Monthly Archives: June 2011

So Long, Goodbye, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

To this day there is something illusionistic and illusory about the relationship of time and space as we experience it in traveling, which is why whenever we come home from elsewhere we never feel quite sure if we have really been abroad.

W.G. Sebold, Austerlitz

And with that, I find myself come full circle.  What began with a seven-hour layover at Newark Airport ends in a seven-hour layover at Newark Airport.  It’s an odd feeling being back here, as though this year never really happened.  It doesn’t feel as though I just lost a city; it doesn’t feel like I will never watch the boats go by on that bit of the Rhine again; it doesn’t even feel like I can confidently speak again – a few people ventured a safe small talk conversation starter, and I just sucked.  Blatantly.

I was thinking about this on the plane ride over – how, if this year already just feels sort of dreamlike, what did I really take away from it?  Resume filler, sure; a working knowledge of German (which, two hours into America, I already feel slipping), of course.  But what I think it really comes down to is this: I learned how to be independent.  I navigated German bureaucracy, a school system, foreign cities.  I talked to police, to a newspaper reporter, to students, and I found myself for the first time on the other side of the great student/teacher divide, which was exhilarating, frightening, frustrating, and rewarding all at once.

But more than that, I learned how to be completely and utterly dependent: I relied on the teachers at my school for so, so much – that they would take me into their classrooms and often, their homes.  They found my own apartment for me, showed me around the area, lent me furniture, gave me late-night rides back home, and opened up a side of the culture I never would have known about otherwise.  I relied on homefolk to keep me sane.

I think I also learned a bit about appreciation, and I don’t mean of fine wines (although I did plenty of that this year, just more in a “Mmm, I like white wine” moreso than in a “this has a hint of oak and finishes with a bouquet of raspberry blossoms and midnight rain” sort of way).  You know that phrase, “Expect the best, prepare for the worst”?  Well, my own personal take on that is “Expect the worst, panic about every foreseeable scenario in which things go wrong to Joe.”  If a plane can be cancelled, it will be.  If my paycheck is late, it’s not coming at all.  And so (by my mentality), in a year where so much could have gone wrong, I learned how to be so thankful of what didn’t go wrong: Joe still likes me.  I never had a health issue and had to figure out insurance/German medical system.  Friends and family came to visit.  Fulbright didn’t kick me out for not living up to their standards and send me home in disgrace.  I happened to be placed in the same tiny town with Beth, who became one of my best friends.  So far, my flights haven’t been cancelled.

Also, I learned how to spend obscene amounts of free time alone, which  means, by extension, I am now really, really good at Minesweeper.

And if I can do 67 seconds without a mouse, I shudder to think what I'll do with one.

But back to the thankfulness thing.  I wanted to, in conclusion of my year and of my blog, thank you all for showing some interest in my year.  I hope you enjoyed the blog; I definitely enjoyed knowing you were reading  – but not as much as I’ll enjoy getting to see you and speak good ol’ American English with you, which I’m sure we’ll do soon.

As a side note  (or more accurately, as an end note), I wore my Razorback shirt today, feeling it was appropriate, and I’m not sure what I was expecting: that I’d land and some stranger at the airport would be like “Hey, Woo Pig, am I right?” and then we’d like, chest bump or whatever it is that sports fans do, but instead, here’s what my homecoming was: one lady eyed me and I could tell she wanted to comment on my shirt, but instead of an “Oh, did you go to the U of A?” it was a “Were you by chance in Tuscany?  We saw shirts like that for sale there.”  And then the guy at passport control glanced at my passport, and said “Lori from Ar-Kansas, welcome back.”

It was just the way my German students pronounce it, which made me smile – I felt like it was a farewell to Germany and a hello to the USA all at once.

With the other Fulbrighters from Rheinland-Pfalz on a Ferris Wheel at Johannisfest in Mainz last weekend

One final "Zum Wohl" on the Rhine with Bethlein

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Bingen: The Good, the Bad, and the Really Really Ugly

Bingen welcomed me back in September with Winzerfest, a weekend of wine stands set up in the streets that made every weekend afterwards make me wonder why they don’t keep wine stands set up all the time, and this weekend, the city bid me adieu with Bingen Swingt, a Riverfest-esque festival celebrating all music that is anything but German: swing, Latin jazz, poodle skirt-era rock n’ roll, Frank Sinatra.  This leads me to believe that at its heart, Bingen is a charming and genial place that wants nothing but the best for me, and on top of that, it can be downright beautiful.  The gardens are beautiful, the steeples pinned against a sky blue sky are too, and when church bells are sounding or the sun is going down over the Rhine Valley while I’m drinking a glass of wine on the riverfront, I could almost swear there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

But then there’s another side.  The dark underbelly to a city that loves 3 pm coffee and cake, hikes on the weekends, and Rieslings with late dinners, a side not immediately apparent when you’re overwhelmed by river views and so many ice cream shops.  It’s surprising, yes, but it can also be tasteless.  It can be creepy.  It can be straight up ugly as sin, and I’m not the sort that uses phrases like “straight up” lightly.

I’m talking about the shop windows.

This lovely selection of dresses is not in the window of a dress shop, oh no, but a hair salon.

This glasses shop, which now flaunts a street sweeper/crossing guard theme, went with a bunch of plaster pelicans earlier in the year, a bold choice.

A giant cracked heel and foot products grace this display.

Beth and I have made a game out of "If you had to pick one outfit from this window, which would you choose, and justify your answer in 500 words or fewer" with this shop.

Bambi here moves too, in jerky movelements, a la the Showbiz animatronic band.

I will not be sad to see these go.

And with that last insider’s guide to Bingen, I guess it’s time for you to go too.  I’m not quite done with the blog, but I’m done with Bingen; hope you liked my little laundromat-less city on the Rhine and enjoyed getting to know a little bit about Germany that’s not Berlin or Munich.  See you in the coming days – both here, and well, back home!

Idiomatic Monday: Wurst Will Be Wurst

I suppose it doesn’t take much of a grasp on semiotics to realize that culture will, come hell or high water, weasel its way into language, thus spawning idioms, but I’m here to tell you anyway.  For instance, what springs to mind when you think of America?  Maybe I’m coming out of left field, but if I were to take a swing at it, I’d say baseball.  (See what I did there?  Seriously, there’s a wikipedia page about this).  German is a whole ‘nother ballgame: when you think of the Vaterland, do you think of, say, this?:

Somewhere in that ballpark?

If so, you’re not way off base (alright, done with this) because happily, beer and wurst has had the baseball effect on the German language.  Take, for example:

An ihm ist Hopfen und Malz verloren
Hops and malt are lost on him = he doesn’t have a clue

Das ist nicht mein Bier
That’s not my beer = that’s not my cup of tea

Es ist mir Wurst
It’s sausage to me = it’s all the same to me

Seinen Senf dazugeben
To give his mustard = to put in his two cents

Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst
It’s about the sausage now = it’s do or die

In der Kürze liegt die Würze
Rick Steves translates this phrase this way: “In the shortness lies the tastiness” regarding the miniature Nuremberg sausages, but that’s an awkward translation, because really, who talks that way?  If you’re going to translate a colloquialism, translate it colloquially… so clearly:  “Boy howdy, these wee sausages pack a punch.”  (Incidentally, I also saw this phrase screen printed on a pair of men’s underwear in a tacky souvenir shop, which turned me off of the German language forever).

and the favorite of German professors everywhere:

Spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst
Don’t play the offended liver sausage: don’t get your panties in a twist like I just did about a Rick Steves translation of a sausage saying.

The Very Beleidigte Leberwurst

Which leads us, ultimately, to this question at the intersection of food and baseball:

If the moon was made of spare ribs, wouldja eat it?

Europe and Tulsa: A Comprehensive Comparative Study

The end is nigh.

With two weeks to go, the regrets are just starting to sink in: why didn’t I go to Croatia?  why didn’t I teach a single student the Hog Call?  why didn’t my blog go viral?  why did I eat all the chocolates that were meant to be souvenirs?

So, in a last-ditch effort to make myself feel like I spent the year using my weekends to travel to far-off lands, I finally ventured over the border.  Twice.  Mind you, I live here:

which means the border is here:

which means that “venturing over the border” is the European equivalent of doing this:

Still, there are some differences between crossing the border to go to Belgium or the Netherlands and crossing the border to go to Tulsa.  For starters, day tripping to Tulsa does not necessitate that my travel companions and I pool all our piecemeal knowledge of French together as we did when we ventured into Liege, where surprisingly, refreshingly, little English is spoken, and where, needless to say, they were not altogether impressed by our rounds of Frère Jacques or by my ability to sing the countries surrounding France en Française to the tune of Jingle Bells (shout out to 9th grade French classmates!).

Another point of comparison: Belgian waffles are sugar-studded manna, whereas Tulsan waffles come from Waffle House.

This past weekend saw a dip into the Netherlands, where I visited a friend who lives in the loveliest spot I visited this year, Leiden, and took a day trip to Amsterdam, where I neither smoked pot nor visited a brothel, but where I fell in love with the city regardless.  It was a perfect place for a long wander: watching boats on canals, ducking into shops selling cheese and Delfts pottery, strolling

Hey! You! You there with the bike full of bikes, there are bikeless people in Tulsa!

around markets, wondering what acts of kindness Holland’s inhabitants committed in a previous life to get born here in this one.  The people are beautiful and every single one of them seems so naturally bilingual, the place is just as picturesque as you imagine, pickled herring is easy enough to avoid, they sell tulip bulbs in the streets, and they seem to have made a national sport out of transporting all three of your darling children, this week’s groceries, and your family dog all while on your bike, dodging obstacles like that other guy who’s biking while texting, as he pulls a second bike alongside him with his free hand.  Tulsa, meanwhile, has made a national sport out of being my least favorite road trip destination.

The view from Sara's room