"Three compliments. First: Great taste! Being a professor and still coming here- awesome.
Second: You have stunning manners. Thanks for all the caution.
Third: There's this bright-minded vibe you radiate. Your eyes are so curious and you glow in this amazingly awake way... Wow."
How did he react?
He nodded politely. "Thank you!"
How did I feel?
Jay was the best surprise all day. Initially I'd gone up to him not to compliment, but to ask, "Ist hier noch frei?" (Can I sit here?). We were at my favorite sandwich bar in Cologne, late at night, grabbing a bite. The place was packed as always and I was glad I'd found a seat. He'd responded in English. So I asked him where he was from.
"Originally from India."
"Oh, welcome to Germany!"
"Thanks, I have been here a while..."
"I am a principle investigator at the university hospital. I Iived in Berlin for four years and went to Harvard for six years, then came back."
"What do you teach?"
And off we went. The last person I expected in a cheap (yet incredibly tasty and full of great people) take away in the middle of the night was a cellular biology group leader from India. I started asking him questions. We ended up talking for two hours.
He taught me a lot about the world, science and him. I know now it's true that instead of "How are you?" Indians ask "Have you eaten anything?"" while he pointed out that the Germans have something sweet, too: They ask you, "Did you sleep well?". That's right. I never noticed before.
His favorite time of the year is the fall. "Those lights, shining through the leaves..!", he said with a sigh. "And then Christmas! It's amazing. I love December. The cinnamon tea! Huh..." I asked him what part of home he missed most. He said, "You don't need a physical thing to miss home. Like a trigger or an actual item you don't have while you're away. You just constantly miss it, always, under the surface, no matter what." I agreed. He likes Germany but he wants to die in India. It made me wonder: Where do I want to die? (I haven't found an answer yet). When I asked him how he wants it to happen he laughed and said: "All we know is death comes. How it'll come no one can say. It'll happen. I'll see."
When we talked about the brain his eyes widened. His voice had been humble and low until then, now he raised it. Coming closer he cried, "Rosa, tell me, isn't what the brain can do amazing? Isn't it just fascinating? Don't you think so??"
"Absolutely! You're right! Tell me more!"
According to him sciences can understand but never reproduce a complex system like the body: "Sciences are there to analyze nature but there will never be a way of copying it 100 percent because it is too complex. We'll never build bodies."
I'd love to discuss that further because I am not yet convinced. Also I think we could celebrate a bunch of places together: His ultimate favorite town is Dresden. Mine's Florence. And San Francisco. He doesn't like California. But Norway, yeah, sure!
Honestly I don't think it matters what we speak about- Jay is the kind of person who can be passionate about anything. The world, biology, food. His eyes sparkle, he starts talking and can't be stopped- in the best way possible. He inspires. And informs. Meanwhile he says sorry if he gets up to get his food and says "I will wait till your meal arrives"- in a fast food restaurant! He sits upright and waits till you are done before he gets up. then again, he's down for going to a table soccer Kölsch bar. What a great way of bringing two worlds together!
When I entered the take away I was happy I'd found a chair. When I left I was amazed I'd made a new friend.