In just a little while, we'll be going to see our first open house! This house is in Torrance (fairly close to Shelby's parents), and seems to be priced suspiciously low for its location/condition/size -- so while my interest is piqued, I'm kind of wondering what's wrong with it. Maybe it's located between a halfway house and the Torrance Municipal Sludge-Processing Facility.
We'll be hitting the open houses in earnest on Sunday, and probably spending an hour or two each day doing drive-bys on interesting-looking listings.
(While looking for open houses, I also came across this listing -- you've got to look at all of the pictures. The thought that the SoCal real estate market is so bad that someone had the chutzpah to put this "house" up for sale for $319,000 almost makes me cry ...)
My flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles was on American Airlines. The first time the in-flight beverage service came around, I asked for a Coke -- and the Coke can I got came from the Netherlands. Later on in the flight, I drank a Sprite; this time, the can came from Brazil. For the last round of drinks, I had orange juice, but the guy next to me had a Coke, and his Coke can had a five-dollars-off admissions coupon on it -- for the Paramount's Great America amusement park, in San Jose, California!
You'd think that for an airplane leaving from London, it'd be easier to supply it with soft drinks bought wholesale in London, rather than schlepping soda all the way around the world. Obviously, though, American has decided that it isn't. I wonder why? There must be an economics Ph.D. -- or at least a business school case study -- somewhere in there ...
Well, I'm here. I arrived, safe and sound and right on time (and with all of my luggage!) at LAX yesterday afternoon. Just like in L.A. Story, the weather in Los Angeles was sunny and 72.
Gas at the "expensive" gas station that we passed while driving home from the airport was selling for $2.23/gallon . . . or about 48.9 Euro cents per liter.
I'm wearing shorts -- and I'm not looking on that like it's a heavenly blessing that I'll be unlikely to repeat again for months.
I was gamely planning on staying up until an advanced hour, so that I could go to bed and get up the next morning instantly adjusted to California time -- but, like Shelby predicted, I laid down for a "nap" around 4 PM and slept for five hours or so. This morning, I woke up at six and couldn't get back to sleep, so I got up and set up the house for wireless Internet, using the shiny new Linksys router that the company had sent me (paired with a more hardcore Cisco hardware VPN "appliance" as part of their standard work-at-home setup). Now we can be on our computers without having to be in Shelby's dad's home office, and avoid wearing out our welcome here just that much longer ...
Back to my journey to LA: I'm a sucker for the airlines' dire warnings. I was sure to show up at the Hamburg airport at the crack of dawn -- just a little before 5 AM -- so that I could check in a full three hours ahead of time for my international flight, just like British Airways wanted me to! Naturally, it turned out that I could have slept in just a little longer, as BA's ticket counters didn't even open until two hours before my flight. I spent my extra hour waiting in front of the vacant ticket counter sleepily worrying about BA's numerous and complex signs regarding how much luggage, carry-on and checked, that you could take on the flight, how large it could be, and what dire penalties you were subject to if your luggage fell outside of their stringent limitations. Somebody working at BA had a great fetish for bureaucracy, luggage, and complicated diagrams involving a multitude of luggage combinations. I started to eye my four bags -- a backpack, a laptop bag, and two gigantic duffel bags, all stuffed to the gills -- more and more nervously.
It turned out that I beat the luggage rules very simply: the luggage belts at each check-in agent's desk were too narrow to hold my giant duffel bags. "I'm sorry, sir, but you'll need to take those bags to the Oversized Luggage belt ..." Max and Moritz over at the luggage belt were working for the airport, not any particular airline, and thus couldn't care less about anyone's luggage policies: they just hefted my bags onto the belt, stuck destination tags around the handles, and sent them on their way. Brilliant!
After that, the remainder of the trip was worry-free. My connection was through London Heathrow. This was the first time I'd experienced Heathrow's giant shopping-mall-in-an-airport; since I just wanted to curl up in a corner and go to sleep rather than purchase duty-free vodka, it was a bit much. (Even if you don't want to shop, you can't escape the shopping mall; it's all around you. Heathrow doesn't assign your gate until the very last minute; in the meantime, you're herded into a giant central seating area surrounded by shops and left to anxiously watch the gate-announcement monitors.) Maybe if I was in more of a "shopping" mood . . . or maybe if I liked vodka.
Last post from Hamburg!
See you on the other side, everybody. Hope that you keep reading.
(I nearly gave myself a heart attack when the alarm clock went off a few minutes ago! I'm still shaking ... sheesh.)
Well, we passed our not-very-difficult final inspection with flying colors, unless they'll be sending along a no-nonsense stickler for a second, more stringent secret inspection tomorrow after we're all gone.
"Everything looks fine; we just want to make sure that your dog hasn't eaten the couch, or anything like that!"
My last full day in Germany! Unbelievable. I'll miss Hamburg greatly, but I'm looking forward to California, too.
This morning I woke up earlyearly and continued the rituals of cleaning and packing. I think that we're gonna make it. Right now I feel like one of the walking dead -- but even if I didn't have any chores to do, I still wouldn't have slept in, because I'm too keyed up.
As always, packing took many hours longer than expected, and involved a couple of trips to the post office. In the beginning, I approached the empty bags with a spirit of optimism -- plenty of room! Of course everything will fit! Later, as I found myself cramming clothes into every nook and cranny while eying the pile of stuff still left to go, I admitted to myself that I might have to ship another box . . . okay, I will have to ship another box. So, go down to post office, get box, return, fill box. Getting that box was a great idea! Look at all the space that freed up! Now everything will fit for sure!
Oops . . . let's repeat that get-fill-mail cycle one more time . . .
After the second box, though, everything finally did fit. Hopefully both bags are under British Airways' 32 kg/bag limit. I can lift both of them without undue problems, so that's a good sign.
After the packing, I did a cursory cleaning, since someone from the rental-management company is coming at 5:30 to do a final inspection. I was assured that I didn't have to clean anything at all, that the cleaning ladies would come the day after I left and take care of everything, but given the hell we experienced during our last move-out inspection, I'm not taking any chances (especially now that we're moving out of the country!)
Once everything was clean, I went to the Einwohneramt for Hamburg-Mitte to unregister ourselves. It was similar to what we went through when we first came here, but in reverse and a little simpler. Tell the local government when you move in, tell them when you move out. I filled out a form with our names and some basic information (listing our new address as "returning to the USA"), waited my turn in a take-a-number line, and eventually arrived at a desk where I presented my form and passport. After some tapping at the keyboard, the woman behind the desk printed a piece of paper, stamped and signed it, and handed it to me, and that was it: as far as the government was concerned, we were outta there.
The Einwohneramt happens to be a short walk away from Züge und mehr, so I browsed around there for a little bit. Being very mindful of my luggage situation, I didn't go on a big last-minute buying extravaganza ...
And now back to work; off to meet the rental company rep in just a little while. Something was mentioned about taking me out for drinks later, but unless they're planning to surprise me, that plan seems to have fallen by the wayside (my co-workers aren't big ones for socializing out of the office ... or surprises). If there's no socialization, I think my personal plans call for dinner and sleep -- I have to meet a cab around 4:30 AM or so for the trip to the airport!
Why is it that when you most need to catch the bus, it comes early for a change? I got to the bus stop at 9:53 to watch my 9:55 bus already fading out of sight down the street -- and naturally, the 10:10 bus came at 10:17.
I was hot for the bus this morning because I was dragging our dog crate to work. The crate has a handle, but it's still heavy, and after toting it down to the bus stop, I wasn't going to turn around and lug it two blocks in the other direction down to the U-Bahn station. So I just had to suck it up and wait for the next bus, whenever it came.
Why was I bringing the crate to work? We're leaving it behind in Germany, but we didn't feel right just throwing it away or leaving it in the alley for God-knows-who to pick up. Hopefully I can find a dog-owning co-worker who wants it, and we can help hook up some nice doggie out there with an almost-new home.
(Alternatively, if one of my faithful readers here in Hamburg wants a crate, and you can come by my office [next to the Fischmarkt] tomorrow to pick it up, you can have it -- for free! -- if nobody here has claimed it by then; drop me an E-mail. Bring along a picture of your dog so that I can see who the present is going to! The crate is the middle-sized model on this page -- 94 x 64 x 71, with two doors.)
(And some of you might be asking "what do you use a crate for?" or "why do you keep your dog in a cage, anyway?" Like many dogs, Scout has been 'crate-trained' -- whenever we leave the house and don't take her with us, we put her inside the crate. To someone who's never encountered this idea before, this might seem cruel -- I definitely asked Shelby the "you keep your dog in a cage??!?" question when we first started dating -- but crate-training actually provides dogs with peace of mind. Many dogs, upon being left alone in a house, start to get nervous and pace around the entire house, thinking that they have to guard every room -- the rest of the pack has gone, and I'm the only one left here to defend the den!! This kind of nervous behavior is what leads to the discovery of chewed-up furniture and soiled carpets when you get home. The crate provides a dog with a much smaller and totally manageable space -- their own personal den. Scout definitely looks on her crate as a place of refuge; if we hold a party with too many people in the house, or if she thinks something bad is about to happen [like a trip, or a bath], she'll voluntarily go and sit in her crate to be 'safe'.)
Anyway, life has gotten better since then. I seem to have gotten over my temporary hump at work -- I had my big presentation this afternoon, and it went well. Tonight, inbetween packing, I think that I'll either go back to the DOM, or walk around and take some pictures. Maybe I'll do both.
Yesterday was G-Day: Shelby and Scout's goodbye-to-Europe day. On Sunday afternoon, we all drove to Amsterdam so that they could catch a direct flight from Schiphol Airport to Los Angeles the next morning. Shelby's dad e-mailed to let me know that everyone's arrived in good order; Scout spent ten minutes telling him how abused she's been, but she settled down after a good sniff and now everything's all right.
I'm surprised that it only took Scout ten minutes to relate her litany of horrors; she was already working up a good head of steam at Schiphol. KLM is unfortunately another one of those airlines that's chosen to "better serve" its customers by installing check-in machines in place of actual, helpful, check-in staff. Unfortunately, people with excess baggage can't use the check-in machines -- so Shelby, flying with the dog, and seemingly half of the other people flying internationally, had to use the old-fashioned check-in counters. There must have been a hundred of us in a line served by three check-in agents, each agent slowly working their way through each customer's special situation. Poor Scout had to sit in her flight crate the entire time, tilted at an angle because the luggage carts don't have a flat loading bed.
But both Shelby and Scout made it over okay. (Maybe they showed a good in-flight movie to the dogs down in cargo to take Scout's edge off -- Night of the Running Squirrels 2?) Lots for me to do before I join them on Friday -- work (of course), packing, errands to run, presents to buy, and a cursory apartment-cleaning before the professional cleaning ladies come in to do their job.
Amazon.com lost all of my personal info a couple of weeks ago -- my account is still there, but my six years of ordering history, the couple of hundred books/CDs/DVDs I've rated, my wishlist . . . all just disappeared. When I first noticed the problem, I figured that it was just a temporary glitch and that I'd see everything again soon, but nothing's come back yet.
I never paid too much attention to all of their personalization stuff when it worked, but now that Amazon is recommending The DaVinci Code and The South Beach Diet as 'books you might enjoy', I want my info back!
The fact that my wishlist still exists in a disembodied form -- I can follow an old link to it, but it's no longer associated with my account -- makes me hope that the rest of my data is likewise still out there in the Great Beyond, just out of reach but able to be yanked back. I sent a query off to their help department; we'll see what they say.
Those of you who also read Shelby's blog already knew this news a while ago (and have been updated since then), but I don't think I've confronted it in my own blog until now, mainly because I've been having some very mixed feelings. We'll be re-patriating ourselves back to the States very soon now -- at the end of this month! Shelby goes back on Monday (just three days!), and I stay behind for a little bit longer to clean up the apartment, tie up loose ends at work, and tell the authorities we've left before I fly out next Friday morning (just a week!)
So, for those of you who recently added my blog to your lists of links to expats blogging abroad, you'll have to tear me off again in a week. Sorry about that ...
If you remember, our decision to stay in Hamburg came down to two things: money (six months' back taxes!) and homesickness. The "money" part mostly worked itself out; the company looked under the couch cushions and raided various funds to come up with enough money that our tax bite would have been significantly reduced. Still, we would have had to make a noticeable -- probably about 3,000 Euro, possibly more -- lump-sum payment out of our own pockets, and when we're focused on buying a house after we get back to the States, paying big money to continue working didn't make much sense.
The homesickness was a bigger hurdle. Shelby went back to San Francisco in June to attend a friend's wedding; before she left, we'd provisionally agreed to stay in Hamburg, and we were both looking at her trip as an 'America break' -- a chance to relax, speak nothing but English, and come back recharged and refreshed for the next six months. Instead, she came back massively homesick, ready to cut and run back to the States as soon as possible.
I certainly can't blame her. I'd like to stay in Hamburg for longer -- but of course, I've got a much better handle on the language and a job, something that provides me with guaranteed socialization and something to focus on every weekday. The question of how the "trailing spouse" is supposed to keep occupied and feel meaningful is a big topic in expat literature; I'd say that we did as poor a job of planning for it as most expat couples. The "isn't this new" feeling rubs off in a few months; you can't be a sightseeing tourist forever, and the feeling of endless leisure gets tiresome. When I first came to Hamburg in 2000, my language classes gave me something else to concentrate on and a good supply of friends my age to pal around with; Shelby's classes seemed mostly to be populated by frazzled businessmen, burned out at the end of the day, and middle-Eastern housewives who were expected to go straight home and not talk with anyone except for the teacher. (Why go to a language class if you're not supposed to socialize? So that you can be a better grocery shopper, I guess ...)
Another reason I wouldn't mind staying in Hamburg is that it would save us from having to confront the Southern California housing market, which is as scary as ever, for a little while longer. I sold all of the company stock and stock options that I'd been holding onto for years at the beginning of this month, and it felt more than a little anticlimactic. We ended up with a fair bit of money -- enough to buy a house outright in most parts of the country! -- but looking at SoCal house listings, I'm left worrying over whether we'll have enough to make a good down payment.
Still, it's exciting to look through houses and think that one of them -- our own house! -- could be ours. And when you consider the income-tax deductions, and just how much we were paying our evil landlord to live in a threadworn house in San Jose, I guess that it all comes out about even. It looks like we'll definitely have to either resign ourselves to living really close to a freeway or moving into a fixer-upper, though.
Most important of all, what will I call my blog now? Who will read it? An American In . . . Anaheim? Pasadena? Doesn't quite have the same ring to it. (There are many Americans who'd regard California as just as much of a foreign place as Germany, but I don't think they're the people who're on the Web and reading blogs. Even if they were, I'm not sure I'd want them reading ...)
Maybe I should start writing my blog entries in German. I can differentiate myself and keep my skills up ...
Even after we go back to the States, I'll be working with the group here in Hamburg for the foreseeable future -- including weekly telephone meetings held in German. So, I don't want to lose my current facility with the German language once I go back to speaking English for the majority of my day.
So far, my preparations to keep up with my German back in California are meeting with mixed results. I'll be bringing back a boatload (well, maybe just a bagload) of German-language books and ephemera; hopefully, I'll be more dilligent about reading them back in the States than I was here. (Ha!) I'll be renewing my subscription to the California Staats-Zeitung, a weekly German newspaper -- at roughly $26 a year, it's your greatest German-speaking bargain in California!
However, it may be difficult finding a German class at my level. In Silicon Valley, I was lucky that DeAnza College held on to their full German program; most other community colleges and university extension programs have full multi-year programs for trendy languages (like Chinese and Japanese) and trendy-but-useless languages (like, ahem, French), but you're lucky if you find a school providing more than first-year German. The Goethe-Institut in San Francisco has a full offering of classes at all levels, and I figured their Los Angeles branch would be similar, but the G-I in Los Angeles "no longer has a Language department and therefore no German classes are offered". Oops!
Another idea bouncing around in the back of my mind was to subscribe to GermanTV, a service offered by Deutsche Welle that collects TV programs from various German broadcasters (ARD, ZDF, and DW) into a 24-hour-a-day cable/satellite channel. However, GermanTV isn't carried by DirecTV, the major satellite TV provider in the US, so unless you live in an area with an enlightened cable system (such as those serving the major American metropoli of Akron, Ohio and Marco Island, Florida), you have to buy a separate satellite system just for GermanTV -- using their best deal, paying $324 for the reciever and the first year of service! I don't think I want to watch "Berlin, Berlin" that badly ...
Maybe we'll just go down and hang out at Alpine Village in Torrance.
Fortune does not, in fact, favor the bold: Monday the weather was nice, and yesterday morning was likewise so warm that I walked off to work in a short-sleeved shirt, not even thinking about packing my umbrella or rain jacket -- a mistake that I reflected glumly on around noontime, as I stared out the window at the driving rain. When it started nearing time to go home, I started watching the weather like a hawk, waiting for a break in the rain so that I could turn everything off, throw it in my bag, and dash for the bus stop. I waited ... and waited ... and finally just said "forget it", and walked off in the rain. Judging from the number of other soaked-and-underdressed people I saw also walking home, I wasn't the only one who let optimism actually get in the way of checking the weather report.
I embarass myself in lunchtime conversation: Yesterday I was only half-listening to the usual lunchtime discussion, which was rapidly moving between various themes. Eventually talk came around to Bush's latest antics: wanting the ability to postpone or cancel the Presidental election (you know, just in case), and doggedly going after Iran in spite of his current credibility gap. Someone made the comment that Bush was no doubt digging around for some new crisis/threat there in order to keep the American public distracted until November, so that he could keep himself in power. Then everybody at the table turned to me, the American, looking for some kind of comment. I, who'd been staring out the window and not really paying attention, grabbed "Bush" and "until November" out of thin air, mentally filled in the words that usually complete that phrase when coming from the mouth of a German -- "well, we'll only have Bush to worry about until November!" -- and I replied, "Hopefully!" Everybody looked at me with smiling disbelief. "What?" "Hopefully?" Realizing belatedly what I'd just expressed optimism for, I made the international sign for one-who-is-spooling-the-conversation-backwards-in-his-head-with-great-embarassment and began to rapidly backpedal -- "Oh! Nein, nein, nein ..."
Everytime I have the hubris to think that my German is good enough, I manage to put my foot in it in an entertaining way ...
A nice article about the Stadtlagerhaus, the building I work in has appeared on www.hamburg.de. Read it in the original German, or read it in a slightly confused Google translation. The article mentions one of my favorite parts of the building, the automated parking garage: in the morning, you drive your car onto a special platform; once you leave, an automated system whisks the car into a parking rack. At the end of the day, dial up your car, and it's unracked and returned to you. It's certainly more space-efficient than a traditional parking garage; the article says that our garage holds 130 cars, and looking at the outside of the building, you'd be hard pressed to figure out exactly where all of those cars fit!
Our book club hits the big time: Our book club back in San Jose made the front page of the Willow Glen Resident, baybee! (For a limited time only; I don't know how long that link will work before they update to a new front-page story.) Sandy, the woman holding the books in the lead photo, is one of our elite founding members.
(Click on any of the pictures to get a larger version of that image.)
The beginning of our English/Irish vacation wasn't too encouraging: to get to Hamburg Airport, we decided (okay, I decided) to take the "Airport Express" service offered by Hamburg public transit: you ride to the Ohlsdorf U-Bahn/S-Bahn station, and then ride the Airport Express bus from the train station to the airport.
Simple enough -- only when we walked out of the Ohlsdorf station, we found an already-full Airport Express bus holding at the bus stop, with an additional crowd of rapt spectators surrounding it. The holdup was readily apparent; the bus driver was physically holding back a struggling, screaming man at the front of the bus.
The driver had the bus doors closed so the man couldn't get out, and was standing across the aisle, so that the man couldn't move past the front of the bus towards the other passengers. The man wanted to get out as much as the bus driver wanted to keep him there -- screaming "Let me OUT!!! Let me OUT!!! LET ME OUT, you f**ker!!" He tried to push past the bus driver down the aisle. When that didn't work, he started kicking the front doors of the bus, hard -- hard enough that I was waiting for the glass to break. The bus driver tried to get him in a bear hug, which prompted the man to try to dive across him for the door-open button. As they struggled over that, the people on the bus -- and it was packed -- began inching farther and farther towards the back of the bus, away from the commotion. Finally a couple of people used the emergency-exit knobs to open the bus's middle and rear doors, and people started to flee the bus.
Finally, after darting for the door-open button again and again, Crazy Screaming Guy finally succeeded in opening the front doors. He twisted out of the bus driver's grip and ducked outside; the bus driver closed the doors, having now made a snap decision to keep him out. Crazy Screaming Guy then stood outside the bus and began taunting the bus driver. "You A**HOLE!!! You're a TOTAL ASS!!!!" After having his fill of that, CSG began walking down the street away from the bus, pausing now and then to turn around and fix the bus driver with a suitably hateful gaze.
After a little while, CSG reached into his jacket pocket and, with a look of total horror, brought an empty hand back out again. He rushed back to the bus and started beating on the windshield, now shrieking at the bus driver. "You A**SHOLE!!!! My HANDY!!!! Give me back my HANDY!!!!!" Oops-- while having a psychotic screaming wrestling match with the bus driver, CSG had dropped his cellphone on the floor of the bus! All of us who'd previously been regarding CSG as some kind of vague threat now started snickering. You moron -- after all that, you expect the bus driver to just hand your phone back to you? The bus driver found the phone, picked it up, and stood there with it, staring out at an ever-more-hysterical CSG as he beat on the outside of the bus. "MY HANDY!!!! MY HANDY!!!!! *GIVE* *ME* *BACK* *MY* *HANDY*!!!!!!"
(Note for the reader: Cellular phones are called "handys" in Germany.)
At that point, if I were the bus driver, I'd have dropped the phone out of the window and quickly driven over it -- but eventually it was passed down the aisle among the remaining passengers to the back of the bus, where it was tossed out a door to CSG. CSG caught the phone, began to walk away, and then turned, ran back into the bus, and sat down on the rearmost seat!
The bus moved a little distance (with the rear doors wide open -- apparently if you open them by the emergency exit, they can't be closed normally). Us spectators, along with the refugees from the bus, went to the next bus in line. Its driver was now sufficiently convinced that things had gotten weird enough that it was okay to deviate from the schedule; he opened the doors and let us in.
Unfortunately, the first bus was blocking a single-lane portion of the road away from the station. Our bus was psycho-free, but we still had to wait until the police arrived and pulled CSG out of the back of the first bus. The first bus then moved ahead enough so that it could get off the road. As we pulled past, we could see a policewoman with a notebook boarding the bus, looking ready to obtain statements from anyone unfortunate enough to still be aboard (and everybody aboard stewing with a "why me?" look on their face); the bus driver walked a policeman around the outside of the bus, gesticulating excitedly towards damage no doubt apparent only to other bus enthusiasts.
To a man, those of us on the second bus were thinking "there but for the grace of God go I ..." It seemed a less-than-auspicious way to start a vacation. We never did find out what happened in the first place to make the bus driver hold the guy back; refugees from the first bus were chattering into their cell phones about being delayed due to a crazy man on their bus, but that's all the detail we got ...
Good thing we left the house earlier than usual!
... to a land where they drive on the correct side of the road, even if they don't speak the right language. We made it back late last night -- without our luggage, thanks to Aer Lingus and their very mañana attitude. Our connection from Dublin to London Heathrow was over an hour late, forcing them to recycle the excuse that they'd used on us a week earlier, when our Heathrow-to-Dublin flight was over three hours late: "we apologize, but this airplane was delayed earlier in the day and we've been trying to make it up since then." The flight between Heathrow and Dublin is only seventy-five minutes long, and Dublin is Aer Lingus' home base; couldn't they have just injected another plane into their LHR-DUB rotation and broken this increasing cycle of sorrow? (... or just have planned things more effectively in the first place, since this seems to be a common occurrence?)
Anyway, from my view out the window as we sat parked at Heathrow, waiting for the jetway to be wheeled up and the cattle call outwards to begin, I got a clear view of Aer Lingus' baggage staff at work, and they certainly didn't look like men meeting a late plane, determined to help luggage meet its connections -- more like men who were tapering down at the end of a long day, not wanting to work too hard, and perhaps dreamily looking forward to quitting time, a pint, and a football game in some local bar. It didn't take too much prescience on my part to have a premonition that something bad was going to happen, luggage-wise.
But Shelby reports that British Airways brought about a happy baggage reunion this afternoon -- intact, minus a bottle of hand lotion that was in one of the outside pockets. (Which I assume fell out somehow -- I mean, who steals a partially-used bottle of hand lotion? Wait, I don't want to know...) So now I look forward to going home for a dearly-awaited shave and (ahem) tooth-brushing. A walk with the dog wouldn't be a bad idea, either ... assuming that she's come out of her defensive don't-take-me-back-to-the-Hundehotel position beneath the bed.
Other than weird stuff at its beginning and end, the trip was a really great one; more to come on our adventures.
(says Kevin, posting as Shelby because I can never remember my own MT password ...)
... we're just in Ireland, with a brief stop-off in London along the way. We're having a lot of fun so far -- currently we're staying for a couple of days with friends at their manor house outside of Dublin. I'd say more, but I'm on their measured-rate ISDN line -- so suffice it to say for now that nothing bad happened to us, we're enjoying ourselves, and we'll be back and blogging after we return to Hamburg on July 18th.
(We both meant to make a "we're leaving" announcement before we actually left, but we suffered a home net-access outage on the day of our departure. Serves us right for not planning ahead.)
It's Make Way For Ducklings, German-style:
. . . of course, if you don't already know by now, you probably don't care -- but Greece beat Portugal 1-0 in the EM 2004 final!
Judging by the number of honking horns in our neighborhood, either a lot of Griechenland fans came out of hiding tonight, or everybody wants to jump on the Greek bandwagon.
I'd like to thank Anna at an American Girl in Germany and Armin at Ministry of Propaganda for recently noticing my blog and adding it to their lists of expat bloggers. Also, last month Heiko Hebig at hebig.com put a link to my blog entry questioning why German egg yolks were so bright yellow on his blog, which drove my visitor traffic up to unbelievable (for me) new levels.
In response, I've added a list of the expat/Hamburg/Germany blogs that I read often to my page of links. Enjoy the two or three new readers that a link from my site should bring you, guys ...
(Also, I didn't link to them because they're no longer "live", but Scott Anderson's two journals, U9 and Leaving Berlin are a great source of reading material and were a partial source of inspiration for my starting this expat-living-in-Germany blog.)
|I finally finished putting together a couple of pages of pictures from our trip to Denmark a few weeks ago:|
. . . I hope that all of you Americans stateside are doing something good with it, because we're certainly not. In 2000, one of my friends here was the daughter of the Norwegian Consul, so she got to go to a fancy celebratory harbor cruise/dinner hosted by the American Consulate -- they might well be holding that event again this year, but it's not as if that's something us little people get invited to. (Why not scratch the black-tie soiree and invite all comers to a Fourth-of-July weenie roast on the Consulate lawn?)
We had a half-hearted plan to go to the zoo today, but we scratched that, since (surprise!) it's been raining on and off all day long. (I've been to Hagenbeck's in the rain before, and it wasn't much fun: just wetness and cowering animals.) So, it's been a lazy day around here: sleeping in, reading, and working on this and that.
But just because nobody over here is celebrating American independence doesn't mean that July 4th isn't a really big day: later tonight we'll be heading out (probably to Down Under again) to watch the final game of EM 2004, the European soccer championships. Greece and Portugal will be duking it out for the title; I'm not really sure who to root for. After Germany was eliminated, I started cheering for England -- solidarity of the English-speaking peoples and all that -- but then they were knocked out by Portugal, and I've been at a loss since then. I guess that it would be sweet for the Portugese to win this time, since they're the hosts. We'll see.
[Speaking of Fourth-of-July weenie roasts, all of you Americans who haven't selected your franks-of-choice yet might want to check out Slate.com's hot dog taste-test roundup before you head off to the grocery store. But inquiring German-based minds want to know: how well would Trueman's American-style Hot Dogs have fared in this contest??]
I'm glad to see that it's not just us transplanted-Californian types who're frustrated with our recent local weather.
I'm not sure which I'd find worse, however: being permanently condemned to weather like we're having now, or going back and forth between a non-air-conditioned apartment and a non-air-conditioned office in non-air-conditioned trains during a scorcher like last summer.
(Although I have to say that the extreme thunder-and-lightning show that we were treated to on Thursday morning would have been really cool, had it taken place at some other time besides 3 AM. Fortunately Scout isn't one of those dogs who's disturbed by flash-and-bang displays; I think that she got back to sleep before either of us did ...)
Most expats I've met seem to have a story or two about their strangest interactions with the wacky German people. Dave has people telling him that his dog is "too shiny". During my first stay in Hamburg, I met Valerie, a woman in my German class, who routinely had total strangers walk up to her and begin criticizing whatever she was doing at the time. (Highlights included the old man who patiently waited on the sidewalk as she parked her car, in order to tell her once she got out that she'd parked too far away from the curb and the car in front of her, or the woman who walked up to her in the market as she was shopping with her children and lectured her about how it was wrong to give children such sugary snacks and that a good mother wouldn't feed her child junk food!)
My interactions, on the other hand, have been pretty routine (I'm not counting occasional talks with the drunk homeless guys who hang around certain S-Bahn stations; they're like that to everybody). But a few days ago, I finally had a conversation that took the cake.
The ground floor of our building used to host Valentino's, a restaurant and (on the weekends) dance club. Valentino's closed mysteriously around the middle of April. They removed the signs from the front of the building, but otherwise left the premises undisturbed; you can peek in through the front windows and see the tables set, napkins neatly folded on each plate. Shelby and I find it kind of creepy and sad.
The one sign they didn't remove is the box that contains the menu; since the view through the windows looks like that of an establishment that's still a going concern, we usually walk past one or two people a day who are carefully studying the menu -- probably making plans to come back at night, when the place will no doubt be open for business. One such man was standing there as I was walking back to the apartment. I walk past him, and am about to walk into the building, when I hear him calling for me to wait. So I turn around and walk back to meet him on the sidewalk.
"Excuse me, is there a restaurant here -- Valentino's?"
"This was Valentino's, but it's been closed since the middle of April."
"The middle of April! Was it just a restaurant, or was it a nightclub, or a club with dancing, or ...?"
"Well, on the weekends it was a dance club; during the week, it was a normal restaurant."
"Was it a good restaurant?"
"Yes; we ate there once and liked it."
"I see. And it's been closed since April?"
"Hmm! Closed since April! Well, thank you very much for that very helpful information."
Thinking that's that, I go upstairs, let Scout out of her crate, and bring her downstairs. We're lingering around the trees in front of the building when a woman who's been reading the menu board and looking through the windows comes up to us.
"You just talked to my husband, and he said that you told him that the restaurant here -- Valentino's -- had been closed since the middle of April."
"Yes, that's right ..."
"Was it a good restaurant?"
"We only visited once, but we thought it was very good."
"Why did it close, then?"
"I have no idea -- it was a mystery. One day we came downstairs, and it was just closed! They had a good location -- between the U-Bahn station and the music hall -- and they had good food, but it was always empty."
"Ah. Well, thank you."
Figuring that was really that, I walked up the street a little bit, staring up at nothing as Scout continued to sniff the neighborhood trees. Then I hear shouting behind me. It's the man again, trying to get my attention. First he makes a cursory glance at Scout.
"Handsome dog! Nice dog. Say, you just came out of the same building as Valentino's -- is there a hotel or something in there? Was the restaurant part of the hotel?"
"No, we live in an apartment -- the building just has normal apartments, and some offices."
"Ah. It's too bad that Valentino's has been closed since April; we're visiting from out of town" -- at this point he waved a hand back at his car, which had Hamburg license plates -- "and our Hamburg friends really recommended that we go to Valentino's. But ..."
And that was when he finally lost me, speaking too fast and furious for me to understand -- but the gist seemed to be about the great unfairness of the restaurant being closed, and how disappointed his friends would be, but why did they recommend this restaurant if it had been closed for months, and if it was so good, why did it close in April, and ... -- he went on for a while, and once he finally paused in his diatribe, I made a knowing shrug, looking skyward with a sad little smile, meant to communicate What can I do? We are but men -- the waxing and waning of a restaurant's fortunes is in the hands of the gods, and only they know in their infinite wisdom why a particular establishment is fated to wither and die ... and PLEASE DEAR GOD IT'S ONLY A RESTAURANT JUST LET IT GO ALREADY AND SHUT UP AND GET AWAY FROM ME!!!
I must have beamed my thoughts towards him with sufficient intensity, because with that, he clapped me on the back, said "Well, thanks again for your help", and turned back towards his car. Scout and I fled inside before he could change his mind and quiz me about Valentino's for a fourth time.
Who were these people? Elite restauranteurs scouting out a new location and trying to figure out why the previous business died? Deep-cover CIA agents who made an appointment ten years ago to meet their handler for dinner at Valentino's, and are now freaking out because it's closed?