Sunday, October 11, 2009


The day is gray. Clouds build a subtle and complexly marbled wall in the sky, while people walk slowly, with more clothes on than the last few months. Not too long ago, Church bells sounded in a cacophony, a planned one. It must be planned, why else would they all sound at the same time. LIke the sky, their tones were richly textured and marbled as they wove in and out of each other. If I listened more closely, they might have been less like marble and more like tightly interwoven Islamic or Celtic calligraphy.
Jazz riffs marble the background inside Manolos, while across for me a guy is reading a fat paperback. He looks as if he could almost be an older version of a former roommate from the University of Texas, who I haven’t seen for a long time.
It must have started drizzling. People have sprung their umbrellas.
Last night, while it was raining what is probably a moderate rainfall for here but what would be called heavy in Salt Lake City, I walked to a wurst kiosk. It stands under the green train tracks, although last night they were blacker than the night with its shiny puddles and falling shimmers.
At noon, when I left a delightfully and romantically named cafe A Sunday in August to go take some pictures while the sun broke the clouds, a long line stretched from the sausage shack to almost where the tracks plowed into the earth. So, I thought I would try it and see why so many people were waiting there.
I walked up and asked for a Bratwurst and the woman said they did not have any more bratwursts. A white cloaked guy came to her side and added that they did have knackwurst and then added a whole bunch of other words I missed. I did catch the amount and went to pay, but in the tenuous light of the stand somehow mistook my coins. He started speaking English to me to tell me how much I owed and then aggressively counted the coins in loud English, as I pulled them from my pocket and laid them down, one by one. They looked strange. The English sounded strange.
The woman asked me if I wanted mustard. That I got and was happy. Wurst without mustard even on a mysterious rainy night? Yuck.
I found a place by the wall, under the track’s rain shadow, to eat and started savoring the wurst in bread with mustard. It was good. And cheap. I could understand the crowd.
As I was about half done, a blond, svelte black coated woman walked up to me and asked in German where a certain street was. I understood but did not know the street nor did I feel like trying to figure out how to say that in German, even though it is easy, after the linguistic coin lashing I had just received, so I said in German, “I don’t speak German, I speak English.” Moody son of a gun.
She approached a middle-aged, dark haired woman in a black slicker standing at a table near me with her bread, wurst and beer. I had forgotten to ask for anything to drink.
I listened a bit to their conversation, to try to guess the dark haired woman’s accent. It did not sound German, though her language was fluent.
The blond woman nodded her head in thanks and poured into the night.
The other woman, turned to me and said in English “How is your sausage? This place is in all the guide books.” We talked about the sausage, the guide books--which I had not consulted, how I found the place, and where I was from.”
“I have lived here for twenty years. It took me two weeks to learn German because it is so similar to my native language, Afrikaans.”
She came here to escape apartheit, since her mother was black and her father white. “They repressed us. Life for me was good. I had a good job and never lacked food. I studied accounting, but they always told us we could not go very far and they told us we could not leave the country, not even to go to Mauritius. That is how they kept us down. They kept telling us that we could not do things.
“I always wanted to be a teacher. Here I teach pre-school and love it. In South Africa, they would not let us study to be teachers. Here I was able to accomplish it.”
She put her hand over her mouth and giggled, her eyes shining. “Oh, why I am telling you all this? I tell you all the bad things. South Africa is beautiful. You should go. It is beautiful.”
Her husband was German--how they met and whether they are still together I never heard. She came to Germany with her small son.
“The Germans claim to be understanding, but there is a lot of racism here. They say dirty things in the street. That word that in English is almost banned, they use it all the time, and call me a Schwarze. The Germans haven’t learned yet.
“Publicly they say they like Obama, but no one says that privately. There are a lot of almost nazis here. They do not like him.
“The East Germans are worse than those in the West. They never learned here. The wall fell, but they still have the mentalities from before.
“They are so hungry, too. They want things and take them. Like at school, I can’t put out toys without watching carefully. If I don’t keep my eyes on them, the Easterners will take them and put their name on them. They steal.”
“My son is a good boy, well behaved and nice, but he is no good with money. He started to use drugs, but I put my thumb on him and warned him that if he did not stop he would be on his own. Fortunately drugs did not take him. He studied in the University, for a while, but he quit.
“He is just no good with money. He says he will start studying again. He wants to do science administration. If only he were better with money.
“I still give him money, though. He is my son. And he is so nice. What am I going to do?”
Wow, a lot of time had passed. Too bad on the page this synopsis doesn’t mark the passing of time. We spoke for quite a while, almost all me listening and her talking. I thanked her for speaking to me and told her my name, “I’m Ingrid”, she said, “Have a good evening.”
I walked into the wet, my umbrella bowing above me.


  1. Sounds like she needed someone to talk with. You write that she is filled with disappointment .... that is the way of things these days.. well it has been forever.. when kids don't fit into the 'notch' we have made for them.. or tried to..Juvenal and Marshal wrote of kids going haywire..
    as i said.. that is the way of things...
    The thing about the stealing... the kids in the pre-school.. interesting..
    kids do that when they feel insecure and/or don't have 'identity.' THINGS give them a form of power and ownership.. to us stealing is a negative thing.. to some it is affirmative.

  2. I don't know why but my favorite part of this post is "How is your sausage? This place is in all the guidebooks." Ah...the guidebooks.