Archives for posts with tag: aging

 

I guess it was bound to happen, sooner or later…..

We’ve lived in Berlin for almost 6 years now. I guess it was only a matter of time before we became “German.” We eat the food; we buy the clothes; we live the life. Kinda like a married couple starting to look alike after they’ve been married awhile. We took a trip to Spain and Portugal. We went into a restaurant in Cascais, Portugal –a very “touristy” town – and the waiter automatically handed us a German menu. I wonder – was it that we were wearing socks with our sandals, or that we had on neck scarves? [Because, at least in Berlin, you’ll see folks wearing scarves around their necks all year long; it may be 85 degrees F, and they may have on short-shorts and no shirt, but they’ll have on a scarf.] Or maybe (at least for me) the genes on my Daddy’s side of the family were showing.

And, after we got back home to Berlin, I saw an article with a headline something like “Why Germany will never lead Europe” and I felt insulted. Alas, the one way I would most like to be German is to have a better command of the language. Sigh…..

Strange hankerin’s

Folks often ask us what we miss about our lives in the US, and, first and foremost, it’s the friends and family we left behind and, for the most part, have to interact with via e-mail or Facebook, given the time difference. We sometimes call, because our calling plan gives us unlimited calling to 29 other countries, but by the time folks on the other side of the Atlantic are waking up, we’re starting to wind down. Aside from the folks, there are some foods we miss. And today I got a strong hankerin’ for a pimento cheese sandwich. Sometimes you can put together familiar foods yourself because you can get the ingredients here – such as a hamburger. Ground meat, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayo, cheese, bacon, and onions are certainly available here and it’s no problem to put a burger together. You can even find tortillas so you can cobble together a few Mexican dishes. But sometimes you can’t even find the ingredients, like cheddar cheese and pimentos for that pedestrian pimento cheese sandwich. Occasionally you can find cheddar cheese, but I’ve not been able to find pimentos. The sad thing is that some grocery stores have “American” sections, but tend to waste shelf space on things like Pop Tarts! PU-LEEZE!!!! And, boy, do I miss seafood!!! Having grown up on the Gulf Coast of southeast Texas, where crawfish grow in your front yard and you can catch your own crabs if you have the time and patience, we were sure spoiled. You can find some seafood here, but it’s incredibly pricey (e.g., just catfish costs about $12 a pound – CATFISH!! And shrimp – last time I dared to look – was about $25 a pound) and often inadequate. (What they call “shrimp” here, we would have called “bait.”) Sigh! But, still, getting to see our son and his family on a regular basis trumps all that.

Being half-deaf has its advantages

My inadequate hearing has given rise to any number of hysterically funny exchanges. So, in addition to not being troubled as much by other folks by things like street noise, I get a few belly laughs that I might not have otherwise had if my hearing were perfect. Like on our trip to Portugal with my cousins, we had a particularly amusing exchange. While living in Singapore, my cousin had adopted a dog from an animal shelter. When they returned to the US, they wanted to take the dog home with them. As it turns out, the airline wouldn’t let them take this particular type of dog on the airplane. Now this dog isn’t any bigger than a minute, and certainly wouldn’t be a threat to anyone on the plane. I heard my cousin say that it was because flying causes breeding problems for this particular type of dog – a Lhaso Apso. I, of course, wondered how flying on an airplane could affect a dog’s breeding capabilities, because I couldn’t imagine why anyone would try to breed their dogs while in flight. Surely dogs had no interest in joining the “Mile High Club.” Well, turns out that what he actually SAID was “breathing problems” (and, since this breed is very expensive, the airlines weren’t the least bit interested in being held liable for its health issues). That certainly cleared things up! By the way, an ingenious solution to the problem of getting the dog on the plane was to go back to the vet and get the dog’s records changed from Lhaso Apsoto “long-haired Chihuahua.” Imagine the intrigue of faking a dog’s passport!

The only logical answer…..

I was caring for our 3-year-old grandson recently. He’s a big fan of vehicles, of every sort and size. (He recently developed a strong attraction to the Lexus and now has his very own.) He had put one of his Lego people on a bus and was moving it along somewhere. I asked him where the Lego man was going and he gave me this incredulous look, as if he couldn’t believe that I didn’t already know where Lego man was going, and said, “Lego Land.” Well, of course! And I’m sure if he were acquainted with the concept of “Duh!” he would have said that, too!

Inarticulate in two languages….

I accept the fact that there are things here in Germany that I don’t have the German word for. But it increasingly comes to my attention that there are things that I don’t have the English word for, either. For example, today I had a physical therapy appointment. In the US, this would have taken place in a huge room, much like a sports club/gym with several folks working with their respective physical therapists. Here, there’s still a largish room (not huge – about as big as 2 average living rooms) but different areas are separated from one another by curtains, and each patient works with a therapist in their own individual area. Of course, this might imply greater privacy, except that you can hear everything everyone else is saying and, from time to time, someone in the adjoining area might actually bump into you through the curtain. The folks who work here call each area a “Kabine” – but wanted to know what the word would be in English. Well, I haven’t the vaguest idea! We wouldn’t really call it a “stall” because that implies something with walls (even if the walls don’t go all the way to the floor or to the ceiling). We might not call it a cubical because that also implies walls (limited though they may be). So, here I am, clearly inarticulate in German (which isn’t surprising) but now also inarticulate in English, which is a horrid realization for someone who spent decades earning a living by writing. Sigh….

No smokers…

Many places have “No Smoking” signs, but Portugal takes it a bit further. Apparently you don’t have to be actually smoking at the time to be denied access to places, such as elevators. Nope! You don’t have to be smoking at the moment; just the fact that you are a smoker means you can’t get on the elevator. The signs say, “No Smokers.”

Surely you jest….

During her last illness, the recently departed Dowager Ms. Electra, our 15-year-old, 8-pound, partially bald Devon Rex kitty, had developed a cough and had trouble keeping her food down, all of which occasioned a trip to the vet. He gave me some pills for each problem. But it appears to be the habit here to give animals human meds, which is cheaper than getting the pet variety. That may seem to be a good idea, except when you have to cut the pills into pieces to get the proper dosage. Cutting a tablet into 2 pieces (especially when it’s designed for that) isn’t a problem. However, to get it into an Electra-sized dosage, the vet told me to cut it into 8ths!!! Imagine trying to cut something the size of a baby aspirin into 8 pieces! So, of course, some of the pieces simply turn to powder and are unusable. At some point, it is NOT cheaper to use human meds because you have to throw so much away. Sigh….

Living well…

The lady in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store was on the far side of 90 (or, at least, I hope so, because if she was indeed much younger, it would be sad). But she undoubtedly has a zest for life! The only things she was buying were chocolate and champagne. I hope she has someone to share them with, but even if she doesn’t, I’ve gotta give her props for enjoying life!

Tree lovers

I love trees as much – if not more than – the next person. But my love of trees can’t hold a candle to that of the Germans. Berlin is a city of about 3.5 million people, but it’s hard to imagine that it’s that populous because there are so many green spaces. For one thing, if you’re not in walking distance of a park, then it just means that you’re not ambulatory at all. An aerial view of Berlin will show an enormous proportion of green space. I supposed I could get actual statistics on this, but I’m lazy so I’ll just guess that at least half of it is green space of some sort. Most streets are lined with trees. A street may be solid apartment buildings, one connected to another, but it will still have trees on both sides of the street. And they take care of their trees. Certainly the trees lining the streets – in public areas – are even numbered, and periodically you’ll see some official “Tree Police” examining the trees and carefully making notes on their health (e.g., Wartenburgstrasse Tree #69 has dead limbs that need to be removed). When trees eventually die, they are replaced. All this is good stuff, but I am continually puzzled for their love of lining streets with fruit-bearing trees. In particular, our old street was lined with Gingko trees, which are, admittedly, lovely trees. The problem, however, is that their fruit smells like vomited-up dog crap. So the fruit falls on the sidewalk and you have no option except to walk on it, or pull your grocery cart through it, so you have to clean up before you enter your apartment building because you surely don’t want to bring that crap inside. Nonetheless, since most folks don’t have air conditioning, much of the time your windows will be open, allowing the stench of smushed Gingko fruits to invade your flat. Now in the case of these trees, there are both male trees (which don’t bear fruit) and female trees (which do). So, if they wanted to plant Gingko trees, why did they have to plant female trees? Thankfully, we have no Gingko trees in our new neighborhood! The horse chestnut is another tree that is a popular choice for planting along streets, so the sidewalks are often lined with chestnuts, but these aren’t the edible kind. Admittedly, the flowers are lovely in the spring and the chestnuts don’t stink. Further, they provide endless fun for kids, who like to collect them and throw them at each other.

Now here’s something Americans don’t see every day…

A young boy carrying a cricket bat. We picked up our grandkids at school today and one of the students had a cricket bat! And, no, I don’t think that cricket is a German thing. However, the kids’ school is a bi-lingual English-German school, where “English” means “British.” Interestingly enough, many of the folks here – German as well as non-German – look down their noses at American English. However, the “English” teachers at this school are not only British, but also Scottish, Irish, and Australian. Add our American English to the mix (and their own German accent) and it will be truly interesting to see how our grandkids speak English.

What’s in a name….

What would you say if I invited you to our place to share a nice bottle of Burgerspital? It’s pretty pricey, too. Not quite your cup of tea?

2016-01-30-Burgerspital

A conundrum…

My grandkids wanted me to bake them a Kitty Litter cake for their respective birthdays. It’s a cake made of chocolate cake, white cake, vanilla pudding, and crushed vanilla wafers, garnished with partly melted Tootsie Rolls to look like, well, there’s no delicate way to put this —- cat turds. Not having seen Tootsie Rolls here, I brought them back with me on a recent trip to the US. The rest of the ingredients are readily available here in Berlin. There’s one minor problem, though — the recipe calls for a cake mix for “German Chocolate Cake.” Just wonder what such a thing is called here in Germany, though, because, actually, pretty much ALL the chocolate cakes here are “German chocolate.” Not sure what I would even ask for to get what the recipe specifies, which is why I’ve settled for just any ol’ chocolate cake mix.

YUM!!

2015-12-05_Noe's kitty litter BD cake

 

 

 

NEXT TIME I WON’T BE NEARLY AS NICE….

Unbelievable! (or as I prefer to say, UFB!) Today I went to the grocery store on my bike. Here’s what I have to do to get my groceries into the flat: (1) I have to put down the kickstand on my bike (and take care to ensure that my bike doesn’t topple over because of the weight of the groceries in the basket – usually by extending one leg towards the bike); (2) I have to then fumble for my key and unlock the door to the apartment building (or, as we say here in Berlin, “our house”); (3) I have to give the door ( a HUGE, heavy, wooden door) a good push and then grab my bike and pull it into the threshold BEFORE the door closes (and locks, in which case, I’ll have to go back to Step 1); (4) I then pull my bike into our entrance way and take the groceries out of the basket and set them on the floor; (5) Then I have to go through yet another HUGE, heavy, wooden door (fortunately it’s not locked) and pull my bike into the inner courtyard, where I lock it up; (6) I come back through that door and return to the entrance way, grab my groceries, and lug them up about 8 steps. (I may have to repeat this step, depending on how many groceries I have.) Today a courier showed up just as I finished Step 2 and was initiating Step 3. A COURTEOUS person would have held the door open for me. Nope! Instead THIS guy pushed around me to ring the doorbell to the flat where he was trying to deliver the package. I couldn’t move my bike without hurting him, so I had to remain in my tenuous juggling position with the door, the bike, and the groceries while he exchanged courtesies with the person delivering the package. And THEN HE pushed ahead of me – with his package – to go deliver his package. I tend to be especially nice to couriers, since I gave birth to one and I know the challenges of their job. (And you can bet that the courier I gave birth to would never do something like this!) But should this ever occur again, you can bet I’ll crash on into my house, even if the pedals of my bike scrape the shins of the courier! I’ve had lots of experience with Germans and their inability to form an orderly queue and know that you have to fight to keep your place in line. But you’d think that forming an orderly queue that involves only 2 people would be a fairly simple thing to do.

THE PIGEON WHISPERER….

I was waiting for the S-Bahn the other morning – as were several other folks, including this one guy. He seemed quite normal, in a conventional sort of way: well-dressed and well groomed, no visible tattoos or piercings. (Of course, this is Kreuzberg and he was not conventionally dressed in the Kreuzberg sense, which would be pretty much the opposite of how this guy was dressed – and was the one thing that made him stand out from this particular crowd.) He was carrying a radio (the kind that couriers use – looks a bit like a walkie-talkie, with a short antenna, which he didn’t seem to be using) and pacing about. It’s certainly not unusual for folks to pace back and forth while waiting for a train, but this guy’s pacing path seemed totally erratic – until I noticed he was following a pigeon, and changed directions when the pigeon did. I was relieved to see that he did not follow the pigeon when he flew across the tracks, however. At that point, the guy started following a different pigeon. Maybe this guy was simply amusing himself and wanted to beguile the tedium of otherwise mundane pacing by following the pigeons. Or maybe he was studying the pigeons and the radio had something to do with it. Or, of course, maybe he was spying on the pigeons because they’re clearly engaged in a plot to take over Berlin and he was working for German security forces to help protect us all from this threat. Perhaps their pooping patterns are actually signals they send to communicate amongst themselves. Anything is possible!

AND SO IT BEGINS….

I was trying to remember someone’s name the other day – and, after about a week, I STILL can’t remember her name. Normally I could think of someone else who would have known her and I could have dropped that someone else an e-mail, something along the lines of “Remember the pretty woman who worked at FCS on our unit – the one besides you and me who wasn’t a lunatic?” There, in fact, were two such someones I could have asked that question, but then I realized that both of them are now dead – Janet far too young (days before her 40th birthday) and Jeanette (whose death was at least age-appropriate behavior). Theoretically, there may be some others who might have been able to answer the question (but I would have to phrase it differently because, except for Janet, Jeanette, myself, and the someone whose name I can’t remember, they were really lunatics of one type or another). However, I’ve not kept in touch with any of the lunatics and, given that my last contact with them would have been in 1977 (when I was 32 and they were at least 10 years older), they may also be dead (or unable to remember pretty much anything). It’s entirely likely that, among that group, I’m the “last woman standing.” As far as my father’s side of the family goes, I’m not yet the oldest surviving member, but I am the second oldest one in the family. Since my cousin is only 5 years older than I am, I’m pretty sure I’ve got maybe another 15 – 20 years before I reach that status – provided, of course, that we die in order of age, which isn’t necessarily a ‘given.’ On my mother’s side of the family, I’m the 2rd oldest family member (although the other is, so I may achieve that status sooner). In any case, imagine being the oldest surviving member on BOTH sides of your family. And we’re losing our friends now at an alarming rate – we lost 3 so far this year, and one cousin. It’s getting to be like my Dad said – when you reach a certain age the rate at which you start losing friends and family is like popcorn popping: Pop……….Pop……..Pop……Pop….Pop..PopPopPopPop

HOW CAN YOU TELL THAT A 16-POUND SIAMESE CAT THINKS IT’S TIME FOR DINNER?

Well, he starts moving the furniture around, of course! Normally, Electra is in charge of pestering us for dinner. William just leaves this up to her and lets her take the brunt of our disciplinary measures in response to Electra’s outrageous behavior during the hour preceding dinner time. She’ll stand near us and just fuss; she’ll jump up on Harvey’s lap and fidget around (apparently trying to get comfortable—which, of course, in her state of near-starvation, is virtually unachievable); and, when things get drastic, she jumps up on the printer and starts messing with one of the masks we have hanging on the wall (which lends itself particularly well to her purposes because it has some hair on it, which she can bite off and then throw up at our feet to emphasize her desperation). Now, however, William has become interested in the pre-dining demonstrations. There’s a bookcase next to my computer table and he gets between the bookcase and the wall and, using his gigantic head, starts pushing it away from the wall. You have to wonder what gave him this idea, or, at least I do – maybe you yourself have no interest in this at all.

MAYBE ACTUALLY UNGRATEFUL

William — the huge (16-pound) Siamese — and Electra —the petite (8-pound) sometimes-partially-bald Devon Rex— get fed the following meals: (1) breakfast (at 6 am); (2) second breakfast (at 9 am); (3) lunch (at noon): (4) mid-afternoon snack (at 3); (5) dinner (at 6 pm); and bedtime snack (sometime after 10 -pm). (Occasionally they get fed more often, if they convince one of us they’ve not been fed and the other one of us is not around.) So, just exactly HOW can they be perpetually hungry? I wonder if they formed a band, would they name themselves “The Grateful Fed”? Probably not, because they don’t seem particularly grateful at all! Ever!!

AMERICAN TREATS

It occurred to me that some of you who have found my blog may also be Americans living in Berlin. If so, you may be missing some of your favorite foods, like real hamburgers and real Mexican food.

For real hamburgers, try Café Lentz – http://www.cafe-lentz.de They are just like the burgers you had at home when you were a kid – lots of meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles (and bacon and cheese, if you want) and come with great fries and cole slaw. The service is good and the folks who work there are friendly.
AND if you tell them you live or work in the neighborhood, you’ll get a 10% discount (BUT you have to tell them this when you order – if you wait until the bill comes, it’s too late.)
AND if you “Like” them on Facebook, you can have a free espresso.

For real Mexican food, try Santa Maria – http://www.yelp.com/biz/santa-maria-berlin This is not Tex-Mex; not Taco Bell. It’s genuine Mexican Mexican. They can accommodate vegetarians and vegans, too. And, instead of responding with a blank stare when you ask for salsa, they ask you if you want red, green, or habenero. Given that most “Mexican” restaurants in Berlin don’t even have salsa, and don’t use cilantro or cumino (or even very much chilli powder), and put peanuts in their dishes, finding genuine, high-quality Mexican food in Berlin is a non-trivial pursuit. AND the prices are really low! The only negative is that it’s a very tiny place – a small bar (and the Margaritas are fantastic!) and about 10 tables (if that many), about 4 tables outside, when the weather permits. But there’s a way around that – just come before 6 pm and you most likely will be able to be seated immediately. Otherwise, it can be a challenge because in Berlin (as in much of Europe), when you take a table in a restaurant, you’re almost expected to be there for at least a couple of hours, if not for the entire evening. Most flats are small so most folks entertain at restaurants and the table is the equivalent of their living room. The good news is, however, that many of the diners are Americans, so they give up their tables more readily than most Europeans might. We’re really glad we found this place, because we were getting so desperate that we were planning to hang around the Mexican Embassy at closing home and follow people home and beg them to feed us. Alas, this option isn’t even available for finding Cajun food, since Louisiana hasn’t established an embassy in Berlin. Sigh!

DENGLISH

I was listening to the radio this morning and there was a call-in program discussing computer security. This is one topic that is typically rife with Denglish (i.e., German [Deutsch] mixed with English). In a way, even if the only language you speak is English, you’re often speaking Denglish because the two languages share so many words. In many cases, they’re even spelled the same – bank, ball, hand – and even if they’re not spelled exactly the same, they sound the same – Maus, Haus. [But you must be careful, because words spelled the same may have radically different meanings. For example, “Gift” is German for “poison” – so if you tell a German you have a gift for them, you’re likely to get a response that puzzles you.] Here are a few of the words sprinkled among the German in the discussions about computer security: Internet, on-line, off-line (surprise!) firewall, aps, tablet, pipeline, and smart phone (even though the German word for the simple cell phone is “Handy” – because, of course, it is, isn’t it?) These words were pronounced in perfect English but there was one exception that stood out. You’d expect the brand-name for something to carry over from English to German. But, in amongst the purely German words in the conversation, and the perfectly-pronounced English words, I heard Mr. Gates’s product referred to as “Vindows.” (I have other words for it, however, none of which should be used in polite conversation.) And it’s not as if Germans can’t say the English “W” – they say it all the time when they hurt themselves and say “ow-wah.”

There are also some “close but no cigar” words. For instance, I bought some astringent for sensitive skin, but in German, the word for “sensitive” is “sensible.” So, apparently, my skin is sensible, and just does its job – which is to keep my insides in.

NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE

While biking through Berlin, I was almost killed by a crocodile. (It could have been an alligator – it happened so quickly that I couldn’t make the distinction – but in any event, “alligator” didn’t lend itself to alliteration, so I’ve decided it was a crocodile.) It was a lovely winter Sunday, and every Berliner was taking advantage of the sun’s rare appearance. I was merrily tooling along on my bike, in the bike lane, which was adjacent to the sidewalk. The family walking toward me was also staying on the sidewalk, which doesn’t always happen, so everything looked safe. Alas, you still have to watch pedestrians like hawks because never know when some pedestrian will suddenly thrust an arm across the bike way, either pointing to something or merely emphasizing the story he’s telling. The family was pushing a small child in a stroller and the child had a wooden crocodile on a string, which she was merrily swinging back and forth. Just as we passed, the crocodile came within an inch of thrusting itself into the spokes of my bike. If that had happened, I might have fallen into the street into the path of one of the cars carrying other folks who were out and about on this lovely Sunday. Wouldn’t that have been a pisser?!

I can tell you one thing about Singapore – ain’t nothing “poor” about it! Just this year it replaced Tokyo as the most expensive city on the planet.

My husband has been to that part of the world [a trip to Viet Nam, all expenses paid by the US Army, and a little side trip to Hong Kong for R&R], but I never thought I’d get anywhere near there. As it turned out, however, one of my cousins is working in Singapore for a couple of years so we figured we’d better take the opportunity to visit the place while he’s there and we could spare the cost of a hotel. Besides, a ticket from Berlin to Singapore costs less that a ticket from Berlin to the US. And you really get a lot of flying for your money—you only get to fly for about 8 hours if you’re going to the US, whereas you get to fly for about 12 hours if you’re going to Singapore. That makes it, even cheaper if you figure the cost of the trip by the miles/flying hours. Which is not to say that a 12-hour flight is 50% more enjoyable than an 8-hour flight (especially when you’re pushing 70 as hard as we are). Even more importantly, you can never get enough time with your cuzzies, so whimsical senior citizens that we are, we decided to go for it.

The airport alone is worth the trip! If you have to spend several hours in transit at an airport, this is where you want to be. It’s clearly designed to accommodate travelers. The luggage carts are free (no having to find the right change/currency); they even have free strollers, so parents can check their own strollers with their luggage and just use the airport strollers and ditch them at the gate. There are places for families that have diaper changing counters (so you don’t have to change a diaper on a chair or on the floor), nursing rooms, and play areas with cartoon channels on TV for the kids. There’s also a kids’ playground where you can run the little buggers ragged so maybe they’ll sleep for a moment or two on the plane. [And if the kids sleep on the plane, the other passengers will be eternally grateful.] I don’t know if you’ve ever traveled with small children, but every single thing you can do to make the parents’ lives easier is a wonderful thing.

Do you have a long layover? Do you think the passengers on your next flight would really appreciate it if you took a shower? Yep! You can do that. There’s also a transit hotel—the kind of hotel room you can rent by the hour and can actually register under your own name, instead of as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, and you can catch some quality ZZZs between flights. There’s a gym and a pool (which you can use free if you’re using the transit hotel).

You don’t have to lug your carry-on luggage (or your coat) all over Hell’s half acre until you board the plane; you can check it while you wander about the airport and retrieve it just before your flight. There are different kinds of lounge areas. Some have actual lounges where you can lie down and snooze (and withOUT TVs); other lounge areas have seats and TVs. Feeling a bit sick? Well, there’s a clinic to take care of you. Do you have a sharp object you forgot to put in your checked luggage? Well, there are kiosks where you can pop that puppy into a mailer and mail it to yourself.

Do you want to get some walking in before you settle down into a 12-hour flight? Well, you don’t have to just walk around being bored. You can walk around and see the sights inside the airport—the Kinetic Rain Sculpture; the Lilly Pad Garden; the Cactus Garden; the Enchanted Garden; the Orchid Garden; the Sunflower Garden; the Butterfly Garden; the Koi Pond; and the Perankan Exhibition on Porcelain of Asia. Had enough walking? Well, go to the Entertainment Deck, where you’ll find a casino and a movie theater. Do you need to do some work? Well, there’s a full service post office, a business center, and free Wi-Fi, Internet access, and mobile charging points. This, of course, is in addition to all the shopping, restaurants, massage chairs, and opportunities to get a manicure, pedicure, or a real massage that you may find at other airports.

And you go through security right at gate—so you don’t have to stand in line with ALL the passengers going through the airport; the only folks ahead of you in the line are the folks that are on your flight.

In short, you could just have the Changi Airport in Singapore as your destination and have a great time, even if you didn’t have cousins in town!

My cousin arranged for the company driver, Ricky, to pick us up at the airport. Good thing, too, because (as with any place the Brits had anything to do with) those folks drive on the wrong side of the road. Combine that with a place as busy as Singapore and a couple of old folks who haven’t been behind the wheel of a car but once in 4 years, and things could get really ugly really fast! Well, Ricky is used to picking up important business folks up at the airport so he has a spiel on Singapore that would rival that of any tour guide you can imagine. He told us so much about Singapore on the drive from (and, later, to) the airport, that I decided to call him “Ricky-pedia.”

Singapore is tiny—about 20 kilometers by 40 kilometers—and it has 5 million people. They use every square inch of space. (And, despite the fact that some folks say land is a good investment because they aren’t making any more, well, in Singapore, they ARE making more land. Bit by bit, they’re reclaiming land in the middle of the ocean. That, of course, doesn’t change the part about land being a good investment, especially here where it’s so scarce.) With so many people and so little land, the best way to build is up, and up, and up…. And if a bit of land isn’t part of a road or part of a skyscraper, it’s landscaped. Every single inch of it! You don’t even have to look at ugly utility cabinets along the roadways, because the roadside is landscaped and the utility cabinets are painted with murals that blend in with the landscaping. In some parts of town, they don’t even want to see cell towers so they put up artificial palm trees (which blend in with the real ones) that conceal the antennae.

Folks here really, really hate “ugly”, so there’s no graffiti or trash anywhere. In fact, they’ll fine you if you spit on the sidewalk. And it’s illegal to even bring chewing gum into the country. They started out by fining folks who throw trash on the street, but there are so many rich folks for whom a fine is no big deal that now, after multiple offenses, they’ll snatch you up, put a shirt on you that says “I am a litter bug”, and make your sorry behind spend several hours cleaning up the streets.

And they don’t even want you to act ugly. Throw the “F” bomb around, and you’ll pay a fine. Shoot someone the bird, and you’ll pay a fine. I wish I had bought the T-shirt that captures this aspect of Singapore. It had the 3 monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) except they said:

See no litter
Hear no fireworks
Speak no vulgarities

SINGAPORE!

As we were driving toward my cousin’s apartment building, we saw Lamborginis, Ferraris, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces. Although I paid as much for my last car as I paid for my first house, my Volvo S80 would look like a jalopy here. I’d say these folks here have money to burn (but they probably wouldn’t burn it themselves—they’re so rich that they’d hire someone to do it for them, and they’d have to find a clean way to burn it).

And they are so efficient! If you have a car, you have a device that’s affixed to the inside of your windshield. You put a cash card in it and it works pretty much like the devices we had for the toll road in Virginia—you can just drive past the toll booth and it will charge your account for the toll. Except this device works for almost everything—access to your gated community; access to the parking garage in your apartment building; payment for parking everywhere. You can manually add money to the card almost anywhere, or, if you have a bank account in Singapore, you can automatically upload more money when you’re getting low. (Of course, the bad news is that if your card doesn’t have enough money on it to get out of the parking garage at the shopping center, the folks in line behind you may be tempted to risk getting a fine for shooting you the bird.)

And yet, as modern and high-tech as Singapore is, it still retains some old-world touches, which are especially apparent at some of the food markets, where you can buy live frogs and eels, for example. I don’t know what they do when you buy a live eel, but I saw what they do when you buy a live frog. First, they grab the frog around the middle and whack its head on the counter top. Next, they slice off the head with a knife, and cut off the feet with a pair of scissors. Then, they take the scissors and cut down from his neck to his butt and back up the other side to his neck again, and just peel his skin off like they’re taking off his jacket. And, not 100 yards away, you can buy some specialty ice cream in flavors like “Black Forest Red – Taylor Swift Limited Edition.” Of course, I don’t know what Taylor Swift has in common with Germany’s Black Forest; I’d think something like “Grandma’s Peach Cobbler” might be a better match with Taylor Swift (but what do I know?)

And, yes, we did go to the Long Bar at Raffles (which my cousin, having sent his daughter and his dollars to the University of Texas, thought was the Longhorn Bar) and had the original Singapore Sling. It cost 27 Sing dollars, which is $21 US! Told you the place was expensive!!!

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 48:  February 14, 2014

 LOOKING AT THINGS FROM DIFFERENT ENDS OF THE TELESCOPE

Language is so much more than just words, and learning another language is so much more than just substituting a word in one language for a word in the other (which, of course, is why when you use Google to translate something, you often get nonsense).  For example, the word “celery” in German is “Sellerie” – but, alas, if you ask for “Sellerie” in the grocery store, what you’re going to get is not something long and light green, but something round and whitish.  That’s because, when you say “celery” in the US, it invariably means “celery stalks” but when you say “Sellerie” in Germany, it invariably means “celery root.”  If you want “celery stalks” in Germany, you must specify that you want celery stalks “Selleriestängel” – just like in the US, if you want celery root, you must specify that you want “celery root.”

 SO, DO I HAVE ANY REGRETS?

 From time to time, folks ask me if I have any regrets about leaving the US to move to Berlin.  Do I miss my lovely house that was about 4 times as big as our flat in Berlin?  Well, sometimes – mainly when I’m trying to unlock the front door to our apartment house with one hand while juggling a bike with its basket full of groceries during a freezing rain (as opposed to sitting in my warm, dry car, pushing a button for the garage door to go up, and driving into my dry – and relatively warmer – garage).  And often, when I have to settle for the odd phone call, more frequently, e-mails and Facebook posts to communicate with my friends, rather than sharing a great dinner and a fun movie with them.  However, there are precious moments here that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world!  For example, having my fussy, sick, younger grandson (20 months) fall asleep in my arms while I sing to him the song I made up for my son and sang to him every bedtime for many, many years, and have my son tell me how that warms his heart.

IT MAKES SENSE, BUT STILL….

  • Kids’ groceries:  You know those little play groceries for kids’ play kitchens – tiny replicas of what’s in Mom’s kitchen?  Well, this is Germany, right?  And Germans eat sauerkraut, right?  So it’s only to be expected that you could find tiny replicas of canned sauerkraut, but still….
  • Restricted access to Legoland:  In Berlin, Legoland is an indoor thing.  It makes sense because this way it can be open 12 months a year (and, of course, the only way you can exit the Legoland is through the store, and the company wouldn’t want to forego the opportunity that presents itself when parents [and grandparents] have to drag their kids – who already are probably on a sugar-exacerbated Lego “high” – through the treasures of the Legoland store).  We have annual family tickets and definitely get our money’s worth – if you go twice a year, you save 10 Euros on the entrance fee and if you go more than that, the entrance is effectively free.  That doesn’t mean that you won’t drop a wad of money on expensive – yet marginally edible – food or make it through the store without buying something.  It just takes a little of the pain out of those other expenses if the entrance is free.  So, in an effort to squeeze just one more trip out of our tickets before they expired, we took the grandkids to Legoland last week.  Harvey was in a German class in the early afternoon, so the plan was for me to pick up the kids, take them to McDonald’s for lunch, and then on to Legoland.  When Harvey got out of class, he would meet me there.  Great plan, right?  Well, umm, apparently not.  It turns out that they won’t let an adult into the Berlin Legoland without a kid.  Surely you’re familiar with the concept of not allowing kids in certain places without an adult, but this business of not allowing an adult in without a kid was an unanticipated twist.  OK.  It makes sense – what better place for a pervert to snatch a kid than in the total bedlam that is Legoland – it’s hard enough to keep an eye on one kid, and most folks bring more than one.  If you who know the particular brand of Hell that is Chuck E. Cheese, you know exactly what I mean.  [Although I must admit – at least Legoland is a better class of Hell for adults.]  Fortunately, both of us have cell phones, and miraculously  I was actually able to hear my phone ring (since I’m half-deaf and the decibel level of an indoor Legoland approaches – if not exceeds – that of, say, your average a rocket launch).  We were also lucky that the Arctic temperatures had abated for the day, so the kids didn’t turn into popsicles when I dragged them outdoors without their coats (and through the store, of course) and back to the entrance so I could meet Harvey and give him the required kid so he could enter the store.  We did, however, mightily confuse the young lady taking the tickets, given that I had my receipt for having entered with the kids only an hour earlier.  I’m just glad that Legoland doesn’t have some other obscure policy about not being admitted twice on the same day – then we would have been totally screwed!  And, I’m glad that the gorgeous outdoor Legoland in San Diego doesn’t have the “no kids, no entry” policy, because Harvey and I were there years ago and we would have hated to have missed seeing it.

CLUTTER, CLUTTER EVERYWHERE!

Our house in the US was about 3,300 square feet; our flat in Berlin is less than 1,000 square feet.  We got rid of a boatload of stuff before we moved.  Then, while we were unpacking, we got rid of at least 10 more boxes full of stuff.  And periodically I try to go through the flat and see if there’s something else we can get rid of because, for one thing, we can always use a bit more room and, eventually, we’re gonna die and whatever I get rid of now, our son won’t have to deal with them.  [Having dealt with the possessions of the Queen of all Hoarders, I really, really want to spare my son that experience!]   One rule of thumb is, if it’s not useful or beautiful, you should get rid of it.  But sometimes a thing is neither, but you still can’t bring yourself to part with it.  One such thing I can’t yet part with is a jacket that hasn’t fit me in well over a decade, so it’s clearly NOT useful.  And I don’t think it could be described as beautiful, either.  It’s a black silk bomber jacket, with an MCI logo on the back.  It could – eventually – become a collector’s item, as MCI has gone the way of most telcos.  So that’s one reason to keep it (maybe).  But the other reason is much closer to my heart than any potential monetary value it could ever have.  I won this jacket.  In a lip-sync contest!  Yep!  Our organization in MCI decided to have a summer picnic and the person in charge of the entertainment came up with the idea of having a lip-sync contest.  I definitely had no interest in this, and the rest of the folks in my small department had even less interest.  However, you gotta go along to get along in the world, and I came up with an idea that let my folks meet management’s expectations with minimal impact on their dignity.  We were lucky enough to be the absolute last on the schedule, which made the impact even greater.  We had had the pleasure of watching all the other folks struggle through long, complicated renditions of songs like “I Heard It On The Grapevine” while we just sat, smugly biding our time.  We only practiced the day of the picnic, and went through our song maybe 3 times before we had it down.  When our turn finally came, the looks on the faces in the audience were priceless after they heard the first few bars of our song and realized that we were going to lip sync “Tequila!” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG6P2rBU-ho]  Yep!  We were perfect and we won the contest!  We decided that if we had to do this next year, we were going to do “Wipeout!” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5D07c0dJuQ] – because it only had half the words of “Tequila!”  So, nope – I think my closet is going to have to make room for this jacket for a little while longer.

IS IT EVER OK TO JUST SLAP A TOTAL STRANGER?

I just do NOT get it!  I’ve never noticed this anywhere but Berlin, so I don’t know whether it’s the case throughout Germany or not.  But folks will come to a dead stop in the middle of an entrance – to light a cigarette, put on or take off gloves, or just stare into space.  They will also stop at the very top (or bottom) of an escalator, while folks behind them are bearing down on them.  Since it happens so often, surely this has happened to the folks who do this, too.  And wouldn’t you think that, if you’ve been the victim of this insanely inconsiderate practice, you would put 2 and 2 together and try not to do it yourself?  Well, the answer to both aspects of this rhetorical question is, apparently, a resounding NO!!  I swear, it makes me want to slap someone!  And I don’t care if they’re 5 or 85!  I just want to slap them ALL!!

THE INFLUENCE OF DACHSHUNDS

Given their name, it’s not surprising that many dogs in Germany would be dachshunds.  So you should expect that the short-legged, long-bodied look would appear in mixed breeds.  And, indeed, lots of dogs here seem to have that look (e.g., a dachshund-pit bull combination).  But sometimes it’s lots more amusing than others – like when you come upon a short-legged, long-bodied white poodle, with the standard poodle cut.  As one of my cousins would say, “That just ain’t right!”

AMAZING!

Harvey was out and about in the part of Berlin near the Frei Universität.  Many of the students there are Americans, as it is in the part of town that used to be in the American sector.  He encountered a young American kid – maybe 17 or 18 – who had apparently arrived in Berlin only recently and the kid asked him for directions to the Universität.  Harvey gave him the directions and then the kid said, “Wow!  You speak English really well!!”  Go figure!!  Clearly the kid hasn’t been here long enough to hear English spoken all around town.

EXPERIMENT

My blog machine has an editing feature where it identifies misspelled words, grammatical errors, and trite phrases (all certainly helpful).  Curiously enough, it also identifies homophones.  For example, if I’ve typed “weighs” it asks you if you really meant “ways.”  I’m pondering accepting these changes some time, just to see what happens.

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR

I don’t remember whether it’s like this in the US (nor even whether it’s like this throughout Germany), but dishes on most menus here in Berlin are numbered.  There are so many Auslanders (furriners) here in Berlin that it undoubtedly saves millions of man-hours a year in giving and taking orders (and the inconvenience of serving the wrong dish).  But even this can’t preclude miscommunication between diner and server.  For example, last night I stopped at the Asian kiosk near our flat.  I’ve been intending to try it out (especially having seen our neighbors eating the food), and after a good, but long, day with the grandkids and with my better half being in the US for a long visit, last night seemed like a good time to do just that.  Well, I THOUGHT I had ordered #4 on the menu.  The lady at the kiosk thought I had ordered 4 dishes.  Since it was so cheap (under $5 per dish), and it was clearly my mistake, I just paid for all 4 dishes and took them home.  Fortunately the food is good, but I’m sure glad I didn’t try to order #7 on the menu!

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

As maddening as the German language is, there are some things that are endearing about it.  For example, the German word for “shoe” is “Schuh” and the word for “glove” is “Handschuh” – makes sense, right?  Well, some of the names for animals are equally appropriate:

  • A sloth is a “Faultier” (i.e., lazy animal)
  • A skunk is a “Stinktier” (and surely you can figure THIS out on your own!)

[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 47:  January 9, 2014

 IT’S TRUE!

 Remember when your parents would haul you to visit some elderly relative and you would wonder just exactly what that retired person did with their time?  Well, now I know, being one myself.  I just tend to the routine things – making the bed, fixing breakfast, washing the dishes, getting dressed, and before you know it, the day is practically gone!  We may not do much (if anything), but it definitely takes all day to do it!

IT’S MONDAY!

Germany (and, so far as I can tell, all of Europe) has some really fabulous breads.  One German bread that we particularly like is Dunkel-essener.  It’s extremely dense – pretty sure one loaf weighs at least 10 times what a loaf of Wonder bread weighs.  So, Harvey happened to be out and about and near a bio (organic) food store and decided to pick up a loaf of this wonderful (as opposed to “Wonder”) bread.  The lady looked at him in amazement when he asked her for it, and replied, “Heute ist Montag!”  (i.e., “Today is Monday!”)  Apparently you can only buy Dunkel-essener bread on certain days of the week, and one of them is definitely NOT Monday!  And presumably every German knows this and realizes how utterly preposterous it is to even consider buying it on Monday.

I ONLY THOUGHT I WAS HAVING A BAD DAY

I was at the grocery store check-out line and couldn’t find my cash card.  Fortunately, I had enough cash with me to cover the groceries so it wasn’t a major problem, but I wasn’t looking forward to the inconvenience (admittedly, minor) of having to go to the bank on Monday and request a new card.  But then when I left the store, I saw that someone else was having a far worse day than I was – I saw someone’s false teeth on the sidewalk (or, at least, the uppers) and the plate was broken in two, so clearly not having my cash card paled in comparison.  My day got even better when I got home and emptied my wallet to discover that I had simply put the card in a different place from where I normally do.

DEFINING “WORN OUT”

There was a time when I would consider an article of clothing “worn out” if it were the least little bit faded or frayed, but that is no longer the case.  Since I retired, I don’t have to worry about being “presentable” at work, where showing up in shabby clothes isn’t a “career enhancing” strategy.  Of course, retirement is also typically accompanied by a reduced income, so one tends to be a tad more circumspect about spending money in general, whether on clothes or anything else.  Consequently, “faded” and “frayed” are no longer sufficient criteria for throwing out clothes. Then there’s the age factor (which inevitably comes into play, whether you’re fortunate enough to be retired or not).  It used to be economical in the long run to pay a bit more for something if it would last a long time.  Now, not so much.  Now it’s all a game of trying to come out even, where you only need something to last until you die (which, of course, is a total crap shoot).  I remember when my Dad was about 60 and it was time to replace the roof on his house.  You have options of buying a 20-year roof or a 30-year roof.  He figured he wasn’t going to make it to 90 (so he didn’t need a 30-year roof) and that a 20-year roof would suit him just fine.  As it turned out, he only needed a 12-year roof (but that wasn’t an option).  However, he didn’t count on his wife making it to almost 90.  Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about big-ticket items such as major house repairs or cars, since we own neither, and the consequences of our miscalculations are much less drastic.  The most expensive thing we have to worry about is a washer. And as for our clothes, we have lots of leeway.  For one thing, given the character of our neighborhood, “shabby chic” is actually in style.  But aside from that factor, as long as a shirt doesn’t fall off my body and continues to provide an acceptable level of warmth, I don’t consider it “worn out” yet.  And, of course, pajamas get a lot longer life because, after all, if I’m in a situation where somebody is going to see me in my PJs, it’s probably a pretty close friend, who’s not going to judge me.  And I’m long past worrying about what some Emergency Room tech is going to think about my underwear if I’m involved in an accident.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

I have spent nearly 7 decades on the planet and only recently discovered the utility of “sheers” – you know, the nearly-invisible drapes?  I never could figure out why folks would have 2 sets of drapes on their windows – one that appeared normal and one that seemed to be invisible.  If drapes were intended to offer privacy, or to block out the sun, what possible reason could there be to have drapes that you could see through and that didn’t block out the sun?  Aha!  Now I know.  In the winter here, you can have a choice of having the drapes open during the day (and thereby getting the benefit of the scarce daylight you’re granted while losing heat through the windows) OR keeping the drapes shut (and thereby saving heat while missing out on the daylight).  So, here come the sheers!  At night, they provide an extra layer of fabric to keep the cold at bay and, during the day, you can still have a little bit of protection from the cold while also getting some precious sunlight.  Never too old to learn something, I suppose, regardless of how trivial it might be.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

The bus stop I use most frequently has a nice little shelter – a roof and 3 sides.  Anyone want to guess which of the four basic directions the wind was coming from this cold morning?  Yep!

CHRISTMAS TRADITION

What’s Christmas in Germany without going to a Christmas Market and having a bit of Gluhwein?  We decided to hit one of the markets on the Ku’damm – a major shopping area –  and had the luck to time it just right so that we could see what’s apparently another Christmas tradition – at least in Berlin.  Several of the motorcycle Santas were accompanied on their ‘hogs’ by their ‘old ladies’ (also in costume, but not as Mrs. Santa, but rather as angels).  Not a sight you see every day!

RAINING IN THE KITCHEN

Nope!  Didn’t leave the kitchen window open.  Nope!  The roof doesn’t leak (or, at least, if it does, we’d be about the last to know about it because there are 4 more floors above us.  In fact, it wasn’t raining at all OUTside.  Nope!  The upstairs neighbor’s plumbing wasn’t leaking into our flat.  I was, however, cooking and now that the weather is cold, heat from the stove will cause condensation on the tile back-splash and on the bottoms of the cupboards above the burners on the stove, unless I turn on the ventilation fan.  Never had that happen in any of my kitchens in the US (16, to be exact, and that’s only the ones after I left home)!  Never even heard tell of anyone having that happen.  Got my very own little rain forest!

THE MALICE OF FELINES

Can you still call it “malice” if it’s unintentional?  Maybe not.  Nonetheless, the effect is the same.  William, the Wonder Cat, took a little walk across my keyboard and the next time I tried to logon, I couldn’t – my password wasn’t recognized.  After several moments of frustration and many epithets, I discovered that my NumLk key was on.  He had apparently managed to step on the Fn key and the NumLk key simultaneously!  Electra once managed to hit a series of keys that turned my screen sideways; it took Harvey and me the better part of an hour to figure out how to undo THAT!

LITTER WARS

Our Dowager Queen Feline, Ms. Electra, exited the litter box, having tended to her business.  Apparently, William, the Wonder Cat, was not satisfied with Electra’s attempts to tidy up the litter box and tucked the front half of his rather large body into the box and re-arranged the litter more to his liking.  Unfortunately, when he does this, he often leaves a pile of litter at the front end of the box, which Ms. Electra finds so offensive that she expresses her displeasure by hanging her butt out of the box and peeing on the floor when she next uses the litter box.  No amount of counseling with either of them has been effective is changing this behavior.

ASPARAGUS AND WINE

Germans love their asparagus, especially the white asparagus.  Even if the weather gives you no hint of Spring, you can tell that Spring has arrived because all the restaurant menus suddenly feature lots and lots of asparagus dishes and little stands selling nothing but asparagus pop up everywhere.  And, as do most right-thinking folks, Germans love their wine.  Well, I saw something in the grocery store last week that apparently combines these two culinary delights – a bottle of wine that presumably has asparagus as a component.  Yep!  Not making this up!  See for yourself!

2013-08-25 - Asparagus wine


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 46: October 12, 2013

 IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME

When we moved to Berlin from the US, I had to replace all my small electrical appliances, to include my make-up mirror.  Instead of a switch, the one I bought has a touch mechanism and you can touch it anywhere to turn the light on or off or to adjust it.  At the time, I thought it was pretty cool.  As it turns out, there are a couple of problems with it.  The first problem has to do with the cats, who, of course, walk all over everywhere, so if you leave the light plugged in, they might turn it on in passing.  And electricity is Germany is virtually twice as expensive as it is in the US.  [The monthly electric bill for our 1000 square foot, single level, 4-room, unairconditioned flat in Berlin is as high as the one for our 3300 square foot, 4-story, 9-room, air-conditioned house in the US.)  That problem’s easy to solve – just unplug the mirror when I’m finished. The second problem has to do with how I use the mirror, and this problem has no solution at all.  I must bump into this thing at least 20 times while I’m making my face!  And, because it has 3 settings – low, medium, and high – accidentally bumping into it means that I can’t just touch it once to turn it back on.  I have to touch it 3 times to get it back to “high.”  And, of course, I have to remember how many times I’ve touched it because if I touch it 4 times, it turns it off again and I’m right back where I started.  I have every confidence that over the past 3 years, I’ve tapped on that mirror enough times that, if it were Morse code, I could have tapped out Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

SOMETHING WORSE THAN LEAVING YOUR GROCERIES ON THE BUS….

Back in the US, when I had a car, I once did my week’s grocery shopping, pushed the cart into the pick-up place, went to my car, and blissfully drove home without loading my groceries.  Fortunately, once I got home I DID remember that I had been to the grocery store and was surprised when I opened my trunk and there were no groceries.  Also, it was nice that the grocery store was a mere 5 minutes away from home, so nothing spoiled.  The other day, I saw an apparently abandoned cloth sack full of groceries on the bus (to include a gorgeous pineapple.  And I felt great pangs of sympathy for whoever left it there, because the statistical probability of being reunited with your groceries under such circumstances approaches zero.  I haven’t done that yet (probably because I walk 2 block to the grocery store and don’t have to get on the bus), but what I have done is at least as bad as that, which is thinking that you’ve completely emptied your backpack of all the groceries, only to find out a day or two later that you’ve left something perishable (and smelly) in it.  But at least if food is spoiled, I can console myself that it’s not been a complete waste – we have a trash bin for organic waste, which is taken to a central place where, first, they capture methane gas from the waste (to generate electricity) as it decomposes and then provide what’s left to the farmers.  But I’m pretty sure the total yield from this doesn’t amount to the price I paid for, say, a pound of salmon….

HOW MANY FOLKS WILL YOU PUT ON THE PLANET?

Ever wonder what impact your life might make on the world?  Well, I did a timeline of my beloved grandmother, Veda Catherine Burns Terrell.  Along with my grandfather, James Norvell Terrell, (and a bit of help from other subsequent family members), my grandparents put a total of 87 folks on the planet – so far (and this changes on practically a monthly basis).

  • 10 children
  • 9 grandchildren
  • 21 great- grandchildren
  • 29 great-great-grandchildren
  • 19 great-great-great-grandchildren

 This doesn’t count the 19 other kids who were adopted or came into the family as step-children because, although they’re definitely family, my grandparents had no part in creating them.

Compare that side of my family to my father’s side of the family, where my grandparents, Adelia Dugan Holder and Thomas Samuel Holder, were only responsible for putting 7 folks on the planet.

  • 2 children
  • 1 grandchild
  • 1 great-grandchild
  • 3 great-great-grandchildren
  • 0 great-great-great-grandchildren (as the oldest great-great-grandchild is only 7 years old now)

Obviously, the motto of one side of my family was “Breed early and often” while the other side’s motto was “Leave it to others.”

SHADES OF THINGS TO COME?

Today I was playing with my 15-month-old grandson.  He had found his older sister’s play kitchen and was armed with a small bowl and spoon.  He decided that it was time to feed Grandma, which he thought was great fun.  I can only wonder if he’s going to have as much fun doing it when Grandma is no longer able to feed herself and he has to do this for real.

AND MORE PORTENTS…

Despite being small (at least by American standards and in comparison to our previous home),   I can see how the floor plan may not portend well for the future.  True, it only has 4 rooms (compared to our home in the US, which had 9), but it has an ungodly number of doors – 11.  The small foyer (about 5 ft. by 10 ft) alone has 4 doors:  one to our bedroom, one to the living room, one to the outside, and one to the dining room.  Our bedroom has 2 doors – the aforementioned one to the foyer and another to the living room.  Our living room has 3 doors – the aforementioned ones to the foyer and our bedroom, plus one more to the dining room.  The dining room has 3 doors – the aforementioned ones to the foyer and the living room, plus one more to the back hall.  The back hall has 4 doors – the aforementioned one to the dining room, plus one each for the guest bathroom, the guest bedroom, the master bathroom, and the back stairwell.  Thankfully, the guest bathroom, guest bedroom, and master bathroom only have ONE door each!  Even now we sometimes lose track of one another because if we’re both in motion, it’s possible for us to always be one turn out of the sight of each other.  I thought maybe we’d have to wear bells around our necks to help us locate one another, but our diminishing hearing abilities might preclude the effectiveness of that solution.  So, I can see it now – Harvey picks up the phone and calls our son (catching him on his bike somewhere between deliveries and pick-ups) and says, “Son, I can’t seem to find your mother.  Might you know where she is?”

 APPARENTLY, I DIDN’T GET THE MEMO (OR E-MAIL, SMS, TEXT, TWEET, OR WHATEVER THE LATEST FORM OF COMMUNICATION HAPPENS TO BE)

Our nearest grocery store is a block and a half from our front door.  As I was returning home with my groceries today, I encountered 2 ladies wearing mis-matched shoes.  [It’s entirely possible that there were others that I simply didn’t notice.]  One had on a pair of mis-matched Crocs; the other had on one walking shoe and one sandal.  Clearly, it was “Mis-matched Shoe Day in Kreutzberg.”  You may think it’s ridiculous to reach the conclusion that there’s such a day, but then there’s the “No-Pants U-bahn Day” – which, if you’ll note from the rest of the clothes folks have on, does NOT take place in the summer:

http://vimeo.com/34824981

ELECTIONS

It’s time for national elections.  Would you believe that election day is on Sunday?  I wonder how that affects the turnout – are folks more likely to vote on their day off?  Certainly, holding elections on Saturday would have a negative effect, given that most stores are closed on Sundays so Saturday is when most folks do their heavy shopping.  Another thing about German elections – one man/woman, TWO votes.  Unlike the US system where it’s an all-or-none thing (and if you vote for a 3rd party, you’re essentially throwing away your vote), the Germans have many parties and have found a way to make sure they’re all represented.  Your first vote is for a particular candidate to represent your region.  That’s a simple, winner-take-all proposition.  Your second vote isn’t for a particular candidate, but rather for a party (and it needn’t be for the same party as the one that your regional candidate represents).  After those at-large votes are counted, each party receiving at least 5% of the vote gets a proportionate share of candidates in the parliament.  [Each party decides which particular candidates will represent the party.]  For instance, in the US, if 33% of votes go to a Democratic candidate, and 33% go to a Libertarian candidate, and 34% go to a Republican candidate, then 66% of the voters are left blowing in the wind, while the Republican candidate (representing 34% of the electorate ) gets it all.  Hardly seems fair, does it?  In Germany, if 15% of the votes go the Green Party, 20% to the Orange Party, 15% to the Pirate Party (yeah – isn’t THAT cool?!!), and 50% to the SPD, then (in addition to the regional representatives), Parliament will consist of1 5% Green Party reps, 20% Orange Party reps,1 5% Pirate Party reps, and 50% SPD Party reps.  That’s more like it!

BAGELS IN BERLIN

You would think that you could find bagels in Berlin.  But think about this a moment – about 80 years ago, Germans initiated a program to get rid of the folks who tend to make bagels, and the country apparently still hasn’t recovered from that.  But today I found some bagels.  You’ll never guess where!  In the “American” food section, along with the hot dog buns (which, actually accommodate frankfurters, a good typically associated with Germans) and the hamburger buns (once again, “Hamburg” having German origins).  Go figure!  The “American” food section has maybe 20 items and, although it includes wonderful things like barbecue sauce, the shelf space is often wasted on total crap such as Pop-tarts.  I can assure you that this is NOT something I miss!  I would much rather have something like grits or good ol’ Cream of Wheat!

AN 18-MONTH OLD’S APPROACH TO PROBLEM SOLVING

Our youngest grandson has a toy that is known to millions of parents.  It’s a bunch of blocks in different shapes (cube, cylinders, triangles, and stars) and colors.  They come in a bucket that has a lid with holes in the shape of these different blocks.  The object is to help the kid learn how to find the right hole for each shape of block.  Well, after trying this for a few minutes with virtually no success, he just cuts right to the chase and takes that useless lid off!  It’s so much easier to get the bocks into the bucket without the lid!  What are these crazy people thinking by putting the lid on the bucket?

He also found a way to help the family with the toilet paper problem.  It seems it takes Mom, Dad, big brother Noe, big sister Milla, and sometimes Grandma and Grandpa, a number of days to put a roll of toilet paper into the toilet.  Well, Levi identified the problem right away – they only put a few pieces of paper in at a time.  So, he just cut to the chase and put a whole roll of toilet paper in the toilet.  Reminds me of one of the characters on “Burned” who, in the intro, says, “That’s how we do it, people!” after having blown something up.

AS IF I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT

I now have to worry about toilet ghosts!  Milla has informed me that there are such things and that you should hold on tight to the toilet seat because if you don’t, they’ll come up out of the toilet and bump you so hard that you’ll hit your head on the ceiling (and when you live in a place with 14 ft. ceilings, that can be quite a jolt)!  I told her that it must be horrible for them because they always get covered with pee and poop.  But she said, “No, they like that!”  At least everybody is at risk of being attacked by toilet ghosts (women, however, disproportionately to men), which is better than the threat from the pegasus rhinoceros vampire, which will drink only Grandma blood!

 Vampire Rhinocerous Pegasus

 


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 45:  July 28, 2013

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU WONDER…

Under the “Everything Old is New Again” front, we’ve been watching the new “Hawaii 5-0” and it occurred to us that maybe we should look up the original version, too.  We have definitely been enjoying the old one—especially a recent episode that involved a GI on R&R in Honolulu, which reminded us of our trip there while Harvey was in Vietnam in 1968.  But sometimes you see things on old TV shows that just make you scratch your head.  One of the episodes had Ricardo Montalban, a Latin guy with a pronounced Spanish accent, who, with the help of a little make-up, played a Japanese mobster.  What was particularly odd was that even the old “Hawaii 5-0” used a lot of Asian actors to play Asian roles (go figure!), to include two of the four key roles in the show.  So why was it so hard to find an Asian actor to play the role of a Japanese mobster?  Did Ricardo just have a hankering to be in Hawaii 5-0?  Is Fantasy Island just a hop, skip, and a jump from Honolulu?  I kept expecting Hervé Villechaize to pop up and say, “Da plane!  Da plane!” [But maybe, if we keep watching, Hervé will show up!  In fact, the shows did have a bit of an overlap, with Hawaii 5-0 running from 1968 – 1980 and Fantasy Island running from 1977 – 1984.]

 WISH I’D HAD MY CAMERA

Today I saw a guy jogging.  Nothing particularly unusual about that, of course, except that this is, after all, Kreuzberg and you rarely see what you expect to see.  This guy must have been at least 6’6” and skinny (as you’d expect a jogger to be).  He was dressed totally in black, which made his long, white beard even more dramatic as it parted in the middle and flowed over his shoulders in the breeze.

 SO, WHO WON THE “TAKE OLDAMERICANLADYINBERLIN AND HER HUSBAND OUT TO DINNER” CONTEST?

 Bet you didn’t even know there was such a contest, did you?  Well, guess what?  Neither did I.  But nonetheless, there was indeed a winner – Ann from San Diego.  It turns out that Ann had been planning a trip to Germany and ended up coming through Berlin.  While she was planning her trip, she came across my blog and contacted me for some info on Berlin.  We traded e‑mails for awhile and when she got here, she ended up taking me and my husband out for dinner at a great Italian restaurant in the neighborhood.  What a cool way to meet!!  I think I’ll continue the contest, although it doesn’t work like other contests:

First, the winners are self-determined (all you have to do is tell me when you’re coming to Berlin);

  • Second, there’s no cut-off date for entries (except, of course, this offer expires when I do); and
  • Third, the number of winners is wide open (sort of – not to exceed 365 a year)!

How cool is that?

HOW HOT IS IT?

 It’s 96 – too hot for earrings!!  In all fairness, I have 3 holes in each ear, so I wear a total of 6 earrings at a time.  It adds up, you know!

 WELL, IT DOES MAKE SENSE, AFTER YOU THINK ABOUT IT AWHILE…

 You know how when people lose things, they put up signs on lamp posts, telephone poles, fences, etc.?  Well, here in Berlin they also tape them to the sidewalk.  That didn’t make any sense to me, given that the wear and tear is a bit rougher on such signs than when they’re up on telephone poles, but there is a certain logic to it.  For one thing, in Germany, they say you can tell when someone is from Berlin, because they’re always looking down to avoid stepping in dog crap.  But there’s a second reason – the person who may have found what you lost probably found it because he or she is the kind of person who looks down at the sidewalk when walking, so you definitely want to target the side-walk lookers, don’t you?

 BE STILL MY HEART!

 My 7-year-old, German-as-a-first-language grandson did something fabulous today!  He corrected my English!  AND he was right!  I told him to tie his shoes and he told me that I should have told him to tie his shoe, because only one shoe had loose shoe laces.  But, as I type this, I realize he didn’t catch me on a bigger mistake, which was that I should have referred to his shoe laces, rather than his shoe.  Still, I’m pretty proud that he’s paying attention to things like this!!

 YOU DON’T MISS YOUR WATER UNTIL…

 …a pipe breaks and you’re told you’ll be without water for at least 4 days.  So, we are indeed grateful for the following things (none of which existed when I was a child):

  •  Ready supply of bottled water
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Butt wipes

Further, we’re grateful that we have no small children (particularly none in diapers) and that we don’t somehow have to make ourselves presentable to go to work every day.  And, since we live in a building that’s more than 200 years old and originally had lead water pipes, we are glad to see that at least some of those pipes are being replaced (hopefully, with pipes made from materials that are substantially less harmful than lead—and I did see some new copper pipes lying around).  And, of course, since our heat depends on hot water, we’re glad this didn’t happen in the winter, where we’d be not only dirty and thirsty, but also cold!  Plus, we have an excuse for eating out!  Admittedly, this “bright side” of things was much brighter on Day One of going without water; we’re now on Day Three, and the “looking on the bright side” thing is not necessarily doing the trick for our annoyance about the situation any more.  [But, as it turns out, the water came on during Day Three instead of Day Four – so, for THAT we’re definitely grateful.]

DON’T THINK SO…

Ordinarily when I see something odd in the grocery store, I’ll buy it.  For example, the ever-popular Corn Worms (which, as it turns out, are only marginally less disgusting that the image that pops into your head when you see these words together).  But I declined to buy something called “Original Bavarian BBQ Sauce” (or, actually, the German equivalent of those terms).  Why?  Because it’s really dicey when Germans try to interpret an American dish.  Besides, being from Texas, this would be messing with something really sacred and I’m pretty sure I’d regret it.

PRETENTIOUS OR ESSENTIAL?

Some years ago, we decided to be pretentious and buy a pair of silver napkin rings, with our names engraved on them.  For decades, they sat in the buffet, gathering tarnish.  I thought I had lost them in the move, but, as it turns out, I’d packed them with the Christmas ornaments, which had gone unused for our first 2 Christmases here.  When they turned up, we decided that we really must use them.  It’s a bit preposterous using them with cheap paper napkins, but this isn’t the first preposterous thing we’ve ever done and it’s highly unlikely to be the last.  But, pretentious or preposterous, these napkin rings are becoming essential.  Why?  Because they have our names on them.  Just the other morning, I put mine in front of Harvey’s plate.  Fortunately, this didn’t confuse him—he knew right away that he wasn’t Jaton’.  So, as long as ONE of us knows who he or she is, we’re in pretty good shape.

USE IT UP, MAKE IT LAST, FIX IT UP, OR DO WITHOUT

If you see a clown walking around our neighborhood, it might well be the oldamericanladyinberlin.  It’s a long story.  Here’s a bit of background.  I hate to run out of things, so when I get low on things, I add them to the shopping list.  And the threshold for “low” is variable, of course.  If you have 8 ounces of salt, you’re not running low; if you have only 8 ounces of milk, you are definitely running low.  With makeup, it’s really hard to gauge what “low” is.  For instance, if you have a teaspoon of blusher, you’re not low.  Well, I’ve got substantially less than that, so I bought some more.  But the old blusher is lasting for freakin’ ever!  And I want to use the NEW blusher!  I could throw it away – really, the amount that’s left is about the size of 4 grains of rice.  But my parents were raised during the Depression, so I can’t waste anything.  [Well, actually, my Dad was the one who was really impressed by the Depression; his parents had built up a nice plumbing business and they lost everything.  Nobody on the maternal side of my family even noticed the depression.  That’s because they were share-croppers.  Before the Depression hit, they were dirt-poor; they started out with nothing, and after the Depression, they still had all of it left.  It was all the same to them.]  So, I can’t throw this away, but I CAN use it up, and the more I use, the faster I’ll use it up.  So, if you see someone who looks like a clown in Kreuzberg, it’s probably me.  [But, I forgot – Kreuzberg is the neighborhood where looking like a clown is not something that’s gonna draw anybody’s attention….  In fact, when we see a guy in a suit, we ask him if he’s lost.]

ANOTHER WAY TO TELL YOU’RE IN AN OLD PERSON’S HOUSE

When an indispensable kitchen tool is a magnifying glass….

SIGNS

  • Someone is filming a movie in Berlin, so there are help-wanted signs all over advertising for folks to fill the various jobs associated with making a movie.  This isn’t particularly unusual.  What is a tad unusual is the film’s title – The Nature of Oklahoma.  I wouldn’t think that Berlin would be the locale for such a movie.  But then I checked out the “movie” and it’s even more bizarre than I had first imagined.  http://englishmaninberlin.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/guest-post-training-day-with-the-nature-theatre-of-oklahoma-by-pat-oday/
  • Berlin is also a very musical city.  In addition to German musicians of all sorts, lots of American artists also perform here.  And there are also lots of bands with interesting names.  The sign for one of these bands caught my eye – The Swingin’ Utters.  And I kind wish I hadn’t seen that sign; that’s an image I can’t get out of my head!!

WHEN YOU’RE RUMMAGING AROUND IN THE FRIDGE…

pay attention and be careful not to mistake the jar of vanilla yogurt for the jar of Miracle Whip.  Otherwise, you’ll have quite a surprise when you bite down into your sandwich of salami, cheese, pickle, and mustard.

 


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 43:  JUNE 5, 2013

BONKERS IN BRITAIN

We recently took a short trip to England/Great Britain/United Kingdom.  [You may think these terms are synonymous, but, if you have the time and patience, you can check this out and see that these terms actually have discrete meanings.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=]   In any case, it seems like these blokes have a penchant for coming up with the oddest names for places:

  • Hightown Crow
  • Three-Legged Cross
  • Bagshot

Then, of course, there’s the ambiguity that seems rampant in the place.  For example, there is a road named “The Avenue.”  Really?  Is this named after some guy whose last name was “The”—or is there only ONE avenue in the town, so there’s no need to bother with figuring out a name for it?  [It reminds me of a road in Reston, Virginia, though—Temporary Road.  Was this road initially intended to just be temporary, but folks used it so much that they decided to pave it and, to avoid confusion, just kept on using the term “Temporary Road” because that’s what folks were used to calling it?]  And the directions on the GPS system were particularly unfathomable:

  • Bear left right
  • Turn left left

It’s bad enough that everybody is driving on the wrong side of the road and that you have to negotiate those damnable “roundabouts”—at speed—while listening to someone tell to “Bear left right.” This confusion is compounded when you see cars where it appears that the dog is driving, until you remember that the driver’s seat is not on the left here.

A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY

The German market (or Markt) is ever-popular.  There are the weekly markets, where you can buy all sorts of produce, art work, hand crafts, prepared food, specialty foods, and anything you can imagine.  And, of course, there are the Christmas markets.  But here’s a unique twist of things – there’ was an expat market, where English-speaking expats here shared their wares.  So, nothing like crossing the Atlantic to attend a good ol’ American craft fair!  [Although, of course, “English-speaking” does include Brits, Canadians, and Australians as well as Americans, so it still wouldn’t be anything like you’d see in the US.]

Raise your hand if you’ve ever rolled your eyes at an expat.  With more Wahlberliner arriving daily, this city’s relationship with its expat community can turn sour in less time than it takes someone to say “Ugh-I-really-need-to-learn-German.” But language barriers, rising rents, and odd senses of entitlement aren’t the full story. From James Joyce and Gertrude Stein in 1920s Paris to Berlin’s prototype expat geniuses Christopher Isherwood and David Bowie, many a city can thank expats for helping elevate its creative scene. Maybe, then, it’s time to make peace with that English-speaking bartender—and see what creative endeavours they’re pursuing on the side.

In response to recent cuts in state support (the kiss of death for many independent venues), Kreuzberg’s English Theatre Berlin has wasted no time revamping its programme to prove that Berlin’s English-speaking artist community still has it going on. Starting tomorrow, the two-week-long Expat Expo series will be showcasing daily, multidisciplinary performances by Berlin-based expats, including short films, singer-songwriter roundups, and five-minute theatre acts, as well as a variety of workshops and an Expat Markt next weekend featuring a wealth of goods and services by your hardworking expat neighbours. 

 Sugarhigh newsletter@info.sugarhigh.de

 MAYBE THEY’RE RELATED?

Two headlines in the online newsletter, Expatica, today:

  • Germany revises population down by 1.5 million
  • German retail sales disappoint in April

Well, maybe sales are gonna disappoint if you misplace 1.5 million folks….

LINGUISTIC LIMBO

For those folks caught between English and German (aka, Deutsch), there is a “language” known as “Denglish”—a mix of the two languages, which, of course, ends up being neither.  [Pretty much like “Spanglish” in the Southwestern US, where you’ll hear a mixture of English and Spanish in a single sentence, or English words put in a Spanish form.  A typical example of Spanglish is “el trucko” – there’s a perfectly good Spanish word for “truck” and it certainly is NOT “trucko.”]  However, I continually find myself in situations where I know neither the English nor the German word for something.  In such cases, my conversation comes to an abrupt halt and I then try to describe the thing I’m trying to recall.  [Of course, that’s probably a function of old age, too, where you’re constantly searching for a word.  But now I have TWO cupboards for words and it’s a damned shame when BOTH of them are empty!]  Well, the other day, I had yet another type of linguistic fiasco!  I didn’t know the German word, of course.  And I wasn’t actually at a loss for the English word, but the word that came out of my mouth was neither English nor German.  I was trying to think of the word (as it now turns out) “toothpick.”  What came out of my mouth was “toothstick.”  Sometimes I’ll try to use German “logic” to derive a German word – which in this case might have been “thing-that-you-clean-between-your-teeth-with” (which might make me come up with something like “Dingwomitmanzwischenzahnersaubermachen” which, fortunately, is NOT a German word).  Or sometimes I’ll rely on the Latin root for a word (which might be “konservativ” for “conservative”).  But often that doesn’t work, for example, “irritieren” doesn’t mean “irritate” but rather means “confuse.”  Or thinking that, since an English work might sound German, it’s the same in both languages.  Sometimes that works, but that’s a total crap shoot because, while “skunk” is “Skunk”, the German word “Gift” means “poison” (so you never want to tell a German that you have a “Gift” for him).

But this “toothstick” thing was NONE of those attempts to come up with a German word.  I actually THOUGHT I was speaking ENGLISH!!  I tried to argue to myself that I was doing some convoluted translation, but found that the German word for “toothpick” is a totally literal translation – Der Zahnstocher (Zahn = tooth; stochen = pick).  But perhaps the “toothstick” thing IS a German phenomenon after all.  Sigh!

JUST WONDERING….

It’s pretty obvious that birds shit, having had a car that was often a target and having been a target myself.  But I got to wondering the other day, do birds pee, too? We know they drink water.  You know how you can be walking along and feel a little something wet drop on you?  Is that just a single raindrop that may somehow have gotten lost from its tribe, or is it bird pee?

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THAT OLD AMERICAN LADY IN BERLIN?

Well, folks, if my blog suddenly and inexplicably goes permanently dark, it may be because the oldamericanladyinberlin is now the oldamericanladyinagermanjail.  Here’s why.  One day I had picked my grandson up from school and was taking him home.  Having no car, this round-trip is a non-trivial pursuit.  It involves: walking several blocks; taking 3 buses and 4 S-bahn trains; and a time commitment of about 3 hours.  One leg of the trip involves carrying this enormous backpack that weighs half what the grandson weighs.  For some reason, his school doesn’t provide lockers for the younger kids (he’s in 1st grade) and they carry ALL their school stuff – books as well as all their school supplies – back and forth EVERY day!  By the time I pick him up at his school, I’ve been en route for about 1 hour.  Then I carry his humongous book bag several blocks and then board an S-bahn train.  After that, we walk about a block to a bus.  This stop happens to be the end of the line, where the bus waits until it’s time to start a new route.  It is the driver of this particular bus who may well provoke me into committing the act that will land me in a German jail. One day, we got to the bus, the bus was there, and the door was open.  Silly me!  I thought that meant I could get on the bus, which I was quite ready to do, having lugged the backpack much farther than is comfortable.  [Truth be told, just picking the sucker up is far more than my old body is ready to do!]  So, I get on the bus with the grandson and the backpack, not noticing that the driver is on a phone call.  [Come on – with at least 45% of people on the street with a phone up to their ear—and another 45% apparently just babbling to themselves but in fact using a headset—do you ever really NOTICE that someone is on the phone anymore?]  He became irate and demanded that I get off the bus—a tired old lady with a small child on one hand and a heavy backpack in the other.   Of course, we did as we were told.  But that wasn’t enough; the bus driver had to get even with me for disturbing his break.  When we got to our stop, the door opened, my grandson got off, with me close on his heels.  But the driver tried to close the door just in front of me, before I could get off!  Fortunately, my quick-thinking grandson (who’s been riding buses his entire life) put out his hand and held the door open for me so I could get off.  Do you have the most remote idea what I would have done to that bus driver if he had let my grandson off ALONE at a stop on a very busy street?  I won’t even begin to describe the thoughts that went through my head because I don’t want to give you nightmares.


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 35:  October 20, 2012

BUT WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE WEATHER!!

I see lots of interesting things as I sit in front of my living room window fiddling with my laptop.  Well, at least they’re interesting to me.  For instance, today I saw a white panel truck, with what appeared to be representations of snowflakes painted on it.  There was a single word painted on the side and the back – WINTER. (By the way, the word ‘winter’ is a true cognate – it really means the same thing in German as it does in English.)  So, now we know how winter is delivered.  All we need to do is to hijack that vehicle and lock it up somewhere so that winter won’t come!

I WANT ONE!!

I was coveting my neighbor’s bike – in particular, the paint job.  At first I thought it was a floral design – pinks, blues, greens – but then, upon closer inspection, it turns out to be a street map of Berlin!  How cool is THAT??!!

WHEN DID IT HAPPEN?

OK, so when, exactly, did my T-shirts stop being T-shirts and turn into bibs?  Well, actually, I CAN tell you exactly – October 13, 2012, about 6:30 pm Berlin time.  It was after I had weighed the options for dinner – (a) pull something together out of odds and ends in the fridge OR (b) go to our favorite neighborhood restaurant, which has recently begun featuring authentic American hamburgers (the kind your Daddy made on the grill when you were a kid), and decided on Option B.  I looked down at my T-shirt and noticed that I had a couple of spots on it.  My first thought was to change it.  Then I thought, “Well, I’m gonna eat and will probably spill something on it anyway, so why dirty two T-shirts?”  After all, one morning (after trying to cook breakfast for some guests while I was fully dressed, I ended up putting on 3 T-shirts before we got out the door.

WONDER WHAT THIS DREAM MEANS?

I dreamed I was watching a news story on TV.  Las Vegas was being overrun by hordes of Chihuahuas – all colors, some long-haired, some short-haired, and some with long hair in dreds that reached the ground (admittedly, for a Chihuahua, it wouldn’t have to be all that long to do that).  I ‘watched’ footage of the police trying to round up these Chihuahuas  and I woke myself up laughing.  It was hard to get back to sleep.

MULTI-TASKING

As I get older, I realize that every hour wasted is an increasingly larger percentage of the time I have left on this planet.  For a 14-year-old, an hour doesn’t represent very much in terms of how much time they have left, but for a 67-year-old, it’s starting to take a larger chunk out of the remaining time.  So, I try to save time when I can, and sometimes that’s only minutes or even seconds (because, of course, seconds add up to minutes, which add up to hours, which add up to days, etc.).  There have been a number of studies on multi-tasking in general, and when folks try to do multiple things simultaneously (such as read their e-mail while participating in a tele-conference), it’s not actually very effective because they function about as well on either of these tasks as someone who’s smoked a joint (without enjoying the fun aspects of that experience). This may well account for some of the peculiar and disastrous business decisions being made today.  Well, I thought my little 1-minute-saver was fairly harmless, as each of the two tasks I was simultaneously performing required very little brain power – swishing mouthwash around in my mouth and peeing.  However, it’s that unexpected sneezing fit that made me see the error of my ways.  It took me far longer to clean up the mess than it would have to simply do these tasks in a serial fashion.  Just a word to the wise….

NO WONDER!!

I confess, I’m less than diligent about working on my German.  But this news hasn’t given me any cause for hope – there are apparently 6 main dialects of German, each so unique that they warrant their own dictionary!

WHO’S REALLY IN CHARGE HERE?

They’re called ‘dumb animals.’  I ask you—what would you call a being who gets free room and board, free medical care, and gets doted on beyond all measure?  Would you call that being dumb?  Or would you call the being who works hard, pays taxes, and totally supports another being who makes no material contribution to the household dumb?  Somehow everything that we’ve paid for – and for which we’ve had some other use in mind – has been appropriated by the felines in the household.  [Note:  As always, be sure to enlarge the cartoon to get the full benefit of the artist’s work here.]

 

 


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

 

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 27:  May 27, 2012

 CHANNEL CATV-BERLIN

Our clothes washer is a front-loader, with a glass door.  Apparently, it has a dual function, which is to serve as a receiver for CATV-Berlin.  William never tires of the shows offered on CATV.  Alas, the washer is in the bathroom, a place that offers him unlimited opportunities for mischief, so I can’t let him watch CATV unsupervised.  [Needless to say, I’ve not yet developed a full appreciation of the entertainment offered on CATV, and I grow bored after watching about 5 seconds.]  For example, he rather enjoys turning the toilet paper into confetti (far more than I enjoy cleaning this up).  And then there’s the shower curtain, which taunts him mercilessly.  One time, it went so far that he had no choice but to pull it down (to include pulling the curtain hanger fixture completely out of the wall).  Details to follow….

 NOTE:  To FULLY appreciate Evie’s wonderful cartoons, please enlarge your screen so you can see the extra little tidbits she’s added!

WHAT WAS THAT NOISE?

Those of us who have pets are familiar with that sense of dread provoked by an unanticipated noise, particularly if it is loud.  Although I’ve never had an indoor dog, I still think it’s a pretty safe assumption that, in general, cats are more agile than dogs and undoubtedly far fewer things are accessible to dogs.  For instance, I’m pretty sure that the top of the china closet is not something you have to worry about protecting from your dog (assuming your dog isn’t the size of a bear and might knock the whole thing over).   You never know how much time, trouble, and money it’s gonna cost you to fix what you just heard break.  William, the Wonder Cat, has often given us ways to spend our hard-earned retirement leisure and income.  For example, repairing the wall after he pulled the shower curtain down.

  NOTE:  To FULLY appreciate Evie’s wonderful cartoons, please enlarge your screen so you can see the extra little tidbits she’s added!


BI-LINGUAL PUNS

Regardless of how much you may groan when you hear a pun, you have to admit that they’re clever.  And when you can make a bi-lingual pun, that’s a step beyond.  Well, there’s a driving school we walked by yesterday and its name is “Eins, Zwei, Drive”!  Gotta love it!

One of my favorite jokes involves a bilingual play that approaches that of a pun.  A Spanish-speaking guy goes into a store in the US to buy some socks.  He speaks no English and the clerk speaks no Spanish.  As they struggle to understand each other, the Spanish-speaking guy spies some socks, and he says, “Eso si que es!”  To which the English-speaking guy says, ‘Well!  We could have found them a lot sooner if you had just spelled it at first!”

WRONG AGAIN!!

I had tended to assume that a physical condition that required using a cane would be inconsistent with the ability to ride a bike.  WRONG!!  Today as I was going to the grocery store, I saw a lady on a bike, with a cane in her basket.  She got off the bike at the grocery store, and retrieved her cane.  Upon second though, perhaps if you needed a cane to walk, you’d be even more interested in riding a bike, where, instead of plodding along encumbered, you could take advantage of the greater ‘bang for the buck’ that your bike gets you, in terms of distance traveled for effort expended.  Duh!

OLD HABITS DIE HARD

We have been in Berlin for almost 2 years now (and visited it – often twice a year, for a month each time).  I have been going to the stores in our neighborhood for that long, several times a week.  And, yet, today I did it again!  I nearly knocked my brains out when I went up to the door and acted as though there was a motion detector that would automatically open the door for me.  They have them some places here, but I rarely encounter them.  Nonetheless, I periodically act as though, THIS time, the door is gonna open for me.  It will be interesting to see which dies first – this old habit or this old girl!

SAY AGAIN?

Try as I might, whenever I try speaking German, if the person to whom I’m speaking knows English, he will invariably reply in English.   Although such folks can translate their German into English in the literal sense, they may not know the precise English/American word or idiom for what they want to say.  [For example, one German idiom translates literally into “He has a flea running across his liver.”  That phrase has no meaning for a native English speaker, of course.  If you want to translate that idiom into something that an English speaker from Texas such as myself would understand, you’d have to say “He has a bee up his butt.”]  Yesterday, we were at a park with the grandkids and I went to the concession stand to get us a snack.  I used what (for me anyway) was my best German.  The guy at the concession stand responded in English and, in doing so, asked me what the idiom for ‘keeping food warm’ was.  The literal German was something like ‘keeping the heat in.’  In any case, I had to struggle to come up with the right answer, leading me to lament that, after 2 years here, I’d not yet learned German but was rapidly forgetting my English, which put me in a terrible bind.  Another customer joined in the conversation and asked me where I was from, to which I replied, “Washington, DC.”   His reply was, “But you speak English much better than people from Texas.”  This is richly ironic on so many levels, the first one being that a German is judging who speaks better English.  Then, of course, he unwittingly says I speak better English than someone from Texas does (although I spent my formative years there).   Having been away from Texas for more than half my life, I contend that I have no drawl at all (and, indeed, folks in Texas and Louisiana think I talk like a Yankee).  However, Yankees contend that I most certainly do have a drawl, which I can’t hear (unless I listen to a recording of my voice – such as the greeting on my voice mail – which even I have to admit has residual hint of a Southern drawl).

HELPFUL(?) TECHNOLOGY

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you surely know about texting, and about how the technology tries to “help” you out by anticipating what you’re trying to type.  In fact, there are entire blogs – and even at least one book – about the odd communications resulting from this “help.”   Presumably these helpful hints are based, in part, on what you have typed in the past.  For example, when I get as far as the 3rd letter of my friend’s name, it supplies the rest of it.  And I’m also assuming that the hints are based on the most likely words folks might be expected to type.  Maybe if you type “sch’’ the most likely word would be “school.”  I don’t know how these latter decisions are made, though, but I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s got something to do with geography.  For example, Berlin has a substantial Turkish population; some assert that there’s only one city with a higher Turkish population, and that’s Istanbul.  Which brings me to my point – today I was typing “ist” (one of the most common words in German) and my phone very helpfully filled in the rest of the letters for “Istanbul.”  If the algorithm for offering to complete words you’re texting actually does include some algorithm for geographical location, then it would have to be amazingly sophisticated if, for Germany (and not just a country, but even more localized for the city), it somehow accounted for the composition of the population beyond just German.

EXTRA VIRGIN?

Just thinking like George Carlin for a moment….  Isn’t ‘virgin’ a binary concept?  I mean, either something is virgin or it’s not.  Surely there aren’t degrees of virginity.  So how can you have ‘extra virgin’ olive oil?  Is there such a thing as ‘semi-virgin’ olive oil?  Inquiring minds want to know!

MIXED NEWS

The first good news is that the weather is gorgeous.  The bad news is that bicycle thieves are active again, because the weather is nice enough for folks to start using their bikes again AND, of course, thieves really don’t like to work in nasty weather.

The second good news is that we’re getting a rebate on our rent.  There are two parts of our rent: (1) rent for the flat itself; and (2) something similar to a condo fee, which also has two parts:  (a) heat (which can be billed to each tenant discretely because they get a reading every year for each flat; and (b) other stuff—such as water, general upkeep, trash removal, etc.—which can’t be billed discretely so the cost is spread among all the tenants, based on the number of rooms in your flat.  If those costs go up, two things happen:  (1) You have to write a one-time check for the difference; and (2) Your rent is increased by 1/12th of that amount for the coming year.  Apparently we aren’t as wasteful as our landlord had anticipated, and we’re getting a refund.  [It’s even better news for the landlord, though, because he’s earned 12 months of interest on what we’ve overpaid for heat.]  The bad news is that our electric bill will go up by 30%, roughly the same amount as our refund for our heat.  But at least we’re breaking even!

SOMETIMES I REALLY LOVE THE GERMAN LANGUAGE

Whenever we go to our son’s flat, we pass a car repair shop – kinda like a Jiffy Lube.  Among the things they fix you’ll find “Auspuff” — wanna guess what it means in German?  Yep!  You probably guessed ‘exhaust’, didn’t you?  Except you must be very careful, because, without ‘aus’ it can mean a number of things, to include whore house.  Then, of course, there’s ‘ausflippen’ – which, oddly enough, means ‘to flip out.’  It’s one of those schizophrenic verbs.  You likely know that Germans like to string a bunch of words together to make a single word.  Well, ‘ausflippen’ is, obviously, ‘flip out’ — except that when you conjugate it, sometimes the ‘aus’ pops off and can appear any number of different places in the sentence, and other times it’s glued to the ‘flippen.’  For example,  “She flipped out” could be “Sie flippt aus” OR it could be “Sie war ausgeflippt.”

OTHER TIMES, NOT SO MUCH

And it’s those times when I’m really glad that English can inflict some major pain on folks learning it as a second language – a kind of revenge against German and its genders and cases (among other tortures like those “exploding verbs” such as “mitnehmen’, which means “to take with” and, although the infinitive is “mitnehmen”, but when you conjugate it, the “mit” runs away from the “nehmen” and sits itself down elsewhere, like at the end of the sentence.  If you want to say “I take it with me”, you have to say “Ich nehme es mit” – and that’s just nuts!!).  One great example of such revenge is found in these homophones–sew, so, sow.  And there’s the added deviousness of the word “sow” – which pronounced one way means “to plant” but pronounced another way means “female pig.”

WHY AMERICAN MUSIC IS SO POPULAR HERE

One of the ways to help yourself learn a language is to listen to the radio or watch TV.  We haven’t yet mastered the TV, but I do occasionally listen to the radio.  Alas, more often than not, any popular music played will be American, which doesn’t do much to build German language skills.  Today I discovered why Germans might prefer American music – I heard something that I can only describe as ‘Ooompah Rock with a Salsa flair.’  Having spent a lot of time in Texas, I enjoy salsa music.  But somehow, the German combination of Oompah and Salsa doesn’t do much for me (kinda like the Germans’ idea of putting peanuts in what they call “Mexican” food).

SUNNY DAYS

This weekend gave us some gloriously sunny, warm days. Given the long, dark winters, whenever Germany is blessed with such days, you can bet that there will be nary a blade of grass to be seen in the parks, because there will be bodies covering every available inch.  It’s as though Germans consider themselves individual solar cells, and they’re absorbing as much sunlight as they can, both to make up for the sunlight deficit accrued during the previous winter and to try to store up some for the coming winter.  We felt inspired to go out and enjoy the day, too.  We don’t live very far from Tempelhof Airport, so we biked there.  It’s been closed for several years, but the area that was formerly taken up by runways has been turned into a park.  Folks were out biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, jogging, or just moseyin’ on along the vast expanse of the runways.  And, if this area was great for airplanes, you can imagine how perfect it is for kites!  The sky was full of them!  The terminal itself isn’t in use at all.  It’s HUGE!!  It’s 5 storeys tall and about twice the length of the main terminal at Dulles Airport.  They could put a small city in this thing!  If I ran the world, I’d reserve the underground level for parking, the ground level for shops, and the top level for apartments.  Then, in the other levels, I’d put schools and offices – maybe mixed in with some more apartments.  You’d even have room for a small hospital!  Of course, you’d need to put a huge indoor swimming pool there, too.  How fabulous would it be living there?!!

FANCIFUL NAMES

I think the preponderance of fanciful names here is another manifestation of the innate whimsey of the place.  A couple more—an ice cream shop called “Eiskimo” (where “Eis” is German for “ice cream”) and a place that buys and sells used cars is called OZ Cars (and I’ll bet you euros to donuts that the owner’s name is Oscar).

ANOTHER REASON TO LOVE VIDEOS

Because when your 6 and 4 year-old-grandkids want to go see a movie that’s not age-appropriate, you can say, “When you get a bit older, we can watch it on video.”  That’s a far more satisfying answer than “You’re too young to see that movie.”


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’