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Sunday, June 25, 2006

update 6

Today the market square has all the stillness of a Sunday morning. I wonder what time the church service ends, and if it will suddenly flood the square on which it sits with voices and sound, the children abruptly freed from stillness. I can hear the organ inside, and think I will find out soon.

First come a pair of old ladies, in floral suits, and then a family of African descent, the mother wearing a wonderful pink cap with what look like feathers. The people seem to exit quietly, and the square is still muted. But now the church bells begin to ring the three quarters and a moped drives onto the square. Even it seems muffled; I wonder if the clouds are encouraging quiet. Voices are starting to echo, and perhaps it just needs a critical number of people to start their days. The congregation seems to be gather in front of the church, which doesn't face the main square, and only slowly are they spreading out. Still the birds are the loudest sounds, I am surprised.

Yesterday, this same square was teeming with people. The entire village, and all of the surrounding villages, turn out for market day. I am starting to feel more a part of the village life, and I see the the little old men with dogs (every family has one) and smile. My bicycle has a basket now, and that makes me feel less conspicuously different than usually. I ordered my bread in German, but was only able to do about half of my produce marketing in German before the vendor switched to English -- apparently red leaf lettuce in German is not Kopfsalat rot. Oh well, it was a reasonable attempt. The figs are gone from the market, their short season apparently over. I am saddened by this, because somehow the combination of figs and cheese is so utterly European and I have enjoyed it.

This morning I am too tired for German, and my waitress (not the normal one, but another one who knows me, also) reprimanded me a little for not trying. She told me that I should try to speak some German, because Jurg said ... (and then she got distracted). She is right, of course, but I haven't been studying as much as I need to and I'm exhausted today. My cheese-monger (I can't decided whether I am possessive of them, or the word cheese-monger, which I adore) told me (and then had to translate) that he thought my Deutsch was getting better and better -- every week, he said. I think this is not really true, but rather another example of the continental chivalry which I find alternately charming or irritating.

There is, without doubt, a feminist issue involved with being here. Yesterday, after having been here almost three weeks, I met the first other woman scientist at the institute (there must be others, but I have not seen them). I was told before I came here that women scientists were treated differently (Germany in particular) and that I should pay attention and be very clear in my credentials. Also, a colleague's 10-year old daughter, who is American, cannot play soccer in school here as she did in the US. It is considered too rough for girls. I think they do not really recognize the insidious danger of such things. It is really a very small step from there to "girls shouldn't do science" or some other such thing. I was, of course, reminded of the old doctrine of Kuche, Kiche, Kinder (yes, I brought Ms. Sayers with me). So, while I could not care less who wins the men's soccer, I want to American women to destroy them (unfortunately, the women's World Cup is next year, in China, so it will lack some of the force). Because, as I mentioned to the colleague, the American's are the only ones with any respect for their women's team. It is strange to be in such a situation, somewhat topsy-turvy. I think, now (as not before) that Title 9 may have been a very good thing, and that there is something to be said for the idea of athletes as ambassadors. I am more grateful to Ms. Chastain than I realized.

Deutschland won their match yesterday against Sweden and advanced to the quarterfinals. From the cheering one might have thought it was the finals. There were what seemed like all the cars in town driving in circles with people hanging out to wave the German flag and blaring their horns. And singing "Deutschland, Deutschland" with a long first syllable and lilting final. It went on for quite a long time, and between it and all the people (lots!) painted like (or wearing) the German flag, I almost wished they had lost. I wonder what will happen at the next round, and at the finals. Will the intensity increase with each victory? Will it last for a week if they win the Weldmeister? Or more?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

update 5

My bicycle light still does not function, which I find somewhat frustrating. But at dusk in the forest, the fireflies come out, greener than I recall but glowing. And they bob along the edges of the path, little guiding lights. I still do not like riding home after it gets darker, but I look forward to seeing the fireflies.

Monday, June 19, 2006

update 4

The other day when I came out of my apartment to go to work, my landlady pointed at the little brown birds swooping about and said "swallen" and after a moment I felt my heart lift. Swallen are swallows, just like ours, and they are nesting above my window.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

update 3

Yesterday I was very brave and took the train -- two of them, actually -- to Aachen for the afternoon. It went okay, largely because most of the Deutsch-Bahn (DB) employees speek English, and are very helpful to the foreigner. I was able to figure out which train I wanted from Juelich to Dueren, or rather, I guessed right. I made an error in the ticket, apparently, although I still haven't figured out how I was supposed to have done it.

I arrived at the Juelich Bahnhof just after 1 in the afternoon, which is when the kiosk (manned by a live person) closes. So I made my best guess as to which side of the tracks I needed, and sat out in the sun until the train arrived. Like most of the German services I have encountered so far, the train was prompt and clean, and, of far more importance, well-labelled.

So I watched everyoe else buy their tickets from the machine on the little train (really a bus on tracks), and then did the same but for my destination. When I got busted on the DB train into Aachen, the conductor told me I had bought a bus ticket -- but I bought it on the train, so I'm confused. Next time I will know, though. In due course, our little train arrived in Dueren, where I had to switch. Everything was, of course, just fine, and I spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around Aachen, culminating in a visit to the bookstore (very like a Boarders) and the discovery of a very good chocolatier.

This is horse country, countryside with wheat and beets. As far as I can tell, almost every family in my village has a horse or a pony. I spend a lot of time jealous, and on this morning's run was passed by a couple of girls out exercises their animals. I want one!

Today is the ``Zitadellen Fest'', and I see ticket vendors by the old castle gates -- I think that the faire is actually within the castle walls -- a hard act to follow for any American Faire. After I've eaten, I'll go over there and walk around, see the sights. And then, like almost every other evening, I wil be back here at Leibervoll, this time with the group to watch the Brazil-somebody or other soccer match. Yesterday, the cheese-monger, in an effor to foster more communications, brought up the US match and said they played today. He was chargirned and amused when is said "oh, really? I thought they were done" -- although I feel very much at home here, it was a very clear illustration that, in fact, I am not.

On that note, I made a very sad discovery today. It turns out that "Eiskaffee" in this country is _not_, in fact, iced coffee as I had delightedly believed, but an ice cream float made with coffee. Sigh.

Friday, June 16, 2006

update 2

The market today is much smaller than last week. There are no stalls of craftsmen and artists near the Zitadellen as there were, so I think last week was a special treat. There were many many stalls, with all sorts of craftwork, particularly cloth and clothing, on the park, running right up to the old castle walls. It gave an amazing sense of continuity and history, seeing the market like a slight modernization of what it must have been from the beginning. I'm sorry that it isn't always like that. Tomorrow, though, is the "Zitadellen Fest" which I think is like a Renn Faire.

I've finished my marketing, except for some things I will buy at the normal store. There were no figs this week (I will look again), and the peaches were not ripe. But I found fresh blackberries, and more strawberries, and some cherries (kirschen), which I managed to procure without switching to English, and had a nice exchange with the confectioner, from whom I bought macaroons and rum balls, all in sign language. My flowers this week are a lovely yellow and orange arrangement of gerbera daisies and mums, with a spray of creamy snapdragons. Yesterday the cleaninglady came to clean my little room. When I got home last night, my landlady had left a vase on my table with a long spray of white flowers and some pink roses from the garden. It's is a lovely thing to come in to, and this week I will have two arrangements.

The cheese-monger I save for last (although I bought my cheese first). I very carefully said "Wei geht es Inen?" and he carefully answered "Danke, gut, und Selbst?" after which I said "Danke, gut" and switched to English. We again had a wonderful time trying cheeses, and when I asked about a particular hard goat cheese, he said "Ah, that is a mild cheese, not for you!" I managed to buy only three cheeses this week: a soft blue from France, a soft creme cheese also from France and with the AOC designation, and a hard German mountain cheese of sheep's milk. He tells me that of the almost 6000 varieties of cheese in Europe, only 64 carry the AOC label; he has several of them, and while I don't like all of those I've tried, they are very spectacular. They were very kind to me, when I told them the English word for an herb, they said how wonderful it was that their English was getting better. So chivalrous.

I find that when someone is speaking to me in German, I tense my whole body and strain, as though I can understand by sheer force of will. Perhaps I can. I am starting to hear the breaks between words, and not infrequently will hear words that I recognize, although I won't often know their meaning. I am also starting to recognize some of the numbers, but since the higher numbers are all compounds of the base number with the order tacked on, this isn't as helpful as you might think.

I chat with U, the waitress at Leibervoll. She had English in school, as one of her "license classes" -- advanced classes, for her degree. We talk about whether English is harder or easier than German, and about how living here is different from living in the states. She says that it's a little village, and I explain that the neighborhoods in Chicago are like this, but small towns are not. We talk also about the trains, and how to go to Aachen.

There is a different manager today, an older man who may be the owner. I picture my dad and he talking about restaurants over coffee. I think my father will like it here -- they speak English rather well, and seem disposed to chat, particularly early, just after opening. I will make sure that they have decaffeinated coffee. And I have discovered a little model train shop on the next square.

At the next table are some Irish, tasting the same honey I bought last week and rhapsodizing over it. When U got to them, they struggled for a moment and she said "Oh, you can speak English!" and grinned at me. I think that talking the past week is giving her confidence, too -- because she didn't volunteer English to me until I asked. She frequently says that her English is poor, and I only wish that my German were as poor.

I am planning to go to Aachen this afternoon. It will be my first attempt at the train, and I will have to transfer in Dueren. I want to go today, though, because all of the stores are closed on Sundays. I hope that S will want to go to Aachen today. Or at least that when he comes to do his marketing he'll show me how to take the train. But it is after 11, and there are some green sandals calling my name, and the last train back is apparently at 7pm. So I will prepare to explore.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

update 1

Today is a holiday, and I sit in front of Liebervoll across from the church, from whence issue crowds, the little girls all in frilly white dresses. Many of the older men are dressed in military uniforms, with wonderfully ridiculous hats that have plumes. Sadly, I am without my camera. Now I hear drums, and hope for a procession. Because some of the uniforms are red. The manager/owner (?) and I have been making faces and laughing at the drums. Who knows, we shrug at each other, and I feel part of the town. I think, though, that they do not come this way.
I believe that it is the Day of German Reunification. Some of the uniforms are green, with green and white plumes, others red and white. It's all totally German (Prussian?) and very entraining. How very disappointing: "June 15, 2006 Trinitas, Fronleichnam, Corpus Christi: 50 days after Easter.'' (W just translated this for me as "Happy Corpse Day''). Apparently just an excuse to wear funky hats.

It's been an interesting week. I've seen sheep, and frolicking cows, and a disturbingly anatomically correct beast statue, and the city Markt. I gave a spectacular talk, and was insulted. I bought delightful cheese, and instituted an afternoon group coffee discussion (I seem to do this everywhere). I've had a couple great runs, and hope for many more. I've discovered that what one forgets about riding a bike is not how, but the discomfort of doing so all the time. This morning I found the old city gate. And I've ridden home in the rain and dark through the forest without a light -- and I was right, it is frightening; one imagines faery tale monsters in every shadow.

I've also sat outside at night with many Germans watching the World Cup projected on a screen, drinking Kolsch. Kolsch is the local beer, and they drink it at almost any time of the day. When I sat down at 11 today, already people were drinking it -- and almost uniformly the Kolsch. One must be very careful in ordering beer, and I can order Pils only in Cologne, considered a world away, almost ausland (though it is only 45 minutes by car). I think that to order something else is forgiven only in the tourist. I was not insulted for ordering Weisebier, perhaps because I ordered it without specifying a region, and to drink the white beers is also respected. Since then, however, I order Kolsch, and they delight in fixing my pronunciation.

The German soccer team played last night (the game I watched was Brazil, the other favorite) -- I need to check and see who won. There's a decidedly subdued feeling this morning, which could be just due to the church holiday, or could be much worse -- they might have lost at soccer (fussball!). Alternatively, they might have won and all be hungover. On the square this morning were mostly old men with little dogs (almost every family has one here). Oh the relief, they defeated Poland 1:0. So it's either church or hangover -- or, more probably, both.

For the past week, it has been very sunny and very hot. In fact, it's been perfect summer weather, and a lovely way to meet a new place. Everyone has been outside, and the cafes -- especially the ice cream parlor -- have been full. They all have seating outside, and people always choose it first; there is little air conditioning here. The weather today is disappointing; overcast and cool. Yesterday was at least sunny. But still there are people sitting outside, not just me. I think it's starting later because man people went to church. This is a country without separation of church and state, and it shows in many areas. They do, of course, have a church tax of 4%. They also have many holidays related to saints, and it is often assumed that one is a member of a church (usually Catholic, interestingly, Luther not withstanding).

The coffee here is almost uniformly excellent, thick and strong (I have not found decaf outside of our office at the FZ), and it is easy to drink too much of it. I am tragically void of chocolate, which I am unsure how happened. Perhaps because I have such good coffee that I almost didn't notice. I am slowly exploring the available baked goods. I have yet to find the perfect bakery; I have found several chain-types that make reasonable pastries, but I want the little secret shop owned by a round little German (with, I am certain, a great mustache) that makes the most wonderful pastries and bread in town.

I am told that the sport for which Juelich is known is, delightfully, table tennis. Yes, the first Chinese in town were not affiliated with the Forschungszentrum, but with ping pong. The absurdity is wonderful, as with many things here. I have seem several quite spectacular mustaches, both the narrow waxed ones, and ones that look like horns on the hood of a Texas Cadillac. I have decided that they do these things just to delight me. I made my office mate, J, go with me to pick my bike up from the FZ bicycle repair man in part because I wanted him to see the man's wonderful mustache, puffy over his lip and curling to waxed points on the side.
Tragically, he did not fix my farrahdlicht (bicycle light) correctly, hence the ride through the forest in the dark, but I am trying to see this instead as an opportunity to see the amazing mustache again. It's the little things.

I practice my German every day. Everyone is very patient and kind, offering encouragement and praise for even the most mundane of phrases. Perhaps half of the people do speak English, after a fashion. I have become brave enough to ask if they do, and if so, I will usually switch. If not, we muddle through carefully, and they tell me how to pronounce things. The servers at Liebervoll (uniformly attractive, interestingly, with great glasses!) are used to me now, and help me to practice. Most days I allocate an hour or two to study, and then try to use some of the words I learn. I carry my little flash cards with me, and when I have time I study them. The group finds this entertaining, but as the day of the storm two of my randomly chosen words were "donnern", to thunder, and "das Wetter/das Gewitter", weather/thunderstorm, they no longer mock me quite as much.

The trip to Aachen with the conference participants was wonderful. We had a tour of the cathedral, the original part (still standing) of which was erected by Charlemagne. I did not realize that Aachen was Charlemagne's seat, and his presence is everywhere felt. The city hall ("Rathaus" -- I love German!!!) is in fact still in the "King's Building", although only part of it still stands. It was on the walking tour of the city that we saw the beast statue, which U pronounced "embarrassing" and W took pictures of (I will send a copy when I get one; it was very funny). There were also amazing shops -- one of olive oil and vinegar, which could be very dangerous, and another with the most wonderful espresso machines (one has spikes!), and yet another with shoes. I think perhaps I will go there tomorrow, or on Saturday. While I find the European approach to working time entirely alien, they have absolutely the right idea on cafes (and cheese!). There are many of them, most have outside seating, and one moves between them from about 5 in the afternoon on, having little bits at several. After the tour of the cathedral (``Dom''), we stopped at the gelato place on the main square (still centered around the cathedral) and had cones with wonderful little scoops of Italian Ise.

As we knew, there is almost no ice here. I find this hard, as, for the past week, it has been very hot, and I want nothing so much as an iced coffee. However, I have done as the Germans do and had ice cream instead. There is also only mineral water, which I despise. In the tourist restaurant where the dinner for the conference was, I asked for "Stillischewasser" (still, or silent, water), and was given pitcher of tap water with what must have been all the ice they could find. I had clearly marked myself as American, and we all laughed very hard at this. I drink a lot of tap water, and am very glad that I brought my water bottle with me.

The sheep and cows are on my ride back to the apartment in Stetternich from Juelich. Along the main highway is a bike path, and on the other side of that are some paddocks which also enclose a loosely-planted orchard (I think apple). Among them are lovely black and white cows, clearly happy. Last week, coming home from the conference, we saw the cows frolicking -- literally bounding about in their paddock. It was an amazing manifestation of joy, the younger cows bouncing in the air, a thing I did not even know that cows could do. Cavorting! For the past few days, I have not seen the cows, so I fear they have been moved for the summer.

Once I get into Stetternich proper -- if it can really be described that way, a little village of one main street and a few side streets -- there is a field bounded by a wooden fence. It has sheep, which are, in fact, as cute as they are usually represented. There are even several black ones! Black sheep -- how can I be so lucky? They are always either industriously eating the grass or sleeping as though they fell over, their little legs tucked up under, and their necks stretched out so that their chins can rest comfortably. Watching them sleep is rather like looking at Emma, or perhaps gold fish. There are also apparently many ponds, populated by what must be overwhelming numbers of frogs. At night they sing, making fabulous warbling sounds that fill the air without disturbing it. Sometimes they sound almost human, and it is easy to understand the old faery tales.

(The radio inside is play Simon and Garfunkel -- Mrs. Robinson. It makes me smile)

Monday, June 05, 2006


I am delighted with my little village. Y has just shown me the route to the FZ from my apartment. It is one turn and then a long (2-3km) path.

As we were riding up my street before the turn, we passed a young woman leading a dappled pony. Just walking up the street the two of them. And just after that, on the left were a bay and a grey horse stading in a little paddock. Most of the houses have huge climbing roses on them, yellow and pink and white. The gardens are tidy and inviting, and somehow archtyipically (tupisch) old Europe, not at all British.

After the turn, there is a long stretch of fields, which begin with several pastures holding ponies and perhaps other delights to be discovered on morning runs to walks to and from work. There are horses everywhere, it seems. Heading the other direction from the apartment, still up Wolfshovener Strasse but towards Juelich, are more climbing roses, sheep, and a Gosthaus.

The path turns after the pastures, no longer paved, running along fields with rows of leafy greens, perhaps chard. And then, then is the forest. It is not the forest of fairy tales, but perhaps it will seem so at night. It is a pleasant and inviting green expanse flanking the bike trail. This winds through the woods, eventually running along the periphery of the Institute itself. It will make a wonderful running path, and off it I saw spurs with a sign I think means ``nature trail'' that I hope to explore in the coming weeks. As I walk (or ride) up, I think I will feel happy and excited.

I have seen lots in Juelich this afternoon that pleases me, from charming shops (all, of course, closed for the holiday), to a wonderful pond with ducks (which, of course, we fed), to a castle _with a moat_. We sat outside at a cafe that Y likes, having coffee (me) and regional bier (him) and something to eat. While the food we ordered wasn't brilliant, the coffee was, and the other food we saw ordered looked appealing. The desserts vertainly seemed so. Even better, though, to go with the very good coffee they serve little butter cookies and free wireless.

I was feeling a bit lost this afternoon, because communication is much harder than I'd expected. My landlady speaks almost no English, and I have essentially no German (words like "good" and "auto" go by very quickly in real time). I hear the word for beautiful "schurn" often, and it sounds lovely when said. But spending the afternoon with other English speakers, people that I know, and meeting a very nice woman who was also excited about the moat, have helped immensely.

I wrote this sitting outside the FZ while Y called the other arrival. We are now all inside at the cafe from earlier, drinking wiessebier and using the wireless! And waiting for S (one of "my" Germans).

Location: Currently, Berkeley, United States

I'm an academic scientist who is both abroad and a broad. I am on the road so often that I have a house solely so that my cats will have somewhere to live.

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