Don’t look at the photo of his lifeless body on the beach unless you’re prepared to do something about it 

 

Münchners getting in the spirit of welcoming refugees

 
There’s a photo from Reuters that’s all over the web today. Has been for a few days already, and it’s disturbing. It’s not at all nice. It’s the opposite of nice, even. It’s a shot of a little boy who’s drowned & washed up on the beach. I’m not putting it here, but I am linking to an editorial on Deutsche Welle in which they discuss their editorial decision to publish the photo. This photo isn’t for the faint of heart, though. You’ve hopefully been adequately warned. 

Opinion: an image that touches us all

If you’ve already seen this photo & many others of children washed up on beaches, maybe you didn’t bother going there. 

I’ve included the joyful photo above of the locals bringing donations for the recent arrivals as a counterbalance to the abject sadness that the other image brings. When I know people are visiting Munich and they express interest in Dachau, I often recommend that they schedule something/anything joyful afterwards. Not to pretend that the concentration camp didn’t exist, but because it’s so thoroughly depressing to go there and see the documentation of what occurred, it’s important to be reminded of hope and resilience and that there’s even still goodness. 

Yet we’re not quite there yet when it comes to the immigration situation in Europe right now. The Hungarians are furious that Germany has opened itself up so overtly as a safe haven for refugees, and the situation is still so fluid that anything I might write here will quickly become old news. 

Nevertheless, I hear plenty of reasonable people questioning the practicality of Europe in general and Germany in particular taking in so many refugees. This is purportedly the biggest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War, and the ramifications of this mass migration are far from predictable. I’ve even heard that these newcomers could make up as much as 1% of the population of contemporary Germany. 

Quite a number of the residents of Munich have been unquestionably generous by taking donations of food and clothing and toys (and I heard even portable wifi, so the refugees could communicate with their far flung family members) to the main train station. Football fans in many stadiums last weekend held up signs that said, ‘Refugees Welcome.’ 

What happens when the novelty of taking in all these people wears off? There’ll unquestionably be a new disaster or outlandish political reaction that’ll distract us from the outrageous news we’re reading on a daily basis. 

Here’s the thing, though: this immigration crisis isn’t new. It’s been a long time building. The Syrian refugees might be overwhelming the system at the moment, but any reasonable observation over the last decade or more has made it clear that Europe’s lack of unity on this issue was a disaster in the making. 

That’s where the photo of the child on the beach comes in. You can be as cynical as you like about this topic – I’ve certainly pontificated on both sides of the argument that we as a society are responsible for those fleeing war torn countries. I welcome the argument, even. 
But look at that photo tell me that we shouldn’t finally be able to come up with something better than what we’ve been doing. For years, some European politicians have pretended that it wasn’t their problem. That little boy’s lifeless body makes it harder to stomach such a position. 

Oliver Sacks has died and I can’t get Rilke’s Der Panther out of my head

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Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf –. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille –
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.’

I can’t help it. Oliver Sacks is dead, and there are a myriad of thoughts shooting through my brain. I want to write about all of them.

Actually, I’d rather brew a pot of coffee and settle in to watch each of said thoughts explode into the room. The same way I did with a percussionist friend I knew in college who turned me on to a particular man who mistook his wife for a hat. That’s not even the best Oliver Sacks connection – just the first one I knew.

Later I read his ponderings on music and the ways it impacts our brains – fascinating stuff. Stuff with which to brew another pot of coffee, I assure you.

I’ve read so many obituaries and essays today about how important he was to this or that writer or thinker or scientist, and I want to link to every last one of them. I wish I could take you on a tour through my obsessive day of Oliver Sacks devotion, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t do his memory justice. Having said that, I think he might’ve moderately appreciated the attempt to tie in all these disparate ideas that’re still overloading my brain.

Instead, I’m just going to get a tad bit obsessive about Der Panther, which is the German poem I’ve included above. Although I was well aware of his poetry before I saw the film Awakenings, Rilke’s words grabbed me and shook me out of a weird slumber. In the hands of Robin Williams’ character, I was thoroughly jostled by the image of the big cat pacing back and forth in his cramped cage.

This isn’t normally a place where I allow myself to analyse poetry, so I’m loath to go down that road. Although it’s tempting, I’m more inclined to provide a few links and let you go there if you’re so inclined.

First of all, quite an impressive selection of translations can be found at Alternate Translations of The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke, and if you’d rather have a ‘Best Of’, here’s Der Panther: Six Ways of Looking at a German Poem. There’s a nice article by John Banville in The New York Review of Books called Study The Panther!

As he says there, ‘…Rilke had no illusions about the solitariness of the artistic project, or its difficulty…‘, and that’s where my thoughts finally settle in the darkest corner of the night as I continue to consider Oliver Sacks.

I could wax philosophic about how he faced his death and expressed himself so exquisitely in the process. Were I to do so, I’d certainly focus on that last stanza and how he recently announced his illness so publicly and fearlessly. Instead, I’ll just wrap this up with the Stephen Mitchell translation of the poem:

‘His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else. 
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides 
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly–. 
An image enters in, 
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.’

A church door and a few thoughts about Prague

 

The door to the Church of Our Lady before Tyn

I’ve heard it said that when you get back from a trip & someone asks how it was, you’ve got a small window of opportunity to answer about your journey. Before long, their thoughts move on to what’s in front of you rather than where you’ve been.

So according to that logic, I’ve got to talk about Prague quickly before I’ve lost your interest.

My band Old Braunfels had a lot of fun while we were in the Czech capital. We played a lot and laughed even more. New songs were worked on and devious plans were hatched. Plenty of that will be covered here in future missives.

As beautiful as the city was, it seemed like the best parts of the trip were the conversations we had while we were walking around. Sometimes a change of scenery is just what you need for an infusion of creativity.

I’d hoped to learn a bit more Czech while I was there, but managing ‘excuse me‘ and ‘thank you‘ was about all I could master.

What else do I wish I could say in Czech?

Yeah, what’s up with all the 1 Krone coins? They’re like pennies in the US or Euro cents…no matter how hard I tried to spend them, they seemed to constantly be coming back at me. I might’ve even had a nightmare about the damned things.

We also saw a lot about Beer Spas…what on earth is that? Is it a spa where they serve beer? The photos made it look like the guests were bathing in beer. Is that a thing? Not that I bothered to find out. Was just rather curious.

This hopefully won’t be my only blogpost about Prague. More to come, I’m sure.

 

 

Generosity toward the future

My boy dog Louis enjoying the moment

‘Real generosity toward the future consists in giving all to what is present.

(Albert Camus)

Perhaps it’s a side effect of aging, but I find myself complaining about weather more than I did when I was younger. When I was quite young, my grandmother was obsessed with watching the evening news, and the part that seemed to always perk her up was the weather forecast. For some reason the nightly ordeal baffled me. ‘Why not just look out the window in the morning & plan accordingly?‘ my childhood self would quietly ponder. 

And now? I’ve joined my grandmother in the legion of people who can ignore most of the rest of a newscast if need be, but the minute we hear the weather mentioned, we salivate like Pavlov’s proverbial dog. It’s really quite nice here because the German Tagesschau, which is the national evening news that comes on punctually at 8 o’clock, is rather regimented in its timing. You can almost set your clock by when the weather forecast is coming. Right near the end, you hear the newscaster say, ‘Und jetzt die Wettervorhersage…‘ (And now the weather forecast), and if you’re one of us, a sense of curious security washes over you. 

Why is that? What is it about me (and perhaps you, as well) that gets such pleasure in knowing what weather patterns are headed this way in the next 24 to 72 hours? Even when the forecast is wrong, and my grandmother used to delight in discovering that last night’s forecast wasn’t accurate, there’s still some sort of reassurance to know what is coming over the horizon. 

Is there still some of that obstinate 9-year-old in me who wishes we could just take the weather as it comes? If you look out the window in the morning & see dark clouds, then bring along an umbrella. If the weather turns in the middle of the day, what’s the worst that happens? You get a little wet. So be it. 

I’ve noticed that I’ve banged on about the weather quite a lot on this blog over the last several months. It’s a bit harder in the dead of winter to read that above-mentioned Camus quote and not want to throttle the old Frenchman. If he were still around, that is. 

Yet now it’s springtime. It should be somewhat easier to live in the moment. To watch the flowers blooming and hear the birds chirping and think, ‘This is what it’s all about, right?

A small, steady voice in the back of my head doesn’t miss a beat and answers, ‘Yes, but it’s not exactly summer, is it? That’s when it gets really good. That’s something to look forward to.

Take that, Uncle Albert. 

Hiding behind the curtain

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A topic that I find myself thinking about when considering what to write about here has to do with the ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain‘ line that I’ve had on this blog since I started it. See, I’ve talked with plenty of people about online privacy and blogging and how much of yourself you choose to show in general.

Since this isn’t an academic exercise and I needn’t support my ideas with credited sources, it means that most of what I write here is anecdotal. I tell stories without bothering to look up where I originally read or heard the kernel of knowledge that began me thinking about whatever topic I fancy.

Facebook seems to be a constant privacy concern for some Germans, partially because it seems like every other month there’s an article in the media here about how someone’s personal business has been displayed for everyone to see because of the big bad social media giant. I dealt with this a bit when I wrote Why do people take the wrong things about Facebook so seriously?

My position on all of this privacy stuff, though, is that you can determine how much of yourself you show online. If there’s something embarrassing out there about me, I tend to want to be the one to talk about it.

That’s probably why I share so little of my personal life here or on other forms of social media. I reshare ridiculous things and see most of social media as a place to curate the best things I find on the web. If I’m creating content with my name on it, I tend to be cautious. Probably too much so.

So, that’s where my thoughts are this Easter season. I see this blog as a kind of calling card for my personal writing and my hope is that my personality comes out in the writing even if I’m a bit reserved. The criticism I often hear is that I could show more of myself here and on social media in general.

If I were to do so, it seems like I’d have to come out from behind the curtain. Might even have to take that line down off the front of the blog. Hiding behind the curtain has had its advantages, so don’t expect too much right off. Many things still belong in one’s private sphere.

As with so many things, it’s simply a matter of balance.

Shining in the light of the setting sun

 

When you’ve got nothing interesting to say, talk about the weather. Right?

Well, I’ve got plenty of interesting things to talk about….still the coming springtime is on my mind. This wasn’t the hardest winter, but I’ve been ready to usher it out the door for most of February. I’m not normally like that, which tells me that my impatience has gotten the best of me.

So, the photo above was taken while a friend & I walked across Munich in the last of the day’s light. It was such a gorgeous, clear day that we began in a beer garden & just found ourselves soaking in the long-awaited sunlight. We both had other things we needed to be doing, but we continued to say to ourselves, ‘Just a few more moments.’

Here’s my favourite church in town – it’s the St. Lukas, and I’ve pondered for years why I like it so much. I can stand and gaze at it for stretches of time. Jostling myself, I’m not entirely sure how long I was lost in my reverie.

Think I did some research about it years ago for an article I was writing, and I could throw around facts about St. Lukas which I’d thought would help me rationalise my obsession with it. To no avail. I’ve forgotten the details and yet I still love the beauty you can see in the photo shining in the light of the setting sun.

 

Then there’s the  Müller’sche Volksbad, which is my local sauna. At some point, I’ll write an entire blogpost about this place. It deserves plenty of attention, I assure you. 

Once again, we could’ve taken public transport farther into the city, but my walking companion and I decided to keep hoofing it. Savouring the last glimpses of what had been such a gorgeous day, we snaked our way through some of the oldest streets in Munich‘s city centre. The evening was upon us and without the sunset, we no longer had what had seemed just s short while before such a perfect excuse to procrastinate. 

I’ll leave you with a photo of the Frauenkirche. It’s a symbol of our city and the part of the skyline that makes any photo distinctively Munich. What a perfect way to wrap up this tour. If you happen to be in my adopted hometown sometime, drop a line. I can normally be persuaded to take exactly such a walk. 

Fine words butter no parsnips



Well, I was just kidding when I assured Robert Godden that I’d used ‘Fine words butter no parsnips’ in a long ago blogpost. Purportedly, he’s just spent an hour looking through the archives of my various blogs for the nonexistent time I used that phrase…now I almost feel bad, but not really. 

Maybe he-of-gullible-tendencies Mr. Godden actually happened upon some decent writing for a change. Chuckle chuckle…actually, he knows he’s one of my favourite tea bloggers. Hell, I’ll go out on a limb & say he’s just an all around superior blogger with or without the tea. 

Back to the point:

What on earth does that butter & parsnips nonsense up above even mean? Well, my impatience got the best of me & I simply stumbled over to Wikipedia, where I was told the meaning of ‘Fine words butter no parsnips‘.

Here it is:

Nothing is achieved by empty words or flattery.

Nothing? Really? 

What about that nice thing I said about Old Man Godden several lines back? You don’t think I achieved anything there? If nothing else I might get some tea sent to me. If you knew how good his tea blends are, you wouldn’t scoff. 

So, the jury is still out. Did my flattery of that demented madman of a teablogger and general wackadoo of a human being do me a lick of good in replenishing my barren tea cabinet? 

Watch this space: the suspense is killing me.