Thursday, January 18, 2007

In the dark before the dawn

One Wednesday morning, 7 a.m.

There’s something I particularly love about this butter-yellow lamplight in the dark before the dawn. 7 o’ clock in a hotel room with the sounds of distant traffic near the Hauptbannhof and a cup of coffee seducing me with little swirls of steam. It’s going to be a cold day. The skies cleared last night and I can almost feel the wind through the glass, flags snapping, trees swaying while the moon side-steps the last scudding clouds. Overcoat day ahead.

Yesterday evening was very “Homeward Bound”. Dog-tired from a day in the Messe – miles between the halls, up and down stairs, fair office, designer’s office, participants’ demands – I found myself at the train station just after six. A bitter wind in the early dark and no idea how to get back to my hotel, not even clear which direction I should travel. A sharp-eyed Frau helped me out there, but she said I should travel two stations and not one. I played my hunch, got off at the first station and was immensely reassured to find myself outside the deli where I’d scoffed a sandwich in the morning.

I like shopping for food. Whole-wheat bread studded with nuts and seeds, butter, a “Mediterranean” cheese, some pate. Chocolate milk, soda and a tiny nip of “Chantre Weinbrand”, whatever that is – it smells like brandy but I really don’t give a damn, I want it as a sleeping pill. A leisurely meal in my room while MY music plays. Much better than another series of cabs and an over-priced array of under-cooked food.

It’s a little over half a mile from the train station to the hotel. My hat twitches in the wind as I cross the bridge over the rail tracks. The hat – Sunday night in Madrid a drunk teenager stopped his car, asked me for a light and said “Cool hat … it looks Australian but you look Asian … Indian?” So what was just a droopy roof has been promoted to bush-ranger headgear. At least it keeps my bald pate covered, I’d be sneezing all day otherwise.

I can’t recall being so alone in an urban landscape. There are cars, but I encounter only three pedestrians and a cyclist between station and hotel. Out to my left the new Frankfurt skyline poses in lit-up finery. Pshaw. Just another jagged horizon trying to ape Manhattan. Closer by, lighted windows signal homes, warmth, conversation. There should be stories here. Football games, sibling squabbles, a mother with her hands on her hips, a burly visitor who plies the husband with one too many beers. Comfortable stories, where the nastiest thing to happen is a missed excursion.

A story about a solitary man walking back to a hotel room down a lonely road, past vacant lots and a looming waterworks, is far more likely to end in pain and murder. Or a particularly nasty apparition.

I’ve just been shooed off a tram where I was the only rider. I find myself in a deserted back alley, walking between rows of parked cars with the wind whipping up my coat. A shiver creeps between my collar and my hat brim. The pools of lamplight are safe havens amid the shadows. I walk faster. At the corner, I take my direction from the waterworks, eerie in its dimly lit vastness and its silence, and turn right.

The road stretches past a rusting factory, a railway underpass gleaming with recent rain, a weed-grown track behind a sagging gate. I turn up my collar, pull down my hat and, keenly aware of the dollars in my hip pocket, try to look confident. Apart from the cars surging past there is not a soul in sight. This is an alien landscape. I fear I’m lost.

Then, just past a crossing, I see the big garage I passed in the morning. Like the shaded parts of a trick picture, the landscape falls into place. The Gothic wasteland morphs into curtained windows, lawns, the lights of an old peoples’ home. Just a couple of hundred metres to the hotel door.

My budget hotel suddenly seems very welcoming. With warmth and light and food on the table, even a hotel room can be a home for a night or two. And the bed is very comfortable.

Clear day outside my window now. A few pink clouds and jet contrails. Lights in the sky, airliners queued for the busiest airport in southern Europe. The sun will be out soon. I need some breakfast. Later.

**** ****


Ph said...

Lovely writing.

Prerona said...

lovely day ...

Deepak said...

Frankfurt is such a cold city. From the moment the smoke-filled air of the airport hits you to to the trip to the hotel, it just feels like there are icy fingers that want to grab you.

Wonderful writing. Found your blog only recently. Now, I'm hooked.

Deepak said...

Frankfurt is such a cold city. From the moment the smoke-filled air of the airport hits you to to the trip to the hotel, it just feels like there are icy fingers that want to grab you.

Wonderful writing. Found your blog only recently. Now, I'm hooked.

Anonymous said...

Need to see photo of you in an Australian hat.

TerritorialMale said...

"Damn, I'm late as usual". Happy New Year anyway.

thalassa_mikra said...

Marvellous JAPda. Now write up 300 more pages in the same vein, and I'd be the first one to line up for a copy.

Slight nitpicking though (teeny weeny bit) - busiest airport in southern Europe? Well, I guess the southern-most that is so busy, because none of the airports in southern Europe can match up to the hubs like Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris.

On another note - are you checking email (all your accounts)? I sent you one.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful .. glad you decided to end your hiatus

Kaushik said...

Do not miss Sintra. Village near Lisboa, frozen in the 16th century. Byron stayed there.