in Malaysia. And miracle of miracles, I was able to get a cab the moment I got out of the building.

Traffic was remarkably light considering it was a Friday morning. As we coasted along, I began to hope. But my heart sank everytime we got stopped by a red light or passed through a bottleneck. The traffic hitches lasted only a couple of minutes or so and I found my semblance of a soul singing hymns to the universe, asking it to rearrange time and space so I could get to the airport on time.

I arrived at NAIA 4, which is a small terminal compared to the massive other three terminals. I paid the cabbie and I made a mad dash through the international departure area and up to the check-in counter. I was panting, sweating, and disheveled.

“Sir, the counter is closed already” the lady in charge of check-in gently informed me.

“Those people aren’t even through immigration yet” I nodded at four people who were lining up at immigration, just a few meters behind the check-in counter.

“Did you come all the way from the provinces? Are you an Overseas Filipino Worker?” she inauired.

“I live kinda far from the airport” I said almost inaudibly.

“I’ll check with my manager first” she said and walked towards Air Asia personnel who were standing near the immigration booth. After a short discussion, she came back. “I’m sorry, sir. The passenger manifesto has already been finalized and immigration officials will no longer allow modifications”. I thanked the lady for her efforts and I walked out of the terminal and took a cab home.

While in the cab, I debated if I should push through with the trip. I did an online search and saw that Cebu Pacific had an eleven o’clock flight that evening. A one-way ticket cost USD220.

On one hand, It would be quite embarassing if I didn’t push through with it considering the fanfare I’d drummed up over the trip for the past couple of weeks. All those overtime and preparations for nothing. On another, I could cut costs by cancelling the trip and avoid spending more.

Pride won out in the end.

The minute I got home, I booked the Cebu Pacific ticket and started packing my stuff carefully. Around noon, I was on my way to Resorts World Manila, which is right across NAIA 3 where my flight would depart.

NAIA
Departure Area for International Flights at NAIA 3

I had lunch there and walked around the hotel complex. I also called my family, a couple of friends, and a co-worker. They were shocked that I was still in Manila. My news was greeted with derisive laughter.

Three hours before departure, I was at the check-in counter. A schoolmate saw me and asked “Why are you always travelling? Are you going through something?” I replied “I’m travelling to see if I am truly going through something”.

Delayed, Delayed, Delayed

Around 2 a.m. on June 25, 2015, I was at NAIA 1 for my flight to Singapore scheduled at 5:15 am. When the Tiger Air plane arrived, we were informed to prepare ourselves for boarding. I dozed off while waiting for the boarding announcement.”The flight will be delayed due to the replacement of a wheel”. There were groans but no complaints.

Up to 8:00 am, I was regularly woken up by announcements that the flight will be delayed due to technical difficulties. At 8:00 am, it was announced that the flight will be delayed to 10:00 am, more groans but not a lot of complaints. At 10:00 am, it was announced that the flight will be moved to 5:00 pm. There was an uproar.

Let’s just say people got very emotional: airline staff tried their best to stay calm and hold back tears, people cursed, and a threat of a class suit was made. I focused on looking for other early available flights so that I would not miss my connecting flight from Singapore to Paris on Emirates at nine o’clock that night.

While other people glared and bared their teeth at the staff, I charmed them into giving me a certification of offloading, refund papers, and my luggage back. It took an hour and afterwards we had to go back through immigration. The other passengers lingered on to avail of the hotel accommodation while I dashed out to get a cab.

“Take me to NAIA 2 and stop at a Philippine Airline ticket outlet on the way”. Good thing the cabbie knew his way around. It was at that time that my fantasy of enacting a movie scene coincided with my actual life. I burst into the Philippine Airline ticketing office and hissed with much relish “Book me a ticket on the earliest flight out of here!”

The ticket people were stunned. I approached the nearest guy who immediately sprang into action and informed me that the earliest flight was in about two hours or past 1 p.m. and it cost USD300. “Book me that ticket”. The staff looked very impressed. After a few minutes, I got my ticket and jumped into the cab that had been waiting for me. I was dropped off at NAIA 2 and I tipped the cabbie generously.

As I was checking in, the lady at the counter noted that I only had a one-way ticket and asked me if Singapore was my final destination. “No, I have a connecting flight to Paris tonight”. “What airline? Can you show me your ticket?”. After examining my ticket, she informed me that she had made arrangements for my luggage to be directly transferred to Emirates.

Survey
Electronic survey inside the men’s toilet at Changi Airport

When I landed at Changi, my Emirates flight was boarding early. The minute I got off the plane, I dashed to the pre-departure gate.

Just Bad Luck

Mini CakesIn the wee hours of August 17, 2018, a Xiamen Airways plane skidded off the runway at NAIA, which caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights and left thousands of passengers stranded.

I went to the airport because there was no word about my 7:00 p.m. Philippine Airline flight being cancelled. It was when I was at the departure area at NAIA 2 that it was confirmed that my flight was cancelled. Hundreds of us had to line up at the assistance desks in the hopes of rebooking or getting into an available flight. I was in line for a total of five hours.

The airline sent people up and down the queue to distribute mini-cakes and bottled water. They were generous because they offered everyone a second helping – maybe the high concentration of sugar in our blood kept us docile and patient.

On my third hour, someone threw a full-blown tantrum: yelling and cursing at the airport security. When educated Filipinos go on full-blown rage, English is the lingua franca. It’s just more dramatic that way.

“I’ve been here for 16 hours. I’ve been here longer than you!” he screeched at the security personnel. “Tama na yan. Nakakahiya sa kanila(Hey, stop it. It’s embarrassing to the others)” while the guard gestured at us, the audience.”I don’t care if they know me!!!”. Someone must have missed out on the complimentary stuff. And some people got to eat full meals based on the conversations I heard.

The next available flight fell on the same day as my return flight. I was supposed to attend an aunt’s birthday party. The outbound flight got refunded but my inbound flight did not. It was because they were booked separately and had different booking condotions. Ces’t la vie.

The Lesson:

Always have a credit card ready and if life or your stupidity causes you to incur unnecessary expenses, just suck it in. Travelling is full of hazards so be prepared to bear it and grin through it.

The City of Eternal Recurrence

IMG_4226

It was Milan Kundera who convinced me to visit Prague if I had the time. When I was a very pretentious twenty-something(I am still pretentious but I’ve mellowed), I carried Milan’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” to restaurants, coffee shops, and on public transportation. I was posing as Someone Who Reads Literature. It was through Milan(note my casually calling him by his first name) that I encountered Friedrich Nietzsche’s Theory of Eternal Recurrence.

Eternal recurrence is a concept that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. Basically, we have already done and said before what we are saying and doing now and will repeat them in the future an infinite number of times.

In his novel, Milan made a counter-argument that there can be a definite resolution of things. He first made his characters go through a cycle of getting together and breaking up, getting together and breaking up, and getting together and breaking up. Finally, the characters exercise choice to commit to a particular person. They were no longer subject of circumstances and coincidences. Well, that’s my take on it anyway.

Right here in Prague, I had the opportunity to experience eternal recurrence.
Prague is a beautiful city, in an austere way. The Gothic architecture of buildings, festooned with crosses and statues of saints, can make you suddenly remember all your sins. It gives me the feeling that God is watching out if I commit more sins. It has been raining for the two days that I’ve been here, and there’s a certain gloom over the city. The atmosphere makes me want to hide in dark alleys, pounce on unsuspecting passers-by, and sink my fangs into their necks.

The city’s layout is not for the direction-challenged. The few times I’ve asked for directions, the very friendly and helpful Prague residents would scratch their heads and begin their sentences with “It is difficult…”. Why not use a navigation app, you ask? Notice a smirk forming on the right side of my mouth. Maps will not be of much help either as attested to by the bewildered looks of scores of tourists I’ve passed by.

There is no concept of a block here. A “block” is a an irregularly-shaped plot of land with an assortment of Gothic buildings clustered together. The cobble streets are winding and somewhat circular although they give you an impression that you are walking straightforward when you are trudging on them. If you go around a “block” do not expect to end up at the exact spot where you first started. Instead, you will be transported to a different neighborhood. If you make a wrong turn, there is a likelihood that you’ll never be able to go back where you came from. Also, the buildings – very gorgeous – tend to look alike.

On my first day, I took Tram 9 to Wenceslas Square. I missed the stop because, despite my best efforts to listen to the automated voice announcements, I did not hear the name correctly. There is no relation between the pronunciation of Czech words and their spelling. I got off somewhere and started to wander. I knew that the square is nearby considering the high concentration of people scurrying about.

I ambled into a park and saw a man walking his dog. I asked for directions to the square.
“Hmmmnnn… It is difficult to give directions” he said while scratching his head. “Okay, follow me. Sorry, my dog does not like the rain. He wants to go home”. After a few seconds of brisk walking, he said “You see that street? Just go through that street and follow the tram tracks. You will be there in three minutes”.

I initially followed his directions. Then I asked myself why I should stick to the tram tracks. Why not take that small street over there? It seems to lead to the same direction. I took the small street and promptly got lost. I decided to move forward, since that was the most sensible way, until I found a small square with shops catering to tourists.

“Turistiké informace” read a sign. Tourist information! I asked for a map and directions to Wenceslas Square, which turned out to be a few steps away around the corner. One glance at the map and I immediately knew it was of no use to me.

I decided to just wing it and entrust myself to the universe.

So began the endless cycle of getting lost and regaining my bearings. I just meandered through the streets and suddenly found myself at various points of touristy interest without meaning to. I would strike out aimlessly and eventually find myself in a place I’ve been to before. Afterwards, I’d get lost again and so on and so forth. One time, I wanted to go the bridge leading to the oldest part of Prague. I did not want to walk beside the river and opted to walk through streets that I presumed were parallel to the river. After twists and turns, I found myself at one part of the river that allowed me to admire, from afar, the whole length of the bridge that I wanted to cross.

So, to experience Prague you must lose yourself in its universe in infinite number of times. It is the only way to know the charm of a city that somehow manages to retain an air of mystery in these modern times.

Sleepless in Paris

 

IMG_2235
Hotel de Ville

It was around 2 am when I stepped out of the brasserie. My companions were in a hurry to catch their respective night buses to their destinations while I had resigned myself to my fate of riding a taxi home. I would lose three good meals because of this, I thought.

I struck out on my own to flag a cab down. All had their red lights on, indicating that they were full, and all whooshed past me. Other people were also flailing about in the cold night and got ignored as well. I walked on Rue de Rivoli and saw a taxi stand. A guy was sitting on a bench with his backpack on his lap.”While you are getting another shot, I am waiting for a cab” he said miserably into his phone.

The €6.20 bottle of Coca Cola I drank with a twist of lemon had passed through my kidneys and found its way into my bladder. It wanted to get out. I lifted my nose and caught a stench. I walked away from the taxi stand and followed the stench to its source – a dark corner of a building. I did what the Parisians had done before me.

I decided to go to Hotel de Ville to see if I could catch cabs there. I waved at them and they flashed their red lights back at me. Great, I thought. I might as well wait for the Metro to open. Three and a half hours to go. I turned my attention to the fountains and the lights. If it had rained, the streets would have shone like silver. If I had gone to the Seine, the lights could have been misty in the river. I was ready to burst into song about being on my own, when a teenage boy suddenly fell flat on his face. His two companions picked him up, laughing. Under a lamp post, two lovers were conversing while staring into each others’ eyes. A man was walking past me when he realized that he dropped something from his back pocket and he ran back across the square, leaving his two companions behind.

As I walked, a man approached me, made eye contact, and addressed me in French. He was wearing one of those large pink and blue earphones. For some reason, I leapt aside like a cat and my legs positioned themselves in a way that would make it easy for me to pounce at him. My body did this instinctively. Maybe it was the way he approached me, the empty bottle of water which he offered for me to drink from, the fact that he could hear me perfectly while he had his earphones on, or the way he smiled, or the way he asked me in French and English where I was from and if I had children. With high fives, fist bumps, clasps, and chest to shoulder bumps, he told me it was alright and Paris is safe. I was ready to push him at any moment and kick his face.

“You are not that interesting and no one will have this keen interest in you if he does not want something”. Thank you my dear inner voice for the vote of confidence. I was thinking of a way to gracefully get away when three teenagers converged on us. “Excuse me” one of them said to me and the man turned his attention to them. They conversed with him and I slunk away. After I got away, they ceased their conversation.

I walked to a street corner. A man in a shirt and pajamas looked at me quizzically. “Ca va?” He asked. “Bonsoir!” I smiled broadly at him. He followed me with a puzzled look as I trudged around his neighborhood. I sat on a bicycle parking slot and watched people go on their way. I heard shouting from a couple of blocks away and instinct told me to sit on a bench at the bus stop across the street. As I made my way to the bus stop, three teenagers at 10-second-intervals successively ran past the spot where I had just sat. It was unclear who was doing the chasing and who was being chased. Three people made their way to the middle of the street and danced to music from a device one of them was carrying.

A block away, I saw green flashing lights. It came from a parked van amidst metal barricades shaped into a rough square. I decided to go see what it was. The van with the green lights was a police van and it was parked beside a DOFRAISE truck. The truck had apparently figured into an accident. As I approached, a policewoman asked me if everything was alright. “I’m waiting for the Metro to open”. She nodded. Her four male companions ignored me.

I leaned on a lamp post right next to the scene of the accident. A police officer was looking intently at my lamp post, crouching down and taking notes. There was a bicycle in the middle of the barricade. If people made the mistake of walking through the barricade, they were sternly shooed away. A teenage boy walked past the barricade and was immediately asked by the police “Ca va?”. He gruffly replied that everything was fine and for no reason glowered at me.

A bicycle went by with a man sitting on the handles while another man rode it. The two of them were talking and laughing very loudly. A black man and a white man brushed past me with the black man muttering about taxis. The cabs they chased flashed red lights.

A dressed-up girl and an older man stood in front of me. The older man was holding up his mobile phone as if it were a boombox while trance music played. The girl looked at me intently with her glazed eyes while trying to maintain her balance. “Is the music good? Do you like it?” she asked. “Yes” I replied. “Give me five!”. I gave her five. “Give me another five!” I gave another. “Give me ten!” I obliged. “You are good!” She smiled, touched both sides of my body, and she and her companion walked away.

“Police stop him! Stop him!” cried the black man from out of nowhere. He was asking the police to stop a cab with the green light on it. Someone got to the cab he wanted first.”Nnnooo!” he cried and abruptly shut up when another green-lighted cab appeared. “Get in” he hissed to his companion. A man in a suit came up to me and stood beside me. He smiled at me benignly while I inhaled the scent of strong alcohol from his body. He looked at the van and the truck, began to sing under his breath, and ambled away.Two men went inside the truck and took out some plastic trays. The police were wrapping up their investigation. A while later, both the van and the truck came to life and pulled out of the barricade. I was all alone again.

I walked to a bus stop on Rue de Rivoli and sat on a bench. I looked at my watch, it was 4:45 am. I still had a lot of time to kill. Lest another lost soul would think of me as an appropriate companion, I left the bus stop and walked on the sidewalk. I stopped in front of a small patisserie and read the menu written on a blackboard. “Chocolat chaud” caught my eye. A nice cup of hot chocolate would do me good. I went in, gave my order, and seated myself on a table near the door. People trickled in. Some were in their very rumpled office clothes, bleary eyed from a long night. Others in t-shirts were resting their heads on the wall, napping before the food arrived. My hot chocolate came in a small metal pitcher paired with a small white cup. I poured the thick liquid into the cup and took a sip – strong cocoa taste offset by very sweet milk.

I looked at my watch. It was already 5:30, thank God! I poured some more hot chocolate into my cup. Maybe I could stay for ten more minutes, I thought while clasping the small warmth in both my hands. No need to rush.

When I stepped out, the street lights were already turned off. Faint light was creeping up into the sky. The trees from afar seemed bare and the strangers in the street were just strangers. The phantoms had retreated. The night was over. As the light grew stronger, my steps went faster. I wanted to escape from the light and slumber in a dark room, to be at peace. I hurried down to the metro, another phantom running away from the light.