Thursday, November 25, 2010

the last 6 weeks of travel finally lead me to Berlin...

It's time for a new blot entry, or maybe a blog entry, or maybe entry of blotter, acid on my tongue says goodbye to old ways and hello to new days. so viel ich furze jetzt, weil ich so viel Knoblauch gegessen habe. And so to all of my friends, fans, and followers, liebe Grüße aus Berlin. Although at the very moment i'm sitting in Tegel Airport, about to embark on a relatively short trip to paris, it's early and I've already been up for almost two hours, after about two hours sleep. it will catch up to me sooner or later.

Since I last wrote, really so much has happened. This is problem with not blogging regularly, i will probably forget one or two or many more details from the passed time. Last I wrote, I had embarked on a highlands adventure with new friends met in Edinburgh, Shelley and Benk. This was the last adventure for the TBS trio in Scotland, but you will hear a little about others later...BUT first....

After climbing of Ben Nevis, the UK's tallest mountain (what was it, 1200 meters or something? Not even a mile high), I proceeded to make the mistake of getting very drunk on beer AND whiskey. Um, usually I'm a little smarter than that, but good company can often get the better of me, and my friend Nora strong-armed me into it with "You wouldn't let a lady drink whisky alone, would you?" With prompting like that it was hard to say no. So, the next day, the mathematical equation of:

(Strenuous Exercise + Not Enough Water + Two Bus Rides) x (Beer[squared]+Whiskey[squared]) = Pain/Misery

proved to be quite true. so true in fact i've named it the Ben Nevis Aftermath Theorom.

Anyway....I don't remember how many days I stayed in Edinburgh, but it was at least a few, maybe a week or a bit longer. I stayed at Hailey Beavis' flat, which was a grand display of friendship and affection, as she vacated her place so that i would have a little place of my own to stay, which I truly value. I made good use of the fact that I was alone, there was a guitar, bass, and microphone in the house by writing a song whose working title is Highlands, as it's quite influenced by the TBS trio trip. Speaking of which...Benk and Shelley return! They stayed with me at Hailey's for two nights, before I was to leave...on a fast train...down to London. No, wait. It was a slow bus, not a fast train. During the Krycer's stay with me in Edinburgh, I was turned the TV show "Spaced." Pretty funny, and it's reassuring to know that there are a few TV shows that I find myself still liking (though why it's reassuring and not disturbing I'm not sure; I hardly ever watch TV for a variety of reasons, many of which you could probably guess, so I don't need to go into it here). Yadda yadda.

As I said, I caught a slow bus from Edinburgh to London. Those long bus rides always seem like they might be okay, but the last 2 hours of a 9 hour bus ride are the ones where I feel like I'm on a bad acid trip, the seat scratching at my skin, my muscles aching and stiff, a feeling of psychological trauma from being enclosed in the same spot for so long. Not helping these feelings is the fact that I was reading the novel "Crash" by J.G Ballard. (which i still need to mail that back to Hailey). This book is like an erotic novel for car accident survivors, in which such a survivor is able to find a new sexual life, i don't think I can summarize this book in one sentence at 6am. Sorry. But, go and read it.

I arrived in London on Thursday October 7, too late to get to the Brixton Market to play with Phil, and too early for anyone to be home at Victor's. So I waited. For a while. Exactly how long I cannot say, maybe about an hour and a half, but just long enough. In fact, EXACTLY long enough (uh oh, I feel another moment of BMSS coming [that's Burning Man Synchronicity Syndrome]). At a certain point, after waiting calmly outside Victor's door while the house light lit every time I moved or shifted my seated position, or while the neighbor once came out to stare at me until I told him I was waiting for Victor, I decided to get up and walk to the Railway Tavern, a local pub where I know the people who run it from oso's many performances there (one of which definitely ranks up there in the top 5). I left my drums and keyboard hidden in the bushes, always a risky enterprise in any major city, and began to walk. I crossed the street, walked about 20 meters (that's about 66 feet for all you nincompoops in the US who still use feet and inches..come ON America, get with the program!), and then hear a voice call my name, twice, from behind me. I turn and who do I see but another good London friend, Fiona. She was just walking back to her house (about a block and a half up from Victor's) from samba practice, and JUST HAPPENED to be walking at the exact moment that I was.

Okay. Now, some of you are like, "so, what?" but after waiting as long as I had, really, what are the chances that I would get up at what really seemed like it could have been any moment in the stream of time and then find a friend within 45 seconds? Nay, 30 seconds? So, BMSS strikes again. Fiona took me back to her place where she gave me roobois tea and fed me some meat and vegetables, which were very tasty after eating only prepared food from Marks and Spencer for the last 10 hours or so. Not to slam M&S, they've got some pretty good pre-pared food. But of course, nothing like a home cooked meal. After awhile, Phil returns to Victor's, I bring my stuff in out of the bushes, and thus begins the London portion of this wild and crazy trip.

London has more and more seemed to me a bit crammed, with narrow streets and sidewalks, and you'd better be careful crossing the street - I've gotten the sense that people would rather run you over with their cars than give you the right of way. Oh, and this whole thing with driving on the left. You know, I used to think it was weird, of course, having really lived my entire life on the right side. But, after biking quite a bit in Scotland, I began to feel otherwise - maybe the Brits do have it "right" by driving on the left. Don't ask me to explain, it's just a feeling. Now being back on the continent where people drive on the right, it feels familiar, but somehow backwards. Strange.

One of the best parts of being back in London, beside the obvious reunification of friendly faces, was being reunited with my drumset and my accordion! Hooray! Finally, a place to practice and instruments to practice on. I had really been craving just getting to hit some drums, and not having an accordion to practice on either had been taking its toll. So back to practicing I went, playing drums when no one else was home, and practicing accordion in Victor's son Johnny's bedroom. I worked on learning some new balkan-style tunes, in particular, Ginsberg Racinitsa, Kerta Menga Dae, and a few others. Also, now I had the chance to practice the right-hand-drums + left-hand-accordion combination, which would consist of playing rhythm parts or bass lines with my left hand on the accordion buttons. Some songs that this worked really well on are Miserlou, Take Five, Pravo, Geamparale, Cocek, and a few oso tunes, like Railroad Disaster, Alkaline Soil, and an extended version of Moon Radar. On other tunes I would play accordion with both hands and keep the basic rhythm with my feet. If I could play snare with my left foot, I'd be able to have most of the sounds of the drumset along with the accordion. It's been a nice change of pace to incorporate both these instruments at the same time. Now if I could just do it while riding a unicycle....

Phil and I did most of our playing on a corner with a very wide sidewalk in Brixton, in front of the KFC. Some days were better than others in terms of earnings, but almost every day was quite a fun time playing together. Often we would get a small group of audience members, often with children, but most often people were just there waiting for one of the many buses that would stop by, as the corner was just up the street from the Brixton Tube station. I think people were generally impressed to see Phil riding his unicycle and playing guitar while I played drums and accordion simultaneously. We gave away quite a few CDs as well, and sold a few.

Not only did we play on the street, but also at Victor's new pizzeria, the Agile Rabbit, based in the Brixton Village Market. Normally open from early morning til about 6pm, the Village also experimented with holding late night events on Thursdays til 10pm. Phil played a few before I got to town, then we proceeded to play nearly every Thursday thereafter. This was a more laid-back atmosphere, still fun to play, but not as demanding as playing on the street, and not as fun as playing the Railway Tavern in Tulse Hill.

Ah, the Railway. It's been so good to us. This time around they gave us a gig on Oct 30, shared with another band. Unfortunately, the Railway failed to inform the other band that the bill would be shared. Phil and showed up about halfway through the other band's first set, which was quite enjoyable, a throwback to the smokey days of vocal-led jazz. Really well-performed. However, when the band announced that they'd take a 15-minute break between sets, Phil went to ask them about us playing just a few songs during the pause. It became quickly obvious to us that the other band had no idea who we were ("Do you know who I AM?!"), and rather than trying to come to any kind of understanding, decided to give us the cold shoulder. It was extremely frustrating to be treated like that, as it was really unprofessional on their part, and on the part of the bar for not communicating to the bands what was supposed to happen. So, we decide that we'll just wait until they're done with their second set, then play. This would have been fine had they decided to actually take a 15-minute set break, but, to add insult to injury, the band decided that they would instead take an HOUR break, so that they could eat dinner! How infuriating! We could have easily set up in front of them and played for 40 minutes while they ate dinner, trading sets back and forth on the stage. It was one of the more frustrating experiences I have had while waiting to play. Luckily, Phil and I quick to set up. We were set up and playing within 10 minutes of the other band ending, and we did play an excellent set. Once again, the playing of the music makes it all worthwhile, not to mention the Railway did pay us well for our troubles.

I took another trip up to Scotland for 3 days with my friend Ali, who I had met previously at Burning Man. She was moving back to Scotland/Europe after traveling for about 18 months, so I helped her get her stuff from London up to Scotland, and we had a nice time up on the rocky coast of northwestern Scotland, in a little town called Arisaig. A beautiful and rugged place, we could look out of the little cabin we stayed and watch the tide come in. It really is amazing to be able to watch it come in and see how deep the water becomes. It was also amazingly WET up there, as water fell from the sky in some form or another for about 85% of the time, ranging from light mist to raging winds and huge drops pattering against the roof. The wind sometimes would push so hard the wall would shudder, thereby jittering the couch which was placed against it! it was a cozy time, with lots of ginger tea and blankets :)

Upon returning from Scotland, it was almost time for me to get on with my travels to Berlin! Just a few days in between.... I had my train tickets from London to Paris (very early morning) and from Paris to Berlin (overnight train). As it was, I ended up with about 8 hours layover between trains. Since it was cold and rainy upon my arrival to Paris, I stayed in the train station and read, and practiced melodica. When the rain let up, I wandered around the area around Gare d'Est. A little after 18:00 my friend Lezle Brochet met up with me for a drink. I had met Lezle in London in 2008, when oso was playing a show at the Shunt. She's my real first French friend in Paris, and it was great to see a friendly face in a new city.

On the overnight train to Berlin, I had a bed in a Liegewagen, a room with six bunk beds. I shared it with one guy, a Venezuelan (I think) who had been living in Germany for 11 years. Also, he is a singer! Of course, BMSS strikes we talked a lot about the music scene in Berlin, and what kind of personalities I might meet in Berlin. He was a very helpful and informative guy, and also supportive of the idea of Berlin as a place to live and be a musician.

Nov 9, 2010 - FINALLY!!!! Arrival in Berlin at about 9am. My very good friend Micha met me at the train station. A little history for those of you who don't know...I met Micha during my first travels ever to Europe, in 2003, when I traveled to Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. During my German studies at UCSB, we participated in an online forum exchange with students in Kassel, Germany. Micha's girlfriend Katrin was in my online group, and she invited me to stay with her and Micha during my visit. We spent about 3 weeks together, and traveled to Prague together. So, I had already started a good friendship with them, and Micha was ready to help me out this time around.

Micha met me at the station and helped me carry my gear to the taxi stand, where we grabbed a taxi to his flat in Prenzlauer Berg. It was still very early (well, early by German standards, ie 10am) and the neighborhood seemed pretty quiet. I was pretty hungry so we went for a walk down the block til we found a place that was open and serving breakfast. In the UK I had become a big fan of the big British breakfast, and luckily this place had a good copy of it! For those of you who don't know, the typical big British breakfast (from my experience, anyway) is eggs, baked beans, sausage and/or bacon, potatoes of some kind, and toast. If you're a vegetarian they usually substitute grilled tomatoes and mushrooms for the meat. Myself, I usually ask for the vegetarian option AND some sausage! British sausage is unlike any others I've had; it's a little softer and lighter in taste, but very satisfying. And pretty cheap!

After my hearty breakfast we headed back to the flat. I don't remember what we did, but I think we just hung out and talked, figured a way to configure his one-room studio flat so we both had a place to sleep. He's got a comfortable air-mattress I've been using, and really comfortable bomber sleeping bag - I could zip myself up in it completely, looking somewhat like a huge cigar reading for clipping and smoking.

In the following days, from Nov9-20, I spent a lot of my time researching practice rooms and sending out emails about places to live. I spent hours on various websites that advertised places to live, as well as making postings on Craigslist to try to get drum students and English students. The first thing I found was a practice room. It's located in Pankow, only a few minutes away by tram. It's my own room, available 10am-10pm weekdays, and by weekend by appointment. I'm also hoping to be able to share it with a couple of other musicians a week in exchange for help with the rent or use of some of their equipment. So, goal #1, a place to practice, accomplished!

A woman responded to my request about a room for rent in her flat, so I went to check it out. Located in Kreuzberg (one of the more culturally active parts of the city), it's right next to Görlitzer Park, in a neighborhood that I became familiar with in 2008. The room itself is about 20 square meters, maybe a bit smaller, with it's own "oven" (fireplace, but not to look at, just to heat the room), bed, desk, couch...and a PIANO!!! Wow, was I ever thrilled to see that. A nice Yamaha upright, in tune, and in great shape. That was the first plus, the second being the size of the room, and the third being the location, and the fourth being the relatively low rent. The downsides of the flat are that there's really no living room (ah, whatever), the bathroom is being renovated (it's a little messy right, but my rent is cheaper while it's being redone), and there's no shared kitchen. That for me was the hardest thing to come to terms with, as I really do like to cook. The kitchen that does exist is in the same room that is the other renter's bedroom, so it's more difficult to use. So, I'll have to compromise by using a hot plate or a little propane camp big deal. I could also get really rustic and just cook on the top of the wood/coal-burning oven in my room! I told her i needed a couple of days to think about it. As I was walking to my practice room the following day, I thought "Wow, a room with a piano. Cheap rent. Okay, no kitchen so to speak...but I can make do. Minimum of two months...if I don't like it I can move after." So I called her and said yes. At that moment I felt very good, that I had accomplished two very important things within a week of arriving!

Staying with Micha during this time has been really great. He's helped me with my German, with getting around, with looking for places to live and practice, as well as just all around being a really cool guy to hang out with. He's a writer, working on a novel/multi-media project. We've exchanged ideas about working together (he wants to make a video for one of my songs, I want to make music for his project), and I am really looking forward to collaborating.

Okay, that's about it for now. Kudos to you if you made it this far. It's been a long post, and a long time coming. Many thanks to all of you who do actually read these; I'm amazed that people are actually interested in this little life of mine. I'm glad to share it with you all. Lots of love....Tim


Daniel said...

Jeez, I guess I'm the only one reading your post, at least so far. I'd say the piano AND a wood/coal burner in your room sounds fantastic. Excused myself from Thanksgiving obligations in SB - too much traffic was my excuse - so I could just luxuriate in having two fireplaces going and cuddling up on the Green Whale, reading. Made a big veggie soup and salad. Splurged ($136) and bought a Kindle Reader, which has me hooked now: reading voluminously 'cause it's such a cool device. Looks like I might be living here for several years rent free, but you never know. I'll be starting an online review periodical, "Bravo California!." We'll see if I can garner enough advertising on that site to make a living! I'm tired of being given leftovers and scraps to review by the SB rag (will still keep with them of course, because it's still amounting to about $300 a week in review income), but can't wait to start spending much more time in LA, reviewing opera (I'll be reviewing LA Opera's controversial production of "Lohengrin" next week) and many other bigger items than just the SB scene. That's it for now. Keep those blog postings coming, sooner or later your friends will start reading them.

isdisasystem said...

Crazy In Berlin by Thomas Berger (who wrote Little Big Man)

Bob Sanchez said...

Glad you decided to give the piano place a try. Is it against an outside wall? How's it going to work out with the neighbors? Anyway, living at a place like that is a neat opportunity and I'm happy that you took it. Something more to add to the already-awesome nature of your adventure!