Dear Friends,

Walking to Kaisers supermarket, the corner cafe beckoned. Pellets of sleet were falling, and a warm escape would’ve been welcome. Usually, there are one or two customers sitting outside, wrapped in dark coats, drinking coffee or eating a waffle with a scoop of ice-cream, but the sidewalk was deserted. The cafe owner, a middle-aged Italian guy, waved from the window and I waved back. A quick hello. It would’ve been nice to stop in for a pistachio sundae with a crispy wafer and a coffee amaretto, but I continued on. When I need to write, I sit in there, and drink a cappucinno and observe others eating sundaes. I haven’t had one yet, but will.

Maybe tomorrow…

In the afternoon, most of the tables are filled. Despite the cold, some customers eat large servings of gelato and whipped cream outside, when all the tables inside are taken. It must be quite lovely in the spring, as the street is lined with trees. At around nine or ten years old, I convinced myself that ice-cream was awful and stopped eating it for a couple of months. The smooth, creamy dessert that had been eaten every Sunday for years had become the equivalent of liver or beets– detestable. Chocolate, pistachio, vanilla, strawberry, all would be refused. “No, thanks. I don’t like ice-cream,” I’d say. It’s easy to convince ourselves of things, isn’t it? Whatever the issue was, it certainly wasn’t ice-cream, but denial can be satisfying.

Oh what a day what a day what a day…

At Kaisers, Wilmer, an American cashier with long hair, and another cashier were chatting at the registers. The aisles were empty. I asked him if today’s a holiday that I don’t know about, but he answered that the supermarket is always quiet in the afternoon. There was no one returning water bottles for .25 cents at the machine; there were no older women in fur coats at the meat counter; there were no teenagers in the candy aisle. The candy aisle is overflowing with Easter goodies– bunnies, eggs, new chocolates. I bagged my purchases and left, stopping at the bakery next door for a baguette before walking back up the hill.

Yesterday, on the tram downtown, a Bosnian woman sat beside me and started talking about her day. “Where are you from? I just came from my third job interview,” she said. “The interview was in German, and I don’t speak German, but that’s okay. I can learn.”

“New York. So, when they ask you to do something, how’ll you understand– isn’t that important?”

“It’s okay, I can learn,” she repeated.

I reflected that maybe I should sit in the solo seats, and not choose window seats just to feel the sunshine through the glass. She sat next to me, because I seemed content. “Are you happy?” she asked. A very good question. “Yes,” I said.  I told her that I was visiting, to which she replied, “Stay. You should stay here. It’s the best place– safe.” As a woman, I can well understand how safety would factor in one’s choice of hometown, but tell me more.

Every winter was a war she said….

When I got back, I had received the strangest message on Facebook; not that the message in itself was strange, but the fact that I hadn’t spoken to the sender in so long made it odd. He asked me what I’ve been doing with myself “for all these years,” and if I was still single. When you’re living your life, day night, one foot after the other, it generally doesn’t feel like “all these years.” Yep, I’m single, but how to expound on that I’m not sure. I almost asked, but didn’t want to delve too deeply into his analysis of the possible causes. (There’s much time, and when there’s no more time, there’s time again.)

My tourist visa expires next month. The work permit I applied for last month will arrive in the mail this week, and then it’ll be possible to start working. However, the reasons I had for coming to Germany are no longer clear. It has been surprising though, because the language has been more fun to learn than I thought it’d be, the neighborhood is convenient, and the prices are far cheaper than Tokyo. This comfortable period Dusseldorf-Berlin-Dusseldorf has been worthwhile, with visits from two very good friends, and paid writing assignments. Yet, when the visa expires, I’ll be leaving for Portugal.

How sweet it is…..

Portugal feels like the right place to be for spring.

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Love,
Val

* italicized lines are from songs