Thursday, June 21, 2012

Family, Fußball, and Field Trips

    Well, here I am again. I know I've been awful about blog updating lately, but in my defense, life has been bumped WAY up from its usual lackadaisical pace and has been boppin' along.

    Warning you now, this will be a long entry. I'll title appropriately so you can skip to topics of interest (as could indeed be your wont!).

    And with that, jumping right into the first F:

     I was originally starting with fußball, but the family bit is too exciting to leave for later: my parents are here! They arrived for they three-ish week visit last Wednesday, and we had our grand reunion this past weekend in the lovely little city of Nürnberg (Nuremberg in English). Not having seen my dear parentals in just short of seven months (definitely the longest stretch of my life), the last week could not go fast enough. So Friday night I finished my chores with my host family, headed to the train station, and hopped on my ICE (Inter-City Express) train for Nuremberg. (A note about the coolness of ICE trains: though they can cost a lot of money, it's worth it: typical speeds are up to 230 km/hr (143 mph). Pretty cool when you're trying to get somewhere in a hurry! And sure enough, we made the speeding cars on the Autobahn look like traffic on the 405.) An hour and five minutes later, there I was! (About 50 minutes faster than a car could've made it, I may add.) My dad and I had plotted extensively where to meet in the train station, so I was feeling optimistisch, but upon disembarking from the train and heading into the main hall, I was greeted by exactly zero parents. Slightly irritated and a little worried, I wandered around for a while, but still nothing. Finally, I saw my dejected parents wandering out of a random hall. Turns out they had made the rookie mistake of trying to greet me on the platform, something visitors to Germany learn quickly not to do when they realize most platforms and train stations have anywhere from two to ten different exits! They quickly cheered up and we joyfully scampered off for a late dinner in a cool little Keller (cellar) in the center of Nuremburg, and following that, a beer or two in the gorgeous Hauptmarkt (main market square), enjoying the mild almost-summer night and the sky that didn't fully darken until past 10 PM.

Jolly little parents heading back from the train station
Looking up at the stunning St. Lorenz Church
Lovely little Pegnitz river by night

   We stayed out drinking (and some of us being awkwardly flirted with by the cross-eyed waiter, including being proffered a lollipop as a token of esteem. Guess who "us" was.) and enjoying family time until the (for my parents) incredible hour of midnight, and then headed back to the hotel.

    The next morning we were up bright and early at 10:30 AM (the latest my parents have slept since I was born, I guarantee you...oh jet lag, you're so silly!), and headed out to explore the city, starting with a delicious and enormous breakfast at the Cafe Literatur Haus, including a plate of the most extensive varieties and amounts of cheese I have ever seen, especially for nine euros. NOM. The day was, I kid you not, the single warmest day since I have been in Germany: about 87 degrees with a very generous helping of humidity. I am so out of practice with this whole heat thing.

    VERY well fed, we headed out through the city, following the suggested Rick Steves walking tour. (If you haven't traveled in Europe before and are planning to do so, toss your Lonely Planet and Fodor's out and get a Rick Steves. That guy knows his shit.) We walked throughout the old town, seeing some excellent churches, fountains, and a farmers' market (where Dad, in a concerted effort to speak some German, earnestly asked a seller "Sind die Tauben?" in reference to the green grapes we were looking at. Unfortunately for him, the word for grapes is Trauben: the shopkeeper did look rather confused to be asked whether the fruits we were looking at were pigeons). 

    We continued up to the small fortress at the top of the city, where we had a lovely view of the old town and some lovely rose gardens, then dodged into a small beer garden to avoid the coming rain and get Dad to stop whining for a beer. 

Enjoying the cool interior of the church

Mom illustrating one of the sins represented on the "Ship of Fools" statue behind her 
Courtyard of the fortress
Cute little fam! (Minus Elyo, of course!)
Looking down at the city
Mom smelling the roses

Dad, overjoyed at having found the beer he wanted
What a cool little thing

   We spent the rest of the day doing some more trotting around, drinking another beer, and finally making an expedition to a pre-scouted Indian restaurant for my belated birthday dinner. Delicious!

    Mom woke up slightly earlier the next day, thankfully. What a lazy bum. We followed the sounds of clanging dishes and falling forks to a generous and cheap breakfast buffet in the center of the city, and filled up on deliciousness before the day's trip. Dad was most proud of his intriguing combination of cocoa pudding and cornflakes. Oh yes, please do ask. 

   Breakfast accounted for, we headed town to the train station and hopped on a bus to the nearby "Documentation Center," the museum located at the former Nazi party rally grounds. If you're anything of a history buff, the name Nuremberg may sound familiar to you. More than likely this is due to the Nuremberg trials, wherein 25 of the leaders of the Third Reich were tried for their crimes after World War II. But before that, Nuremberg was famous not for trials but for parties! (Okay, the exclamation point was a little gratuitous. They weren't happy parties. I just feel like the word party always deserves proper recognition.) Hitler was a big fan of the city of Nuremberg, and pulled some strings to get the right guy in charge of it. When that was accomplished, Nuremberg became his chosen city for the yearly rallies of the Nazi party, held annually from 1923-1938 (in Nuremberg from '27 onward). And when I say rallies, we're talking rallies. Over 1,000,000 people flocked to the city yearly to see the rally and attendant parades, with Hitler himself presiding over the festivities. 

    So what we went to visit were the grounds of these rallies. Included in the enormous area is the massive Zeppelin Field, a huge stadium crowned by an enormous grandstand that once displayed enormous swastikas, where Hitler would address crowds of thousands; the unfinished Congress Hall, a masterpiece of engineering reminiscent of the Colosseum, planned to be able to seat 400,000; and the Great Street, a massive concrete path leading between the two for the parades to march along. 

   Enough talking, talk a look: 

Grandstand on the Zeppelin field
Looking waaaaay across at same grandstand, 80 years ago 
Me on the podium where Hitler gave his speeches
Told you
Congress Hall interior
Congress Hall from across the lake
Unfinished side of Congress Hall

    Sorry, getting political:

   Tourism aspects aside, what I really took away from this experience, particularly the museum, is how much credit we give ourselves today. This could never happen here, we say. We're much better people than the Germans, we say. They were horrible people, we say. But honestly, the scariest part of all of this is how easily it happened. Though I'm definitely, definitely, definitely not comparing anything in the US to Germany during the Third Reich, it's foolish to try and explain it away by clinging to the idea those Germans in the 20s, 30s, and 40s were somehow worse people than we are.  
    And speaking about the Holocaust, it's easy to condemn it for the terrible thing it is while ignoring how it started. Coming from California, I certainly see racial inequality. It's everywhere. But you know what, it's okay that Mexicans work longer hours under terrible conditions for incredibly little pay. It's not like it's white people who have to suffer that. They're just Mexicans. If we rough them up a little when they're deported, they're just Mexicans. They don't belong; they're not like us. If a shop that sells Mexican goods gets vandalized, not really a big deal. Guess what: that's how Germans felt about the Jews before World War II. Their store windows got smashed? No big deal. They're deporting them to Poland? Well, they aren't German, they don't belong here anyway. No big deal. Every time you fall into the trap of thinking it's okay something is happening to certain people, you let yourself believe it's okay, these people aren't as good as me, these people don't belong. And therefore it's okay when they're tortured, harassed, shipped off to concentration camps...
   I know I'm taking this totally too far. The Holocaust was not caused by ordinary people, it was a terrible brain child of a few sick and corrupt people with too much power. But the only way it ever went as far as it did was because it drew from the attitudes that already existed. And we teach our children these things. 

From the Documentation Center Museum: A drawing by a first grader. "Jews are our misfortune." I repeat, a FIRST GRADER. That's a six-year-old, friends. If nothing else is terrifying, this should be.
  Okay, I'm done. I swear. 

   Anyway, after our museum visit, we, of course, took a brief stop at a beer garden, then headed back into town to watch the Germany-Denmark football match. We ended up at a great little restaurant next to a public viewing of the game, and enjoyed a delicious dinner, beer, and the game for a great ending to the weekend.

    I can hear everyone who knows me at all laughing already. Shut it. I am so into this. To prove it, I shall set my scene and tell you I am snuggled in bed typing whilst watching the Portugal/Czech Republic match. Don't even try to test me.

    Okay, backing up. For those who aren't as into international activities, I'll explain briefly. For starters,  fußball is the German for (not too hard, now) football. Which is the proper name for soccer in every country that isn't the US. We're currently smackdab in the middle of the EuroCup (smaller version of the World Cup), being played this year in Poland and Ukraine. Germany is, unsurprisingly, kicking ass and taking names (at this point, anyway. Send them your thoughts and prayers against the Greek tomorrow; let's just say Greece has a lot of pent-up anger where Germany is concerned).

   Why, you ask, am I suddenly so enamored with a sport I don't play and a country that isn't mine? The answer's fairly simple. In the US, we really never have a chance to be united as a country cheering on a single team. The sports we really care about (baseball, basketball, American football) are almost completely unique to the US, so if anything, they're divisive rather than unifying. And the US isn't good enough at soccer to make the World Cup that intense of a matter. But here, where soccer is the lifeblood of nearly every nation, there is almost literally not a single house lacking a German flag, a single car without flag mirror covers (seriously), and on game days, scarcely a single person lacking a German national team shirt. Going out to a bar or restaurant to watch the game means being crammed into a room at maximum capacity with tons of soccer worshippers, many of them wearing German flags as capes and never losing a chance to chant a German cheer. It's really freaking fun, actually. And the enthusiasm is contagious. It's also nice that because I'm lucky enough to live in the German staat (state) with the best soccer team (FC Bayern, who, as you may recall, I saw play live), a cheery 11/23 of the national team is drawn from FC Bayern, so they're like old friends!
Leigh and I at the Germany-Netherlands match, reppin' our Deutschland gear

Germany-Denmark match in Nuremberg

Anyway, enough with the football. Just take my word that it's way exciting. And if you need some eye candy, google Mario Gomez, the guy who scored 3/5 of the German Euro Cup goals so far. He's beautiful. (Another reason I like soccer: players are vastly more attractive and age-appropriate than the great galoots who play baseball and American football. Woof.)

Field Trips
   Misleading title. Just one field trip. It sounded better in the plural when I wrote it, for some reason. Anyway, Monday I had the joyous (read: exhausting) task of accompanying Cliona on her field trip with the English kindergarten. We drove east out of Munich to the Bergtierpark, a kind of zoo for animals like deer, boars, horses, cows, weasels, und so weiter. Remember my earlier comment about the warmest day in Germany thus far? Well, this one blew it out of the water. Mid-90s, humid as death, and six hours tramping around a huge shadeless park with twenty-odd 3-5 year olds. Pulling a wagon full of backpacks, I might add. 

   But it was a lot of fun. The majority of kids (and therefore parents) in this kindergarten are from the UK, and it is a different experience spending an extended period of time with women who call children "poppet" in all seriousness. But they're all very nice and it was a good day. Cliona was probably rather disadvantaged by having me there, as having an au pair around makes it very easy to not go to the trouble of playing with the kids, but I nipped her "carry me"s in the bud faster than you can say spoiled child. No way, man. 

  The funniest part was no doubt the kids, with their hands overflowing with animal feed, running pell-mell after the terrified animals who just wanted to get away from the screamers. It was pretty hilarious. Thankfully the animals were interspersed with occasional playgrounds, and the pizza for lunch assuaged most of the whining. 

Lucky girl riding in the wagon!

And that's that! Okay, I'm skipping a major thing from a couple of weeks ago, but I'll come back to that. The last couple o' days have been pretty normal. The weather lends itself well to lots of ice cream trips and playing in the sprinklers with the kiddies, so it's pretty stress-free. Yesterday Leigh, Paulo and I played tennis at Olympia Park! It was great fun. And today I hightailed it at the crack of dawn to meet my parents in Salzburg and have a touristy three/four hours. 
    Tomorrow's agenda: do chores, pack, pick up Cliona and go to dancing, get ready, sing a concert, and leave on a bus for Prague at 1 AM! Ready, go. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Time can say nothing but I told you so

    Readers dear, I apologize very much for letting practically all of May slip by without updating you on my life. Suffice to say that much of May was, for personal reasons, a month I'd rather not dwell on, and to that effect, I'll save you from an exhaustive recounting of the almost-month (ouch) I haven't updated and give a brief picture summary (of the good parts) instead.

    There was some fun in May. Ready, get set, photos:

    Another trip to Vienna (this time for SIX days) to spend some last time with Andrea before she headed back to the States:

Deliciousest lunch ever

    My twenty-third birthday:

I saved my cards in the mail to open on my birthday so it'd be more fun. Then my very sweet host family took me out to lunch at a cute little Italian place where we consumed a terrifying amount of food (we're talking three courses + dessert  + wine. Oink!).

My host family at my birthday lunch

   A birthday trip to an FC Bayern match (awesomest birthday present ever from Leigh!):

Note #22 for a laugh

Victors! (Obviously)
Bayern bear!


Super cool night when the city center is closed to cars and people can bike a 12-km loop through the city (including through the tunnels!) Watch this cool YouTube video of this very night! Maybe you'll even see me!: I also, for the first time, rode my bike all the way into the city center (about 13 km). It was actually a really nice ride! Munich is an incredibly bike-friendly city.

Coolest bike ever 
Bikers, bikers everywhere! 
Riding past the Bavaria statue 

 Some lovely English Gardens weather:

Germans are the best at everything. Including relaxing. 
Liquid lunchers at the Chinesischer Turm beer garden

And some generally beautiful German days:

Frauenkirche and Rathaus from Marienhof
Opera house 

And with that jaunt taken care of, we can skip ahead to June.  My family is yet again on vacation (something else you missed in my hurried sprint through May), so I have a whopping ten days with the house to myself. I'm currently on Day 4. I've done a whole lot of productive things like do a puzzle, watch a lot of TV, and make a lot of fruit smoothies. It's just as well things are quiet though, as my choir is recording a CD this weekend, so I'm conserving my energy for that (as well as the almost daily rehearsals leading up to it. Ugh).

    Speaking of my choir, I will never again complain about sopranos. Seriously. Give me sopranos any day. This alto in my choir is, hands down, the bitchiest (yes, I went there) choral singer (she's in the running for bitchiest person, really) I have ever worked with. She stormed out of last week's rehearsal in a rage when she didn't get to sing an antiphon, saying she'd never be back, so we'll see what this week brings. I'd happily never see her again, though that would be bad news for our Alto II section, so I guess the altruist in me should be rooting for her to get over it. I guess. 

   Saturday night was a random trip to the opera! Going with a friend much wiser to the ways of the world than I, we headed to the opera house 45 minutes before curtain without even having tickets, and by the time the house opened, we had purchased two tickets from kindly older ladies out on the front steps who had extras. Standing room, yes, but the friendly standing room type where there's a lovely little velvet bench behind you, and you can even see the whole stage! The production was Rossini's La Cenerentola (the Italian Cinderella story), and Cenerentola was sung by none other than the incredible Joyce DiDonato, which I had no idea was going to be happening until getting there. The performance was completely wonderful, and we topped off the night by a trip to La Baracca, a cool little Italian place where all the ordering is done via iPad. Oh, the twenty-first century. 

   Today I headed down to the small town of Schliersee to visit Leigh, who's stranded down there the entirety of the Schulferien (school vacation). (Again with these Catholic holidays! Bavarian schools give two weeks off for Pentecost!) Leigh, Paulo (the opera friend), and I spent the day moseying around the little town and lake, having a delicious Bavarian lunch, and some ice cream for dessert. 


   And now here I am, updating my blog, listening to KUSC, and drinking a banana-blueberry smoothie.

   A brief foray into some personal matters. Feel free to skip, for those more interested in pictures. 

   Not to delve too deeply, but for those who are aware of circumstances, I will say that the last two-and-a-half weeks have been...well, really tough.  For the first time, 6,000 miles away from home, I'm here alone. And it's scary. And really, really lonely.  I lost the support system that got me through my bad days, and now...I'm not sure what I have anymore. I'm not sure what I'm going home to, what I have to look forward to, and on the other side of the coin, I'm not sure what I have left here. Choices were made that, not only can I not stand up for, I can't even remember the reasons behind them, or what good they were supposed to bring about. Despite everything, I always believed that certain things would work out, and I never really thought about the possibility that they wouldn't. And yet here I am, with all the certainties I had about the future ripped away. 

   But on the bright side, the worst thing I thought could happen happened, and...I'm still here. The world didn't end. Mostly thanks to Andrea and Leigh, two of the most amazing friends ever, who basically kept from going entirely insane for a week or so there.

    Next Wednesday, my parents land in Germany! Then three weeks of fun shall commence, and I cannot wait. Almost literally. I anxiously make another x on my countdown calendar every night. Plans include weekends in Prague and Nuremberg, as well as, of course, a touristy time in Munich! Now just get me through the next week! 

  I'll try to be better about blog posting. I just needed some time off. Thanks for reading, all. And I'll leave you with this poem, since it's been on my mind a lot lately. And everyone can use some more villanelles in their lives.

Time can say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you, I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time can say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you, I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time can say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you, I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away?
Time can say nothing but I told you so.
If I could tell you, I would let you know.