Thunder Thighs

Every couple we pass on our bicycle tour of the Tiergarten seems to be in the middle of the most somber conversation of their lives. On a park bench, a young man stares tearfully at a female companion seated beside him. The content of their partnership is drawn in between swaying branches in the Impressionistic style: light and feathery strokes, framed in the gilded notes of a plump, sylvan July. There’s something touching, albeit hardly unique, about his expression, drenched in that Romanticism that feels so Edgar Allan Poe, and naturally, takes on a pained, sepia-toned form. Ah, adolescence. I imagine him clutching her pallid hands as he promises, in the center of Berlin’s fairy tale gardens, to cryogenically freeze himself alongside her in their old age. There’s a pause and he looks up, the spell briefly broken, to catch my eye. I am perched on a Dutch bicycle borrowed at the hotel reception, one foot on the dusty path for balance. I half-smile, feeling suddenly and severely my intrusion into their intimacy, and pedal away, into the glossy shade cast by the flowering trees.

In the mountains surrounding the Elbe, my brother and I are halfway completed with the day’s trek when I hear the white noise for the first time. It sounds like muted, distant thunder, or like what I imagine it feels like in the mind, when you are looking at a body after death. The waters of Lethe against the shore. At that altitude, when we peer down, the granularity of the leaves of the valley are erased into a mottled, still wave of mutton fat jade. As the white noise fades away, the question of its origin comes up and freely we speculate: the river down below, the Bohemian winds, the reverberations within thousand-year-old layers of white and salmon pink sandstone. Unreasonably, but maybe understandably, I’m possessed by the notion that the noise has something to do with the ocean. Everything mysterious seems like it must come from the sea, you know?

In the Palace of Sanssouci, which I, with my usual grotesquely unhistorical humor, describe as a dick-measuring contest between the Prussian emperor and the residents of Versailles, we wander amid ultra-detailed landscaping and 18th century chinoiserie chic. Hundreds of tourists traipse across the terraced lawn. Life seems so urgent now, and I can’t decide if that’s due to the current stage of my life, or the current state of the world. But I myself am detached. In Sanssouci, surrounded by vineyards, playful Rococo, and caramel yellow Caryatids, I find myself incapable of prompting even fractured emotions.

I remember an afternoon from three years ago, during a similar summer, in Kyoto’s Ryoanji. In the gold-toned heat, Alex and I sit on the wooden viewing platform beside the temple garden for the better part of an hour. Flanked on both sides by a varied crowd of strangers, we stare at the five groupings of stone and puzzle over the meaning behind their number and arrangement. Alex’s theories from that day are still my favorite: The principal emotions, the bodily senses. Most of my life I’ve enjoyed paired objects, triptychs, and, being an April-born Aries, the number four, but I see now there’s something robust and mystic about sets of five. The Ryoanji zen garden is one example, but then there’s also five-petaled flowers, five-faced Shiva, the five wounds of Jesus during the crucifixion. Taste, hearing, smell, sight, and touch. Anger, disgust, happiness, fear, and sadness.

I come across a photograph of snow online and am overwhelmed, unexpectedly, with a crushing nostalgia for winter. The hours of night filled with darkness, but also the violet, ultra-reflective glow of the snow banks. The sensation of submersion in the honeymoon of a situational “otherness” when snow, delicate, translucent, and symmetrically shaped, is falling. The temperature at white twilight, as the wind slows and stills. An ode to winter, written during a season of cherries, plums, and beaches.