Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Music

I like how twitter sometimes gives me ideas for a blog, like today, when @mscator blipped this song:

and I stopped my constant yowling about the masses of snow to imagine myself away into gentler climes and tinsel of palm trees instead of snowy firs.

And it made me think of the many, many years I used to do this every year:

Not exactly in this exalted choir but here in Hamburg in a chamber choir of good reputation, as one alto voice among many.

Every Christmas. As soon as the requiem of that year was done we would start rehearsing the Christmas Oratorio, the same piece, every Christmas. It is a lovely piece of music, very festive, very evocative, but if you do it EVERY year...

It is a tradition for this choir to perform it every year, just like putting up the tree of going to church on Christmas Eve (even if you don't through the entire rest of the year) and all the other stuff, the Christmas cards you don't feel like writing (well, @ANeaterClare is complaining!) and the Christmas shopping (@mruku is having a hard time) or the wrapping of the presents (@Eglentyne offered that job to us all) or dealing with the snow... aren't we all.

For years now I have not participated in this particular tradition anymore, namely the singing of the Oratorio, and there is a story to it.

The last time I was there, we had a bit of a party with the singers before the performance. We were sitting in the dining hall of the church and had broken open the champagne that was really intended for AFTERWARDS and tasted a glass or two... no more than that, I swear! And when it was time to walk over to church we were all in high good spirits, joking and chatting when we should have been solemn and concentrated, and we took our places on the stair-like stage and began to sing with verve. It went really all very well.

The candles were burning brightly on the tree and the altar and in their holders along the walls, the place was well-filled with an appreciative audience, it was nice and warm in the big church, the solo singers were excellent and our conductor well pleased.

Then we came to this part:

and I got drowsy. We were allowed to sit down during the solos and instrumental parts, and so I sat, right behind the altar, my song book in my hands, and gently drifted off.

What happened? Can you begin to guess? My book fell from my fingers, banged on the wooden boards of the stage, and then further down on the tiled floor below with a resounding noise. And at a really quiet moment too.

"Snicker rippled through the rows of singers like pebbles flitting over water."

I had to sing from the heart for the rest of the concert, got many a good-humored but derisive remark afterwards and had to pay for a round of drinks.

And  decided it was time for me to change direction, music-wise.

Merry Christmas to you all, and a healthy and happy New Year.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010


There are so many people on twitter who talk about writing and about writing "their" novel that it can make you think the whole world holds only writers and nothing else. A scary thought, and an intimidating one, if you are striving yourself to find a publisher. But there is a small detail here that I missed out on for a very long time, and it had not even occurred to me that, besides the editing I talked about earlier, there is something else which is quite important to writing, and which many don't seem to achieve.

You have to finish what you started.

That easy, and yet so hard, it seems.

A friend on facebook, when I posted that my novel was finished ( and I MEAN finished; remember, the editing?), told me that her daughter was a writer too, and she had started about thirty projects but never finished anything, and now, after reading my laments, she understood how hard that must be. It is hard. In fact, finishing a novel is the hardest part of it, in my opinion. You have to decide to END your story. And you can't be afraid of that. And you have to find an ending, you have to come all the way around. It feels a bit like bending a tough bough into a hoop. The ends must meet.

One last thing.

I just posted this on twitter: "There are two ways to be a writer. Either you take yourself seriously, or you just aren't."


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Just A Brief Word

Don't really have time for this, but this incredible chore of whipping my novel into shape makes me want to say a few words about the whole writing thing. I have never done this before, and I promise I won't repeat it until I am on my book signing tour.

The making of this book is coming to an end in a a couple weeks, that much is certain. I'm done. Just a few more corrections, one more reading, and then I'll have done the best I could with it. It was not an easy process.

When I began writing I had only one scene in my head, the one where Jon and Naomi meet again after all those years and she drops the tray with the plates in the hotel lobby, and everything started out with that. I had no idea where it would lead me, and least of all that it would end with a shooting at the Academy Awards. But there you have it, your characters do what they want once you breathe life into them.

My hubby gave me my first laptop for Christmas three years ago when he could not take my lamenting about not having the right means to write a book. I remember how I clutched the stupid cheap Toshiba thing without any idea how to even open it, and with no knowledge at all about how to use it,  but the first words were written one day after New Year and the first draft was done in July last year. And how proud of myself I was then, thinking I had written a book. The end was still missing, because how do you go on after one of your main characters gets shot, right? Hard choices.

Then the hubby was run over by a car and badly hurt, I got sick with the stupid thing I'm still fighting today even though it is now under control, and with the treatments and the suffering my mind just went away and nothing happened for  a long while. It's true I opened the file every day and stared at my writing, but where imagination should have been there was only something like grey cotton and stupidity. Thank God my older son is a medical doctor, and he made me visit all those specialists and hospitals and got me back in shape, but it took a long while and a lot of whining on twitter, too.

It was July again before my brains finally cleared enough for me to come up with an ending and I could start the editing.

This was a turning point for me.

Writing a story is not writing a novel.

I'm not published yet and I don't know if I ever will, but I now know where the real work in writing lies. It's not the creating of a story in itself, it's the shaping of a book that is the hard part, the endless hours of concentrated and relentless editing, and I'm even now hiding my head in shame at how I sent out the first (unedited!!!) chapters to a publisher on the spur of the moment, so proud of myself and so sure I had written something really worthwhile. I apologize to that publisher from all my heart and ask them to please toss out that mail if they still have it, and, well.... *groan*.

Someone said to me the other day, when I was once again complaining about the dire work of editing, "A first draft is what you want to say and the edited version is what you want others to read." THIS should be engraved on every writer's forehead. Take this to heart, writers. NEVER give anyone your first draft to read if you don't want to end up in a heap of shame on the floor. Trust me. I know. Edit until your eyes and fingers and brains bleed. Kill your darlings. Kill every word, sentence, paragraph and even scene that won't propel the story forward, even if it is the hottest, steamiest love scene or the best dialogue. If it does nothing for the storyline, out it goes. You can always keep your first draft for your own enjoyment if you want.

I have this dream, and as Walt Disney one said, "If you can dream it you can do it." One day, I'll be at the Oscars myself and see the movie they made from my novel nominated there. When (WHEN) I have a publisher I'll make them send me all over the English speaking world to do readings and talks and shake hands and whatever else is necessary to make this novel a bestseller. I'll make both them and myself rich and famous. Others have done it, I can do it too.

And you know why this is? Because I owe it to myself and to all the others who helped me along on my way to ending this book.

My hubby, because he did the housework and went shopping and let me sit here in silence for so very long, for talking me through my phases of misery and self-doubt and writer's block and never gave up faith when mine wavered. And for buying me yet another new laptop when I got uncomfortable with the first one, and two more before he finally lost patience and got me the MacBook that finally made me happy and shut up about computers.

My kids; the older one, because he kicked my butt all the time and his belief in me never weakened, not for one moment. And the kid for having all the patience when lunch was not ready on time.

And my  twitter pals. Most of all Bunny and Leslie who kept telling me that my writing was GREAT AND TO PLEASE SHUT UP WITH THE WHINING ALREADY AND GO ON! And painting pictures for me of how I would go on a reading tour even if no publisher accepted my book and they would set up Tupper Party-like events at their houses and make all their friends buy my novel, even it had to be self-published. And all the others, my so-called "beta readers", the many who read the thing while it was still in the making and urged me to go on, it was lovely and they wanted it all.

Well, folks, here it is. In a few weeks it goes out to a publisher, and I hope it will be accepted. But if not, I still did it for all of you, and I hope you enjoy the read. Thank you all for being my loves and my friends. You gave me my life.

Oh, and one more word: There will be other books from me in the future. So don't despair once you reach the end. ;)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Page 99

The other day someone posted "5 fun ways to promote your book" on twitter, and one of them was to pick page 99 and post it on your blog. The argument was that this far into the novel it would show if your writing was any good or not. So here is my page 99, and now it is up to you to judge. Come one, rip out my heart! :)


“Would you like to, Baby? We could, certainly. Where would you like to go, then?”

His hand was wrapped in her hair, tugging playfully. The bathrobe had fallen open to reveal her legs and bare feet, but she did not mind. They were alone on this deck, hidden from the outside world, onlookers from a balcony set aside from daily life. The water taxi came gliding into the bay, losing height rapidly, doing a slow turn over the harbor to land.

“I don’t know.” Naomi wriggled her toes. “Truly, I can hardly wrap my mind around the wedding thing yet. I’ll believe it when it happens. It seems very unreal. You seem unreal.” He tugged a little harder. “Stop!” she protested, “I know you are here, there’s barely a moment when you let me forget it. But still….”

Her head was bent back and her lips beckoned, the robe slipping from her shoulder to reveal the top of her breasts.

“You look just like Scarlett O’Hara,” Jon said approvingly, “Right before she gets ravished by Rhett. All we’re missing here is Atlanta burning in the background.”

“That’s so like you,” she replied, breathless, “You would even burn a city to get your way.  Think of all those poor Coca Cola shareholders.”

The grip in her hair tightened, pulling her back still a little further. He leaned towards her, lips nearly touching, a dangerous sparkle in his eyes.

“The things you say just to get a little ravishing done here, you impossible chick.”

Naomi strained towards that kiss but he would not give it yet, stretching the moment, reveling in this sweetest of tortures. Waiting for her to plead a little, wanting her to need him, if only for a kiss, only for a touch….

There was a knock on the door, and Jon, without looking up from her, called, “Come in!”

She struggled nicely after that, but he did not let her go right away, disappointed that he was going to miss out on a very exciting moment indeed.

Embarrassment made her squirm and even hit his arm in a futile attempt to make him release her, but Jon grinned and held her tightly to claim the kiss he had wanted all along.

“Oh look! It’s Gone with the Wind all over again!” Sal commented drily.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Morning....

There is this friend on the Diamondville board who likes to write a "Sunday Morning Musing" to entertain herself and us. She tells us about how she has a couple of precious hours to herself then before the family wakes up and the dogs want to go out and she has to make breakfast for her brood, and how nice and silent her house is, and how much she enjoys those moments.

I don't have silent moments on a Sunday because mostly I sleep longest of all. When I creep out of bed my hubby is already doing the washing and the kid has started on one of his xbox games, but on the upside coffee is ready and the place is nice and warm. This year, winter has decided to start early, and the heating needs to go on right away. Have I said I hate winter? Maybe not here, but on twitter, daily I'm sure. Not even the prospect of Christmas helps. Well, it helps a little, but if I had something to say spring would start on the 2nd of January, and no more snow and frost after then please. Only that is when winter really starts, and it looks like this here:

The cat does not like it a lot either. There just aren't enough blankets, woolen socks or mugs of hot chocolate to tide me over. Chicken soup helps, but not every day. The worst part: It's always dark. Not literally, but it seems that way. Where we live, in deep winter you get daylight only for seven hours around Christmas, and that's just not enough. For me. I complain about it a lot. The hubby is a patient and long-suffering man, thankfully. And he agrees, which makes the whining easier. Only it does not help.

My dream is a house with a porch on the beach. Somewhere in Maryland or Virginia would be nice, closer to my friends, closer to summer. I would spend all my days on my porch. I'd have a desk there, overlooking the water, and I'd get up early in the morning, every day, and make coffee and then walk out onto my lovely porch and look out over the water, and the surf would be no more than a graceful white lacing on the pristine beach under the sunrise sky, as pale and shining as the inside of a seashell. A gentle breeze would stir my hair, scented with flowers (from the garden below the porch) and the tang of the ocean. Gulls would lazily glide on that breeze, telling each other their nighttime stories.

A painter called Lee Mothes created this picture, and it feels as if he looked directly into my mind.

My desk is right there, I always write on the porch as long as the weather is fine, and I'm a morning worker, so I settle down with my cup, stare a while longer at the lovely vista and then pick up my writing. The novel is coming along well, small wonder in this serene setting. I'm with my characters in their small town in Norway and watch them discuss their lives, watch them create the musical they will later put on stage and listen how they disentangle all the problems and overcome all the obstacles that have kept them apart for so long, and then I throw some more of all that at them, because I can. After all I'm their creator.

The nicest thing about this fantasy is that I get to write the entire day. Miraculously, there is no housework. Or maybe I have a housekeeper? All I have to do is care for a steady supply of coffee and get some lunch for myself if I feel like it. There's nothing else that I need. No music, no people, no telephone. Not until evening at least. In the evening,  The Bunny comes around.

I think we share the house. It must be so, because there are dogs around, and I would not keep a dog on my own.

With the Bunny comes the Party Time. For a while we hang out on the porch and drink a couple of Margaritas or so, and then she suggests we put on the skates... oh no not again. But the Bunny really loves skating, and good thing we have a wrap-around porch. She goes all around the house a couple of times, drink in hand, calling, "Watch out, watch out!" and then she does her dangerous triple twist... ok ok so I put on mine too, but I'm not as good and run over the dog's tail and that's not good at all....

I'm sure a couple of friends come over later. I've just managed to talk the Bunny out of going to the movies and into lighting up the barbecue instead, and you might think they would smell it all the way over to DC (from Virginia), for here comes Leslie and brings along her poppers, and Pea must have senses it too, she made the jump from Alabama. There is a faint scrabbling from under the bed and Emerenta crawls out and complains that we are again cooking her friends (she is Vegetarian), but there are plenty of veggies for her too. Being who she is she takes out the surfboard and runs down to the water, and she calls to us that it is lovely and warm, and to come down and join her, but hell, we are too old and... frumpy for bathing suits.

We watch the sun set behind us over the hills (a romantic and literary invention; I have no idea if there are hills in Virginia, close to the shore) and turn the steaks on the fire, and someone asks if there are marshmallows for later, and now the music begins too.

Oh, and since we are internet-savvy we also blip and tweet what we are listening to and doing.

And it never gets cold. We spend the entire night out there on our porch and drink and talk and laugh and we watch the Sunday sunrise, and no one needs to go inside for a jacket.

So here you have it, this is my version of the Sunday morning musings. I know where my place is.

PS: The Bunny want me to add that she was out all day at her studio crafting her lovely jewelry.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Am What I Am.... Not Really.

(Picture courtesy of Fiona Ransom)

So this is how it went.

One spring day, driving through the city with my hubby, window down and a mild breeze brushing my face, I turned on the radio to one of the Oldie stations, and this song hit me:

And I said to hubby: "I want to do that. I want to do musicals with kids."

My hubby has known me for a very long time, and  he did not argue but just said, "Ok."

So the next day I walked over to the school where he is a teacher, and into the superintendent's office, and told her, "Look, there is something I'd like to do for you. I'd like to teach a musical class at your school." And she was more than happy to have me to it. Within a week, I had a paid job. The first in my life, too, at 50 years.

Seriously, folks, that's the whole story.

No I'm kidding, of course it isn't. But that is how I got the job that I'm still doing today, four years later.

I'm not a music teacher, and besides the recorder I don't play an instrument. I'm a singer, well, yes, that I am. After fifteen years with a chamber choir and many, many hours of singing lessons under my belt I felt confident enough to teach others how to sing, and since the kids at that school never had a musical education and can't "read" music anyway I felt it did not matter that I would not be playing the piano to them. Also, there are no kids who can play an instrument other than a cell phone, so no orchestra or band for my singers.

So I said I wanted to teach musical, I got a contract and a work place, an auditorium and a very pleased super who could not wait for our first show. Only.... WHAT SHOW???

There were only girls in my group (ok, two boys, but they wanted to learn about light and sound and not be on stage), and I had NO idea what to do with them.

At this point I must digress and tell you about our school. Most of our students are between 10 and 16 years old, with the odd 18 year old tossed in who needed a few extra rounds, and nearly all of them are from socially unstable or very challenged homes, or migrants with little knowledge of the German language and even less English, or they are in other ways "special". So, no theater experience in any way, and please, Miss, what is a musical?

Oh ok, we'll do Chorus Line. That's nice and easy, and it's not gender specific, we'll just turn the boy roles into girl roles. Easy, no?


Because I'm a good person - basically  - I called GEMA (the German version of ASCAP) and said, "We want to put Chorus Line on stage," and they said, "No." And then relented a bit and informed me that I would have to ask the composer, via the record company.

And at this point, folks, I'm going to let you in on a really, really big secret: if you want something really badly, all you need to do is ask nicely and play dumb. The lawyer lady from the record company promised to do what she could. And nothing happened for eight weeks. In the meanwhile, I had thrown my hopes to the wind and written my own play, but then one day an email arrived that was the actual permit to use the music from Chorus Line. Next thing, a totally hysterical guy from above-mentioned GEMA called me. "What have you done??? How did you do it?" "Uhm, I asked?" He went on to tell me that NOT ONE SCHOOL - NO ONE in Germany had yet ever - EVER, YOU HEAR ME MADAM - had been able to get that permit. And I replied (naive, mind) "Oh well, someone had to be the first."

Not that we ever used it. By then, we had started rehearsing our own, self-written show, and put it on stage, and it was a huge success. I printed that permit out and framed it. I'm the person who may use the Chorus Line music on stage. Legally. In Germany. Me. ONLY me. Well, at least the only one without having to pay a fortune for it. I got it for nearly free, only the regular GEMA fees, which are a pittance for schools.

My super was impressed by our show. And since it was the end of her fiscal year and she had some money left over, she went shopping for us. Just before Christmas, we had our own sound and light equipment. A NICE equipment. And it is only for us.

Now, I have two classes, and from next year, probably a third. We put on three to four shows every school year. The Mayor and city council always attend our shows. We always make it into the newspapers, and the best part is, by now they don't only write about the great work at school, but about my plays, too. Last year, they said my play was "fast, funny and credible". I mean.... good, or what?

You may have guessed by now. I love my job.

And now I'll stop bragging.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where Were You on 9/11?

It is the day of the year that changed life on this planet forever.

It's September 11.

Nine years ago today, New York City was hit and hurt by evil, single-minded and cruel people who thought they were fighting a "justified war" but only killed thousands of innocent people who were on their way to work or had just  started it.

I know this has been said thousands of time before, and I think I even blogged about it before,  but it needs to be said again and again so no one will ever forget what happened that day.

On a very personal level, I remember being at home that afternoon with my baby Louis and waiting for my bigger son to come back from school.  My friend Wera called out of the blue and at first I was delighted because I thought she was going to invite herself over for a cup of coffee. At that time, I was a stay-at-home-mom and bored to tears.

But she told me to turn on my TV, and had I not heard about the airplane crashing into WTC? I hadn't. Nightmare blossomed on the TV screen. Both towers burning, people jumping from the 80th floor into certain death, police and fire fighters helping others to escape the danger zone, and the many, many dazed, terrorized, unbelieving faces staring at the crumbling towers.

Seeing that happen and understanding it were two totally different things.

We had been there, my husband and I. We had been up in the 87th floor and looked down at the city, and we had shopped in the mall that used to be in the basement. We had known people who used to work there.

The following days, we watched how men from all over the country arrived to help find survivors and begin the long, terrible chore of removing the rubble, and how people came to try and find their loved ones. How they created that wall where they pinned up the photos and put down the candles.

We watched how war was carried into the heart of America, and we Europeans understood right away how this would alter our lives. How it had to.

My family and I, we live in Hamburg. When the perpetrators were tracked back to here, I wanted to die with mortification. They had studied at OUR university, lived in OUR city, shopped at supermarkets and used subways just like we did. But they were killers. Murderers, who thought crashing planes into public buildings in a crowded American city would do anything for their justice.

I don't know what we, as world community, have to do or say to bring these terrorists to their senses. Or if there is someone alive who will get through to them and make them stop their hate and fury. I sincerely hope so. Because I want my children to grow up in a friendly and peaceful world. And in one they can travel without fearing for their lives.

Please God, make it so.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tomato Top In Hamburg

This is what happens when Canadians visit Hamburg: They  make the grumpiest waiters smile.  Can you see the one in the back? Totally overworked and out of good cheer, and you have to do is take "Pammie" to that restaurant. She had him grinning within moments, and even chatting her up.

That Tomato Top, she is fun and laughter incarnated, and what a blast we had.

She made the Mae Monkeys drunk! They collapsed on a heap on the table, right next to Pam's beer bottle.... nobody noticed, though. And she even made the sun come out after days of pouring rain, and for the couple of hours we spent on that terrace overlooking the river it was even warm enough to sit outside.

A visit to the mall with Pam? Awesome. She only wanted some make up, but she did wonders at the beauty store. The little apprentice girl who was at first too insecure to serve her she cheered on with the words, "Come on, you can do it! You're here to learn, and you can sell me make up alright!" Which she in fact could, and did, and she felt really good about it afterwards. In return, we got free samples of the perfumes we wanted, and NOT the tiny ones issued by the companies anyway but love little crystal bottles filled by hand!

After that is was ice cream time, and out came the monkey again... they shared every step of the day.

And here is the ice cream:

The following day, Pam and her hubby came to our house for dinner.

We ate, we drank, and then Pam decided to see what was under my bed... I'm kidding you not! We have a common friend on twitter, the sweet and utterly funny Emerenta, who "says" she hides under people's beds all the time, and that night, Pam was certain she was under mine, spying on us. So.... down there Pam went. There was no Emerenta, of course, but thankfully also no or very little dust... at least Pam came back out from under there in a pretty good condition again, but only after her hubby had joined her under my bed to check if maybe U2 was hiding there too..... man, Darryl, if I had singers under  my bed, it would certainly not be Bono but.... I know, you can guess. (Neil Diamond)

Speaking of which, Darryl looks like a rock star himself. What a cool guy! The blackest sense of humor ever, earring, and a really, really neat tattoo on his shoulder (SEXY!!!!). Which just goes to prove that we are a pretty cool generation! NOT old and stuffy, but, hey, crawling under beds to go after our musical heroes. (I'll have to check myself one of these days. Maybe Neil is there after all... sharing cookies with Emerenta. Can't be sharing with Bono, because HE is in Istanbul right now, no kidding).

Now Pam wants me t visit her in Canada next year. She even promised to meet me in London to join me for the flight back, which is a wonderful thing, scared as I am of flying, and maybe just the kind of enticement I might need. And how badly I want to go!!!

The most wondrous thing about this brief but really great visit:

Pam is a Mimosa. Yes, one of the girls I want to meet next summer when I travel the States. So now I know they are REALLY real. I mean, I know they are real since I chat with them every day on twitter, and there are no fakes on twitter, we all know that, right ( har har). And they keep sending me lovely (handmade!) cards and jewelry and other lovely gifts, and even quilts, and I send back stuff and it is never returned by the mail, so it must end off somewhere, but meeting one in person is still a different thing.  the other day I talked on the phone to the Pea ( who has the sweet voice of a teenager, by the way, and a very cute Southern slang).

But still. It's different if you've been under your bed with one of them. Trust me on this.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Bucket List


You do not expect a bucket that would represent MY bucket list to look like that?

No I thought so. But before I tell you what I think a bucket for a bucket list should look like let's linger for a moment on the meaning of writing a Bucket List. Now that I'm doing it, it occurs to me that this is a highly intimate thing indeed. Because either I make something outrageous and funny up to entertain you, or I'm honest, and then you all will know what I've always really wanted out of life and never got, and where my regrets lie, and that might be a trifle embarrassing.

I mean, really. Before we think of a Bucket List, we must have thought about our own impending demise. And that we have not done what we wanted to do. Today, I asked my friends on twitter and facebook what they wanted to put on their list, and most of them came up with places they wanted to see, and Bunny said, "Meet you!" (aw, we will, Bunny. I promise. How could we not?) And also: does it have to be something realistic, something we COULD do at any time if we had the money and the opportunity, or are dreams allowed too?

Ok ok, I'm going to be outrageous and entertain you.

My Bucket List bucket looks like this.

And yes, with the setting. Of course with the setting, and those who know me by now will not be surprised, either by the dress, the surroundings or the color. I've decided to cultivate being a Drama Queen.

The Bucket List

1.  An author reading of my book at the Rizzoli Bookstore on 57th St. in NYC. < Not an impossible dream, but still a dream.

2. Meeting the Bunny. And Leslie. And the Pea. Tom in Lexington, Sara in Minneapolis, Cathy in Atlanta, Keith in NYC (here the bookstore comes in!), Sue in Vancouver. And some others maybe.

3. Stand on the see-though thingie that overhangs the Grand Canyon ( yeah I know trite; but still)

4. Go whale watching off the Washington coast

5. Ride a Harley Davidson from L.A. all the way to Alaska (again, trite; I bet you find that on every third Bucket List in the world)

6. Drive a Porsche convertible through downtown New York.... all day long ( I KNOW about the traffic, ok? Been there before.)

7. See Earth from Space.

8. In fact, travel to other worlds on a space ship. Scotty, beam me up.

9. Write another novel.

10. Go to a Neil Diamond concert and be invited backstage before the show to meet the Master. And then say to him, "Scuse me, could you maybe introduce me to Alan?"

My Bucket List is done. And I think the only impossibles are No. 8 and 10.

Let's do some more living, folks.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On Being A Dame

As of today, I'm not afeared of getting old anymore, and here is why.

There are just too many old biddies out there having the time of their life, and why should I not be one of them. First of all, it seems imperative that there are PLENTY of pink and purple things to decorate myself with. Because no matter which Dame Seniore I look at, pink is always there, either in lipstick, clothing, pearls, wallpaper, champagne or Gin. There are even  pink purses available (don't I know it!!!!).

Feather boa!!! I knew there was something missing! And maybe some hair extensions too so  my hair can look as ravishing as the one and only Miss Piggy's.... but there's a dream that will not work out I'm sure. Also, who knows if her frog will ever fall in love with more than one rotund Piggy Dame.... nah.

On the other hand, if I practice the proper "wave" maybe I'll be given a pink Rolls..... well equipped with said pink Gin.

And  being a Dame Royale, they would have to keep me filled up if I wanted that, right? On the other hand, I'd have to wear pantyhose all the time for that, and always behave decorously and smile and sit up straight.... nah. BUT they would iron the newspaper for me....  This needs some careful consideration. Also, I could live in London all the time, and I love London. And I could order Thai take out every day, no matter how insulted the Royal Cooks would be. And I could order around the Horse Guards and race down Pall Mall in my pink Rolls and shoo the tourists. AND I could demand Neil Diamond for a private concert   -  at my whim. Possibilities.....

Can't tell about the pink if I were a Dame Criminale.

Seems like life has to be pretty much black and white so as to be not too conspicuous. I *think* I recall this particular Dame wearing a mauve bouquet in her cleavage at some point, but that may have been my wishful imagination.

So where does that leave us? No pantyhose, no make up, eat what you want, use as much pink in every aspect of your life, never let the gin run dry and shoo around as many tourists as you like.  And hey, get yourself a Neil Diamond ticket the next time he comes around.

That's all, pretty much. Summing it up, I think I'll be Dame Generale and just have the fun

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A New Blog, A New Life

Hm... not a great pic, but you are not supposed to look at ME but at my surroundings.

This how I look "at school", at least sometimes. A day job. Which seems a slightly derisive term but is not meant to be, in fact I really like what I do there.  It's my privilege to work with children and teach them fun stuff, theater and musical, things they learn to enjoy and use well in their natural surroundings after a while.

Next term, starting in two weeks, we are going to put the Midsummer Night's Dream on stage, but not the original Shakespeare Version. Rather, we are going to pep it up and place it in the 70s of disco music and glittering lights and bell bottom pants, and Oberon and Titania will not be fighting over a "Blue Child" but over a DJ they both want.

Oh, and Hermia, the poor dear? Her mother wants her to marry her friend's son who also owns a Hot Dog stand, and not the slightly dubious kebab seller from across the street.

These all will clash on one night right outside the disco clubs in a back street, where Zettel is trying to gear up for his show in Oberon's place. And is duly misused by the Elf Lord to upset his wife.... and so on. You know the story.

The snag is, the play is not written, and this is something I have to do myself, and fast. Time is running. And here comes Margit and PUSHES me into implanting my blog on wordpress so I can make an ebook out of it and why exactly do I want to do that? And why in the world do I feel the urge to introduce myself like this to said wordpress?

Whatever. please carry on. Don't mind me. I'll just sit here and try to figure out how this thing works. Good day.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Have This Friend.....

You know, Hollywood is nothing.
Hollywood tells us how our dreams have to look, they give us PICTURES.
But Twitter, it gives us ideas, and then we can make the movies ourselves, in our heads. For instance, I have this one friend, Lanny, and she is the nicest and friendliest person, but I have no idea how she looks like or what she is really up to.
Only from her tweets, I have made this up about her:

Image you are leaving Paris to go to New York. It's early in the morning and you have just arrived and left your taxi, still annoyed at the driver ( he could be an evil-mooded Frenchman who hates the traffic at this time of day, or an immigrant who does not know his way around that well yet and got lost a couple of times, while you rant at him because you are afraid you'll miss your plane), and you step inside Charles de Gaulle to find it fairly crowded. It's filled with that typical airport smell of air conditioner, a whiff of kerosene,  lots of coffee, some fresh bread and luggage, the sounds of people chatting in a million languages, the ubiquitous announcer that no one ever can understand, and a couple of irritated screaming kids. Beside you on the escalator is a family from somewhere in the Middle East, the man up front and the veiled woman a few steps behind with a gaggle of children around her, up ahead some American tourists discussing the sights they have just seen on their trip through Europe, and a group of very efficient business travelers, and more tourists.

Despite your disinterested cabby, you are in good time, and the line for check-in is not too long. There is time for a cup of coffee and a croissant.
At an airport of this size, there are of course a number of places to get that, so you pick one that is relatively quiet and where the girl behind the counter does not look too sleepy.  In Paris of course, you get wonderful croissants, and if you are clever, you don't order  French coffee but something more international, let's say a Latte (honestly, the Italians are a lot better at making coffee).
And while you wait for that waitress to get your breakfast, you see this girl:

She looks as fresh as the dawn despite the early hour, and hey, NO sensible traveling clothes for her.
Oh no, Lanny is much too stylish for that. And of course she has a little more luggage than that, but that is being transported (Louis Vuitton, you know) by an obliging service man.
Lanny glides past like a fairy, utterly sure of where she wants to go, she has been here millions of times. Her face shows a trace of boredom, and she radiates a sense of being gone already, as if her mind is ahead of her at her destination. She is the epitome of a traveler, not really here anymore, but not completely gone yet either.
With a brief glance at her watch she sits down in one of the rest chairs in the lounge.

And as you sip your coffee you watch her get out her notebook to send off some tweets.
Transient. That is the word that comes to mind, seeing Lanny.
She belongs to no one, and yet she is never really alone. There is always someone waiting for her.
It is quite obvious she must be either in the fashion business or at least working for a fashion magazine, there is so much natural elegance and style about her.  Who else could type on those small keys so fast with those fingernails and the softly chiming gold bracelets? And the way she manages to cross her legs, that is well rehearsed. Oh, and no one else could carry off that hat at this time of day with so much grace.
A waiter serves her a cup of tea, which she accepts with a slight nod and another quick look at her watch.
Your flight is called, and she rises ahead of you to walk to the gate.
Boarding the plane, you catch a brief glimpse of her as she is being escorted to Fist Class before you fumble past your fellow travelers into your miserable middle seat and try to get comfortable for the long trans-Atlantic flight, and no wonder she will look rested and glamorous when you reach New York.

A few days later, strolling down 5th Avenue, a Maple Walnuts ice cream cone in your paw, dressed in comfortable tourist clothes, you might run into her again.

She is where she belongs, no?
But get it right, my friend: the plane ticket to Rio is in her purse already.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Day On The Beach

This year, after many cool years, we at last have a summer that is worth its name, with long, hot, sunny days and warm, still nights. So we went to the North Sea to spend a few days.
This is my son on the day we arrived, when the weather was not quite so nice, and no, he is not trying to part the waters to walk to America, but those clouds barely gave us time to dip our toes into the water and get back to the car. The sea, by the way, is a lot warmer than it looks. It was nearly as warm as the Mediterranean and the sand clean and lovely.
Sadly, that day it rained.
The following days we returned, and we mainly did this:

which means. the Kid tried to fly his kite for about ten seconds, and then I unraveled the cord for the next thirty minutes.  Second attempt at flying, another half hour unraveling..... and so on, until dinner time. I tried to get him to ask the more "professional" kite flyers for tips, but he refused... and I had to unravel again.

Thankfully, there was respite, with lunch, in lovely restaurants like this one.  Those fries look harmless, but they were more than excellent, and fresh made!
And should you wonder about the sock monkeys, please go visit our facebook page, the "Sisterhood Of The Mae Monkeys", for clarification.  All that needs to be said here is, thank you, Pea, for the wonderful idea.
Our hotel was this pretty house, right across from the restaurant.

The nicest house in the village. It really felt good to sit in the yard across the street and watch the many people who stopped and tok snapshots of it, and to know we were staying there.
This is the garden in the back of that house, right next to the path leading to the beach:

We used to sit in this place in the evenings and chat with the owner, and he told us stories about how the village was founded, and how people settled on the tine islands called "Halligen" just off the shore, and how they carve out a living there with their sheep and cattle, and how he and his wife bought the house twenty years ago and turned an old milk shop into a small but first-class hotel. We got recommendations where to go and buy the best smoked fish and homemade bread and which beaches to visit, and he told us not to think of buying a house there until we had visited the place at least ten times for vacation during  the different seasons, not that we had plans for doing that.
The beach is endless. You have to walk about half a mile to get from your car to the water, not a good thing for me right now with my broken back. And the public toilets are these houses:

I mean the one in the background, on the stilts. The stairs were NO fun.
Don't worry thought, there are pipes. The waste does not drop from up there into the water. It is quite clean. The bathroom, I mean. Oh, and yes, the beach and the water too.
There is another building like that a little further down the beach where they - supposedly - serve the best scrambled egg with North Sea shrimps and dark bread. Don't know if it's as good as the rumor, we never tried it. The stairs, you know.

Oh, one more thing. My son, age 15, tried his first ever coffee. And decided not to like it.

Can you see our hotel in the background?

We had to come home early because I was too ill for vacationing, but the few days we spent there was fun. And we'll try again next year. Maybe by then we'll also know how to fly a kite.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Because Ginny asked....

My dear Ginny, a wonderful facebook friend from Houston, after reading a "status" I had posted, asked if we rehearsed right up to showtime, and this made me think about a performance day really goes.
It also made me think of the little peak of iceberg others see when the curtain opens for my girls, of the many hours and weekends we put into it, and how "terrible" a show day is.
I'll try to give you a glimpse of the rest of the mountain.

This is what my troupe looked like 30 minutes before the show( photo courtesy of Fiona Ransom).
They are groomed, dressed, relaxed (more or less), well rehearsed and excited to take to the stage.


8am: School begins. For all of the kids, this is a normal school day. Which means they really don't want to be there at all, and MAN math is boring today, and can't we start rehearsals early? Do we REALLY have to go to class? Well yes, for a while, you need to. Sorry folks.
Generally, I'm in the teachers' room, getting the final copy of the CD and lyrics sheets ready ( you can BET someone forgot theirs). Which does not mean they will need them at night at all, but those papers are like a security belt during the day.

10.25am: the "big" break. A cluster of students outside the teachers' room, wanting to know if there's anything they need to know, do, change.... go outside, eat something, chill. Please.

12.00 noon: my technicians ( two 9th graders and two 5th graders) and I go over to the auditorium to start the set up. The school bought a really nice sound and light equipment for us, as far as schools go, a couple of years ago, and spent about 10k$ for it. And it is EXCLUSIVELY ours. No one else in the school is allowed to use it. And we have really, really good microphones ( the same brand Neil Diamond used on his tour in 2008.... made me feel very important!). The boys will do a sound check, of course, and I time how long it will take for our headmistress to show up and complain about the noise.... after all, the rest of the school is still having lessons. No matter. We like to announce that it is show day.

1pm: the girls start to arrive. Some of them have their lunch in hand and have to stay outside (NO eating in the auditorium!!!), the others use the stage as couch. The usual picture would be: four or five teenagers lying around on their tummies, cell phones or iPods in hand, sharing and talking about music.

1.15pm: the first pantyhose emergency.

2pm: rehearsals start in earnest. First nervous breakdown because someone forgot her lyrics and needs a sheet < why I was in school early and made new copies.

2.10pm: trouble with the microphone cables. Ildal throws a tantrum. Only a mild one, and it is over as soon as I hand over my own, privately-owned Sennheiser mike. For now.

3pm: We did the setlist once, and there are no major flaws. The girls are getting nervous because they want to dress up. I tell them they have another four hours, and to relax. We call a break. Despite dire threats to life and general well-being two or three disappear to the church yard across the street for a cigarette. My hubby brings me something to eat and fresh coffee.
By now, my son Mario has joined us and gets sound and light properly rigged with the boys. Suddenly, the music sounds a lot better and the disco lights are working..... the auditorium is darkened, stage magic appears. The atmosphere changes, and the kids' mood with it.
This is a moment I love every time we perform, and it is very tangible.
Only a moment before, we were at school and rehearsing, now we are in a venue, and getting ready to perform.

4pm: our dressers show up. The performers retire to the dressing rooms below the stage to get ready.

4.10: second pantyhose emergency

4.30: lipstick and mascara emergency

4.33: another speech about how NOT to use perfume before you go on stage. Geez.

4.45: Ildal takes her second tantrum, this time worse and LOUDER!!!! than the one before. Her voice sounds especially dramatical in the basement hallway.

5pm: At least half of the teachers notice now that they did not buy tickets for the show and want some.
Which is distracting but nice, because it means they will come.

5.12: third pantyhose emergency, and first dress emergency. Frantic calls to older mothers and sisters, who show up minutes later with alternate clothing.

5.25: Ildal ( who is 18) and a couple of others who aren't need another cigarette.

5.30: fourth pantyhose emergency, because Ildal sat  down on a bench in the church yard and tore hers.

5.58: first bra emergency

6.00: box office opens. A couple of older brothers sell tickets and do security duty. Some 5th graders try to wheedle their way in without paying, which is sternly denied.

6.10: a brief warm up in the basement hallway. Chasing out some curious 10th grade boys at the same time.

6.22: second bra emergency. The safety pins and tape come out of my big bag.

6.25: Ildal throws her third tantrum, this time with tears and vows to quit RIGHT NOW. She is sent off for another cigarette with the admonition to return ASAP because her make up has to be redone.

6.30: the gates open. I'm not yet changed, sweaty and exhausted and near panic. And - uh oh - the mayor of our city walks up to me and shakes my sticky paw. That's just what I wanted. Well, he is also my boss, so he might as well see that I do indeed work for my money.

6.50: the auditorium is  filled to the last seat. The lighting and sound are working. Technic team are on their places. Curtain is closed. Both headmistresses have shown up, nearly all teachers are there. Reporters from local newspaper and from the big paper in Hamburg are present. Mayor and other politicians are here.

6.58: one last visit to the dressing room: the girls are serenity incarnate. We form a huddle. We hug. I cry a bit.

7pm: back in the auditorium and in my seat next to the nice headmistress. Soaked through, ready to drop, sore from shouting at Ildal.

The music begins, the spot light lights up, and the curtain opens: and yes, every minute was worth the effort.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

English: the living language

I'm going to be mean today.
it's graduation exam time, and the 9th graders who are about to leave school are studying for their oral English exams next week. They come to me for coaching,  hoping I'll be able to teach them everything they did not learn during their past four years in two days. But "That's not how it works," of course,  said with the wonderful words of my novel's female main character.
The first part of their test is an introduction of themselves and their families.
So I tell them to write it down in German first, and then to translate it, and then we do the corrections together.
Today, I was served this by a girl. She is 17,  her origins are Turkish, and she is one of the GOOD students. just to give you an idea. And a laugh. Go ahead. Don't think of the girl, think of the garbled language and enjoy. I'm going to copy it out for you. Verbatim.

About my family is that. I going with my parents often in the same shopping center.
On the weekend when the sun shines we go whole family to the same (the river is in Wedel).*
We grill there the whole family and play there a lot of things like volleyball.
Another thing is that we fly in the summer holidays in Turkey after Antalya. We stay there in the hotel stay for weeks and then 2-3. We then visit my uncle in Antalya and the other known in Antalya.
After we drive to Gaziantep the drive to G. takes about 14-15 hours.
When we arrived in G.for my uncle before bus station.  Our village is located about 60 km from the city. 
There waiting for us we are in our village verwandten. We then where all our well-known. Our whole town then come to us to say hello and we kiss and then left to right, Then come my friends and cousin to suit me hello.
In our village are only drive a bus stop where the buses at 6.00 in the morning and come to 2 clock will be so again. As the court is legally there great celebration. From our village  is a small brock which flows out to Eufirat. In this little brock there are 40 small also the pose from among the raussfliesst.
When we go the whole family for picnics.
We go there with the tractors but most of the few routes  to go on foot because the stretch is quite dangerous  because the ride is uncomfortable.
We stay 4-6 days in the village then we drive into town to buy something for the road home. Example, when accounting, baclava, pistachio and wider clothes.
So our adventure ends holiday in Turkey.

*The river here in Wedel is called "Elbe", not "same".

And no, I'm kidding you not.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


A moment ago I read one of the funniest updates on writing that was ever posted on twitter:
"Oh no! I've written myself astray! I'd better stop or the story will take me away!"
And this made me remember a chat with another writer a few days ago, who asked me if I was an "outliner" or a "pantster".

I'm a pantster, if you care to know.
When I started out writing this novel, I had no idea where it would take me.
There was just one scene firmly fixed in my mind that I wanted to write about (and I'm not telling you which one), and the rest, well it just had to fall into place somehow.
And it did.
For the longest time, I did not know which ending the story would take, if my heroes would be allowed a happy end or not, and now they are getting one, but blemished.
They walked through their fates at their own will, taking me along to record it, but I did not shape it for them.
Just now, for instance, editing, I came across a scene where my two main characters discuss how they felt about each other during their long parting, and it ends with the woman leaving the room wordlessly.
When I wrote that scene, I had no idea where she was going or what she would be doing, only that her lover is left behind in fear and bewilderment. He spends the next couple of hours talking to his friend and producer until she finally shows up again, and it was only in that very instant when Naomi opens the door and walks in that I knew what she had been up to.
It turns out she did not run away from him and their discussion at all but did something that would solidify their future relationship.
But the point is, I was just as much in suspense while she was away as Jon was.

Which is why I am a "pantster", someone who writes "by the seat of their pants".
This means I go with the flow, let my people develop their characters while the storyline evolves, and let the storyline evolve around the characters.
The downside of this is that the editing takes long, because, as with normal persons, my protagonists change over time.
It probably also makes the book thicker than a novel that has been rigorously outlines and plotted and then written down, because you tend to be side-tracked.
Not side-tracked in a meandering way, but maybe looking at the surroundings inside the scenes more closely. After all, there is time to explore if you have to wait for your characters to make up their minds.

I'm not going to change my writing method. In fact, I love to be inside my stories.
It makes my readers tell me, "it feels as if I'm really there!" and that is all I want to hear.

And now I'm going back to the real writing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Neil Diamond and Tequila

What do you see here? Oh yes ... it's just another hp laptop. But there is a story here.

A couple of years ago my aging father decided that he wanted to buy a computer and learn how to use it. He was 85 at that point, but hale and hearty, and there was no good reason why he should not, like so many senior citizens, make good use of the many possibilities of the internet. My sister and I encouraged him, my mother deplored it. She is a gardener and not too fond of technical stuff, to put it mildly.
We don't live close together, as you know from earlier posts, my parents, my sister and I.
So when my father called me one early Saturday evening to announce proudly that he had bought a laptop, I had no idea what was in store for me.
He: "I bought a laptop!"
Me:"That's great, Papa! So is it running?"
He: "No, there is a problem. It does not open."
Me: "What do mean, it does not open?"
He: "What I said, it does not open. There are two buttons, and they can't be pushed."
Me: "Uhu.... there should be only one, and it should move to the side or something...."
Growing impatience on the other side. Until we found out that he was trying to push the hinges and not the opening mechanism. Then it opened. The laptop.
"Ok, Papa. now turn it on."
"Turn it on? Where?" Confusion.
"There is a button, Papa. Upper left corner."
"You mean the one that says "esc"?"
"No, Papa, that is the escape button. Above that. ABOVE the keyboard."
"Right. What's the keyboard? Oh, ok, I found it. Wait a moment!"
While we were waiting for the thing to boot, my father said (ALL on the phone, mind you!!!): "Listen, I'll tell you what I want with the computer. I don't want to do a lot, only email, use the internet, talk to you and your sister vie webcam, and a homepage."
Yes, Papa, and I want a Porsche.  Did not say that out loud, though. I said, "One thing after the other, Papa."
Answer: "Don't use that tone with me!" (I'm nearly 54, btw)
Next, he tells me, "It says, "willkommen"! And to accept the license."
Me: "Ok, then do it."
He: "Ok." Pause. "How?"
Me: "Uhm, there should be a little square that you can click."
He: "I can what?"
Me: "Click. You need to put the cursor there and click."
He: "Ok." Another pause. My blood pressure rising. "What's a cursor?"
Longish explanation of how to click. Then: "But there is no square."
This time, I did not say, "You need to scroll." but started the explanation right away.
He: "I found the square."
Me: "Ok, then now you need to click on it. Put the cursor in the little square and then click on the left...."
Interruption: "Listen, I don't want all this, all I want is to use the internet and set up a homepage!"
Here was when the

comes in, and high time too.

"Yes, Papa, but first we have to set up the computer itself, you know."
"Uhu. Ok. It asks for a language here now. I'll take Arabic."
Sulk. "Then I'll take German."
Deep breath, and it was time for another shot of

With a couple of drinks under my belt, I was getting into the swing of the thing.
"Take English, Papa. You know English best, and we will get along with that, too. Set the computer to English."
Obstinacy. "No, then I'll choose German. That way, I can learn German at the same time."
"Papa, this is NOT the right place to learn more German. Please. You need to understand what the machine is telling you."
"No, I want German. It is now set to German."
"So how do I get a homepage now?"
Erm. "Not today,  Papa. I'll come down and visit you next month, and then we can start something for you. You have to get the wifi working first."
"The WHAT?"

A few days later my sister went to visit my parents and installed the wifi, set up and internet connection and an email account with their provider, telecom. Wrote everything down for my father, explained again, and left for home.
A few hours later, he called me.
"The email is not working."
"But since we are on the subject, how many emails can I send? And how many accounts can I have? And does an email to the US cost more than one to Saudi Arabia?"
Time for some

Longer explanation.
"Ok, and what about the homepage? Tell me what to do! I want it now!"
Sweat prickling on the back of my neck.
"Papa, listen, I can't do that on the phone. I need to be on your computer."
Grumbling acceptance, then: "Ok but I want a google mail account."

And here began my nervous breakdown.
"Ok, you have a google icon. Click on it."
This was not a problem anymore, and we made it to the sign-in page for googlemail.
"You need to fill out that form, Papa."
This worked, until we came to "password".
"You need to choose a password to secure your account. Any word that has a meaning to you and you can remember."
Here, my mother comes in.
A heated discussion among them erupted about the password, and which one to pick. In the meanwhile, I opened iTunes on MY computer and clicked on this

to soothe my fraying nerves.
"What are you listening to? What' that in the background?"
"Neil Diamond, Papa."
"Do you remember, I used to have his poster in my room when I was 15."
"Oh. Yes. I have a password now."
"Good! then fill in the form."
Which he did.
"It says, "repeat the password!"
"Well, then do it, Papa."
"But I forgot it."
"Did you not write it down?"
"What? No."

And it was time for some

I'm stopping now.
There were a lot more sessions and occasions for

but my father never had enough patience to sit down with his laptop and learn about it. In the end, he gave it to my son. My mother was pleased, he was disappointed, and I was finally sober again.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Granted, I'm not this young or this furry or this cute, but in fact I look a lot like this right now, which is why there is a blogging silence.
As some of you know, I've been ill for a long time now with an auto-immune disease that pretty much took me out of the picture, but I've been getting better gradually.
So last Monday I decided to walk to school again, and promptly fell down, and broke my arm.... which puts me back on the couch, only this time the typing is extra-hard,too.
But I'm still here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

At Home

My sister went to visit our parents on Easter.
I could not go because I am too sick to travel, but I asked her to take a walk with our mother along one very specific trail in the forest and send me lots of pics.
The first image she mailed me was this one, though, and it is such a perfect mirror of our childhood that it made me shudder a little.
What you see here is the apartment building where we moved after we had to leave the dreamy little house in the woods. And yes, you are right, what a culture shock. We came here when I was twelve or so, and my sister a pre-schooler, and moved into a two bedroom place on the 10th floor.
The view was spectacular.

In the far distance, the towers of Frankfurt can be seen. They are amazing and glamorous; it's not called "Mainhattan" for nothing. And still further away, in the distant blue haze, as it were, you can see the Taunus mountains. "Where The Rich People Are".
Everything in between is called "Offenbach". The Jersey of Frankfurt. Which is "at home" for my sister and me. We both attended this high school, the sis with great success, while I was kicked out in grade 11 and had to go somewhere else to get my graduation.

Of that, I've talked already. And yes, this is really a school building. Not kidding you. the arcades in the front? Washrooms. Seriously.

Did you read my blog about our time in Brazil? Here is a memory piece. I had not noticed it in a long while, but now that the sis photographed it, it brought back some memories.  It has been hanging in my parent's hallway for nearly forty years.

So after lunch, my mother and my sister went for a hike on that forest trail.
You may not be able to imagine it, but it begins right behind that monstrous apartment building.
As ugly as that concrete nightmare may be, once you step outside and turn left, you'll find yourself on a slope of grass that leads down to the little river. If you follow it upwards you will have to cross a street and a parking lot, and when you turn around, you'll see this:

I know. Ugly.
But look at it this way: Creativity needs pressure.
This was one of my favorite parts in "Brave New World", where the hero, a writer,  gets to choose where he will go into exile, and he says he wants a rough place, because a soft setting would not motivate him to write. Just maybe, between those beehives in the background and the concert venue in the front, my personal need for a fantasy world, in other words, making up stories.
At that time, a Canadian TV show was running on one of our channels that I loved very much.
It was about a hotel on Lake Huron, somewhere near Sudbury, and I wanted to be there, very badly.
Reminds your of something? Yes, I've come full circle.
Back to that forest walk.
We used to come here often.  From a very uninspiring dirt area, you enter a fairy realm. the amazing part is, it has not changed one bit since I was a child.

It looks a lot prettier in summer, when the trees are green and the ground is covered with those tiny white flowers of which I don't know the name and the path is dry and not a mud-slide.
The forest, once you have left the streets behind,  looks like this.

A typical, German forest in early spring, and my Mom in a red jacket.
To this spot my grandfather used to take us when we were kids. Here, the creek widens and is very shallow. You can't see it right now because of the leaves, but there is actually a kind of sand beach here. We came here for picnics and lazy, hot afternoons.

A walk of twenty minutes from that high rise, and we found ourselves in another world.

I find it oddly reassuring that this little part of the world has not changed at all. It is as if a part of my childhood, and a good one at that, has survived, carved into the stone of time to remind me of my grandparents and how life with them used to be.
A lot of things in Offenbach and Frankfurt have changed, many places have vanished.
The huge white mansion that was my birth clinic, a condo building now. Or maybe even torn down, I don't know. The center of town, taken over by dime stores and Turkish bazars, no longer a small German city center at all. Frankfurt, an international, cosmopolitan metropolis with all the famous designer stores and glitzy restaurants.
But this little corner of forest, curiously unmolested.
Not cut down for cultivation, not altered, nothing. It is just the way it used to be fifty years ago.
In my eyes, a small miracle.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Most Senseless Post Of All-Farmville

(This is NOT my farm. Mine is WAY prettier!!!!)

Julie's sweet little daughter Lucy likes to play "Farmville" on her Mom's facebook account.
Some of my fb friends play it, too, have done it for the longest time, to the merriment and ridicule of the "Scrabblers" and "Social City" or whatever gamers, and I have refused the temptation of any of those games for the longest time. At one point I even posted that no, I would not be drawn into the time-consuming insanity of these online thingies, and PLEASE people, grow up.
(Strangely, no one ever says anything negative about online Scrabble. Now why is that?)

A few days ago, when I was feeling really miserable with my sickness, depressed and hurting, I succumbed. And found out how pretty this can be.... all those nice trees and cute animals, and I'm really liking the rice paddies (if you decide to grow rice, that is) when you can still see the water.... so serene, especially if you surround them with cherry trees.
I'm a sucker for the trees. Honestly, farmville got me with the trees. The white Dogwood Tree? SO pretty. And the Bunyan Tree, I spent so many virtual coins for it, and then it is so huge that I'm having trouble placing it. But oh how I love the cherry and plum trees! It might be cherry blossom time in DC right now, but hey, the Basin is NOTHING compared to the blooming cherries on my farm!

Now here's the quirky part: after I had collected some animals, I started making up stories about them.
Right now, my two mares are really angry at me because I had to send on the "Wandering Stallion" who had got lost on my farm. Could not keep him, the Farmville Gods had not planned for that. So they went to the other end of the farm where they are now sulking. On the way there, they did their business into the duck pond, which set off the ducks and made them drive off the Ugly Duckling, who has a hard time finding his place in our community anyway.
The Sunny Ewe feels she is having a permanent bad hair day, what with those Easter eggs dangling over her ears, even though I tried to reassure her that it was the latest fashion (what WERE the creators thinking???).
Little White Bunny is sad because its sibling got lost in the transfer from Rula's farm. She is afraid it ended up in a strange place and might get eaten by a topiary.
Speaking of which.... the Green Calf complained this morning that the other, normal little calves would not play with him. He looked like a plant, they said. A friend of mine has the same problem with her Green Lamb, which has now bonded with a topiary sheep, and we are wondering when an animal therapist will be available in the shop.
Who could also look after the Pink Cow and the other critters that are slightly off center. That cow, btw., is a lot better since she adopted the orphan calves that had wandered into my farm, but she too wants nothing to do with the green one. Speak of snottiness.
Oh, which brings me to my pigs.
They are ganging up around the hay bales. I don't know why, but they have their snouts VERY close together, and they have been whispering all day long. Makes me think of "Animal Farm", and now I'm really scaring myself.
The goats are suspiciously quiet today, which is never a good sign. I need to keep an eye on them. They do this all the time: look innocent and breed mischief.
Which leaves me with my big wish: if only someone would send me a Percheron! I love Percherons, but I can't afford to buy one.... not for a long while yet.
So please, no more tomatoes, send me a horse. And make it a stallion so the mares will come out of their rooms again and talk to me!
Thank you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Peddling, And What They Get.

Nettie brought this on, I have to admit.
She posted a hilarious and wonderful blog on how she deals with sales-calls on the phone, and I must say, this is where it comes in handy to have a prolific fantasy.
It has stopped now, but for the longest time we used to get visits from people of the "Jehova's Witnesses" church, and from Mormon youngsters who were doing their duty overseas.
I don't like soliciting of any kind, but religious soliciting is beyond my tolerance.
You don't have a lot of time to come up with something original once the door bell rings and someone holds up a pamphlet up under your nose and intones, "The Lord be praised!"
Yes. Ma'am. I praise the Lord. But I don't need your help to do it.
There is a standard way. I don't look too German, and when I'm alone at home, I'm a t-shirt and sweat pants slobber.
So here is the easy version: clutch the hem of your shirt, knit it anxiously, and say (loudly; Turkish women have generally loud voices. At least here.) "HUSBAND NOT AT HOME! NO SPEAK GERMANY!! ALLAH IS GREAT!"
That sends them away. Every time.
The second approach is "The Stout Believer".
"I have my own faith, and you will not deter me. Amen. Go away." THAT will make them hesitate, but delivered in a stout manner, make them move on.

Now if I have a moment to prepare myself and I'm in the right mood, they get the "Alien" treatment.
It is a little time consuming, but worth the effort, and it goes like this.

Ring. Ring.
I open the door. Two young men, both in badly fitting black suits,  white shirts and ugly ties, their hair plastered to their foreheads, their chins shaved to an inch of their lives, and shining zeal in their eyes, a book in their hands, come up the stairs.
Not evil people. Just young Americans who do their duty for their religion and their congregation, but sadly come to my evil lair.
They are so polite and nice, and they try to tell me that there is only ONE way to find God and consequently salvation, and that is the bad part, because THAT I do not believe,
Never have, never will. Sorry.
I wring my hands and take a deep, painful sigh.
"It's so good that you are here!"
This confuses them. They are not used to pleas for help.
"I've been tortured by this question," I say, "And no one can give me an answer."
Expectant glances, a hopeful expression, and for a moment I feel like a pig.
"Do you think," delivered in a measured, breathless voice, "That Jesus also cares for the other planets?"
Bewilderment, and for a few instants,  silence.
So I go on: "Jesus. Is he only responsible for Earth? Or does God want him to look after all the other planets, too? Or is there a Son of God for every inhabited planet? Because, you know, that would keep God pretty busy, would it not, in the son-making department? I mean, just think of that "Alien" movie? Does Jesus look like an Alien there? One of those monsters with the ugly metal teeth and the acid  breath?"
And some more in that vein, Use your imagination, you can play it out endlessly.

They find excuses pretty fast. Every time. And they leave. I never get an answer to this one, sadly.
So this is my "how to deal with peddlers" story.
None of it is true, of course.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bonfire Night

This is our beach. Seriously. It is within spitting distance from our house. It's not on a lake or the sea, but on a big river called the Elbe, just downriver from Hamburg.
Without the fire and with a ship on it, it looks like this.

Our little town lies nestled into a wide, open country called "Marsch", flat lands that go on and on all the way to the North Sea, soft, rich meadows veined with little rivers and interrupted by copses of gnarled willow over which the wind blows without hinderances. if you find a place that is only a little higher up, like a dam, you can see forever.....

We moved here twenty-two years ago, from Southern Germany. The landscape there is so different.
There are forests and hills and mountains and rich fields with golden corn, and well, there are forests. Deep, dark, huge forests.
Here, there were none. Only these meagre stunted trees and the endless green.
And if ever a tsunami should hit this coast, it will roll all the way to our doorstep.
It was not easy getting used to this landscape, and to its people.
The landscape is rough, and the people are taciturn, gruff, with a very special kind of humor. They don't make friends easily, and they are not easy-going, either. On the upside, once you get to know them and they accept you, they'll stick with you for life. They won't talk a lot, but they sure know how to party.

Today is Easter Saturday. The one day in the year when the Marsh lights up with the fires.
In the morning, there will be no more than this: a big heap of wood, consisting of assiduously collected Christmas Trees and and garden cuttings. brought together by the local firefighters. Stands will be set up, and porta-potties, and a First Aid tent.

There were church services in the late afternoon, and now, after darkness has fallen, the fires are going up.
A ship  on its way upstream to the Hamburg Harbor will see our bonfire, and many others like it along its way, since the land is so flat.
These fires are a promise, and a welcome signal.
They promise us that winter is finally over, and they welcome the coming warmth and light of summer.
On a more mundane note, this are also the first official barbeque event of the year. The sausages are a little better smoked than normally, but they are delicious.
Right now, I'm sitting on the couch, in our living room, with the terrace door open to catch the scent of the fires, even if we can't see them.
The night is dry and not too cold. There will be a lot of people down by the beach, and many of them will be there to see the dawn.
Some of them will end up in the ER because they are drunk, or burned a hand, or fell into the water.
But in the end, once the sun is up, it will be Easter Sunday, and spring will be here.