Apr 26, 2014

note to self: don't convert euro to USD

Stuttgart in particular has a high cost of living, but the costs are not uniformly high. It's actually been very interesting to see what is cheap and what is expensive here. So here's a breakdown of some typical expenses in current value USD.

$0.97 basic pretzel from the bakery
$1.11 0.5 Liter local beer (single from the grocery)
$5.50 6 pack of .5 liter bottles of local beer
$1.25  Ritter Sport chocolate bar (100g)
$1.25 small bag of mixed salad (100g)
$1.25 large bag of carrots
$1.38 package of salami (200g)

$3.30 Single trip ticket for zone 1
$83.00 Monthly transit pass for zone 1 including central Stuttgart

$498.00 Monthly rent + utilities for a single large room in a house of renters not too far from the city.
$1,245.00 Monthly rent for a 2 bedroom apartment reasonably close to the city center

Generally speaking, bread, vegitables, and beer are very cheap here. Fruits and some processed meats like salami are also pretty cheap. Most meat is expensive, and dining out is very expensive. Local transit is surprisingly expensive, and rent is very high. 

Apr 23, 2014

model charette

The meeting with the boss yesterday afternoon did not go too well. We keep junping too far forward with these projects, labeling individual rooms when he's not even convinced we have the appropriate building form at the urban scale.

So yesterday afternoon and all day today we did the model charette at 1:500 scale, working with rigid foam and butterboard. I roughed in some really bad but very diverse and interesting ideas, and of course the boss came in a little before six today to critique what we had ready. We weren't expecting him until tomorrow morning, but it worked out for the best anyway.

He mostly works in German, although when he's making points that he wants me to understand he switches over to English. He reminded me again today that if I'm going to make it as an architect in Germany, I'm going to need to learn German. Time to find a language course. Or at least a path forward to get me going on this. Pick a book.

After work, I met Saori at the Schlossplatz in the middle of Stadtmitte for the first night of free outdoor animation festival. We plonked down in the grass and got a radler beer (half lemonade, half beer), and two brats with dijon mustard. Das ist lekker! Saori then went to go meet Lina for some girl talk over burgers, and I headed home up on the hill at Camp Fox.

Apr 22, 2014

this and that

Saori made me some curry to take to work today. I was poking around in the kitchen looking for the microwave, and no luck. After I asked where the microwave was, I was informed that there wasn't one. The boss doesn't like the smell of people heating up food.

People here actually seem to be either ambivilant or opposed to microwaves- there's definately not the ubiquity or reliance on microwaves that you see in the US. It made me wonder about the general German preoccupation with healthier food and if that had anything to do with it, since more often than not, you're microwaving that frozen pizza rather than yeserday's butternut squash and kale casserole.

Another strange German thing- there's a lot of political ads going up around town since it looks like the run up to a local election, and all of the head shots of the candidates are awful. Maybe I'm just too used to the US where we sex up everything or don't even attempt to do a full face shot without perfect teeth. But these photos are bad, like the candidates aren't even that well put together, and most of them are squinting, like the photographer surprised them one afternoon and made them have their photo taken staring into the sun.

I was going to make cup ramen soup tonight for dinner, but ducking into the kitchen for some hot water, I was caught once again by Shiva and Chandra who had prepared some Indian dishes. Shiva actually had a pressure cooker going with a special regional dish from southern India. It's such a win-win situation, they enjoy the company, and I love Indian cooking.


I saw in the news that Apple, Inc. was getting a bit of criticism and praise for their Earth Day ad. The ad was ostensibly about other companies wanting to copy Apple, Inc.'s praiseworthy sustainability practices, but pointedly between the lines criticizing Samsung for it's "copying" of other practices and products. Not even subtly done.

Yes, it's crappy that Apple is using Earth Day to take a cheap shot at another multinational corporation, but my bigger problem is Apple's general lie of sustainability.

Sustainability, by consensus definition, is the idea that you work in a way which does not impinge on the future's ability to work in a similar way. If the forest matures at 10 acres a year, and you harvest and replant at 10 acres a year, you are logging sustainably (generally speaking).

Computers use a lot of rare and toxic materials. There is an unbelievable waste stream generated by the production of electronics. It's nearly an obscenity. And don't get me started on the kids who spend their young, short lives scavaging the bits of copper and gold with mercury from the electronics dumps in the Global South.

Apple, Inc. took computers and made them disposable wearable fashion items. Trinkets which are either passe or broken within a year. Apple wins high praise for filling a need that nobody knew they had. I am nauseous as how this could be considered praiseworthy.

A problem does not exist. A product is developed along with an advertising campaign to develop the problem. The product is incredibly harmful to the environment. The product and the company reshape society to have an in implicit need for its product type.

I could go on an on, but you hopefully stopped reading at the second warning.

Easter Monday

Monday was also a holiday but it was overcast and threatening rain in the morning, so I made us some hot muesli and coffee for breakfast (from the downstairs kitchen). In the early afternoon, we took a walk through the edge of the forest nearby to Killesburg, a nearby area perhaps a few miles up the road along the ridge. There is a lot of very new housing and retail developments over there, actually the highest per square meter housing in Stuttgart, designed by British firm David Chipperfield architects. There's also a shopping center with an Aldi and the Edeka I was mooning over in a previous post, and at the edge, there is Scholz and Schloz. Scholz is the cafe, Schloz is the ice cream store.

The walk through the forest was really nice. It had rained a bit before, so everything was bright green with the spring, the trees are incredibly tall and old, and I enjoyed birdwatching through the underbrush. Lots of these little sparrow-type birds in the low branches and close to the ground, with striking white and black faces. We also passed a few people on horseback, coming down the trail from the big ranch at the edge. When we popped out, it was a short walk down to Scholz.

At Scholz, we ordered cappuchinos and slices of cake. I never knew how much Germans are into their kaffee und kuchen. And these guys do a good job. I had a zitronensahne which is a lemon-creme cake.

After cake, we walked over to park and indulged our inner five-year-olds by riding the little train. I'm actually happy we did since we got a nice view of the expansive park (it was once a quarry but has had several decades of renovations and new installations). All the tulips were in bloom and the park was packed as people flocked in to enjoy the warm (if threateningly cloudy) day.

There is a really cool observation tower, visible even from my office across the valley, which one can climb, and it's quite striking from a structural standpoint, since it simply consists of a single steel mast, circular platforms, a double helix staircase, and a cable next suspension system to tie everything together and to the ground.

As it began to rain, we caught a bus back to my street, but we still had a ten minute walk ahead of us. As soon as we hopped off, the rain picked up and we were quickly drenched. The rest of the afternoon, we spent practicing German and drinking tea in my big bedroom, waiting for the sun to come out.

Apr 21, 2014

Easter Train Hopping

For Easter, Saori and I hopped a bus to the HBF and bought a Baden-Württenburg day ticket. It's a pretty good deal- €23 for an all-day rail and bus ticket valid anywhere in the state of B-W, and only €4 extra for additional people on the ticket. Which means Saori and I can jump on any train but an ICE and just go.

Today, we headed for the border, the Bodensee, lake Constance on the Swiss border. It was about three hours of regional trains through woodlands and forested hill country to Konstanz town, at the tip of a peninsula jutting into the sprawling lake.

Konstanz is a pretty town, we walked through the cobblestone streets to the Münsterplatz, the old church square where we ate in the sunny square at Münsterhof, a guidebook recommendation. The crowd was a mix of tourists and presumable locals in knee high stockings, lederhosen, and cool felt hats with brushes.

Service was a bit frazzled, probably shorthanded for Easter, but soon enough they brought out half liters of weisen_ beer and our entrées. Saori ordered a roasted lamb and scalloped potato dish, and I got the house spätzle and Schweinenschnitzle. Spätzle is a kind of Schwaben speciality, pasta noodles made with potatoes I think. The main dish was a pork chop, breaded and fried. Everything was delicious, and we used the last of the bread to mop the leftover sauce of our plate.

After lunch we drifted through the picturesque medieval city center (small, but very dense, mostly traversed by alleys) up to the point where the Rhine leaves (or feeds?) Lake Constance. We joined the crowds and strolled along the tree-lined lake shore promenade, stopping to pick up some ice cream and coffee. We sat there for perhaps an hour, simply enjoying the sunshine, the view, the lake, the coffee and ice cream, and it was just a lovely way to pass some time.

Later, we walked to the end of the pier to see the statue of Imperia. Imperia, improbably enough, is a 9 meter tall likeness of a striking hooker from the town from the old days, immortalized in a Henri de Balzac novel. Impossibility busty, she stands exposing a full leg, while basically popping out of the gown. In each hand, she holds old, withered and (flaccid) nude statuettes of the pope and the German emperor. She also rotates in order to give everyone a view.

Anyway, Constance is a lakeshore town, a good place to spend an hour of so exploring on foot, but mostly enjoyed as a place to stroll, drink, and hop off to other parts of the lake or surrounding countryside. It's hard to make a day out of it, so we hopped on a departing train to take the scenic route back to Stuttgart via the Black Forest. It was really lovely, but such a tease, as the route takes us through steep mountains, dense forests, and tiny villages. We ended up getting back to Stuttgart around 11 pm, fried from all of train travel.

Apr 20, 2014

The Inhabitants of Camp Fox

We rolled out of bed a little later this morning, and I made fried eggs and toast for breakfast in the downstairs kitchen. The seldom-used coffee maker was upstairs, and I was cleaning it out when Herr Dursley poked his head in. "Hello!" He said with a sleepy but clear sense of alarm. His English was not so good, but he made it clear that neither I nor the other second floor filthy scum were permitted in the upstairs kitchen. "You are mess. You make mess. Did Frau Baumann no tell you?" he asked incredulously.

As point of fact, Frau Baumann told me that I could use the downstairs kitchen, not that I was precluded from the use of the upstairs kitchen. But the n English is not Frau Baumann's strong suit.

Anyway, I assured Herr Dursley that I would not sully his kitchen (actually, the upstairs kitchen was pristine) or his presence (not so pristine) again if I had anything to do with it.

I don't even know his name- this is the only time we've exchange words. I've met the other strange guy upstairs, Oleg, who is also very standoffish, but at least we've exchanged names. They're just two late 40s guys who have lived in the house forever and keep very private lives.

On the filthy scum floor, we have me, Danielle, Shiva, and Chandra. Danielle is German, maybe a bit older than me, a later in life university student working on a masters in marketing and psychology. She also keeps very much to herself. I've only actually seen her twice in the time I've been at Camp Fox.

I run into Chandra and Shiva all the time. They're two young Indians and both are very congenital. One is from the north, one is from the south and so they have to speak English to communicate. Chandra sometimes drives poor Shiva downstairs to the kitchen from his snoring, but he makes a delicious Indian chai tea with cloves, cardamon, ginger, sugar, milk and a hint of pepper. They are always offering me some of whatever they are cooking. Needless to say, it's a good thing I like the smell of Indian cooking since it permanently smells like marsala in there now.

Frau Baumann moved out. She used to live with her husband downstairs, but after he died, she found other accommodation.

Apr 19, 2014

first paycheck

Since Friday was a holiday, Thursday night Saori and I joined intern Alejandro, his visiting novia, intern Xiao Wei, and Lina at a popular drinking spot in Stadtmitte. The bar was just a round, glassed-in pavilion with just enough space for a bar and a few tables, with the most ghetto bathrooms I've seen in Germany down a spiraling concrete staircase. However, the building was just the center of the space since the entire plaza around it was filled with people drinking outside, just plonked down on the few chairs, asphalt and concrete.

Alejandro has been working with me in the office; his roommate and friend Alfredo works for Behnisch and they both come from the same Uni in Monterrey, Mexico. The three of us talked wistfully about Mexican food.

For the record, I had 2.5 small (.33 liter!) Wolle beers and that was it, which makes me wonder why I was so ill the next day. Not one week before I'd downed at least a liter and a half of champagne. Granted, I'd not eaten well up to that point- lots of suspects: old Fleischsalat, which is basically potato salad if you swap out the potatoes with chopped ham and leberkäse, then there was the prepacked sandwich lunch with more mayonaise. Or it could have been all the chocolate and the entire bag of gummy bears I ate basically for dinner. At any rate, it was a rough friday morning, which was especially disappointing since we'd planned on getting out friday to explore the region.

There is a special card you can buy for 24 Euro which grants unlimited travel for one day through the Baden-Wurttenburg region. This is a very large area which actually stretches all the way to the French, Swiss, and tip of Austria borders. The second person on the ticket is only an extra four euros.

I bought a map of what was supposed to be Stuttgart on Amazon.com before I left- it turned out to be basically most of Baden-Wurttenburg. Useless for city navigation, but I taped it up on the wall and now its kind of a regional map for explorations. There's quite a lot to see in the region- medieval half-timbered villages, castles, the entire freaking Black Forest, Lake Constance, Basel, the Rhine.

Anyway, while I recuperated with toast and water at the city apartment, Saori practiced German and when she took off for yoga, I felt well enough to bus it up back to Camp Fox. I did actually see a fox near here the other night, crossing the street.

After Yoga, Saori joined me up here and I made __Salzkartoffel_ (salt potatoes) which is a very simple recipe of boiling new potatoes in brine and throwing some melted butter on top. Guuuut.

Today, Saori hiked back down the hill for more yoga and I went to find a better grocery store than the tiny, overpriced one down at the bottom of Zeppelinstr.

A few days ago, Jochen at the office gave me my first paystub, I guess the first bit of money to get me started or to get me current for the usual work cycle. It was deposited into my bank account, and today was the first time I spent money I'd earned at the new job. I found a good place to spend it too, the biggest supermarket I'd seen in Germany, tantilizingly close to Weisenhof, a collection of buildings by European Modernist superstars- Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe, and a few other teachers from the Bauhaus.

I used my first paycheck to basically buy an assortment of basic living goods- toilet paper, yogurt, a bottle of water in a cool glass bottle, white tea, wheat bread, baking powder and baking soda (damned hard to find but for the record it's backpulver and natron respectively). Also picked up museli for breakfast, a plastic container to hold it, a bar of chocolate, and some onions. Pretty prosaic stuff, actually.

Coming back, I jumped on what I thought was the right bus until it pulled a U turn and went in the completely wrong direction. Since the supermarket was basically a bus hub turnaround, I decided to ride it down to the hauptbahnhof (train station) and catch a bus back which I knew would drop me right by the house. The easiest way by far to get around here, is to simply start by going to the Hauptbahnhof. Stuttgart is well connected radially, but not so well concentrically.

Today we were thinking about going to the Fruhlingsfest but its still cold and mostly overcast, although the sun is making an effort to show itself. Fruhlingsfest is the spring equal to Octoberfest- a fairground filled with massive tents for drinking beer, carnival rides and games, and people getting generally wasted. Actually, the one in Stuttgart is supposed to be the biggest one in Germany, which the more I hear about it, seems less and less laudatory.

I've also been working on my German bucket list since I've been here nearly four weeks and still haven't hit any of the sights other than Konigstr. and wandering around Stadtmitte. Granted, we did spend one of those weekends in Paris and the rest of the time running around trying to get me settled in. Oh and we also walked through the Kraherwald, a large forest park which begins across the street from my WG.

Apr 16, 2014

Cold and long days

The last few days have marked a return to cold weather. Yesterday morning, I looked out the window at the sunny day and jumped out in a sweater. It was actually about 50 degrees outside.

Also, I'm not sure when this happened but the days suddenly got really long. I'd forgotten that Stuttgart is farther north than Maine. It's 8:11pm and I'm waiting for Saori to get off work and it's still light enough to read outside. And it's only early April.

The early morning sun has actually been waking me up in the morning. I have curtains but they are thin white cotton so they glow white from the sunlight bounced off the houses across the street. I do appreciate the roll top shades everywhere. I wonder why they don't use them in the US. Probably because builders are too cheap to include something that people aren't demanding as a standard item.

Ate my first pizza here for lunch. One of the interns, a young German guy invited me along to eat at a kebab/pizza place. They do kind of go together and the places are always run by Turks. Good pizza though, although different from the US. Much more emphasis on the crust, not so much sauce, and a little different flavor. Not so many toppings, either. Or cheap. My 14" pizza cost about $8. Maybe its better to stick to 89 euro cent salads.

Apr 14, 2014

Lazy sunday

Another wonderful thing about champagne is the relatively light hangovers the next day. Sunday morning, we had been debating going out to a Bretton brunch buffet nearby, starting at 10, but when our alarm went off, we decided it was nicer to simply enjoy the last day to sleep in this weekend.

Instead, we rolled out of bed late, checked out out of the room, and grabbed a bite to eat at Cafe Indiana, a "South West Grill" across from the Gare du l'Est. The reviews online were all European, which praised the place both for its quick service and good happy hour. It seemed a solid bet. We both ordered the "Indian Breakfast" which turned out to be several fried eggs, bacon, sausage, bread with jam, and fresh OJ. It was like Denny's except everything was actually really good. It hit the spot. And the service was quick. 

After breakfast, we walked along the canal saint-Martin again, strolling through a small park, and popping into a few small boutiques before heading back to the hotel to pick up our bags. We had a bit of time to kill at the station so we grabbed the worst coffees I've ever had, along with two last-weeks chocolate croissant.

Soon we were flying across the countryside to Germany, and we pulled into the ugly Hauptbahnhof in Stuttgart around five. We grabbed a quick snack at the station and then sat outside in the Schlossgarten enjoying the sun and trying to figure out where the hell our money went this weekend. 

It was Saori's week to clean her apartment, so we headed back that way and I played DJ while she cleaned. Actually, the owner who also lived there, S, had done a lot of the cleaning for her, which was nice. Her other roommate, F, had some leftover turkey that needed to be eaten tonight, so we ate that with leftover couscous. Then I headed back to my place up on the hill and tried to figure out if I was responsible for cleaning this week or next week. 

Now, it's lunchtime at the office, so I'm taking advantage of the break to get some blogging done. Actually, we only have one hour for lunch officially (sometimes we take 1.5) but we officially get off an hour earlier than Saori's company, which takes 2 hour lunches and works an hour later. 

I might be presenting our work on this competition to Prof. W this afternoon, so I'm pinning stuff up and directing the two interns with me on final presentation materials.

Apr 13, 2014

oh la la

Popped over to the train station in the morning to get Saori-chan some coffee from Starbucks (and myself an expresso and a croissant) since most places in Paris roll their eyes at American coffee bean preparations. It made me happy to be walking through Paris in the morning, especially someplace as active and cosmopolitan as the train station.

We spent the morning getting ready and headed over to the city hall for the official ceremony. When Parisians get married, they go to their district city offices first, and then have a religious ceremony after if they are so inclined. We were running a little late (for German standards, but early for French) but it was easy to pick out the crowd waiting outside of the city hall when we arrived. There were about fifty people there, a strange assortment of Japanese, Koreans, and French, exclusively speaking in French and Japanese. There was a guy I thought was a Scott with a kilt and tartan, all black, and a spurren, but apparently he's either French or of English extraction living in Paris and no connection to Scotland other than an affinity for the style. Thibaud's (the groom) brother came too, sporting round glasses, a burgundy suit, with a motorcycle helmet under his arm. There were also some very old people who must have been Thibaud's grandparents or elderly relations, and of course, Tojo's and Thibaud's parents. Since the nuptials are both architects, most of the crowd was, too, and everyone took the definition of "dressing up" in very personal ways. The entire entourage looked like extras from a Wes Anderson film.

Tojo and Thibaud (pronounced like "Tebow", I actually though he was nicknamed "T-Bone" the first few times I heard of him) showed up with their family and we spent about another 45 minutes hanging around outside taking photos and chatting as the nuptials went around greeting everyone. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the front steps were strewn with white rose petals, red rose petals, and salt- a layering of the weddings which proceeded this one today. When we came out later, there was a new layer of fresh lavender which made a light purple carpet and smelled great.

Finally, some coordinator (from the city?) came out and motioned that it was time to go inside, so we all followed Tojo and Thibaud inside up the stairs to a short wait in a waiting hall while another wedding party filed out. We all went into a big sunny hall filled with mirrors and windows, and took seats on plush red velvet benches. At the front of the room was a long judges table, and in the corner, an official reporter with a microphone and book.

The "Deputy Mayor" came out, a talkative and ministerial older gentleman wearing a red, white, and blue sash and we all stood up until he motioned us to sit down. He gave an animated spiel in German with some bits thrown in in English for the benefit of Tojo's parents who were not fluent in French. Some stuff about the ideas of how important Equality is to France, even over Liberty, since a lack of equality led to the French Revolution and the guillotine, which the deputy major illustrated with a chopping motion of his hand. And a lot of blah blah blah about sharing everything, including money and children, and apparently a lot of really stale jokes. Everyone explained later that these guys do many weddings a day, so they have to find their own interest and enjoyment. Eventually he did get to the part about asking Tojo and Thibaud to confirm their intentions and they both said "Oui" and everyone clapped and Saori teared up a bit. Then they went over to the official recorder in the corner and signed the paperwork and people clapped again, and then we all crowded around them at the front of the room while they exchanged rings and people took a ton of photos.

We formed a new line and congratulated them all again, and this time I did do the air kisses on the side of the cheek. It was a bit of a strange experience to air kiss Thibaud, who has the same kind of stubble beard I do, and to for once, be on the receiving end of a fuzzy cheek against my own.

We then went outside ahead of the newlyweds, and formed a circle around the door armed with cameras and paper confetti. They came out shortly after, we tossed the confetti, took more photos, and then there was another informal round of congratulations, chatting and photographs.

It was a bit awkward, actually, to be there. Tojo and Saori are old friends, but the vast majority of the people at the wedding were of course their local friends, and we didn't really know anyone except for the bridge and groom. I was ok with it- I've gotten used to life as the perpetual auslander, but it was a lot of awkward milling around.

Anyway we saw other people splitting away and we took our chance to do so as well. We headed over to a nearby sidewalk cafe, plonked down and ordered two cappuchinos and plates of crepes with ice cream and various fillings. The deputy mayor, sans sash, came in shortly after, and gave me a double take as he went in.

We went back to the nearby Muji store and I bought the shirt I'd been debating and Saori got a new pair of flats for her feet which were dying in her heels, and we took the metro over to the Grand Palais, which I'd seen from the distance. We got tickets at the door, only discovering at the moment that it was an antique book fair, and we went inside anyway, paying the entry fee for the architecture so to speak.

It's a beautiful building, a neoclassical facade wrapped around an art-neauvou decorative wrought iron superstructure with an astounding glass vault and dome roof. If I had any shred of interest in antique books, I would have been in paradise at this expo- vendors from all over the world had brought their finest wares, and were priced in the thousands of euros.

We went back to the hotel, changed clothes, and headed out for the cocktail reception at La Dome du Marais, a tea parlour/restaurant which they had taken over for the evening. It was a beautiful and cool place, painted in black with gold accents and curio cabinets. We were precisely two minutes early for the stated starting time, which is entirely German, but we were of course the first guests to arrive, so we chatted with two friends of theirs who had set up the place with decorations- Starbucks and balloons were a recurring theme.

We were immediately presented with flutes of champagne, the first of many, from the bar service, which flowed all night. It's got to be hellaciously expensive, but there is something that is just kind of amazing about endless glasses of champagne at a wedding.

The rest of the guests trickled in and rather than staying in our corner fidgeting awkwardly for the rest of the night, we jumped in and introduced ourselves to the most obviously approachable couple, a loud Japanese boy from New York, and his date, a towering diplomatic attache from the Indonesian Embassy. They were both a lot of fun to talk to, and soon we were joined in conversation with quite a lot of different people. Meanwhile, we drank, and hors d'vours were circulated including a heavier stir fried vegetable dish where our group attempted to name the main fried root vegetable in English. Was it taro? or daikon? Anyway, it was embarrassing that when I mentioned I was from Arizona, the first thing other than the Grand Canyon that people mention was the fact that the state nearly passed a law safeguarding sexual orientation discrimination. Arizona, you are so much better than this.

Anyway, we spent about six hours at the reception, which is a staggering long time but flew by, aided by the canapes, games, cake cutting, dancing, chatting, and of course by the free-flowing champagne. At the end of the night, poor Saori's feet were exploding, so we thanked everyone once more and excused ourselves around 1:30 in the morning. We tried to catch a cab, but it was right around the last metro time, so everyone was taking taxis. I gave Saori my shoes to wear and I socked it over to the metro to catch which turned out to be the last trains of the night on either line back to Gare du l'Est.

It was all in all a very fun wedding, despite the language barrier, and it was quite an experience. It's one of those things in the List of Things If You Get The Chance, so I'm happy I got to attend a French wedding in Paris. And I'm really happy for Tojo and Thibaud both, they are surprising and hospitable people, and I wish them all the best.

A Paris Wedding

Saori's high school friend Tojo invited us to to her wedding in Paris this weekend, so we both took friday off of work to go. I'm really happy we did, because it ended up being a really fun small slice of Paris.

We left Saori's place shortly after five AM to catch the metro to the Haupbahnhof (main station), which was nice since the S-Bahn runs directly to the station and it's less than ten minutes. We were actually running a bit late since we needed to get some coffee for Saori and pull some cash so we weren't using the foreign bank ATMs in Paris. We ended up jumping on the TGV about ten minutes before it pulled out of the station, just as the sun was rising over Stuttgart.

Saori slept like a log the whole trip and I dozed lightly. I was a bit sleep deprived, Saori was nearly dead. The trip was quick- three and a half hours and we were pulling into the Paris Gare du l'Est station. Actually, we crossed the Rhine into French Strausbourg about an hour out of Stuttgart- I'd love to spend some more time there.

I'd booked us a hotel close to the train station since it was a great location and relatively cheap. The location was very good- two minutes walk to the metro and five from the station. The name of the place "Le Grand Hotel du Paris" should have been a red flag in contrast to the price. The only thing Grand about it was its location and the room rates. The "Grand" hotel occupied a building about five meters wide, sandwiched in between the other super-cheap travelers hotels and mediocre cafes and convenience stores lining the street to the train station.

Our rooms were not ready since we arrived early in the day, so we dropped our bags and took a stroll over to the nearby Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood, a relatively trendy neighborhood along the tree-lined canal, filled with boutiques, hip cafes and bars, and new restaurants, coffee places, bakeries, and upscale international stores. While I was waiting for Saori to return from Lausanne, I'd feverishly looked up the recommendations in a variety of "36 hours in Paris" articles, and decided to focus my attention in particular on the Canal St.-Martin neighborhood.

Our first stop was, of course, a cafe for cappuchinos to wake up and plan for the rest of the day. Chez Prune is a small bar/coffeeshop/restaurant which was quite good. I wished I'd photographed the bartended because he was a dead ringer for Tay- tall and lanky, striking features, a bit lean especially in the face, big hair, and mutton chops facial hair. Tay, you could totally pull that off if you wanted. Not sure how they would take it at the PD office though. He actually looked a bit like an extra from Les Mis.

From Chez Prune we went to Du Pain et des Idees, a bakery. I can safely say that it is the best bakery I have ever been to. We ordered a pistachio escargot (a flaky pastry wheel with chocolate and pistachio filling between), a baked apple pastry thing, and a croissant. They were the best I'd ever had of any of those categories. The baked apple thing was a flaky pastry built around a halved apple which had baked into a sweet, nearly applesauce consistency at the heart of this thing. It was fantastic. Saori and I were both in heaven munching on these pastries as we sat along the banks of the canal, watching the few ducks. Characteristically Parisian, they snubbed the American tourists, breadcrumbs notwithstanding. What is it about the ducks of Paris, anyway? They have that je ne se quack, you know?

We walked along the banks of the canal to Republique, a plaza which had been completely changed since I'd been in the area last. Actually, that was the area which I stayed in when I first came to Paris on my own back in 2005, with my hostel nearby. The new plaza covered the old roundabout with the statue in the center and tied the two parks on either side together with a new pop-up cafe on the side. It was filled with people enjoying the friday, tourists, homeless, locals, buskars, everyone who plays a part in the city.

We went back to the hotel to check in. We squeezed into the smallest elevator I've ever seen to ride up to the top floor. The elevator's maximum capacity was listed at three people. Saori and I are not large people, but the two of us barely fit, and we only made it with our bags because we both were carrying small soft travel bags. The room was of the attic variety- the roof pitch sloped half of the ceiling into head bumping territory. The floor sloped- dramatically. You had to be careful that things didn't slide down the small desk, and the bottom of the bed was about a foot lower than the head. However, it did have a very tiny balcony which opened out to a nice view of the train station and the roofs of the city.

We took the metro to Palais du Tokio, a run down but beautiful building on the Seine across from the tour Eiffel, which was so named because for many years it was a bohemian artists workshop of mostly asian artists. It is actually a pair of buildings with a stepping plaza between: a musuem of modern art, and a modern art special exhibitions hall. We went to the special exhibitions hall which had been stripped down to the most basic construction, finished as per required by the installations. Very conceptual art, for the most part, but the building was really cool. Someone was building an installation out of several thousand tires, and downstairs in the dimly lit basement, a gentleman was embarking on the performance of the entire works of Phillip Glass and homages to Glass, a continuous performance of 7 hours. There was also a really interesting video installation with a hall filled with massive video projections onto the floor where people walked around.

We crossed the Seine, snapped some obligatory selfies of the two of us with the river and the Eiffel tower in the background, and caught a metro to the Luxembourg gardens. It was a lovely, warm spring afternoon, and the gardens were full of people lounging, napping, conversing, and reading. Everywhere, there are the ancient green steel chairs, worn but comfortable and perfect for propping up one's feet on a second. Tired, we sat and simply enjoyed the late afternoon sun and pleasant ambiance.

Paris also means Muji, so we hit the nearby Muji store and picked up some pens, paper, notebooks, and I also got a button down shirt on sale.

By then it was time for dinner, so we rushed back over to Canal St.-Martin for our 8pm reservations at Le Verre Vole, a boho wine bar/restaurant. It's one of the places popular both with the locals and with Americans who read the New York Times "36 hours in Paris" articles. It's a small place with small tables and worn metal chairs. The food was phenomenal. Really phenomenal. Saori started with a beef tataki and I got to work on a small cheese platter. Actually I was a bit disapointed when I first saw the plate of cheese, there was a small wedge of Camembert, a small wedge of Brie, a cheese I couldn't identify with a very nutty character, and a pat of butter. They were all phenomenal. Paired with the fresh baked bread, it was a meal in itself. Even the butter was the best butter I've ever had.

We decided to go easy on the wine so we just asked for wine by the glass. We said "something white? Maybe something to go with the fish?" and the waiter said, "Ok" and he brought us out some pretty good crisp white wine. When the mains came out, he brought us some red for a change, a Shiraz with a bit of spiciness to it.

For the main course, we ordered the daily specials. Saori got roasted pigeon with asparagus, peas, and potatoes, and I got a monkfish with a carrot purree, butter sauce, and small purple potatoes. It was all fantastic although my monkfish beat Saori's pigeon. The pigeon was surprisingly meaty and rich, although I understand it was the farmed variety rather than than freshly-caught city flying rats. One more animal for the comestible list! For desert we split a small chocolate pot, which was actually more like a white-chocolate key lime pie topped with small pieces of grapefruit.

What a meal! What a spoiler as well! Coming to Germany from the US, the bread and the cheese are fantastic, and then you go to Paris, where they make Germany look American in comparison.

Apr 10, 2014

Lunch etc

Off to Paris tomorrow! We are taking the ICE high speed trains at 7 AM, so a very early morning. Actually, I've been going to sleep around 12-1am and waking up naturally between 630 and 700 so I'm a little tired. The problem is Camp Fox ( the new name of my house on Zeppelinstraße since its on the edge of a forest park), is that it gets a ton of morning light and I'm really sensitive to light while sleeping.

Poor Saori however, got 2 hours of sleep last night since she got up at 3AM to drive to Lausanne in Switzerland this morning for a meeting and got back late tonight. She's really wiped and loopy from the lack of sleep, and I imagine we will sleep on the train and call it early night tomorrow in Paris.

Today, I walked to the nearby grocery store for lunch with one of the interns, a young Mexican named Alejandro. Young Mexican men named Alejandro seem to be a recurring theme in this story. Anyway, he's from Monterrey and his roommate is also a Mexican intern working at Behnisch with Saori, so she actually knows Alejandro too.

Prepacked sandwich "club" with a logo which suggested that the designers thought that by "club" sandwich, the club in question was a cool urban nightclub. What's the etymology anyway? I thought it was like a country club speciality. Anyhow, we sat in the sun on the back patio of the office and chatted while we ate, splitting some gummy bears and a Ritter Sport.

Apr 7, 2014

Best and Worst

I've been in the close in city of Stuttgart for over two weeks now, which totally qualifies me to pass judgment. So here's a top and bottom five list!

Best things about living in Stuttgart
#1 Saori is here
#2 beer, bread, sausage, vegetables, and gummi bears are all amazing here
#3 the items in #2 are incredibly cheap
#4 the city is very easy to get around- walkable, dense, and well connected with mass transit.
#5 there's a vibrant sidewalk culture and pedestrian oriented shops, bars, and restaurants.

Worst things about living in Stuttgart
#1 Distance from friends and family.
#2 It's expensive to rent and to eat out. Really high rents in desirable areas, plus you have to pay brokerage fees of 2 months rent.
#3 All the stores are closed Sunday. Which means every Saturday is a frantic mess in the stores and out shopping. Königstr. becomes Harajukustraße.
#4 The language barrier gets old quickly. Really quickly.
#5 there's paperwork for everything. To get a monthly bus pass you have to first get a general bus pass form which you need a passport and a passport photo, and once you have THAT then you can load it up with the month pass. Which is not cheap.

Apr 5, 2014

First week of work done!

I finished my first week of work!

I showed up monday, bright and early to start on time and got an older computer across from a young woman from southern China, Xiao Wei, who speaks german fairly fluently for having lived here for five years, but is also studying part time as a student.

Leo, my direct boss, the argentine, sat down with me early monday and laid out the tasks at hand. They were just starting a competition and puting me and him on it full time.

The competition was for a new House of Music in Innsbruck, Austria, slated to replace a really awful 1950s era city hall in the middle of one of the best cultural centers of the city, just outside of one of the main portals to the Old City, and directly facing the imperial palace. So the location is incredible. The city looks adorable, actually, and its in a narrow mountain valley so you look up and see snow-capped peaks around you like a Sound of Music production set in Salt Lake City.

The problem is that the brief and all the supporting materials are in German. So it's kind of a stumble out of the gates since I have to Google Translate everything about the program, the intentions, the client, etc. So far this week, I spend most of the time getting to terms with the site- the relation to the city, to the mass transit system, the site history, pedestrian paths, what's around it, the style of the facades around it, those kind of things.

Friday, there was an all-staff meeting, and I got to see everyone at the office around one not so big table. There's only about a dozen of us, with J at the head of the table. He spoke on an off for about two hours, the meeting was entirely in German, and I struggled to keep my eyes from glazing over, to try to alertly pick out words from what he was talking about.

At one point, he said "Wasser dunkel braun" and I thought "OH! He said dark brown water!" and I felt really pleased with myself. It turned out he was giving a long lecture about how the office needs to work harder, the coffee from the machine sucks (dark brown water), and that if we win some competitions, he'll buy a better coffee machine.

Actually, he said that so many architects seem disillusioned, but that you need to "burn" for architecture, and that when he drives around at night, over to Behnisch architecture for example, the lights are still on and people are still working late into the night. He complained that the lack of dedication here meant that everyone was abandoning ship at six.

Aannnnnd I asked for next friday off.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...