I was sitting in the train this morning, listening to music and reading something on my tablet. This was all according to my morning routine, a quiet and comfortable place, with nothing more serious to worry about than a flat iPad battery.

About 10 minutes before we reached the final stop, where I would transfer to the train that takes me onward to my own final stop, a pretty girl collapsed.

She didn’t go down like a sack of potatoes, mind you. She was a class act and just sort of gently leaned, and kept on leaning. The lady next to her realized what was happening pretty quickly. She calmly caught her and gently laid her out in the floor, right by my feet. As far as collapses go, it was orderly, graceful even, like a slow-motion stage-faint.

Once she was safely on the floor, calls went out for anyone who might know first aid. A twenty-something guy in immodest cycling pants confidently stepped forward and started giving orders. He checked her pulse, made sure she was breathing, and went about arranging her body so she wouldn’t choke on her tongue, should dire things indeed be happening. But she was breathing fine, and lay there on her side with her hands beneath her face, sleeping peacefully. Right by my feet.

I wasn’t sure what to do. Not in a flustered or chaotic way, more like when you’re speaking in public and can’t figure out what to do with your hands. It’s been well over twenty years since I took first aid, and I don’t think you’re supposed go straight to leeches and trepanning any more to treat these types of imbalances of the humors. Not knowing what else to do, I just sat there and watched her sleep.

This felt creepy almost immediately, so I turned back to my reading. I was in the middle of a Tumblr post by Cory Doctorow, something about cyberfreiheit or Disney’s Haunted Mansion most likely, and wanted to get to the end of it. This was when my iPad died on me. For just a split-second, sitting there watching the device’s spinning wheel of hibernation, I felt like the universe was conspiring to make me miserable, that life could be cruel and unfair. Then I remembered the young lady who was laid out unconscious at my feet, felt guilty, and checked up on her progress.

She was sitting up but groggy, with people gathered around, asking her if she knew her own name and who was Prime Minister. I realized that if I fainted and people started asking me these kinds of questions, I wouldn’t be able to get more than 50% of them correct. There would probably be a lot of sad, slow head-shaking about the young man who was so out of it he didn’t who the Mayor of London was or who chuffed the lorry. Luckily, and to her credit, she was more up to speed on UK current events and was fine, if rattled. We arrived a few minutes late but I made my transfer without any hassles.

I entered the connecting train and sat down for the final 45 minute train ride into work, wondering what I was going to do with myself without a telescreen to stare at. Right before leaving the station, someone sat down across from me: it was Sleeping Beauty, and though she was ambulant she was definitely looking like something that the cat had dragged in.

I wasn’t sure if her passing out on the morning train was something I should bring up. I thought it could be an ice-breaker, maybe, a way to get a conversation going and pass the time. But then I thought, she might ask what I did to help, seeing as she had been laying on top of my shoes. I was front row center to her collapse, and not only had no impulse to jump in and help, but would probably have done more harm than good had I tried.

So I put on my headphones and pretended to listen to music, sneaking the occasional glance to see if she was still shaking and pale. And for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what to do with my hands.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The Christmas tree is up and decorated. With a Gin & Tonic in one hand, and a Bing Crosby-laden iPod in the other, I provided art direction and even a bit of hands-on while we broke out the decorations and hung the lights. There's nothing like the green, citrusy smell of a pine tree in your living room to drive the point home that you're way, way behind on your Christmas shopping.

This year we went with a mighty Fraser fir, which is unusual for these parts. My wife is flabbergasted at the bushiness, the manliness of this Christmas tree. It stands proud, erect; its foliage thick and its confidence unperturbed by its uprooted status or demeaning duties. In this way, it is much like myself, so I identify with the tree. She calls it The Donald Duck Christmas Tree, since its perfection of form reminds her of the idealized versions you'll find in Disney films and comic books. I'm not sure whether Americans take this to be their Christmas tree to mirror the comics, or the comics mirror the Americans.

Europeans tend to go for either the Norway spruce or the Nordmann fir. Though the Nordmann is renowned for its ability to hold its needles well into its deployment, I find the species kind of spare and sickly-looking. This is what we Americans scoff as The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. Not without a feeling of superiority.

It's a bit early to put the tree up, seeing as it's only just been the second advent. My wife is German, and she grew up in a household where the tree was brought in and decorated on the evening of the 24th of December. The kids, so it seems, were confined to one part of the house while the dad secretly rushed the tree into place, strung up the lights, and hung the decorations. The mom would keep guard duty over the kids, making sure there was no spying, then sneak the presents into their places at the foot of the tree. Christmas is a time of deceit, stealth, and family intrigues, even in Germany.

More English, Less Pulpo

I just spent the weekend in Spain. An ex-colleague got married, and I'd never been to a Spanish wedding before. In fact, I'd only spent a few days in Spain, despite living on this side of the Atlantic for about 15 years now. The last time I was there was back in 2003, when I visited Barcelona and Montserrat, two beautiful and very different areas.

This time around I was in Santiago de Compostela. This is in the northwestern area of Spain, Galicia. They don't speak Spanish by default in Galicia, they speak Galician. It doesn't seem that anybody speaks Spanish in Spain. In Barcelona they speak Catalan, in the middle they speak Castellano, and who knows what the Basques speak. It's sort of like China, where you've got Mandarin, Cantonese, and who knows what else. Going to different countries requires a week of studying their Wikipedia pages just to know what to call their savage tongues.

Spain is a beautiful country. As different to the United Kingdom as two neighboring countries could be. Hardly anyone speaks English, for example. They also have a fascination with eating octopuses. In the UK, you'll need to go to secret, back-alley sources for your octopus. In Galicia, every bar and sidewalk food stall seems to offer pulpo at rock-bottom prices. I'm surprised that there are that many pulpo to eat, to be honest. I've always thought that the octopus was at least a little bit exotic; judging by the vast quantities of dead ones that I saw for sale in Spain, I can only assume their shorelines are positively writhing with them. Or maybe there are vast farms of these Cthulhoids, feeding the hunger. Both of these possibilities fill me with loathing, and I don't think I could go swimming in Spain without getting a serious case of the heebie jeebies.