Apr 23, 2017

Cracked

I have many gifts, but being instinctively funny is not one of them. I have met people who are an absolute riot without breaking a sweat- they tell stories of things that happened to them casually and as they remember them and I am rolling in the aisles. Saori had a korean friend who told us a story which involved a road trip to the grand canyon, some poor asumptions about weather, a broken rental car window, a strip bar, and a case of Coca-cola, and I thought I was going to die. My brother Taylor is also one of those gifted people. And so is Olena.

Olena is one of Saori’s coworkers, a mid twentysomething Ukranian from Kiev. I first met her on a company trip to the Vitra campus where on the return trip fueled by bottles of sparkling wine passed around by the furniture company employees, she led the back of the bus belting out popular music with altered lyrics to include expensive chairs.

She told Saori who told me the story of renting ski equipment as a student in Kiev. Instead of sports rental shops, many people go to houses whose residents have a bunch of ski gear to rent out. You’re an 8 and they only have size 7 or 9? It’s OKAY! Poles mismatched? It’s OKAY! was the constant refrain.

Anyway, she must have been feeling a bit homesick over Easter, because she asked Saori if we wanted to make easter eggs together. Easter eggs? I have vauge childhood memories of using a wire loop to dip eggs in dye water. Not so thrilling in my thirties. I was a bit surprised by the invitation, but ok, there’s a great quote about odd instructions being dancing lessons from God.

Saori suggested Olena come to our place, which turned out to be exactly what Olena was hoping for because her flat didn’t have an oven and she wanted to bake some traditional Ukranian easter cake for the first time. I boiled some eggs and Saori pulled out the food coloring we’d used for our macaron-mania days. Olena showed up with candles and beeswax and a tiny metal funnel at the end of a wooden stick that her grandmother had fashioned from a metal can many lifetimes ago. It was immediately clear that this was going to be different than what I expected.

A short bit about Easter: apart from being the most significant event in the Christian calender, I never gave much thought to two other major signfiers of Easter: the easter bunny and brightly colored eggs. Something something fertility, new life, could have even been an 1910’s Hallmark invention.

However. It would appear that Easter, like many other Christian holidays, was fused with and absorbed pre-Christian pagan celebrations, including a god named Easter, and the bunny, as it turns out, is the one doing the colorful egg-laying. Egg decorating as an Easter tradition arose in eastern europe from a hell of a long time ago, and apparently the Slavic cultures and countries there have continued the tradition. Anyway, this is turning into a poorly written, citied, and researched Wikipedia article, so back to the eggs:

The way you make Ukranian Easter eggs is actually not that complicated:

  1. Prepare three or four color dye baths
  2. Using a pencil, lightly draw the pattern you want on your egg.
  3. With a candle, heat the metal funnel and take a scoop of wax.
  4. Heat the funnel with the wax as needed- the funnel has a minimeter/ 1/16” or so sized hole, and the melted wax should start flowing out at a crontrolled rate to “draw” in wax over your pencil linework.
  5. Dip egg (or leave egg, depending on dye strength) in dye water, starting with lightest colors.
  6. Repeat wax masking over differnet areas you want to leave in the first color, and then dip in the second color.
  7. Let egg dry completely
  8. Heat small areas of the egg over a candle to melt wax, gently rub off with paper towel.

Olena was really excited. Apparently this was the first time she had made eggs since she was a teenager, and when we put on a youtube channel of traditional ukranian music and (and later, ukranian pop) it was clear it was kind of a heartsqueeze for her.

When she was younger, one time she called the local music tv station to request some music, not knowing that they were running a “tell us your talent” segment. They said what are you really really good at? And she replied I can make people laugh, but they said we can’t use that- what else do you have? And she said, I make these really good eggs, so they invited her on the show and showed off the eggs she had made over the years. (the eggs are blown to keep them from spoiling).

As one might imageine the funnel plays a pretty crucial role. As there was only one funnel and three eggers, Saori and I both got to work trying to MacGyver something suitable. I spent about a half hour trying and testing various ways of attaching a tin foil funnel to a wooden chopstick with middling success which Olena actually found pretty funny but when I gave up, she took my contraption and gave Saori the funnel, and I started experimenting with a nail. I actually ended up getting pretty good with the nail- loading up and coating it with a thin layer of wax, and then heating it just the right amount so that wax flowed off it like a quill ink pen.

Of the food coloring dyes we had, eggs in the blue came out a really nice shade of blue, eggs in green came out a slightly different shade of blue, and after soaking a white egg in the red for about half an hour, it came out looking like... a brown egg. So we ended up with ANTHROPOLOGIE display Easter eggs- bohemian, spastic linework eggs in white and blue tones. It’s actually quite fun and gratifiying to learn a new artistic technique- basically batik eggs. Definately, we will be doing this next year.

The Easter cakes went into the oven and when we later checked on them and found them rising, Olena danced out of kichen singing “I’m the best baker ever!!”. But then left them in a bit too long. She left us a few, which turned out to be still good apart from the blackend outside, and took the rest to be blessed by the priest at the Russian church not far from where we live.

Apr 9, 2017

two nice days

It was a really nice weekend. Spring has officially arrived in Stuttgart and with the return of nice weather, the city explodes into the street. Every bench was full, every street stair, stoop, and ledge was occupied, and even bars and cafes with no outdoor seating apparently went to IKEA the night before because everyone wanted to sit outside and drink something. Stuttgart on the first weekend in spring is uptown Tokyo. Konigstrasse is Shanghai's Nanjing street.

Saturday we had a huge breakfast of fried eggs, tortillas, salsa, cheese, berries, and avocado out on the patio before heading out to the city center where we literally stumbled over my friend Apo and a friend of his. We stumbled over them because they were sitting on the ground, drinking at Palast, because that is what one does at this bar. We joined them for a beer and a redcurrant soda and just chatted for a little over an hour. Always, always running into people we know at Palast. It was funny because Apo, Saori, and I were also all wearing white and black Converse sneakers.

Sunday I made pancakes topped with kiwi and a side of pan fried wurst, and we ate on the patio again, because there's only ten nice days a year in Stuttgart. Friday after work, Saori had asked me if there was anything I wanted to do on Sunday, and I mentioned that I would really like to get out and see some of the blooming apple and cherry trees everywhere. Which turned out to be precisely what she had been invited to by her coworkers. Around one we met our friends Georg and Daphne and Selma they gave us a lift to Herrenburg, a village at the edge of the S-bahn system from Stuttgart.

There, we met up with about ten or so more people, mostly Saori's coworkers, and we started our Wanderweg from the picturesque village square busy with people getting gelato and lounging at cafe tables at the base of a large hill. We climbed up past the old church sinking a centimeter a year, and up into the hill past sleepy ruins into the trees and winding hillside paths. Lots of bicyclists, hikers, and wanderers like us.

We hiked along the treeline, mostly at the edge of the slope, and we were greeted by vista after vista, clearing after clearing of beautiful trees and sweeping panoramas of the green lands and stubby green plateaus and highlands of the Schwabisch Alb in the distance. The highlight of the trail was a particularly pretty gentle hillside dotted with apple trees, where under one blooming tree, an enterprising group had set up a Sekt bar, selling flutes (and bottles) of locally produced juices and flavored sparkling wines.

When I say "flavored sparkling wines" there are probably a few readers who are already flinching, but these were really really quite nice. Apple-Pear was a particularly good one, but I also tried the plum. Some wooden picnic benches had been set up nearby, but I was happy so sit on a grassy hillock and just take it all in. It made me sad that this kind of thing is an impossibility in the US, which would probably prohibit the vending of alcohol in a public trail first of all, but would also require a cordoned-off area with an ID checker even if it were permitted.

After resting for a bit and enjoying a glass or two of bubbly, we continued on our way and hiked along, down to a village, and then back through the valley to where we started again. It was a haul. We walked perhaps six or seven kilometers, and by the time we sat down at a hotel beer garden for a final drink, we were all quite tired. But what a great hike!

After we were dropped off back in Stuttgart, Saori and I hit a burger shop and split some fries for dinner, before climbing the challenging six flights back to our apartment. A really good day.

Apr 7, 2017

What Alec Really Meant by Into Whiteness: the Second Day in Montafon

Hi it’s Saori again.


I made a real lesson out of the second day in Montafon. As we had breakfast we all looked together the weather forecast. Last week, it said it was going to be sunny and high of 12C so I was like those baby penguins from Happy Feet. Since last few days it said about 7 to 8C, cloudy. I was just a little bummed that it was not going to be bun-toasting, sun-frenchkissing, black beanie hating kind of sunny day, but rather going to be skiing under grey sky. The thing I did not realize is, that if you are that high on top of the mountain you are nowhere under that gray fluff. You are in it.

As we ascended sharply in that cable car which Alec had beautifully portrayed in the previous post, in the matter of few second we lost the sight of the cable car station at the base, and we barely saw the outline to the car before and after us. The empty returning cars on the opposite end of the cable appeared eerily out of the dense fog, coasted down right by us and disappeared into whiteness faster than it emerged. Then next, another one, one by one. Added creepiness because empty cars (of course.) We look very carefully into the whiteness and finally figure out that our car is still going through the dense forest. The fog was thicker white than American 1% milk.

It sounds like it is going to be a log of a bad, sad day but the truth is, I still had a great fun that day in a special kind of way. I was constantly either legitly chickened out or cracking up on the piste. What set off more up-mood despite the creepy beginning was probably the view that opened up in front of us towards the end of the cable car ride. We started seeing the orange sun light filling down from above into the grey fog, then the fog thins away exponentially faster, and pop we were above the cloud. The morning sun ray touched every fluff of the cloud carpet, lined all the of the mountain peaks above it golden, and people on the chair lift and gondolas were one by one emerging from the cloud into the heavenly comfort it created. It was completely different world from below and by far one of the most stunning panorama I have ever seen.



But I had to run to the toilet really bad.



And by the time I came out of WC the whole area was swallowed by the rising fog. I could only laugh.



We did go hit the piste anyways but boy, we barely saw each other. Rafa took the first lead and Alec through the next run. I honestly don't know how they figured out which way to go when everywhere you look is just white cloud. If you have never watched a short film called Hedgehog in the Fog, please do as this gives you a pretty accurate idea of our surrounding condition, but far worse in our case. We used our walkie talkie a lot.

We went to the other side of the mountain and it was still the same fog, and we were skiing in the piste we've never been on before. Since it was new piste and pretty much no visibility, we either followed skiers who seemed to know where they were going, or stuck to the edges of actually very  wide piste to always know which way to go. I kept imagining ourselves being four dots in aerial X-ray proceeding inch by inch through topography lines at the edge of WIDE piste.

Photo
Wiebke was smart enough to take a mountaintop break.
Even with careful skiing Alec skied off the piste, revealing the white edge of terrain in the white fog by falling behind it in his neon yellow jacket. I'm usually the one in the group who exhibits more concern and warns bad possibilities in these kind of situation, but this instance was where I bursted in laughter. His scream cannot be expressed with conventional alphabets. It was ahhhhh with some yodeling in it. Wiebke and I kept asking him if he's ok, told him we're sorry and laughed interchangeably. We also accidentally wandered into black piste sometimes. I fell over the smallest slush of snow, Rafa was once or twice in the air too. We just either hear each other in a distance falling, or realized he’s not with us, waited, and saw him/her re-emerge out of fog all snow-covered.

Boys once again went to burn off the extra dextrose and we ladies had some schorle and chat tradition to carry on. I hoped for their safe return, and it took some effort not to exhibit the concern on my face. Brass am Berg was spewing endless tunes of unsuitable merriment, though we had no sight of them. Wiebke finds two of her friends out of pure chance, and I sat with a cup of hot chocolate alone while she went to greet them. I thought to myself: this could be a good opening scenes for B-rank teenage horror movie. What if some zombie virus infested avalanche covers the mountain and I survive it alone, killing off all the zombies on skis and alpine brass band zombies, and finally find my friends only to discover they'd also turned zombies.


(Alec just said now, that someone else might have done that already. Unbelievable.)


We did few more runs, summing up to quite a bit of skiing than we all have expected, and decided to ski down to the base. Few funny thing about skiing in the dense fog; when you can only see a foot away from the point of your ski, it feels like you are not moving. Like you are on a snowy treadmill. It looks like you are going up-hill a lot of times too. In a white fog, the blurred outline of Alec ahead of me looked like he was levitating. Checking back up the hill for the tailing party, I see silhouette of Rafa and Wiebke hovering down with halo behind, I wanted them to ski next time with trumpets and wings.

All in all, I had the kind of adventure which made me laugh a lot without breaking any bones and i think I am not the only happy one about this experience. I had three ski trips this season, each with two days of skiing. I would happily take the 5 most gorgeous day and 1 freakish foggy adventure day with great friends over 6 ok days of skiing in the end.

Oh, and my new thermaboll jacket - for spring ski this was a total win.

Apr 6, 2017

Ski: Behind Austria - The Second Day in Oberstdorf

Hey guys this is Saori. Alec forgot to write the second day of both ski trips so I decided to fill in. From here,  “I” is me. And the usual author will be referred to as “Alec.”


So the second day began with slow but very peaceful and unusually early awakening, since we all managed to go to bed by 10:30 the night before. I eventually got out of the top of the bunk bed very carefully and boiled water in the bathroom for my usual cup of warm water to drink. But my tip-toeing was appearently unsuccessful as I hear the tongue-clicking noise breaking the silence - the little lady’s favorite thing to do. I slowly look over to the bottom of the bunk bed and there she was, still wrapped in blanket but eyes bright and wide open. Give it 2 or 3 minutes and everyone was up. We took the sunny table and had a breakfast together, packed very quickly and said bye to the family who decided not to hit the slope that day.


One note here is that the magnesium tablet was a major hit to all boys of the group. So popular both days like “yeeeeeaaaaaassss” If I were BeyoncĂ© I would write a song about bringing magnesium tablet to ski trips for all the single ladies.


We went to the other peak as we discussed the day before - to Fellhorn/Kanzelwand, where many blue and red intertwined which was nice to the group made of different skill levels. This area covers mostly German side of the mountain. Another GORGEOUS day, bright blue sky, easy wind, bit more people on the slope than yesterday. I see Alec flying through with music notes trailing behind him. Rafa (a big frame big heart dude) is whooshing and zooming to there and over there and beyond, in relaxed, beautiful form, flattening most of the mogul which stands in his way. Wiebke and I follow them enjoying our pace, blue and white Panorama ahead and the sun toasting our shoulders. The PACE. I immediately felt more comfort and confidence this Sunday, and started picking up the pace. I could go to some areas with Rafa and Alec where I would not have gone on the first day of the season and thought to myself; right, this is the first season ever in my life that I make multiple TRIPs. And I silently promised myself to live close to skiable mountains wherever I move so this can continue. I enjoyed flying more, I even enjoyed telling myself to stay disciplined not to lose control and cause trouble. And thought of David, who would always take us out to ski with him in winters any time we are around, no matter how slow I had to ski. I wish I was THIS warmed up in Utah and Could catch up with him in places where I couldn't go. Oh goals and dreams.


The other thing. Based on my experience in Matrei in Osttirol and Hirschegg yesterday, I thought that blue piste in this side of the world meant narrow, zig-zaggy path made of nothing but just bypass trails put together to shove beginners aside into. But blue piste here was series of beautiful scenery changes and relaxing twist and turn. The combination of this with mountain-top red made just one amazing day to me, and probably safe to way for all of us.


After a while the boys had more dextrose to burn so Wiebke and I grabbed a table at shiny and well maintained Gipfelstation for Schorle and girl chat which already had become our tradition. In the sun I took extra base layer off and saw steam visibly rising. We reapplied sunscreen twice and still got toasty marks on our cheek. We spotted a guy skiing in Kangaroo costume. We just had nothing but plenty sign of yet another fantastic day.


One note made to myself: find a jacket for warm spring day skiing. Because Wiebke just told me that they are planning another trip in two weeks which we can tag along. I was not sure if it would really happen (as you see in the next post, it did. And it was so good.) but what is the risk, I live in Germany where high performance softshells and synthetic downs are the survival essentials in three of four seasons to most standard and sane citizens.

Three days after that, I found the thermaboll hoodie for killer price at the Intersport closing sale and I was solid that was the mountain calling.

Apr 3, 2017

Contradictions

I've been thinking a lot about the differences between Germans and Americans lately. With the amount of time I've spent outside of the US, and the amount of time I've spent outside of Germany, it's given me a strange perspective on both countries and the bizarre contradictions each would see in the other.

Legal in Germany

  • Prostitution
  • Sports betting and mini-casinos on every street
  • Drinking at the movies, drinking on the streets, pretty much anywhere including public transportation.
Frowned upon
  • Jaywalking
  • Talking on your cellphone on public transport
Illegal
  • Drinking at a casino
Germans have a very different view of privacy than Americans. In Germany, it's entirely common to see people sunbathing sans-clothing, and at the numerous saunas and swimming pools, there are areas which are mandatory swimsuit-free. In the same culture where you can sit cheek to cheek with sweaty men and women in a hot wooden room, people also petition Google to blur their building facades in street view, and whenever you buy a box of toothpicks online, you get a long declaration of precisely what the company is doing with your data.

To be honest, I think that the US probably could use a little more caution and protection of their online presence, and loosen up a bit with the horrors of nudity. Once you take off your clothes and join the masses of people, you are confronted with the reality that the problems of a mostly hairless primate with an approximately 90 year lifespan are not so great. Also the fact that you are not so different from everyone else, that there are people who look you once did, and people who you will look like when you're older. It's a moment to remember that my body is not a rental or a suit, but something integral to me. And it feels really relaxing and invigorating.

In the US, you can drive at 15 and a half, and drink at 21. Drivers training is a joke, and getting a licence is almost free.
In Germany, you can drink at 15 and a half, and drive at 21. Drivers training takes years, and the training plus licencing fees will run you roughly a grand. 

So what happens in America is people binge drink in college because suddenly, they can, and car accidents are the leading cause of death of teenagers. But it's a part of American culture to say "let no one stop you from harming yourself or others" and we collectively agree that it's ok to kill six to seven teenagers a day, and just send six to seven hundred daily to the ER. 

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...