Mar 18, 2012
This morning, I woke up to Alpakawurst and a perfect cup of Italian-engineered coffee. Alpakawurst is exactly what it sounds like and I’ll explain how I got it later.
Two nights ago, I arrived in Basel at 23:55, where my host Stephen greeted me on the platform. He was waving his arms and shouting to me, but really, there was not a soul besides the two of us and the employees of the velobox (bicycle rentals) downstairs. I wondered if it’s possible that someone would rent a bicycle at midnight when it’s 15 below zero. If so, I would like to meet them. Stephen asked me if he could help me carry some things, but I felt like my adventure was not yet over somehow. There was an emotional inertia and I needed a cool-down exercise to come down from it.
It turns out that I have met Stephen before. He reminded me of this in a recent email, but what can I say? The people skills department of my brain is terribly mismanaged. I meet people, get their names, use their names, learn about their professions and families, and then I have to get in my mental smart car and I just don’t have enough room for all of them.
Stephen presented Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary in the cafeteria of a corporate building in Burgdorf, Switzerland in 2006. There were a few of his English students(not English, but Swiss learning English) there, who apparently still talk about the day, an unexpected and strange beauty in a modern, sterile facility. We had a question and answer session. When you almost outnumber the audience, you can skip the pretense and have a conversation.
As Stephen and I exited the train station, we came to two enormous, thick, sliding glass doors. Beside the doors, there was a card reader and Stephen slid his parking slip into it. The doors slid silently open. They must have weighed 300 pounds apiece. It was a kind of magic. We walked into the parking garage. I would have eaten off the floor. Above us there were two rows of round, opaque lights, perfect circles about five feet across. I was trying to think of what this reminded me of. It was like Blade Runner, but cleaner. Like Logan’s Run, but more modern.
We loaded the car, drove to the exit, and Stephen inserted his card. The machine said, “Gute Farht,” which I will get a kick out of until the day I die. It means “good driving,” or ‘drive cautiously,” but c’mon, that is funny. I don’t know a single 2-year-old who wouldn’t laugh at that. When you need an exit on the autobahn, just look for the ausfarht. “Aus” means “out,” and the monkeys in my brain are rolling on the floor and slapping each other every few miles. Kilometers. Sorry.
While we’re on the subject of bilingual puns, the German word for cockroach is Kakerlake, which is nearly indistinguishable from Cackalacka. Now that I’m in a German-speaking country, I finish a song and say, “That’s from my latest CD, Cockroach.”
We cruised the autobahn, Stephen holding a GPS tablet on his leg. When he drove too fast, it would moo at him, like a cow. Don’t speed in Switzerland, folks. They don’t bother with personal introductions. They just send you a ticket. Rob McMaken got one in the mail, in Athens, Georgia, after our tour in 2006.
Stephen said he had a GPS because he never drives here. The train system is so clean and dependable. Why would you drive to Basel?
It was -15 C. The highway was spotless and threaded the mountains through handsome tunnels, each one stenciled with the name of its region. Stephen told me that his wife used to go jogging in them before they were completed, so that she could sing inside as she ran. Stephen is a copywriter for the Omega watch company. He flies all over the world to hang with supermodels as the company creates their ads. Omega is the official timekeeper of the Olympics, so he has to go to those, too. That’s his work. His passion is acoustic music.
He tells me that I’ll be staying in the bottom two floors of their house. It’s not the style to which I am accustomed, but it will do. He tells me that the sound system we are using was designed by a Swiss man. It’s called Rundklang, or “round sound.” The speakers project sound in 360 degrees. He says that the man who designed the system will be at the show and it would be great to know what I think about it.
We arrive at the clean little village of Pieterlen and climb the narrow roads to their house. I hand Stephen my guitar and I lug my suitcase up the stairs. As far as I can tell, there are only two directions in Switzerland: up and down. The Swiss get a better workout going to the kitchen for a beer than most people do at the gym. There are apartments with outdoor elevators that travel diagonally up the mountain to your floor.
Monika is there to greet us and she becomes the tour guide for my house. There is a marvelous little coffee machine with dark, medium, light, and decaf. Here is the filtered water. This lamp beside your bed works by simply touching any part of it. This light switch does not do anything (It is actually labeled as such in German, and in the universal red “x.”) There is a metal shutter over my picture window that rolls down over the outside like another wall. I have rolled it down in the middle of the day and, were it not for a tiny bit of light at the top and bottom, I would think I was underground.
We go back downstairs to my kitchen/living room suite and she asks if I’m hungry. I’m so hungry I could eat the curtains. We break out some deli meats, a spreadable cheese with horseradish, and some bread with pumpkins seeds that I might remember for the rest of my life. Stephen is a great conversationalist and we do know a couple of people in common, including Tim O’Brien. They are delighted to find out that Tim and I wrote the first song on his last CD together, “You Ate The Apple.”
Its after 1am and we’re all fading, so they leave the house to me. I go upstairs. There’s a great bath and I use it. I send one of the last Facebook updates, trying to spread out my crazy day so that you can all read them without getting overwhelmed. I save one for the morning. I try to imagine when the best time to post the stories is, when Europeans and Americans will all be awake and online. But it makes my head hurt.
I can’t sleep. Sneaky old jet lag has gotten into my bed somehow. I write. Play games. Read. Finally, at 5am, I fall asleep.