Category Archives: Arkansas

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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Aprilwetter

In Arkansas (and probably every other state in the Union, but we all like to think we’re exceptional), we’ll tell any non-native who can discern words in our thick-as-molasses accents that if they don’t like the weather, they can just wait five minutes and it’ll change.  From what I’ve been hearing, this hasn’t exactly been the case this year – if you wait another five minutes, you’ll just get more rain.  So, then, if global weather patterns are any indication, it seems old wive’s tales have followed me to Germany, because while you all back home have been getting nothing but rain, I’ve been enjoying nothing but sunshine. And rain. And wind. And thunderstorms.  All in the course of an afternoon, and usually, but not necessarily, concurrently.  And if I wait five minutes, it’ll probably change.

I was talking to a teacher here about how this beautiful/gloomy/beautiful/violent weather we’ve been getting is really crimpin’ my style (I took it as a sign of the end times, but guess that turned out to be a fluke), and he said they have a word for when the sun shines while it’s raining: Aprilwetter.  Turns out, then, it has nothing to do with me taking the weather with me, nor even with the apocalypse; this unpredictability is exactly what to predict come this time of year.

And so this brings me to today’s cheap metaphor, because what is my English major good for, if not for cooking up obvious and half-baked analogies?

And so, let’s see how this pans out: this “April weather” (granted, a month late) is the perfect sort of weather for mirroring that bittersweet feeling you get at the end of anything – a school year, a summer, a chocolate bar, or as the case may be, a year abroad. I’m so ready to move on and get back home, but there’s also a certain sadness to leaving this behind.  This was supposed to be my year of finding myself, of being young and free and a stranger in a strange land, of drinking strange alcohols and eating rich breads, of picking up a second language and travelling before I get set in my ways and saddled with responsibilities.  Okay, and teaching.  And, to an extent, that is what happened, but really, what this year did was a little less Under the Tuscan Sun; when it comes down to it, what this year did best was confirm things I already knew: I love my boyfriend (there! I said it!) and long distance relationships are sucky, sucky things; I want to go into library science, despite the job market being a sucky, sucky thing; I love barbeque and American ales more than wurst and Rieslings (there! I said it!).  I’ll miss it here, but I’m ready to get back. It’s raining while the sun is shining.

Obvious metaphor, over and out.

Denglish Dines and Bids Adieu


Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures.  Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest.  People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone.  A salad, they tell you.  But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.

-Laurie Colwin, Alone in the Kitchen with at Eggplant

This year is an experiment not only in living in Germany, but also in living alone.  Up to this point, I’ve been lucky enough to jump from parents to roommate to roommate, and so finding myself in an apartment all to myself in a foreign country was a bit of a shock to the system.  It has its perks, to be sure – I can cook and make mistakes without spoiling dinner for anyone but myself, no one gives a flip if I make deviled eggs for dinner and graham crackers with peanut butter and cinnamon for dessert, I can leave laundry on the ground to my heart’s content and listen to hokey folk music like it’s going out of fashion (or like it ever was in fashion) – but also, there’s a downside, like that time I made a sauce from a roux for the first time and immediately started crying into my plate because no one was around to care that I made a sauce from a roux.

Never before has my life so resembled generic and tasteless clip art. The box of tissues on the table is an especially nice - and accurate - touch.

 

Anyway, tears aside, here’s a few of the tastier concoctions that have been on my table lately (although I’m not giving you the secrets to my graham crackers with peanut butter; that one’s staying in the family):

  • Ginger-Honey Chicken Wings with Coconut Rice from Big Girls Small Kitchen – first time cooking meat, oh, since Joe was here.
  • Pad Thai from my man Mark Bittman – Beth and I made this in celebration of the new Asian grocery store that opened up in Bingen (so cosmopolitan!), but when we asked the grocer for rice noodles, he tried to give us a bag of noodles… shaped like rice.  We also made spring rolls… or spring wads, as they turned out to be.
  • Asparagus, Mint, and Lemon Risotto from Jamie Oliver – or variations thereof, as asparagus is still hard to come by.
  • Eggplant and Chickpea Baked Pasta, because when I’m at the grocery store, my mind works like this: “Oh, eggplant.  That looks good.  Oh, chickpeas.  I like those.  Hey, pasta, I want that.  Mm, cinnamon, that’s real tasty.”  And then I end up with a bag full of rhymeless, reasonless groceries.

While we’re on the topic of food, my old stomping grounds, the Special Collections Department at the U of A, just put out the first issue of their new journal, Arkansauce: The Journal of Arkansas Foodways.  Read the whole thing online, or write to dfworrel@uark.edu for a copy of your very own.

With that said, Denglish will be out of commission for the next week or two – I’m off to Berlin for a schmooze-based Fulbright conference, then to Copenhagen for herring, then a bff from back home is visiting.  That’s two weeks of having company with dinner; while elated, I hope I remember how to converse.

Denglish Dines and Also Goes to Parties

Life here can be so weird.

Half a year ago and half the world away, I entered my house back in Little Rock one final time to a surprise send-off party.  Then, out of pure shock, I promptly exited the house.  At any rate, the life of the party was not me, oh no, but Kyle, who attended from Connecticut via video chat.  He said he felt like a dismembered child, whose limbless, digital state necessitated that mom carry his face around when he wanted to move.  He was especially lucky in securing a spot right by the cheese dip, so he could watch family members catch Velveeta dripping off their Fritos all night long, the lucky dog.

Ol' Legless also acted as photographer for the night, thanks to Skype features.

But oh, how the turntables have turned.  Saturday night was my chance to act the part of skyped-in dismembered family member.  This weekend marked my dad’s 50th birthday, so naturally a running-themed surprise party complete with personalized water bottles and race bibs was in order, and I would, of course, be doing a great disservice to my readership if I failed to talk about it, seeing as the partygoers make up roughly all of my readership (for you stray passersby out there, 1) you’re lost, and 2) to understand this, you have to know that my dad runs.  A lot.  So much so that in my mind, running ten miles sounds like a walk in the park, even though I myself couldn’t manage half a mile if pressed).

Now was my time to shine as Skype photographer.

And I may have been legless, but I wasn’t useless.  As the aunts prepared the house for my dad’s arrival, I got to shout out directives like “Look for birthday candles in the drawer!  No, not that one!  No no!  The one over there!” while gesturing wildly, if futilely.  And then I got to look at my younger cousins’ tongues in great detail as they watched themselves make faces at the camera.  Luckily for me, I was situated not by the crock pot, as Kyle was, but by the drinks, which provided ample opportunity to sneak pictures of priceless moments like this, my grandma sporting a sweatband pouring herself a glass of blush:

and moments like this one, my grandpa tickling my cousin’s baby, who I haven’t even gotten to meet yet:


and of all the people I care about most having a perfectly good time:

and of the men in my life, which makes me so happy and seem so conspicuously absent:

Happy birthday, Dad!  Wish I could have been there.

But things go on here, and I continue to devise ways to amuse myself, which brings us to the second installment of Denglish Dines. As I mentioned earlier, my life here can be so weird, and that extends to food too.  I came home from school yesterday to find that I had no staples – no bread, no meat, no cheese, no eggs, no vegetables – nothing from which to throw together a normal meal.  But like heck I’m going to the grocery store, and so I was forced to fashion something out of the hodgepodge of ingredients I do have, which turned out to be a dinner that, if submitted to Allrecipes, I’d call “Lori’s Tropical Dream Curry” or some such.

So check it:

I never claimed to be a food photographer. Just a skype photographer.

Rice boiled with coconut milk, garlic, and ginger (inspired by this chickpea curry); curry sauce made with yogurt, more coconut milk, and cinnamon (just be sure to turn the heat down way low or it’ll curdle); fried garlic and ginger crisps (inspired by this fried rice), and mango slices cooked until tender and slightly brown (inspired by the mango that’s been hangin’ out in my crisper).  Aromatic, slightly sweet, with just a bit of crunch from the fried sprinkling of garlic.  Why I have coconut milk and mango but no eggs, I cannot explain.

Just another part of life being weird here, I guess.

Some Songs, Some News, and a Story

Maybe I shouldn’t put my reputation on the line again so soon after my last weepy post, but at the risk of sounding folksy and romantic, I am here to tell you: I love rivers (and trains).  I love spending lazy days floating downstream, Fat Tire in hand and a flotilla of friends bobbing around me; I love the Buffalo

Floating down the White River

for its underdog story of how a grassroots movement kept the river one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the States; I love the White River for the weekends I’ve spent eating good food and listening to 70s folk at my friend’s cabin there; I love the Mississippi for all the Mark Twain-y Delta Bluesy imagery it conjures.  I love rivers for the place in mythology they hold, and  I love what rivers can do to  language, for all the “Old Man River” epithets and the “You can’t stand in the same river twice” proverbs they inspire, and how it’s still okay to use slightly out-dated and sentimental phrasing like “ancient waters” and “down by the riverside” and “lonesome banks” when talking and telling stories and singing songs about them.  I am, in short, hokey.

And rivers make me think of home.  When I get lonesome fer the green, green grass of home, I listen to the sappiest and the Southernest of music: Johnny Cash, bluegrass, Delta blues (it’s funny, the way getting taken out of the South only makes you more of  a Southerner).  And 9 times out of 10 (there’s an exaggeration), these songs are about rivers (or trains), and these songs run the musical genre gamut (by which I mean bluegrass, folk, blues, and classic rock, because that’s what I listen to, but a quick search through my iTunes did reveal one song by M.I.A. which begins “When it’s really hot we go to the river and swim/ When we go fishin’ we catchin’ the brim”… so I assume there’s more of a gamut to run than my limited and questionable tastes might suggest).  And while we’re talking about gamut running, these river songs cover an array of topics and moods, from laments to romps, from murder ballads to gospel, and I’m happy to report that the completely archaic sentiments expressed by completely contemporary artists (Joe Purdy sings about his desire to be a riverboat captain, and Old Crow Medicine Show asks “Where’s a boatman to go?” after his job is made obsolete by train moving in) make my admittedly ridiculous notions of rivers (and trains) seem positively au courant.

I’m thinking about this, though, only because the other role rivers can play: a wealth of songs and stories and cities grow up around them, yes, but also, they flood, people die.  And this happened here, just a few days ago.  I live at the confluence of the Nahe and Rhine rivers, and it’s quite apparent how much of a lifeline the Rhine still is: barges, tourist cruises, and passenger and car ferries are  a constant.  The thing is, I live slightly upriver from a famous point in the

The Loreley, the cliff on the right. Photo cred: Joe.

Rhine, the Loreley.  This is a sheer cliff marking the narrowest part and a particularly windy portion of the Rhine, which has proved itself to be one of the most dangerous bits for river traffic.  I thought, somehow, that this danger had long been sorted out since, oh, I don’t know, the Middle Ages or so.  But, we were reminded that the Rhine does still pose a threat just two days ago, when a barge shipping sulphuric acid capsized near the Loreley.  Two of the crew members were saved; two still haven’t been found.  The river is closed to traffic while authorities try to prevent the sulphuric acid from leaking and search for the lost crew members, an effort made nearly impossible by the river’s current high level.

And, not to lessen this tragedy or chalk it up to mythology, but I thought I might take this opportunity to tell you a bit more area lore, since it’s suddenly nosing its way into the news.  This river, like any other river, has its own crop of stories, as the story of Hatto II and the Maeuseturm suggests.  And today, here’s  a new and, unfortunately, timely one.

This rock causes both a dangerous eddy in the river and (before the noise of urban development overpowered it) a mesmerizing murmuring echo (the word “Loreley” may or may not come from the Celtic word ley, or rock, and the Old German word for murmuring, loreln).  That irresistible combination of danger and beauty spawned the myth of Loreley, who, as the legend goes, was a beautiful siren/mermaid/daughter of a ruined king/ghost/enchantress/nymph/probably virgin because don’t these figures tend to be virgins?  who sat atop this aforementioned cliff, combing her golden hair with a golden comb, singing a song with a golden melody, a melody so alluring that it lured sailors to their deaths.  Perhaps she threw herself off the rock when her lover-sailor never returned.  Perhaps she was condemned by the church as a witch because every man who fell in love with her died.  Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps (aren’t legends lovely?).  This melancholy story has not only made this rock a sort of a tourist destination, but has also been made the subject of German poetry (including the most famous by Heinrich Heine, written in 1824, found in translation below), paintings, and songs (as all good river stories and myths about virginal beautiful women should be).  As luck should have it, it’s also been written about by names more familiar to our ears: Mark Twain, Paul McCartney, Eagle Eye Cherry (bet it’s been about a decade since you’ve thought about them), and, yes, Sylvia Plath (wouldn’t she just).

The Loreley
Heinrich Heine
Translated by Ernst Feise

I do not know what haunts me,
What saddened my mind all day;
An age-old tale confounds me,
A spell I cannot allay.

The air is cool and in twilight
The Rhine’s dark waters flow;
The peak of the mountain in highlight
Reflects the evening glow.

There sits a lovely maiden
Above so wondrous fair,
With shining jewels laden,
She combs her golden hair

It falls through her comb in a shower,
And over the valley rings
A song of mysterious power
That lovely maiden sings.

The boatman in his small skiff is
Seized by a turbulent love,
No longer he marks where the cliff is,
He looks to the mountain above.

I think the waves must fling him
Against the reefs nearby,
And that did with her singing,
The lovely Loreley.

 

A 1904 depiction of the lady of the hour by Ottmar Zieher.

(A nice collection of poetry and paintings of Loreley can be found here; the site’s in German, but I’m sure Google Translate would gladly do the dirty work for you.)

(One last factoid before I go: Despite Heine being a Jew, the Third Reich couldn’t entirely outlaw his poem due simply to its popularity.)


Bacharach of Ages

Several months ago, when I was still stateside and still perfectly competent in the language being spoken around me, my friends and I (shout out!) took a little day trip through the  Ozarks, stopping at the usual sites: Mystic Caverns, a roadside diner, a medieval fortress construction site.

And now, a plug for my favorite roadside attraction: overlooking the fact that present-day Arkansas is neither Europe nor medieval, the Ozark Medieval Fortress is as authentic an experiment as we can get in medieval construction

The potter leads a horse to pasture, which is euphemistic for absolutely nothing.

techniques, from carpentry to pottery to, um, quarrery, plus contemporary safety measures, minus serfs.  It’s an (almost) self-sufficient little family-friendly village, if you keep Junior away from the forger’s fire, that appeals to the Harry Potter fanatic and the Ren Fair frequenter buried within us all, and I’d really encourage you to stop and take a look around if you’re ever in the area, and chances are, you’ll be close enough to justify a visit at some point during the project’s duration.  Projected build time?  Twenty years.

So, flash forward a few months, and I find myself come full circle: from a fake castle being authentically built, to a real castle fallen into authentic decay (isn’t history funny?).  I am, after all, stationed along the Rhine in an area known particularly for being dotted with castle ruins (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I might add), so yesterday, I coughed up the 2 Euro train ticket, weathered the twenty-minute train ride, and found myself in St. Goar, home of Burg Rheinfels, the largest and most well-preserved ruin (if a ruin can be said to be well-preserved) on the Rhine.

And that train ride was worth it.  You know when you tour something, the most interesting bits are always roped off?  Like, take Graceland – you’re not actually

I know you wouldn't think so to look at me here, but during the taking of this picture, Monica (shout out!) had to physically restrain me from launching myself over the paneled wall into the room beyond.

content just looking at the Jungle Room while your audio guide explains the significance of that green carpeted ceiling.  That is far too sanitized an approach to something so atrocious!  You want to feel your feet sink in that shag carpet yourself; you want to experience sitting your own bottom on that tiki-inspired leopard-print barstool (or whatever); you want to be more than the voyeur judging Elvis’ terrible taste – you want to know what it’s like to be the bearer of such terrible taste yourself: you want to be Elvis.

Well, I mean, I do.

But Burg Rheinfels is no Jungle Room.  For one, it doesn’t look like great-grandma’s living room reimagined by Rudyard Kipling.  For two, you’re not kept at a frustrating distance with all those other ogling tourists who just don’t

Burg Rheinfels

understand; you’re given the freedom to wander, and wander you do (with handy explanations courtesy of my man Rick Steves): through courtyards and a slaughterhouse, through a dungeon and an echoing warehouse of a wine cellar, through a moat and through a winding, claustrophobia-inducing McDonald’s PlayPlace of tunnels, dug to store weapons and the soldiers who used them – and through tunnels that once housed little but explosives, a minefield meant to be detonated when ransacked by those pesky French.  It’s nothing but one-fifth of its original size now, being used over time as a quarry of stone to build the town below, and is now in large part reclaimed by nature; in places, it’s difficult to tell what is castle, what is mountain, what is grassy courtyard, what is moss and ivy growing back over this huge outcrop of human effort and human history.

Rheinfels, regrown

After this excursion, Beth and I stopped into another nearby town, Bacharach (pronounced, wonderfully, bock-uh-rock, which inspired astute commentary like, “If I had a backup band, it would totally be called The Bacharachers”), which may or may not have ties to my man Bacchus.  Actually, it’s probably Celtic.  But there’s still lots of wine.  So, this city has all the charm Eureka Springs wishes it had, all the authenticity Disney World wants, all the timbered houses an American imagines when he imagines Germany, all the tourist shops a spoon collector could hope for.  Bacharach, not to be outdone by St. Goar, sports its own castle, but this one is converted into a youth hostel, and sits above the town, lit up at night like Hogwarts keeping watch over Hogsmeade.

The hostel atop Bacharach

So, as if that’s not enough to recommend Bacharach, we also had the good luck to stumble smack-dab into a St. Martin’s Day Parade.  St. Martin’s Day is a holiday celebrated here, part harvest celebration, part feast day to commemorate a St. Martin, a Roman soldier who gave half his cloak to a beggar in the snow.  It’s marked by a week of sugary pretzels and man-shaped pastries and parades, in which the children of the town carry colored lanterns through the streets singing songs, until, often, they all end up at a bonfire – and this bonfire was the single biggest bonfire I’ve ever laid eyes on.  It was astounding.

No, that kid is not being sacrificed. Note the butterfly lantern in the foreground.

My parents and my man Joe (shout out!) spent the weekend camping together, which makes me both incredibly happy and incredibly jealous.  But, I’m happy to say, I at least have them beat on the campfire front.

The St. Martin’s Day bonfire

Speaking of Joe, just a short five weeks until he gets here, which means – yes, you guessed it – I’m reappropriating the purpose of this blog from account of my experiences to countdown calendar.  You’re welcome.