Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Few Lessons Learned at 30

In honor of turning the big 3-0, I've decided to make a few suggestions to my readers. This isn't advice, of course, because nobody likes advice, but it's a few lessons that have started to hit home for me. So here goes...

Never give advice about relationships.
Solicited or unsolicited, it will not matter. Case in point: my college roommate was in a relationship that made her unhappy, I suggested to her she should break up with the guy. All this did was create tension in our friendship, she was totally offended at my suggestion. Years later, very happily married to another guy, she pointed out that my advice to her back then had been absolutely on the mark. But she just couldn't handle hearing it at that time. It's always this way; friends of both genders still come to me for advice about their relationships, but they don't really want to hear anything wise or actually change their behaviors based on the advice I dispense. See, here's the truth about giving advice: NOBODY WANTS IT. They want affirmation, to be told that what they have done is right or at least, forgivable and forgettable. Confront anyone with the cold hard truth about their interpersonal actions and they will instantly shut down (myself included!).

Never play matchmaker.
This may work for some people, but it has NEVER worked for me. When I set people up, be they on opposite sides of the globe, or in the same town, they find they have nothing in common. I don't know what this says about my interpersonal intuition. I tend to be like Jane Austen's Emma, I set up totally wrong combinations, or I discover the guy has more interest in me than he does in the girl I send him on a date with (in spite of the fact that I'm not even available). The guys I set up inevitably end up engaged to the perfect girl a year later, someone they met in their daily life with no one's help. The girls I set up inevitably discover that being single is actually the most blessed state.

Never be ashamed of intelligence.
As Muriel Spark put it: "Never apologize. Never explain." Own your inner nerd. If you are smart, flaunt it. If small talk and celebrity gossip bore you, get up and walk away. Find people you can talk to about something intelligent. Because the truth is, intelligent people go further in life, are happier in the long run, and have more fulfilling experiences. Girls who feel the need to tamp down their intelligence in order to not intimidate males are only cheating themselves and setting up to marry a stupid guy who will never make them happy.

Never take the easy road.
The most difficult things I've done have given me the most joy: having babies, moving constantly (further and further from "home"), and changing my career path. The times I've wussed out are hugely regretful to me now. For instance, dropping out of graduate school because I was giving birth to my first child and my husband was deploying. I just didn't know that I really could go to school and raise a baby alone at the same time; but single moms are doing it all over the world. I regret every day not finishing that degree. Don't give up on your dreams just because the road to fulfilling them seems insurmountable.

Never underestimate the Universe.
A wise friend once told me that you can't escape the lessons you are destined to learn. He explained that whether or not you believe in God or organized religion, there seems to be some inescapable power at work, forcing us to learn and grow. He said that if you refuse to learn the lesson you are supposed to learn in your current difficulty, that exact lesson will come back to you later on, repackaged in a different situation with different people, and you will once again be forced to make choices, hopefully with different results. I nearly dismissed his theory as eastern hoodoo, since he had studied in India under some guru. However, life continually teaches me that I am its bitch, and the universe is in fact a boomerang. That feeling of "Oh no, not again!" is a legit one; you will be forced to grow up and respect others, or life will just be an endless purgatory of relational chaos.

Suck the F***ing Marrow Out of Life
This one's essential. Always give way to your lust for adventure, so long as it will not harm anyone else. There really is a whole different world on the other side of the ocean, and the only people who will have regrets are the ones who never stepped on the boat. This I know for certain.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My German Life: May

I always remember the weather in May. It's my birth month, so I have lots of memories of warm weather parties that revolved around picnics, swimming pools or my grandparents' pond. I've been looking forward to May, it represents a milestone in my life. I turn 30 this month which I have been dreading for the last two years, I think, but I decided to make it better by having a great party as a consolation. The other reason I've been looking forward to May is a change in weather. I thought surely it would warm up and feel somewhat summery. Wrong.

On April 30, the Germans in our state of Baden-Würtemburg celebrate Walpurgisnächt, which is a farewell to the evil winter spirits and a way of welcoming in the summer days. May Day has become a socialist rallying holiday, and we found this is still the tradition, when we wandered into a rally downtown, replete with heavily pierced fringe groups and an odd banner showing people chasing Nazis out with bloody knives. Don't ask. I don't know. Back to Walpurgisnächt...we decided to do the traditional drunken hike up the Philosopher's walk to the top of the hill at Neuenheim. This is a crazy event that is actually detailed on wikipedia: Check out the link to see a photo of the actual Heidelberg event. Basically, after passing around a wine bottle while making the long vertical hike up to an ex-Nazi amphitheatre, we sat around with tons of people camped around fires, watching fire jugglers and fireworks. Being the orderly people that they are, the Germans had a fleet of polizei and krankenwagens (ambulances) poised right below the amphitheatre, in case anyone caught fire, I suppose. The feeling in the stone theatre that night was a bit eerie, it's a strange place even by daylight, standing in a large semi-circle of stone bleachers imagining them filled with Nazis screaming "Heil, Hitler!" is a bit disturbing to my over-active imagination. Being there on this night, the mood was obviously more chill and I felt like the Germans are doing a good job chasing away the evils of the past. Walpurgisnächt is a leftover festival from early druidic and pagan celebrations, and the feeling is certainly mystical as you hike up the Neuenheim hill in the light of a full moon to find people gathered around a bonfire.

Another fun local event we attended this month was Spargelfest in Schwetzingen, a town south of Heidelberg. Spargel is the Deutsch word for asparagus, but in this case it specifically refers to the plump white variety so highly prized in this region. I first saw these veggies in the paintings of the Dutch artist, Adrien Coorte, years ago. I remember feeling deeply revolted by the thick pale stalks in his still lifes. Go ahead, let the phallophobia jokes ensue...I probably was phobic back then. It's all good, I'm over it now, I enjoy my spargelsuppe with gusto now. The Spargelfest is filled with tents selling spargel recipes and typical Deutsch cuisine, plus wine-tastings and loads of Welde bier, from their local brewing company. Spargelfest even has a Spargel Queen, since they claim to be the asparagus capital of the world. I must add that Schwetzingen's schlossgarten is the most beautiful I've ever been to, and could possibly rival famous gardens like Schönbrun in Vienna and maybe even Versailles. After a gorgeous afternoon wandering these idyllic gardens we headed back to Heidelberg, stopping on our way out at a farm selling spargel. We bought our own bunch and carried it home to enjoy with grilled salmon and local Riesling. Bliss.

After too many cold and rainy days to count, summer seems to have finally found us in Heidelberg. This weekend was sunny and temperate, we are on our third straight day of sunshine today, and that's enough to cause widespread euphoria here. We've enjoyed biergartens and cafes this weekend, reveling in the outdoor life of both countryside and city, something Europe does well. I think the art of sitting at a cafe for hours and doing nothing is the epitome of what it means to be European, and it makes me never want to go back to America!

At Night

At night, I make things right.
I sneak away while I'm not looking
And travel a faraway landscape
Like a ghost I fly over the ocean.

I'm a time traveler, and I go back
To 1987, '96, 2000 and nine.
I take back the terrible things I've said
The hateful missive, the hidden knife.

At night, you can make things right.
There, you don't miss your appointment
Don't break anyone's heart, there
You can take back all the disappointment.

I'm not waiting for any miracles,
In my sleep I'm weaving them.
Keeping the howls of reality at bay,
I sing softer songs, melodies that make sense

At night, I take all the accumulated wisdom,
Bestow it on the ones I've loved.
The thing not said, I say it there.
The good deed not done, I do it there.

I am a Healer-Sorceress-Mystic
I subvert all realities, gather them in my hands
Reform them, blow hard, spit them back into atmosphere.
It's no longer so sticky, so thick, out there.


When you stumble upon beauty
And make it your own
They will try to minimize it or
supersize it; they won't let it be.

When you own your Self
Get honest without affectation
Share affection without borders
They will criticize it; let it be.

When you love yourself
But your Self doesn't love you back
That contra diction becomes too great
And there isn't coke enough in the world for resolution.

When you are larger than Life,
It stops trying to contain you
You stop trying to explain you
And you must slip quietly away.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Christophine in 2010

Blame it on the devil. Easier that way.
Blame it on bad choices and she the apostasy.
Send her to therapy, blame it on abuse.
Send her to doctor, blame it on genetics,
But what the use? Nobody got it easy
And nobody got it right. She a woman,
Is she? Ah well, there the problem, See?
Woman, she got no right to this world,
She made for one use. Put her in with oven
And cover her in grease. She break her body
Having child, she carry babies till her back a hump.
You say it the Twenty-first century? No matter,
She still got no choice. Only woman have baby,
And baby want Mama. Only mama nurse baby,
Only Mama know the pain. Women they go to work,
And they come home to more. Men say I lie?
Go now. Ask the Devil, he give 'em what for.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Requiem Shark

Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique

He slices waters, on the search
For something still, he is an old
Master of bloodlust and the kill.
Detritus and the dead no longer
Kill the pain, and his need grows,
Searching for the living, the pulsing.

She gathers waters like a crop,
Her smooth belly curved to cup
The currents and slap the weeds.
The hunters call her "Virgin of the Sea"
She's only legend, a mystery.

Deep leads to deeper,
To places the hunter and virgin don't go,
They are made for the shallows
The places where the sun still reaches.
And so, circling each other, contact is made.

It's not fate; it's coincidence.
Fate is too beautiful a word for
Wrong place, wrong time.
She lies, beautiful belly up,
In the sun as she once longed to be,
A sad sea cow. He sings no dirge for her.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Road Home (Morocco, Spain, France)

The Travel Logs: Morocco, Part 2

Humans have this amazing thing called endorphins. Those crazy little chemicals have a way of wiping out traumatic experiences from the brain. This is why I can remember almost nothing about delivering my daughter without an epidural. I do remember immediately afterward when I jumped up from the bed, insanely happy and energetic, and a nurse entered the room and stared at the empty bed and then at me and said, "Are you the patient? Why are you up?" I felt great, because my body had done the wonderful natural thing it was supposed to, and now my brain was telling me that nothing terrible had happened, I had survived the trauma.

When we left for Morocco, it was for a 6 day trip. 11 days later, we returned by airplane, train, taxi, and van. It wasn't supposed to happen that way, of course, but all the misery of trying desperately to get home has been wiped out of my brain. I can't really relate many details about it, because I'd rather just forget it, and my brain is working hard to wipe the memory out.

Here's the bare outline of what happened, for those who still want to know:

Thursday evening: Our plane does not depart Morocco. We are told to come back in the morning for a flight to Dusseldorf, Germany, which is nowhere near home, but it's in Germany, so we say "sure." Ryan Air is taking no responsibility for us, as this is an "act of God" and out of their hands. We call our riad and they send Ali back to pick us up, so we can stay another night in Fes.

Friday: We show up at the airport only to see Dusseldorf is cancelled. Ryan Air offers us a flight to Madrid that afternoon as the only option for getting to Europe. Everything north of Spain is shut down due to the volcanic ash cloud (from Iceland...let's not forget how bizarre this whole thing is). We say yes to the Madrid flight because my stomach cannot take another tagine or cup of mint tea. Breck is still vomitting. All I want is to get back to western civilization, where everything is not covered in dust and minarets do not drone. We sit in an olive grove outside the airport all afternoon (see photo), picnicking and napping, like the locals do, until our Madrid flight, which does take off. We reach Madrid and realize the situation is not any better here. There are no trains to France or Germany for days. All rental cars are gone, and all buses are full. We spend the night at a nice hotel (The Confortel, Pio XII) for a good price.

Saturday: We spend the majority of the day at the rail station, standing in lines, talking in Spanglish to the ticket agents and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We accomplish nothing. We decide to spend another night and see if flights start going out again. We see the sol of Madrid, watch a mariachi band and dancer perform, shop, eat dinner.

Sunday: We go to the rail station, accomplish nothing. The rain in Spain falls mainly on Madrid. Both children are puking on a regular basis. There is no news in English on the television, so we watch in Spanish and try to guess what they are saying from our limited memories of Spanish vocab. Life sucks.

Monday: I threaten Joel within an inch of his life: Go to the damn station and buy us a ticket to Barcelona or somewhere, I don't care where as long as we get out of rainy Madrid and move northeast toward Germany! He returns with tickets to Barcelona. We ride a lovely ICE train to Barcelona, which turns out to be an incredibly beautiful city. But the situation on the ground is no better there...rail station agents informs us there are "no regional trains that are going over the border to France" because, as usual, the French are striking. I volunteer loudly to prostitute myself to get home. Joel looks at me and says, "I hope you're not serious," but looks doubtful, he's learned not to underestimate my penchant for insanity. We check out the nearby bus station, where there is a mob scene with people of all classes fighting to get on a bus going to France. A cabbie sees our distress and volunteers to take advantage of it with a 400 euro cab ride to Montpellier, France. "DEAL!" I scream, practically jumping over Joel to shake the cab driver's hand. We have already booked a hotel for the night, so we tell him to pick us up in the morning at 7 am. We go out to the wharves where all the gorgeous yachts are docked on the Mediterranean inlet, eat at an outdoor cafe, spend silly money on wine and fish to calm our misery. Think life is not so bad and maybe we will come back to Barcelona some day under better circumstances.

Tuesday: Three and a half hours and (430 euros less) later, we arrive at the Montpellier rail station, and see that a train is leaving for Lyon in 30 minutes (the Spanish ticket agents are lazy ass liars...trains are running fine in France). An agent assures us we don't have to wait in line for a ticket, we can just jump on and pay the conductor after we depart. There is a mad scramble to get on and we do not get seats, we have to settle for sitting atop our bags on the floor of the dining car. I feel we have reached an all-time low, but the conductor has pity and never asks us to pay, so we ride for free and I am satisfied. We get off at Lyon and see a train to Strasbourg leaving in 30 minutes, but think our kids can't handle riding for 4 hours on the floor again. We settle for tickets to leave that evening and call our friends back at home to see who will drive the hour from Heidelberg over to the French border town of Strasbourg to pick us up. Anne and Matt say they will be there at 10:30 pm when we arrive. They seem like saviors when we meet them at the station, we are bedraggled and stinky from wearing our clothes over and over (I've hand washed in the bathtub of hotels until I have blisters on my hands) and the kids from puking on theirs. They have brought Joel and I each a big bottle of German beer...they have read our minds. Our kids stay awake until they see the German border and cheer, then fall asleep...Germany is home to us.

Postscript: We spent more money trying to get home than we did on our actual vacation to Morocco. Goodbye tax return.

Post post script: Iceland, I would have visited you, but I spent the money for that trip on your stupid volcano. Forget you.

Post post post script: I do not believe in "acts of God"...I believe in acts of Satan.

Post post post post script: On the upside, I now consider myself a "seasoned" traveler.