October 17. Noon. Greetings from Cochem - or, as I like to call it, The Most Beautiful Goddamn City On The Entire Fucking Planet. When last we left off, it was yesterday afternoon and I was pulling into Koblenz, the site of last night's show. Koblenz is an interesting city, and a good example I think of the sometimes tough choices smaller cities here in Germany have had to make about themselves over the last half-century. For the few of you who don't already know, basically the entire western half of Germany was bombed back into the stone age during World War II, the result of a theory by the Allies that such bombing would destroy the morale of average German citizens and convince them to no longer support the war. (It worked, by the way.) The damage was bad enough in the big cities, but in the smaller ones like Giessen and Koblenz and others I'm visiting this week, sometimes the damage was so bad that literally only one or two buildings would be left standing in the entire city after the bombing raids were over.
In the postwar years these cities have had to basically rebuild themselves from scratch, and the results I think are very interesting; some made the decision to rebuild their towns to look exactly like they did before the war, while others decided to simply start over and build in the modern style. Koblenz is one of the latter - except for this very charming but small section of the city on the north edge of downtown, the rest of the city's central district is exclusively made of buildings from the style of the 1950s to the 2000s. I'm not saying that it's ugly - far from it, Koblenz is actually this incredibly nice, clean city, just like every other city in Germany I've been in. It's just that it looks like any smaller city you might come across in my own country; squint your eyes and pretend the signs are in English, and you could easily be in Denver or Kansas City or Omaha. And after traveling to all these cities in Germany that look like they've just popped out of a fairy tale, it's a little jarring to come across one that makes me feel like I'm wandering around in America. Again, not bad, just different.
Anyway, stopped by an internet cafe in the Am Plan, a plaza in Koblenz that dates all the way back to the Roman Empire (and ask me how surreal it is, by the way, to update a website in the shadow of a 1,200-year-old fountain), then off to the Weindorf Restaurant to meet up with Glen, one of my online readers. I've gotten to meet a number of my readers now because of this tour, and it's always so great - I get to hear all these stories about how they found my journal and why they enjoy reading it, and I in turn get to hear these great stories about random people's lives that I maybe wouldn't have if I was just a typical tourist over here on my own. Glen is a good example - an American by birth (he grew up in Ann Arbor), he got a random opportunity to travel across Europe at the end of high school, and it ended up changing his life. The next thing he knew, he was transferring to a university in Germany to study the language, then simply ended up staying, working now in the financial industry and doing as much world traveling as he has the time to afford. I got to have this amazingly fancy and expensive dinner, by the way (my first and maybe last of the tour), because Glen was picking up the tab - I had a sort of spicy meat cooked with potatoes, herbs and Italian olives. Sehr gut!
After dinner Glen drove us to the Koblenz poetry slam, up a little north of the central business district at this great gallery/performance space/bar called Kufakultur. The night started off with what I thought was going to be a disastrous bang, when I found out that the guy I had been corresponding with had quit the slam a couple of weeks ago and hadn't bothered telling anyone that I was coming. Argh! But Tristan, the new host of the slam (and such a wonderful guy, too; imagine the white version of Ruben from American Idol) said that it wouldn't be a problem at all to add me to the list. In fact, the Koblenz slam is a newer one here in Germany and still not quite as popular as the more established ones in the bigger cities, so there only ended up being five performers altogether and we each got to perform over 20 minutes apiece.
Maybe this is why the show went so great last night? Or maybe because Koblenz is a smaller city so almost never has touring writers come and perform there? I'm not sure, but the fact is that last night's performance rivals some of the best American shows I've ever had; people were laughing at the exact right places, and cheering and yelling at the end of each piece, and essentially voting for me to tie for first place by the end. (Instead of going into a tiebreaker round, I ceded the win to the local writer who I was tied with, which made everyone love me even more.) Plus I sold eight books, which is still lower than the average for my American shows but is like King Solomon's Fucking Mines when compared to the rest of the shows on this tour. Oh, and everyone wanted to talk with me after the show, and buy me drinks, and discuss the American pop-culture references in my poems ("There are straightedge punks in America? I thought that was only Germany!") and basically treat me like the rockstar I know I am but can't seem to be able to convince anyone else of. Ja, ja, sehr fucking gut!
Last night was also my first chance to finally meet Ricardo and Karin, the people who started this whole damn trip in the first place. The backstory for new readers: This year has been an especially hard one for me in Chicago, what with the continual unemployment, weird emotions over an old ex-girlfriend that I thought I had resolved a long time ago, frustration over my literary career, lack of food, lack of sleep, etc. So Ricardo, one of my online readers, wrote a couple of months ago and said, "If you can raise the money for a plane ticket to Frankfurt, my girlfriend and I will put you up here in Cochem and pay all your bills while here - drinks, food, museum admissions, etc. I just hate to be seeing you have such a bad year, so I hope you'll be able to come over and have at least one good experience in 2003." And it was this letter that inspired me to start a Paypal account, which led to the donations, which led to me getting to expand the tour to include the entire country, which led to me sitting in a 1,200-year-old plaza today writing this journal entry. Verstehen sie, ja? Ja.
Ricardo and Karin are amazing - so fucking amazing. They're both extremely fluent in English (Karin is German and Ricardo is originally Mexican, but grew up about five minutes away from the California border and has now been in Europe for a number of years), have this wonderfully comfortable and jokey rapport with each other that's a delight to witness, and love cursing in English in a way that makes me laugh out loud each and every time they do it. (KARIN: "So then I said, 'Get out of my FOOKing house!'" ME: "Ha ha ha ha ha!") After the show Ricardo drove us all back to Cochem (about an hour due west of Koblenz by car), and the three of us had this great rambling conversation about Germany's love of passing complicated, detailed little laws concerning every single aspect of daily life.
Ricardo and Karin have this amazing place - a whole house, in fact, right in the middle of downtown Cochem, that they got for a steal because the previous tenant had been a child pornographer and had gotten whisked off by the police right in the middle of his lease. It's a weird setup, but a cool one; basically there's a central stairway that winds up through the center of the house, and all the rooms branch off from the stairway without any of them being connected to each other. I've been given the entire top floor of the house just for my own use, and man, talk about hospitality; double bed, down comforters, candy and wine waiting in my room when I arrived, unlimited use of the kitchen, unlimited use of Ricardo's digital camera. Plus Ricardo works at a bar at night, so free drinks the whole time I'm in Cochem too. Fucking yeah!
I blissfully have no official tour plans for the next three days, so plan on using the time simply to catch up on sleep, get myself rested again, and to just be a dorky little tourist for awhile instead of the big-city touring writer. Tomorrow, for example, I'm going to go take the KD tourist boat from Cochem to Koblenz and back, because it's included for free in my railpass, then Ricardo and Karin are going to throw a little party in the evening and maybe just possibly help me get laid once before I have to go back to Chicago. (We'll see, anyway.) Then on Sunday morning I'm grabbing Ricardo's bicycle and am going to go biking along the Mosel River! Right on, man - I'm really looking forward to it. And then Sunday afternoon it's back on the DB, where I start up my tour again in earnest, this time in Munich.
A completely unexpected and wonderful thing has started happening to me in the last couple of days; Germans have started complimenting me on my German. It makes me want to cry every time someone says it to me. Oh hell, and now I am, sitting right out here in the middle of this public square. Not so gut, ja? Today is the ninth day in a row for me of sleeping on random strangers' couches, which isn't exactly the best thing for good, solid, sound sleep. My emotions are running strong and close to the surface these days, and just the least little thing can set me off on a bout of crying or a miniature little anxiety attack. Of course, it works the other way too; the good experiences make me even that much happier, and the small kindnesses shown by mein neue Deutsche Freunden (my new German friends) mean so much more to me than if they were happening in Chicago. Just a fact about being on the road, I guess; I've been on one-week-plus book tours a good two or three times now, and my emotions always get this way about halfway through each one. Just...something to deal with, I guess. I hope you are doing well, wherever it is that you're reading this, and I'll talk with you again tomorrow.