Those Moments

So, I am back.

Well, I have been back in the States since Wednesday, October 17th, but I have been under some heavy jet lag since my return from my thirty day trip to visit my gf in Germany. And it so happens that I am now aiming for a relationship post. I hope you enjoy.

Well… here it goes: people keep asking me what I did in Germany. What did I see. Where did I go. What did I do for a whole thirty days without a job! And I figured out the answer: I was a couple. You see, I have a very, very romantic relationship with my gf. It is full of beautiful moments, gargantuan undertakings, thousands of flight miles, people from all over the world, numerous languages and dialects, intercontinental cultural gaps, passport stamps, visas, borders security, long airport kisses, tears, smiles, currency exchanges, delayed planes, regional trains, and a few automobiles; but we don’t go to a movie every Friday; we don’t brush our teeth together; we don’t eat breakfast in a hurry on our way to work; we don’t do each others laundry; we don’t “peck” each other a goodbye kiss.

So, that’s what I did. We had those moments.

Yeah, we did laundry together. And it felt great. I even went out one evening with a friend of her’s who took me to a half-dozen bars in Mainz (he brought me home at 4am! That’s like 11am in Minnesota!). But the best part of that evening was giving her that “peck” kiss before I left the apartment with him. That was a truly memorable moment. We hosted a party with 11 people (four couples who all left at an appropriate time, and one single fella who stayed much too late for my gf’s taste). Organizing that party was everything to us, but I think it’s something people who live near, or with, one another take for granted. We purchased and then installed a modem/router together. That’s about as coupley as it gets. And these are the moments I remember most of all. Airport scanners and long awaited kisses are part of our routine relationship, but laundry, routers, and a whole evening apart is the stuff of our romance novel.

A few days after I left Germany, each of us had a friend ask us if we were sad. I said no. So did she. It’s not sadness. You see, over the last eighteen months we have been together physically for two (with all the days added up), and each time we have learned something amazing about one another and our relationship. So much so, that we talk about those experiences for maybe 3-4 months after, and then we talk about what will happen over our next visit. If I was still the 23-year old kid I was not long ago–without a 5-year old daughter, a job I enjoy, or confidence in my future–I would have moved. I would have left here in a heart beat to be with her for all the wrong reasons. And because of that, it would have been over just as fast. The weight of that decision would have been far too intense for either of us to handle. Now I treat it with the calm respect a decision of that magnitude deserves. We plan and think and dream and talk, but we both treat our relationship, and the knowledge that someday one or both of us will uproot, as though it is a given fact. And that kind of confident Love leaves little room for sadness.

I want to know your moments. Tell me the little moments that make your relationship amazing.


A Happy Hangover Post

“(Heavy sigh) Now I can sink thraight.”
-my gf after our huge hangover breakfast

Sometimes, don’t laugh, I’ll stop and take notice of the color or the shape of something I usually take for granted—beige paint on a wall, the nicks in wood flooring—and realize where I am. Existentially speaking; where I am. Yeah. Strange, huh? Right now I’m sitting in a one-bedroom apartment in Mainz, Germany that I share with my gf; well, for the next five days. Mainz is 30 minutes north of where my father’s ancestors married, had children, and eventually left Germany for America over 120 years ago. And here I am. Sitting on a purple, plush IKEA couch that lays flat, but last night was upright so that it could make more room for the eleven people gathering in this little apartment for a night of hamburgers, french fries, and Jack and Coke’s.

The guests arrived promptly around 7:00pm. At 6:53pm, I was out getting last-minute-tomatoes for our 2-dozen hamburgers were were making that night for the eight Germans, one Croatian, one Pole, and, me, the lone American, when I ran into a few of the attendees out buying bottles of wine before their arrival. I quickly headed them off and made it up stairs in time to check on the french fries. The buzzer rang just as I stepped inside. My gf was nervous, so I stayed out of her way and entertained the guests while she and a German girlfriend or two of hers cooked. The night went well. I kept the guests, who are all mutual acquaintances, very entertained with stories and anecdotes that I delivered with a big, healthy American smile (I may even have a German man date tomorrow night). At one point during a conversation where I fell into a nice rhythm of my colloquial English, the German girl I was speaking to said with the nicest smile and a healthy, glowing blush, “I don’t understand what you are saying, so I will just sit here and eat my cake.” I almost fell off the couch laughing! Those Germans. They really do not mess around.

And then the whiskey went dry. One bottle of the finest Jack Daniel’s our local REWE has to offer down, and this same girl’s bf offered to buy another. And so he did. This is possibly more whiskey then that little store has sold in a year. After all the couples left, three guests stayed far beyond what my gf determined, with a subtlety notable in the female of our species, was a good hour to still be welcomed in her apartment. They got the hint, and eventually left my gf and I alone to argue over why my being completely hammered left me heedless to her delicate intimations. But the best part about having a little row is making up: laughing how foolish you were as you piece together the night, shaking your head while thinking about a missed chance for the right phrase or a slightly misunderstood statement.

So, today we are spending the day hungover; sleeping, cleaning, laughing about last night, and eating a humongous breakfast consisting of OJ, lots of water, aspirin, bacon, meatballs, scrambled eggs, bread and Bresso (if you don’t know what Bresso is, seriously, you should. It’s simply amazing). You see, hangovers have a way of causing me to reflect more than usual. And I am so happy to have this life.

It takes a lot for me to write that statement. Where I grew up, the Midwest, we don’t go around telling people how happy we are. That is considered bragging. We talk about experiences as though they are moments to get through; moments that happened to us, but they don’t affect our character or redetermine our lives. Are concerns are pragmatic not romantic, practical not sentimental. Being unhappy with some aspect of our lives is an essentially sympathetic role of our Midwestern character. It’s like a warm hug, or a way of knowing someone is from the same region. Back there, in my Midwest States, we qualify our happiness. We don’t often simply say: I am happy. Period. Punkt. Full stop. There is always something. Always a thorn. Always an I’m happy, but…

But, I’m not happy, but… I’m happy. And I like that. Full stop.

A Pragmatic 7 Day Reflection, and a Slight Rant

“I leave in 7 days, and I have only now grown accustomed to that queen size piece of cardboard she calls a bed.”

For those of you just tuning in: I’ve been in Deutschland for the past 23 days, of which 7 remain out of a 30 day sojourn. My gf has lived in this beautiful and highly organized nation for the past 20 years, and she is currently completing her PhD in British Literature here in Mainz, Deutschland. My position as an adjunct professor allows me a break from time to time, where I can, let’s say, skip a semester (which are only 5 weeks where I teach), and fly here to be with her. Plus, I earn enough vacation from my other job at the international coffee production line to take off for a month or so. This isn’t too bad of a life, but that is now what this post is about.

First off, her orchid has returned. The blame for the resurgence of her rather delicate and fussy orchid is placed squarely upon me. It seems that all the flowers bloom just a bit more when I am here. I think that’s fair. Personally, I believe it has to do with the fact that I open up the curtains first thing in the morning; her, being a more romantic, less pragmatic individual, believes it has something to do with the presence of Love. I like that idea too. We have done so much in my time here, but I cannot remember much. I have a feeling of normalcy, though; and that is what I wanted from this visit. I wanted that normalcy that couples feel when they are near each other enough to lose that intensity of focus; just so that they can return to it later. We established that one week before I left from my last 18-day visit in February 2012. It was intense. We went to London and Rome over a 5-day period, but settled quietly with one another upon our return to Mainz. The time before that was a hefty 9 days, where we visited Undenheim, the town of my ancestors and went to Mainz’ Oktoberfest. After February, we met in Boston for 6 days. I think 30 days is the right amount for a lovely visit.

We attended a soccer game this past Saturday afternoon, where Mainz conquered Düsseldorf in a blazing 1:0 victory! We are hosting an “American style” party Thursday evening for 11 individuals in this rather quaint 1-bedroom apartment that is generous for two, but crammed for 11. She is cooking cheeseburgers and french fries, and I am making Jack and Coke‘s for her fellow German friends. We have selected the playlist of cliché American tunes from the American Graffiti soundtrack, and are going to be cleaning and food shopping most of the day tomorrow; but that’s not what this is about.

I don’t rant very often on this blog. I find it a bit cliché, and I tend to accept and welcome life’s absurdities as they come. Only, last night I got a taste of the German system. Oh, it was just enough to leave a bitterness on my tongue, but not enough to tarnish my vision of this nation. We attended Mozart‘s “Cose Fan Tutte” opera last night at Mainz’ State Theater. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was sung in Italian and the “subtitles” were in German, so I didn’t understand a damn thing, but it was fun.

My gf’s ticket was free because she is a student, mine was 15€. We looked marvelous. All dressed up: new sport coat, blue tie, scarf, dress shoes; leggings, black dress, black clutch; to the hilt, as they say. We went to sit down and the seat attendant wouldn’t let us sit down because my gf’s student ID had expired by 9 days. 9 flippin’ days! We bought the ticket only 2 days ago, and no one bothered us then. But this little man held us up and caused a “Männchen-Stau” of rather pretty looking Germans to back up behind us. My lovely & patient gf told him she would run home then and get her new ID, and then he told us to wait a little bit while he would “see what he could do”. I, of course, ranted that we should seek someone higher up, but instead we waited like dummkompfs for about 3 minutes while he made up his mind to let us in to our seats, and other attendees passed us by.

Now, here’s the thing: really? Do you really have trouble with students sneaking in to Mozart! Friggin’ Mozart! Do you think students sit around and hatch ideas about how to best avoid the hefty 15€ for a night at the opera!? No. And let’s put this in perspective, roughly 65-70% of the attendees were conceived the night of the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty. They lack the youthful ingenuity & tenacity of a Lady Gaga crowd. What a silly, particular, and thorough little man this seat attendant was; and although we may have learned a lesson about the German penchant for dates, tickets, and numbers, I do hope that this little ticket attendant learned to be a bit more forgiving and sympathetic toward his patrons.

The night ended well with the elderly couple to our left saying a gentle farewell after the show, a free bus ride with the purchase of our tickets, and a quiet discussion of the night’s events over a glass of wine. I think the Germans are wonderful people, and once you establish a rapport, they can be some of the most opening and genuinely welcoming people. They say “hello” and “good bye” when they share a table with you, and they find small instances of affection and love absolutely endearing. BUT, you have to make sure your paperwork is in order, or else the most charming smile and delightful laughter will fall silent against a concrete penchant for order.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“It had never occurred to him until then to think that literature was the best plaything that had ever been invented to make fun of people…” (388).

This was the first book I have read by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, by way of a recommendation from a friend who wished to spark my interest in the literary genre of Magical Realism. Honestly, this is one of the most fantastical novels I have ever read. I can only compare it to what a narrative reading of Genesis must be like in its attempt to explain age, time and familial relation in fantastical ways. What I mean by that is, Márquez has a way of solidifying the fantastical (I’m going to be using that word a lot, so brace yourself), while daring you to not believe his story.

I think at this point in the review a quote is necessary. Well, wait a minute. Let’s start here: This story involves the erection and eventual annihilation of a town (Macondo) in the middle of nowhere, the rise to infamy and the falling from fame of a single family (the Buendia’s), and, as my interpretation warrants, the affliction that modernity has on the magical elements of life. I think that is a basic plot summary.

I want to focus on one element, and that is Márquez as an author and the way in which the genre of Magical Realism positions itself. In other words, authorial fallibility or intent. The trick is simple, but often misguided: Márquez is the author; therefore, you have to believe him IF you want to enjoy the story. Now, here is where it gets tricky. Márquez, and any other author for that matter, never has to tell a truth; or, in other words, a story that most likely resembles what we have accepted as reality.

When Márquez writes a happening that I, and you, know to be incapable of occurring in our reality, and yet it does in the novel, we must suspend our understanding of reality. This is often a HUGE leap on the part of the reader. For his or her part, the reader must accept a fictional reality inhabited by humans to include mystical explanations. Because of our reliance on science and the burden of empirical truth, these stories often become farcical, read as fables, or morality tales, which are then relegated to the domain of children. But what happens when a story of a world inhabited by adults contains fantastical elements?

Well, what happens is: we often attempt to explain it to fit our reality.

Now a block quote is necessary.

“A trickle of blood came out the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendia house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor… (goes on for another 7 lines) and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread” (131-32).

This isn’t Franz Kafka. No one has woken up as a bug. Rather, it is reality (a person being shot) mixed with fantastical element (that person’s blood finding its way to a relative miles away who would know immediately how to respond); Kafka is often the other way around, fantastical elements challenging reality. What I realized while reading this is something unique about this genre: I have to believe Márquez in order for this story to be enjoyable. If I am unable to suspend my interpretation of reality, then this blood meandering through town can occur. And if that small example is possible, then Márquez can do just about anything with this story, so long as I trust him as an author.

This leads me to the second portion of this already lengthy review that is tied to the first with this notion: the characters must also believe Márquez as an author, and trust him. The characters must NOT question this indefatigable blood. It just must be accepted as a truth that allows the character to, obviously, follow the trail back to the original source. If the character must walk for miles; if they must find a long lost relative, it does not matter. What separates Márquez’ writing from others is his character’s willingness to accept that blood as an occurrence of their reality, not of a supernatural force or omen to be deciphered. It just is.

But what one notices while reading is that the character’s natural assumptions dissipate as the novel proceeds; both as we read and as the time of the novel is imagined. Time slows down as one reads further. In the beginning, a whole paragraph would be an enormous birth, life and tragic death; but later, a chapter becomes a life, or two chapters. This is the main reason I bare it in comparison to Genesis, or a book of biblical proportions.

Interestingly enough, this loss of natural assumptions occurs precisely with the haphazard arrival of modernity. As modernity creeps in to the narrative with its trains, photographs & machine guns, the fantastical elements of the story dwindle in intensity. They do not disappear, but slither away slowly; cowering in an abandoned room. For instance,

“‘We have to bring in the railroad,’ he said.
That was the first time that the word had ever been heard in Macondo… But unlike his forebear, Aureliano Triste did not lose any sleep or appetite nor did he torment anyone with cries of ill humor, but he considered the most harebrained of projects as immediate possibilities, made rational calculations about costs and dates, and brought them off without any intermediate exasperation” (221).

What once took years, now takes months. And with that promise of immediacy comes the loss of something. Whatever it is, is up to you, dear reader, to interpret for yourself. All you have to do is believe.

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Book Review: The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia, by Dubravka Žarkov

The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-up of YugoslaviaThe Body of War: Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia by Dubravka Žarkov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, let’s look at this Ž. Is it not beautiful? To pronounce it, I would write it thus: Jha, with a soft ‘J’ and a quick ‘A,’ so that the Ža in Žarkov becomes a ‘Jhaarkohv’. We only have one lonely Z in English, one singular L, and one individual C. By way of contrast, Serbo-Croatian has a triumvirate of loyal C’s, two brotherly L’s, and two intimidating, yet friendly, Z’s, bestowing their alphabet with 31 various letters! (C, Č, Ć, & L, Lj, & Z, Ž).

Now, the only reason I mention this is because Goodreads, bless their hearts, cannot get Žarkov’s name visualized correctly… lists it as such: “by Dubravka & #381 ;arkov,” which, I can only assume, is HTML code for the Latin, Ž (update: it is HTML code, because every time I type it without spaces it writes ‘Ž’ in this post). So, I would like to give a ‘Ž’ for effort, and continue with my review.

I am not new to Duke University Press’ Next Wave: New Directions in Women’s Studies texts. I have read quite a few texts by Jasbir Puar, Inderpal Grewal, and others, and I always return whenever an interesting and complex topic is published under this specific press. Žarkov’s text, in particular, interests me because a close friend of mine is a Croatian from central Bosnia, and I wanted to know a bit more, let’s say, intriguing or controversial, insight into the history of the war that tore apart Yugoslavia during the early 1990s. I found this text to be highly challenging, yet quite engaging. This text, and the other in Duke’s Next Wave Press, are texts that are better ingested in small doses—say, a chapter per week, as opposed to a few chapters over one sitting—due to the density of the material, the numerous citations of competing and compelling authors, and the highly esoteric terminology.

The structure of this text is generally comprised of case studies that use one incident of mass protest, a contentious photo or statement, or a citizen involvement in the Yugoslavian war; for example, a statement made by a high ranking Albanian official, Fadil Hoxha, on October 9, 1987, where “he reportedly stated that the problem of rapes of Serb women by Albanian men in Kosovo would be solved if more non-Albanian women worked as prostitutes in Kosovo’s taverns” (21).  Žarkov then examines various treatments of the incident by mass media news outlets that cater to a specific regional ethnicity (Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian). Each chapter is a breakdown of news clippings accompanied along with a strict rhetorical analysis that even details the minutiae between Serbo-Croatian and Croat-Serbian languages; of which, Žarkov mentions, the populace would be able to identify the ethnicity of their speaker.

What I always enjoy about reading these highly theoretical texts are the various ways in which each text comes to a theoretical conclusion about how people, academics in general, interpret Feminism and how that term is morphing itself to adapt to a changing global environment. Žarkov is, of course, and to my relief, no different in her adept interpretation of the future of Feminism. Feminism, as such, is no longer just about female agency or empowerment. Issues of difference are just that: issues that lead to the promotion and celebration of difference that merely replicate and replace the actions of the oppressor. This cannot be what Feminism desires, I argue. Grewal, along with, much earlier, Gayatri Spivak, adapted Feminism to the needs and voices of the, ever contentious political term, Third World. And Puar moved it into the realm of globalism and a resurgence of Orientalism that Žarkov acknowledges in her study—”Orientalism is still alive and kicking in many feminist texts” (222). But Žarkov takes those decades of studies and theoretical compiling and calls into questions the very motives by which they began.

Žarkov states near the end of her text, “first, agency, emancipation, and empowerment are not intrinsically linked only to liberating and progressive movements; second, agency, emancipation, and empowerment may not be the best framework at all for studying women’s diverse positioning within violent conflict, including women’s participation in fighting” (225 my italics). Agency, in its Feminist usage, has become problematic for Žarkov; and this, for me personally, is the tensing of the realization that agency as the building block of Feminist studies merely asks to replicate and replace the actions of the oppressor by the oppressed. Again, this replication and replacement should not be what Feminism, or any radical theoretical movement confronting power, directly perceives as its goal. It’s theoretic goal should be the reforming of the social construct that created the structure of power, oppressed and oppressor, in the first place. And this includes the reformation of the very attitude with which the radical movement began.

Žarkov finds in her final sentences the “task” of the feminist critic (spoiler alert!).

“While many different forms of violence produce many different aspects of contemporary realities, analyzing this process of production may help a feminist critic to undo some of its machinery and deprive it of some of its components. For this to happen each of us, feminists, must see… not only who and what is privileged in the production of violence, but also who and what is privileged in our own analyses of it” (230).

The final chapter of this text, where Žarkov implements her case studies to theory, is where her analyses shines brightest. Her interrogation of former Feminist strongholds speak to contemporary issues and contemporary solutions. Not only does Žarkov contest our perception of what we see, read, and hear from the mass media productions throughout her study, she contests the very instruments which critics rely on to disassemble these productions.

I cannot contest the esoteric nature of this text. It is, albeit, not for everyone. But it is a rich text of a rewarding nature that delivers historical information that only a full-time passionate researcher could locate and deliver. I have passed up numerous cultural and historical texts that detail the history of the Yugoslavian conflict, and I avoided them for the exact reason Žarkov examines in her text: their overwhelmingly bias sympathy and pathos. Žarkov, even with her obvious roots and relation to the controversy, treats the often violent and harsh incidents within this text without a sympathetic voice that you would find in many history books or autobiographical treatments of the Yugoslavian war. Žarkov examines incidents of this war through the eyes of a Feminist critic with an indelible desire to confront how the war was produced by mass media outlets, and therefore, how our opinions are represented, shaped, interpreted, molded, and defined. This is an important text within the research of the Yugoslavian war.

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Cultural Mythology at the German Laundromat

“At the end of drying time the laundry is very fluffy and flat.”
-English drying instructions posted in a German laundromat

First off, the laundromat down the street from the apartment I am staying at with my gf in Mainz, Germany until Oct. 17th is pristine. I’m from the American suburbs. I haven’t the need to go to laundromats. But in my mind there lurks a very specific image of what a laundromat must be like: dirty, smelly, unkempt, with pushy people lounging around smoking cigarettes or blabbing away on their cellphones. Not in Deutschland.

Before you start to think this is some First World rant by some privileged, white, suburban male who decided to use the dryer at a laundromat, let me draw your attention to the purpose of this post: the German-English translation. It is a beautiful thing that causes riotous laughter on my part, which often shocks the average German standing next to me.

Example: To the immediate left is a photo of the Drying instructions in my local German laundromat. On the wall to its left is the Washing instructions, which I will get to in a bit. Don’t get me wrong, these instructions are very helpful; but they are often hilarious.

I’ve blown up the photo and made a vignette so you can better see the area to which I am referring. The last red bullet point above the “Safety advices” reads: “At the end of drying time the laundry is very fluffy and flat. You can obey crinkles, if you will get out laundry at once and fold it directly. Oftenly you can spare ironing of this laundry.” Huh? 😀 Even through the translation, the point is clear, and yet I can’t help hearing a very loud German man in mauve green lederhosen yelling at me “You must obey crinkles!” whenever I read this passage.

The washing instructions carried a similar translation, but in its silliness revealed a difference between the cultural responsibilities of American and German citizens. I’ll let the picture explain.

On the immediate left is the vignetted  image of the Washing instructions, highlighting the area of interest. The fourth blue bullet point above “General washing advices” reads: “Please do not use more detergent than issued. The washing machine will foam too much, which will bring out a bad washing output and of course a worse washing effort.” Now that we are past the whole ‘this is a crazy-bad-funny translation thing,’ let’s look at these two words: “of course”. I’ll ask this question: upon first read, what do you think of those words? My gf and I were engrossed in conversation about these words all the while our clothes were drying. We agreed that the words “of course” signify a level of personal responsibility that is mitigated by overall good of the German state.

The “huh” you say!?! At first, I thought “of course” was an inherent condescending insult to a person’s intelligence. I then realized I’m American, and I think I already know everything. I relaxed and considered that the “of course” was a sweet pat on the head by the German state saying, “Of course you know this my child, but we want to make it perfectly clear for your own good and the good of Germany.” The American label, if it was still legible from cigarette burns, graffiti, and the bored peelings of the teenage mind, would have clearly stopped at the action and its consequence. “Don’t do this, or this will happen!” Beyond that simple message, it is up to you.

Gratuitous Patriotic Cookie Image

In America, we don’t really care if your overloading the machine results in a “bad washing output” or a “worse washing effort,” as the translation relates. Your clothes, once they go in the machine, are your problem. It seems here in Deutschland the simple fact that possible mistakes are considered and, hmmm, not exactly, prohibited, but simply stymied from occurring is a metaphor for what distinguishes American culture from German culture. The German state does not want its citizens to fail, while America could care less. One could even argue that American mythology is based solely on the overcoming of odds by a single individual against a larger, more powerful entity. Falling from grace and getting back up is America’s mythology, while ensuring that a citizen will not fall is Germany’s mythology.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.

And remember to “obey your crinkles! Jawohl!”