Category Archives: Home

Falling into Herbst

Phase 1, learning how to live in Germany, is wrapping up.  I have all my furniture, I’ve been paid, I have my residence permit, I’ve figured out the bus and train system (for my purposes, anyway), I’m starting to get a better feel for my place and purpose at the school, I’m becoming more comfortable and more adventurous (in a timid sort of way) with my two hot plates (vegetable pancakes? oh, what the heck), some semblance of a routine is emerging.  With all the bureaucracy of Phase 1 out of the way, I have the time and the stability and the mental peace of mind to begin a transition to Phase 2: Learning to love Germany?

No, not quite.  My Phase 2 is, I think, beginning to miss home.

And it makes sense.  It’s fall here, my favorite season (who am I kidding?  Every season is my favorite season at the beginning).  So fine, let me rephrase: it’s fall here, the homiest season, with its Thanksgiving and pumpkin pies, apple cider and sitting out on front porches until it gets too chilly, and with its fake spider web decor and its suggestion of all the cozy winter things to come: padding around in house shoes, watching dad scramble precariously over the roof hanging up Christmas lights, baking and baking and baking, drinking hot chocolate by a blazing fire in the fire place and all those other things I don’t actually do, and reader, let us not forget my birthday, the best holiday of them all.

This homesickness is by no means a constant thing, but more of a crouching tiger hidden dragon that springs up and attacks at the most surprising moments.  I’m putting away my lunch meat, and have a sudden longing for resealable Kroger deli packages; I’m cooking vegetable pancakes and realize Joe’s not around to wash dishes when I’m done; I’m walking home at night and see the blue glow of a tv turned on in someone’s living room, and in that moment, I would like nothing more than to snuggle up under an afghan and watch a heart-warming episode of Hoarders or Whale Wars with the people I love best.  I remember reading a passage in a John Irving book (Garp or Owen Meaney, I couldn’t tell you which) in which the narrator is walking at night and describes the blue flickering glow as a “cancerous light” that indicates a room of people “not reading,” and at the time, my teenage, high-minded, literary self was like, and I quote, “Right on!” but now… watching tv doesn’t seem like wasting time, it seems like enjoying time with people  you enjoy.  Every time I pass such a window, I always feel like Tiny Tim (or maybe it’s Oliver?  Some poor, possibly orphaned kid of romanticized Christmas past) peering in to a warm, cozy room full of loving family and Christmas cheer, while he himself remains in the cold, hungry, with barely a scarf to his name… but instead of peeking in at Father carving a plump roast duck, I’m peering in on people watching Desperate Housewives overdubbed in German.

 

Ah, nostalgia. Warms the heart.

 

But since I began this post talking about fall specifically, I will continue in that vein, if you’ll allow me a few more self-indulgent paragraphs.  I was walking home yesterday, and smelled fire (not the FIRE!! sort, but the pleasant kind), which, coupled with the Rocky Mountain brand American-style marshmallows I had spotted earlier that day at the grocery store (an aside: isn’t it strange that every “American” food here is not produced by a brand we actually have in America?), reminded me of the best of autumnal activity, camp fires: the ones in the fire pit in the back yard; the ones from camp outs that were a bit too cold, so you’d spend your time stomping and complaining and rotating yourself, warming first the front side, then the backside, but you’d never be altogether warm.  Ah, the way you’d sit, singing songs or in complete silence, watching the sparks rise and dropping charred hot dogs into the ash, debating whether they’re still worth eating… and then I looked across the street and realized that some guy had out a flame thrower, and was torching the weeds growing between the cracks in the sidewalk, which, in its weirdness, knocked all that nostalgia right out of my head.

Then again, as I was walking along the Nahe, the river that runs alongside my walk into Bingen, I was struck by how perfectly fall-ish it was – the air was just the right degree of crispness, the light filtered through the trees in just the

The Nahe River

 

right way, the leaves underfoot were just crunchy enough.  And in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be escaping Game Day in Fayetteville, taking a hike at Devil’s Den… or heck, I’d even love a Game Day in Fayetteville, and if that’s not indication enough of the syrupy light nostalgia can cast, I don’t know what is.  I miss state parks, I miss hikes in the Ozarks, I miss outdoor lunches of summer sausage and Ritz.

That’s not to say that a German fall doesn’t have things going for it.  With three wine fests (and a growing wine belly) under my belt, I should know.  Federweißer, an early fall wine that tastes so fresh and unprocessed, and this two-week-long fall break I’m currently enjoying are testament enough that there are some bonuses to fall in Germany.  In fact, it’s quite fun to see how seasons are celebrated in another country, something I’ve never had the luck to experience before.

 

Zum Wohl!

 

Now that that’s out of my system, next step: Phase 3, learning to redirect my energy to do something productive, like, you know, learn the language.  You can’t learn it through osmosis, but not for lack of trying.  Drat.

The Wine Fest in Gau-Algesheim

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A Request…

…for your favorite stove top recipes!  And no, I don’t mean THE Stove Top, which, unfortunately, is unavailable here.  However, if you ever get the itchin’ to stock my kitchen, I wouldn’t be opposed to receiving a box.  Heck, maybe I could even make some for my students, and we could call it “educational” – and you wouldn’t want to deny these kids a fine American education, would you?  Because really, what’s a fine American education without stuffing?  But I digress.  Also, I’m kidding.  Don’t send Stove Top.

Now that I have a kitchen table that, when needed, doubles nicely as counter space, the time has come to get creative with my two hot plates – warmed-up Thai-Suppe and noodles upon noodles can only get this girl so far and so fat.  So, if it’s not too much to ask, and if you ever get the chance, send your one-dish meals this way (ideally, anything without bell peppers and nutella, because I hate the former, and eat way too much of the latter.  Nutella on the stove top, yuck).

In return… my sincerest gratitude?  Really, my sincerest gratitude.  Also, maybe someday I’ll post some German recipes, if I ever work up the nerve to try them.  I mean, everyone likes kraut, so that would be fair, right?

But since we’re on the subject, and since I’m here, and since you’re here, I can’t help but feel obligated to do something other than take advantage of you.  So,  I give you more on what I know best; I give you more on food… and maybe this time I’ll even talk about the actual edible sort, rather than the dregs of food that can’t go down my garbage disposal, seeing as I don’t have one.

Or, if not the actual edible sort, at least the American sort (see how this ties nicely back to the bit about Stove Top?  See what I did there?  You can thank my own fine American education for that one; an English degree is useful, kids.  If you want to blog).

I went to the grocery store today on my bike, a sea-foam green, creaky old thing (complete with a squeaky duck head strapped to the handle bars.  Really).  But, excusing that it occasionally forgets which gear it’s in, poor thing, it does its job: it makes me feel German.  This is especially true when I can take my bike basket into the store, and fill it up with German Lebensmittel: brotchen, Apfelschorle, nutella (dang), frikadella… okay, okay, and soy sauce.  And maybe cayenne pepper, but whatever.  A girl’s got needs.

But what struck me today, in the rare moment when I stopped pretending to be painfully self-consciously German, were the “American” foods: American peanut butter, American sandwich bread, American brownies, American popcorn, American muffins, American salad dressing (not sure about that last one.  Looked like some variation of Thousand Island?).  Each one of these, without fail, has the word “American” plastered brazenly across the label, and each one of these, without fail,  has an American flag streaming patriotically, bawdily behind.  Sometimes, if the Amerifood in question is lucky enough, the Statue of Liberty even gives her stamp of certified American approval.

for the la-aand of the freeeee, and the hooome! of the! nuts!

It’s ridiculous.

But I guess the American’s view of Germany is no less refined.  In our collective consciousness, Germany is Bavaria, lederhosen-clad and beer-prosting.  It’s just the nature of things, I guess.

Or I could feel justified in writing it off as such, if our exchange of half-understood cultural mumbo-jumbo were at least mutual, but as it stands, it’s not.  I’m constantly in bumping into English products and language inserting themselves into all things German.  In a technical English class today, the students were having trouble pronouncing some words: “electricity” came out as “eletric-city,” “mechanic” was “meshanic,” “foreign” was not even worth it.  But, with a bit of prompting from the teacher, the students caught on, and in each case, the students’ epiphany was accompanied by an “Oh, like Electric Lady Land,” or, “like Foreigner! The band!”

Or, sometimes, I’ll be talking with someone, feeling pretty darn good about my comprehension level, and then realize later, as I replay this conversation through my head, that I only understood largely in part because of some strange English word thrown in – “outdoor playground,” “internet,” “fast-food” – you name it, there’s an American expression for it.

What do we have in return?  Schadenfreude.

Anyway, this “Americanization of Germany” topic is too big for me to handle at the moment, and enough has been written about it already that my puny bloggy comments (“Gosh, would you just look at that silly jar of peanuts?”) don’t exactly contribute a heck of a lot to the field.  I’m four months out of college guys; my theoretical, analytical days are over.