Allow me to borrow a page from Baudelaire, who opines that there is a sense of correspondence between the world and our spiritual self. Or, to take this further, I believe like Rimbaud that vowels can be colours (‘A’ is black, ‘E’ is white, ‘I’ is red, ‘U’ green and ‘O’ blue) and that what I see in certain things and places are less themselves than the hues I bring to them. There is an old Jewish proverb I love: “We don’t see things as they are but as we are.”
I prefer a world of associations.
And speaking of hues, I love the hues of autumn. At times, I miss the colours of my Canadian autumn, the bright reds and aching oranges of the maple trees lining the Niagara Escarpment or scattered colourfully in Short Hills Park. October in Ontario is a cocaine of lively colours. Yes, if only to stand in the vineyards surrounding my hometown of St. Catharines and despite their being emptied of fruit, they are blossoming in a swan song of dying but vibrant hues. Overall, there is a kind of brackish gold to the roving landscape, to the various viticulture benches and, mingling with the scent of smoke and charcoal hovering in the air, the overlapping senses creating a kind of complementary hashish, a soft blurring of feeling into wonder. You feel like you are looking through the world through weary but happy lids, like after being out all night.
Or I think of autumn in Vancouver, before it rains away the winter, the afternoons and evenings quite crisp and yes, the maples on Lonsdale or 4th avenue are so red it feels like a kind of celebration without holiday.
Yet, despite these bursts of colour and maudlin nostalgias, I wouldn’t want to leave, let alone exchange, Plagwitz for those of my North American pasts.
Yes, I associate my current neighborhood, Plagwitz, with autumn, my favourite season. For one, I arrived, or re-arrived in Leipzig in late September, at least eight days after fall began and found accommodation here. Looking back, I still see the sometimes dour skies but I also hear the autumn tapping of rain on rooftops near Könneritz Str. I stayed with a bohemian couple off of Schnorr Str. and rented a room in their Dachgeschoss. On the second night, the orange glare of the lamps fell in my room and, lying on my bed, I listened to the receding trams as if they were passing songs. And yes, the rain. I wrote poems, felt vulnerable because I had saved all this money for this grand risk of moving to Germany. I imagined the love of my life in my bed and that a life could stretch out from one single night into eternity.
And yes, the rain continued to fall.
I hurriedly sent out resumes but was basically homeless though I didn’t feel that way. Somewhere amidst the 19th century apartment blocks, somewhere in the smell of the bakeries, over the cobbles that glistened after a shower, I just knew I would find home. I truly believed home would be tripped over soon enough and hopefully in Plagwitz.
I left the Bohemian couple for an apartment around the corner, again, a temporary stay. I got a bad cold and drank Dutch genever from Amsterdam to help me recover. Below me, I heard someone practicing the piano works of Bach and in the apartment next door, the sound of bootlegged Bob Dylan, music I had listened to in my teen years. It was around my birthday in October I had bought the three-disc set and it was interesting that my then-neighbor in Platgwitz had played the song Moonshiner over and over again – a former favourite of mine. The rain fell and I was feeling lost. I was in the place I most longed to be but things weren’t working out. What was I doing?
It was a student’s apartment with a make-shift bookshelf on the wall with all the books I longed to read and yet I underwent a kind of depression. Scared that things wouldn’t work out, I slept little and considered leaving Leipzig for Jena. I planned a trip to Dresden when a friend helped me out and suggested I register with her while I looked for an apartment or a room. The day we went down to the Neuesrathaus, my friend introduced me to a former colleague from the International School. While talking at the cafe in front of the Bio supermarket, H-. mentioned she was living in Lindenau, near the Markt and as luck would have it, had a room to rent.
Desperate, I said I would check it out.
And it did, it was cheap and for several months I lived in Lindenau.
But it wasn’t ideal. She and her family were vegetarian (i.e. I couldn’t cook meat in her messy kitchen), and she was pathetically passive-aggressive, often leaving me written messages about what I needed to do. Overall, a bit of a Pissnelke (rather pejorative term, Schimpfwort with no direct translation…), yet, also a bit of a Thenardier, always looking for more opportunities to scrape money off me or saying I owed her for this and that. And I missed Plagwitz. I thought of Plagwitz all the time and in my mind, I imagined myself there, writing memories by dreaming up new ones. (Editor’s note: For a taste of Thenardier, watch the video below…)
But I also nursed the old memories. It was also in Plagwitz I initially experienced Leipzig back in 2012 (June 25th was the first day I arrived… to be exact). I stayed with an entrepreneur on Weißenfelser Str. S-. who took the time to show me his city: Gohlis, the Schillerhaus, Barfußgäschen, Cospudenersee. Everything and anything there was to see, I saw it that one week back in June three years ago.
That was the Leipzig I wanted again.
So in January I went looking for another place. The first room I checked out was in an apartment on Amalienstr; yes, my heart leapt when I checked the address….back in Plagwitz. A light snow fell. C- answered the door with a weary sadness. I checked out the room as kids played in the playground across the street; I liked the place but C- seemed sad and there was a melancholy aura to her. Still, she invited me to linger, to talk a while at her kitchen table.
I got to know her as she rolled cigarettes. She worked for an Italian restaurant and had studied in Kassel. She was a sculptor. I told her about my life in Ontario, about the autumns I sometimes missed, the long drives to nowhere on country roads and concessions, then about my writing, and moreover, about the many people I had met in Leipzig. At one point the sky had turned that solemn and sweet red; around eight o’clock, after she had cooked me dinner, she said we couldn’t be roommates. I agreed but asked her why.
“Ich mag gern dich,” she replied while smoking another.
I nodded; it was hard to leave and I kept saying I would for the last six hours, either to myself or mumbling out loud. Maybe it was the beer then the wine, or that she was an artist or that when we looked at each other, we were running out of things to say but without being bored of each other; but I fell for her a little, and our conversation, which had been dwindling, ended in the kitchen with more kisses in the bedroom. I should have known better when I left her place and didn’t see her at the window looking on. A series of awkward emails went back and forth and I have only caught glimpses of her ever since. (Yes, just the other day, while passing on my bike, she on hers at the corner, I lifted my hand, a strange wave and we briefly stared at each other like sullen mistakes).
Still, to return to my search… I saw a second apartment but back in Lindenau and the landlord struck me as a bit of an odd one. Even a bit desperate. When I told him no, the reason being that I had no bed or wardrobe, he left at least three messages on my phone offering to buy me one.
I really backed up then.
Then, once again, at that moment of rising hopelessness, Jana emailed me and I checked out her place on Lauchstädter.
I didn’t ask H- for help in my move. I spent a wintry day walking back and forth between Plagwitz and Lindeau, gathering my things. Stubborn, yes but I didn’t want to owe Pissnelke anything. But she still found away to dig in her sad claws one last time. She had charged me 250 euros a month which I paid on the first of every month. I found my new place on February 2nd and had everything moved out February 4th. I figured I’d suggest 50 euros for those first four days; but no, Pissnelke had done her own Thenardier-like calculations. 66 Euros, which she demanded. Internet had been included before but in this new instance of last-minute calculations, she made an additional Internet fee of ten euros.
So 76€ for the desperate, sad woman. And with her hand fawning the crisp bills, she offered me a night table. Eyebrows up, I asked – for free?
Yes, of course. But really, no, for when she delivered it the next day, on a day when I was horribly hung over, having slept in my winter jacket – I didn’t have sheets – after an evening of Polish vodka with two fellow Leipzig writers, Pissnelke arrived with the piece of furniture and reminded me I still owed her nine more euros (nine more…) for the wash I neglected to do. She had come with her friend and I could tell H- had probably rehearsed her little speech in her head. The passive-aggressive victim…. oh, so sad. So, instead of arguing, I gave her a ten and the ridiculous woman didn’t even give me the one euro in change.
Anger subsiding, at least I wouldn’t have to see her again and finally, I was living in Plagwitz.
Yet being here, content (knock on wood), I wonder at times if I might have to leave this place. I hope I can stay here, linger here, that if I meet the love of my life in some unsuspecting turn on my path, I hope we can find a place together – here.
In my teen years I knew I didn’t feel at home in my hometown or in Vancouver and Victoria not to mention the host of others cities I tried to fit myself into like a misshapen jigsaw piece. But here, I felt like this place was waiting for me. I see the colours of autumn in the yellow and red buildings, a curious concurrence in the cobbles and even in the graffiti. Karl-Heine Str. is no Karli but I’m glad. Karli is for the hipsters as far as I’m concerned, the people that want to be seen at the outdoor cafes. There is no polish to Karl Heine, to Plagwitz and as far as seasons go, autumn is unpolished, unkempt and at times unattractive.
I enjoy the warm weather but summer is for people that lack imagination. It is so easy on a hot day to just go outside or go to the beach. But I prefer cooler days, the melancholy of a cloudy or a windy day, leaves scratching on the sidewalk or a Sunday morning that begins under cool, tapping rain.
I prefer things that wouldn’t consider hiding or wouldn’t pretend this is not going to end. Because it does end and yet, I’m content with the eternal, autumnal throb of ebbing life.
And for now, for now, just for now, I will end by saying I love my Plagwitz neighborhood, all the colours and all its associations, its correspondences. All its hues…