Unique situations

6. Juli 2013 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

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This trip knows no end how to put me into new and unique situations and confronting me with suprising people. Just today, I talked to a 74-year old Greek who’d spent 35 years working in Germany, an ancient shepherd who was sitting on the ground at the roadside and had to prop himself up with the help of my bike in order to stand, a Polish student who was walking and hitch-hiking his way towards Georgia and asked me about the best road to take, a ravishing young receptionist with dark sparkling eyes at a Bulgarian hotel who regretted telling me that they did not have one free room, an elderly chambermaid at the one and only hotel which had a room for me in this town who just switched off the TV as I came in, heaved herself up from the sofa and showed me how to operate the AC, and it’s only four pm as I write this.
A few more details about the people are called for although it has little to do with languages. Rather these small encounters are stories in nucleo; nothing much happens, but throughout the ongoing trip I use the opportunity of time stretched out to mull the stories over.
The Greek oldie was part of a conciliatory scene that helped me to say good-bye to this country for now. I wanted to stop for something sugary and empowering in the last Greek town, Kata Nevropi, and before I could get off the saddle next to a Zacharopleistion, two men beckoned me to sit down with them and chat. They invited me to the coffee and the sweets, and one of them knew some broken German. So the basic coordinates were exchanged, but then, a little unfortunately, two other pensioners who spoke better German took over, with some spurious translation offered to the guy who paid my bill. It turned out that nearly the whole village in this remote pocket of Greek Makedonia had worked in Germany at some time. Mastery of the language of exile is correlated more to the type of job and community the emigrants were in than with time spent there. The oldest of them who’d lived in Germany longest wasn’t very involved, but then he may have been hard of hearing. The others referred to him as a millionaire, and the pension from abroad keeps coming in. He hung back later as the others had left and explained his misery to me: he had had a constructor build a big house for him so he could move in after retiring from Germany, but it was all done wrong, pieces of the balcony fell off, and he seemed to feel generally betrayed by the local builder, who had done a bad job not of neglect or incompetence, but out of ill will. There was little I could do to comfort him except to tell him that I lived by enjoying small things. Yes, he said, you do the right thing, you have all this freedom, ‚die Freiheit‘, while he was ‚traurig‘ and just couldn’t think of much else. But before he’d shown me a trick he played for his grandchildren, involving his unusually malleable nose and series of snorting noises.
The herder was the first human being I talked to after the border to Bulgaria. We had no language in common and laughed at our vain mutual attempts to strike up some sort of communication. I tried to tease out of him if perhaps he was a Vlachos and spoke Aromanian, but I don’t think he was. There was no evidence of any flock of sheep, just a donkey and a dog. He may have had trouble standing up and walking about, but his eyes were alert.
The Polish twenty-something was wearing hiking boots and a bright yellow T-shirt as if he wanted to be spotted from 2 miles away. The tactic seems to have worked since he got from Posnan to Gotse Delchev near the Greek border in just four days. He said he was in a party of five, two girls were lagging behind because they wanted to see Ohrid, and two guys were up and away, he’d just received a text message from Istanbul. Why Georgia? Just so, he said. But now he realised they would have to go through Ukraine because they hadn’t applied for Russian visas. And off he walked with his red and white flag along the route to Drama I’d recommended to him.
And now a word about the situation. I’ve found myself in the honeymoon suite of a glass-and-steel roadside hotel that I’d never have chosen, but due to a theatre or song festival in town every commercially available room has been taken. And no, the elderly lady didn’t come with the room, she was just a bit tired aft readying it, I suppose. So I looked around the slightly tacky suite and decided to make the best use of it. I ran water into the red hard-shaped jacuzzi tub. While I was waiting for the trickle to have an effect on the huge tub, I drank a Coke from the minibar, something I never do, but it kind of fit in with the red, white and black decor of the room (which includes a photo wallpaper of a magnified red rose). The grey clouds that had been gathering let loose a heavy shower of rain. Down in the pool a family of Bulgarians were splashing about, defying the storm. The ample-bosomed mother choked on some water she had been swallowing, unclear whether from above or from the pool.
I glided into my red jacuzzi even if it was only filled to cover my foot. It didn’t take me long to find out that you shouldn’t turn on the jacuzzi function if the jets are not fully covered by water. Thank goodness the tub stands in sort of a tiled glassed-in balcony. Yes, I admit the carpet and the curtains around it did get wet. Twice, actually, because physics has it that if you sit up, the water level is lowered, and the jets are again free to splash all over.
To entertain myself I’ve switched on the TV, but there is no BBC World or CNN available, just soaps, shopping shows and a football match, Bulgaria versus Russia, played in 1997. Who needs the news anyway? I zap to Folk TV and get the knack quickly. There’s always a lovely blondified young lady singing, an unseen band playing rapid tunes involving fiddles, drums and the harmonica, and a group of eight dancers, male and female, swinging their frocks and working their legs to at least hip level. The singer is allowed to wear modern fashion and change costumes in every take of the video, but the dancers, who get about a third of the air time, always need to display national folkloric costumes. The scene is invariably a garden, a hotel forecourt or completely natural surroundings, with moss-overgrown tree trunks and gushing mountain creeks. The make-up on the singer’s face is thick and, well, not natural.
So, picture this situation I’ll probably never be in again (the jacuzzi, the thunderstorm outside, the cozy Bulgarian folk TV, the Coke) and you’ll agree with me that it’s well worth cycling thousands of kilometres to experience something really unique.

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