Fighting evil for the sake of puppies & Christmas

January through March 2005

 
A friend from Kentucky recently ended an email to me with this:
"Now I must go because I have two idiots in the doorway telling that I'm prettier than a Jeep with a fishing boat behind it..."
I guess I don't have to tell you that she was writing from My Old Kentucky Home...
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I have finally been dragged into the 21st Century: I now have a cell phone. No, you can't have the number, not unless you come to Germany, or unless I go on a trip and feel that you really might need to reach me immediately while I'm gone, or you promise to use it only for text massaging or for emergencies.

I'm kind of disappointed to have finally had to buy one. I hate cell phones. I have almost gotten physical with people who decide that during a movie is a GREAT time to take or receive a phone call, and many of you have been on the other end of my withering looks when you get a call while we're at lunch or dinner together.

But... now that I'm unemployed, when I'm away from home to shop or whatever, I usually don't have easy access to a phone, and I do need such sometimes. The phone is primarily so I can call Stefan or a cab, or for friends here who I'm trying to meet somewhere and one of us is having problems getting there or finding each other.

Sometimes, when the train stops at remagen, waiting for the express train to pass, I do play one of the games on my phone. But I still read a BOOK or people-watch while waiting for bus or trains, and continue to people-watch while riding. I just can't imagine giving that up. When I see people totally isolated from their immediate environments -- talking on their cell phone or listening to their Ip, completely cut off from the activities and sounds around them -- I think that's scary and unhealthy. Technology shouldn't be cutting us off from each other like that.

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CNN International freaking' broke in to regularly programming to announce the hugely not-important breaking news of Prince Charles getting engaged to the woman for whom he wants to be a tampon. THIS IS NOT NEWS.

The temptation to throw the TV out the window was great, but I refrained because, then, how could I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer ? That's not news either, nor is it art, but it is rather witty... okay, I admit it: I am completely hooked. A couple of people tried to get me to watch it when I lived in Austin, but I always refused -- I was already hooked on the X-Files, and didn't need another obsession, plus it just didn't sound all that interesting. But I watched the first two episodes in Ireland back in 2001 (about three days before I met Stefan), and I was intrigued. It took four years to finally get to see the first five seasons, but now I have -- and I adore it. I'll watch the rest when I return from Spain (more on that later). What I didn't understand until I started watching is that its full of black comedy and satire, and that it brilliantly walks a fine line between these genres and "serious" fantasy at times. Even when it is leaning towards "serious" drama, it never seems to take itself tooooo seriously. And for a show full of vampires and demons, it presents some of the most realistic portrayals of life as a high school and college student in the USA.

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The other day, I was walking the dogs across the Ah River, and as we were nearing the German prisoner of war cemetary, I saw a group of dogs on leashes. I realized it was a puppy training class, so I put Albi on leash (Buster is always on one because he can't see very well). We walked near -- but not quite by -- and then turned onto another trail that leads away. After just a few steps, I let her off leash. The other dogs were whining and pulling on their leash, and she stood and looked at them, longingly, and then I said "Albi, come" in my best authoritative voice. And she did. And I knew all of the dog owners were behind me looking with awe, and I'm sure the dog trainer was making wonderful comments about me -- never mind that Albi came this way, completely trained by some Hungarian somewhere, and I've never done one damn thing to train her, and if it had been Wiley, he would have attacked every dog there, and if Buster wasn't so old, he'd be in the middle of them and not listening to anything I said.

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Speaking of that cemetary, I finally found more info (from various online sources) about the prison-of-war camp that was nearby where we live now:

Following the unexpected and quick crossing of the Hine by American troops at Remagen on March 7, 1945, and the crossing near Weasel on March 23, 1945, the whole Ruer area, with more than 300,000 German soldiers, was surrounded by Allied Troops. Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures (PATES), housing 50,000 each, were created by the Allies near Rhein, Remagen and Bad kreuznach. After a short time, however, these initial PATES proved to be too small, so more enclosures were created, 17 in all. One of the new enclosures was at sinzig (the town where we now live), called Camp A-5.

According to American military reports at the time, on May 8, 1945, Sinzig housed 118,563 POWs (German soldiers) and Remagen 134,029 POWs. Terrible conditions prevailed in the camps. Drinking water and adequate food rations were scarce. Lack of hygienic conditions caused the spread of diseases such as dysentery. It was a damp, cold spring with lots of rain, but only a few of the inmates had coats or shelter. To protect themselves from the weather, prisoners dug holes in the ground.

The 62nd US Field Hospital, 120 German military doctors, and 750 paramedics tried to fight diseases in the POW camps. By the time the American medical team departed on July 10, 1945, 13,499 POWs had been treated. On April 28, a field near bodendorf (near what is now our home) was turned into a cemetary, which was closed on July 15, 1945. By then, 1,090 dead POWs were buried there. The cemetary is now surrounded by a low stone wall, and graves are marked by simple, small stone markers. We walk by it probably once a week.

On June 20, 1945, the PWTE A-2 Remagen was closed. A large part of the prisoners had been previously moved to other camps, and some were allowed to return home. Camp A-5 Sinzig was handed over to the French Military on July 10, 1945.

There is a lot more information on this web site devoted to the history of the Remagen bridge.
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There's this guy here in Germany that hosts all of the big important TV awards shows, and he has his own variety show that features all of the BIGGEST stars. You ain't nobody unless you are invited to his show. He was on Saturday night, and we were watching, as usual, and I told Stefan that, although the guy dresses like Willy Wonky, the kind of ease with which this German guy has with audiences and really famous people, treating them all the same, and with the kind of adoration people had for him, that he really reminded me of Johnny Carson. And, then, ofcourse, I had to spend several minutes explaining who Johnny Carson is.

And then, just two days later... Johnny Carson was dead.

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Stefan and I went with his parents in late January to see King Tut's treasures at the Kust unv ausstellungshalle der budesrepublik Deutschland (Art and Exhibit hall of the Federal Republic of Germany), in the Museumsmeile. It's the event of the season -- posters and tie-ins are everywhere around Bonn, and people are coming from all over Germany, as well as surrounding countries, to see it. The exhibition is here through May, then heads for the USA. This was my fourth time to see items from the Tut tomb -- the first was at the World's Fair in Knoxville back in the 1980s, and the second and third times in Cairo. And, this time around... I was disappointed. I recall many, many more artifacts being presented back in Knoxville. This felt more like leftovers. I think many more pieces should have been included. Also, there was virtually nothing about hatchepsut (one of the most fascinating rulers of Egypt -- a woman who declared herself king), and there should have been much more from the akhenaton era.

Still, it was worth going, if anything just to whet my appetite for traveling back to Egypt. And, thankfully, this time (unlike last time), I didn't have to be subjected to what Lonely Planet Germany so accurately describes as "the hostile glares from overzealous security personnel."

The reason the Egyptian government is sending these items abroad is to get more tourists to come to Egypt (the country continues to suffer from a severe drop in tourism) and to raise money for a new museum in Cairo. I understand why Egypt wants a new museum -- there are so many, many things that can't be displayed at all because of the very restricted space of the current facility, and many items need to have better protection from light, moisture and roaming tourists hands. But... there is something so wonderful and quaint and musty and human and Abbot-and-costello--Meet-The-Mummy about the current Cairo Museum that I just love so much. It has a wonderful warehouse feel to it, almost like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Citizen Kan. Much of the museum glass must date from the 1920s. You want to wear a pith helmet before you go in. If you get a chance to go to the current Cairo museum, you must -- because the wonderful intimacy and simplicity of the current museum will no doubt be wiped out by whatever gets constructed to take its place.

Continuing our love of primitive art work, in early March, the four of us went to saarbrüken, in the saarland, to see an exhibit called "Inca Gold". It was much better than the aforementioned exhibit, not only because its materials were more numerous, but also, because the presentation was better. The museum was dark except for the light of each item, and it made it easy to concentrate on one item, and kept people quiet. The audio and visual commentaries were excellent, and brought things into context both historically and per modern times. The result was that, for each item, you could understand why it was important to be included in the exhibit. All of these qualities are what the Tut exhibit really needed.

The Saarland has been a part of France several times, but when given the chance to vote, the citizens always vote to become a part of Germany. It's a tiny area. Saarbrüken was a steel town, and we even saw molten steel being poured at one of the remaining working mils as we were driving out of town. The museum for the Inca exhibit is a former steel mill, and it was an exhibit in itself -- all of the massive equipment and tools are still there, and you maneuver around them as you go through the current exhibit. The building looks like it was lifted straight out of the movie Brazil . Except for it being really cold inside, I loved it.

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Speaking of the movie Brazil , I watched it for the first time in probably 15 years. And I believe it resonates more now than it did when it was released back in the 1980s originally. Particularly regarding how the government justifies its repression in the name of fighting "terrorists." I made sure, ofcourse, that the rental DVD had the CORRECT, Terr gilliam ending on it before I let Stefan watch it.

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Have you heard?! The Jesus Chain saw Massacre will soon be available with 30% less blood and gore! Thanks, Me!

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Oh my god, we went to THE Italian place the other night, and it's right here in Sinzig! I had this massive ravioli -- just three, and they took up the whole plate -- stuffed with ricotta cheese and some other cheese, with a tomato sauce (with real tomatoes -- not a paste), and with this really wonderfully pungent lettuce on top -- girl, after every bite I would say, "Oh my god, oh my god." The guy told Stefan that he orders the ravioli fresh -- it's never frozen -- and that I got the next-to-the-last plate of it for the week. Stefan said his onion pizza was quite above average as well. We are so going back.

Why is it such a big deal that I had a good meal? Hello, where do I live?

(apologies to everyone who lives in Germany for my offending comments; your beer more than makes up for my feelings about your food)

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Whose idiot idea was it to fire lizz Wi from Air America Radio? Unfiltered was my favorite show, and looking at the blog, the show was obviously wildly popular. But none of the three can carry a show by themselves -- all three are needed. And Lizz Wi is not only beyond funny, but was the person I could relate to the most as far as her experiences and opinion -- she was the only midwestern girl on the network.

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I've recently been exposed to the 1950s Italian films of "Don Camillo" -- black and white movies, inspired by books, about a parish priest in a small Italian town and his struggles and friendship with the Communist mayor. I think just about all of them were shown on German TV recently (dubbed in German, ofcourse). I've only seen a couple, but they are adorable. I see why kids over the years all over Europe have loved these books and movies. There is a "Museo Don Camillo e Peppone" in Brescello, Italy. I think I may have to go there some day.

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The Americanization of the teens in Germany is awful. The other day I saw a German teenager totally decked out in his getto wear -- the San Antonio spurs jersey, the pants about to fall down, the hat turned sideways, the oversized jacket hanging off of him. I'm sure he has no idea where San Antonio is, and probably can't name even one person on the team. He is, basically, wearing a UNIFORM... and he looked ridiculous. I'm not saying he should wear lederhosen... but he for sure wasn't himself -- he was just a billboard for a brand name. It made me sad.

Kids here in Germany, more and more, and trying to be what they think teens are like in the USA. Individuality and characteristics that make a person unique are becoming more and more rare. I don't think this is progress...

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In my last series of blogs, I mentioned how much I had greatly enjoyed a book called Buddhism Without Beliefs , by Stephen Batchelor. Turns out that Mr. Batchelor has a web site with even more writings. I have studied Christianity and Islam from a historical perspective, and considered at length how the books of these faiths were colored by the culture, practices and social structures of the times in which they were written, but it had never dawned on me to do the same with Buddhism. And the result of doing so has opened up the possibility of pursuing Buddhist teachings not as a religion, but, rather, as a way to live life. Agnostic Buddhism. What a great idea...

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My latest class for my development studies has not gone well. I have had great difficulty grasping the material in the way that I'm supposed to. Either I read something and have no idea what the author is talking about, or, I read it and think I know what the author is talking about, and maybe even find it interesting, but what I pull from the articles is not what is wanted by the person who grades my assignments. It's one of those cases where studying more, or studying harder, does no good. I'm having flashbacks to my teenage years, suffering through Algebra, when no amount of studying helped... As a result of my below-mediocre grades on assignments, my overall grade point average is now wrecked.

This class ends in late April, when I take my exam. If I pass, it's going to be a miracle, and cause for major celebration.

And then, I'll have just one more class to go -- which is devoted entirely to the writing of my thesis. If all goes well (knock wood), I'll get my Master's Degree in October. I don't even know how to put into words how finishing this is going to make me feel. By then, it will have been a three-year commitment. I'm glad I didn't really know what I was getting into, because I'm not sure I would have done it if I had known just how time-consuming, stressful and challenging it would all be. But I have no regrets. I just hope that this really does up my stock as a job candidate. I certainly feel like I have gained knowledge and skills that I could apply to a variety of settings.

Stefan deserves a medal for putting up with me during all this.

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I've now been living in Germany for more than four years, after coming here for just a year or maybe two. I'm not always happy when my personal or career plans don't work out the way I initially thought they would, but in this case, I've been quite happy.

I have the finances to stay in Europe through this year, and to take a few trips, but if I don't find a paid gig, or a few short-term paid gigs, some time this year, I'll have to go back to the USA next year, in 2006. I really want to stay longer in Germany -- Stefan and I would like to take a motorcycle trip to Scotland next year, there are about half a dozen countries I still want to see over here, and I really don't feel done with Germany. Plus, as the US moves to becoming the Christian version of Saudi Arabia (I read that certain IMAX theaters aren't going to show movies that mention evolution, otherwise known as SCIENCE), I'm not really in a hurry to go back.

Let's hope a job or some consulting gigs materialize soon...

This will be my last series of blogs for a while. I go to Avila, Spain again during the last week of March (I leave on Easter) and the first week of April for an intensive Spanish course at IEMA. Upon returning to Germany, I'll spend the next two weeks studying for my exam for mu current, dreadful development studies class. Then, back to studying Spanish, so I can pass the basic Spanish speakers exam on May 13 (I will take this test in Cologne). And on May 30, I start daily German classes for four weeks.

Stefan leaves for the USA in early May, just before my Spanish exam -- six weeks with his motorcycle in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. He's got all sorts of possible sites to visit -- certainly more than he could actually see. We've never been apart for so long, and here I will be, truly all alone in a foreign country for the first time. Gulp. Plus, I'm nervous about Stefan -- I so want him to have a great time. I hope the people of my country don't let me down...

And then? And then, the job/consulting gig hunt truly begins...

What does all this mean as far as visiting me? The best times to visit me are: June (but only if you can tour on your own during the day, while I'm at German class); July and August (though I may go to D.C. for a conference in early August); September (outside of the trip I'll be taking that month to Croatia); and October (I will go to Berlin for one weekend that month, and you would be welcomed to join me). After that, the time changes and it gets so dark early here, and winter sets in, and I'm not sure you would really want to visit then... Ofcourse, plans do change -- I'm hoping to go to Paris and Rome for long weekends this year at some point, so if you are thinking of visiting, you need to let me know ASAP!!

Check out my new page specifically for friends thinking of visiting me. I've got details on how to choose your airport, and an overview of the many things you can do from our home (although I left out the option of laying around our flat, just drinking beer and enjoying the view).

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Spring has sprung: in March, the sheep and goats at the Schwanenteich (which means "Swan Pond"; it's a "Tiergarten", a kind of domestic animal preserve near us) started having babies. The lambs are cute, but the kids are ADORABLE. When they are a few days old, and much more sure on their legs, and their personalities start emerging, and these little tiny creatures jump around like crazy, trying to butt anything: each other, the sheep, the barn door, imaginary beings... I could watch them forever. Unfortunately, they stay far from the walk way, and Albi gets bored, so eventually, I have to move on...

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There's a commercial that's being shown on CNN International for EDF, a huge global communications company based in France. I go crazy everytime I see it:

"One is the loneliest number" plays in the background. A woman goes into a bank and says, "I would like to open an account." The teller begins to using sign language -- it's obvious he doesn't understand her, and she doesn't understand him. She smiles nervously and looks around, and realizes she can't communicate with the people in the bank. Then you see scenes on the street: most everyone in wheelchairs, happily rolling along, while the few walking people cannot navigate the ramps the wheelchair users are using, and the public phones are all very low -- standing people have great difficulty using them, and one of the wheel chair people points at him, as though to say, "Look at the weirdo." Then you are inside a library, and all of the users are blind, except for one guy. He goes over to a shelf and opens a book -- and it's all in braile, so he can't read it. The commercial ends with a plea for "accessibility for all."
The commercial is available online, but I think you can access it only if you have the very latest and greatest software. Go to www.edf.fr and scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on "English." On the resulting page, on the left hand side, under "Headline News", click on "EDF Ad campaign: handling with handicap in everyday-life." That will bring you to the page where you can view the video. From there, I guess you click on either "Haut débit" or "Bas débit" -- I'm not absolutely sure, because I have never gotten it to play on my Mac (so while EDF believes in accessibility for all in some situations, it doesn't believe in it in others?). The commercial is available only in French on the Web, but really, that doesn't matter -- the message is clear.
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Once again, no SXSW for me. It kills me every March not to be there, but I just can't afford it. My own SXSW pages are now woefully out of date, gathering dust online... I love to read individual stories about SXSW, particularly relating to the music festival, so if you have one, please send me the URL.

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Some of you may not know that I don't have a car. I don't. I don't even have a German driver's license (long story). I walk, bike, or take the bus or the train most everywhere. I have for four years now. And I would very much like to continue this lifestyle in the USA someday, as well as to promote its value to others.

I'm rather stunned at how many people back in the USA say, "Oh, you must feel so restricted not having a car." Huh? I go out just as much as I ever did. I get to drink all the beer I can hold. I don't deal with gas, car insurance, trying to find a place to park (which is my biggest pet peeve in the world), or car repairs. If my train is late, I read a book; if I'm stuck in a traffic jam in a car, all I can do is sit there and hope it ends soon.

Yes, it sucks to miss a train or bus, or for a train or bus to be late, or to have to ride my bike in bad weather, or to look like the ugly mushroom. And my schedule becomes a bit more rigid -- but only a bit. But given all that I no longer have to deal with (as mentioned above), it's more than worth it. In fact, it's freeing. Not that I am completely carless -- Stefan does have a car, and we use it to go to the grocery and to pick up dog food (and he has to use it commute to work, because of the distance). But when we go "out on the town," we walk.

I'm ashamed that I never made this mass transit commitment when I lived in Austin. Life would have been cheaper, that's for sure... and if you don't want to use mass transit, or to walk or ride a bike, even occasionally, fine -- you should still support mass transit initiatives because, if nothing else, it will free up more roads and parking places for you and your car.

It took forever to find a national advocacy group for such, but I finally did, via a 2003 National Geographic at my doctor's office here in Germany in March: The American Public Transportation Association has a site for grassroots action regarding public transportation. It includes easy-to-use tools for effective communications with members of Congress, community leaders, business leaders and other activists about the importance of public transportation; "10 Tips for Effective Grassroots Communications"; reports and studies; and more.

There's also the UITP - International Union of Public Transport, which provides information, research, and analysis on all aspects of public transport including infrastructure, rolling stock, organization and management. UITP is the world-wide association of urban and regional passenger transport operators, their authorities and suppliers. Unfortunately, however, the site doesn't have a section for individual advocates of public transit -- only city and state-run agencies.

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Don't forget -- as of our trip to Norway, you have to subscribe to a special Yahoo group I've created specifically for the posting of photos, if you want to see pictures (including of the new apartment). First, create a Yahoo ID, if you don't have one already. to get one, go to www.yahoo.com and get one! You won't get "spammed" because you have a Yahoo ID. Then, contact me and let me know, and I'll give you details on how to join.

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Need gift ideas?. I compiled this because I'm sick of hearing people say "I don't know what to buy so-and-so" or, even worse, "I don't know what to buy you, Jayne."

Stefan always knows what to buy me... he bought me a Betty Crocker cookbook after hearing me complain endlessly about the stupidity of leaving my Betty Crocker cookback back in storage in Austin. And he bought me a children's book called Momo, that he loved as a child, by the author of Never Ending Story . I loved it! I really, really loved it! It's made my list of top 10 favorite children's books of all time, easily. I highly recommend it -- it speaks so much to these times of ours now...

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Some things to check out:

If you have read this blog, PLEASE let me know. Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing.


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