Of Mineral Water and Cultural Adaption

“Alright, I’m going for a run. I’ll be back soon.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Hmm… probably 45 minutes or so. Why…?”
“I would just like to know whether I should make reservations tonight for only one.”

I have a confession. No, it has nothing to do with the neglecting of this blog, and the blogs I follow, for the past 12 days–although that may come up.

My confession is simple: I like bubbly, mineral water.

There. I wrote it. It is on the great and powerful Internet now; possibly forever. First, I have decided that this inkling toward the bubbly makes me European (specifically German, since I am now in Germany until Oct. 17th, and technically ethnically nearly 80% German). And second, it is a testament to my level of comfort here in Mainz, Deutschland.

A bevy of beautiful, beautiful bubbles!

Water became a topic of conversation between my gf & I, when we decided that Americans generally do not drink bubbly, mineral water (or, with gas as it is sometimes called). Personally, I drink my water from the tap, or from a Brita filter. It has fluoride. It has minerals. It has stuff I should be consuming. But I was told not to do that here in Mainz, Germany. So, we, and everyone it seems, drinks large 1.5 liter bottles of H2O, and then returns them for 0.25€ each at their local grocery store. Bubbly water, like San Pellegrino in the States, is, as I referred to it, “hoity toity,” and it requires a certain comfort level for the middle-class American palate.

In 2003-04, when I was living in Rome, Italy, I tried the whole “with gas” thing. It didn’t take. Again, last time I was in Germany, February 2012, I didn’t like the bubbles or the minerals. But now something just snapped. We were at lunch two days ago eating Vietnamese food (Ha Noi, definitely eat here!), when the waiter brought bubbly water with a lemon slice and it matched the yellow curry perfectly. I haven’t looked back ever since. In fact, I bought a 6-pack of still (for the gf) and a 6-pack of medium bubbly (for me) last night. I’m a changed man.

For your amusement: some silly questions I asked my gf about the bubbly water for which I received perfectly serious answers:
—”So, is it more expensive?”
—”Do the bubbles come first, then they take them out? or do they add bubbles?”
—”There are various degrees of bubbles?!?”
—”Do ALL Germans drink the bubbly water?”

The second part of this post refers to the introduction quote. I went for a jog yesterday. In the States I jog three times a week, three 5k’s, depending on the weather. I have never jogged here. It was uplifting. It was enlightening. It was peaceful. It was glorious. It was empowering. And, I successfully found my way back to our apartment. I jogged along the Rhine with the old couples slowly shuffling along together hand-in-hand. I jogged along the promenade with the young mothers and fathers calmly pushing strollers over cobblestones. And I returned home to the kitchen emanating a wondrous aroma of a boiling basil and tomato sauce.

You see, when I visit my gf here in Mainz, we are never outside of earshot of one another the entire time of my visit. We work peacefully and respectfully around one another, we can be silent for hours, we sometimes talk over a meal for four hours straight, we read together, we watch films together, or go on walks. Me going off on my own is a big deal. It is part of my comfort here in Germany. It is part of me finding my own way. It is part of me coming back to her; of absence being the beautiful knowledge of a return.

Thanks for reading everyone. I would love to hear your own silly cultural adaption stories, or your opinion on bubbly water!

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A Lufthansa Arrival, or How I Almost Became an Overnight Male

“What should I do if my baggage is lost?
Please report the loss of your baggage immediately at the appropriate counter. If you do not report the loss until later, you will need to prove it retrospectively, which is clearly more complicated. You will find detailed information on this subject on our page Lost or damaged baggage.”

F.A.Q., Official Lufthansa website

Well, dear readers, I made it to Germany safe, sound, and all in one piece. And, of course, there are some stories. One I shall gloss over now, and one I shall share in another post.

The first is simple: Lufthansa lost my luggage. Naturally this is a small fear each of us has while traveling, right? Going to a foreign country and packing everything you need only to have it lost somewhere between Chicago and Frankfurt, and delivered far too late for your favorite toothbrush, soap, or underwear to be of any use. Well, as any good German citizen or entity, Lufthansa has a back-up plan.

It is… The Male Overnight Kit!

Yes, the Male Overnight Kit. It contains everything the Overnight Male needs:

  • 1 plain, black toothbrush;
  • 1 plain, black, folded comb;
  • 25g Colgate toothpaste;
  • .85 fl oz Senzai shaving cream;
  • 1 Rexona, ice cool deodorant;
  • .9 fl oz Neutrogena shampoo;
  • 2 cotton buds;
  • 1 single, white, disposable razor;
  • 1 XXL, white, crew cut t-shirt;
  • and, 1 single, silver packet laundry detergent.

If I should ever join Tyler Durden’s Project Mayhem, I shall be fully prepared.

So, armed with a receipt bearing a phone number and a reference ID and my lone carry-on, I went to meet my gf outside Frankfurt airport’s International Arrival gate. She was not there waiting for me. I later found out that after waiting some 90 minutes my plane arrival had disappeared from the electronic board, and, in a panic, my gf went in search of information. (“If I had to wait another 5 minutes, I would have died!” is the exact phrase). After having searched the dozen or so waiting tables in the international area and deciding to locate information myself, I spotted my gf coming toward me through a long hallway with two sliding glass doors. I calmly waited with a knowing and profoundly glad smile painted on my face, and we embraced like lovers will after not seeing one another for five months. Dear readers, allow me a personal note here: there is nothing, nothing, like the romantic airport kiss near the international arrival gate (Oh God, My Wife Is German, I know you know what I’m talking about!). One should really try it, or add it to a bucket list.

Jetzt Ich bin angekommen!

Well, later that evening, just as we were finishing our dinner conversation, a very nice, middle-aged German gentleman from Lufthansa delivered my luggage. How nice of the Germans, aye? My arrival was so special that they decided I did not need lug my 50 pound suitcase on the train from Frankfurt to Mainz and all the way through town, echoing the rickety-rickety-rickety sound of suitcase wheels on cobblestones, and that I should focus solely on being with my gf. So, thank you Lufthansa!

And, to make my point clear, now that my shaving mirror is firmly attached to the interior of my gf’s shower, my arrival in Deutschland is official.

Thanks everyone for reading.

London Feb 2012, Day Three: Zurück zu Deutschland.

Because I never thought I would say with a sigh, “I am so happy to be back in Germany”.

Flying back to Frankfurt-Finally, a seat together.

Continued from Part 2

Our journey began on a Tuesday morning, February 21st, very, very early. An early flight from Frankfurt-Hahn (the outlying, thus cheaper, airport that is a 45-minute journey from Mainz) to Rome, meaning we had to get up at 6am, which in US time was 11pm… my regular bedtime…

Rome was scheduled far in advance before I left the US. I hadn’t been there for years, and since I was staying with my gf in Mainz, Germany for 18 days, I suggested a 2-day stay in my former city. London was not planned. London was a weekend conference that my gf was accepted to only weeks before my departure; and we planned our trips so that Tue-Thu would be Rome, and Thu-Mon would be London. This is not so easy.

Thursday morning we had breakfast at the apartment we were staying at in Rome and left a bit early for the flight to Frankfurt-Hahn. Rome’s Ciampino airport was clear across the giant city from our apartment (from Metro stop Cornelia to Anagnina, then a bus), so we decided to cut our trip short by going to Termini and catching a bus to Ciampino where we would fly back to Hahn, and stay there until our evening flight into London departed. (I am working on a short story about this crazy trip, and will post it upon its completion).

We arrived in London Thursday evening around 10pm. We had been traveling for nearly 12 hours through three different nations and one timezone. By the time our taxi had arrived, we were exhausted. We arrived at our destination in South London’s Peckham neighborhood just before midnight. The first thing we did after the owner of the apartment left was take a shower, and crash, hard.

This third day of sightseeing was a relief. It was calm, relaxing, and, since we were riding on a tour bus, we didn’t have to worry about transportation. I recommend it to anyone who only has one day to see London, and truly wants to see all of London. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Thanks!

Rome, A Character Study: The Lonely Nun

Catholic:
1 (esp. of a person’s tastes) including a wide variety of things; all-embracing. Universal.
2 (Catholic) of the Roman Catholic faith.
• of or including all Christians.
• of or relating to the historic doctrine and practice of the Western Church.

I took photos of two individuals while in Rome this past February, 2012. Instead of simply throwing my photos from my trip online without context, I decided to grab a handful of photos and examine them closely. I wanted to discuss these two individuals at length, and why I decided to take photos of them when I did. Here is the first part: my lonely nun.

I always like a good photo of a nun or two while in Rome, and the reason should be a bit obvious, but I found this lone nun a fascinating photo opportunity.

I was waiting in line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica and climb the duomo with my gf, when I spotted the lone nun above walking through the piazza. The thing is, she looks so alone amongst all those young Italians just hanging out, or the multitude of tourists snapping photos or waiting in line. But I needed to give that more thought.

The last time I was in Rome (2003-04) my friend hosted a guided tour of St. Peter’s, and from him I learned that the surrounding columns are shaped so as to mimic the metaphorical, all-embracing arms of the Catholic Church. Thinking upon this, I wanted to reconsider my first evaluation of this nun’s loneliness. She was alone, but it was a rough judgment to say lonely. How could a nun possibly feel lonely in Rome? Much less in the Piazza San Pietro. The reason I took these photos is because her singularity caught my eye, but was it not also because I thought there was some aesthetic dissonance in her walking alone? I recalled the first definition, listed above, of Catholic from my GRE vocabulary building exercises (I know, silly) and at first I thought her singularity amongst the many was some sort of soulful incongruity; as though it was not a personal assault on her as singular individual (everyone needs time alone), but a representation of what Catholic was supposed to be, e.g. all-encompassing. And I thought there was some dissonance with this image.

But I now think I am missing the point of all-encompassing. I am not a Catholic. I was raised Protestant, and I respect each individual and their religion. But I imagine that Catholicism, thought of as all-encompassing, is something that does not leave someone even if they are alone. That’s the point, right? God, Catholicism, Belief, these thoughts do not leave the faithful. In other words: that nun was not alone. Nor is she. I don’t believe I was in error in my first approach, nor for my initial reason for taking the photos, but I was ignorant of what this person may feel, think, and believe. I was ignorant that she was, at that very moment, in the arms of her God, and therefore, never alone.

What do you think? Have an opinion on this aesthetic dissonance or the representation?