Neck and neck, a tale of three scarves

They keep our necks warm, they are lovely companions, they can be roiled up into a little ball as a pillow, they accessorise the plainest outfit, they’ll cover up a bad hair day, their colours can enhance your looks, they are beautiful gifts, they can be worn as a sarong, a sash or a stole and can become objects of obsession . . . in fact not to have one on hand can be quite anxiety making.

Silk, pashmina, cotton, merino wool, cashmere, hand-knotted, woven by angels – any which way a scarf comes into being makes the world a better place.

I have far too many scarves to even put on a post, but I’ll start my tale with three old friends who have travelled the globe with me.

The first is a beautiful blue and black fringed scarf from India. I purchased it in Chennai – no bargaining, it came from a boutique that didn’t play hard and fast with tight fists. This is a one-off,  and when it is folded in a drawer near its market cousins, it remains expensive and haughty.
A few days before I purchased the scarf I was in a bus trundling through the southern part of India. The bus had made frequent ‘comfort’ stops – let’s call them toilet stops at places that I couldn’t quite cope with – and I have a high tolerance for shitty toilets.
At one stop I said to my lady companions that perhaps it would be more hygienic if we just went into the bushes. All agreed with me.
As we were squatting in easy silence I looked behind me and there was a holy man wandering through the bush and starring at us. We all turned to wave and the poor skinny fellow took off like a rocket – don’t think he’d quite seen that many white bums lined up ever.

This next, soft, pretty confection came from the markets in Istanbul. I had just finished a cruise from Athens with my sister and we were stockpiling scarves. They only cost about $5 each but were comely and colourful. We wore them draped around our shoulders back to our hotel.
In a café near the hotel a young, pushy fella called us every night with true Turkish hospitality to come and have apple tea with him. We did, but he was starting to get annoying and we were trying to find ways to avoid him.
One night I said, ‘why are you flirting with us, we are old, there are lots of young, gorgeous girls around. ‘Ï don’t care’,  he said,  I just want a little bit of kissing and   . . .’- yep, he wanted more. I just starred at him and said ‘you’re a lunatic’. He laughed hysterically and attracted the attention of his boss. The boss came out and shooed him away. ‘Why did you do that,’ I said – ‘he doesn’t work here, so why not?’ he said. So a strange man had been flirting with us and making us apple tea from the café . . . ah, Istanbul.

This silk organza lovely was found at Stanley Markets, Hong Kong. I had bought an embroidered silk coat that I was thrilled with, and not cheap either. While the coat was being packed up I saw the edge of this scarf poking out from under a pile of sweaters. As I gently tugged it out I saw it was silk organza with fine cotton tufts sprouting – it was intriguing and quickly attached itself to me. I bargained for a while then put my foot down and said I should have it for free, as the coat had no bargaining attached to the deal . . . shopkeeper was bemused and said – ‘why not’.
That trip to Hong Kong I was invited on a helicopter ride too see that amazing city and surrounding islands from on high – what a flight! And the scarf playfully tickled my neck as the helicopter swooped through the mighty canyons of the vertical city.
Tell me about your scarves . . . where did you buy them, what do they mean to you, and do they tell a story?


Down and out in Berlin – or a night to remember

Down and out in Berlin – or a night to remember

I was happily listening to someone at a travel function recently about the new routes for Rail Europe and the new timetables and new trains for Germany. Back in the day, I travelled on trains a lot through Germany, they were always on time, efficient and clean.

And I’ve always been fond of the architectural beauties of the European railway stations, great caverns with iron as the constructing base for every shape and grand curve.

In the early 80s I had not such a grand experience at the old Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main railway station).

I was staying in Munich in the dead of winter with friends and decided to go to Berlin (which I had never been to before) and surprise a ‘holiday’ boyfriend. How hard could it be.

In those days there was an agency in Munich call the Mitfahrzentrale ( I think it still exists). It was kind of like safe and legal hitch hiking, which wasn’t easy out of major European cities because of the Autobahns. I digress.

I signed onto the agency list – you say where you are going, where your pick up point is, pay a few Deutschmarks (pre Euro) for insurance and Bob’s mein Onkel!

I got a lift in the smallest car I’ve ever built, and there were two in the front and two of us in the back for the long, long, windy and snowy drive to Berlin.

They were pseudo hippies and played cassettes of reggae music all the way. We all smoked cigarettes and a little weed along the way and the air was stinking! We were stopped at the border between East and West Germany and a youthful soldier carrying a big gun was dealing with us through the window. The nationals were OK but in my limited understanding of the language I thought he was asking me for 50 (funfzig) marks for a visa and no way was I paying that and started to get stroppy. My travelling companions told me to ‘shut ze up’ and as I shut up I got the gist that it was only funf (five) marks. ‘Well, OK then.”

So on we trundled and my fellow travellers looked shaken and told me they had ‘contraband’ in the car and I could have had us all in ‘the gaol’. I never did ask what the contraband was – best not to know.

We arrived in Berlin mid evening and I had to unfold my creaky limbs out of the chariot. Nice folks but that ‘beschissen’ reggae music . . .

I had not really thought this venture through. I arrived with the equivalent of about 10 bucks in my wallet, a small backpack with a few items and that was it. I phoned my friend several times and there was no answer. But, always the eternal optimist I sat in a cafe in the middle of town (the middle of the half of Berlin then), bought a large beer, a sausage and fries. How cool was I? And lucky I had the big scark, gloves, beanie and the parka. Soooo cold.

The night dragged on and Berlin in the early 80s was a darker place that today. Lots of shady folk coming out at night as the club scene was dangerously good! I moved to a park bench, well-lit and in the middle of a lot of seedy action – and felt secure. But still had to go back and forth to a phone box. This was the olden days, no mobiles, no credit cards, no atm, in fact I had nuthin’

After a thousand phone calls I tried to curl up and sleep under the park bench (hidden for safety) and as I snoozed I was kicked sharply in the kidneys by the Politzei. They moved me on and I strolled around the town feeling less than optimistic about my survival til morning.

Back to the phone box to call the police and found a nice bloke with good English to tell my tale of woe to. He told me I was a stupid girl and he could not help me but . . .there was a christian charity set up at German railway stations that helps travellers (old people, sick people – and idiots like me) in trouble when they arrive off the train. He gave me the address and it was inside the Hauptbahnhof.

I can’t remember the name of the charity but roughly translated to ‘Travellers Aid offices. So around 2am I walk in the dimly lit, empty station and to my left is a doorway at the end of a corridor with a light above it. And before I can make the journey to that door I have to run the gauntlet for about 20 metres of groaning, fighting, vomiting and even singing junkies and drunks. Now is the time to gird my loins – if I can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So, I took off at a healthy pace, backpack bumping along with me as I sang very loudly and slightly madly “Waltzing Matilda’. Piece of cake!

As I bashed on the door a fresh-faced young man opened it to a blubbering, stupid girl. He was so kind, and I explained I had no money til I could find a bank on Monday (it was still only Sunday morning). He told me to sleep on the office couch. No nightmares, nothing and I woke to the aroma of filtered coffee and hot rolls.

Such kindness and he got me into a hostel (with hostile wardens) for the next night. Still phoning and leaving my new address in case someone could come and fetch me.

My ‘holiday’ boyfriend had been across to East Germany for the weekend and was rather shocked at my exploits. After he picked me up he warned me about hanging around the centre of the city late at night and going to the railway station. OK, warning taken.

When some money came through I took a donation to the Travellers Aid and gave it with great thanks.

It was a night to remember.

Writer Bev Malzard returned to  Berlin several times but has not been there since the Wall came down. She likes things a little dangerous.