Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Soccer in Dresden. Carrying a cross in Dusseldorf. Arrival to Holland.

Week number 7, country n.10, city n.22, car n.100. The week started with my arrival to Dresden, in Saxony, Germany, famous for having been reduced to rubbles in a febraury noght of 1945, in which the most devastating conventional bombing in history. During DDR times the area was known as “the valley of the people who don’t know”, due the city’s to deep location to receive western TV waves. In Dresden I was waited by Veit, founder of Hospitality Club, a free accomodation exchange website with 60,000 members worldwide. That explains why I don’t use hostels and people is waiting for me in every city I go. It’s two years since argentinian backpackers organized in http://www.autostopargentina.com.ar/ have been pushing the Club in the latino web space, so meeting each other in the real world was something in the to-do list. Since both of us were quite busy with web-related projects we quickly adopted a rutine. We would wake up and turn our laptops on even before thinking in breakfast. This rutine had two major exceptions. The first when a heat wave pushed Veit out of his bunker and onto his grandmas’s pool. Surprise for me, shameful latin in a land of retired hippies, his gradnma was a fierce naturist and didn’t allow anyone to walk into her house with shoes, or into the pool with bathing clothes. The second time off was going to the Altstadt to see Argentina- Germany match. The Dresden Altstadt, or Old Town, is only now completely rebuilt after 50 years of looking like an abbandoned building site. In the bar all they were all germans, so I had to wait for the goals to unveil my small argentinian flag.
I arrived to Dusseldorf on Wednesday. Dusseldorf is one of the cities of the famed Ruhrgebiet, heart of german steel industry until the 50s, an amazing net of urban tissue in which no less than 10 cities have over-fenced their neighbours to become just one big amorphous mega city of 7m people. I was taking there by a bussinesman anxious to change his life. We talked about time management in our lives, He said: “Death is a good consultant” when I suggested the idea that, if given 24 hs left to live we would reconsider the way we used our time. Sanna waited for me in Dusseldorf, a swedish student that lived in a students resident with other connationals. I had to enter and leave the premises using the backdoor. The girls at the nicknamed “swedish embassy” were keen on preparating a midsummer party-bbq to celebrate the longest day of the year, loyal to that nordic costume of feeling grateful to life whenever temperature reaches 21 degrees. The celebration consisted in, according to Sanna’s words, dancing like froggs around the middsummer tree, actually a wooden cross festooned with leaves and flowers. With such a program who would even think in the cinema… Iy’s the kind of activities which I regard as extremely important and worthy of all international cooperation, so next night we were roaming the Rhein’s shores in our bikes and depredating its flora (tradition said no less than 7 different flowera should be part of the ornates). Sanna had already sketched the midsummer tree, and with that IKEA-spirit the tree was rady the following morning. Just that it was actaully a cross. “And how do we carry the so-heavy cross on our own?” I was easy prey of the persuation that a couple of swedish barbies can operate on a southern man, and not that I give any religious connotations to my trip, but midday found me crossing Dusseldorf’s downtown with the cross on my back. Some women made the signal of the cross, all the cars gave way, everything but the printed towel trick. In the Rheinpark the girls said here and we hammered the cross to ground. If the scene seemed an anachronic christianazation of the germanic lands, when the rest of the swedish comitee arrived with salmons, herrings and beers it was clear it was about about partying. Soon they started to dance around the decorated cross. And yes, I had to dance like a frog. Some Hospitalitu Club members in Dusseldorf also turned up in the party, really interested to photograph HC peace flag number 3, which I am carrying aroun. It seemed they had bid with HC members of some other german city that they would receive one the flags before them. In the gropu there was also a guy from the US and a girl from Poland.
On Saturday I left for Delft, Holland, where Stephen was waiting for me. Stephen is a Dutch hifric engineer that drinks mate and sings cumbia perfectly. Terrible what the argentinian virus has done to european backpackers. Five months in Tapalqué were enough for Stephen. I found him in a regretable condition, his shelf stocking packs of Rosamonte yerba mate. The trip to Delft was a bit complicated in the beginning, due to the density of cities in the Ruhr area and I have to admit that I got the forst ride in the wrong direction, to Bochum. But I was lucky and the second driver took me to the German border in Venlo, even if he was traveling nowhere. During this week my finnances recovered a bit, thanks to my friends and HC members. Some day I manages to spend 0, and that’s good after the devastating effects the Calais robbery had on my wallet.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A lake in Sudtirol, a soup at Munich-s Hofbrauhaus...

The sixth week of this trip was the first I started alone. In the last seven days I pilgrimed around the valleys and villages of Sudtirol, and then I crossed the Alps trough Austria, into Munich, in my way to Lepzig.
In a gas station in the Milan-Venice highway it only took me 4’ to find Francesco, a psicodramatist who was going to Bolzano, in that province that italians cal Alto Adige and locals mora apropiately Sudtirol. At the foot of the Alps, this lands belongued for centuries to the Austrian Empire, who lost it to Italy in WWI. Three things took me to spend a few days in the region. The first: the european highways good quality conspire to conceal the fact that one is crossing mountains. To feel the distance I felt it necessary to spend some time in the mountains themselves. I decided that on the sport, in the car that could ‘ve taken me to Munich, my original destination. Secondly, I wanted to see myself that Sudtirolers didn’t speak italian but german as first tongue. And finally, I wanted to get lost in the mountains for a couple of days.
In this qway I took a laterals road and there I had the forst contact: the young guy who was driving the VW Golf didn’t speak italian at all, but german. He took me to his town, Muhlbach, whose name indicates to whom this lands should belong… There I realised it was Sunday and all the shops were closed, so I had to pay E5 for a plate of pasta!! In a 3 star “Gasthof”. I camped near town.
The next day I bought a trekking map of the Pfunders valley at Mulhbach Tourist Office and I sit there to update last weeks reports to the newspaper which Sasha (thank you) kindly sent for me. I left some lulggage in the T.O and set for the “remote” Pfunders valley. My destination was the Eisebregsee , a lake at 2500 m in the Dolomitian Alps. Pfunders is a typic alpine village with calssic german houses, with fowered balconies and gothic writing signs. Trafic signs are bilingual, but commmercial ones rarey are. Each house is twin: at the side there is a giant wooden store house which looks like a inhabited chalet from the distance but is only used to store wood and tools. In the supermarket they spoke ti me first in italian for courtesy, but then thy repeat in german, it’s clear who is in charge. When Sudtirolers speak in italian they innocently transport their accent and the result is a pace marked italian, in which each word seems to be individualy kicked into the air. But I couldn’t complain: I had learnt german thanks to the weirf combinationof a philatelic catalogue and the CDs of Lacrimosa, a german gothic metal band, which left me in better conditions to discuss philosophy than to ask where the WC was.
From Pfunders I walked to next village, Dun, where italian miners left their tools and there’s no more road. I camped that night in the towns parking place, and eat sandwiches. Following morning I started my trekking to Eisebrugsee. Zigzaging among huts and cows and following a fiere stream that descended from unreachable heights. Soon the mountains loose their pines and the valley opens into high pastures, from where the first snow surfaces are visible. Two hours later I was in the lake, sumissed in an artic sleep. Being only two hours from the glaciars where Oetzi was found I had to go back: the ice started suddenly to cever many meters of the footpath, and I didn’t have any special boots to walk in the ice. When I went back to town I was soacked, but sudtirolers are hospitable. A asked a young woman and she seemed happy that I took a shower in her very nice house. That night I put up the tent iside an alpine storehouse, and used the camping kitchen to cook some spaghettis with sweetcorn, cheese and ham.
On Wednesday I went back to the motorway and headed for Munich, where I got in 4 lifts. First a girls from Sudtirol who didn’t feel herself italian or austrian, but whose father was a fanatic pro-austrian, to Innsbruck, then a electromechanic technic in overall to Garmisch Partenkirchen and then a lawyer to Munich. I was dropped off in a petrol station near Westendst where Christian from HospitalityClub.org collected me. Christian was a french guy studying chemics in Germany.
Munich produced in the last century a millon BMWs, a Pope (the last one) and infinite liters of good beer. Some weakness of the flesh makes me more grateful for the third thing. Soon Christian and his friends, a bunch of french students, took to my first Biergarten. These are a victory of the superlative. Far from the tiny spaces of british pubs the german alcoholic culture estipulates big open spaces for 2000 people, with tables all over and where the empty pints are collected in a little truck… Does the drinking manners of germans and british mirror their personality or even political ideas? Could be. British victorian ethics of private actions are still visible in the facts that no serious pub has windows showing the inside, while german collective spirit finds expressions in biergartens. On thurdsay I visited the Hofbrauhaus, a beer hall for the last 500 years. I took sit, but when I saw the price (E6,20 for a liter of beer!!) I reconsidered the idea, and started looking in the menu in search of a compromise between decorum and affordability. Decorum mean that mustard and ketchup were out of the question. I will start saying that I am deeply proud of the soup of the day that I had. Any tourist can say he has had a beer in Hofbrauhaus, but anecdotes consist of the contrary, they are deviations from the average. I paid th E2 of the bill and went away happy with my class…
To Leipzig I arrived in two lifts. First just from one part of Munich to the other, in a very nice sport car, a Smart Bravus, his owner, Kai, was very kind and even if it was not his way took me to right place to hh. There a czech girl who worked in Munich as a waitress, and who had a very particular dilema: a man who attended the restaurant wanted to present her with a Porsche in order to win her favours. “Yesterday he phoned me and asked what colour did I want. What should I answer?” “Naturaly, black!” – I replied. In such a relax way we entered the ex- DDR, with no walls or Stasi agents checking our passports.
In Lepzig I was waited by Clemens and Katahrina, who I had met in Pueblo Tomado 2002, one of the Southmerican hitch hikers meetings (http://www.autostopargentina.com.ar/), in Orense. He is a psichiatrist and she is an architect, and the have tiny Franz too! One year and a half old. They showed me around town, a mix of barroque buildings and functionalist communist era buildings which Katharin thinks are in any case better in style than the new shopping malls. We saw St Nikolai church, where the peaceful demostrations that culminated with the dimision of the DDR government started. Also, close by, the church where Bach used to perform. We had a BBQ on the last night, and the folllowing morning I left for Dresden, with a new European road map, present from my friends! (thank you!)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Milan: trains and goodbyes.

The last 2 weeks happened in Milan, Italy, where we arrived in 30 hs from Calais, France, where all our camping gear had been stolen. Milan purveyed, thereafter, tranquility to organize ourselves, evaluate the damage and continue. It was also a lapse to take important decision.
Whern we stepped down from the 4x4 that had taken us to Milano from Locarno, Switzerland, we were recceived by my sister Verónica and my brother in law. Horacio. I hadn’t seen them for 4 years. My sister is expecting his first son for the end of June. He will be called Jeremías,and in the ecographies he seems, according to my sister, to be sucking his thumb. I suggest he is thumbing… confirming that he takes after his uncle. In that way. Each time my sister would say “ah” we would all stand up, ready to run to the hospital.
The following mid day, we set to the city. New for Verónica, I had already lived in Milan in 1993 for a whole year, and beside famose monuments and landmarks the city was incorporated in me in a more quintessential mode, as if a particular orchid identifiable because of its fragance. Thinking of Milan my mind would thus evoque its old orange trams harvesting sparks among high turn of the century palazzi and an embracing heat. Yes, trams and heat.
For those who prefer more conventional reference points, we quickly arrived to the Duomo, a gothic cathedral which construction lasted over 700 years. No wonder it’s the biggest in its style. Napoleon was crowned king of Italy here in 1802. Crossing the Piazza del Duomo among millons of pigeons who must have bothered Napoleon as well we arrived to Galería Vittorio Emanuelle, goof place to drink an expensive coffee or try clothes from humble designers such as Gucci.
Milan can show off the architecture laid to it by the genious or the megalomania of famous men. The Stazione Centrale was built following Mussolini’s wishes, and if one focuses over the stampid of japanese tourists on the details of the marble one finds the fascio (little axe simbolizing fascism) and the roman number IX at a side. That is 1931, or year 9 in Mussolini era. Modest dude.
On the other side of the city we find the Naviglio a channel that has connected the city with Pavia since the 12th century. The net was improved according to the plans of Leonardo Da Vinci, who among other thing embellished the city with a mural of twelve men waiting for a dinner that turned to be only bread and wine. Since the catering sector has improved. So much that the sculptors and painters that have nestled around the Naviglio area for centuries are challenged now by pizzerias and posh restaurants. The shop owners don’t want to renew the rnt contract to the artist because they receive more tempting offers from gastronomic developers. In this way economic functionalism and estate agents promise to cancel art there where it should grow stronger, close to Leoanardo’s masterpiece. As a way of protest, the Naviglio artists organize singing sessions on the riverside boulevard, which also have politic colours: they sing in milanese dialect. When I told them I was writing for a newspaper they declare their simpaty for Lega Lombarda, a conservative regional party, and their apaty for the clandestine sellers from Senegal that work unmolested and untaxed in front of their atelliers. They artist were also very happy with my comments on air to the radio, in favour of the conservation of the art district, so they invited us to dinner in one of the studios. (picture)
In other provinces of art, Milan is also famous for being the sit of the biggest Centro Socialeof the country: the Leoncavallo, which operates in a unoperating factory. A Social Center pushes arts but is also socially commited with a whole series of issues (as defending the rights of senegalese people to sell in front of the atelliers). No wonder here it also smells of displacement: the directors told us, among batucadas, that they have to move, and not that the factory plans to open its doors again. To summarize the spirit of the place let’s say that we asked for a bottel of wine which label was mute about any harvest, origin or variety, but instead commemorated I don’t know which demostration of the 1970s, with detail of the number of arrested and opressed…
But what do italians think of Italy? Coming from the north of Europe the word ‘crisis’ becomes new. And since when? All agree: from the beginning of Berlusconi era. But they also blame the euro, not so much because the the poor bimetallic coin, but because of the insane way in which italian companies converted prices. When last week France vetoed European Constitution, Lega Lombarda proposed the return of the old lira. The idea generated more than the consistent enthusiasm of old ladies. It left italians thoughtful, thing worsened by the pale draw of the azzurri with Serbia.. At least those from Milan could celebrate Clementina’s liberation from her kidnappers in Kabul.
Milan also marks a giant turn in this trip. Veronica and I decided to take different roads and split for as long as life wants it. She received some nice proposals to work with her paintings in Spain, and it would have been of infinite egoism to ask her to continue such a long trip. Verito, your were brought by a beer in the narrow wooden bar of Centro Cultural Cortázar, your were taken away by the train E327 of plataform 8 at Milan Train Station. Well, I guess trains are often servants of destiny, nothing left to do.
I held my tears as I could, but when they finaly flowed they condensed the sadness of a thousand empty Duomos. But life and this trip continue.Tomorrow I set thumbs to Germany.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The robbery: half Europe in two days.

The fourth week started with a side trip to Wales which ended as a side trip to Cornwall when the driver of the Volkswagen van that gave us a ride said that was his destination. I know, we find perverse pleasure in obbeying to the sudden branches of the road. In that way we had a nice day in a remote fishing village called St.Ives, where low tide caused boats to seem abbandoned toys on the beach. We then went to London to collect our sirian visas. On the way we got a ride with a couple, she was english, he was maori, and they suggested we should all go and camp togheter. That’s how we ended drinking japanese rice wine (saki) with a maori in an english forest. Before getting to London we saw Stonhenge and traveled in the car of a former football manager of the Islas Malvinas team.
In London we collected our sirian visas and hit the road for France, taking the Channel Tunnel road. Once on the other side the idea was to reach Milan, where my sister Veronica lives from 1989. We talked to many truck drivers, but they were all afraid we would be trying to get to France ilegaly. We managed to get to the slipway to the tunnel, only to be removed by the Kent police. We camped in a soccer ground in the closest village.
It was the ferry to take us to France, on the following morning. As we had already hitch hiked across the sea from N.Ireland to Scotland the thing wasn’t a challenge at all, and we really wanted to leave England at once. In France there is no one to stamp our passports. Frontier Police stand is empty, they are sensible enough to lunch time as to forget their commitment with paneuropean paranoia. We walked to a giant Elf truck stop, what everybody’s plan there was to sleep. We met a couple from Etiopia, who were trying to cross to England without passports. We talk to them, we know how impossible is their plan, but they want to try it no matter how, so we don’t want to discourage them. We slept in a truck from Cyprus, whose driver had promised to take us as far south as Venice next day.
On the morning we found all of our camping gear was gone. Kitchen, tent, sleeping bags, and the list goes on. We had left our backpacks in the back of the truck. We were already on board the truck, bound for Venice, when we connect things and we discover we were traveling with the thief. We asked to be dropped off in a petrol station. It’s midday and the sun burns, we are somewhere in Belgium, we don’t know where, with no map, no tent and more than 1000 kms away from Milan. It’s the beginning of a road marathon against time. As a hitted ship that sets sails to a friendly harbour, in that way we headed for Milan. Three years before I had lost a tent on the first day of a long trip to Argentinian Nortwestern Valleys, and it had been the best trip of my life, sleeping in curches, monasteries and the ocassional hostel. Yet, Frankfurt promissed to be more expensive than Cafayate for lodging.
With that scenario we did a really technic trip, thus priorizing speed of the road chosen and their landscape value. Belgium lasted less than a cube of ice on whisky. Belgian hospitality deserves mention: a woman phoned all his phone list looking for a second hand tent for us. Around 5 pm we were near Koln, in Germany, thanks to a Ford Mondeo of a belgian army officer whose job during the Cold War was repairing atomic bombs. We move fast, in the autobahn there are no speed limits. A police inspector drove us in his BMW at 210 km/h to Montabauer, where the ICE train station is, and there a man who defined himself as a doctor for the soul took un in a Land Rover Discovery to Limburg. It seemed the man was just back from a conference in Montabauer of an argentinian shaman who couls see the future.
When Limburg turned up with its glorious gothic cathedral presiding the Lahn Valley we knew we deserved to stay overnight in a nice place.. We are in Hesse, one of the german 16 landers. Hesse was always famous for exporting mercenary troops, some of which were sent to soffocate rebelions in the american colonies for example. Veronica was worried, I promise her we will sleeo under roof, no matter how, to see a smile again in her face. We started to walk around town. Its beauty makes us forget about the situation for a while. The old town is plenty of fachwerk style houses from the 13th century. They seem to be about to fall in any moment.
Looking at those wonderful houses today transformed into pizzerias and beer gardens we realized that it’s actually plenty of italian establishments. I talk to some of them, and one gives me a hint: the priest at the church is italian. It’s night and the gothic cathedral shines in the distance. Fascinated with the possibility of sleeping in a place all tourists only see from a distance we climbed the steep streets, only to find the priest was on holidays. But we found an Italian Association. Dinner is on them, tasty pizzas with mushrooms and salami.
But we still don’t know where we’ll sleep. We go to down town again. Families socialize among mozarella and lagers. We talk to many other italian shop owners, but none of them gives a solution. Paying a hotel means spending the money of the next ten days. Italy seemed a star who had already performed its nefeci influence of the day. We had already decided to stay awake in the park, already used to that happiness style “lady and the tramp” when sothing happened. I asked for fresh water in an ice cream shop –naturaly owned by italians- to discover that Fabio, the owner, had backpacked in Patagonia three times and knew the place better than us. After enjoying excelent ice crems and talking for a long while we went to sleep, in a nice room in the first floor of the ice cream shop.
At the following mid day we were already crossing into Baden, the last of the german landers before Switzerland. It’s a land of inventions: automobile and coo-koo clocks were invented here. We got into Switzerland with argentinian passports without hassles. We quickly passed by Zurich and went for Luzern. Only afterwards the Alps turned up in the horizon and we started piercing mountains… Piero, a swiss from the italian cantón Ticino tells us proudly that his country is the homeland of direct democracy. The government makes a referendum for each law. The second pride of the swiss is their neutrality. Swiss hasn’t gone to war for 800 years. But the issue needs a deeper analysis. It’s easy to believe in the idea of a romantic and filantropic pacifism. But the country is armed to teeth and even women do militar service. Neutrality and highly trained army seem to me the 2 sides of a false coin, morover when you understand that it’s in the banks of the pacifist Switzerland where tyrans and multinationals have deposited the earnings caused by their wars and explotations. Piero assures may Switzerland be challenged, the population is able to self movilize. 700,000 Swiss keep weapons at home and once a year their skills to use the are tested. “Only when you are strong you can be gentile” –it’s the natinal moto- It seems the government took William Tell seriously.
We layed San Gottarde tunnel behind. On the other side the radio transmits in italian, we are in canton Ticino. Piero leaves us in Locarno, in a petrol station, around 9 pm. A man goes down his new 4x4 and takes the hand of the petrol pump. He doesn’t know what is gonna happen to him. He wears suit, tie and glasses, and due to statistics more than to prejudice we don’t trust it’s going to work. But when I explained him we were going to Milan I can’t hold a tear. I am emotionally tied to Milan for having lived one year of my childhood. Antonio must have perceived this, for he not only took us to Milan but left us in the door step of my sister house. During the trip we enjoyed a nice chat, he was always kind in spite of having a radically different lifestyle. We had made it, we were in Milan. They will need to do more than steeling our gear to stop us!!!