Holding on to a moment

 

‘Holding on to the moment’ (photo by Meredith Marek)

 
It snowed here a week or so back. In April. It happens. 

This isn’t Vermont. Or Norway. But it snows here in April. Sometimes. 

I found myself humming Prince‘s ‘Sometimes it snows in April‘ and considered writing in great detail about how much I adored that song, but on the one hand I had so much to say and on the other…well, I was somehow at a complete loss for words. 

Yet there it was snowing and now it’s not – the break in the weather and a sunny day and it seemed like everyone was outside today. Photos of friends all over Bavaria and beyond. So pleased people are greeting the springtime. Reminders that 

Days are getting longer. After you’ve had a handful of overcast days, then a gorgeous sunset can make all the difference. It might’ve been a nice evening anyway, but you look up from whatever you were doing, and suddenly there’s glorious yellows and oranges floating in the kitchen window. Whether you were already in a decent mood or not, a moment like that can elevate your perspective. 

That’s what happens when I look at that photo I shared up above. It perfectly catches the mood of the amusement rides at the Auer Dult, which is a traditional festival that occurs several times a year here in Munich.

‘Holding on to a moment‘. I see the pair in the picture reaching out for each other’s hand and love that they’re holding on. Additionally, I imagine something similar to that light that I mentioned streaming in my kitchen; the way I wanted to capture not just the visual memory, but the whole feel of it, as well. That moment caught in time holds all of these associations for me. Of wonderful times at the Auer Dult, of course, but of other Bavarian sunsets. 

Other yellows and oranges floating in. Holding on to a moment, indeed. 

A dropped phone can’t slow me down, well not for long

 

this isn’t my phone- I didnt have the foresight to take a photo of my spiderweb screen until it was too late

Recently came across the term ‘nomophobia‘ and it couldn’t have entered my vocabulary at a more opportune moment. That feeling when you’ve made it out the door, but something just isn’t quite right. You know you must’ve forgotten something, yet you just can’t put your finger on it. Then suddenly you realise, ‘Where’s my phone?

That’s what nomophobia is: no + mo(bile) + phobia. Fear of not having your mobile phone. Some of you are predictably thinking,  ‘Has it really come to this?‘ The easy answer is yes. Yes, it has.

On that note, I have a story for you. For quite a few, it won’t sound like all that big a deal. I’m already predicting rolling of the eyes and poorly stifled sighs. Say what you want, for me it was a horror story. One moment everything was fine. It was a beautiful sunny day in Bavaria, and I was walking through the streets with a spring in my step.

Somehow it was almost cinematic the way it unfolded. Wish I could say a black cloud darkened the sky or a menacing bird entered the frame, but in reality there was nothing that could have foretold what would happen next. Instead it was a film in which the absence of trouble made you all the more uncomfortable.

Now that I look back on it, I can say something was definitely about to happen, but that’s unquestionably a matter of seeing it in retrospect. Instead, it came out of nowhere. One minute I had my phone in my hand, and suddenly time slowed to a crawl. As if a scene that could only have been created with CGI effects, I could see my phone with its pristine screen fly out of my hands and take on a life of its own.

Through the air it flew, the music swelled to a crescendo and then BAM. It slammed to the ground and right at that moment time returned to normal. The screen was covered in a spiderweb of cracked glass. There was no amount of wishing that was going to turn time back and make this one right again. If it was a car, you’d say it was totalled. The screen, at least. The phone itself seemed fine.

Luckily, there’s a place in downtown Munich that replaces phone screens while you wait. Yet that’s where the second part of the horror story comes in. The woman at the shop said I’d have to be without my phone for an hour and a half. No sweat, right? Easier said than done.
Another exercise in the fluidity of time occurred at this point. I stumbled out into the late afternoon sunlight and looked ahead at the vast expanse of time in which I’d have to interact with the world in analog. Just me and the street and all its goings on. I had a camera in my bag, but what use was that to me if I couldn’t immediately share the photo on just one of a variety of platforms? Wish I could say that was a rhetorical question, but it was a genuine conundrum in that moment.

Self reflective, I could certainly chuckle at myself and think back to a time when most of us weren’t carrying mini computers in our pockets. As easily as I could laugh at myself, it was still quite an uncomfortable position to be in. The hands on the clock of the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) at the Marienplatz were barely moving as the tourists stared up oblivious to my plight.

It’d been only ten minutes since I’d left the repair shop, but I was tempted to ask a Japanese woman with a selfie stick if I could commandeer her phone for a few moments. This was ridiculous. Calmly, I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that I could get through this.

Remembering countless inspirational talks about the reframing of a seemingly overwhelming situation, I resolved to see this as a unique opportunity. Free of my shackles, from this new perspective I could savour a newfound independence. For a little more than an hour, my time was all mine. No one could interrupt my thoughts or demand my time.

All of a sudden, I was like one of those ‘simplify your life‘ articles in which my existence was magically transformed by simply eschewing some form of technology that made the rest of us slaves to the machine. Looking ahead, I imagined writing this text about the myriad inspirations and epiphanies I would encounter in this new caveman life in which I was immersed.

I wish I could say that my visions sped up time or made all of it more bearable. Sadly, it wasn’t the case. Some time in a nice café with a copy of the local paper, which kept me wonderful company, was my saving grace. Oh, and the last thing I did before relinquishing my mobile to the screen doctors who calmed me by assuring they’d ‘make it all better’ was to text a friend where I was going to be for the next hour or so.

She met me there, I set the paper down, we looked into each other’s eyes like people in old movies used to do and then we had a conversation. Just like that. It was pure decadence.

This isn’t a horror story, after all. Got the phone back, of course, and sent a few messages assuring folk that I was still among the living. Happy ending, right? Well, more than you might think. A few times since then, I’ve just left the phone at home.

Can’t you just see me? Walking in the park with the dogs? Like a genuine person. Somehow I think the Information Superhighway will survive me taking the off ramp more regularly. Believe it or not, I can’t wait.

Missives from this corner of Old Europe

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Light on the River Isar that runs through Munich

For quite some time, I’ve intended to change the tagline on this personal blog. I’m not certain how long it’s been, but it might’ve been from back when I started that if you clicked on my site, you’d see:

pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

It was an allusion to the Wizard of Oz, as well as a commentary on the way in which each of us creates our persona online. Essentially, I was saying: read my thoughts here, but please don’t expend any energy looking backstage.

I’ve chosen to live in a country that takes privacy very seriously. Because of Germany’s complicated history with the government surreptitiously observing its citizens, there is a genuine desire to ensure users ability to control how much of their private lives they display. It’s easy to be cynical about such a position, and my friends who work in cyber security would quickly insist that most of what we think of as online privacy is an illusion. However, I continue to respect the lengths to which they go to keep fighting the proverbial good fight. Europeans in general and Germans in particular are earnest about this. Quite commendable, if you were to ask me.

Yet the above tagline no longer works for me. It’s no longer the message I want to get across here. Not remotely. Instead, I’ve decided to take on an entirely new position. Frequently some event will happen hereabouts and I’ll receive queries along the lines of, ‘What in the world is going on over there?

My response is to write this blog as a meta answer to that exact question. The new tagline:

Missives from this corner of Old Europe

Implied in this is my eagerness to take on whatever questions you might have. If you read something here that you’d like to know more about, say something in the comments or drop me a line via email.

Hope you enjoy the new direction, and I’m already looking forward to some lively exchanges.

Hey ladies: you want to take your relationship to the next level? Have I got a deal for you…

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The world famous, or infamous, Hofbräuhaus

For the second time in the last six months or so one of my Mitbewohner (flatmates) has decided to go shack up with his girlfriend. Move in with his beloved, in other words. All’s well. I wish each of them the best and wonder who’s going to move in next.

Then I strike on a comical thought:

There have got to be women out there who want to take their relationship to the next level, right? Well, my place appears to have some good mojo for just such an objective.

Is your guy hesitant for whatever reason? Will he not communicate his objections?

Have no fear! A few months at mine, and he’ll be raring to go. You’ll have him signing his name on the joint rental lease in no time.

You don’t even live in Munich, you say? No worries. Just send him over, and we’ll sort this out in record time. We might even get him hooked on the local beer in the process.

Just think: you get a new, improved version of your fella. Ready to talk commitment on the one hand, and the makings of an unhealthy relationship with particularly strong beer on the other hand.

I’d consider that a win-win situation, wouldn’t you?

Don’t all of you beat the door down trying to be first in line.

Our Lady in the glimmering sunlight

 

There’s a church at Mariahilfsplatz

 
Above is a photo I took only several days ago. It’s ok. I know it’s a decent shot. However, as much as I like it, it reminds me so vividly of one I didn’t get. It was years ago. Perhaps even in the first few years I’d lived in Munich. If I had a mobile phone at the time, which I’m not entirely sure if I did, I’m sure it didn’t have a decent camera. 

Let me set the stage. It was wintertime and very early in the morning. I had to be somewhere, and I was very likely grumbling about the time of day that I was expected to arrive. I’d just left the main train station in Munich, which was positively bustling with excitement. So many people rushing here and there on a weekday morning before the sun had even made a proper appearance. The scene reminded me of New York’s Grand Central Station on a Friday afternoon, and I suppose I even asked myself, ‘Where are all these Germans off to at this ungodly hour?’ I’ve since found out that what I saw was a common sight in one of our local train stations. People like to awaken early and get where they’re going, preferably before everyone else does.

Yet that morning, I had neither the time nor the consciousness to consider such things. Almost as if on autopilot, I trudged on toward my destination. Soon I was coming out of the underground system at the Marienplatz station, which is right in the middle of the historic city, and if I remember correctly, I was suddenly and miraculously more awake. Only several hundred steps from coming out into the fresh air, I found my eyes inexplicably drawn to look up at the Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Lady). 

At that moment the sun broke from behind the rows of buildings to the east, and the church was bathed in the brightest sunlight. Yes, I know it’s preposterous for me to be writing this down while telling you that words can’t describe how beautiful it was. It was similar to the photo above, which is why I’ve included it here – why it made me think of that shot of dawn all those years back. Here’s how I’d like to describe it, though, because I’d like to make a bigger point. If I can get you to think of a similar experience you’ve had, you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at.

Can you think of a moment in time that was so beautiful and so otherworldly, yet you didn’t have some device nearby in which to record it? No app that seamlessly allowed you to shoot a glimpse in time and instantaneously share it to acquaintances and future acquaintances far and wide? Maybe your camera was back in the car. Possibly you were out running and you’re one of those sorts that enjoys being out on the trail without such distractions.

Your memory could be like mine from years ago before these ever-present moment capturing tools took on such a central role in our lives, but it could also be something that happened last week or last year. Look, I read enough stuff about eschewing technology that I don’t want to fall into a clichéd pitch about how great life used to be before we sold our souls over to the machine. I read something years ago that you know a device or program or app has really made it when people start writing about how great it used to be and now they’re so over it. That’s not at all what I’m trying to get at. Not remotely.

Nevertheless, I’m frequently reminded that I couldn’t have experienced that moment looking up at Our Lady in the glimmering sunlight all those years ago if I’d been absent-mindedly stumbling through my day glued to my screen like I sometimes still am. 

This is a plea that you take a moment to look up sometimes. If you can’t let it stay home without you, leave your phone in your bag when you’re meeting up with a friend you’ve not seen in ages. I’m not advising something I’ve not done. It’s something I’m constantly telling myself. Constantly.

Sylvester spoil sport – get those damned fireworks away from me

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The best part of New Year’s Eve? The next morning

New Year’s Eve in Munich is awful. I like almost every aspect of living here, but there are a few things I simply cannot tolerate. What the locals call Sylvester is one of those things. I loath it. A lot. More than a lot, if that were possible. A whole lot.

It really comes down to one thing. It’s not the drunken morons; you get those everywhere. Well, everywhere I’ve ever lived. Even far up in the mountains in Colorado or Austria, they’ve got inebriated idiots. Not as many, but they tend to make up for their lower numbers with more noise.

But it’s really not the drunks. I enjoy a bit of good cheer. Truly, I do.

It’s personal fireworks. Call me a Spielverderber, I won’t take it personally. That’s a spoilsport for the non-German speakers. Or a party pooper. Or a stick-in-the-mud, even. You’re welcome to call me all of those names and more. Doesn’t bug me at all.

For me, fireworks displays are for professionals. There’s a reason why civilised places don’t allow the man on the street anywhere near fireworks. Each year, I imagine the hospitals filled with people who’ve blown off one of their extremities.

When I first moved here, I had no idea that New Year’s Eve was a night for such mayhem. I went out on the street at midnight, and there were people shooting rockets down the thoroughfare. At each other, at the cars and pretty much anywhere they could.

Aside from a few exceptions, like Karnival time or during the Oktoberfest, this place is a model of ‘Ordnung muss sein’ (order must prevail). There are other nights of the year when disorder is tolerated or even encouraged, and I’m totally ok with all of those.

Do I have friends and/or acquaintances who spend a small fortune on their own personal stash of rockets and whatnot? I do. Plenty of my circle of friends are chomping at the bit to light the damned things and run around like imbeciles. They’ll carry on like yahoos at a prison rodeo, and then they’ll go back to being model citizens the next day. As if Mr. Hyde had simply never existed.

Am I tolerant of these folk? Nope, not a bit. Not even a little.

I’ll be up early on New Year’s Day taking my dogs to the park and stepping over the refuse left over from the psychotic frivolity of the previous night. I’m pretty sure I’ll still have both of my hands.

It’ll be great.

 

Their brogues and their cheer and their utter joy

 

after all these years

I’ve connected with friends via social media and even met quite a few people face-to-face who I’d first connected with online. I was rather active on twitter back before it seemed to be mostly brands and marketing accounts, and between that and writing a tea blog, I made the acquaintance of quite a few of the no-longer-stranger sort of people who now inhibit my online village. It’s nothing particularly new, but it is funny when I’m asked where I know someone from and I sheepishly mention that we met via the web.
But this isn’t one of those stories. Not in the least. The guys on either side of me in the photo above are two geezers that I met back when we were all still kids. Not that I was particularly close to either of them back then, but thanks to social media being what it is they reconnected with mutual friends the way one does. Soon enough, we were similarly connected & there were the usual polite offers of, ‘Hey, whenever you’re in Munich, you should definitely get in touch.

Yes, of course. Like that was ever going to happen.

Well, it happened.

They flew in from Aberdeen for the weekend and I gave them my informal tour of Bavarian capital’s city centre. Of course there were libations and stories and political discussions and eventually a bit of the local fare. The afternoon became evening and the time somehow flew by as if we’d somehow been in contact all these years. It was that good. I could give you a list of superlatives about how intriguing and enjoyable the conversation was, but I’m not sure my words would do it justice.

We’d all heard about the horrible events in Paris the previous night. I suppose it might’ve been understandable if we were somehow morose or somber even, but I don’t think the thought ever crossed our collective minds.

Here were two guys – Jamie on the left and Martin on the right – whose lives were indescribably enriched by visiting our boisterous and slightly off-kilter art school back when we thought we’d figured it all out. Little did they know how much they’d brought to the table. That we world-wise and somewhat jaded American musicians and dancers and artists and writers had been just as grateful to meet these guys with their brogues and their cheer and their utter joy.

Of course the conversation veered to mutual friends we had lost. It was inevitable but somehow cathartic. They wanted more stories and I was happy to provide them. There was a tale they’d heard about something that I’d done at a funeral. I sheepishly assured them it was true. Guilty, as charged.

After safely depositing them back at their hotel, I walked the quiet streets back toward mine. What a curious and precious thing this is. All of it. Might sound cliche, but don’t take it for granted. Breathe in deeply and lean in. You’ll be glad you did.