"Zwei Bow Wows!"
April and May 2002

More than one child has exclaimed "Zwei Bow Wows!" upon seeing Buster and Wiley. I wish I could hang out with German kids for about two weeks -- they would make learning German so much more fun. Not that I'm learning German -- I'm still concentrating on Spanish. In August, I go to Avila, Spain for a two-week intensive course. After that trip, I swear, I'm going to start studying German too.

And now, to espouse on the joys of completely changing a lifestyle. If you had told me two years ago that I could live just fine without a car, and with a refrigerator slightly bigger than the one I had in my dorm room in college, that riding my bike almost everywhere would be something I looked forward to, and being in a one bedroom apartment would feel great, I would have said you were out of your freakin' mind.

Now, I don't just live with all of the aforementioned -- I love it. I love not throwing so much food away that I never got around to eating, and drinking without a care when I'm out (I don't have to drive anywhere!), not buying gas -- ever, not looking for a parking place, and not buying car insurance.

I thought not having a car, having a tiny refrigerator, and living in such a small space would make me feel so restricted. Instead, it all makes me feel FREE.

Bonn is built with tiny, winding roads, which discourage big cars and encourage both small cars, bikes and pedestrian. There's always a bus line nearby, or the underground, so getting around is relatively easy. You ocassionally see a big SUV, and many roads are closed to them, as they are too big. They just aren't needed, not when cities are built so that there's great public transit, or you can walk to most any service you need. And people do walk here -- there are people walking everywhere. There's nothing that makes a city seem more livable than lots of people walking or riding their bikes, rather than huge mega-parking lots.

In California and Austin, I had to psyche myself up to go to the supermarket: to navigate the vast parking lot and angry drivers, not to mention to navigate the irate shoppers and endless aisles of stuff stuff stuff. It was all so overwhelming to me. I would put it off as long as I possibly could, and I would want to cry when I got home from all the stress. Here, I ride my bicycle to the neighborhood grocery every Saturday morning, and a lot of the cashiers recognize me me now. I have to buy the bags to put groceries in -- so, I bring my own clothe bags (Mamaw, I have plenty, don't send me anymore). This means you rarely see plastic bags along the roadside, or in the river. This normal-sized market has its own bakery, and the breads are to die for. For specialty meats, you go to the specialty meat shop. There's a farmer's market just around the corner.

And don't even get me started on the European train station. You can get just about anywhere by train and, if not, by bus. It rocks.

If can learn so much and make so many changes because of living in a country with as high living standards and excellent infrastructure as Germany, I can't imagine how much I would change if I spent time living in a developing country.

Does all this have a down side? Sure, a few: my freezer can hold only two half-size frozen food boxes, which would be fine, except that it means I have no room for ice (and you can't buy ice in Germany). It sucks to ride a bike in driving rain (regular rain isn't bad, but that kind of rain that comes so hard or at an angle is awful). Riding on ice is incredibly dangerous (actually, I refuse to do it now, after two really bad falls; I walk). But I wouldn't call it a down side for having to go the grocery twice in one day because I can't carry everything on my bike -- I really enjoy the rides. I wouldn't call it a down side that I have to go to lots of little store instead of one big mega store for everything I need, because I hate, hate, hate big mega stores.

My life here has changed significantly. I hope I can take most of these lifestyle changes back to the U.S. Sadly, the bike-thing won't be possible, as U.S. cities are built to discourage biking and walking. But a small car, or even a scooter, most certainly is possible.

Okay, now send me all your whiney e-mails about how you have to have that huge SUV to make it to Kroger's in all those treacherous weather conditions, and how public transit is communist.

Another change is that I now must admit that I've fallen in love with a big German breakfast of cold cuts and fresh bread, particularly "Swedish bread." Not that I still wouldn't trade it for an omelette and pancakes from Magnolia Cafe, or my mother's biscuits and gravy, but I do dig it now. The other German foods... nope, still haven't developed a taste for them. I still miss burritos, Roca Bar pizza, barbecue, catfish fiddlers...

April featured more rain than I want to think about, and May started off the same. It was even getting really cold again for a while, and I thought it might snow one more time. But, hurrah, it started to warm just after Cinco de Mayo. Everything is incredibly lush and green here. Grass, bushes and trees seems to glow from the inside.

I was thrilled to get another visit from the Lee Family for a long weekend in April. Mostly, we sat around and ate and read and talked, and Russell used his portable electronic equipment to do all sorts of stuff. I'll leave it to them to tell you about their return trip here. They also asked me to write my impressions of them, which I was oh so happy to do, particularly to comment on Cameron and Joss. If you haven't checked the Lee's site out in a while, it's worth a return visit, particularly to read what Joss has to say about Amsterdam.

I had a major "I am a dumb ass" moment in April (not that I don't have those regularly, but this was a big one): After more than a year of messing around with all sorts of wires and configurations, and asking for advice online and blah blah blah, I finally figured out how to get my DVD player on my iBook to play on my European TV. And it is SO SIMPLE. So very, very simple! All this time, I have been watching movies on my tiny iBook screen when I could have had them on TV. I just want to SCREAM. Ah, well, it won't be the last stupid thing I do...

I got yelled at in the laundry again. It was a Sunday, about 5 to 7 -- I had the machines booked until 7. I go down and start pulling my things out of the dryer first (I had every machine full of clothes). The woman from the family next door, who say that I fill the machines with dog hairs, comes into the room. She looks at me. She walks over and looks at every machine. And as I stand there, taking my clothes out of one machine, and then the next, she walks to the machine nearest the door -- which my clothes are still in, because I haven't gotten to it yet -- AND STARTS TAKING MY CLOTHES OUT. I told her to get her hands off my laundry RIGHT NOW. I made her stand there and wait while I got my laundry out, while she bitched that she had the machine at 7, and it was 7 right now (she was speaking German --- i don't know for a fact that's what she was saying, but I have a pretty good idea).

ARGH!!!! She's not even German.

Another highlight of April was another Saturday motorbike trip to the Eifel with Stefan. The Eifel makes up the lands south of here, on the West side of the Rhein. We drove to the old town "Bad Münstereifel, which was a typical picturesque little German village, with a Roman wall going all the way around it, lots of old buildings, and a lovely small river running through it. Then we headed to the Radioteleskop of Effelsberg. It is HUGE! The radio telescope has a diameter of 100 meters, the aperture of the dish is about 7850m, and it all rotates on a circular track of 64 meters, which rests on a solid concrete foundation. It weighs 3200 tons. It went into operation in 1972, and it is "the largest fully steerable parabolic antenna in the world." And all this can be turned through 360 degrees horizontally in about 12 minutes, and the dish can be tipped by 90 degrees in less than six minutes. Yowza. It's used to find the origins of the universe and talk to aliens and get great Pay TV reception. I wonder if I could watch a Kentucky basketball game with it?

The next day, we went to a small stalactite cavern in Wiehl. You would never know it's there if you didn't speak excellent German and have a pretty detailed map of the area. The entrance is underneath a hotel/spa, and you buy tickets at a little imbiss (a little food shack/gift shop typical of the area). You go down some steps and through a door and there you are in a cave. It's not Mammouth Cave, but it was interesting, a nice way to pass an hour. When Stefan bought the ticket, the saleswoman said something and he laughed and said "Nien." We walked away and I asked what had happened. She had asked Stefan if he and I wanted to get married in the cave -- apparently, a lot of people do that. Don't you wonder how traditions like that get started? Before and afterwards (no, we are not married), we road through a beautiful area called "Bergisches Land," which means hilly land, on the East side of the Rhein.

I ended April doing something I had never ever done before. In front of a large group of people, almost all of them strangers. I got up and sang karoke. I sing alot, and I've sang in public many times, but never in a microphone, not before that night at Fiddler's, my favorite Irish pub outside of Ireland. I was more nervous about it than I was going to a sauna for the first time, honestly. After a Guiness and a half, I decided, what the heck... I sang "Crazy." Stefan said I was good, but he's my boyfriend, he's supposed to say that... Some of the people singing were FABULOUS. Some, not so great, but I clapped for everyone, because if you are going to get up in front of people and sing, you deserve to get applause. Luckily, I went right after two awful guys who sang "Come Together." I wish my sister would come over and knock the place dead -- she has a wonderful voice.

I swore I wasn't going to buy any more DVDs, and then did: To Kill a Mockingbird. That movie is an absolute treasure. Everyone at work wants to borrow it or come over to watch it -- I had no idea it had such international appeal. The documentary that comes with it is overblown, overdone, and not worthy of the simple, sweet story it accompanies, and the commentary is so-so (I guess I've been spoiled forever by Mel Brooks's commentary for Young Frankenstein .). I swear I'm not going to buy any more... although I would so love to own Cool Hand Luke...

Panic Room was here at Kinopolis in April. I was stunned to see Dwight Yoakum, one of my very favorite favorite favorite singers of all times, be so unbelievably, completely and utterly evil. We got home and whenever I heard something outside, I'd squeal, "Oh no, it's evil Dwight Yoakum with his sledgehammer!!!" Later that same weekend, we watched The Wild One with Marlon Brando (Dutch TV shows an American or British movie, subtitled, almost every Saturday). This movie is so awful, it's good. It's sooooo over-acted. Why do people think Marlon Brando is so cool? I just don't get it. He's an awful actor. Except in A Streetcar Named Desire . He's great in that. And he's funny in Don Juan de Marco . The rest -- he and William Shatner could be brothers. The next weekend, Dutch TV showed High Noon , one of my all time favorite movies. Stefan didn't get to enjoy it, however, as he was on his way on his motorbike to his latest adventure abroad, this time to Sweden and Finland. He will update his web site some time in June.

I'm going for a visit back home, to Austin and Kentucky. It will be my first visit to the U.S. in one year, and the first time I've been to my home states in a year and a half -- since just before I moved to Germany. It will also be my first visit to the U.S. since the events of September 11. From the couple of videotapes friends have sent me of TV shows this year, I can tell, from the commericals and public service announcements, that the U.S. is in a state like I've never experienced before. I'm wondering where I'm going to fit into it all. Living abroad has given me a very difference perspective on both world events and being an American. I have a feeling that my friends and family on the Right are going to think I'm even more of a radical, and my friends on the Left are going to think I've moved far to the Right --I'll be like the United Nations, pissing everyone off no matter what I say.

And speaking of America and its current state of mind, will someone PLEASE send me a tape of The Osbournes . I want to see it so badly! I've read so many things about it. Here's Erica's review:

I watched the Osbournes last night and laughed my ass off. For a family that should be totally dysfunctional, they seem to be the most functional family in the world. They may swear, look funny , but they genuinely seem to love each other, care about each other, take care of each other and just plain enjoy each other. I'd say that's more functional than a family of churchgoers who can't mention the word vagina at the dinner table.

The Kentucky Derby is the first weekend in May. So is Rhein in Flammen. I had really enjoyed it last year, so I decided to have a few friends over. What I wasn't expecting was for most people that I invited to RSVP, for all of those who RSVP'd to show up, and for many of those who showed up to bring friends. I also didn't plan for a driving, blinding rain. So, here we all were... in one room (thank goodness for my patio as a smoking lounge). There were still fireworks and flares, but the rain was out of control, and no one felt like going down to check it out. The next day, I showed Stefan the Louisville Courier Journal online, to look for pictures of the Derby. He was impressed -- it is a really big deal! They talked about it on CNN and BBC, but there's no way to watch it over here.

Robbie Fulks was in England and Ireland this month... but no where near Germany... oh, woe is me... my consolation prize was going with co-workers to see Wilco in Cologne. The sound was fantastic, and the band was tight as a drum -- these guys know how to put on a live show. The music was all over the place, and while I enjoyed the concert, I'm not motivated to run out and buy any Wilco CDs. I couldn't really tell the difference in the first four songs. Still, as I said, I enjoyed the concert a lot. My two favorite moments: Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer, introduced a song and said, "There are so many wonderful German heavy metal bands, and I would have loved to have mentioned one of them in this next song, but all of their names are too long. So I had to use 'Kiss.'" And this guy a few meters from me yelled, in a deep German monotone, "Excellent!" I thought I was going to die. Maybe you had to be there. Then, for an encore, Tweedy sang "California Stars", which is one of my favorite songs of all times, and all these young Germans were softly, softly singing along... The concert was less than two hours, and I was home by 11. And I'm happy about that because I'm getting to old for late nights.

Later in May was much rejoicing on my part with the return of Stefan from his his adventure in Sweden and Finland. The dogs were quite excited as well. But, then again, if Stefan goes out to his car for something and comes back, he gets the same kind of enthusiastic reception from them.

The last weekend in May we went to a Eurovision party at the house of my Spanish teacher. It is an annual cheesefest of songs from almost each European country (and from so not-so-European countries -- Israel?). It's so awful, it's hilarious.

May should end with a business trip to Cairo, Egypt (as opposed to Cairo, Kentucky). Please keep your fingers crossed for me. I'm so scared it won't happen, so I can't get excited about it until I'm on the plane.

Okay, you are shocked that I haven't yet mentioned Attack of the Clones , I know. Remember how I said a few months ago that "The X-Files" had jumped the shark? Well, "Star Wars" has been EATEN by the shark. Attack of the Clones is awful. It is so bad, it's almost unwatchable. I was ready for it to be over 20 minutes into it. The dialogue, the story line, the direction and pacing are all amateurish, confusing and cold. The characters are stilted, unappealing and boring boring boring. The story is just flat stupid. I hated it. I didn't have high hopes -- I just wanted it to be fun. I got choked up at the 20th Century Fox theme, then the silence that accompanies "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...", then the explosion of the Star Wars theme, because that's just always going to mean so very, very much to me, for so many reasons. I was in a good place mentally for this -- not expecting greatness, just happy to be sitting through another Star Wars movie. But by the middle, I was exasperated, and that feeling never left me. George Lucas must think the first two movies were successful because of the special effects and his "genius." He hasn't figured out that what made them so important, so special, was the wonderful, tremendously-likeable and intriguing characters, the simplicity of the story lines, and the text-book-perfect editing and pacing. You could set those first two movies as American Westerns or as Japanese Samuri pictures and they would be just about as good, you know? Sigh... at least Lord of the Rings was great. Otherwise, I would seriously be losing my faith in sci fi and fantasy movies right about now.

Really looking forward to being in Austin for a week, and then Kentucky. No travelogues about that, as I'll be seeing you all in-person!

See a few pictures from April and May.

I'll end with several items, starting with another Germans-in-America history lesson: The Amana Colonies looks at the historic utopian society established in the 1850s along the Iowa River by German-speaking settlers from a religious group known as the Community of True Inspiration. The group, which originated in Himbach, Germany, in 1714, created a communal system of seven villages, each with mills, shops, homes, communal kitchens, schools, & churches. The website looks at the group's history, beliefs, buildings, & more. And it's brought to you by your tax dollars -- hurrah for the department of education, no matter what the Bush Administration and all the right wingers say.


More soon...

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