Saturday, June 16, 2012

Punk Dream: Total Anarchy in a Berlin Market

I left our local pub after 10pm on a Saturday night in order to get some supplies to get us through the weekend.  You see, in Germany, some dumb fucks decided that we can’t buy things on Sundays.  I didn’t have my usual grocery backpack with me when we went to the pub, so I was ill equipped to deal with shopping.  ‘I’ll have to buy one of those plastic bags to carry the shit home,’ I said.  ‘Why?’ she said.  I explained: ‘I can’t be carrying beer, wine, booze and breakfast in my arms through the throngs of punks parked outside of Rewe on a Saturday night.  It’s a gauntlet I’m getting too old to run.’

There were no punks outside the Rewe on Schivelbeiner.  Weird.  Normally they form groups of Mohawks and dogs and beer bottles at each entrance and beat their beggar drums loudly.  They Fuck The System yet take handouts from those that don’t.  Convenient.  Play a fucking instrument and I’ll give you a quarter, you fake-ass white spoiled sons of bitches from upper middle class families.  Rebellion my ass.

I grabbed my basket and proceeded to shop for the German Sunday tornado shelter situation.  Right away I noticed a small flood of water pooling from one of the frozen food containers.  A punk and his punk princess trudged Docs through water, splashing.  Shouts and laughs.  I continued and saw broken six packs of beer bottles lying in the aisles, various smashed soft drink bottles, a pink pool of yogurt oozing from a dropped package and generally no staff members whatsoever interested in the idea of cleanup.  I passed staff members stocking shelves, counting inventory, generally looking bored and underpaid as is custom for unskilled labor in a post-communist, pre-divided city like Berlin.  ‘CLEAN UP! AISLES 4, 5 AND 7!!!’ screamed through the imaginary store speaker in my ex-American mind.  Instead, store jazz/elevator music gave us the grand soundtrack for the Evening of Anarchy.  I made several passes through the aisles of dropped food and drink to be sure.  Nope, nobody gave a flying fuck.

I felt at home, strangely.  I could take my time, walking around and over and through the Deutsch detritus without feeling the usual stress I feel whenever I’m in a crowded, prime time supermarket of any kind, anywhere in the world.  This was a world without care.  Me and my punks and freaks waltzed through the anarchy.  I guess they didn’t hear the elevator music.

We all met at the front in a desperate mass.  There were only two cashiers ready to handle the chaos.  One of them closed his register and skulked away.  Pussy.  There are only 20 or 30 of us freaks here.  We only want our beer/wine/booze/sugar/caffeine/nicotine.  That’s what you do when you have a store full of freaks after 10pm on a Saturday night in Berlin.  You close the fucking register.  I won’t quote everyone in the massive line at the suddenly single register, but the word ‘scheisse’ figured prominently.  That and one dude who kept making horse sounds with his lips.  And muttering ‘Deutschland’ in exasperated tones.  But that could be from the football month going on.

I got to the front of the line.  The single remaining cashier called for help on the store mic twice to no avail.  It was Him vs. The Freaks.  He said something to the aging freak in front of me.  The guy slammed his back pack on the checker’s table and pounded it with his hands.  Then he lifted his arms and slowly spun around in a mock frisk ritual he must have been overly familiar with his whole life.  Beep, beep, pause, beep and the groceries slipped and slid away.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Touch Your Food

The first time I had African food was in the Height/Ashbury district in San Francisco.  It wasn’t trendy; it was just another culinary voice in the cacophony of city sounds and sites I once knew in my college years.  I remember the large plate with the pancake on the bottom; small dabs of colorful food adorned the top.  I recall the distinct lack of cutlery.  The smiling African waitress offered only folded bits of the same pancake base with which to scoop up the messy morsels.  The food was flavorful and spicy.

On my second visit I decided to take a couple of young ladies I knew from my London semester of study abroad.  They happened to be studying at San Francisco State University as well, so we had our post-London reunion over African food.  As anyone who has had East African food (Eritrean, Ethiopian) knows, the size of the plate correlates to the size of the dining party—a bigger plate and a bigger pancake for a party of three.  Everyone shares from the same plate using their hands.  One of the more uptight ladies in our party interrogated the waitress:  “Am I to assume we get no knife and fork with this?”  The waitress merely laughed and walked away shaking her head.  Later the same young lady informed me that she would never return to that—or any—African restaurant again.  Snotty racist cow.

Europeans and certain ‘upper class’ Americans won’t eat with their hands.  I’ve seen Europeans eat pizza and hamburgers with a knife and fork, and we’re getting tired of it (just ask the New Yawkers at The Bird: ‘Please, at least try eating the damn burger with your hands. All you uptight people with forks and knives are driving us crazy.’)  Some food DEMANDS that you touch it.  Why else would they coin the phrase 'finger food?' An Indian acquaintance I met in Cyprus explained to me as he taught me how to eat Indian food with my hands, “We have five senses.  To not touch your food is to deny the full experience.”  Damn, with logic like that, I’m glad he didn’t try to talk me into trying yoga.  Then I’d have to bounce my foot off his Ghandian ass.  And that would be sad.

In the States we pick up our burritos, tacos, pizza slices, burgers and chicken wings.  I have actually gone weeks without touching a knife or fork.  This weekend qualifies as a forkless nosh period.  Yesterday:  fish tacos (made myself), today: African food at Bejte-Ethiopia in a far flung place in Berlin (Nollendorf Platz). We enjoyed the food, although the pancake was a bit sour for our taste.  Once again, we suspected that they are catering to the locals’ love of everything sour (sauerkraut, anyone?).  But the food itself was delicious, though not quite as spicy as the African restaurants I visited in San Francisco or Munich.  The kicker was the finish.  We had read that they offer a special type of coffee in the joint, so we ordered coffee for two.  It came with a bowl of popcorn and I have no idea why.  I guess they’ve never heard of biscuits or wafers.  I drank the rich, strong coffee and just stared at the popcorn.  I couldn’t cotton to it.

Years ago in Prague, an American picked up his slice of pizza with his hands and heard the muffled mutterings of the Czechs.  They sat there like the dorks that they are, pretending to be all 'Yer Row Culture,’ pizza on the plate, knife and fork in sweaty hands.  Step off, bitches.  Pick up that mother humping pizza, hold it under your nose, look at it and smell it.  As the saliva starts, slide that tasty morsel into your mouth and chew:  LISTEN! Your teeth are talking to you now!

Your Dunkin’ Berliner lesson in the culinary arts has just begun.

Next week:  unleash the Third Eye Chakra in the center of your forehead and head butt your chow!