For whom the whistle blows #1

#1: The Non-Disclosure Agreement

People keep asking me what it’s like to work for one of the most successful companies in the entire world. They want to know all the dirty details, the secret of its success and how it manages to stay on top.

My nonchalant response, each time accompanied by a disarming wink never changes: “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you”.

I remember when I first started, in fact it’s as if it was yesterday. You’ll find that time is deceptive though since indeed it has been almost two years since I was a rather opportunistic and naive young recruit.

Back in the day, they made sure we were well acquainted with the business at hand and put us through an extensive training to mould the diamonds in the rough that we were into gems.

Picture us – a bunch of young adults between the ages of 22 and 35 – in what appeared to be a regular classroom. It might as well have been one since it contained a blackboard, chairs, tables, computers and a bubbly, young, inspirational and red-haired instructress.

Nothing about the atomsphere could have betrayed any doubt that this was a purely educational setting. There were only these ever so small details that didn’t quite match the scene. Something that would have certainly seemed off to people from the outside. The curtains were always drawn, even in broad daylight. The light within was artificial at all times. No ray of sunlight was to permeate the room. The walls were soundproof. What we were to learn was intended for our ears and our ears only.

More than half of the people who went through the training with me are sadly no longer with us. Most of them were French and I suppose when you are French you have better things to do with your life. When you are French, you have a purpose. Your joie de vivre prevents you from lingering in a dark place like this.

I suppose most of us who stayed neither had a past, a present nor a future and we knew it. They knew it too, in fact they were counting on it. It was an unspoken secret that most of us who stayed stayed because it was the only place that gave you a purpose when you had no ties. They counted on the fact that for this exact reason, we’d develop a fierce loyality. At one point, this would become more than just a job. It would become our home and you don’t betray your family.

At the end of the training, in a solemn atmosphere, they ceremoniously handed each one of us a piece of paper. As a final step, all of us were to become part of this grander scheme, a secret that both united everyone in the room and separated us from the rest.

Like the bible contains a guideline for its most pious Christians, the rules of this document were unequivocal. It stated that no information was to be leaked. If there was going to be a leak, they’d make sure to plug it. There was no illusion about being able to hide if you were planning on any kind of monkey business.

Don’t for a second think that a company that has the entire world at its feet will lose control over a single person. You could try, but it’d be only a matter of time before they found you out.

Sure, I could tell someone, but then they’d kill me before I even got a chance to kill you first.

Congratulations, you are now one of us, they saidMy training was officially over.

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Bienvenue á Montréal

May 2nd, 2015

After a very short night wrapped into a modest brown blanket, I got up pretty early in the morning. On my way downstairs I met an elderly man who pointed at me and said, almost accusatory, “Colazione“! That is not my name, Sir, but if you insist, you can just keep on calling me that. I must have looked at the gentleman very doubtfully, so he exclaimed “Uh, breakfast!” – ““? I replied, not in the least less doubtful. “Downstairs, downstairs!” the man excitedly gesticulated towards a flight of stairs, from which I could already make out voices. “Grazie“, I smiled.

When I got to the breakfast area, a small, but comfortably enough room, a small lady with a big smile greeted me in Italian and pointed at the tables. She must have realised that I didn’t understand a single word, so she asked “Español?” Sure, why not. ““, I affirmed, so the lady enthusiastically explained to me that I could sit wherever I want and that I could serve myself as I pleased. I thanked her and chose a spot in the corner, where I had a good overview over both people and the food selection, which was very scarce.

I roamed the room for something edible and decided on hot chocolate from a coffee machine, one of those typical round white breads that you will find almost everywhere in Italy, and a croissant filled with jam. Trying to be as little of a burden as I possible could, I grabbed my breakfast plate, cup and leftovers and asked the breakfast lady where to put them. She looked surprised and said she would’ve taken care of it, but I assured her that it was no effort at all.

Back in my room, I packed my belongings and already dreaded the walk back to that bus stop from yesterday. It turned out that in the daytime, Rome seemed to look like a much friendlier place though, and what had seemed like an at least two-mile walk to me yesterday was really not so much as 400 metres. In the middle of the street a huge, lively market was taking place. I made my way through various fruit and vegetable stands and all that mumbo jumbo, and much to my delight almost immediately found bus number 90, that would bring me back to Termini.

Once inside of the bus, I asked an elderly man of around 70, where I would able to purchase a ticket. He’d start talking in Italian and I would reply in English and none of us really got their point across. Finally he reached out his hand and I put money into it. Looking back at it, I still feel really awkward about it, because the man dropped the money and in an enraged voice said “no!” (I understood that). The money rolled all over the floor and out of the bus, and the man shrugged. Somehow, he made me understand that you had to purchase the ticket prior to your trip. Well, there hadn’t been any biglietterias in, what I am sure was a five-mile radius, so I stubbornly decided to stay anyway.

So here I was on a bus in Rome, without a ticket and praying at every halt the bus driver made, that he wouldn’t call the carabiniere and have me thrown into the Italian jail.

I wasn’t literally praying. I was more like appealing to some higher being that might or might not exist. The elderly man I had addressed before, however, started talking loudly to himself. Maybe that was what Italians did when they got bored on the bus?

When the talking wouldn’t cease and none of the other people on the bus seemed to be imitating his behaviour, I realised that the man was praying. I was ashamed and also somewhat offended. Did this pious Catholic soul pray for this poor, wretched, ticketless Austrian, so his Catholic God would spare me from purgatory?

Arriving at Termini, I once more paid the ludicrous fee of 16€ that made me want to growl like a bulldog on a bad day, but I decided on not looking like the odd one out and patiently waited on the train like everybody else.

I arrived approximately three hours early at the airport and before I could pass through to the check-in counter, a man and a woman asked me where I was going. “To Canada”. – “Do you have a visa?” -“I don’t need a visa”. -“Do you have a return ticket?” Obviously. “Yes”, I replied, somewhat growing impatiently. “What are you doing in Canada”? The man, who blocked my way to the check-in counter, asked. I had to restrain myself from being sarcastic and asking “What are YOU doing in Canada?” and instead replied, “Oh, touristy things and stuff”. That seemed to be good enough of an answer and I finally got my ticket issued.

My destination was to be Terminal 3, which I supposed was used for non-European flights. In order to get there, one had to get into some sort of metro that transported you, not underground but actually overground, somewhat like a roller coaster, but not as fast and scary, to the terminal.

I still had more than two hours to kill before the boarding would start, so I did what any average Joe or Jane would do on their visit in Italy, and got myself some pizza. Don’t judge me, I know you would too.

Two and a half hours later I found myself wondering why the boarding still hadn’t begun and why I was the only one wondering about it. Besides, the screen that I hadn’t paid any mind to for about an hour suddenly said “Moskow”. By now it finally dawned on me that somehing was terribly wrong. I asked the lady at the counter what happened to the flight to Montréal and she said, as calmly as can be, that they had changed the gate. Great. How about informing the passengers? I rushed to the other gate and to my relief found that the boarding hadn’t even started yet.

On the plane, I discovered that I had an entire row all to myself. The itinerary on the overhead screens announced that it would take us precisely nine hours to arrive in Montréal. I hoped I would be able to fall asleep but this seemed to be an impossible undertaking. Everyone around me was snoring and lying around in the most hilarious positions, but I kept staring at the screens that updated the itinerary, watched Veronica Mars and fastened and unfastened my seatbelt, which sadly enough was the only entertainment I got.

Nine hours later, I was already jetlagged and sore, we finally landed in Canada. A couple of hours before that, the air hostesses had handed us declaration cards everyone was required to fill out for the Canadian border agency. Speaking of which, I spent two hours queuing up at customs, just to talk to a bored-looking guy that asked me the standard questions of “What are you doing in Canada?”, “Do you have a return ticket?”, “For how long will you stay?” and without further ado granted me my visa.

By the time I was allowed to leave the customs area, I was worried whether my luggage might have already been transferred to some other unknown destination, because it had been more than two hours since the plane had landed, but again I was lucky.

I told myself not to despair or fall asleep, grabbed my luggage and started looking for a bus that would take me downtown, which was a lot easier to find than any bus in Rome. I addressed the bus driver, a rather sour-looking woman, where I had to get off and she said it was the last stop. Great. That meant I had one less, one less problem. On the bus, there weren’t any signs to indicate where the journey was going either, so the lady bus driver just yelled out every bus stop with extreme annoyance.

I remembered the first time I had travelled to Montréal. It was in 2003 and I was twelve years old. It would be my very first flight, I travelled all by myself and I would never look at things the same after that journey. I remember being impressed by the eternal drives on illuminated motorways, the skyline of Montréal in the background and a heart that was dancing with joy. Back then, I was never able to linger, since my grandfather, this crazy, admireable man I love so much, lived in Ontario, the neighbouring province of Québec.

My grandfather is a whole different story. When he was well over fifty, he suddenly decided that he wanted to emigrate to Canada. Thus far, he had lived in a small village in Upper Austria for his entire life, raising four children (one of whom was my mother) and then he got curious. He started reading books about Canada and ended up being so fascinated, that he just took a flight to Canada to see for himself. Like me, he returned a changed man and his decision was made – he would pack his wife, my grandmother, and oldest son – and move to Canada. I still look up to him for having had the courage to leave everything that he loved behind him and start somewhere new and I owe so much gratitude to him for having given me the opportunity to fall in love with this country in the same way that he did.

I got off at the terminal station and, unsurprisingly, had no clue where I was. I asked every person imagineable, if they knew the street where my hotel was at, and everyone gave me the same answer: “Walk straight ahead, take the first street left and walk down a couple of blocks.” Have I mentioned that I am terrible at understanding directions? I might as well not ask, because I always get lost anyway, like this time. Again, it was getting dark and I was just getting desperate, running down every side road with my heavy luggage, until I finally found the hotel. It was the most run-down, shabby-looking place I had ever seen, but at that point, I was beyond caring.

I rang the alarm at the “reception”, that was basically a back room clogged with various items ranging from furniture to blankets, a fridge and a surveillance camera. I sincerely apologized to the man at the reception for the delay. He more or less patiently listened to my story and then asked me my name. When I told him, he said that my reservation had been cancelled. “What?” – “Well, your credit card could not be authorised”, the man said somewhat apologetically. I explained that I didn’t have a credit card but that I would be able to pay in cash. The man at the reception said that the entire hotel was complet. “Are you saying that you don’t have a single room left?” I was devastated. The man thought for a while and since I probably looked like a pitiful stray dog to him, he said he would try and fix something up for me. I would, however, have to pay twice the price. I was shocked, but I agreed.

“Thirty minutes”, the guy said, “the room will be ready in thirty minutes. Go and have a cup of coffee somewhere”. I don’t even like coffee.

I went across the street to the only shop that seemed to be open and as I was really thirsty, I treated myself to an over-sweetened drink and some water. I tried striking up a conversation with the guy behind the counter, who must have been around my age. He said that he was sorry, but he barely knew how to speak English. I frankly was too afraid to speak French because I was certain I would make a fool out of myself.

I didn’t want to wait outside on the street, because I was too exhausted, so I asked the owner whether I could wait inside. Instead of the owner, a young, dark-skinned man with glasses of around my age opened the door and asked me to come into the VIP section behind the reception counter. I took a seat at the couch and slurped away at my drink. The young guy said he was sorry but he didn’t speak English, so unless a miracle was about to happen, we would not be communicating.

Euh,” I commenced, “mon vol a été en retard et je suis fatiguée parce qu’il a duré neuf heures“. The young man opened his mouth and gave me the same look that a person, who had just found out that they won the lottery, would have given me. “Donc, tu parles français“? No, no I really didn’t and I felt so ashamed that my ears were probably burning, but I was trying. Most of what he said, I understood perfectly fine, however responding was an entirely different story.

“People in Québec are very proud of their language and culture”, he explained, “but their French is not easy to understand. When I first got here, it took me a whole while to realise that “ääää” actually meant “un“. I was very much amused. The young receptionist explained that he was from Algeria and that he had a visa that permitted him to stay for ten months. “However, as an immigrant to Québec”, he exclaimed, “you need to learn both French and English. I don’t see the point in that when everyone speaks French around here anyway!” That was a good point. I started telling the guy about my long trip, that I hadn’t slept in forever and that I was dead tired. “Oh, every time I fly”, he said, “it usually takes me around nine hours as well. And I am always so uncomfortable because one can barely move and everyone around me is sleeping but I just can’t!” – “Haha, same here”, I concurred. “Your room is ready”, the owner yelled from upstairs. I felt it was a pity, because that meant that I had to stop this conversation. The young man helped me carry my bags upstairs, said he had enjoyed the conversation very much, and wished me a nice stay. “Maybe we’ll talk tomorrow”, he added.

Cheapskate’s 2 cents:

If you haven’t exactly won the lottery or have inherited a large sum of money that you don’t mind spending, I advise you to do the following things:

– Wherever you go, don’t, I said don’t start scanning the news(papers) for any bad news on the area you are going to. You will find that there are bad news all over the place, and knowing certain things won’t be helpful but will on the contrary cloud your judgement and make you worried.

– Be open-minded. Not everyone speaks your language, but they are not supposed to. With a little effort on your part, which includes not being rude, you will get an entirely different reaction from people.

– Compare prices of hotels online. You will find that they vary from one website to another.

– Compare flights but be cautious of additional costs like credit card fees, baggage fees, insurance fees etc.

– Speaking of hotels, don’t set your standards too high. You probably won’t be spending much time in them anyway.

Stay away from taxis. I mean it. Don’t be afraid of using public transports like buses, the metro etc.

-Find a good balance between splurging yourself and spending too much money. If you spend too little, you will soon feel resentful and if you spend too much, you will soon be out of money.

-Shop in the same grocery stores as the locals. This way you’ll avoid overprized food, water and other everyday items

When in Rome

 

To whom it may concern, welcome to my travel blog. I hope you enjoy your stay. 

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. But how do I know how the Romans do, when they do?

May 1st, 2015.

I have to admit that I am beyond excited. And by that I mean that I get about as enthusiastic as a small child flying for the first time. My eye widen, my face automatically puts on a huge smile that nobody could wipe off, and I am deeply impressed by everything I see, hear and smell. To sum it up, to me travelling equals happiness. Being on airports adds to that happiness. I love airports. I love the feeling you get when you are travelling somewhere. I love how everyone seems so busy. I even love the smell of airports. I am not really sure how to describe their smell, but I suppose it is a mixture between perfume (there are an infinity of duty-free perfume stores everywhere, as if they were going out of style), freshly brewed coffee – in case you have a jetlag that is begging for a cure-  desinfectant and people. Yes, people. You think that people don’t smell? Well, think again. It gets even more complex when people are wearing perfume, but that would be going way too far, so I am not even going to go there.

So here I am, carrying around my heavy suitcase that doesn’t have any wheels, sweating and secretly cursing that I chose this ancient suitcase (that is definitely out of style) over the other, basically brand new one I have got with wheels. But since it stands for a reason (that I might or might not reveal), I have to bite my tongue and put up with the sweating.

I check in at the flight company’s counter, where a friendly, dark-skinned woman with a big smile greets me. I present my passport and the online ticket I had printed out beforehand. “Is this a valid ticket”? I ask her in English. – “Yes, it is, but I have to print you a new one anyway”. – “Oh, okay”. – “Do you have any luggage to check in?” the lady at the counter asks. Yeah, yes I do and so I present my old, ancient suitcase that doesn’t even have wheels. “Actually, I do”, I say and this time I say it in German. “Oh, first English, now German?” the lady at the counter is obviously glad not to have to continue this conversation in a foreign language.

I smile and admit that I am confused. I mean, it is an international airport we are talking about and I am surrounded by so many people speaking a multitude of languages, that it is no surprise really. “Is my hand luggage alright?” I show her my second, slightly smaller suitcase with wheels. “Hang on, let me weigh that”, she offers. Thank you. I think this lady is very helpful. 7.8 kg. “Yes, that works”, she says. “8 kg is allowed, no?” – I ask. “Precisely”, the lady nods. “Phew, that was close”, I say and at the same time I wonder why the hell I am trying to strike up a happy conversation, which is totally unlike grumpy, unapproachable me. But now I am giddy and looking forward to a million things. The lady smiles and pretends like she hasn’t heard my last words (or maybe she actually hasn’t), hands me my boarding pass and wishes me a great flight.

I get this elevated feeling, as if I am the one who is doing the flying and not the plane. At the same time my stomach is competing with a thunderstorm and I decide to do something about it. Between all of the bookshops, last-minute-gift shops, shops offering traditional Austrian things etc. etc., I discover what seems to be a small bistro. Even before I know what I want, I take a look at the prices and suddenly I am not hungry anymore. “Do you have anything vegetarian?” I ask. The lady at the counter, who doesn’t look particularly happy about having to work (either that, or serving me) considers for a moment and then says “Only this wrap with cheese”.

I am looking at half a wrap for 7 €. I am about to ask if the wrap also contains diamonds, but am able to hold back with a lot of effort. Instead I say, don’t you have a vegetarian ciabatta, as if I was facing my biggest disappointment in life (when in reality I just wanted to distract from my shock about the prices). It works. The lady is sorry. “I am sorry”, she says and I move on with an air of dignity. So I guess I am not eating.

The waiting area is crowded with people. Every seat in sight is occupied and people are standing around, obviously impatient about and annoyed at the apparent delay in boarding. A lady from the flight company approaches me, points at my hand luggage and says “Our flight is completely outbooked, so we are looking for people who are willing to check in their hand luggage with the regular bags.” That was just fine by me, but cheapskate as I am, I asked her for the price. “There is no additional charge”. Swell! The lady wraps a tag around my suitcase, hands me the baggage claim ticket, smiles and leaves . So far, things are looking great.

I spend the rest of my time observing people around me. They are a mix of couples dreaming of spending a romantic vacation in Rome, businesspeople and single ladies in the prime of their years (between 40 and 50), wanting to explore the city’s sights. One of them was constantly calling someone on the phone, updating the person on the other end about what was going on (nothing). The group of women in their prime years start making breathing exercises (at least I assume that is what it was) and start talking about this or that foolproof herbal healing method and other hippie treatments they found in a certain book, but I lost interest.

We were finally able to board and it turned out the plane was big enough for all of us. I had previously checked in online, so I was sure to have a window seat. Next to me, a young couple, presumably around twenty, were eager to loudly discuss their vacation, which included -why would it be any different-eating pizza. The aircraft that goes by the name of Vueling, was apparently operated by a Spanish-speaking crew. One air hostess, a lady with red lipstick and brown eyes, that I immediately liked, was trying her hardest to be friendly to everyone and always put on a smile.

The safety instructions were given in both Spanish and English and immediately the youngsters next to me were complaining that “how dare they speak Spanish or English, because they can’t expect everyone to understand that”. The woman in the seat before me, a blonde Austrian woman in her early fourties travelling with her son remarked that she had only understood the first half of what was being said in English.

On the inside I was rolling my eyes so hard, that they are probably still spinning. Sure, it is not like English is a global language pretty much everyone learns at school, so everybody should just learn German, which is only spoken in about 2 1/2 countries in Europe. I mean, Hitler would have loved that idea, I am sure. (In case you weren’t able to tell that I was being sarcastic, you’d better stop reading because it is only going to get worse). To avoid having to listen to further comments coming from the kids next to me, I took a nap.

Apparently I fell asleep and pretty much missed the entire flight (which was only 1 h and 30 minutes anyway)… all I knew is that when we landed in Rome, it was already pretty late. There had been a delay of more than one hour. I had told my hosts I would be there at 7 o’clock p.m. Yeah. That was not going to happen. It took me forever to even find the conveyer band responsible for the baggage from Vienna. There were like eleven of them and no screen or sign indicated where one could find anything. There was a screen at number eleven, but it showed all incoming flights at once, so I was none the wiser. Everything was already chaotic and I hadn’t even properly arrived.

I decided to stick with the few familiar faces I still recognized from the flight and just waited for what seemed like eternity,  but was most likely only thirty minutes. Then the machine finally spit out the luggage onto the conveyer band. I grabbed my suitcase without wheels and my other bag and got the hell out of the airport.

Challenge number two was going to be how to get to the central train station in Rome, called “Termini”. I left the security area through the Uscita and there were approximately hundred Italian men in black suits holding up cards with people’s names and yelling them out at random. All I wanted was to get to the trains, so I patiently followed the signs, that somewhat contradicted themselves, until I got to the platforms. In Rome, you won’t get anywhere following signs. If you want to arrive at your destination, you’ll have to use common sense and the knowledge of locals.

So I asked the ticket guy for a ticket to Termini, and he said “16 Euros”. Cheapskate me was shocked yet again. Are you serious? I thought, “and where is my free Gucci bag?” (Not that I am into that but I am not able to come up with anything as remotely expensive). When I looked at the ticket, I was surprised to find that it was first class. Hey, I didn’t order that. Wow, that totally explains the price. There wasn’t a second class in Italy? I had never travelled first class on any public transport, but it turned out to just be an ordinary train.

Again, I had to wait for another thirty minutes to get the vehicle going. If anything happens in Rome, it happens slowly. Let us make the exception of traffic, because Italians love their fast cars and don’t care much for traffic lights.

On the way to Termini, I observed the landscape and found the houses in the area to be rather run-down, almost desolate. it reminded me a lot of the suburbs in Greece, that I had seen not even a month ago. There was poverty everywhere and it made me incredibly sad…

The train arrived at Termini thirty minutes later and there was nothing or nowhere that indicated where one was supposed to go (again), when one was ready and willing to find a bus and people at the information ironically refused to give information (They literally put up a sign that said that). Instead of figuring out the problem by thinking about it, the method I usually prefer, I just decided to act instead by descending down to the metro. By now I was sick and tired of wasting time and if there is any place except for a doctor’s waiting room or Facebook to waste one’s time and try one’s patience, it’s an airport. Also, it was getting darker by the moment. I don’t think I found the metro, but instead I became aware of a sign that indicated that there must be buses somewhere.

So I first went downstairs, then went upstairs again, got lost and heading into the wrong direction for a while,  before deciding that the signs for the buses pointed into a different direction than where they actually were.

At the vending machine that was issuing tickets, I approached some Italian guy in his late fourties who looked fairly official. “Excuse me. Do you know where bus number 90 leaves?” I am not much into talking to strangers, but this was an emergency. “Bus”? the man looked at me bewildered. I don’t know what the Italian word for “bus” is, but it must sound entirely different to elicit that amount of confusion. I pointed out to where the buses were to give him a hint, and added “Number 90”?

This time, the guy understood what I meant and explained to me that I wouldn’t be able to buy the bus tickets at this very vending machine, but that there was an information counter “over there”, where I would be able to purchase one. He pointed into a random direction and added that I would have to wait for bus number 90 at gate C. So I followed the obscure direction the well-meaning Italian had given me, only to realise that everywhere around me the information counters were already closed. Fortunately, there was this one man who  didn’t look particularly happy about having to serve people after closing time, as he constantly repeated. (Then why don’t you just close your shop and go home?). Not only that, but the first of May was also a religious holiday in Rome. So the closing time guy grumpily handed me my ticket and I went to Gate C where I waited for the bus with a motley crew of people from all origins.

When the bus finally entered the gate, it was crowded right from the beginning. There  were so many people that you could hardly stand. What is more is that the stops would not be announced anywhere (there was also no screen indicating where the journey was going), so people seemed to get on and off the bus at random. As a tourist and non-local, I was royally screwed.

Even more people were trying to get onto the already overcrowded bus. At every other sharp turn the driver made, people were having a bumping festival. I needed to get off. I did know the name of the bus station where I was supposed to get off, but no clue where it was located. Like I have mentioned before, the bus driver was being anything but helpful so after about 10 stops I asked this friendly-looking Italian lady where the Corso Sempere was. The woman in question didn’t really speak English but I got my point across to her, so she nudged me when it was time to get off and said something in Italian that I did not understand.

So here I was in the middle of nowhere and dark was already covering the city with a thick, black blanket. I observed my surroundings, which mainly consisted of some bars. Before I knew what I was doing, I approached one of them. A group of Italian men were sitting around just enjoying their drinks and talking to each other and soon noticed me and my most likely very desperate-looking visage. I asked them if they could help me and they replied in excellent English. It was kind of intimidating talking to a large group of unknown foreign men, but they were being very helpful and gave me precise directions. Thing is, I am very bad at following directions, so all I understood was: walk down the street forever, then go left and you will find a grey building. The men asked me if they should help me with my luggage but I quickly replied that it would not be necessary, mille grazie. 

So I kept on walking and walking and it was getting darker every second. I was tired, exhausted, in bad need of a shower and just wanted to to fall asleep. I passed a bakery (that was surprisingly) open, left my dignity in front of its door and asked the staff if they knew where the hotel was. They didn’t seem to know any English, so with the last energy I posessed, I uttered: “Hablan Español”?  That obviously worked magic and the lady at the bakery said I was heading into the right direction (good to know), but that I needed to keep on walking (by then, every bone of my body was in pain). Out of gratitude and thirst I bought an iced tea.

So I kept on walking and walking and walking and still didn’t seem to be reaching my location, so two passers-by, a woman and her husband, evidently members of the Italian upper-middle-class and as stylish-looking as if they were imported from Milano, were my next victims. I asked them if they knew where the hotel was and they said they didn’t know, but I wouldn’t drop the subject and stubbornly showed them the address. I was too tired for this monkey business. They agreed to help me and the lady even offered to carry the luggage all the way to the front door of the hotel. They arrevederci‘d me with a certain air of superiority, that most likely was supposed to indicate that “Of course people need our help. We are Italians. Poor plebeians!”

Arriving at the hotel, I just rang the bell, waiting for the gates to what seemed to be a monastery, to open. In the main hall, that basically appeared to be a gigantic religious shrine, I first and foremost apologized to the guy at the reception for the delay. He replied that everything was fine and handed me different sheets of paper to fill out. I asked him to translate them to me, but he explained that his English didn’t really suffice for that purpose.

The receptionist scanned my passport as thoroughly as if he were a custom officer looking for fraud, and after an eternity had passed by, I finally received my room keys. “First floor to the right”, he explained and I dragged my heavy luggage up that flight of stairs. Since I was surrounded by pitch-black darkness, I started wondering about the apparent lack of light switches. They were nowhere to be found, so I just fought my way through the dark, trying to find room #112. I pressed the only button that remotely looked like a light switch to me, but it sooned turned out to be the fire alarm. My bad. I tried to pretend like nothing was happening and continued to my room, which was very small but also clean and somewhat neat. I had been informed previously that I would be staying at a religious hotel (that one was not allowed to enter or leave after midnight), so Jesus on the cross didn’t really surprise me.

The one thing that profoundly confused me though was the fact that there was no electrical outlet anywhere to be found. How on earth can a hotel provide wireless internet and forget about the small but significant details like guests having to be able to charge their electronic gadgets to use it in the first place?

Die Kiste im Blumenbeet

Nachdem er die Flasche Whiskey, die er in kaum mehr als einem Zug geleert hatte, offenbar für Wasser gehalten hatte, war es nicht weiter verwunderlich, dass er das Haus verließ und sich fest einbildete, es soeben betreten zu haben. Es ist jedoch erstaunlich, dass er in weiterer Folge das Blumenbeet für sein Schlafgemach hielt und aus unerfindlichen Gründen darin zu graben begann, fast so wie ein Hund, der seinen Knochen vergräbt oder wieder ausgräbt. So war Willi. Willi war einunddreißig Jahre alt und ein gestandener Mann, dem man einen vernünftigen Umgang mit Alkohol oder sonstigen Genussmitteln nicht nachsagen durfte, nein, das wäre beinahe einer Beleidigung gleichzusetzen. Und einen gestandenen Mann beleidigt man nicht.

Als Willi nun also mehr oder weniger bewusst in seinem Zustand im Blumenbeet zu graben begann und dabei grunzte, als wäre er ein fündig gewordenes Trüffelschwein, stieß er zu seinem Erstaunen auf Widerstand. Wenn Willi noch zu denken fähig gewesen wäre, hätte er sich vielleicht gefragt, worauf dieser Widerstand zurückzuführen war. Möglicherweise war ein Hundeknochen schuld.

Dann wäre er früher oder später zu der Schlussfolgerung gelangt, dass sich im Umkreis von zwei Kilometern keine Hunde aufhielten. Sein nächster morbider Gedanke hätte dem Vorbesitzer seines Hauses gegolten, der bestimmt eine Leiche im Keller, oder genauer gesagt, im Blumenbeet vergraben hatte. Einerseits angewidert, andererseits teils furchtsam, teils paranoid, hätte er das Blumenbeet Blumenbeet sein lassen und hätte sich in sein Wohnzimmer zurückgezogen. Andererseits, wenn er nüchtern gewesen wäre, welchen Grund hätte er dann gehabt, überhaupt sein Blumenbeet zu durchwühlen wie ein Maulwurf vor der Meisterprüfung?

Doch wie die Dinge standen war Willi weder vernünftig noch nüchtern, deswegen hielt ihn der Widerstand, den er in der Erde vernahm, nicht davon ab, weiter zu graben. Teils verwundert, teils wütend nahm er wenig später zur Kenntnis, dass der Widerstand sich zu einem richtigen Hindernis entpuppt hatte, an dem kein Weg vorbei führte. Willi grunzte unzufrieden und schien sich im gleichen Moment klar zu werden, dass er sich weder in seinem Haus noch in seinem Bett aufhielt, weswegen er sogleich auf das Haus zu torkelte und wenig später seine frisch überzogenen Laken mit Erde übersäte.

Der Morgen danach brachte wenig neue Erkenntnisse. Willi wachte auf, blickte nach rechts und links und wunderte sich über das schmutzige Bett. Während er sich die schmerzende Rübe rieb, versuchte er, sich die Geschehnisse der vorangegangenen Nacht in Erinnerung zu rufen. Doch in seinem Kopf war nichts und der einzigen Anhaltspunkt, den er hatte, war ein Bett voll Erde. Willi stieß einen leisen, unverständlichen Fluch aus und trottete hinaus in den Garten, um sein Werk von letzter Nacht zu betrachten. Er schwor sich feierlich, dem Alkohol in Zukunft Einhalt zu gebieten und betrachtete das Chaos im Blumenbeet. Darin lagen Gemüse, Kräuter und Walderdbeeren bunt durcheinander, als hätte nachts ein hungriger Bär sein Unwesen getrieben.

Doch inmitten des Beetes befand sich etwas, das Willis Aufmerksamkeit erregte. Es schien sich um eine augenscheinlich etwas morsche und ziemlich verdreckte Holzkiste zu handeln. Willi fragte sich, was die Holzkiste wohl enthalte. Wieder beschlich ihn die Angst, die ihn gestern, wäre er nüchtern gewesen, sicherlich beschlichen hätte und er dachte an seinen Vorbesitzer und die Leichen im Keller. Nun lag sie also vor ihm, diese mysteriöse Kiste und Willi, der gestandene Mann, hatte Angst, sie zu öffnen, da er den Boulevardzeitungen, die er eifrig jeden Tag überflog, schon fast religiösen Glauben schenkte und daher wusste, dass Gewaltverbrechen stets dort stattfanden, wo man sie am Wenigsten vermutete.

Schließlich siegte die Neugier über die Angst und Willi suchte nach einer Möglichkeit, die Kiste zu öffnen. Da sich daran kein Schloss befand, aber der Zustand des Holzes bereits ziemlich schlecht war, trachtete Willi der Kiste mit dem Hammer. Er klemmte die Kiste unter seinen mehr oder weniger muskulösen Arm und machte sich auf den Weg in seine Werkstatt, in der er unbarmherzig und fröhlich zugleich die Kiste mit Hammer, Brecheisen und sonstigen Werkzeugen traktierte. Als das morsche Holz endlich seinen Geist auf- und die Kiste ihren Inhalt preisgab, traute Willi seinen Augen nicht: vor ihm bot sich ein unrealistischer Anblick. Insgeheim fragte er sich in einem seltenen Anflug von Vernunft, ob er denn nicht doch vielleicht immer noch betrunken war oder ob er träumte, deswegen griff er nach dem, was sich vor ihm bot, um es genauer zu inspizieren. Vor ihm, auf der Werkzeugbank in der Werkstatt, in einer mit Erde verdreckten, morschen Holzkiste befanden sich unzählige Münzen aus reinem Gold. Das musste der gestandene Mann erst einmal verdauen.

Mariposario – Chapter II

Mary’s side of the story:

Vienna. January 5th, 1955

Yesterday’s sermon was on the good Samaritan. After I had said my evening prayers last night and rested my head on the cushions, the thought of it prevented me from entering the world of dreams, so I was left awake and contemplating. To me the thought of someone just passing by a fellow human being who had just been robbed of all his posessions and whose face showed traces of physical injury was simply unbearable. I was wondering what people’s motivation to ignore the pain of others might be. Were they simply heartless and self-centered individuals whose sole concern was their own well-being or were they in denial? Was it possible not to be aware of someone’s misery and was this therefore the reason to deny them one’s help? Either way, it didn’t make sense to me and I had a hard time choosing which one of the two options was worse. All I knew was that I’d never end up a person like that. I would try and keep my eyes open and rush if someone was in need, relieving their suffering and aiding them in the best way possible, as a good Samaritan would. I fell asleep with a satisfied smile on my face.

At school today I found myself to be somewhat distracted. I am usually good at paying attention and eagerly providing topic-related comments but today my thoughts kept drifting off to that sermon. Which is why I acknowledged it with a mixture between guilt and fear when the voice of the teacher calling my name brought me instantly back to reality. I sincerely wished that she wasn’t going to ask me anything that would reveal my absent-mindedness during the lesson. “Mary”, Mrs. Smith said, “the principle wants to see you in his office.”

I was shell-shocked. In my head I quickly scanned through all the options and made a list of what I could have done wrong to deserve to get sent to the principle’s office, but failed to come up with anything. The way to the principle’s office reminded me of a slow-motion scene in a movie in which the convicted felon, chained up and accompanied by an army of police officers, would walk along the aisle leading from his jail cell to the hot seat. When I finally knocked on the principle’s door, a harsh voice that sent shivers down my spine, told me to enter and in that same manner demanded me to take a seat.

I must have been trembling terribly, for the principle looked at me with an odd grimace (that was most likely intended to be a smile but gave the impression of someone who was in great pain) and said “Calm down, Mary. I know you’re probably wondering why I sent for you. It might comfort you to find that I haven’t heard any complaints about you ever since you have started at this school four years ago. Quite at the contrary.” A short pause ensued in which the principle, a large, stout man in his fifties with a proud mustache, got up from his chair and started wandering up and down his little office.

This left me somewhat nervous so I embarked on pondering what the purpose of my being here might be. After all, I wasn’t aware of any wrong-doing on my part and his disarming of all of my fears had reassured me of this. “Mary”, the principle’s voice echoed through my thoughts and recalled me of his presence in the room. “I have heard nothing but good things about you. You’re an ambitious scholar and an excellent one as well, I daresay. I’ve witnessed the passion with which you dedicate yourself to the subject matters and the concerns of your fellow students alike. Hearsay tells me you always have an open ear for everyone and never fail to come up with some handy advice. I am sure that all of this praise must surprise you, but Mary, you do have a character of gold. Which is why I think you should receive some reward in exchange…

Mariposario – Chapter I

Mary’s side of the story:

Vienna. January 4th, 1955

What a wonderful day! I’ve spent all morning at the market, exchanging conversations  with people and selling mother’s Apfelkuchen.  “I don’t mean to burden you with this additional task, Mary”, she said this morning, “There is no need for you to feel obligated to do my work. I know how employed you always are with your chores”. It almost made me feel guilty that my mother, who was constantly busy managing a household, a tremendous garden plus four children was about to have a bad conscience that I was selling pies on my free day, so I assured her, that I loved helping her out and told her not to worry about it. It was the best way for me to have some change once in a while and to socialize outside of the house.

Another aspect about this task I very much  enjoyed was making an effort to neatly decorate my little counter with handicraft, to make the pies  look more appealing to the customers. Oh, I have created so many beautiful pieces of handicraft! I love knitting and sewing with a passion! It is somewhat relaxing to me and I like to daydream about the most random things, whilst devoting myself to another piece that I am sure to take delight in. What I really didn’t expect though was the fact that so many people were stopping at my table just so they could admire my work. One old lady particularly took me by surprise when she exclaimed that I was very skilled and that many people would love to decorate their houses with my embroidery, which almost made me blush.

That was also the moment when I got the idea of offering my handcraft for sale, along with mother’s apple pies. I am convinced, that selling my work will earn me quite some money! To be frank, the thought of owning such an amount of money somewhat preoccupies me. I am afraid that it will spoil my character and lead me to indulge in selfish pleasures. I’d better donate all of it to charity, so that even more people will be able to benefit from my efforts! There are so many people out there who are not as well off as I am, people who would appreciate the taste of warm food and the luxury of their own bed. I have all of that – and more.  At times, I even find myself taking for granted what I have and it makes me feel quite ashamed. My parents work hard to fulfill my every wish – not that I am trying to have many wishes since that would contradict my idea of a modest lifestyle – so I am really not in a position to complain about anything at all.

In the evening, I got dressed for church. I have made a habit out of attending services every other day. I find that one doesn’t necessarily have to believe in God to be able to find that there is some truth to the stories in the bible. Even if one cannot identify with their meaning, the words are unmistakeably poetic and I am always able to derive inspiration from them.  One of my favourite pastimes is to philosophize about what I have learned at church when I am in one of my daydreaming moods again. I personally believe that these stories teach you a lesson about life whereas most of the advanced theories you learn at school don’t seem to apply to real life. Speaking of school, I am currently in my last year of a girls’ Catholic school. If I make  an effort, I will undoubtedly excel in most subjects, which will hopefully enable me to pursue a career as a social worker one day. I feel like this is a position in which I can really make a difference, even if it is only a small one. It seems like  there are so many people out there who need my help…


Casey’s side of the story:

Vienna. January 4th, 2011

What.a.day. I hated this day even before I was fully awake. There was just this odd day-hating vibe in the air and I must have inhaled too much of it. Anyways. I woke up too late, which meant that there “would be no breakfast”. (As if I even ate breakfast in the first place, DUH. I’d just take a piece of bread and say that I would eat it on the way to school to make my mum shut up. Geez, I’d do most anything to be spared a lecture about why breakfast was so damn important. I mean who the heck cares, right? And when mom wasn’t looking, I’d toss the bread into the next garbage can. If she knew about that, I’d get another lecture about how kids in Africa were starving and how I was an ungrateful brat, etc.) Oh yeah, and I was definitely late for school.

I’m in my senior year at this lousy public school where students and teachers just don’t give a shit about shit. My parents expect me to do a good job though, so I can go to university and brag about some useless title. (Basically DAD wants to be able to brag with his little “baby girl”. I’m his only daughter so he “only wants what’s best for me” aka imposing a career on me that I couldn’t care less about). But that’s not to say that I am good for nothing. I am incredibly good at wasting time! And getting wasted! Who cares about hobbies when you can drink booze, right? And there is always booze. Plenty of booze. Or wait. In my mom’s book, “booze” stands for “study group” or “prayer circle”, as the case may be! (As if! My mum’s SO gullible. I am starting to believe that she only believes what she wants to believe. I mean if she admitted to herself what a failure her daughter was, she’d probably blow her brains out, lol). To cut a long story short, there is always booze. And sometimes there is sex. Mind-fucking, hot sex. Whatever it takes to get reality out of my brain…

Fragments of a Broken Soul

The room that I am locked into is dark. There are no windows, there are no lights. There is just me. Me and a sad song stuck on repeat, it’s the only one I know. It gives me as much comfort as it gives me pain. I feel like I am a fountain because the tears just won’t stop pouring. Or am I a weeping willow?

I can’t help thinking that when the going gets rough, I always end up on my own. You’ve left me alone and crying when I was “the girl”, like a discarded item in a wastebin, used, dispensable and disgusting. I should be used to the feeling by now but it still brings me down.

Did you ever actually regard me as something that posesses a soul?

My thoughts are a spinning wheel, just turning around in circles and turning against me. You have taught me to become my own worst enemy. I am crying silent tears of regret and bitterness. It’s over. Over over over, the spinning wheel echoes. OUR past turned into my present, I cannot shake it off. My body turns every disease into a remedy and this last remedy will be my death. A remedy against what has been and never ceases to haunt me during every waking moment and even in my sleep.

I would like to call you. Just to hear your voice. I am longing to take everything away from you. Everything you have. Your dignity. The ones you love, assuming you’ve ever loved anyone. I want you to be broken, just like I am. I want to torture you like you tortured me. You will have to bleed, but I am not going to let you die, you’re not getting away that easily. I want you to survive just so you’ll feel the full extent of pain and get to cherish every second of it. I want you to remember it.

Maybe then you’ll know what it feels like to lose everything you have ever had, like the past and future I never had, because you turned my body into a weapon that is designed to self-destruct.

Now I am not referring to your posessions because WE were never rich. I am talking about your soul. I am talking about leaving you damaged goods just like you’ve left me.

I wonder if you ever felt the shame. If you ever even felt. I am sure that you were well aware that what you did was wrong. Did you get thrills from tasting the forbidden fruit?

I am dropping that bottle of red wine on the floor because I forgot that I don’t drink. I am imagining it is your blood that is spilling all over the floor now. I take a second just to think of the mess and who will have to clean it up once I’m gone.

Over over over. I want to dedicate this last breath to you, even if you don’t deserve it. I could have made it big. Instead, you’ve made me a nutcase, a maniac, someone who will be dependent on pills for their entire life. The broken fragments of my soul are surrounding me like the broken shards of the bottle. I am now sacrificing my blood for yours because I can’t go on.

I bet everyone called you Goody Two-Shoes when you were in jail. Did you ever wonder what became of me? What my life turned out to be like? I’ve spent years at the orphanage, thanks to you. Was I doing well? I went through hell there. Did I ever make it big? I got suspended from high school for starting a fist fight. You taught me a lesson in violence, didn’t you? Now don’t be modest, we both know that you did. Now there is no need to blush or is it the wine that reddens your cheeks? I realise you’re not actually here and the wine’s spilt all over the floor.

How am I doing now? How thoughtful of you to ask, thanks. I am living, but not for very much longer. I am feeling the urge to sleep. Did you see those sleeping pills next to me? You couldn’t see them, because they’re gone. I swallowed them all and when I did, I thought of you. I stopped sleeping because of you. You see, you’ve made me scared of dreaming. I am desperate, hysterical. Do you know what it feels like to lie awake every night? Maybe I am giving you too much credit, but you have been a part of me for the longest time. Now I want you gone, gone! I realize that I can’t kill you without killing myself. My mind’s getting blurry and I feel myself slipping away. Famous last words?

I’ve made a mistake, I don’t want to die. Not because of you and what you’ve done to me. All I want is to start all over and somebody who will listen, even if they can’t understand. The record plays a bittersweet symphony. It’s over.Over.

 

Il était une fois…

Il était une fois une princesse qui attendait son prince dans son château au sommet d’une montagne. La princesse s’appelait Isabelle. Elle était une jeune femme de vingt-deux ans avec les cheveux blonds et longs. En plus, elle était belle comme un mannequin et avait une âme benigne, comme une véritable princesse.
Pour se distraire, elle buvait du thé dans son immense salle de séjours. Elle pensait que c’était trop silencieux dans le château quand son mari n’était pas là.

A l’exception de Monsieur Usure, le concierge étrange, un homme grand et assez mince qui avait en dépit de son âge encore beaucoup de cheveux gris lesquels paraissaient changer de couleurs chaque fois qu’il travaillat dans le jardin pendant que le soleil brillait. Il faisait son  travail bien, mas il ne parlait pas et ne souriait pas non plus. Elle pensait qu’il devait avoir cent ans plus ou moins. C’était sûrement parce qu’il était déjà le concierge de ses parents et même, de ses grand-parents qu’elle ne puvait pas se souvenir exactement.

Elle faisait non de la tête et commencait á se promener dans son terran géant. Elle a pris place sur un banc sous des arbres à feuilles et fermait les yeux. La jolie princesse savourait les rayons de soleil de ce merveilleux jour de printemps. Il y avait encore cinq ou six heures jusqu’a que le prince revienne, alors elle commencait à rêvasser, comme tous les après-midis qu’elle passait seule.

Elle se presque endormait quand soudain Monsieur Usure est arrivé. Il soufflait comme un boeuf et il était en nage. Quand elle a noté son visage pâle, elle demandait surprise: “Qu’est-ce que’il s’est passé?”

“Le prince” le concierge répondait et il soufflait toujours comme un boeuf, “le prince avait eu un accident”. “Quoi? Qu’est-ce vous me dites”? disait la princesse et elle tremblait comme une feuille.

“Le coursier m’a informé il y a quelques minutes. Et il m’a donné aussi un message pour toi”. “Quel message”? demandait la princesse et elle commencait à pleurer. “Ma bien-aimée princesse” lisait le concierge et la princesse a occulté son visage avec ses mains, “tu sais bien que je t’aime. Tu es la seule pour moi et tu vas rester éternellement dans mon coeur, même quand je suis mort.” La princesse a hoqueté.

“Je regrette de devoir te dire que je suis tombé de mon chêval. Je crois que je me suis cassé la jambe et aussi mon bras. C’est la raison pour laquelle le coursier a écrit cette lettre. Je suis désolé. Tu avais raison quand tu m’as dit que je devrais faire un cours d’équitation” Alors, maintenant je vais aller à l’hôpital. Je convie à Monsieur Usure qu’il te guarde comme le trésor que tu es vraiment. Ne te fais pas de mauvais sang! Á plus tard, je t’embrasse, ton prince.” La princesse s’est levée, a embrassé Monsieur Usure qu’était stupéfait et ensuite elle a rit de bon coeur.

Die Verliebtheit

Du. Du warfst mir einen Blick zu. Nur aus dem Augenwinkel. Nur ganz beiläufig. Vielleicht nur ganz zufällig. Als ich ihn fing, deinen Blick, als ich ihn in Händen hielt und im Herzen trug, da hörte ich auf, an Zufälle zu glauben. Wie ein Virus hat dein Blick mein Gehirn infiziert, er war der Grund warum mein Herz nun kontrahiert. Warum mein Verstand, der unerbittlich kämpft und doch verliert, nun gegen meine Sehnsucht konkurriert, die sich nach dir verzehrt und sich gegen das Denken wehrt. Du. Zwischen zwei Augenblicken liegt kein Sinn wenn du mir nicht augenblicklich dein Auge widmest.

Die Kritker

du wirst unterdrückt, bevor du in der lage bist zu existieren. du wirst zum schweigen gebracht, bevor du gelegenheit dazu hast, dich zu äußern.

was sich äußern will, will leben und was leben will, wird  tot gemacht. Du wirst tot gemacht, aber du stirbst nicht. Glaubst du mir, dass es etwas schlimmeres gibt als den tod?  wenn man ist wie du, ist man geradezu verdammt, an dieser welt zu zerbrechen. man verreckt, weil man zerbricht und bleibt doch unversehrt.

vor meinem geistigen auge sehe ich, wie du dich entrüstest und mir zu recht vorwirfst, verantwortungslos gehandelt zu haben. es tut mir leid, ganz ehrlich. ich wollte dir das alles doch ersparen. dabei weigerte mich regelmäßig und wiederholt, auch nur im entferntesten an dich zu denken. nun fürchte ich mich. ich fürchte mich für dich, ich fürchte mich für mich. ich fürchte mich für uns beide.

sieh nur, die abschätzigen blicke der geier, die da draußen auf dich warten. deine existenz berechtigt sie dazu, dich zu vernichten, denn du bist das neue, das andere, das hoffnungsvolle und das stille, das laut sein will.  mit dir vernichten sie auch mich.

dabei hast du gerade erst das licht der welt erblickt.