Floods, Hail, Wind, Snow White and Whiney American Children
September -- November 2002

If Oxford American Magazine doesn't start publishing again soon, I'm going to go out of my friggin' mind...

I'm wireless! An Apple airport is a completely ridiculous, impractical thing to have, unless you need to do significant amounts of work on a laptop away from your computer desk. And I don't. It's obscenely priced, and I should have gotten a printer and a web cam instead (and I could have bought three of each of those and still had money left over), but I wanted this badly for some reason. And added bonus -- I could invite up to 50 friends with laptops over and we could all be online at the same time. Picture that -- five people in the bedroom, a couple in the bathroom, two in my tiny hallway, two in my tiny kitchen, and everyone else out in the back yard. A party idea is emerging...

So sorry I haven't written in so long. All that traveling in the summer wiped me out, I had people visiting from the states in September and October, and I've been a studying FOOL (more on that later). Plus, I think I needed a break from writing -- and you probably needed a break from reading!

The dogs are oh-so-happy about my break in traveling. They are much happier when I'm here, hanging out. And right now, I am too. I'm sorry to say that Wiley continues to worsen each month. His eyesight is really bad now, and his hearing is practically non-existent. He needs frequent baths, and tires easily when we walk. However, he's still eating really well, and falls in love with all who come through the front door. Buster remains King of Germany, no matter what the elections say. He believes all children in our apartment complex are here to play with him, and all dogs we encounter must be greeted by him. If someone walks by and their footfalls are loud, Buster immediately tries to follow them, marching right along side total strangers. And if it's smelly and disgusting and available and on the ground, he wants to roll in it or eat it. Yes, that's right -- Buster has not changed.

By the way, my dogs are famous among Mac users in Vermont.

I've had to take many, many photos down from my web site; I'm running out of space, and can't afford the extra charges from my web host. Also, I think it was time to take some down -- I think more than enough people have seen them, mostly friends, but quite a few strangers... it's amazing how quickly my ramblings got Googled, as I thought I had not made these pages easy to find. I'm not sure if I should be flattered or frightened.

The floods in Germany and Austria three months ago prompted several e-mails of concern to me, including one from Paul in Austin:

I have been out of the loop for some time keeping abreast of international news items, but was taken aback by reports of the flooding occurring in your part of the world. After seeing scenes of Germans looking out over their flooded cities and villages, I hope you are safe, dry and on high ground. If need be, sacrifice all those tortilla chips you have been hoarding. When placed strategically in the path of flood waters, I have been told the chips can absorb enough water to save a small village.
Upon learning I was all right, he added:
Whew...I am so relieved that you are high and dry. Just the mental image of you sitting at your desk with a co-worker picking leeches off your legs from the rising flood waters kept me up at nights. Weep no more my lady.
So good to know my friends are as weird as me.

The highlight for me since I last wrote was my first motorcycle rally. Although my brother Darrell has since corrected me to say what I actually experienced was a poker run . I don't know what it is supposed to be called officially, but I sure enjoyed it. The weekend before, I bought a motorbike helmet and motorbike pants. I passed on the leather bodice, thank you. I road the train from Bad Godesberg to Koblenz, where leather-clad Stefan was waiting for me. The rally was hosted by a small Catholic church out in the country in Westerwald, in a town even smaller than Stefan's. There was a church service, but we didn't go -- instead, we walked around the grounds eating pea soup (the German version of Burgoo, sold at all charity events) and drinking soft drinks and alcohol-free beer. Then we met up with Stefan's friend Guido and walked around looking at the motorcycles parked everywhere. I've never really been up close to so many bikes before. Stefan was very patient with all my many questions. There were bikes of every shape and size and brand -- Japanese, British, German (lots of BMWs, ofcourse), Italian, and vintage everything. The only thing I didn't see was an Indian motorcycle. We saw a Yamaha that was painted like the American flag and I remarked, "well that's just silly -- what if I bought a BMW and painted it in the British stars and bars, or a Triumph and painted it like the German flag?"

One of many things I like about German bikers is, for the most part, they put safety first. Almost everyone was in at least leather pants, and most were in full biker clothes. No t-shirts and other nonsense. And, ofcourse, everyone wears helmets. I wear an old jacket of Guido's, my hiking boots and some ski gloves -- nothing matches, but it's all semi-proper bike wear. Stefan also has an old kidney belt for me as well. He, ofcourse, is in the full leather thingy you see on his web site, which is what he was wearing when we met oh so long ago...

By the time it was time to ride out on the big parade, there were more than 600 motorcycles -- lemme tell ya, it's awesome to ride on country roads with so many motorbikes. We never went really fast (which I oh so appreciated) and there were lots of people standing outside in their yards and on sidewalks watching us and waving as we drove past. My favorite were the old women: they would wave and smile like crazy and cheer when people would honk at them. One old woman stood out by herself in a filed near a camp ground, waving a big handkerchief like a flag. We were in the middle of the pack, which was nice, because that meant that people were outside watching by the time we past, and there was a long line of cycles before us and behind us -- an amazing sight. Even the cows in pastures came down for a look (which I found so funny). I was the waving queen -- I waved at the cows too. I just loved it.

When I first moved to Germany, I would spend a lot of time gape-mouthed in front of the TV. Television here is very different than in the U.S. -- there's lots of nudity, lots of avant garde stuff, and a lot more world news here. And if that weren't enough to freak me out in those early days, when I first moved here, I kept coming across this really weird video: haunting, strange, dark music is playing, and there are these six filthy guys (turns out the band whose video this is only has six guys) working in a mine, being towered over by this huge, sadistic Snow White, bringing her gold dust so she can snort it, and at one point they are standing in line, unbuckling their pants while waiting for her to spank them. And I'm thinking, I'm in Germany now, and this is their form of entertainment -- I wonder what Mike Meyers would think of this? I bet I saw that video five more times in the next two months and then never again. I only recently found out that it is for the song "Sonne", by a band called Rammstein. In case you are wondering how it turns out, Snow White overdoses, the dwarfs carry her up a hill in a glass coffin, they stand around and seem very sad about how events have transpired, and then a falling apple smashes the glass coffin open and Snow White wakes up, ready to dole out more rewards and punishment.

I would love to have a Quicktime or Real Audio copy of this thing, just so you all know that I'm not making this up. If you know where to download a copy, lemme know, 'kay? Ofcourse, you will have to offer a full explanation as to why you had a copy of this on your computer....

Staying on the subject of music, Stefan has made CDs of Die Toten Hosen (the Dead Pants) for me! We don't share the same tastes in bands, for the most part, but I like these guys! Stefan pointed out that I couldn't understand the words of most of their songs, but I told him I didn't understand what R.E.M. was singing on their first four albums and I still loved them.

It was a pleasure having two visitors in the Fall -- Donna, my Mom's next door neighbor, and Erica, on her second visit to seem me from Austin. I'm just bummed that I couldn't take off work to run around with them; I wrote out little home made travel guides for them, and I think I should pull this stuff together and submit it to Lonely Planet.

Donna came in September and had a really nice time, I think. In addition to getting a night out with the Hens from work, she also got to take a tour of Stefan's home town, Höhr Grenzhausen. We visited Stefan's firehouse, and then headed to a ceramics studio and shop with an old ceramics furnace, one of the oldest in Germany. You can take a tour of it on Sundays, which is a RARE thing (something being open on a Sunday!). Stefan and I had tried to go a few months ago, but the ancient woman who answered the door was still in her housecoat that afternoon. This time the woman was dressed in her finest, and she brought us into their old ceramics workshop. She was giving a tour in German, and Stefan was trying to translate, but that is really hard (still better than me with Spanish, however...). So then her ancient husband came down to give us the tour in English. He has ONE tooth. ONE. A huge tooth in the front of his mouth. Donna and I did our best not to stare at it. He was deaf as a doornail. But he was fascinating. He told us all about the designs of the ceramics, how the kind in Westerwald is made with a salt glaze, which makes it all various shades of gray and blue. He showed us how the designs are made, and walked us through the entire design and decoration process. It was fascinating.

He's actually Silesian! (Schlesier in German). I didn't know this before I came here: every European country is made up of all sorts of various tribes and cultures. Germany, as we know it, is not really that old. Neither is Spain, for that matter. At some point, someone said, okay, this area here is all Germany. The Silesians are one of the ethnic minorities in the East, that are also in Poland. They don't have their own homeland, and, sadly, will slowly die out.

This couple that own this ceramics studio and shop are from that area, and their own ceramics are totally different than that of Westerwald. They use a lot more color, but their ceramics are more delicate. It's all gorgeous, whether its in the Westerwald style or the Salasian style. I wish I had about 1000 Euros to spend on ceramics from Westerwald.

He took us over into the furnace, which isn't used anymore, as it would take cutting down an entire forest to fire the thing. It's a three story building, god knows how old, and there are fossils just laying around, including a Mammoth's tooth; they found these while digging for clay. He picked up a piece of ancient ivory they had found, let us touch it, and then threw it over on top of the tooth. Donna and I just about died. Inside the shop, they had ceramics in perfect condition from each century starting in the 1600s. They had all sorts of ceramics from the war, including Nazi and Communist-decorated ceramics. He told us that one of his artists after the war was Communist and would only drink out of the ceramic vase he now had on display with the Russian flag on it. He had it right next to a mug with Hitler's mug on it.

Donna loved it all as much as I did. It was so funky, so not touristy, something only a local like Stefan would know about.

We went with Stefan to vote (no, we didn't vote -- he did), and then took a tour of Koblenz before we drank in an Irish pub and then ate in a Cuban restaurant. I'm hoping Donna isn't mad at me for taking her to see the fountain in Koblenz and not telling her that it was interactive.

Donna brought a surprise for Stefan (and me as well); my Mom arranged for Stefan to be named a Kentucky Colonel by the Governor. I cried, but he stood there confused, as people outside of Kentucky have no real idea what it means. Donna explained later that, "It's kind of like being knighted, but not really." And, well, that's probably a good way to describe it. He received it in honor of his volunteer fire fighting and having such great taste in women, I think.

Erica came for a return visit two weeks later. She had to tour Bonn and Koblenz by herself, as I had to work every day. We did visit Cologne twice, and she bought so much gummy stuff from the Haribo outlet shop in Bonn, across from the factory, that she got stopped at customs when she went back to the U.S. She also talked to a woman who had a nasty encounter at the Beethoven House in Bonn as she did the last time she was here (note to staff at Beethoven House -- GET OVER YOURSELVES. If your goal is to make people not want to go there, you are doing an excellent job).

We took a short hike up and down one of the mountains across from where I live on the Rhein. At the top is a fort that was reconstructed by British soldiers after the war, using the rocks left from the medieval fort that was there once upon a time. The air was thick with fog, so when we got to the top, there was no view, but it felt so neat to be hidden -- easy to imagine almost anything out in that pea soup.

Afterwards, we stopped off in Königswinter for a late lunch. Now, I want to note right up front that I actually have a high tolerance for loud children that are having fun and being normal. That includes babies on planes -- I feel so bad that their little ears hurt so much because of the pressure. But I have a very, very low tolerance for loud children that are just being whiney and manipulative. And our lunch was nearly ruined by a child from the later group, a four-year-old who RULES her parents. She was whining as loudly as possible -- not speaking, not saying any coherent word whatsoever, just making these long, LOUD whiney sounds, yelling and kicking the back of my booth. It went on and on and on, as her parents talked to her in that oh-so-yuppy we're-so-modern-and-will-never-never-ever-tell-our-child-no she-is-perfect-and-the-center-of-the-universe we-will-never-get-angry-at-all we-will-just-always-use-reason-voice-with-this-four-year-old children-are-more-fragile-than-the-thinnest-pane-of-glass that just makes me want to SCREAM:

"Sam, why are you crying? Sam, tell Daddy why you are crying. Sam, do you want your shoes off? Do you want to go back to sleep? Do you want hot chocolate? Do you want to walk outside? Are you too cold? Are you too hot? Do you want to play with the bunny? Can you tell me why you are crying? Do you want to go see the train? Would you like to take a nap? Do you want to walk down the steps? Do you want to go see the train? Are you hungry? Can you tell Daddy what you would like? Can you tell Daddy why you are upset?"

And she just kept whining louder and louder and louder, then practically screaming, to the point that things were shaking when she yelled. I mean, geesh, if she had been actually crying, that would have been one thing, because it would have meant she was in pain or something was truly bothering her, but this was just friggin' WHINING. I lost all patience. I made some kind of movement with my hands as though I was going to tear my hair out, and I guess the wimpoid Daddy saw me, because he finally took that screaming brat outside. And then the mother starts talking to whomever they were with, ever-so-defensively, so we could hear:

"We try to give Sam a limited amount of stimulus every day. Because if she gets over stimulated, she can get so tired and frustrated. She's a very sensitive child. She requires a great deal of attention. It's important to really listen to her and make sure she knows that we are listening to her. We try always to acknowledge her and what it is she wants to express. She's not a child that is used to being told no -- we don't like to tell her that. You know, we don't like to give her boundaries."
WHY THE HECK NOT?! What is wrong with boundaries?!

I can't wait until Sam's 15 and runs off with a biker.

Switching to a nicer image... it was a Saturday and I went to Woolworth's, for no good reason, really (there's no Target here, and Ikea is too hard to get to without a car). As I was leaving, it started to rain. The sun was still shining, but it was raining. Only it sounded SO LOUD. And then I realized it was hail. And there were all these people everywhere, standing under awnings, watching all this ice falling from the sky in awe, ice falling so loudly that you couldn't hold a conversation with the person next to you. I stood under one of the less crowded awnings with my bike to watch the incredible spectacle. At first it was just specks, but at its height the hail was the size of peas. It was a remarkable site, and a remarkable sound, all with the sun shining the whole time. And then, suddenly, it stopped. I looked down the street and could see that it was still hailing in the park a block away. I loved the crunching sound of the ice beneath my feet as I walked. By the time I was three blocks away, the ice was all gone, except for on cars. And the sun was shining just as brightly as ever.

Then, a week later, we experience one of the worst wind storms EVER. Trees and lawn furniture and Dorothy and Toto are all blowing through the yards, I'm constantly looking around for an approaching tornado as we walk along the Rhein (we later found out warnings had been issued to NOT go out), and the clouds are moving through the sky as though I'm watching a speeded-up film of the weather. It was CRAZY. A story about the storm in the New York Times noted:

The wind also swept away an inflatable tank that the British Army was using in an exercise involving troops from Britain, the United States, Canada, Belgium and Poland in the Brecon Beacon mountains. The dummy tank, which takes three people to handle and is supposed to give troops a sense of what it is like to carry out patrols in enemy territory, was one of six on loan from the Royal Air Force.

"If anyone has seen a flying tank, please contact us," David Webb, an army spokesman, told Reuters. "We would like it back."

I took a cab recently home from a swanky event (one of our former interns, a HOOSIER, got married). And, being that I can't shut the heck up, I chatted with the cab driver, about Peter Gabriel (he was playing his CD in the car, as was the cab driver who took me to the event), and how damn hard German is to learn, and he says, "So, you are American, yes?" and I said yes. And he said, "You must guess where I am from. Guess where I am from." And I said no way, because I would guess wrong and embarrasses myself. So he says, "It's somewhere in the Middle East." And I'm like, no, I am not going to guess because I'll be wrong. Plus, I have no idea! So, then he says, much quieter, almost like he's scared of my reaction, "Iran." And I said, oh, one of my best friends is getting married to a guy from Iran, I just adore him! I would so like to go to Iran. And his eyes got really big and he said, "well, I wasn't sure, you know, because of the whole... you know, Khomeini years." And I said, hey, I won't judge you by Khomeini if you won't judge me by George Bush. I thought he was going to fall out of the cab laughing.

So, that squeaker German election came and went. The time before this, when I went to bed when a country's leadership race was this close, did not turn out the way I wanted it. I'm glad that, this time, the people's voice was heard. I'm amazed at how Germans are being portrayed on CNN -- Germans love Americans! They just don't like our President. Neither do I...Mary in Austin says:

Yes indeed, he's a totally scary hollowed-out and carved pumpkin with no candle lit on the inside. I'm moving to Sweden.

I still haven't read what has been the Number One Book in the U.S., Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, because I keep loaning it out to people at work. An Aussie I work with that I first loaned it to sent me an email about it:

this is my favorite book ever and I have only read the first 3 pages!

It's now down the hall at Barb's apartment, and her constant reviews to her Mom back in Arizona prompted her to buy it for Barb's Dad. It's amazing what word-of-mouth has done for this book.

Okay, enough of politics; let's talk about the fabulous, world-traveling Lee Family, who notes on their web site:

An interesting piece of trivia: as we recounted recently, the trans-Atlantic immigrant ships of the 1840s were required by law to have a 6' by 18" space for each passenger. An Economy Class seat on a modern airline has a width of 17-3/4". So when you fly Coach, you actually have less space than your ancestors did when they immigrated to America on a famine ship. Another reason that we're happy we spent the extra money for Business Class.

Movie reviews: saw Minority Report and LOVED it. Wow. Terrific script, compelling story, intriguing characters, sharp direction, thought-provoking ideas -- excellent. Steven Spielberg is an amazingly-gifted human being. I also went to see Signs. It is AWFUL. Stupid script, stupid story, stupid characters, overblown direction trying way too hard to be gothic and artistic... and, besides, how can aliens be capable of having vehicles that will bring them across dimensions or light years or whatever, but they can't get into a Pennsylvania farm house where the doors have been nailed shut?! And don't even get me started about the little boy killing his own dog and not being that upset about it, or the entire family forgetting to bring the other dog inside when the aliens are coming.

If you are looking for a GREAT way to spend an hour, log on to This American Life and listen to one of the shows. I adore them, and had forgotten that they were free on the Internet. I listened while I put laundry away and cleaned up the flat -- it made me think of Saturdays in Austin once upon a time, when I oriented my whole day of gardening and cleaning to KUT, because of all the terrific shows on.

The downer since I wrote last is that my two favorite bars in Bonn, both Irish pubs, The Quiet Man and Fiddlers, have STOPPED SERVING GUINNESS. They now only serve brews made by some blandorama company called Beamish. Yuck. If the place in Koblenz has stopped as well, I'm not sure how I'll make it.

I did, indeed, get to have Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday, and if I don't get to eat turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes, surrounded by friends and/or family, I get really depressed. Luckily, an American from the agency next door invited me to her huge Thanksgiving celebration on the Saturday after the official holiday. It was great -- the food was fantastic, and was exceeded only by the company of about 30 really fun people, which included one of my co-workers who revealed to me that, as a teenager, she had been an extra in the film Tommy, and in a scene that didn't make the movie, she had been part of the film mob that attacks Roger Daltry during the Pin Ball Wizard scene, and she had kissed him on the mouth!! I about died. And then there were her stories about Keith Moon throwing ice cream all around... as an added bonus, there was a guy from Kentucky there! We talked about what it's like to be from a developing country within a supposedly developed country, and how the word "Quit" has at least two syllables where we come from.

Erica in Austin sent me several tapes, including two episodes of Monk, which is just adorable! She also sent me a tape of movies with the theme of spying and WWII pre or post Germany. Charade was terrific (hadn't seen it in years), but Above Suspicion was cheesy (still kind of fun), and Notorious was not as good as I thought it would be.

Okay, one more thing, which is a big announcement, kinda: I have gone back to school for a Masters Degree. Yes, I know you are all shocked, as I swore I would never do this, unless it could be for something totally fun and useless, like a Masters in History. Plus, the thought of going back to school has previously totally made me cringe. Part of what changed my mind was studying Spanish for the last several months -- I have really enjoyed it. Everyone says, "Oh, but it's so much harder to learn another language as an adult!!" That is true, I know, but it's still fun. It's almost therapeutic. Also, I appreciate studying and learning so much more now than I did when I was younger -- and I say this as a person who pretty much enjoyed school.

I'm going to continue to study Spanish, in case you were wondering... the Master's Degree I'm pursuing is in Development Management. No, it's not related to software development. It's development in the sense of community development, country development, etc. I'm taking courses through Open University, a British University dating from the 1970s. Nearly all OU students are part-time and about 70% of undergraduate students remain in full-time employment throughout their studies. OU courses are considered to be among the world's best distance education materials. A couple of people at work have gotten or are pursuing MBAs through OU, and spoke very highly of it. Well, I wouldn't give a flip for an MBA...

I went to the school's open house in Cologne with some co-workers just after I got back from Spain, and found myself excited by three Master Degree programs. But the one that spoke to my heart -- and that's what I was looking for, something that would speak to my heart -- was the Masters in Development Management. Which turns out to be quite practical as well, as all 'at book larnin' will apply to just about any government or nonprofit job I pursue back in the states someday. It is TERRIBLY expensive. But I think it's going to be worth it. And even if I take only the first class and then decide I hate it, I will have gotten something out of it.

It's already affecting my life every day. I must budget time five nights a week for two-three hours of reading and homework. Stefan has been supportive and understanding (reading The Two Towers while I study). I'll still be able to travel, but I must make sure I have budgeted time in that travel for study. And, by the way, I'm terrified... it's been a long time since I've had my work graded... I hope no one ever sees my workbook, or, at least, the page where I have added the point that the World Bank is filled with a Bunch of Weenies. Also, this will keep me in Germany, so long as my job holds out, through the Summer of 2005.

You can read the list of courses I'm subjecting myself to here (click on the link to "MSc in Development Management."

Okay, I'll end with these (a lot, I know -- it's been a good season!):

More soon...

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