Not-exactly-an-uptown-girl at the Zuckerbaeckerball

Zuckerbaeckerball 2016, Vienna

I’m currently in the slightly bizarre position of writing a personal essay in the voice of a person who doesn’t exist, because the two-book mini-series (surely someone will excoriate me if I use the admittedly absurd word, duology) Erin and I are currently writing involves, among other things, a travel writer who can’t get his manuscript about Vienna right.

I was in Vienna for my day job in January and February 2016, in the midst of ball season. I found out that ball season is even a thing that exists about a week before I got on the plane. While I was uncertain if I would actually go through with attending one (ticketing is somewhat complex, involving admittance, seating, and a number of other items, all assembled separately into a single ticket), I packed a formal gown (let’s be real, a multi-purpose bridesmaids dress), spent as much time on Google translate as I could, and then as the date of the one that seemed likely approached, wavered back and forth.

Debutantes, Zuckerbaeckerball 2016

I don’t speak German, although I have gotten to a point where I can do social niceties and follow the gist of a conversation had in my presence. My contemporary social dancing is adequate at best, and while I can do the sort of waltz favored in the U.S., a Viennese waltz is completely beyond my skill set. Strangers scare me. Men, at this point in my life, are largely a foreign country. And Viennese social customs, as I am given to understand them, suggested none of this would even matter, as the let’s-make-temporary-friends with strangers behavior common in the U.S., and that I’ve often encountered in the U.K., doesn’t seem to be a thing there.

If I went to the ball I would be alone, confused, unable to dance, and with little opportunity to engage strangers should I have even found the nerve, which I tend to do once I cycle through the sort of fretting above.

Attendees, Zuckerbaeckerball 2016

In the end, though, I bought tickets to the Zuckerbaeckerball, as it was recommended to me by a random Tumblr person and was one of the few to fit in with a heavy work and travel schedule. Held at the Hoffburg Imperial Palace, a short walk from where I was staying, the Zuckerbaeckerball is put on by the sugar-baking industry (cakes not breads!) and like any proper ball has debutantes.

While I grew up with debutantes (I’m still not joking when I compare my childhood to Metropolitan), I was certainly not one myself. My family wasn’t that type of important, didn’t have those sorts of means, and didn’t really see me as part of the social whirl that was expected by the world in which I was educated. Sure, I went to balls, like the Gold and Silver Ball of the Junior Committee of the Junior League of New York (a name only typed here so you can experience the full ridiculousness of this stuff), but they were practice for events of the sort I never graced. It’s all useful fodder for writing now, but I might have been better served as a person if my parents had just said no.

Debutante presentations, Zuckerbaeckerball 2016

At any rate, every ball in Vienna has debutantes. And, arguably, everyone in Vienna who wants to be a debutante can be. With hundreds of balls each year representing industries and social clubs, and with balls being unavoidable in the city’s social scene, young men and women who wish to make their debuts, most certainly do.

At the Hoffburg, alone, I crowded into the main ballroom to see their presentation. I watched as row after row of girls kneeled as their dancemasters and ball officials passed before them. On their knees for ten minutes at a time, maybe more, as their escorts stood beside them, some of the girls shook. One, near me, had a fabulous butchy undercut, that had been smoothed down with product and had tiny flowers clipped into it.

After the debuts, the main ballroom floor was opened for a Viennese waltz. My feet aching, and with no hope of a dance partner, I fled to sit, but without a purchased seat (it felt too weird, to be stranded at a table of people whose language I did not speak, who would not welcome a stranger), I had nowhere to do so until I found an out of the way bathroom on a mezzanine level of the palace.

From my cubicle I listened as girls sixteen to twenty slammed in and out of the bathroom, fretting about make up and shoes and boys and parents. I, meanwhile, fretted about the hundred euros I’d spent to hide in a bathroom.

So I put my shoes back on, stood up straight, and remembered that years of my life had been dedicated to how to comport myself in this entirely unlikely circumstance. And so I found a perch on the edge of the ballroom from which to watch the proceedings and wait for some serendipity to find me.

Me, in my office before the ball

It came when the music switched to American standards, and the bandleader played Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” As I stood there, thinking about my Upper East Side childhood and how I was never meant to be — and never could be — the girl in that song, I wondered to what extent the song made sense in Vienna. Surely, no on there knew about the ten blocks that defined my childhood, but also surely there was a Viennese equivalent to it, and the song, and girls like me — with the song’s hot blood and wedged poorly into an an archaic social structure as beautiful as it is offensive.

I smiled as tears rolled down my cheeks. Serendipity. The most perfect moment. Even at a ball where I could not dance.

Today, I’m faced with describing a very different version of that moment as experienced by a lonely male writer, ten years my senior, who fit in exceptionally with the shared world of our childhoods, and for that, has managed far more contempt for it than I ever have, to his much greater happiness.

Travel: Would you want the Scottish play hovering over your bed?

I am currently traveling on business and ensconced at the Revere Hotel in Boston. It’s a very nice hotel, and full of boutiquey weirdness, just like I like it. Plus, the price was right on Hotwire. But I need to discuss its art with you. Specifically, two items that are illustrated Shakespeare quotes.

The first is a quote from Othello, over the desk:

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

The second is from the Scottish play:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Am I just weird and not appreciating the theater theme of this room since we’re in Boston’s theater district? (The Do Not Disturb signs are super cute), or am I completely reasonable in being creeped out by a room featuring artistic centerpieces involving both a quote from a play about a guy who smothers his wife with a pillow and a quote about how life has no meaning from a different play that happens to be considered cursed?

I get how the two pieces almost work for their positioning — the Othello piece arguably speaks to the act of business just as the other one arguably speaks to the exhaustion of business travelers like me, but I feel like the hotel is almost counting on no one having actually read these plays. Surely they could have chosen something from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and been just as edgy without being appalling, right?

I love both these plays; Othello is one of my absolute favorites, and I played the Lady when I was in Sydney, so I was almost tickled by the art until I started thinking about it.

So help me out, Internet — what on earth was the hotel decorator thinking and would all this be more or less creepy if I weren’t here on my own?

Hanoi: Now with photographic evidence

I have now been in Ha Noi for a week. I am less overwhelmed than when I wrote that last post, which, I should note, significantly understated the degree to which I was overwhelmed.

But now I can cross streets (still terrifying), cook good food, work with the money, survive haggling, and even explore.

Today I went to Ngoc Son Temple at Hoan Kiem Lake, after visiting the Old Quarter to get Patty her birthday gift. I am so ridiculously glad that I am living two miles from the Old Quarter. It was the first time I’ve seen tourists since I got here, and I immediately wanted nothing to do with it. People wouldn’t even haggle with me in stores tourists were in, because they were just jumping on whatever price was named, so that was annoying.

What wasn’t annoying was the lake or the temple or the bridge or the park around it, where I had this lovely moment stumbling on a group of people jamming with guitars and a fiddle and lots of people gathered around them randomly to sing along (I have awesome video; what I don’t have is an Internet connection that will let me upload it in any reasonable amount of time).

You know, I picked up guitar again recently because I wanted the experience of communal, casual music-making, which isn’t something that’s been a part of my limited music experience and something that makes me sad to have missed: when I’m in a room with a bunch of people screwing around on instruments for fun, I feel exiled from something that is really a very good fit for me.  So it was nice to stand there and watch people play and sing songs in a language I don’t know, but be able to recognize finger positions and chords. That was a new thing for me, and the moment was perfect, and felt very private despite all the people.

It reminded me a little bit of when I was in Australia and went to a big deal sushi restaurant alone, and got a little bit wrecked off of my first legal glass of absinthe that was mixed with apple juice and shredded carrots. The food and drink were divine, but none of it was a big deal; it was awfully silly and internally self-indulgent, but it was the thing I didn’t know I had gone to Australia to do, but was surely, absolutely and completely, was why I was there.  The guitars and the fiddle might prove to have been that moment here for me.

Meanwhile, even as work and exploration here continues apace, Patty and I are planning our India trip. She’ll be picking me up at the Delhi airport, and then we’ll see Jaipur, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri and spend several days in Delhi while I’m there. It won’t be long enough, mainly since she won’t be leaving India with me, but it’s a much needed reunion, and I should have her back at least relatively soon thereafter.

Of course, I also know I desperately owe you all some pop-culture time. It’s hard, all the way over here, although I confess I have moments where I try to imagine this city through Jack Harkness’s eyes or Blaine Anderson’s. It’s a defense mechanism, of course, the search for a fictional character’s comfort or discomfort with a place, other than my own, but it’s also how my brain works, as someone who both writes and pays attention to stories. I am many people, perhaps too much of the time.

But good topics for writing here do seem at least close at hand suddenly.  Glee has offered up the bizarre possibility of an episode of The Who’s Tommy, which is fascinating and distressing all at once, and almost too juicy not to rub my brain all over. Additionally, I read The Hunger Games on the flight here from Warsaw, and that (and Jennifer Lawrence’s publicity tour dresses), are certainly also worthy of commentary; for a book I felt completely outside of, I was startlingly moved by the language in just a few small passages. It is really, astoundingly, a story of cadences.

So more soon, I guess, from a less real world. But for now, have some images of the very real, but completely dreamy to photograph, Ha Noi.

Hanoi: Finding my way

So, I’m in Hanoi.

I’ve started a lot of emails that way in the last few days, because I haven’t really known what to say after that. There’s really no way to describe how utterly unprepared I was for this part of the trip; I just sort of went, “It’s a work thing, they’ll take care of it,” and showed up, which is high on the list of ill-informed decisions I’ve made.

Our house is near the old quarter, in something called Valley A, which is a warren of narrow, twisting streets accessible only by scooter and on foot.

Let me tell you, if nothing else, Hanoi has given me a very, very healthy respect for the Vespa/scooter/motorbike and everyone’s ability not to actually hit me with theirs. Patty always talks about the innate sense you gain as a New Yorker of how to weave through foot-traffic without crashing into anyone. That skill is trivial compared to watch I watch in action here.

One day, I’ll actually feel confident enough to cross by myself the one major street I have to deal with on my daily travels. For now, I’m happy that I can at least find my way around to necessary destinations now, even if my internal sense of direction is based on things like recognizing certain street dogs, construction sites, advertisements, and the particular sound of one cat’s meow, which has been the only way I can find our house in the dark.

I’d tell you the epic story of how my housemate (who is from HCMC and so is also learning to navigate here) and I got ridiculously lost trying to find the flat late one night after all the lights had been turned off in the Valley, but it’s not very interesting, we just had to get back out and start again, but that cat was very helpful.

The level of sensory input here is higher than I am used to, and it makes it hard for me to focus, but I’m getting better at it. At night, I really, really like it, because things are a bit more mellow and suddenly I can pick out details and spend time on them. During the day, I’m getting there, but the moments where the wind shifts and I can smell plant life and wood fires, food and the lakes, as opposed to traffic and highways are amazing.

Little things are the markedly different from home, of course. Crouching on the floor to cook my dinner or not having a refrigerator, those stand out. But the house stays very cold, and fresh food is available everywhere, so it doesn’t really matter.

The fact that the whole of the bathroom is the shower (no dividers or anything) is unfamiliar too, but I’ve managed not to flood the house several days in a row, so yay me. Never have I ever been so glad that I roll up my jeans though, because it takes a long time for that water to drain. My hipster ways have saved my ass, or at least keep my ankles from being soggy.

Meanwhile, finding ATMs that accept my card has been the most notable small battle, but one that I think is now solved (thank you HSBC).

One thing that’s sort of nice about this experience is that I’m not in any sort of ex-pat community here. It’s just me and my Vietnamese colleagues, who have been gracious and patient with my many confusions and issues (celiac disease is a whole ‘nother thing to navigate here).

I’ll confess there’s a part of me that almost wants to seek out some of the toxic ex-pat drinking culture badness that I know is here for some sort of context of what’s expected of me here, versus what I’m actually doing, but I know that would actually be a terrible plan. And probably a boring one.

I promise I’ll take pictures soon, and figure out how to cross the street, and come up with adjectives. But right now, I’m just here, taking it all in, and figuring out the basics of an experience I never asked to have, but suspect I’m going to be very fond of before it’s all over.

Berlin: Sex, death and pop-culture — not in that order

For better or for worse, I came to Berlin not particularly wanting to deal with WWII and Holocaust remembrance. With only 48 hours in the city, it seemed worse to do it in a slipshod way than to not do it at all. Besides, I tend to think those things are more for people who aren’t aware of them than for people who unavoidably are.

But what I discovered is remembrance is unavoidable in Germany and in Berlin melds with the city’s location in pop-culture in a way that’s both seamless and weird. Because this is not just a city that’s engaged, constantly, in the act of remembrance, but a city engaged, constantly, in a reenactment of itself as it was before, between and after the wars.

This reenactment is both a performance for tourists and a performance for its own residents. Berlin has been wrenched out of time by its own history repeatedly, and it seems even the people who live here are constantly trying to catch up to moments that were stolen from the city.

So no one told me the Brandenburg Gate would be like Hollywood Boulevard, with people in costume charging fees for tourists to take pictures with them. From Mickey Mouse to Berlin’s bear mascot, to a number of military reenactors in uniforms of multiple nations (the exception, of course, being anything from the Third Reich), it’s all out there.

But perhaps the most inappropriate (but to be frank, I laughed out loud, it was so brilliant in its inappropriateness) was the dude dressed like a Stormtrooper. You know, like from Star Wars? But if you don’t get it, go Google. I’ll wait. The street dance team doing a routine to the Chariots of Fire theme was also pretty amazing in terms of Berlin’s bizarre intersection with the pop-culture world.

But for all the milling around and weird party atmosphere of the Gate, it’s still impossible not to notice things like the Room of Silence tucked up off to the side or the Eagle atop the chariot atop the Gate, or all the signs pointing to all the things you might possibly want to see: like the Reichstag, or any number of Holocaust memorials, including the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism.

That memorial itself is in the Tiergarten, right on the edge, and it wouldn’t be hard to find, except the sign is at a funny angle and I didn’t know what I was looking for. I actually found it by accident, thought I hadn’t, and only figured it out when I doubled back.

Why couldn’t I figure it out the first time? Well, the Memorial has been graffitied with the words, Smile. You Are Beautiful. That’s much better than all the times the glass on the side of the memorial that allows you to view film of same-sex couples kissing has been smashed.

The seal having been broken on my attempt to avoid memorialization and my realization that this is a topic I should care about, not just as a Jewish person and a gay person, but as a person who is deeply engaged with communal ritual around death and that ritual being used as acts of claiming, I also visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which I also saw referred to as the Field of the Stelae. It’s a brilliant memorial, in that it is striking and evocative not just of death and remembrance, but of a sense of fear and oppression. When you get deep down into the field, you never know when someone will come around a corner; you never know what will happen.

But here’s the thing about the stelae — people play there. They leap from stone to stone. Children run and screech and play hide and seek in it. Lovers use it like a maze and chase each other for kisses. And it may seem wrong if you’re not there to see it, but it feels like a great good thing, at least to me.  But it is weird.

Eventually, after wandering several markets, the National Memorial for the Victims of War and Tyranny, and the crypt at the Berliner Dom (I have been to the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome, and I have never been in a city more of the dead than Berlin), I was fresh out of cope and went back to my hotel before my 9pm reservation at the Kleine nachtrevue.

The Kleine nachtrevue views itself as traditional German cabaret, burlesque and erotic artistry. While I can’t speak to its authenticity, I can speak to the fact that the audience was about 80% German, mixed in terms of gender and sexual orientation, and that burlesque in Germany involves a hell of a lot more nudity (seriously, I saw a great deal of vulva last night) than it does in the US. Performances ranged from comedic strip teases to fully naked, ritualistic ballets.

There was also singing, lip-synching, gender illusion, BDSM content, and trans bodies on stage. Everyone was charming, I got adopted by a random hen party from Glasgow, and the first number of the night was to “Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge. Sometimes the world rewards you for being exactly who you are and this was one of those moments. Other pop-culture references in the performances included everything from Benny Hill to David Bowie to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

At the end of the night the whole audience sang along in German-accented English to “Falling in Love Again.” And there was nothing, nothing at all, that felt incongruous between the beginning of my day and the end of it. Smile. You Are Beautiful.

My flight out is at nine tonight, and after I write this I’m going to go see more things and watch more people. If you get a chance to come to this place, you should. It’s hard, but Berlin knows that it’s hard, and it will hold your hand through the worst of it and tell you, you are doing so well. Promise.

Berlin: A personal mythology of desire

When I was in high school, I wanted more than anything to study abroad for a semester in Berlin. I don’t know why, exactly, because I wasn’t studying German in school or anything, but I wanted to get away from home, and the idea of Berlin was in the air — my mother was being particularly obsessive about German and Austrian art from the periods just before and between the wars at that point, and I was dealing with having a thing for a boy who didn’t even know I was alive by lying on the the floor of my bedroom listening to David Bowie’s “Heroes” over and over. I had it on cassette, and that meant play, stop, rewind, play, as my heart unhealed itself each time it had to wait for the song to that hissing noise of a cassette rapidly winding.

I didn’t get to study abroad though — not in Berlin or anywhere else. The reasons were many: money, my parents not wanting to so let me out of their sight at so young an age, and the fact that we are, or at least my mother is, Jewish (I’m the product of a mixed marriage and religion is deeply complicated in my family). My plan just wasn’t a very comfortable idea for anyone.

And so I did not go to Berlin. But if I had, I would have been there when the Wall came down.

When that happened, we watched it on the news during dinner. I kept expecting to sob into my salad, but I said nothing, eventually turning to my parents and saying, “If you didn’t keep my passport in the safe deposit box I would steal it, and your credit cards and buy a ticket and go right now.”

I was so petulant, and I was so wrathful. And my parents didn’t say anything, they just kept watching the news. I’m grateful, really, that they didn’t laugh in my face and let me have what power I could.

More than twenty years later, it is for me, right now, midnight in Berlin. I landed an hour ago and am currently ensconced in a gloriously comfortable and cheap hotel room a few blocks from Checkpoint Charlie. Everything is, already, completely surreal.

For starts, the late plane on a Friday night from Zurich to Berlin is totally a party plane. With no one here bothering to go to nightclubs until well after midnight, people get on the plane a few hours after work, have a few drinks, arrive here, freshen up, and then faintly begin to consider going out (hell, it’s what I’m doing right now).

So my flight was rowdy and featured a very loud conversation about Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga that I couldn’t otherwise understand a word of. But that hardly mattered considering it also featured a drunk gay soccer team coming to Berlin for the weekend to go dancing and visit fetish clubs (no, really, I saw people checking on their high-end latex-wear in their carry-ons).

What was their mild dismay at the pre-flight music, an odd mix of Natalie Imbruglia and Neil Diamond that has perhaps damaged my pop-culture receptor sites for life, evolved into a gloriously angry sing-a-long to “Sympathy for the Devil” once our flight landed and we couldn’t deplane for ages because of a work action at Tegel.

So there we are, on the plane, ready to start our Berlin nights, but there’s no gate, no staircase, no plan for us to deplane, and the flight crew puts the music back on, I suppose to appease us, and then my soccer team is up on their chairs singing along. No one cares.

Well, I care. Because it’s beautiful and, well, bizarre.

Eventually, they get us a staircase, and we deplane onto the tarmac, where the air is full of fine frost and there’s no organization to speak of, and so there I am, my first moment in Berlin, ever, and I am windswept and damp and wandering amongst planes and drunk gay soccer players who are working their way through random two-line snippets of Rolling Stones songs. It is everything I never knew I wanted.

After that, I’m out of Tegel fast, hopping right into a cab and overwhelmed nearly immediately.

Berlin is so many things to me. So many pop-culture moments I never had in a way that’s made any sense. It is watching Christiane F. when I was twelve, and choosing to believe in the giant lie that is “Heroes.”

It is Steve Erickson’s Arc d’X, a novel about the way freedom and love bow to each other and what happens in Berlin on a single day between two millennia that is constructed entirely out of all the moments previously lost to memory.

It is Wings of Desire.

It is names I don’t understand the meaning of but remember from books and stories the whole of my life and that I whispered to myself like talismans the semester I didn’t get to go to Berlin: Alexanderplatz, Savignyplatz, Potsdammer platz.

It’s dark on the drive, and someone on the radio is singing about it being too cold for angels to fly. My chest feels like someone is sitting on it, because every random building I look at that isn’t made of glass makes me feel like I’m in a room where someone recently died — there is a sense of endurance and of witnessing here; how exhausting it must be, I think, to be Berlin.

I sit there in the car that’s sort of swerving wildly for no good reason other than maybe I’m just not used to places that aren’t on grids, trying to come up with these words. The song about the angels keeps going, and I think I could sign what I am feeling, or dance it — this, this, is what all those years of Martha Graham technique were surely for, a way of speaking with wrath and cupped hands and my hollow hips — but I don’t know how to write it.

We pass the Bundesrat, and I think of a hundred things I want to tell Kali for our infinite novel project, and, after a long time, up ahead, I see a poster of a man in a military uniform. That turns out to be Checkpoint Charlie, and there’s a tacky museum across the street just like all the guide books said, and my hotel is just around the corner.

So now I am here, and it’s magic and scary and overwhelming and really, so far, just twenty-plus years of my own history made up in my head and foisted upon this place where the entire 20th century happened. But I am deeply, gloriously moved, and secretly, shamefully grateful I never came here when I was sixteen; I wouldn’t have understood.

Despite my best intentions to only give you one entry per destination on my itinerary between now and mid-April, I think, Berlin, necessarily now demands two. Because this one’s really about me. I’ll see what I can do to make the next one really about the city.

Switzerland: I’ve done this before, but it’s always a little complicated

After a very long trip, I have arrived in Switzerland. It’s a funny thing, because Switzerland and I don’t have the best relationship, but I’m here often enough that it’s familiar, and I can mostly find my way around and be unobtrusive.

Why do I want to be unobtrusive here? Well, because Swiss politics, while vastly different from US politics, have a significant dose of cruelty in them. That cruelty is usually a mix of racism and religious intolerance; remember, this is the country with the political party that brought us the anti-minaret initiative that featured posters in which minarets that looked like missles were spread over the Swiss flag while a woman in niqab looked on.

Other posters from that party, the SVP, which is particularly popular in the area I am visiting, have included things like black sheep being kicked off the Swiss flag by white sheep, and white crows attacking black crows shown trying to rip the Swiss flag apart. I could go on, but you get the idea.

So I was oddly relieved when I saw that the worst the SVP seemed to be dishing out this week was simply a poster that translates to, “More Foreigners = Fewer Jobs.” We all still know what they really mean, but it feels a little less assaultive than usual.

On the other hand, then I found this while going grocery shopping. It’s one of several I’ve found in this town today, all defaced the same way: Jew.

Anti-semitism, of course, isn’t something unique to Switzerland or Europe, but my experience of it here is markedly different than my experience of it in the US, and particularly in New York, where, yes, even with the large Jewish population, I’ve experienced related slurs a handful of times.

Secular Judaism here in Switzerland seems to be a pretty foreign concept, and Judaism is viewed as a clear racial difference with what is to me shocking frequency.

So even when reactions to Jewishness here aren’t overtly toxic, they can feel a little weird. People that I am friends with here are curious about my Jewishness; they ask me, “what is it like?” and they tell me stories about their families and the War.

I don’t mind the stories, because I have the luxury of not minding them; the Jewish side of my family came to the US long before WWII, and I’m a huge history buff. It’s honestly fascinating to me to be given these insights no matter how awkward the reasons.

But I don’t ever really know what to say. I can’t absolve or reward people for actions taken long before my birth, that didn’t impact my family, and that have nothing directly to do with the people telling me the stories.

And for me, who is not religious, trying to explanin what it’s like to be Jewish is just weird (I think it would be weird even if I were religious); it’s like the same way I am also Sicilian. There are words I use, in-jokes, food I like, and a sense of the world my family came from, versus the one I live in. It’s unremarkable, and nothing I can explain.

But here it is different, in a way I also can’t explain despite the efforts of this post. And as terrible as it often is (I have been chased out of stores by old women flapping their hands at me and naming what I am), it’s also interesting, valuable, and terrible to come somewhere where how I am perceived is completely different than how I am perceived at home (I am also, often, asked about my racial makeup here; I am not read as white in the same way as I obviously am at home).

All of that said and without ignoring or minimizing it, this is a beautiful little town. Exquisite, really; it even has a reindeer viewing park thing by the medieval church. I’ll try to get pictures for you.

But, in the meantime, a seasonal sight, because I’ve never been here around Easter before and I have been utterly taken with the way the grocery shops are filled with cakes shaped like lambs.

This weekend, I head to Berlin for 48 hours I have desperately wanted to have since I was 16. I can’t wait. I’m also terrified. I’ll try to do some writing about Glee or other pop-culture items this week before that trip, but that particular travel update is probably also going to be entirely about pop-culture because Berlin is where art tells me the entirely of the 20th century happened, and when I was in high school, a song called “Heroes” saved my life.

Los Angeles: Totally the right kind of tease

New York may be cold, but after five days in Los Angeles, it’s good to be home, even if it doesn’t really feel like I’m here. After all, I leave again on Saturday. At least I have our bed until then.

But Los Angeles is hard for me. Part of that is being from New York; I’m sort of contractually obligated to be discomforted by California. But the problem isn’t that I don’t like LA; it’s that sometimes I do, and it brings out the worst in both my insecurities and my arrogance.

The first time I went out there was in the late 90s to work on production for a commercial. I was staying at a hotel in Beverly Hills during a terrible cold spell, and I spent most of the trip — which ended with me and some friends crashing the Miss California Teen USA pageant and getting up to unrelated shenanigans in an airport hotel — feeling both not pretty enough to be there and yet absolutely fabulous. LA is, because of the sort of nonsense it does to my head, a place I brace myself for.

But mostly, when I go, I ignore it. After all, the yearly trip is for a Doctor Who conference; that’s like the antithesis of LA, right? Even if I am often there to do some business too (and that I did this year, quite pleasantly so).

But this time we rented a car and spent a lot of time running around town in a weirdly food-driven way: we needed supplies for the con; I wanted In-and-Out burger; people hadn’t had French macarons before, and I felt that needed correction — all of which somehow led to several deeply odd mall adventures and some serious mid-day drinking in a Mexican restaurant just shy of Rodeo Drive.

And you know what? I sort of loved it. Because the me who felt not beautiful enough for LA in my 20s realized this time it wasn’t about whether or not I was awesome enough for LA, but it was about letting LA, and all it’s awful ridiculousness, making me feel awesome and invincible.

So I decided to be a little bit shameless and to play along with the city, and it flirted right back. So much so that it’s really a good thing I have this life I am making in New York and that Patty and I don’t know how to drive (although we’ve got to do something about that). Otherwise, there might be some real consequence to all that flirtation.

It was a fantastic and only intermittently melancholy few days, and I wound up nabbing some great details for a piece of original fiction I’m working on. Also, how could I not love just a little a town that has an Exposition Boulevard?

Next stop: Zurich by way of Toronto.