Dec 28, 2015

Ski trip

We got up extra early to see mom and Larry off. Their flight home was also through Provo, so Brenda had to drive them all the way down there. Once again, the plane broke, so poor mom and Larry were basically stranded for six hours at the tiny airport until the next flight. Needless to say, they will not be flying Allegiant again.

Tay didn’t bring long underwear with him, so he had to borrow my star-spangled tights from the party as an under layer. Surprisingly, I had thought enough to throw in some old silk long underwear from our Beijing days, and some ski socks so I was pretty set. When Aunt Brenda got back, we loaded up the gear and hit the trail. It was a gorgeous sunday. Sunny, cold, but not too cold. There was a lot of traffic heading up the hill, but it moved pretty well.

We already had our tickets, a RFID tagged card, so we were able to bypass the throngs of people buying tickets and renting equipment. The card system was new to me. I had seen it before in Abu Dhabi’s indoor skiing, but the last time I was out on the slopes in real snow, I had a barcode that had to be scanned. Now you just pass through these reader gates and it beeps and opens up for you. Speeds things up a lot.

Saori skiied with me, Brenda, and David, and Tay snowboarded. Both of us remembered pretty well how to ski given the three years. I said we should start with a green, but David took us immedately to the blues, which turned out to be just the right thing since it was an easy blue with enough grade to remind us how to go fast and how to go slow. It was heaven to ski again. Saori was really anxious the first few runs, but quickly warmed to it. She loved the narrow runs in the alleys between patches of woods. As for me and Tay, we both enjoyed the big wide runs where we could fairly fly along. Tay also remembered how to board, and it was incredible fun to fly along with him, cutting across each other’s paths in sprays of snow.

The slopes were relatively uncrowded and we got in about five or six long runs before Saori called time for a break. Brenda went to join her, since she skipped breakfast, and they held down a table for us at the ski tavern Molly Green’s. One of the best moments of skiing is taking off your helmet, jacket, and gloves, and sitting down at a big table in a noisy, cozy bar for a big beer and a hot meal. Saori got herself an imperial black IPA which turned out to have over 9% alcohol, and I stuck with their local draft IPA. We had an enthusiastic server Robbie who reminded me a bit of the Old Spice guy since he gave us our orders with a side of “Bam!”

We had a lot of time to metabolize the alcohol since the service was very. very. slow. We demolished a massive plate of nachos which Saori and Brenda had ordered before we got there, and then I tucked away a big sourdough bowl of chili (which was unexceptional), and tried a bit of Saori’s bakedboardee onion soup (which was exceptional). The meal plus tip ended up around $26 per person, but I have to say it was worth it.

The two worst moments of skiing are that first hike up the hill to the first lift, when you are overheating, struggling with equipment and icy snow, and the first lift after lunch, when you put back on your sweat-damp jacket, gloves and hat, and freeze solid in the chair.

I was getting tired too. Saori had a few falls, but they were really just slips on steep grades where she slid on her butt a bit and was immediately able to stand up and ski again. I had a pretty major wipe out when my skis got crossed and I tumbled down. Lost my skis. I was aware enough to rotate around and dig in my heels to keep from sliding. Two boarders saw me and picked up my skis and slid down to me. They were a little concerned since apparently it looked pretty major of a wipeout. I was happy I'd gotten the helmet. The problem was I'd hit so hard, I'd screwed up the bindings on one ski, so i had to kick the toe bindings a few times to knock it back horizontal.

Anyway, I took it easier after that and we had just a few more runs anyway since the lifts started closing at 4. We all met up again in the locker room and doggedly made our way to the car, towards home, a lasagna, a Mexican beer, a hot tub, and ultimately, bed.

Christmas

Christmas morning was the usual delightful chaos of presents being passed around, the sounds of laughter and surprise and gratitude and ripping paper. I was surprised once again by the generosity and thoughtfulness of my family, and Saori and were bith really happy our gifts from Germany were so welll appreciated. Brenda made the traditional chile relleños egg casserole, and we drank lots of coffee. We spent the rest of the day hanging out, chatting, and playing cards. Casey and Jarret took off, and once night fell, Tay,  Saori, and I slipped in the hot tub and watched the full moon rise over the snowy mountains across the valley. It would be the last full moon Christmas for 35 years.

The day after Christmas, I made my cinnamon apple pancakes for everyone, which were a big hit although Tay was prepared to make a run to town to buy real maple syrup instead of the log cabin on hand. I used to feel the same way, actually.

It was another shopping day- we hit Nordstrom’s Rack and TJMaxx. At the Rack, Saori picked up a dress which could be The Dress, a lovely cream gown, and I got a Ben Sherman bowtie, which could look really good for a casual garden party-themed wedding. We ate lunch at a soup and salad place, and then drove out to the IMAX for the Star Wars: A New Hope remake. Tay insisted on seeing it at IMAX, which is fine by me, but also in 3D, which was a bit much for me.

Given all the hype, I went in with guarded optimism, and I had a great time. It’s a great movie. It’s basically fan fiction, but with a 200 million dollar budget and the original actors. Actually, I want to go see it again in Houston. In 2-D, since the cinematography and depth of the set is lovely, and 3D tends to force one’s attention solely on the foreground.

After the movie, we went out to rent skis, lift tickets, and equipment, basically spending mom’s Christmas gift to us.

Boots, poles, skis: $25
Damage: $2
Pants: $8
Lift tickets: $73

Back at the house, we scrounged around to cobble complete sets of skiing equipment- jackets, gloves, helmets, pants, goggles, etc. We got pizza for dinner, reminisced about the glory that was Rome with aunt Brenda, and played a few rounds of Bananagrams. Larry won a round, and he was so unaccustomed to winning that we had to point out that he had in fact, concluded the game as the winner. We are really quite competitive.

Supremacy

The day before Christmas, we hit the mall for last minute Christmas shopping. This was actually the best time to shop. Many of the stores we 25-50% off and it wasn't crowded at all. I picked up two more work pants at Banana Republic. The US may trail the rest of the developed world in education, health, and infrastructure, but it is indisputable that we have the best shopping in the entire world.

I wanted to get Saori a particular perfume for Christmas, but it turned out I was too ahead of the curve. Macy’s had never heard of it. The second perfume manager I talked to at Nordstrom had heard about it, but didn't have it since apparently the designer has an exclusive contract with Barney’s, and there are none in Salt Lake City. We took a short break for lunch at the house, reheating a giant tub of frozen “chili” which turned out to be some delicious gumbo. David took us out again to the dying mall which had a real bookstore and we also took another spin through Sur La Table, because kitchen things are fun.

The evening was a wrapping frenzy in the wrapping room, complicated by the fact that we were all wrapping gifts for each other. Mom and Larry picked up BBQ and that was really really good. Saori made her hot spiced apple cider with a heady dose of whisky, and then a second batch. We ended up sitting around the massive mound of presents under the tree and chatted until it was time to fill the stockings and build Logan’s big toy, a kind of motorized HotWheels collider track.

Disco, Crisis, Snow

We landed in the middle of a series of minor crises in Salt Lake City. The storm system wreaking havoc across the south disrupted everyone's flight but ours. Tay was stuck in LAX for six hours, and mom’s mule-driven aircraft was cancelled flying out of Mesa. Logan, the 3.5 year old, was in the ER since he had managed to break in half the half inch thick plate glass coffee table uncle David had designed, and cut his toe. It wasn't that bad, they didn't even give him stitches, and we were all thankful since it could have been much worse. He’s a big kid with really long legs for his age. We have another athlete in the family for sure.

Brenda picked us up, and we got put to work immediately on the birthday party and dinner preparation since the ER, even for a boo boo, takes as much time, money, and paperwork as an international flight, hamping the party prep time. We dropped our suitcases, checked in at the air BnB across the street ( owned by a German couple), drove across town to pick up the giant disco ball from the rental place, and back to the Harmon's, the really cool grocery store with the wrap around mezzanine. We also made a crucial stop at the liquor store for beer, wine, and whisky. Saori rode in the back with the disco ball and the bright sunshine threw dots everywhere inside the car.

The disco ball was for the Rock of Ages themed birthday party that David throws for Brenda every year. She just covered her head while he drilled a few holes in the ceiling to hang the disco ball. In the end it was great. I cooked a big pot of Mexican chicken soup with fresh fried tortilla strips which people munched on leading up to the dinner, we had cocktails and everyone dressed up. Mom came as Tina Turner, Larry did a great ZZ Top, Tay was Bob Dilian replete with neck harmonica and incomprehensible songs, Brenda was Stevie Nicks, David was a fantastic Zappa, and Carrie utterly transformed into Joan Jett. Saori came as Yeah Yeah Yeah lead Karen O with tons of dramatic makeup, and I wore galaxy patterned tights and 80s rocker hair. Somewhere between Limahl and David Bowie circa Labrynth.

David had rigged a karaoke machine and Logan loved it. Apparently they had been using it all week. Lots of pop songs and dancing with mommy. They must watch a lot of YouTube together. I ripped out “Radar Love” and Saori sang “Playback pt.2” in Japanese.

Dec 25, 2015

Age of Aquariums

Tuesday morning, Joshua helped Saori and Ayumi assemble the sticky buns, sprinkling brown sugar and raisins, and making his own rolls. They turned out amazing, and I got the recipe from Ayumi. After our sugary breakfast, we took a stroll through the neighborhood with Joshua. It was surprisingly mild. When we first arrived, it was colder in Atlanta than Stuttgart, but after a bunch of rain, Atlanta was cool and misty. I just went out in a tee shirt. Ayumi took us to see the community gardens and the chicken coop, and we threw some sticks in the little creek.

Once we got back to the house, Tim took us to the aquarium. The Atlanta aquarium is one of the biggest and best in the world, and it was his first time to see it too. Ayumi took Joshua when he was younger, but apparently he was more facinated by the moving walkway than the abundance of fish around him.

The aquarium is downtown, sitting on a grassy plaza which it shares with its oddfellow neighbors, the Coke Museum which is apparently a museum of marketing, plus a tasting room and a memorial to all those who lost their lives in the historic cola wars of the 90s, and a Civil Rights museum.

The aquarium as theme park is the name of the game here. Ticket lines and windows designed to handle massive crowds, themed “worlds” inside, promenant concessions and gift shop. It’s an exciting building with some neat architectural tricks with the various tanks and enclosures, clear and easy to understand and navigate, and for the mutltitudes inside, it never felt too crowded or claustrophobic. There was always a place we could step aside and find a moment.

But it lacked the class of the Chicago aquarium- which keeps the feel of an institution from the stately suroundings and the emphasis on fish and not flatscreens. In this aquarium, the sea life plays a supporting role but YOU are the star of the show. I was turned off by the obnoxious corporate branding and bizzare advertising tie ins such as “Did you know that the Beluga whale can grow up to 16 feet long, which is 16 rolls of Brawny Paper Towels placed end to end?” The big ocean room “Built by the Home Depot” makes me imagine a scene where a shopper at the store inquires where one can find the foot and a half thick solid acrylic panels for that home whale shark tank.

Lunch at the cafeteria was a painful gouge. I had to ask the cashier to repeat the total. For what we paid for bagged chips, bottled drinks, and sandwiches, we could have eaten lunch at the nicest restaurants in the city. I was happy to cover it since Tim and Ayumi have been so generous to us, but I’m surprised I didn’t get a financing offer at the cash register. Sandwiches were good though.

The ocean tank was astonishing. You get teased with bubble windows and small windows as you walk along, offering a view of the sea bottom at least 30 feet below the rippling ceiling of the tank so massive you can’t see the opposite side. And suddenly you’re in the plexiglass tunnel and this aquatic world is all around you. You look up and a shark the size of a minivan slowly swims over you. Huge manta rays swim by, along with reef sharks, rays, skates, and other big fish. We were all entraced, and this time Joshua was captivated by the fish instead of the flooring. We slowly slowly made our way along until we popped out into the money shot- a huge theater with one massive plexiglass wall from floor to ceiling, with the whole teeming tank open before you and the seafloor speading out in front of you. It was like SCUBA diving. We sat right on the carpeting in front of the glass and just watched for at least fifteen minutes. 

Girl's Day

Monday, Tim went in for consultations at the hospital. He is a pediatric doctor, which seems to me an incredible boon to some aspects of parenting. When Saori and I have kids, I am sure we are both going to be panicking over everything which could be in reality A) go to ER immediately, B) schedule a doctor visit, or C) something totally normal.

While he was gone, we played with Joshua outside. He loves to run and keeps telling us to “Run!” and chase him, or just to run around in general. Tim and Ayumi have a trampoline, and he really enjoyed boucing around with his aunt Saori. We also blew a lot of bubbles together, and helped Joshua work on his technique.

Tim and Ayumi let us borrow their car so we could run some errands, and we hit the bank, went back to the cooking store, and made a quick stop at sketchy looking magic shop. Inside, however, we were assisted by a really nice old man who must have worked for years as a magician since he performed some tricks for us while we were shopping. One of the things he did was to transform a penny to a dime by tapping it with a pen, while it was sitting on Saori’s hand. It was pretty incredible actually, no smoke, no flash, just an immediate transformation, like the copper was suddenly sucked away in the blink of an eye.

Monday afternoon, after Tim came back from work, Ayumi and Saori went for a sister day at the Korean spa. Tim’s christmas present to them was gift cards to this spa, which was supposed to be really good. They were there for about four hours, although Ayumi called in every hour or so to check on Penny. It sounded great, they both got massages, soaked in tubs, relaxed in a variety of saunas. They both looked really refreshed when they got back home, and Saori bough everyone taco bowls from Chipotle for dinner.

While the girls were gone, we hung out in the living room, and Tim booted up his xbox and I got to once more don the helmet of Master Chief. Halo 4 came out two or three years ago, but the last time I played it was the original Halo back at ASU. I was frankly terrible, but it was fun to get back into that immerseive world. We played with Joshua when he was up from his nap, and kept an eye on Penny when she got up from her nap. Penny is getting really bored of the living room. She likes the lights on tree, and consistently tries to soldier crawl her way to the tile floors of the kitchen and dining room where she is not allowed. She is too young to understand object permenenace, which is really wierd since she clearly recognizes things which she knows and which is new. She was facinated by my tablet and by my little notebook where I jot down recipes, and if ether were in sight, she would wriggle her way over. She is going to be a stubborn little girl I think. But so adorable. Everyone says that she looks exactly like Saori did when she was a little girl.

Joshua was also pretty interested in my tablet. It was kind of funny, the night we got there, he got ahold of Ayumi’s kindle and somehow ordered a bunch of ebooks, including a space opera. This is fairly impressive for a child who cannot yet read. So I kept him closely supervised on my tablet. I took a snapshot of us and he delighted in coloring on top of it, making big circles with his fingers to cover the faces, all the while asking “what happened to Joshua?! What happened!” before using the eraser tool to remove the lines. He really likes coloring, although more in big color blocks rather than in the lines like his mommy would like him.

Anyway, after dinner, Saori and Ayumi made the dough for sticky buns since its a family tradition at Tim’s parent’s, and Saori crashed on the couch while they were waiting for the dough to rise. 

Busy Sunday

Sunday morning I made a batch of apple and banana pancakes for breakfast and served it up with lots of maple syrup. After breakfast, Ayumi, Saori, Joshua and I went for a walk in downtown Decatur. It felt really familiar and Saori nailed the comparison to Clayton in St. Louis: an affluent small city with a midcentury main street. It was cute, quaint boutiques, small nice restaurants, bohemian cafes, Starbucks, and trinket shops.

We stopped into a cooking store and Joshua wanted to touch everything, but after a few warnings from Mommy kept his hands diligently to himself. For everything he saw, he asked “What is THAT?!?” I was going to buy some beer there, but Blue laws prohibit alcohol sales before 12:30 on Sundays.

12:30 strikes me as quite specific and arbitrary, which means it is probably a compromise, but I wish I understood better who was negotiating for which position.

After our stroll, we returned home and got ready for church. They go to a Christian church most of the time, but about once a month or so, they go to a fellowship service in Japanese with other members of the Japanese American community.

I was expecting that loading the kids up would be a big, lengthy ordeal, but Tim and Ayumi made it look easy and pretty fast. Joshua is nearly three, and he wears slip-on crocs that he can put on by himself. When we go outside, he wants to go run and play, but he will obediently go to the car door and wait for us pick him up and put him in his car seat. The three point harness is only tricky the first time you try to buckle him in.

As for seven month old Penny, they buckle her into her carrier in the house, and then it looks like it's a simple connection to the car seat dock in the car. When I asked Tim if the amount of time it takes for getting the kids into the car increases arithmetically or exponentially, he said “simple question; exponentially.”

Anyway, it was a surprisingly small turnout at the fellowship service. Apparently, many of the Japanese students from the university attend, and they had all gone back home at the end of the semester. So there were a few families like Tim’s where one partner was Japanese, but there were also Japanese women there, a younger woman and a much older woman who apparently had an amazing life story, but I have not had the chance yet to get it from Saori or Ayumi, who adores her.

We took turns reading from the Bible in English and Japanese, depending, and then sang a few traditional Christmas hymns and songs. My good German buddy Handel put in an appareance or two, although Tim and I sang our songs in English in contrast to the Japanese sung by the rest of the congregation. Because this was such an intimate gathering, they went around the room and talked about what Christmas meant to us personally. I talked about family.

Also in attendence was a curious older man with long grey hair in a ponytail and black leather drawstring shoes which he made himeself. Apparetly, he lived abroad for a long time, including in Japan, and now makes a living selling celtic inspired leather crafts. Apparently, there is a Scottish tartan museum in South Carolina (or maybe it was North Carolina) which sells his wares at the gift shop and online. (Aside- It looks like a lot of Scot-Irish settled in this part of the country as well- I kept coming across many Scottish names on street signs.) Anyway, he was super chatty and really interested in Saori and I so we had to politely but firmly excuse ourselves to go back with Tim and Ayumi.

That night, Tim treated us BBQ from Fox brothers, one of the best BBQ spots in Atlanta, and we got traditional BBQ chicken and pulled pork, plus fried pickles and Texas fries, which are french fries topped with shredded brisket, barbecue sauce, melted cheese, and topped with sliced jalepenos. It was so good. I make a decent pulled pork in the pressure cooker, but it’s nothing in comparison. To my shame, I think I mostly responded in grunts the entire meal.

Before dinner, we played Munchkin, a tongue in cheek board game which has a lot of obvious and not so obvious riffs on fantasy games and the cutlure. You could pick races like elves or dwarves, equip weapons like A Really Big Rock (two hands) and armor like Spikey Knees. Saori came perilously close to winning, but we had to call the game early to go pick up the BBQ. 

Dec 21, 2015

Target acquired

Yesterday, after donuts, we left Tim at home with baby Penny and Joshua and we went to Target. I drove there, partly because I want to be a good guest and partly to keep in practice.

Target was surreal for me, and moreso for Saori, who hasn't been in one for three years. She told me that she felt like she didn't belong there, like she was an alien coming to a strange planet. I picked up some legos for Logan, and Saori picked up a few things too. I used to really miss Target, but at the end, you really only need it for things like cheap socks and underwear and you get along just fine without in (Target) Germany.

After Target we stopped at Whole Foods next door and picked up a few things. And beer! It was hypnotic. Especially after months of identical lagers, pilsners, and hefe Because everyone is sick except me, I just picked up a few bottles.

When we got back, Tim and I had a beer and played with Joshua around the little fire going in the fire pit. Ayumi made Japanese chicken curry with rice for dinner. After dinner, Tim read a bit from an advent reader and we sang some religious Christmas songs. They are both really religious, actually. Tim leads a prayer before every meal.

Dec 20, 2015

Third wave donuts: is food elitism jargon going too far?

Slept all the way to 5:30 this morning.

By climactic quirk, it's been colder in Atlanta, Georgia than Stuttgart, Germany this week, so we've been bundling up when we go out. Saturday morning, we joined the throngs and went to a third wave donut shop. Saori told her sister that not only do I like donuts more than the average bear, but that since I was once asked to comment on the donut situation in Phoenix by a reporter, I am a bone fide international donut expert. So of course, we had to go.

I've seen a resurgence of interest in donuts in the last few years, another example of American rising interest in local, authentic, and crafted food and drink. Donuts quietly echo craft beer and coffee. Coffee's revival of interest, like Feminism, was broken into three distinct and sometimes opposing waves. First wave coffee just denotes the typical "endless refill" coffee in its quality and pattern of consumption: something hot and caffeinated. Second wave can be simply described as Starbucks, and always comes with the option of soy milk, pumpkin spice, and extra chocolate shots. Third wave is like Islamic Fundamentalism: heavily bearded men fighting over which is the purest way to brew Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Chemex or V60, and anyone asking for cream or sugar shall be stoned.

Fortunately, donuts are much simpler than coffee, so the waves are gentler and much friendlier. After all, coffee may have as many tasting nuances as wine, but donuts are really just fried dough with lots of sugar. I'm not even spelling them "doughnuts." As I count it, there are also three waves, comparable to coffee.

First wave was the local donut shop- Bud's Donuts or Sunshine Do-nuts, either in a neglected strip mall or sitting in a tiny, dingy building surrounded by parking. Big windows, minimal 60s or 70's decor, plain white waxed paper bags, lino or tile floors, first wave coffee, endless beat-up metal trays, and a 5:00 AM opening time.

Second wave was corporate: brand, convenience, and standardization. Grocery store donuts, DunkinDonuts, and Krispy Kreme. The latter two clearly trying to do for donuts what Starbucks did to coffee: package an experience and try to make it something to show off. And even further: We are not only going to mass-produce donuts, we're going to highlight the industrial conveyer belt assembly. Tie-ins to Hollywood movies? Naturally.

Third wave is more like craft beer- innovation, emphasis on local and artesianal production, unusual ingredients or combinations, and really expensive. Forget the 5 AM opening, these are not donuts for the factory floor or job site. The coffee on tap comes with tasting notes and you can buy branded merchandise to tell the world, "I have sophisticated tastes in doughnuts."

Revolution Donuts in Atlanta normally has a line out the door. Tellingly, it's next door to craft beer specialty store in a small midcentury renovated strip mall. Another thing about third wave donut shops: the names seen to be deliberately jarring to suggest a radical break with something. Revolution Donuts, Zombie Donuts, Fractured Prune.

Enough powdered sugar, get to the filling: how were the donuts?

They were really good. But more like french macaroons. One or two and you are done. Really rich, really intense. Also, $2-$3 per donut. Most people ordered just one. I ordered a maple bourbon cro-nut, a orange and pistachio cake donut, an apple fritter, toasted almonds, and a creme brulee filled donut, topped with hardened caramelized sugar (and shared all of them with the table). Actually, I think they took it a bit too far since it's kind of awkward trying to bite through a hard glazing on top of the donut. My favorite were two classics, a yeast donut with strawberry frosting and sprinkles, and the apple fritter.

Dec 19, 2015

The Road to Atlanta

It's been a busy week. Monday, I joined Saori's office Christmas party. Every year, her office takes over a trendy Italian restaurant and buys dinner and drinks for everyone. Actually, due to the proximity to Italy, all of the Italian restaurants are money laundering fronts for the Mafia staffed by Italians, which means typically the food is amazing and the service is terrible. Anyway, the food here was great, and actually so was the service. Unfortunately or fortunately, Saori was so exhuasted from the last two weeks of 70 hours that we went home right after dessert, so I was absolutely fine the next day.

Which was good because my next two days at the office were actually Revit training. The office paid for us to have a classroom to ourselves and customized lessons over the topics we wanted to learn. Everything in German, naturally, so I struggled more with the language than with the software, but I was able to get mostly everything since we were all on computers. Lunches were something to be desired, just the small cafe attached to the indoor soccer mini-pitch nearby.

Thursday, Saori took the day off work, and I went into the office to take care of the last few things. Anyway, it was my day to clean the coffee machine. After work, I said goodbye to the owner and the owners wife, and they both wished me a relaxed christmas. My boss told me that if I didn't come back after Christmas, he was going to fly over and drag me back by my ear. It is nice to feel welcomed.

Apo drove me back and I invited him to stay for some tea and snacks, so he and me and Saori got to hang out one last time before we took off. After he left, it was already late, so we packed everything, cleaned a bit, and took care of some last minute things. I finished packing around 1, and went to bed for a nap. I thought Saori was going to join me, but she didn't want to leave the house as chaotic as it was, so she put everything away and swept the floors, putting things to rights while I slept. She didn't sleep at all.

We actually packed kind of light. We both had just one suitcase, 50 pounds each, 40 pounds of which was the combined weight of German christmas baked goods.

To be honest, I didn't sleep all that well. I really hate flying now, and espcially flying to the US. It's a mixture of paranoia and concern over the near-unlimited and capricious power of the border control (fun fact: before you are waved through customs, you have absolutely none of your American rights. For example, you can be held indefinately without charge), and the general misery that is American local airlines and airports.

I callled the taxi at 4am, and we were off to the airport. The roads were empty and so was the airport, so we punked down and enjoyed buttered pretzels for about two hours before we boarded.

Tiny airplane for an hour or so to Paris, then we hopped on a massive 777-300 from Paris to Atlanta. Flight wasn't bad. Watched Pixar's InsideOut and slept a lot. We sat right at the back and had great access to hot water, the toilets, soda, and snacks. Clearing customs and immigration in Atlanta was not nearly as bad as I thought. Moved through really quick and our luggage popped out immediately.

Ayumi's husband, Tim, surprised us by picking us up at the airport and taking us to thier house in Decatur. I've been through Atlanta many times but this is the first time I've taken the "Ground Transportion" direction and not "to connecting flights."

First impressions of Atlanta: the sprawl of Phoenix combined with the architecture and greenness of St. Louis. Lots of midcentury housing, and a long strip of downtown on the skyline. We met Ayumi and the two kids at their house and visited for awhile. I saw them in New Orleans nearly four years ago, and it's been seven years for Saori.

They cooked us a really delicious chicken dinner and I crashed around 9pm, feeling good that I made it that long with the jet lag.

Dec 13, 2015

Last Stuttgart Weekend

Saturday was a very late start. We didn't actually get out bed until noon. I was recovering from a late friday night and Saori was recovering from a week of working until midnight every day. We did a bit of shopping in the city center, where we ran into a friend, Pauline. Pauline dated Simone, a really good friend of Saori's when he was working at Behnisch. They later split after Simone left and it's been a long time since we actually saw her. She is a young French violinist and it so happened she was playing a mendelsohn concert the next day, so she invited us as her guests. We happily accepted.

Saturday night, Saori cooked the jumbo shrimp I picked up at the speciality seafood store with some ink spagetti pasta and sauteed zuchinni. Really good.

This morning, despite still carrying our respective sleep lags, we were both unable to sleep in much so we just got up at 8 and started our day a full four hours earlier than the day before. I cooked up some pear pancakes with coffee and then we went to the concert.

Pauline met us at the door and gave us the tickets, and we found seats inside. We were the youngest people there not accompanied by parents. The concert was a matinee performance of Hayden and Mendelsohn for the Sunday advent, and it a short but lively performance. The conductor was particularly animated, and the symphony played like Disney animated characters. There was a trumpet solist, which was new for Saori and I, and he was really, really good. After the concert, the reception hall was filled with the guests all eating pretzels and drinking coffee and wine. (Also note, that when I say "Pretzel" I do not mean the dried crunchy snack, nor the soft-breadstick-y thing, but a southern German pretzel, which tapers in thickness from the crunchy crossing to a fat, chewy belly sliced open and spread with butter). We met Pauline afterwards and went out for coffee together, and got caught up on how she has been doing for an hour or so.

Afterwards, we strolled through the christmas market, enjoying the sunny day and atmosphere, before heading back home.

Office christmas party

My office Christmas party was friday. It was a combined party with my office and the Ravensburg office and Herr L, at the office. I work in a converted winery building, and there is a big cellar stretching across the building with old stone barrel vaults, in the final stages of renovation. We had the party there, starting around 5pm but actually we were scrambling to print some things out last minute so they had to chase us downstairs.

There were not so many people, maybe twenty in total. German office Christmas parties are not so often plus one events, so significant others stayed home. Which is ok I guess since its more a time to socialize and connect with coworkers.

We were greeted with a round of Sekt (German sparkling white wine), and then welcomed to the buffet. The whole thing was catered by the Ox, the restaurant and butcher shop which I am renovating, and the food was really good. Smoked salmon, smoked herring fillets, beef carpaccio, and schinken (thin sliced air-dried pork) appetizers, and then really good kas' spaetzel (local egg noodle and cheese) plus some pork and gratin potatoes etc. Dessert was white and dark chocolate mousse.

We had tons of wine and schnapps foisted on us, and because that wasn't enough, Rafa also brought a new bottle of some really premium tequila from Mexico and the office finished off the bottle by the end of the night, six hours later.

It was a good event, everyone was pretty boozed up, but I talked to a lot of people, naturally in German, and both of my bosses expressed to me that they were really satisfied with my work and they thought I was a good addition to the design team. Did take a long time to get home since we to wait awhile for the cab to get to the village, and then drop us all off at our respective houses in Stuttgart. Actually we had a slight problem since none of us had any cash and the cab didn't take cards, so we had to make a quick stop at an ATM so I could pull cash. The total for the trip ended up costing  60 euros, which is about $75 US. (Hopefully. I have been avoiding watching the exchange rate, so by now it could actually be $60 US, or perhaps $6).

The next day...
Was not bad. I drank a lot of water at the event, ate well, avoided beer, and drank more water.

Dec 10, 2015

Thursday night, late

It's been a long week. Saori has been working really late every night and I've also been working more than usual since we're scrambling to make deadlines before the holidays. Actually, this morning I had to get out of the apartment by 6:45, so I didn't see Saori at all yesterday other than waking up next to her early this morning.

She is totally fried, and I'm pretty wiped too. We are going to sleep the entire flight to the US.

Tomorrow is our office party after work, and they are paying for cabs back to Stuttgart. This weekend is also our last in town before we fly to the US, so lots of shopping to do.

Also, December 5th was St. Nikolaus day so Saori and exchanged little gifts. It's basically a mini Christmas. We each got each other coffee mugs, coincidentally. We decided not to have a tree this year but instead bought a ton of pine boughs and mounted a particularly nice one to the wall to decorate as a 2D tree.


Dec 7, 2015

"City Stunned by Genius Architect"

The main newspaper in Stuttgart ran an article this weekend over the project I'm working on. It's in German but you you should be able to translate it with page translation. Basically, the typical bits about people happy to have an investor willing to pony up and fund renovations and maintnece, but concerned about new architecture or functions the investor and owner also want.

http://www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.renovierung-des-gasthofs-in-sicht-ochsen-soll-keine-ruine-werden.2411985d-b30d-4074-b1ce-221979438e0c.html

Does include a photo and a bit about the history of the place. The foundations go back to before the American Revolution.

Dec 5, 2015

The Chef and the Architect I

I've been thinking about architecture and food a lot. Shocking, I know. However, the similarities between the role of the architect and the chef are deeper than most people probably realize. Why does this matter? I think how you frame a basic idea, like "what does an architect do?" has a deep impact for both architects and society they work in, and analogies are powerful conceptual tools.

There was a short article online about the difference between a cook and a chef, and reading it, I thought, this is about the difference between draftsmen and architects.

Chefs and architects both begin with a vision. There is an idea of what the final product will be. But this is not the unhindered vision of the artist. The restaurant chef does not get to choose what to make any more than the architect, although both can specialize in particular types: provincial french cuisine / university buildings, for example.

To reach that end, both must coordinate and lead teams, to answer questions, show the way and solve problems. The vision must be communicated and distributed, broken into parts and made real. The onions chopped and sauteed, the building dimensions and form roughed out. Pork or beef, and how spicy? Concrete or steel? How nicely finished?

There are the constraints of economy and time and physics. There is a client. Here the similarity as it is breaks down: the client of the chef experiences directly the work of the Chef. In architecture, the client often does not daily interact with the final product, with as we see, often leads to terrible architecture.

Imagine a city where the residents pool their money and then the top ten contributers got to decide what everyone was going to be eating. It would be tolerable, probably, but nothing that contributes to your senses, reinforces shared culture, or brings you delight in the way that a good meal does.

Food is like the built environment in that both are necessary for life. You would literally die without them. You could, like in the movie The Matrix, live off of vitamin and amino acid fortified protein goo. In the same way, you could protected from the elements with a minimum of waterproof and insulating elements in your immediate surroundings.

Why do we cook? I imagine that cooking began as a means to transform raw nutritious elements into something that could be consumed. Civilization began when we crossed the line from bare-minimum food preparation into cooking to make something taste better than the bare minimum. Why was that line crossed?  It seems clear to me that we prefer to find pleasure in something that we must do anyway. Are not the most sublime pleasures the ones we have cultivated from basic biological imperatives? (On that note, we have serious problems in our relation to both water and elimination)

There is an idea here as well- a meal is not understood as an object. Nobody ever bought a plate of spaghetti and hung it on the wall, or framed a bowl of soup. With a good meal, I am excited by the anticipation of eating it, my senses are fully engaged from the appearance, the smell, the texture, the taste, and temperature. I think about it as a hierarchy of ingredients- the soup and the salad: the salad is made of ruccola and tomatoes and cheese, etc etc. The soup has a broth and things in the broth, like chicken and cucumber etc etc.

Christmas spirits

I have always associated liberal western democracies with a clear separation of church and state, like the US, so I am often surprised in Germany. For reference, about 30% identity as Evangelical, 29% Catholic, and 33% do not identity with any religion. For a country where fully a third is unaffiliated, religion and state remain much more closely twinned than in the (obstensibly) more relgious US.

There are religious taxes- tithes- that you basically have to opt-out of when you start a new job. The whole system in Germany is basically an opt-out rather an opt-in system.

In the German school system, you are required to take one of three faith based classes: Catholic, Evangelical, or Ethics. Since there is no longer a Jewish population, Judaism is not offered. Nor, as some Persian classmates pointed out, is Islam, whose adherents make up 5% of the German population. Our [German] teacher got a little defensive about this pointing out that they don't teach Christianity in Iranian schools either. He suggested that for parents wishing to have their kids take classes in Islam, that there are private Turkish schools.  This kind of sounds like a bad idea to me, since I believe that separation fosters alienation and mistrust, but I guess it's worked so far in Germany.

Another interesting point is the Christmas events around town. Christmas market is in full swing. There is a manger scene under a massive Christmas tree in the middle of the square, but apart from that there is little overt Christian symbolim. Most of the market is devoted to being a festive market with lots of food, wine, and things for sale. There is tons of decoration, tons of fresh pine boughs, not so many manger scenes, wise men, or Christmas stars.

The city hall was turned into a massive Advents calendar, countng down the days to Christmas in the windows. Advents calendars originated with the German Lutherens, and while today many are quite secular (in fact, I have two), the origin is very religious and associated with the daily devotionals of Advent. Would a city hall in the US do the same? Or would it simply self-censor to avoid even the potential of litigiously aggressive non-Christians?

Speaking of Advents calenders, the first one was a marketing element from a metal medical cabinet manufactuer, just filled with cheap chocolate. The second was a sweet gift from Saori filled with really good coffee. So we have been enjoying the coffee this lovely saturday morning.

Nov 28, 2015

Christmas begins

Wednesday, I found a massive 2,5 turkey leg for sale at PennyMarkt and also some sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. Thursday night, I brined it and set it in the fridge.

Friday night after I got off work, Saori surprised me at home with a table already set with mallow pie, salad, and home made cranberry sauce. It was really sweet. I threw the turkey in the oven and started baking but I couldn't wait so we started in on the mallow pie while the turkey baked.

The turkey was great. The mallow pie was super creamy so it was more like a sweet potato pie, topped with scorched marshmallows. Saori also cooked us some string beans in a brown butter and balsamic sauce. It was a serious feast and we both throughly stuffed ourselves in the exemplary American fashion.

That night Saori woke up with difficulty breathing around 4AM. She boiled some water over the stove with teatree oil and peppermint oil which helped, suggesting that the problem was more about mucus than allergies, but it made me really worried. This is over if my biggest fears actually since in case of medical emergencies I am not really sure what to do. Of course, if one of us accidentally chops of an arm, really life threatening things, there is 112, the 911 of Europe, but up to that point, it's a bit hard to say, since there's no urgent care clinics here. It's a big gray gap between sweating until the doctors offices open, sometimes waiting over Sunday, and going to the hospital.

More to the point, I didn't have antihistamines and I didn't know where I could find a place to buy them at that time of the morning. So that was one thing we did today, was pick up a box of antihistamines from a pharmacy. The person we talked to was so concerned she marched Saori and I outside so we could read the name and number of the lung doctor in the same building. She wasn't really satisfied, but sold us some antihistamines anyway.

Tonight, I met Shiva, one of my two old Indian roommates from the old house on Zepplinstrasse (actually my new office is on Hindenburgstrasse- in starting to see a dark and unnerving pattern here). We met at Weihnachtsfes, Stuttgart's Christmas fest and honestly the best time to be in Germany. The buzzy lazy summer afternoons in the beer-gardens are nice, but there is something that all clicks when the old narrow cobblestone streets between the half-timbered buildings and stone architecture are filled with gaily lit wooden stands and hot spiced wine on a cold winter night.

We started with a cup of Glühwine and then had a special variation, where the mug had a little metal stand and a cone of sugar is doused with schnapps and the whole thing is set on fire. The fire melts the sugar which drips into the hot spiced wine. Afterwards we moved on to the brewery at on the Schlossplatz and had a glass of fresh Wulle Biere.

Nov 25, 2015

Alec Keeps it Professional

Recently, boss No.1 clarified that he wants me to act more in a designer-architect role than simply a supporting role. This is good, but for my German. Specifically, he wanted me to get on top of a project the office is working on in a nearby town.

So earlier this week, I grabbed the office camera and went over with Apo and boss 1 to meet the city historic preservation people since the building has listed elements. The master butcher also met us to show us around and open locked doors.

This town (well, village), has a bunch of really old buildings, and the project I am now working on has the renovation of one of them as the focus. The foundations were set in the late 1700s, although the oldest aboveground parts are probably only 200 years old. The building was at one time the bachelor lodging in town, then a guesthouse, and finally a restaurant and butcher shop, complete with pig pens in the ground floor, a slaughterhouse, and a butchers separate from the restaurant area. The ancient basement is a cavernous stone barrel vault two men tall, which dwafts the crates of wine which are stored there now.

The current Metzgereimeisteri (master butcher) who runs the restaurant is at least the third generation in his family, and some of the rooms above ground have been maintained and decorated as his parents lived.

Many other rooms, have had a lot of decay and time happen to them. I saw not one but two old cast iron stoves where you cook on metal surfaces above coal or wood fires. I had to bite my tongue to ask them to let me know whenever they have a garage sale. Got to keep it professional. The massive old timber framed roof contains three levels of attic floors, each with more rotten and missing floorboards than the last. The tile roof is shingled with terra-cotta using techniques at least as old as the foundations. Everything, absolutely everything is warped with age, it really makes me worry about how accurate our 0.000 precision autocad drawings are in relation to the wonky settling, leaning, and racking.

It really is a facinating building because it is a living testiment of time with slices readily apparent from the past 100 years. The restaurant on the ground level is actually really nice and I want to go back there with Saori sometime.

Nov 24, 2015

Danger Perkins

With the onset of a colder world, the US government cranked up the ol' Global Danger thermostat from Caution to Alert this tuesday. This really happened. The State Department issued an alart which covers the entire world excluding the US as an area to excercise elevated caution for terroristic activities.

This prompted Saori's sister to write us a well-intentioned and concerned letter that if we felt unsafe to travel, they would understand our cancelling our trip to the US this year. 

I thanked her for her thoughtfulness but assured her that plane travel to the US and within the US is probably one of the most secure things possible. Actually, I take security very seriously. I watch the news, I avoid mobs and protests, I look for exits in crowded spaces. 

Stuttgart is probably one of the most safest cities in Germany. We have to remind ourselves that we have to engage our "big city" awareness whenever we go to Munich, for example. Last year, people were shocked by a murder here. 

To be honest, Saori and I live really cloistered lives right now, actually. We almost never go out to events. I take mass transit to my work, which is probably my biggest exposure to terrorist danger, and Saori works at the far edge of the city center, away from large government or institutional buildings. 

I am actually a lot safer here in Europe than I am in the US, truth be told. Mortality rates for nearly everything are lower in Europe than in the US. Cancer takes a higher toll in the US. Infant mortality is higher in the US. 

In the US, I am twice as likely to be killed in or by a car than in Europe. And with gun violence on the rise, there are some cities where you are more likely to be shot to death than be killed by a car. If the US were another country, you know that the state department would be issuing constant travel Alerts cautioning would-be travellers.

Anyway, we are not changing our plans. We are still coming to the US, despite the risks we'll run on the other side of the border. 

Because my name is Danger.

Nov 22, 2015

Grocery stores and show

There was more events at my office when we learned last week that Mr. C, who started about two weeks before me, was quitting. He didn't say why but clearly both sides were unhappy with the way things were going.  While he did know a lot about drawing details, his computer skills were so lacking it was sometimes astonishing. I mean, autoCAD type programs have been widespread for nearly 30 years, and it is evident he has nearly never used them.

Friday, work was not so bad although I was jumping around between a few projects before heading back to Stuttgart a little after 4. I work a 40 hour week, nominally, often 42 or 43. At my last office, I was working at minimum 42-45 hours. On a weekly basis, there is not so much difference, but when you are free in the city at 4pm on a Friday, and no one will expect you in the office on the weekend, this is a great feeling.

Friday afternoon, I bought a ton of food, mostly vegetables, from Edeka.

Grocery shopping in Stuttgart is really different from the US. The first difference is that they are a lot smaller and there is a lot more of them. But they are also nearly invisible. When I first arrived, I thought, where are the grocery stores? I was looking for big signs, parking garages, expenses of glass, shopping carts outside. In the city, the grocery stores are tucked into ground floors or basements. You have to really search for signs among all the other building inhabitants.  I still stumble across grocery stores I haven't seen before, in the tiny area that is central Stuttgart.

From my apartment, for example, within a 15 minute walk, I can think of seven grocery stores, not even including the tiny stores which only sell produce or ethnic food markets.

In the US, a grocery store's quality, selection, and prices are all closely tied to the neighborhood income. Even in the same chain, like Bashas or Safeway, it's astoundingly separated by the targeted class. You have at the end a gradient of probably ten distinct grades of grocery stores, from the tiny malt liquor convenience store grocery with a few canned goods and Rainbow bread in the most desperate parts of town, all the way to the gourmet grocery with polished finishes, a caviar section, sushi grade fish, and imported Swiss muslei.

In Stuttgart, there are two types: regular and discount. These are spread over the same area, distributed evenly, and often enough across the street from one another. The discount chains are about 30-50% cheaper than the regular, but with less selection and quality. But given the limited selection at ALL grocery stores here, it doesn't feel so constricting. The service is about the same at both: straightforward and brisk.

Anyway, Saturday I made sopa de Lima and we invited people over for S'mores and hot whisky drinks. We had a little fire on our terrace and it was nice but cold. Woke up this morning to a light dusting of snow, the first of the season in Stuttgart. Gonna be cold cold cold from here on in.

Nov 17, 2015

beans

I made beans and cornbread tonight for dinner. Beans in the pressure cooker, baked cornbread from scratch. Threw in some lightly smoked pork belly- Southern Germans do know their Schwein. Actually, I really missed it- savory southern cornbread slathered with pork beans and a heady dose of hot sauce. Good stuff, although I forgot to add salt to the cornbread. Saori is working late as usual this month, but it will be good for her to take for lunch tomorrow.

It's funny to me, not so much to Saori, that everyone in her office thinks I am a great cook. Saori is always bringing in breads or cookies or stews, and people always want to try a bite and ask "did Alec make that?" I think my cooking has improved a lot in a short span of time, but I actually learned a lot from Saori. Many of the recipes in my handwritten cookbook are from her, and I am trying to think of a not-so-hamfisted way to remind people in her office of this. The problem is that right now she has no time to cook, and secondly, she likes to cook things we eat immediately and don't really keep well- pan seared salmon with crispy carrots, daikon soup with beef, garlic sporuts stir fried with oyster sauce and thin-sliced pork. But the following-the-recipe cookies that I make, for example, travel well and are much more sharable.

And now a bit of strange things about German life.

We ordered pad thai for delivery Sunday night- it was, in fact, the first time we got anything delivered here. I have ordered food to the office many more times than to our apartment, which is a bit strange when you stop and think about it. The problem is that dining out or delivery is really expensive in Germany. We picked a delivery service which is a little more expensive than the average delivery, but it still cost us about $35 for two, and all we got were two dishes and a soup. It was, actually, really really good. My friend said it was the best Pad Thai in Stuttgart, and I agree with him.

Not so much intersection with our lives, but I discovered that despite the fact that beer is sold and consumed nearly everywhere (you can even order beers delivered from most all food delivery), and the proliferation of sleazy little gambling casinos, that the sale of alcohol in casinos is completely forbidden. You can have Ching Chong's Chow deliver a sixpack to your apartment, drink it all as you stagger down the street, pausing to toast a passing policeman, but you cannot sip a martini and play bacarrat (or rum coke and pull a handle). This is actually not a bad way of doing things.

Less good is that you also find cigarette vending machines everywhere. (Although most bars ban smoking indoors). Before watching the new James Bond movie, I saw the first cigarette advertisement in my entire life. While most of the developed world has moved away from cigarettes, Germany remains a heavily smoking nation. That's a real puzzler, given the foresight and risk-aversion that is the stereotipical German.

Southern Germany is still surprisingly religiously conservative, with the state and religion at least on speaking terms. For example, most people tithe directly from their paychecks. It's a completely standard question filling out office paperwork, what is your religion and do you want to contribute monthly?

Saori and I came across the intersection of local, cheap, organic produce and technological automation when we stumbled across a vending machine which dispensed the former. Daily stocked with free range eggs, seasonal harvested down the street vegitables and nuts, even entire butternut squash. It was in a village, near the center square. It makes sense, given that most villages don't have the demand to keep shops open all the time, and all the stores are closed sundays. It also works because most people walk to get to the bus or wherever they are going in town if they don't work outside the village. Lastly, it works because the supply chain is really simple. Produce is grown locally and distributed from the green grocer who in turn, stocks the machine located outside the shop.

I don't think it would work in the the US because people tend to buy groceries once a week or two weeks, in quantity, from large supermarkets. There isn't the lifestyle nor commercial pattern of going to pick up a few fresh things every day. The supply chains are much more industrialized- if there's a local farm, the farm is likely owned and managed by a large distributer, to the point that much of the produce sold at American suburban and urban "farmers markets" is just diverted from the local Safeway or Kroger.

Nov 15, 2015

Evangelical

Hi there! Has anyone talked to you recently about Pressure Cooking? 

So many times, I hear the same stories- my parents brought me up on pressure cooking but I grew out of it, it didn't really fit my needs, it was so old-fashioned, pressure cooking is all about the socializing in the kitchen, I'm not interested in cooking, who are you and get off my porch, and so on and so on. 

Well, what if I told you that Pressure Cooking really IS relevant to your life? What if I told you that Pressure Cooking can really make a difference? I am not talking about the same old Sunday casserole or the overcooked goop the media wants to portray as Pressure Cooking, but a way of cooking that can really change your relationship with food.

The second through fourth words of the cookbook title The Joy of Cooking is "Joy of Cooking". Think about that for a moment. When was the last time you felt Joy in your cooking? Have you heard of this book? It has many great things to say about Pressure Cooking. The author of Joy of Cooking wanted to spread a message about eating things that are healthy and that taste really good. 

The problem is that cooking can be really hard sometimes. Cooking can be disappointing. Maybe you have tried some recipes that didn't turn out. When the bread doesn't rise or your dinner is inedible, it's too easy to turn away from cooking. I see so many refrigerators packed with frozen dinners and stuffed with takeout, so many people who suffer through Stouffer's.

You may be thinking, "this is all great for the people who were born British celebrity chefs named Jamie Oliver, but I have made mistakes in my life. I am an irredeemable cook." 

Friend, I am here to tell you that no matter how many times you tried to barbecue tofu, or toast a rice cake, that no man nor woman is totally lost in the kitchen. We are all weak, we have all ruined the turkey, but that does not mean we should falter in our path to reaching for the culinary sublime. 

Pressure Cooking is here for you. It is a gateway, a bridge, accepting of everyone with an open lid and 15 pounds of pressure per square inch. This is power. When you accept Pressure Cooking into your home, you will be amazed by the changes you see. I myself have seen three pounds of pork shoulder transformed into tender, falling-off-the-bone BBQ pulled pork in the space of one hour. 

Beans will have a new life in your meal planning. You, even you, may find yourself eating squash and enjoying it. 

Oh? You have a Crock-Pot? That's good. Many people don't even have a slow cooker. Now friend, you may disagree with me here, but I am here to tell you that a slow cooker isn't good enough. You deserve better. Sure, it's easy, you don't have to live with the mindfullness that Pressure Cooking requires, but you are missing so much. When you slow cook something, many of the nutrients and oils which carry so much flavor are carried away by the steam which escapes. Pressure Cooking locks that steam in so that all the goodness stays inside the pot. You see? 

Nov 14, 2015

weekend minutae

A few items from the local edition...

Work goes well enough. Boss 1 wants me to concentrate more on the development and renovation of an historic building in town, and let R act in more of a support role while I take the lead. This would jibe with the new desk across from A, which is at least twice as big as the one I was working at before. I was asked to swap with C, the older draftsman, which at least suggests to me that they really do intend that I take on more responsibility in the office, ready or not. It is still so hard to communicate that I still cannot pick up the phone and call someone which is precisely what architects really need to do. I still feel so out of my league in terms of project experience, compounded with the language fluency. It's a struggle.

Friday, I was back in Stuttgart early, as usual, and R dropped me at the mall since that was where he was meeting a friend, so I swung by the electronics store to pick up a new cable for Saori and ended up picking up a new Nexus 9 on steep discount since it was the floor model. Uptime was only 8 days, and it was far cheaper in euros than I could get in the US. Sadly, the Euro to dollar has fallen so hard that this is true. Anyway, I have a new tablet, which is cool. Also did a bunch of grocery shopping and dropped it all off at home. 

I wanted to bring Saori a treat since she was working late again so I swung by the little Italian cafe on the corner. They mostly sell ice cream but also coffees, and the tables in front are always filled, it seems, with Italians. Inside, in the narrow space, I actually only heard Italian spoken. I got a cappuchino to go and delivered it to Saori who was thrilled to see me.

Despite the horrible boss and conditions she is working under now, she said that it was actually worse on a project she had while I was in Mexico and in the US. 

We made apple-banana pancakes this morning for breakfast and then took a stroll over to a nice cafe across town. Then we strolled over to the flower shop and picked up a little chili plant for a former coworker of mine who was having a WG/birthday party tonight.

We made lasagna for dinner for the first time. Lots of substitutions so we should probably try the original next time. Goat cheese and gouda instead of Ricotta and mozzarella. A layer of sliced zuchinni. It turned out really good actually. We did the cheat version and didn't pre-cook the pasta, cooking it instead in the oven with a bit of water and moisture from the sauce. Learned a few things. One for the recipe book.

I started writing down some of the recipes I cook often in a notebook. Tablets are good, but I like to have something more permenant that stays on that I can get a little flour or water on. It's nice to be able to add notes and commentary. Really I should probably just print the recipes I find online and bind them together. 

Saori was too tired to go the party, and she really only knew a few people there, so I went for an hour or so, bringing our carefully wrapped gift with us. Everyone really likes us, we get invitations to parties and dinners every weekend- Saori is so overworked that usually I am the one who makes the social appeareances these days. Unfortunately, she even has to work sunday, although I am going to cook us up some eggs for breakfast. 

Paris

Went to bed with the news reporting 40 killed in Paris, and a concert hall of hostages taken. Woke up to 120 reported killed, and probably more will surface. So far, our friends in Paris have checked in as all on. Such a sad day for Paris.

On our last trip to Paris, we stayed in the neighborhood where many of the attacks were carried out. It is seen as a wealthier, trendier, younger part of Paris, and one of the massacres took place at a concert hall playing Eagles of Death Metal, an American indie country rock band.

I hope Paris doesn't change. I hope they won't change in the way that the US changed post 9/11. I hope that they tighten border controls into Europe, figure out where the fucking guns came from. And we all have to do something about the hellhole of war, misery, extremism, and medieval darkness that is growing out of Syria.

You can get to Stuttgart from Paris, by direct rail, in about three and a half hours. There are no border checks, no ID checks, no metal detectors, no stupid questions about strangers giving you packages. You walk off the street into Gare d'Est, buy a ticket at a kiosk and hop on the train, and you hop off in the middle of Stuttgart.

But I don't think Stuttgart will ever be a target. It's a big city but not symbolically a big city. The military base at Vaihingen could be a target, but since the military people don't come to the city much, I doubt anyone trying to hit then would strike the city. There are many immigrants here but there isn't the friction of Paris. The cohesive ideology of the city is to make a high quality product, save some money for a house, and take Fridays off to enjoy life. If Terrorists want to lash out against Germany, they're going to hit a city that most Americans have heard of. 

Nov 11, 2015

Little weekend

So I finally booked our tickets for the US. Late, but not as late as last year. Unfortunately we have to disappoint at least one of our constant readers with the news that we will not be in Arizona this trip.

Saori has been in a crucible at her office, working really late hours and really really frustrated, mostly with her supervisors. One of her team coworkers, who I normally consider one of the most mild and even keeled GERMANS I know, is so stressed out and upset he can't even bring himself to talk about it because he gets too upset to speak, so I can imagine what a strain this is on Saori.

So Saturday was a bit of retail therapy. We actually do go out shopping shopping so much. So, we had fun shopping at COS where I bought Saori a late birthday present of a really cool coat.

Saturday night, Saori wasn't feeling well so I made Aloo Gobi and Daal and brought it with me to an Indian dinner party at Bala's place. I was wearing the Indian red long shirt thing they wear in the north, and there were actually two other native whiter than white Germans also sporting (more elaborate and fancier) versions of the same shirt. I found a great pressure cooker daal recipe and it was really really well received

There was much dancing but I am not so much for Indian dancing, so I practiced my German and small talk with some guests I didn't know, a young couple with very extravagant Indian attire (they admitted they got them through Amazon). The woman was from Turkmenistan and the guy was Russian-German. They both came from very small villages and talked about how Stuttgart really struck them as a big city with a great big city life.

I am truly spoiled- although I work hard (sometimes) to find the good in smaller cities, like St. Louis, it's hard to feel like we are living the big city life in Stuttgart after spending so much time in some of the biggest, most exciting cities in the world. Really I need to lower my standards.

Anyway, Sunday I made apple pancakes for breakfast and then around noon decided to hop out for a field trip to Schwäbisch Hall. Hall is a small city along a small river in a small valley with steep banks. The historic city centre was basically untouched for probably 200-300 years. I have never before seen so many half timbered buildings and massive old roofs. I changed our itinerary slightly, we actually rode one station beyond in a two car train which charmingly looked straight out of the 80s with orange spring-supported upholstery and brown plastic frames.

Our first stop was the Hohenloher Freilandmuseum Schwäbisch Hall-Wackershofen, which was a small farming village pretty much preserved as a historic park where you can see how people in the countryside lived basically unchanged from the middle ages through the turn of the last century. It was a lovely day to be out in the countryside and we wandered through the old Mill and the home of the Millers family above it.

Then we caught the retro train back to Schwäbisch Hall and basically had all our standards for German urban adorableness reset. Old covered timber bridges, winding and narrow cobblestone streets, an amazing view of the old city wall above the river and the half timbered city rising above it. We found our way to the church plaza which is actually a big hill filled with steps, and claimed a spot at a cafe table outside. Saori got coffee and cake and I ordered a beer. We enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine making its way to the ancient plaza and shining on the people sunning themselves on the church steps.

And an hour and a half of travel later and we were home.

Nov 1, 2015

Dia de Muertos

Last year Saori and I made dia de muertos masks, but we never finished them. They sat in various corners of our apartment until a month ago when we made a concerted push to finish them. I ended up going all out on my oversized mask, covering it with different paint, white pen drawings, adhesive silver foil, newspaper cutouts, and self adhesive tiny glitter mosaic squares.

Saori finished her skull in florescent pink with just white pen linework, highlighting the form of the smoking crossed pistols and crosses. It's actually really great.

We bought tickets to a Dia de los Muertos event at Wagenhallen, a converted industrial space used for concerts, hipster flea markets, etc. I went in with low expectations, considering that Germans approach most other cultures like college students today approach the 70's: as pastiche themes to be appropriated.

The event itself is organized by Germans, the bands are all German, and only some of the merchandise sellers and the taco shop guys were Mexican. It was really a Dia de Muertos themed party. The fact that the event poster and the band both reference Speedy Gonzales, considered by many now to be a racist stereotype, is a good tip-off.

Anyway, I'm not Mexican; I'm not even Catholic, so I can't really point fingers and complain that they're not appropriating the holiday the RIGHT way. Plus the original event was a constructed hybrid of native American and Spanish holidays. Actually, the older I get, the more I find authenticity is overrated. Culture exists to enrich our lives, not the other way around. If it works for you, go with it.

So we decorated our masks, and set up a Dia de Muertos altar with candles, squash, flowers, photos, and a few personnel effects and favorite things from people we have loved and lost. Green Hokkaido pumpkin for Saori's grandfather, the rings of my grandfather, the pocket watch of my great grandfather, grandma Betty's tennis magnet, and also for her, oranges and rum.

We dressed up to go out in basically black club attire, and also our giant decorated skulls. Got lots of attention going down the street and riding the bus.

We found Rafa outside the main event, in a silver Luchador mask, working the food booth. He was dying when he saw us. Everyone thought or masks were great. Sadly, they had already sold out of tinga, but we got some chicken mole tacos. The mole I make is better, but they did have hot fresh corn tortillas which are such a missed delight.

There were probably about 500 people there that night. The vast majority of the other guests had the same skull face paint with blacked out eyes and painted teeth. Saori and I in our skulls cleared a path in front of as people moved out of way and turned in our direction. It was really fun to be a kind of show stopper.

The event itself was a bit of a letdown, even with low expectations. The band was not good. They did have mezcal at the bar, but they had a stupid thematic apparatus where you have to pump air into the bottle and turn a little tap. If it was a private party at house, it would have been cool. At a concert bar, it just looked irritating to the harried bartenders. There were some nice imported and exorbitantly priced Mexican crafts for sale, but if anything it was a reminder of how far I was physically as well as metaphorically from Mexico. It's surreal to see fake saguaro cacti used to decorate and support a theme, having grown up around them.

It was fun enough but we left after the Mexican themed striptease (featuring "Violetta Poison") since we were both really tired and a bit deafened by the music.

Halloween night, riding public transportation in a city where drinking nearly everywhere is legal, past 1 AM is also an unforgettable experience. Lots of zombies this year.

Oct 28, 2015

Eldrich horrors

There's a part of me that loves the eerieness of H.P. Lovecraft, who reveled in all things old and decrepit, of secrets and fathomless time and space. Lovecraft was heavily inspired by Boston and old former Pilgrim villages in the northeast, the crumbling mortar and black bricks, the old Indian legends. It's one of the oldest settled areas of the US.

Boston has nothing on Germany. Boston is a kiddy pool in comparison to the black depths of time which is this part of Europe. The old mysterious Celtic tribes of England didn't come from there: they came from here, southern Germany, where some of the oldest artifacts shaped by humans can still be found.

Beyond the horrors of the Nazis in modern times, the ground should be red with the blood shed over the 30 Years War, the wars of the wars of religious conflict, and wars fought even earlier between Roman legions and Germanic tribes. The current manicured landscape, polite little villages, and formal, conservative people who live here in some ways make me imagine something massive and ancient beneath the surface, a secret river, a rusting forest of iron, an imprint of primeval skies locked into the substrate.

And true to the apex of Lovecraftian horror, finding the "Otherness" in yourself, English is really not so far removed from German. Since the linguistic split millenia ago Engish has changed drastically, German not so much. Studying German is a bit like archaeology on an alien planet where you keep finding odd family resemblances in the things you uncover...

Oct 27, 2015

Dia de los muertos

Last Saturday, Saori and I set up our Offrenda (alter) for the Dias de los muertos which will be this weekend. We bought a lot of fresh flowers, candles, and set up photos and drawings of family we have lost, and set out things that they owned or were accustomed to.

Saori set out a cigarette for her grandfather, as well as a banana (his favorite and typical breakfast) and a green Hokkaido pumpkin which was another favorite dish.
This year, I specially honored my grandma Betty and Grandpa Case since sadly she too recently passed away. To remember her, I set out her Tennis Pro magnet from her fridge, an orange, and a bottle of Malibu, since I remember she did enjoy a rum cocktail and tropical vacations. I miss her, and I have been thinking about all the other people who have gone who have also touched my life.

Saori was sick Sunday, so I stayed home and made Pan de Muerto. My first bread from yeast. Not too complicated, made with some light orange and anis flavor. It turned out well.

We are also painting and decorating our masks that we made last year but never finished. I picked up a roll of 3M metal foil tape on a whim a few months back which has been a lot of fun to turn into metal foil stickers for the skull. I should post photos soon.

We are going to go to a dia de los muertos event this weekend. Mostly a concert but also dancing and Mexican food and probably lots of drinking. Basically it's a themed concert, Mexican themed but planned by Germans for Germans as far as I can see so I'm trying to go in with low expectations. Rafa will be there, actually working the first part of the night.

Oct 25, 2015

in other news

TK Maxx opened downtown, I baked bread with yeast for dia de los muertos pan de muerto, Saori was sick all day today, started german classes again B1 level, we made an offrenda (altar) for dia de los muertos for our departed grandparents, walked 5K to work on thursday since excercise is just not happening right now, cooked a lot of stuff in the pressure cooker.

Attn: Blogger.com and Google.com

Dear Blogger staff at Google

Please update your app so that it does not delete two hours fo writing when you hit the "done" button. I am giving up this software because I am tired of this happening over and over again. Fortunately, there are apps which publish to blogger which are much better than yours.

However, I wonder more and more if it is even worth the trouble of staying here since I can tell from the extended lack of attention to Blogger that this is a service which you will end in a year or two. Or perhaps not, maybe this is a just a "not in service bus" without the sign lit. Enough time at the platform and all the passengers will get off.

Other blogging and media creation platforms were already running circles around you five years ago, when you last updated the platform. Thank you for letting us know your intentions via your sorely neglected projects so that we may seek to post our contnet elsewhere.

A -

Oct 18, 2015

engagement party

While driving to work, my friend Rafa and I talked a bit about having a Mezcal party at his place. Invite a few people over, drink some Mezcal, not too crazy. Last fridays ago, Saori and I decided we should go, so we brought some jars of salsa and tortilla chips. Rafa ended up inviting about 20 people and he was busy grilling Spanish chorizo and chicken on his tiny balcony when he arrived.

We opened some Mezcal, mingled, chatted in whatever language we could with the mix of Mexicans, Greeks and Germans, and it wasnt until the first group left wishing Saori and "congratulations" that I realized something was up.

It turns out, the occasion for the party was Saori and my engagement. This took me as a complete surprise, especially since that Rafa thought I knew what it was all about. To be honest, Rafa could have told me. We speak together mostly in German, and its possible I missed it if he mentioned it in a passing sort of way. But that's a pretty big thing to miss.

Anyway, as an engagement gift, he bought us a bottle of really good mezcal which he carried from Mexico, which is especially precious given that it is basically his alcohol allowance through customs.

Saori and I thanked him profusely. We opened the bottle there and toasted everyone and thanked them for thier warm wishes. We ended up sharing about half the bottle at the party, actually.

When the police showed up outside, we decided maybe it was time to take the party elsewhere. We walked as a large mostly drunk group to Stadtmitte to a big dance club popular with Latins and strange Germans. It was a really seedy looking joint, with loud thumping music, and I used the excuse of Saori falling asleep on my arm as an excuse to politely extract ourslves.

The next day we baked a pumpkin cake for Rafa and made a big thank-you card.

Oct 11, 2015

IKEA and IKEA

Our shitty old IKEA bedframe was causing us a lot of problems so wednesday after work I hopped a train and went out to buy two smaller ones. The problem was we had such a wide bed, the wood slats deformed so much we kept rolling into each other and sleeping on an inclined surface. IKEA figured out this long ago and stopped stocking this particular width.

Anyway, I grabbed the two bedframe slats, each about 25 lbs, and manhandled them back to the train station in one of the outlying train hubs where the IKEA is located. There, I found the platform abandonded since the trains only run every 30 minutes, save for one person, who turned out to be Christoph,  one of our old interns at W.

Stuttgart is not a small place. The city is the fifth largest in Germany, and has a massive population. However, you run into people like it's a country village. It turns out he just arrived from Italy helping his girlfriend move for the Erasmus program.

*The Erasmus program is a European study abroad program which lets Europeans in college go study abroad, typically in other European countries, and the state pays most of the housing and program costs. Erasmus was a facinating historical figure who was arguably the first exchange student (gaining permission to study religion in the UK from his home university in the Netherlands) in the time of the Protestant reformation, in which he played a major, if concilliatory part.

Anyway, we got caught up and it turns out he lives down the street from me now. He generously helped me carry the bedframe boxes to my door before heading home.

The second time we went to IKEA was this weekend, when we caught the train there and took a cab back. Bought a chair with a crossbar for scarves and storage, as well as two night stands, a few plants, and some other kitchen items. Taxi home was expensive, 40 euros, but cheaper than having our stuff delivered, and much more comfortable than trying to lug everything ten minutes to the train station, changing trains, and then fifteen back to the house.

IKEA was sold out of meatballs, if you can believe it.

work week

What a week!

Work is honestly quite draining. The language is the first problem. The office was apparently for many years only staffed by Germans and most of them are Schwabish, which is a particular dialect of German. It has only been in the past few years that they have hired more foreigners, so the management is still not quite used to the imperfect German, let alone my level of German. I work all day listening to German, responding in German, and reading German, and all of this takes a lot of energy and focus. It's exhausting on top of everything else, like trying to make sure I am doing the right things in the right way.

The office is divided into a few teams. I am on the "planung" or design team, which has five people including me, and two bosses, Herr J and Herr L. The team leader is Apo, our Greek friend. Magda is from Poland, a mother who lives nearby, probably in her mid to late 30s. Cherkez is Romanian, in his 50s, hired a few weeks before I was, and Rafa is my Mexican friend who has been working there many years and who just got his German citizenship.

The office is located in a little village called Kernen, of all about 6 square miles and a regional population of about 15,000. It's one of the big wine-making villages in the area, and lies at the base of a valley covered in vinyards. German urbanism is really different from the sprawl of American in that there are really no suburbs as Americans have, big, low density settled areas. Instead, you jump nearly immediately from countryside and farmland to densely packed individual family homes and rowhouses. So on the twenty minute drive in the morning, I go from basically downtown Stuttgart, through an industrial band, countryside open fields of corn and farmland, and then back into the old village with narrow, winding streets, churches older than the American revolution, and wineries.

The office I work in is actually a converted winery: the owners, Herr and Frau J, live upstairs and the offices are downstairs. The design team actaully works upstairs too, in a small room with windows on all the walls and old exposed wooden columns and rafters. In sharp contrast to the white, stark, open minimalism of my last office with Prof W, this office feels more like a BetterHomes&Gardens photo shoot combined with a wealthy and ecclectic aunt's house.

The kitchen has sleek glass covered built in appliances and cabinets, but there's a watering can in front of the window framed by the grape vines covering the building, and a sign hanging that says in English "Save the Earth, it's the only planet with wine." The bathroom has a small framed advertisement from the 1920s, hanging guest hand towels, and expensive modern design porcelain fixtures.

There is a nosy family beagle who is included on the company website as "security" who wanders through and searches my bag for food when I forget and leave it on the floor.

The kitchen is also usually stocked with pastries from the local bakery, and there is a dangerous drawer and candy bowl filled with candy upstairs.

Despite these homey trappings, however, the atmosphere is pure business. When the bosses are here, we refer to each other as "Herr Lopez" or "Herr Perkins." This a place for business first and foremost, not for experimentation, abstraction, or theory. Deadlines, budgets, and projects are all real. My coworkers are friendly- the rest of the office, not so much beyond the pale courtesy and formality of most Germans.

It's a cultural change for me: less about "German" firms and more about the universal differences between high concept competition driven offices and ones actually doing production drawings. In many ways, it feels like I am back at DWL.

This week I have been working on a small urban real estate development of two residential buildings and an ancient restaurant on a site in the same village. It feels good to be working on floorplans, checking sizes of things, calculating square footages and balancing apartment sizes with numbers of units etc.

Unfortunately, everything is taking longer than expected to do, and my work days are longer than I expected. My typical day last week had my alarm going off at 6:45 and me out the door at 7:30 (which was the time I used to get out of bed). More or less it's an hour commute to the office with Rafa picking me up in the morning by his place, and driving in togther, compared to the 30 minute commute to my last office. I take a half hour lunch, and end work between 5 and 6, and then I am usually back home around 6:30. Between the longer than expected working hours and the long commute, I am on par or worse than my overall working & commuting time at the last office. For now. I need to work on this because technically I am not supposed to work more than 40 hours a week. Fridays are suposed to be half days, but so far, they have been full days.

Anyway, one step at a time. Stück für stück as the Germans say.

Oct 3, 2015

sea change

Overall it´s been a busy month. After being approached by a friend and offered a place at his workplace, I considered for several months before deciding that it was the best course of action. I gave notice at my office at the end of August, and Thursday last week, I started working at a new firm.

There is so much packed into this. The short version can be broken down into top five lists.

Top Five Categories in my List Comparing Workplaces
1) potential for growth and education as architect
2) salary
3) how are the bosses to work with
4) actual working hours
5) commuting hours

Top Five Reasons I Left my old office
1) the career trajectory I was following was not in the direction nor the speed at which I wanted, and the office could not offer me the experience I feel I need.
2) I was tired of just handling graphics.
3) the hours were longer than really necessary.
4) the salary was too low considering all the other factors
5) too little creative autonomy in light of the competitions we were doing.

Top Five Reasons I Didn't Want to Leave
1) Boss had done me and Saori a lot of personal favors well beyond professional obligation, including hosting Saori her first Christmas here alone.
2) Boss was actually good to work with and I could learn a lot from him.
3) Majority of the employees were nice, and it was starting to feel like the office was finally cohering.
4) Easy commute, grocery store and several lunch options in walking distance
5) High end, high concept architecture work

Top Five Things I Like About My New Office
1) Return to actually doing architecture closer to the real world, giving me experience in project management, detailing, designing with budgets, cost analysis, etc.
2) Only- German speaking office means I will quickly improve my German skills
3) More money
4) 28 days of paid vacation, shorter working hours, friday afternoons free.
5) Two of the team are friends of mine
6) Microwave oven, good coffee machine, always pastries in the kitchen

Top Five Things I am Disliking (so far) About the New Office
1) All German all the time is really frustrating and very draining since I have to work really hard to understand and respond on top of everything else.
2) The office is located way outside of Stuttgart, in a sleepy village at the foot of a big wine hill. When I ride with coworkers, its about a 45 minute commute, door to door. When I take public transit, its over an hour door to door.
3) I have been out of drawing projects architecture for about six years now since the last time I worked in an office like this was DWL back in 2010. Coupled with my weak German, I feel like the village idiot all the time.
4) The design concept is weak and watered down and cheaped out. It's how the real world works, but it doesn't make it any better.
5) No lunch options at all, unless I want to eat the grapes off the vines covering the building. Which I have actually done. They are really good.

In the end, nothing is really ever as clean as "top five" lists. My old boss was at first surprised and sad that I was leaving. Then he was a little angry and finally dismissive. My two supervisors were also shocked. My coworkers were sad and came out to drink friday to celebrate my departure with me. I baked a bunch of pumpkin bread for the office and bought some fresh pastries for my last day coffee and cake break. I used too much vacation time last year at the old office and so I didn't have any time left to vacation before starting the new job. It was literally one day one workplace, next day another workplace. I think I wore the same pants.

Saori bought me a lovely and expensive laptop bag to take to work. It makes me feel older, and more professional. There is totally different feeling at the new office- at the old office, we are the crew of a private luxury yacht. Fussing over every detail. Handpicked ports of call and too many cadets. Fifty shades of beige and muted color minimalism. White glove architecture. This new job is a commerical fishing boat. We are out there with no fuss, no frills, pulling in fish and getting the work done with economy and the experience of seasoned hands.

Sep 27, 2015

Chase in pig country

A decade ago, I traveled through Europe between my sophomore and junior year in college with an old high school friend, Chase. Since, we have been in touch on again and off again. One day, Chase messages me that he is considering moving to Amsterdam for work and had I been there. I was, in fact, sitting in a canal house in the Jordaan, vacationing there with Tay and Saori. I told him truthfully that it was a hipsters paradise, and that totally, he should go. So he did. He has considerable travel experience and lived in Shanghai before, so the expat thing was not so intimidating.  His girlfriend, Whitney, also decided to come as well, although she had never before been out of the country.

Anyway, they popped over for the weekend to say hello and to visit Stuttgart's Oktoberfest. Their door to door time was under three hours. After we welcomed them to our place with guac and chips, we took them to Zum Paulner for dinner and more drinks. Saori took me there my first night in town.

Afterwards, we went to another bar, Akermann's, near our flat, and had another drink before heading back to the apartment where Saori had prepared towels, sheets, and bound everything with paper twine and welcome tags.

Saturday morning I woke up with a crushing hangover headache but felt well enough to whip up a batch of banana pancakes for the group before the really bad nausea hit.

I had three (3) drinks the night before. A half liter beer with chips and salsa, a half liter at the restaurant with dinner, and a half liter at the bar, all of these spaced out over about three to four hours.

I was sick for about six hours, where I was so ill I could only hold down water. This is not the first time that this has happened either. Nobody else was remotely ill which makes me think that I might be developing a gastric sensitivity to beer. Or alcohol. I should test this with tequila.

Anyway, I was so miserable, I couldn't of course be a great host or guide, so Saori told our guests how to get to the adorable village of Tübingen for the day while shouted a feeble farewell from the bedroom.

After some enjoyable hours playing `can I hold this down?´ and `bathroom biology´ my system finally righted itself with copious quantities of coconut water. It was a surprisingly fast recovery once begun, so I was able to meet Chase and Whitney at Wasen in the late afternoon. Saori joked her amazement that I could be in the searching  in the AM for a suitable pot for the bedside, and in the PM, a suitable hat for a drinking festival.

It would have been unthinkable that I would ever touch beer again four hours prior, but at Oktoberfest, I downed no less than five liters of beer and passed out facedown on beer-soaked asphalt. Actually, I had a scant half liter total, guessing I was probably pushing it with that. It was still a good time. We walked through what must have been the least terrifying haunted houses ever, rode a few rides, played some carnival games (I insisted on the bb rifle and I am a crack shot at blank range), and fought our way into one of the big tents.

Many Germans older and younger, reserve tables months in advance in large to medium groups and so get advance tickets so walk in at set times. The rabble who lack either forward-thinking friends or this level of preparation for drinking festivals, are punished by forming a mob at the front behind barricades while bouncers/hosts handpick groups frantically waving their hands showign the number people in thier party. We opted for the American style three fingers istead of the German thumb-plus-two in the hopes that it would make us stand out as Interesting People Who Would Bring Diversity to the tent. Which is important in a heavy drinking environment where the main concern is not inadvertantly uninating all over your own lederhosen.

We fought hard for this. Actually, I thought Whitney was going to get in a fistfight with a bitch who cut us in the scrum to the front. But, haleluja, we were finally picked out from the crowd and led inside ... to stand at a large wooden high top at the back of the tent. We could order beers, but no food, evidently. So we nursed our beers, stamped our feet and swung our half liter glasses with the live band playing Prosit, Prosit every ten minutes, and marveled at the massive wooden trays covered with a dozen steaming plates each containing a half chicken and a loaf of bread, or a mamoth pretzel on a mountain of potato salad. No food for you!

We abandoned our designated floor place and wandered through, deeper into into the tent where the people with reservations had places, complete with bench dancing, beer stein swinging, and ducking to avoid the giant wood boards flying by with food.

I actually really enjoy these festivals. They are totally kitschy, and most of the people who go are 20something guys in identical cheap lederhosen and shirts. But its undeniably fun. I was excited to step on the train and see a car full of people wearing traditional Bavarian and Schwabish costumes, especially the older people and the families who obviously spent some serious cash on their clothing. The festival itself is basically a state fair of beer, except all the beer is the same, but it is a tradition. There is not even the pretense of say, thanksgiving or Christmas, to remember a particular event (although it was started as a commemorative event originally). Even if an inherantly meaningless and vapid one, traditional events strenghten the bonds between people and places. It's a memory shared by the people of the city involving a particular place in the city. It is a part of the city identity, like the architecture or urban organization.

For Thursday please hand in your summaries from Scheer's Form Code and Spectacle by Bruce Mau.

Anyway, we walked over to the Schweinmuseum for dinner since they have a nice restaurant downstairs. Saori joined us and most of us ate dishes from the seasonal mushrooms which turned out to be wonderful while Chase worked his way through a massive schweinhaxle (deep fried joint of pork) with beer sauce.

After dinner, we enjoyed a last round of drinks at my new favorite bar in town, unlikely enough, a cellar pool hall and whisky bar. Old overstuffed leather couches, blackout red lighting, and a bar specializing in whisky and gin cocktails or bottled belgain and french beers. Where I also stuck to soft drinks.

Sunday morning, I made what we call Lumen Breakfast, which is basically an open faced fried egg sandwich with toasted local bread, bergkase cheese, and cured meat, although I swapped in fried bacon today and topped with some chives.

Afterwards, we walked through a short nature trail to see and feed the wild (tame?) boars in the nearby woods. Then it was time to put Chase and Whitney back on the train to the airport. It was a good visit, and now we need to also find a weekend to pop up to Amsterdam and visit them too.

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...