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


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.

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