A Big Plate of Sideorders – Bad hair days, Chinese New Years and lots of music

“And when Tammy and I left the club, and Miguel shaw us together, ush, çe ashked, imagine what çe ashked! Çe ashked: Are you going for f-fucking now?” Giorgis still looked as if just confronted with the question. His mouth gaped. “I mean, can you believe that?!” And he touched his heart for the enormous impudence of such an enquiry.

“Well, did you?”

Giorgis went off into a laughter that sounded like someone soapsliding on his vocal chords. “Agnesh! No!”

Suddenly a fervently dancing camera display appeared in front of my nose. “Have you seen Giorgis with his curls already?” asked Tammy, highly amused. “Look what I saw at the Greek party the other day. By the way, taken minutes before the now infamous question of sexually explicit content.” And she giggled. On the photo, Giorgis´ hair had miraculously de-straightned. Agnes and I made a lot of surprised noises.

“Giorgi, you should go for natural”, said Tammy. “I keep telling him he looks cute with his curls, but he just so doesn´t wanna listen.”

“She´s right, mate”, I joined in. “Why this artificial straightening? Be proud of who you are! Go curly.”

“I don´t know. It sort of looksh g-goofy, don´t you think?”

Tammy and I answered with a simultaneous, long-stretched “Nooo!”

“Well, id doez”, said Agnes. “Bud nod more than the othur way.”

Giorgis gave Agnes a mock look of annoyance. “Well, then, my bloodthirshty dears”, he said. “I will conshider it.”

In that moment we almost bumped into a man with long dreadlocks and, around his neck, a selection of rattling gold chains that dangled down to his crotch. He grinned and said, “Hey, happy New Year.”

It was High Noon and it was February. But it was also Chinese New Year. And what often felt like a deserted area, a place you would almost fail to notice if it wasn´t for the gigantic Chinese five roof gate and a hand full of dragons, had turned into a pulsating vespiary, the streets inundated with thousands and thousands of people. Liverpool´s China town was one of the oldest in the world. And today it showed. A kitschy ten metre silk dragon was dancing gracefully above the heads clogging the streets. Music from everywhere. Drums and fireworks. Bobbies patrolled along, eyeing the masses of joyful people of all ages and all races.

Hana bought a small paper dragon for me and I purchased one for her in return. After all, it was our year, the year of the pig. We both were glorious, smiley, healthy swines – according to the calendar. And so we oinked and she padded my shoulder and laughed very loudly.

Her insatiable urge to organize had won. More and more often I answered her calls and we met at all times of day.

In the evenings her mini-room was often sufficiently stuffed. Hana´s aim, aside from building the community, was to popularize her favourite TV series Black Books. It wasn´t difficult to like Bernard, the chain smoking, binge drinking Irish bookshop owner who hated customers, and his friends Manny, the accountant who swallowed the little book of calm and turned into a hippie-Jesus, and Fran, the likewise binging junk shop owner from next door who ordered things she didn´t even know of what they were. We would be watching it a lot the next months. Inspired by this, Hana sent us into an improvisational pantomime acting of film scenes. Turned out she was not a real movie actress as I had believed in the beginning; but theater was her passion and she tried to bring in her hobby for the newly forming gang.

And then, soon enough, we took to perform some evergreens on Rick´s guitar and before long sang all together, and found some fun in that, and got louder and louder and after some time much too loud for the night it already was. We were laughing and screaming and wishing for more tunes and trying out two voices, and failed, and tried it again, and Rick was the maestro and the gang a willing choir, and so everything worked out. It all made sense. No one in this room felt shy, nobody held themselves back, off we went, and music became our motor.

Rick grumbled like a grizzly before hibernation when he missed out on some lyrics, even if it was only a halfline, or he jumped into a high distortion of the song if the pitch didn´t suit his voice before the capodaster went screeching up or down the guitar neck.

When I felt brave enough and mucked about on the six-string a little later, the night now calmed down, I got caught on a fairly simple pattern. Interested, Hana told me that she liked the melody.

“Hm? Is it even a melody?” I asked surprised.

“Jojo, it´s really nice and soft.”

“Okay, if you say so.” I continued picking the three chords.

“How´s it called?” asked Rick with an air of foreboding. “It´s terribly beautiful and stuff. Really touching.”

“It´s called lick my lovepump”, I retorted and Rick dissolved into laughter.

Unimpressed by our autistic need for quotations, Hana said, “You know what could we do? We could sing Die Lorelay to this!”

“I´m sorry, we could sing what?”

“Heinrich Heine, Mann”, produced Rick out of his died away laugh. “Paul, don´t you know Die Lorelay?”

“Not exactly by heart.”

“Ah, it´s not a problem.” Hana turned around on her chair to face her laptop. Above it, she had attached the paper dragon. “One two and three, and here it is. It´s the internet, Paul, very helpful.”

“How come you even know Heine?” I asked.

“I learnt it in school of course, in German classes. And I still remember it by heart.”

“You are able to speak German?”

“Natürlich.” Hana laughed out loud. “You didn´t know?”

“You know, there are a lot of things I don´t know.”

“Well, many Czechs speak German. My mother is great at it. And I am okay.” A smile sat at the corners of her mouth. “I even have an uncle in Frankfurt. He has a bookshop dere.”

“A book shop?” laughed Giorgis.

Hana just grinned.

“All right. So that´s why Black Books, ya?”

“Indeed. And now you will get to know Die Lorelay. For the beginning.”

And we tried it, merging my simple melody with this poem of a blonde beauty sitting atop the river while the boats of her admirers bang headlong against the rocks. And it worked. Instantly. And so, out of the blue, there it was, our first own creation. I was astonished by Hana´s remarkable German skills. And we were both genuinely surprised how easily past could be transported and adjusted to the present, and how simply we could redefine things we had already known, making them appear in a new light. Hana put her hand on my shoulder and smiled for me. “That´s very nice.”

On the next day, something quite the same happened. We all had dinner at Hana´s. Without wasting any time, she had grabbed our group and made it hers. Her kitchen became our new headquarters and by that the epicentre of my Erasmus life.

“Don´t fall!” said laughing Agnes, when the window Rick was smoking through decided to close and surprised him by pressing against his back. “You know, thad´z what they mean when they zay that zigarettez can kill you.”

Rick´s guitar was there again, and so, while we were sitting there, munching away on Hana´s creation, the singing commenced one more time. Urte asked me whether we could play a song supposed to be a Lithuanian campfire classic. Sure enough we could try, I said, but without a chord sheet it might be rather difficult. I did not possess a real ear for notes, I told her, and I sure was no musician, but we tried anyway. She told me the first chord and I played some other logical standard ones and suddenly the song was rolling, and Urte sang like an angel. There was no resemblance whatsoever to what Cassie had made Giorgis and myself endure on the way to York; Urte´s voice was clear and soft and soothing. I did not understand a single word of course, but I liked the song sincerely. In between lines Urte sent me smiles designed to re-integrate sociopaths. So, spurred on, I experimented, made the music fall and swell again, I even hummed along a little. And Urte sang and sang. My cheeks burned. And when I hit the last chord, the rest of the kitchen applauded.

“Thank you”, said Urte and laid her hand on my shoulder much like Hana the day before. “You know, I felt like at home.”

You´re welcome, my dear, I thought, I have just had a spiritual orgasm.

When Agnes took the guitar and intricately placed her fingers on the strings, mentioning that she had tried to learn something herself but didn´t quite remember, Giorgis shot a glance of disbelief at her.

“Is thish a threat?” he asked.

Agnes ignored him and tried her best. “And then I need too… and then… ah, putain!”

“Merde!” shouted Giorgis to her help, the impressive curls he sported that eve dancing of joy, and the whole kitchen was up in laughter.

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