Aug 23, 2015

munich vacation

Two weeks ago, I told my office that I was taking two days off to go to Munich. What I actually did, was use those two vacation days to work in another office. Let me say that these offices are not direct competitors, and as it was my first time at this office, I wasn't really that engaged with real work anyway. This was more of an opportunty for both them and I to get to know each other a little better.

Things I liked about the office
-There is a seriousness and urgency to the work. The projects I would be working on are actual projects with clients and most of them will be drawn and detailed in house. This is a sharp contrast to WA, where the vast majority of the projects I have worked on are either studies or competitions, and the one ¨real¨ project was simply a core and shell designer project, with the construction documents drawn by another firm.

-I liked the working hours. I apprecitated the fact that the approach was businesslike rather than a sacred brotherhood of Architecture.

-The people were nice enough at first blush. I am strongly encouraged as well by my friend Rafa who has worked there for many years and really enjoys the environment.

- There is a lot of autonomy given to designers. The bosses seems to solicit your designs, and then seek your comment and opinion when discussing all the options. At WA, I often feel that I am coloring in the lines. The forms and plan organization are always set by JW, and there is little leeway from the typical facade. My work over the past year has primarily been laying out boards, making renderings, making 3D models, and making drawings graphically appealing.

- Importantly, there is more money to be made. The salary is 400 euros more per month than my current job, which equates to a 20% jump before taxes.

Concerns I have about the office
-They have expressed a desire to see my German improve dramatically, which I makes me worry about how realistic this is. They want me to be fluent enough to talk to customers in six months of starting. Damn, that would be fantastic, actually, since it would be an actual hard thing I could take from my time here. I have already re-enrolled in my classes again, but I think I need to step up my game.

- They want me to work in Revit immediately, which is a little challengeing since I will need at least a week or two to re-familiarize myself with the German version. It has been over two years since I touched Revit, so it`s a little rusty, but probably will come back quickly. What is important is understanding all the commands in German.

- The overall time frame is a bit of a wash. At JW, I work typically from 8:45 to 6:30, five days a week. This is about 45 working hours, with about 5 hours of commute. Moving over, I will work 40 hours a week with close to 9 hours of commute time. Working less, commuting more, and fridays back in Stuttgart several hours before I would be at JW.

- There are no food options in this tiny village where the office is. I will have to buy my lunch on the way or make it and bring it from home daily. Overall, this is also a nitpicky kind of detail, to be honest.

Tomorrow, I have another meeting with the office and we will hash out the details. Things that are critical for me to communicate: 1) My status as not having started AiT. 2) My office-specific visa which will need to be converted to the other office. 3) I want to increase my salary 100 euros to 3000 a month to take account for the extra costs of transportation.

Aug 18, 2015

under pressure

I had a really dorky moment a few years back in grad school, when I got a CrockPot and some of my classmates had also recently aquired slow cookers, and we were all geeking out a bit. How great it was you could leave it on all day and come home to a hot meal after studio, how great beans and soups and stews were in them, etc. etc.  Probably every generation goes through that moment where slow cookers suddenly change from that sad cooking utensil from your parent's college years  to this somewhat miraculous thing that enables you eat cooked meals like a real grown up.

Probably I wrote a few blog posts about how great they are, too.

Pressure cookers, on the other hand, are like discovering a never-ending stash of cocaine, or a portal to Restaurant With Linens planet. It is difficult to quantify my level of nerdines over pressure cooking, but let's just say that my introduction to pressure cookers ranks right up there with my time in Mexico and Kraft Mac'n'Cheese in the milestones of my culinary development.

Sunday night, I made steak carnita soup. Basically you pan fry a bunch of beef stew meat to brown it, and then dump it in the cooker with an onion, a lot of diced chili peppers, garlic, cumin and ground corriander, and a cup and a half of stock. 40 minutes later, the soup is done and its phenomenal. Meat falling off the bone. The soup flooded with rich beef flavor. The chilis lose most of their sharpness in the heat and pressure so you are left with the flavor and a deep, quiet heat. Especially with some fresh avocado and cilantro tossed in.

Saori invited an old classmate of hers from the language course to join us, Kenji. He told her that he was running late because he wanted to wear his "flashy" shoes. I thought they were slippers first becuse they had giant stuffed gorillas inegrated into them. Actually, they are Adidas shoes, basketball shoes designed by Jeremy Scott who has done a really bizzare line of shoes. Seriously, check it out.

Anyway, Kenji enjoyed the soup and we chatted for a long time. He is apparently very lonely and bored. We actually gave him the last of the soup to take home with him since he lives alone.

Monday, after work, I made BBQ pulled pork. It takes about an hour and a half. Saori had picked up a kilo of pork butt from the grocery store and I browned the surface in oil before sauteeing onions and garlic in the same pan. Meat goes back in, along with a cup of water and a cup of BBQ sauce. Lid, lock, and kick back for an hour. Out comes chunks of BBQ flavored meat so tender you merely touch it to shred it. Mix the BBQ soup in the pot with more BBQ sauce and its fantastic.

Aug 15, 2015


Lately, I've been getting really itchy feet to get the hell out of Stuttgart and see some new places, so Friday night, I proposed we catch a train to Karlsruhe.

Less than an hour by train from Stuttgart, Karlsruhe is a city smaller than Stuttgart, but laid out along a radial plan. Thomas Jefferson apparently came here at the suggestion of DC planner Charles L'Enfant and actually this year the city is celebrating its 300th birthday. (We're discounting the fact the fact the city was heavily bombed in WWII).

Actually, I was really curious to see the city organization, and also to check out a large new pavilion constructed specificity for the birthday festivities. And to try the local beer, naturlich.

We ended up leaving home late since we were both exhausted from a really long week and late nights. Fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast (it really does make you feel like you should be getting super powers), along with eggs and zucchini bread and strong black coffee.

Baden-Württemburg ticket for two, less than $15 for a statewide ticket, and we were there in 53 minutes.

The train station is actually located beyond the edge of the old city center. It's about a 20 minute walk or a five minute ride to the marktplatz. This actually didn't bother me since it frees up the city center for its own purposes, and because one enters the city in a lovely and tree lined residential borough with the peaceful and not too big city zoo right in front of you. Actually the zoo is so small there is a pedestrian bridge which cuts across it, so you look down on flamingos, elephants, and people on small pleasure boats flattering through the zoo steam route.

Actually it was such an appealing scene we went in and bought tickets directly off the bridge.

The tiny boats run on an underwater track of some sort. We were imagining that it was drawn by harnessed turtles. It was lovely, a warm and sleepy sunny day, slowly floating along tree covered streams and ponds, attracting the persistent attention of ducks and unnerving carp with gaping mouths. It was nice to simply float for 40 minutes, slowed to the moment.

We saw big cats and polar bears and squeaky dwarf otters and sea lion feeding. We were worried about not making it more than a quarter mile from the train station so before it got too late, we jumped out to the city and shortly found a house hanging from a crane in the market plaza, and the palace and large circular garden in the city center.

It's quite all quite leafy and stately, really puts Stuttgart to shame in terms of the city environment. Everything feels a little nicer. In some ways it reminded both of us of Boston.

We walked around the Schloss to the pavilion, which is a big skewed rectangular lattice of giant wood beams. I enjoyed climbing up and exploring its little socializing decks more than its main aspect as a bandshell.

From there we walked to a large brewery restaurant called Badisch Brauhaus. Badish is a reference to the region, Baden, but apparently also forms its own dialect also spoken in parts of southern Alsace. The beer was good, although the biker club drinking by the entrance gave me a moment's pause.

It was a huge place actually, a warren of biergartens, covered courtyards, brewery basements, and upstairs lounges. It was strange and super kitschy. LED lighting, rustic beer barrel seats, Dali wall murals, bronzed glass, and whimsical Hundertwasser-esque housing above with mosaic onion domes and strangely shaped balconies and windows. We ordered two weisens and a banana beer. Banana beer is oddly appealing. It's so sweet and super banana-y, but intriguing. Not sure I'd want to drink an entire half liter, but interesting.

Later, we strolled through town, getting totally sidetracked by a sale at a sports store and the unexpected discovery of a TJ Maxx (which, inexplicably, is TK Maxx in Europe), so we missed the fastest, most convenient train home. So we ended up killing an hour or so near the train station and then took a slow regional train back to Stuttgart.

This particular branch should have been called Zenos Line because we stopped at a city halfway to Stuttgart, then 3/4 of the way there, then 7/8th the way there, until we were basically making stops at every bus stop along the route.

All in all, a good day though.

Aug 5, 2015


Tomorrow morning I will not be getting on a train to Munich like I told my office- I will be taking two days of vacation to work at a different office.

I want to change my jobs because of several reasons that basically boil down to professional trajectory and salary. I am frankly not making the money I want to make, and this job would be a boost to my salary. Professionally, I work most of the time in Rhino and Adobe Illustrator. I make and remake and remake phantom buildings for print media. This is not the job I was trained to do, this is not the job I am interested in. Frankly, German conceptual design is terrible. What wins competitions, what is built, are white, blocky buildings with large grid openings. There is sometimes a kink knick introduced, but only a slight one, in plan. German technical design is great. This is where I want to improve. Details. Facade systems. Building systems. I am excited about the fact that there is an entire profession (lacking in the US) centered around building efficiency in terms of climate control and energy.

This new office is pretty new. I am a little concerned about the risk I am taking. If I sever my ties with WA, and if the new job turns sour, I will be asked to leave the country after a short period of time if I can't find a new job. It's a little tricky switching the working permit as well, which could delay the whole proceedings.

One thing I definitely need to do is bring up these situations with the employers, since it may be logical that they they work on fullfilling the requirements of the working visa before I tell my employer I am leaving.

But I get ahead of myself. Tomrrow and friday are about getting to know each other.

They will want to know how is my German. They will want to know what I am like to work with. They will want to know what my level of skill is with autocad and revit and building drawings.

Tonight, I have been memorizing the phrase Ich bin Erfruet, Sie kennen zu lernen which means pleased to meet you.

This is also my chance to evaluate the company. Specifically, I want to get a feel of how the workflow goes, what the working environment is like, what kind of work I will be doing, what are the people like that I will be working with. It will be also be an opportune time to discuss salary, perhaps at the end, since I gave a number before.

So what is a Go for me? I am looking for a place where I can quickly improve my German, build up my skills as an architect, by which I mean take a direct part in design and drafting. I am looking for more money. I am looking for something I can fully engage. I have worked with hard no-nonsense people at DWL. That's fine. Now is not the time for whimsey in careers. I am looking for people who will be consistant, fair, and helpful. I am not afraid to work.

So what do I need to do tomorrow? My goals are to provide a good impression. That is to nice, say, well-mannered, serious, eager and enthusaistic about the job, showing a willingness to dive in and try something but also to ask questions.

This a construction business whose main job is making actual, standing up, buildings. This is not making competitions, which has the aim of making buildings appear as effortless and insubstantial as possible. These jobs need people who are reliable, straightforward, and hardworking.

I need to use my German. A lot. I can do it. I need to not be afraid to be totally German all day except for matters of explicit clarity.

I need to repeat back what people ask me to do to make sure that I know what to do and they know I know what to do.

I need to dress neatly. No tie, no jacket, but serious and professional. And to be on time. Which means I need to be at Mezcal at 8am, which means I need to be out the door at 7:30, which is my normal "waking up" time. So everything gets shifted back an hour.

What am I giving up by changing jobs?
I am risking seriously damaging my relationship with someone who has been great personally to me and Saori, and I hate to jeapordize that.
I am also complicating my working visa and wading into the labrynth of German beaurocracy. But this is a fact of life here and frankly, the process of making buildings is incredibly beaurocratic and tedious as well from that perspective.
I will miss working with some of the coworkers I have become friends with- it saddens me to let them down by leaving as well, but it does not necessarily mean that I am going to be shunned. They do not see this position as permenant for them either, to be perfectly candid.

I will give up access to food since there is literally no place to eat around the new workplace. I will need to get up an hour earlier every day, and I will need to pack a lunch.

My commute will be twice as long. I will commute two hours a day instead of one, and walking home, or incorporating walking will no longer be an option. This is offset by the fact that working hours are shorter. I will net the same amount of working time plus commuting time. I will also be dependant upon R and A for rides to work, or risk coming in to work late with the bahn and bus.

Aug 4, 2015

birthday senorita

Saori turned 32 this weekend, so we threw a small party at our apartment. It was a nice checkpoint- last year, I was living still in the house on the hill and we invited a bunch of friends out to a Mexican dinner at the only authentic Mexican restaurant in town. This year, I made the Mexican food. And it was good. But it did take up the entire weekend of shopping, cooking, and cleaning (although Saori did most of the cleaning since I was cooking all the time).

Friday after work, I went to the grocery store and picked up the main ingredients except for the special ones (although after a beer, I mistakenly picked up beef instead of pork for the carnitas). Saturday morning after a breakfast of fried eggs and salsa, we hit the markthalle and the farmers market on the main square in front of the city hall. Markthalle used to be an indoor tram station that was converted to a market hall for upscale produce and international foods. There are dozens of stalls selling direct imported and local very high quality foodstuffs. Also very expensive. But you can find what you are looking for. I was pleasantly surprised to find canned chipotles in adobo sauce (no more hauling cans back from the US), and I also picked up some cilantro, ripe avocados, and habanero chile peppers. In the market square, we picked up some sunflowers and some really exceptional macaroons.

In the afternoon, I cooked the sopa de lima in the pressure cooker, but the final stages I added too much of the habanero and too much lime- the end result was spicy, but worse, bitter. The chicken came out wonderful, of course, so I saved the chicken and a bit of the soup to combine with the second batch and tossed out the rest. Saori and I each made salsa fresh- Saori made a mild batch and I went wild with pineapple and habanero.

Sunday, I cooked the entire day from rolling out of bed at 8AM. I made eggs and salsa for breakfast, a new batch of sopa de lima, I prepared quesadillas with corn tortillas and a blend of cheeses, and also cooked up steak carnitas. Then there was garnishes of diced onion, cilantro, peppers, limes, etc.

In the end, the party ended up quite small with a few people coming now and then since we extended it out from basically 3pm to midnight. It was really quiet. Too quiet, actually, less of a party and more of a getting together for a beer kind of thing. The Mexican interns came by and they were really impressed with the food, actually. Lina and Anna came too, and we all ended up sitting on the roof enjoying the cool evening air.

Annnnnd way too soon it was monday again.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to, a more writing-centric website.