6447 km so far.
Since being in Berlin, Stephen and I have been spending quite a bit of time apart. After almost 6 months of being constantly in each others’ company, rarely having a real conversation with anyone else, this separation feels a little strange.
You might think it would be a relief to see the back of each other for a while. I would have thought so, before we started this trip. But today, I actually started to miss him when he was gone. Doing this trip, we may have inadvertently bred an unhealthy level of co-dependence.
Hiding From The Sun
Yesterday, as we were wandering around Mitte, summer came back to Berlin. The sun was beating down with a harsh glare of the kind that can only happen in the city. I have been exhausted ever since we got here, and I just couldn’t take it any more. So today when it came time to go out, with no plan except to hang out, I balked. Stephen said it was no problem if I stayed home, so I jumped at the chance.
I was much happier to stick around the flat and work than I was to go wandering around the streets of Berlin.
And work I did.
It was our goal to sort out how and where we’d get our China and other Asia visas before Dominic got to town. We completely failed to do so. So we’re still working on it.
Yesterday I researched all the countries we’re likely to go to, and discovered that the only visa that is really necessary to get ahead of time is China. We can get Vietnamese visas while in China, and all of the rest of the countries – Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia – either do not require visas for British citizens, or issue visas on arrival at the border. This is a huge relief and greatly simplifies our planning.
The Chinese application is an exercise in hoop-jumping. The major task involves creating our official itinerary, complete with dates and the addresses of the hotels we’ll be staying in. So this afternoon, I started working on figuring out where we’re likely to go and when we’re likely to be there. It’s actually very exciting.
If you’re one of those people who thinks of China as just a series of highways interconnecting bleak industrial cities, you should take a look at the pictures in CNN’s 40 Beautiful Places To Visit In China.
We hope to see many of these places in person before the year is out.
Waiting For The Night To Come
The big reason I didn’t want to expend what little energy I seem to have these days is that I’m saving it. Tonight we’re doing something that we’ve been planning since before this trip even started.
We are going to see Blur!
I’m sure to most of you going to see a band doesn’t really sound like that big of a deal, compared to all the things we’ve done over the last half a year. But that’s because you didn’t know us when…
Stephen and I met through our shared love (obsession) of music. We spent all of our early years together going to gigs, browsing through thousands of records in record shops, and talking about music.
We went to our first Blur gig together around 1995 in Vancouver. We followed them to Seattle, where they played Moe’s, a tiny club. Somehow we blagged our way backstage and chatted with the band. We drove all night once to see them in San Francisco. They are a huge part of the reason that I decided to move to England.
Stephen’s first night in London, we went to a pub in Camden, and there, just drinking with everyone else, was Blur’s guitarist. Our first year in London, we saw them play in tiny venues on their warm-up tour for Glastonbury. Somehow, with Stephen’s talent of getting in anywhere, we went backstage at most of those shows, too. We climbed the fence at Glastonbury and used forged backstage passes to get onstage just before Blur’s legendary (at least to us) headline gig there.
We were found out just before the show started, and slunk off into the night to watch them with the masses.
We have so many Blur memories. We met many of our best friends through shared Blur obsessions. My band, The Lollies, came together because of Blur. Blur, Blur, Blur…
The last time we saw them as a complete band (before the saga of their break-up commenced) was more than ten years ago. So, when we heard they were playing all the summer festivals in Europe this year, I promised Stephen we would go see them, at least once.
Yup, as you might gather, I’m pretty excited.
I’m Waiting For That Feeling
Around 6pm, Dominic, Stephen, and I head down to Berlin Templehof. Templehof Airport opened in 1927 and was decommissioned in 2008. It was a key location during and after WW2, including being the site of the Berlin Airlift, and also the place where The Candy Bomber landed. If you want a little tale to warm your heart today, I suggest you read about him.
The airport building has been left largely untouched, with check-in desks and luggage carousels still in place. Punters going to the Berlin Festival, where we were headed tonight, trade in their tickets for wristbands at the check-in desks. The workers, all dressed in flight attendant garb, wished us a pleasant flight as we made our way into the venue.
We walked through the airport and out onto the tarmac, which was a sea of stages, food vendors, and people, all partying in the shadow of the gigantic terminal building, which is, according to the Templehof website, the world’s fourth largest building.
Just an amazing place to see a show.
With Dominic along, pushing to the front of the crowd as we always did in our younger days is an inevitability.
You can’t go to a Blur gig and watch from the back!
Tonight, I agree.
It’s relatively easy to get near the front barrier, as Pet Shop Boys (another band we loved for a time) take the stage. The crowd is full of kids who weren’t even born when I started going to gigs, and I wonder how they see Blur. I don’t understand how they have become enthralled with a band that is 20 years older than they are and hasn’t even been recording or playing for most of their lifetimes.
I kind of want to yell at them:
Get your own band! Blur belongs to us!!
But, of course, if the young fans weren’t here, neither would the band be.
As we get cozy with our fellow fans, I worry that, just as we have grown older and more mature, so will have Blur. Will they be fat and balding? Will they be Dad-like, since they all have kids now? How can someone rock and then go home to discipline their teenager?
Dominic, who has seen them a few times this summer already, assures me it will be just like old times.
The waiting certainly is.
I have short girl’s long hair flying in my face, Dominic is burned by a careless cigarette, a rude British guy shoves by spilling beer over us, and all the while, people try to squirm their way ever closer to the front. We are two rows from the barrier, and not likely to give up this space. I was great at this when I was younger, and now I am stronger, and have 20 years experience holding my place in a crowd.
“I was doing this before you were born, little girl,” I think to myself as one particularly feisty chick tries to elbow her way in front of me. She soon gives up and starts looking for another place.
The Demons Go Away
And then the lights go down, the music starts, and there they are. Blur.
They kick in with one of their biggest hits, Girls And Boys, and the crowd goes nuts. Everyone is jumping up and down and the press of people is so immense that we are lifted off the floor whether we want to be or not. I was worried it would be awful, with all these bodies pressed in around me, but it’s just as exhilarating as ever.
This has always been one of my favourite things – watching amazing musicians and entertainers control a crowd – and Blur are masters. They also have 20 years of experience at this, and it shows.
It is not exactly like the old days. There is a layer of consciousness I never had in my 20s.
Back in the day, going to gigs was serious. It meant everything to me. It was my life.
Tonight, it’s just a lark, just a cool night out with friends. Tonight, it is just for fun. I can see this change on the band’s faces, too. When Damon mugs for the crowd, you can see an awareness in his eyes. He knows how silly the whole thing is.
But he’s having a blast with it, nonetheless.
Three songs in, I reach up to rub my cheeks. “Are you crying?” asks Dominic. “No!” I laugh. “My face is sore from smiling too much!”
Someone That You Love Too Much
A few songs later, during To The End, I am completely connected to my younger self. I remember who I was and everything I did then, how it felt to be an unsure and lost 20-something. My life flashes before my eyes, but in a good way. I think about all the things that have happened since then, everything I’ve done and accomplished and become.
I can hear Stephen singing along right behind me in the crowd, the same place he’s been for almost 20 years.
Then I do start to tear up.
We have shared so many times like this in our life together, so many concerts, and road trips, and adventures… in this moment, I feel so grateful for him, and my friends, and everything that life has given me.
It may have taken a silly rock show to make me realise it, but right now, I am truly happy. ♥