Apr 27, 2015

sunday travels

My alarm got me up at 3:20, and for a few moments, I sleepily thought, it's too early for whatever it is, I'm so tired, I'll just sleep in. But then reality kicked in and I jumped out of bed to throw on some clothes and get out the door. I kissed sleeping Saori goodbye and called the taxi company. It was there by the time I got down the stairs, and we sped off through the night/morning. I was at my gate an hour before boarding.

Flew first to Amsterdam, cleared EU customs, and then had to jump in line immediately for the US flight, even though it wasn't scheduled to depart for another two hours. Because my destination is in the US, we have to go through a few special extra checks. They have to take you aside, one at a time to small portable lecterns, and go through the security theater catechism:

Does your bag belong to you?
Did you pack it through and through?
Did strangers give you something new?
Do you have something wet?
Or something sharp did you forget?

yes of course the bag is mine,
why else would I have it in this line?
The only thing a stranger gave to me
was coffee that cost too much money.
Why waste my time with silly spam?
I do not like it, Uncle Sam.


Anyway, my interrogator was quite concerned and had to go back and forth to the main counter a few times. Apparently I raised a few red flags, probably because I didn't check any bags and because I bought the ticket within 24 hours of the flight. Also, because she was confused about my overall trip, coming to the US and leaving it again. Anyway, that took a short while to get sorted.

Sat at the back in the middle of a giant 747 with the 3-4-3 seating configuration. Got a little sleep on the 8 hour flight, but most of that was the hour we sat on the tarmac waiting for the rain to clear. It's a long flight. But at least its Delta, which has a really good selection of movies and they finally figured out that people need to drink lots of water the super dehydrated airframe environment. I watched the latest Godzilla movie and Groundhog Day which I had never seen before. The former was surprisingly unenjoyable. Everyone in this movie was completely stupid. I realize that monster crises make you do stupid things, but this is a deep, entrenched stupidity. From Dr. Samurai who thought the best plan of action was to feed a 30 meter tall monster radioactivity, to the military forces who kept shooting the damn thing with bullets despite bullets having at no time any noticeable effect, to the protagonist, and aptly named, Ford, a character whose main characteristic is coincidentally being in precisely the right place at the right time and trained in plot-advancing skills. Also, the military idea of bringing the nukes to the water to lure the monsters in was a good one, but the rail line with all the nukes on board, unshielded, across the very place where the monsters are known to be rampaging was not such a good execution. Groundhog Day was really good though.

Anyway, cleared customs in Detroit, hung around their bright, airy, and entirely anonymous airport before catching this tiny flight to Oklahoma City.

Saturday

Nobody slept well saturday night. When I checked messages in the morning, I read that Grandma had passed away while I slept. When we FaceTimed, she talked about "fading away," and that is how I imagine she left us, fading from this Earth with family close by.

Dad was up early with his jet lag. He met me shortly later at our apartment and we walked over the Bosch Bakery to stock up on pastries. There was a typical long line, and I talked about Grandma's passing and how conflicted I was about going to the US. I wanted to go, I felt I should go, but a ticket to the US is so so expensive, and frankly, I am living paycheck to paycheck without savings. Dad encouraged me to go.

He loved the bakery. We bought sesame covered laugen croissants, chocolate crossants, poppy seed sweet danishes, and a big farmers loaf of bread.

Next door at the fruit shop, he picked us up a box of incredibly ripe and delicious strawberries. From there, we walked the short distance over to the saturday market on Bismarkplatz, and bought more cheese, fruits, and vegitables.

Back at the apartment, Saori sliced up some fruit for us, and I fried some eggs and sliced up the pastries. We washed it down a few pots of black coffee. Over breakfast we talked about our options for a rainy and gray day.

We took the U bahn back to the city center and went to the Landesmuseum, which is a collection of mostly archeological and significant historical artifacts from the local area. The museum is also located inside of the Altes Schloss, the old castle (although actually it was rebuilt twice in the 20th century). As it turns out, the area in close proximity to Stuttgart has a rather representative slice of the history of human pre-civilization and civilization.

There are locally found fragments of Neanderthals, some of the oldest carved artworks, period, dating back 35-40,000 years ago. The area witnessed the rise of the Celts, the Allamani, Roman occupation, the christianization of the Germanic tribes, the struggles of the Protestant reformation, and the rise of mechanical and industrial industries in more recent times.

Actually a very well done museum although intense, and we needed a beer afterwards. We had a pint and a light meal at the Alte Kanzlei nearby. The service was unusually bad. The standards of American service are such that I constantly remind myself to lower my expectations in Europe or elsewhere abroad, but one of the waiters here suggested to Saori that if she couldn't wait for her drinks, she should just go home. This is after we got our food which is a long enough wait.

Anyway, at that point, I had made up my mind to come to the funeral, so we let Dad on his own in the city center and Saori and I went back home to look at tickets.

They are still so expensive. The only way I could bring down the price was to fly out the following morning at 6 AM and stay a full week.

Even before grandma passed away, Saori was asking me if she should plan on going to see grandma. Or if she should come to the funeral as well.

Grandma's passing really hit Saori hard. She, like many, loved grandma, and it eats at her that she had not been back to see her since the Christmas right before she left for Germany. It eats at her that she has been absent from so many family gatherings, and especially as a Japanese person, it eats at her that she was never able to return the hospitality to grandma like Saori wished she could have done. As it was, and as ticket prices are, we decided that I should go and represent both of us, and she would cover half of the ticket.

We rested and planned and then arranged to meet dad for dinner at Turkish restaurant nearby. A bit of humor punctuating the heaviness of the day transpired while I was making reservations. I asked if the person who answered the phone spoke english. He replied, " one moment", and there was a bit of chatter and conversation in Turkish at the other end before a younger man hesitantly picked up the phone

Hello?
Hello! I would like to make a reservation.
um, no thank you. We are not interested.
You are not interested?! I want. to make. a reservation. at your restaurant.
ohhhhh ok

but we finally got it all straightened out. We met dad there for dinner and actually the food was all really good. The best meal we had with dad while he was there.

We said goodbye at the bus stop where dad could grab the bus back to his hotel (we taught him to say 'Kurz' for short trip). I am sad that I couldn't stay another day with him in Stuttgart, but the connections monday all had me coming in very late monday night, very close to the tuesday morning funeral.

It has been such a flood of emotions for me- happiness and warmth of seeing dad again, and the pleasure of showing him around, but combined with the weight of grief for my Grandma, and my frustration at being so far from family I wanted to comfort.

I packed until about midnight, took a shower, and crashed in bed, wishing that this wasn't at the same time as dad's visit, wishing I was coming to the US under different circumstances and wishing that my flight wasn't leaving in six hours.

wednesday, thursday, friday

It's been a long week. Earlier this week, I met up with Rafa and we went to a pool hall in Stadtmitte to catch up. We talked a lot about his office and the work he does, and some more personal issues he's going through right now. The bar is really cool, my new favorite. Across the street from the sleek mall [with the crappy, cheap stores], there is a driveway through the facing buildings that takes you to a small asphalt courtyard. There's an open door with a sign that reads "no one under 25 allowed," and a flight of stairs that takes you down.

The bar is dimly lit, sparsely populated, with a bright patch illuminating a few pool tables, and a dark, dark bar where every shelf is lined with various bottles of whiskey. There is also two large deli-case refrigerators filled with cold imported Belgian and French beers, mostly of the Trappist variety. The bartender pops them open and serves them up in the particular glass for that variety of beer. The various rooms are filled with old dark leather sofas and lounge chairs. It's somewhere between a dive and a country club.

There were rail strikes that day, which means that it must have been wednesday, since Rafa had a hell of a time driving into the city center. Whenever there are rail strikes, the S bahn also shuts down to nearly nothing because of the affiliated unions, and then all the commuters have to drive. Accidents and huge traffic jams clog the roads.

Thursday afternoon, I saw aunt Brenda's post about grandma's turn for the worse, it was upsetting so I left the office shortly after at 4pm. It was also in part because I wanted to try to catch grandma on FaceTime.

Aunt Brenda was there, and she connected me with her cell. I knew it was going to be our last conversation in this world.
Grandma was clearly not doing well. She was really in a bad way actually. She was mostly lucid but kept fading in and out. Brenda cheerfully conversed with me and I talked about wedding plans, life in Germany, how things were going at the office. Grandma was happy to see and hear me. Brenda and I did most of the talking, when we talked about the wedding, Grandma said that Saori was really a swell girl. Grandma started to slip more and more into sleep, we wrapped it up and I told her that I loved her, and that Saori loved her very much and we said goodbye.

That was so hard for me. And it must have been even harder for Aunt Brenda. But she was so strong.

We had chicken skewers that needed cooking that night, so I hooked up the electric grill on the patio and we had a quiet and subdued grill with tortillas.

All this in the background, and the next day I met up with Dad.

Dad happened to be in the neighborhood, so to speak, so he came down after his business trip to Norway. Actually, his flights all connected through Frankfurt, which is a little over an hour train ride from Stuttgart.

I left work early on Friday to and we met up at the large beer garten outside of the main station. He was easy to spot since he was the only person out there working on a laptop. It was a really beautiful day, and I suggested we meet up there because the weather for the weekend was forecast to be cold and rainy.

I helped dad with his luggage back to his hotel from there, we walked through Stadtmitte to the Calwer-Eck brewery where Saori saved us an outside table. I'd tried to make reservations but they wouldn't me, although I didn't understand why at the time. We were tucking into our appetizers when a group of 300 conventioners shuffled by and filed into the restraurant. Alles klar.

After dinner, we walked a bit back through the city center, and took an U bahn up the hill to get some gelato, check out the city at night.

Apr 18, 2015

Hope

Mom texted me yesterday to let me know grandma Case was in the hospital, with what was shortly after diagnosed as a massive heart attack. It came as a bit of surprise actually, since I've been told that non-smoking Cases are basically indestructible. When Tay and I went too visit her in January, she was surprisingly clear and sharp, especially in contrast with her friend Mrs. Head, six years her senior. Fragile, though. But still the quiet and not no quiet indomitable will she always has. And so happy to see us. I am so glad we decided to make that trip.

The Ponca hospital transferred her to Oklahoma City where she is now. Mom and Larry took off this morning and they will join Tracey and Brenda who are already there. I have heard she is weak but conscious. I hope with all my heart that she will recover quickly, aided by the love of her many family members and friends around her.

Apr 16, 2015

O captain my captain

I'm so excited that the new election season has kicked off. It's going to be a conservative throwdown over who is the family-valueist and trying to outdo each other's claims to dismantle the federal government. This is particularly funny to me because considering the position they are competitng over, it's like they are all campaigning to be captain of a ship by promising to scrap it

Apr 15, 2015

Grilli

Yesterday, we were sitting around on the wood terrasse after our typical PennyMarkt run for lunch, and Cesar, one of the Mexican interns said "So are we doing it? Barbecue tomorrow after work?"

He had been pitching this idea for a few days, including on WhatsApp, which he claims he actually proposed originally as a test of German spontaneity. Actually, everyone in the office decided to come, including Katrin, Thomas, and the secretary Petra.

So today during lunch, I threw down for some beers, some bratwurst, some charcoal, and some marinated paprika pork steaks. In Germany, chicken is the Other white meat, and beef, well, it's so American. I also came prepared with wooden plates, chopsticks for the grill, hand sanitizer, and a big vinyl blanket.

So we quit work a little after six and Cesar and I lugged the office hibichi grill up the hill to Uhlandshöhe, the hilltop, with pleasant views of the city and benches. It was nice. Saori came out, I built up the fire which turned out really nice, and people were amused by my chopsticks (but admired how deftly I could maneuver things on the grill). We ate and drank beer and chatted until ten, and called it a night, cleaning everything up and hauling it all back down the hill to the office before catching a bus back home.

In other news I started running again, 45 minutes. Lots of hills in Stuttgart. Lots of hills. I actually bought new running shorts and a cheap long sleeve running shirt from H&M. It's orange and black and I feel like a mobile road construction sign. Good to be running again though I have to get up at 6:45 every morning I want to run before work.

Also in the news: fucking allergies. But at least it's spring. With spring, finally spring, I can deal with allergies.

Apr 13, 2015

Five things that seem strange about Germans to an American

1) Germans use travel agents. In the age of the internet and a slew of travel deal websites, most Germans still pop over to the corner travel agency, where you can still find models of airplanes, small international souvenirs, and big posters of massive beach resorts.

2) In the rare cases where it is used, many Germans make ice in the freezer by filling an specially designed thin plastic sack with lots of little pockets. There is a clever and simple water-lock which keeps the sack of water closed when the bag is full and sitting on its side. You tear apart the sack to get to the ice.

3) Considering their history and their inclusive and accommodating federal policies, many Germans are surprisingly racist, and the way it comes across in their comments and conversation suggests they don't really see it as a racist or problematic position.

4) Many Germans think that Americans live on nothing but hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, and a few other vaguely conceived "American" dishes. The prevalence of international food in the US is a real surprise to them.

5) Germans prefer wardrobes and free-standing cabinets rather than built-in storage or closets. Part of this stems from the design of apartments and houses where no closet space is provided, perhaps because space is at such a premium.

Apr 12, 2015

Duck Dynasty

One of the heads of the Duck Dynasty family recently went off on a frothy tangent about atheists. He described in detail a hypothetical situation where a family of atheists were robbed, raped, and murdered and how the violent perpetrators could say "what is the problem here if there is no divine judgment? Isn't it great that there is no real right and wrong?"

All I can say is that it is a good thing this guy believes in God, since obviously it is only his fear of hellfire which prevents him from murdering, raping, and stealing. Is he only a dog, only chained by fear of the master's lash?

I have been reading a long book about the Protestant Reformation lead by Martin Luther in a long book about Germany at the end of the middle ages. It's very interesting to get to know the characters and motivations of the major players, and the fundamental theological questions which were being asked.

When I was much younger, even as a ten year old, I remember my opposition to three major concepts we were taught in Church: 1, that I, sinner and 2, that mankind itself was irredeemable, corrupted even before consciousness, and 3, the metaphysical nature of the soul (I demanded to be shown the location of the soul on my book about the human body).

I contested the notion that I was a sinner: I sincerely felt at that age that I had lived a blameless life and actually prided myself on my righteousness by the standards of what I thought people were supposed to behave. I must admit that this position was pretty weak and if hauled before an ecclesiastical tribune, I would recant, because I have NOT led a blameless life, even by my own standard. There have been ethical failings in moments of indulgent weakness. I am not a perfect person.

But I am not Martin Luther, and these are not the 95 theses.

In a nutshell, and as I understand it, the main theological points are these:

Pre-reformation Catholic: submit to the rituals of the Church, unquestioning faith in the Church hierarchy and its spiritual authority as intermediary between you and God. You can be saved by your actions and through propitiating the Church.

Luther's Protestants: you may be dammed, you might be saved, But probably the former. You were born as one or the other and there is nothing that any mortal can do can change your final destination. This world is "the front porch of Hell." God has a direct relation to the individual and if you are really good, you may get a hint as to what your fate is. Your good deeds will not save you but maybe some things will go well for you since God is also benevolent.

Duck Dynasty there's a big angry guy in the sky with a stick and he is gonna punish you.

Apr 10, 2015

Palast

Today it finally started Springing again after a few more weeks of winter, so the 20somethings in my office (plus me), went to have a drink.

If you are between the ages of 16, when you can legally drink beer in Geramny, and 36 and you live in Stuttgart, odds are you have had a drink at this particular bar. If you are in your early to mid-twenties, you are probably at this bar weekly. It is one of the true loci of drinking culture in Stuttgart. People come there to meet up, and most people never actually set foot inside the bar because the bar itself is in a tiny pavillion. Most people buy beer elsewhere and sit down on the pavement in the small square where the bar is, brushing aisde broken glass and cigarette butts. The bar is a tiny pavillion because it used to be a public toilet. It is still, largely, a public toilet, and for me, the underground toilets at the bar are so squalid they come across as exotic in the surgical suite that is Germany. The name of the bar is Palast der Republik, but everyone calls it Palast (Palace).

On the walk to the bar, one of the Mexican interns chirped happily about how were out early (it was shortly after six) and how good it was going to be in the city. I felt kind of bad breaking it to her that most Germans get off work before five on Fridays.

Palast was packed. Standing room only as the little square was filled. The line for the bar (or the toilet?) stretched across the plaza so we did what everyone does: we walked the five minutes to the small overpriced grocery store by the train station and bought beer there to bring back and camp out.

Saori, unfortunately, couldn't join us because she was recovering from her root canal. Both of us have been going through the dental wringer. Earlier this week, I had three cavities filled, which cost me slightly under $200 US because I opted for the plastic instead of the metal fillings. Saori had a nasty cheek infection a month or so ago, and this was a root canal to treat the problem tooth that was the source of the infection.

The upshot is our teeth are a lot healthier and I my rogue brown tooth which makes me look like a chronic smoker is cleaned up.

Apr 3, 2015

This and that

Easter weekend means four days off for us: good Friday through Easter Monday. Not sure why Monday is celebrated, but I'll take it anyway.

Things I'm reading right now: A Very Short Introduction: Art Theory, uncle David's book The Death of Drawing: Architecture in the age of simulation, and A History of Modern Germany: The Reformation, all of which touch on the life and works of Thomas Aquinas, incidentally.

Things I've cooked lately: an easy chorizo penne pasta, Mexican
sopa de lima, and German white asparagus soup.

Spring in Germany means white asparagus: it's on menus, in bundles at the grocery store, even sold in temporary stands like white, edible fireworks.

Today we took a short walk to rotwildpark, not far from Botnang, which is a fenced in enclosure for a small troop of boars. Two weeks ago, I was out there with Rafa and we were surprised to see a litter of tiny piglets nursing, with the characteristic watermelon striping. This time there were tons of piglets, perhaps 20 in all, bigger, the size of small dogs, still with the striping, but running around, fighting, climbing over the giant hogs and sows, and napping in big piles of other piglets.

Afterwards, we stopped into an awkward bio-center that seems to sell everything bio and had coffee and cake, which turned out to be really good. Watched
The Zero Theorem__ tonight at home, which I clearly had too high hopes for.

Apr 1, 2015

a more succulent career

With the start of a new month, it is time to change things up. We are both tired of coming home late, working weekends, and doing architecture. Saori and I have been getting more and more into desert plants, and we were thinking, you know, we should really do something with this. Today, we handed in our two week notice to our jobs. We are going to go into business cultivating and selling cactus and succulents. It's really a natural transition for us, no pun intended. I grew up in the desert, and I am excited to tap into my expertise and enthusiasm about water conservation and sustainable landscape design. We have already drawn up plans to enclose the terrace and turn the apartment living room into a greenhouse, and we have submitted plans to our landlord to grow more plants on the roof which will substantially increase our productive area. The amazing thing about most succulents is that they self-clone. You take off a leaf, and the leaf grows a new plant! In two months, we expect to open Perkins' Pointy Plants to the public with a wide array of succulents, agave, sedum, and cacti for sale.

Please check out our website www.pointyplants.com

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...