It is Sunday, the sun is out, and thus, so is Laugen Pretzel. Posted along the chainlink of 17th Ave. and East Pike Street, to civilian eyes, this is an elegant, little Bavarian pretzel cart headed by two pairs of the finest striped pants in the game. To the aficionado, however, it’s easy to spot as a house of worship.
Laugen Pretzel was born to Yasmeine Abassi and Johann Brudi.
On the shoulder of the scene is typically Conrad Brudi, a multi-talented artist and one half of the folk-rock band, The Brudi Brothers. He calls out “Pretzels and portraits!” to the passersby, pencil in hand. You can observe Conrad’s paintings on the panels of the cart.
Let’s get this out of the way – ‘laugen’ means lye, as in the taste and appearance produced by a pre-oven pretzel lye bath. It’s a hot historical debate where exactly the shape of the pretzel descends from.
Why that shape? I lay in the dark at night and wonder. This is my white whale.
“Most historians agree that the pretzel was meant to resemble arms crossed in prayer,” Conrad commented. “The pretzel can be found in so many ancient stone and metal reliefs, one is actually embedded in my grandmother’s house in Swabia, so anyone who speaks with confidence on the matter is probably just trying to sell their book.”
A pretzel cart is a lot like attending a packed stadium concert, in that, you are either all in or all out. It’s an involved process. A skewed temperature of the water mixed with the lye can throw the whole thing off. If the dough is too dry or too moist, it won’t roll out right.
Three pretzels to a pan, two pans to an oven, Johann explained, “If you leave it in for sometimes 15 or 20 seconds too long, they’ll just be too hard. It takes us a good 10 hours to bake enough pretzels for the following day, so Saturday we’re usually baking. Getting the cart ready, the cart has to be disassembled and stored in the basement, and reassembled…”
Before this cart, Johann operated with a vendor tray the previous year. For now, Johann and Abassi look to take it slow – maybe eventually setting up an art booth for Conrad and a set of organ pipes.
This is the nature of things, contraction and expansion, and then the eventual inverse.
Look at a pretzel: the meeting at the center and the looping extremities. As we grow, we walk miles in order to return to a center point. To Johann, the pretzel symbolizes “my childhood, visiting my grandparents. Something about a pretzel in the morning just feels proper. Ya’know, that’s the best type of Sunday breakfast. One with pretzels.”
A pretzel is embodied in the act of making a pretzel. The looping act of Johanne and Abassi going through the process of six pretzels to an oven for a couple of days, the act of rebuilding the cart, of selling them, ad infinitum. Each time it must be treated so carefully, as if it is the first time, so as to ensure the desired result.
Johann and Abassi agree that one of the things they love most in life is rewarding productivity.
The knot at the center, two palms pressed in prayer. Perhaps, in a material sense, worship is found in our labor. Worship is found in a life intentionally lived, if such a thing is possible.
To honor the life we’ve been given, we show up for it and all the eccentricities. Conrad told a story about some drama at the harbor he lives at – some old fishermen had become disgruntled with rude neighbors and their dog.
He recounted their words, “‘These days, it’s easier to shoot a person than a dog. If this were Spokane, I’d have no trouble.’” The old man was run out of town by an animal rights activist group when he tried to shoot a dog that was attacking a cat. “Turns out one of the worst crimes in Whatcom county is poor marksmanship,” Conrad joked.
The conversation was interrupted by an elderly woman from Hamburg. Johann and Conrad spoke German with her for some time. Apparently, she attended the circus their German grandfather designed advertisements for, and he slept at the hotel near her living quarters.
A stranger is not as strange as they can appear if we were to see all their knots and simultaneous brushes with ours. Like something Conrad would tell me later that night: You understand people better when you see where they’re coming from, why they operate the way they do.
There is no contentment to be had, nor perfection. I’d hope not. Time will deliver us from these illusions. And will keep delivering.
The sun is out. Johann warms a pretzel for me. It is quiet. Children play in the distance. Conrad speaks quietly with the mother of an old friend; she brought him Daphne, a little pink flower.
Now, I’ve been around in my day and have had my share of pretzels – being the fiend that I am – and this is one helluva pretzel. I don’t want to oversell it, not that I could, but go meet Johann and Abassi then develop your own opinion.
We can opt-out whenever. But it isn’t the absolute aces’ pretzel that keeps me on the merry-go-round. It’s the people. Four bodies warming in the early spring sun. Two pairs of striped pants.
There’s nowhere to be. We’re already here. We’ll be here again, for better and for the absolute worst.
Victoria Winter is trying to prove that nothing human is alien to us. On paper, she is a second year student at Seattle Central College, potentially majoring in anthropology and philosophy. In reality, she is fascinated by using the mediums of photojournalism and writing to explore subcultures - the fringes, the limelight, and everything in between. She is in love with humans. Her only firm beliefs are that everything should be explored and most things are easier at night.