Boarding an early flight from Berlin to Copenhagen, just before turning off my phone, my Facebook community told me that Charlie Haden had died overnight. I read a few of my friends tributes to Cathy while we waited for the last door to close, and then the guy filling the third seat in our row said “are you guys musicians? You don’t often hear people talking about Charlie Haden”. We told him Charlie had just died, and we all talked about that for a while.
His name was Norbert Goldberg (watch that link, the music starts automatically). He’s a latin jazz drummer from New York who has just played a big Jewish festival in Krakow and is taking a week to visit Berlin and Copenhagen, just as a tourist. We’re on tour around Germany with a band, and we’re taking a week off to see some friends and shows in Copenhagen and Krakow. We talk about Krakow and Copenhagen and festivals, the other bands we all work with and the shows we’re playing in Europe. Life as a touring musician – leaving the kids at home to travel the world and make no money.
After we get our bags from the carousel we decide that we all have no plans for the afternoon but to look around town, and Norbert offers that we leave our bags in his hotel room. Cathy puts his name on the guest list at tonight’s Afenginn concert. We negotiate the new currency/public transport situation, and go with him to the hotel. Talk about European cities, and share the little we all know about the cultural differences between such close countries.
We climb the skinny stairs and leave our bags. Cross the street to the fancy market, wander around sampling things, eat some fancy foods and drink some local beers. We talk about the food, and the ways we all like to travel and make our little decisions.
Then we walk out to the super-tourist floating bar across the river from the Søtorvet for more beer and coffee. We share the little we know about Denmark’s position in Europe over the last century, the wars and waves of immigration, our experiences of Berlin. Norbert has just been to Auschwitz for the first time, as has our friend Alan. Alan has spent decades in academia studying that war, and was profoundly affected by standing in that place. Norbert has grown up with the stories of his father, interned in Auschwitz and rescued by the end of the war. The rest of his extended family tree were killed, of course. It shouldn’t be surprising how powerful the monuments and memorials to the holocaust are, but it is.
After a bit of laptop time squeezed into Norbert’s hotel room, Cathy and I leave for the venue with a copy of his CD. After sound check I tell everybody the story of the guy on the plane who we met because of Charlie Haden. When Norbert arrives everybody greets him as “the guy from the plane!” That’s nice. Afenginn are great, of course, and we talk about professionalism and excellence. We discover that Norberts band and Afenginn have both collaborated with the same famous jazz player (although I’ve forgotten who that was).
Unfortunately Norbert didn’t make it to the WooHoo Revue gig at the Tivoli a couple of days later, so that was my one day with Norbert. He gave us a CD, but we didn’t take a single photo, so here’s Afenginn from where the three of us sat.
The man from Bydgoszcz
From copenhagen we flew to Krakow, and after an afternoon beer in an Italian restaurant just off the big square, cathy went away to scope out somewhere for dinner.
I finished my drink, and I wasn’t going to have another. She was gone for quite a while, I sat with the bags watching the tourist life. A delivery van arrived, and the staff all rushed out to unload spices and serviettes.
One of the waiters, carrying too much, dropped a couple of things. He was stuck. Couldn’t bend down without dropping everything, couldn’t get anyone else’s attention without yelling in an unwaiterlike manner. And then a man appeared, picked up the dropped things, handed them back, and hopped back over the garden pots to where he had been sitting, alone, quietly staring at the back of one of the cathedrals.
I watched him then, and kept watching while he walked across the small square to trade his garden pot for a bench. He sat there, his short stocky weather worn body in faded army pants, strong but not as strong as he used to be, self contained but alone, the poorest tourist in town. Cathy still didn’t come back, and I really wanted to know this man’s story and to show some hospitality to him, who couldn’t afford somewhere comfortable to sit in his own country.
So I ordered two beers, walked across the square and said “hello, do you speak English” and in polish he said something I took to mean “no I only speak polish”. So I said “can I buy you a beer” and he understood that.
We walked back across to my table, and when the waiter returned with the drinks he was surprised and a bit suspicious that I had exchanged my cool female companion for this country hick. We had the conversation you can have when the only language you share is a few proper nouns and a couple of words of German.
I’m from Australia, Sydney.
He’s from a town north east of Bydgoszcz (a big city which would be much better known if anyone outside Poland could pronounce it).
I couldn’t pronounce his name, so I’ve forgotten it.
He likes Australia, he thinks it’s big.
We both like beer.
Krakow is a beautiful city.
Cathy came back (“mine frau”) , and the conversation became uneven as we discussed our next move. I finished my beer before my friend, Cathy had found a potential restaurant, he had to drink the bottom of his glass quicker than he planned, I paid the bill, we all shook hands and left in our own directions.
But as we walked across the square he came back towards us and suggested that he take our photograph in the square; in front of the cathedral; with the chapel… He knew all of their names, probably a lot of their histories, he would have taken us on a tour of the city in Polish if we had let him. But instead we got a couple of rare photographs of me and cathy in front of famous monuments (with the monuments in focus, not us) and these two excellent pictures of me and my two-hour friend.