I’m sitting alone in the airport awaiting my flight home, eager yet exhausted from my 12 days in Germany. It was my second trip this year to study hyperrealism with the legendary Dirk Dzimirsky. There were 13 students in our class this trip—students from Germany, Mexico, UK, the Netherlands, India, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, and the US. The talent in the room was intimidating, to say the least.
I packed an obnoxiously big bag (which we later nicked named, ‘Bertha’) because it seemed simpler at the time, to be prepared rather than check the weather. I regretted the decision as soon as I stepped off the plane and realized I would have to lug the bag with me up and down several flights of stairs, through crowded train stations, and on a three-hour train ride. Spring clothes, highly unnecessary, but hey, at least I packed my running shoes. Sadly, Bertha held little gear for rain, which as it turned out was my greatest wardrobe need.
As fate would have it Regina (from Ireland) and I were able to coordinate our flights, we were scheduled to land within 15 minutes of each other in Dusseldorf. However, my plane landed early, and I waited for over an hour for Regina. My tired mind began to chase ‘what if’ thoughts… and I became increasingly worried she would not make the meet. When I finally saw her rolling her much smaller bag around the corner, I wanted to leap for joy into the air. Together, we found our way to the train station where I lugged Bertha up another flight of stairs before settling into the last leg of our journey.
Our course was in rural Germany, and I have yet to meet anyone (who does not live there), who knows of the place. We were staying several miles outside of a little town called Petershagen, which is about a thirty-minute cab ride from a slightly larger town called Minden. For the most part, we were in the country, which was just the way I liked it. Our hotel was quaint and felt iconic Germany with its clay-tiled, steep-pitched roof. Since this was our second visit, we instantly felt at home.
Regina was also a runner, and we wasted no time coordinating a plan for our workouts. The very next morning we were awake before the sun to explore the roads and paths surrounding our hotel. Neither of us wanted to run on the highway, and fortunately, we quickly came across a charming narrow footpath which parted the bright green fields of the countryside with a wall of trees.
I enjoyed Regina’s voice almost as much as the sunrise. I never grew tired of her strong Irish accent with its harsh inflection on the beginning of every word and the slight lift at the end. Everyday language turned magical as it danced from her voice. I tried to keep her talking as we explored the path. We supposed the trail might lead us to the heart of town if we had the time to keep going. Something to keep in mind for the rest of the group as surviving two weeks in the country without public transportation or a car among us would undoubtedly present a challenge.
As it turns out, we were right about the path. Deter, our bed and breakfast owner, pulled out a map when we returned which honestly proved impossible for me to understand. I had heard enough, the path lead to town if we did not turn off it. In the days to follow our crew would hike it morning and evening as we trekked the four miles into Petershagen for dinner and a grocery store.
We were an unlikely set of friends. Men and women from diverse socioeconomic levels, faiths (or rejection of such), and political views… people from all over the globe, converging upon this one setting because we share the same desire to create. Artists exploring realism possess an inherent and almost compulsive sense about them which seeks to understand everything… it manifested in all of us in different ways, but as evidenced by our conversations, none of us were immune. The topics we explored verbally are typically off limits in social settings, yet we set about long-winded and analytical breakdowns of each taboo subject right from the start. With our interlaced perspectives, it felt as if one could see all the way around the mountain.
Despite our diversity, we were committed to being in relationship with each other. Our work required us to be the kind of vulnerable and respectful which allowed us to work side by side in a studio for 9-10 hours a day, for ten days. In addition to our studio time, many of us would share lodging.
The group of five who camped at our hotel shared a breakfast table and a communal kitchen with our rooms all aligning one hallway. Our group included a woman from Australia, who had spent the last two years studying drawing in Thailand. She is a joy to know, with a wisdom and a worldview one can only glean from the gentle abrasion of time and suffering. She is quite possibly the most beautiful and graceful woman I have ever met. Also among us, was a man my age from India, whose call to create (much like my own) led him down a path of cultural defiance in his home country… he is a rebel and someone whom I feel strongly history will remember as he definitely peruses his art in the years to come. The other male in our group was from the Netherlands, he is a mathematician, a philosopher, and a talented artist. His complex mind examined every issue from all sides, and he entertained, challenged, and uplifted us all with his internal intellectual battles. His journal was filled with detailed pictures and notes the likes of which I am not sure the world has ever seen before. On our final night, we passed his book down the table and 13 gifted students and the world’s leading hyperrealist all bowed to this man’s notes. He was embarrassed, but we began to slowly clap or hands in unison for him until we saw a smile quietly creep across his face. Then there was my Regina, a strong Irish woman whose life seemed to strike an elegant balance between the roles of wife, mother, career woman, and artist. And finally, there was me… We took turns cooking meals from our own countries and dividing chores while we orally broke down and rebuilt the most sensitive of issues. I wondered how many of the world’s problems we might be able to solve around our table. By the end of 12 days, we were family. I felt I had finally found my tribe.
Each morning started with a run on the path and Regina’s voice to lift my spirits. The path held joys for each of us—for me the sheep in the fields grazing with all their little lambs leaping about, for Regina—the whitebark trees she had heard about but never seen. It rained steadily during much of our trip, but we were unphased. Through the gentle rain and puddles, we discussed at length the balance of womanhood in the 21st century. Regina’s Irish accent unexplainably elevating every conversation… I worried my Texas slang might bring down the mood and attempted to filter out any y’alls and fixins which might have otherwise found their way into my speech.
As our time together drew to a close, we said our goodbyes with tear stained eyes and heavy hearts. With a new found hope and understanding of where I might fit into the ecosystem of humanity, Regina and I loaded Bertha into the cab—which would take us to the train, which would take me to the plane, which would take me across the ocean to another plane, which would finally put me back into the arms of the other family I had waiting for me.
We drove by the entrance to little trail one final time. Someday, somewhere in the world, I hope to again walk the path alongside my new tribe. Until then, I will eagerly await hearing Regina’s voice once more sing the word, “beautiful.”
But for now, one foot in front of the other. It is time to board the plane and look forward, not back.