josh rosner

Posts Tagged ‘Blooms day’


In Europe, German Culture and Society on June 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

Last night – if you prefer to be technically accurate, early this morning – I waited for the first glimpse of daylight. It arrived later than usual, given the lingering dark heavy clouds. I love the hour or so before sunrise. In European mythology dawn had its own goddess, separate to the sun deity. She must have been revered for her power to birth a new day, over and over, never once deciding, “Fuck it, I’m too tired.” Waiting for the goddess to awaken and begin her work, I thought about one very specific night I spent on a train between Paris and Berlin twenty-two years ago. In fact, it was twenty-two years ago today. I was poor then, purchasing the cheapest ticket available. It left me standing in a tight corridor for the twelve hour journey. Other passengers bumped into me as they headed to and from the restaurant car, speaking languages I recognised as well as those I didn’t. I was reading The Catcher in the Rye, leaning against a half-open window. Earlier that same day I’d found the book on a bench in Square Jean XXIII, behind Notre Dame. Shortly after pulling out of Gare de l’est station I vaguely heard a voice say, “What ya reading?” The persistent clickety-clack of the train masked his voice. I continued reading without looking up. He moved closer, repeating the question. “Oh, I didn’t hear you. Sorry,” I said. He was about the same age as me, tall, blonde, with the familiar leanness of someone backpacking around Europe on a ridiculously small budget. I showed him the cover of the book without speaking. “Awesome book,” he said, in what I would later learn was a Canadian accent. He wanted to talk about Holden Caulfield and whether, as a character in a book many high school students are required to study, he could be viewed as a role-model. “After all,” my new Canadian friend said, “he loves his sister and his heart is in the right place.” I was less convinced. I’d first read the book in my Year 10 English class. I loved it immediately and I’ve read it at least once a year ever since. But for me, the attraction lies less in the world Holden Caulfield inhabits and, for the most part created for himself, and more in the writing and the mystery surrounding the writer. It invokes, for me, a sense of a magical by-gone era in New York City. When I first visited New York, as a naive twenty-one year old, I used Salinger’s book as my guide, visiting the places Holden found himself. Today, there are Holden Caulfield tours and a myriad websites devoted to Holden’s New York, but back in my day the detective work was mine alone; unaided, unassisted and without any technology but the printed book. The Canadian and I moved on from Salinger to Thomas Pynchon. From Pynchon to Proust. From Proust to Victor Hugo. I packed the book away, sure that our conversation was far from its climax. We sat on the floor of the train, mostly oblivious to the people forced to step over us to pass by. We talked about our childhoods and unfulfilled dreams. He had a salami baguette in his backpack, forgotten until three am. It was Hungarian salami, the hottest I had ever tasted. I pretended to be an experienced eater of hot cured sausage. I didn’t care that it burned my tongue. I was hungry. When the train’s conductor came by and ordered us not to sit on the floor we dutifully stood up until he moved to the next carriage. Once out of sight we resumed our places in the corridor. He never returned. Our conversation moved to politics. I knew little about his country and he knew little about mine. We shared a queen and the Westminster parliamentary system. We were both often asked if we were American in former Eastern European countries. The similarities ended there. His nose was crooked, as if it had been broken as a child. I wanted to ask him to tell the story, but I didn’t. When his speech became highly animated he placed his hand on my arm, but not in a sexual way. We talked until the sun came up, still three hours before arriving in Berlin. I didn’t feel tired. I felt exhilarated, almost invincible, as if there was no challenge I could not surmount. As the train came to a stop in Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof we disembarked and shook hands. “Was great to meet you,” he said, before turning and walking away. I stood perfectly still, watching him until he was out of sight. It was not until he was long gone that I realized I didn’t even know his name. But it doesn’t matter. It’s not about the destination. It’s not even about the journey. It’s about the people who come with you on the journey and those you meet along the way. I never saw him again, but I’ve often wondered if he knew that most of our conversation had taken place on Bloomsday.