Awake to Florin asking me who I am. I do not reply and he tells me I'm the arch angel Michael who's come to protect the people of Israel from a dark and dastardly army. "If that's a metaphor and my working presence on the planet is supposed to be for fighting then those people are in trouble man. I'm getting hurt man. I'm desolate." I say with one eye open.
Florin shakes his head and smiles. "No. No. You will see."
I leap off the couch and take to the floor in the opposite corner of the room to do the morning monk exercises. Florin attends to his computer and begins listening to the song "Telling the Story of the Evening Sun," which is a song by me. It's a sweet thing to have someone actually enjoy your music and think you're a spiritual warrior spirit like I used to listen to the Doors, and Bob Marley when I was a baby nerd. Further a lot of my life choices depend upon a great deal more people sharing Florin's enthusiasm, but part of me still finds it very funny and also very weird. I laugh and raise my feet up to the ceiling and levitate like a bat on an invisible branch with a gauche smile and my arms dangling above the black stone slabs of the floor.
Eric walks in all sleepy eyed on the scene and raises one eyebrow. I tell him offhand while hanging upside down that I'm hungry and drop to stand with two feet on the floor. We decide to go out get some breakfast.
Florin lights weeds on fire and tells us he has a meeting and will be ready to film our podcast in the early afternoon. We tell him we'll be back to the apartment by three. He gives me a generous stack of bills and says to buy groceries to cook with. I am slightly perplexed but accept.
Out of Florin's front door down the dark hallways with gilded mirrors. Down the stairway with its wrought iron railing decorated like a dragon's tail. Mosaic tiles on the stairs. No lights. Cobweb covered candleabras.
Shiny floors and large mirrors of the lobby. Brass bars on glass windows at the threshold. Outside it is morning and glorious sunshine. We check our tiny car beneath the long diagonal row of housing buildings that look like a grand castle wall that over a thousand years a hundred thousand bird beings turned into a million haunted houses. The tiny car, wedged between the back of an aging luxury sedan and a city garden is unmolested. We peer nervously in through the windshield. Both of us are holding guitars like farmers carry rusted tools that begin to look a part of the landscape of their worldly being. A moslem man comes out of an underground portal with a gentle, welcoming presence. "All is well in Brussels" he says with a smile, "Enjoy."
I nod and thank him and feel safe that our car won't be towed like it would in San Francisco and that the people in Brussels understand the value of bards and minstrels and the like. We wander off with our guitars and find a strange restaurant that serves a fixed price menu very affordably in a garden between the high walls of the abandoned fortress of the city. The whole operation of the restaurant, like that of the city seems beyond the self conscious mania of codes and laws.
There is no frivolity but the food is artfully prepared and nourishing. The waiters and waitresses tiptoe backstage and have a laugh at the sight of us with our shabby, monochromatic, barefooted, hooded garb and guitar cases leaned up against the ivy crawling up the cracked wall toward the rusted fire escape too high for any one but a burglar to escape from. Eric and I know we are laughed at and think critically about our state of affairs while sipping tea from delicate white cups. Are we remnants of some kind of childish 1960s ideal? Who can afford to go on tour of Europe playing music when the banks gambled away all the money and no one owns houses and the forest is getting cut down and the dirt is washing away into the sea.
"Who can afford not to?" I respond to the doubting voice in my mind. You are here to live your life, to hone your craft, and hopefully to provide inspiration to far away strangers. And yet I wonder if the rate at which I'm accomplishing any of these tasks is satisfying to Eric who has his own life to lead and his own race to run. Breath deep and continue on. There are babies born without food all over the globe and how many wars are going on and you're a traveling musician who makes no money? Will becoming a paralegal make this situation better or worse Michael? Focus. Breath. Go forward.
We pay our bill and walk under the street trees and the warm spring sunshine to find a park to practice our music for the filming to take place in the afternoon and the show we'll undergo in the evening.
Through a corridor we pass back into Florin's neighborhood and stare upward at the pointed tower tops of a preposterously tall church. The church is a sooty gray and black. The sky is bright blue.
After a hundred more paces of walking along the train tracks we find a park shaded by old trees where we pick out a bench and sit down to play the music. We begin to practice a song that begins "I know I have a skeleton, how'd you like to see me try to use it, tell the truth and try and prove this hangman's noose is purely useless," when a strange girl approaches and begins speaking to us familiarly in French.
We respond haltingly, somewhat reluctant to be distracted from our practice but she asks us for a song and we give her one. We play the "The Dictionary is the Book of Love" song and not the Skeleton one. Our new friend applauds and asks for another and another. After the end of the third song she tells Eric that she's a singer too and gives him a beat and hums a melody. Eric then begins strumming cords and she rhyme sings rapidly in French in a way that is very impressive. In the back of my mind I'm aware of how my default reaction was to wish this person away as an imposition to the work flow when in fact the ground of living, and particularly living as a musician is composed of such interactions. The nervous and unexamined way in which my work ethic has become a tyrant is being revealed on this trip. By and by our guest leaves us and promises to watch tonight as we play at the Live Music Cafe. We watch her as she walks away slipping earphones over her ears and off to catch a train.
After she is disappeared Eric and I finish practicing a few more songs and then walk across the park to a corner produce market to buy groceries for Florin. In the process of doing so we revisit the question that first entered into our mind in the morning when he gave us the money: "When are we going to 'cook' this food when we have a show tonight and leave for Paris tomorrow morning?" We wonder if Florin imagines we will stay for days and weeks and usher in the mystical way of being with him as the stars of mystics switch places with the misguided stars of technocrats. What a complex man our host is and how simple a small town hustler on the run I am. Angel? Angel to me means some girls on dewey grass of wild lands that don't exist anywheres but the tidy sanctity of my dreams. This here grimy urchin under siege from the merchants isn't going to bring any angels into the mess of being much less the falsely romanticized fantasy of warfare.
We buy fruit and yogurt. Walking in the sunshine back to Florin's we ponder whether European junk food is less processed than American junk food. Back up the steep flights of stairs along the dragons tale, the darkness, dusty candelabras, and gilded mirrors to the threshold of Florin's door which is locked. We knock and he opens and the smell of burning herbs and spices seeps into the hallway. Inside on the couch is a tall man dressed like a lapsed intellectual with gray hair who Florin introduces as a comedian. We give Florin his change from the grocery transaction and show him what we have purchased which seems to sadden him somehow.
Eric disappears to ready himself for the afternoon and I sit with Florin and the comedian. At length I ask Florin what time we should plan to film with him and he looks at me as if I've missed several trains and answers inscrutably in poetry. I smile at the comedian who watches me like a mildly volatile participant in an otherwise gentile tennis tournament.
Meanwhile Eric re-enters the room and appears restless. I get up from my seat and summon him to the chamber where he slept the night before to make our plans. "I'm not sure Florin intends to film us." I say.
"Why not?" Eric answers, clear eyed and measured.
"I think he's offended we didn't buy the kind of groceries one cooks a communal feast with." I reply.
We debate the possible truth of my perception and decide to travel downtown alone with the intention of meeting Florin to shoot a movie. If he appears great, if not we'll street perform and make our own movie. Moreover, we will plan to stay downtown for our show in the evening and as such should have our bags readily packed so that we may leave early in the morning for Paris. Accordingly we quickly rearrange our belongings to make this possible and transfer to my daypack the camera and recording equipment for the afternoon.
We then leave the bedroom and enter into the apartment's main room to present our plan to Florin. He and the comedian are smoking and deep in conversation and Florin agrees to the idea of meeting us by the Maison Communal at six o'clock but it doesn't seem to me like something he intends on in reality.
None the less Eric and I pick up our instruments and recording gear and disappear once more from the apartment, on our feet again, walking long and far over the cobblestones, under the trees and church tower rooftops and the blue sky. Over a bridge and a wide green river with rusted cargo ships bobbing by the stone platform of the shore. Past an imposing statue at the center of a traffic circle. And then along the dense traffic of a thoroughfare ransacked by modernity. Eric listens to music on his headphones and I walk deep in thought until we arrive at a grocery store where it occurs to me to purchase batteries for our portable amplifier. They do not carry C batteries and we travel on.
The thoroughfare ends at the top of a hill and we are back in the hotel heavy part of town where we finally found our way after being lost the afternoon before. We cross the hotel street and make a right down a polished alleyway of shiny stone and cackling, sparking glass. The old fashioned bazaar cast over to the shopping mall. There is an apple computer store and I try to find batteries there and am unable but am able per Eric's request to purchase an eighth inch cord to plug his digital jukebox into the car stereo. (A silly errand it seemed at the time, but a powerfully good decision in retrospect)
We continue on through the bazaar. Shiny people. Vacant eyes. Large advertisements. Sex. Youth. Wealth. Law. Order. I am tired. I am a thief.
The mall spits us out on an old street with dirty stones where the foreigners are at home and speak their language and the sounds of the city catch their breath and there's other birds besides brainwashed pigeons.
Coughing buses growl and and wheeze. Taxi drivers throw elbows and and little business men and ladies scoot through and think reflexively on the status afforded by their educations. Eric and I veer off the big road and down a diagonal puppet show alley that goes back in time five hundred years instantaneously. The people have on the new costumes but the buildings look down like they ate the library and partied with dinosaur bones.
We travel through the alley and arrive in a wide cobblestone square where they used to have farmer's markets and public executions to prove that the authorities know the lord above and what not. It is almost three o'clock and we decide to walk over to the maison communal on the other side of the square and wait for Florin.
Florin does not appear at three and we talk and reflect on the beauty of the architecture in the bright light and stretching shadows of the spring afternoon as we wait.
By and by we decide there's no need to wait any longer and to set up a scenario to make our own movie.
Alas, with the camera set up on the tripod framing a beautiful shot and the marantz audio recorder ready and recording and the guitars all tuned we begin to play a song that sounds really good. Then a policeman comes and tells us in French it's illegal to make movies in the square. He is a kind and respectful man and we have a nice human interaction and then turn off the camera. As the sun sinks lower we wait for Florin to come and create the documentation we were unable to.
We wait a little while longer. The sun begins to sink below the rooftops of the square and we decide Florin must not becoming.
We discuss the matter as we walk out of the square, down the diagonal time traveling alley and onto the sidewalk shores of the bustling street of relative modernity. There the students are smoking and drinking on the steps of a grand old library like building that Eric says looks like the unbelievable scene in the cover photograph of a middle school french text book in America. After a diversion across the wide road in a bourgeois happy hour land we return to the french textbook scene and attempt to play a street performance set. No one listens nor pays much attention of any kind much less contributes to our coffers. I feel as if Eric is frustrated and disappointed in me and I imagine myself simultaneously to be an obsolete carnival attraction, soon to be prostituted for the last few bits of life force until they finally grind me up and feed me to the donkeys that pull the train that carries the vaudeville to the next town where the up and comers are still care free and able to carry on. What a shame I didn't have any kids to play catch with and a garden for a scarecrow.
Rats. Poor Eric is stuck in an operation with a crazy, crazy man I lament for a moment longer. Then the old steadfast quality that is good and pure operating from a remote location tells a body to breath deep and get it under control. Strap on a smile son. Get up and dust off. Just as I'm almost back to earth a group of children of children of the sixties approach with long hair and guitars and chat us up. They want to know where we're from and what kind of music we like to play. They invite us to their farm a short train ride out into the countryside to play music in the barn. We show appreciation for the invitation and make vague efforts to stay in touch in the future. Really though Eric and I are tired and hungry, not quite vibrant and in place enough to connect with strangers at the moment. We bid farewell to our fleeting friends who are off to a party in an abandoned palace, and make our way to the Live Music Cafe to take our evening meal.
Neo, our saintly savior, cheerfully brings us menus, water and beer. We order salad and pasta. Soon all is well with the world again. Life is so simple really. People need to eat, drink and sleep and not just work hard or live up to whatever ideas take up residence in the place where hindu people look and corporate war lords throw bombs and genetically modified sex symbols.
We eat and drink, then play a very beautiful set of music. Neo and the music booker Frederick smile and applaud enthusiastically. There is also some shy girls in after work clothes and a skinny kid from France who looks like and actually turns out to be a lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse keeper sits down with us and tells us he's a singer. Frederick and Neo bring us rounds of drinks. For whatever reason I'm feeling festive and drink up the drinks. A cover band is on stage playing slightly insincere versions of good old music and Eric's polite and humble way of being seems a little under pressure as the lighthouse keeper tells stories of busking in his local market and the hour approaches midnight. By and by it becomes clear it's time to leave. We must drive to Paris early in the morning and it's a long walk back to Florin's apartment. We bid Frederick and the great Neo farewell and I photograph the grandeur of the ballroom chandeliers that illuminate the hall we played the first time I ever played in Belgium and I wonder if we'll ever return. I hope so.
The walk home is joyful and also illuminating. Eric explains to me why he was bothered by the cover band. I feel irresponsible putting it into words. It was really beautiful to hear and it made me start to see my traveling friend in the same way I perceived the beautiful scenes of nature as well as human creation that were all along the path of our travels. To make a beautiful building, or a pine forest on an expanse of sand dunes above the sea, or a city around concentric canals, or the airplane that flew us there for that matter, one must have a great deal of faith. The mind must be resolved, and focused enough to stay with a purpose for a very long time. And so the artist, to do this meaningfully, and responsibly, must sincerely love the art form. Or put another way, if one truly dedicates their life to something then a powerful result will be yielded. So we are all better off if the creator is dedicated truthfully and with something beautiful in mind.
We also, aside from the spiritual meanderings, make fun of each other's mothers and lament the lack of traditional spoils of the rock and roll lifestyle thus far. The long walk goes by quickly and I feel the trip changing powerfully for the better. By the time we ascend the long and gothic stairway to Florin's apartment I am feeling very good. Strangely, the door to the apartment is hanging halfway open and Eric and I look at each other with quizzical grins. Then we walk into the apartment to see Florin partying like it's his birthday. He is seated with his son on the couch burning weeds with some wine bottles on the table.
The son greets us alertly and politely. Florin seems surprised. He remarks that he thought we'd find women in the beautiful city. I cannot tell if he's serious or if his feelings are truly hurt because I'm a hustler and not an angel and we're leaving tomorrow without truly traveling into deep mysterious territories. I sit down on the window ledge and peer down at the side walk many stories down below and the rooftops just above. Florin begins interviewing Eric about what he saw during the day. Eric is a good sport and partakes in the weeds.
"What did you see? Tell me. What did you see?" Florin asks.
Finally, Eric answered. "The rooftops of churches and a very blue sky."
Then he bid us all goodnight.
I stayed up a long time later talking with Florin and his son. What a strange and generous man. He told me about ancient rabbis and how the geometry and the meaning of language spiral outward in tandem. I asked him earnestly why he didn't come to film us and if we'd hurt his feelings by being stern minded travelers as opposed to spiritual emissaries. He responded partially in riddles and partially in his jovial, endearing way that when I think about it now seems like a really honest answer.
"We are all learning what it means to be here all the time. You will find out who you are one day and when you do, you will know who I am, and we can talk about it."
Then he disappeared from the room, presumably to sleep for the first time since we'd made his acquaintance. His son and Eric had long since gone to bed. I lay on the couch, exhausted and amused, watching wistfully the moonlight shine on the rooftops of the city.