Michael’s European Adventure


Luscious Sunset Sky Over The Port Of Aarhus.

A couple days at S’s place put me back on track emotionally. I met her in Shanghai in 2010 with E and several other folks from a unique and fabulous school in Aarhus called KaosPilot (kind of an alternative MBA program with an emphasis on social change). They all wandered en masse one night into my Cousin J’s club just as I was hitting my stride with my Musical Epiphany and we all became very close over the next several weeks.

She is quite unique and fabulous herself; a beautiful Afro-Cuban woman who has lived in Denmark for many years, speaks 5 languages, and holds several advanced degrees. She just returned from a long sojourn in Brazil (her dream country she’s always wanted to visit) and was adjusting to life back in Denmark while trying to get yet another PHD.

Her brilliant mind, sunny disposition, indomitable spirit (she came to Denmark from Cuba with nothing and managed to make her way there), and wonderful cooking (I didn’t realize how much I had been jonesing for spices) provided me with just the impetus I needed to get over my funk.

Now it was time to make a final push to discern what my Life Path shall be.

The Oracle shall not be back in Madrid until the middle of the month, so it seemed that the best thing to do was to continue my original “Route Plan” which brings me closer to Spain anyway.

Therefore, on early Thursday morning I bid farewell to S with a heartfelt thanks for her generosity and kindness, grabbed a 7AM Aarhus City Bus to the Train Station, and began a very long day of travel to Prague (actually a city outside of Prague called Kladno).

My route required me to switch trains in Hamburg and in Berlin on the way to Prague. There was a layover of a couple hours between trains in Hamburg, but I had only 4 Minutes to switch trains in Berlin. I was assured that the next train was directly across the platform and that Deutsche Bahn ran like clockwork etc. etc. but I was still a bit concerned.

My concern grew when the train out of Hamburg was delayed by 15 minutes- the math just didn’t seem to add up. The conductor told me that the train would be able to make up some time and that it “probably” would be able to connect with the Prague-bound train. “We will know about 10 minutes before we arrive,” she said with an almost wry grin. Fanfreakingtastic.

Once the train got outside Hamburg it really began to cruise, and the little LED info readout over the door of the train car said “Speed 231 KPH” (140ish MPH) at certain points.The scenery was whizzing by at a pretty good clip, so it seemed that they were doing everything they could to get back on schedule. Since there was nothing to do about it anyway, I took nap in my seat.

I woke up about 15 minutes before the scheduled arrival and we were still in farm territory, but I knew from my previous bus trip that farms started pretty soon outside of Berlin. Time to gather up the cargo and go stand by the door to prepare for a mad dash. The scenery started to “urban up” but we were only 5 minutes away from scheduled arrival. Just as I was beginning to lose hope the conductor came on the loudspeaker and said that passengers making changes would be able to get their trains. WHEW!

Of course, I was in the very last car of this long commuter train and my connecting train was quite short, so I had about 30 seconds to sprint through several meters of empty platform and managed to get in the last door of the Prague train just as the “Get Deine Ass On Der Bahn!” alarm was sounding. I dragged my stuff through several cars to reach my seat and was headed to Prague!!!

My seat was in an actual train compartment (very filmic) that seated 6 but there were only two other guys in there, so it wasn’t too snug (good for them because I was already a bit ripe from my exertions so far). As we headed south the scenery changed from farm to hill/forest/river country. Eventually we rolled into Dresden (I was having major Slaughterhouse-5 flashbacks) and things began to get medieval. My two cabin mates got off the train and I had the compartment to myself as the train snaked along a river with ruins of castles and really picturesque old villages and various structures along the cliffs of the opposite bank. It reminded me of a trip along the Rhine from my High School Days but it was the Elbe River. Since it didn’t seem like anybody else was going to get on anytime soon, I spread out and plugged in my laptop & phone and made the compartment my own.

I started listening to Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso album on headphones. It’s a live recording from the 5-Spot nightclub with Johnny Griffin on tenor sax, and it’s quite a trip to listen to on headphones because you can hear conversations and trays of glasses being dropped in the background- plus every single “I got it, I got it, I got it!” and hoarse orgasmic rasping groan (to quote a favorite poet) from Johnny Griffin. It was a marvelous accompaniment to the picturesque scenery as night fell and the darkness set in.

More people began getting on as we got closer to Prague, so I packed up camp in case somebody entered my compartment and prepared myself to get off the train.

Because the train was running late and I was tired from the long day (and just freaking stupid) I mistakenly ended up getting off one stop too early. AAAARGGG!!! After finding that this hinterland-ass station had no cabs at all to get me to the main station (and the “totally not giving a shit” train station people wouldn’t call me one), I grabbed a Metro train to the Main Station and hoped I could find my friend C who was waiting for me.

When I arrived much time had passed and he was nowhere to be found, not that I would really know where to look for him anyway. He may have very well headed to the station I had just left thinking that I had made the boo-boo which I did. He had no mobile phone so even if mine was working in Prague there was no way to contact him. “Here we go again!” I thought to myself. But knowing that he would do everything to find me I just stood in a very visible place and waited for him to show up. Not long after that he did.

Turns out he did go to that station and found out from the people there that a whiny English speaker with a bunch of luggage who had gotten off one stop too early had recently been there and had taken the Metro to the Main Station. He brushed off my apologies and we headed to Kladno, which took two more Metro trains and a regional bus.

We caught up during that time (we hadn’t seen each other in 5 years) and 90 minutes later we reached his place, where his wife H had a late dinner waiting. That and a shower (sometimes a shower feels so good/needed that it almost makes you weep with joy) made me feel halfway human and we all bid each other good night. I laid down in the couch bed they had prepared for me and reflected on the day as I drifted off to sleep. Approximately 17 hours in transit (a bus to a train to a train to a train to a train to a train to train to a bus) and 730k/450m traveled as the crow flies. Quite the long day.


The next day C led me to and checked me into an extremely homey and nice Czech Pension (kind of a European Bed & Breakfast) where I was to remain for the next several days, and left to let me get situated.

A few hours later he showed up again and took me around Downtown Kladno. Aside from being the birthplace of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak; Kladno’s claims to fame are coal mining & steel production (both pretty much moribund) and being the location of an immense LEGO factory (C always has the hookup for his nephews & nieces). The older downtown area was very cute and picturesque.


The Kladno Lego Factory From The Window Of A Moving Train.

We had a late lunch and then wandered around a bit more before hanging out waiting for a Blues Concert to begin that evening. A friend of C’s organized a Jazz/Blues Series that happened in various venues in the city. Tonight it was a concert in an adorable old courtyard that was to feature American Blues Chanteuse Marilyn Oliver (who is the great-niece of Muddy Waters) and a Czech band that was hired just for a tour that was going around the Czech Republic for the next month or so.

C and I first met in Hangzhou, China at the Hostel where I was staying every weekend while playing/singing with a Chinese Jazz Trio at a Jazz Club a few doors down (a story for another time). He was from Chicago but had been living abroad for several decades teaching English; first in Japan (where he and H met) and then in the Czech Republic. He and I struck up a conversation in the Hostel Cafe and then he and H came to see me play at the club later that week.

He was quite impressed with my playing back then and wanted to see me blow some harp again, so he asked his organizer friend P if I could sit in with Marilyn and the band. Of course P said it would be her call. I knew how delicate those matters are, so I really wasn’t expecting to be able to sit in, although it would have been awesome.

We sat and chatted and enjoyed the day as the band set up and went through sound check. They were a trio with drums, guitar, and a Hammond B-3 Organ player. They sounded pretty hot as they went through their paces. Usually Kladno hosts touring bands on the last night of the tour (final gig right by the airport), but this time it was reversed and Marilyn had just landed the day before and she and the Czech cats had just one rehearsal together. I didn’t think that boded well for a new person to sit in for a tune.

The courtyard began to fill up with folks, the star arrived, and the show began. Marilyn was a great singer and even though they had only one rehearsal things were going pretty well, although you could tell they were still a little tentative with each other.

During the break P motioned that I should go talk to Marilyn, so I went and introduced myself and asked if I might sit in for a tune so my friends could see me play again. She was very kind and gracious and said “Sure, why not?” and we all set to figuring out what tune I might be able to fit in on. They had messed around with a straight-up jam (my forte) the day before, where the Hammond player got on drums, the drummer picked up the guitar, and Marilyn got on the Hammond; but the Hammond player said “No, this show is too serious” (I knew what he meant, it kind of had a mini-Ravinia vibe) so we ended up deciding on the classic “Stormy Monday.”

I went to go warm up my C Harp (literally, it had gotten cold as hell and I was regretting that I hadn’t brought my jacket) and move from spectator to performer mode. These shows were obviously a big deal for the little town of Kladno, and I didn’t want to embarrass C by screwing the pooch in front of the village big-wigs; therefore I was a bit nervous aside from the jitters that come from playing with someone new.

But nonetheless I acquitted myself fairly well (my solo got some nice applause) and Marilyn and the band really seemed to dig it. Afterwards, we all had a nice chat and bid each other farewell. It was time to go back to the Pension (after Craig showed me a couple local watering holes). I can now say that I sat in with Muddy Waters’ great-niece, and in a small Czech town even.


Marilyn Feeling It.


The next day C and I did a Day Trip into Prague, where he showed me around the old (UNESCO Heritage Site)  especially historic part of the city. Many years before he had learned a great deal about Prague and took & passed the Guide Certification Exam (since he had done so much research anyway), and he really gave me a nice well-informed tour of some fascinating things.


Prague Is Gorgeous And Filled With Vistas Like This.

The only problem was it being a Saturday (and a wildly popular place in general) the whole area was absolutely jammed with hordes of tourists (like a Navy Pier/Mag Mile on Steroids meets the Art Institute) to the point where I was getting claustrophobic at times. Still we had a wonderful afternoon and it was cool as hell.


Hi Mrs. Kafka, Can Franz Come Out And Play?



As Befits A Kafka Monument, It Is Rife With Symbolism.


Kafka Monument In Profile.

I especially enjoyed Kafka’s House and nearby Monument (this whole quest has sometimes made me feel like The Land Surveyor in The Castle), the old Jewish areas, and even the crazy packed main historic square was nice. Although I really felt for the guides who I saw giving walking tours to groups of 50 in that absolute Zoo, it’s hard enough giving a walking tour for groups that size in the least crowded of places.


The Old Jewish Town Hall. Note The Clock In Hebrew Which Reads From Right To Left.


This Moment Outside The Prague Synagogue Was So Poignant & Touching I Broke My Rule About Avoiding People In My Photos.

We eventually transported back to Kladno and said goodbye until the next evening, when we would be going to have dinner with a fascinating friend of he and H’s.


The next evening C stopped by and led me to B’s house, where we had dinner with he and his family and a few friends. H had brought some homemade sushi and there was a nice array of other foods and much fine red wine.

B is Swiss & Czech and has worked many decades as a musician, arranger, and composer. He’s now quite in demand as all three and actually has his own Orchestra [one of NINE FULL ORCHESTRAS that exist in Prague. Dig that, Chicago Musicians!] which tours and records on a regular basis all around Europe. He held forth on some of his current projects (even played some rough recordings of one he was in the midst of with a famous French Pop Diva), told a bunch of great stories, and was an all-around wonderfully fascinating and sophisticated fellow.

I was SO honored and privileged to be able to meet and spend time with him, and I thanked C profusely afterwards as we made our way through the streets of Kladno.


It is now Monday and I am spending the day at the Pension preparing to take a bus to Vienna the next day to spend some time with A, who’s another friend I met in China.

Really looking forward to Vienna and to seeing A again. Hopefully I can manage the trip without some major or minor screwup on my part!


Friday Started Out At This Lovely Lighthouse On The North Sea Coast



The Air Off Of The North Sea Is Intoxicatingly Fresh

Perhaps I was too optimistic a couple of postings ago when I said no matter what I would be OK. The flip side of the coin of the Seat Of The Pants Travel Adventure recently reared up and bit me in the ass.

L’s need to suddenly return to Copenhagen early really caught me with my proverbial pants down because I hadn’t yet contacted my other great friend in Aarhus (S) about when I could stay with her on my way back south. The fact that I was only able to get internet at L’s museum further complicated things.

Since S and I were in sporadic contact, L offered to give me a ride to Copenhagen, where I could find a hostel or hotel to stay in and then either make my way over to Aarhus to stay with S or head south for Berlin or Prague depending on what was up (the problem with having creative nomadic friends is that they aren’t always at home and/or able to receive visitors).

I decided to take L up on her offer, and Friday morning and afternoon we closed up Country Town, the Museum, and then the summer home- and left for Copenhagen with the trailer in tow. The ride to Copenhagen was spectacular. I thought maybe I was overly impressed with Denmark because I hadn’t been out in the country in so long, but the place is just amazingly and relentlessly beautiful.

Once we arrived in Copenhagen things went completely sideways. It was now almost 10PM on a Friday night and the hostel I was hoping to stay at was booked up. L couldn’t be driving around with the trailer in downtown Copenhagen, so she let me off on hotel/hostel row, where I thought there must be something available.

But as I wheeled my big suitcase and bags around the jam-packed city center (big weekend beginning), it quickly became apparent that there was no room in the inn(s). So I grabbed a sandwich and drink at a convenience store and sat down on a bench to replenish myself and ponder my options.

My on again/off again phone wasn’t behaving so I wasn’t able to contact L, and her place was too small and she didn’t even have floor space for me to crash on anyway. That part of Copenhagen is a bit sketchy and unfriendly, defiinitely not the place you would want to rely on the kindness of strangers or even fall asleep in public, and I could feel myself drawing the attention of predatory looking people (at least they seemed that way to me- my street radar is set for Chicago). I decided to head to the train station and see if I could grab a train ticket to Prague, which would give me a place to sleep and end me up somewhere with cheap hotels and hostels, where I could lay over until I could contact my friend C, who lives outside of Prague and I had been talking to about visiting later that week.

I walked around the station looking for an open ticket booth where I could consult on travel options, but they were all closed and there were nothing but automated ticket machines available that only seemed to be for local trains. This was getting really messed up and all the magic seemed to have been sucked out of the air since I hit Copenhagen.

I sat on a bench in the station and wondered what the hell I was going to do, trying to stave off a total panic moment. I looked up and noticed a sign pointing to a platform downstairs that indicated a train for Aarhus was leaving in 15 minutes.

That seemed to be the straw I needed to grab at. I would take this late train to Aarhus that would either take the rest of the night to get there, and then I could get ahold of S (or maybe E & P) the next morning, or I could grab a room somewhere there if the train was quicker. I scrambled to find the right machine to get me a ticket for that train, purchased it (way pricey but I felt I had little choice at that time), and managed to get on the train with seconds to spare.

Turns out it was a relatively fast train that put me in downtown Aarhus at about 1:45 AM. The place was an absolute zoo; partly because it was bar time (ish) on a Friday night but mainly because (unbeknownst to me until arrival) it was the start of the huge Aarhus Fest, which drew revelers from all over Denmark & vicinity to attend the slew of awesome musical entertainment to be had at multiple venues for the next week.

I pushed my cargo ensemble through the throngs and didn’t even try to find a room, I knew I’d be wasting my time. I rolled on down to E & P’s building, hoping against hope to see a light on at that extremely late hour. No such luck. Feeling much too embarrassesd to wake everybody up past 2AM and not knowing what else to do, I headed over to a secluded bench in the park across the street from them, set my things around me and decided to tough it out until morning.

Aarhus was a much safer place to do this than Copenhagen, but I still was keeping both ears open as I nodded off and dozed fitfully for an hour or two. Lots of drunken rowdy folks were streaming down the street nearby but nobody took notice of me (or at least decided to mess with me). I almost hoped the cops would bust me so at least I’d have a place to stay, but they were apparently too busy keeping tabs on the throngs and busting drunk drivers to mess with a dumbass sitting in a park (cops keep a pretty low profile here anyway). I tried to keep my Zen going and laughed at my misfortune instead of freaking, and was doing pretty well for a while.

After a couple hours the wind changed and it got really really cold, to the point where I moved camp over to a bus shelter that was in the lee of the breeze, but it was right on the street that was still seeing a steady throng of rowdy drunks stumbling by (man, do people party here!).

Feeling too exposed and still cold as hell, I began to just roll the cargo around the neighborhood, which was still seeing many parties in full swing. Eventually, I found a relatively remote bus shelter and dozed and shivered for another period of time until the sun came up. Then finally the buses started running, and I took one out to the quiet outskirts and got a nice nap 40 minute nap in as I waited for one heading back into town.

I waited in another little mini-park for the grocery store to open, and when it did I got some fruit, cheese, and bread and headed back to the park by E & Ps to have some breakfast and await a sign that folks there might be awake, just to get warm and use their internet to contact S. It got to the point where I knew that everyone would be up and I went to ring what I thought was their bell (turned out it wasn’t) but got no response.


As Bad As I Felt At Sunrise, I Still Had To Take These Pics Of The Clouds In The Morning Sky



Lovely Clouds

Lovely Sky over ArtM

Flummoxed by this, I decided to head just across the narrow street and see if I could at least snag their wifi signal (my computer was attuned to their signal and I thought I might as well give it a try). I was actually able to and I sent an email to E (she’d recently gotten off that certain social media site) that explained my predicament and location- and got on that certain social media site to see if I could IM S to see if she was able to put me up that night.

As luck would have it, S responded, and as luck wouldn’t have it, was out of town. She tried to contact some friends of hers who might help but couldn’t get ahold of them, then gave me the address of a hostel that she thought might have a room even though the city was filled with folks.

All this time I was standing on a sidewalk with my bags all around me pecking away at an open laptop perched on top of a wall and looking like the King Of The Sketchy Unsavory Dudes. My first thought if I saw myself would have been that I was a homeless guy stealing someone’s wifi, which in a way I was, and I was getting all kinds of extremely quizzical looks from folks passing by and half expected some sort of internet police to ride up and begin questioning me.

As S was giving me the address and we were furiously IMing back and forth, suddenly P walks up to me with a huge grin on his face. I greeted him and told him of my plight and he asked if I wanted to come inside and have some coffee. An offer that almost made me weep with relief, as my Zen had totally disappeared about 3 hours before and I was in awful shape.

We went upstairs and P made me coffee and I explained my stupid predicament to everyone. They were full up with folks as well, so my staying there would be a huge inconvenience, since the only space for me to crash would be in P’s work space and he was painting like a demon these days and couldn’t afford the distraction of a person in his “office.”

I couldn’t get in touch with the Hostel in question, so I spent a couple hours searching Air B&B to no avail (put in one request on the one available place in my price range but never heard back). Finally I just went down to the hostel. They had no room that night but they did have one for the next night only, so I booked it and went back to E & P’s to see if I could impose on them for one night. They accepted only because they didn’t want me to have to sleep rough again, but I felt like a total a-hole for even having to ask such a huge favor (especially after all the hospitality they had previously shown me).

But nonetheless, I was able to sleep indoors that night. I even managed to walk around earlier and take in some of the Fest (it was amazing stuff) but the previous night of little sleep, constant cold, and a taste of what it’s like to be homeless (absolutely horrifying and soul-destroying) had really put me off my feed.

The next day I wasn’t able to check into the Hostel until 4PM, but at least they were able to let me put my huge rolling bag in their luggage room the day before. I went to check my other large-ish bag and my smaller computer bag in there as well early in the afternoon, but the reception desk was closed from 11AM until the 4PM check in time.

Since I couldn’t lug that heavy bag around anymore (it had extra stuff in it because I had taken some things I needed from the rolling bag the day before when I stored it) it was another session of lurking around a park with luggage. Even though I had gotten some good sleep in at E & P’s, I was still way out of sorts; and another few hours of getting the fish eye from wealthy Danish people (it’s a really gentrified area) was not what I needed emotionally. I felt like everyone in downtown Aarhus now thought I was “that weird homelss guy.” Then I started to ruminate on the fine line between open ended traveling like I was doing and just being homeless and felt like maybe I was on my way there and that worst-case scenario was right around the corner. By the time the Hostel opened up I was about as low as I could get.

The expensive hostel rate on top of the expensive train ticket further heightened my panic, and when I reached my room I was an emotional wreck. I sat and for a bit and tried to get my equilibrium back, to no avail. I thought perhaps checking out some fest would improve my mood, but it was Sunday night and there wasn’t as much stuff going on. It was time to call it a night and go back to the hostel and lick my wounds.


I ended up being able to stay one more night at The Hostel and now I am at S’s place getting my equilibrium back and preparing to leave for Prague on Thursday. S’s wonderfully warm and friendly ways and delicious homemade Cuban food are doing wonders for my disposition and outlook. And writing about it all has also helped me quell the panic/depression and get some perspective.

As unpleasant as it was, my little traumatic weekend was a picnic compared to the experiences of those who are actually homeless; and I can’t stop thinking about what it must be like to be someone from Syria or North Africa who is trying to make their way through Europe without a place to stay or any resources. My white skin and American Accent affords me many privileges that aren’t available to them, and a little bit of attitude and fish-eye is the least of the problems of those real refugees.

I think of all the people I tutored at the Albany Park Community Center (and who I’ve met over the years) who have spent time in refugee camps, and the over 50 million people worldwide who currently are refugees and/or displaced, and my mind boggles. What I went through was like stubbing a toe compared those millions of peoples’ metaphorical broken or amputated legs. So please forgive me for whining about my petty traumas.


My plans have changed because of the experiences of the weekend and the fact that my meager finances took a huge hit from the unexpected expenses. My original thought was to visit a few more friends in Northern Europe over the next month then as a final stop visit someone who I met during my childhood and who lives in Spain.

They are quite famous and important and can most help me figure out just what it is I am supposed to do with myself to be of the most use to the world at this point in my life. I thought my meanderings would provide me some sort of idea of what that might be and I could consult him about those ideas, but I now realize it’s time to see the Oracle immediately after I visit my friends C & H in Prague.

Finally: I understand that I have brought this on myself and that this was a strange and irresponsible endeavor from the beginning (I was well aware of that fact all along, but had to follow this compulsion), but if anyone has some funds they can spare and wishes to help me continue this quest they can please go to this web page and click on the “Tip Jar” icon to drop some philanthropy into my PayPal account.

I’m not trying to live a life of luxury here, just trying to find my path. If you enjoy reading about my wanderings and want to help continue this quest- any little bit would help.

Lemvig N Clouds

Lemvig Looking Adorable


Before we continue, I feel I need to expound on L a little bit.

L is an eccentric artist/activist extraordinaire; kind of a Danish Auntie Mame, Georgia O’Keefe/Louise Bourgeois, and Angela Davis all rolled together.

Lisbeth N Sea

L & The Sea

She lives/works in Copenhagen but grew up around here. Almost as a lark she put in a very low-ball auction bid on a dilapidated old restaurant/bar complex near the North Sea coast about four years ago, and as fate would have it, won the auction.

It’s part of a little grouping of about six houses/buildings (like one of those tiny unincorporated towns you see in rural Wisconsin or Minnesota). Two years ago also she bought a run-down little house a few doors down from the restaurant. Now she’s the Mayor/Sheriff of “Country Town” (as she calls it). She’s trying to turn it into an Artist Colony, but constantly struggles with the billion things that need to get done (and the fact that she’s just one person).

She and I hit it off really well from our first meeting, so now I am her Deputy/Hired Hand/Assistant helping out with the billion things in Country Town and whatever else I can do to be of help. We cruise through the Danish countryside (it’s a lot like where I grew up except not as hilly & wooded) in her little car with a cargo trailer attached; me riding shotgun and gaping out the window at the bucolic scenery and both of us amusing each other with stories and crazy banter. As different as our paths have been, we have had several similar life experiences/adventures/tragedies and an extremely similarly twisted sense of humor, so there is much to talk and laugh about as we go about our chores.

Farm n Clouds 5

West Jutland Scenery

Clearing brush is one of the major things that I’ve helped her with, but hauling trash from Country Town to the Refuse Station is the thing that takes up most of our time. She and her helpers over the years have hauled tons of stuff out of the two buildings, but they were filled to the gunnels with various and sundry trash and weird-ass items, many of which remain. Dead appliances, funky nasty old furniture, random stacks of useless wood & moldy particle board, etc. etc etc.- plus all the refuse that comes from the gut rehabbing that’s being done little by little as her handyman-of-all-trades gets the water and electricity working in all the various rooms and L gets some of the bedrooms in a livable condition so people can begin to stay out there in a somewhat civilized fashion.


West Jutland At Dusk

She’s fast friends with the guys down at the Refuse Station and we usually roll in a couple times a day with the trailer jam-packed with a bouillabaisse of trash. Actually, she’s fast friends with half the area; being the Wild Local Girl Who Made It As An Artist In The Big City and who spends her summers back home making trouble and fun (simultaneously Famous & Infamous) and we are constantly running into folks she knows either from her wild childhood or artistic/activist adulthood.

She introduces me to people as her “Gangster Friend from Chicago,” which always gets an interesting reaction. Even when she goes on to explain that I used to organize people against gang members (she did some similar work in Copenhagen several years ago) a few still seem a little leery. I try to give a sweet smile, but that doesn’t do much good, seeing as most of the time I’m drenched in sweat and/or covered in dirt from my labors and with my hair all askew in cubist configurations.


Don’t Be Afraid Of The Nice Man!

Many of the people obviously wonder if L & I are lovers (FYI- We Aren’t) and even though I don’t speak Danish, I can tell a couple of them have actually asked her point blank about it. Despite L’s assurances to the contrary, I’m sure that tongues are ‘a waggin’ about that and several other issues concerning this weird American who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I grew up in a small town and know how they work, but having also been a Wild Child from the sticks, I also know enough not to worry and to just let ’em all talk.

In addition to the Country Town properties and a little summer house near Lemvig (where we stay while we get C-Town into shape), L also has a wonderful little Art Museum in the nearby countryside that we spend a few hours a day manning (it’s where I’m getting internet right now).

Hard work, fresh air, sunshine, and good company are doing me a world of good. Since I don’t have any pressing business anywhere else, I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and the feeling that I am being of use to someone doing who is something worthwhile.


Country Town



The Big House

Country Town has incredible potential if L could just get over the hump with enough money/help. I’ve taken photos of the interiors but they can’t really do it justice. If it was all spiffed up it could house about 10-12 artist of various sorts who would have access to a painting studio, a ceramic kiln (someone wants to donate one) and a nice little performance space. The performance space has this crazy mural of various & sundry country/rock greats (along with L as the Sheriff) done by a local character named H (he’s continually stopping by to goof with L & to touch up his mural). There’s also a neat little grove with some apple trees on some land behind the little house and luscious scenery all around. It could really be something.


Sunset From The Back Deck Of The Big House

L has been working steadily on it over the years as she spends her summers tending to the museum and visiting with friends and family in her hometown. She’s very careful not to get overextended financially in rehabbing the properties and also not to get too burned out with all the work, but she’s only one person and the help she gets is often spotty at best.


The Little House

One problem is that many interested parties (especially in the Copenhagen/Aarhus Art Crowds) are enamored of the idea of having a place to make art, party, & cavort- but not so much interested in putting in the hard physical labor it takes to make something like this happen. It’s the old problem with the idea that city people have of country life; they think it’s all lemonade on the porch and fun in the sun and then they blanch at all the hard work it takes to maintain rural properties and rehab old dilapidated buildings. It’s pretty much what killed the hippie commune movement back in the 60’s/70’s IMHO; all the bourgeois suburban kids bailed as soon as they discovered that farm/country living wasn’t all skinny dipping and laying about getting stoned, but instead was an Imperial Fuckton of hard unending work.

Another problem is that there is just SOOO much stuff to be done (a serious Imperial Fuckton), and that the little bit that L and her peeps can do is often negated by the beating the place takes from the elements, especially over the winter. It sometimes seems like bailing out an old boat which has a big leak in it, and on occasion I wonder if I’m participating in a quixotic quest.

On the other hand, much has gotten done over the years (especially when I hear about the condition the places were in when she bought them) and continues to get done (a great carpenter just did some major spiffing on the exterior). And what the hell, Quixotic Quest is my middle freaking name. I’m on a HUGE one of my own, for gosh sake! Not my first and probably not my last. Actually, it’s kind of my Magnum Opus of Quixotic Quests.

There were also three delightful artists from further North in Denmark who just visited and really “get” what L is doing here, and seem like the type of folks who aren’t averse to some hard work. They want to come and stay in Country Town later in September, even though it’s out of season and L will be mostly back in Copenhagen. They could be the vanguard of a new wave.

So the Bottom Line is that I don’t care if my hard work was for naught because I have had a blast during my time here and it was just what I needed at this point in my life and my journey.

And who knows, stranger things have happened and L is as tough and dogged as they come.


The end of the season has come and L is closing up the Art Museum and heading back to Copenhagen. Circumstances back in Copenhagen are forcing her to do it a little earlier than she was planning to, so now I am scrambling to get back into my own quest and find the next place I’m going to visit (and the next friends who are ready to put me up for a bit).

We shall see where the path leads…

Aarhus view

I Bid Farewell To This View & Headed West.

The more E & P told me about their Artist friend up/over in the Wild West of Denmark the more I wanted to get up there as soon as I could, so E introduced us online and we began talking about when I might come up and visit. It seemed that Monday would be the best time for her so I began making arrangements.

I booked a ride to the nearby city of Holstebro through this really cool site/app called Go More, which paired up people who needed rides with people who wanted to give rides for a little extra cash. From there I would take a bus to Lemvig where their friend (L) would pick me up after she was finished with a meeting she had early that evening. I wasn’t sure whether my funky phone would actually work up there (it was barely working in Aarhus), so I would just chill at the harborside until she came to get me.

My excitement spiked over the rest of the weekend as I prepared for the trip and I learned more about the West Coast of Denmark & heard more stories about L. When this crazy world excursion/quest began I suspected that, as awesome as all the dear friends I was visiting were, the extreme magic would happen with the people I was going to meet along the journey.

On Monday I said my goodbyes to E & P, their roommates & others and grabbed an Aarhus city bus out to the near suburban office park where I would rendezvous with my GoMore ride. I was way early so I parked my big rolling suitcase and other bags in a shady spot at the corner of this corporate parking lot and waited for my ride.

I got a few quizzical looks from folks going to and from the lot (it was a major global corporation that shall remain nameless) but considering my ass would have likely been tasered by security in the US, I considered myself fortunate.

At the appointed time H rolled up in his car and we were off to Holstebro. He worked for the un-aforementioned company and commuted to Aarhus from Holstebro every weekday, saving some gas money and getting some company by doing the GoMore thang. We had a nice conversation about various topics as the scenery rolled by for the next 90 minutes.

Things kept getting more and more rural as we traveled and I kept getting more and more pleased by this, which amused H quite a bit. I had told him that I grew up in rural Wisconsin so we chatted about fishing, farming, and other country pursuits.

One of the coolest things about Denmark’s rural freeways is that they have these Green Overpasses (for want of a better term) every couple kilometers or so; where animals could cross over the roadway. They’re kind of like overgrown pedestrian overpasses. I coincidentally noticed the first one right after I was struck (no pun intended) by the lack of roadkill, and then remembered reading about them online a few weeks before. H confirmed that was what they were and was quite gratified by my excitement and interest.

He also (likely for his own amusement after finding out I was a standup comic) asked me who I thought was going to replace Obama, and relished the rant I went into about the Republican Clown Car and other American Political kvetches of mine. That led into the “What is up with America and guns and violence?” conversation I’ve had with so many Danes (and Germans & others as well)- but I already covered that ground in my last dispatch. Anyway, the time just flew by and we bid each other farewell at the Holstebro bus station. He was a fine fellow, I may grab a ride from him back south if I need to.

I managed to find the bus to Lemvig with the assistance of this extremely kind and helpful young woman who was also taking that bus. Things got even more rural as we headed north and my silly grin was about to split my head open.

After about 40 minutes we rolled into Lemvig, which is a drop-dead gorgeous little harbor town, and the bus dropped me off right at the aforementioned harbor. It was a lovely day and the bright northern sun shone upon this adorable tableaux as I arranged all my bags and sat on a little bench to await L’s arrival.

The sleepy feeling early evening vibe soaked into my soul as I munched a couple pieces of bread and sipped some water. My text to L went “undeliverable” (but that was expected, it seems I can no longer send, only receive) and the time when she said her meeting would end came and passed with no text from her. Not a problem, since meetings often go on longer than one expects, especially with creative folks.

The minutes continued to tick away and I began to wonder if something might be up. I’ve long had a tendency toward what is known as “catastrophization.” It was especially terrible during my 1999-2002 Post-Rogers Park PTSD Period, and this crazy adventure had brought a relapse of it (What am I going to do? Why the hell did I do this? What shall happen? OMG! OMG! OMG!) in Berlin, although E & P’s Aarhus Therapy had quelled it quite a bit. I began to wonder if something may have happened to her; car accident, health problem, emergency of some sort, etc.etc.etc…

Here’s where I knew The Danish Decompression was really taking hold:

I started to tell myself “OK, you’ve traveled to another part of the globe with no specific plans and very little money just on a strong personal hunch that it was somehow the thing you should do at this point in your life. Now you’ve made your way to a remote corner of a country you’ve never been to before and don’t speak the language; to meet someone you’ve never met before, do not know where they live, and whom you have no way of calling.”

Instead of going down the path of decrying my foolhardiness and obsessing that I was going to die homeless and Euroless/Kronerless on the streets of some foreign land… I just started laughing uproariously to myself. The remaining clouds seemed to lift off of me and I realized that somehow no matter what happened I was going to be OK.

I took out my camera and took a few shots of the pretty yellow building across the street and the bucolic marina behind me— and truly felt like I was finally (after years of trying) living in the moment.


Hard To Have A Panic Attack With This View


After another 20 minutes or so, L came walking across a nearby parking lot waving to me. We greeted each other and spoke for a minute or two as we walked to her car and figured out a way to cram all my various bags into its already crowded interior. Then we retired across the street (to the very cafe I was planning to get food and seek wifi to contact her if she didn’t show up) for some dinner.

As much as I had assumed/hoped we would hit it off, L and I almost instantly got into the groove that kindred souls tend to do and as we dined we had an extremely comfortable conversation about our lives and other various & sundry things. At a certain point I made a sardonic comment about something (the sort of comment that often puts “normal” people off) and she laughed so hard she almost hyperventilated- and I knew that I had found that first “well-met stranger” who would bring whatever the hell was supposed to happen on this adventure into a higher gear.

Then we left to go visit her Artist Colony In The Making out in the sticks of Denmark…

Aarhus, Denmark- August 15



Along The Road Through Germanysconsin…

HELP!!! I’ve been abducted by a couple of bohemian artists and am being held captive in an Atelier!

They are forcing me to eat healthy organic food, live in the moment, and lighten the hell up.

My dear friend E and her fantastic partner P have been trying their best to put some vigor and whimsy in my stride, and their treatment is beginning to take effect.

The tension is starting to slowly roll off me now that I’m in Denmark. Aarhus is a sleepy little college town right on the water, just what I need after the last five years of hardly ever leaving Chicago and three weeks in nice but still a bit urban and uptight Berlin.

As much as I enjoyed my time there (and want to return whenever I can) it was a great weight off my shoulders when the bus pulled out of the Berlin bus station. Some of the bad mojo was residual anxiety from my 1981 visit during the height of the Squatter’s Riots and the Reagan Cold War, some from the fact that so much of what I was trying to escape from in Chicago (gentrification, conformity, rampant capitalism, Americans) was fully in evidence there, some from the bad jam, and some just because I’d only been out of America for less than a month and was still very much “tightly wound.”

The vibe of Denmark feels great to me. I could sense it as soon as the bus crossed the border from Germany. The architecture changed and the atmosphere just seemed to lighten up a few shades.

The nine hour bus ride (actually longer than my trans-Atlantic flight over here) also helped provide a feeling of distance and of journeying to a vastly new land. Although I have to say it was a very nice bus (double-decker with a free coffee station downstairs) and the ride was no trial at all.

Northern Germany was uncannily like the part of Wisconsin I grew up in (which is not surprising since there was a huge proportion of Germans there), with mile after mile of neat well-kept farms and small towns. The only difference was the architecture of the homes (slate roofs are such a rarity in the US) and the large amounts of windmills and solar arrays interspersed with the crops & villages. At a certain point I woke up from a nap to a vista of tall corn and hay fields so similar to a stretch of I-90 near Janesville that for one odd disorienting moment I thought I was on the Van Galder bus to Madison.

The all-too-familiar scenery helped contribute to the feeling that I hadn’t really been able to leave anything behind, but the crossing into Denmark brought about a sense of optimism and newness that had been sorely lacking so far in my excursion. And when the bus pulled into the Aarhus Bus Station and I saw E & P sitting waiting to greet me I felt as if I were arriving somewhere I’d truly never been, but which also felt remarkably like home.

They greeted me with much joy and love and we strolled to their large flat on the fourth floor of a building overlooking one of the city’s panoply of adorable little mini-parks and my Danish Decompression Session officially began.

They are a couple of free-spirited artist/musicians and have been making me feel as if I am a long-lost brother. In a way I am; E and I met in Shanghai while each of us was in the throes of a great musical/creative epiphany and bonded like brother and sister from the first night at my cousin’s music club. She met P a couple years after returning to Aarhus and they fell into a deep and sweet romantic soul-mate situation. So it’s like hanging with Sis and Bro to be with them.

I’ve been spending my days exploring and taking photos (it’s a gorgeous city that also has some large wooded parks and cool beaches), then my evenings in their delightful company. We went out wandering one evening looking for a place to have some dinner, and I remarked how much nicer they were dressed than I— so they topped off my jeans & t-shirt ensemble with a bright burgundy bowler hat. Usually I would have been much too self-conscious to accede to that sartorial accessory, but with them I gave it not a thought- and we dashed into the Danish nightfall to find some sustenance.

They’ve been telling me how they would like to take me to the West Coast of Denmark, an area renowned for its beauty and rural charm. They have a friend who’s an artist (quite well-known) who is trying to create an artist colony in a little hamlet where she bought a couple buildings.

They are too busy to take me there right now so the plan is for me to just travel up there myself and meet her and see what I can do to assist her in her quest. Sounds like just what I need for the next step in the Decompression.

BTW- Aarhus was the traditional spelling for the city but in recent years it is more common for it to be spelled Arhus (the city officially sanctions the single A spelling), although there is still a bit of debate about it. I tend to use the AA Aarhus because I think it is WAY cool looking. Sorry.


No Bang-Bang Chicago Really Nice!

 One of the many reasons I love Denmark is that there are virtually NO guns and gun violence is almost unheard of. Of course, my experiences in Rogers Park many years ago make me love it a lot more than most Americans, but it’s still quite a cultural revelation.

I’ll tell people here that on a nice weather weekend in Chicago anywhere between 10 and 30 people get shot and they look at me as if I’m telling a tall tale. When they realize I’m not joking they ask me what is up with America and Guns, and I really don’t have a good answer.

I sometimes talk about the NRA’s influence over lawmakers and how there are just so many people who are so afraid of someone taking away their guns that every time there is a horrible mass shooting they go out and buy more guns- or I talk about the REALLY crazy people who think that all the horrible mass shootings are actually faked by the Government so they can come and take away their guns (how they called the mothers of Sandy Hook victims to tell them their children didn’t exist). I tell them that there are many American people who know it’s insane and think that perhaps there will be a mass shooting so horrible that everyone will wake up to how crazy it is and demand something be done but each more horrible mass shooting just brings a stronger backlash from the Gun People.

But lately I’ve grown tired of trying to make excuses or explanations and I just say that America is an insane country with a National Death Wish. They ask me what I think will happen or what can be done— and I REALLY don’t know what to say.

All I know is it’s nice to not have to worry about getting shot on the street or in a restaurant or theater or wherethehellever. It’s a feeling I want to hold on to.



Photography And Me


My photo taking has gotten a bit more serious. I have always been experimenting with composition (as those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter already know) but now I am trying to push myself farther and teach myself more about it. I shoot just as many (if not more) photos than before, but I am being more exacting about what I keep and/or post. If I came across a shot I found interesting I would usually just keep & post every picture that wasn’t completely blurry or askew- but now I’m being more picky about culling all but the sharpest and best composed, and asking myself what makes a certain picture “better” than another.

I suppose you could say I’m trying to find my own aesthetic- but that sounds a bit high-falutin’ for my rudimentary level of ability.

Also just started messing around with some of the features in the low-rent picture management program I have and trying to adjust color/brightness/etc. and have been cropping certain shots- something I should have been doing from the beginning. But it’s not like I’m trying to be Ansel Arbus here.

My Street Photography is always literally of the street. I suppose what I mostly do is Architectural Photography more than anything else, but even when I’m shooting at ground level I try to avoid having people in my shots at all.

There are several reasons, a big one being that it’s already been/being done so much better than I ever could do it by so many people. Another is that as much as I enjoy the Vivian Meier/Henri Cartier-Bresson style of Street Photography, I personally feel that on some level it’s a bit of an arrogant invasion of people’s privacy.

The few times I’ve been snapped on the El or elsewhere by some stranger, my first instinct (always resisted of course) is to go slap them upside the head and shove their camera up their ass. Of course, it always seems like it’s some snotty 20-something twit who’s probably going to post it with a “Look at the weird fat old guy!” caption on their Instagram rather than something that’s going to hang in a gallery somewhere, which contributes to my ire- but REALLY, who the fuck are you to shoot someone without their permission? I suppose in Art the end justifies the means to a certain extent, but it still rankles me on a fundamental level even though I often find the results to be fascinating.

Even if I wanted to do that sort of thing, I just don’t have the look/persona where I could get away with it. Vivian Meier was an unassuming old lady (she also shot with a camera that wasn’t held at eye level) but when I take someone’s photo on the street they wonder what the hell is going on. A women would probably think I was a stalker, and men would wonder if I was a cop or something with my broad build and foreboding brooding ways. And when I smile I just look a bit unhinged, so there’s just no softening it. Plus, to be honest, nobody ever seems to do anything that interesting when I’m walking about with a camera.

But the biggest reason I avoid people in my shots is because of an encounter with an elderly neighbor many years ago in Lincoln Square. He always used to engage my wife and I in conversation on the back porch of our building, and one time he showed us an album of photos he’d just taken on a trip to Disney World.

Picture after picture was almost completely bereft of people, and although I’ve never been there (Disneyland when I was 3 & 6), I know one of the hallmarks of the place is that it’s always jam packed with a sea of humanity. I was absolutely mesmerized, “What’s up? Did you go on some day when the park was partly closed or as a special excursion?”

Turns out that he went with his wife and Grandchildren, and since he didn’t do rides he had much alone time waiting for them all to get through the massive lines take the rides. So what he would do is find a shot/angle that he liked and waited for that brief moment when the tide of people had a break in it. Sort of the photographic equivalent of crossing a busy expressway.

The effect of his painstakingly patient style was unbelievable, like he’d been on some private tour of Disney World, and even those plastic cheesy vistas seemed imbued with a certain profundity without all the legions of tourists lumbering through the image.

Even after 15 years that memory sticks with me, so when I’m on the street or in a park and want to photograph something, I channel old Mr Ramos and (at least try to) patiently wait for that moment when everyone is out of frame.

Week 2 Recap- Berlin Redux

Shaolin Berlin 3

The second week in Berlin was quite something; a Birthday for C but also a medical scare that resulted in Surgery (she’s doing quite well now), a Classical Concert in an apartment, several great walks before a hellacious heat wave set in, and the flip-side of the Jam experience.

What follows are accounts of some of the highlights and low-lights, but this shall be the last Full Week Chronicle (first off, it ends up being just too damn much text). From here on out it will just be occasional dispatches about discrete events/thoughts. Things are beginning to happen faster than I can recount in depth, and I don’t want to spend all my time pecking away about every little thing.

Plus, I shall be up in Denmark next week, and I need to spend much time staring at trees and water instead of a computer screen (I am LONG overdue for some communing with Nature).



Went out walking tonight trying to get lost. The fact that I’m sitting here typing this is testament to the fact that I didn’t succeed, but then again I didn’t try real hard.

Apparently it’s perfectly legal and socially acceptable to walk down the street drinking a beer here, a state of affairs which I was quite eager to take advantage of, but the one beer I had with my felafel sandwich got me so buzzed I didn’t really need another one. In my defense, it was a rather large beer and I just can’t put away the suds when I’m not horking down all the meat I did back in ‘Merka.

And yes, I went walking around Berlin on a Friday night and ended up having a felafel sandwich! What of it? It was a little hole in the wall with a few picnic tables in front (one of which had some very boisterous working class German folks sitting at it) and a middle-aged Middle Eastern man behind the counter cooking up all sorts of great smelling stuff. I took about ten steps past it before I turned around and walked back into it. It felt too much like a Berlin equivalent of what I call the Classic Chicago Cholesterol Hut to pass by.

I ended up just settling for the falafel instead of something nice and meaty greasy (they had some burgers that looked like they wouldn’t be a bit out of place in Chicago), but I’ve been off the meat wagon since I got here and wasn’t ready for a burger [besides they are an especially unsustainable food item and need to be phased out of existence /End Soapbox]. The next time I might have the Chicken Dinner; the sign for which I didn’t notice until I was already tucking into my felafel sandwich at one of the other picnic tables. It was probably the best felafel I’d ever had, absolutely delicious!

It’s really not that strange to eat Middle Eastern food in Berlin. I’m not sure I’ve even seen an actual German Restaurant since I’ve arrived. Tonight during my circuitous perambulations; I saw at least 7 Indian Restaurants, 5 or so Chinese Restaurants, a couple Sushi joints, several Italian Restaurants/Pizza Places, many Middle Eastern joints, and some Thai- but not a single Essen House/Brauhaus type of Deutsche Restaurant like back in the American Midwest. Of course they probably don’t stand out here and I just may not be paying enough attention. My eyes are always drawn to that which is different.

But nonetheless, there is a heavy multicultural presence (at least in this part of Berlin) such that it’s not surprising that skinheads and other German right wingers are getting their panties in a wad just like the Velveeta Eatin’ Tea Party turds back home. “I want my country back/Ich will mein Land zurück!”

Well, tough titty to both of y’all! It’s just one big globe now, and the illusory conceit of “pure” culture has gone the way of the rotary phone. Just like the concept of national borders.

Europe will soon find it can’t stop the waves of African and Arab people seeking sanctuary and survival any more than the US could stop the tide that continues to roll in from Latin America. No matter how many fences you build, no matter how many patrols you send out, no matter how many dipshits with rifles, binoculars, and coolers plop their asses down in lawn chairs.

When things get too shitty and/or dangerous in a place, people are going to go where it’s better; or where they think that it’s better, or where they heard from a cousin of somebody’s friend that it’s better. If you don’t like it, do something to make the places they are coming from less shitty and dangerous. And if you do manage to keep them out, prepare to watch your agricultural system fall to pieces (like in Alabama and Georgia) because there’s nobody to pick the freaking crops.

There’s a part of me that sardonically chuckles at all the Europeans, who for decades have decried America’s intolerance toward the torrent of Latinos surging across its border (or Haitians or Cubans in boats), but suddenly are spouting the same rhetoric as an Arizona Militiaman now that they are facing their own tide of dusky desperate humans washing up on their shores. Get used to it, my friends, it’s the true New World Order. Just like freak heat waves, droughts, and unusually powerful storms.

Ooops! I seem to have climbed back up on that soapbox again. My apologies.

My walks have been getting longer and longer, and this is my first night walk. I’m trying to get used to navigating in cities without a grid. Chicago’s almost perfectly Cartesian layout has spoiled me in the decades I have lived there, and when I go to other places now I get easily disoriented. The capillary configurations of Chinese cities confounded me back in 2010 and I’ve been using Berlin as a practice field to try and get some ability to find my way in non-linear layouts.

I walk along without the aid of a map for a while, going by feel and following what looks interesting. Then I will attempt to work back towards the place where I started, following what I think is the correct compass heading in my mind. Eventually the certainty that I am going the right way will break down, and I will consult my map to make sure that I am where I think I am. The more I do this the better I get and now more often than not I am almost exactly where I thought I was.

I’m also trying to get the feel/smell/vibe of this city, and I know from my experience as a tourist guide in Chicago that the “real” essence of a city isn’t found where all the tourists go (or are told to go); it’s in those out of the way nooks and crannies that look scary and forbidding to those who travel on packaged tours and stay in brand name hotels. You could learn more about Chicago in one Saturday night at the now long departed Lakeview Lounge than a hundred nights at Navy Pier.

But tonight’s foray has been the longest yet by far, and my feet and legs ache tremendously. It’s time to stop pecking at this keyboard and get some sleep. Gute Nacht, Berlin!


An Unexpected Sonata

I’m sitting in my room on Saturday morning recovering from my big Friday night walk, when I hear the sounds of a live cello being played with great skill from somewhere in the building. I mentioned it to R & C later on and they said that a downstairs neighbor, T, is a retired Professor who has been hosting Classical Music Mini Concerts (a true European Salon) out of his apartment for many years. The cello I heard was no doubt someone preparing for another session at some point. They said they had been to a few; sometimes T puts invites into people’s mailboxes, other times it was just a matter of running into him a day or so before one was to occur. I hoped that one or the other would happen so I might have a chance to hear that cello player (or any classical virtuoso) from a shorter distance.

Fortunately, C ran into him while getting the mail that very afternoon and he told her there was to be a cello/piano recital that very evening and that they (me included) were invited to attend. This made me quite excited, as I adore classical music (though I don’t know as much about it as I’d like) and consider all live music performance (all live performance actually) to be a sacred act.

When I was a child, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra would occasionally come to my hometown to play concerts in the High School Auditorium (kind of an outreach program to the sticks I guess), and my parents would always make me come along with them. Although I often resisted when I was younger (sometimes because I felt it was uncool for a young rocker, other times because I didn’t want to dress up in nice clothes), yet once things got started I would be captivated by the sheer force of a live symphony (a seriously intense experience that I cannot recommend highly enough). And I’ve listened to classical radio over the decades and always told myself that I would seriously get into it once I was in my 50’s (having recently turned 52 I suppose I best get on that forthwith).

Anyway, I digress yet again.

We all went down to T’s apartment at the appointed time and were greeted by him at the door. His place was a smaller version of R & C’s, and there were floor to almost ceiling bookshelves in the front hall jammed with books in German and English on all sorts of fascinating subjects (History, Music, Culture, Politics, Philosophy etc.). The room where the musicians were going to play had shelves jammed with books on one wall and then ones stacked high with classical CD’s on another, plus TWO baby grand pianos, one in each opposite corner. This was some SERIOUS Old World Culture.

People were already there and many of the chairs in the main room were taken, so I tried to grab a chair in the back of the adjoining overflow room; overcome by my usual shyness and feeling like an uncultured buffoon (which of course I was) in my Target ensemble of black khakis & black polo shirt. But T shepherded me into the main room and a chair right up against the end of the piano that was to be played and directly behind where the cellist was to sit. Well, at least I was going to get some good sound!

Stranded by myself in this little island, I made nervous small talk with a woman who turned out to be T’s sister, and was about as proper of a German Frau as you could imagine. Eventually the musicians entered the room and the concert began.

T made a long introduction in German welcoming everyone there and expounding upon his series of concerts (I could only catch a word or phrase here and there), which had been going on for thirty-plus years. The musicians began with a sonata by Gabriel Pierne (I’m typing off of a program given me, BTW) which was quite soft, mellow, and entrancing. The late evening sun was shining through the window and everyone was trying not to nod off, despite their enjoyment of the music (it’s apparently a common occurrence at these Salons). My seat was the best in the house, the piano was going directly into my skeleton and I could read the sheet music over the cellist’s shoulder.

The next sonata was by Camille Saint-Saens and was quite moving, that much music done by such skilled practitioners in that small of a space was incredibly intense. It was all I could do to keep from weeping with joy at the beauty of it. The sonata concluded and the musicians left to take a break, making the international symbol that everyone should drink.

During the break I had a chance to check out the books more closely. An incredible array of works, like an overview the last 400 years of Western Culture. Also had a nice conversation with a German man who taught German Language and Culture at a University in France.

The musicians returned for their final piece, a sonata by Gabriel Faure, written later in his life and during WWI. It was an incredibly robust and heartfelt piece and the musicians dove into it with gusto. This time I couldn’t contain my emotion and by the end of the piece I was unsuccessfully fighting back tears. I was a tad embarrassing, but I wasn’t the only one, and the musicians were obviously quite gratified at the effect their work had upon us.

I thanked T for the concert and he said I should thank the musicians instead. I wanted to do so but they were cloistered in a closed room (no doubt coming down from what must have been an amazingly intense performance high). R & C wanted to go back upstairs and the thought of being by myself in the midst of such a cultured group of people was more than my shyness could bear, so I headed up as well. But I was immensely grateful that I got to experience such a wonderful interlude.




The Jam Giveth And The Jam Taketh Away

In retrospect, I should have stressed in my first dispatch from Berlin what a rarity it is to be able to walk into a jam in an unfamiliar locale and get plugged into the mix as easily as I was last week.

Many factors are at play, particularly the players who are in attendance on a given night and what music is getting played. Jams tend to regiment over time and regular ensembles form and do the tunes they are comfortable with, and it’s often difficult for someone new to even be fit in at all. There is also a pecking order and etiquette that is flouted at one’s peril.

My second go round at Rickenbackers was a bit anti-climactic. With the heat wave beginning to grip the city, both nights (Monday night it was still hot as hell even at 10PM and it was like an oven inside the club) had much sparser attendance in terms of audience and musicians, and most of the folks I played with the week before not even there. ST wasn’t in on Tuesday night for the Blues Rock Jam (and there were more local harmonica players) so I wasn’t able to get on at all. Although I had a great time listening to the music.

But on Monday night I broke several of the top rules of The Jam and paid the price: 1. Don’t force your way into a situation where you’re not welcome, especially with musicians who play music you’re not comfortable with. 2. Don’t be too intoxicated when you play. 3. Don’t be motivated by anything other than a desire to express yourself musically. 4. Accept the fact that sometimes you just don’t get on to play.

The main folks I had played with the Monday before also weren’t there (the sultry San Francisco Chanteuse and a German Bassist/Guitarist/Keyboardist woman) and it came to the last session of the night with the ensemble onstage playing funk and pop covers (not my wheelhouse). The guy who wrangled the players (a.k.a. the Jam Leader) had told me he’d try to get me on to play something bluesy, but that wasn’t a promise since he wasn’t the leader for that session. The Jam Leader sort of chooses the main players/ensemble for each session but the Session Leader has ultimate authority over what gets played.

There was a new singer in the house who sat in with that last session to do one tune. She was a gorgeous woman with an angelic voice who brought the house down on a pop cover. She did another pop cover (an encore you might call it) and again rocked the roof off the place. The Session Leader said something to the effect of “If there aren’t any more singers in the house we’re going to call it a night” and it was the perfect place to end things.

But there were some wild ladies who had seen me play the week before and wanted to hear me again and they urged me to step forward. I should have just let it slide and let things end, but I was a bit tipsy (not that much to drink but dehydrated and empty-stomached) and wanted to impress them (WTF Mike?), so I foolishly came forward and took the stage.

The Jam Leader was playing bass and the Session Leader, who was American and more than a bit of an arrogant prick (aren’t we all?!), was on guitar. We talked for a bit and I asked them if they could play something bluesy in A or D that I could riff over, and it seemed like they agreed- but then they launched into a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”—a bit of a dick move but I should have just smiled and walked off the stage and let them close things out. Instead, I called them on it and kind of demanded they play something bluesy like they said- directing my pleas to the Jam Leader (who was like “It’s not my call”).

They started again and the groove was a bit more funky than I like (I play almost everything but Funk is my musical kryptonite) but I surged forward trying to fit my Blues Peg into a Funk-Shaped Hole. I was doing OK but I wasn’t on the top of my game (angst, heat, & alcohol), plus Session Leader was sneering at me every second while they played. Instead of a Jam it was more of a brawl with me taking on 6 opponents, yet I managed to leave the stage metaphorically standing (albeit bloodied).

The wild ladies (and many of the folks in attendance) still dug it, and as I stepped down the wild ladies came up and congratulated me (although they wondered what was up with Session Leader). They said they would come back tomorrow night to hear me again on the Blues Rock Night. Session Leader (who was still onstage packing up his stuff) overheard this and started woofing and talking shit “Yeah, you come back for tomorrow night, tonight is for REAL musicians!” etc. etc.

Having understood that I shouldn’t have gone up there in the first place (and had breached Jam etiquette in multiple ways), at first I ignored him and just kept talking to folks as he continued spouting off. Then I went outside and talked to the Jam Leader for a couple minutes (he was kind of sheepish but we both knew I had brought it on myself) and sort of debriefed with him. I came back in and Session Leader was still talking his shit to the air (or maybe started again). At first I ignored him again, but then he talked some shit about the Blues “We don’t play that ratty-ass Blues here we play tight-ass killer Funk” (more like Corporate Event covers actually- plus he wasn’t nearly as good as he thought he was) and that made me see red. So I turned and walked up to the stage and started woofing back up in his face “You know, you coulda been magnanimous about shit but instead you were just a bitch!” He kept up his tirade (although not speaking directly to me or looking me in the eye- he could tell I was ready to throw down) and I kept expounding on what an asshole he was. He shut up for a bit, so I turned to join the other folks, but then he made one last diss over his shoulder as he scrambled off the stage and out the door. I turned around and screamed “And you can take your ass to an airport hotel lounge Mother…….!!!” to his retreating back.

All-in-all just a BAD SCENE. Many folks were quite shocked/uncomfortable at this raw display of American Style Aggression, and I was just plain ashamed all around. The Jam Leader came and gave me my free drink ticket (we both sort of chuckled at that) but I was definitely not in the mood for another drink; so I said my goodbyes to the wild ladies and a few other folks and made my way out.

As I was passing the sidewalk tables in the front of the place, a very nice German woman stopped me and asked what was up with me and Session Leader. Her take was that he had been pretty rude to me with the way he’d acted when I was onstage (yes, but I had never should have gone up to begin with). I was still a bit wound up but talked with her for a while as she asked me about where I was from and what I was doing in Berlin and whatnot. Then we bid each other farewell and I returned back to the apartment to come down from all the adrenaline and bad vibes.

It was all I could do not to fall into a shame spiral and get really down on myself. “Jeeezuz, Michael!” I said to myself “You left America to get away from all the anger & aggression and become your Best Self- then you go forcing your way into a Jam and getting into a woofing match with an American asshole?!” “Nice freaking job, Herr Zen-Meister!!!”

After a bit of meditation and breathing and hydration and reflection, I finally got to a “Well, live and learn” space of personal forgiveness. I promised myself to keep to the high road and respect The Jam the next night (although I hoped I’d get a chance to redeem myself a bit musically) and forever after in all my travels (a lesson I thought I had already learned).

It was only appropriate that I didn’t get to fit into a spot on Tuesday. I pretty much deserved it after the previous night. Except this time I was cool about it.


Now if only Berlin’s Weather could cool off a bit! 100 Degrees Fahrenheit is scary enough when there’s A/C to be had, and that’s a rarity here in Berlin. The few places that do have it only seem to keep things “Luke-Cold” (an ingenious phrase coined by my gracious host R).

I’m looking longingly at the weather reports where I’m heading to in Denmark, where temps in the 60’s and 70’s will seem like a soft kiss from the Goddess Of Weather.

Meanwhile, I’m hunkered down trying to keep cool and hydrated- and working on this latest mega-dispatch.

Take care, Everyone— And I Shall Type At You Again!!!

Much Love,







I am now officially on my wild adventure to bring Chicago to the World.

For those of you who may not have heard, I purchased a one-way ticket to Berlin and plan to travel the world as an Itinerant Professional Chicagoan- heading whichever way the wind takes me. It’s a disorganized haphazard quest, but I have reached a point in my life where it’s time to live my beliefs and my Art and see the World while I still can (and while it’s still there).

Valuable Background Info

In 2010, I spent several months in and around Shanghai, China. My Cousin J had a music club there and the open freewheeling vibe of the place (and Shanghai in general) combined with where I was at in my life (it had just blown up in my face like a bad science experiment) spurred me to have a Musical Epiphany.

In addition to reconnecting with singing, I discovered that my harmonica playing (which I had mostly been doing by myself in my apartment for 30 years) sounded as good to other people as it did to me; and I began playing and singing every night in Jams in Shanghai (with people from all over the world), writing songs, doing my Performance Poetry, and even sitting in regularly (eventually for money) with a trio of Chinese musicians at a Chinese Jazz Club in Hangzhou.

Having done many different kinds of Performance throughout my life (most notably Acting, Standup Comedy, Storytelling, Performance Poetry, and Improv) I still longed to someday play music (something I had adored since birth) seriously— so this time in China was like opening the door to a previously shuttered wing in the Mansion Of My Soul.

When I returned to my “normal” life in Chicago as a Lecturer, Historian, and Tour Guide; I continued to play music at various jams around the city and with several musician friends. The book I had co-written in 2008-2009, the publishing of which falling into indefinite limbo was one of the major factors in the aforementioned “Life Explosion” (along with my Mother’s Death and a few other horrible things), finally was published in 2013. After a year or so of flogging it I began thinking about traveling again.

I longed to return to China but several factors had changed my direction, most notably my Cousin J passing away from ALS (RIP). Also, many of the people I had most strongly bonded with had returned to their respective European Countries. I also had several longtime friends who lived in Europe, and thus my crazy scheme was hatched.

Here is the recounting of my first week:



Week One- The Adventure Begins:

The trip here went about as well as it could. My Carry-On Bag was overloaded by 5 pounds (and the checked bag was just a few ounces in the clear) but I was able to switch some stuff over to my little Printers Row Lit Fest canvas bag enough to get through the check in process at Air Lingus.

I was still overloaded on both counts for the next flight from Dublin to Berlin but the woman behind the counter at O’Hare took pity on me and gave my boarding pass for the next flight so I could go straight to my flight with my overloaded carry-on (once she saw that it was the right size & just a little heavy she got much cooler about things) and put a big HEAVY BAG Transfer sticker on my massive checked bag. I got through security with no problem at all, they didn’t even freak out at my bag of harmonicas (which look really sinister in an X-Ray) and my paranoid worry about some bizarre Homeland Security “exit interview” was unfounded.

The flights were both blissfully without incident and went smoothly- didn’t have to “earn it” the way I did going to Shanghai in 2010, when I had a 10 hour delay on top of a 2 hour layover in New York before I even got on the flight to China. The transatlantic flight seemed like it was not long at all compared to that 14 hour flight and the Dublin to Berlin flight was a veritable puddle jump.

Oh what a relief it was to see that big bag of stuff on the carousel when I arrived in Berlin! Then to walk through those doors to the arrival gate and see my friend R emerge from the crowd. I had a nasty irrational fear that something would happen and I’d be stuck at Berlin Schoenfeld airport with no phone and nobody to contact or help me.

A quick drive from the airport to R (& his wife C’s) place and that was that. I was on The Continent! [as I had heard said in countless cheesy old movies and parodies of them]

Their apartment is large and labyrinthine; with immensely high ceilings, wood floors, and lots of french doors between the various sections. It’s seems out of some sort of Architectural Central Casting for a “big elegant European apartment.” The neighborhood is sort of sleepy and calm, it used to be a Jewish neighborhood back before the war and is mostly elderly folks and small businesses.

The first several days were just about getting acclimated and shaking off the jet lag and culture shock. On Friday I took my first Berlin subway ride (just 2 stops) to meet my friend V, who gave me one of her old cast off phones (still infinitely fancier than any I’ve ever had) with a prepaid card service number. Perhaps I’ll learn how to do something other than text and receive calls with it, but it’s unlikely!

We went and had some iced tea at this American-ish place called Bikini Bar that overlooked the Berlin Zoo (old, nasty and depressing even by Zoo standards) and chatted a bit before wandering around the area, which was quite “mall-ified” and not too interesting. There was a cool Art Museum/Center called The America House, however, and we wandered into their gift shop and perused the large selection of gorgeous Coffee Table Art Books (mostly about Photography) and talked about Art and Photography (I hipped her to Vivian Meier, who apparently isn’t that well known outside of the US/Chicago).

It’s always interesting to meet someone in person that you’ve only known through Social Media, a situation where the Avatar becomes a Person. Fortunately that went really well and we both were satisfied with the others Analog Self and fell into the same comfortable Art and World of Ideas conversations that we had been having online. After a couple hours we said our goodbyes and I walked back to the nest, having survived my first solo flight unscathed.

Saturday I was feeling a bit out of sorts; as my sleep patterns were still fitfull and my body was going through sugar and fat withdrawal from the lack of garbage American food. “Tough Shit, Body!” I told it. One of the many reasons I am on this crazy adventure excursion is to escape the American Obesity Matrix long enough to get back to a healthy weight.

But I was also getting into a weird anxious Hermit Spiral from the newness of the situation (similar to when I first arrived in China and was staying with my Cousin J) to the point where R & C had to sit me down for a “WTF Mike?!?” talk (similar to what Cousin J had to do in Shanghai). Although a bit intense and uncomfortable, it cleared the air all around and things got much better. That night we watched the film The Woman In Gold (superb), which also helped me get some of my gumption back.

Sunday morning I went shopping with C and got some items I was needing, not the least of which was some high-caffieine instant coffee (R’s little high-tech espresso nodules just weren’t delivering the payload I needed!). A big cup of that also did much to put me back on track.

Then I went for an exploratory walk through more of the surrounding area with my camera and a map. It was a gorgeous afternoon and Berliners were out in force enjoying it. I wandered around a flea market and through a couple adorable little parks and started to get the feel of the town and feel much more comfortable in my own skin. German words started to slowly trickle back and I took several photos of interesting things (at least to my eye and mind). After about an hour I was really getting into it; strolling along reading the street signs aloud to myself and doing a running commentary in my recovering (but still woefully weak) German. “A woman with a dog.” “A man and woman with a child.” I felt like Bruno Ganz in Wings Of Desire right after he fell to earth in Berlin.

By the time I got back to the nest I was feeling right as rain and had even come up with a stirring song to remember their address. Michael was starting to get some traction!


SOOO, I’m sitting around R & C’s apartment on Monday night when I Google “Blues Jams Berlin.” Several cool results pop up, most notably Rickenbackers Music Inn, which was just 2 blocks away from where I was sitting.

“Holy Shit!” I exclaimed to myself, “I must go check this out forthwith.” But I see that the Blues/Rock Jam is Tuesday night and tonight is the Pro Jam (which implies you’d better be fucking able to bring it). At first I hesitated and wondered if I should wait till Tuesday (sorry if a bad 80’s song just popped into your head) but remembered the encouraging words of my friend E (a great musician I played with in Shanghai) a few months ago and considered the fact that I was playing so much with many fine Chicago musicians at The Roots Room (and other places) before I left that my chops were pretty much back. So I said “What the Hell, I’ll at least get to check the place out even if I don’t get on to play.” So I cleaned the harps and headed on down there.

And my was I sure glad I did! First off, the place was JAM packed on a Monday night with cool folks watching some killer musicians tearing it up onstage. Then everyone; from the bartender, to the people watching, to the cats who ran the jam, to the musicians in attendance, made me feel so welcome and comfortable that I didn’t even care if I was able to fit into the mix that night- I already felt like I was home.

But, Gentle Reader, I was able to get into the mix at the very end of the night and played some harp along with a gaggle of great musicians and a sultry chanteuse on two tunes- the Screaming Jay Hawkins classic “I Put A Spell On You” and the Chicago Blues chestnut “I Just Wanna Make Love To You”- and acquitted myself rather well if I do say so myself.

Everyone else seemed to agree [!] and I was like “Hey, you should hear me on a tune I’ve actually played before!”

I thought that perhaps I might be availed that opportunity the next night- not that I mind the thrill of jumping on board an unfamiliar song and hanging on for dear life by my fingernails.


Night 2 at Rickenbackers Music Inn for the Blues/Rock Jam.

Even more packed- to the point where I quickly got claustrophobic and had to flee to the little beer garden outside until the break (fortunately I could still hear the smoking hot ensemble that was playing). Once the break came I found the guy in charge of the jam, introduced myself, asked if I could sit in at some point, and let him know that I wanted to play blues.

He introduced me to a man called S.T., who bore a striking resemblance to my late Cousin J, in whose honor I was wearing my Polkacide t-shirt (one of the many great SF area bands he played in over the decades).

After a set by yet another hot combo, S.T. had the stage and graciously let me sit in with his group for several tunes. The first one was the U2 song they did with B.B. King called “When Love Comes To Town.” Never played it before but it’s the kind of bluesy tune I can really sink my teeth into. S.T. was quite the showman (did I mention that he was dressed in a vintage white 3 piece suit with matching white shoes?) who brought it hot and heavy on guitar & vocals and wrangled the band with an expert hand (it takes a special talent to do arrangements on the fly with a bunch of cats all thrown together) and it was another “grab the tiger by your fingernails and hold the hell on” scenario.

He thanked me after that first song and I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to stay up there, but he did and I cooked with he and the band for a few more songs. One was the blues standard (made famous by B.B. King) “Rock Me,” and I’ll try and remember what the other ones were later. Playing with musicians (especially really great ones) just turns my brain to jello.

Anyway, I was able to bring it pretty well and everyone seemed to really dig it yet again. And the rest of the night was spent digging the subsequent ensembles and talking to all the cool folks who were in attendance.


Its now Wednesday evening in Berlin and I’m recovering from my two nights in a row out jamming, chronicling my week, and still trying to remember what were the other tune(s?) I played on the night before!

Fortunately for me, Berlin is (at least so far) much like Shanghai was; lots of Guitar players and not too many Harmonica players (although there was a very nice harp player there last night), which makes it easier for me to get into the mix.

At some point I’d love to be able to get some players together and do some of my crazy ass Swamp Demon original material on a jam; but all in good time.

So far it’s been two great jams, which earned me two free drink tickets (hey, you take what you can get in this world!) and some valuable playing experience.

Hopefully I (or rather Michael LaGrange) will also be able to get in on some Standup Comedy Open Mics (much more Standup in English here than I thought) and some Storytelling before I head up to Denmark (where further wonderment awaits). There are also several other music jams here as well.

We shall see what transpires.

Regardless, The Adventure Has Truly Begun!