Dec 27, 2014

Voyage to the Future!

Middle seat on a Delta time machine bound for the Future and possibly, Atlanta. I have finished re-reading Shrier's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, I have read finished another masterwork, SkyMall, and all the peanuts are gone. We are still sitting on the ground. At this rate, they will have to de-ice us again, resupply with provisions, replace the engines and airframe, distribute bifocals to those who didn't need them on boarding, and bring priests to baptize the new infants and bless the dead we stored in the overhead bins.

Over an hour after our scheduled departure we creep towards the runway, cargo bay loaded with luggage and a shrink wrapped Christmas present from Porsche which will arrive already qualified for antique plates. Just got an announcement that after the last two planes [ever manufactured] land, we can take off [before they destroy the runway to make room for Stuttgart's second spaceport].

Whee! The winter air roars by the plane as we rush into the aether and future!
[Live-blogging for future posting is a heady experience. It's almost like you are here with me, just several days ago (your time) when it actually happened. I am speaking directly to the future: If you find a way to reply, please let me know post-haste! -Ed.]

The cause of our delay is doubly frustrating.
After the coldest summer of my life, both of us were looking forward to a winter filled with icy wind, frosty panes, and picturesque German townscapes covered in snow. Instead, what we got was not markedly different from summer, except slightly colder and more damp. It poured on Christmas.

This morning, the day we both leave in the morning for international trips to visit family, it snowed. Several inches.

I called us a cab to take us to the airport, partly to save time, but also partly to save us from the 15 minutes of dragging our suitcases through the snow. Another side perk about Stuttgart: almost all the taxis here are Mercedes-Benz. The driver was also confounded by the white stuff on the ground- he drove so slowly the entire way to the airport, it would have been faster to walk. I wasn't disappointed, however. This was the first time for me to snow in Stuttgart, and I held Saori's hand as we watched the snowy city and hills drift by.

This was the city that Saori landed at nearly two years ago. A cab ride from the airport to an unfamiliar town covered in snow. At the airport, we just had time for some coffee after I checked in before I had to jump in the security line. The security line was not so bad, and then there was another at the gate where I cleared immigration. The flight is full and we still have another nine hours to go. Time enough for another story.

Dec 25, 2014

Yule

Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Hanukkah, and good tidings for Festus or whatever festival you celebrate which nearly coincides with the winter solstice.

Christmas in Germany is really interesting for one it is incredibly secular. There are scant references to Jesus or the nativity (although Christmas trees are called Christ-child trees) which is in part due to the years of Nazi rule which pushed a secular or even pre-Christian pagan tradition, which was believed to be more purely "Aryan" or authentically German. Songs such as O Tannenbaum are closer references to pagan yuletide tree worship (Yule log, anyone?) than the Christ story.

The second thing is there is not even a nod to Hanukkah here. No dreidels or menorahs at the Christmas markets. No happy Hanukkah cards at the grocery stores. Granted, after the attempted genocide against the Jews in Germany, probably there are not many living here. Perhaps too, there is the shame and crassness of an attempt to mainstream a Jewish festival. But then again, the religiosity of the festival here is really downplayed.

I took a half day off Tuesday, and Saori and I did the last bit of shopping runs. That night, we invited over Xenia and another one of Saori's coworkers and we taught them to make s'mores over the fire and I  listened to them gossip and bitch about work while we drank lots of wine.

I was badly hung over the first part of Wednesday, Christmas Eve day, but Saori made me bacon and eggs and I started feeling better. We cleaned house and then went for a stroll in the woods where I scrounged around for firewood that wasn't too wet. That night, I made a penne bake with roasted zucchini and bell peppers, with lots of mozzarella and Gouda cheese. Turned out pretty good actually. We lit another small fire and then fell asleep watching Charlie Brown Christmas specials and How the Grinch stole Christmas.

This morning, we got up and made coffee and opened presents under the tree. Saori got me a great memory foam pillow and warm socks, and I gave her some Chanel lipstick and a big aloe plant. I also got some cards and other presents from my other two grandmother's. I made a breakfast egg scramble which was festively colored with green peppers and red tomatoes and we cleaned the house again. Skyped mom but didn't get a hold of dad.

Tonight, we hosted a Mexican dinner for Lina and A, the two teenaged (well, Lina just turned 20) daughters of my boss. They brought some mean guacamole and chips and a bean Chile, and I provided the main dishes of pork and potato Colorado and quick fried zucchini with garlic. Everything was really good and we washed it all down with tequila and mezcal.

Now its nearly 3AM and everyone is passed out on the floor around the low table where we ate. I'm happy we have enough pillows and comforters for our guests. The girls are taking off to Austria tomorrow so I shouldn't let them sleep in too late. But for now:
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Dec 22, 2014

I must stop Christmas from coming! I need more time!

The weekend flew by. Friday, I brought Saori a coffee to her office after I got off work. My new nickname at her office is 'The Starbucks Angel.' Saori has been loaded with work since her competition team all got sick and then the office put her in charge of leading the team. Friday was many people's last day before the holidays, and several interns were also leaving. Saori, seriously sleep deprived all week and continually interrupted by merry well-wishers, was pulling an Ebeneezer Scrooge since she was so frustrated. "I just need to get this file out!" she snapped at anyone who ventured forward offering beer, wine, cookies, or other winter treats.

I hung around since she was almost done, and then we hit the grocery store before heading home and Saori made us Japanese curry for dinner.

Saturday was a whirl. I made us a late breakfast and then we caught up with Apo for coffee in Stadtmitte before he took off for Greece. Then Saori and I split up to go Christmas shopping, fighting off the crowds and plunging headlong into the riotous and tumultuous stores.  We shopped for a few hours and met up again before becoming too tired to continue and we headed home.

Sunday Saori had to go into work in the morning after I made us a quick breakfast and mochas. I lit out for the last day of the Esslingen Christmas Market. This was my favorite one in the Stuttgart area. Most cities add a gimicky twist to thier markets to make them distinctive- Esslingen wins. It was a medieval themed market, and the heart of the market was a cross between a Christmas market and a pre-renaissance festival. People were dressed up in costumes, there was delicious food everywhere. Tons of wood crafts, leather craft, pottery, skulls and flags fluttering in the breeze. A lot of fun.

That night, we invited Rosario and her friend, another Argentine, over to dinner. I made a vegetable stew with the leftover lamb fat I'd been saving, and it was really really good, especially after I added some Harissa paste and tomato paste. Rosario was Saori's team mate when we were all Seniors in Buenos Aires, eight years ago. It was surreal to see her again. She did get a kick out of seeing my Claudio tee shirt (which for other surreal reasons, has also survived eight years and somehow made it into the limited clothing supply I've been suitcasing around since we packed up our apartment in St. Louis two years ago).

Dec 18, 2014

Alsace

Friday was a slightly crazy scramble as we finished not one but two competitions. Slightly crazy, since one of the lead architects was going to Argentina the next day and we seriously needed to be done with these projects at a reasonable time.

Friday was also Oscar the Mexican intern's last day. He brought in pastel azteca which he described as Mexican lasagna and made for us. His parents had brought him Mexican corn tortillas to use so it was nice to have that special taste again. Mez made refried beans and salsa, although none of it was very spicy.

I did have the dubious distinction of being the first to take a shot of the Mezcal that Oscar brought along at the office lunch.

After work, Ola, the Polish work-student, and I went with Oscar to his WG and we had a round or two more of Mezcal and chatted with his roommates about theater therapy. Saori was working like mad on a competition but she shot me a text if I wanted to go to Strasbourg the next morning. I said, sure, so I headed home early after saying vaya con dios to Oscar.

Saturday morning we got up a little after six am to meet up with Saori's coworkers for the car trip to France. There were five of us, all girls except me, and all of different nationalities. They rented a little car and we hit the road for the hour and a half ride to Strasbourg. It's still a little strange for me to think that France is closer than Tucson is to Phoenix.

Crossing into France is easy and happens in an eyeblink. EU is EU so no stops, no checks, no giant fences. You cross the Rhine and boom all the signage is in French. It's really bizarre actually that there is not even a buffer zone with dual languages, like in the area close to the border of the US.

Anyway, first stop was the modern art museum which was really nice. Definitely worth a second visit. Afterwards, Natasha, the French(ish) who went to school there, took us on a walk through the city to a big restaurant called Ancienne Douane. It's a sprawling place, tons of tourists, but the food is really quite good and Alsatian specialties. I got a kind of pork knuckle with tons of sauerkraut, and then a giant dessert which was a kind of tall sponge cake absolutely soaked in rum.

We took the scenic route through the city afterwards to get to the start of the Christmas market in the late afternoon. The Christmas market in Strasbourg blows away Stuttgart in all aspects except for the gl├╝hwine. Here they were serving it too in cheap plastic cups rather than the traditional glass or pottery mugs that are returnable everywhere. The decorations were totally over the top. Lights and decorations everywhere. Giant Christmas trees, cobblestone streets brilliantly lit with the alley overhead strung with lights. It's what I imagine Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley would be like Christmastime in Potterworld. Absolutely packed however. One particularly festive and picturesque alleyway was so packed we were all literally shuffling along bumping into one another. We all got lost a few times when we were separated.

We shopped and drank and fought the crowds/took photos of the decorations until well after dark, and then hit a giant French grocery store on our way out of Strasbourg. I picked up a few beers although the selection was not as good as I had been hoping. We did get some good cheeses and a few bottles of wine as well.

I was so exhausted I fell asleep in the middle seat of the car a few times. We drove north on the German side, and then when Flammkuchen was proposed, a regional dish on both sides of the border, we hopped back across the border to a small village eatery on the French side, which really reminded me of the old village British pubs. Flammkuchen is like a flatbread pizza, but with cream or other types of white cheeses like roquefort instead of a tomato sauce topping. Really good stuff.

Anyway, I fell asleep again on the drive back so before I realized, we were already on the outskirts of Stuttgart and it was a little after 1am.

Dec 10, 2014

Warm fuzzies

What can I say about police killing black people? People are fooling themselves if they think an indictment means justice. There are so many factors at play here and they are all connected. There is a problem in the black community - a feeling of victimization and a lack of strong social structures. Poverty and crime are correlated: in the US you are penalized for being poor, and the most penalized are black people. The cops killing and hurting black people are a very small minority but they are allowed to act with impunity. Something like 4% in the NYPD produce all of the resisting arrest charges, which are slapped on when there is a violent encounter. The basic problem is that there is deep rooted unfairness in our economic system, and a latent racism which exacerbates the problem.

All I can say about the latest report on CIA torture is that they seem to be taking a page from Stalin's NKVD, especially in regards to methods and practices. No oversight, no restraint, no accountability, no humanity.

I love the US, but I have been ashamed of our dangerously backwards nation. We are the redneck of the world, the United States of Azerbaijan.

Dec 8, 2014

Krampus watch

Tired is the watchword of the week.

Saori jumped back to work this week, and she was rewarded with her own team of five architects and one intern to command in this competition. She is a little overwhelmed but I am sure it will be great experience.

We are roaring ahead with two competitions both aiming to finish this friday, which is why sunday I put in a full day at the office.

Today was interesting- I saw the most peculiar round shiny thing in the sky. For a few moments, the clouds parted, and it was glowing, incredibly bright, and it bathed parts of the city in a warm light. It made me feel oddly happy, and it stirred vague recollections that I might have seen it somewhere before.

Tonight there is the first freeze warning of the season. The low chance of sleet was downgraded to a "winter shower." Damp cold is about as enjoyable as wet socks.

We have been accessorizing our home out of the winter blues- we went to the Christmas market in Ludwigsburg saturday. This Christmasmarket advertised itself as the "Baroque" Weihnachtsmarkt. The one in nearby Esslingen is billed as the "Medieval" Weihnachtsmarkt, and honestly they all sell the same stuff as the one in Stuttgart's city center.

Ludwigsburg was a nice change of scenery at any rate. We got a hot steak sandwich with onions from one of the many grills set up, and that was really, really good. We also ended up buying a small iron owl lantern for our chabudai (low Japanese table) as well as some yunomi (hand thrown teacups.

Friday night was St. Nickolas day, when kids traditionally put out their shoes, and St. Nick fills them with chocolate and small presents if they are good. I have a pair of boots, but Saori's are nicer, so I borrowed hers to set out for the night.

We both got each other little presents and opened them saturday morning. I don't know if we are just getting old or what, but we were both really happy that we gave each other thick warm socks. Saori also picked up a star paper lantern. These are really cool traditional decorations, in warm bright colors, which come with bulb and cords and you hang them up in the window. Now we have two stars, a red and a white one, both lit and hanging from the ceiling lamp, and they give a really nice and festive atmosphere.

I was a little bummed I missed the festivities around St. Nick's day. In Southern Germany across to Hungary, there is a tradition about St. Nickolas and his counterpart, the Krampus. Google Krampus and you will see why it never really spread far from its origins in these old tribal areas. It was some kind of demon from pagan mythology, traditionally depicted with horns, goat legs, and a long, long tongue. It carries birtch bundles (a holdover from tree-worship rites) which it uses to swat children. Typically, it is also shown wearing shackles (Christianity shackled the monster), and with a basket or washtub on its back to cart off misbehaving children to be eaten or to Hell. In the US, we say, work hard and behave or Santa will leave you coal. In Germany, they tell their kids that a hideous monster will eat them. It's all kind of taken in the same spirit as Santa Claus by the kids- some are terrified, some are wildly amused, many are dubious, all depending on age. Anyway, last year, Saori saw a procession in the city center of kids in demon costumes being "attacked" by a Krampus.

So right now, I am lightly tracing pagan rites and mythologies of southern Germanic peoples. As an American, both paternal lines lead back to Enland, and it is very likely that I have deep and old Germanic bloodlines through both the Saxon invasion of England and Norman vikings. There is nothing so mystical about blood, however, compared to language.

If we accept that language affects the way we perceive and respond to  the world, then I cannot help but conclude that with the persistence of old Germanic in modern English, there may also be lingering modes of thought, deep structures of understanding which also persist, handed down embedded in the language itself. Saori is a different person in Japanese, and I am a different person in Spanish. Language is not just a hat you put on but a close-fitting suit which nudges you in certain directions.

Dec 4, 2014

Table talk

Last week, after sending some stuff off in the mail, I was walking around Neckarstraße, which has a nice immigrant neighborhood feel, and I stumbled across a second hand store tucked around the back of a building. They had some interesting things, a lot of crap, and a really cool low wooden coffee table, 80cm on each side, buried under a big old TV. In Spanish, I asked the owner how much it was.
Very cheap, he assured me, €10. What could I do but buy it then and there on my lunch break?

I could have waited for the weekend and someone to help me carry the damn thing, for one. Still weak and recovering from being sick, I lugged the table up the hill to my office on my back, taking occasional breaks sitting on the table. I ended up stashing it in the office and taking it on the bus back home. The stairs were less of a problem than I expected.

It looks great in the apartment. Saori said it's the perfect size and height for a typical Japanese table, and I've been very happy eating and drinking around it, just sitting on a mat on the floor. The funny thing is that it matches the old record player cabinet perfectly, and probably originated in the 1950s as well.

Work has been really busy with not one but two competitions aiming to be completed next friday.

Dec 2, 2014

better off outside

Nearly a month and a half ago, one of our friends sent us a Facebook invite to an Outdoor Film Festival, and I remember thinking, hmmm late November... and it's going to be outside? It turns out, the film festival is about outdoor films, specifically adventure sports short films. Festival is a traveling production, a big thing that plays across Europe and sponsored by outdoorsy corporations like Mammut and North Face and Victorianox etc.

Our friend got us tickets to the sold out performance in Stuttgart, which cost about $20. It was less about our desire to see adventure sports films than the enthusiasm of our friends, to speak plainly.

On arrival at the venue, most people there were wearing extremely sporty clothing.  Wool coats like mine were few and far between compared to the sea of Gore-Tex and hiking boots.

There were nine of us so we had to grab seats at the very very top row of the top balcony. I actually didn't mind so much being more removed from the screen.

The best thing you could say about the films were that they were short. They mostly fell into two categories: overly long music videos featuring spliced together clips of people doing extreme sports with no apparent coherance or narrative, and longer, more narrative films about people who work very hard to do stupid things. The first category was just insipid, just a few moments of nice images or concept. The four most notable films from the latter catorgy were:

A guy climbs a big mountain in Mexico without a rope. This was actually my favorite. Straightforward, simple, and you hear the climber and the videographer/route prep guy talk about it.

An ice climber pressing his aging condition (and luck) attempts to set and climb a big waterfall in the middle of winter in British Columbia. The best thing about it was the way the German subtitles dropped his frequent and colorful exclamations.

Four grrrrls attempt to paddle from Mongolia to the Pacific via some rivers.  Good! Travel adventure! This was almost my favorite until it devolved into being about feelings. The feelings were so high that one of the girls left halfway to go home based on feelings with lots of hand-wringing all around, and then due to flooding and Russia being Russia they pretty much all ended up flying home after the halfway mark anyway.

A British high school dropout likes to climb very tall construction cranes and hang off them to the horror of his mother, who claims that she can't do anything about it. After doing some more stupid, suicidal things in the Ukraine, he beings to think about how his mom might feel about the matter. I guess Parkour is outdoor adventure sports, so it squeaks in. My second favorite in the fest, actually.

I don't really get the appeal of the film fest, actually. I think the whole thing is more of a scene the more I think about it, like a place be a big adventure sports enthusiast. Here I am, celebrating Adventure Sports with my fellow sporting types.

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...