Saturday, October 31, 2009




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Nina and I debated going to Luxembourg long enough to justify not going. I think it would have been obvious to an outsider that neither of us particularly wanted to go, but neither of us really didn’t want to go, so we kept the idea alive for a long time, while chillin, drinking tea, and the like. I did manage a feat to make me proud: I finally did a pullup by my fingertips on the door frame. I even wrote my roommate, who tried to convince me I could, to share the joy. It was a pretty big deal for me.

Then we went out to explore more of Trier, no destination or goal in mind. She showed me a funky eastern/hippie store, the equivalent of Mermaid Imports back in Anchorage, saying she thought I might like it. From the outside, it smelled like the same incense. I realized, and told her, “I think I’m less into the hippie fashion than people think.” This is somewhat unfortunate for me, because I think I can pull off the ‘Earth Mama’ thing much easier than I can ‘Sophisticated Chic’ and for much less capital investment. We skipped it and I have no regrets.

We found a sex shop, with the window display openly showing naked women and S&M getup and banana slings and strap-ons. I took a picture. In the US, a shuttered building. We found a beautiful park by an old-folks home with a really bright yellow tree bordered by old gravestones and against a dark blue stormy sky. We took pictures. Nina talked to an old woman in German about how beautiful it was, how Nina thought she wasn’t very good with German, and the woman said, “Well, I can understand you, and I’m hard of hearing!” I didn’t participate in the conversation, but I was proud that I kept up with the gist, not just the subject, of the conversation.
We stopped by the Karl Marx Haus, his birthplace. We decided to each fork over the three euros, and it was worth it! I didn’t know anything, at all, about Karl Marx. When we stepped in, I said under my voice to Nina, “So this guy… he’s like the father of communism, right?” There were no historic artifacts, but immediately upon paying our fee, we were handed the tourist’s self-guided tour sound-wand. Each room was dedicated to a different part of his life and movement, with boards of information, publications, quotes, and pictures, contemporary thinkers, all in Deutsch. There were also representative copies of some documents, like his manuscripts, wife’s diary, etc, and electronic books of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, in many languages. With the audio-wands though, we got a really good synopsis in English, and with Nina, I got a critique of Marx’s writing, his arguments, and philosophy. It’s so cool to have genius friends! I learned a lot from the experience, but with my useless memory and interests, here are the things that stayed: 1. His philosophy was all about the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeoisie, but he and his family lived like bourgeoisie for his entire life, outside of their means, mooching off of whatever benefactor he could talk into financing his lifestyle (champagne, porn, balls). He tried journalism out, but wasn’t that successful, so he got an Engels or something like that to have a man-crush on him and give him a stipend. 2. He had four daughters. One died right around when he did, the next committed dual suicide with her husband, and another committed suicide on her own, I think they were all dead by 1911. Isn’t that, uh, weird? 3. His philosophy is interesting and if I want to understand it, I should probably read his stuff and some Clif Notes simultaneously and slowly. I picked up some, if not correctly, from Nina. He believed in universal suffrage, which brought up women and Jews. Karl Marx sort of laid the foundation for the feminist movement, and said, well, something about human rights being a moot point and somehow that is connected to Jews. He believed that history was a series of conflicts between the masses and those in power, and each time those in power stayed in power because they acquiesced in part to the demands of the masses. Each time it came closer to the promised land: 19th century Germany. After we toured the Karl Marx Haus, we went shopping in somewhat fancy stores. We were talking about difficult body proportions. Nina said she has soccer player’s legs, porn star boobs, and supermodel arms. I have nothing skinny: my arms are guns, my legs look like a short strong fat man’s, and I have a thick (uh, good hearty German stock?) torso. Nothing skinny. Which makes shopping for me also difficult. The dress I tried on expected me to have big boobs and a big belly to go with everything else. I tried on a fabulous jacket with a military cut. Rather than making my shoulders look enormous and unladylike, it made them look purposeful and confident. The jacket was a bit too small though, and they didn’t have it any larger, so I kept my 80 euros.

We stopped by a bakery to pick up a zweibelkuchen, or onion tart, and I got a sugar-covered soft pretzel. That pretzel offered no lasting sustenance whatsoever, but damn it was good. Then we grabbed two bottles of federweisser, and headed home. I was in charge of carrying the federweisser, propped upright by my jacket in a bag hanging off my handle-bars. Between the too-high seat, too-low gear, and the fear of harming my cargo, I was not exactly a happy camper, but the ride home was short.

The zwiebelkucken was amazing. Zwiebelkuchen is made by slowly sautéing all the water out of a ton of onions and a bit of speck (thick cut diced bacon) and caramelizing the sugars, then combining it with some eggy mix and baking it like a quiche. It’s another dish I may want to try at home, except Oliver warns me that it made his entire house smell like onions for three days when he tried to do it. Nina told him, “Okay, Oliver, you don’t understand, in the States it’s a GOOD thing when your house smells like tasty food.” I think sautéed onions is a good tasty smell, but may be way too much for a lasting and lingering scent. Maybe I can do the onion reduction on my camp stove outside? The thing is, zwiebelkuchen and federweisser are made to be enjoyed together. What will I use for my federweisser replacement? I doubt I could find federweisser in Anchorage during peak wine harvesting season, much less early winter.

Then Nina and I stayed up late working on computer stuff, and all my photos got deleted off my memory card when I tried to download the pictures I had taken of her and Oliver onto Oliver’s computer. I’m bummed, because I think I got at least one good photo of them all cute with their heads close together (in short, loving for once), as well as all my photos of Krut and Nurnberg and Trier. I’m not as sad as I expected though, because that’s so many photos I don’t have to sort through now to find the good ones!
(*Actually they didn’t, but I don’t feel like going back and changing everything that I wrote. Enjoy the photos I wasn’t supposed to have.)

Now I’m sitting on a train taking me to Köln (Cologne), winding our way along the Mosel and the Rhine. It’s beautiful wine country with picturesque villages along the way. Unfortunately, none of my pictures seem to be working out well. In Köln, I’ll duck over to the monstrous cathedral 200m from the train station and check it out for a while, and get back on the train and go to Hamburg. I’m sad to leave Nina and Oliver, they’ve been my favorite part of my trip here in Germany, but they have their own lives and I have lots of Germany left to explore.
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Some photos from Nurnberg

The awesome eagle-beast that makes up half of the Nurnberg coat of arms. I really like it.

Nurnberg: old buildings flattened, made new, and then old again! This is the point that the feeling, "Okay, more Europe, more beautiful old buildings, more history, whoop-de-shit" started really setting in.

Photos from our shopping adventure. This meat selection was a huge long case, this is probably about a 6th of it, and that's an estimation, not an exaggeration.

One of my cousins took my camera and started taking photos at the day-after party for Rodolfo's birthday. Chilean wine, German food.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 22: A first glance at Nürnberg

My recurring nightmare was almost realized early this morning. First, the nightmare: I am at my Dad’s house. I haven’t been there for a while, so I don’t have the place memorized. It’s late at night or early in the morning, and I’m the only one awake. I step inside the door nearest the kitchen and flick on the lights. But wait, I’ve hit the orange glowing one! Lights come on, as well as an extremely loud and panic-inspiring alarm. My step mom comes running down the stairs from the master bedroom, naked, pauses once near the bottom, turns toward me, pulls her hair and lets out a scream, not of surprise or anger, but devastation, as if all hope is now lost for the world. Naturally, I try to undo what I have done, and flick the lightswitch back off, but no! It’s one of those lightswitches where down is on and up is off! By comes screaming down the stairs naked AGAIN! This keeps repeating until I finally wake up, feeling horrible for turning on the wrong lightswitch, waking up a woman who already has a hard time getting sleep, causing her to run around naked, and oh yeah, losing all the world’s hope.

In reality, I was up into the wee hours trying to get pictures to load on my _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ blog while I had a reliable (albeit slow) internet connection. Finally, at an ungodly hour (although quite a good time to call anyone at home in the States), I headed to bead, relieved that Georg had not yet gotten up. I went to turn off the light in the main hallway, and hit the wrong switch. Not only did the lights not go off, but a box above the door started ticking and humming. When I tried to turn it off, I realized that no! This was one of those German lightswitches that is springloaded into the “off” position, so you can only turn it on! The box started clicking with renewed vigor. In the logical side of my brain, it was a timer for something fine and harmless. In in the side of my brain prone to hysteria, the one most easily roused at ungodly hours of the night, it was a timer for a house alarm that I didn’t know how to unarm, or a bomb. Finally the logical side of my brain won out, and I went to bed. Nothing bad happened in the night, except for inconsolable wailing from Lily. Could the box have been wired to her brain?

I left Krut this morning, and said my final goodbyes to the family. I really like them, even though I feel somewhat awkward (and vertically, but not horizontally, challenged) around them. Georg and I don’t speak each other’s languages well at all, Frances is rusty, so concepts but not connotations are communicated, sometimes only after a few tries. Lily skipped kindergarten again today on account of her illness, and Frances decided to skip her trade show as she was coming down with the same.

So she drove me to the train station in the town of Kinding, and I was off to Nürnberg.My Nürnberg host had to teach this morning, so I stashed my luggage in a locker at the Hauptbanhof, and set off for some intense meandering. Right across from the train station in Nürnberg is the Altstadt, or Old City. I set off for it, happy I wasn’t going to be wandering through office buildings trying to look purposeful rather than lost. When I turned around, I realized that the Hauptbahof was housed in a beautiful building too! How awesome is this city?!
Alstadt was a tourist trap, and I got thoroughly trapped in it. I first walked into a pottery shop, which is a problem because I want to make, not buy, everything I see. There were some really cool ideas, and as a brain fart, I just have to list here:

-a honey pot with a lid that is thrown so that the handle is the lip of a cylinder, the cylinder is what the honey dipper handle sticks out of
-bread, onion, potato, and garlic (brot, zwiebeln, kartoffeln, and ????) jars: appropriate sized, with lids, but holes in the side for air ventilation.
-teapots with warming bases: light a tea candle in the middle, set the pot on top, and your hot beverage stays hot as long as the wick lasts.
-really excellent casserole dishes
-rice bowls with notches cut on top so that your chopsticks have a secure home to rest
-cheese platters with a ram’s head in the middle as a handle
-lemon juicers
-stamped handle attachments
-fake sea shells
-glazing effects such as mixing matte under glazes with thick shiny glazes, in stripes, flowers, and polka dots, leopard print, in and around but not on carved words, and the mix of glazed and unglazed.

I spent a lot of time there, and the woman who was working (throwing pottery right there behind the counter) stopped to give me a tour and explain things to me. I eventually meandered my way out of the tourist trap and into downtown. I felt a little bit like I was driving into the state of Georgia: there were smut shops everywhere, but unlike Georgia, they were housed in the beautiful old buildings. I would have expected it in Amsterdam, but why is this German city different from Mü nchen, Trier, Salzburg, and Saarbrü cken? I didn’t go in any, and now I regret it, because I have a tour guide tomorrow. I just didn’t have any pressing sex-toy needs, and I don’t know I feel about carrying around any impulse buys I might have found myself with.

I was super hungry, and didn’t feel like buying an expensive and fancy sitdown dinner and miss out on all the meandering I could be doing. I was planning on getting some hot wurst-in-brot because the weather was quite cool and I only had on a light wool jacket. At the last second though, I bought a tomato and mozzarella sandwich because it looked damn tasty. It was good, but it did nothing to warm me up, so I spent the next hour searching for hot food, finding it, and not buying it because I wasn’t hungry anymore. Then I made a joyous discovery: lebkuchen. They‘re delicious. To describe beyond that, I think I’ll need to do some more research. Anyway, most are advertised as, “Ohne Mehl,” or without flour. I thought the gluten-free movement had swept up the cookie bakers of Nü rnberg, until I realized that they’re genuine wheat-free cookies. If I find out that I’m getting all these stomachaches from wheat, I still have baking hope: lebkuchen! I enjoyed my lebkuchen with heiss Schokolade mit Zahn und Amaretto, or hot chocolate with whipped cream and Ameretto. Hot booze- the warmth that keeps on giving. It was perfect.

Then the highlight of my day: I got hit on! I’ll just throw the pretense of humility by the wayside and confess that I expected that I’d be hit on a lot here, being a reasonably good looking foreigner. Since I definitely am a foreigner, and I really don’t want to re-assess the first part of that statement, I blame it on spending my time with family. So, I should be relieved, because most women get annoyed at unsolicited attention, but I admit I like a touch of excitement or flattery. I was walking by a fruit stand, and the vendor called out to me. Having no particular destination or schedule, I stopped and started chatting in German. That ran out really fast, so we switched to English. He asked me if I was a tourist, I said yes, I asked if he got a lot of business from tourists, he said yes, I pointed to a big ol’ squash and asked, “Well, what about this one? A tourist won’t buy this.”
“Oh, the kürbis! You boil or roast it, split it open, a little bit of salt and butter and pepper, it is perfect!”
“I’m sure it’s delicious, but I don’t have anywhere to cook it! We tourists have no kitchens.” “Well honey,” he said, or something like it, “You just come home with me and I’ll feed you that and more.” I laughed, I bought a tomato, he asked my name, I left. Flirting was good for business, but would he have said that if he found me unnotable or ugly? I choose to be flattered.

I met Johannes back at the train station. We had agreed to meet in the ticket office at 4, and at 4, a man came up to me and started talking to me. He asked where I was from, so even though his voice wasn’t exactly right, I didn’t brush him off, figuring there was a really good chance he was my host for the next three nights. I figured out he wasn’t my man since he just kept talking, rather than confirming my name or his or making movements to continue the conversation while walking. Then another man came up, and his voice was perfect, and he was a Johannes looking for a Kirsten. So I just stopped talking to the other guy, and we were off. I would have said goodbye to old creepo as a common courtesy, but Johannes was already talking to me.

We had a late lunch/early dinner of britze (pretzels), Nürnberg wurst (small thin sausages the size of a pinky, supposedly to fit through the keyholes in dungeons), leberknoedelsuppe, and my new love, federweisser (new/young wine). By this point, I had figured out that “leber” is liver, and although I’d already eaten and enjoyed leber completely without knowing in Saarburg, I was prepared to be grossed out and not like it. The livered dumpling was pretty good though. Okay, really good with a kind of funky texture, but the broth it was swimming in was AMAZING. I felt pretty “money” as those who say it say. Johannes doesn‘t just have a car, but two Mercedes-Benzes, a very new one and a vintage one, he held the umbrella for me, and was just so gracious that I couldn’t help but feel, “Yeah squash man, I am hot shit.” Johannes brought me by the Nazi colosseum on the way home, and a figure in black was up where Hitler used to give speeches. It gave me a bit of a chill.

Once I get my photos off my phone, I'll put some of the sex shops and Hitler place up.

Day 23-25: German kezboards!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Days 22-25: Get me out of here!

NoteÖ I am using a German kezboard. I wonät trz to fix the stupid kezßswitches. If zou reallz canät figure it out, hereäs zour guideÖ
The terrible thing is that in mz head, the narrator sazsÖÄ(blank) ist kleich (blank)Ä

I am eating (okaz, rationing, and Iäve alreadz had three) Oreos cookies back at Nina and Oliveräs flat in Trier. Iäm so happz to be here. I will, once again, saz that mz familz is wonderful and loving and all that great shit, but great, kind, and generous people do not necessarilz make for the most exciting postßcollegeßgraduation adventure.

On daz 23, Johannes took me back to downtown Nürnberg for some more thorough siteßseeing. After all the great talk and interesting tour of the daz before, Nürnberg, and our conversations, had lost some sparkle. Sure, we could talk tons, but that required thinking of a new and interesting topic, which is not so easz once zouäve exhausted all the obvious ones. So we spent a lot of time in silence. I noted, once and for all, that cobblestone streets are awesome, highßheeled Spanish pink cowgirl boots are awesome, but together I reallz am asking for a sprained ankle.

We stopped for lunch at an Italian restaurant, and I ordered fresh vegetable risotto. Oh, I was so happz, I got fresh vegetables! And even though it was iceberg, the onlz älettuceä Germanz seems to know, I got fresh salad. Johannes finallz cleared a question that had been nagging in the back of mz head the entire timeÖ what is this guz doing single_ Apparentlz, he just never found a girl he liked and liked him enough to tie the knot. This maz cover a multitude of other sins, but I had until then been wondering... Is he divorced_ Widowed_ Gaz_ I figured that I liked Johannes just as Johannes, and not to ask for a background storz that maz somehow swaz mz opinion of him, but now the question doesnät need to harbor in the back of mz mind.

After a little more siteßseeing, we stopped to get a big bag of broken Lebkuchen and an espresso. Johannes thinks it will make it back home to Alaska. I know better. After too much zawning from mz part, Johannes suggested we go back home so I could take a nap. And nap I did, even through his fetching of mz grandparents from the train station. First, however, we went shopping.

Johannes, being a selfßpublished author of a book about a train, ownes his own äcompanzä. As the owner of a äcompanzä he is the cardholder to an exclusive buzers club that resembles... Costco. We went there. What is a single guz doing shopping at Costco_ He asked me that too, and I never did get a straight, rhetorical answer. Anzwaz, I had offered to go with him, because 5 weeks is a little bezond the lifespan of travelßsiyed toiletries. Mz toothbrush was frazed, mz toothpaste tube nearlz inverted, the rayor blade was falling off the handle everz daz, and nobodz in this countrz puts anzthing in their hair after shampoo (but then again, thez onlz wash it once a week).

Travel toiletries are NOT good items to shop for in an American Costco. Neither are thez good items to shop for in a German Costco, though I can highlz recommend their booye selection. First, we, the Englishßonlz girl and the single man, had to translate Äconditioner.Ä We decided according to mz feel and smell tests that Äpflegeßspülung,Ä or ÄcareßrinseÄ was probablz the best bet. Conditioner/pflegespülung onlz came in twoßpacks, and Johannes was pushing the nice stuff on me too. I was sure that he would probablz end up yealouslz insisting on pazing for it, and was loathe to get 2 times 12 expensive ounces when all I reallz need is 3 to get me through the rest of Germanz. Toothpaste was a foreign aistle too, so I just let Johannes pick a flavor (turns out it is disgusting, tastes like saltz herbs). Bz the time we got to toothbrushes, I just picked a kids one so itäll fit, and gave rayors a miss.

After mz nap, after the prolongued shopping adventure, we went out to dinner at a Franconian (this region of Bavaria, with ittz bittz sausages and good bread) restaurant. Nobodz made use of the Franconian menu, however, two orders of fish, two orders of chicken currzßkebabs with rice, and one order of bread and cheese, no butter (it came with butter anzwaz). I was happz to have gone nearlz all daz without eating bread, but mz ÄcurrzÄ tasted like it had come from riceßaßroni and knockßoff Pataks. I ended up ordering the cheapest wine and dinner special, which made me feel good, since mz grandfather was pazing for the meal and heäs extremelz frugal. Although I maz be pissz and moodz around him, at least I ordered the exact same things as he did. Speaking of mz grandfather, he helped me throughout the evening bz telling me the topics, but not substance, of the conversation. From EnglishßGermanic similiarities alone I could tell the topics, but not the substance. Iäm getting better at biting mz tongue. No longer, ÄI know,Ä I just said, ÄzupÄ over and over and over again.

Zesterdaz was the most boring daz I have spent in Europe. I got up, ate breakfast (dazdreaming about potterz the entire time because the conversation was rapid German about familz), did the dishes, read, sketched potterz, checked mz eßmail, stalked old friends on Facebook, read mz soßso spz novel, and tried to take a nap. Finallz, I went running. I wore mz jacket, real pants, and a hat all so that I wouldnät get a comment about getting sick in the cold from mz grandmother (and later, I was glad I wore all that). I had gone for mazbe a 10 minute jog the daz before too, so I knew mz waz around the neighborhood, what house was the right one, etc. I still had to endure a 5 minute quiy from mz grandfather. Zes, I know where Iäm going. Zes, I know what this house looks like from the inside. Zes, I can run for Peteäs sake. Zes I know the name of this street. Zes, I know how to operate the fucking gate! Zes, I do know how to find mz waz back! No, I feel fine, Iäm hzperventilating for reasons I wish not to share with zou at the moment.

The trails I found were the opposite of extensive. Thez were on the other side of the river, but the bridge was out. I ran back and forth along fields a couple of times, tried running on pavement but mz knees immediatelz hurt, and finallz settled on watching trash float down the river while listening to reallz bad 80äs hurtßlove songs and an overß40 fußbol league doing their thing, all to delaz going back.

Then, the most exciting event of the daz happened while on the waz to the celebration of the 60th birthdaz of Rodolfo, a lifeßlong familz friend Iäve apparentlz met before. We got hit bz a car! The damage was microscopic, but mz grandfather shouted reallz loud and I discovered, ÄIdiot!Ä is the same in both mz home and foreign language. The driver of the other car, the offensive car, was also on the waz to the same partz.

The partz was prettz fun, for not knowing anzbodz other than mz familz. I did start talking to a guz named Kurt who apparentlz grew up in Chile with mz mom, and is now a veritable potato expert. I managed to find all sorts of potatoßagronomz related questions for him, which I think was a good thing, because who wouldnät rather be talking to a zoung woman about a topic in which one is an expert, rather than wandering around aimlesslz and awkardlz at the beginning of a partz_ Well, thatäs what I thought at least. I saw the ring and was not at all hitting on somebodz I maz or maz not be related to, but his wife gave me the evil eze, which lasted through todaz even when I was managing to distract and shut up her kids.

Todaz, I sat mz waz through another rapidßGerman breakfast, waiting until it wouldnät seem impolite or impatient to clear the table. Then I packed mz bags, did a little more reading and Facebook stalking, and headed off... for the Goldschlager Museum!

Now those of zou who are less enlightened than I maz think that Goldschlager is just an expensive booye with gold leaf floating around in it. In mz backwards dazs of zouth that lasted until October 24th, 2009, I too held such childish notions. But naz, goldßschlager means goldßbeater! It was a goldßbeating museum! I wish it has been an expensive booye museum, it might have been more interesting. Mz comradesßinßarms tried to glean much wisdom about goldßbeating from the two hours spent with our Bazrische tourguide. I learned the following three thingsÖ

1. Women were verz important in the oldßtimez goldßbeating business. Few ever wielded a hammer, but thez often wielded tweayers for the men who did the goldßbeating and had verz shakez hands. One man had as manz as seven ÄfrauenÄ working for him! Another valuable service that women provided in the goldßbeating industrz was sittingÖ the book of beaten gold must staz warm, so during hammer breaks, women would keep the block a constant 34 C.

2. Handßbeaten gold floats on the air like an extremelz loftz feather, whereas machineßbeaten gold drifts straight down. Mazbe this tzpe of qualitz control is important in the medical profession, but given the amount of labor required to turn out one gold leaf, Iäm willing to paz a fraction of the price of handßbeaten gold to get lowßqualitz leaf from China if all Iäm going to do is put a speck on a botched batch of truffles.

3. Handßbeating gold is not just about strength, but counting and turning too. I maz sound facetious, but seriouslzß thereäs a lot of counting to keep track of and precise, calculated turning and flipping. I would so get fired, or at least relegated to the sittingßonßgoldßcrew.

Then we headed back to Roldolfoäs house for handßmade empanadas, which were delicious, and a buffet of homemade cakes, which were also delicious. The stomachaches Iäve been getting have been legitimate pains, but todaz_ Todaz I deserved everz bit of pain, I ate waz too much.

Johannes drove me to the Hauptbahnhof in his vintge MercedesßBeny, which was freaking fantastic, with the exception of the lack of seatbelts, which puts safetzßfirst me a little on edge. Chidhood indoctrination, thatäs what itäs all about. I was sad to saz goodbze to this energetic and fastßtalking host, but it was time to move on.

Then I rode the train for six hours, and flirted with a rich banker from Frankfurt coming back from vacation, and got German spelling and dirtzßjoke translating help from other passengers. I discovered that I had bought 24 postcards, written 3, and sent 0. Poor track record. Sorrz guzs! Stamps to the US cost 1,00 euro each here, but onlz 0,50 in France. I am kind of tempted to wait, especiallz given how long I have alreadz waited. I may be going to Luxembourg tomorrow, I will have to check what their postal rates are there.

Now I am at Oliver and Ninas, and I am so happz to be here. We joked in the same language, both linguallz and generationallz. Oliver made a butternut squash risotto to die for (literallz, Christ did not get up on that cross for our sins, but for some of Oliveräs good cooking waiting for Him in heaven). From his five minute tutorial, I feel like I could make worldäs better risotto than mz failed, uneducated, and impatient attempts of zesterzear.
1. Sautee zour onions in butter, if butter is anzwhere to be found.
2. Add zour chosen flavor (Children of Israel, anzone_)
3. Sautee rice in butterßonionßveggie mixture for at least a minute, to coat grains with butter.
4. Add a splash of wine first. Mz take is to be drinking a big glass of wine until this moment, and then throw the rest in at this point of readiness.
5. Slowlz add zour hot brothßwine mix, ladlefull bz ladlefull, as the arborio rice absorbs and cooks. Do no leave the stove. Do not get impatient. Do not expect this to take less than half an hour, and probablz expect it to take more than 3-4.
6. Add parmesan as zour last act on earth (with this risotto), remove from heat, stir, and cover for a few minutes.

On a completelz unrelated note, Oliver tried to hammer the following into Nina and mz headsÖ Hazßfeßveitßyen, not Heffßeßweissßen. I think he maz lose on this front, even though he maz be right.

Tomorrow, Nina and I will find something to do, like go to Luxembourg, or shopping, or drink federweisser until Oliver comes home with reason to drink more federweisser. Then we will have a Hazßfeßveitßyen tasting. Tschüß!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

October 22: double whammy

Today is a day of celebration for both my fatherly figures.

My dear old Dad married my stepmother, By, umm... a number of years ago. Maybe as long ago as 15 years? I'm sure there's some special trinket or metal associated with the year, embossed stationary or tin perhaps. I'm not saying that 15 years is a small feat, I just think that assigning particular gifts to particular anniversaries is kind of stupid and outdated, especially considering all years that aren't given as much glory as gold and silver.

Anyway, it was a lovely wedding. I of course do not have pictures, but I assure you that the weather and the bride outdid each other's beauty many times over, and the groom's father and mother were even civil. What I personally loved included the following:
-By made an amazing carrot cake, sculpted it to look like a mountain slope, frosted it with thick white fluffy stuff (that was tasty), and placed Star Trek figurines painted to look like Dad and By telemarking down the mountain. It was a tasty wedding cake, which is rare, and creative. I kept the fake tree for a long time afterward, and the figurines still pop up in random places in the house. Although I am sure the cake was a daunting task, difficult and rushed, I was really impressed that she did it.
-I got hugged in front of everyone, By was not only marrying my Dad, but accepting me as part of the package!
-They got married in a Bed'n'Breakfast, which seemed very daring to me at the time.
-They have matching wedding rings, showing the Colorado Rockies. Rather than a plain band chaining my father, and glamorous diamonds bedazzling my stepmom, the rings are very personally tied to one-another. "I'm not just married," they say to me, "I'm married to THAT one."

There are other stories to tell, of course, like how I sprained my ankle at the reception, and my dad (ahem) thought my friend was making it up. But I wasn't going to tell that story.

Anyway, they have a little daughter, Laurel, now, who takes up so much time and energy it might be difficult to remember that beautiful fall day back in Colorado. Having never had a relationship last for more than six months, I have no sage words of advice, but regardless, I hope they both still feel the love that they felt when they tied the knot, and I wish them many happy years of marriage to come. Happy Anniversary!

Dad on Mount Chocorua, By, the best storyteller ever.

On the other side of my parent's divorce is my stepdad, known as "The Professor" to my mom's blogosphere, and "Papa" to me. It is his birthday today! Sorry, I don't have any photographs.

When my mom started dating my stepdad, it was very different from her other post-divorce dates. He didn't just take Mom out, he took the both of us out: we flew kites, we went hiking, he cooked dinner for us, we went hiking some more, I remember there was a lot of hiking. During those times of young love, my stubby little legs were very tired. He even took care of me when I was sick or Mom had to work, and (true test of love here) wiped my butt when I should have mastered the skill by myself, and took a very active roll in getting me to shtop thucking my fumb.

He read stories to me, sang songs to me,and taught me how to spell quasi-geostrophic potential vorticity at an early age. It was clear that he loved me as well as my mom, and even though it took a long time for me to trust him, I loved him back. Once that was accomplished, he was the one who taught me how to talk about feelings (bigger feelings than, "I love you, Mommy," and "I feel like there's a rock in my shoe"). It's been a long time since he's tutored me in that skill, I hope I still have it. I felt very close to him though, so close at one point that I often confided in him before I confided in my mother.

Mom and Papa had two kids, who I love very much. I'm always surprised when people call them my "half-brother," and, "half-sister," there's no "half" about it, they're 100% brother and sister to me. I'm very thankful that Papa did not treat me as a half-child; in his eyes and his actions, I was a full member of his family.

Now I've flown the coop, as they say, and the relationship dynamics have changed. It's hard to say exactly why or how or where it will go, but on this day, that is immaterial. Papa has been a really excellent stepfather to me, which I am grateful for, and I love him. Happy Birthday!
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Day 21: Life at a Bavarian pig-farm

Today was a chill day too. Frances and I took care of the horses- cleaning and feeding- both in the morning and the evening. I got the wheelbarrow, since there was only one pitchfork, one rake, and one shovel, and I didn’t know what the hell Frances was doing until she did it. The bad part was the pig-poo stirring. The pig poo is kept in underground tanks right by the horse barn, and today was the day that the tanks got stirred (tomorrow is the day that the, uh, stuff gets spread on the fields). Thankfully they’re stirred by machinery. The manure pile is actually on top of one of the tanks, and even when I had stopped breathing altogether, my nose burned. I think smoking near there would have been a death wish. I certainly understand how people asphyxiate when the ventilators in pig barns go out. Makes me think twice about pork. Unfortunately I’ll need to rethink more than that, because I love bacon and sausage.

Since Lily is sick, she didn’t go to her kindergarten, but instead I kept her in check while Georg and Frances worked. Since Lily is sick, she was also very fussy and tired all day long. It took a while to distract her from crying and wanting her mother, but I succeeded for the most part. At one point, she started rubbing her own head and leaning it on the coffee table. I figured she was finally nearing sleepiness, so I picked her up, laid her in my arms, and petted her head for her. She zonked out. The next thing I knew, Frances woke me up by laughing at the two of us sleeping on the couch together.

I’ve been feeling all good about my children skills, they mostly seem to like me. Then I realized that Lily likes me better than my littlest sister (two and half years old) does. Last time I saw Laurel, I was with her for a week, and only on the very last morning did she let me hold her without screaming, but not without pushing my face away. I have been in the same 50 mile radius as Lily for a grand total of 48 hours of her life, and she definitely likes me. Laurel is my sister for the rest of our lives, I guess it can only get better from here, right?

I finally got to cook today! I took half of a huge head of cauliflower, broke it into florets, tossed it with olive oil, fancy salt, minced garlic, freshly ground pepper and chili pepper, and roasted it on hot for approximately 40 minutes until there were burnt and crispy parts. Don’t let the word ‘burnt’ fool you though, it added crunch and flavor. I had ground up some spices, since I originally wanted to toss the cauliflower with curry powder but couldn’t fine any. However, my spice mix of black pepper, mustard, and cardamom just didn’t smell right with raw cauliflower, so I left it off. It did taste good sprinkled on afterward though. If you try this and love it, thank my mom- I didn’t believe in cauliflower before she made this.

I’m realizing why Georg and Frances are skinner than most people- they eat less than most people. It is a fairly obvious conclusion, but it was still somewhat shocking to witness. Most of the Germans I’ve eaten dinner and breakfast with will have two to three rolls for breakfast and dinner. They each eat one. I figured I’d make something to go along with the roasted cauliflower for lunch, but instead passed out with Lily while it was roasting. Frances just ate a smidge less than half of what I made, and then called it good. I’ve been trying to eat slower and not so much here, because otherwise I’d feel like a pig, but my midday hunger just didn’t go away from a quarter of a head of cauliflower. I ate some carrots and nuts after Frances had gone back to work. I’m just a hungry person, I suppose. I have learned that trying to eat more than what I need to satiate myself is pointless- I’ll be hungry just as soon anyway. It is hard to stop eating when still hungry, and call it good. This, I suppose, is why diets fail, which is unfortunate, because I’m definitely getting chubbier.

Dinner was a semi-Bavarian bread-spread at another couple’s house. What made it Bavarian was that in addition to sliced ham, there was really disgusting sausage. Know what aspic is? As far as I understand, it’s meat jello. There were slices the size of coldcuts of what I thought of as regular aspic (gross chunks of meat in clear substance) and then blood aspic (the clear substance was red). The gross chunks of meat were about 75% fat, and some had purplish or grayish things in addition to pink flesh. To continue with the theme of gross-chunks-of-meat-in-things, there were also spicy and non-aspic-y looking sausages we could choose to take slices of. Oddly enough, I abstained.

Once the conversation had reached a speed where I couldn’t hope to even identify one out of ten words, I gave Georg a break from watching Lily and played blocks with her on the floor. I tried to teach her, “Knock the tower over,” and, “Push the dominoes over,” but she only really understood destroying towers. When she lost interest in the role of Godzilla, I (being the selfish engineer) continued to play with blocks, trying to master arch-building, while Lily went back to annoy her parents. One of the dinner guests called over, “Now we really do believe you’re an engineer!” Yeah yeah, I got one arch twice, but it wasn’t that impressive. I want to build a fucking colosseum or bridge out of blocks.

Day 20: Back in Krut

I have a stomach ache. My stomach has hurt a lot here in Europe, it definitely and noticeably did last night and tonight. So I drink a lot of tea, and it doesn’t help my stomach one bit, but it helps me digest the pain. I think when I get back to the states, I’m going to do a reverse-elimination diet (or something like that, in concept my name is correct). A friend of my moms told me about it. You (meaning me, but who talks like that?) start off with a diet of ridiculously bland and inoffensive foods, like rice. Slowly, you add back in regular foods, starting with the second most bland and inoffensive, and working toward the usual culprits. I will probably find that I’m reacting to a.) bread, b.) cheese, c.) meat, or d.) German, which are all impossible to avoid here, and I’m not sure I’m willing to give up a-c. I’m willing to give up on German, but German is not giving up on me, not yet.

My plans and itinerary have changed, yet again. Nina is willing and interested to go to Hamburg with me, but it was too expensive to go this week, which was my original plan. So last night I called up my mother’s cousin Francis, and told her, “I’m getting on a train tomorrow, and it’s either going to Ingolstadt to visit you for a few days, or to Dresden.” She said I could come. I probably won’t see Dresden before Germany relinquishes its grasp on me, but I like these people, a lot, and they seem to like me! What’s a European experience without some Bavarian pig-farming in a town of 60 people? By the way, Georg plays accordian in a traditional Bavarian band. They wear lederhosen in the pictures, and have been at it for more than 20 years.

The train ride, for once, was not exciting. There was a lot of tunnel and fog, I didn’t even pretend to be paying attention to what was happening outside the windows. I did have a search for English books, having read the two paperbacks I brought. My first attempt only brought me a Sudoku book, which I may manage to complete the easy third, but I haven’t even finished my first puzzle yet. The second attempt, from a very small selection (two shelves in a tiny bookcase in the corner of a small buch & presse shop) yielded Slum Dog Millionaire, and A Most Wanted Man by le Carré, who also wrote The Constant Gardner. It seems to be a spy-thriller taking place in Hamburg, and I was expecting it to be written better.

The end of the train ride was eventful, I got in at 2:45 and Francis wasn’t able to pick me up until 3:30. I read in the sun, in what was originally a visible area, but people kept pulling up in front of my bench and leaving every time I decided to move. At 3:35 I started to get worried, given how on-time the Germans are, and saw Francis drive by without seeing me, looking worried. I ran after and waved my arms, hoping she’d see me in the rearview mirror, but she didn’t. Then began the attempts at communication. First, I hauled out my two cell phones (one with numbers, the other that works - in German). I looked her up by last name, and she wasn’t there! So I started calling all the numbers in my functional cellphone, which was amusing in and of itself. Finally I got a hold of my grandmother, who gave me her home number, wrong. When I went to program it in, I found that lo and behold, the information was stored under her first name! I called both home numbers, talked to Georg which didn’t really accomplish much, given the language barrier, but he called Francis who called me. She picked me up (now standing in a very visible location, in the shade) once she finished her impromptu shopping trip.

After dinner, Frances had to go to the equivalent of a parent-teacher meeting at Lily’s kindergarten. This left Georg, Lily, and I to fend for ourselves in three different languages. Georg taught me the Bavarian equivalent of catch-all “um” or “well,” it’s “mei,” pronounced, “my.” Lily had a few breakdowns and many banging-things-together impulses. When I tried to help with the dishes, Georg asked me to just sit at the end of the bench seat, effectively corralling her to a no-harm zone, but she immediately saw through that ruse and fussily tried to get around me. I finally let her free, and lured her to a different part of the house by playing, “Steal Lily’s ball and then let her chase after it,” a slightly modified version of, “Catch.” Georg came in a while later, visibly impressed that I’d gotten her to stop crying and leave him alone for long enough to be productive. Yeah, I’m that good.

When Frances returned, she talked about the dynamics of the meeting, which I never would expect to be good, but this sounded particularly bad. Given the small-town-iness of the region, and the low populations associated with such small towns, the kindergarten is shared between Montessori and non-Montessori. The Montessori teachers do not allow the Montessori kids and non-Montessori kids play together. The Montessori parents’ antics make McCain-Palin crowd seem reserved. The Montessori kids and the non-Montessori kids spend their recesses with their faces pressed against either side of the window, wanting to play. What the hell? I had always thought Montessori was the hippie alternative school, with imagination and colors and feelings and no rules, but what I’ve heard makes it sound like cadet school for the close-minded left.

Day 19: Biked all the way to France


Today was not so exciting. I seem to finally have learned (or at least grasped the concept in relation to my grandfather) the virtues of humility and patience. Shut out what I don’t like, try again if I didn’t like what I heard the first time. I think the calming effects of mint tea are what I have to thank. Over lunch I even got my grandfather to explain the story of Erlkönig (the Fairy King) by Goethe, and his rowing parody of it. We laughed and had a good time! My grandmother then told me family stories about relatives I never heard of, which I really wish I could remember now, but alas, I don’t. Apparently I’m part Polish though, which I never knew. I knew I had some Prussian blood in me, but never bothered to find out where Prussia used to be on the map. She went on to talk about how the Polish HATE Germany since the war. She talked about an old family graveyard where the locals all turned the headstones upside-down. It was interesting, because I think my grandmother just finds the war an unpleasant topic and prefers to not think about it, and feels better when assigning other groups negative characteristics in relation to the war.

My grandfather and I biked from Saarbrücken to Saareguemine, Germany to France. Saareguemine is pretty much Saarbrücken a few miles away, except the signs are all in French. My grandfather kept talking about how this whole area is very mixed between French and German, but given the insistence on the theme, I was happy to note differences between France and Germany:
- a higher percentage of women clad in all-black
- France smelled better and more lemony. I don’t know why.
- the pastries were more French.

Speaking of pastries, my goal was to have a pastry in France. My grandfather was all set to make a big loop up a fork of the Saar into Germany to take the train home, but there would be no open Salon de Thé on the way in France, and it was getting late and the thought of pastries was making me hungry. All I had planned on was biking to Saareguemine, eating some pastry, and tool around with my grandfather wherever he wanted to go, and then bike back home. I got a slice of what I’d describe as a stuffed almond shortcake, and my grandfather got a slice of cheesy apricot tart. They were both delicious, and I’m starting to wonder what lies between the covers of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume II: Baking.

After my grandfather wound down from his lecture to me about unrealistic time goals, I tried to squeeze some more dirt out on my Mom. It wasn’t very lucrative. First he thought I was asking him about how we’re similar, which wasn’t my goal, then he described her as very active and curious, always willing to get up and explore. ‘Hmm… okay, she’s pretty much that way now… I want DIRT.” Then he summarized the family moves and her schooling history, which wasn’t at all what I was looking for and already knew. I tried asking him what sort of things she got into trouble for, and he didn’t even know what the phrase, “get into trouble” meant, which is quite hard to describe without using the word, “trouble,” so he told me that my mom went to school and had friends and boyfriends.

He then wound up my attempt to find amusing stories of my mom as a youngster by telling me this: she and I came to visit him in Chile when I was about four, after my mom and dad had gotten divorced and before my mom had met my step dad. She told her father that her biggest requirement in a husband was that he’d be a good father to me. Gee, now I feel guilty and ungrateful. All I wanted were more peed-pants stories, especially ones that involved my mom!

Dinner was, as usual, brot, schinken, and käse. We started, however, with a semolina porridge, which I guess everyone else had eaten all the time, but it was my first time. It was really quite delicious! It tasted super creamy and cheesy, but was just semolina boiled with a lot of water, a little milk added once it thickened, and salt. I think I’m going to have to make it for I’m-feeling-sick food or when I just don’t have anything to eat (except semolina).
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Day 18: Rowing upstream better than rowing downstream

We packed up our stuff from the hotel, put our baggage in the support vehicle, and hiked several kilometers back to the docks, my grandfather pointing landmarks out to me and asking if I remembered them from yesterday. It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed the walk through town, and all these white-haired old rowers were of course athletic enough to walk a mile or two with no problem, but I couldn’t help but think, “In the US, we would have somebody drive us. Not because we aren’t capable, but because walking for transportation just isn’t done.”

I solved the butt-ache with a folded up sweatshirt. It worked pretty well, until the roller seat slid out from underneath me and suddenly I was trying to slide a sweatshirt back and forth on unfinished wood. Then my oars knocked other oars and I got an oar to the back, which doesn’t feel great. Everyone was so worried that I’d hurt myself because of the suddenness and my surprise shriek, but then all I could do was laugh.

We saw all the same scenery of the first day, but just in the other direction. Since the weather much better, we were in partying spirits. People were singing songs, and a man named Jurgen kept asking for breaks for completely reasonable reasons, and then if he convinced the rudder man to actually call a halt, Jurgen would ask, “Okay, Schnapps or wine, cheese and crackers?” A man one a one-man scull (?) passed us, and we all yelled out that he should drink some Schnapps with us, but he turned us down. So we challenged him to a race, but we wanted him to drink some Schnapps so that we’d be more equal. He still refused the Schnapps, and we lost. Then we offered him Schnapps while we waited at the lock, and he STILL turned us down, and in fact turned around rather than share the lock with us. I wish I liked Schnapps, I could have had a grand ol’ time getting drunk on the boat.

For lunch, I had packed some sandwiches of ingredients smuggled from the hotels’ continental breakfast, and my grandfather had bought goods from the bakery. I got exasperated trying to tell my grandfather, “No, I have my own food, you don’t need to worry about me. I have my own food!” He finally got my point, and then whipped out a pistachio and chocolate croissant for himself. I chewed my dry schinken, käse, bacon, frischkäse (cream cheese), bacon, and schwarzbrot sandwich pondering the meaning of humility and how much I need to stretch my mouth to fit my foot in it.

When we got to our final destination, it was bumbling madness as could be expected. Did I mention that these people do not know how to tie a bowline hitch, nor do they see the point of tying both lines, from stern and bow, but get hysteric and stretchy-legged every time the unsecured end floats away? I felt useless, trying to do what other people were doing, but always doing it wrong thanks to that inconvenient language divide. After a couple attempts at helping that were really just hindrances, I left the old people to do what they knew how to do best. I did discover I could crack my own back on the boatracks by flopping my upper back over one rung and pushing against the one above, which made my day after several hours of rowing with no proper form.

When the boat got hauled onto the trailer, I thought, “Ah, finally something I am familiar with!” They refused to back the trailer very far into the water though. Maybe there was some issue with the wheels or the electronics of brake lights, but I thought it would have been much easier. Then the cable was clipped to the boat, and some old man or another started laboriously cranking it. Aha, something I can do with no language or skill or prior knowledge necessary! So I took over, and really started cranking the boat up. I was feeling all proud of myself, because I was making progress at a good clip without giving into the temptation to go recklessly fast. My grandfather then saw me, and tried to either help me or take over. No, please, let me be capable in my own right for once!

Over caffeetrinken, my grandfather explained to the president of the rowing club how I had just finished my undergraduate studies, and was now doing engineering and hydrology related to bridges. Thanks mostly to similar Latin root words and a little bit to my improving German literacy, I understood! I also understood the following from party-man Jurgen:
Ich mag caffee Schwarz wie die Nacht,
heiss wie die Hölle,
Und suess wie die Liebe.
Get that on your own without a few weeks German around your head? In case you didn’t, it means
I like coffee black like the night, hot like hell, and sweet like love.
It’s not actually true, because I like coffee creamy, really warm, and not sweet. Oh well, I thought it was cute anyway.

When we got back, I grabbed all the luggage from the car, except for the lunchbox for my grandfather to carry. We walked from the car to their home, and although the load may have looked impressive, it really wasn’t heavy at all, just bulky. My grandfather kept trying to take the wine, and I gave in at the door after a couple times because my stubbornness really isn’t endearing me to my grandfather. Then he had to put it right back down on the ground so he could work the key in the door, so I picked it up again. He said, “No, it is too much for you. It is too heavy for you to carry.” This is when I finally lost it, and actually yelled at my own very old dear frail grandfather: “It is NOT too heavy for me to carry! Would you PLEASE stop telling me that things are too much for me to handle?! I am YOUNG and FIT and STRONG, I am capable! I can carry it!” And then he laughed in my face so I seethed up the stairs two at a time. I’m so sick of him treating me like a six year old, unfortunately my reaction to it is to act like a six year old.

While in Trier, Nina told me one of her favorite drinks is mint tea with sugar and honey. I’ve never been one for mint tea, and have found that peppermint tea with sugar tastes like chewing gum juice, and I’ve never been one for putting lots of milk in my tea, given that I’m lactarded. I finally gave mint tea another chance tonight, and boy oh boy was it delicious, ESPECIALLY with sugar and honey. My grandmother makes hers with fresh mint she grows on the porch. I wonder if I can get a mint plant to live through the winter in Alaska. I wonder if I can arm-wrestle a week’s supply at a time from my little sister, the Mint Queen. The rest of dinner-fare was not so exciting as my new love affair with mint tea: veggie soup, bread, käse, schinken.

Over dinner, Yvonne said something about the Saar Louis swimming club, and they started talking about Saar Louis. It ended up with a statement about the SLS on Saar Louis license plates standing for “Saarlander Pig Herder,” which the acronym makes sense for in German. I understand how phone numbers and license plates work here (bigger cities get shorter codes while smaller cities get longer codes, maybe 01 and M for Munchen versus 01956 for Krut and SLS for Saar Louis), and I understand that acronyms do not translate well, but I knew the S of schwein (pig), so I got the joke once it was briefly explained to me. My grandfather interrupted to give me a long lecture about how I wouldn’t understand.
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Day 17: Wine in Saarland

When I got up this morning, I said a tiny, itsy bitsy, tiny thank-you prayer that my grandfather and I weren’t rowing today: my butt hurt like I’d been on a really bad bike saddle for all that time yesterday. After a rich and decadent breakfast of: bread with lots of fancy spreads, Opa and I took off. He kept asking if I wanted to go to the castle, downtown, or a raptor farm, since I didn’t want to go rowing with the rest of the group. I wanted to take him by the shoulders and say, “Look, I wanted to go rowing! We can do whatever the hell you want to do in Saarburg and I’ll be fine, but don’t make it out to be that I was the one who wimped out!” I decided to skip the raptor exhibit, given that, oh, we have raptors in Alaska and Montana.

Before we headed up to the castle, we strolled through Saarburg (with my grandfather pointing out helpful observations such as “There’s the waterfall,” and “There are grapes on that hill”). We stopped for a while at the old bell foundry, which went under and is now a museum. It was so cool, bells were made there for more than half a millenia. The museum is mostly arranged like there was a fire drill rather than meltdown in the old-timey bell business. I got to touch things and go up stairs and ladders! Unfortunately one annoying Dutch tourist decided to start RINGING one of the bells, which was ear shattering in close proximity and closed quarters. One time was enough, but oh no, he was hell bent on calling Fraüline Maria from the hills like the regular church bells.

The castle is super duper old, I think I saw 936 as the first date on the German sign. Looking up inside the structure walls, I could see the square holes where beams once were to support upper floors, and holes in the wall that were appropriate for stories no longer there. The tower part was kind of shaped like a bullet, so on the bottom, there was a donut of a floor to hang out on and let other people pass on the (recently installed) tightly wound spiral staircase. At the top, however, I had to duck to keep from banging my head on rock. The view was amazing.

Opa didn’t join me in the tower, but he did hike over the rest of Saarburg with me. He would walk with his hands clasped behind his back, and being older and more clumsy than he’d like to be, he kept tripping on the uneven steps and slippery rocks. This would immediately make my stomach jump into the back of my throat, afraid he’d take a bad fall, fracture his hip, and bleed a lot. Opa knew exactly how to turn my fears into other emotions: he’d lecture me on the finer points of how I needed to be careful. I’m not too proud to use the handrail, I’m not tripping! You be careful!

For lunch, we went to a little French café, fittingly named, “Petit Café.” I could barely keep from laughing or gagging when I stepped inside. I think this place was what J.K. Rowling was inspired for Madame Tufty’s or whatever, the sickeningly sweet coffee shop that Harry had to take Cho for Valentine’s Day. Yes I am a nerd. Anyway, this place was ridiculous. There were doilies everywhere, including the ceiling, cherub figurines/paintings/carpeting/motifs everywhere, dolls hanging from the walls in a somewhat creepy way, gilted mirrors, roses, angels, and even a real live accordian player. What I said about this place being romantic? Okay, it knows it, and flaunts it, and cancels itself out.

The food was much better: we both got flammkuchen, which is like the French-German take on pizza. I will try to make it when I get back. It has a very thin crust, which gets grease logged and soft in the middle (maybe not supposed to?) and crispy like a cracker on the edges. Instead of tomato sauce, there’s a creamy-eggy-cheesy mixture, I’m thinking kind of like quiche filling but richer, maybe quark and eggs, but very thin. On top, diced salted pork (think thick bacon without the white stuff) and onions are sprinkled, and it’s thrown in a very hot oven. Salty, greasy, savory, crispy, it was delicious.

Over lunch, I also got my grandfather to tell me stories of my mom and her siblings from their childhood. My aunt, as a very young kid or old toddler, peed her pants when my grandfather fetched the car to go home, because she thought he had forgotten her. I didn’t get any really good dirt on my mom, except that she was hard to find: one time she disappeared in a Parisian playground and they had no idea where she went until she popped back up, and one morning she couldn’t be found anywhere in the house, but they finally found her sleeping UNDER the bed. I hope I can dig up more dirt in the future. It’s an interesting topic of conversation and leaves me feeling impish and grown-up all at the same time, with no frustration!

Once the rowing group returned, we met up for a wine tour by “planwagon.” I thought the “planwagon” was the support van for the rowing trip, but no! It was a trailer, with two long bench seats down the side and a thin long table down the middle, with a frame over and canvas-plastic removable covering. All this pulled by a tractor. All the retiree rowers filed in as my grandfather pulled me over and introduced me loudly to the tractor-driver, “Hier is meine Enkelin! Sie kommt aus Alaska! Meine Enkelin!” The man and I both had slightly bugged out eyes conveying our surprise at the violent introductions, but then he relaxed and shook my hand, chuckling, “Die Enkelin? Hallo.” Then he said a whole bunch of other things in German that I didn’t understand. A while ago I told my grandfather how I was craving the company of people my own age, rather than just family, I wonder if in his eyes, Marion and Bernd, mid 40’s I’d guess, were in the same age group as me.

Since there were too many of us rowers, I sat with two other rowers in the front of the wagon facing forward, Gisela and Hardy on seats and me on a crate in between them. We stopped in the middle of a huge hillside-big conglomeration of grape-plots, where our guide had learned how to make wine. We drank sekt, the German name for sparkling white wine made outside of Champagne, France. I soaked up the beautiful scenery, huge monoculture, and chilly sunny air around me as Bernd, the owner and winemaker of Weingut Eilenz, explained chemistry and plant science I understand in a language I don’t. By the time I got back into the wagon, I was giggly and consciously careful: a little drunk for the start of a six-wine tour.

At the next stop, we drank a trocken (dry) Riesling spätlese, while our handsome, charming, deep voiced, and did I mention married tour guide showed us his own vineyards. Don’t worry, dear friends, I did not hit on or flirt with the man, it would have been impossible anyway armed only with a few choppy phrases, a blank smile, tasting wine glass, and innumerable dankeschön’s. He had an experimental plot started only in 1986 with ash and poplar interplanted like the Romans did. I hope one of the two works out well, as much as I love wine and feel classy in a vineyard, the huge swaths of formerly forested land dedicated to Riesling made me think of Iowa corn. I know it’s not much, but isn’t a tri-culture (tree, grape, cover crop) better than just grapes?

Finally, we got to Bernd’s restaurant/hotel/really big house, and drank a ton more wine. We ate like a family rather than like at a restaurant, and it was nice. The meal started with a soup that was based on a dark broth with clear balls on the bottom (tapioca? Something more sinister?) and bone-marrow knödel. I grimaced at the thought of bone-marrow knödel, but ate and enjoyed it anyway. What kind of hypocrite am I if I get all interested when Julie Powell makes a bone-marrow sauce for steak and can’t even stomach it mixed with breadcrumbs in dumplings?

The next/other/final course was over-steamed broccoli, over-steamed cauliflower, roast, and a sauce that strangely reminded me of thousand-island dressing; creamy with pickles. We drank, ate, and talked until 11 or so, with Bernd’s wife slaving away in the kitchen, his daughters helping clear the table, and his son trying to get his attention but only getting goofy faces from me. Bernd explained that it’s a family operation: he makes the wine, his wife and kids help out with running the show, one young apprentice is learning how to make wine, and he hires extra hands at harvest. Someone asked him if he liked being his own boss. Bernd said, “I work for myself, but I‘m not the boss, (pointing up) grants or denies my weather requests.” I caught all that in German! My Deutsch comprehension is much better than vocalization. Ich ferstehe meher als ich kanne spreche, or something like that. Anyway, when it all got settled up, we each owed 32 euros for the entire seven hour experience. I paid almost that much to cover 1.5 people’s share of beer and food at the bar in Trier!

We left in two groups because we couldn’t all fit into the van to get back into Saarburg. I had decided to buy some wine, and still had to settle up for that. My roommate came in and warned me that my grandfather wanted me to leave in the first group with him, he was very worried I wouldn’t be able to get into the hotel/find my room/get into the room. She then followed it with, “I know you can, I’ll leave the door unlocked and you’ll probably get there before I get to sleep anyway, I’ll help your grandfather relax.” It was yet another example of how my grandfather is an extremely sweet and caring guy, but unfortunately he treats me like I have the competence level of a six-year old.

When I bought my wine, I under calculated my bill by four euro (remember, multiple glasses of multiple wines). Once I realized my mistake, I tried to give Bernd the extra four euro I still owed. He said, “No, it is okay, close enough.” With a panicked desperation, I thought, ‘Oh no, it is not okay, he can’t be personally nice to me! He knows about my one-night crush on him! Oh no, it’s not okay, he can’t be nice to me!” So I kept trying to give him the four euro more, which was exactly the flirtation I was trying to avoid. I finally snuck it in with the cash of another rower, rather than trying the old slip-it-in-the pocket ruse. That would have been much too much.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day 16: Rowing the river Saar

Saarland, Saarburg, Saarbrücken all have a really obvious common theme: the river Saar. Today we rowed on it. My grandparents have been into rowing since the fifties. My aunt was rowed off after her wedding (cheaper, and cooler, than a limo), she went to the LA Olympics in ‘84 for rowing, my mom tells me many stories of rowing. It’s kind of a big deal, here in Germany and especially in my family. So, of course, I’ve never done it before, and was pretty unprepared.

The day started like an early morning: I called my little sister to wish her a happy birthday before she went to sleep in Alaska, I gathered the rest of my drying laundry, and got ready to head out the door. At 8:20 my grandmother came in looking very concerned, and said, “Are you ready? Papi is waiting.” I said, “No, I’m not ready, I was told to be ready by 8:30. If you wanted me to be ready by 8:20 you should have told me 8:20. I’ll won’t be late, but I’m not ready yet.” This kind of conversation is very common with my grandparents, and drives me nuts. We were in the car by 8:30.

I tried to explain the concept of “letting the car warm up” to my grandmother: you start it a few minutes before you intend to start driving, then you put your stuff in the back, scrape the ice off the windshield, turn the defrost on, settle in, and by the time you put the car into gear, the engine is warm, the windshield doesn’t fog up, and both you and the car are happier!” She said that she understood, but she still got into the driver's seat, put the key in the ignition, and sat there without starting the car as I scraped the windshield, motioning for her to start the car, put stuff in the back, told her to start the car, etc. From the backseat (yes, I know), I told my grandfather how to turn the dials to defrost, as our breath fogged up the frozen car and my grandmother drove the stick shift the way Amy says I do. I wonder how many years they’ve owned the car without making use of the defrost function…?
Not my grandparents car, but one nearby, also frosty.

My grandfather and I met up with the rest of the rowing crew, got the boat, and tried to make it to the put-in. The boat is huge, and the streets of Saarbrücken are narrow with very tight corners. We had to try several corners several times, blocking traffic in all directions, with a whole bunch of white-haired rowers standing around trying to be helpful, but really just getting in the way. There were a couple times that I realized, “Huh, I think I know how to back up a trailer better than this guy,” which ISN’T saying much, but I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t know what these people were trying to do or say, and since my grandfather already talks to me like I’m an imbecile, I’d really wasn’t willing to call more attention on myself with the high risk of not doing what the Germans were jabbering on about.

The drive to the put-in was somewhat trying, as my grandfather kept pointing things out, like, “There’s the industrial area,” and “Now we’re crossing the river.” Yes, I can see these things for myself. I’d love to hear about things that I cannot observe with my own two eyes, such as, “This area was home to Germany’s biggest munitions plant during the war and was bombed five times,” or, “I proposed to your grandmother on this bridge,” but no such luck. Just really obvious things that I can figure out for myself without even trying. Noun identification.

WWII memorial and abandoned abbey:

The language difference really sucks. Rowing is hard enough, I imagine, as a first timer who understands the rudder man yelling things like “Oars back…. Now! Now! Now!…. Rowers halt!” Since I didn’t know these words though, I was just left banging my oars into everybody else’s until I got the rhythm by staring at everyone else’s and shutting all the jabber from my head.

Gisela: the woman on my left

The woman sitting on my left tried to tell me helpful things like, “You don’t have to push the oars into the water, just pull them back,” and, “’to drink’ is an irregular verb,” which were extremely kind, but immediately threw me off rhythm. Once I did get into the rhythm, however, she started doing some really good one-on-one German tutoring, and I could see some really beautiful scenery: vineyards, little itty bitty farms, and old buildings being my favorites.

The Saar, untouched by man, must have been much different than it is now. We went through two 10-14 meter locks like it was the Erie Canal, and they made me feel, well, really small when we were at the bottom and could hear and see huge doors moving. I think there must have been concrete or brick-wall armored “shores” on one side or both the entire way. On it’s own… the Saar might have been a much faster, shallower, and clearer river that flooded often.

We got to Saarburg, and it was beautiful. There were vineyards on the hill, old buildings above, an ancient church and an old one, a really old castle with a tower, and little flats of mismatched heights, colors, and architecture bumping shoulders on the shore. This was all lit by a fantastic low sun after a day of drizzle, winds, and cloudiness. As is the way with large groups, we did a lot of standing around trying to figure out what to do. Finally, however, we got up to our schwanky hotel in Saarburg. As the names were read off the provided list, “Marion und die Enkelin” was called out. Everyone laughed because I have a name, Kirsten, I am not just “the granddaugher,” and I don’t think Marion was quite old enough to be comfortable with the idea of a 22 year old “granddaughter.”

We had an hour to kill before dinner, so I changed and took off while everyone else showered and put on makeup. I tried to walk to the highest point I could get within range of our restaurant, looked out on the Saar, vineyards, and the quaintly mismatched buildings of the town. At one point, an ATV and a jacked up truck screamed by, and I felt so jarred by this touch of home. I’ve only seen BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, Volkwagons, and Opels thus far.

I wandered over to the old church nearby, and I don’t remember it’s name, but I remember these interesting things:
-The church had a recorded parish on the 1320’s, which means it was built then or before.
-Lots of historical things happened, only described in German
-The roof and some walls were destroyed in 1944 during an air raid of the Saar

I really wanted to go in it, but I was too late. It’s interesting, a lot of Germans carry this national guilt about the holocaust, and I feel pangs of national guilt when I hear about all the old and beautiful buildings that America destroyed during the war or the bug that came from America and nearly wiped out all of European wine crops in the mid-19th century. I’m not personally responsible, nothing can be gone, but I still feel embarrassed nonetheless.

I walked down to the sound of rushing water, and found a huge waterfall (not a ton of water, just a large drop and loud noise) right in the heart of town. There were water wheels at the bottom of what looked to me like a sluice contraption. Looking around at the soft light, the old buildings, the cobblestone streets, tiny cafes, and European cars, I thought to myself, “This is the most romantic city. Many cities declare themselves the most romantic, but what does Omaha or Venice have on this?” Note: I have never been to Omaha or Venice. It was just so… perfect.

I got back to the restaurant, Wirtshaus zum Pferdemarkt, which was halfway in a dungeon-basement. Remember Boodle’s fancy stone basement before it went kablooey? It was kind of like that, except redder. I remember sandstone, but everything here is shale, so it might have been reddish shale or something. The menu, as usual, was almost unintelligible to me, between the Deutsch and the gothic font. I realized that I had two options: crappy salad or meat’n’potatoes in one of 20 incarnations. I chose leberknoedel. I thought knoedel just meant potato-bready baked dumpling, which last time I ate it was delicious. I should have thought harder- would sauerkraut and kartoffel (potatoes) come with yet another white thing, leaving the meat high and dry? Here, knoedel was a meat dumpling. It was delicious, and I even ate some sauerkraut.
My grandfather asked me, “Do you want to sightsee in Saarburg tomorrow, or row with the rest of the group for the day trip down the Saar?” I told him I’d like to row. “Well, you don’t have to row tomorrow, and we can still do the wine tour with the group in the evening tomorrow night, I could show you Saarburg tomorrow. What do you want to do?” I repeated that I wanted to row tomorrow. Then he said, “Well, my feet got wet today, but really, I can do whatever you want to do. What do you want to do?” This third time, I realized that he wasn’t asking what I wanted to do, he just was making sure that I declared what he wants to do as what I want to do. As soon as I told him we could sightsee in Saarburg, he went back to his seat.

October 15th: Liesl’s Birthday

I already typed something up, I swear I saved it, and now it’s gone, all gone. So I guess I need to write a condensed version, as time and interesting things have passed since my sister’s birthday. (Posting note: now this is the second time I've tried to upload this... g*dd*m*!)

Twelve is a good number: last year not associated with those oh-so-frightful ‘teen’ years, and it’s divisible by 2,3,4, and 6. The latter isn’t so helpful in age, more in construction. I hope that my little sister enjoys it.

When my sister was born, I was used to the idea of a younger sibling, having gone through the, “That was fun, can you take him back now?” stage with my younger brother. That doesn’t mean I was necessarily a good sister even if I did love the bejeesus out of my siblings by that point. There was one time I remember particularly well that I discovered my little sister (as an infant) liked sleeping face down on my chest. My logical conclusion was that she’d like sleeping face down anywhere, so I put her face down in her crib, lined with high-loft sheepskin. Thankfully not too much later, my step dad turned her right way up and explained the finer points of baby neck strength and suffocation.

She was always a really cute little kid, unlike Wolf and I, she never was replaced as “youngest and cutest.” She’s still good at acting the part , but I think my brother’s bruises can attest that she is far from angelic. I, for one (too old to be hit apparently), am very proud that my sister can be sweet and loving and nice, as well as stick up for herself.

This summer, my sister impressed me even more than usual with a garden. Our Mom had gotten the vegetable growing bug, and she let ‘Bean’ have her own bed, and she gave Amy and I one to tend as well. The garden that Amy and I laid claim to was not as well tended as intended- I thinned the rutabegas once, never did find out what they are, and the Brussels never sprouted. Bean’s garden, however, was gorgeous, overflowing with vegetable abundance, and framed with sunflowers in the back. She let me steal tricolor carrots from her on multiple occasions when I got tired of the kale growing in my cruciferous bed. I am really proud of my sweet, hardworking, and generous sister.
As my little sister nears the era of acne, physiological changes, catty friends, permeating awkwardness, and group projects, I hope that her empathy, sweetness, playfulness, cleanliness, and fighting spirit will help her ride through happy and unscathed. Teen years are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with heart-wrenchingly awkward times and really exciting firsts too. With an older sister on the other side but not out of hearing distance, why should my siblings go through feeling alone?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Day 14: Life in Trier

Nina and I both slept in, Oliver left early for his teaching job at the University. I got up a little earlier than Nina, and managed to almost start washing some dishes before she got up, but my noisy struggles with the external hot water heater and other such nuisances would have raised the dead. Over a breakfast of broetchen, schinken, and kaese, I practiced a lesson that I have not yet fully learned in Germany: no need to eat more, the next meal will be sooner and heartier than you think. After maybe two hours, we ate the best freezer pizza ever, then tried to get ready for a day of faux shopping.

Nina had such a tough exterior in high school, that although I knew there was more to her beneath the surface than what I saw, I never really bothered myself with getting through her thick skin to find out, figuring it would be impossible and incomprehensible. Well, amazingly enough, after four years in a big city, earning an undergrad and masters degree simultaneously, with new friends, new adventures and romances and foreign adventures, she has come out of her shell all on her own.

She’s… well… still quirky Nina, and an absolutely normal human being with fears, loves, guilty pleasures, affectations, and all that… “You’re unique, just like everybody else.” We talked about fashion, school, friends, life, love, dressed up, declared our love for the tacky and hideous, and talked about feelings some more. I’m a pretty damn boring person and was worried that I’d be boring and stupid spending so much time with a girl who LOVES being intellectual, constructing arguments based on knowledge that I neither have nor particularly care about. Nope. The question in my head the whole time was, “If Nina has changed this much in the last four years, but still is Nina, then what the hell does she see in me?”

After abandoning the awesome jewelry made in Kenya by a single mother’s guild, the gold strappy wedges, and ruffly black mini booty skirt, we headed into Trier for a little sight seeing and free-shopping (just like regular shopping, but no buying). We stopped by the Roman baths unearthed ten years and in the process of being excavated and renovated, and then to the big huge ones that were part of the gates to the city two millenia ago. Nina waited outside, forever, while I forked over two entirely worthwhile euros to go explore the baths. I got to go underground, touch lots of ancient rocks, and had access to pretty much everything except going high up on the arches. It was amazing! Of course, thinking about how much warm water was swirling around for public hygiene made me really have to pee the whole time.

Next, Nina took me to the palace gardens, which were very English, and in front of The Most Hideous Palace I Have Yet Seen. Very baroque (imagine architecture… frilly. With cherubs and adornments everywhere), bright pink, and with white marble and gold to complete the ugly color scheme. The poor guy who commissioned the palace only got to live in it for four years before Napoleon swept through. To be thrifty, however, the back wall was just an old Roman wall- the wall of the Basilika, which means “great big room” in Latin or Italian or Roman.

We went in the reconstructed Basilika, and true to it’s name, it is a great big room. It is the largest ancient building to have no columns. Where you would expect columns there aren’t any, just empty space, which makes me really expect ancient Roman engineers. I know they kicked ass (and by contemporary standards, over-designed everything, but look who’s infrastructure is still in use today, bitch?), but seeing it is amazing. The height of the walls is not the most impressive thing, they had a lot of big tall walls, but the roof structure. The Romans were masters of arches, but the reconstructed building had a triangular roof. Did the Romans have stone trusses? Just really big wooden ones? To be fair, that original roof fell in during the middle ages, but wouldn’t you be stoked if your roof could last for 500 to 1000 years without reroofing? The big squares on the ceiling just looked like big wooden ceiling tiles- and they’re 10’x10’! The acoustics… I don’t know if they’re good, because it echoes a ton, but hey, the great big room is so great and big and stone that it echoes!

Nina and I took a brief break from all this ancient sightseeing to visit H&M, housed in the bottom of a several hundred old building. NBD as my roommate, Elissa, would say. She helped me pick out some clothes that were almost flattering and almost fit and we didn’t buy anything. Free shopping! We met up with Oliver for tea at a really amazing and expensive teahouse. I had a citrussy Earl Grey, and it was delicious.

From there we went to a sports bar to catch a qualifying game of the World Cup: Germany against Finland. Germany was already in, its goal was to not have any players sitting out the first game of the World Cup, and it succeeded with a 1:1 tie. Nina, with her years of refereeing experience and good sense, was able to explain the important things to me so I had a much better understanding beyond, “They’re kicking the ball… A goal was just scored…. Something just happened and now the referee is being important.” It was good. We got beers (I started with a Kristalweizen, which was ok, and moved straight to a Hefeweizen Dunkel, which was delicious) and split two flammkuchen (my first). The French one was amazing and authentic, it had the quarky eggy topping on top of a thin and crispy flaky crust, with onions and tasty, salty diced pork. The other was Italian, and I think it would be better as a pizza. Nina says, “When in doubt, remember that Germany wants to be Italy, it explains a lot of things.”

Nina and I stayed late at the sports bar to see the games she was really interested in: ones where the score could make a difference in who qualified for Fifa World Cup. It was fun, we split a tender and juicy rump steak, drank some more, I also had my first apfelstrudel of this German trip. It was amazing, and served in a plate of custard (being lactarded, I did not eat all of the custard, but demolished the apfelstrudel). Then, we got to ride the bikes back to the apartment. Earlier in the day, I had finally insisted that she let me take the crappy bike, her hip injury made swinging her leg over the old mountain bike an ordeal every time. This old and crappy mountain bike, in addition to having a seat an inch or two too high for me, is also equipped with a wheel-powered light. When engaged, a little wheel rubs against the big wheel, and turns the stolen energy from your leg-pumping into illuminating and life-saving light. In theory, it doesn’t provide much hindrance. In reality, it converts energy not only into heat and light, but also extreme vibrations and deafening noises.
“Two nuns were riding their bikes down a cobblestone street. One nun says to the other, ‘I’ve never come this way before.’” It was like that, except painful.