The Wandering Scientist

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Monthly Archives: January 2011

On being away

Jan 24, 2011

En route to San Francisco

I’ve only been home for a few days, after a dash across the Atlantic and a mad time in New Orleans. I’ve gotten a bit of a somewhat regular sleep schedule – being back in Tucson after a near month absence has obligations that I didn’t expect but appreciated. It was a lovely comeback and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Yet that didn’t last long – I drove to Phoenix and jumped on a plane heading to San Francisco, with only a few things, about four hours of sleep, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, on loan from my roommate. The story of a young writer bounding around the country, immersed in the road and the blues, had a certain irresistible appeal.

I’m in a bit of a conflict with myself over all this. Somewhere in the back of my mind I have the quiet desire for little more than a pair of warm rounded shoulder to lean on, the sort of embrace where you can easily miss an hour or a whole afternoon because you merely blinked… Strange that this is exactly what I’d found among all the thousands of miles. Life, of course, is strange and unexpected in its best moments.

The other part, of course, is the one jumping at the road, the side that keeps the bag by the door at all times. There is a mad allure to the road, some sort of predatory instinct to keep moving, to constantly search for new friends, places, tastes, visions, and stories. I don’t mean the stories of my adventures, but rather the stories of the people I come across. The road is lined with innumerable hearts, and each one has got words in it. In precious moments they open up and speak. Most of the time, the communication is not verbal, but much more subtle and accidental. It’s another traveler slumped on a bench. It’s a shy loner awkwardly sitting at the bar. It’s the kindness of strangers and incredible coincidences. The desire for these things becomes so zealous that sleep and food begin to slip away from me.

After several days on the road I find myself exhausted. I sometimes forget to eat, and sleep is minimized. When I do sleep, I actually sleep better than ever. The hours of rest are short, but an implicit understanding between the mind and the body make the most of the brief respite. The body finds reserves of energy that I could not imagine even days earlier. I find myself in the sort of spot where I simply have to keep moving. I feel a hard physical crash thudding right behind me. I just know that as long as I have something to do – work, conversation, dance – I can keep going almost indefinitely. So I keep standing, grinning. A great sense of freedom is to be found in this delirious exhaustion, and this sense makes all the misery worth the while.

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Kleine Arizona

Jan 1, 2011

Grünow, Germany

The scene was improbable, if not entirely absurd. In the midst of the frozen German country side, in a tiny village of Ollendorf, I was sitting in a cowboy-styled saloon, drinking Jim Beam, and listening to My Achy Breaky Heart. A bit earlier, a drummer and a guitar player took the stage, playing a few American classics, including putting out a very zealous Knocking on Heaven’s Door. The guitarist, who did all the singing, spot on, in English, did not actually speak English.

Yet, however unlikely, the place is real. It is called Ollendorf Saloon, and a guy named Hajo runs the joint. (He is also the drummer mentioned above; together with the guitarist and a couple of other people they make up a country rock band called Purple Boots.) It is not a gig from a cross-cultural comedic movie. It is simply there, making the world a slightly better place because of its genuine zest (and a little bit of absurdity).

We shared the table with a German couple. We mended a conversation out of bits of Russian, German, and English. Mostly we agreed that beer is good. So is vodka. Whiskey was up to some debate. The conversation was punctuated by smoking, orders for more alcohol, and dancing.

The saloon itself was a fairly small place. The space was only large enough for about four tables with a few chairs about. One side of the room was the stage, permanently adorned with a drum set bearing the Purple Boots logo and stacks of amps. Hajo takes music seriously. The other end is a small bar. Mostly it’s stocked with beer (on average, far superior to any actual saloon in the States) and wine, as well as a lone bottle of whiskey. Behind the bar are the bathrooms (also far superior to any actual saloon in the States).

Another note on the music. Most of the night, the choice was techno. That is not unusual for a German setting, but downright bizarre for an actual saloon (unless the jukebox somehow finds Rednex, the Swedish country / techno band). Many of the techno tracks sampled over actual country songs. I’m not sure whether that made the scene more or less strange. Eventually, Hajo did switch to a more traditional American bar fare (including a live recording of Achy Breaky Heart). This portion of the night also included Wonderful Tonight, a rare song by Eric Clapton I actually like. It made me miss my blues-dancing friends terribly. There is something to be said about the luxury of almost always having dancer friends around. You don’t appreciate it until a good song comes on, and they’re thousands of miles away.

The customers were enthusiastic, but drunk people are usually are, especially on New Year’s Eve. I don’t think they were enthusiastic specifically for the saloon setting. However, on this account, Hajo himself made up in spades. He was positively brimming with pride in the establishment. His daughter appeared to generally share in his love of the cowboy culture – she actually learned decent two-step swing.

How the saloon came into existence is a gem in itself. Hajo, apparently, has long loved the American South-West, specifically Arizona, and the cowboy culture. However, he was never able to afford to go there. So he decided to do the next best thing – build a Western saloon. This action itself is so undeniably romantic and beautiful, I actually feel better about the human race because of it. It’s a great thing that people like Hajo still exist.