10 March, 2008

day thirteen. brussels and home.

i had been to brussels once before, for a night on the way from amsterdam or to amsterdam, i cant remember. what i do remember is loving the town and wishing i had more time there. jan started by taking me to a tiny pasta place next to the opera, which was about a quarter the size of vienna's. i had spaghetti with truffle oil and sausage, a sign of the good food to come.

the first night i was there, we decided to go and hear some music. according to jan, not many of his professional musician friends like to go hear live music. and i can see why. you spend so much work time in clubs, why would you want to spend your down time there too... but i get so much out of being in the same room as anyone performing, that i eat it up and it fires me up. so we went and saw the cuban guitarist ray cabrera and his band. we got there late, so we sat in the front row. now i was the person i laugh at or try to ignore at my own shows. clumsily trying to squeeze in without being noticed by the person onstage. hah! we see you. always.

i loved hearing music where i didnt understand the words, which made me realize how much i had been enjoying being in countries where i didnt really understand anything anyone around me was saying. when your living is words, sometimes its nice to return words to just sounds, not meanings and references and histories.

the next day, we started earlier and went to a fleamarket in the old part of the city. it was surrounded by streets filled with antique shops brimming with amazing stuff. thats one of the things i love most about traveling: going into antique stores. it gives me ideas for my current house, it gives me ideas for my future house, it fires my imagination for the who and when and what of an object. plus, the more jumbled the store, the more juxtaposed the junk, the more i like it. i want to see a door frame on its side next to a sink next to an entire row of theater seats with antique helmets in a case behind. these stores reminded me alot of the antique stores and salvage warehouses of new orleans. something old and waterlogged about the style, not the dry, wheat harvest and open space aesthetic you see in most american shops.

in the afternoon, we went to the museum of musical instruments. it was incredibly thorough, with instruments from every family you could think of, from most continents. and each exhibit had a sound portion, of course, which was also overwhelming. imagine hearing 30 second clips of a hundred instruments in an hour. whoa.

i found myself looking more and more at the tags for the instruments and hoping to see "north america" on any of them. as much as i love being in europe- the food, transportation, people are much nicer- i have found as i have gotten older i have a real soft spot for america. not the politicians or the flag and the heaviness of all that, but the feeling of america. the best way i can describe it is the SPACE of america, the promise of america. i get nostalgic for every mountain, highway, canyon, forest in my country and the inspiration of someplace so big and beautiful and wild and open, unfinished always and wide enough for everything (if also wide in the pants).

brussels has a huge catholic cathedral ("are there any other kind?" asked jan thoughtfully but belgian-like), and last night we went to an organ concert there of music by the composer olivier messiaen. messiaen dabbled in a form of serialism he invented, but was influenced equally by his big time catholic faith and birdsong. in fact he considered himself as much an ornithologist as anything else. the cathedral was totally dark, except for a spotlight on the giantic pipe organ on the wall. we sat right beneath it. what an instrument! i had no idea what i was in for, being new to messiaen and not too familiar with the pipe organ reperatory.

i love it when the music you are listening to outside of your body, the music you hear that is made by someone else matches so perfectly your interior life, your state of mind, that it becomes a seamless experience. what you are hearing and what you are thinking and what you are feeling are all the same, coalescing into the singular sound in front of you. i will forever listen to messiaen and come back to this moment: this moment of regret, disappointment, of confusion, of being a traveler but longing for something to feel like ground i can stand on, for desperately needing someone i can count on, for putting my hopes and desires on someone who couldnt sustain them, let alone their own. this time that finds me still feeling like more around me needs to fall apart and strip down. as lost as i feel in this moment, i think i will have to get even more lost before whatever it is that i am supposed to do on the otherside can become clear. the rumble of the pipes, the squeal of the upper register, the solid stone of the cathedral sending all of it back to me, growing somehow closer to something inevitable.

06 March, 2008

day ten. paris.

i had the loveliest time in paris on wednesday. michelle, her belgian friend jan, and i hopped on the metro, destination an art store by the louvre. my jet lag took its sweet old time kicking in, but it did kick in. i have been going to bed about 4am every night, despite my best efforts, and waking up around noon. a healthy 8 hours, but ones that make me feel like i have lost too much of my day. maybe its a small difference, but i am a 2-10 kind of girl.

we set out late, needing a meal. michelle suggested the cafe that overlooks the courtyard of the louvre. amazing! that it was a crisp bright afternoon only helped. i have had enough rain on this trip. after coffee and omelets, we headed over the river to sennelier, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, art supply stores in the city. when i was in highschool, i worked for an artist in her supply store and frame shop. just weekends, part time in the summer. i wasnt the most elegant framer and didnt have the best bedside manner (it was my experience, that people really just want you to tell them what they want in a frame and mat), but i loved it. for the craft of it, for the feeling of being at the center of a scene of artists, for my time with paula, the artist. it was the closest i got in highschool to approximating what my life as an artist could be. playing house at 17 with paints and pastels, frame chops, mats and glass.

walking into sennelier couldnt have made me happier. the store is tiny, on three floors, with nooks and crannies filled with the best art supplies you can buy. the cabinets are old and worn, shelves reached by rolling ladders, the staff dressed in long white coats. michelle's partner, david, is a painter and was looking for a duplicate to a brush he'd bought in the same store a few years before. apparently it was such a unique brush, that it had become central to his technique, and he was thinking he ought to have more than one. it made me think about, what if my guitars wore out. you invest so much time in the instrument, the guitar molds itself to you, taking up the oils of your hands, wearing where your fingers play it most, and in turn you mold yourself to the guitar. your style changes to get the best out of the instrument. yes, i could totally understand needing another brush. unfortunately the store didnt have another one and we left disappointed.

next, it was my turn to direct the tour and my single wish for being in paris this day (because i have done the tourist stuff other times) was to make a pilgrimmage to gertrude steins house. i didnt even need to look up the address, having known it by heart and whispered it to myself many times, to hear how it rolls off the tongue. 27 rue de fleurus. we easily found it on the map and walked to it from sennelier, down the rue de seine. the next time i go back to paris, rue de seine is the first place i am going. what an amazing street. gallery after gallery with such amazing art in the windows, on the corners, cafes, and then ending in the luxembourg palace and gardens. rue de fleurus was just a block and half from the park. as we rounded the corner to the house, i felt a twinge in my stomach. places matter to me. to stand in the same spot, especially a quotidian spot like the street someone lives on, is profound to me. we found the house, which has only a simple marker- it still being private apartments- to let you know its signifigance. i kissed the entrance way and michelle took a picture. that's all i needed!

we stopped for chocolate at a nearby cafe then headed to the pompidou center for the spectacular view of paris from the top. we considered eating dinner on the roof, but decided to head down to the square for a more terrestrial setting. at that moment, looking out over paris at night, pointing out landmarks, enjoying the air, i was happy. happy to have had a day with michelle and jan, happy to be away from home. as i said before paris somehow was feeling right to me.

05 March, 2008

day eight and nine. paris.

a change of scenery has done me good. maybe it was the weather, maybe it was germany, not sure, but i am glad to be in paris despite my complete lack of french. i dont even remember the numbers from gradeschool. so i mostly just look blank when people talk to me and i try to apologize and say i dont speak french, but not much comes out.

i will say this, paris seems alot more diverse than berlin. much more to look at as far as people. i hate to say it, not wanting to finger any more heavy history, but i do think its true. perhaps if not more diverse, then berlin is more segregated and i didnt get to the brown parts of it.

i made it into town yesterday afternoon after a few adventures on the public transport. i took my first cab yesterday to get to my hotel. not bad, one cab ride in a week. i am loving the idea of learning a new underground system every day.

i got to play 3 songs last night of my own. which i have to say, i mostly hate doing. for me it breaks up the flow of michelles music and my own concentration on what my role is... its hard for me to switch gears from attending to michelle's idiosyncracies to shining up and displaying my own. and i think my voice is rusty from not singing every night... gonna have to do some singing on my own to keep in shape.

03 March, 2008

day seven. berlin.

more of the same today. rain and cloudy skies. sigh. i suppose i cant expect a brighter mood from myself or the city. my friend ben weaver, a songwriter and poet from minneapolis, is a berlin aficionado, mostly because he has great friends here (see last post). i asked him for some suggestions of what to do with my day. he laughed because, as he puts it, "im not a great person for actual places because when I go somewhere I just basically walk around and sit in parks." which of course sounds perfect for me, if not for this weather.

so taking ben's advice, i headed for mauerpark, a park along a stretch of the berlin wall that remains. i stopped first at the "erotik museum" around the corner from my hotel. what a waste! sandwiched onto a couple floors between lame sex shops, it was an awful lot of old parchment with crazy cartoon drawings of straight people having sex. lots of big penises and fun for the guys. why must women always be depicted on our backs, receiving this heavenly gift of phallus? that makes me sick in an entirely different way than the medical curiousities yesterday.

mauerpark was equally bleak today. i am sure in the spring it can be beautiful and funky, with its graffiti and dog park and lack of tourists. today it just seemed to re-enact the futility of slamming yourself over the wall. i decided to go with that feeling and after eating my lunch in between raindrops, i hopped on the U2 to see checkpoint charlie. brushing up on my post-war history, i learned that it was one of several places where you could move between east and west berlin, but quickly became a focus for most escape attempts and protests. the museum there is so ancient, you want to go in with a sponge and wipe it down. it's been there a seriously long time. still, it was interesting to read the history of all the escape attempts. people under oppression get real resourceful, real quick. hiding in hollowed out cars, ballooning over, escaping via zip line strung in the middle of the night. be it for love, or job, family or freedom of other sorts, lots of people tried it and some heroically succeeded.

02 March, 2008

day six. berlin. the weight of the future, the weight of history.

i cant believe its only day six. how am i going to get through the next 28 days? i suppose it just seems long because there arent that many shows. we play tuesday in paris, and our next gig isnt for another 10 days. i am happy to be a tourist some of the time, but thats not my passion. my passion is music and i am just not making enough of it right now.

i've been so looking forward to being in berlin, perhaps unfairly so. maybe its just another big capital city. and i am thinking this: its so easy to forget how much you need your friends, and how much the way you see a city depends on who you are with. some of my favorite times traveling, on tour or otherwise, have been in the most ridiculously unexpected places but with the perfect company. so here i am exploring berlin alone, and it just feels a little meaningless to me without someone to share it with. so i share it with you, little blog friends.

i got in last night around 6. i had grand plans to see some music or a show, it being saturday night and all. my attempts were thwarted, not too much english language to choose from, and my brain didnt want to translate. so i did some yoga for the first time in days, and then, drumroll please: went to the grocery store. i cant tell you how happy that made me. i took my time, spending over an hour in a big german supermarket just up the street. i bought fish and mueslix, apples and honey, vegetables and soy products. viva la soya! and so i returned to my hotel room for my first meal in a week that didnt include meat or cheese. yes!

my jet lag got me today, despite my best efforts, and i woke up at 1230. sunday in europe means you gotta start early, so i missed alot of the meaty part of the day for see-ing stuff. i was also warned that the weather here would be suspect this time of year. they were right about today! gloomy and raining and wind gusts so hard you had to stop walking and hold onto something. no kidding!

my first stop was the berlin museum of medical history. set on the campus of the charite hospital, the 3 floor museum included a huge collection of medical specimens from the 1700s onward. i saw everything from kidney stones to an iron lung, with early attempts at plastic surgery, two headed babies, cancerous lungs, and wax models of eye afflictions to boot. i must admit i have a little thing for medical curiosities. something about seeing the range of human malformation makes me feel more a part of the regular world, instead of on the physical fringes of it. i saw a version of "body worlds", the fancy new plastination exhibit, in new york a couple years ago. i found it interesting, but not nearly arresting enough. i left the museum today sick to my stomach and totally satisfied. i dont think in america they would have an exhibit like this. someone would protest that it was too graphic or somehow immoral. whats the problem with presenting a whole, and sometimes imperfect, picture of humans? europeans seem to trust themselves to make their own decisions, draw their own boundaries and come to their own conclusions.

of course its the babies that ellicit the most visceral response. as whole minature versions of us, we cant help but feel like we are looking into some kind of time warp, or mirror to our smaller selves. we could have, any of us, been that baby without a head, or the one whose organs formed outside its body, or the one that was normal from the head down until you got to the torso which literally melted into one long fin. i think the feeling is doubly immediate for a woman. what if that was the baby i grew inside me?

i took a long walk afterwards to clear my head and ended up face to face with the reichstag, the german parliament building. bombed during WWII, now beautifully restored, i still couldnt help but feel the weight of berlin's past in it. my dad sent me an email yesterday describing his own trip to berlin this past summer. "All the while we were in Germany, I constantly had a sense of being where the Nazis once were," he wrote. i feel it too, so i cant imagine what someone of my dad's generation would feel. thats all we've known of germany. what does that do to a country to have to extricate itself from under a stone like that? its impossible to start over. germany is Germany, so what do you do? i suppose they have done the only thing you can: soberly face the truth, tell it, and keep moving forward.

i passed through the brandenberg gate, which was bigger than i expected. you know how sometimes grand historical symbols seem so much smaller in person (like heroes)? the gate was grander than i would have thought. i turned right and found myself at the holocaust memorial, which here is called the "memorial to the death of european jews". its a city block of granite plinths. as you look at it, they seem all about the same height, but as you walk through them, the ground falls away until you are in the middle of the grid, with the blocks towering over you. it wasnt very crowded because of the weather, but occasionally i would look down a row and see someone's winter jacket and red scarf breaking up the bleak stone pillars. it was incredibly moving to be there. somehow it all conveyed the size and scope so succintly, all the more powerfully for its bleakness and silence.

another walk to clear my head took me surprisingly to a church. i've been in other cities that seem to have more churches than here. the franzohsichkirche is part of the complex of buildings that make up the berliner conzert haus. i walked in at the intermission of a musik school recital. so i sat down and was treated to a fine fine performance of beethoven's first symphony.

i guess the weather was getting to me, or maybe it was just to keep the theme of a heavy day, but i decided to end my day with a trip to the jewish museum. of course, the holocaust is one small part of the history of jews in germany. it just happens to be horrific and defining. i give credit to the museum for giving the whole history its just due. the upper floors are a more traditional museum setting, though still fascinating and interactive. the basement of the building is like a summation in architechture of the entire upstairs. it consists of 3 overlapping and intersecting hallways. the axis of exile, continuity and holocaust. each hallway has a few objects displayed in them, and each ends in a different type of tower. a garden, a completely empty void, and an installation of thousands of iron masks you walk on, producing an incredible clanking sound. i felt disoriented, i felt overwhelmed, i felt more than walls should make you feel by simply being walls.

i walked a long way after that, trying to find a lesbian cafe that i had read about online, only to find that it was more of a women's center and turkish bath, which it being sunday was shuttered. i'm not really sure i could have switched gears like that anyhow.

history is irrefutable. we carry it with us whether we want to or not. some of us choose to acknowledge it as best we can by writing or tatooing or in the way we live our lives. but what if your history is so heavy and so well-known it threatens to overwhelm the casual or ignorant observer? i hope tomorrow to find myself somewhere lighter in berlin and myself.

01 March, 2008

day four and five. frankfurt and berlin.

it is such a curious feeling to play music under these circumstances. one minute you are on the ground. hunched over in your corner of the car, scrapping for some decent food and worrying. literally three minutes later, after throwing on some other clothes, you are suddenly expansive, standing onstage, bright eyed, smiling (whether you feel it or not) and digging out your soul for a room full of people. it always stuns me with its incongruity. you are alone all day and suddenly, you are the life of the party. not just the life, you are the party. lets dance.

our original plan was to spend the time between frankfurt and south africa traveling in europe together. a great adventure, if you can dream it, we'll do it, said michelle. in reality what happened was that we couldnt agree on a plan that worked with money and what we both wanted to do. so i am on my own for 3 days, paying for myself and traveling alone to berlin. why berlin? i have no idea, it just seemed like, the Place to land.

so now i am on a train somewhere in germany, listening to some old tortoise, munching on japanese crackers that my new york girlfriend packed in my backpack. the world is just a jumble of influences, and we are each repositories for our personal collections. how do we curate ourselves? make sense of all that is housed within our own museum of experience? what guide can we offer for visitors to our interior life?

i just reading an article today about carl nielsen, the danish composer, a firebrand it sounds like. he had several mottos including "music is life and life is inextuinguishable". not inexhaustable, incoherent, inarticulate or in order. no, he said INEXTUINGUISHABLE. so it goes on, and you cant wet it or tamp it out, move it or save it for later. here it is. here we are. i am being carried by something, i dont know what yet or where to, but the sense i have of approaching something i am meant to be doing- and doing it purely and to the exclusion of everything else-is growing stronger. what will be the object of this singular focus?