"Gute Fahrt"
(Good journey)

Starting My Third Year in Germany
February 2003

 
Saturday, February 1st, I was home with a cold. I heard on the news that the shuttle was going to land in the next couple of hours, and I remembered seeing the shuttle streak across the night sky of Texas back in 1998 or 1999 -- I forget which year. I remembered that incredible sight, and longed to see it again. I imagined myself in Texas for this latest landing, setting my alarm and then wandering down stairs to go stand in my front yard with other crazy neighbors with bed heads, looking up into the sky.

What's seeing the shuttle like? I have trouble putting it into words. I found these perfect ones, from the New York Times , by Timony Ferris:

A shuttle re-entry can be an awesome sight, a stark white contrail drawn across the sky like a fragment of titanic poetry. Television pictures don't prepare you for the enormity of the spectacle, the size of the proscenium within which the drama of spaceflight is played... Watching the shuttle go over can make you feel like a savage seeing a ship. It's not terribly far away, typically less than 200 miles high. As Isaac Asimov used to say, you could drive the family car to space in an afternoon, if the car could go straight up.
I wish Mr. Ferris could have been writing those words under very different circumstances.

--------------------------

When I moved to Germany in February 2001, I figured that my contract would end a year later, and then I would spend as long as my visa and finances allowed to see the rest of Europe. And then that would be that, and I'd be back in the U.S.A. before the end of 2002.

It didn't work out that way, and I'm glad. I've now started by third year in Europe and, now, I'm hoping to be here through the summer of 2005.

The question I get most often from you all is, what are you going to do after this? And my answer: I don't know . I don't even know what "after this" is. I do know that in between leaving Germany and moving back to the states, I hope to live for a month or two in Spain, or a country in Central America. I have toyed with the idea of volunteering in the field six months to a year. And where will I live once back in the U.S.? I don't know. Somewhere out west. Portland, Oregon is top of the list right now. But, for now, I'm keeping my permanent residence in Austin.

I've given up trying to set firm plans for the future -- every time I do, life throws me some massive curve ball. Not that I'm complaining; I'm glad things have turned out the way they have. I have no idea where the universe will send me next to live, or when, but I'm just going to try to trust that it will be where I'm supposed to be. So, I still plan, but know it could all change at any moment...

About three months before I traveled to Germany for the very first time, I distinctly remember telling someone that I didn't think I could live outside of the U.S., and if I did have to, I certainly wouldn't want to live in Germany. I was under this impression that Germany was an over-populated, over-developed, over-industrialized country where everyone either dressed like a Bavarian or Dieter on "Sprockets." Not six months after that conversation, I was interviewing for the job I have now.

Before I had ever been to Austin, I didn't want to see it either. I had no interest at all, having visited Dallas, Galveston and South Padre Island once upon a time and hating all three, and assuming the rest of the state was that way. Fate found me driving through the Western part of Texas and falling in love with it, and the moment I saw Austin, I wanted to live there.

So, it seems that when I say I don't want to see somewhere or I don't want to live somewhere, I end up either traveling there or moving there. Therefore, just to be clear: I don't want to see Italy, France, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, or any of Scandinavia. And I certainly would not want to have to live in Spain or anywhere in Central America.

Actually, speaking of countries I'm desperate to see, I'm ashamed that I haven't traveled since my trip to Spain in August. I didn't plan any travel for the rest of 2002 because I didn't know how many hours a week my OU studies would take, and also because of Wiley's deteriorating health. I now regret that decision, as my OU studies aren't overwhelming, and Wiley's hanging in there really well, as of February. But, ofcourse, I couldn't have known that back in the fall... I'm ashamed that I haven't been to France, Italy, the Czech Republic or even tiny Luxembourg yet. I talk myself out of trips all the time. Does that surprise you? I do it all the time. In fact, most of the people I know who don't travel do the same thing -- come up with 100 reasons not to do it. Let's face it -- travel takes planning and stress. But, oh, the pay-off, both during and after... I'm a better person after a trip. That's probably why I'm itching to go somewhere.

My other point of shame is not learning German. My window of opportunity was my first six months here, before I could get into a Spanish class at work. And I didn't take that opportunity. Now, with Spanish classes three times a week, and studying at night for my Masters in Development Management, there's no chance. At work, I rarely hear German. I can go days without hearing German. In Germany. How weird.

I have a feeling that 2003 is not going to be a big year for friends from the states visiting. My guest book is full of little thank you's from various people who have visited me these first two years, but the economy and the idiocy of the current U.S. administration will keep most Americans from Europe this year, including most of you all. But if you do decide to buck the paranoia and to find a cheap ticket, my couch awaits (and I know of some really cute B & B's around as well).

So, where's my next trip? I'm going to try to go somewhere in March. Not sure where. Just a long weekend somewhere. And I'm taking off for a real vacation in April. Where? It's a secret -- I'll tell ya when I get back.

Before Christmas, I made my third trip to a German spa, this time with some girlfriends from work, in honor of one of our number getting married. We went to an incredibly beautiful and luxurious spa far south of here. It was great because the guest of honor had no idea where we were taking her, nor that she would be staying the night (her fiance had packed a bag for her and we had smuggled into the car without her knowing). We put her in the car, and after about 30 minutes, she says, "Hey, this isn't the way to Cologne." We laughed maniacally.

The night before, we stayed in a hotel on a small river, and I was in charge of the bachelor games. How did I get in charge of something for which I know NOTHING about? I searched on the Internet and adapted some of the more low-key games for the girls. The next day, we headed for the spa, which is HUGE and lovely. Each of its saunas has a theme, with soft music and crystals in the middle of the room, something to focus on while you sweat your brains out. There's a fairly large pool (for a sauna place, anyway), a small salt water pool, two small ice-cold dipping pools and an ice room for after a sauna, a place to walk around outside, a restaurant -- it was all heavenly. I also got a full body massage and a foot massage. The latter wasn't all that, but the former -- yousa!!! It was amazing. He massaged everywhere but my pookie -- he massaged my EARS. He massaged my EYEBROWS. I was jelly afterwards. Extremely happy jelly. Grape, I think. We all had such a nice time.

For New Year's Eve, I had about a dozen friends over, and fed them mediocre burritos, chips and salsa. Alessandro made guaquemole TO DIE FOR. Stefan brought two cases of beer from Westerwald, which proved quite popular, and I had champagne, cava, sekt, lots of non-alcoholic drinks. In a reprise from last year, we watched "Dinner for One" (sans the Lee Family this time), and just before midnight, we walked down to the Rhein to watch fireworks going off all over the place. It was lovely, just like last year, except for the lack of snow this time, and it being bitterly cold. Brrrrrrrr. Then we all came back here and played Taboo. I was worried that the majority non-native English speakers would have a hard time -- and they totally kicked my ass, including Stefan.

I celebrated the start of my third year in Germany by again attending the Carnival parades and parties in Höhr Grenzhausen, with the difference this year being that I dressed up as well. I went as Buster.

I also FINALLY made it to Foundation Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a museum of contemporary German history (starting with the last years of WWII). It's between here and downtown Bonn, and I've passed it a million times, but never gone in. Stefan and I went this month, to both see the permanent exhibit and a temporary display regarding Leni Riefenstahl, probably the best-known and most controversial figure in German cinema. "It is the films Riefenstahl made in the Third Reich that to this day continue to attract the notice of the critics and an aesthetically and historically interested audience: 'Triumph of the Will', a study of the (oh-so-big and boisterous and massive) Nazi party meeting at Nuremberg in 1934, and the two-part film 'Festival of the Nations' and 'Festival of Beauty', portraying the 1936 Olympic Games. Critical opinion on these films is widely divergent. On the one hand, they are considered masterworks owing to their innovative techniques and photomontage; on the other, they are castigated because of their political content (and their almost loving celebration of Hitler)."

The museum is TERRIFIC -- definitely a must see if you are ever in Bonn. The gift shop is pretty good, and the exhibits are really interesting -- it's a half-day experience, easily. But the Leni exhibit was not up to my expectations. It was very small and cramped. They had screens showing scenes from her films, but you couldn't stand and watch them without being in someone's way. The same was true of the display of various items, such as her telegram of congratulations to Hitler -- the cases were packed so close together that you were always in someone's way when looking at something. To top it off, I was corrected twice by museum staff on how to wear my bag (because it is waist pack, they required me to wear it as such -- never mind the women walking around with much bigger shoulder bags).

I also recently had what was probably the last Macintosh users group gathering that will include my colleague Georg, who is being eyed for a post in Jordan. There are five of us in our Mac users group from work, a subversive, festive bunch of three men and two women who gather very irregularly to trade software (all legal OFCOURSE), teach each other tricks and offer advice.

I also updated a lot of my web site, including adding lots more information to the helpful links section regarding things to do in the Koblenz, Bonn and Cologne area. If you are thinking of visiting me in 2003 (and I really, really hope you are), have a visit and get an idea of all there is to do, and let me know!

I continue to change some long-held ideas because of Europe and my German lifestyle. For instance, I cannot believe I thought having a back yard for the dogs was better than walking them myself. In California and in Texas, particularly in San Jose, I had nice-sized back yards for the boys. I took the dogs camping every now and again as well. And all that was great, for both the dogs and for me, and I patted myself on the back for being such a good dog mom. When I moved to Germany, I had had Buster for more than nine years and Wiley for more than eight. I thought I knew them as well as I could know them. But I had no idea what I was missing out on by not walking with my dogs every day.

Since I moved to Germany, I walk my dogs at least twice a day. These days, our walks are short, because of Wiley's ever-weakening hips. But still, those walks are incredible experiences. It's hard to describe without sounding silly -- but I feel more connected to the boys than ever before. We are never more together than when we are walking together. We are a pack. I see things the way they see them. I see dozens more differences in them. All sorts of tension falls away, and after just a few moments, I'm not thinking about anything but the dogs and whatever it is we are seeing right at that moment. Is this what Zen is?

Okay, at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, I'm not feeling so Zen as I attempt to get dressed quickly and go out into the rain in the pitch black that is Germany in Winter...

Wiley was totally miffed the other morning when we walked next to one of my favorite dogs in the neighborhood, "Eddie", a playful gold retriever mix which is soooooo much like Buster as a puppy. Eddie came bounding through the woods off leash, after a black cat (which easily got away), then came over to play with Buster, as his owner, who has obviously attended every training session possible and comes equipped with whistles and clickers and what not, came slowly jogging up, breathless. When Eddie and Buster were done playing, Buster really wanted to walk with him, and I use a leash for Buster that stretches quite far for such occasions. Wiley has to walk right next to me and he bitched the whole way, in this little whisper grumble, like the grumpy old man that he is, but there isn't anything beyond that he could do. It's not like the old days where he would practically drag me to attack a dog, and sometimes did get too close. Now, he is way, way too weak to do more than just try to walk in the general direction of that which offends him. Most days, he can't even bark at an offending canine -- he just does this loud whisper-like sound. But afterwards, he will strut around like he's kicked someone's ass, so I think he still half enjoys it. He's still eating really well, in stark contrast to how he was in the states. Maybe German dog food is better? Wish I could say the same for the people food. Although he's not fond of the prescription dog food he's' on; he much prefers the normal store-bought senior canine food, which he devours oh-so quickly, though not quickly as Buster, who inhales his food.

Speaking of dogs, I checked out a web site talking about dog intelligence recently. Among dogs with "the Lowest Degree of Working/Obedience Intelligence," who must hear a command 80 to 100 times before they understand it, and who, upon hearing a command they know, will obey it only 25% of the time, are these breeds:

Basset Hounds (Buster is 50% Basset Hound)
and
Beagles (Buster is 50% Beagle)
Among dogs listed as having "Average Working/Obedience Intelligence," who only have to hear a new command 25 to 40 repetitions to understand it, and upon hearing a command they know, will obey it only 50% of the time, is:
Australian Shepherds
(Wiley is 50% Australian Shepherd; I don't know what the rest of him is, but I think it's another equally or even smarter dog.)
I've also been reading How to be Your Dog's Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete (thanks Mom), learning tons and getting affirmation for some of the things I do with the boys (like singing to them songs I've made up songs about their names, having them sleep in the bedroom, winking at them from across the room for no reason other than to say howdy...). I don't agree with absolutely everything the Monks say, but I do agree with the vast majority of it. If you are a dog owner, if you want to be a dog owner, or if you want to understand a dog owner, this book is a must read.

In music news: I've been listening over and over again to Circus Town by Tommy Womack (available at Miles of Music), and it is not only absolutely the very best thing he has ever done ever as an artist, it's the best CD of 2002. Period. I was so astounded that I even wrote a review of it on Amazon.com.

I'm also hooked on the Osbournes. Not the music, really. It wasn't until I had seen it about six times that I realized that the opening song is a swinging version of Ozzie's very own. I guess I should be ashamed at being hooked on a reality show. What's the appeal? Aside from it being hysterically funny, they seem to honestly care about each other, and I find that refreshing. It's helpful that the show is subtitled in German, so that when I don't understand something Ozzy says (which is frequent) I can just ask Stefan for clarification.

And in case you are wondering, no, I will not be going to the "Deep Purple und Lynyrd Skynyrd" concert in June here in Bonn. Thank you.

Yes, ofcourse Stefan and I went to see Lord of the Rings -- it played here in English. We really enjoyed it -- but anyone was totally lost if they hadn't seen the first one. Gollum... well, he's just unbelievable. People were gasping at how this character had been brought to life in such a chilling way. Stefan thought he was cute -- and I guess he was at times, but still... when he would whisper "My prescccccccccccious" I would just shiver all over. The majority of the movie is a series of incredible battle scenes, and on the way home, I kept threatening to beat someone up. "Come on, Stefan, that guy coming towards us, he's an ORC!!!" But Stefan wouldn't let me.

We also saw Bowling for Columbine. Actually, I saw it twice, because the first time, I laughed so hard over the History of White People that I missed a lot of the movie. It played to a half full house and a packed house the times I saw it. It's brilliant -- something every person in the U.S. should see. Twice. The most chilling part of seeing it, other than the footage from the Columbine shootings, which shook me to my core, was that both people, one Canadian, one German, that I went to see the movie with, on separate viewings, said the same thing to me when Michael Moore gets the gun for opening a bank account IN THE BANK: "That's not true, is it?!" Visit the movie's web site and you can view four scenes from the movie.

I finally finished Satanic Verses. GEESH. I enjoyed it, and it is really sticking with me, and it's one of the most clever novels I've ever read, definitely one of the most imaginative, but my brain friggin' HURTS. So many words, so many thoughts, so many characters, so much going on... it took a long time to read, mostly because I had to re-read some pages due to totally being lost. Now I need some kind of bodice ripper or Star Trek novel or something to give my brain a rest.

Question: How do you cook rice so that it is fluffy and tasty? I cannot do it. I rinse it, I cook it, I throw in a few herbs, I throw in a ton of herbs, I cook it long, I cook it short -- it never comes out the same, other than tasting out-and-out bland, or with an underlying blandness that is not hidden by all the herbs I threw in. It's too sticky most of the time. HELP.

Okay, you know it's coming....

Here it comes....

THOUGHTS ON IRAQ!!! Thanks to everyone who has been sending me information from the alternative news sources. I can't believe how little of the truth is getting reported on CNN and Yahoo news. I can't believe how many idiots are buying the total fabrication that Iraq had anything to do with September 11. I hate Saddam Hussein. If he keeled over tomorrow, I wouldn't weep. But with so many more GENUINE threats to the U.S. (hello, North Korea), the plans and buildup to invasion of Iraq MAKES NO SENSE.

If you have 50 minutes to spare -- just 50 minutes while you fold laundry or dust your living room -- I strongly, STRONGLY urge you to listen to the January 10, 2003 episode of This American Life. It's the episode called "Secret Government." If you aren't familiar with This American Life: it's a radio program produced out of Chicago. They do audio feature story programs. All are posted free on the Internet after broadcast. Some are very funny -- the program got famous because of "The Santaland Diaries," by a guy who worked as a Macy's Department Store Christmas elf (it's become my annual holiday tradition to listen to this). Some shows are quite serious, and almost all of their recent programs have focused on the coming invasion of Iraq. In the January 10 episode, you will hear about at least two American citizens being held without charges, unable to see their families or their legal representation. Land of the Free? But most chilling of all, you will hear about the FISA court (short for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) in the U.S. It is a secret, very conservative court with the authority to authorize wiretaps on possible foreign spies and foreign agents. In 24 years, it has never turned down a government request for a wiretap, as best as any outsider can tell -- until this year. This past summer the court issued an opinion that said Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department were going way too far in their zeal for wiretaps. It cited 75 cases in which the Justice Department tried to sneak around rules to protect Americans from surveillance.

If this program doesn't convince you that the present U.S. presidential administration and appointments are a much, much bigger threat to the American way of life than Saddam Hussein... well, God help you when they take someone you love away. Or take you away.

In mid-February, I went to be a part of my first protest in Bonn. It was pretty boring, but I'm glad I went, just to be a part of the MILLIONS and MILLIONS who marched that same day. It was just a few hundred people here in frigid "old" Germany. A guy heard me talking and asked me to write something in English on the back of his German-language protest sign (which was in German). So I wrote "Three empty warheads found in D.C.: Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld". He was soooo pleased. I haven't made anyone that happy in a long time. There were six of us from work -- Manuel (Spain), Georg (Germany), Madeline (Swedish), Thomas (French), Khalid (Egyptian) and me (KENTUCKY!!). We weren't representing our company, ofcourse -- just ourselves. We had a nice time, but there wasn't much... ooomph. Life. Energy. No speeches -- which was okay -- but also no chanting, no singing, just a few drummers, no music, no point of focus... and extremely cold weather. I met two other American girls there, and as we talked, I could tell others were listening to us, and I was proud -- yes, that's right, we're not all for this idiotic endeavor. We walked around a lot, but it all felt really unfocused. I longed for Austin, where later I heard that at least 10,000 people marched, to much music and good speeches. Lots of military veterans in the march as well.

This web site offers all the reasons that you need to vote, why you need to write your representatives and let them know what you think, and why I'm in no hurry to move back to the U.S.

This web site is from a person who works through a partnership with a program I help manage at work. It is so worth the five or 10 minutes it will take you to read it. "It is written with an American audience in mind - hoping to sway some hearts and minds."

Other web sites offering solid information to counter the Bush-controlled press and to support action against an invasion of Iraq at this time:

My other favorite politically-focused web sites right now are www.gwbush.com/store/ and toostupidtobepresident.com ("How This Whole Mess Got Started" is priceless).

Also, I need to say that Joschka Fischer ROCKS.

I can't remember if Kendra or Erica sent me this comment about George Bush, who I prefer to call The Shrub:

You'd think the FUCKING PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES COULD AT LEAST PRONOUNCE THE WORD NUCLEAR IF HE'S GOING TO WAR WITH SOMEONE OVER IT!!!

He's not even from Texas -- he's from Connecticut. That whole Texas accent thing is such a lie.

Here's the theme and form of recent anti-drug ads applied to the most popular "drugs" that America are addicted to: drugs and SUVs.

But sometimes, I must admit that I get angry at the protesters, because they seem not to understand the power of ORGANIZATION.

"There are a million virtual street corners with a million lonely pamphleteers on them, all of them decrying the war and not actually coming together in any organized fashion to oppose it. It strikes me that existing political institutions -- whether it's the administration or Congress or large corporations only respond to other institutions. I don't care how many individuals you have marching in the streets, they're not going to pay attention until there's a leader for those individuals who can come forward and say I represent the organization of those individuals and we're going to amass the necessary money and votes to kick you the hell out of office. Then they pay attention. But not until. And so right at the moment it would strike me that the Internet is counterproductive to peace."

-- Excerpt from: Interview / Cognitive Dissident John Perry Barlow, Interviewed by Tim Dickinson, February 3, 2003, Motherjones.com

And, finally, related to the impending war, and per popular demand, here are sites that debunk (or, sometimes, confirm) urban legends:

Okay, enough politics, let's end with logs of fun stuff that's made me happy over the last few months (it's been a while since I checked these, so some may no longer work):

NOTE: I rarely correct URLs on my personal essays/blogs. If you click on a link above and it no longer works, visit archive.org and you can probably find an archive of the site you are looking for.

More soon...


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