One of the things I noticed first on the autorickshaw ride from Trichy railway station to our hotel was the absence of tall apartment buildings. Another was the absence of real estate advertisements. The Trichy I knew in my college days in the late 1990s did not have either, but I had just arrived from Bangalore, home to a perpetual property exhibition, and the contrast I saw here led me to conclude that in some Indian cities fifteen years changes nothing. This is not entirely true. Autorickshaw fares have soared; in place of the lively Hot Chips fast-food stall next to the central bus stand there is now a dull office; and the sweet-corn soup at the Sangam hotel restaurant does not have the same tang anymore.
1. Karlstorkino, Heidelberg
At the Karlstorkino in Heidelberg, behind the counter in the tiny foyer that divides the entrance from the small movie hall, the woman with dark hair and dark eyes says she does not have a Coke. She names another drink whose name I don’t catch. It’s like Coke, she says, almost apologetically. The beginning of the film is a quarter of an hour away. I pick my drink and flip through pamphlets and cards advertising upcoming titles. Posters on the walls hold frames from movies I have never heard of, but this is unsurprising: they customarily screen not mainstream movies but obscure titles ignored by the rest. Three young men, all blond haired, enter the foyer. One of them is barefoot. The kino is close to some altstadt apartments where university students live – this man may have just crossed the street to get here. Still, it is refreshing to note this streak in a German. The hall, accomodating not more than thirty seats, is half empty when the movie begins. I sip my Coke-like drink and sink into the cushioned folds as the title flashes across the screen: Guilty of Romance.
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1. The Artist
In September I accompanied a friend on a book tour across Leipzig, Berlin, and Hamburg. Between cities I traveled by train, and in the city I used local transport, the S-Bahn and U-Bahn lines. What follows is a set of impressions from these in-between spaces.
On Friday, on board a museum ship docked at Hamburg, I met Ernest Hemingway. He was sitting inside a small cabin with a window that opened to the visitor’s path. The cabin exterior had posters detailing museum tariffs and bulletins, and inside, on his desk, there sat a few devices with earphones, audio guides to go with a museum tour. The man, portly, grey-haired, and bearded, was turning the pages of a girlie magazine, and he wasn’t pleased to see me.
I had come for a reading, and I was early: the Harbour Front Literaturfestival event would not begin for another hour. The ship, Cap San Diego, which I reached by crossing on foot the Überseebrücke, was a permanent fixture on the harbour, and despite the water all around, despite the ominous grey warship docked alongside, despite the wind and the rain and the seagulls cawing, I did not have the sense of being on a ship. There was no one around when I climbed up the gangplank, and on the vacant main deck this solitary man in his cabin was the first person I had seen since I left the shore. He looked at me with a penetrating gaze, his large forehead dominating a seaman’s face weathered by adventure: a striking resemblance to Hemingway I could not put aside.