30 September, 2007

My Travel Pal, Nerida

When I was in my late teens, early twenties, I used to come over to Germany every year to visit my ballet friend, Nerida. During the first few years, Nerida was dancing at a state theatre in southern Germany. Then she moved to the German/Swiss border, on the Bodensee, to live with some actors in a farmhouse commune. (The actors performed renaissance comedy as street performers throughout the region.)

On numerous occasions, Nerida and I travelled around on Eurail passes. We travelled up-an-down Germany, uo to Norway, Sweden, over to England, and Whales: if my memory serves right. These trips were always done on a shoestring budget. There was no room for financial error. We didn’t have credit cards, nest eggs, or a disaster fund. What we had, was what we had.

But, of course, we were constantly making mistakes and landing in tight situations. Such as, arriving in London with a long list of “open invitations”, only to discover everyone was off on vacation at the time. Thus we had to forego meals to rent the sleaziest of hotel rooms in the northern outskirts of London. There were no locks on the hotel room doors. Our friendship survived this and many such situations.

There can be no two personalities more different than Nerida and mine. Where she enjoys rigorous immersion in all art and cultural events, I prefer to spend my days on a park bench, watching people walk by. She is industrious. I am lazy. She is meticulous. I am sloppy. But, we are friends. We are best friends.

These journeys taught me a very lesson in life: it is best to travel with a very close friend, or a total stranger. Anything in between is a recipe for disaster.

You have to love your travel companion dearly, so that you can (try to) overlook all their personality quirks. Or, as second choice, travel with a stranger and spend the trip getting to know them. A half-friend, a passing acquaintance, isn’t going to cut the grade.

Nerida and I witnessed other fellow travellers’ bitching, complaining, and whining with a sense of superiority. We shouldn’t have been so sanctimonious, for we were just lucky to get along so well with each other.

Having a travel pal who is also your best friend is one of those chicken/egg dilemmas. Are you best friends because you are travel pals? Or, is it the other way around?

What do you think?

29 September, 2007

My School Pal, Ann

My pal, Ann, is celebrating her 50th birthday this weekend. In Montreal. Sadly, I cannot attend. I wish I were there to witness the festivities, because Ann is one of the most outrageously audacious people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. I hope she and hers have a wild and wonderful time.

I’ll tell one story, only one, about Ann and her audacity:

When Ann and I were in grade ten, our biology teacher, Miss Templeton, was given the task of teaching us (an all girl class) the facts of life. Miss Templeton managed to teach us the complete reproduction process (yes, that is what she called it), without once mentioning male or female genitalia. Quite a feat. One that did not escape our attention.

One or two of us tried to pose leading questions, which would put Miss Templeton in a precarious situation of naming body parts. She always managed to outmanoeuvre us. Ann took the direct approach. “Oh, oh” Miss Templton”, she yelled out, waving her arm rigorously up in the air. “Yes, Ann”, our teacher responded, “What is it?” Ann looked up very innocently and asked, “Is it pronounced clitorIS or cliTORris?”

To you, Ann, may you, your friends and your family have a helluva time!

28 September, 2007

My Pal, Lasse


Nearly every Friday for the last year, I meet up with my friend S. and her now two-year-old son, Lasse. We meet in a nearby café for a leisurely chat. The only reason it is possible for S. and I to have a leisurely chat, is due to the construction site across from the café.

The going-ons prove an endless source of entertainment for Lasse. There are trucks, cranes, diggers, drillers, dirt, dust, mud, and all sorts of men walking around with hardhats gesticulating here-and-there.

Lasse is in paradise. His vocabulary is very precise when it comes to naming the different vehicles and pieces of machinery.

Unfortunately, my friends moved up to a lovely house in northern Germany early this week. Still, I came to the café this morning at our usual time. Part of me hoping they would be sitting at “our” table, with Lasse gazing out across the road at the big machines.

Instead, I sit here with my cup of Earl Grey tea, looking at the site and missing my little friend terribly. And, in all honesty, the magic of the construction site has vanished. Now, it is just a dirty loud site, lacking in any aesthetic beauty.

I just don’t think I can rediscover its charm on my own. Best to find another place. One not haunted with the enthusiasm and wonder of a little boy curiosity.

27 September, 2007

Smoking Nation

One of the negative aspects of living in Germany is the prevalence of smokers everywhere you go. There are regions, like Luebeck, where there are still no anti-smoking laws. People literally smoke without the least amount of inhibition.

The government is making efforts to enforce anti-smoking laws. Unfortunately, their efforts are tentative.

I worked at a university hospital and they did not ban smoking in the hospital bistro until a year ago! Figure that one. Doctors and patients sitting around and smoking one cigarette after another. Bizarre.

Yet, I found out that all is not well in other countries, which have long enforced anti-smoking laws. A friend of mine went hiking along the Jabob Paths in Spain last summer. Apparently, there are signs everywhere, e.g., in restaurants, saying “Smokers Welcomed”. She says the Spaniards don’t like to be told what to do.

26 September, 2007

Bathtime! Bathtime! Water, Fun and Laughtime! (Page 7 of 7)

Oh, no! The pajamas, diaper, towels and toys are all floating in the water!

(Background story: The dog is in bathtub, with bone in mouth, with the pajamas, diaper, towels and toys all floating in the water.)

Bathtime! Bathtime! Water, Fun and Laughtime! (Page 6 of 7)

Bathtime! Bathtime! Water, fun and laughtime!

(Background story: The mom and dad stand in the doorway. Their son and daughter stand on their toes looking over the rim of the bathtub.)

25 September, 2007

Bathtime! Bathtime! Water, Fun and Laughtime! (Page 5 of 7)

"Here are all your bathtime toys", says mommy.

(Background story: The mom gives her daughter and son toys: tugboat, yellow duck, colorful ladle and turtle shaped sponge. Their dog carries a plastic bone in his mouth. They are all running down the corridor together.)

24 September, 2007

Bathtime! Bathtime! Water, Fun and Laughtime! (Page 4 of 7)

Daddy takes two clean towels out of the linen closet. "Bring these into the bathroom, pumpkin", he says.

(Background story: The little girl runs off towards the bathroom dragging her favourite towel behind her. One sock is on her foot, the other off. Their dad picks up her pyjamas off the floor of the bedroom and follows her to the bathroom.)

23 September, 2007

Bathtime! Bathtime! Water, Fun and Laughtime! (Page 3 of 7)

Mommy fetches the pajamas, a diaper and an undershirt. "Here, bring these into the bathroom, dear", she says.

(Background story: The mom undresses the boy. He trots off carrying his pyjamas and undershirt and clean diaper. The mom puts the dirty diaper into the diaper pail. Their dog follows the boy out of the room.)

22 September, 2007

Bathtime! Bathtime! Water, Fun and Laughtime! (Page 2 of 7)

Mommy puts on the bathtime music.

(Background story: Their son stretches up and tries (but fails) to reach the cassette recorder. He takes his stuffed animal and pushes the button with the tiger’s ear. But, the tiger’s ear is too soft. His mom comes over and puts the music on.)

21 September, 2007

Bathtime! Bathtime! Water, Fun and Laughtime! (Page 1 of 7)

Daddy turns on the water in the bathtub.

(Background story: The dad leans over the bathtub sprout testing the water temperature. His daughter peeks over the bathtub rim.)

New Project

I'm reworking a children story I wrote years ago called, Bathtime! Bathtime! Water, Fun and Laughtime!

Charlotte of Charlotte's Web has kindly agreed to make up the story as a podcast. If all goes well, the podcast will be accompanied by a slideshow of my collages.

Over the next week, I am hoping to post a page of the story with a collage each day.

Ideally, I'd love for someone to illustrate the story, so if any one knows someone who might be interested, please contact me.

Hope you enjoy the story.

20 September, 2007

Changing Perspective

I went to a women's organization to find out whether or not there is any concrete thought of changing the discriminatory (in my opinion) regulation about not hiring people as teachers who are older than 39 years old.

It was an interesting talk. There have been some new laws put through in the last while on a European level. The person I was consulting didn't know how long it would take for changes to occur on a national or regional level. I wonder what it takes for the legal and governmental bodies to see eye-to-eye on such matters. And, how can citizens help them to change their perspectives?

19 September, 2007

Soul Candy

I’m trying not to pay heed to the grumbling from the misery monster in my belly. I spend each morning calling various government offices and institutions, or going to appointments.

Things are slowly moving along, but there are a lot of bureaucratic difficulties to be cleared before I can start applying for teaching jobs. It turns out that there is an age limit (under 39) on hiring professionals as teachers.

When the beast in my belly hears such news, it starts to roar. To avoid the beast taking over, I am consuming conspicuous amounts of soul candy. My current preferred soul candy mix is as follows:

  • Read uplifting literature
  • Watch uplifting presentations (e.g. Popcasts, TED Talks)
  • Visit museums or churches
  • Go for long walks
  • Snack on quotes and sayings

This mornings favourite two sayings are as follows:

Only dead fish swim with the current.”


Men in women professions, are usually gay. Women in men professions, are pioneers.

(Told to me, an engineer, by my beloved husband, a translator (i.e., working in a woman’s profession).)

A generous portion of soul candy does much to quieten that misery beast in my belly.

18 September, 2007

Stay The Curse


My virtual fortune cookie today was

“Stay the Curse.”

Isn’t it lovely to know there is someone working at gadegetate, who used to write those poorly translated, incorrectly spelled, and grammatically incorrect fortune cookie sayings of old.

This is the first time I’ve noticed an error in my virtual fortune cookie saying. It made me lonely for those old sayings. Why doesn’t someone produce a virtual fortune cookie widget with all the kooky fortune cookie sayings?

Here is a list of a few the program could include. Wouldn’t one of these lighten up your day?

17 September, 2007

Walk Along The Beach

This afternoon I fell into to a daydream, where I was sitting at a table drinking tea with my dear friend, N. Someone who moved (not so) long ago to Auckland.

N. and I pretend we will see each other soon. We dearly wish it so, but the reality of this possibility is somewhat in a suspended state.

Instead, I write her a letter, I send her sweet smelling flowers, and a walk along the beach... I make her this collage.

16 September, 2007

15 September, 2007

Web Of Squeaks

Early Saturday morning. The men of our household are still sleep deeply. My daughter and I wander around the corner for breakfast at the bakery/café.

This is luxury. Fresh-baked goods. Comfortable seating. Good lighting. BuddhaBar music. And, rejoice, the café is non-smoking: a rarity in Luebeck. There aren’t many people her any way at this early hour: a young couple, a few elder singles, and two families. Overall, there is an atmosphere of quiet. We might be all awake, but we have not awoken to the demands of the day.

My daughter and I have brought books, pens and notebooks, and time to sit in quiet occupation. She orders half a bun with slices of hardboiled egg on top. I have a slice of delicious black bread, with quark and cucumbers, and a sprinkling of shallots. As I say, luxury.

A mother and her five-year-old son sit down at a table near ours. The mother has an extra large café latte in one hand and the daily newspaper tucked under her arm. The boy carries a plate with three donuts to their table.

The mother reads the paper. The boy gulps down the donuts. He wants another donut. He wants one now. His non-stop pleading finally penetrates the barrier of his mother’s consciousness. She reaches into her purse and gives him 50 cents to buy another.

The boy runs over to the counter on the tip of his toes. It is as if he doesn’t have time to put his heels down, he is so anxious to get to where he’s going. The bottled-up energy contained in his five-year-old body practically lifts his feet off the ground.

He returns with the sugar-covered donut. Gulps that one down, and then starts asking his mother for more. She hunkers down over her newspaper. He begins to swing his chair back and forth. Each swing produces a hair-raising squeak.

Squeak. Squeak. “I want another donut”. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. “I want another donut, now!”

Squeak. Squeak. The razor-sharp noise emanates away from his chair outward. They create a web of irritation that catches the attention of the other customers in the café. With each squeak, another customer looks up, trying to register where the noise is coming from.

Eventually, all of the customers are doing their best-to-ignore-the-situation. Yet, we do not succeed. We are completely mesmerised by the boy’s persistence. Is he going to get another donut out of his mother?

An hour goes by. Six donuts later. Forty-minutes of constant squeaking. The mother tells her son they have to go. He must put on his jacket. He won’t do it without another donut.

Some of the customers look as if they would be willing to buy him the donut. One fellow actually reaches into his pocket. Then he shamefacedly goes back to reading his book.

To pay for the donut would be as good as admitting that he spent the last hour wishing the boy away. Which undoubtedly, some of the customers have been doing. No one is about to admit it though.

Instead, we all sit frozen in our seats until the two leave. Then we collectively expel an audible sigh and shift back comfortably into our seats. That shift back into quiet occupation is one of palatable delight.

Though I do feel sad. I wonder how often this boy causes this reaction of relief when he leaves the room or a public area? Is there anyone who regrets his leaving? Is there anyone whose eyes light up when he enters the room?

14 September, 2007

Dancing Fingers

Many, many years ago, when I was still a classical ballet dancer, I saw a documentary film about a famous dance school for girls in India. What I remember most about the film was the description of the rigorous training the girls went through for years and years before they were considered proper dancers.

Now, I took ballet lessons for three to five hours every day, but the dance schedule the Asian girls had made us look like sissies in comparison.

The most astonishing thing was the fact the girls had to learn how to move/control every muscle in their bodies. They learnt a complete repertoire of facial expressions. They spoke a whole language of expressions just by moving their fingers and wrists.

This seemed such a strange concept, for at that time, a classical ballet dancers facial expression was usually frozen. Your fingers, hands and wrists were only used to extend your arm position or line, and not as a tool of expression.

Todays collage is in homage of dancing fingers, hands, and wrists.

13 September, 2007

Practically Adult

My son turned seventeen years old today. Practically adult, isn’t it?

My two sisters and I were obnoxious teenagers. We made our parents’ lives hell. Since my father was off travelling on business most of the time, my mother bore the brunt of our scorn.

When my kids were younger, I used to tell them that the moment they turned into obnoxious teenagers, I was immigrating to Australia. They could stay here in Luebeck under their father’s care. The prospect of being on the receiving line of teenage hatred, mortification, confusion, frustration, just did not appeal to me.

So far, I’ve yet to even make a preliminary search about Australian immigration requirements. Knock on wood, none of the anticipated emotional rages have occurred.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my son for sparing us the agony of uncontrollable mood swings. He’s always been such a gentle giant, and may he continue to be one for the rest of his long life. He shows compassion and intelligence towards people, like his parents, who possess a wide range of inadequacies.

He must have figured out early on, that only a pitiful person would taunt and tease us with delinquent behaviour. His father and I do not have strong enough constitutions for such game playing.

Actually, if there is one thing I’ve learnt over the years is that parenting is a continual process re-experiencing those difficult times of childhood. This time through, we have the advantage of age. Thus, when my child is weaning, then so am I. My child is learning not to be dependent on my breast. I am learning not to be dependent on my child being on my breast.

And now that my children are teenagers, I am learning all over again about what puberty is. If my son tells us we are treating him like a child, then we must learn to treat him like an adult. We have to get over the notion that we can stipulate what he does, when, and where. It is his choice to do something. We can ask politely, but that is all. That’s the deal.

I'm glad my son is the one teaching me the steps this time. My two older sisters, I am sorry to say, weren't the best of roll models the last time around. Though they were not responsible for my behaviour; I was creatively destructive all on my lonesome.

(That said… going through puberty again at fifty, while simultaneously going through menopause, can be a real strain. But this is a topic for another post.)

12 September, 2007

Rhythm Of My Days

I’ve been calling people, researching various sites, and working out financial details the last few days. Such activities tend to sap my energy. I’ve only been unemployed twice before for short periods of time. Yet, each time, I did fall into a dark hole.

Now that I am older and wiser (yeah sure), I am hoping to be more Zen about the circumstances. I woke up this morning and realised that I am succeeding only on the surface. Deep down there is a beast brewing.

Time to stop running and go slow. Time to find a quiet corner to sit and contemplate the rhythm of my days. Time to pay notice to the changing of the seasons. To do things I normally don’t have time to do.

11 September, 2007

Notes In The Air

Is there anything more wonderful than living in a household where music is played? Not on the radio, but on real instruments. My husband plays the guitar and sings beautifully. My son keyboard. My daughter keyboard and saxophone. Luxury. Here is an expression of gratitude for all the years of music.

10 September, 2007

Between Times

Cee calls me up this afternoon. Is there any chance we can meet for a cup of coffee? A flash of joy runs through my bones. We haven’t seen each other in ages. It’s lovely to be in the mood, in the position, to make a spontaneous escape from the domestic doldrums.

We’ve known each other for eons. We were neighbours when our children were young. We tried to keep in touch, but rarely succeeded, after they moved outside of the city.

They wanted a rural lifestyle. We liked the city life, despite the fact that we had no garden or playground nearby. Nevertheless, I’ve followed her career, she mine.

We sit in our favourite café. One we used to go with our babies. The coffee was good, the room was baby proof (e.g. no electrical sockets in reach) and the waitress didn’t give us dirty looks if the children wandered out from under the table.

This afternoon, those days seem so far away. Cee remarks upon this.

We chat without really conversing. I’m saddened by the fact we’ve obviously lost the closeness of past times.

At the point when I am wondering whether I should go, Cee is suddenly telling me how she and her husband are divorcing. In between her story of a recent family reunion and a rant about our impoverished educational system, she mentions something so intimate and tragic, I stop breathing.

Instead of asking her “Why?” I ask her “What are you going to do?” and a look of relief cross Cee’s face. She just does not have the energy to bridge the emotional distance that has developed between us. The years of talking only when we’d bump into each other downtown, the thousand promises to meet soon though we never did, back to the time when we’d sit in her garden and confide to each other how overwhelmed we were with life.

Sitting in the café this afternoon, over our second cup of coffee, Cee talks about what she is going to do now. Today. Tomorrow. As long as it takes to finalise her divorce and start on a journey after-her-divorce.

I tell her I’ll help, if she wishes. Certainly, I can do that, though I know those between times are lost. We’ll just have to take tentative steps forward into a new friendship.

09 September, 2007

Poem Collage


This collage was inspired by Rita Dove’s poem Straw Hat & Dusting (listen and read here).

08 September, 2007

Work, Work, Work


It's been a very productive week. Lots of phone calls and interviews... I'm looking for a new job. Actually, I'm looking for a new field of work. Friends and colleagues offering me helpful information and emotional support. Nice to be cushioned.

Otherwise, I am reworking my Elroy children's story again. Last round of editing produced some very good suggestions from some readers. Four more readers (that's you Fee) are going to receive the story on this next round.

07 September, 2007

Life Is Easy When The Sun Shines

I promised myself that I wouldn't complain about the rainy weather any more. This is a sort of passive aggressive attempt at bringing out the sunshine of my heart.

I went over the other day to help weed the rock garden at the children's school. Usually, after a summer holiday of no watering the garden would be bone dry. We'd be looking for plants that had survived. This time we were greeted with moist loose soil and moss.

06 September, 2007

The Shawn Of My Childhood (Part Three)

Shawn tells me that being an alter boy is quite a cushy job and has certain privileges. You get first dibs on communion. You get to miss school for funerals.

He shows me the cupboard where all the priest robes are stored. There are different coloured robes for religious holidays like Easter and Christmas. Shawn tells me there is a special store downtown that only has robes for priests, nuns, and alter boys.

He points out the vault where the consecrated hosts are stored. He explains that the priest consecrates the hosts during mass and so, if there are hosts left over, they have to be stored for the next mass or eaten. It is a sin to throw away consecrated hosts. It would be like throwing away the body of Christ. I don’t know if I should believe him.

I ask him how long he has been an alter boy and he admits he only started about six months ago. But, he says he knows a lot about it because all of his six brothers were alter boys before him.

I ask him why he falls asleep during mass. He blushes from the top of his head to the bottom of his toes. It’s because he is hungry. His mother doesn’t allow any of the family to eat before mass. I start feeling sorry for Shawn.
It must be fun to miss school though… Shawn admits he doesn’t like doing funerals if they are open coffin funerals. He spends all of his time trying not to stare at the dead person.

Then I remember how, at my grandfather’s funeral, Shawn had looked down at the ground the whole time. Father Eugene circled around my grandfather coffin, sweeping the incense burner back and forth, back and forth. Sending waves of smoke across my grandfather’s face. Shawn followed behind looking at the priest’s feet. Father Eugene then handed Shawn the burner to hold while he genuflected and prayed for my grandfather’s spirit.

There was so much smoke coming out of the incense burner, Shawn was choking. He decided to place his alter boy’s robe over the burner. The smoke stoped instantly. He let out a sigh of relief. But then, the smoke started coming up from the inside of his collar.

When I saw the smoke slowly crawling up his neck, I started to laugh. I put my head down in prayer, but my body shook up and down. Fortunately, my parents thought I was crying, so I didn’t get into trouble.

Shawn was not so fortunate. He told me that Father Eugene really yelled at him and then called his mother about the incident. When Shawn got home, his mother also yelled at him. His brothers teased him. His father ignored him.

Somehow I sort of feel responsible for getting him into trouble. It was my grandfather’s funeral. Maybe I just feel bad because I laughed at him.

So, as we walk back to the catechism class, I ask Shawn whether I could have a piece of his bubble gum after all. He fishes out the package from his back pocket and proudly hands me a piece. The gum is rather old looking and just a little bit sticky, but I put it in my mouth and tell him it tastes good.

He whole face lights up in a smile. I realise then that even though the gum comes at a price, I am willing to pay it. That day during recess, I stand beside Shawn in the playground and we watch the older kids playing dodge ball. This is the first of many recesses, though thankfully, we never held hands.

Note: This story is loosely based on fact. All except for incident with the incense burner, which really happened.

05 September, 2007

The Shawn Of My Childhood (Part Two)

“What’s a urinal?” I ask naively. Shawn explains. I can’t believe that boys would stand around this sink and pee in front of everyone. Shawn shrugs his shoulders, as if to say, “You have to be there to understand”.

Shawn is the only redhead in my class. He is an alter boy extraordinaire. He is usually the alter boys serving when we go to mass on Sundays. I often watch him during mass because sometimes he nods off and I like to see whether the priest discovers this.

Shawn also served the mass at my grandfather’s funeral a few weeks back.

He shyly offers me a piece of bubblegum from his back pocket. I refuse at first because I know that the gum is attached with a price tag I am not willing to pay. It means spending recesses with Shawn. Standing on the sidelines next to him and maybe even holding his hand.

This wouldn’t be a smart thing to do: for it will “attract attention”. Something I don’t want to happen. Rather, I am trying as hard as I can to remain invisible in my new school.

There are other kids that I wouldn’t mind standing next too, but not Shawn. I don’t know how I know, but there is some shadow hanging over Shawn.

He is one of seven children. Seven boys. He is the youngest. They all have red hair like their father. They are Irish immigrants. They speak with funny accents. The family is poor. And for some reason, I don’t understand, everyone looks down upon them.

So, when Shawn stands there in the boys’ bathroom next to me, explaining what a urinal is, and then offers me a package of bubblegum, my first instinct is to get out of there as soon as possible. Then I remember Shawn is a alter boy and that is sort of like being a priest, isn’t it?

To be continued…

04 September, 2007

The Shawn Of My Childhood (Part One)

My new school is connected to a church by a cracked-asphalt playground. There are faded court game markings criss-crossing the playground. Since there are no nets or goalposts anywhere, we do not know what games were meant to be played when the lines were first painted on the ground.

Instead, the faded lines are used to mark off territories: girls from boys, tough guys from the wimps, older kids from younger kids.

Occasionally, but only occasionally, some students play dodge ball. Only the most rambunctious kids ever get the nerve to play. If they play dodge ball they have to squeeze everyone else to the playground’s periphery. It means they have a guaranteed audience. Mind you, a disgruntled audience.

If students play well, meaning some of the players get properly whacked and fall down, then we, those standing on the side, start to cheer. This is what the players wait for, the moment their audience starts cheering instead of jeering. All of that effort just to overcome their boredom, and see whether they can make us temporarily overcomes ours.

We go to the church for catechism classes. In my last school the priest came to our class to tell us about purgatory and heavenandhell. Now we march across our school playground and through the church to the back, where there are various rooms.

One room is equipped with folding chairs and tables. The Ladies’ Auxiliary usually uses it. We each pull out a folding chair. We are here to learn about the Baby Jesus from Father Eugene.

I have to go to the bathroom and Father Eugene allows me to leave the catechism class. I walk down the corridor looking for a bathroom. There is a room with a vault used to store the Eucharist and the priest’s robes. Another room is a changing room for the alter boys.

There is a boys’ bathroom, but no girls’ bathroom. After a little procrastination, I enter the boys’ bathroom.

The bathroom is surprisingly large. Sunlight streams in through three large windows. Sunbeams dance across the floor and over the largest sink I’ve ever seen in my life. A fantastic round communal sink with a fountain sprouting out of the middle. A sink of biblical proportions.

Shawn, a boy in my class, comes into the bathroom while I am running around the sink in circles, swishing my hand through the water spraying out from the centre of the sink. I’m making rainbows in the sunbeams.

Shawn asks me what I am doing. “Making rainbows in this neat sink”, is my clever answer. “It’s not a sink”, he says, “It’s a urinal”.

To be continued…

03 September, 2007

Café Culture

Many years ago, twenty-five to be precise, I moved to Germany on a whim. I brought along two pieces of luggage and a lot of nerve.

A good friend of mine (who I met way back when, during my life as a ballet dancer) worked as a dancer in a state theatre in southern Germany. I visited her from time to time, and I thought it might be fun to live here.

Even though I visited my friend six or seven times, I didn’t really know all that much about life in Germany. I learnt more about what a crazy wonderful world the theatre is. I was wearing rosy-tinted glasses during those visits, which made everything and everyone… rosy. The little information I gathered was of no use helping me meet the day-to-day challenges working as an engineer in a large corporation.
Still, one pleasant aspect of living in Germany that I discovered early on, the café culture, was and is a constant source of joy. In every place I lived, there’s been one or two delightful café to while away the afternoons in. Currently, I am living in a café Mecca. There are over two-dozen cafés or bistros in a four-block radius of our apartment. Heaven!

The true test of a café is not necessarily their coffee, but their tea. Do they use loose tealeaves or teabags? Is their water filtered? Do they heat up the pot before poring in the water? Do they use teacups or just serve tea is the same cups as coffee? Do they pore the water over the tealeaves or dunk the tea in afterwards?

To non-tea drinkers, this may sound very silly, but it’s not. A good cup of tea is part ingredients and part ceremony.

01 September, 2007

True Blue Navigator

My colleague and I get along well enough on a day-to-day level, but I do not know how well we will survive today’s road trip to Frankfurt to visit a potential new customer. Our mission, now that we’ve accepted it, is to hustle up a big contract for a product we developed, which we are having difficulties getting on the market. The thought of the up-an-coming presentation is not as daunting as spending numerous hours alone with this fellow in a car.

Arne is a talker: a rather arrogant talker at that. It doesn’t matter if he is in a room with a hundred people or one person, he’s always at helm. Over the last years, I’ve discovered that he is one of those people who live under the (illusion) impression that his word is law. Granted, Arne is rather charismatic, but he tends to step on the toes of people sensitivities by dismissing their opinions and ignoring their right to participate in the conversation as equal partners.

This means, at the office, I keep my personal opinions on political/family/social/economical matters to myself. Where I lean to the left, Arne leans to the (far) right. Where I prefer taking the direct path to any goal, Arne travels long and convoluted routes. The idea of sitting alone in a car with him the whole morning long, making conversation, makes me nervous.

Our trip gets off to an auspicious start. Road construction just outside of the city limits necessitates finding another route. There are various detour signs, but Arne pointedly ignores them. He deems the suggested routes as tedious and slow. Instead, he chooses to venture out on his own. I think he is crazy. Only an idiot would ignore the carefully laid out detour signs.

Much to my surprise, he manages to bring us back on our intended route further down the way. Even more surprising, the traffic is flowing again.

I compliment him on his success. Instead of accepting the compliment gracefully, he dismisses it, saying that only morons can’t navigate. Little does he know that sitting right there beside him is one of those morons. I point out that perhaps, even if everyone can navigate to some degree, a true blue navigator is rare and should be treasured as much as a musician with true pitch or a translator who speaks many languages.

He poohoos this remark as being ridiculous. I find it ridiculous that he finds it ridiculous. I know for a fact, since I am a living example, that there are people who cannot navigate themselves out of a tunnel.

I once read an article in the newspaper that stated, 80% of all holiday accidents occur within a ten-mile radius of your home. People travel thousands and thousands of miles during their vacation without incident, only to get involved in an accident right before their doorstep. The article stated this was due to the fact that people let down their guard and attention close to home.

Which might be true for some, but I know of another phenomena that plays a roll. What happens is the following… say I am travelling to some far off place to visit a friend. This usually entails travelling a long distance by plane or train.

It doesn’t matter whether flights are delayed, or connections are missed, I arrive at the airport or train terminal sometime, or somehow. It is now, in that infamous ten-mile radius of my goal, the chances of my losing my way increases to almost 99%.

It doesn’t matter whether I’ve visited the friend numerous times in the past, am following a map, or trying to decipher the detailed well-written instructions sent by my friends, I get lost. All the roads I’m on appear familiar. All left turns eventually turn right. I misjudge distances. Public monuments and important tourist sites somehow vanish temporarily from their original locations. It is crazy. Somewhere in that last ten-mile radius, I always get lost.

My good friends know this and kindly come and pick me up at the airport or train station. They don’t quite understand how I get lost, but they have ceased asking.

All of this goes through my head, listening to colleague pontificate about how silly people are who have to rely on GPS or Google Maps. Instinctively, I sense we should get off this topic soon, before smoke starts coming out of my ears. I gently change the topic.

I do what I often do in tense situations I start asking questions. None of this “Look in the sky, a bird” type of questions, but good intelligent questions that steer us away from topics where, at best, we can only agree-to-disagree.

In this case, I ask about the company we are about to visit, what strategy should we take during our meeting, his past experiences with them, his future plans. And while Arne weaves in and out of the streets, I weave in and out of conversation. At one point, I realise that I am a good navigator. A true blue navigator of words and ideas. Who would have guessed?