It’s me, three bags and a violin, and climb the three floors to my new apartment downtown at the end of a hot summer day. I’ve taken three trains today, from Austria to my new home in Southwestern Germany. This morning, my new boss told me that I wouldn’t be teaching the classes I’d planned on all summer, middle school English and history, but instead high school English and Canadian history. I would be more frustrated if I had planned anything for the middle school classes, but I haven’t. I probably should be more nervous than I am, since school starts on Tuesday and I’ve never even been to Kandern, the village where the school and my flat are located. I should be, but I’m just tired.
It’s me and Luci, a baby carrier and a yellow umbrella, four floors up in our apartment at the top of the town, in the middle of a rainy summer day. We’ve left the house once today, this morning for groceries, where I bought food for the weekend and chatted with a friend in the produce section. Other than that, though, we haven’t been out much, and I haven’t done much planning for the classes I’ll teach in three weeks. Mostly we’ve sat on the floor and played with cups. Until now, when Luci decided that the cups were suddenly not interesting enough to distract her from the late-afternoon malaise of being a baby and teething and walking and bumping into things. So we leave.
My new roommates have secured a few items of furniture for my attic bedroom. A bed with blankets, a wardrobe, a red end table for a desk and a brocade chair. It’s not much, but it will be enough, and it’s more than I expected. I look at the peaked ceiling, peer through the slanted windows at the little town I should start calling home, its tile roofs warm in the golden sunlight.
“Can we go for a walk?” I ask my roommate, Emily.
We wander around the apartment getting ready. From Luci’s room a pink coat and little shoes. From my closet a pair of sandals. From the side table in the hall Luci’s baby carrier, a present from my parents that has taken us through half a dozen airports and countless hikes. I pull Luci close to me and loop the straps over my shoulders, and we stand by the living room windows, looking out at this familiar town, at the tile roofs gleaming in a break in the clouds.
“Let’s go outside, Luci,” I tell my daughter, grabbing an umbrella as we go.
Emily and I drift through the narrow alleys of the village we don’t know yet. “Can we get up there?” I ask, pointing towards a high, round hill at the end of the town, atop of which a gazebo appears to be perched. Emily shrugs. She hasn’t gone there yet, but she’s willing to explore with me. We wind our way through the town, the hill in our sights. I get acquainted with the town, sweet smelling and still mostly silent, and my roommate, hearing about her summer and her first weeks in Kandern. We’ll become friends, but today we’re just almost-strangers exploring a place and each other.
We don’t find the gazebo, or the way up the hill, but we walk and talk, and I’m satisfied as we climb up the stairs, the sun setting on my first day living in Germany.
Luci and I climb the hill behind our house, my feet carrying us automatically up the little-known road that leads to the trail that leads to the shorn, grassy path that leads to the gazebo high above the town. At the top of the hill it starts to rain, so I unfurl the yellow umbrella, which makes Luci laugh. Larger drops make a louder sound, and she keeps laughing, craning her neck to see more and more of the flowery roof over our heads. She can’t be bothered with the view, doesn’t know how precious it is to me or how special this place is. The gazebo I didn’t find with Emily on that first night, the gazebo where my husband gave me a green mug and told me he liked me, yesterday forever ago. Someday she’ll care, but not today; today is it’s all about the umbrella.
So I leave her to her giggling and spend a moment remembering. How simple life once was, just me and my bags and a vague idea of what I’d be doing here. It was a minimalist’s dream, that life, the ascetic attic with its sparse furniture, my capsule wardrobe that I could carry in a single backpack. Now it’s complex, layered, three of us in a home full of everything we need that may fit into ten suitcases whenever we leave this place, if we can sell a lot of it first. I suppose I could have kept the minimal life. But as I stand in the rain on a favorite hilltop, six years later, with my umbrella and my giggling little girl, I thank God for the beauty of complexity.