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.

The Hills Are Alive

The Hills Are Alive

I am
Landscapes
Clouds
Flora
and the Light shining upon them

I am
Sky
Lakes
Mountains
and the Beasts thriving within them

We are
Earth
Sun
Wind
and Water manifest into Spirit
momentarily captured
between physical borders

-BD 7/5/16

On Saturday we successfully made our way from Peschiera del Garda to Verona to Brenner to Innsbruck to Salzburg. Four trains with a collective layover time of only around an hour. Twenty minutes after arriving in Salzburg, we were checked into our hostel and ready for an early night to bed. We have officially “leveled up” our international transit skills.

As we traveled, I was fascinated at how quickly the culture changed along with the landscape. From blazing sun, palm trees, and endless fields of vines quickly into mountains shrouded in clouds, cooler weather, and coniferous trees. Along with that, “Grazie” became “Danke,” leathered skin and loose fitting clothes became fair skinned and lederhosen (for those dressed more traditionally), and the architecture was transformed. It made me consider in a new way Dr. Suzuki’s words “Man is the child of his environment.”

On Sunday, we were successfully the worst Salzburg tourists, yet perhaps the best adventurers. We got a fairly early start and found a nice public garden to play a couple of sets to warm up for the day. We then followed our ears to discover something that was familiar to my (Ben) eyes and ears, yet in a new place. A community band! Growing up and continuing to play with the Oskaloosa City Band is/was always a treat. So, here’s an Austrian shout-out to those keeping the music alive.

Afterwards, we decided to pay our respects to Mozart by offering up my viola as a tribute.

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In the spirit of being the worst tourists, we decided not to do the paid tour of his home, rather to improvise a set of music across the street in dedication to this great 18th century improviser. We set up inside of a piece of public art and amassed a small, curious, and appreciative audience.

We continued to explore Salzburg free of any paid tours and Baylen was once again able to afford us the opportunity to play in an enormous cathedral. We’ve come to discover that Baylen has a wonderful strength for approaching people and gaining permission for us to make music in spectacular public spaces or simply for finding the right people in the most unexpected of places (more on that in the next post). I, on the other hand, am learning of my midwestern roots and “don’t want to impose.” We certainly balance each other out as travel companions.

On the flip side of that coin, the balance that I’m able to offer is to say…

Ben: “Hey Baylen! Forget the Sound of Music Tour! Let’s make our own. Look at that place that is far away and up high with no clear roads, maps, or trails guiding us there. That’s where we’re going with our instruments!”

Baylen: “You’re crazy.”

Ben: “Yup, let’s go!”

And so began our 2.5 hour hike up Gaisberg. First on roads, then on trails, then back on roads, then on remote backcountry trails up to this…

We had an appreciative audience of two that stumbled across our performance on their way down the mountain. So appreciative that they even offered us a ride back down the mountain to our hostel. Thank you so much Joanna and Reinhold!! We polished off the day with boiled beef, potatoes, vegetables, and a delicious Weissbier (or two).

Needless to say, it was a full 12 hours in Salzburg. Stay tuned for an equally eventful day two.

Friendly Waters

Friendly Waters

Sailing

Flying in the face
of shy and
stranger
these friends extended
a rope to us
and we climbed aboard.

In body we spent
the day on the waves,
in mind we swam
amid the disorder
of mistranslations
and delightful queries.

Smiles
were the only
life-preserve
that counted.

BW 06/30/16

Yesterday Wormwood had a hearty breakfast of fruit and bread with bread and cheese and more toasted bread #Italy and then set out to play some music. We recorded a set in the grass beside a harbor at the center of town. We then walked up the coastline of Garda Lake and found a picturesque walkway to make a video for our friend Brian Lenz.

As we played, Baylen noticed small groups of children and adults gathering across the channel. They seemed intrigued, but he thought nothing of it until three young people approached in a small motor-raft. At first, they tried to greet us in Italian. NOPE! We quickly offered our eight-word vocabulary to indicate that we only speak English. The lead young man, who we later came to know as Umberto, did his best. “I like your playing. Have lunch with us? Pasta for some music?” Ben and I exchanged a quick look that said, “Sure! Why not?!” and we hopped into the small raft, instruments and all.

Lunch was a mushroom rotini and a fresh peach. We were even offered beer and wine, which we eventually accepted on the persistent generosity of Chicco. Come to find out that he and Donatella manage a sailing school. The host of multi-age Italians that greeted us were students or assistant teachers at the summer school. Some spoke broken English and many spoke none at all. It was the kind of hospitality we both had secretly hoped to encounter through our music.

After lunch and a round of wine, we set up near the lakeside and played a private Wormwood concert for everyone. Smiles were big and there was even some dancing. It’s good we didn’t have to try and explain our lyrics 😛

The hospitality didn’t end there! Soon we got invited to go out in a sailboat and attend a birthday barbecue in the evening. We accepted on both accounts. Ben quickly donned three coats of sunscreen and we set out on the water. There was not much wind so the experience was relaxing and without a risk of capsizing. We even got a chance to try the rudder! Keeping conversation was a group dance. Some words were missed, but through their knowledge of English and our limited skills in Spanish, cognates were located and most questions answered. The important thing was humor and facial expression.

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Later that night, we met up with some of the teaching assistants and walked to a nearby home. One young lady was turning seventeen and her friends were convinced that our music would make a perfect gift. We were excited to see the non-tourist side of Peschiera del Garda and eat home-cooked food. Guess what?!?! No pasta or bread! The main course was a rice casserole with meats and vegetables. This gave us the perfect opportunity to spread the gospel of the Minnesota tater-tot hotdish. Google was critical to that endeavor. We played a few sets and Baylen even busted out some solo Bach on Felicity the Cello by request. When the sun set, we bid our young friends goodbye and thanked them for their spontaneous hospitality.

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To all those that were there that day, thank you for your generosity of spirit and for showing us a different side of Italy!

Little Big Connections

Little Big Connections

I speak
the message is lost
You speak
I haven’t a clue

I sing
melody meets ears
You sing
harmony is born

I play
rhythm is shared
You groove
the dance begins

-BD 6/28/16

Music has been opening doors in little big ways. In Turin, we played a set to the audience of a mother and daughter. They spoke no English, we speak no Italian. The girl was clapping along to our rhythm and fully present with the music. Afterwards we invited her to approach to pluck the strings of our instruments to see what they were like (mostly by smiling, offering out the instruments, and demonstrating plucking). She shyly and curiously approached with the encouragement of her mother and tested out the strings with her small fingers. The mother thanked us, “Grazie!” and they continued about their day.

Here’s a video from the Parliament building in Genoa and is dedicated to Michelle Hoyt. We have several dedicated videos that will be coming soon as their own separate posts.

Serendipitude

Serendipitude

We are only
so strong
and so weak
as when we
dream together.

Seven times seven
men could
stand abreast
and cover the
Earth with love,

But just so many
men could
dash the hopes
of nations.

When we strive
for grandeur
we find cages of
bone and
nets of expectation
that might catch
fish if not
for all the
loopholes.

Yet I say,
stand with me,
nod to my dreams
and I will
honor yours
in my words
and my deeds.

BW 06/24/16

 

We’re finally here in Genoa, Italy! We’ve been attempting to get here since Thursday morning…here’s a brief look at our efforts to get out of the UK and to the Mediterranean.
Wednesday night in London:
Ben: “Baylen, look at these flights to Turin!! 60 pounds a seat! We could get 3 seats to Italy for the cost of one Eurostar ticket to Paris!”
Baylen: “That’s awesome, especially considering that the EuroCup, which we didn’t know was happening, is being hosted in France making everything booked up and extra expensive. I think we should skip over France and come back later in life. Let’s roll a handful of 20-sided dice, each assigned to a different element, to see what the fates say.”
Ben: “Would you look at that, the dice say we should go to Turin, except why is the “spirit” die a 2? Apparently our spirits will be crushed?? Naaahhh. Let’s swing by the airport tomorrow morning to purchase these 60 pound flights and get out of here!”
7:00am Thursday morning at Luton airport outside of London:
Ben: “We would like three tickets on the flight to Turin please, one for me, Baylen, and our friend Felicity the cello.”
Blue Air Staff: “Great, that will be 183 pounds….”
Baylen: “That sounds about right.”
Blue Air Staff: “per seat.”
Ben/Baylen’s Mind: “AAAAAGGGHGHGHGGAAGGGGHGGGGHHHHHGGAGGAAGHH”
Ben/Baylen’s Words: “Thank you, we’ll have to think about that for a moment.”
*Ben and Baylen get a nearby hotel, purchase tickets online at 60 pound price for Friday morning and chill out all day..*
Friday:
Ben: “I’m so glad we are finally on this plane! Genoa, here we come!!”
Baylen: “You’re telling me. Uffdah!”
Felicity the Cello: “……………..”
*Plane lands and we make our way to the train station with only moderate confusion.*
Baylen: “Uh, Ben. Look at the departures board. My Italian isn’t the best, but I think I know what ‘cancellato’ means.”
Ben: *Facepalm!* Let’s get a ticket at the customer service counter to see what is up.
*Waiting, waiting, 90 minutes of waiting.*
Customer Service Staff: “Oh yes, no trains to Genoa, or pretty much anywhere today. There is a national strike until 9pm tonight. You can get a train to Genoa tomorrow.”
Ben/Baylen’s Mind: “AAAAAAAGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Ben/Baylen’s Words: “Thank you very much, have a lovely day.”
Baylen: “Well, let’s get a place to stay in Turin and see what this place is all about…”

The serendipity of all this is that, without each unfortunate mistake or mishap, we would have passed right through Turin without a second glance and thereby missed one of our best nights so far this trip!

Turin is an old city and used to be a capital.  The architecture is gorgeous. Every building has countless windows and every window has a balcony. The streets are wide and friendly and the cafes have a stylish but inviting design that made even a couple of smelly vagabonds like ourselves feel welcome.

As we wandered we stumbled suddenly into a magnificent church, complete with golden statues and mural domes. It was lavish but tasteful, with perfect marble. We could tell immediately that the acoustics were phenomenal. We were both thinking the same thing, but Ben was skeptical of our chances. I (Baylen) approached the woman on staff and asked her if she was at all open to the idea of some cello and viola music. After an initial moment of translation shock, she smiled and went to see if she could turn off the feint music piping through the speakers. Soon Wormwood played a few sets under the marvelous arches. Ben also played some solo Bach suites. He is quoted saying, “Bach makes so much sense in a place like this!” The whole experience was a bit surreal. Antonella, the wonderful woman keeping watch on the place, explained that the church was built by the Jesuits in the 16th century. Nothing like 500-year-old acoustics to boost your tone! We are so grateful to Antonella for her generosity. She even offered to host a little concert for us if we wanted to come back in a few days! The takeaway for both of us, is not to assume things. It never hurts to ask! (Unless you’re as Midwestern as us; then it is literally painful to push social boundaries, haha.)

 

 

Soon after we dined on cured meats and a bottle of Chianti at a little meat and vino cafe at the heart of the city. The salami and ham, which was served on a wooden board, tasted just as good as we imagined it would. With stomachs full and cheeks flushed, we played music on one of the main thoroughfares of the town. Thousands of people walked by and many really enjoyed our sound. One gentlemen threw a crumpled note into our case that we mistook for garbage, but later realized was 10 Euro! The generosity of the evening was unprecedented.

After a bit, we packed up our cases and followed the tide of faces towards the main piazza and the grand castle. We began hearing fireworks as we approached, and what we saw when we arrived drove home the magic of the city. Thousands of people were gathered on the piazza and down a street for at least a half-kilometer. The sea of people must have been at least eight thousand! Everyone was watching the fireworks on the river, laughing and smiling. We could only guess as  to the cause, but it was certainly a Friday of celebration. We smiled the whole way home.

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Did we mention our hostel room had air-conditioning? Yeah, we slept like kings…slightly sunburned kings.