Sitting in Laurent’s kitchen over an old farmhouse table he’s trying to describe what Capon means, the castrated cock he cooked the last time we were here in Metz around Christmas, and when he says castrated cock he suddenly looks nervous, like he’s saying it wrong — and though it’s not nice to do that to the rooster it tastes good he says, greasy.
I’m having nightmares about baby pigs who look like Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web going on conveyor belts with something spraying over them, imagining a squeal — that’s the recurring loop this morning, and I wake thinking I should become a vegetarian — but instead we take the A6 toward Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken — and you would think driving across northern France into Belgium and the Netherlands would look different or exotic in late October with the leaves turning and the valleys cloaked in mist, but the motorway is just another highway, they have construction and detours and accidents here too — although the rest stops are better, they make you really want to stop and rest, to load up on sardines and local wines.
Dawn hadn’t even left the apartment yet but she was convinced we should move here, to Amsterdam, because it reminds her of New York but nicer, and it’s no accident the Dutch found some familiarity in New York; the houses are so tight and tall they feel like they’re leaning forward and might fall on you. They taxed them on width, which is why they’re so high and narrow, we learn, but deep.
The last time I left here in 1997 I was standing on the deck of a ferry heading from the Hook of Holland to Harwich with Mike and the horn blasted just a couple meters from us but neither of us flinched, our nerves were so bad from the night before, and then it honked again and still we didn’t react, we just looked at each other like two frogs in a bog might in that disinterested way, with inner lizard eye lids still out from the Dutch coffee shops and aged gin.
A week or so after returning home from Amsterdam I was with a friend on a Sunday afternoon wishing we had something to do in that way young men can with not much else going on in their lives, a pattern I found myself in for longer than I’ll admit here, and sure enough, I bent down to tie my shoes and look what fell out of my breast pocket, the remains of a spliff from our last night I’d forgotten about: I just put it in my pocket and climbed on a plane from London to Seattle with nothing to declare.
Dawn met up with her best friend Erica last night, who’s on a work trip where she organises small summits for executives from Fortune 100 companies to talk about innovation, and it sounds terribly stressful, where everything has to be just so but of course nothing ever is because that’s life — and after dinner they walk to the Red Light District to check it out because you have to, and Dawn remarks there seems to be no warmth in it, which I have to snicker about inside, and wonder, how could there be? Is there a market for that, to just be held?
Before we leave Germany, Eberhard gestures to my stomach from across the room, because surely it must just be the way I’m sitting that makes it protrude like that, and he gives a thumbs up and makes a curve in the air with his hand cupped and smiles: now I’m looking like the rest of the middle-aged Germans, or any culture where obesity is valued, which is something I don’t want to relate to.
I wasn’t expecting to see The Scream in the museum but there it was without any fanfare, and a caption quoting Munch with something like, ‘the sky turned the colour of blood and I felt nature’s scream open like a wound,’ and it makes you think he must have been good company for his two friends on that bridge, kind of collapsed inwards on himself — and some artists must have a real touch of madness or the divine to create like that. Most of our lives are just normal.
And there’s a snail hanging off a public waste basket in the morning by its lip, and I return back to our apartment with juice and couscous patties for breakfast, and the iPod plays a low drone you don’t even realise, is probably best you don’t.