NETHERLANDS - BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
We reverse the car out of Flora's parents lane and I wave at her standing on the sidewalk as we drive away. Out of Heiloo we go along the the railroad tracks over the tiny canal and onto the two lane highway back to Castricum. Flower fields. Fields of vegetables. Late morning light.
We stop in Castricum for a pastry and a coffee, then stand in the shadow of the sun shining on the tower of the stone church. Pass by the shaded graves in the wooded yard on the way back to the parked car, sipping coffee. Follow the voiced directions of our robot GPS lady who in a demure english accent commands us to "take the motorway."
We take the motorway. Eric takes out his melodica and plays the songs we've been working on. I chatter out suggestions that he notes on a notepad with his right hand while playing the song with his left. The rural coast is left behind for inland factories. Clumsy juggernauts on the horizon lacking the charm of the rusted railroad bridges and sooty churches that form the foundation for their existence.
We recall Flora's anarchist politics and ruminate on the responsibility of a being in society to rebel. Musician: Inferiority complex or self importance? Eric monitors our English robot lady, and suggests that sincere devotion to any craft leads to authenticity. Then he turns into a DJ and starts to play some very beautiful music.
Our mood grows sleepy. The sun is hot. Our car is going tremendously fast. The scenery turns back to rural farm fields that unroll as the trucks and shiny, tiny cars blur by unreal. Suddenly we are on the industrial outskirts of Brussels listening to Nina Simone, sweating, wondering where to meet the man who will take us to our evening show or no show.
The motorway deadends. Traffic. Can't figure out how to work the air conditioning. Eric listens to the voicemail on his phone and reports that our show is back on again and Florin wants to meet us at the venue. He has left no address nor directions.
The English Robot Lady guides us out of the traffic to a wide cobble stone street between two rows of crumbling wharehouses. Then we make a left and turn onto a road that winds through a park. We are headed downhill and the left side of the road is bordered by a very old and well constructed brick wall. The scene reminds me of New York's central park when summer first takes hold.
We leave the park and enter into Brussels itself. Tall rows of three story gingerbread houses. A feeling of lawlessness under the tired watch of withered authority. Poverty and decay of a beautiful realm. The English Lady gets lost and leads us to a place where there are many north African people and people from the middle east. We drive awkwardly through the neighborhood on streets clearly not designed with cars in mind as fussy business people honk their horns and colorful trolleys screech on rugged tracks.
I grow frustrated with our guide who seems confused and turn left up a sunny hillside past some mosques and wig stores and wind up in a very strange red light district. The biggest rat I've ever seen is trotting unabashed down the sidewalk with an abandoned billboard clamped in his rather menacing sharp and yellow teeth.
The ladies behind the smudged glass of the dingy stone buildings wear victorian lingerie and swivel around in modern office furniture that appears plucked from the ashes of burned down buildings that my father used to call insurance fires. Eric and I discuss the demographics of the would be clientel and feel queasy about the reality of where these ladies came from from. Terrible poverty and war crime lords in Africa and places that Russia tried controlling after Joseph Stalin won the craziest drunken chess game for money and sex slaves in history. (My grandfather said that Stalin wasn't a real russian, and some of these poor ladies are probably Georgian, the ones that aren't from Algeria, and Morrocco and Uzbekistan and Yemen and the Ivory Coast and Senegal) What would our tiny, sweet, beautiful, blonde, intellectual, nymph, anarchist lady, from just hours before have said? Oh Flora how far away already you seem to be.
Michael stop day dreaming! Poor Eric is getting very hungry. I can tell from the shadows forming behind the pale blue irises of his eyes. We know by names where we are but have no idea how to get where we are going.
Navigate wrecklessly out of the fetid harbor of savagely sacked sex slaves. Spray painted anarchy symbols and Emma Goldman quotes on all the dumpsters. Same giant rat shakes his sign at us as we leave. (I'm talking about an actual rat. Yes. I don't like calling people animal names and having it mean something bad. If you call a rat something to do with a person well that's a fucked up rat....but not vice versa)
Pull over by a large building. Squatters have taken over. Strange and shady business inside. Smashed open grandfather clock on the green mosaic tiles of an empty lobby, mold covered walls and bare wires in smashed open holes in the plaster. Eric is being swept away. I try on my computer to find the address of the venue. I did not write it down because the original plan was to meet this man Florin at his house and he was going to take us there. But now he has a business meeting so he cannot meet us and take us there. I fear Eric is growing frustrated that I planned a tour that will not work out. I fear that he feels that I am wasting his time. I fear that I am losing my chance to become the musician. My talent and energy per time unit was too little. We are stuck in a wasteland sweating. Will return home dirty and broke to an occupation I dread doing but must because I have to.
Tyrant of my inner life and fairy godmother bodhisattva play good cop/bad cop momentarily in the mind:
"Enough cowardly frivolity! Stop crying and do what you're born to do or you going to die crying! I'll kill you and drink your blood and then ritual style dance on your tombstone with the ghost of the child version of yourself that you have shamed." (rage, skeleton stretching out of skin)
"Deep breaths and compassion. Love your troubles til they disappear." (slowly trilling notes on an underwater piano played by non existent omniscient nymph being.)
"Destroy all weakness in your soul. There is no love but the wild animal's love to live." (Focus. Fangs. Blood. Breath. Oscillating light.)
"No one is going to do it if you don't do it." (bright Light. Furious rage. Bliss. Eternal Blackness. Silence. Clarity)
Anyways...standing up straight again...fierce look in eyes, stare back at shifty character standing outside empty market on the corner across the street until his shoulders slump and he looks away. Then on Eric's phone I call Florin, our host, who answers and tells me that the live music cafe where this evening we are supposed to play is in the center of town next to the name of a building I can't understand. He hangs up.
Eric wanders back to the car from some kind of weary errand and I report the situation. He does not look well.
I smile and we enter the car. For a while we play the game of listening to the English Computer lady send us through traffic and hot sun in circles. Then I turn her off and park in an alley and enter a smokey bar asking in broken french for directions to the center of town. The people look at me rather amused and a hard living bartender lady sweetly gives me clues that logically make no sense but appeal to my intuition.
I return to the car and report to Eric that we're on the right track. He looks skeptical. I drive us out of the alley fast and far away from the circular hub that duped our mapmaker to the shadow of an imperial looking building at the top of a hill and across the street from a beautiful park. We park the car beneath the building and skeptically ascertain that the time for putting money in the meter has passed and our car can exist unmolested for the remainder of the evening.
It is six thirty PM now. The afternoon is over. The northern sun of late spring casts long and lazy shadows of trees in the park below. We are due to load in at seven. Eric is very fastidious about being on time. Somehow the sweet hard living bartender lady speaks in my spirit to walk towards the park and then go turn northward down the hill. We go.
At the bottom of the hill the park ends and there is a four way intersection with hotels on every corner. We cross the street and head into the lobby of the hotel on the northwest corner. I ask the man behind the counter in my hazy french if he knows where the live music cafe is. At first he acts very stand offish and then somehow I scare or charm him and he snaps into a very accommodating frame of mind to tell us that all we must do is leave the lobby and make two rights. We will be there in ten minutes.
Outside in the bustle of the warm evening we are tired and dirty carrying all our instruments for the show through the crowds. We walk for a long twenty blocks or so and pass a beautiful old hall with grandiose steps filled with students socializing and Eric comments that it looks like the picture on the cover of his middle school French textbook that he heretofore had found unbelievable. Then he spots the cafe.
Relief. We cross the street and walk inside. My name is not on the chalkboard that lists the evening's entertainment. Behind the bar is a smartly dressed young man, handsome, and unassuming. I introduce myself to him as the musician who is scheduled to play this evening and he introduces himself to me as Neo. Immediately he makes a saintly presence.
He directs us to a table on the sidewalk terrace where the people walk by and the sunset colors slant over the gothic rooftops through the leafy trees to the seedy street. He brings us cold, clear glasses of waters. Then he brings us food and beer. We are very relieved.
Eric seems as if he has discovered some further secret of existence and our roles reverse. I no longer feel like the intrepid parent and he no longer seems like the fledgling pup. Now I'm the little one and he's revealing further what it means to be the musician. A musician when the world was new and a musician in the absurdity of human being life with robotic commercial warfare and bionic sexuality.
Eric illuminates that the humility I mistakenly inhabit as a saving grace is really just the tangled tendrils of ego problems like insidious insecurity and wounded vanity. You had it right the first time when you were a little kid he tells me. Before the intellect. Before the false tyranny of tastemakers. Remember when you really believed in rock stars? Those people actually were wonderful despite how embarrassing it may seem at weak moments out of context and after the fact. Going up on stage and describing the world for people is a ridiculous thing to do. The only chance one has of doing it well is to be as outlandish as one actually feels and sees. It is not an entertainer's function to be obsequious.
We eat well and enjoy laughter and each others company. Eventually our host arrives. A bearded man with a pony tail and his serious son of an advanced fourteen years of age. The father's name is Florin and he carries a bag with a well calibrated movie camera. His mind is filled with ideas about biblical angels and the shifting of consciousness to realize a new age. He points his camera at me and Eric Kuhn as we saunter onto the stage of a half emtpy room with high ceilings and mysteriously stately looking chandeliers.
Eric plays a kick drum and the guitar and a tambourine simultaneously and I play the crazy ghosts I had formerly turned over to the censors of the soul. It is ten thirty at night in Brussels, Belgium. I am too old to be playing a room so small for so little money and so far from home at such a great price. My career is an objective failure, but for this moment in time on this date there was no greater concert anywhere on planet earth.
Neo the bartender smiles warmly and polishes glasses. The girls seated beneath a gilded mirror in a seashell shaped booth snap photos. The booker, a young man with deep sadness and hope twirling so clearly to me above the haunted halo of the chandelier twirls an actress across the splintered boards of the dance floor while Florin films from his table.
After the show everyone is excited and buys us drinks. Eric and I take a moment to go for a walk outside and it feels so much like we are children. I leave him for a few minutes to go get some cds for the girls out of the car. I break into a run and cut through a questionable neighborhood. I wonder if what I'm doing is unsafe and then am strangely startled to peek my reflection in the glass of darkened storefronts and see a hulking wild figure sprinting beside me stride for stride dashing through the dapper gangsters on the sidewalk who tip their hats and part a path.
Feeling refreshed from my run I return to the cafe Neo and give the girls some cds. Then Florin takes us through the haunted alleys of the old city. Everyone eats a late dinner of greek food while I listen to them talk and nurse a beer. The world is changing Florin says. "Soon you will know who you are. Soon you will you know."
After eating Florin films Eric and I playing a song in the old square. I dance like an assassin and fall to the cobble stones. Then finally we make our way back to Florin's car. He drives us to our car and we follow him back to his home. It takes a million years to find a parking spot and I have to wedge the tiny fiat panda between someone's bumper and a flower bed.
We make it into the apartment carrying all our heavy bags of instruments monochromatic clothing. Florin's room is on the fourth floor. Enter through the open door: Oil paintings of angelic ladies in wispy clothes on picnics. Mirrors. Elaborate computer set up. Fancy dining room table. Large, comfortable couch. Florin wants to smoke weeds and talk about the universe. I take a shower and return to the main room to find Eric exhausted trying to summon the good humor to navigate further cosmic places in a day that has been full of them.
There is no entering the conversation for me. For a long time I stand by the open window and look far down below and feel the moonlight and night wind enter in. Then, though there is chaos and strangers all around and no time to make sense of what happened or what's next I walk over to the couch, close one eye, and fall asleep.
Florin smokes weeds and types on the computer and asks me if I know who I am. Birds sing in the trees below. The moon shines. Eric departs for the guest bedroom and Florin's son wanders into the kitchen.