nyc or bust
I had jet lag before I even got to the airport.
Up until 3 the night before at the Ablärm/Icos/Discarga show at Mainusch, nervous as fuck, chain smoking, babbling about the places I’d be seeing in the next five weeks, trying to explain how far away from Baltimore Chicago and Colorado really are, taking requests for presents.
We got up at 7:30, and I hastily repacked my bag, hoping the wagon-chaos wouldn’t reclaim any of my things before I got them back into my little gray backpack. Then a coffee, a train ride, goodbyes, and off into the labyrinth of airport waiting rooms.
Airports are a strange perversion of purgatory, the people in them herded like cattle from one holding pen to the next, and finally into an enormous metal tube, floating thousands of feet above the earth (44, 387 feet right this very second, the screen on the far wall tells me). Time spent in planes remains outside of time and between it. The place you’ve left fades slowly into the stratosphere, while the place you are going doesn’t yet exist outside of your imagination. We are nowhere, and it is now.
On the first leg of my trip—from Frankfurt to Rome—there is a camera crew who appear to be filming some sort of wedding reality television show. The cast switch between Italian and German, and I, startled at the sight of the bright lights and cameras a few rows in front of me, think for the thousandth time about how little reality television has to do with reality. Then I think about how little this trip seems to have to do with reality, and I go back to sewing up the hole in my skirt. Handcrafts are calming, I hear.
The second leg of the trip—from Rome to New York City—is quiet: a tasteless vegan meal, several failed attempts to kill time with one of ten equally bland and mindless movies, a few hours sleep, a few chapters of Rant by Chuck Pala-Nobody-Knows-How-to-Pronounce-Your Damn-Name-Anyway-hniuk, the time between spent fruitlessly spent trying to imagine how it will feel to step off the plane in New York.
At customs I rush past the baggage claim—I’ve only brought a carry-on—and on through customs.
“What is the purpose of your trip?” The bored-looking man behind the desk asks me.
“Visiting my family,” I tell him. I can feel my skin beginning to glow with excitement. I am really here. Holy shit, I’m really here. This is surreal. Am I dreaming? Am I really here? Holy holy shit.
“Visiting family in Rome?” he asks skeptically.
“No, no,” I say quickly, pointing to the line on the entry form that lists country of residence, “I live in Germany. I’m in the States to visit my family.” He looks at my passport, then at me, and nods.
“Alright, then, have a nice trip.”
I rush out the last set of doors, and into New York.
a (wo)man without a country
“Americans are always afraid of coming home,” said Karabekian, “with good reason, may I say.” “They used to have good reason,” said Beatrice, “but not anymore. The past has been rendered harmless. I would tell any wandering American now, ‘Of course you can go home again, and as often as you please. It’s just a motel.’” Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
“Coming home.” Home. Home? It’s a word I no longer associate with America. America stopped being capital “H” home after I’d been away for over a year. After my friends and family scattered themselves across the country making trip planning complicated and visiting everyone I’d like to see impossible. Once I started thinking of it as that far away place across the sea where the letters and emails come from and where there’s no good bread.
Coming home. Home is where the heart is? Home is where I hang my hat? No, no. For nomadic gorillas, home is in the eyes and arms of the people called friends, even when those friends are living in cities we’ve never visited in apartments we’ve never seen with flat mates and friends we’ve never met. It means no matter where I am, home is always nearby. It also means that no matter where I am, there’s always someone that I miss.
Afraid of coming home? Yes. Excited? Yes yes yes. Cartwheel-excited, trembling-nervous, drunk-giddy, by night having nightmares about missing my flight because I never am quite sure what day it is, by day obsessively trying to imagine what it will feel like to get out of a plane in New York City after two years sans visit. Will there be rolling tobacco anywhere? Will there be good bread? Will I accidentally open a beer on the street out of habit? Will I be allowed to smoke anywhere? Will my friends recognize me? Will I recognize them? Has the past really been rendered harmless?
“I’m leaving for America soon!” I’ve been chirping at friends all week.
They smile and ask me about where I’ll be going and what I’ll do while I’m there. Not many people I know have been to the states themselves, so I draw maps of my travel plans in the dirt. “Ok, so if that stone is New York, then this one is Baltimore. And see that stick over there? That’s Chicago, and that tree over there is Colorado. Saratoga is over there above the stone that’s New York.”
Nods, then sometimes, a nervous smile: “But you’re coming back, right?”
“Yeah, I’ll be back. I already have my return ticket, I get back into Frankfurt at the end of July.”
getting hit on at the bank
“You have a tattoo on your arm?”
At first I hadn’t realized he’d spoken to me in English. He had a thick Indian accent, a pink polo shirt, and awkward looking khakis that topped white Reebok’s.
“Yeah, it is,” I replied, briefly rubbing the letters on my wrist with my left forefinger.
“Is it old?”
I shrugged. “Maybe five, six years. Something like that.” The math between now and my junior year in college has become too complicated for bank-line conversation.
“Oh, well, that’s probably good because you know many diseases can be transmitted in this way.”
On a top-five list of strange things that people have said to me in my lifetime, I’d have to say that a stranger telling me (ever so politely!) that I probably have an infectious disease rates just under “Can I photograph your feet?” and “The bags under your eyes looks so beautiful when you smile.” And I thought I was socially awkward.
I frowned. “Why are you telling me this?” What possesses a person to choose infectious diseases as a topic for bank-line small talk with strangers? Was he screening me for a date? Did he have a bottle of spray disinfectant in his bag ready to disarm me? Are there other people who ask strangers this question? Are there people who like it?
I waited for an explanation, but my tone had disarmed him; apparently he didn’t know why he had asked that either. When the teller called him up to the counter he scuttled away from me, relieved.
The Dresdner Bank is a strange place. The kind of place that always leaves me with the uncomfortable feeling that I’ve just had an encounter with a strange and highly illogical alien race.
When I first opened my account I had just come from teaching, and I suppose in my black turtleneck dress I must have looked respectable. The teller was friendly and polite; I suppose as far as she knew I was a rich American heiress here to flit through Frankfurt’s cosmopolitan nightlife drinking cosmos and flirting with wealthy businessmen.
But one night at the atm in ripped fishnets, boots, and a patched and fraying hoodie, three business people—two men and a women in long black dress coats and shiny black shoes—came in behind me and started to laugh. I turned to see what they were laughing at. Oh. They’re laughing at me. Laughing and pointing. I looked at them in disbelief. They continued to laugh. Perhaps on their planet anyone dressed in ripped clothing couldn’t possibly have a job, let alone an account at the same snotty institution that safe-guarded their money and managed their investments. I shoved my money into my wallet and headed out into the night feeling like I’d just had a close encounter of the third kind.
Later, in my teacher disguise again, and with a lost atm card, tellers at several branches gave me cash without asking for any ID at all, once when I didn’t even have my account number with me. Several weeks later, this time in a dirty t-shirt and cut off shorts, a teller in Mainz refused to give me cash because, according to her, American driver’s licenses are not a valid form of identification. Picture or not. Wallet full of other picture IDs, credit cards, library cards, frequent buyer cards or not. No, I’m very sorry, but unless the person who is in charge of your account knows you personally and approves the withdraw, I can’t help you.
Can someone please explain to me why I need to have anything to do with a company that treats me differently depending on how I am dressed? Bank account what? Fuck it, from here on out it’s hidden compartments and pirate chests for me.
robin hood’s not dead
I suppose in high-security, anti-chaos, pro-status-quo circles it’s common sense, but it came to me as a surprise. In Germany (and presumably everywhere where there are corporations cutting down trees and activists who prefer clean air and environmental stability to corporate profit), there is a special police force that is trained to deal with the removal of activists from trees.
Imagine that. “So what do you do?” “Oh, well, I specialize in removing dirty hippies from treehouses.” “Ummm, right. And how’s that working out for you?” Dirty work, any way you look at it.
While I was living in Dresden, activists squatted a several-hundred-year-old tree in one last attempt to stop the construction of a very ugly multi-lane bridge over a very beautiful, untouched stretch of river. Under the name of Robin Wood—an environmental activist collective—a group of people squatted the tree itself, housing several activists on a makeshift platform and populating the grounds below. The activist-tree-removal-special-police’s first attempt at removing the tree dwellers was unsuccessful due to the hundreds of protesters gathered below, but by and by public interest dwindled, and eventually the police were able to move their equipment close enough to remove the pesky tree huggers by force. The tree is long since cut, and bridge construction has begun.
Capitalism: 9,876,458,700, Activists: 0. Once again. (Insert loud collective, cynical sigh of disillusioned discontent here.)
Last night the flyers came in: the Kelsterbach Forest has been squatted. Kelsterbach—a small town on the Main west of Frankfurt— was, until recently, the finding place of Europe’s earliest anatomically modern humans through the discovery of a Cro-Magnum skull dubbed “the Lady from Kelsterbach.” What you can’t find out on wikipedia, eh?!
Now, due to the VERY highly intelligent decisions of the Lady from Kelsterbach’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great (and so on) grandchildren, the forest is due to be clearcut to make way for an additional runway and terminal for the Frankfurt Airport. Good job Fraport. Old Mama Kelsterbach would be glad to know that you’re doing such a swimming job blindly prioritizing your over-blown monopoly game over the well-being of the environment which makes your lives possible. Not to mention the quality of life for the people already living in the area. Here here. Crack the champagne. We’re going to need more than a few bottles before we start feeling good about this one.
This isn’t the first time Fraport has had to deal with protests against proposed expansion. In the 80s thousands, yes, thousands(!), of people occupied the Flörsheim Forest in an attempt to hinder the Startbahn West expansion project. A small city sprung up in the forest and lasted for approximately two years before it was finally, permenantly cleared. The protests—the largest of which is said to have included upwards of 10,000 protestors—culminated in the usual black blocks, police-activist clashes, rubber bullets, water canons and all the other demonstration banalities we’ve all come to know and love. The squatted city was forcibly evicted, and construction of Startbahn West was completed in 1984.
When I first heard about the latest expansion project, I used it as a debate topic in my advanced English classes. “It’s good for the economy,” one Postbank employee told our class. Most of the other students nodded in agreement. “And what about the pollution?” I prodded. It’s easy to play devil’s advocate when you already disagree. “And all of the people whose homes are going to shake with the roar of landing planes every ten minutes?” They made intelligent arguments against expansion, but, except for one student who had been involved with the protests, each argument ended with a shrug of defeat and apathy.
Fraport says that the new runway is good for the entire region. (Oh business people. They never seem to tire of that line.) Not only is the expansion good, they claim, it’s completely unavoidable. Written in the stars even. Bitteschön.
In their own words, “…demand for takeoff and landing slots at Frankfurt is strong. For this reason alone, rapid expansion of our airport is essential. In addition, air traffic will continue to grow. If FRA is to maintain its present significance in world air transportation, there is no alternative to the planned capacity expansion.” There’s demand! If we don’t expand Munich will, and we’ll lose our reputation as Germany’s biggest, bestest, fastest airport! We will create 100,000 new minimum wage jobs! Well yipee-ki-yi-yeah, doesn’t that sound like just what we need.
As for the environmental harm expansion will inevitably cause, well, Fraport has a quippy little answer for that one too:
“The operation of a major airport is inevitably associated with environmental burdens. Our company’s goal is strongly to reduce such burdens. Our environmental management system has been validated against the world’s most stringent standard, EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) and, beyond meeting the legal and official requirements, achieves far more in terms of environmental conservation. This commitment has meanwhile also been publicly recognized: The “Institute for Market – Environment – Society” in Hanover and the “Ethical Investment Research Service” in London both rate Fraport AG’s environmental management as exceptionally good. Such ratings are important, above all, to portfolio managers who decide on the acquisition of Fraport shares.
Protecting the environment while expanding means for us to minimize all burdens such as noise, loss of natural land and air pollution.”
They say it clearly enough themselves: “such ratings are important, above all, to portfolio managers who decide on the acquisition of Fraport shares.” Implied: such ratings are not important to those whose backyards will be cut or poisoned by plane exhaust. To those whose houses will rattle as planes approach overhead. Mine already does. I imagine it sounds something like it sounded just before your house got bombed in World War II. I hate to break it to you Fraport, but when you are sitting in a shaking house, when you have to stop conversations to wait for the noise form a passing plane to die down, those environmental certificates you have don’t mean shit. I’m pretty sure they don’t mean shit to the melting ice caps either, but I suppose you’d like to be able to sleep nights, huh?
The Kelsterbach tree squatters hope to be able to hold out against Fraport, the police, and the government long enough to force Fraport to back down. A proxy for Mayor Ockel visited the site on the first day of occupation and announced that the occupation would be tolerated until June 1. June 1 being a Sunday, eviction will probably begin in earnest tomorrow (June 2).
If you’d like to help, the Kelsterbachers are seeking donations of wood, polypropylene rope (10mm and 14mm), (vegan) groceries, tools, paper, and office materials. If you read this in time, you can stop by today (June 1st) for coffee and cake and find out more yourself. Donations can be transfered to the “Spendung and Aktion” account number 92881806 at the Volksbank Mittelhessen (BLZ 513 900 00), Subject: Waldbesetzung.
Forest telephone: 0175 833 59 58. Email: waldbesetzung (AT) riseup (DOT) net. Directions: The squatted trees are near the huts in the Kelsterbach forest. Drive to Kelsterbach, follow the b43 (Rüsselsheimer Straße) and turn onto the K152 (Okrifteler Straße). At the first parking lot (Mönchwaldsee) go through the forest.