good morning ~
today's track features an improvisation recorded in Denmark and audio captured on the lightly-sinking boat I wrote about last week (you can hear the phrase "some water got in" uttered aloud near the beginning, haha).
since I last wrote I've been to Germany and Amsterdam and back, where I saw a flaming branch dropped into fog and danced in an empty pool until late into the night and played a secret grand piano for a select audience late in the evening - living at the pace I nearly used to, internalizing that its still possible.
We pulled into Köln on a free afternoon, on the way back from somewhere else. My brother said something like, well, it's on the way, we should stop in so you can see it. Marking off the great buildings and crumbling cities of Europe as if spotting a rare bird, crossing it off on my life list.
He and I saw a lot together then, me in my last month of my 17th year, about to move away from California for at least two decades, he in his late twenties, quasi-legally living in his partner's dorm room while she did a semester in Heidelberg, beneficently guiding me through the wonders of the old continent, like Virgil in the Divine Comedy or maybe more accurately the George Carlin character in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. We saw castles in the mist and gigantic topiary in the shape of a garden gnome and rode borrowed bikes home from absinthe bars. At the home of a distant relative a teenager played us "the final countdown" on her flute. We saw the time trials of the Tour de France and drank wine squatting in an alley. We went to a bombed-out punk club in Berlin - literally bombed-out, 2/3rds of the ceiling gone - and then I bought a melodica from a flea market outside our hostel (it was yellow, still have it, when I flew back to the states it was aggressively searched, the authorities thought I might have stashed drugs inside).
And Köln promised yet another wonder - the tallest cathedral in Europe or something to that effect. A big, beautiful, and lightly threatening building that loomed over the town even as we approached the station. Its twin spires grew taller - seemed closer to god - with every block we crossed. And then we were inside, beneath its impossible vault, with a quiet and a darkness that felt just as big - absence and silence playing the role of the divine creator. Holy presence, but one that was unfamiliar to me - it spoke in German, it held high the martyrs, there were customs and images my uncatholic self couldn't comprehend. Stained glass, worn pews, faded grandeur, everything you'd expect but more - enough to at least fray the hem of the firm non-god-belief I had arrived at so confidently.
That month in Germany is almost certainly the first time in my life I actively worried about getting or sending emails, an anxiety that now most of us live with every single day. My high school sweetheart and I were in a moment of deeply unresolved tension - we were not necessarily together with college on different coasts coming up but we were definitely in love and shortly before this trip abroad we had tentatively swapped v-cards. What's more, her father - who I really admired - was quite sick. Remission's return, things seemed really bad. I was really preoccupied with our only mode of communication those days - emails that I could download whenever the hostel had a communal computer.
I was - helplessly - thinking about emails in the midst of the cathedral, and I saw my life looming before me, as tall and unknowable as the building I was within. I felt chaos bubbling all around me, the unknown and the possible overwhelmingly huge. I wanted to know how it would all go, I wanted things to coalesce, I didn't want my girlfriend's father to die while I was away - who but me would drive her to the hospital, as I did so many days before and after school? I was - as is the whole point in these unknowably large monuments - all swallowed up by how small I seemed before the hugeness of my life, and all the other lives involved. And so I lit a candle, one euro coin in the cup, and did what I had staunchly refused to do so many times while a stubbornly ex-christian teenager: I prayed.
And then later that day I sent an email containing what I thought was a very beautiful and extremely cool thing to say: today I lit a candle for your father in the tallest cathedral in Europe.
I hadn't thought of this moment in quite some time - this trip to visit my brother and his partner, which strikes me as just remarkably generous on their part now, was over 15 years ago. I've lived a lot of the life that seemed impossibly huge then. There have been many towns and many prayers and other cathedrals. Some time on after lighting a candle for him I received a box of my sweetheart's father's clothes, sent to me in the mail by her mom. I couldn't or didn't attend the funeral, but I wore his raincoat and his paisley shirt for years and years, quite literally until they were ripped to shreds (I'm still upset about the button-down that my bandmate's wife drunkenly clawed apart after a gig, her engagement ring caught a hole above the pocket while laughing at something I said, literally tore it asunder).
But over the weekend I went to meet up with my buddy, a friend I met shortly after lighting the candle, after arriving east. Our plan was to rendezvous in Germany, see a spectacularly bizarre and beautiful piece of theater in an abandoned diving pool, and then travel overland to where he's living in Amsterdam. Near the last leg of my trip out there, though, my train never arrived. I asked the agent in the information booth - she said that there was a strike happening and that most of the local trains had been cancelled. But she also said that I could simply take whatever train came to track ten, whenever that happened. And so I waited on the platform and peered into the distance, looking for my connection. And what was there, across the bridge, looming over the next town over? The two twin spires, piercing, as huge as I suddenly remembered.
But what about you? What is looming in the distance? What is something you remember from 15 years ago, vividly and of-a-sudden? Are you asking to play the beautiful pianos around you?