how can you mend a broken heart? with a Vizsla puppy, of course

der kleena Theo – a dogsitting miracle

Now, you’d probably immediately jump to the conclusion that the term miracle, in this case, is a bit over the top. You’d be wrong.

If you know anything at all about me, you know that I’ve spent a lot of the last nearly fifteen years posting photos and stories about my sister and brother Vizslas #EllaandLouis.

They were a central component of my life even before my divorce in 2013, and in the intervening years they somehow took care of me more than the other way round.

Of course, I fed and housed them. Certainly they needed the same love and attention that any and all dogs need.

Yet this breed – an Hungarian pointer extraordinaire – has simply stolen my heart. All of them.

Any VIZSLA has the same gentle, loving disposition as all of the other ones. They’re so sensitive that you can’t train them anything like other dogs.

A harsh word is taken deeply personally by a Vizsla, and as a result you can only use positive reinforcement to get what you want. They’re quite bluntly a breeze to train, as they’re desperate to please their people/person.

Long story short, Theo’s (the gorgeous Vizsla puppy in the photo above) parents need help periodically, as she (the dogmom) isn’t allowed to take dogs into her office. Hence my offer to pitch in when they need a dogsitter.

To be candid, I’d take care of Theo without any remuneration — however, Miriam’s reminded me on more than one occasion that we’re in no position financially to volunteer such time.

If anyone else in Munich needs a dogsitter, give me a call. I can imagine a dogsitting job as a side hustle — why not?

Theo’s quite simply saved my day and this adorable boydog is already on the road to winning my heart.

It’s a broken heart, so it could use some mending.

Dreaming of the Camino de Santiago and how I got into pilgrims or pilgrimages

Good morning Zirndorf

We’ve been all over for the holidays, but we’re finally headed home to Munich today.

Any of you remember my writings/photos from the Camino de Santiago several years back? It was a pivotal moment or set of moments in my life & I’ve not even walked the whole Camino.

As I said then, finishing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain isn’t the point. Not at all. It’s a lifelong journey.

My mother gave me a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress when I was young, and since then I’ve been obsessed with pilgrims & pilgrimages. Then I studied English literature in college & of course we spent an inordinate amount of time on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. As one does.

So, then I married a woman from Franken, or Franconia if you prefer, and it just so happens there’s a lot of Jakobsweg related stuff, which is what the Germans call the Camino, in this region of northern Bavaria.

We went to Weihenzell earlier today. It’s one of the many Wallfahrtskirchen, which is a word I’ve got no idea how to translate. I was up late & didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe I’ll edit this later. Maybe not.

I’m in full holiday mode can barely string two coherent thoughts together. Here’s a photo of the church. Of course it wasn’t open.

Oh well.

Feuerzangenbowle and those silly dogs

What in God’s name is this one? I’ve lived in Germany this time around for nearly two decades, and there are still times I feel like I’ve just arrived. Regularly, I have an expat problem that’d be solved by me being a bit more tolerant.

That’s preposterous, isn’t it? I’m a guest in this country, and yet I still want them, the natives, to fulfil to my expectations. I expect them to change in order to make me a bit more comfy. Really?

Now why am I calling Germans ‘natives’? It’s easy really. Normally you might think of my host country as a group of hard working and dour people. That’s the stereotype at least. One exception, of course, is Karnival, which is like Mardi Gras in New Orleans or even Carnival in Rio.

They’re wild, and I’m not exaggerating. Around the Christmas season, they also get a little freaky when they have holiday parties and celebrate like they’ve got no care in the world. A few weeks out of the office and heaps of time with the family – it’s a recipe for heavy drinking.

Speaking of heavy drinking, have you heard of fire tongs punch? Here’s a description:

Feuerzangenbowle (German: [ˈfɔʏɐtsaŋənˌboːlə]) is a traditional German alcoholic drink for which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into mulled wine. It is often part of a Christmas or New Year’s Eve tradition. The name translates literally as fire tongs punch. The popularity of the drink was boosted in Germany by the 1944 comedy film Die Feuerzangenbowle.

It is a traditional drink of some German fraternities, who also call it Krambambuli, as the red color is reminiscent of a cherry liqueur of that name which was manufactured by the distillery Der Lachs zu Danzig in Gdańsk, Poland.

Wikipedia

That drink will get one incredibly drunk, I assure you. I know from personal experience, but that was a long time ago. I’ve not anything to drink in quite a few years, but I still vividly remember what drinking this stuff was like.

Apropos of the Feuerzangenbowle, I’ve been invited to Weilheim to see a performance of the original stage play, and I’m going. Even have an extra ticket I’m trying to give away. If you live near Munich (or Weilheim, even better) and want to go, call me. I’m not online on Sundays, so you’ll have to use that old-fashioned telephone.

The last thing I want to mention is that although I’m not posting about it as much as I’m feeling it, the turmoil of losing Ella has been a bit breathtaking, but not in the positive sense. I’ve found myself in the weirdest moments tearing up at the thought of her and her brother frolicking in the wild yonder there.

Yes, I was lucky to have them for such a long time. They cared for me in a dark time, and more importantly they gave me a daily opportunity to take care of someone else. Bear with me here, ok?

Despite me being a new parent, I’ve got plenty of opinions on parenthood. If you listened to me talk, you’d think, ‘Why’s this guy mansplaining raising children to me?‘ Having said all that, my takeaway is that as a father (or mother) must often put his needs on the back burner. It’s how it is – for me, it’s the feature I most need. To think less of Lahikmajoe, I mean.

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Do as I say, not as I do

Miriam & I have had a week — the good, the bad, & even a little ugly in a few choice moments.

The progeny, on the other hand, has done swimmingly. She’s already walking, albeit full toddle most of the time, and her talking makes sense, but only to other babies.

This time of year is really amazing, if you pay attention, because some people are ready for the holidays while others? Not so much.

Look around you while others are rushing round to & fro. Watch how people behave when they’re stressed.

If I’m candid, I’m exactly the same. I was furious at the Mahag guy (that’s our local VW dealer) today, & Miriam was there to try putting Humpty Dumpty back together again after he fell from the wall.

I went full tantrum, because they reminded us repeatedly of ‘our appointment’ via text. When I arrived, they suddenly acted as if they knew nothing of us & our new Autoschlüssel (key change). Oh well.

I tried rolling with the punches, so I just did some work while sitting next to a burbling brook of a baby playing next to me.

There was another 1/2 hour before it appeared anyone was interested in helping, but when they did? It was excellent service. Really.

Good job, Mahag. Thanks.

I got home, made lunch for all of us, as Miriam was in the office all morning & we NEEDED sustenance. After that, I announced that the new key didn’t even work.

I’d figured out on my way home that although the key itself was right, the remote control function that opens & closes/locks the car was non functioning. Huh…ok.

Turns out that I had a typical expat-related misunderstanding, where I told the guy I knew our spare key didn’t work, & he said to me that there was something wrong with the electrical system – that the new key wouldn’t work.

My German is good when I’m not stressed out. It’s also good when I’m not talking to Bavarians. Sometimes I think northern Germany would be easier speaking/comprehending-wise.

So here we are. We had an appointment for after Epiphany, but they heard me cursing & spitting in the background, so apparently we’ll be dealt with first thing Monday morning.

Ok, I was a jerk. To the Mahag guy & to my wife. I was nice to the baby, but if that’s the low bar I set? Being nice to babies.

Even Jeff Goldblum’s nice to babies, & he’s the worst person I know. Sara knows what he did.

Be nicer to people while they’re Xmas shopping – whether alongside you or if you’re a Spätshopper (late shopper) & you still need just a few more gifts.

Do as I say, not as I do.

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.

Curating for @I_amGermany and reminded why I used to enjoy twitter

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-09-39-07

Quite a week here in Munich. The Oktoberfest is waiting impatiently at the gates like heathen hordes. The skeptical and easily spooked locals are sure terrible things are going to happen at this year’s Biggest Beer Festival in the World.

All the while, I’ve been curating the @I_amGermany account over on twitter. I don’t talk much about this platform here on my blog for quite a few reasons, but the biggest is this:

The people on twitter already get it. Those who aren’t there can be weird about it and often react to its being mentioned with bafflement. However, they have clearly seen twitter mentioned as a source in the media.

It’s the folk who’ve set up an account over there, taken twitter for a test drive and found it a big disappointment…with these people? It’s been best to avoid the topic entirely. I’d try to compare them to former smokers being the biggest anti-cigarette crusaders, but I’m not prepared to wade into that one.

If you’re one of my readers in the last category, you might want to come back for the next post. Not that I’m going to go on about twitter necessarily. Well, not more than I already have.

However, the week I’ve had over at @I_amGermany has been so enjoyable that I felt I had to make some mention of it. If you’re so inclined, go take a gander. Oh, you want a link? Go here: https://twitter.com/I_amGermany

Here’s what a guy in Berlin wrote after his experience doing it a few years back: http://www.uberlin.co.uk/tweeting-for-germany-what-i-learned/ He describes some things I can undoubtedly relate to.

Why did I used to enjoy twitter, though, and what has this week reminded me of? It’s more than just the immediacy of it, but that’s a great advantage. In this case, I’ve connected with seemingly limitless people here in Germany, or who are somehow interested in Germany, and I’m skeptical we’d ever have *met* otherwise.

I’ve rattled on elsewhere about the meaningfulness of meeting such people virtually, so I won’t go there again…not now at least. Might dig back into that soon.

In the meantime, there’s the little local beer festival I mentioned above. The heathen hordes I mentioned are ever closer. The smell of their breath enters my nostrils and I can sense it’s going to be an eventful few weeks.

August all to ourselves

  
Many European cities are empty for the entire month of August. Well, not empty exactly, because there are still plenty of tourists. Yet the locals are gone. None of this is new, by the way. 

Parisians are notorious for abandoning the City of Light and make a mass exodus to the Côte d’Azur and points far beyond. Italian city dwellers aren’t any different I’ve been told. 

And here in Munich? There are plenty of people still here through the first few weeks of August, but it seems like they’re either filling in for those that’re long gone or they’re busily preparing for their own escape. An already emptier than normal city is about to get emptierer. 

That means if you steer clear of the places where tourists flock, you can enjoy some of the most beautiful things our city has to offer. Without others elbowing you out of the way, you can get a seat at your local café. That cool place that does brunch on the weekends? On a Sunday morning, which would be packed to the rafters at any other time of year, your cool brunch is remarkably attainable. 

You want to go to a public swimming pool and actually find a spot on the grass? You won’t be alone there on a sunny day – there are some left over locals, after all. You’re not completely alone; this isn’t exactly a ghost town. However, you will have room to breathe. Not that it’s difficult to breathe here in this beautiful city nestled near the foot of the Alps

If you’re in Munich this August and you think you simply have to get out, then I guess you should do what you must. If you can calm that urge though, there’s quite a lot worth sticking around here for. If you stay here with me, we’ll practically have August all to ourselves

try to encapsulate the Camino in a few short moments of chit chat

a pilgrim daydreaming of the comfort of his armchair
 Not sure where I heard it, but it’s been said that you have a short window of opportunity in which people want to hear about your holidays. 

After ‘How was your break? You were in Spain weren’t you?‘, there’s a few moments where you can share generally, before the conversation moves on to what’s been going on in your absence. Or the news of the day or whatever you might normally talk about. 

Of course close friends might be different, and if you had some earth-shattering news to tell, people might perk up and give you a bit more leeway. However, when I think about what I was doing last week, and I try to encapsulate that in a few short moments of chit chat, I find myself sputtering out banalities. 

It was great,’ I reply. ‘Yes, Spain. Northern Spain – flew into Bilbao and then walked along the Camino de Santiago for a week. 

‘No, I didn’t do the whole thing. That’d take six weeks or so, and I just didn’t have that kind of time.’

Then back to daily life. That’s just how it is. To be expected, even. Life moves on. 

The thing is: I do have this blog and this is as good a place as any to leave my impressions from my limited time on the Camino. It wasn’t easy blogging while actually there, so I took photos and wrote down impressions as I was going. Fully intending to keep talking about it long after I returned. 

The photo above is a pilgrim imagining the comfort of home, which made me smile as I saw it while lugging my pack. That night as I was icing my swollen foot and uploading that photo, I was already quite aware that I was going to miss the simplicity of the Camino upon returning to the day to day. 

I walked around my adopted hometown today, as Munich came to life with the bustle of locals and tourists alike. Someone in Spain told me about his having walked the Jakobsweg, which is what the Germans call this pilgrimage – it’s German for the Way of St. James  – from somewhere in the former Yugoslavia. That’s purportedly the ancient way, from what he said. 

There’s a route that goes through the Bavarian Alps, as well. I’m already imagining taking a week sometime and following the way markers toward the French border. Maybe I’ll even take my dogs and see how manageable it is to find a place to stay along the way where they’d also be welcome. 

In the meantime, I’m looking at photos that remind me of some of my better moments following The Way and I’m doing my best to bring the best of that Spirit to my daily life here back at home. 

Here’s one of the only photos I have of me while I was out there:

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.