Summertime…

…and the living is easy…

This photo isn't from the summertime, but I'm sitting here imagining living closer to old friends like Marin in the photo or so many other friends from high school. Or in this case as far back as middle school. Marin and I met while riding the bus to Lanier Middle School, and that's where I met Casey, too. She's made a life for herself & her family in Lubbock, Texas. That's far from everything, by the way.

Why do I dislike summer? Sometimes aggressively, even. What's my problem?

The usual stuff. It's too hot. I'm busy with both work and private life. It's manageable.

Wonder if I could ever withstand a Texas summer again. Hope I never have to find out.

Getting outa Kraków, but I assure you…coming back as soon as I can

Relatively early morning on the town square
Been a bit of a whirlwind, but was it ever worth it. After a few hours in Poland‘s capital Warsaw on Friday, arrived later the same day in Kraków and hit the ground running. 

What a gorgeous city and what wonderful people. Goodness me, I’m definitely taking the earliest opportunity to get back to the city of JP2 (the Polish pope), as well as Copernicus, and an endless list of Polish intellectuals and theatre people and students and Catholics and and and…

Our guide called Poland the North Korea of Catholicism, which as a Catholic I think he could get away with saying. 

There were Pierogi and a day at Auschwitz, which I’ll have to write about once that experience has been digested, and more Pierogi

You could saunter over to my Instagram feed for more photos (here’s a link to one I like quite a lot: link to that photo I just mentioned)

Otherwise, you’ll be left with just a few odds and ends of my impressions. Here goes…

No matter how much I fly, I still love the feeling of wheels safely touching down on the earth again. Before Louis C.K. reminded us of being a bit more grateful for the miracle of modern flight, I’d long been marveling at the whole thing. 

Many times when I’m staring out the window of a big jet plane, I’m reminded of being a very small child in the exact same position. Gazing out over the clouds that all those years ago reminded me of fluffy pillows, I could never have fathomed how much I’d be in the air as an adult. 

The other thing that I’m left pondering after this weekend has to do with communication: when I go somewhere new, I quickly learn how to say ‘thank you‘ and ‘I’m sorry‘. Once I get those things down, I can somehow get across almost everything else with an elaborate pantomime. 

Thank you Poland in general and Kraków in particular. That guy waving his arms around and mouthing ‘Dziękuję‘? He’s coming back as soon as he can. 

Walking down the road…or getting ready to

Camino symbol

When I first started hiking here in the German Alps, I kept seeing that symbol above. ‘What is that?‘ I’d ask.

Oh, it’s the Jakobsweg.

Huh? What’s the Jakobsweg?

You know, it’s a pilgrimage. One of the oldest ones in Europe, I think. Many people walk it.

Now that I know a bit more about it, I can tell you: some English names for it are The CaminoThe Road to Santiago, The Way of St James or St James’s Way depending on your preference.

The long and short of it is that I’ve said for years, ‘I want to go do that someday.‘ There was a German bestseller about walking the route (the name of the book I won’t bother mentioning), and although the Jakobsweg was already very popular hereabouts, it suddenly became even more so.

Then I saw the Emilio Estevez movie ‘The Way‘ (starring his father Martin Sheen), and not long after that I was asked if I wanted to come along and do some Walking Down the Road. Yes, I did.

I still do.

There’s a lot that goes into planning such a thing, and the more I read about it, the more out of my depths it seems I am. However, there seem to be plenty of folk who do this and they seem to do it and even make it back somehow.

To be clear up front: I’m not even planning on walking the whole thing. My intention is to get a taste for it, and from what I understand: once I do, I’ll definitely want to go again.

I’ve been alternating between obsessing about which shoes I’ll wear and imagining how delicious the Tapas in Logroño are. Already, I’ve decided I’ll be documenting as much of it here as I can.

Not just the actual walking of The Camino, but I intend to blather on about the preparation and I suspect I might find myself contemplating what it meant to me long after I get back home.

Like I said, I’ve still got to decide on footwear. Here’s a photo of me taking one pair out for a test drive. I’m pretty sure you’ll be seeing plenty more of this sort of thing in the foreseeable future. Something tells me you can hardly wait.

Camino prep stuff

 

 

 

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. 

the wild cow that kept on giving

the waning of the old year

What happened this last year? Big things, right?

Revolutions? Yeah, we had a few of those. The Greeks have agreed to start paying their taxes in 2011. Oh, wait. Did I speak to soon? I suppose I might’ve.

I guess you could chalk it up to human nature, but the divisions within Europe have begun to rear their ugly heads. To save the common currency (and many experts would say the whole idea of Europe), Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have had more time one on one than those two dudes in Waiting for Godot.

There were evildoers roosted and their bodies thrown overboard. I happened to be in the Land of the Free for that, and the celebrations were more than a little surreal.

There were some serious things that happened this last year. Every time there’s a Neo-Nazi march in Germany and a few hundred people show up scowling and complaining about foreigners, there are ten times as many who show up in the form of an anti-fascist march to show their displeasure. Plenty more to say about this topic, but I’ll save that for the new year and beyond.

See, here’s the thing: I read a lot of news and blogs and I find myself asking what I have to say that’s somehow different. I throw ideas up on twitter, and wait to see what gets traction. What I have to say that people seem to want to hear more about.

As much as I try to talk about serious things, such as the impending death of press freedom in Hungary and other equally important issues, the things I find myself talking the most about are the downright whimsical. By far the most fun I had with a bit of non-news was the story of Yvonne the wild cow.

If you don’t know me on twitter, you might have missed this story. I’m not sure how to convey the full excitement of it in retrospect. I’ll try to encapsulate it briefly.

An Austrian cow was sold and sent to Germany to be slaughtered. Somehow the cow, who was called Yvonne, didn’t like her new surroundings or maybe she got wind of what was to come. Whatever it was, she somehow escaped her confines.

Apparently this is rather unheard of. The stereotype of the cow following the herd and not making trouble is rather accurate. A runaway cow is something they weren’t prepared for. And once Yvonne got used to the taste of freedom, she became quite good at avoiding being caught.

She lived on her own in the wild for quite a number of weeks. Because the media didn’t have much else to talk about, except the entire European currency and banking industry melting down, the cow who refused to go quietly became a cause célèbre.

To be fair, no-one was treating this as real news. Well, no-one but me. For some reason, people on twitter were turning to me for the latest news on Yvonne. I couldn’t take this responsibility lightly. There were a few whimsical weeks of spectacle and intrigue.

Once again, if this is the first you’ve heard of this, I’ll go ahead and tell you how it was resolved. They did eventually locate the bovine who’d gotten a taste of life on the run, and because of the outsized attention, an organisation which cares for older animals volunteered to take care of her for the rest of her days.

At least that’s what they’ve told us. For a while, there was a webcam pointed at her that you could monitor to make sure she was doing well. I should go check that out just to be sure.

What similar sort of story might be given to us in this youthful and baby-faced year of 2012? Well, if I knew that, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun finding out.

a non wild cow

 

if you’re flying to Italy, take a German airline

Skies over Florence

This is something I wrote several years ago, but I thought after the recent trip to Florence, it’d be a nice time to repeat it. You’ll notice that we did return to the beautiful Tuscan city. On Lufthansa I assure you.

Hope you enjoy:

So, I was recently asked why I prefer train travel to taking a plane or driving.  Anyone who travels a lot has a few horror stories.  And I know statistically flying is incomparably safe.  But I still love the train.  Relatively regularly a high-speed train in Germany hits a flock of sheep or some poor sap ending it all who couldn’t manage to find a gun.  Doesn’t faze me one bit.  I’ll keep taking the train regardless.

Here’s my worst flying story.  I should say my second worst, but the worst was a result of my stupidity and the one I’m about to tell deals with the ineptitude of an airline.  Many people threaten never to fly with an airline again after a bad experience.  I’ve done that a few times, and then once more I find the best price with that company and off I am with them in the friendly skies.  But this story has to do with the exception.

If Alitalia is still in business, they shouldn’t be.  We had enjoyed a beautiful week in Florence.  Had a private tour of the Ufizzi, saw the churches that the Medici family built, ate a mountain of fresh delicious Mediterranean grub and were both sad and happy to be going back to the land of good bread and better sausage.  Days of walking and an early check-out in the hotel convinced us to go to the aeroport early.  We arrived a full to hours before our scheduled flight.  How were we to know it wasn’t nearly early enough?

As we waited in line to check in, it became increasingly clear that something wasn’t right.  The people ahead of us had become visibly angry and eventually we found out that the flight wasn’t in fact going to take off at all.  They cited heavy wind over Milan (our connection).  They assured us that if there were a way, they’d clear our flight for take-off.

We went with all of our bags and waited for news.  Ours was one of the last flights to leave the little aeroport that day and we had no hotel reservations.  They aren’t always easy to come by in this very popular city.

As we waited, the little sign on the monitor informed us that our flight was boarding.  We rushed back to the check-in counter and the very polite airline worker assured us that although the flight was boarding, the pilot had limited the passenger count to two hundred.

WHAT???

Our flight hadn’t been cancelled?  We’ve merely been bumped?  Even though we were two hours early?  WHAT???

The others who’d been bumped were furious, but here’s where my journalist wife raised her mane and roared.  ‘You will either give us our seats on this airplane, or you will find us another flight immediately!’  They assured us they would do their best.  She glared at their seemingly empty sentiments.  The Dutch couple behind us tried to pull off the same theatrics, but the nice, overworked airline slave was still too rattled by the wrath of my lioness.

It seemed like an eternity, but they returned with an answer.  They had a flight on Lufthansa to Frankfurt and getting from there back to Munich is one of the easiest flights you can get in Europe.  I neglected to mention that both the flights from Munich to Milan and then Milan to Florence offered the bumpiest landings I can recall experiencing.  I was relieved and even excited that we were flying with the reliable former national airline of Germany.

Wonder if the winds over Milan are always choppy or only when Alitalia has sold too many tickets.  I’ll never know.  We heard the pilot’s announcements in two languages, neither of which were Italian, as we rose above the Southern Alps.  Our flight to Frankfurt was boring.  Just the way it should be.  We made the connection and were home before you could say “Buena Sera!”  If I ever go back to see the city of the Medici, it’ll be on a slow, ancient Italian train.

At least then I have a train workers’ strike to look forward to.

good at heart

Wilco
Wilco

One of my clients had an extra ticket to see Wilco at the Circus Krone here in Munich, and invited me along. Although I had to work rather late that night, he waited outside for me and the place was packed when we finally got inside. The only seats available were way up in the stands near the rafters. It was ok. Actually, it was more than ok. He’s a longtime fan of the band, and although I don’t know everything they’ve done, I like them a lot.

My client is German. They rarely do anything halfway, and when you like a band, you really like a band. In his case, he owned everything they’d released. He’d waited years to be able to see them live. I could tell he was really excited and maybe even a little anxious. If he was angry at how late I’d been, he did a good job of hiding it.

Almost as soon as we found our seats, I could tell the people behind us were rowdy. A bit drunk and even a little louder. They were American and were very vocal in their displeasure at how long the opening band was playing. Rather than clap after a song, they’d chant, ‘Wilco! Wilco!‘ That the opening band (Jonathan Wilson) was really quite good didn’t seem to phase these guys. They were there to see Wilco and began to chant during the songs. ‘We want to see Wilco,’ they droned on. Soon enough, their demand was met.

You’d think they’d be happy about it, and I guess they were. Yet their way of showing it was to sing along with every song. Badly and out of tune. It was one of those situations that was uncomfortable to begin with and just dragged on and on. For the first half of the show, they made fools of themselves and mainly only irritated our section of seats. As the night progressed, you could feel their idiocy increase proportionally to their increasing drunkenness. As much as it was like watching an accident approaching, it was somehow weirder because it was behind us. We could only listen as they got louder and more brazen in their miserable howling and hollering.

The other people sitting near us started to turn and give these young, rude folk the dirtiest looks they could muster. It only seemed to fuel the flames. This was getting uglier by the minute. Like I say, this was a train wreck in the making. The band began to chat a little between the songs, but we couldn’t hear what was said. We were treated to screams of ‘Wilco‘ and ‘Chicago‘. By now it wasn’t only our near surroundings that were affected. It was so distracting that the band even felt they had to say something from the stage.

Again, I’m not entirely sure I caught all of it, but it was something like–why is it always the Americans in the audience who act like that when they travel around Europe? Jeff Tweedy even made a comment that could’ve been a veiled threat of violence when he said that in Scotland, such fans would most probably be physically assaulted. For a brief moment, I thought the poorly-behaved Wilco fanatics would take a hint and settle down. Nothing could be further from the truth. The attention seemed to give them a second wind.

They were so loud that the normally polite Germans sitting around us started to get up and yell for them to ‘Shut the hell up!‘ This was the first overt response to the awful behaviour, but now I knew that I hadn’t been the only one stewing about these guys. The people in our section were losing their patience.

I could go into more detail about how they insulted the woman who was accompanying one of the more vocal Germans, and then that the woman was so offended that she went and got security. For the rest of the show, we had our own personal security guard assuring that the trouble makers were at least moderately quieter. Once they realised how unwelcome they were, they started making very pointed and inappropriate comments about the indignities of living in Germany. Like I say, I could get much more specific about what they said, but it’s really not worth repeating. As they left a bit before the end, I saw the culprits for the first time. They were young. Shockingly, I couldn’t believe how unassuming they looked. If I didn’t know that they’d just spent the last few hours ruining my evening, I’d look at these young men and think they were normal, respectable blokes.

But why am I writing about this here? Why go to all the trouble? A few malcontents that you could run into any evening. Not even necessary that they were Americans, right? You can have jerks in any culture. Well, I suppose that’s true. Yes, of course. But then something occurred that has had me thinking about for weeks since it happened. If I hadn’t glimpsed his face right at the end, I wouldn’t even have known it was him.

One of the miserable guys who’d left fifteen minutes earlier, hadn’t gone straight to his train. I suspect he stood around outside the Circus Krone continuing to complain about his experiences living in this strange land. As I was walking out of the venue after the show, I saw him frantically running up to some people entering a taxi and begging them to let him take their place. He breathlessly told them he’d miss his train if he didn’t get the train station AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

And here’s what I thought in that moment: he has no idea how his actions that evening affected the people around him, and he probably think of himself as a pretty decent guy. I’m not saying I stopped being angry. That’d be too easy a resolution and I wouldn’t still be turning it over again and again in my mind.

I’ve been thinking about times in my life when I was also thoughtless and cruel. After a situation like that, it’s the easiest thing to rationalise that my actions weren’t that bad. What is it about a person in that position that they assure themselves that they’re a good person at heart?

I felt for this guy when he madly pleaded for his cab. That he was in danger of missing his train-possibly the last one of the night-and might even be forced to get a hotel room. This guy was so clearly unhappy living here in this country where he could barely speak the language. It was cold and he was far, far away from home.

Although I felt bad for this guy that only a short time earlier I’d been dreaming of murdering, I completely understood that the whole evening had been a sort of fuck you to his helplessness. Little frustrations had been building up, he was out with his American buddies and they were just having a good time. Again, he was a good person at heart.

None of this excuses his actions. It doesn’t absolve him of what a jerk he’d been. I was still furious. And embarrassed about the horrible things he and his friends had said to the angry and frustrated people. I’m sure he thought it wasn’t a big deal how he’d acted. And again, that he was genuinely a good guy. I’m absolutely positive he still believed that as his taxi rushed to make sure he caught his train.