The thing about spending time in a foreign country doing research is, well, typically on weekends you don’t get to see or speak with a single person. I’m so grateful that this particular weekend, a colleague and I had already made plans to visit a few museums. I really didn’t want to go through the entire weekend without actually discussing what happened in Paris. It would be so easy for me to sit in front of the laptop and read headline after headline, tweet after tweet about any new findings in Paris. But fortunately (and this would be the only time I say this), the internet crawled this weekend, and even slower than usual. And so, silver lining and all, I didn’t look at the onslaught of headlines. Instead, I ventured into the rain and went to museums.
After the first gallery tour of rare albums and prints at the Herzog August Bibliothek, it was time for cappuccino and cake. Let me just say, anytime there’s a choice between raspberry torte and a poppy seed cake with marzipan, take the poppy seed cake with marzipan. At Café am Stadtmarkt in my little adopted town of Wolfenbüttel, Germany, the poppy seed/marzipan creation was super light, nuanced, and beautifully presented. It was helpful to just sit and chat over coffee and cake. We talked about our experiences in Paris, the politics of the situation, how the people of Paris must feel right now, and the response from surrounding European countries, especially in light of the Syrian refugees. The combination of frank discussion, cappuccino and cake helped me work through some of my frustrations and fears. I highly recommend it.
At the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, we saw a lovely exhibition of drawings and prints. I discovered a beautiful etching of The Drunken Silenus (1628) by Jusepe de Ribera, a Spanish artist who worked not only in the medium of painting but also in prints. One of the best moments of going through an exhibition with a broad theme, in this case “autumnal,” is finding artists from different centuries addressing the same theme. Alongside German and Dutch prints of autumn (Jost Amman and Sebastian Vranx, for example) was a woodblock print from the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai from the series “One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets” with its gentle landscape and three figures who appear to be returning to a village from the harvest. What caught my eye was the woven pattern on the baskets strapped to the figures, and the various types of leaves—seemingly individually cut out—on two different sets of trees. So inspired was I by these patterns that I made my own leaf prints at the museum’s print shop. It was likely intended for families with children, but it definitely helped me this weekend.