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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The First Days

After fourteen hours of international travel, I blundered out of the small airplane and into hot, humid air of a Bavarian summer day. As the plane unloaded us onto the tarmac, all of the passengers were required to board a little shuttle bus so that it could transport us the actual terminal that was literally less than fifty feet away. Too tired to try and make a quip about the absurdity of such procedures, I obliged and was soon (thankfully) collecting my one checked piece of luggage.

A little confused by the complete lack of needing to declare anything to customs, I made my way out of the baggage claim area and into the warm embraces of my expectant friends, the couple-to-be. Madlen, Georg and I were soon catching up, reminiscing, and talking about their wedding the following day and honeymoon thereafter.

The afternoon progressed through their pretty city of Nuremberg, situated on top of the Pegnitz river that weaves its way around the hills, into other waterways, and finally into the Black Sea. When there was no lush greenery to do so, old remnants of castle walls and fortified ramparts lined the sides of this slowly flowing river (see the last photo of previous post). They took me up to a castle-turned-hostel atop of the highest hill in town, host of a great view of the city:

The last photo of Georg while still technically “single.”

Afterwards, they asked a question that hardly needed to be posed—if I cared to accompany them to the local “beer gardens” to enjoy a cold, fresh sample of their local pride. I quickly and kindly agreed, though it was all I could do to hold my travel-induced narcolepsy at bay. We lounged around on beach chairs in the grass, sipping the delectable, master-brewed Tucher hefeweizen while staring up at the twilight summer sky through tree branches green with fertility.

Nuremberg evening.

Their wedding was held a thirty-minute drive away in an old, modest, stone-walled church that quite nearly made up half of the countryside town’s real estate. Madlen and Georg stayed outside, and I entered the church with my guitar and proceeded to set up. The wedding priest and I began to attempt communication so as to determine when I would actually play the guitar during the ceremony; however, this was no easy task as the bride and groom were unavailable, and he spoke about 4 words of English and I spoke about half that in German. Fortunately, some other bilingual attendees came to our rescue and we resolved the issue.

While I understood very little of what was spoken during the 45-minute service, it was the pretty and quaint affair that the couple had wished for. (After a little initial stage fright, I gave my instrumental rendition of Damien Rice’s “Cannonball.”)

Mr. and Mrs. Plettner.

Following the wedding, we drove the five minutes to an inn in the neighboring village, where the reception was held. When everyone had arrived, a curious event took place: the couple put on leather gloves, grabbed a hacksaw, and began cutting their way through a log.

Try explaining this scene without context.

Apparently, an old German tradition calls for the newlyweds to saw a log in two, demonstrating that it is the first of many works they will complete together throughout their marriage. After a few minutes under the summer sun, the Plettners were dabbing the sweat from their foreheads, proudly standing over the wooden halves that lay at their feet.

The rest of the day was filled eating, drinking, and merrymaking. As I sat at a table later in the evening, contentedly not sober, I pondered upon the curious nature of life, or rather, the serendipity of it. The fact that I sat there at that moment at a wedding in Bavaria was the product of a relationship that began seven years ago. (In 2006, Madlen’s older brother decided to move from Germany to Santa Barbara for six months, to do an internship with the tour company I worked for at the time. Inspired by her brother, three years later she and Georg did the same, and we became fast friends over kayaks, bicycles, and barbeques.) Similarly, my imminent move to the Balkans has come about through friends I made while living in Chile. Who knew that people I befriended in one faraway corner of the globe would be the reason that drew me to another?

The trivial details or chance encounters that happen to us now (or that have already happened to us) may yet have a bearing on how our own lives will unfold in the future—after all, you cannot rule out possibilities because you do not even know the future that is brewing right under your own nose at this very moment. Who knows, shaking that stranger’s hand at a birthday party tomorrow (or last month) may well have a part to play in your life, big or small. It may be the catalyst to a new career, to travel, to a spouse, or to a hand infection; we do not know and life is too short and there just isn’t enough hand-sanitizer to restrain ourselves from these life-changing handshake moments.

The more people you meet, and the more travels you embark upon, the more new and different horizons will open themselves up to you. My own travels and the lives of those around me attest to this idea—there is no telling how it will all turn out in the end.

So, here’s to the serendipity of life:

Saxony, the site of my coming travels.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Setting Off

At 41,000 feet above the icy waters of the North Atlantic, a sudden nosebleed is the least of my problems. It is just the most pressing one. I am an hour and a half out from a yet another new start: new friends, new jobs, and new horizons—or so I think. There is no shortage of things that could go wrong and prevent the unfolding of this next chapter in my life, and I am currently pinching my nostrils as tight as possible with bloodied fingers while trying not to create a scene on the crowded aircraft. At just over a leggy six feet, it can be a little challenging to escape the clutches of an airplane seat while doing one’s best not to bump into and wake up everyone around you in the process. Several disgruntled passengers later, I had cleaned myself up in the bathroom, and returned to my thoughts regarding my impending change of life events.

And this was before the person in front of me reclined their seat.

At this point, my imminent future depends upon the benevolence of some German immigration official who I will stand before and plead my case. I do not believe in any sort of destiny or fate; if the official lets me in, I was fortunate with my persuasion, if not, I could very soon find myself deported from Deutschland and on a flight back across the Atlantic to the US. It is as simple as that—no need to involve cosmic powers guiding events here on earth.

This possibility is the case because I have a one-way ticket to Germany, and not too much proof that I am going to eventually leave the country. I will, if all goes according to plan. But with some kind of copied "promise to hire" from a school in the Balkans as my only proof, I am not so sure at this point. A German tourist's visa was not an option as it is fairly contingent on your bank account's balance for the past three months; mine has resembled that of a teenager's savings from a once-a-week paper delivery job for about as long as I can remember.

Speaking of which, if all goes according to (haphazard) plan and I am allowed into Germany, my fate is still uncertain. I could quite frankly be sleeping on park benches very soon, and if I am lucky, getting meager under-the-table wages from some hostel or fruit-picking job.

But before any of that, however, I have got to make it through my guitar performance at the wedding I will be attending in two days. I have essentially—but not completely—learned a couple of songs for the event, and the happy couple-to-be will choose which one they like best. Hopefully, I will not ruin the reflective moment after the vows with a half-learned medley. 

I also know about 3 words of the language of the Balkan country I am moving to—none of which is appropriate for an audience with grandparents, children, or frankly outside of a bar. Informing my opinion of said country is the culmination of an hour or two skimming Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, and the CIA World Factbook websites.

Perhaps this lack of planning would be viewed as altogether blasé and irresponsible for a man of twenty-seven, and for others, it would be the assurance of "failing." Rightly so, for many folks: all of this would be the making of a failure—for them. Failure has never been nor will ever be an option for me—it motivates me to survive, succeed, and exceed. Granted, I have never moved somewhere new with so little preparation and pocket change, but being dangled so closely over the fires of homelessness, poverty, and isolation only motivates me more. I will be all right in the end; I know because I always have been.

The following blog entries will attest to this, and so much more, as I once again make my way into the unknown.

Travel: the art of downsizing.

(The previous entry was largely written on the plane before reaching the European continent. At time of publication: I was let into Germany without so much as a question—literally—and  apparently my guitar performance was not half bad as I was asked to play at another wedding in September.)

Enjoying a Bavarian summer day.