Friday night was a disturbing one: my next-door-neighbor began to while away the hours, all night long, by emitting the occasional yowl, which caused me, in turn, to run every single highly-unlikely-to-impossible scenario through my mind. Is he trapped? Injured? Grieving? Did his wife finally sign the divorce papers (because, I’ve already concluded, why else would a middle-aged man choose to live in this dingy hole of a flat?)? Did he trap himself in his shower? Did he lop off a leg? Has he managed to start a fire with one of his two hot plates, and can’t escape because the door is locked, Sims-style? Is he – oh horror – nuts?
So, in the morning, I did what any guileless stranger in a strange land might do, and gave to Polizei a ring (an aside: I asked to speak in English, thinking this was no time to try out my German, but as it turns out, my German was better than his English, so German it was – which is either validating, or cause for concern, or maybe both). But as I was waiting… and waiting… for the police, my neighbor left his apartment, most assuredly unmurdered and by no means chained to his toilet. (“Drat! There goes my evidence, limbs and all!” thought I). The police came, and told me he was probably drunk, effectively employing the international symbol for “drunk,” which is, of course, the international symbol for “telephone” flipped on its side.
And that was that. Beth, the other Fulbrighter in Bingen, and I had made plans to spend the day in Mainz, the nearest city, almost entirely in hopes of finding
pillows. Not sure what it is about German sleeping habits, but evidently, fluffy, supportive pillows are a non-essential. And so it follows, our flat, limp pillows, twice- and thrice-folded, are not doing magical things for our necks, and, I’ve found, they provide very little buffer against neighbors’ drunken yowling.
However, we were several hour delayed, thanks to the police taking their own sweet time, which actually turned out to be wonderfully serendipitous. As Beth and I forged our way blindly through Mainz (neither of us being much for things like directions, pah), we heard the most unexpected, most beautiful of sounds: our names. Out loud. In a foreign city. What? And, lo and behold, heading our way, a wild pack of Fulbrighters, ablaze in all their glory. Needless to say, all pillow plans were hastily discarded in favor of having company, a novel concept to us isolated Bingeners. We spent the rest of the day traipsing from museum to restaurant to Rhine, reveling in being in the company of other Americans, and chortling all the way about nuances only we Americans could understand (read: making fun of each others’ accents).
Which brings me to an over-reaching, generalized, and grandiose main idea: this one day reveals so much of what it means to travel like this. It’s a little scary, sometimes unnerving, incredibly confusing, and marked by a heck of a lot of “what do I do? Call the police? In Germany?”…but it’s still bound together – as this experience always has been – by incredible and improbable bits of luck, droopy pillows be darned.
And that’s nice.