Strange times, Erasmian late nights

“Welcome to Abercromby Square!” bellowed Peter in perfect Michael Buffer style. “And as usual we have a late-night concert for you. Tonight it will be the wonderful Hana from the beautiful Czech Republic!”

The gang clapped. As the sun went down on the beautiful little park in between the university buildings, right next to my department of Ancient History, we sat on or in front of one of the benches, some bottles of wine with us, the seagulls wheeling overhead, and waited for the music to commence.

This is part of the ongoing A Big Plate of Sideorders series, an Erasmus memory.

“And the wonderful very, very talented newcomer Bene the ten-fingered string mover. Let´s give these guys a big hand. They´re going to perform one of the songs off their new album Sounds of Vegetables, produced by Druid Records Liverpool. Take it away!”

Peter had us all laughing, and we all, naturally, gave a big round of applause. Bene was the rhythm guitar player of Styckwaerk. Their smart, straight-forward music had made it to be rather popular with us. Bene would usually strum a full raw bag of noise out of his electric lady, but now he began petting Rick´s Maria with all needed care, a soft cushion for Hana´s voice.

She sang a song some years of age, Blaska je Kdyz, apparently a little piece about the delicate sounds of kissing. Rick and I had been quite surprised when hearing it in her room the other day, not only by the recording and the gentle clearness of her voice, but also by the awesome guitar solo her brother had wazzed over the tune. Hana felt shy to sing it as softly as she had done years before, and the song was interrupted several times by her own laughter. It was a gorgeous little piece and it fit the mood. Calm, mellow, sunsettish.

After the song, we gave the two our ovations and still played some more pieces until the air got too chilly. We marched off to Hana´s Headquarters, and made ourselves at home. As always, the dead clock on the wall showed half past twelve and the fridge this time around displayed a beautiful little haiku centred on the word „sticky“.

We had already gotten very used to being around each other, enjoying each other´s company and rarely found it easy to separate.

Time, as it often does, moved onwards. Wine and rum and cider trickled into the evening and Hana´s omnipresent green-bottled companion made the round as well. With tea candles lit, the room filled itself with a calm shimmer. Bene and Rick jammed on Annabel and Rick´s Maria and played Styckwaerk´s Halb Vier, a song of being lost and left and looking back on everything that had been, trafficking ideas of reminiscence and the presence of the other one still lingering everywhere. The song ended into an ambivalent “the time when I… you”, which left all room for speculation. The druids though preferred to believe it to fade out into a sensual “dich geböschded hab”, a deep Franconian expression for having screwed someone the old-fashioned way.

Afterwards, we came around to discussing our druidic abilities. It was clear that each and every one of us had to have their special superpower. Bene was capable of turning everything green. Andi could travel on water, at times even by bike. Rick was able to turn back time. Poss, who joinejd us together with Karsten from across the street and who had already made contact with the Franconians during the first stay, became our spices and herbal expert, which I instantly took as an opportunity to present him the idea of the mint as a truly extraordinary plant. Giorgis and Agnes knew what I was on about. When I told him that it was considered an aphrodisiac in Roman times, he misunderstood this as an invitation to flirt with me all evening long. Poss was specific. He exerted an influence on me that made all jokes ruder, the language fouler. And he had something very touchy. He was funny. Agnes meanwhile reckoned herself able to teleport from tree to tree, I was pretty friendly with stones, and Peter was sure that he was able to speak with vegetables, especially when talking like Joe Cocker. When Mario did not believe that, he immediately wanted to demonstrate the stunt with an orange.

“Sinze when iz an oreinge a vege-table?”  asked Agnes.

“Oh, a vege-table, right?” teased Giorgis. “Can you sit at it, at the vege-table, can you, my dear? Ish it for working, this vege-table, iziiit?”

“Oh putain!” Agnes rolled her eyes. “Vege-tab… Merde!”

“Baguette!” screamed Giorgis.

“Croissant!” I added and we doubled over.

“Anything could be a vegetable if we want that”, Bene told Agnes. “We are druids after all, and so we can just make it one.”

“De world is ours”, said Hana and laughed aloud.

“It depends on how we want to see it.” Urte nodded. Meanwhile she was not sure of her own super power yet. She pleaded for more time to evaluate.

The kitchen was like a buzzing wasp nest that evening, with a multitude of conversations crossbreeding new topics over and over again. There was music leaking out of any corner of the kitchen, any equipment used for creating sound, the whole room was a symphony. We sang Czech and English and German, drummed on pots and sang and sang and sang. Even Hana showcased her elementary guitar skills. “I feel it in my fingers”, she sang loudly while halting at every chord and re-arranging her hand. “I feel it in my toe-oe-oes. Love is all around me. And so de feeling grow-ow-ows.”

Into one of her ow-ow-ows, Bene suddenly shouted out of the window(-ow-ow): “Which place? What? How´s it called? Could you repeat that please?”

“What are you screaming dat much, my dear Bene?” asked Hana surprised and there was a hint of Shut up in her voice.

“Here are two girls who are looking for the way. And I don´t have a clue where that place is. Never heard of it.”

“Of course you haven´t”, Rick commented from the side. “You jackass! You have only been here for like three days. Why do you keep forgetting that? Let me see the fair maidens.”

And really, there were two young stressed-looking backpackers standing on the street underneath Hana´s kitchen windows, loaded with enormous rucksacks, staring up to us like wee miniature backpacker models.

“We´ve been searching the streets around here for one hour now, and we really almost can´t walk anymore,” shouted one of the girls in thickest Viennese German. And then they again asked about a hostel supposed to be close, just around the corner. Their dialect made Bene and Rick laugh like a couple of bulldogs. Peter shouted something about getting down to the chopper.

“Well, honestly, I have never heard of it either”, said Rick, turning his head to us. He shrugged.

“I am so totally impressed by your amazing knowledge of the whereabouts, my friend”, said Bene. “How lucky these girls are that you have already spent more than half a year here.”

Rick made a grimace.

“You know what?” He shouted back down. “For now, you just come up to our place, have a drink or so, warm up for a bit, and then we´ll bring you there, okay? Hana, is it all right, if we get them in?”

The host waved the question off nonchalantly. “Of courrrrse.”

“Do you want to come up?” Rick asked the girls, adding, true to his never letting anything go unexplained: “We´re not very dangerous really.”

Hana laughed out loud. She had this almost male, brazen dirty laughter that made all the pots and plates vibrate, and she loved using it. “Des is ja dodal geil!“ It was rather obvious that she was very fond of the bunch from Germany.

Down in the wan streetlamp light, the girls looked at each other. For a moment, they seemed to consider the offer. Then, carefully, they nodded.

Barely later, they sat in our midst and watched our show over a glass of wine, hardly daring to speak. As usual, the older the evening grew, the more abstruse our dealings became. We infused new life into the night, with the light of the candles dancing on our faces.

(…)

And then Rick started playing Whiter Shade of Pale. Sexy faces were thrown, chests were rubbed. The party was rolling, and jokes, according to the trajectory of the slippery route of alcohol, became increasingly silly. Peter and Urte had a plastic fork battle. Poss, with the torn off plastic cord of the kitchen curtain as a necklace, was still flirting with me heavily, and a little later, Peter, Bene and I, all but one far on the intoxicated side, were discussing the topic of Nazi-bitches, whatever that meant, and I impersonated Hitler. The Austrian girls took a video. They needed to record some of the strange things that happened here, they said. We understood and let them be paparazzi. If you consider it correctly, and I believe that I do this, there is a good chance that somewhere in Vienna´s circular streets, where poets create poems around a single random word and people kiss in the Prater ferris wheel, there is a druid fanclub with weekly screenings of me as the Führer.

And at some point, Rick, Hana and Bene decided to increase all our group´s bravado by introducing all those who had not been there on the fateful outing in West Derby Park into the LAD, officially, in an improvised ceremony. It was the moment to actually hoist our banner on the Merseyside and plant a seed that was to proliferate for all eternity. So, all of us sat down around the kitchen table with magical flowers and an inflated plastic Christmas tree in the middle and started giving our pleas.  Everyone had to give another one, following the instructions of their neighbor.

“Repeat after me”, said Peter and that in a very convincing mimicry of Helmut Kohl. “I swear to keep in total alignment with the teachings of our legendary forefather Kolbolmor and I swear to unceasingly follow my druidness. I also solemnly agree that the Liverpool Association of Druids is my home and my asylum and my haven for the rest of my days. That´s why I will now do the chicken dance.”

With every new plea we pushed each other one stage further. The rituals and solemn gestures became more and more ludicrous, and the laughter rose and rose. And when we were through, we broke into song as it was right for us to do, and the kitchen again became a music-box. And we saw that it was good.

The Austrian girls stared at us in disbelief, smiling, sipping wine and taking photos. Presumably, they did not think that anyone would believe them if they told that story at home.

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