Today was spent getting over our jet lag, eating delicious things (there always seems to be a lot of that when we are in Germany!) and getting reacquainted with Osnabrück, where my mom lives, and where I lived with the kids for a year in 2009-2010. I always love it here—a very unassuming mid-size city with many beautiful nooks and crannies and a downtown area that I love for its architecture and its quiet vivacity, so in that respect, it feels like the German version of Lincoln. My mom lives close to downtown, so we walk almost everywhere when we are here.
We slept in after lying awake for quite a while in the wee hours of the morning (which is almost always what happens to me on the first couple of days after the transatlantic flight), and had breakfast while the plumbers dealt with a major clog in the sewer line that affected the whole house via my mom’s bathroom. But that gave Mark, ever-curious about any construction logistics, a chance to see how German plumbing works—they actually unhooked the toilet from the wall and were able to use that to get access to the line all the way to the street with their fancy drain-cleaning machine. And it was all done by about 11 am, so that we could finally take our post-arrival showers.
Then, Imke took us to “Friedrich,” a little restaurant down the street that basically has a daily special and four other dishes, and we had a very nice meal—although I have to say that Imke did the right thing by ordering the daily special, an outstanding sweet potato casserole, whereas my soup was a bit bland and Mark’s pastrami sandwich with French fried pretty much what you’d expect. But it was fun to go to an eatery that we’d never been to. And as always, it is very nice to be back in the country of reusable dishes—the only thing we had to throw out at the end were the paper napkins.
We took a nap after lunch and then Mark and I walked to the train station, where our friend Dorothee was supposed to arrive shortly before 4 pm, who was coming from Hanover, 2 hours east of here, just to see us for a day. We caught her at the train station and then took the bus back to my mom’s, where we hung out and then later went to dinner at another little restaurant across the street from my mom’s—a place called “Kleinkost” (“little food,” the German word for a deli, but here used literally for a menu of small, tapas-style bites, which we had with fresh-baked bread and yummy herbed butter. After dinner, Imke and Dorothee went home and Mark and I went for an hour’s walk through downtown and through Imke’s neighborhood, where we got to enjoy a robin singing his little heart out on a fence post. He was really just 2 feet from us, so we caught part of the concert on video. After we got back home around 9:30 (it was still light outside then!), I sat with Imke and Dorothee for a little while longer (poor Mark has had to put up with a lot of conversations entirely conducted in German, and I often only translate 10-20% of the content, so he finally just withdrew to work on the code he’s currently tinkering with). But I could tell I was fading in and out of the conversation, so I decided to call it a day.
For me, Dorothee and art belong together like pigment and binder. She is a family friend, about my mom’s age, who used to be an elementary teacher (I’ve known her since first grade and remember “helping” her grade her students’ homework) but later got a fine arts degree, and has always been one of my best guides to modern and contemporary art. But she is not only an artist and an avid visitor of museums, galleries, and shows, but also knows her art history and has traveled widely. So she immediately wanted to know about my art history degree, my thesis, and my travel plans, and we had a great conversation about things I plan to see and things she’s already seen. My mom was all ears too as I tried to explain (in German for the first time) what I am trying to research, in the context of the big-picture questions of how women see / experience art and how the experience of art in various spaces changes over time. It was both challenging and really fun to explain to two very knowledgeable—and what’s more, curious—museum goers and travelers what I am trying to get at in terms of the spatial experience of art, be it in museums or out in public places or on religious sites. I was trying not to completely inundate my captive audience with my ideas, but it was great to have them ask questions and pull together their own ideas and observations about everything from the interchangeability of various Madonna paintings and the weird “adult” representation of babies, especially of the infant Jesus to the fact that Dorothee had already been to the special exhibit in Berlin on brothers-in-law Mantegna and Bellini that we are going to see on Sunday, while my mom is headed there next week! While I’ve always known that I owe Dorothee a lot in terms of the introduction to 20th century art (from Nikki de Saint-Phalle to James Tyrell) and have wonderful memories of looking at the Dadaist collection in Hanover’s Sprengelmuseum with her and with another art friend, Andrea, I am getting an extra appreciation for the way in which so many friends I am seeing again this time have shaped my love for the visual arts and broadened my horizons. Dorothee is definitely one of them, and to realize that she also knows as much as she does about older art (including the Renaissance) was a wonderful bonus.