Some people hook a bike rack onto the back of their car. We need a wine rack. We’ve collected in the Jura, in Switzerland, in Alsace, in the Rhine valley. We pass up a cuckoo clock the size of a small chapel at the shop in the Black Forest. At the absinthe distillery in the Doubs in France, the warm vapor of anise clads us. Laura, I got some absinthe whipped cream in a can. I have some winter cocktails in mind.
We stop in Stuttgart to visit an old friend Guy (vintage 1987) and his lovely family. He reminds me that my favorite band was Sacrilege, and that I once stood in front of a Lincoln Towing truck to stop them from taking my car. He’d never mentioned the Flophaus to Bettina. I should have kept my mouth shut. He’s known me so long that he knows how to press aaaall my buttons. Then his family is amazingly gracious, go figure. Seems his DNA is recessive. Even he says that only fatherhood could blunt his edges, because he doesn’t want his daughter’s social life to suffer from having a jerk for a dad. Even so, I have my Alrik humor-shield with me. I grow hoarse from laughing all afternoon in a biergarten. They put an entire day aside to catch up with us, despite not having heard from me in five years. Stuttgart goes on the list. Guy definitely belongs there, though he misses Chicago.
We’re in Berlin to get things fixed. There’s Alrik’s knee. An old ice-hockey injury in Montreal in March is acting up after a long catering assignment and a few days walking Paris. Then there’s the car we’d leased in Milan, which we’d started to understand. It was parked just east of the line in the pavement marking the former Berlin Wall when a truck backed into it.
Most sagas are boring, and this one of musical chair-car is no different. With some resuscitated high-school German language skills, we get an upgraded loaner. German tow-truck drivers have advanced degrees in hydraulics to elegantly raise up a bashed car and to make you almost happy the accident happened so that you get to watch. A crane lifts the SUV and floats it onto the flatbed. I’ve never seen a car levitate.
After so many wasted days on the phone with the police department and the rental car company, we haven’t seen much of Berlin. But the afternoon we spend with Janet having day-beers in a street-corner park, flashback to twelve years ago. With the bohemian brick storefront homes, the cast-iron art nouveau train station overhead, and people pouring out through the swinging oak doors, this could be Bucktown. I lose sense of where I am. A little uncomfortable.
Janet and I draw the figure together on a barge and at the museum. The model inspires lyrical lines and a sense of ease, that I’m in the right place doing the right thing. My hand and my brain know this craft, though it’s been years. Life modeling: still one of the noble professions. Janet tells me about all the artists we used to model for in Chicago ten, twenty years ago. Great people are gone. Passionate, gruff, gentle, genuine, exacting, caring people who taught me to be decent, to live as I am, and to stand inside my creative worldview. This was my first master’s degree. I owe these teachers so much, and I didn’t get a chance to thank them, I was so desperate to get out of the Midwest. And now in Berlin, I feel like I’m there again. Pleasantly reassuring, but much too familiar.