World Unspoken

World Unspoken

Wormwood’s final day of our 2016 tour might have been the 3rd or the 4th of August. It’s a matter of interpretation really. Wednesday was the last day we wandered through unknown parts with instruments on our backs, but we also spent Thursday together, hiking through a national park as two friends. If this thing we call “Wormwood” is defined as an improvisation duo, then Wednesday was the finale. There will be no further concerts abroad. But Wormwood is a name we gave our shared language. It’s something we do together when inspiration strikes. It’s a friendship and a rock band and a spiritual practice. It can’t be boiled down to any less than all those things.

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So we spent all day yesterday in Tyresta National Park without our instruments trying to prepare for the inevitable shock when we suddenly find ourselves back in separate lives. We had many pours of fine whiskey last night in Stockholm. It was a celebration of early nostalgia. The trip is already starting to feel like a wonderful memory, which I suppose tells us we are ready to go home.

This first video is a shout-out to Charlie McCarron. We found a half-pipe in Vaxholm, Sweden. We didn’t have skateboards, but…

This last video is a dedication to the wonderful Konar-Steenberg family. I know they can appreciate the value of a good castle

All things must come to an end, and so it goes with this wild adventure. There have been struggles and laughs – a plethora of both. We have found many truths. Some are hard to put in words. The best I can say for now is that we’ve learned what it means to wander. We’ve also learned what it means to be us. That is no small accomplishment.

World Unspoken? Yes. It’s a vast world, indeed. When you travel through a foreign country and you have nothing to share but music. Words are little more than dreams. When you cannot overhear conversation or ask the stranger on the bus for effective directions, you are relegated to a world of gesture, vocal tone, and body language. It is no man’s paradise, but neither is it hell. It is just another means of existence, a slow but earnest lifestyle. I recommend a visit, but no extended stay. 🙂

In a few hours we will be on a plane back to the states. We’re leaving behind this vagabond lifestyle, but we’re bringing home a humble, new paradigm. We’ll have a documentary to share with y’all soon. Thanks for following us on this journey!

These little ducklings are ready to paddle their way home!

Great Danes

Great Danes

Wherever did we find
This simple
Dishonesty
That says
We are islands?

Not in the
Blood that
Burns with
Longing for
Touch.

Not in the
Mind that
Pines for
Intermingled
Thought and word.

Not in the
Chest that
Aches for
Echoed pain
We witness.

Only in the
Ego, which
Begs for
Undivided
Attention
From hands
And heart
And mind
And never yields
To trust
To truth
To love.

BW 7/30/16

 

On our last full day in Copenhagen we wandered from spectacle to spectacle. We climbed the Roundtower of Charles IV. We saw Rosenberg Castle and played on its grounds. Then we went to the train station and secured passage to Stockholm NOT at the last possible second. (Look at us go! Strugglefest has taught us things!) We even walked through the intentional community known as Christiania. That is a plot of land in central Copenhagen claimed by squatters that became a commune separate from the EU in the ’70s. Wild!

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This video is dedicated to Jamie Davis! Rosenberg Castle is visible behind us.

 

Later we walked over to Alex and Michael’s apartment to drop in on them like they invited us to. We relaxed for a bit then walked through the parks beside their house. One part of the park was wild-looking (mostly) and the other half was perfectly manicured and topped with a bright yellow mansion. We learned that the yellow building was the King’s summer palace and the wild park was historically the hunting grounds. The park borders the Copenhagen Zoo. We got a glimpse of some rare Danish zebra and elephants. Then we played some music as the sun set on the palace yard. There were swans and children wandering about, funny-shaped trees, and a 15 foot fountain to complete the scene. Alex and Michael relaxed on my cello case to listen while Wormwood conversed for a bit. Afterwards Alex said, “That backdrop was almost a little too perfect.” 🙂

Speaking of old friends, this video is dedicated to the lovely Simone Dietzler!

 

The group of us then returned to their apartment and Michael fixed up a splendid dinner, complete with red wine and Danish Cadbury-egg-type candies for dessert. The company was fantastic and we laughed well into the night. We don’t know Danish culture too well, but Ben and I were pretty sure the night was full of Hygge. We walked back to our hostel that night talking about how much we both miss hosting people at our own apartments. It’s something we’ve both always enjoyed, but lacking a base of operations for so many weeks really drives home the blessing that is company. We’re incredibly grateful to Alex and Michael for sharing their night with us and making us feel so welcome! Skål, you two!

Now we are in Stockholm, enjoying the sights and doing a little island hopping to boot. We’ll update y’all soon with tales of Sweden, but we want to take this moment to share some dedication videos.

This one goes out to Katie Grier and Paul Goudreault! We found this outdoor amphitheater in a Stockholm park and decided to imagine an audience of our favorite people.


This video is for Andrea Galdames and her lovely family! Note that there is a tiny, white dog scuttling around our feet halfway through this set, but the camera was too high to see her. Adorable! Wish we could share the visual.


This last one is dedicated to Kate Connors, her husband, and her 22 children! 😉 The buildings across the water behind us belong to Stockholm’s city center. Beautiful, eh?

The Essentials

The Essentials

Victims and
Villains
Of complexity,
We grasp for
Power but
Bemoan the
Burden of
Shouldering
All these
Batteries.

Tangled webs of
Copper
And plastic,
Ropes to harness
Our collective
Wisdom,
Sometimes
Make a noose
Make a leash.

You are unique.
You are interesting.
And
You are drowning
In a sea
Of precious
Voices.

Saffron rice
On golden
Microchips
If that is
Heaven
Then
Congratulations,
Hallelujah,
Glory be to…
Something.

Otherwise-

Reload,
Refresh,
Re-evaluate.

BW 7/26/16

Our adventures in Berlin ended a few days ago. We enjoyed our stay and enjoyed the vibe of that friendly urban landscape. Now we are holed up in a more rural part of Germany. Lauenberg it is called, a town of 10,000 on the north side of the river Elbe. We are south and east of Hamburg. The landscape is beautiful and the quiet nights are even better. We’ve been compiling videos and filming documentary interviews. It’s a chance to catch up on everything we’ve put off until now. Today we even went on a jog along the river! Exercise? Are we allowed to do that on vacation?? I hope so.

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I’ll mention two more things about Berlin. First, there was the night we went out to a dive called Hangar 49. As the name suggests, the bar is a refurbished air hangar. It was only possible to find via the magic of Google maps, because it was tucked behind several tall buildings and didn’t even sport a sign on the door. We’d been told there was an open-stage/open-mic once a week. We were hoping for something experimental, maybe art music or an acoustic jam. What we found was a dark, tiny stage packed with electric guitars cranked up to 11.

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The good news is that we stuck it out. Ben and I both appreciate a good blues jam, and these musicians were having a great time on stage. Players would frequently tap each other out to join with a new idea, and the energy was comfortable, sometimes even comical. We had a couple whiskeys and watched things unfold for a while, then I shot Ben a quizzical glance and he shrugged approval. I got up and found the sound guy to ask his recommendation. He spoke great English and he was clearly excited when I mentioned a cello and viola. He went into the back room and returned a moment later with a clip-on mic.

So Wormwood joined the fray. We squeezed on stage and jammed as best we could with the plethora of bass, drums, and guitar that filled the room. No one could hear us, but that’s nothing new for string players like ourselves. When we got down to take a break, a local guitarist came up to Ben and said, “You should take the stage! We coudln’t hear you at all. Just be kind of aggressive. Tell people you want to do something.”

We waited in the wings for a few minutes, then we gave it our midwestern-best. With some smiling gestures and phrases like “just cello and viola for a bit” we got most of the players to step down. A drummer and a guitarist didn’t understand exactly or didn’t hear so we were left with an interesting four-piece band. The first things we tried was some kind of groove, with lots of guitar. A singer joined us halfway through, improvising lyrics and melody. People really liked it, and the guitarist turned down his amp to allow more strings through. Afterwards, I said to him, “Something experimental?” He started playing Metallica. I said, “Good enough!”

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We started playing Nothing Else Matters, or an approximation of it, and then a woman sitting in the bar got up on stage and added the lyrics! She had a great voice. We jammed with her for a few tunes and then stepped off stage with big smiles. It was so refreshing to play music with others. It really didn’t matter what tunes or styles came up. Playing cello and viola that wasn’t signature “Wormwood” was a breath of fresh air for our ears. Thanks, Hangar 49! Thanks, Berlin!

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The last thing we did before departing the city was make a day trip out to the lakes. There are many lakes west of the city. It’s about an hour transit to any of them (unless you are us, in which case you should plan for two hours at least.) We met up with Amanda, our new friend from Prague, and traveled together for the day. She had wandered into Berlin on her own a few days before. We joked and talked our way from train to train to bus to walking trail, and eventually found the beach we wanted.

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A quick dip followed by a picnic revived us after our (much too arduous) journey, and we strolled up a path to uncover…wait for it…a column! These are very rare in…no wait…these are all over Europe. But this one was stone and it had a shield on it and it looked sort of Viking (in a Germanic, Christian kind of way)!

So we played a little music while the sun set on the river and we thought about home. This set is dedicated to Brett Baldauf. The music has a clearly recognizable influence. We gotta hand it to the Irish – they know how to write a tune. Hope you like it, Brett!

On our way home Ben started ranting about the sensationalism of Facebook and the curated lives we display to the public. He eventually decided that he must turn his Facebook profile into a celebration of the mundane and un-filtered. He feels it is the only way to fight back against the constant one-up-man-ship of the internet. (Besides shutting his FB down completely of course…but he tells himself he can’t do that because he’s a musician and entrepreneur who relies on just that sensationalism *facepalm*)

Without further ado, I give you Ben’s mundane dinner conversation video. His latest achievement in the celebration of non-achievement.

Wonderland

Wonderland

Some uphold
that mirrors
map the world
in honest light

While windows
in the eyes
reveal the visage
vision hides.

What then are
ghosts and
shapes that
resonate in glass

Refracting
partial truths,
turning windows
into masks?

Staring elsewhere
through a film
of self
reflection

Mirrors folly
of the simplest
nature, of
self direction.

To glance and
in an instant
see the world
outside and in,

Makes manifest
the err of
each and every
human sin.

Wisdom in this life
can be explained
discerning a dusty mirror
from a glossy window pane.

BW 7/22/16

Provided I had German language skills and I wasn’t such a country boy, Berlin is a city where I could live. The district we are staying in, courtesy of Ben’s generous friend Maya Markwald, is unassuming and diverse. There are delicious kebab places, hipster coffee houses, affordable organic markets, and vegan ice creameries around every corner. Having Maya to recommend the best versions of everything has proved invaluable. Ben and I are feeling a bit taxed by our wanderings, so having choice establishments picked out for us is a god send.

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Just the other night Wormwood got to play in Körner Park just a few blocks from our stay. Maya invited her friends and acquaintances to meet for a concert, and a really wonderful crowd of locals turned up for a bit of evening relaxation. We were very flattered by the audience. We realized just as we sat down to play that this was technically Wormwood’s very first independent concert!

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In daily routine we’ve spent a few hours here and there wandering around the city. We’ve completely avoided the downtown center and the hub of monuments. We might make a short trip into that region soon, but we’ve learned enough about ourselves to know we won’t last long amidst crowds and manicured shopping streets. We spent one afternoon in a big park south of the city center called Hasenheide. Families and couples stopped to listen as we played beneath a tree. You can enjoy the handstand workout happening in the background of this video, which we’ve dedicated to Kristin Anderson.

 

Another of our excursions took us even further south. We’d been told that an abandoned airport was open to public use. We had no idea what to expect, but soon we were trudging along dirt paths in beautifully wild sections of land. There were homemade fire pits and haphazard couches strewn throughout the acreage and wonderful public art on ever brick edifice.

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Eventually we stumbled through a gate and out onto a giant strip of land that could only be explained by an airplane runway. Except, the grass was mostly prairie and there were groups of people as far as the eye could see, sitting, dancing, barbecuing, kicking a soccer ball – it was an unpolished public space, unprecedented in size. We walked all over and noticed public restrooms in good condition, bike/running paths on air-lift tarmac, and even a sprawling community garden complete with handmade, wooden seating and a canopied stage for concerts. Here was San Francisco in the heart of Germany! Here was repurposed paradise! Combine that with the rich history of the Tempelhofer Feld as public parade, military base, a U.S. relief drop point, and you have yourself a recycled, re-imagined, activist-empowering hippy wonderland.

 

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Here’s the funny part. Ben and I were dragging so hard that day we visited Tempelhofer that I felt like I was back in Montessori Teacher training. We could barely muster the enthusiasm to lift one leg in front of the other, let alone revel outwardly in the impressive nature of the park. That said, we did record a video, and I’ve dedicated it to my good friend Cristina Celis. See if you can spot the moments when my (and Ben’s) train of thought gets derailed and we lose the ability to speak words…oh boy. Needless to say, that day included a generous nap!
I want to say an extra word of thanks to Cristina for supporting my travels. She encouraged me to “get out of my country” from the moment we met, and I’m grateful for that. Abrazos, Cristina.

 

Argondia

Argondia

Vulnerability

It begins
by taking a step closer
to the cliff’s edge
to more fully view
the unfolding landscape.
It opens crossed arms
and closed fists
inviting friends, family,
sisters, brothers
partners, lovers,
enemies, and Others
to interlace
to share in the view.

-BD 7/18/16

Prague continued to provide us with unique artistic and human experiences. Friday night Baylen had picked out an event at the “Meet Factory,” an art space whose description reminded us very much of “Bedlam,” the art, theatre, music, dance, and social venue in the Twin Cities. The event was a techno which started at 10pm. So, in the spirit of not wanting to arrive too early, we took a tram to this old, repurposed meat factory  in an industrial part of Prague and arrived at 11:30pm. Little did our simple midwestern spirits realize that to arrive at 11:30pm at a techno is to essentially be alone for at least another 2-3 hours! The two headlining acts took the stage respectively at 3:00 and 4:30am!!!! However, we had come all this way and determined that we were going to see it through. We managed to shake our tail feathers until a little after 5 before heading to our tram stop to get home.

Enter “Strugglefest 2012!” We hopped on the tram at around 5:30 and at one critical juncture when we expected it to turn right, it turned left. We decided to trust the tram would get us to the stop we wanted and that maybe our sense of direction was off…until a voice came over the speaker saying that we had arrived at the last stop! Hopping of the tram, a map informed us that we were about as far west as we could be and still say that we were in Prague. UFFDAH! Luckily, after about another 30-minute wait, we were able to hop on a tram going the other direction and end up back at our hostel in time for breakfast around 7:30am.

Saturday had an understandably slow start and a leisurely afternoon of writing, reading, playing solo Bach in a park, and Skyping with loved ones back home. Let this be my public declaration (Ben’s) that I am missing Amanda tremendously! She’s a light in my life and her absence is regularly felt. OK, I’ll limit my public gushing to just that!

In the evening, Baylen and I met up with our local friend from Thursday, Bethany, who wanted to show us around her favorite park and have a picnic. We enjoyed great conversation (Bethany currently teaches a positive psychology course amongst many other things. Check out her inspiring work here http://www.bethanybutzer.com/), good views, and an adventure into Argondia, the magical cavern!!

Argondia is maybe the strangest place I’ve never imagined possible. A Czech artist, Reon Argondian, lives in a building in this park that he has transformed into his imagined world of Argondia. He has transformed EVERYTHING on the inside and covered the walls with paintings illustrating his world. He rose to a certain level of fame when members of Led Zeppelin purchased some of his work. Here is a glimpse into this crazy world.

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Now, enjoy Wormwood’s interpretation of the music of Argondia. Katie Heilman, this one’s for you!

On the walk home, we crossed the bridge and saw a most wonderful sight. Around one hundred swans on the river asleep, drifting as the river would take them. We couldn’t get a picture, but I hope these words paint the scene for you.

Long after night falls
when breezes have turned to a chill
these long, graceful necks
curl around and tuck beneath
large, white wings.
Their solid bills so solitary
and singularly vocal under the sun
come together by hundreds
in the eddy of a river.
Not by choice
but because their drifting
like clouds in the wind
upon the obsidian waters
streaked with the moon’s silver
has taken them there
like some sort of driftwood
being reunited and reminded
that the pieces once were
the same tree.
Together in their sleeping
to be scattered again
upon sun’s rising
and eyes’ opening.

We’ve now arrived in Berlin and are enjoying the hospitality of an old friend, Maya Markwald!!

Czech Underground

Czech Underground

In what way do
humans resemble
candles,
burning down
to wax and
exchanging their
shape for
brief periods
of illumination?

In what way do
candles give
grief to darkness
and comfort
to shadow,
pulling back
the veil and
tucking it into
corners?

In what way do
all things shine
with tarnished
silver glare,
brandishing a
noble purpose
muddled by
the compromise
of entropy?

BW 7/15/16

 

It seems to me that Prague is an old city with a young spirit. The paving stones and mortar arches that greet us everywhere we wander show the re-furbished nature of the districts. We’ve explored most of the tourist attractions and some of the residential zones in walking distance. The city continues to live up to our expectations.  We’ve switched to a different hostel in the Vinohrady district and are enjoying the quieter parts of the city. We got Vietnamese stir-fry for dinner yesterday and realized it was the first time we visited a restaurant that was mostly locals. True residents of Prague, it seems, are nearly identical to Minneapolis folk. “They don’t eat sausage and goulash for every meal? Ridiculous? Of course, Minnesotans only eat tater-tot hot dish!”

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With the recommendation of an online review and a hostel staff person, Wormwood ventured out to find an underground music club known as Vzorkovna. We even got two friendly strangers (Bethany and Amanda) we had met the day before and a couple of gentlemen from Turkey (Ömer and Mehmet) sharing our hostel to meet us at this hard-to-pronounce hipster den. We went bearing instruments in hopes of a jam session. We were not dissapointed.

Descending a ramshakle wooden staircase into a labyrinthian set of tunnels, we found ourselves in the grungiest, most incredible bar either of us have laid eyes upon. In place of posh chairs and couches, this establishment opted for upturned logs and plywood benches. The tables were adorned with red-wax candles that melted down right into the wood. The walls were festooned with artwork and tags and every anarchist mantra imaginable. To top it off there was a massive Irish wolf hound roaming around the place and lounging where he pleased! My mouth was literally agape with wonder.

Though it was a loud crowd, Wormwood set up on a small stage in one section of the club and played to the space. The bar’s owner introduced himself casually and told us to “do whatever we like.” We played for about a half hour and then set to sampling different common Czech liquors. One of the women that joined us for the evening was a Canadian now living in Prague. She recommended we try Becherovka, Slivovits, and Fernet. Our clear favorite was Becherovka (which has an herbal, cinnamon flavor) but Slovovits was also enjoyable. Fernet was a bit like cough syrup. Perhaps we should buy some the next time we’re coming down with a cold?

The footage of our playing is gritty at best. It was a dark bar and our microphone had trouble filtering the joyful noise of the crowd. This video gives you a glimpse, though, of the small space built for impromptu jam sessions.

We had a great time chatting with new friends early into the morning (when a shirtless Czech man cheerfully but insistently ushered us out the door.) Vzorkovna was a home-run for Prague in our books. Liquor, beer, and cider in various sized Mason jars at ridiculously reasonable prices made this dive a near-perfect hangout. This city has a lot to offer wannabe Bohemians like Ben and me. The presence of unpretentious modern culture is like a litmus test for the health of local humans – at least, that’s what Ben believes, and I agree with him because most of the time we are the same person.

Improvised Histories

Improvised Histories

A jester jests
for and about his king
poking his ribs
from the inside out.

-BD 7/13/16

Wormwood arrived in Prague on Monday and so far it has been a refreshing, energizing city. While it contains a rich history, it clearly embraces a thriving present that isn’t afraid to laugh at itself (See David Cerny’s “Piss” as our featured image). Apparently, if you text a message to a specific number, these statues will “spell out” your message onto the map of the Czech Republic.

In addition to lots of green space scattered about the city, something our midwestern spirits have come to rely upon, our eyes have fallen upon snapshots of David Cerny’s sculptures, a statue in a pond consisting of two legs splayed towards the sky, artistic graffiti covering old stone walls, and a refreshing book store near the Kafka museum whose featured titles include modern philosophy, social critiques, Czech poets, classic works, and even three Kafka works adapted into an illustrated children’s book titled “My First Kafka.” I couldn’t help but enjoy their version of Metamorphosis! While we both wanted to buy about 20 books, we could only realistically add one per person to our light pack. All in all, the presence of these things are a refreshing contrast to the things we wrote about in “Monuments.”

On Wednesday, we enjoyed an “improvised walking tour” led by Baylen Wagner. We’ve recorded its contents here. Please note that 100% of its contents are total nonsense…as you’ll quickly discover. Enjoy some of the silliness of our day!

In the middle of the walking tour, we stopped off at this giant metronome (or magic wand, if you’ll believe our tour guide) for a few sets, met a few folks (one of which was celebrating her birthday and got a Wormwood birthday set), and continued on our merry minstrel way. Here is one of those sets. What do you think? Did we keep time with the metronome?

Finally, since we were in a playful spirit, our child-like curiosity combined with our years of studying avant garde music (two sides of the same coin, really) got the better of us. As we were strolling through a park, we noticed these tall, hollow pipes that reminded us of organ pipes. Then this happened…

We have a couple more days in Prague which I anticipate we will enjoy tremendously before heading to meet up with our friend Maya Markwald in Berlin. Oh, and we had our first sips of real absinth made with our namesake…wormwood! No need to believe in the myths, it’s simply a tasty, bitter liqueur.

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The Here and Now

The Here and Now

Honoring the dead

is best achieved,

 

it seems to me,

 

by spending time

with the living.

-BW 7/12/2016

In our last post, Wormwood shared some heavy thoughts on tourism. Since then we had a few experiences that fertilized our love for new places. We did a one-night trip to Budapest on recommendation from several people. Then we connected with some awesome locals in Austria.

Budapest was a whirlwind 24 hours. We trained in and immediately went to the public baths. There are several around the city and all use natural hot springs to deliver warm pools of varying temperature. The  experience is incredibly unique. The Szechenyi Baths that we explored had multiple outdoor pools, all around 30 degrees Celsius. Then there were saunas and steam rooms, some with medicinal herbs. One basement sauna maintained a temperature between 80 and 100 degrees Celsius! We lasted about three minutes in that room. It’s a unique experience, sweating from every pore, but feeling dry because the sweat evaporates nearly instantaneously. Don’t worry, immediately after we plunged into a pool of 10 degree Celsius water. That wasn’t shocking at all…

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Nightlife in Budapest is thriving. There seemed to be a good mixture of nonchalant bars and posh restaurants, which reminded us of Minneapolis. Combine that with a record setting number of V-neck T-shirts and man buns (haircut) and you’ve got yourself a Twin Cities in Europe! Buda =  St. Paul. Pest = Minneapolis. There’s a river that runs through both, and enough “third wave” coffee houses to turn the Danube brown.

Wormwood went to a few bars and ended the night at a dance club with multiple music rooms. Needless to say, two midwestern boys were a bit out of place on the Pop, Disco, and RnB floors, but then we found the House music. Ben instantly lit up like the Fourth of July (which we sort of missed this summer.) Both of us enjoyed the repetitive and predictable flow, so we shook our tail feathers a bit! We danced at the nightclub until far past our bedtime and then spent the next day walking around the city looking for further “hipster infrastructure” and enjoying much needed quiet. We found plenty of bike-happy zones. Go Budapest!

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Wormwood spent its last evening in Ausria in the company of two lovely locals. Barbara and Vincent were introduced to us by Baylen’s roommate, Julian. We travelled to the Beethovengang once more to meet this friendly couple and share some Viennese wine with them.

As it turns out, Viennese have never been proud of their vino, and the traditional way to drink is to mix the fermented white juice with sparkling water to help it go down. We liked it! but when the company is good, it doesn’t much matter what you drink, eh?

The four of us shared a meal and exchanged notes on the cultural differences between Minnesota and Austria. While we chewed on dumplings and schnitzel, the group agreed that Midwesterners are the caricature counterpart to the Viennese. There is an equal and opposite to “Minnesota Nice” and we laughingly called it the “Viennese Scowl.” Note to other travelers: If an Austrian frowns at you, it does not necessarily mean they are angry!

After dinner the group went down to the Danube and Wormwood played a set of music for our new friends. The river is not particularly blue, but with evening sun it gleams like molten silver. Das ist gut! Several passersby were happy to stop and listen. They even paid our tram fare with some loose change. Thank you!

As we bid our friends goodbye and began preparations for our travels to Prague, we reflected on our week. One thing is clear: A city is only as great as it’s people. Budapest showed us a vibrant modern culture of “refurbished and repurposed” living. Vienna eventually revealed its simple charm by the grace of two locals. Thank you, Barbara and Vincent for reaching out to these two crazy Americans! Our German is terrible, but I think we are starting to make some sense of the world.

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Monuments

Monuments

Hear lies
one million
carefully cut stones
commanded to be
placed particularly
propping up
conquesting ideas
tightly clutched
forced and thrust
into all
today
and ten hundred thousand times
tomorrow

All I can see across the Western world is the honoring of men who have the blood of man and beast on their hands. It fills my sight perpetually. These “discoverers,” “unifiers,” and “brave leaders” of the noble, wise nations and their self-serving ideas of God and country are the heroes in the stories we have chosen to tell ourselves through our classrooms, national monuments, and historical sites. This is how we have chosen to shape our collective becoming, often resulting in the unbecoming of those more simple and peaceful sons and daughters of the Earth. Yet, these are my people. This is my history. Their blood runs through my veins. What am I to do with this truth that lives just as strong today as it has for hundreds of years? I do not know. At best I am uncertain. Yet, it cannot be ignored.

Perhaps it’s time for new stories. New monuments. Beginning with, I think, the momentary monuments we wear.

A smile. A gaze through which we peer intently and an open ear in which we listen carefully.

A gift. A vulnerable, non-transactional sharing of self through word and deed.

A moment’s pause.
One that considers before speaking and a soft heart which shares in our collective Spirit’s suffering.

Here lives
unknowable numbers
of intentional hands
placed particularly
lifting up themselves
alongside their neighbor
to gently sway
in our Mother’s
sweet, cool breezes
so that one another
might find each other
today.

-BD 7/9/16

This week has been filled with highs and lows. We’ve been in a variety of places with varieties of people, and we’ve discovered a few things about ourselves as humans.

Earlier in the week, as we were exploring Vienna and seeing the sights one is supposed to see (giant churches, old government buildings, palaces, statues, etc…) we were both struck deeply with a similar dissonance. These monuments, while historically significant in the rising, falling, and shifting of nations, peoples, and ideas represent only one possibility of our self-creation through our stories. This one narrative that the Western world seems to tell itself – which honors the acts of the wealthy warriors, the proud, nationalist, white men – rings a bit hollow. We can’t enjoy those monuments without feeling a healthy dose of nausea. There are too many people that have lived and died that these statues and museums don’t seem to recognize. It’s especially hard to reconcile when we get news of sad events back home. We are waiting on the day when we stumble across a statue built to honor widowed mothers or average white men that did not conquer anything but, instead, lived peaceful lives within their means and were attentive to the needs of their developing children!

The day after our foray into downtown Vienna, Ben planned a hike into the hills. We took off in the early morning toward the northern reaches of Vienna’s urban sprawl. This is the start of the historical trail known as Beethovengang. The stream-side hike is supposedly where Beethoven walked during the later years of his life when his hearing was slipping away along with his calm. We weren’t visited by Ludwig’s specter, but we found solace just the way he did.

It only took a few minutes in a natural setting for our spirits to brighten. We played music under Viennese trees and ate lunch at a tiny “bistro” that was really more of a cottage. The menu was “soup” and stroganoff. There were no options, just “one meatball or two?” It seemed to us like the kind of lunch your Austrian grandmother would make if you came to visit. Good! but not inventive, haha.

Later we stumbled upon three Chinese-German men sitting on park benches playing erhu (a traditional Chinese instrument) and singing. After a moment’s hesitation, we approached and gave attentive audience. They greeted us cheerfully when they saw our instruments. As a group, we exchanged music and smiles, but they spoke no English, so the only practical languages were non-verbal and musical. It was wonderful! Ben got a short lesson on erhu, and we gave them a spin on our instruments in turn. Two parties of strangers bid farewell as friends.

 

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After that we made it to a vista looking out over Vienna and the Danube. The distance made the sprawling city seem so much more peaceful. We played music for fellow sight-seers and were well-received. One gentleman from Brazil said something along the lines of, “This was perfect. I’ll never forget.” Two young people, one from Vienna, the other from Turkey, thanked us with a box of chocolate dipped wafers. They were delicious!

It’s those kind of sentiments and moments that clarify our intent when we are a bit drained. Wormwood is an intimate performance. We don’t do well in giant plazas or busy streets. We don’t do well as people in those places either! As great as it is to see the landmarks of famous places, crowds and noise leave us feeling hollow.

What does that mean? It means Wormwood is (and will continue to be) the worst tourists ever. We don’t buy tickets to museums, or exhibits, or tour buses. We don’t buy souvenirs or trinkets. We don’t even use transit most of the time (much to Baylen’s chagrin.) In fact, we sometimes attract tourist’s coin and detract from the economy of tourism in a region! Yikes!

That said – we believe that the moments we’ve shared with fellow travelers and locals have been reason enough for our journey. Whenever we follows our bliss as humans, serendipity lights up our lives. We’ll look for people and trees and leave the bronze-cast heroes to history.

Like Mother Like Son

Like Mother Like Son

Growing up my mom (Baylen’s) would frequently tell stories of her semester in Austria. Salzburg was her favorite adventure as a young person. She loved the castles and cathedrals, the grazing cows and inexpensive chocolate bars, and most of all the Kapeller Family that hosted her during her semester of study. The Kapellers were the quintessential Austrian family, against which my sister and I were constantly compared. Our childhood antics and American insolence “would NEVER be tolerated” at the heavenly cottage on the hill in Kasern, Austria. Needless to say, my sister and I shared many skeptical glances throughout the 90’s.
My mother’s description of Austria was the stuff of fairytales. It was our childhood bedtime story that helped us make sense of the dubious claim that my mother was once a young person in school. “You mean you studied other subjects besides being a mom and torturing children with piles of nasty tasting vitamins? I don’t believe it!”
Then, in the summer of 2016, I took a trip through Europe with my best friend and our string instruments. We saw Scotland, England, and Italy, before we landed in Austria. We arrived in Salzburg and immediately climbed a mountain to recreate our own Sound of Music photo shoot. You can read about that in our previous blog post.

 

The following day, I asked Ben to help me seek out some family history. He was doubtful we would find anything, and truthfully so was I, but he agreed nonetheless and I was grateful. He is a skilled navigator, and I am not. I pick up curious details of my surroundings and often deduce useful knowledge, but I usually can’t tell which direction we are traveling. It’s a weakness I’ve come to terms with.
Ben and I looked up the Lindner Haus, a hostel in Kasern, just north of Salzburg proper. We estimated the distance as a manageable hike so we set out. The Linder’s were a family that hosted my aunt, Corinne, just after my mother stayed with the Kapellers. If anyone would know the whereabouts of the Kapeller family, it would be a Lindner.
We hiked for roughly an hour along bike paths and small roads until we reached a steep hill dotted with houses. On our right a sign read, Lindner Haus. To our left a little further on was a train station (which we absolutely could have used to travel there faster, but we frequently forgo that kind of…intelligence.)

imageAs we climbed the hill an enchanting view of Salzburg was laid out to our left. I found myself wondering if my mother gazed on the same vista, and how different it might have looked decades ago. What does it mean to feel nostalgia for a place you’ve never actually seen before? Was it some trick of my inner child’s imagination. Was it something inherited that my mother passed to me in spirit or body? All I know is that a wave of surrealism hit me then and only continued to grow as the next few hours played out.

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We climbed to the top of the hill and found the Lindner House. We knocked and rang the doorbell, but much as we expected, no one was home. Ben was definitely ready to call it quits, his midwestern agitation at imposing on a strange neighborhood was visible. I could not allow myself such a quick retreat, though. It was far too momentous just to be in Kasern. My inner child would never forgive me if I did not exhaust my options.
I knocked on the next door, and introduced myself when a dark-haired man in glasses answered. He switched to English quickly and nodded vigorously when I mentioned the Lindners and the Kapellers. “Sure, sure,” he said, “The Lindners are not home, but let me go make a call.”
He stepped back into the house and in just a few moments, a bright-faced woman approached us from around the back of the house. She introduced herself as Ms. Christine. Her sister is the Lindner family member that runs the guest house next door. Hers is also a hostel. I quickly explained my reason for intruding and she took us over to see the back of the Lindner home. We snapped a few photos and explained ourselves a bit further.
Our explanation must have put her at ease, because next she invited us into her home and offered us some water. She got out her phone book to make a call and looked at me brightly when she finished. “Ms. Kapeller just got home. She would be happy to see you.” I was floored.
Ben and I offered to show our gratitude in the best way we know – with music. Ms. Christine asked if she could invite down her current guests to listen, and we immediately agreed. Wormwood played a set to our lovely host and her four Australian charges. We made a few friends and then packed up to go down and see Ms. Kapeller.

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When I called hello, a kind-eyed woman came around a fence corner to shake my hand. I managed an awkward smile as I tried to prepare my words. It’s a strange thing to say, “Hello, my name is Baylen Wagner. I’m the son of Carlyn Hints, a young lady you hosted 38 years ago. You met her then-boyfriend, Duke Wagner when he came to visit. He’s my dad…errrrr…Nice to meet you?” But that is exactly what I did, and Ms. Kapeller couldn’t have been kinder!
She invited us into her yard and we talked about her family and mine. She remembered my mother and my father, how they got special permission to stay in the same room once, and how they climbed a nearby hill to a church and signed the guest ledger as a couple in love. She told me how her daughters, Ulli and Petra, whom my mother had mentioned many times, live in Salzburg still. One of them even owns the house next door and they both have children, some very close in age to Ben and me.

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We played music for Ms. Kapeller and we visited for at least two hours. In just that short amount of time, I could see exactly what my mother described. This woman was sincere and kind and well-mannered and strong. She told a story about a young child she met on holiday who was clearly spoiled. She told us how she set him straight in a very firm way and made friends with both the child and his mother. The fourteen-year-old in me was jumping up and down saying, “Your mom wasn’t lying! Listen to that kind-but-serious tone of voice!” The feeling of surrealism continued to mount.
I used the internet to show Ms. Kapeller pictures of my family and helped her download one picture to show her daughters later on. It struck me how unlikely it was my mother would have ever gotten word to this woman if I had not physically made a trip to Austria. She did not have a Facebook account, possibly not even an e-mail. Hers is not a global generation. The world is small, yes, but there are people that still remain out of reach.
After much talk and several hugs and photos, we parted ways and started our trek back to Salzburg proper. I smiled unabashedly the whole rest of that day. It was like a piece of my childhood had been recovered. This wonderful place that my mother praised so highly was real. The family that practically informed my mother’s parenting style was alive and well. I had travelled through time and space to bring a relic into focus. I’m grateful beyond words to unnamed neighbors, Ms. Christine, and most of all Ms. Kapeller for showing me and Ben such kindness. There are wonderful people the world over, and I’ve got stories to prove it.

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