Harry Potter, Pirates and the Dixie Chicks
More from August, September and October 2003

If I could remember only one sound in Germany, it would be the sounds of a cool summer night in my apartment complex, when most everyone has their windows open, particularly when a distant neighbor is playing his or her flute. It's a faint, lovely, whispey sound, usually mixed with the soft voices from a balcony conversation, or dialogue from a TV show, or the music from a movie someone is watching on video or DVD, or music from a stereo -- sometimes blues, or jazz, or Eric Clapton, or African, or Latin (but never German) -- or the train going from Koblenz to Bonn about two kilometers from me. All of the sounds seem far away, and mingle together so beautifully. None of them can be heard over my own stereo or TV, but if I don't have those on, then I can sit here at computer and listen to the neighborhood symphony, and there are nights when I lay in bed and go to sleep to those wonderful, gentle human sounds. Please, higher power, don't let someone who likes rap music move into the complex...

I finished the latest Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix , after we got back from Prague. It is fabulous. I had forgotten how much I LOVE Harry Potter stories... and just how dreadful the movies are by comparison. The movies look perfect -- exactly what I picture when I read. But the heart is missing. The soul. The spark. The wonder. The thrill. The movies have been like shadows of the book, for the most part, with the exception of performances by Kenneth Branaugh and, sigh, Alan Rickman... and by the way: Snape, the Goth Stud Muffin, is going to turn out all right in the end, just you wait... anyway, I went back and re-read the first three books. Once I finish my next course exam, I'm going to re-read the last two. I'm trying to get more people to read them at work.

If you have read the latest Harry Potter book, please write me and let me know, because I'm dieing to discuss it! Thanks to Kendra for the discourse so far (yes, that woman IS a bitch and is just the meanest thing JKR has ever created. I think I used to work for the High Inquisitor, actually, but she was going by the name of "Shannon" at the time).

On that note, take this quiz and let me know which house at Hogwart's the sorting hat would put you in. In reading the descriptions of the houses, I have always thought I would be in Hufflepuff. But the sorting hat puts me in Griffendor...

And I'm shocked to discover that I would be Mrs. Sirius Black and not Mrs. Severus Snape, according to this quiz.... HOW can that possibly be?! I'm so stunned. Black? I mean, okay, maybe Lupin -- quiet disheveled haunted loner type, probably a musician... Well, it could be worse: Kendra took the quiz and found out that she's Mrs. Gilderoy Lockhart.

I have become the Harry Potter queen at work -- I am the focal point for all co-workers reading the books. Oliver, from France, just finished book five, and you have not lived until you have heard him say, "Awww, ah zo hat zee High In-quis-si-TOR. She izz ahwfool!" Thomas, also from France, does not believe the books are that great (and so we have an argument about them once a week). Charles, from Australia, doesn't like them as much as he thought he would, nor as much as the Michael Moore books I loaned him earlier. And Wisam, from Sudan, is on book three, but is having trouble making much progress during the Ramadan feasts each night and her ever-intrusive and quirky grandmother (I have decided that ever-intrusive and quirky grandmothers are the cross-cultural fact of life that binds every human on the planet).

Okay, enough about Harry Potter...

Yes, the summer in Europe was dreadfully hot (not that the Prime Minister of France would know, however, as he spent it in Canada). It felt oh-so-much-hotter because this is not an area prepared for such weather. There are very few places with air conditioning, few places with ceiling fans, and you can't buy ice here. When I left the apartment, I would close all the shudders and the windows, to trap in the cool air and to keep out the rising heat. The poor dogs were miserable, having trouble eating and having awful gunky stuff in their eyes. One Sunday, we walked down past the Hotel Dreesen and let the dogs have a dip in the Rhein. Poor Buster got swamped by a wave (my bad). Then we sat on some sand in the shade by the Rhein, and looked at the hazy Siegbengebirge. It was a rare moment of respite from the heat. Sitting in the apartment was beyond awful: sweat was dripping off of me while I was writing on one of my papers, and I had to have a thick towel on my lap when I was using my laptop away from the desk because the heat from it was unbearable. But my work place was even worse. It was 105 degrees outside, and even more inside. I begged the IT department to temporarily let me move into the server room, the only place in the building with air conditioning.

In addition to the unbearable heat, there are these tiny Macedonian moths EVERYWHERE for most of August. They live in chestnut trees, and you pretty much can't ride your bike without wearing glasses -- and definitely with your mouth closed. The moths are harming the trees as well, and there is nothing that can be done, other than to burn the fallen leaves (not an option -- Germany doesn't burn anything on purpose) or use toxic stuff (something else Germans are quite reluctant to do). And then there are these little flea like things that hover over my sink -- I got those the last time I bought bananas. Germany has been largely bugless for me up until now... at least there are no real fleas and just a few ticks.

After the heat wave broke (thank the stars), the Rhein dropped to levels not seen since before WWII. Suddenly, we had massive beaches everywhere along the water. I kept waiting for a tank to be found sticking out of the water at Remagan. It was eerie to see the river so low.

Okay, enough about the weather...

I made my official singing debut at work a few months ago, at the going away party of our PR guy, one of the few Americans I worked with. I chose "Blue Kentucky Girl", and I think it went over pretty well -- no one averted their eyes or covered their ears. It was only the second time I'd sung into a microphone.

Also recently at work, an email was sent to the whole house of more than 300 or so employees:

2 music CDs have been found: The CDs can be picked up in the Library (C-Building, Ground Floor).

Now, this would not be unusual if I still lived in Austin. And it would not be that unusual if I were working in some other state in the U.S. But in Germany? Clearly I should have put a post it note on the CDs asking the person to be my best friend -- it's so rare to find my kind of music in these parts.

In the week between completing the last assignment for my most recent (and maybe last) OU course, some guys at work badgered me to go out for a drink. I had turned down just about every party and dinner invitation in the last two months, and I really needed to reconnect. We spent an hour at this nice little outdoor cafe in Bonn near the university discussing Harry Potter intensely (Oliver of France is reading book 5, Charles of Australia is on book 4, and Brian of Canada hasn't ever read one), they talked me into going to this great dive bar that has karoke. And after two beers, yes, I did sing: ("Crazy" and "Son of a Preacher Man" -- Charles said I sounded better on "Crazy"). Anyway, towards the end of the night, I was giving the song list a good hard look. I was looking at the musicals section. I was impressed with just how many songs from various musicals were there. From "Chicago." And "Sweet Charity." And "The Sound of Music." And "Cabaret."

And "The Producers."

Yes, "The Producers."

Yes, THAT song from "The Producers."

I started laughing so hard that beer almost came out of my nose. Brian (who is Jewish) became intensely curious at me being doubled over, trying to breath, and was saying, "what?! what?!" Once I could speak, I told him that I would pay him 50 Euros to sing a song I had just found in the book. When I finally showed him, he almost fell off his chair. We laughed so hard we were beside ourselves. All we can figure is that the karoke guy bought his karoke songs as a package without giving them a good once over first.

No, we did not sing "Springtime For Hitler."

In September, Stefan took me to see the Dixie Chicks in Frankfurt. They were terrific. Very solid. Loved when Natalie brought one of the other singers' son on stage and bounced him around while she sang, "Hello, Mr. Heartache." The audience was really into them -- including this audience member in particular. I felt high hearing live music again at long last! My only complaints are that they played just under two hours and that they played only one song not on their CD -- I don't know if that was because they were tired (it was the last night of their European leg -- they were off to Aussie land next) or if they know that Germans pretty much only like songs they know.

They made a few comments about "The Incident." After talking briefly about it, they launched into "You don't like the sound of truth, falling from my mouth..." gave that song a whole new meaning... The next day, I read about their interview with Der Spiegel, that they don't feel a part of the country music scene anymore. That's probably an appropriate response. I was stunned at how awful the country music establishment acted towards them -- but was quite happy that the rock and roll establishment embraced them. I became quite disillusioned myself, particularly the CM stars falling over themselves to laud Toby Keith, who is such an ASSHOLE, and likes to write songs celebrating murder. It is with great pride that I can say I and dozens and dozens of people walked out of Austin City Limits a few years back when he was going to play after Allison Moorer; obviously, many, many people in addition to me weren't interested in seeing a hat act.

Okay, enough about music and singing and politics, for now...

I finished my second course in development management, but I don't know if I passed. These Open University courses have been very thorough, very up-to-date, very full and detailed -- and extremely difficult. I have learned so much -- or at least, I'm under the illusion that I've learned so much -- to apply to my work. I felt really inspired when I started, and I have, for the most part, enjoyed these courses -- time consuming and extremely difficult as they are. But I did horribly on my last two assignments, and the exam was not a confidence-building experience by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn't matter how much time you put into an assignment; courses are like a mathematical equation, and you had better get every factor and sum in there, or your grade will suffer. And as many of you know, math was never my strong suit... I worked very hard, spending 8 - 15 hours a week, for very mediocre and, in two cases, embarrassingly bad grades. I won't know until December if I passed or not, and by then, the next course will be well underway. If I didn't pass, I will probably withdraw and eat the loss of the course costs. Won't be fun... I share this with you all because I made such a big deal about starting this whole thing. Even if I did pass, I'm not going for the Master's -- I'm going only for the post graduate degree. And if I did pass, then I'll be done with the degree one year from now. It will sting to fail at something I wanted so badly, but it certainly hasn't been the first time, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

Stefan deserves a medal for being so patient while he played second fiddle to my courses. I really owe him for his support. Benefits of withdrawing would be that he would get a lot more attention and time from me, I could spend more time studying Spanish, and getting to have a social life again.

Okay, enough about my academic failures...

How Well is Life Treating You?

Recently, a friend from work -- I'll call her Theresia, but that's not her real name -- invited myself, Stefan, a co-worker and her mother to dinner with her family. I thought it was a dinner with many people from work, but when we all arrived, I realized it was just for the four of us, plus Theresia and her children.

Theresia is from Rwanda. She is reluctant to say whether she is Tutsi or Hutu. "I am Rwandian. That is what matters" is what she will say, in an accent that is one of the most beautiful I've ever known. Stefan and I escorted her to friend's house once, when she had just arrived in Bonn from Burundi, and as we were strolling down the peaceful streets of the city on our way back to the U-Bahn, she said matter-of-factly, "You know, I like Bonn. It is very safe here. No one would ever break into your house and kill your whole family here." And she walked right on as though she'd just said, "I like Bonn -- it begins with the letter 'B.'" For some reason, I felt ashamed. It's hard to explain... it was one of those times when I realized just how lucky I am, how incredibly sheltered I am, as well as everyone back in the U.S. We haven't got a clue, particularly about Africa.

Theresia told me once that she doesn't go to church anymore. She used to be Catholic. but she quit since the day the priest of her parish told his congregation in Rwanda that it was okay to kill one particular tribe, because that wasn't really murder. He said God would bless those who did so. She also told me about coming home from college once to find her family throwing a party for her upon her engagement to her neighbor, something no one had asked her about before. She told her parents she would not marry the neighbor, and went right back to university. She's now married to a wonderful man and has four breath-takingly-beautiful children, who each speak at least three languages. Her husband works in Africa, and visits her whenever he can.

So there we were, at Theresia's lovely apartment, talking about this and that, while her children came in ocassionally with snacks or drinks before dinner. She made us all eat first, and as we were eating and laughing, she told us that she was having this dinner as an overdue thank you, for the kindness that my co-worker and I had shown her when she first arrived. We had taken her out to lunch her first week at work and basically talked her ear off before we realized her English was shakey and she was more comfortable in French. We do that with all new people. But here was Theresia, making a very big deal about this. She made a speech about kindness in her soft, gentle voice, noting that "Not everyone is kind, you know." Then she got up to tend to her children who were now eating. And I felt tears in my eyes. What kind of life has this person known?

We asked who cared for her children, and she said Alfonza (also not her real name), a woman from a different tribe from herself. Theresia told us that Alfonza had been "brutalized", and seen her entire family murdered. Theresia had taken her in and now Alfonza was her children's nanny. Theresia was looking for literacy classes for her, wanting her to learn to read and write and, eventually, go off to school to learn a trade. She also wanted her to see more of the world, "the good part of the world." My co-worker's mother, who barely speaks English (she's Spanish) immediately chimed in, calmly but firmly stating, "Alfonza will come and live with me for a few months. She will come to live with me in Barcelona and I will teach her some things. And then she will go to school. And we will help pay for that." And for the second time in the evening, I thought I was going to lose it. There was no discussion, just a statement and immediate agreement. I had to fight back tears. Ofcourse we're going to help pay for Alfonza to go to school.

On our way out, we met Alfonza. She's a tiny woman-child, with coal-black skin, close-cropped hair and the biggest, most beautiful eyes you have ever seen. She never smiled. She embraced each of us, kissing us each three times in the Franco-phone way. I wanted to hold her, to whisper in her ear that we would take care of her, that I was sorry for what she'd been through, and that now she was safe, and we would recruit dozens of people to make sure her life was always peaceful and secure for the rest of her life. And I wanted to cry and cry and cry. But instead, I just smiled, and kissed her, and held her hand and told her I was so happy to meet her. She simply replied softly, "Yes" to each of us, then returned to the children in another room.

Today, kiss those you love, and look around at your house, your doors, your cabinets and fridge full of food, and remember that you live in paradise.

Random Thoughts

The mania David Beckem makes the "mania" that surrounds even Michael Jordan seem small.

Most of you have already found your pirate name, but for those of you who didn't get this forwarded to them by me... (the test is a scream). But the quiz has had some interesting effects on my friends. This is an email exchange between me and the co-worker who turned me on to the Find Your Pirate Name site:


Where would Claire's office be, matey?


Her office is in OBS - room O-121, ext. 1525
yo-ho-yo-ho, a pirate's life for me!


OBS... means... what?


Sorry, matey! That's our annex building, up at the intersection. Her office is on the 1st floor.


Shiver me timbers, but that would mean I would have to ride my bike up the street.
Well, it is a beautiful day... I have a book of hers I need to return.


We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot,
Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!


If you keep singing online, I'll make yas walk the plank.


Can't help it -- I was raised at Disneyland!



I know, I know... it's our professionalism that impresses you most... Oh, BTW, I did see Pirates of the Carribean . I want to know who in the hell was paid money to write that awful script. GEESH. Stupid story and pathetic dialogue. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were terrific though, and the special effects were decent, so I'm not sorry to have seen it.

A thank you to Jennifer in Louisville, who wrote recently:

Going to the Kentucky State Fair tomorrow....I'll wear my tightest terry cloth shorts
and tube top and smoke a Marlboro Red for you baby!
Jennifer always keep me grounded in my roots and never lets me forget who I *really* am. Hope she wore blue eye-shadow too. It's a shame she didn't have time to grow a mullet.

Loooooooooooooooove Queer Eye for the Straight Guy . I've only seen one episode. The one with Brian/Butch, the set builder in NYC. The transformation of him and his apartment was stunning. Wow. Thank you, Erica, for sending this! She also sent us more episodes of Monk . "It's a gift.... and a curse." It's not that the shows are stellar... there's just something so lovable about him, so quirky, and the chemistry between he and his assistant -- not romantic, but this conflict and yen and yang thing... it's just terrific. Plus, I get to point out all sorts of things I love about San Francisco.

Oh, and, no, we did not go see Bruce Willis and his band here in Bonn a few days ago. But we made lots of jokes about the potential for dramatic entrances for him. My favorite was the idea of him coming in riding on top of an U-Bahn car. We were on our way to Museum Platz at the time, to see an exhibit of Aztec artifacts. Great exhibit, which I would have enjoyed even more had the museum volunteers not insisted -- as usual -- on telling me how should carry my purse and that I couldn't carry my coat -- I had to wear it -- even though it was about 70 degrees inside (coat check was full). Is it possible to go to a museum in Bonn and not be corrected for something? I don't think so.

Trip to Speyer

Just took one trip, really, since Prague: Speyer, which is far South. Lonely Plante said it had a fantastic cathedral, and I was most certainly not disappointed. The local history museum there is FABULOUS as well. We spent so much time at both that we didn't have time to go to the Technik Museum, but we have it on our agenda for a future day trip.

Upcoming Trips and Plans

So... no big trips for a while. I had to skip my long planned two-week return to Avila for another round of intensive Spanish, due to conflicts with work and OU studies and because we're two people short in my unit at work. I've got friends coming in November, and, my next course starts that month as well (though, as I mentioned earlier, I may drop out). I'm going to try to go for a long weekend to Belgium and, maybe, another border country or a new city in Germany, before the end of the year.

In fact, this may be the last time I update my blog for the rest of 2003. I know you are all crushed...

But since I have you all as a captive audience right now: if I do continue with OU studies, then the best times to visit me in 2004 will be the first three weeks of May (when I've finished my exam for my third class and will start my next one), or sometime in late July (when I get an extra week for studies), or mid October (when I finish my exam for whatever class I'm taking at that point). If I drop out, then come just about any time!

Big trips I'm planning for 2004: San Francisco or Vegas or another point far West in the U.S. (to meet up with Stefan, who will be touring the Western U.S. by motorbike); Paris and/or Hamburg for a long weekend (if I don't get there before the end of 2003); Rome or Croatia for a long weekend; Lebannon/Jordan/Syria for a week or two, and London for a few days, either to go to a special residential school for my development studies and see my friend Louise, or exclusively to see Louise.


Don't forget! Stefan is planning for his motorbike trip in the USA for May 2005 and he is still in need of some key information! Please read about the info he is looking for, and any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated.


Please let me know in as much time in advance if you are coming to visit, or if you want to go with me on a trip!

What's Been Interesting to Me Lately

Just a few things, and because of the first item, my work place lost several hours of productivity:

NOTE: I rarely correct URLs on my personal essays/blogs. If you click on a link and it no longer works, visit archive.org and you can probably find an archive of the site you are looking for.

april winchell multimedia. It's all brilliant. Just reading the descriptions is hilarious. The German versions of various songs, the Hindi versions of Abba songs, "TV Stars Who Insist On Singing", the 1950s audios about male homosexuality, and the scary Christian songs are my particular favorites. Haven't listened to the KFC employee training audios yet.

Another Strong Bad cartoon that made me laugh.

Comedy Central clips online!!
The Internet is a good thing...

The Year 1500 poem that first uses a now very special, popular word.

The Skeptics Annotated Bible
Think you know the Bible? Think it's a good idea to take it literally?

Hope you will consider becoming an online volunteer and providing your time and expertise to help organizations working in and for the developing world. This terrific free service is brought to you and the world by the United Nations, about which I have many feelings.

More soon...

If you have read this blog, PLEASE let me know. Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing.

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