It’s Sunday midday and I’m sitting in my favorite cafe, sipping on a cortado and eating toasted banana bread. I can see the canal out the window. It’s greyish out, and this morning, it was gently snowing. My morning chores are done and I have a couple hours free to write. Why am I describing this to you? Because it’s my personal definition of luxury and pleasure. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.
At the present moment, my circumstances are better than they have been at any point since my arrival. It occurred to me shortly after writing my last blog entry that I was running false information through my head (and yours), thinking I had been in Berlin two months and had accomplished very little. In fact, I arrived here on October 24th. It will only have been two months on Christmas Eve and in fact, I’m doing fine according to the personal deadlines I set for myself. Since my last post, I’ve managed to register with the city (harder than it sounds), extend my visa after a 10.5 hour wait at the immigration office, and I’ve started a part time job. I now have an official tax number and I’ve opened a bank account. I also feel more comfortable speaking German.
As of today, I’m also past a hurdle I’ve alluded to on social media, without ever going into details. Over the past two and a half weeks, in addition to the usual anxieties of transplanting myself in Germany and my heightened identity crisis, I’ve also been dealing with an infestation. To be more precise, we (my dance group) have been dealing with one. I cannot say with certainty if I was ever infected. Scabies is the name of the game and apparently it’s somewhat common in Berlin now, possibly due to the high level of promiscuity in the city, but who knows. It’s a parasite that’s transmitted skin to skin and some cases appeared within our group, our contemporary dance workshop, where we spend hours touching our partner, or doing contact improv, or making ourselves into piles of bodies on the floor. You know, the usual day at the office. A paradise for skin parasites.
When the first case appeared, classes were canceled and endless AA-type circle discussions took place, where we tried to make decisions through consensus. People cried, people got angry. I’ve always thought of myself as highly neurotic, but I’m a walk in the park. These discussions and meetings and cancelled classes took a toll on everyone. We all had to do a quarantine. We had to wash everything. Everything. Over and over again. We did an over-the counter treatment. New cases appeared. New discussion circles. More crying. Then we moved onto prescription medication. A new quarantine cycle began. Everything went back into trash bags, 10 more loads of laundry were done at high temperature. The group split into “pro-prevention” and “we’ve done everything, let’s drop it.” It gave me a sense of how angry mobs get started. Several classmates got kicked out of their lodgings, a few left the class entirely and booked flights home. Some dealt with it by partying, others by isolating themselves in a never ending cycle of laundry. Our coordinator, who basically dropped his life and art contracts to continually bring symptomatic students to dermatologists, met a doctor who was even more strict than the others and said the parasite could be transmitted through the floor if we were doing a lot of floor work. That was the end of our studio time. We lost more days of the workshop due to the new circumstances and now we were shifted to an outdoor practice, based on wandering through the city. No touch, no studio, no scabies (hopefully.) I pretty much hated it initially. However, Friday we did a walk through the less gentrified areas of East Berlin, curated by our instructor, and set to a playlist of high-energy techno. This fast-paced techno walk through concrete, mud, cemeteries, and rubbish felt like the very ritual we needed after all of this. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, I finally felt like I had arrived in Berlin.
Tomorrow begins the last week of our course. The experience hasn’t been what I expected, and I’ve been through a roller coaster of doubt and fatigue. I did my last skin treatment yesterday and took everything out of quarantine this morning. I also did my last load of scabies related laundry. My clothes have aged a year in two weeks. But, it’s done. I’ve decided it’s done. And this last week of programmed wandering? I’m up for it. I’m ready.
I’m now in a new stage of my time here. I’ve resolved much of the initial bureaucratic hassle (more to come, I’m sure), and my presence here is somewhat secured for the next while. I have a part time job, which will take care of at least some of my expenses, and my full time class is almost up. What now? Now comes the real personal freedom of deciding what my time here is all about. What do I want to learn or to tackle? Do I want to go back to my voice, investigate the acting world, infiltrate the film community? Do I want to simply have a retreat from my past life and reevaluate my calling? Is my existential trial-by-fire coming to an end or is it just beginning?
My lovely friend Alexandra, whom I met doing this course, told me that when lobsters become too big for their shell, they must go somewhere and hide from the world until a new shell is ready. She’s returning to Greece this week, and that leaves me with a lonely feeling. But knowing there are other lobsters out there, soft and vulnerable, patiently waiting for their new shell to grow, knowing we are looking out for each other, that brings me comfort.