Three days ago, I bought a bicycle. On the campus of the Johannes Gutenberg Universität, there is a man with a very long beard who runs a trailer called Uni-bike. Uni-bike, as the name suggests, takes care of all student bike needs, including buying and selling used bikes.
The first day I went, he had a line of customers, and since after looking at the prices I realized that I didn’t even have enough money with me, I told him I would come back. But, this event warrants recalling because of the absolutely ridiculous encounter I had with two very old (and very senile) men. While I was standing by the bikes for sale, a small red Golf drove past, screeched to a halt, reversed, and haphazardly parked half in the street, half in a parking spot. A very old, very short, but very spritely white man and a significantly taller, hunched-over, thin, and equally as ancient Indian man got out of the car. (If I had less respect for the elderly, and if senility were not in my parents’ line of work, I might call them the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter, for, indeed, Lewis Carroll gives better descriptions of these men than I have.) I don’t really know why they stopped, and to be honest, I don’t think they did either. The short white man scurried over to the man who owns Uni-Bike and began, “Maestro, maestro, Sie sind…..” I’m not exactly sure how he finished, because the much slower-moving Indian man hobbled over to me by this time and asked (in English), “Where are you from?”
I replied, “I am from South Africa, but my family lives in the United States. My ancestors are from South India.”
“Oh, so you are from South Africa, not India?”
“Yes, but my ancestors are from India.”
By this time the man who owns Uni-Bike had managed to shake off the older man who so praised his skills, and our friend had scurried over to us.
“Sie kommen aus Sudafrika? Sie sind wie Gandhi! Gandhi wart im Sudafrika!” (“You come from South Africa? You are like Gandhi! Gandhi was in South Africa!”)
I’m not sure if my German transcription is entirely grammatically correct, but I am very certain that my translation is. After this, they went back to their car and drove off in a peculiarly nonlinear fashion. It is not every day that one is compared to the Mahatma, even if only for superficial reasons by senile old men. While I appreciate the comparison, I’m not sure that it is really warranted. One of the boys working at Uni-Bike under our Maestro shook his head, chuckling, and said, “They are just old.”
The next day, I went back and looked at the four men’s bikes that were for sale. I decided that, for a three month stint (even though I could return it before I left), I didn’t really want to spend much above €100. To me, this was a fair deal because a one-month bus pass, even at the student rate, is €56. Two months of riding the bus would pay for the bike. So I took the two that were under €100 for a test drive. The first was a racing bike which, while I liked how fast and easy-to-maneuver it was, just didn’t feel comfortable with a backpack (since one must sit hunched over). So for €80, I bought the other one, a street bike that permitted a better posture, and a bike lock.
Up until this point, I thought that the word for bike in German was “bike.” Uni-Bike used the word, and everyone in the lab knew what I meant when I said “bike,” even if we were speaking in German. But my receipt said “Fahrrad.” The past few days I had seen this word in quite a few places, but I never really gave it a second thought. I thought that it was the German spelling of the relatively common Muslim name “Farhad,” since there are quite a few Muslims who live in my area of Gonsenheim and in Mainz. (To be honest, in retrospect, I should have known better since I remember seeing some signs that would have meant “Farhads for sale.”) When I thought about it, I could vaguely remember Frau Dibley lecturing about a Fahrrad. Even though our Komm Mit textbooks tried to be very multicultural, I was certain that this word had greater significance than just a name. Of course, after consulting the dictionary, this is the word for bike. The sign on the door of my apartment that was searching for a lost Fahrrad suddenly made a whole lot more sense.
And thus, my bike came to be named Farhad, in honor, not only of my stupidity, but also of the many Muslims who live in my neighborhood. (I don’t usually name my bicycles, but this time it seemed appropriate.) In fact, the corner grocer, (which is, sickeningly, in fact on a corner,) Melissa’s Market, carries many goods that the regular stores do no carry, such as roasted chickpeas and other snackfoods, various halwas, and fig jam. The only bread that Melissa’s Market carries is flat. Of course, being the ever-adventurous eater, I bought fig jam and roasted chickpeas.
I will probably never buy either again. The chickpeas, which look good (and if you’ve ever had fried peas and peanuts from an Indian grocer, are good in principle,) actually just taste sort of chalky and remove all of the moisture from one’s mouth. They are, however, starting to grow on me. I will not buy fig jam again because it’s probably one of the most delicious jams I have ever eaten. I bought it on Wednesday, and of the 450 g that were initially in the jar, I would guess that perhaps 100-150 g remain. I somehow can’t imagine that consumption of jam at this rate is good. Although, in my defense, there were entire preserved figs in it, so when I came across one, I couldn’t help but fish it out and eat it whole. I mean, it hardly fits on a cracker or a piece of bread. I think I pulled the last one out tonight, which accounts for much of the volume of the jar. I also bought a jar of Nutella, some oranges, and TUC biscuits (which are actually crackers that bring back very fond childhood memories).
But, I digress (although I think a digression into food is never a bad one). Thus far, Farhad and I have had several adventures. The 10-minute bike ride from the university to Gonsenheim (the suburb of Mainz where my home is) took me 30 minutes the first day I tried to ride it. Mainz is a very bike-friendly city, and you can get basically anywhere in the city by bike. But the way home runs along a very busy street (Koblenzerstraße, which becomes Weserstraße in Gonsenheim). Thus, for a stretch of it, the bike path is not right next to the street. The first day, I followed some students who looked like they were going in the same direction but, unfortunately, they lived much closer than I had thought. In fact, they lived just across the street from the university. (Why they rode their bicycles escapes me.) So, I rode in circles in the parking lot of their apartment building, which must have looked sort of strange and rather suspicious, trying to figure out what to do. Thankfully, after my 10th time around, I saw a man and his son emerge seemingly out of nowhere at the edge of parking lot. I rode over to that corner, and there was my path. I rode most of the way home along this street, but just inside Gonsenheim, there is a 5-way intersection which, if you count the extra bike path, is a 6-way intersection for a cyclist. Following the sign pointing at the new bike path, and the woman who seemed to know where she was going (I really need to stop following people), I ended up riding for another 5-10 minutes through a few small fields and between people’s vegetable gardens. I kept riding, even though I sort of knew that I was going in the wrong direction. Finally, the bike path turned a little less pastoral and came to a stop in front of a church. I stopped, pulled out my ridiculously large map of Mainz, and spent 10 minutes trying to find myself. Once I did, I realized that I was only about 2 blocks off course, and I was home within a few minutes.
Friday I took the bus to work because after work I had to take my computer to the Apple store and I wasn’t quite sure that Farhad and I were ready to brave downtown Mainz. Friday was the first nice day since I got here (and, according to my coworkers, in the last 3 weeks), and yesterday morning followed suit. So, we went for a ride around Gonsenheim, which I hadn’t really seen yet. I also needed to replenish my food supply since I had almost gone through the quarter-loaf of bread and meat and cheese I had bought on Tuesday, and all the grocery stores are closed on Sunday and this Monday due to the public holiday Pfingsten. I did find a grocery store, but then proceeded to get lost for an hour. It being a very nice Saturday morning meant that this was not really a problem except that, to make room for my groceries in my backpack, I took everything—including my map of Mainz—out of my backpack. Luckily I managed to find a bus stop I knew and then follow the bus route home.
Yesterday afternoon, I decided to head to the university to use the internet. 5 minutes into my ride, the beautiful, clear skies turned sinister, and in about 30 seconds went from pouring down sunshine to torrents of rain. When I got the library, I was so wet that I removed my jacket and wrung out at least 2 cups of water. Shivering, I sat down at a computer and began my business, hoping that the rain would let up, but knowing that as soon as I tried to leave it would begin again. About an hour later, it did let up, and much to my surprise, did not restart on cue when I left the building—the sky was as blue and sunny as ever. When I got home, I removed my still-wet clothing, and found a long stripe of sandy filth on my jacket and pants from the wet dirt that my back tyre had kicked up. I’m glad Farhad and I are getting to know each other, but I really look forward very much to the first time we go somewhere and the trip is entirely uneventful.