Sadao and I arrived together at Frankfurt airport. We were coaching string quartets in Japan as a precursor to the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto.
After ten days of just listening to students play Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, and Mozart, I was dying to play some stuff as well. I recently came to the realization that I get jealous solely as an audience member. I’m a performer at heart and need the experience of actually being involved in the music that’s being performed.
Frankfurt is a big airport and it has been exactly one year since the last time I walked through the terminals. Something was different… there weren’t the usual congregation of random people here and there. The halls seemed cleaner. “Maybe they repainted the walls…” I thought to myself. “Wait a minute! I can see the walls!”
And it hit me at that moment that the ever-present veil of second hand smoke was missing all of a sudden. As I quickly perused the area, there were vacant smoking corners and frequent flyers sipping on their cappuccinos with empty looks on their faces. They were all stripped of their joy of experiencing a marriage made in heaven. Coffee & Cigarettes…
Sadao and I zipped through passport control and made our way to the platforms. We decided to take the train to Stuttgart and then rent a car and drive to Wurmlingen. Yes, “the village of worms”. Sadao and Jim share a house there.
The train arrived 10 minutes late and we boarded. It was very crowded and according to Sadao’s theory, the only way we were going to find a seat was to endure the 1.5-hour train ride in the smoking car. He was right but I decided to sit on the floor between the cars where the air was not as bad. I happened to be next to some Japanese tourists and it was fun eavesdropping on their complaints of how chaotic the train system was.
After renting a car it was off to the Autobahn! Unfortunately, we were given some family station wagon and the top speed we hit that afternoon was 170 kph. It was still fast by American standards but I was hoping to break 200. Oh well…
It was great to see Jim again and we caught up on things over dinner and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Lunch was the usual salad and pasta. Jim had created different sauces everyday and today’s sauce was the most memorable for me. He had made chicken soup last night for his daughter, Anna, who was feeling a bit under the weather. He took the soup and made a wonderfully creamy and nutty chicken sauce out of it. Genius!
The only thing better than having a BBQ is another BBQ so that’s exactly what we did for dinner again tonight. We prepared a different menu this time:
We rehearsed Haydn’s “Lark” Quartet in D Major op.64 no.5 today and had a really good rehearsal. The musical decisions we worked our way towards seemed both organic and logical. Of course it comes much easier when you’re working with such seasoned quartet players like Sadao and Jim. Add the incredible musicianship of Federico and it’s like experiencing a drive in a Mercedes Benz and just fine-tuning things here and there.
As the rehearsal came to an end we all knew that there was a reward waiting for us all.
We all drove to the supermarket in Tuttlingen called E-center. There is a bakery in the front section of the store and Federico and me in particular had to muster all of our will power to not eat anything before the BBQ. We grabbed a cart and headed for the meat section. It was glorious! There were links of sausage, prime cuts of beef, ground sirloin, pork chops, lamb chops, marinated kebobs, and bacon. I wanted to buy everything but we decided to stick to our game plan of hamburgers and sausages.
The only vegetables we got were the lettuce and tomatoes to put on our burgers, pickles in a jar, and “potato” chips.
Of course no BBQ is complete without dessert so we grabbed some Movenpick ice cream and lined up at the register. After seeing all this food in front of us, Federico and me could not resist the tantalizing aroma of the bakery any more. We were drawn in like moths to a flame and ordered ourselves a Fleischekase. This is a little wonder created by the E-center bakery and can be best described as tasty processed meat, sandwiched between a heavenly, fluffy, fresh baked roll. Mmm….
The anticipation of a BBQ is just as good, if not better than the actual act of eating. Jim was in the kitchen making the individual patties. Federico was setting up the table on the patio and Sadao and me were in charge of getting the coals ready. It’s funny how lighting a flame tickles our primal urges.
Needless to say, the BBQ was a great success and all we could do was lounge around for the rest of the evening.
We returned yesterday to Wurmlingen and mostly lounged around to decompress from a busy few days. I woke up fairly late to Federico practicing in the living room and Sadao practicing upstairs. Jim made us a lunch of salad and pasta. Simple is best and the magic is in the homemade sauce. Jim is a great cook and could easily open a Trattoria somewhere. I think it also helps that his wife, Giacometta, is from Sicily. The town where she’s from is particularly special when it comes to food. After a couple servings of espresso the quartet started to rehearse for the next program.
Dinner seemed like a chore after our long rehearsal so we decided to drive to Trossingen to eat. This is where both Jim and Sadao teach during the year and where Federico use to teach before moving to Indiana. Federico and Jim wanted to say hello to a friend of theirs in town so we stopped by the Hotel Baren. Hansjoerg was the owner of this hotel and has built a relationship with Federico and Jim through the years when they use to stay in his hotel. When we arrived, Hansjoerg was outside with some men with tools, beers and cigarettes. They were obviously remodelling the hotel. As we approached them, an old German shepherd came to sniff us and greet us. As Hansjoerg, Federico and Jim caught up, a handyman came up to Sadao and me and asked us in English where we were from. I’m sure he was German but he had an Australian accent when he spoke English. He made some derogatory remark about Asians but we just laughed it off. He then started to tell us some bizarre story about a musician he did some job for years ago. I couldn’t follow his English but I picked up on phrases like “yeah, and then he stabbed him!” After a few awkward silences, we said goodbye to Hansjoerg and proceeded to the restaurant. Unbeknownst to us, this was the beginning of an evening from the “Twilight Zone”.
With more than a month left before school was back in session, the streets of Trossingen resembled a ghost town. There was only one man sitting at the bar when we walked into the Greek restaurant. We asked to be seated in the smoking section and the waiter informed us that a nation-wide law was passed that there would be no more smoking in restaurants. He said there was smoking allowed in the billiards room though so we ordered our meal, took our pints, and headed for the sacred room. To our surprise, there were four men and one older man sitting around a table. As they puffed on their tobacco, the only voice we heard came from the old man. It was as though the village leader was handing down some precious wisdom to his tribesmen. We glanced over to the other side of the room and the waiter was smoking too. He gave us a knowing chuckle about how ludicrous it was that even he had to take refuge for a puff.
When we returned to the main dining area, a feast was waiting for us. Kebobs, taramosalata, pita, and feta cheese…mmmm
We also noticed that there were two other couples sitting in the opposite corner of the room. From our first bite to our last and even after we paid the bill, the couples hadn’t spoken a single word to each other. I don’t think they even looked at each other. It was odd and depressing. When we walked out of the restaurant, I saw that there was a full moon above us and maybe even a howling in the distance.