Everybody needs a way in to where they're going. Mine was John le Carré's A Most Wanted Man. I'd read it before, but I re-read small bits of it again to remind myself that all cities have a shadow self that nobody official will show you. I may not have found it, or might have only caught glimpses of it, but at least I knew it was there.
Conferences are things beyond my experience - never attended them, never needed to. It was fascinating, as a consequence, to observe the conference birds in their habitat: they move at an eager angle, with a pack of cards in their hands. These cards are exchanged as if one hand must not know what the other one does. Quiet murmurs accompany this exchange.
Needless to say, I do not have a card and don't intend to get one. What will people want to know - how to get in touch? I can always scribble my email on the back of some else's card, no?
I was, strangely enough, not bored at all during these conferences. Since I was not a journalist, I didn't really need to take notes or network or anything, but I took (some) notes anyway, because I figured that in the normal course of my life no one would invite me to observe a seminar on how ports work, or take me to high-security container terminals (no photography allowed), or give me a close-up tour of the harbour and even offer to slow the boat if I needed take specific photographs.
More importantly for me, these official interactions really did help me understand some things about the way government works, and the pride people working for it take in their work. It also gave me the license to be nosy and ask any question I wanted and there were people who would answer. One young gentleman knew everything about this city he had made his own.
That's another thing: the number of people who live in Hamburg who are from elsewhere. Not that it's a huge city or anything, but given the nature of my trip you'd think I'd meet at least a few people who were born there. I met two: one was a second generation Chinese woman, whose eyes flickered slightly in annoyance when I asked (as I routinely asked everyone) where she was from; and the other was one of the people in Hamburg Marketing. Like the average Bombayite, the average person from Hamburg is fiercely loyal to their city.
I just couldn't get why everyone kept asking if we found the place too cold. It wasn't. It was just fine. Two sunny days out of six is pretty damn good.
Yes, yes, okay. You want to know what I packed and what I couldn't. That's a whole other post, right?
Coming up tomorrow.