We had the coldest winter that Berlin has seen in ten years (it’s true—several people who have been here that long told me so) and our reward for surviving it is the coldest, grayest summer I’ve seen in my life. Each day I wake up with the hope of seeing the orange-pink burst of sun shining through our dark red window drapes. Each day I see only haze. It is three days until June and what we have is haze. And rain—quite a bit of rain. I would need all my fingers and toes (and probably someone else’s) to count the things I was planning on doing when it got warm in Berlin, and strangely enough, all of them have to do with sitting places—simply sitting out in the sun—sitting places and drinking with friends, sitting places and reading, sitting places and applying sunblock, because of course that would be necessary.
As it is now, I console myself with trickery: our apartment is festooned with flowers, I baked cupcakes with rhubarb from the garden two days ago, and Spargelzeit (asparagus time—the only definitive harvest in Berlin, it seems) has come and shows no signs of abetting (although I doubt a colorless ground vegetable—is it a vegetable or an alien life form?—has much use for sunlight, whether it’s there or not).
I am told it is the volcano, the Icelandic fire mountain that has already wreaked havoc on our plans once (we were stuck an extra week in New York in April as the airlines canceled flights, waiting for their flight paths to clear). Not content to keep us in New York past deadline, it seems, Eyjafjallajokull, seems destined to be both unpronounceable and unavoidable. Is it her (his?) ashen fumes that block out the sky, making my Berlin summer seem like something out of the Twilight Zone?
I moved to a house with a garden when there was still ice on the ground. And I’m not complaining about the garden part, but I was told that I wouldn’t even notice how small the place was once the sun was shining and I was out there all the time. I imagined myself lying out on a blanket on the grass, wearing a bikini and sunglasses. I bought outfits according to the images of summer I had in my head (I do this sometimes). The outfits remain untouched in my drawers, but my jacket is still hanging strong on the hook behind the door, ready for me to grab it whenever I step outside. And I feel like I owe an apology to the bathing suits, who have only seen the inside of the Liquidrom in January (although one of them did get to taste saltwater on a weekend trip to Italy during which it rained half the time).
Perhaps it isn’t the volcano at all, but rather the fates testing me, making sure it really is my intention to stay in Berlin; that I’m really that dedicated to this small city, closer in geography to the North Sea than the Mediterranean, closer in spirit to Scandinavia than Southern France. True, sometimes I find myself asking why I put up with it all. But then I remind myself of my adventurous ideals, tell myself to remember that the summer, when it comes, is lovely and breezy and never stifling like in New York, and wish—even if only with a passing sort of half-wish that doesn’t really mean anything—that the scientists could come up with a way to allow humans to hibernate. Then one day I would eat a big meal, draw the curtains closed, and crawl back underneath the covers, telling myself with my last waking thought simply to “wait ‘til next year.”