Sep 26, 2016

German stereotypes

After several years of living in Germany, I have finally found the perfect stereotype for Germans.

From the outside: Vulcan

Relating to outsiders, you, me, the rest of the world, Germans from different villages, the stereotypical German is by-the-book, supremely logical no matter how strange the outcome is. If you can show a logical chain of reasoning, you can convince them of nearly anything. Coming from a shockingly violent past, they are rooted to an ideal of universal peace and keeping their emotions deeply in check. Attire must be clean, subdued, sensible. They know most humans do not understand them, but they are patient and paternalistic with the knowledge that with the aid of science, and a calm and quiet optimism, humankind can be guided to a better future.

To each other: Hobbit


Among friends and neighbors, and when they look in the mirror, Germans are complete Hobbits for the best and worst. When you are one of the Kumpels (drinking buddies), life is revealed to be a simple thing: build a cute and comfortable little house in the village and keep it tidy, don't take big risks, enjoy the sunshine and the forests, and never shy away from festivals where you can dress nice with lots of drinking, feasting, singing, and dancing. Don't trust outsiders, but make sure they're treated fairly and politely. Predictability and Tradition, taking time daily for coffee and cake, no work on Friday, no disturbing noises on Sunday. Politics is local- don't go off on any crazy adventures, but if you happen to go, pack appropriate weather gear.

Sep 7, 2016

thirty two

Friday morning I had a thoroughly normal day at the office. A one-day week, and then it was the weekend. Why just come into work on a friday? Everyone left Rome Thursday morning, and every day I can save on vacation time is another day I can use.

Friday night, Saori invited her yoga instructors over for drinks and to hang out on the roof. O, an American-Turkish woman with a German upbringing founded the yoga studio in Stuttgart after getting burning out working in the financial sector in New York. P is O’s squeeze, a meek Italian guy from Milan who tolerates being the butt of jokes he recieves from the other instructors. E, a dude my age from Connecticut is a permenant teacher (co-owner?). A is the newest instructor, a rail-thin eastern European woman who started learning yoga the same time as Saori. For people who do professional yoga, they do seem to take the six flights of stairs a lot harder than we do- maybe we’re just used to them.

Saori mixed up a mean cocktail for them- a spicy grapefruit margarita. A mixture of lime juice, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, a surprisingly lot of tequila, agave syrup, and fresh sliced jalapeno rounds. It’s a slow drink with a double burn: stronger than you think, and the longer the jalapeno infuses into the tequila-citrus mixture, the spicier the margarita. They brought guacamole and tortilla chips and we basically just hung out on the roof, snacked, talked, and listened to bad rap music (according to Kanye, the only word that rhymes with “asshole” is “asshole”) until it was very late.

Saturday we slept in and had a late breakfast. We did a bit of housecleaning and went for a stroll around Stadtmitte before meeting up with Saori’s coworker Daphne and her husband Georg downtown. Daphne is Taiwanese, and hasn’t worked at Behnisch that long, but she and Saori quickly became friends. We actually had them over first a few weeks ago, and they were happy to have some company out in Zuffenhausen.

Georg grilled up a fish and Daphne made some good fried pork rice and it was all pretty tasty. After dinner, we borrowed a headlamp and followed them into some pitch black woods to look for local deer and other critters of the night. We spotted some small deer, but they bounded into the brush before we could really get a good look. At any rate, it was nice to get out in the woods at night. The most dangerous thing out there is that you could slip on a waylaid beer bottle.

They walked us back to the metro station and we took a train full of drunks home, also late.

Sunday morning, Saori made me quark and blueberry pancakes. Quark is a German dairy product somewhere between sour cream and buttermilk. It’s about as thick as sour cream, although much more mild in flavor. It gave us really thick pancakes.

Then Saori immediately got busy again with my birthday cake. Last year she went on a sugar scavanger hunt through Stuttgart, hunting down exotica like treacle and dates to make me some STP. This year, I felt like something a little lighter, so I requested a matcha roll cake with white chocolate cream filling. The ingrediants were actually all on hand, so she got to work and despite some setbacks (like the roll cake turning accidently into a layer cake) she and I ended up laughing quite a lot. She brought it out to me with three tiny sheep on a green field, with a lit cactus candle on top. It was great but really really rich since we managed to basically whip the white chocolate cream into butter.

I lounged around the house most of the afternoon since the weather was rainy, and given the weather, I decided we should go see a movie. StarTrek was still out, so we trekked ourselves out to the original language cinema close to the American army base. Even though the screen was smaller than most movie theaters, it still beat a laptop screen.

After the movie, we took a metro over to Bonnie & Clyde, ostensibly a typical corner bar of the type seen all over Germany, but actually well known for and specializing in their hamburgers and fish and chips. Too many German burger joints are all about the accessories. Actually, there are some very fancy burger restaurants around, but if your cheddar, egg, avocado slices, and grilled onions are resting on a quarter-inch of hackfleish than you are kind of missing the meat. This burger we ordered was good, a solid and delicious burger with eat-them-all fries, and washed down with a beer.

I’m 32 years old. I’m married, living in Stuttgart, Germany. I had a 20 minute phone conversation with a structural engineer in German last week, and this week, both of my bosses approached me separately that I need to improve my German. This is an order. Something also needs to change here since we have some choices to make.

I bought a box of Dunkin’ Donuts for the office which was greatly appreciated and a welcome surprise. In a land of corner bakeries, DD still delivers a sweet surprise (considering there’s only one or two in Stuttgart).

Sep 3, 2016

Eating on the Piazza

Waking up was hard. I was tired and sore from the crappy bed. But I hauled myself up, repacked, checked out, and got a coffee and a sweet croissant at the cafe outside before slowly working my way over to the less seedy side of Termini to meet mom, Tay, and Larry.

The hotel Ivanhoe (I’m 70% confident Sir Walter Scott resided in Rome, possibly even writing the book there) is in a surprising pleasant neighborhood, a kind of trendy place based on the number of filament bulb lit boutiques and vegan gelato offerings. I was at the hotel first, and met their transfer when it pulled up. Everyone looked excited but exhausted from the long flights.

We checked in and reconvened downstairs. We started on a walking tour towards the Pantheon, which is actually quite a long way from the hotel, and when we got there, it was still closed for church services. So we wandered over to Piazza Navona where the group decided they needed some rest and coffee. We knew it was going to be all tourist traps ON the plaza but we pulled the trigger anyway. It was a typical application of “eat when you are tired” rule, but I may have to add the Piazza Exclusion (Don’t eat on the plaza) on top of the Gothic Caveat (Don’t eat at the first place you see). We got four coffees, two croissants, and a small pizza. Based on our bill, I can only assume that the coffee was sourced from passed beans of extinct mammals, the croissants were sculpted by Bernini, and pizza was baked by his Holiness.

After our snack, we wandered back through the various alleyways, as I tried to find a restaurant/store/point of interest I’d marked on my Google Map of Rome. Unsuccessful we headed back to the Pantheon, which was surprisingly open, and surprisingly, we were able to shuffle our way inside. It was crowded but not insanely so. I guess most people come to the Pantheon, gawk at the occulus, check off that box, and move on to the next thing.

Our next thing was the Trevi fountain, where mom dug out some coins and we fought our way past the selfie-stick armed hordes to toss in a coin over our shoulders. We were the only coin tossers at that particular moment, although based on the coins lining the bottom, the custom has not totally died out.

We called it an afternoon and headed back to the hotel. I wanted to pick up a few more things at Muji so I invited Tay out with me and we took the metro to the shopping streets around the Spanish Steps (closed for August) and I hit Muji again and we poked our heads into a few other stores before heading back to the hotel.

Dinner was nearby at an ok place, although the wine was pretty good. Tay had a gelato place picked out for dessert, close to Trevi fountain, but the only catch was we had to walk about 200 meters through a traffic tunnel under the Quirnal Palace to get back to the picturesque city. The number of gelato stands in Rome is its own hyperbole, but surely one of the best has to be Gelato Valentino. I ordered two scoops of dark chocolate and pineapple, and the pineapple, which I expected to be a just quiet and refreshing foil to the chocolate turned out to be fresh and zingy. The chocolate, which was tar black and about as thick and rich was like eating cold, creamy fondant- in the end, much too rich.

Mom bought a paper woven hat from a street vendor who was happy to negotiate with her. Actually, he got so excited his partner got in on it too and Tay and I played backup, disparaging the quality and suggesting repeatedly that the price was too high and we should just walk. Mom negotiated them down from $15 or something wildly audacious to $6 which was merely overpriced. We walked back over the hill, passing a surprising number of restaurants offering gluten free pasta dishes before we arrived back at the hotel.

Rome is really a lovely city to stroll in the summer evenings, ideally between the verge of sunset and 9pm. A city of little lights and intricate surfaces. A few mosquitoes nibbled on my exposed ankles, but really that was all.

Back at the hotel, we got four cold cans of peroni and took them up to the roof terrace where we sat chatting and drinking a bit. I was quite surprised that my jet lagged family was able to stay upright past 9pm, let alone nurse a beer on the first day across the Atlantic.

Sep 1, 2016

The Eternal Return City

August is the best time to visit Rome. While the city is sweltering hot and muggy, perhaps there are more tourists in the city than residents, it may be true that half of the businesses close up shop and go on vacation, but August is when my mom and her husband and my brother came to Rome, which makes it really superior to any other time to visit.

They flew in bright and early sunday morning, so to meet them when they arrived, I had to take a flight the day before they arrived, which is not so bad since Rome is a fantastic city. What is not so fantastic is that it meant I had to find accommodation for a night. Like a cheap ass, I booked a hostel at the Yellow, which is one of the more prominent backpacker hostels in Rome.

Saturday morning I made breakfast with Saori and then jumped on the metro to the airport. With my boarding card on my phone, and nothing but hand luggage, I breeze straight through security to my gate, without even an ID check along the way. The flight is Germanwings, basically Ryanair but with less active hate towards passengers. It’s delayed half an hour getting out. I feel bad since it looks like I am the only one who doesn’t get a cheese sandwich, but then I remember that I’m saving $20 on the fare for this. The flight is a little over an hour, direct to Rome. It’s as sunny and warm as I had hoped.

This is technically my fourth trip to Rome, although the first time to fly in. My first trip was a few hours as an excursion from a Mediterranean cruise and I was sick the entire time. So it really doesn't count that much. And I was only eleven or twelve at the time. Second trip was a week with Chase about 11 years ago, and then I was here again about five years ago as my own side trip from an architecture studio trip for grad school with Saori. Only in Rome for two nights that time.

Mom booked a transfer to meet her at the airport but I decided to try the typical bus. It’s slightly complicated. You need to go to a ticket counter first outside of the terminal to buy the ticket, but then they tell you where to find the bus. It’s a quick-moving line and I find the bus easily. My seatmate is Chinese: he plays a game on his phone the entire 45 minute drive into Rome. The comic-sans sign at the front of the bus tells me I’m not allowed to eat anything on the bus, and gives me the password to a wifi connection that does not connect to the actual Internet.

I enjoy the ride in actually. We pass EUR, notable for its chunky cube Colosseum erected under Mussolini, and then we drive through the city, passing aqueducts, the circus maximus, the white Egyptian pyramid, and even the Colosseum as a kind of preview tour before dumping us all out at Termini. 

I cross through this massive train/metro/bus terminal and find my hostel. I’m pleasantly surprised. They have expanded across the street and recently renovated an old building to create a modern, warm, and fresh feeling reception and communal spaces, a far cry from the dinginess I remember five years ago. I check in and cross the street back to the other side to my dorm, where I rediscover the exact same dinginess. 

Leaving my bag behind, I head out into Rome. I stop and buy a big wedge of fresh watermelon from a street vendor and it’s fantastic. With sticky hands I purchase a 72 hour metro ticket and take the metro out towards the Holy See, where there is a Italian store I wanted to check out. It’s in a market and the market is closed. It’s a pattern which would repeat itself over and over again. I decide to walk over to my other shopping destinations- I heading back to the ancient city, I cross the Tiber and after a long walk find myself in the Piazza di Popolo. There I find another closed store. But the cobblestone streets radiating out of it are filled with shops ranging from Italian fashion powerhouses to more commercial stationary stores. It’s a nice area and I wander through almost to the Spanish Steps. There, I finally find one of my stores open: a specialty cookware store. I look but nothing jumps out at me. Around the corner, I buy a cellophane box of freshly made pasta alla’amatricia from a take-away pasta place. Failing to look both casual and local, I wolf it down mostly standing as I lean on a barrier around a nearby church. The pasta noodles are great, the sauce is so-so. I continue on my shopping quest to my favorite Italian store: Muji where I pick up a few things. I swing back by the hostel to drop off my purchases. Despite the fact that it’s around 7pm, there is already someone sleeping in the room. He smells terrible.

I head back to the metro station make my way towards the Pigneto, a bit farther from the tourist zones but a fairly local neighborhood rising in popularity as it’s relaxed working class charm gets it’s bars and restaurants a spot on various “X Hours in Rome” travel sections. It’s a lot of walking since I don’t realize until too late that the B line and the C line of Rome’s metro system are “connected” by a 30 minute walk on the surface streets between stations. Part of the way, I walk through a long park which runs along a crumbling city wall or aqueduct. People are out in the late golden light, walking dogs, playing with their children, jogging. There are dozens of jet black cats lounging in the base of the ruined wall. In Pigneto, I cross a small pedestrian zone filled with cheap Aperatifo bars and get to Birra Piu, a craft beer bar and store. Of the nine taps, only one pulls American. I try two beers, and stand outside, watching the night fall and young people meeting up for the Saturday night.

I find the tram, old and rickety, and ride back from the stop under the freeway underpass back to Termini and from there a walk back to the hostel, which is absolutely hopping. The hostel has a big bar which spills into the street, and it is filled to capacity, as is the communal spaces inside. I can understand it now, but when I was backpacker, it seemed such a waste to travel so far to spend your time drinking with other backpackers.

Anyway, had a pretty bad night at the hostel with the constant interruptions and noise in the room the entire night, but from the sound of things, I probably had better nights than most of the rest of the room.

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...