The Euro is here! The Euro is here! Big yawn from most of the Germans I've observed on the subject. It's purdy though! The 10 Euro is pink! The price gouging going on is out of control, however. Shop keepers and other are definitely making a tidy profit in rounding things WAY up. And if you rub a 10 Euro note real hard on a white piece of paper, the pink ink comes off...
Pre-Euro, just after I got back from Spain, and while recovering from an awful flu, I got to meet up with the Lee Family -- Russell, Gail, Cameron and Joss -- who I had known back in California once upon a time. I used to babysit the boys, actually -- change diapers and all that; and now, they are 11 and 8. The Lees are doing something quite extraordinary: they are taking a year to go all the way around the world. The New Year marked the midway point of their journey. The Lees have a wonderful web site tracking their adventures, one worth checking out a couple of times a month, at least.
After a tearful reunion (I can't help it; I get emotional when I see friends after so long), I got to hear first hand about their travels so far, compliment them on their wonderful web site, and oooooh and ahhhhh over Russell's fabulous tech toys: a DVD player that's smaller than a paper notebook, that will play DVDs from any zone on a TV from any zone (SWEET), and this tiny music player, about the size of two CD players smashed together, that he had recorded at least a couple of hundred CDs onto before they left the states; they hooked it up to Barb's stereo (they stayed in her place, which she so generously offered since she was off in the U.S.) and I heard blue grass music for the first time in oh so long... Since they all were sick too, there was no problem with trying to protect the healthy (well, except for Stefan, who didn't seem to mind being around a bunch of Americans blowing their noses continually).
For New Year's Eve day, I walked the boys -- Stefan, Joss, Cameron, Buster and Wiley -- out in the snow. That evening, Gail cooked enchiladas for the entire family, myself, Stefan, and Alexandra. We also watched "Dinner for One," an old, very short stage play, filmed in English and in black and white, that is shown about 10 times every New Year's Eve in Germany -- kind of like how "A Christmas Story" gets shown so much in the U.S. Gail adored it, and since it put us in the mood for silliness, we watched the Christmas "Mr. Bean" special that Russell had with him. Then, just after midnight, we took our champagne and walked down to the river front, which was full -- though not crowded -- with people. It had snowed a few days before, so everything was white and shiney. Fireworks were going off everywhere all up and down the riverbanks (including several supplied by Stefan the Fireman). It was magical. Friends called Alex from Sweden as we stood there by the water and snow and bright lights and bangs, so we kind of got to share the moment with them as well.
It was very sad to have to say goodbye to the Lee Family. I hope we don't wait another seven years before seeing each other again.
15 days later, fully recovered from whatever illness it was that I had, I had such a nice birthday, just like I like them: food, friends and chatter and Guinness on tap. We were celebrating Brona's birthday as well, and I decided the Quiet Man would be too small, so we went to Fiddler's, which is a MUCH bigger Irish pub that, somehow, retains as much quaintness as the Quiet Man in some ways. It was wonderful -- the friends, the food, the chatter, the Guinness on tap... I was reminded yet again how lucky I am to have so many wonderful people in my life.
I've been watching some snow sports events on TV. They are a really big deal here, and I get tired of watching only CNN and BBC World. As I watch them, however, I wonder who was the first idiot to strap on some wooden planks and hurdled him or herself down a mountain. I mentioned this to Kendra, who replied:
I have always wondered what the big sport is in something like the luge (sp?) and bobsledding. I mean, you just go real fast down some ice. I've done that several times unintentionally. I could've broken some world record and not even known it... like the time last year when I went to get into my truck and had one foot in when the other started sliding and went UNDER the truck. Needless to say, that would have been a real pretty picture...me sideways, straddling my truck. Of course, it also brings to mind Jerry Seinfeld talking about the luge... he thought it might be the only sport that someone could compete in involuntarily.
In other news... okay, I have written at length about the many many beautiful and wonderful things about Germany, particularly the Rheinland... and I really like the people who are, for the most part, very nice and even funny. I mean, how can you not like a country where, when you fall off your bike and you are standing there with a ripped skirt and bloody knee and you are crying, some woman walks up with a plastic container and says, "Vood you like ah cookie?"
But I have to say that there is one thing, even more than the food, that drives me absolutely batty about this place: the peoples' OBSESSION to correct others. Sometimes that's a good thing -- I never complain that someone talks during a movie, because before I even notice any noise being made, some German is reading the riot act to the offenders. But this whole correction thing gets out of hand at times, to the point of being ridiculous: I had a woman stop me outside recently to tell me that, even though she had never seen me let my dogs run off leash and run in her yard, that I had better not ever let them do it. I had a guy yell at me in the laundry room because, even though I was about to wash the dog beds in the wash basin (hence the beds' strategic location next to the wash basin), I had better not change my mind and put them in the washers instead. Two people have stopped their cars on Am Bühel to lean out their windows and correct me for going the wrong way (and I have to try to point out the signs that clearly state that bikes are allowed both ways on the street, while cars are allowed only one way). And those are just a few of my own firsthand experiences; a woman I know had her hand slapped when she pointed to what kind of cheese she wanted and her finger got too close to the cheese for the shop keeper's liking. Yes, her hand was SLAPPED. Another friend got yelled at while trying to throw her garbage away, because her German neighbor felt she wasn't recycling properly. And on and on and on.
I really hope this whole "correction" thing doesn't rub off on me; I hope that, when I move back to the states, I don't find myself standing in my front lawn telling people to "Git off ma land."
Oh, and speaking of German food, Jeff in D.C. says:
I've always thought that German food was an experiment to determine how much a person would take before complaining. I guess it makes them tougher?Well, Jeff, there goes YOUR chances for that diplomatic post in Germany... ofcourse, Jeff also said:
get the @#!! cell phone and @#!#^(& latte outta yer hands and drive you @#*&^%$ ?!?! &@^$&$^$%?! *^%*&!! ...deep cleansing breath...begin mantra...Keep talking that way, and you will get that diplomatic post in Germany after all.
And then there's the tiny German refrigerators. Remember the one you had in your college dorm room? Bingo. Kendra asked, "But where do you put all the beer?!" The answer: outside. For about half the year, it's cold enough to keep drinks at least cool, if not almost frozen. Actually, I don't mind the size of the fridges -- here, I don't throw much food away, because I can't really buy more than I can eat, and that's a good thing, something I hope to continue back in the states some day.
Sorry for the rant -- some of you are under the impression that it's paradise over here; I just wanted to give you a reality check. You know all of the things I love about Germany; you should also know about the things that aren't so great. Several of you have asked if I want to stay here forever; the above makes up the primary reasons I will not. The other things are lack of alternative country music and quality Mexican restaurants.
On the long, long list of the redeeming side, I was taught a new phrase popular among Germans: "Kentucky Schreit Ficken." Rhymes with the name of the famous franchise. Means "Kentucky shouts..." well, something that I shouldn't say since my grandparents read this web site. But it seems to amuse Germans greatly when I say it. Kind of like that scene in "Stripes" when Harold Ramis asks his English-as-a-second-language class if anyone knows any English.
I saw "Ocean's 11." Interesting -- not great, but not bad. If you haven't seen it yet, just wait for the video. Brad Pitt and George Clooney had really nice chemistry together. I thought Julia Roberts looked AWFUL -- has she already started the plastic surgery stuff? Then we (yes, with Stefan, the very nice sweet caring German who doesn't correct me except about which way to lean when riding a motorcycle) went to dinner at an Italian restaurant, then to Pat's Pub and I drank Guinness, and I discovered that I have become a Guinness snob -- it's not nearly as good there as it is at Fiddler's or Quiet Man in Bonn. It was so mild outside that walking to all these places was an absolute pleasure. And I love not having to look for parking!
The last weekend of January, I cooked a big Tex Mex breakfast, Stefan and I stuffed ourselves, and then we headed North to this open air museum, the Rheinisches Freilichtmuseum in Kommern. I found out about it because the Lee Family went there A "Freilichtmuseum" is an outside exhibit, usually a recreation of an old German village. We went to one in the Black Forest, as you may recall, and that one was interesting, but it was too close to the main road, there were tacky tourist shops right outside of it, and we got there so late that they were closing a lot of it up by the time we walked through. This one is out in the middle of nowhere, you really have to hike to get to the village recreations, it's HUGE, and it's all a real working farm, which gives you a much better feeling of going back in time.
We drove through beautiful open countryside and I told Stefan that Germany should hire me as a tourism outreach person for the U.S. (forgetting the whole first part of this particular essay). The Rheinland is so beautiful, lush and green, with so many beautiful little villages and old houses and Roman walls and open countryside -- there's got be a tourist market for this. He's convinced that everyone in the U.S. thinks that all of Germany is like Bavaria; I haven't the resources to explain to him that they actually think the whole country is like Dieter on "Saturday Night Live." Anyway, the Rheinland is so lovely, so different than the rest of Germany, so different than the rest of Europe, and I think tourists would really dig it, if it were only marketed correctly. And they didn't know about the whole "correction" thing...
So we're driving through all these open fields, and up ahead, on the hillside, amid the farmland, we see a Statue of Liberty. It was kind of jarring to see out there in the farmland. Shortly thereafter, we pulled into the road for the museum and traveled up into the hillside and down into a forest. There was NO ONE in the parking lots. We were worried that the place was closed. We hiked up to the entrance and found out that not only is the place open every day of the year, but on that day, people were parking in the tourist bus lots right next to the entrance, since there were no tourist buses. Ah, well... Stefan is a good German and follows the rules (grin).
When we first went into the park, I thought, oh, god, we've made a huge mistake. There was this big cartoonish mural that was supposed to represent the New York skyline, and this big, poorly-made pond that was supposed to represent the Atlantic ocean. It looked ridiculous. But then we went into one of the inside exhibits, which turned out to be displays of antique Germany toys. It was fabulous. I love antique toys! We ooh'd and ahh'd over them all. I loved the miniature kitchen sets, the miniature threshing machine (that really worked) and the miniature sewing machines (that also really worked). Everything was wood and metal, and very well preserved and presented.
Then we headed over to the main indoor exhibit. It's a three part exhibit on people immigrating from the Rheinland (from Köln to Koblenz) to the U.S., mostly to Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and Texas. That was absolutely fascinating. Although I agree with little Joss Lee -- he was really upset by the graphic depiction of religious torture in the 1600s. Well, dang, I was too! Just a little too realistic for me. But otherwise, it was great. One of the computer terminals told about different immigrants from the area, and several were from Stefan's own home town. There was also a life-size depiction of the underneath of a ship in the 1700s that would have taken people across the Atlantic. Unbelievable. As I stood there in these cramped quarters, thinking about the noise and the smell and the motion and the darkness, it dawned on me that this was much, much better than African slaves had it. Jesus.
One part of the exhibit had a film, subtitled, about Germans going over at the turn of the century through the 30s, with lots of black and white film. And I almost started to cry at all those weary but hopeful faces, desperate for a better life. They were so brave. They didn't speak the language, they didn't get any help at all when they came here -- they truly made it on their own. The U.S. is lucky to have a population made up of such stock. There was lots of luggage from the era on display, and we talked about how spoiled we are now with our REI backpacks and wheeled-suit cases and all of our clothes. An immigrant was quoted in the film as saying, "I thought the roads of the U.s. would be paved in gold; when I got here, they turned out not to be paved at all." And I thought, heck, a lot of 'em still aren't.
Then we headed for the open air displays. it was pouring down rain, but it was so warm and felt soooo good to be outside and walking, rather than sitting watching videos (which is fun occasionally, but it gets tedious after a while). The first village we went to, in the center of the others, was the best. The buildings are all either originals moved to the location from other places, or exact recreations. You can go in to most of the buildings and walk around. There's no electricity, so you get natural light (and lots of darkness), just like the people back then. And those people were amazingly short -- there are no "watch your head" signs, but there are lots of padded ceiling beams and door frames.
This place is HUGE: there are three villages, with small woods and long stone or dirt paths in between them. One village was closed, so that pipes can be put in, but we didn't know that and we climbed all over the place anyway, getting red mud all over our shoes and jeans. The whole place was pretty much deserted; we were alone in the buildings, more often than not. Normally there are people out working the farms, demonstrations of how the old machines worked or how walls were constructed, etc. But not that day, because of the rain. Still, I just loved it. I'm goofy. I think Stefan enjoyed watching me be so goofy ("Oh, look at this! Now, I wonder how this worked... Oh, can you just imagine this?!"). There are animals there as well -- goats, pigs, sheep, huge cows, a donkey and a horse -- to work the farms, but they were all penned up this day. Except for a pig, who had gotten out and was having a big time feasting all around the place. A guy would come out and try to put her back in her pen, she'd run away, and he'd curse at her and walk off for a while.
They have two windmills, and we went in one. I had never seen one inside before. Stefan told me a little about how it works. And there are all these stork nests everywhere... they are HUGE. I had no idea!
Ofcourse, we got corrected -- walking on one of the stone walkways, in the pouring down rain, far away from the restored villages, Stefan had the audacity to LIGHT A CIGARETTE. He was, ofcourse, reprimanded immediately by Mr. Authority Figure.
We left at about 3:30, having spent about five hours there. I almost dropped off to sleep on the way home. We ordered food and, while waiting for it to be delivered, walked the dogs. Then we chowed down and watched "Ed," "The West Wing", and "Sex in the City." I'm not sure Stefan really gets "Ed" -- it's kinda out there. But he really likes "The West Wing" and he LOVED "Sex in the City." Which reminds me that, upon meeting the women who run a branch of our office in Cypress, someone brought of "Sex in the City" and they all said it was their favorite show and we talked about it for about an hour. The women were from England, France, Korea and Greece. My Spainish teacher (from Spain) also loves the show. Which leads me to think that maybe this show crosses most cultural and economic lines -- women everywhere just seem to "get" it.
By the way: Pat Haney doing a cover of "Come on Back to Bowling Green" is causing such a stir among WKU College Heights Herald Alumni. I got three emails about it in the span of a week.
Also, Rebecca and Michael bought me (among many other things), Best in Show for my birthday. It is so funny, it's PAINFUL. If you liked Spinal Tap, you will love this. I've watched it twice already.
Okay, about the Super Bowl, such a uniquely American phenomenon.... this is from the New York Times, with commentary from me (ofcourse):
"The Super Bowl atmosphere returned when Paul McCartney performed 'Freedom,' a song most first heard at his benefit concert in New York. When he finished, the crowd chanted, 'U.S.A.! U.S.A.!' But you couldn't help noticing that as a scoreboard in the stadium flashed 'Freedom!' there was a smaller illuminated sign next to it that read 'Bud Light.'"USA, indeed.
"During halftime Sir Paul, as McCartney was dutifully called, joined the Fox announcers and did an a capella duet of 'A Hard Day's Night' with Terry Bradshaw, a scene even goofier than it sounds. Forget the game; that's the moment you want to replay on tape."USA, indeed.
"That duet with Terry Bradshaw was so brutal, I nearly hung myself."
"That was funny as hell. I laughed and said that it couldn't get any better. C'mon... a former football star, part of the Steelers' glory days of Franco Harris and Lynn Swan, singing with one of the godfathers of pop rock? Two members of the cultures that have done more to influence the earth than any other."
Rebecca (of San Francisco's) thoughts:
"It was nutty. Kind of ironic that the biggest entertainment spectacles were by McCartney and Bono, neither of whom are American."
By the time I finally upload this page, I will have been in Germany just a few days shy of one year; my anniversary is February 15. Simultaneously, I feel like I arrived yesterday and that I've been here for years. I'm learning so much about a world I never really knew about, and about myself. And I realize that I have so much more to learn. I will be here for at least another year. There are so many more places in this part of the world I want to see and experience. I hope I get to see even half of them before I leave.
And when am I leaving? I have no idea.
I'll end with these:
NOTE: I rarely correct URLs on my personal essays/blogs. If you click on a link and it no longer works, visit archive.org and you can probably find an archive of the site you are looking for.
Betty Bowers is a better Christian and better patriot than you.
SatireWire's 2nd Annual Poetry Slam/Spam.
And I want to qualify the link I'm about to offer by saying that, you know me, and the idea of losing one of my dogs makes me crazy. Yes, I teared up when I heard Buddy had been killed. Dog owners are just that way. That said, I laughed myself silly over this: Who Killed Clinton's Dog?.
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