Friday, March 25, 2016

Ugh. Mein BRUDER.

Day Nine (But Way Later): We arrive back in Berlin. I hug a German tree just ‘cause I can. We get to our hotel room and my mind seems to be in a tug-of-war between the euphoria of having a quiet and private space for the first time in days and the petulant angst that is beginning to overtake me as I contemplate how much transit time still remains. By the time I’ve made my forty-eighth attempt to attempt to our wi-fi, it’s clear that Euphoric Greg has left my body and taken the elevator back down to the lobby so he can wait around to reinhabit me in the morning.

The bed is two small beds squished together, but is reasonably comfortable. Plus, I have good company. We flick on the TV and I scan around for something in a language that I understand. After a few German channels, BBC World News feels like a dispatch from my hometown friends. Then we switch to a Korean channel with an English-language interview show. Then we (meaning “I”) find a naked lady channel and share a string of witticisms in an attempt to buy a little time watching the naked lady channel.

Finally, we find what I was really looking for. Clarissa Explains It All with German voiceovers.

I find myself somewhere between Clarissa’s age and her dad’s age. Why does she have to give him such a hard time? Your dad is just a sweet man doing the best he can for you. Get it the fuck together, Clarissa!

“Ugh. Mein BRUDER.”

OK. Clarissa and I are back on the same page. If anything, Ferguson seems like MORE of a douchebag now. I’m sure the actor is a fine man, but Ferguson the CHARACTER is MOST CERTAINLY on the Ted Cruz campaign staff. What a dick.

Day Ten - Woke up in Berlin, sleep restless, dreams probably haunted by Clarissa Explains It All with German voiceovers.

The bottom half of the airport hotel room’s window is tinted red, so I spend a few minutes filming planes and birds that seemed to be flying through a violent-yet-beautiful red German sky. Like so many other places we’ve visited lately, I fantasize about staying in this airport hotel for the next three months befriending locals, recording strange music, learning how to navigate their cable TV, figuring out where the best coffee is, finding out what else is on the naked lady channel, watching more German Clarissa and seeing JUST HOW MUCH she explains.

She said “hi, Sam” in German, but the Sam’s entrance guitar chord was still in English.

We walk across Am Seegraben to the Berlin-Schönefeld Airport and enjoy two satisfying breakfasts, one before security checkpoint and one after. In my slightly sleep-deprived state, I find it very funny to sing a slow rendition of the theme song from Billy On The Street with a slight German accent. I tell myself I can’t go to foreign countries and mimic their accents, yet I can’t stop. Similarly, I have trouble not singing the “Check Ze Tweets” theme song from The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. I did not get punched during this trip to Germany, but maybe the next one.

“Euro Trash isn’t Euro Litter / get on the dancefloor and shake your twitter / boom boom boom boom boom boom / Check Ze Tweets / (...and emails)”

It strikes me that we encountered no outwardly rude, aggressive people in either Germany or Poland. Even the teenagers in the museums seemed more calm and collected somehow.

We are sitting on yet another Norwegian Airlines flight, about to fly from Berlin to London. Nicky is applying cartoon body part stickers onto the face of a model on another page. The source of these stickers is not clear, but she seems happy and content.

Norwegian Airlines, with its well-dressed and mostly young European passengers, mood lighting, and unfamiliar dance music is kind of like being in an H&M that flies.

I am starting to miss much of home. My cat. My guitar. I find myself singing Aerosmith songs with a German accent. I must miss Aerosmith, the McDonald’s of American rock & roll.

We are in the air starting… … … now. It’s a blue-sky day in Berlin if you go up high enough. Nicky has borrowed my green water bottle for a taste of the finest Berlin bathroom water. I am marveling at the speed at which I switch from a sweaty-palmed nerve ball to a nerd pointing at the rapidly disappearing landscape going “WOOOOOAH! COOOOOL!!”

On the ground in London. The female flight attendants have the most amazing red-and-black pillbox hats. The dudes have fantastic plaid suits. It is super-charming.

I spent my English layover trying to figure out the widely-publicized free coffee deal at a popular café chain. I got mad about the seemingly unredeemable coffee offer and took it out on Jay, the Gatwick Airport’s social media man. My traveling companion, sitting beside me on the second level of this mall-like airport, asked me why I had a crazed look in my eyes.

In the end, I just approached the coffee lady and she gave me a smile and a strong cappuccino and then life went on for me, Nicky, and Jay, the Gatwick Airport’s social media man.

As we approached our gate, we accidentally switched boarding passes. I approached first and passed for “Nicolette” with flying colors. To her credit, she didn’t pass for “Gregory.”

Meanwhile, on our Norwegian 787 Dreamliner, the cabin crew is doing a pretty good mime routine. I suspect that Youri could do it better.

I reflect on the beautifully eclectic collection of accents to which we’d become accustomed. Like cool cultural winds blowing in from all over the world and converging in Neo’s living room.

How fascinating to BE the foreigner. Obviously an essential experience, especially if you’re from the U.S., the home of the World Series.

Nicky and I are watching movies in-sync - Suffragette, Carol, and Brooklyn. Despite my talk of my fear of flying dissipating, she was very quick to hold my hand and look into my eyes and read them for any unspoken information about my emotional condition as the plane began its ascent. She is one of the golden-hearted people you get to meet in your life. Nearly two weeks by her side and I feel like I could spend tomorrow, our first day back home, with her. How weird is that?

I miss paychecks. I miss shaving the area around my mouth. I miss Neil Young movies and Everly Brothers harmonies. I don’t miss sweatpants with words on the butt. I don’t miss baseball caps with machine gun cartoons on them. I miss Larry Wilmore. I miss black people in general.

I miss the small recording studio I’ve set up in the attic. Before I left, I had a string of productive days up there. While driving to and from my beloved Cleo’s house, I wrote a song that her daughter Marcella had requested of me years before. She’s shown up in songs before, but now she has my first song entirely for and about her. I sang the verses into my phone, wrote music when I got home, and continued living the song for another day or two. I had the unusual sensation of playing a gig while still in the initial grip of this powerful new piece, as if my soul was playing a different song than my body was.

In regards to the current light turbulence, the pilot erroneously stated: “there is no need to return to your sheet,” to the amusement of seemingly everyone on this six-hour flight to New York City.

“Hey Marcella” opened the door to the completion of a long song that had spent six months as merely a few lines on a now-discarded pink post-it note. I scrawled some words while taking a late night power walk around the northern outskirts of Nashville last summer and, without really trying, wrote my first country song. Or second. Or eighth. I dunno.

A little bit more of my life with Marcella has been preserved in song. She’s hard to find these days, but she’s coming with me, anyway.

I think about the beautiful and dysfunctional country I’m returning to like an absentee den mother hoping the kids will have cleaned the house by the time I get back.

Some Other Day - I never noticed how good Jamal The Cat smells.

I drove through rural Bucks County the morning I got back and was as dumbfounded as ever by the beauty of its green fields and well-dressed horses. Europe was not without sunshine, but most of our most beautiful moments there occurred within very old walls.

My post-trip photo fatigue is wearing off and I find myself photographing colorful things that become transcendent when bathed in sunlight. My girlfriend’s blue eyes. Neshaminy Creek’s buttercups.

I came home to find that everything wrong remains so and everything right remains that way. There’s already been more than a few moments of cinema-quality drama and pop song-worthy euphoria since we’ve returned. 

It takes a while to get back home. It didn’t happen the day my body arrived in New York City. A week later, I was en route to a fast food joint with ‘60s rock and roll playing on the car stereo when I stopped for gas at a Wawa and suddenly my percussionist friend Skaggs was there shaking my hand. That’s when I knew I was back.

So, I am home. Now, let’s get outta here!







Monday, March 14, 2016

I HAVE A FOUR. SON.

Day Seven - We split from our friends and venture to the National Museum. By now, it takes a lot of effort to recall what day it is, but it turns out that it’s Saturday - admission-free day!

Having never lived in a dorm, I find myself slightly frightened by the prospect of hanging out with in a living room indefinitely without an acoustic guitar to occupy my mind and shield me from social pressure. But I recognize that one cannot travel almost halfway around the world just to read a book and occasionally gaze out at a mostly unchanging scene out the bedroom window.

By the second shot of Polish vodka, there was nowhere I wanted to be more than that smoky living room with my new friends. We settled into that couch like an old Żabka receipt (that’s the convenience store with the cartoon frog mascot) and had a blast playing Charades and listening to Youri’s very eclectic music playlist. In fact, it turned out that, as native English speakers, we were TOO good and therefore had to keep getting off of that comfy couch for our next turn. We eventually started holding back and letting other people win.

I knew I was in trouble when I’d correctly guessed “mitochondria” AND “transmutation.”

I retreated to my new notebook with its weirdly heavy, water-resistant paper and drew a self-portrait. My eyes look, indeed, a little tired and fucked-up, but they are wide open and taking in all sorts of information in all sorts of accents. Around my face, I wrote in various words I heard around me - people’s names, answers from Charades, brands of vodka. Then I poured drops of water, orange hand sanitizer, and polish vodka on in and smeared the ink in various directions. I called it “HAPPYSLEEPYUSATRAVELERINPOLAND.”

Day Eight - Neo and Dani take us to Bistro Narożnik, a cozy restaurant offering anything from breakfast to booze. I resist the urge to buy a bottle of John Lemon, a brand of Polish lemonade. Candles are burning on a disused piano in front of a wall with a map of the local neighborhoods as its wallpaper.

Neo and Dani then take us to a very dark movie called “The Singing Napkin” that left me thinking, “have I peered TOO far into the Polish psyche?” Like a dream in which two realities are blended together arbitrarily, the movie theater’s halls were also a very active craft fair.

We go to a small restaurant for kielbasa and bean soup and, as is my new custom, I go to the bathroom sink to collect some of the perfectly fine tap water that is never offered in restaurants. My water bottle proves to be very popular.

We go to see flamenco music at CASA De La Musica, but it’s too crowded to see the band. We settle into a table in the back. A Turkish friend of Dani’s is there, Jülide. As it tends to do, the topic of rooster sounds comes up. We share the sounds a rooster supposedly makes in our native languages. In Turkey, it’s “ü ürü üüüüüü.” In Macedonia, it’s “kukurikú.” In U.S.A., it’s “cock-a-doodle-doo.” In Korea, it’s “GGO GGEE OH.”

Next, Niebo Cafe. George and a slightly different band are playing. The transient Mexican drummer we saw last time, but a different bass player.

Earlier in the trip, we’d been advised to accept every drink that we are offered in a Wrocław bar. An excitable man comes in with a carton of orange juice and demands that I partake. Being very experienced with both crazy people and drunk people, I drink the orange juice and inform everyone within earshot that it is ABSOLUTELY the BEST orange juice that I have EVER experienced.

I have some Polish vodka. Then, I have some Polish vodka. After that, I have some Polish vodka. I realize that I’d be content to spend the rest of my life at this table watching George and his friends play blues rock while I cuddle up with my girlfriend.

An old man in a suit jacket is moving erratically - alone - on the dance floor. In his eyes are the eery leer of a man who is either thinking and feeling far too much or far too little. After he’s glanced over at my girlfriend and I for the seventy-eighth time, I smile, raise my shot glass, and give him a thumbs-up.

This turns out to be an error.

He comes over to us with energy that suggests we’re the first people to communicate with him in several years. He is determined to now tell us his life story and is not in ANY way deterred by the fact that I, as I’ve left him know, only speak English and I don’t understand what he is saying.

Each word is shouted over the loud music with PURPOSE and FERVOR. But we don’t understand ANY of them. Until, like a saxophone melody emerging from a free jazz improvisation, we hear traces of recognizable words. “FOUR. SON.” “I HAVE A FOUR. SON.””SYDNEY.” “SHEFFIELD.”

We feign understanding until he is satisfied and he returns to the dance floor. By now, there is also a carton of grapefruit juice on our table. Soon, he is on-stage with George and his band - not making a request, not singing; just being on-stage.

Day Nine - Last day in Wroclaw. My camera and I go dwarf hunting. I photograph all the interesting, confusing murals. Nicky and I pick up souvenirs. Vinyl Cafe. I get my Mom and sister some fancy candy made in a fancy candy shop. I get myself a small snowglobe and a great magnet for my Dad.

I put “Slovakia” into my GPS and find that I am about six hours from the ancestral homeland of the Vojnik side of my family. I’ve heard there might even be a little royalty in that branch of my family tree. On this trip, I’ve been simultaneously the furthest I’ve ever been from home and the closest I’ve ever been to my ancestral roots.

The sun returns after what feels like a fairly lengthy absence as Neo, Dani, and George walk with us to Cathedral Island.

I spot an unattended blue balloon traveling slowly across a big green field and start filming it. Neo runs over and picks it up and presents it to his girlfriend who accepts it gratefully.

We crossed the Oder River on the Tumski Bridge after stopping to check out the thousands and thousands of love locks.

“Chumps,” Neo proclaims.

“Why, because they wasted a perfectly good lock?” Nicky asks.

“Yeah.”

They take us to Hala Targowa, a large indoor marketplace that looks like a train station and dates back to the period when Wroclaw was part of Germany. Birds are hanging out in the rafters and we are hanging out in Bar Karmazyn. We knew the perogies would be amazing based solely on the fact that the place was so packed with locals that we could barely find enough chairs for ourselves.

Dani almost leaves the blue balloon behind. I reclaim it for her.

On the other side of the indoor market, we spot a nondescript cafe with a very tempting rotating pastry case.

(It should be noted: one of the pastries looks a LOT like an aerial view of twenty-five Donald Trumps standing in a courtyard.)

We place our coffee and pastry orders and then wander into the back, expecting to find a few mangy chairs. Instead, we find ourselves in a surprisingly ornate, two-level dining area with fresh flowers on the tables, chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings, sepia-tinted historical photographs and collections of tea cups on the walls, and drawers of dried fruit built into the wall for some reason. Another dreamlike moment where it’s all a little more fantastical than it seems it should be, but you just go with it. We go to the upper level and sit around a table on a couch and plush chairs while our food is delivered to us. Nicky reports, “the banana one is my favorite.”

It's like the green room for a talk show hosted by European royalty.

Neo walks us to the bus station and sets us up with hot dogs with rolls that are enclosed on the bottom - weird yet highly practical! We say goodbye to this funny, kind character and his sweetheart of a girlfriend and get on the bus back to Berlin which, after a few days in a city with less English speaking and signage, feels almost like home. (London, then, feels like it might as well be an island right off the New Jersey coast.)

As our Polish friends told us, the road OUT of Poland is smoothly paved. By now, there’s a bit of travel fatigue setting in and I don’t know if I want to scream or laugh at the fact that the fella sitting in the front of the upper deck of the bus is playing - through a cell phone speaker for everyone to hear - “Johnny B. Goode.”







Friday, March 11, 2016

Neo Slides A Shot Glass In Front Of Me As If He Hears What I Was Thinking

Day Five - How did I only notice the Dildoking Sexshop poster TODAY, just as we’re leaving?!

As we rush to the train, I also snag a shot of Blackland Metal Rock Pub with its black facade and large white skull on the roof. I’d seen it on our way into town and noted how much more intimidating metal feels emanating from Germany than it does from a suburban Philadelphia Hot Topic store.

What awaits us in Poland? How do you pronounce Wrocław?

The PolskiBus wi-fi is spotty, but the yerba mate is sparkling. Pan Ducale biscottis are a satisfactory road breakfast as we begin our three-hour drive east.

We roll out of Berlin and start seeing huge windmill farms every few miles. Then more trees. Then an Ausfahrt sign. Then more windmill farms. And so on. It starts to be like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon background in real life - just less colorful. The monotony is broken up occasionally by a huge McDonald’s sign leaping into the sky like a cross on a highway in the American South (or, for that matter, a McDonald’s sign in the American South).

At a certain point, I realize that “Ausfahrt” is not a city with a tremendous amount of exits on the A4. I could lie and say I realized this quickly, but I don’t like lying.

We stop at a huge yet seemingly unoccupied gas station near the Polish border and several police get on-board. We are on the upper level of the bus, but we can hear that, as they enter below, they are shouting, “MCGARVEY!! MCGARVEY! Where is this CRAIG S. MCGARVEY?!?” I begin my deep breathing exercises at this point, telling myself that my fake passport is of very high quality, the contraband is very well-disguised, and that my contact on the other side of the border crossing has almost certainly paid off the correct government officials. I ask my girlfriend to repeat my alias to me several times and she does. “Biff Scrimmage. You are Biff Scrimmage from Wales. You are traveling to Poland to participate in cultural events with your friends from university. And your name, indeed, is Biff Scrimmage.”

But my anxiety gets the better of me. I try to make a break for it. I take a brick I found in the dumpster at the Berlin airport and I began bashing in the window next to my seat. But it won’t so much as dent! By now, the authorities hear all the commotion and they race up the stairs. I am fully panicked and I start operating on instinct. I begin tossing biscottis at them and splashing yerba mate into their faces. They reach for their guns but one of them yells something in Polish.

The man behind me translated: “Yo, these biscottis are fuckin’ sweet, bro! Let’s just take the rest of the day off and enjoy these tasty-ass jawns! Shit! All we ever do is work, broski!”

OK, maybe I do like lying. Fiction writing is fun! The police WERE there, though, and they did check our passports. Some people were, indeed, pulled off the bus for unknown reasons, including the woman sitting across from us. She entered the gas station and returned with some documents that seemed to pacify the officials. We later found that this border stop was unusual and possibly related to the crisis in Syria.

After a short while, we were back on the road. The rapidly deteriorating road. It was that same repeating Hanna-Barbera background as we crossed into Poland, but somehow the driving experience had gone from a fresh LP on the turntable to a warped thrift store 45 on a children’s record player.

We are greeted at the bus station by Neo. He takes us to his home, the second graffiti-covered building we’ve lived in this week. He offers us some house slippers and begins preparing a fresh fruit-and-vegetable smoothie for us. Before long, the first of many home-cooked meals appears in front of us. It quickly becomes clear that, in this phase of the trip, we will trade spaciousness and privacy for deeper immersion into the local community - and that it will be worth it.

Still early in the day, we get back out downtown and look for Daniela, Neo’s girlfriend. We are told she will be wearing a coat that is a little bit like the orange coat that Kenny from South Park wears.

We walk toward St. Elizabeth’s Church and I fall quickly in love with its Gothic architecture and unusual stained glass window designs. Not wishing to disturb all the people praying, I resist the urge to sing loudly in the beautiful, fourteenth century church, but not the urge to walk up the 300-foot tower for a bird’s eye view of my new temporary hometown.

My new friends and my girlfriend follow me up, but we all find ourselves winded by roughly the 200th foot. High on adrenaline and motivated by the drive to see everything I can see, I continue my ascent.

The view from the top of the tower turns out to be as breathtaking as I’d hoped. As I loop around it with my camera, Neo points out landmarks and gives us a sense of what this city has to offer us. The colors of the gorgeous Market Square, the out-of-place but impressively large Sky Tower (Poland’s biggest building), the university, the river, the factory area.

Neo borrows my black marker and wrote all of our names at the top of the tower, sealing them in a cartoon heart. It is Graffiti Official - we are in Poland!

On the way down, I photograph city scenes obscured by mesh wire and reassure some fellow American travelers, on their way up, that they don’t have far to go. That wasn’t necessarily true. But it sounds nice.

Back on the street, we head over to a cafe called Kawiarnia Literatka. Just like the German cafes we’d visited, there is a sense that we could stayed there for five hours without getting in anyone’s way. A feeling that everyone was getting done what needed to be done, yet nobody was busy. I sit with my espresso and try to slow my travel-crazed mind down enough to be present in this new place with these new friends and new accents. I am successful.

I resist the urge to spend my entire trip taking photos, but take mental notes to photograph things such as the mural of a pig with red boots playing a concertina. The home with dwarves and Shrek characters fastened above and beside the front door. The many dwarf statues we passed on the sidewalk (turns out there are over four hundred).

After all the traveling and poor sleeping, the prospect of doing anything that night other than staring slack-jawed at a movie sounded horrific, but, on the other hand, why travel 4,200 miles just to say no to stuff?! I know that a night of music and vodka at Bohema Bar & Music Club with my new friends would eventually seem like a stellar idea.

Which, of course, it immediately does. My first Polish vodka of the trip. Tyskie beer. It seems everyone in this cave-like club knows someone from our group of friends. The artwork and sculptures are delightfully profane and become more and more graphic the closer you get to the men’s room stall. (The men’s room that my girlfriend and I briefly shared as it is, evidently, the only working bathroom.)

Our new friend George is tearing it up with his musician friends in front of one of the creepiest clown murals I’ve ever seen. At one point, I notice that my beer buzz was fading; Neo slides a shot glass in front of me as if he hears what I was thinking.

After midnight, Youri and his girlfriend stop at what turns out to be a very popular KFC - two floors, drunk locals everywhere, and both a large security guard and a dwarf statue observing everyone closely.

Day Six - First time I’ve ever woken up in Eastern Europe. I am sitting on a couch with Nicky at Neo's house. He lives with his Macedonian girlfriend Dani, his friend George from the U.S.A. and France, and their friend Youri from France. His girlfriend Jagoda has been around, as well; she is the only actual Polish person among us.

They are feeding us great. Homemade meatballs and fries tonight. For lunch, we went out to a cozy pizza place and ordered three pies, six different varieties of toppings spread out on each half. It was at this restaurant, on our second day in Poland, that we inexplicably heard “Johnny B. Goode” a THIRD TIME.

Nicky and I hit the streets. My Nikon and I are on the lookout for murals and odd things, i.e. the sculpture of a life-size alligator being lifted into the air by a small red balloon.

A friend of a friend suggests we go to Hydropolis, “the water museum.” Neo kindly accompanies us on this slightly lengthy journey to the museum that, as the web site states, is “a place for those thirsty for knowledge!” Get it?

Get it?!

GET IT?!?!

Back home, it’s common to see an elderly woman sitting on an overturned Wal-Mart shopping cart while waiting for a SEPTA bus. Both Berlin’s and Wrocław's public transit puts the U.S.A.’s to shame.

Later, we are asked if we want to hang out in a swanky bachelor’s pad occupied by an ex-Canadian military man with a very large TV. Yes, we do. We are told there is a chance of board games emerging and in our slightly sleep-deprived states, we say quiet prayers to the travel gods that they won’t.

The bad news is that the board games DID emerge and, in my sleepy absentmindedness, I managed to mess up one of my moves and briefly become the laughing stock of the party. The good news is that we got to watch the Redman episode of MTV Cribs on the very large TV while drinking expensive booze. I could call the night a wash, but the sheer weirdness of being in some stranger’s apartment halfway around the globe, drinking his whiskey, reading his books, and watching his TV means that we won the night. If not the board game.

  





Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Enjoy The Fucking Chocolate

Day One - I ask my traveling companion if she had a travel alias. She does not. I suggest Ginger Valentine. I flirt with a few aliases. Klaus Molasses. Tellicherry Peppercorn, but I leave them behind at the Hamilton, New Jersey train station where our friend Marianna has kindly deposited us.

I find myself observing the scenery more than interjecting myself into it. Once I get past customs, I won’t need a name or many more words than “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” and “Haribo.”

In New York City (usually my final destination rather than a launching point), we have dinner at Tick Tock Diner, near Penn Station. Nervous about all the upcoming flying, I feel like an actor playing me more than I feel myself. I stress-eat all of my fries and then I stress-eat some of hers.

We quickly go back underground and find our way to a subway train headed toward Jamaica, Queens, en route to JFK Airport. We squeeze into our seats and are surrounded by more sleepy-eyed locals and regional accents than I’m accustomed to as a guy who usually ends up somewhere like Madison Square Garden or NBC Studios when he’s in town. About an hour away from where I was born, I already feel like a tourist. I try to imagine how much of a tourist I’ll feel like when I wake up in Eastern Europe later this week.

Day Two - I left the U.S.A. for my first-ever overseas trip with the clothes on my back and the same backpack I carry with me at home, just with the scissors and Leatherman multi-tool swapped out for extra socks and underwear. Oh, and a pillowcase-sized bag of various Trader Joe’s trail mixes. Big green water bottle. Small blue passport ready for its first stamps. No guitar. No computer. No electric razor. Girlfriend reports that a hairy-faced Greg is an A-OK Greg.

I’d had in mind to shove a bottle of wine into my face before the flight, but I found that I was totally calm shortly after take-off. Just some light meditation for a few moments was all I needed. Later, the combination of benadryl and Morgan Freeman's voice put me to sleep for several hours of our flight from New York to London. A remarkable nap considering the less-than-ideal airplane seats and the fact that I purport to be an anxious flyer.

A fire is roaring behind me at Ye Olde Six Bells, a ninth-century tavern in Horley, England, near the River Mole. One of the oldest pubs in England. Now that I've figured out what they are, fish & chips are en route to our table, as is chicken & leek pie. On the bartender’s recommendation, I got a pint of London's Best. I’m not in town long enough to find out if it’s really the best - after travelling 3,500 miles, it is AUTOMATICALLY the best!

If they could put their accents in a pint glass, I’d drink three and take two for the road. We take a walk past the beautiful, 800-year-old St. Bartholomew Church and into a narrow walking path squeezing past pasty-skinned English dogs and their human friends. I have to keep reminding myself that it all looks like a quaint English village not because I’m watching an especially hi-def documentary but because my body is actually in the U.K.

Nicky and I are no dummies. And she is no stranger to international travel. But it is NEVERTHELESS TRUE that we both almost walked into traffic. In our defense… they were driving the wrong way. (All of them.)

We are only in England for a layover. My mind boggles at the amount of digital friends I could meet in the physical realm if we stayed, the music we’d make, the booze we’d consume. All the U.K. sites I’ve always wanted to see. I could maybe find some of my McGarvey, O’Brien, and Burns relatives. I could play my first non-U.S. solo show. Maybe I could see some of the Irish landscapes that I used to dream of sweeping through like a bird when I was a child. I’ve just arrived in Europe and I find myself planning my next European trip. Auntie Donna told me early on that I am on a born traveler. “All I have to do is keep feeding you and you’re non-stop.”

I fantasize about all this as we fly over the North Sea and The Netherlands. We soon arrive in late-night Berlin and find our way to the train that will take us to the Prenzlauer Berg district. We chose an apartment in this area both for its affordability and because of its associations with the counterculture. I like to be where the artists and the gay people are.

We take a brisk walk down Greifswalder Straße. The graffiti on the buildings brings to mind some of the rough parts of places like Camden, New Jersey, but the look and demeanor of the mostly young people brings to mind places like the University City area of Philadelphia. The conflicting signals confuse my instincts and I realize the metrics of home will not work here. I am far from home. I am in Berlin, one of Earth’s great cities.

On this dark and misty night, it is almost more bleak than we both imagined it would be. But a very comfortable bleak.

Soon, we meet Stephan. He shows us around his Airbnb apartment. The building is old and covered in graffiti, yet simultaneously has signs of gentrification. It’s what’s inside that counts, it seems. Out our window, there’s a clean courtyard full of bicycles and recycling cans. Inside, there is a bed with two half-size blankets instead of one big blanket. There is a fridge stocked with Merci chocolates and a bottle of wine. I wasn’t explicitly given permission to eat the chocolate and I spend a fair amount of psychic energy trying to imagine what Stephan’s chocolate policy is. I realize the policy is PROBABLY “enjoy the fucking chocolate” and I do just that.

There are outlets that don’t fit my American plugs. There is wi-fi. As much as I like the idea of abandoning computers entirely, these days spent without cell service make the occasional digital dispatch feel about as sweetly scarce as a postcard back home (with the added pleasure of confirmed receipt).

We are ready to be somewhere overnight after about twenty-four hours of traveling, but it’s hard to sleep after so much stimulation and time zone hopping. That box of chocolate probably didn’t help matters, either. Out of habit, I grab the remote and look for The Daily Show only to find a). the cable doesn’t seem to work, b). oh, yeah; it’s 11 PM Central European Time and that means they haven’t even RECORDED The Daily Show yet. A trip like this requires breaking many daily habits all at once.

I finally have peace and quiet, yet I can’t find that sweet, deep sleep that I most recently found on a crowded plane while sitting upright in coach.

Day Three - Stephan’s shower washes three countries’ worth of Greg Filth down the drain and I shuffle my all-black clothes into a slightly different outfit that looks exactly the same as yesterday’s.

We get on a tram and begin Breakfast Quest. We find a pastel building and decide it will be our destination. For a moment, I question my policy of patronizing mostly purple and pastel-colored establishments, but I realize I am right after the first bite of my grilled Spanish Chorizo sausage, cheese, and herb sandwich at Café Hüftengold. My partner seems equally pleased with her choice. The only customers in the restaurant, we take our time eating, flipping through German magazines and listening to English-language dance music that we’ve never heard before.

Just a few sips of my coffee and I switch from Introverted Greg into Extroverted Greg. From mumbling weirdo to Loud-Mouthed American. I begin wondering if the “coffee” I order in Germany and Poland will be more like the “espresso” I order in the U.S. Is their bad coffee our good coffee?

This city is quite calm for such a densely-populated place. After a while, I start to realize that I haven’t encountered any rude people. Everybody seems pretty content. Moving through their day’s tasks with focus and good scarves. The German scarf game is STRONG. Young and old.

Waiting for a tram, I realize that I don’t feel compelled to hide a morose face. I don’t feel like I need to pretend to be happier than I am. It’s a little bit grey even when the sun is out. Maybe that’s why there’s so much colorful graffiti. I am content to be a black-clad stranger in this crowd.

I become interested in the psychology of modern-day Berlin. Michael Stipe calls our country a teenage nation; that makes even more sense when you see it from afar. With age and experience, perhaps, comes a sense of groundedness? Do the people who have seen the most horror have a deeper respect for the beauty of a peaceful day? Back home, they’re about to elect Donald Drumpf president. I think about the rampant racism back home while visiting Topography Of Terror, the museum at the old SS headquarters.

We marvel at the German dogs roaming the city leashless beside their humans. We notice in the park that people are reacting to this 8 degree Celsius day the way Americans would react to a piping hot summer day. We even walked past a few barbequers.

We walk into a park and stop at a pigeon coop called Flying Tippler. Soon, I’m standing among birch trees and filming Nicky swinging on a swing set with “FIGHT NAZIS” spraypainted on it.

I pause at the portion of the Berlin Wall that still stands in front of Topography Of Terror, photographing and filming street scenes through one of the big holes in the concrete.

We watch the sun set through the pillars at Brandenburg Gate, take an unauthorized bathroom trip at Starbucks, then - freshly out of plans - we wander the city freely.

“What’s that?”

She spots what we eventually realize is the Bode Museum on what we eventually realize is the Spree River. I photograph some of the seemingly endless street art and stare, mouth agape, at Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church (AKA Berlin Cathedral). I run up and test the doors, but none of them budge. “Something this old will probably be here next time I’m here,” I reason.

We take a rest among the statues and monuments and watch the Berlin street scene playing out in front of us. On a bridge that crosses the Spree River, a man obscured by shadows is playing lightly-amplified guitar in the style of Chet Atkins.

Back in the Prenzlauer Berg district, Nicky’s research leads us to PraterGarten, a beer garden/restaurant/concert venue that dates back to 1837. We arrive and see minimal signs of life - the beer garden section is closed for the season and there’s no clear sign of the restaurant. We walk through the darkened property in the hopes that a nondescript building set fairly deep into the property is what we seek. It is! We are rewarded for our persistence with a mug of Prater Pils and two orders of roast pork, potato dumplings, and coleslaw.

I walk past a “Toiletten” sign that feature cartoons of a scowling man and a distraught woman smoking cigarettes with big red “X”s on them. Then I walk past signs that say “Damen” and “Herren” with the same characters smoking cigarettes WITHOUT red “X’s on them. This confuses me, but I don’t smoke, anyway, so I go into the one that says “Herren.” I can tell that the Prater Pils is working because I look up from the mirror while washing my hands and notice that, damn - I find myself very attractive.

As we leave, I walk the wrong way - deeper into the property - so I can photograph a fantastic handpainted sign with a big smiling cartoon skull who warns “Betreten verboten!”

We get back to the apartment and wonder, “did we walk almost all day?” My camera and I like to see everything. And I love having a traveling companion who can keep up with me.

Day Four - I miss music. I start the day with Neil Young’s song “After Berlin” and I follow it with R.E.M.’s “Überlin.” The music video’s graffiti-lined locale looks like our view down our block.

I don’t miss shaving, but I do miss playing guitar. I don’t miss choosing an outfit. I continue to rock black jeans, a black sweater, a black thermal shirt, brown Docs, and the earth-toned scarf that Cleo gave me - a little piece of Marcella and her family with me on my travels.

I get some sort of poppyseed-based pastry at a Jewish bakery called Bäckerei Kädtler. She gets kirsch streusel. I feed my addiction with yet another beautiful cup of coffee. Each table has a strange decoration that appears to be a piece of bread with a colored egg laying in it. We know we are the only American tourists here because there is no one else here - at one point, not even the proprietor. We watch locals pop in for a quick transaction; I wonder where they’re going next.

Out on the street, the crowds are likely void of anyone I’ve ever met in my life. But my eye still seems to search for them. “Hey, isn’t that Adam Honeycutt?” No, probably not!

My cell phone, having remained on Airplane Mode since flying out of New York, has been downgraded to a secondary camera. It’s an unexpected joy to be almost fully removed from the world of cell phones.

The wi-fi password at Flamingo Fresh Food is “ilikeflamingo.” But I didn’t tell you that. Let the pastry chef tell you. While you have his ear, you can ask him for his recommendation. That method served us VERY well.

Already on our last full day in Berlin, we commit ourselves three stops at Berlin’s Museum Island: Pergamon Museum (which itself houses the Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Middle Eastern Museum and the Museum of Islamic Art), Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) with its vast collection of mostly nineteenth century art, and the Bode Museum (sculptures, antique coins, and Byzantine art). Nicky seems especially taken by the huge Persian rugs. I am most drawn to paintings of colorful outdoor scenes with a sense of mystery. Where were those dandy monkeys with fancy hats riding a camel in front of a tavern? I’d rather leave with the question than the answer.

As we finish our museum tours, we pass a man on sitting in front of a Christ painting who appears to be moved to tears.

I soon find myself moved by art, too. The spirit of Britney Spears overwhelms me and I find myself singing a glacially slow, operatic version of “Oops, I Did It Again” in the highly reverberant front room at the National Gallery. The security guards don’t seem bothered. My girlfriend seems OK with it, or maybe has just succumbed to the fact that it’s far too late to leave me in New York City.

Where the Chet Atkins-esque guitar player was last night, there is a woman playing accordion and smiling a beaming and unwavering smile that I can’t help but imagine has been plastered upon her face since the moment she discovered her instrument and will remain until the day she dies. Beside her, a bride and groom prepare to pose for pictures while the photographer’s two assistants catch a white sheet in the wind.

We decompress at the apartment briefly, but soon hear the siren call of currywurst. I follow her and soon we’re at Konnopke's Imbiss, a locals joint that opened in 1930, chowing down on tasty fries and mystery meat covered in curry powder and homemade ketchup. Surrounded by locals and vaguely erotic artwork, we chow down on our dinner on a picnic table in a semi-enclosed shack right beside a transit station and in between both directions of traffic on Schönhauser Allee.