Only for men!
I’m sitting alone in a plaza in Dubrovnik. Tourists flock in opposite directions, narrowly missing one another as they chatter in unfamiliar tongues. The waiters flit by almost as quickly as the dozens of swifts throwing specks of shadow down from above. The falling sun glistens behind a church steeple.
The walled city has a dense, claustrophobic taste. Something formerly historic turned into a stone zoo. The din of conversation becomes louder in my head until I can hardly bear it. The waiter sets a check down by my empty stein and I pay as quickly as possible, surrounded and alone.
In the morning I march my bags through the city as the sun threatens to wake. And for a moment the streets are quiet. I emerge from a shadowed alleyway into the same plaza, this time empty. The sound of laughter echoes from the direction I’m meant to be going and a drunken woman with no shoes stumbles into view, accompanied by a friend at each shoulder. She stops me with a wave, giggling and pointing to a map as she sways, speaking broken English. I overhear her friend’s discussing something in Spanish. I reply to the woman in Spanish that I don’t live here and I’m sorry I can’t help. She smiles ecstatically before skipping away down a side street, her friends running after her.
Climbing through the great arched barrier separating Dubrovnik from its would-be aggressors, I turn. The first glints of proper sunlight greet the boughs of several ships and the timeworn fortifications shadowing those they promise to keep safe and sleeping.
My flight to Munich is peaceful. As we cross the border into Germany the fields become verdant and impeccably shaped, the delineations between fields as crisp as if some Bavarian deity constructed them with a T-square.
I surface from Munich HBF train station, wrestling to put my sweater on as I juggle my bags. The air is crisp and refreshing, the coolest I’ve felt in months. I pull the burgundy cashmere off of my eyes to look onto a familiar city. On the short walk to my hostel I pass several refugees bowing for money, their faces hugging the sidewalk. It’s an unusual sight, and quite different from my memory of this place only two years ago.
I spend my time in Munich dutifully working, my brown spectacles craned over the screen for hours on end. There’s something freeing about visiting a place you’ve been. I feel no urgency to sightsee, no compulsion to try a new dish.
On my first evening I share a meal with my young Australian roommate and watch as he sinks his teeth into a plate of savory Bavarian meats, his elbows laid on the long biergarten table. I consume marinated duck, tender chicken, crispy pork knuckles, and something reminiscent of a matzah ball, much to the disappointment of my digestive system on the following morning.
Gay Pride begins just as my Canadian friend, Nicole, arrives. The air becomes warm and the clouds part as if in celebration. The main square is crowded with makeshift tables and portable beer taps. We drink through the afternoon, watching the parade slither in and out. Men in shining patent leather suits with shut zippers over their mouths waddle past. And while this form of garment does nothing for me, I am strangely turned on by the lederhosen worn by others. The more masculine men seem to wear these sueded pants, often with an equally fuzzy Robin Hood hat. The trousers button on the front, leaving large slits on either side. In the current environment I would describe this as “easy access”. I wonder to myself if these smiling men include underwear beneath the classic attire, and try to remember if I’ve answered this question in the past.
Nicole and I enter a bar, conveniently missing the sign posted that says “Only for men!” with an unambiguous exclamation point. We do notice immediately that she is the only woman in the establishment, but we’re warm and fuzzy and full of pilsner so we don’t worry about it.
Twenty minutes later I’m balancing my second beer on a too-small sink with my hand buried in some lederhosen. The smiling gentleman to whom the pants belong says,
“See? No underwear,”
He slips his feathered hat atop my head. The door swings open.
“Your lady friend got kicked out,”
A patron alerts me. I nod at the man whose hat I’m wearing and slip out of the bathroom. I’m trying to pay the tab when I notice Nicole’s face appear smiling in the window. The DJ notices too and makes long, deliberate strides out the front door to shoo her away.
For the rest of the evening we drink in gender liberal bars.