Jul 29, 2014

The Layabout

Saori told me that yesterday the apartment owner told her that Fathi, their Turkish flatmate, told her that he thought I was coming over to Saori's house too often. Was it actually Fathi or was it the apartment owner who would like to see less of me? Fathi likes to complain about the noise and as strict Muslim, he doesn't really approve of the boyfriend sleepover anyway. Actually could have been either.

I usually spend Friday and Saturday nights over at Saori's place- last weekend was an exception since I stayed Sunday, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the fourth person in the apartment in the morning getting ready for work was the breaking straw.

So no more weekday visits, and I may just stay away this weekend as well. There's really nothing like hearing that the flatmates think you're visiting too often to make you feel like a drug addict Hell's Angel boyfriend from last month's bar visit.

Anyway. Made pasta for Chandra and Shiva tonight. Fried up some garlic and onion, threw in some chopped tomatoes with basil, some spoonfuls of tomato pesto paste, and topped it all with some arugula. Good stuff. Shiva was still out at a party but I saved him some and when he came back he gratefully dove in. It feels nice to repay them for the many times I've come back from the office late and they've got some curry on the stove or in the fridge.

Today, I left my room open since representatives of the lawyer who now controls this house came to visit and appriase the building. I've heard various things from Shiva: the owner had to sell it to the bank to pay off loans, the house is going to be destroyed, etc. etc. The latest however is that the apartment is going to stay as it is until January, which gives me a bit more flexibility in finding an apartment with Saori.
But damn, I am so ready to be done apartment hunting. The tenant should get in contact with the landlord tomorrow, enshallah, and hopefully I'll have some good news in a week or so.

Also on my mind is my brother Taylor- if I am vain enough to compare myself to Sherlock Holmes, Tay is surely Mycroft. My brother is in the midst of taking the Indiana State Bar. I cannot communicate my pride in him- he has dedicated so many years of study, discipline, and exertion in his career, and this is one of the major waypoints along his path. It feels unreal to be so far apart from him for these big moments. I can't wait to see him again, and I really do not wish for it to be in a year's time.

Jul 28, 2014

Frankenstein

One of the most challenging things about Stuttgart is getting excited about it.

I like living in cities where people get excited about the place they are living. People in Phoenix argue back and forth about how much they hate the sprawl vs the urban renaissance the city is undergoing, all true Parisians turn their noses up at the Ile de France (so trite, so overrun), Portenos take to the streets to protest the conditions of city life, Berliners complain about the lack of jobs while the city is apparently an endless party, even Municher's grouse about Munich not being all that great.

People in Stuttgart shrug and and amiably admit that maybe there's a few too many Turks begging and there needs to be more housing in Stuttgart West, but everyone agrees that Stuttgart is a nice place to live. You can say it's got a bit of charm, that it has a bit of a village feel to it.

Probably one of the more interesting things about it is that there are so many people living in the Stuttgart area and there is so much money and industrial power concentrated here, and all of it is focused into an area at the center only a few square miles in size- but for all of it, phenomenally banal! The streets fill with people, the lifeblood of cities, undertaking their lives, going to meet lovers, pick up children, find objects of their desire, spy on governments, hussle, and pick up an armfull of pretzls for breakfast. Cities are made of relationships between people, and there is so much going on here. Sundays in the middle of the city stagger me- it's largely a shopping and office district, and everything save a few small cafes and bars are closed. But the streets are full of people. They come to Stadtmitte because the life of the city is concentrated there, in the other people.

Stuttgart is a corpse with strongly beating heart.

The ideal city is different to everyone. For Swabians, I think of the SNL sketch "Cooking with the Anal-Retentive Chef". The Schwabian ideal is to work really hard for your entire life and to buy a house and keep it clean and organized. Germans in general don't really like to cook and it shows in the cuisine and daily life. They enjoy a coffee and cake, and their bakers are damned fine, but excitement and fun must be kept within strict hours. The morning after they won the world cup might have been any other morning. The city is German by consensus: neat, orderly, and pretty.

Note to self: write something later, not here, about the relationship betwen crisis and city.

Jul 26, 2014

Apartment hunting

We may have found an apartment.

Saori has a coworker, Natasha, whose former landlord called to offer Natasha a dachgeschoss (rooftop apartment). Natasha said no thanks, but passed along the info to Saori, and together we got in contact with the current tenant, who agreed to show us the place.

The apartment is located in a great location, a few minutes from where I can pick up a bus directly to my office, close to the center of Stuttgart West.

It's a lot of stairs. The apartment is on the top level of at least a six or seven story old building. This height, combined with the slight incline of the street, gives the apartment amazing views all around and across Stuttgart. It's well within our price range, no booking fees, comes with a kitchen, and its got a big terrace and a ladder for secretly climbing on the roof (probably not actually allowed). It's not so big, but the flow is great and it has tons of built in storage, a rarity in Stuttgart.

Saori and I are both over the moon about this place, but we have to wait and see what the landlord says. The tenant is nice, and we connected well- he's moving in with his girlfriend so he wanted to have the flexibility of a month or two to move, which works fine for us.

It's not a done deal until we have the contract- but its really exciting we are both "pressing our thumbs" as the Germans say. Actually the Japanese also do the same action for good luck, opposed to the American finger-crossing.

Behnisch's Brobdingnabian Boozy Birthday Bonanza

Saori's office, Behnisch, turned 25 years old this year, and to celebrate, they brought all three of their offices, amounting to over 200 people, here to Stuttgart to celebrate. The folks from the Munich office didn't have much of a trek- they hopped on a train and were here in two hours. Behnisch also took the trouble to fly over the entire Boston office for the weekend as well, and to put them up in hotels here in town.

For the party, they appropriated the wide alley in front of their office with a custom plywood steps as benches and tables. They created three shallow kiosks, really just plywood facades to serve as a stand, which were themed to the three cities- Boston, Stuttgart, and Munich. The Boston stand, which was painted with city landmarks, the stars and stripes, made me oddly nostalgic for that city. I think it was also in part to the big blue Red Sox baseball cap decal, which was identical to the one I wore three years ago in my internship in that city. The stand served mini-burgers and Sam Adams Boston Lager (where the hell did they did up several cases of that???). The german cities served up the local brews and local foods- Stuttgart with its Maultaschen (thick, baked and sliced raviolis) and Fleishsalat (think potato salad, but with chopped ham and baloney standing in for potatoes).

They strung lines up and covered the lines with plastic to keep Stuttgarts notorious weather at bay and filled the canopy with white paper lanterns. The big conference room on the ground floor was converted into a bar and dance floor with a stage, silver foil streamers covering the walls, and mood lighting. They also hired two bands, both of which had members who worked at Behnisch.

There was beer by the keg and case, crates of wine, platters of meat and sausage, and to top it all off, a giant cake in the form of the latest big Behnisch project.

My office had a dinner, painfully coincidentally on the same night. However, it was just a "lets get to know each other better and socialize a bit" kind of thing basically organized by the two lead architects. The principal wasn't there- as an old friend and coworker of Mr. Behnisch, he went to the big Behnisch blowout.

Our office dinner was at "Lucky Hans" upscale burgers. I got a pretty decent chicken burger actually, since their beef burgers are not all that great. It was fun though, even though we had to cover the meal ourselves, and afterwards, I quickly excused myself to go join the big party.

The party was in full swing when I arrived a little after nine, and I ended up staying until around 2 o clock in the morning before heading back home. After a few people comment that you look like you're falling asleep, it's probably time to take the hint.

Magnum, the ice cream manufacturers, also rolled up a full deli case full of ice cream bars and cups- across the world, if you notice, they are also celebrating 25 years this year with special champagne flavored treats.

It was a rough morning, but I whipped up some fried eggs and bacon on top of german toast and with some strong coffee and copious quantities of water, I was able to cut through the worst of the gastro-cerebellar discomfort.

Jul 24, 2014

books and language

I just finished reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for probably the third or fourth time, not including the many times I read the children's illustrated version. It's still surprising to me how easily and quickly it transports me to a world of submarine adventures. I wonder though how Capt. Nemo is read in school these days, if its a read at all. Although he is an extremist anarchist, a thief, and very likely a major funder of conflict, I do not think you can correctly label him as a terrorist. There are no demands, no publicly stated positions, no brand or identity. Even to the closest passenger aboard the Nautalis, Nemo's agenda and motivations remain unclear. Is Captain Nemo a terrorist? 1000 words for next friday's class. Scifi Lit 101.

Actually I've been on a bit of a fiction bender lately, probably to escape the stresses of apartment hunting and the acclimatization to Stuttgart. I re-read Dan Simmon's Hyperion, but in a strange way: Simmon's tends to get too carried away in the genre characterizations, and I feel like I've read the book too many times, so I skipped all the individual stories and just read the frame text. I finished the book in about a day in this way. And then I found myself going back and re-reading all the individual stories anyway.

Saori bought us a softcover copy of Pamuk's My Name is Red which won a nobel prize for literature. It's an intriguing book so far, about religious art, the conflict between east and west, the nature of duty. It's probably the only murder mystery where you find out who committed the murder in the first twenty pages and then the rest (so far) seems to be about the why.

One of the principal difficulties of Stuttgart is the language barrier. Everything that needs to get done for living requires this difficult enterprise of understanding and being understood. Yes, many Germans speak English, but it gets really wearing when every time you get past the first sentence, you have to trot out "sprechen sie Englisch?" I should not compare Mexico with Germany, but in Mexico, if you are a spanish-speaking gringo, you are kind of a rock star. If you look anglo-europeanish in Germany and you can stammer out a few German phrases, you are kind of an idiot.

So learn the language. I know. We are trying.

Saori and I went to IFA, the "best" langauge school. But classes don't start until october and it's over 200 euro a month. I'd be willing to pay, but I just want to get started sooner.

So we went to the cut rate school, Hanke-Schulungen, and they have classes which start at the beginning of september I am thinking of joining. One hot weekday afternoon, Saori and I sacraficed our lunch hour to sit in a stuffy hot room and take a German grammar test for placement purposes. After the class in Ahwatukee, the months of study on my own, four months of living in Germany, they advised me to start at the very beginning of their beginner course. It wasn't discouraging in the least.

fish night

Last saturday, I hiked back up camp Fox to pick up the white sangria I left melding in the fridge. One of the best things about Stuttgart is that the white wines here are good and relatively cheap. Like a few bucks for a bottle that will blow away anything under the $12 bottle line at your grocery store.

Chandra and Shiva were eating a breakfast of curried rice flakes, apparently a traditional breakfast dish, and they shared some with me before Giovanni came to pick us up.

The bearded Greek rolled up to the curb with only the passenger side window open. Clenching a cigarette in his teeth, he motioned franticaly to his side: "there is a monster on the side mirror!" We walked around the tiny car to investigate. A grasshopper. A small grasshopper. I flicked it away and we jumped in.

We rendezvoused first at the Mexican's apartment and met up with Oscar, the intern from my office, another Mexican girl, and some other friends, and we caravaned down to the fish market in Bad Canstatt across the Neckar river. There is a gourmet store there with a cold room where really fresh fish are sold. Our group bought calimari, a big octopus, several whole fish for grilling, a bag of clams, a veritable haul.
Next stop was the big box Turkish grocery store where everything was super cheap with good vegetables. Made me miss having a car to get out to these suburban stores. Sometimes.

Stopped first at the Greek's for some coffee and chatting while Apostolos finished getting ready and then we headed back to the Mexicans. There, I pulled out the sangria, and everyone jumped around the tiny kitchen making their dishes. Saori helped Gio make a clam riosotto, which was the best dish of the night. There were grilled whole fish, Mexican pacific coast style cerviche, octopus and potato, and cakes for dessert. During cooking, between rounds of eating, we all sat around chatting, staring out the window, playing board games, drinking. It was like we were all at a summer beach house someplace lazy and warm.

We stayed through sunset, through karioke games where the system was pre-loaded with awful unsingable music designed to get you to buy better stuff, and through an equally awful horror movie Insidious in German without subtitles. Actually I think it was scarier that way since apparently the script was just awful.

We left around 3 am, and got back to Saori's place around 4. The subway was still running thankfully which shaved off some time, but not much.

Between the fish night and two visits the Hamburger Fish Market, this has been a month of stocking up on fish.

Jul 20, 2014

World cup final

We were invited out by some of Saori's coworkers to watch the World Cup final Sunday night. The time we were originally going to meet was at 5, but that got pushed back to 7. Five pm might have been realistic if we really wanted to get seats, but none of us were dedicated enough to jam in to packed bar for the four hours leading up to the start of the game.

The city was in a festive mood- many of the Germans I know where surprised and slightly disconcerted by all the flag waving, signing, and black, red, and yellow face paint I saw everywhere. Even three generations removed from the rise of Nazism, there is still a sense of taboo to overt signs of nationalism. Or at least it's seen as a fine line.

Of course when we got to the bar, a big old one off of the central square, it was long since packed, with patrons seated inside ducking out to take more chairs from the outdoor seating.

We joined the throngs to walk over to the Schlossgarten biergarten, but that was even more packed. They were so crowded in the outdoor park, they were turning people away. The crowds seated everywhere, filling the entire park as far as the eye could see. Already, chants were going around.

We finally grabbed one of the last tables at an outdoor patio of a fancy Italian restaurant by the hauptbahnhof, which was largely overlooked by the crowds. It was a good spot, amazing for the last minute grab. Waiters in black bow ties and white shortsleeves brought us German beers and a good but wildly overpriced club sandwich.

The game kicked off to a good start, but got bogged down in the second half when it began to rain lightly in the patio. A German goal in extra time clinched the deal and the patio exploded.

Shortly after, everyone left to begin celebrating, including the wait staff, leaving our group the last people hanging around watching the award ceremony on the still running projection screen.

Saori and I split from the group and walked through the city. The streets became a mixture of impromptu parade and street party. It was actually quite irritating to me because of the constant honking, and random bang fireworks going off in the street. And all the drunk celebratants. I wish I could have gotten into it more, but I was just tired, and secretly kind of releived that the World Cup was over.

Jul 9, 2014

Best thing about Germany

Let's get the obvious out of the way first: it's not the beer. While Deutchland brews some pretty tasty pilsners and weisen beers, they basically gave up trying around the same time of the protestant reformation. First, there's a complete lack of variety. There are two types of beers here, and about five or six subcategories: pilsners and wiesens. The Germans may have made it to the moon first, but they gave up exploring the rest of the solar system. One of our American friends lamented, "You ask for something other than a Weisen and they ask you why." To be honest, I've had German style beer in the US which is much better than anything I've tasted here.

The bread culture here is pretty good. I don't know of any other country which lives in such a close relationship with bakeries. Germany's relationship to bakeries is kind of like Mexico and taco stands. The bread is very very good. Far superior to the US. However, it still pales in comparison to the Parisian bakeries. Next to Les Pains du Idees from the Canal St. Martin district, the bakeries here might as well package their loaves in Rainbow Bread sleeves and leave it for the ducks.

The highly lauded social welfare state earns high marks, but insurance coverage is still expensive, largely dependent on employment status, and highly bureaucratic. A friend of mine tried to go to the emergency room, really really sick, but he was turned away because he didn't have the proper referral form from one of the doctor's clinics. Which only have regular business hours. Which means M-F and maybe saturday morning.

It's not the progressive politics and policies. While a model of internationalism, international asylum, global ethics, and individal rights and privacies, Germany is shuttering it's nuclear power plants to pursue wind and solar. In a country without much of either, the only altnerative, coal is making a huge rebound.

It's not the mountains, pretty as they are, nor the forests, which are as lush as can be imagined. It's probably not the storied philosophical culture or literature. It's definitely not Germany's contribution to the mechanical industries or sciences, notable as they are.

I would even have to say that the best thing about Germany is not even the gummy bears, although they are the best in the world.

The best thing about Germany is Fleischkase (flysch-kayzuh). Imagine the best hot dog you've ever had, the size of a loaf of bread, and roasted. They slice this massive hot dog loaf into slices 3/4" thick and sandwich it between some delicious German white bread, and slathered in spicy mustard. It's the best thing about Germany.

World Cup without Mercy

Tuesday night found Saori and I scrambling over the phone and skype, tying to line up someplace to watch the semi-finals. In case you haven't been following the World Cup, or as they call it in German, die Weltmeisterschaftundeinbierbittedanke (WM for short), Germany has steadily been advancing as a serious contender for the title. They''re the least cheered for group in the running, I think. It's not that German football has made so many enemies, but rather how German the team plays.

There was a meme floating around facebook (in Spanish, no doubt circulated by the Mexicans who have long had good feelings for Germany): Brazil has Neymer, Argentina has Messi, Portugal has Ronaldo: Germany has a team. It's a valid point, especially in this world cup. German play is tight, controlled, team-based, undramatic, fair, and completely ruthless. There's little of the hero worship and much fewer "personalities" wearing the black, red, and yellow. It's great soccer served cold.

Anyway, we got a new intern at the office, Oscar, who is also Mexican and a classmate of Alejandro and Alfredo. He was kind enough to invite us to his friend's get together at a burger restaurant, where I was told, there would be some Mexicans and a few reserved tables to watch the game. Inside is key, considering how cold and rainy it is in Stuttgart right now. Seriously, I wore three layers today and wished I had a fourth. Fucking German summer.

I met Saori at the Restaurant, an upscale burger joint called Hans-Im-Gluck. The floor was sanded plywood panels and the interior was filled with young birch tree trunks. It was actually kind of a cool effect, but I have no idea what they have to do with burgers.

It turned out that the group was a mix of people who barely knew each other, mostly young engineer interns. At our table was Oscar, who speaks envious German, and two German guys who really struggled with english (but whose English was still better than my German!). Anyway, I tried to converse with them as best as possible. After years of awkward silence, I'm getting better at small talk in different languages. I get a lot of questions and talk about Arizona a lot. It's an easy topic to speak about with lots of good learner words. "Hot" "Desert" "Mountains" etc.

Anyway, we had a great seat for the world cup, and after we ordered some burgers and fries and beers, the game started soon enough.

Sometimes you do something and you are stunned to realize how much you missed doing it. I had that feeling when I ran in the woods the other day. Last night, it was the act of eating a hamburger with french fries and a beer. The burger wasn't even that good, but everything together was like mana for the soul.

A color stick was tossed around our area of the restaurant. This clever thing is a super basic grease facepaint in german black, red, and yellow, like a tiny deoderant stick. We swiped it across our cheeks and foreheads to make Deutschland banners.

The game was unforgettable. The first ten minutes were incredibly fast and aggressive on both sides. And then Germany scored. Everyone went nuts, shouting and hugging and high fiving and whooping. And thence proceeded the merciless opening of the can of whoop-ass on the Brazilians who were running around, looking like they'd recently assumed human form and were still trying to figure out how everything worked.

It was surreal and felt like an elaborate hoax. No one could believe it. We all settled into the long game, celebrating each new goal less and less. At the end, we even applauded the lone Brasilian goal.

We cashed out and hit the streets of the city. If Germany is the country of cars, this city is the center of car culture. The spark plug and the first combustion engine driven vehicle were invented here, and the companies which made them drive the local economy. So when Stuttgarters celebrate, they do so behind the wheel on the blacktop.

The center was full of choked streets, filled with cars blasting their horns, people waving giant flags out windows and moon roofs, making noise, chanting, whooping. In the yellow light of the street lamps, the city actually cordoned off a street to contain the massive crowds which flooded the center, mostly to watch the impromptu parade of cars.

Germany won, which means they're going to the final, Sunday, and now we're looking for a place to watch them.

Jul 3, 2014

Segway to stereotypes

Feeling a little under the weather today. Hope I'm not coming down with whatever Saori had a week or so ago. I think it's the combination of too little sleep plus way way to much meat last saturday.

Anyway, Shiva perscribed a stomach remedy from India that I tried out tonight: chugging straight ghee (clarified butter). Just kidding. The rememdy was basically a tisane of cumin seeds. You just boil them on the stove for about five minutes and drink the resulting brownish beverage, discarding the seeds. We'll see if it works.

Today the bus broke down on the way from the office, so I walked back to the main station, no more than ten minutes of walking. On my way, I was passed by a convoy of Segway tourists.

Watching them go by, I was struck by the fact that the Segway was really perfect for Germans. Here you have a culture which has no shame in how they look, driven by utlity, and with a fascination for all things mechanical, in a compact, pedestrian-friendly urban environment. German's really don't care how they look as long as it makes sense. Yes, Hugo Boss is an exception, but now I understand why the line is monochrome. There are many more people here in cargo shorts and hiking sandals than I ever saw in the US, and that includes myself who spent most of my late childhood wearing that exact same thing.

Kick scooters as adult transportation, which had a quick run on college campuses and in silicon valley for a memebeat or two, is widely prevailant here. Every day, I see someone dressed in business casual or even in a suit, thrusting themselves along the street to their place of gainful employment. I actually like the idea: I'd probably consider getting one except for the fact that the only parts of the city that aren't city center are uphill.

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. What that means here is that German plays France in the World Cup. I'd say that it's going to be a crazy time here, but these are Germans we are talking about here. If Juri's Boys are victorious, there will be a lot of whooping and hollering, and people will drive around with german flags streaming out of their car windows and honk some, but that will be it. There will not be things set on fire. There will be no climbing of street signage. They may not care about how they dress or how they appear on various forms of transit, but there is a heavy and ingrained sense of order and decorum. Society must be maintained.

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...