I am standing on the vast parking lot of your typical Berlin Neukölln Lidl (is there anything uglier than innercity discount markets???). Hands deep in coat pockets, eyes closed, face raised to the sky. Someone touches my shoulder. I open my eyes. It’s a friend.
“Wow. Well – why are you standing in the middle of the parking lot with your eyes closed?”
“Because of the sun.”
Looking up –
“Oh yeah, the sun. It’s been a while. But why close your eyes, look how beautiful it is with the blue sky. We have been waiting for this.”
“But I need to save it. Who knows how long it will be…”
A question – it will come as no suprise – I have had on my mind for a while now. But this is not a Lisboa “what did it all mean” major life insights post. I wanted to write one, of course, during my last days in Lisbon, and actually have a draft. But then I didn’t, and now that I am back in the big grey city with its huge houses and wide streets I just cannot. I think I came back with just as many questions as I left with, maybe more.
Before leaving I re-read the beginning of this blog, trying to come to terms with whatever development I have gone through, with whatever progress I have made. One paragraph I immediately stumbled across was the following, written in July 2010:
“Berlin is lurking behind the corner, so to speak. I will have to go back at some point. And by then I hope I have some idea of what to do next, how to reconcile all the conflicting interests and demands that I feel inside. And how to have fun. I think I am on a good track towards learning to have more fun, be more relaxed, accept life and just live it instead of always worrying about how to survive it.”
I tried to evaluate in how far I have actually managed to achieve any of these big goals and could not come to any meaningful conclusions. So that’s that. I know I did manage many of these points during my stay. The big question is: will I be able to keep it up? Can I prove to myself that it is in fact me who has gotten wiser and not just the place that had a good influence on me – good but sadly temporary.
So far I have faced this city, including my friends, with a certain grumpiness. Everyone understands, and some even encourage it because they think it is good for me to let out the anger instead of keeping it all inside. Anger about being back, frustration about being sick, helplessness in the face of the fact that once again I had to act against my instincts (something we grown-ups seem to have to do a lot), that I had to give in to what we Germans call Sachzwänge (i.e. practical constraints).
But here is the thing: if I accept this logic and keep up my current behaviour and attitude doesn’t that mean I accept that Lisbon was in fact a phase, a timeout, maybe even a vacation? If Lisbon is the future, as I have so far been convinced, what is there to be angry about? Berlin offers old friends, low living costs, potential opportunities to fill my bank account. I can finally eat healthy again, I can go back to my gym, wear all my different clothes without having to do laundry once a week because the closet is empty. I can take a Portuguese class. I can take a proper shower. I can make plans. What I am trying to say; whatever happened to the base camp concept? Base camp? Here is what I wrote from the hospital three months ago:
“I want to be happy. As simple as that. When I look out of this window I am happy. So, do the math, Rebekka. But – calma. Espera! I am not naïve. I will go back to Berlin. I will see the doctors. I will maybe even take a job to pay the bills and fill my bank account for my next emigration phase. I call it base camp in my head.”
This city has a bad influence on me. As soon as I am back I suddenly feel – defeated. I feel like giving up, like conceding. And then I just let everything happen to me. But the fact that I am aware of this means that I can do something against it. So what I need to do now is stop whining and take control.
I had an inspiring conversation with one of my Spanish roomates before I left Portugal. We were talking about financial pressures and I explained why mine are one of the major reasons I needed to return to Germany. To illustrate my point I listed all the insurances I need to pay monthly. She was astonished. And so was I, seeing her face. I never realised that my desire for security, for insurance, was not common. I pay health insurance, dental insurance, third party risk, legal protection, household and computer insurances. Her completely different perspective on these matters was only one of the many many things I learned from the Spanish people in Lisbon – in fact I must say I learned more from the Spanish than from the Portuguese.
I learned how to enjoy simple things, like coffee. When I was still working I would literally toss down three mugs of black coffee before leaving the house. It did not taste good, it was not good for my stomach, but I was tired and in a rush. Always. In my house in Lisboa preparing and consuming a coffee was a ritual, taken very seriously and celebrated at the same time: put the coffee machine on the stove, find a nice glass, heat up some milk, mix it with the coffee at the right temperature and proportion, add sugar, stirr, take a small sip, put down the glass, take it up again, stir, take a sip. The entire process might take almost an hour. For one coffee, not three, mind you. Food, too, was taken really seriously. I never thought I would meet so many really young people, especially boys, who had just moved out of their parents’ houses but still all could cook really well. And not just cook well, really care about the food, care about the ingredients, the preparation, about everyone eating together.
So maybe this is something I can do, for now. Reconsider my insurances. Keep drinking coffee with a lot of hot milk very very slowly. Remember how a slice of toasted bread with some olive oil and salt can be more delicious than an elaborate meal. Be more selfish. Maybe even be a bitch sometimes. Talk loud and laugh even louder. Stay calm in stressful situations and quietly smile about those who do not. Little things that make reality a bit more bearable, or even enjoyable, while I try to figure out the bigger issues.
This reminds me, I was talking with my roommates about possible jobs I could take that would not mean as much stress as working again in a big agency. Soon we were discussing journalistic work, in a television editorial office, for instance. I just shrugged and said: “Nah, I don’t want… ” “Why not? You could do this sort of writing, easily.” “But I am just not interested in this sort of stuff”, I replied and then found myself saying, with as much conviction as I have ever had about any statement about myself: “I am just not interested in the real world.” I think this summs up my personality (and the major problems that come with it) quite well: I have very little interest in reality. From reading the paper, watching documentaries, remembering historical dates – or even having any kind of general knowledge whatsoever – to accepting the reality of my life and my relationships to others – all of this is just not a part of my own reality. And what can I say? I prefer my own world. The one where people actually call. Where I get exactly the response to my actions that I had planned. The one where when I ride a bike I am actually riding a pony. Where the music from my headphones is not just a playlist but actually the soundtrack to my own personal movie, in which good things happen to me, in which I am the leading lady – not the best friend. It is nice there, but I am afraid hanging around there is holding me back in the real world. It makes it unnecessary to make decisions, as I have to do now for my future career. If these questions become difficult I can just escape into some phanatasy where I win the Oscar for Best Script. It is so much easier to write the “script” for that scene in my head than to actually work on the real script which is saved here on my computer, waiting to be finished.
But time is ticking. I turn 30 this year. Something has to happen. And it has to be me to make it happen. In the actual real world. Maybe I can not only accept the real world but at least try to form it to become a bit more like my own one. I guess I will have to give it a try.