Thursday, October 22, 2009

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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