31 October, 2007

Happy Halloween

This is my favourite holiday of the year. As a dear friend of mine wrote "a perfect combination of theater and sweets". Such a shame that not many children go trick or treating downtown. I tried running after some kids dressed up and on their way to the suburbs one year. "Hello, we have candy as well!" It didn't go over so well. The parents lead them off in the opposite direction rather briskly, with a look that said, "Let's get some distance between us and the crazy lady"...

Still, we buy candy every year, in the hope children will come to our door.

This year my beloved came back from the sweets store with Christmas chocolates for Halloween. Apparently, there wasn't any Halloween sweets left. If any children do come they will undoubtedly be thrilled with the glittery delicious Christmas selection.

30 October, 2007

Blind Faith

My grandma prayed novenas whenever I wrote exams during my university years. She would get up every hour during the night and say three rosaries.

Her name should have been printed on my graduation diploma or, at least there should be a written dedication to her. For, there is no question in my mind that without her faith, I would never have passed all those grueling exams.

29 October, 2007

28 October, 2007

Wrestling Homo Sapiens

When my nephew was a young boy in the 80s, he was enamoured with wrestling. Not the Olympic sport of wrestling, but the North American bastardisation with all the prancing, dancing, posing, and name-calling. He watched wrestling matches on television, hung posters of the most popular wrestlers of that time on his bedroom walls (Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Savage, "The Hitman" Hart), and played with plastic figures of the wrestlers.

Once, when he was visiting his grandparents’ place Grenada, he left three such plastic figures behind at their pool. They were the ugliest, the fiercest looking figures imaginable. This was over twenty years ago now.
The wonderful thing about these figures is, all of the grandchildren learnt to dive and swim under water by fetching the figures from the bottom of the pool.

One of the figures got lost about ten years ago: it must have rolled down the cliff into the sea. The other two figures are still in the collection of toys that has gathered over the years: rejects from a generation of visiting grandchildren. Unlike all of the other toys, the wrestlers are still almost in pristine condition. The only difference is that their painted costumes, which look like diapers, have faded somewhat.

All the other toys in this poolside collection have a half-life of one or two years; the natural elements (and visitors) can be brutal. The wrestlers, on the other hand, are going to be discovered by some aliens in two billion years, still in pristine condition.

The aliens are undoubtedly going to wonder why our bodies were so disproportionately muscular, and why adult human beings wore wearing diapers. They might even ask how human beings managed to survive so long.

27 October, 2007

26 October, 2007

No Baking Zone

One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”
Jane Austen

Charity begins at home, is the voice of the world.”
Thomas Browne

Our oven has to be the least frequently used appliance in our home. I am a cook, not a baker. This is a shame really, considering how I come from a long line of bakers on my maternal side and live in a country where baking is still a housewifery art form, which is expected of every proper housewife. Store-bought goods, no matter how tasty, are considered inferior in every way. On some occasions, noticeably birthdays and anniversaries, to serve bought goods to guests is bordering on rudeness.

It is expected of every woman that she bake her own cakes on her birthday. Since you celebrate your birthday with your colleagues at the office, at home with family, and again with friends … you are talking about a lot of cakes!
The children celebrate their birthdays at home with close family and adult friends, at school with their classmates, at their day care, and on the weekend with other children. There are usually 10-15 relatives and friends at the first party, 20-25 children at in their classroom, 15-20 children in their day care group, and 10-12 children at their weekend party. I’ll leave it up to you to add up how many pieces of cake I am talking about here.

It’s not that I am trying to drum up your sympathy, rather just illustrate the extent of the cake baking logistics. It is also expected that the wives, girlfriends, and even mothers do the baking for their male counterparts. Having said all this, I have to confess that I don’t bake at all. Not for anyone.

All early attempts to acquire even the most rudimentary baking skill proved disastrous. The condescending looks at my failed projects, the all-you-have-to-do-is-follow-a-recipe advise from well-meaning friends (did they think I decided to make up the concoction out of my head?), the ever increasing number of baking books in my bookshelves, have yielded no encouraging improvement. So, I’ve adopted an I-don’t-do-that attitude and try to look ever so superior when a situation arises.

25 October, 2007

Agree To Disagree

I left home when I was fourteen years old. First, I went to a boarding school then I was in France at an international ballet school. When I returned to Montreal from France, I shared an apartment with another dancer. The next year, another apartment, and another dancer. I went on to live in endless other apartments over the next twenty years. Sometimes I shared quarters with others, sometimes I lived alone. Sometimes we remained friends after we moved away, sometimes not.

Bonding and connecting with these friends has turned out to be different processes in life. Bonding implies an irreversible process of opening our hearts and souls to another human being. I only have to think of the miracles in bonding when I saw each of my children for the first time after they were born.

Of course, not all bonding is so spontaneous, some bonds occur more gradually. I have formed bonds with certain friends so quietly that I didn’t actually know we were friends until we had already become best friends. The trick about bonding is that there is no such thing as a dis-bonding, or un-bonding. The only thing that can happen is that we break a bond.

Losing the bond usually only happens when something terrible happens. Or many terrible things happen and there is anger, regret, resentment, resignation, rejection, and all sorts of other r-words involved. With the loss, there is mourning: if we are lucky, freedom as well, which is good if the bond was unhealthy or abusive.

The whole process of forming bonds and breaking them is loaded with emotion. It can be equally joyful and sorrowful, almost at the same instant. We learn to live with these ups and downs though. Even if it is normal, it’s hard not to despair.

Connection and disconnection on the other hand, is a dance, which signifies the joining and separation of two souls. I imagine it to be a complicated Elizabethan court dance. There is the curtseying, bowing, sashaying to-and-fro, the joining of wrists, the entwining of arms, feet drawing delicate patterns, heads tilting towards each other, a twist of the waist, then we are apart again… the movements, though familiar, are forever mysterious, seductive, and new.

Contrary to how it is when we break a bond, disconnecting is solely an action of letting go: a release. There is none of the emotionally laden tug-and-pull as there is with bonding. It is simply an act of disconnecting, which often, eventually, or predictably shifts back into a connection at a later point in time.

I do not want to give you the impression that connecting and disconnecting is without emotion; it is definitely does have a lot of emotions ‑ all those hellos, there-you-are, and goodbyes. They are endless, yet, different.

There are some people, friends and family, who I feel bonded to. Sometimes we are connected, at other time not. There are certain friends I only have to hear their voices on the phone, or read a letter and we “connect”. The thread of our dialog shines golden. It doesn’t, apparently, matter how often we see each other; the thread is instantly and enduringly golden. Why this happens remains a mystery. Why does it work in some relationships and not in others? Who knows.

There are, unfortunately, certain others where the thread does not light golden. This has happened even though we really love each other. Yet, we are more disconnected then connected.

In some cases, this process of disconnecting has been gradual. There have been a few tragic crises, which have accelerated the process, but generally it has been an unspectacular process. When we connect there is little exchange. We are not above-board with each other. This and many other complex issues have contributed to the loss of connection. This saddens me.

To make the thread of connection shines golden, we must be willing to agree to disagree. No matter if we disagree or argue about the essential elements of life, we must make sure that the connecting and disconnecting is purely a joining and a release: a marvelous dance.

24 October, 2007

23 October, 2007

Easter Attire

For the last year or so, I have delighted in reading Erin’s blog, A Dress A Day. She writes very entertainingly about vintage dresses. She tells you where to find the patterns and material. She even, on occasion, gives a delightful history lesson. I get the feeling reading her blog that Erin not only delights in making vintage dresses, she also delights in any (and every) occasion to wear one.

The only time I remember dressing up was for Easter Mass. My mother sewed Easter dresses for my sisters and I all years we lived in Venezuela and California. The dresses were colour coordinated but cut in different styles. We wore patent-leather shoes and Easter hats with them.
These hats were wonderful to look at, but a torture to wear. There were two different kinds of mechanisms that made sure the hats stayed on little girls’ heads. The first was a thin elastic band, which went down under our chins. The thin band acted like a wire cheese cutter, cutting into the tender skin of our necks. It fitted so tightly that it was extremely difficult to swallow. I used to worry that I was going to choke on the Host when I went up to take Communion.

The second method was metal wires bent on two sides of the hat so they dug into our temples and made us feel like Frankenstein. He also had strange knobs connected to his head.

The patent-leather shoes we wore were wonderful to look at. They were like the shoes Dorothy wore in the movie, The Wizard of Oz. In reality, they were excruciatingly uncomfortable. They were always a size too small, rigid in form and contained no foot bed whatsoever.

Yet, like all true blue princesses, we endured the discomforts of the hats and patent-leather shoes stoically. Or, at least we liked to believe we did.

My memories of dressing up fancy, are somewhat tainted with the bother and pain of choosing and wearing the accessories. I just cannot shed myself of the impression that dressing up is more work than it is fun. Thank heavens there are women like Erin showing me it is otherwise.

22 October, 2007

A Stay With My Father (Margareta in Sweden)

I ask an acquaintance of mine, Margareta, what her visits with her aging father are like. She answers, “It’s been difficult to visit him the last five years. I walk through the door for a weekend visit and Time Stands Still! I’d sit on the sofa and wonder what I am going to do the next few days… the clock on the wall ticks loudly… we are always finishing a meal or starting another.”

Margareta is in her late sixties. Her father is over 90 years old, though he still lives by himself. Even though Margareta lives more quietly and sedately than she did a few years ago, when she was still working, her life is hectic in comparison to her father’s life. He lives, what she calls, a warm toffee existence.

21 October, 2007

20 October, 2007

The Thrill of the Kill

Hemingway had his bull running in Pamplona, Spain. My family has their piñata at the children’s birthday parties. These are colourful papier-mâché figures, usually in the shape of an animal (donkeys were very popular), which are filled with sweets.

What can be more exciting than to hunt blind-folded a hanging piñata with a broomstick? Hitting it as often as you can before you are torn away by the adult overseeing the game so another child has a chance. It didn’t really matter who hits the animal so that its spills forth candies. Everyone has their thrill and their fill.

19 October, 2007

Act of Faith

In my twenties, I used to attend sesshins (a week’s retreat) and evening meditations at a Zen Centre. I was spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally intensely drawn to this religious practice: even though, or perhaps because, I didn’t understand the teachings.

Yet, the words of the teachings, the talks given by the Zen master, the chanting of the mantras instilled a sense of peace in me, while at the same time, provoked questions about who I am, where I am, and what am I doing with my life. Even though I stopped attending sesshins and meditating, I have not stopped asking myself the questions.

One of the things the Zen teachings say that puzzled me was that in order to practice Zen you must have unshakable faith. It is not the word unshakable that I found disconcerting, rather the word faith.

What is faith? Where does it stem from? How does it feel? I envisioned it to be something like a combination of inner conviction, knowledge, fiery spirit, wisdom, and infallibility all in one. In my case, my faith was intangible, not unshakable.

In the last while, I have discovered a new concept of faith; far more humble than the previous one I believed in. Maybe faith is the quiet yearning for a dream to come true, the pull of an unfulfilled wish, the need to say a prayer, the empathy to embrace another’s tragedy, or the wisdom to know when to surrender, to accept defeat, to rejoice in the day, or just to be grateful for tender mercies… faith is just being the person I am meant to be.

17 October, 2007

Quiet Occupation

Light dances off my fingertips.
Shadows fall upon the terrace wall.
The sea breeze rushes up the cliff
And races over my head,
Through the frangipani leaves.
Branches sway to and fro.
A song. A dance. This day.
A gift of the mighty gods.
A bird’s wings flutter. It flies…
Away. Gone. This moment in time.

16 October, 2007

Darn Shit Shoot!

The trouble with the family is that children grow out of childhood but parents never grow out of parenthood.” Anonymous

One day, many years ago, my son and I came back to our apartment from his babysitter’s after work. He was about a year and a half years old: an active, lovely, lively, non-verbal kind of guy.

I put him down on the kitchen floor with a few toys and proceeded to make myself lunch. When one of his building block towers fell over he let out this sigh and said “shit” (but pronounce sheet). I looked over at him baffled at what I’d just heard. Even though he loved to sing and hum, his vocabulary was not extensive. His English vocabulary was non-existent. Lovely, his first English word was shit.

Over the next ten minutes, no matter what occurred in his playing session he would let out this sigh and then say, “shit” with the nonchalance of an old sailor.

He obviously picked up this expression from his babysitter; who was known to react with the occasional swearword over proverbial and literal spilt-milk situations. It is a common practice for Germans to use the English word shit instead of the German word, Scheisse. They pronounce shit as sheet and it is suppose to be a more harmless swearword than Scheisse. Why this is so has always remained a puzzle to me.

Since my son and I were due to fly over to Grenada in two-week’s time to visit his grandparents, I wondered how they would react to a grandson whose only English word was shit. So, ever so gently, I explained to my son that it might be better to use the word darn or even, darn shoot, when his building block towers fell down or he bumped into some furniture.

The next days were wrought with subtle confrontations: my son saying, “shit” in response to practically everything happening to him, and my patient efforts to get him to use darn or darn shoot instead. I realised the absolute futility of this venture when Julien started saying darn shit after I gently reprimanded him for the hundredth time.

Desperate, I called the babysitter and explained to her my predicament. Shit is just shit in Grenada and grandparents are not used to hearing such words coming from a one-year-old’s mouth. We came up with a solution. The babysitter started saying darn and darn shoot that week. This had an astonishingly quick result. My son instantly stopped saying “shit” and changed over to darn shoot. What do you know!

15 October, 2007

Every Individual Counts

Today is Blog Action Day.

I moved to Germany nearly twenty-five years ago to this day. When I moved here:

  • The American military presences was all pervasive
  • Russia and the eastern block countries posed a threat to our democracy
  • The European Union was an ideology and not a reality
  • We paid for our goods in German marks and not Euros, and
  • This industrial nation was one of the largest contributors of emissions on the continent

It has been exciting to experience the evolution of the European Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the implementation of a single European currency. Yet, all these changes occurred because politicians sat together and made the changes creed. We, the little people, embraced, coped, or futilely resisted these changes as we chose.

The greatest change of individual empowerment has, I believe, occurred in people’s concern about the environment and the resulting environmental friendly practices. Everyone, young and old, is knowledgeable about reusable and recyclable alternatives. In this post I would like to use the example of garbage waste practices to show how a voluntary collective effort of many individual can make concrete changes in a positive direction.

In most areas of Germany homes have two garbage bins for waste: compost waste and “rest” waste (things that can’t be reused or recycled). In the apartment building I live in, with six apartments (15 residents) we use one bin a week for “rest” garbage. Our compost bin is emptied every two weeks.

We bring all our other recycling produce,

  • Glass (coloured and clear)
  • Paper and cardboard
  • Metal
  • Clothes and shoes

to the recycling containers strategically positioned in the near vicinity to where we live. In the cities these recycling containers are usually found within three to four block radiuses. In small towns and villages they are centrally located.

All reusable produce (plastic and glass (juice, water, and soft drinks) bottles, yoghurt jars) is returned to the stores.

There are economic motivators for these practices, as well as environmental:

  • You receive a small sum, e.g. 15 cents, on each returned bottle
  • You pay dearly for each garbage bin with “rest” garbage
  • You don’t pay for compost garbage
  • Recycling produce can be put into the recycling containers for free

In the last fifteen years, since such practices have been followed Germans have increased their consumption, while drastically decreasing waste production: economical growth, ecological sound practices.

If you want to know more about what Germany is doing and hopes to do in the future, please listen to the German minister of environment, Sigmar Gabriel, speak (podcast of 26.09.07 about 32 minutes into the program) on The Kojo Nnamdi Show about the social, ecological, and economical factors of environmental changes.

Politicians determine and regulate of our environmental laws. but it is only through the collective effort of each individual that change will occur. We do not have to wait for others to tell us what to do. We can all just choose to make changes ourselves.

12 October, 2007

Autumn Rain

The summer was a long and rainy one. Somewhere between the end of September and the beginning of October we slid into autumn. Or, maybe not the autumn season, but autumn rains.
autumn leaves
Spring drizzle. Summer showers. Autumn rains. Winter blizzards. Yup, nothing more appealing than the weather here in the north. No wonder this city is still the best kept secret in Germany. Everyone thinks about Munich (the proximity to the Alps), or Freiburg (the Black Forest), or Constance (the Bodensee). All you have to do is wipe the rainwater away from your eyes long enough, to be blinded by the charms of Luebeck.

11 October, 2007

10 October, 2007

French Mistress

Germans folk are a funny sort of people sometimes. Not, haha funny, but I-can’t-grasp-this sort of funny. For instance, last year I heard the most wonderful story about a fickle German stork husband that caused a great outcry by taking on a French mistress (a female stork from Alsace) and how the city’s human population followed its development via a webcam…
You have to realise that a lot of attention is given all over Germany to its migratory stork population. For those of you who do not know, storks tend to be monogamous, and they also tend to return to the same nest every year to bear their young. Any house or farm considers themselves extremely lucky to have storks nesting at their place. And the house owners often build platforms (equipped with webcams) specifically for the convenience of their storks.

Thus the storks are not only watched closely by the scientific society, but also by the various village communities where the storks roost; their mating and egg laying and the hatching of their young, etc. are followed by many over the Internet from the webcams installed on the mast of the nests.

In Erlangen, in the south of Germany, in a wonderful traditional family beer brewery that has a terraced beer garden, a scandal occurred between the resident male and a French floozy. The male stork arrived in Erlangen after his winter vacation in Africa a week earlier than his partner (the first suspicious occurrence).

Promptly after he arrived, a French female stork arrived in his nest (suspicious occurrence II). Ohlala! And then, and then, the two storks proceeded to “amuse themselves” (quote from front page of the local newspaper) for a week before the female stork arrived.

Then, and then, the loyal wife appears! The city residence wondered what would happen? Oh ha, it’s hardly fair, the poor female stork comes home from a long journey from Africa to find her partner in bed with his French mistress. Well, the newly arrived female stork takes one look at Madame I-just-happened-to-drop-by and with no further ado throws the floozy out of the nest.

Does she go back to France? Non, bien sûr! She goes around the corner and builds a nice new nest for herself with a terraced view of her lover’s bedroom window. The hussy!

I lie not. This all occurred last year in Erlangen to one poor bloke (stork) who thought he could pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. His Big Mistake was not realising that Big Brother is looking at you…

09 October, 2007


Next Monday is Blog Action Day.

For those of you who might be interested… all you are asked to do is to write something to do with the environment. Easy, right?

08 October, 2007

Meme: Five Writing Strengths

Charlotte tagged me to answer the “five writing strengths” meme. To be honest, I don’t necessarily feel I have any writing strengths. I don’t call myself a writer, though I am passionate about writing and I have been writing regularly, if not daily, for the last thirty years. The only true blue strength I have as a writer is that I never run out of stories. The following, therefore, is a list of five attributes that feed the fuel of my writing endeavours:

  1. I have an elephant memory for the narrative details of my friends and family members’ lives: this allows me to remember years later the details of who did what to whom. This is a useful talent when making up a character’s biography, or trying to understand the motives behind a character’s actions. I know the characters in my stories intimately because they are just some composite of someone I’ve known in my real life.

  2. I have a face people talk to: it doesn’t matter if it is a taxi driver (just ordered a catalogue bride), waiter (mother was unfortunately found in her kitchen four days after she died), colleague (bizarre escapades at a bordello in Bangkok), or doctor (worrying about her anorexic daughter), people take one look at my face and tell me things I certainly wouldn’t tell me if I was them. Writing allows me to incorporate some of the more interesting narrative details without divulging the source. So, I can “tell”, yet still keep their secrets. It is quite therapeutic at time. Does that make any sense?

  3. I have a deep empathy for the human dilemma: I used to question why people tell me their intimate stories: am I so nonthreatening, harmless that they have no qualms telling me their secrets? My homeopath told me it is because I have a sixth sense called empathy. I do hope this is right.

  4. I find it easy to ask awkward questions: inwardly I might be screaming with shock and distress, but outwardly I calmly ask, “So who is the child’s biological father? Is it the paternal grandfather or the neighbour’s garden dwarf?”

  5. I believe life is more curious than literature: there are always crises, events, circumstances in life that are farfar more bizarre and interesting than any story a writer could come up with. How often do we find ourselves in the middle of some trite sitcom, epic romance, or devastating tragedy?

Thanks, Charlotte, for giving me the opportunity to reflect upon this matter.

07 October, 2007


My bicycle route to and from my last job took me through the strange and wonderful world of allotment gardening.
It appears as though the owners of these gardens fall into three general categories.

First, there are the aging couples who have been caring for their plots for generations.

The “foreigners” who tend to grow more vegetables than cultivate flowers or rock garden landscapes. They also tend to throw a lot of barbeques parties for friends and families.

And last, but not least, there is the New Generation. These are young adults with children who live in apartments in the city and want a place for their children can run and play in. This group have a distinct disregard about adhering to the garden co-op’s rules and guidelines.
A few of my friends belong to the later two categories. They love their garden plots. Yet, as in all subcultures, they have to bear with certain tensions, broken commitments, pet peeves, and a thorny competitiveness for the benefit of the masses. Finding a balance between personal freedom and civic compliance is their nirvana.

These garden co-ops can be seen as a microcosm of what it is like to live in Germany.

06 October, 2007

Cool Autumn Afternoon


The joys of a clear cool autumn day! My collage above and this poem, Autumn Gilt by Valerie Bloom (here) captures my feelings, as I am about to leave the confinements of our apartment and go off into the sunny afternoon.

05 October, 2007

Feeling Feminine But Not Sexual

Recently, I passed an Italian restaurant and there was a sign in the corner of one of their windows saying, “Thursday nights, ladies’ night”. Naively, I thought the sign meant only ladies were welcomed on Thursday evenings. It only came to me later that what they probably meant was that women could eat for free or get a free drink if they came with a male counterpart that evening. Whatever.

Still, the sign triggered a memory of our municipal pool’s Women’s Sunday Swim that I went to over a longer period of time two years ago. A women’s activist group had arranged this ladies’ only weekly event for the large female Muslim population in Luebeck. Muslim women and girls are not allowed/encouraged to bath in public: which is understandable if you know how lax/tolerant the Germans are about nudity, topless bathing, and tanga bikinis.

I decided to go to the women’s Sunday swim, after having tried unsuccessfully on Saturday to swim a few lanes as hundreds of children and teens jumped in, on, and around me the whole time. As I was handing in my locker key at the main desk, I mentioned that it had been a useless endeavour. The cashier said I should try Sundays, if I wasn’t uncomfortable about being the only non-Muslim swimmer there… hardly anyone came. That certainly peaked my interests.

So, off I went the next morning. Bliss. Where forty to sixty people had populated the pool the day before, seven or eight women were swimming; four of them were holding on to the side of the pool moving their legs around, while deep in conversation. The children’s pool was quite busy, but not in the least rambunctious. Along the sides of the pool, tables were set up with numerous women eating and drinking. All in all, the atmosphere was lively without being loud.

I swam alone in my lane, luxuriating in the experience of swimming without interference. I was hooked. Thereupon preceded many such lovely Sunday swims. Sometime I went alone, sometimes I brought a friend along, but I always felt welcomed and accepted by the women there.

What I learnt most during that year of women’s swim (it was unfortunately eventually cancelled because of sparse attendance) was how completely sensible it is for women to be offered an opportunity to share all-female company. Until then, I could not remember the last time I had gone swimming in public and there was no aspect of “How do I look?”, “How do I compare?”, “Is he looking at me?”… Nothing.

Instead there was just women in absolutely every type of swim attire (e.g. bikinis, one piece suits, T-shirts and bicycle shorts, and even rather elaborate dress things which I couldn’t quite understand how they swam in) having a lovely time together.

The women were kind and friendly towards me, making me feel part of the group without strain or falseness. I was fortunate to get to know a few of the grandmothers and mothers of my daughter’s Turkish schoolmates over that period of time.

When I remember back to those swims, I think about what it is like to feel feminine but not sexual, to enjoy the sensuality of water and skin without it being erotic, and to have fun without it being frivolous. It was such a fine time particularly because the Muslim women kindly invited me into their world and made me feel welcomed.

04 October, 2007

Naivety and Tenaciousness

Or Why I Chose To Become An Electrical Engineer

Many years ago I decided to give up my first profession, as a ballet dancer, and go to university and study for a second profession. I wasn’t quite certain what I it was that I wished to do with my life, but it sure wasn’t the arduous, narcissistic, poorly paid, fickle, competitive-ridden, food-depraved, boring, jubilant, sublime art of dance.

When I was in high school I had a Hungarian math and physic teacher. She was perhaps one of the few teachers I ever encountered, who not only had a calling as a teacher, but she was impassioned mathematician and physicist. She believed that mathematics was not the art of mixing numbers or memorizing formulas, but music of the rarest form. She instructed us in the field of mathematical theory, but she also took the time to tell us who discovered each theorem, and about the lives of these men and women, and most particularly, how their theories were rarefied works of wonder.

So, when it came time to choose a field of study after stopping dancing, I naively considered studying mathematics. I invited my father to lunch one day to discuss this decision. His reaction was, quit ballet– fine, study mathematics–not so fine. His logic was… why would you study something for four or five years only to end up an unemployed math teacher? (This was nearly thirty years ago and the professional choices for math graduates were limited).

Instead, he asked me to describe the type of life I envisioned after leaving university. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too: enough of sacrificing everything for art. I wanted to live in different countries; have the time to travel; my job should be steady and well paid; I wanted to work with interesting people on interesting projects, etc. And math and physics should be the main portion of the study curriculum. We ended up compromising with electrical engineering.

The culture shock of “higher education” was brutally, instantaneously, apparent when I discovered myself in the middle of a crowd of locomotive-hat-dawned first-year engineering students: watching them partake in various infantile initiation rituals (e.g. streaking through the campus with nothing on but their locomotive hats and cloth diapers), as well as not so infantile rituals (e.g. beer throwing, food gobbling contests at the local pub with amateur strippers hired from the student faculty).

Once the initial rush of indignation settled down, I realised that all my fellow students had spent the last years studying feverously and not, as I had done, on point shoes dancing from one end of the stage to another. The disparity of academic background couldn’t have been greater.

Completing my electrical engineering degree was a dance requiring a fair measure of self-discipline and ornery tenaciousness. If it wasn’t for the mathematic courses (magical) and professor Wang (quantum physics and laser theory), I don’t think I would have persisted.

Professor Wang was the PhD. student studying under the two scientists who received the Nobel Prize for discovering the transistor. Rumour had it, that much of the work that professor Wang did as a PHD student was the basis for this discovery. The next rumour was, that professor Wang was generally disappointed with the engineering applications that had subsequently been developed using transistors. Thus he specifically chose to teach quantum physics and the non-military use of laser theory as a statement of his disapproval. This rumour probably was all a piece of nonsense, but it inspired me to see that there is also an ethical choice to be made in where I move professionally.

He held a fascinating two hour lecture about Chinese acupuncture and future medical applications, which completely changed the direction I had been considering: from telecommunication to medical engineering. He also mentioned a branch of Siemens in Germany researching such systems. After my studies were completed I packed two bags and headed over to that branch of Siemens, and so ended the one story and the next one began.

02 October, 2007

Behind Close Doors

I live in Luebeck: one of the most enchanting cities on the Baltic. Or, at least this is my opinion after living here for nearly twenty years.

We live on the island itself. Every corner you turn there is a magical blend of old and new architecture. I took these photos of doorknobs while walking to a café this morning.

Luebeck was founded in the 9th century, though there have been people settled here since the last Ice Age. So, there is a lot of old. There are also many fractions that wish to preserve the history of this UNESCO heritage city.


This means if a house owner wants to install new electrical system, they are allowed to put in new wiring, but they have to use all the old bricks and beams again. They place all the material (see photo above) in bags to be used later. The poor house owner. The lucky brick builder specialised in antique techniques.

01 October, 2007

Two-tone Toni

Two-tone Toni was one of my fellow classmates at the university I attended in southern Ontario. He was an immigrant from Lebanon. He was over six-feet tall and he wore roller skates the whole day through. This was at a time when inline skaters hadn’t even been conceived. Toni would skate throughout the university campus, engineering faculty buildings, up-and-down stairs, even along the rows of the auditorium.

Toni’s hair was died two tones of red in a bizarre Iroquois cut, or punk cut. This trend, like the roller skates, was well before its time. Toni was a young Iggy Pop, with middle-eastern flair.

Toni’s looks and lifestyle rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Yet, he wouldn’t back down a bit. I asked him what his parents thought of his haircut. I presumed he wore his hair like that as an act of rebellion. He paused for a moment, as if considering whether he would honour me with an answer. Then he quietly, seriously, told me that his father was the one who had cut and died his hair. His father was a hairdresser.

That conversation gave me more insight into Toni than all our previous encounters. He told me there was a scheme to his madness. He knew he was different than the majority of staid conservative southern Ontarian engineering students; he just wanted them to know as well.

Our university program was a co-op program. We alternated every four months between a study semester and a work semester. At the end of every study semester, companies, large and small, would come to interview students for next work semester. It was a madhouse of back-to-back interviews, if you were lucky to get interviews, or a sad scramble to cough up even one interview if things went wrong. The competition was fierce for the jobs available. Some students didn’t find job, and were pitied by all.

When it came to the first round of interviews, most of my fellow students predicted that Toni would be included in the unemployed group. They stated their prediction with glee. Finally, two-tone Toni would be taken down a notch or two.

On the first day of the interview rounds, we all gathered together at the campus centre. Most of the fellows were looking nervous and uncomfortable in their polyester suits. In walks Toni. Chic urban look: Armani suit, silk tie, short haircut. One tone of hair. He looks as if he just stepped out of a GQ magazine. Everyone stopped talking and starred.

When asked whom he was interviewing with, Toni mentioned a top engineering company in Montreal. One of those choice positions, usually given to more senior students. Tone went in to the interview and grabbed the job right from under everyone else’s feet.

Two-tone Toni taught us the importance of living your life according to your terms. He also taught us about choosing your fights and how do go on the offensive.