We've reached the year's end and stand, tired and a little apprehensive, at the cusp of the new one ahead.
I decided to share the wonderful "Dinner for One" with you again this year. Every Silvestre, or New Year's Eve, Germans watch this delicious old British skit, televised for the first time in 1963 in Hamburg, and laugh uproariously as it unfolds. They've seen it countless times, but that hardly matters. It just tickles them. Interestingly, it's hardly known in Great Britain, where it originated, and now only comes to America via the Internet.
When I lived in Northern Germany, we spent each New Year's Eve with our friends Colin and Marian, walking the four or five blocks from our flat to theirs. He was British; she German, and there was just no way that the New Year could be born in their company without many, many glasses of Champagne. At least two glasses would be toasted and quaffed before 8 p.m., but as the clock chimed the hour Marian would turn the TV on, Colin would fill each of our flute glasses, again, and we'd watch "Dinner for One" with 90-year-old Miss Sophie, her loyal (and amazingly dedicated) butler James, and her four dear old gentleman friends, all of whom had long since passed on to the Great Beyond.
And we'd laugh. Each time Miss Sophie proposed a toast, we'd raise our glasses to her in tandem with James, and by the time the short skit ended, we'd be gasping with laughter and like the butler, more than a little tipsy.
For Colin and Marian, watching the skit every New Year's Eve was an old tradition. For us, it was new but a tradition we quickly came to love. We looked forward to joining Miss Sophie and James each year, just as we looked forward to celebrating the change with our friends and braving the sub-zero temperatures to bang pots and pans on the balcony at midnight. We added our noise and shouts to the ships blowing their foghorns in the harbor, the cars and trucks laying on horns and all the other people just like us throughout the city, ringing in the New Year with laughter, hope and joy.
We saw the turn of six New Years before we left Germany. During that time, the Berlin Wall fell and East and West Germany reunited. The Cold War ended. Much has changed in the 20 years
since the first time I saw James trip over that tiger rug, yet even without the benefit of a glass of bubbly, it still makes me giggle and before long, laugh out loud.
"Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?" Well, of course. Happy New Year, everyone.
31 December 2008
We've reached the year's end and stand, tired and a little apprehensive, at the cusp of the new one ahead.
30 December 2008
The year slips quickly away. Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and then it's 2009, an auspicious year for many reasons.
It's the year Barack Obama takes over as President of the United States and George W. Bush slinks out the back door with a shit-eating grin, having failed at yet another endeavor. It's the year America starts cleaning up George's mess, but it's going to take a long time. A whole string of years.
And 2009 is a year of unknowns. Yes, all new years are like that. We don't know what the future holds. But we know that the world's economy is in recession, that the world's oil supplies are running out, and that global warming is causing dangerous climate change. 2009 ushers in, I believe, a lot of drastic, shocking change. We'll have to learn to be patient with each other.
Perhaps we'll learn how to get to know our neighbors, and be better friends, and reach out to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Because we'll all be facing the same problems, and we're going to need each other for help and comfort.
As far as I'm concerned, 2009 can't come fast enough.
24 December 2008
23 December 2008
16 December 2008
The snow has stopped for now. It’s cloudy, but there’s some blue sky and a little sun. The forecast calls for a little more snow today. Tomorrow should be sunny, and then snow again on Thursday.
As I shot the photos above out my kitchen window, the scene – snow, branches, evergreens, blue sky and thin white clouds – brought up some memories. So I made myself a cup of coffee, cleared the hot ash from the dying woodstove fire and started a new one. As I watched the hungry flames lick around the dry wood, I let my mind wander ...
It was January, 1988. I was working as a civilian writer/editor with the U.S. Army Norddeutschland Public Affairs Office in Bremerhaven, Germany. Winter in the north of Germany is a long, drawn-out season, filled with frigid wind, rain, occasional light snow and ice. Lots of ice. By this time, after living there for two years, I’d learned the hard way how to dress for the weather, and every morning was a ritual of donning a hat, gloves, a thick wool coat, a knit scarf and warm, sheepskin-lined boots over several layers of clothing that included ski socks and at least one sweater. I carried my dress shoes in a tote to change into once I’d reached the relative warmth of my office.
I’d made a good number of friends since arriving in Germany, and a couple I’d grown close to suggested that we get a group together and go skiing. Now, Norddeutschland is flat as a pancake, except for the dikes that hold back the North Sea, and there’s not enough snow to ski on, really.
So I asked, innocently enough, “but where?”
The Alps. I’d heard of them, of course. I’d seen stunning pictures of those snowclad, craggy peaks and swooping valleys. I’d even seen Clint Eastwood in “The Eiger Sanction,” though it wasn’t exactly encouraging, all those climbers falling off the mountain and all. But my friends were insistent. Civilian DoD workers, they’d lived in Germany for many years and were avid skiers. They were tired of the wind, the rain, and the flatness of the terrain. And they convinced me that not only could this be done, it would be a blast.
So we put the word out. Before long, we had a group of 12 who wanted to go skiing for a week in the Alps and had both the money and the vacation time accrued to do so. Somehow, it became my job to organize the ski trip – find the right place, make our reservations and get everyone lodged, figure out the train schedules and set it all up.
I should say here that at this point in my life, my only experience on skis consisted of one horrifically cold, school-sponsored, day-long ski trip to Mammoth Mountain when I was a sixth-grader. I learned to snowplow, but once I fell down, I stayed down. I just couldn’t get the hang of standing up again on skis unless I took the damned things off. In addition, I’m afraid of heights.
The big day arrived. We met, the 12 of us, in the wee hours of the morning at the Bahnhof in Bremerhaven, loaded down with suitcases, skis, poles and ski-boots. We were headed for St. Veit, Austria, via Bremen, Franfurt, and Munich in West Germany, and then on to Salzburg, Austria. At each station we’d need to change trains.
It had all looked pretty easy on paper. In practice, it was chaos. Changing trains was a only minor hassle in Bremen, which has a medium-sized train station and only six or seven platforms. It helped that my friend R and her husband T, both of them ex-CIA agents, spoke German rather well. We humped our gear off the Bremen train to another platform and waited for the Frankfurt train to arrive. When it did, we all climbed on, found our compartments and got our tangle of gear stashed, and settled down for a pleasant ride to Frankfurt. We even indulged in a nice, hot breakfast with lots of strong coffee in the dining car. Yes, they really did have white tablecloths and roses on the tables.
The afternoon transfer at Frankfurt to the Munich train was pandemonium. We had a very short time to make our way, carting all our stuff, to the new platform and train. And the Frankfurt Bahnhof is huge – a crowded, noisy hub with what seemed like hundreds of platforms, row after row of shining trains, and thousands of people of all colors and nationalities. The train we were booked on, of course, was at the other end of the station. We made it, but barely, and by the time we found empty compartments and storage, everyone was puffed, sweaty and tired. There was talk of driving the whole way in caravan next time, if there was a next time.
We had enough time for plastic-wrapped sandwiches off a cart and a rest between Frankfurt and Munich. Spirits, both emotional and literal, were raised. The transfer at Munich was much simpler – we didn’t have so far to hike to find our train and by now, we’d worked out a system for dealing with skis, poles and luggage. On we went to Salzburg.
The whole journey, so far, had been lovely – the Germany countryside is picturesque and colorful. But now, the scenery turned beautiful. The hills and meadows, with their small villages, were glorious, dusted with snow, and of course in the distance there were glimpses of the famous Alps. The sun was headed down the sky by the time we arrived in the city of Mozart and the Von Trapp family, and changed trains one last time.
This final train was a local, a milk-run train that stopped in each little burgh along the way. The snow cover grew thicker. Finally, we reached our destination station. I can’t recall its name now, but it wasn’t St. Veit, as St. Veit didn’t have its own train station. We unloaded once again. This was a very small Bahnhof, with just one track and platform, and a tiny, empty hall. Except for the stationmaster and a bundled-up woman behind the magazine and candy counter, the 12 of us formed the entire crowd. It was breathtakingly cold.
We’d booked our week with SiegiTours, a ski school, resort and lodging operation in St. Veit. Within 15 minutes two vans arrived at the station to take us there. We all piled in and off we went, winding along narrow mountain roads that were clotted with snow and ridged with ice.
When we reached the village of St. Veit it was dark, but the fronts of the chalets and the village square were all lit up, including the magnificent, 1000-year-old church that dominates everything. All around us rose the Austrian Alps. Snow stood two feet deep. Icicles hung from the eaves and underfoot, the pavements were treacherous.
I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.
Stay tuned … there’s more to come. Also, please pardon the lack of spaces between paragraphs or even indents -- Blogger is not cooperating.
15 December 2008
I can hear no traffic from the freeway down the mountain from us. Either the snow has closed the passes up above us, making it impossible to get over them, or people are just staying home.
14 December 2008
Sunday, 1245 hours: Not sticking on the pavement yet, but everywhere else…
09 December 2008
A glimpse into Wren’s mind as she learns there’s a good chance of rain and, possibly, snow during the upcoming week-end:
OMG! I’ve got to get ready! I should make a list! Snow! I need to cart enough firewood in to last a few days and nights, at least, and I need to find the ice-melter stuff and put it just outside the door, close at hand. I need to make soup and keep it simmering on the back of the stove just in case we get weary, snow-clotted, half-frozen travelers at the door. What kind would be best? Potato? Beefy vegetable? Chicken? Maybe all three. I’ll get started today. And I should probably make bread, you know? (I don’t know how, but I know I can learn between now and Friday evening.) I need to stock up on storm candles and make sure I have enough coffee and soy creamer to get me through the coldest hours. Hot cocoa! I’ll need some milk to make that. Forget the marshmallows, I’ll just add a dollop of whisky. And there’s all that whipped cream leftover from Thanksgiving. YES! OMG snow! I should probably toss those four, 25-pound sacks of cat litter back into the trunk of the Celica. That’s just in case I’m forced to try to go somewhere during the storm, like in an emergency or something. And I’d best park that dumb little muscle car up on the street or I’ll be stranded, stuck at the bottom of our steep hill as the snow and ice grows deeper and deeper and the wind whistles through the eaves …
Yes, this is a fantasy. The National Weather Service is warning of much colder temperatures, rain and possible snow, but I’ve lived here long enough now to know that the NWS is sort of like an excitable old auntie who thrives on crises, real or otherwise.
Still, I can’t help but to be pleased by this news, which was waiting for me on my Yahoo homepage when I got up this morning. You must understand – the last real weather I saw was back in February, folks. It snowed then, off and on for a week or so, and I was in absolute heaven. Then it stopped. The sun came back out. The snow melted.
Since then, it has rained maybe three times. The longest rainy period lasted a day and a half.
I am longing with every fiber of my being for gray skies, rain, wind, sleet, hail, and snow. I want that nasty weather to come and stay for the winter, like it’s supposed to. California is facing a serious drought and we need the snow desperately so the reservoirs will fill with water come spring. The whole state is dry as a tinderbox.
And those of us who thrive on interesting weather, which includes just about anything except the daily, dull blandness of clear skies, season after season, are just about to jump out of our skins.
Cold, yes! Rain, yes! Snow, YES! What a perfect early Christmas gift. I hope this first real cold front of the season brings a whole series of storms, real storms, all the way through April. Rain and snow. Come on, Old Man Winter! Get those silly Californian weather-haters complaining loudly, bemoaning the gray skies. Make them really appreciate summer when it comes.
That would be … fahhhhbulous, dahling. Just fahhhbulous.
Note: The photo is of the snow outside my kitchen window back in January of 2007. That snowy period lasted roughly two weeks. Then the sun came out again and stayed until February 2008. Sigh.
03 December 2008
I’m trying to get my head around the fact that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft and a small host of others may never be brought to justice for the war crimes they committed during the eight-year Bush Administration.
I’ve read all the arguments. Mr. Obama wants to look ahead, not back. He wants to move Congress, and America, toward bipartisanship and unity. Prosecuting the previous administration will only push Americans further apart, not bring them together. Mr. Obama has a full Thanksgiving turkey platter loaded with hot smoking crises in front of him, not least of which is an economy that’s in the dumpster and is rushing willy-nilly toward the landfill of history. Prosecuting the main players in the Bush Administration would take his attention, and that of Congress, away from critical issues that affect all Americans today, right now.
This issue – the prosecution of Bush and his cronies as war criminals – is one I believe needs serious and sober attention very soon, and it haunts me. No, it’s not an unhealthy obsession. I go whole spans of hours without thinking of the crimes BushCo has committed against America, her citizens and the world. Nevertheless, each day it comes up. Each day I’m reminded. And each day I read, somewhere or other, that Mr. Obama isn’t interested in bringing these despicable criminals to justice.
That worries me. What does this dismissive attitude say about America? What does it say about us as Americans? What does the world think of us? What will it think of us if all we do, in the end, is pay lip-service to our war crimes without taking honest action?
There were those, notably Sen. Robert Taft, who condemned the trials as “victor’s justice.” He had a point, just as those today who would prefer not to prosecute the Bush Administration, have a point. And yet, as a moral people, can Americans really just shrug off the actions of Bush and his cronies as if they weren’t all that important and blindly move on?
After all, we’re not talking about your basic, everyday petty crimes, here. These were huge crimes, monstrous crimes, committed against not just us as Americans, but against the people and governments of many other countries around the world. I say "were," but in fact, the crimes are still being commited and will continue to be commited until January 20, 2009, the day Bush steps down as President and Barack Obama steps up.
When WWII ended in 1945, the Allies conducted the Nuremberg Trials because the Nazis had not only attempted to invade, occupy and take over the world, killing and wounding thousands and thousands of soldiers and civilians everywhere, but they also attempted coldblooded genocide. They tried to annihilate the European Jews, persecuting and murdering some 6 million men, women and children through a systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored program of imprisonment, torture and death. Other groups were included in the massacre as well, including the Roma, Soviet civilians and prisoners of war, the disabled, gay men, and political and religious opponents.
In all, an estimated 9 million to 11 million people lost their lives to the evil that was Nazism. It was important to the Allies and to the world that the men and women who perpetrated such a horrendous and inexcusable crime against humanity be made to face their victims, be fairly judged and be punished appropriately. Only then could the world attempt to move on and rebuild what was lost and destroyed in the war. Only then could the world recover its morality.
Implicit in their non-prosecution is the sanguine acceptance of the damage they did to America and her credibility and standing in the world; of the fact that the direct consequences of their actions were the maiming and deaths of millions of people, most of whom were innocent of any wrongdoing; of their sneering disregard for the laws America was built upon; and for the international laws put in place since WWII to protect all the people of the world.
If we, as moral Americans, don’t insist upon a thorough investigation and fair, serious prosecution of the men and women who perpetrated these war crimes against us and the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries in the world, we are, ourselves, willing accessories to the crimes. I understand that we have huge problems ahead of us which must be solved – many of which also can be traced directly to these same villains – but to ignore their crimes against humanity makes all Americans complicit. Those crimes will haunt us forever.
02 December 2008
My friend J is here this morning, sitting across from me in my living room. The fire is blazing in the woodstove. It’s cozy. While I write this on my laptop, J is talking to a couple of her entrepreneurial business buddies in Paris, a Frenchman and an Englishman, using her own laptop and Skype.
This fascinates me. It’s a little after 6 p.m. in Paris. She’s talking to these two guys on the other side of the world, laughing and making jokes. She’s talking to both at once – it’s a three-way, overseas telephone call. But there’s no telephone. She’s wearing a headset plugged into her computer. She’s lolling as comfortable as can be on my loveseat.
No “telephone.” Skype is free.
When I was living in Germany in another lifetime, calling home was something we did once a month. We arranged with our family and friends, via the original snail mail – it took at least two weeks to cross the ocean and the U.S. before arriving in their mailboxes -- a day and a time for a conversation. Or we’d make arrangements for next month’s phone call before saying good-bye, if we remembered. The reason the calls were limited to once monthly was the expense.
My German phone actually had a counter on it that rolled, quickly, during our long-distance, overseas calls. It was counting pfennings. Ten pfennings per minute, actually. So an hour-long call cost about $60. There was my family to call, and my husband’s family. Occasionally, we’d talk to old friends back Stateside. My phone bills were stunning.
But here’s J, right now, today, talking basically for free to her friends in France. Isn’t that incredible?