Sunday, February 28, 2010

Colossal

You could cut the tension with a knife. Nerves jangling and electric. So much at stake. Pride, honour, redemption, revenge. 80 minutes to mitigate 800 years. Ireland v England. In England.
I wasn't of course, but I took my seat in the Oscar Wilde on Friedrichstraße a full hour before kick off. No way I was going to miss this. The pub was full of English, offending with their presence and blissfully unaware of it, their yabber grating on the ears as I try block it out.
The pub's packed and there's a furious scramble for seats as 5pm approaches. The news from Twickenham isn't good. Brian O'Driscoll had a stomach bug and the Irish captain's presence was in question. But Declan Kidney assures us BOD is grand, fighting fit and raring to go. Thank God. I'm raring to go myself!
It's time! There's a great reception for John "The Bull" Hayes from Bruff, the big man winning his 100th cap and leading out the team. Tears threaten to roll down his face as we sing the anthem. What a man! Simply mighty. I nearly cry myself.
Boos for England, in the pub at least. Good. Good to know we're not outnumbered. May they be slaughtered in their own backyard.
Usually I leave for the English anthem, waiting in the toilets for it to end, but I can't this time as I'm minding precious seats. I look at the floor. The blood boils. Thankfully it's over soon after, and the game is underway!
It's all England. They surge forward, recycling the ball, urging it towards the Irish line. But wait! Sexton has the ball. A delicate chip ahead. A chase. And Tommy Bowe races onto it to touch down. TRY!!! Woohoo! Fucking brilliant! A primeval roar breaks out, everyone jumps up, all screaming, all clapping, wide smiles. I roar with all my might. Incredible noise. I'm sure they heard it in Twickenham. What a try! Fantastic.
There's a desperate scramble for drinks at half-time. Nobody dares move beforehand. I'm still minding the seats, but necessity for a beverage forces me to entrust them all to the care of my jacket and bag.
I get my drink and return as the match gets underway again. Fight! The dirty English have their fists flying. Picking on O'Leary, one of the smallest fellas on the pitch. Tempers are really boiling over. We all roar at the telly. "Aaaagghh!!! Kill him! Get the fuckers! Kill him!" But the Irish give as good as they get and defend their ground. A penalty awarded against England compounds their frustration.
Meanwhile some German fella's asking me if the seats I'm minding are taken. "They'll be along any minute," I tell him. The fucker's wearing an England top. Imagine! An England top! At least the English can't help where they're born, but to actually chose to wear it... And then to have the gall to wear it in an Irish pub!
Back to the match and Keith Earls scores another try for Ireland! Woohoo! Take that! The pub goes wild again. But the conversion doesn't go over. I hope these misses don't prove costly.
England are then awarded a phantom try. The referee looks as surprised as everyone else. Suddenly the sides are level for the first time. This isn't good.
Disaster! Brian O'Driscoll is structured off unconscious after getting kneed in the back of the head from Paul O'Connell in full flight. Of all people to collide with, the two-metre colossus! Pain-inducing replays are shown over and over again as the medics tend to Ireland's stricken captain.
Things suddenly go from bad to worse when Wilkinson kicks England three points in front. Fuck. It's 16-13 to the home side and there are only eight minutes left.
The German fella's friend, also in an English top, asks again about the seats. "They'll be along any minute," I repeat, still minding the seats for people who don't show up. He sees my look and doesn't ask again.
Ireland go on the offensive. O'Gara kicks it forward, a lineout, a shimmy, a pass, go on, go on, go on, suddenly Tommy Bowe is through! Like a rocket, he breaks through tackles to cross the line. TRRRYYYYYYY!!!!! Aaaaaaghhh! The pub goes ballistic. Aaaaaaaghhh! All scream, shout, roar. Two Wexford girls, who took the spare seats just as I thought I'd have to give them to the English-supporting German lads, scream and hug and dance. Wooohooooo!!!! Woohoo!!!
Only five minutes left. The tension is unbelievable. England are throwing everything at Ireland in a bid to score a dramatic late try. Desperate defending. They're almost there! Unbearable pressure. Can't be healthy. Finally Ireland turn the ball over and kick it out. It's over! Woohoo!!! We've done it. Thank Jaysus, we've done it! I'm shaking with excitement and relief, heart still pounding, sweating, hoarse and knackered. The Fields of Athenry is belted out as all savour the moment.
Getting beaten by France was bad enough, but it would have been a travesty if England had done the same. It was close, but we won. We won and that's all that matters.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Not pointy enough

I didn't get the job. Only took three weeks to find out. Another opportunity passed up and we're back to square one. All that witing and fluting about for nothing, but apparently that's the way it is in Germany. Left dangling for weeks on end before the cord is finally cut. Fuck it.

There are a couple of other half-options if I want to stay in journalism, but that's all they are, half options. Quarter-options would actually be more accurate. I've been ringing and emailing around again this morning but I'm in danger of just pissing people off. One job I applied for on January 27th hasn't even reached interview stage yet. I rang for the second time this morning to find out the editor is away until next week so nothing will be done 'til then. I'm not holding my breath.
Another crowd emailed me a couple of weeks ago to thank me for my application and to say they'd be back in touch. Of course, I never heard from them again. I rang again today to find out there are no positions available. Why they couldn't just tell me that in the first place is beyond me.

So the pointy shoes I splashed out €100 on didn't have the desired effect. Their success rate down from 100 to 50 per cent. I guess some other guy had pointier shoes, or mine just weren't pointy enough.
I let your wan know how disappointed I was but told her my enthusiasm for working for her wasn't dampened if she wanted to keep me in mind for future appointments. "I will keep your application on my radar, I promise," she wrote back.
Damnit. It's a setback, but hopefully only a temporary setback.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nominated!

The blog's been nominated for an award at the Irish Blog Awards 2010! Mad huh? I've been nominated for Best Blog From A Journalist, probably because of all the earth-shattering stories I've uncovered over the last year.
A load of other blogs were nominated too which proves there's either a very high standard of Irish bloggers out there or they'll nominate any aul' shite that they find. Either way, I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next!

Melt

The snow's gone! Gone from my balcony in any case, so I'll no longer be able to take convenient pictures of rabbits or hippos in the snow as before.
The snowmen were right all along. They'd been warning Berliners of the dangers of impending doom and global warming but nobody listened, nobody gave a damn, nobody paid any attention at all. Sure why would they when the city's been clasped an an icy grip not felt since tattooed woolly mammoths used to congregate on Alexanderplatz to drink cheap beer and display piercings in areas no mammoth should be pierced?

Yesterday I learned that the equivalent of 45 elephants' worth of snow has fallen in Germany for each man woman and child this winter. Forty-five elephants! I heard it from a watertight source. Wenke, who'd heard it on the news, said it at a party. She seemed pretty sure of her facts and I've no reason to doubt her, so that's good enough for me. She wasn't sure of they were big elephants or small elephants, African or Asian, or even what the average weight of an elephant is, but I think it's fair to say 45 elephants' worth of snow is quite a lot of snow indeed.

But now the big melt is underway, much to dismay of the snowmen whose dreams of surviving the spring are cruelly turned to slush each year. I myself am fully responsible for their demise, for the melt began at the precise moment in time my new gloves arrived in the post. It goes without saying once you buy something it's no longer needed... It was the same last year when I banished winter away with the purchase of a new jacket.

Also gone is Hédi, my Zwischenmieter from Switzerland, who'd been caring for my strawberries and kiwi plant while I was off gallivanting in South America. She stayed an extra month to ensure a smooth transition for the plants. For her farewell we went to her favourite restaurant, Pink Flamingo (as if there were any other type of flamingos out there), where the pizzas are cooked under the supervision of a dog in an armchair and served in a variety of ingredients in bewildering but delicious combinations. Mine had ham, lime, onion, coriander and fried bananas and that was one of the normal ones. Yum!

My other flatmate, Wiebke, is moving out too, back to Friesland. Evidently not cold enough for her here. So no more theologans' parties with limbo dancing and swimming naked in the Spree. Maybe that's a good thing. In any case, we now have to get a new flatmate, so there'll be a queue of freaks outside the door once we place an ad on the internet. Hopefully we'll be able to find one who's semi-normal at least.

I still haven't heard if I got the job. My patience snapped last week and I rang to find out what the story was. Apparently they've been so busy they haven't had the chance to further the procedure so I'm not sure if that's good news or bad news. I figure if they're that busy they could just be done with it and give me the damn job but it doesn't seem to work like that here. She said she'd have news for me early next week but then that's what she said the week before...
Anyway, I promise not to write any more about it until I find out if I actually get it or not.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pink poodles

Berlin's slowly chipping away at my manliness. Just five minutes ago I asked Jenny if she had any handcream because mine had run out. Handcream! But my hands are chapped red raw and scraped to bejaysus, an unfortunate consequence of this incessant bitter cold. I'd been putting up with it to maintain my carefully cultured machoness, but it got to the stage where the skin broke and my hands were actually bleeding. That's bleedin' enough I said to myself, before smothering them in some free sample of hand cream I found in the bathroom. I could never bring myself to buy such a thing.
That's run out however, and my hands are now worse, if anything, than they were before. I'm now faced with an uncomfortable dilemma - leave my hands crack up and flake away to stumps, or swallow what's left of my pride and buy some handcream.
That's not all I'm afraid. This afternoon I was given a bunch of flowers which are now sitting prettily in my room. And I confess that I had already bought some cream for my face. That's right, I bought some cream for my face. Christ knows I'd have a face like a walrus's arse otherwise and I'd rather be accused of being a hermaphrodite than have a face like a walrus's arse.
I haven't started wearing skirts or high heels just yet (too cold even if I wanted to), and nobody would look twice at me if I did. In fact, I'd probably fit in better if I did take to wearing lipstick, high heels and displaying my man-boobs for all to see.
Berlin seems to do that to people; it blurs the boundaries between the genders and adds a few more. Half the time it's hard to figure out exactly what species of person you're looking at all.
To dissuade any possible confusion I haven't shaved in a week. Another weapon to combat the cold too. I now sport enough bristles for people to accuse me of growing a beard. I'm not comfortable with the idea however. I've always suspected men with beards of having something to hide. And in this city where women have beards and men have handbags and pink poodles, I'm not sure it makes any difference anyway. Time to get the razor out.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Interminable

Still I wait. I wait and wait and wait, a wait without end, interminable and relentless. It's now early next week and I've no news on my fate which dangles agonisingly in the balance. Everything else is but a sideshow, shadows, temporary distractions which fail to actually distract.
I've tried put it out of my head, concentrate on other matters which need doing, but to no avail. Every two minutes I must check my email, the nervous anticipation of good tidings instantly extinguished by no tidings at all. Even now, as I type, I must glance at my inbox for any new messages. But there are none.

Meanwhile, more Umzugs loom. Germans are like snails in that they carry their houses on their backs. Apartments come totally unfurnished - not even a lightbulb or the cable to hang it from - so everyone has their own furniture, cooking utensils, washing machines and shite which they lug with them every time they move for their whole lives. The more shit you have the better it seems, a source of pride to show the new neighbours as it's hauled up the stairs.
Beds, wardrobes, writing desks made of lead, shelves, kitchen presses, dishwashers, lampshades, plates, cups, spoons, everything; it's all packed in industrial-sized boxes before an email is sent around to coax "friends" into sacrificing a day of their lives and possibly their backs to help the mover move. I've concluded now it's the single most important reason Germans make friends at all.

There's no way out of an Umzug unless you leave the country or fake an injury, quite popular options despite the promise of Bier und Brötchen to revitalise exhausted Umzuggers after they've been Umzugged. Some people, of course, steadily refuse the advances of any potential friends for fear they'd be asked help with an Umzug in the future. These people generally rely on canines or cats for company, neither creature known for accumulating vast hordes of material goods.

I too, have had to acquire furniture since I moved here. After priding myself on moving here with just a bootful of material possessions: books, clothes, a concrete hippo and elephant, roller blades, my laptop, a bottle of wine and big box of Barry's Tea, I now find myself unable to simply up and leave at the drop of a teabag. I've been grounded by the acquisitions of a bed, a bike, a lampshade, a Snoopy calendar, more books, a pottery bull from Perú, even a rug.

Hang on a sec, I'll just check my email...
Nope, nothing. Schweinerei. A new email but 'twas a false alarm. I know I'm placing too much hope on the tidings to come, but I can't help it. I just can't wait to stop waiting...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Con

Some fucker is trying to con me out of €200. I need a new phone (again) and inquired about an advertisement he had on Kijiji.
"Sure. We have ten pieces left. Send me your order and you'll have it within 48 hours."
I asked him how I'd place an order, and for some details on his company. "I'm a bit wary of giving my credit card details to willy nilly to someone I'd never heard of before."
He told me not to worry, that he'd bring the package to TNT Europe, I'd receive an email from them, and that's when I was to go to Western Union to send the money to Claudiu Zamfir, Via Salaria 138, Rome, 00198, Italien. Once he received the money TNT would be authorised to ship the merchandise. "i am a serious person!" he added by way of reassurance.
Background checks revealed him to be the cheating thief I already imagined him to be, with plenty of victims venting their frustration and sharing their tales of being being ripped-off. Apparently this scam has been in operation a while.
I let him stew a while, before asking him to send me a photo of the phone as proof. He went a step further, replying with a picture including his name and the time to verify its authenticity. Send it on so, I replied, curious to see what would happen next.
An email from "TNT Europe" arrived the next day with Purchase Invoice # 3995452211. Go to your local Western Union office and transfer the money post haste, it said. "When payment is received, it will be verified and secured into a non-interest bearing trust account. Payment verification process usually takes less than three hours. After payment is secured, the Seller is authorized to ship merchandise."
It was clear the email wasn't from TNT at all - after all, the email address was tnto@mail.com - but less cynical creatures might have believed it was.
A few hours later "Claudiu" himself wrote to say he'd sent the package and wondering if I'd received the email from TNT. Another email followed, and another, each more desperate than the one before. "Hello do you paid?? i wait your answer."
A desperate last ploy was made by "TNT" themselves again the next day: "We want to inform you that the package is in Berlin ... [please verify payment] ... Also please forward us your phone number to contact you in case that you will don't be at home. We remind you that all this information are confidential. The seller will be informed just after you confirm us that you received the package."
Instead I contacted the Berliner Beauftragter für Datenschutz who are supposed to act in such matters. I thought they'd spring into action seeing as your man was still waiting on my response, but four days later I'm still waiting on theirs. Nichts did I hear from them since. It's every man woman and child for themselves.
So we had The Con, but unfortunately it doesn't look like we'll have The Sting.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Waiting for Gurke

Good things come to those who wait. Apparently. I don't know because I hate waiting. Patience is something I hadn't time to acquire.
This week promises to be a long one as I wait to find if my quest for honest employment has been successful. Yesterday was the interview for the job I've always wanted. It went well. For two hours I did my best, completed the tests, said all the right things, jumped over the pitfalls, avoided the hoops and jumped through the hurdles (for variety). We chatted in German for a bit. She even knew my former boss! She showed me around, introduced me to the rest of the news team. She was still smiling at the end. "I'll let you know early next week," she said after I let her know how much I wanted the job. Early next week! As if to build up the suspense. In the meantime she'll be talking to other candidates, candidates I can only hope are not as informed, engaging, charming, witty and sharp as I am am. I know at least they can't be as good-looking. Or modest.
I can't do anything else. I've given it my best, tried my damnedest to get it, put all my eggs in one basket - I even turned down another job which I would have started today while I await the result. The die is cast. Nothing left to do but wait.

It's hard though. I couldn't even wait for it to get a bit warmer. The bike was rudely hauled from its hibernation in the cellar today, despite the sub-zero temperatures. I soon found out why nobody else has done the same. There's a reason ice-cycling is not a particularly popular sport. I might as well have saved myself the effort and just thrown the damned bike on the ground. Again, the cold killed any notions of fun. It only took three hours to defrost my hands once I came back in.

Even walking is treacherous. A few weeks ago I was scoffing at people slipping on the ice as "not being careful enough". I'd had a few slips myself since, but nothing serious. Not until Saturday that was. The day I decided to bring all the bottles to the bottle bank. Carrying two full bags in each hand, and another on my back, I just made it to the end of my street when both legs suddenly shot out from under, bags flew up, and up I went too before crashing back down on my side. CRASH!!! I absolutely snotted myself. The bottles smashed to smithereens of course, and together we made quite a spectacular commotion.
I gingerly picked myself up, dusted off the broken shards of glass, and then picked up what pieces I could while trying not to slip again. In the meantime, I avoided the gaze of everyone who'd just come out of the U-Bahn station in time to see my glorious mishap. All pissing themselves with Schadenfreude no doubt.

There's no let up in sight. The winter's set to continue. (-6°C as I type, -9°C later tonight.) I've been using my balcony as a fridge, perfect for milk. Last week I walked on a lake. Tegel, the second biggest in Berlin, is completely frozen over, so for once I was able to walk on water like Jesus. Of course you wouldn't catch him wandering around a forest in Berlin when it's -10°C outside, especially in his trademark sandals.

Even locals are losing patience with the winter now, looking forward to warmer times. Today I saw Easter bunnies for sale, despite Easter being almost two months away.
(Thousands of chocolate bunnies are murdered every year für Ostern in Germany. It really is quite disturbing, especially for the children who can only console themselves by eating copious amounts of chocolate.)

Also in the supermarket (no lack of material from the supermarket these days) was the "Gurke des Jahres" (Gherkins of the Year). Germans take their gherkins very seriously and I wonder what these gherkins did to win such a prestigious honour. I presume there was a Lovely Gherkin competition where they all had to either sing a song, recite a poem or tap-dance to impress the judges. In any case I'm looking forward to finding out what makes them so special later on. In fact, I can't wait.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2010/0210/1224264114378.html

Wayna Picchu

One of the toughest things I've done was the trek up Machu Picchu and then up the imposing Wayna Picchu behind it. Even thinking about it exhausts me, part of the reason it's taken so long to finally get the experience into words...

The trek up 2,634m Wayna Picchu looks impossible from below. It rises steeply from nothing, a sheer face just reaching directly for the clouds and beyond. Jenny was not a happy camper. We were already wrecked from the long hike the day before, and the arduous trek up to Machu Picchu itself, not to mention the lack of sleep, oxygen and nourishment.
"This is what we got up at three o'clock for," I told her, receiving in return a look like thunder. I too wished we'd stayed in bed and not bothered at all.
We set off up the steep track and soon knees were creaking and legs aching again as we tackled more never-ending steps, clutching the steps in front to avoid falling back. The weight of my rucksack threatened to send me hurtling back the way I'd come, backwards into the abyss. Up up up we went, tired and grumpy, unable to appreciate the incredible scenery around us, panting and gasping as we forced our reluctant legs to lift and then lift again.
Eventually, 45 slogging minutes later, we finally emerged at the top. We're enveloped in cloud, can't see a thing. We pause for breath and wait, wait for the clouds to part for a glimpse of Machu Picchu below, any excuse. The clouds eventually oblige but we're beyond caring at that stage. It's time to begin the slow climb back down.
We gingerly pick our way around the rocks and steep steps, steps uneven and treacherous. One mistake and you're gone. It takes almost an hour to get down, almost as much as it did to get up. I've definitely seen enough now. I just want to leave. My knees are in bits, legs are shaky, I'm thirsty, hungry and exhausted. I've had enough!
We leave the Machu Picchu site and begin the trek back down to the town. Again it takes yonks, calves and knees moaning and complaining all the way. Another hour and 15 minutes it takes back to Aguas Calientes where we buy three bottles of water. Absolutely fucked. The backpack weighs three tonnes. Can't go any further.
Thank Jaysus we'd made it. I'm glad to have done Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu behind it, but to be honest, I'm happy too it's finally over.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Picturisation complete!

It's done! The blog is picturised. Every post since we first departed these shores last September has now been furnished with photos from the adventures en route. It took feckin' yonks (14½ yonks to be precise) and it's why I've been neglecting personal correspondence and sleep in the meantime but thank Jaysus, it's finally done. You can't give me any more abuse about not having pictures to accompany the words.

I'd been mindful that most of the blog's readers can't actually read so these pictures are really for you. Of course, if you can't read, you still won't know that there are now pictures to be marvelled at...

Anyway, you can just scroll down to see what we saw, or use the archive links on the right. A lot of the posts also now have links to photo albums at the bottom where you click to see all the pictures from a particular attraction. For example, all the Salt Desert pictures can be seen here: http://picasaweb.google.com/faheyc/UyuniSaltDesert#
You will also notice labels at the bottom of each post. By clicking these you will be brought to more topics featuring the same topic. For example, Bolivia, sheep, tea, bulls etc. Actually, you'll get a good idea of what my priorities are by seeing what the labels are.

Posts I'd recommend for outstanding pictures include Bolivia's salt flats and lagoons, descending to the depths of hell in Potosí, trekking in Colca, aqueducts of Nazca, and Jesús talking about Perú. But there are loads - all worth checking out if I do say so myself. The pictures you see here now didn't even make the cut, so you can see the photo albums are worth checking out too.

Now I can concentrate on finding some work I might actually get paid for. I still have to write on all the stuff I missed however, so don't worry, there'll be plenty more to come!

Shopping for compliments

"Das war nicht so clever," the girl on the till said after I'd put the avocado in the same bag as the tomatoes. "Ich muß die Tomaten wiegen!" [I need to weigh the tomatoes.]
Jaysus sorry. I'll try be more clever the next time I come shopping at Netto. If I didn't have to balance everything on my head, I'm sure I could have kept avocado and tomatoes separate. Never the vine shall meet. (Shopping baskets are frowned upon in low-cost supermarkets in Germany. It's a trolley or nothin', so shopping is always a delicate balancing act. Only circus performers can shop here without severe discomfort.)
But I must say her forthrightness was refreshing. Germans say what they want when they want where they want; contrary to Peruvians who tell you what you want to hear unless it's the truth. Despite my shameful lack of cleverness, the girl did wish me a "schöne Wochenende" before I left.

After running out of avocados and tomatoes a few days later I had to go back to the supermarket again. I was very careful and considered the possible repercussions of my actions before deciding on any purchases. A successful tactic. No insults this time.
Jenny was with me (just in case) and we got a tram home. I thanked the tram driver as we disembarked but instead of telling me I'm welcome, he asked: "Was für?" What for! Well, thanks for bringing us home and not crashing the tram or getting us killed. How about that?!
He'd obviously never been thanked before. Germans must take it for granted when they get on a tram that the driver will bring them home without crashing it and/or getting them killed. I guess growing up in Ireland one has somewhat lower expectations.

I didn't tell him of course that we didn't have a ticket, that we'd been schwartz fahren, and that we could have thanked him for that too. Travelling in Berlin is great like that. You don't have to buy tickets for the trains or trams if you don't want to. It's strictly optional; just hop on and go wherever you want. Of course, if they catch you you've to pay a fine, and unfortunately that isn't optional. Now that isn't very clever.