Buying Bread in Braunschweig

brot

How hard could it be buying bread at a bakery?

My rideshare dropped me off in the city centre of Braunschweig, West Germany. It was 1987.

Eva said this driver’s exchange service was the cheapest way to get to see Andrea, our mutual friend, though it was a good chance that the driver would not speak English.  I was ok with this, though it seemed weird that strangers would offer to drive strangers in their car.

A few days earlier, I had met up with Eva from the train from Amsterdam, gotten lost despite her pitch-perfect instructions, but yet still ended up meeting her in Frankfurt.  She was waiting at the station, cigarette in mouth, hands on hips.  She had lost weight since I last saw her, but then again so had I.

We had a beer at the bar in the station, me forty minutes in Germany, and I pounded the bar like the guy next to me had done and I also ordered, “Ein alt, bitte.”  I imitated the way he did it, using the only talent I had, mimicry, for good. Continue reading “Buying Bread in Braunschweig”

Questions of the Garden Variety

Hey Americans – you’re traveling – Montreal beckons.  What’s a gal or guy to do?

    • Do Americans need a passport to get into Canada?

Answer: Despite all the name calling and joking around, Canada’s a separate country from the US and as such requires official documentation.  A passport, if you will.

    • What if I live in Vermont?  Canada is only a couple miles from my house.

Answer: And Zion, Illinois is only minutes away from Racine Wisconsin.  You might not need a passport to travel from the Land of Lincoln to get admitted into the Eat Cheese or Die state, but it does not mean you won’t get called a FIB or a fish tab.

    • Can I find pot in Montreal or should I just bring my own?

Answer: If you have to ask it means you don’t know about the tam-tams on Sunday afternoons. And if you ask me again about this while riding in my car?  I will set off the passenger side airbags on you.

    • Where’s a good place to eat?

Answer: I hear that the Paris McDonald’s serves a mean Royale with cheese.

    • Do they really speak French everywhere in Montreal or is it just for show?

Answer: Amazingly most Montrealers speak French amongst themselves and, bonus, also to strangers.

    • Will I get attitude around anyone who’s a french snob?

Answer: Most often no, but maybe!  But the good thing in all of this is, not knowing any French prevents you from feeling shame since you can’t understand any dressing down you might experience. The only thing you have to watch out for? Other Americans in the city who insist on using American dollars to buy stuff.  Then not only will there be a lot of attitude floating around, you’ll also be able to understand it.

    • What if I don’t follow hockey?

Answer: As long as you stay away from buying your turkey sandwiches at Slovenia’s on Blvd St-Laurent, you should be good to go.

    • No, I mean, what else is there to do if I don’t want to follow hockey?

Answer: Montreal has a population of a million or so people in it who are kissing strangers and stealing change off of your table in celebration of the summer. There’s the festival of fireworks every July. Countries bring their A games to the city to compete, twice a week for the entire month.  I hear there’s also a bunch of other festivals too.

    • Montreal is the home of the Cirque du Soleil.  I hate clowns.  Will I be bumping into a lot of clowns on the street?

Answer: just hockey fans.

    • Is it true you drove expensive paintings from Canada to the US and only declared them to be from a friend for your birthday?  And that you presented a fake birthday card signed by the famous artist who said, ‘Maybe some day I hope my paintings will get good enough to sell’?

Answer: That is completely and totally false.

View from the back seat

City Limits

It only happened a few times, and only on the 89 driving out of the country, past the last vestiges of Vermont: Swanton, St. Alban’s and Highgate Springs, hitting the 47th parallel.

The bright lights reminded me of a concert or airport though it was just the Canadian border up ahead.  Quietly the US border station on my left that I normally whizzed past had now set up a blockade.  I had to go through their lines in order to get to the Canada border station and then into Canada.

“What’s this?” my passengers asked in unison.

“Passports,” I said, holding out my right hand.

“The US wants to see our passports before leaving the US?” one of them asked.  “We already had to do that to get in…”

“They do it once in a while,” I said, turning down the stereo before breaking Gretchen the Pug to a stop.  One other car stopped ahead of us.

Two guards stood outside the checkpoint.  The US station was mainly set up to receive visitors coming from the Canadian side who travelled south.  All of the doors and windows indicated this.  But they also had this abandoned looking booth set off from the main building for purposes just like this evening.

I rolled down my window as the first guard pointed his flashlight into the front and then to the back seat.

“Hello,” I said evenly, handing him everyone’s passports.

The guards looked more like military than like cops, or maybe it was their bearing.  Cops never made me feel like the guards did, erring on the side of guilt until I could prove myself innocent.

The second guard walked around the right and back of Gretchen the Pug, his flashlight also working the angles.

“Where do you all live?” Guard One asked us.  We answered: Boston, Montreal, Montreal and … Continue reading “View from the back seat”