One of the things I had been looking forward to all year: Will my birthday experience be different when living in another country? That was a question that was answered earlier this week with a resounding YES.
This mainly has to do with the fact that Germany is on a Winter/Summer semester schedule, rather than Fall/Spring like in the States. So this was the first time in my life (other than, possibly, the summer I took P.E.) when I was at school on my birthday. It was overwhelmingly cool. Did you know that, when you see people on your birthday, people make a big deal about your birthday? I mean, I’ve celebrated every year with family and friends. I’ve also celebrated at camp, where everyone was always awesome and made a very big deal about my birthday (a particular highlight: 25th Birthday, the Program Staff surprised me with a celebration, Bryce Anderson stuck 25 candles in a cupcake and walked towards me with, what looked like, a ball of fire. Awesome!), and that was always great. But when you are hanging out at a school on your birthday, complete strangers come up to you and congratulate you (and professors who have never spoken to you wish you “hearty good wishes”). And when you’re in Germany, they also offer you drinks. It’s awesome. And then, for reasons unknown to anyone, I was given a robe and crowned “king” for the evening and determined who sat where around the table. I’m coming for you, William! Crazy awesome.
Little known fact, maybe: Germany has multiple birthday songs. There seem to be two that are equally popular, but then there are at least two others (I think) that could be used. Zum beispiel (for example…translations by Inka Scherhans, in italics):
Tickets with the Family to go see a variety show called “Short Cuts,” at the GOP theater in Muenster, a city where Inka studies. This was incredible, and my first thought when watching it was, sadly, a very common one I have here when I go to the theater, “America is missing out on so much.” Maybe in larger cities, there’s more variety to performance art than I think there is…but that’s the kind of thing I seek out, and if I’m having trouble being aware of it…and I’ve lived in and around some pretty big cities (Chicago, Phoenix, Boston)…I don’t know. I mean what these people did was awesome, in the truest sense of the word. My jaw was hanging open in fascination and disbelief the entire time. And the only thing I can compare the show to as a whole would be Blue Man Group. Although really the only thing it has in common with Blue Man Group is that it’s this wholly original thing with wonderfully odd people doing wonderfully odd things.
There was this guy who used sound effects to set up a little scene, tell a quick story, and rarely used real words. Simple enough thing, right? Except…the worlds he created within a few seconds would evolve from simple, everyday things to the craziest, darkest skits in which everyone always dies and everything blows up. Also, while some of his sounds were dead on (like buckling a seat belt or starting a motor cycle), other sounds he made were just absurd, scary noises meant to represent certain actions without sounding anything like them. For instance, in a hunting sketch, whenever he fired his gun, he didn’t do a simple gun noise, like every seven year old child can make…he decided to just scream instead. So every time he fired the gun, he just screamed terribly, and you knew what he was doing, but it was visceral and awful and sounded nothing like an actual gun. And then, as I mentioned, everyone in his skits died horrible deaths. It was all manic and violent and crazy…but somehow funny and light and, obviously silly.
The guy to the left here did an incredible tight rope act. I forget what it’s called, but this is actually something that many German people do for fun. When the weather started getting nice and warm, I actually saw people in a park, tying a long rope between two trees, pulling it tight, and walking on it. You just sit in the park, and you look over, and some people are playing with their dogs, some are lying in the sun, and then there’s a group of people around some trees taking turns walking on a rope. Awesome. So, this guy does that, but I’m guessing most people can’t do what he does. He walks on one foot, he blindfolds himself, he takes his pet fish for a walk with him. Not quite as strange as some of the other acts (like the greatest Shadow Puppet show I’ve ever seen, or the seemingly normal women who turn into incredibly buff gymnasts and use each other as a jungle gym), but incredibly impressive.
My two favorite things were, first, a dance piece between two men, one dressed as an angel. And the way that guy could move, he really seemed lighter than air. He bolted from the floor to the top of a desk to the shoulders of his partner, all lightning quick. They put some kind of dust on his wings so that when he jumped, there was an effect between the cloudy air and the light that made it look like he was actually flying. It was incredible. Then, there were these guys to the right. Juggling. Pure and simple juggling, but with a narrative. The story was, it’s a post apocalyptic world, and the guy in black has claimed ownership of all the shoes. He demands the shoes from the guy in white. Guy in white pulls out his bowling pins, and they juggle-fight to the death. It was phenomenal, complete with Matrix-inspired Bullet Time. So hilarious. So fun!
America, we need to step up our Performance Art game! No more movie sequels, no more single camera TV comedies…let’s all put our energy into creating really interesting, original, non-CGI art. Deal? Good.
Big Birthday Surprise Number 2: Inka literally surprised me (complete with blindfold) with a trip to Italy. Insane. It’s strange…in the US you can pretty easily get affordable plane tickets from one state to another nearby state. That’s normal, I’ve done it a lot. In Europe, it’s the same thing, cheap ticket, hour long plane ride…but then you’re in ITALY. Very different than going from Phoenix to Albuquerque. Although, strangely similar to going from Phoenix to LA.
It was beautiful. Absolutely the best surprise ever. We got a car and drove around the western part of the country for two days. From San Miniato through Florence, Pistoia, Lucca, Pisa, Tellaro, Manarola, up through Genova. We had legit Italian Pizza, in a resteraunt in a back ally in a tiny mountain town you’ve never heard of …it was PERFECT!
Cornel West quoted, I believe, Robert Frost one time on his radio show when he said, “Categories are our way of managing chaos.” The one thing I can say after a 48 hour road trip through Italy: The roads are a lesson in un-managed chaos. There don’t seem to be lanes, and Vespa drivers have a stronger resemblance to a swarm of flies than licensed motor vehicle operators. One time during the whole thing we saw a police officer writing a ticket to a driver he had pulled to the side of the road…for the life of me I can’t figure out what law that driver could have broken to call attention to himself. He must have been dangling some kind of animal from his window. Italy bares an uncanny likeness to Sierra Vista and the Huachuca Mountains. I never would have thought that going in, but everywhere we went felt extremely familiar, the mountains were the same shape and color as back home; really it just looked like a greener, wetter Arizona. I loved it. The one thing that did not look like AZ, these small mountain villages are often located right on the ocean, with some of the most beautiful blue-green oceans you’ve ever seen. I’m tempted to make a joke about when California breaks off the continent….but I don’t wish for such things. I’ll just get a house in Italy instead. You know, with me “no job” money.
Overall….best birthday ever? Possibly. It even had some self-important reflection thrown into it. It occurred to me…this will be my thirtieth year on the planet. Which makes me aware that one of the “illusions” I am held captive by, which makes it something I’m working to break free of, is this idea that I’m eternally young. I still think of myself, largely, as a kid. Inexperienced, incapable, inappropriate…and I understand this is a fairly common thing for people my age. But…it’s weighing on me. It’s bothering me. I think I spend a lot of time and energy attempting to be reflective, to live an examined life…but I have neglected the part where I grow up. So, I’m making it another thing to address, another road to take on the way to Wahnfried. I have 1 year to become an adult, to adopt a lifestyle that allows me to lead a healthy, responsible, enjoyable adult life. Which is fun, because I like projects. More about that soon, in the meantime, I’m going to take a breath, remind myself that I’m not 30 yet, and close out this awesome celebration of life week by drinking a glass of water and getting a good night’s sleep.
Happy Birthday, everyone.