Category Archives: Stupid extended metaphors

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.

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False Friends

I suppose, with a title like that, I’m supposed to start this post with some juicy sentence like, “This past year, I’ve figured out who my true friends are,” but I get so lonely here, I simply don’t have the luxury of weeding out friends at the moment.

Also, I’m not fourteen.  And I like my friends.

This title, of course, is referring to false friends of the linguistic sort, those backstabbing, two-faced, lying son-uffa-gun words that seem like they would have the same meaning in both German and English.  And there are so dang many cognates and loanwords between the two languages, seeing as English stems largely from Germanic roots, and more recently, English thought it would return the favor and stage a mass takeover of the German language, for which Germans everywhere are quite welcome.  You hear it everywhere: Outdoor-Event, To-do List, Inlineskaten, Wanderlust, Wiener. In some ways, German can almost be comical to the English ear, like it’s almost-but-not-quite English.  “Komm hier” sounds nearly identical to its English counterpart, “come here.”  You don’t need me around to tell you that “Die Familie singt und das Baby trinkt Milch” is “The family sings and the baby drinks milk,” although das Baby could also have  had Alkohol, Bier, or Wein without losing a single English-speaker among us, although it may have lost the MADD members among us.

But then, there’s the other words.  The words that lure you in with their dashing good looks and their debonair charm, only to dash your hopes of establishing a fulfilling and long-term relationship when they turn out to be a total jerk.  Words like handy.  Seems innocent enough, right?  Handy, like, he’s good with his hands, a handyman!  But something went horribly wrong when that word found its way into German: Handy, auf Deutsch, is cell phone.  Drat.

So then I wrote a poem (which can be a Lyric, whereas “lyrics,” unfortunately, are “Liedtexte.” But “text” is “Text,” so I guess that makes up for it.):

A friend is a Freund; German’s a breeze
‘Til you realize your friends are masked enemies.

Backen is bakin’ and kochen is cookin’,
But Chef is boss, and snack is Happen.

A Herd‘s not a herd; instead it’s a stove,
Although herd is Herde; I know, I know.

An Oldtimer‘s not grandpa, it’s just an old car
And wide is breit while weit is far.

Gymnasium is high school, that one’s a doozy
And receipt and Rezept are nothing but floozies.

And so what is the moral of this too-tragic tale?
Gift is not a present, but poison; farewell.

Wah-waaah.  Any favorite false friends of your own, all you polyglots out there?  Or, alternatively, any public shaming you want to do of the actual false friends in your life?  Leave it in the comments; that’s totally appropriate.

I Sing a Song of Love Downloaded

So, at this point, I’m basically just a Bella, waiting for her Edward (eighteen days! What!) (if Joe ever finds out he’s just been compared to a Twilight character, I am dead meat.  Or perhaps, if that comparison holds, I am living dead meat).  So, in true angsty teen spirit, and with the weight of my English degree behind me and also with helpful cues from Wikipedia (“The Petrarchan sonnet [also Petrarchanism or Petrarchian] is a verse form that typically refers to a concept of unattainable love”), I present a poem about love 2.0:

I sing a song of love downloaded,
Of my better half, halved, delimbed;
His backlit visage ne’er by these buttons dimmed;
His flattened, framed form by pixels corroded.
This song is of webcams, by an engineer coded;
His arms from which our love once stemmed
Now reduced a dimension, they send his love IMs,
And instead of him, mine hold a laptop unfolded.
I sing a song of love across miles,
Across oceans and countries, and exotic routes;
Too far for touch, near enough for talking.
This love is stretched on air and wires,
Enriched and reduced by Google’s pursuits,
Kept alive by heart and by Facebook stalking.

Neverminding that Edward Cullen is not a bard, and that Shakespeare is not Petrarch, I think this is a pretty accurate representation of what's going on here.

 

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.

All Roads Lead to Mainz

In light of recent elections, the teachers have been asking me to teach a lot of American history lessons – I guess they’re hoping I’ll be able to lend some perspective and context to what America is and why that’s so, as though the ye olde Tea Party can explain, well, the Tea Party.

But something about the quick-and-dirty timeline I’ve been passing out to the students seems, somehow, increasingly more laughable with each copy I make.  Sure, that’s partly because it starts with Columbus, as though America just materialized from the European imagination there on the Atlantic horizon, and sure, it skips from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, wham, bam, thank you ma’am – but when you’re allotted the time I have and allotted the attention spans I’ve been given, well, I had to make some editing decisions, or butchering decisions, call them what you will.

But that’s not the reason, not entirely.  Mostly, looking over this silly little timeline, it makes me realize how… how… cute our history is*.  It’s so little!  I jush wanna pinch its wittle cheeks!  Awaska hashn’t losht its wittle bay-by fat!

…ugh, I suddenly hate blogging.

My point is this: in Mainz (neighboring town of that’s-where-I-bring-my-laundry-to fame) is built on Roman ruins.  So much so, in fact, that there’s a conflict between preservation and development efforts – builders are afraid to build for fear of striking gold, by which I mean a Roman bath or mosaic or  what-have-you, because this means halting construction while archeologists do their nit-picking through ancient ship remains.  Sometimes this unearthing is incorporated (like the  monument erected to Roman general Drusus, surrounded nesting-doll style by a 17th-century citadel), sometimes it is compromised (like the temple preserved underneath a shopping mall), sometimes it goes ignored entirely (like that time the railroad plowed through the middle of a theater).

So the effect is this city built like a parfait, except not so stratified, so not really like a parfait at all: a Roman crust, a creamy layer of the Middle Ages, some Renaissance fudge, a hearty helping of 1960’s post-war fruit that you sort of scoot to one side so you can get to the chocolate, a dollop of Rococo whip cream, and a Marc Chagall cherry on top.  And, of course, if you want to overextend this metaphor, let’s not forget a spoon of a war that dug through it all and left a sad trail behind:

The shell of St. Christophskirche - which, just to add to this medley of history-upon-history, was where Gutenberg was baptized

So what am I getting at?  That American history/architecture/parfaits can’t hold a (Roman) candle?  No.  I guess all I’m saying is that an American city simply can’t attain the sort of aesthetic you find in a city like Mainz where ancient abuts the modern in a very livable way, and you probably wouldn’t trip over  an aqueduct poking out of the ground like a tree root.  In other words… places are different.  Travel highlights that.

So much for my grand conclusion.  I guess that’s the danger of musing on something like Roman ruins: essentially, you always just wind up at some derivation of “wow, that’s old.”

*Despite my blatant use of the word “cute” and my subsequent baby talk to America, I don’t actually mean to trivialize American history. Really.  I love it too.