September; Berlin:




What a night in this jubilant city. Not only am I burning the candle at both ends, I’ve dipped it in diesel fuel, hopped on the back of a dragon and tossed it into an active volcano. Am I high?


Did I coherently write that incoherent statement above?


I’m staring directly at a raucous Friday night after getting home just after 8am because Berlin gets in your bones and implores you to stay out. You find yourself in abandoned warehouses and office buildings dancing with people who can’t speak a common tongue but you connect with in…other ways. These last 24 hours have been a futile exercise in squeezing – or at least, attempting to squeeze – an abundance of activities to fit into a block of time that isn’t ample by any means.


Renate was calling to me; with their live circus, inside of the dance club, so everything in the last 8-10 hours was an exercise in body management while pushing through sleep deprivation. You only live once, right? I’m tired. I’m ready for tonight’s possibilities though.


I went grocery shopping to prepare my dinner. The local food is flavorful and plentiful but a few nights of expensive cab rides makes one reconsider taking another trip to the ATM for euros. Pasta, artisanal sauce, fresh baked bread, salami and green tea are on the slate. I didn’t cook too often in France so I’m walking as fast as I can to get this main course prepared. Damn it, I have to put these bags down and find a place to piss.


Why did I walk into that kitchen?


So I just survived a small accident on my way back to the hostel, partly due to the fact that I was processing one million fucking issues at the same moment and almost lost a leg. I just don’t feel like myself. I wasn’t myself in that brief episode. Trust me when I say that it has nothing to do with the scant nibbles of sleep I’ve been teasing my body with. I was off. Period.


After blazing through the room like tornado force winds – and ignoring Whitney who was fine-tuning her makeup and starting her pregame with wine to kick the night off, I dropped the bags and went to the shower. I needed to hear…just…water. I had to be alone at that moment. Between Whit and our kick-ass, cool, roommates I wasn’t in the proper frame of mind to be social – and I know I would’ve been pulled into the conversation so I had to be the one to remove myself…for now.


Once I turned the lock and heard the audible click, I pressed my forehead against the door. The pace of my heartbeat began to gradually decrease. I turned on the water from both the faucet and the shower and fixated on the liquid as I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath. I exhaled once, then twice – and a third. My attention turned to the puddle resting in the sink and I stared for about 10 minutes without moving an inch before stepping into the actual shower. I studied the pellets dancing down my forearm. The off-white shade of the soap in my hands and the faint scent of rose hips emanating from it danced up my nostrils along with the steam.


I was searching for zen. It came. I recharged, dressed and headed for the community kitchen to eat, alone, and get myself ready for the club with a LIVE circus INSIDE. Is this city from a weird, children’s book or something? That’s a compliment! It’s time for some fuel.


Sean, why did you walk into that kitchen?


Upon keying in the code and entering the dining area there was a woman preparing…yeah, pasta. Having the space completely to myself was out of the window at this point. Whatever. Sand colored eyes framed by a gentle face…accompanied by a stern facial expression that could melt brick. Did I just infringe upon her search for tranquility while enjoying her meal?


Very brief “hellos” were exchanged. She told me where to find the clean pans and assisted me with the oven controls as they were a bit tricky. She mentioned how “dirty” the other guests left the kitchen when she arrived – and she was correct. I got started on cooking and took care of the stray dishes with full portions of rice and meat resting atop them as my pasta started to boil.


As I took a seat, a small conversation began to develop. Similar interests? Yes. She turned her attention to the shredded cheese she had to the left of her plate. “It’s ok.” It leapt from her mouth as if she wanted to convince herself that it was true. She shrugged her shoulders and said it was as if the cheese wanted to be mozzarella or parmesan but it “failed” at both.


She insisted that I try it. I did. It hit my palette and my brain surmised that it seemed as if mozzarella and…cheddar, I guess, had a baby so it was perfectly adequate. However I don’t favor a cheddar-lite taste with my pasta. I snickered about the cheese and we both laughed. A genuine smile formed upon her face. Her eyes were illuminated. They were suddenly green.


I went for my food, topping the pasta with olive oil, sauce, her depressing cheese, bread and thick slices of aged salami. She packed her plate with a second serving, emptying the contents of her pan. She eats, twice, and both of her servings were as large as mine. That’s rare – and a positive sight to behold. Honestly, I have to admit I wasn’t keeping score. I was having dinner with a compelling stranger from another country…in Berlin.


Further conversation birthed more laughter than anything else. My dinner was completely satisfying and I realized that I didn’t want to be alone in that kitchen at that moment. She mentioned her four-hour visit to New York City during Easter weekend a few years back and she described how, in her country, retailer H&M has a limited collection compared to other countries. We then discussed film production and our views as creative artists.


We described the day’s events in Berlin, our schedules over the preceding hours/days, being tourists, wandering, snapping photographs and enjoying the city. Her thoughts shifted to a local film festival and a movie that piqued her interest. She “might” see it in a day or two. “Or I might not,” she casually uttered as she stabbed four noodles onto her utensil. She then offered an invite.


“Maybe.” We finished our meals and started to tidy up. I cleaned all my dishes before eating my meal but I wanted to lend her a hand.


Why did I walk into that kitchen?


There wasn’t a romantic tone throughout our interaction. I’m speaking for myself but that energy didn’t come from her either. To be frank I turned off my body language meter once I got back to the hostel as my brain had other stimulation to occupy itself with. No touching of one another, none of those corny gazes; no.


I’m sorry I brushed against you…but secretly I was trying to brush against you. Were any of those moments present? Not a single one. She’s attractive, that’s actually a gross understatement, so there’s no disputing that but that’s not the reason I remained engrossed in the conversation. It was her mind. Her tone, direct, with no room at all for gray area when expressing her point of view; the piercing look on her face, it was her intelligence that was enthralling.


We shared a few laughs and exchanged contact information as we finished cleaning together. I did I swift profile scan of her. She’s a stunner. As we sat at the same table where we ate a few minutes prior, she released her hair from its tie. Part dark blonde, part brunette, curled, it fell to about her shoulders.


It would have been much easier to go buy dinner, Sean. I mean, really? I mean…


The focus, my focus, that was scattered earlier had been engaged and sharpened. Slow down, this isn’t the part where I go into pursuit mode. No. However I was aware that I was no longer viewing her in the same capacity. Honest.


I marked my groceries and she talked about her remaining days in town – as did I. Evening plans? She was thinking of shooting pool downstairs and then turning in for the night. I told her that my itinerary for the night wouldn’t truly begin for hours. She welcomed me to send a text and “if not, cool.” I told her that I would do so in “a few minutes.”


I caught up with Whit, grabbed a sweater and headed down. The hostel was awake. It was noisy. The music pulsated throughout the entire first floor. Chatter among travelers filled in for the lyrics. Girls were dressing to go out and guys were, well, trying to see where they were off to. I love it. Energy.


There was an active game of pool going with a large number of spectators and yet there wasn’t anyone who was next up. I sent a text and…a response: Hold the table! I told her that she didn’t need to worry. Two or three minutes passed before I noticed her approaching with a purpose. An abundance of eyes and neck turns were left in her path, I have to admit. I met her a quarter of the way with two pool cues. She smiled. I nodded. She snatched a cue from my hand and told me, confidently, that she was going to win. Escalation much?


Confidence. She boasted about her skill level. Her trash talk was sharp and she did back, most, of it up. I playfully ignored her which earned me several middle-finger salutes. She nudged me with her hips, pushed me, and completed the assault by aiming the cue at my head. Can I report this to someone? Ha! Ultimately the focus was on the competition; winning the match and all that. She prevailed.


Immediate rematch? Yes. This game moved at a quicker pace than our initial meeting. There was considerably less chatter but more gestures: eye rolling, laughing, mocking, blocking each others’ walking path, etc. I took the rematch, naturally. We rested the cues atop the table to dive into conversation. She mentioned her thoughts on how the tie-breaker could be postponed until tomorrow night. I was fine with that. Once again her thoughts turned to the movie she was interested in seeing at the festival. She started to search for the show times but her phone consistently lost the connection to the wi-fi. I didn’t mind. She talked, I listened. Staring at her phone, she then blurted that she’s “impatient.” I asked if that just occurred to her and she burst into laughter; I followed shortly thereafter.


Whit came over and asked if I was having a good time. “Yeah,” I replied. “It sure looks that way, Sean.” I blew off her response. I knew where she was going with the comment and it wasn’t something I was ready to acknowledge or even entertain. Go that way, Whitney. Thank you.


Naturally, I’m respectful to women. Additionally my default behavior is to be kind, attentive and charming. That’s not flirting. It’s my standard modus operandi. Now has it been confused or taken as “flirtatious behavior” from the opposite sex? Yes. Women have perceived it as such whereas I’m just being kind. True.


I never initiate physical contact with women. Key word: Initiate. I could be on a date for hours and I won’t touch her at all. If we’re on the dance floor, that’s one thing, but taking that atmosphere into consideration my hands are on her hips for the time we’re that close. It’s about respect and I wouldn’t want to make someone spending time with me uncomfortable in that manner. I leave it to the woman to dictate the physical terms. I might gently tap her shoulder or softly place my hand on her back if I need to get her attention.


Anyway…my dinner mate/pool adversary returned just as Whit strolled away with the cheesiest grin on her face. A pool cue was thrust into my chest and so the final round was set to begin. I kind of felt like I didn’t have a choice; I doubt I did. Whitney returned, “What about tonight? Are we going to see this circus…in the middle of the club?!”


Remember how I spoke about throwing the candle into the volcano? How my body has been alarmingly without rest? Whitney and I walked over to the bar to discuss the night ahead. She had a look on her face that I recognized. I had that look after a few hours of sleep earlier in the day while brushing my teeth in the mirror. She, too, had been pushing herself to the brink in Germany and she, mentally, wanted me to confirm her true line of thinking. She didn’t want to go the circus, not because she wasn’t game for it; she was tired. She also had a date on the other side of town that she didn’t want to miss.


She needled me about my new friend to which I simply stated that we’re having a “good time.” Whit and I continued on just as my competitor started the game. Whit finished her beer and uttered, “I see chemistry there.” My brow furrowed slightly and I shook my head before stating, “No, Whitney; I don’t think so. I’m not paying attention to that.” She took a drink of water and replied, “It sure looks like it. No?” She giggled with her entire upper body, we hugged, and she left me with another cheesy grin as she vanished into the swath of travelers at the hostel bar.


Round three began and it was much slower than the previous two matches but there was much more talking and laughing. I noticed the streaks of blonde in her hair, her posture, her smile and her walk. I won the game and we hugged. She wanted to turn in for the night. I understood. We went to a quiet corner of the hostel and talked for few minutes about…life. About 20 minutes later we walked to the courtyard and shared a few more stories before hugging. She told me to "be safe" and I wished her a blissful evening of sleep. Goodnight.


Why did I walk into that kitchen?


I glanced at my watch for the first time all day and it was a few ticks before midnight. I grabbed my phone from my locker and did a final scan in the mirror. Yeah, I’m looking good.


I exit the hostel and walk a few blocks away. Groups of people are buzzing around from every direction; into and out of cabs. A bar on the opposite of the street seems promising. One, two, three, four, five…six women just emerged from a taxi and entered the front door. It’s obvious where my night will begin.


There’s a faint smell of rain in the air. I take a massive, deep, breath. I begin to walk. Alone. I’m in Berlin with a whole night to explore. I don’t need to be anywhere else.


Cooking dinner was a smart decision.


Travel Diaries
Part 1: France
Part 2: New York City (JFK)
Part 3: Berlin
Part 4: Salzburg Airport
Part 5: La Parrilla Steak Restaurant
Part 6: Salzburg Airport (Departure)

Published by Sthe writer