Missing My Roots
March 2002

 
Oh, the Julia Belle Swain is a mighty fine boat
it's got a mighty fine captain too
it's got a big red wheel that goes round and round
and a bunch of old hippies for a crew

Some time between 1973 and 1976, when I was in elementary school, I went on a class trip: a cruise on the Julia Belle Swain . She was (and I assume, still is) a river boat, not nearly as grand or beautiful as the Mississippi Queen or the Delta Queen , but just as magical, at least to me. I was thrilled to be on that boat. I loved the upstairs room where I could picture, instead of dozens of pre-teens running around being obnoxious, dozens of lovely-dressed couples in formal wear, dancing to a fiddle and mandolin. I particularly enjoyed the pipe organ on the boat. I got to see it up close as someone played it. That was an amazing moment. I would like to think that I went to where the pilot steered the ship, I really would, but I don't recall such a moment. I would love for that moment to be real, because I was just about beside myself last year to learn that John Hartford used to pilot the Julia Belle Swain, some time in the 70s, and then to hear him sing about it on a video clip on this video Carmen sent me from Louisville. I like to think that he was steering me down the Ohio River on that little trip a lifetime ago. I'm so sorry he's gone now.

Yes, the lovely Carmen of Louisville sent me two videotapes, mostly of bluegrass performers on various shows on CMT. There's are clips of John Hartford and Bill Monroe, when both were still alive and the former still looked healthy as a horse; and clips from "Down From the Mountain", when you know you are seeing John Hartford perform for one of the last times; and oh so much more. I've watched it three times already. I loaned it to a Welsh co-worker and fear that I'll never see it again, as he raves about it every time he sees me.

On the subject of American roots music, Mary of Austin has now officially joined Postcard 2. It will be a better place as a result, I'm sure.

I'm on Postcard 2 now, for the first time in my life. I've been reading the fiery banter... I forgot to get the digest form at first and signed onto my e-mail to find I had 354 messages!

Before I get off the subject of music:

Most of the rap is just crap. I can't listen to a lot of it. The only thing I listen to today is country music, because of the quality of songs and the stories they tell. And they can play their instruments.
Bo Diddley, from an article in the Nashville Tennessean/Gannett News Service, 2001

Oh, wait, another one from the same article -- regarding techno artists:

"They've destroyed rock 'n' roll," Diddley says. "Those cats doing that can't play. It's just electronic push-of-the-button music. Kids aren't learning to play horns or guitars or drums. They're learning to push a button and have a song come out. Not Bo Diddley. If the lights go out and the juice goes down, I can still strap on an acoustic guitar and just kill 'em. Those people owe everything to an electric current. Not Bo Diddley."

I had no idea that Waylon Jennings died until someone sent me an email. CNN International doesn't note such things.

And on my last note about music: four of us at work have started a band. We practice every Friday, down in the basement of the U.N., amid all sorts of boxes and stacks of stuff. We call ourselves "The Irish Falling Down Band." It's me, Frazier (from Wales), Brian (from Canada) and Valentin (from Romania -- he plays banjo). We play American country (Frazier and I cover of "Love Hurts", ala Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris) and Irish-like stuff. We're not practicing toward any sort of goal, although we might play the UN picnic this summer, if we can get some microphones.

Okay, I'm going to stop talking about music for a bit... Yes, I've been homesick.

I found an interesting article in my hometown newspaper back in Henderson, Kentucky, about how my hometown dug Germans back in the 1800s. Germans represented the largest segment of Henderson County's foreign-born population then, and the eighth-largest German population in Kentucky. Across the river over in Vanderburgh County were Indiana's second-largest concentration of German-born residents at that time.

Many of you have written to ask how the dogs are doing. So here's an update: They still love Germany and the attitude that MOST Germans have about canines. Buster met a dog named Whiskey the other night. He loves getting to say howdy to other dogs. Most of the dog owners around here know that Buster is friendly, and they will stop so that Buster can do his ambassador duties. One morning, I was walking the dogs before work in the park behind the house, and a little boy was coming up the other trail. He said "Good morning", which means I've talked to him before and he remembered I didn't speak German. Buster was so thrilled to get to walk along next to him. Buster loves children, particularly little boys. He also loves to walk -- he thinks the whole world has been laid out for him to enjoy, and he enjoys most everything he encounters. He's like a little Buddhist dog. His age shows only in all his gray hair on his face, and how tired he is after our walks.

Buster has bed head as I write this. After he's been laying in one position for a while, and been in a really deep sleep, he wakes up, picks his head up, looks at me, and half his face is all smooshed in. It's very cute...

Wiley is not doing well. He's mostly deaf, which means he can't hear any of my commands nor compliments. His back legs get weaker every day. We can't walk far, because he starts dragging the tops of his feet on the ground. When we walk outside, he acts like another dog could come up and attack us at absolutely any moment, and nothing distracts him from this belief. And his fur is yucky, from eating the special dog food that keeps his liver and kidneys functioning. But he does still loves to watch out the window, he's eating well, he loves to sleep in the bed and snuggle now more than ever, particularly with Buster (until recently, he'd never been much of a cuddler when sleeping), and he is still quite alert. He still responds to my expressions and movements. And he still seems happy.

I'm trying to find options for the boys to stay here in the apartment when I go back to the states for mission and vacation in June. I put the word out among some Austin colleagues that I would trade a free stay here for at least five days if in exchange for dog-sitting services, and got a taker for the end of June. Now I need help with the other two weeks. I'll put up a notice at the University of Bonn soon, and will look into a professional house sitter, if I have to. It's not that I don't like the Hunde Hotel; it's just that I don't believe that Wiley can take another stay there. It stresses him out to the point that I'm afraid I'd risk killing him putting him in there -- he just hates all the other dogs. It's like putting him in hell. Buster thinks of it as Club Med.

Germany remains a lovely place that I cherish so much. Recently, five "young" German retirees went riding on their bikes through the parking lot outside the window of my office, obviously out on a touring trip. Their bikes were loaded down with gear, and it was raining, so they are all in their rain-proof outfits. It's such a beautiful way to travel. I stopped work to watch them cross the parking lot, leaving the hike and bike trail along the Rhein, probably in search of supplies and lunch. Many such travelers stop at the canteen at work or somewhere in Bad Godesberg during their journey along the Rhein, usually on their way to a pension or a gästhaus. It's something I really would love to do myself.

The multi-culture social adventures continue: Riham, a co-worker from Egypt, had a house warming party this month, mostly for her friends of Arabic roots. The food was AWESOME. I love food. I would love to just eat my way around the world. So long as I could skip England... anyway, the highlight of the party was when several of us got up to dance, including a friend who is Jewish, lead by a woman from Palestine. We danced around on and on, laughing, with our bellies full of good food, and I thought -- why can't more people in the world do this? Why can't we come together over what we have in common? Stefan thought the same thing -- he enjoyed it as much as I did. The music was so great. Well, actually, while I really enjoyed the Egyptian stuff, and was quite amused by John Denver (they love him over here), the Kenny Rogers music just has to GO.

No, wait, I'm sorry, the highlight of the party was my German co-worker, Georg, explaining that his Swedish girlfriend had subjected him to seeing her favorite movie, The Sound of Music , which he had never seen before. "How can the guy be a captain in zee Navy in Austria, when I don't think Austria HAS a Navy? And do you know how long you would have to walk from Strasburg to get to Switzerland?" Maybe you had to be there... but it was fun torturing him all week with my rendition of "These are a few of my favorite things..."

Stefan and I went to see Monsters , with about a million other American, Canadian and English kids under 5. We both really liked it, though I think Shrek is slightly better. This American woman was in front of us and before the movie, while her rug rats were screaming up and down the aisles, she railed over the advertisements that are shown before the movies in Germany, because her little precious kids "get such an eye full." She hates all the nekkid people in the ads. Ofcourse, I wanted to offer her advice, "Excuse me, ma'am? THIS IS GERMANY. Every web site you read about living in Germany, and even my Lonely Planet book, notes that Germans don't mind nekkid people. They really do not care if you don't like nekkid people. Instead of acting like an idiot, stand outside until the previews are over -- movie seats at the movie theater are reserved, so you don't have to worry about losing your seats." Or something like that.

In mid month was one of those times here where you can throw away whatever you want. Furniture, TV sets, entire kitchens, bicycles... there was some not-so-great furniture down in my storage space, and the landlord said we could throw it all away. So, Barb and I did. It was hilarious. We were like "Laurel and Hardy". Ofcourse, we then had to go look at everyone else's trash, along with scores of Eastern Europeans looking as well. I found a table for the hallway that I'm not sure if I like or not -- if I don't, I'll just put it back out the next time we have one of these days. See, they don't have yard sales here; Germans don't seem to dig buying used stuff.

In yet another addition to my-friends-know-me-too-well files, comes this from Rebecca in D.C.:

I just want to state clearly now that should you come to DC, I WILL NOT participate in any midnight hijinks at the University of Maryland campus. Knowing what a Kentucky fan you are, I just wanted that clear in advance.

I'm rambling, I know. This is all over the place. It just hasn't been a very organized month. It hasn't been a very organized year, so far.

The next travelogue will be about my trip to... BERLIN!! I'm going Easter weekend! It's my first trip to Berlin -- and Eastern Europe -- ever! Thanks to Erica for all the travel tips -- you are better than Lonely Planet!

And now, back to Creature From the Black Lagoon in German. I'm learning so much here...

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.

Visit SandlotScience.com and get no work done ever again.

A post at Slashdot.org from the dorkiest-dork-in-the-dorkville-band dept. notes that there are now Star Wars Collector.....Guitars: "Fernandes Guitars International in association with Lucas Licensing Ltd., a division of Lucasfilm Ltd., is presenting the Star Wars Retrorocket Collector's Series. Based upon Fernandes' Retrorocket model, these premium Japanese instruments showcase stunning Star Wars graphics created by using a revolutionary computer controlled painting process."

Um.... ja.

My favorite store to HATE; now, Wal-Mart Watch gives me even more reasons...

More soon...


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