Friday, February 6, 2009

Anyone know where I put my January?

If you’ve been following my blog for the last few weeks, you would think I only arrived in 2009 a few days ago, just in time to catch February. In a way this is true. January was a blur. I had envisioned a quiet month spent getting real work done on my manuscript which is based on one of my undergraduate theses (the elbow one for those in the know) and getting real data out of the hundreds of fossil mammal claws I’ve decided to tackle. I also had plans to become fluent in German and play Freebird by February 1st on my underutilized guitar.

Well, maybe those expectations were a little unrealistic, but progress was made. I have a draft of the elbow paper in my advisor’s in-box. I’m trying to learn a little FORTRAN so I can use a few custom programs to analyze those claws, and I have a German language partner. While Skynyrd is beyond my abilities at this point, I can play Wonderwall and the theme from “Fistful of Dollars.”

January highlights:

1) Inauguration Day. I met Marco and Erin, my fellow Nordrhein-Westfalen Fulbrighters, in the wonderfully named Wuppertal, a city near Düsseldorf (I was going to describe it as a “small town near…” but it turns out it has just as many people as Bonn: 350,000. Not that Bonn is huge, but it means Wuppertal ain’t small.). This is probably the one event that will ever work in my favor with the time difference. Obama was sworn in at 6 PM German time. Just in time for drinks and dinner.

Marco and I at the Inauguration party. Photos of the event courtesy of Erin.

The event was organized by the Democrats Abroad of NRW the Londoner Pub. The irony of watching the American President sworn in while sitting in The Londoner didn’t escape us. We ordered Irish beer and watched as fellow Americans and curious Germans surrounded us.

The Press showed up to film the action. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot as we periodically clapped and grinned, excited that this day had finally come. I'd be interested to find this broadcast at some point.

There were some fanatical Obama fans, including a woman who reminded me vaguely of Amy Sedaris who stood closest to the TV, booing loudly when Bush appeared and squealing when Obama graced the screen. She reminded me of the girl you see at football games who has no idea what’s going on, but knows she should probably be enthusiastic for most of the game. But that’s just my observation.

The speech itself has been analyzed to death, but needless to say it was incredibly refreshing to officially say “President Obama.” The world is intrigued and ready to give the United States, or at least her citizens, the benefit of the doubt once again. Of course the Finacial Crisis, or simply “Krise” according to the Germans and French, is keeping everyone on edge, but listening to Obama’s vision for the next four years gave everyone confidence in a concerted global effort to make things run smoothly again.

The swell of patriotism made everyone in the room hungry for a burger. When our waitress came around, she informed us they only had two left. I feel like they should have seen the rush coming as hosts of the Democrat event…oh well. She offered the English Breakfast as an appealing option. I said, why not and was served this:
The ideal German breakfast involves a lot of bread and spreads. The English (and Americans) love their breakfast meats. I do too.

The burger I missed out on got middling reviews. The flag toothpick was a hit, and the fries were good, but the Londoner's special sauce wasn't quite working and the bun was deemed inadequate for supporting the sandwich.

2) Museum visit. A joint exhibition on the barbarian tribes that ultimately eroded the Roman Empire and founded Modern Europe’s ethnic populations was hosted by the Landesmuseum of Bonn and the Rheinishes Landesmuseum. The period between 300-700 is called “The Great Migration” as the European deck was shuffled in anticipation of the Early Middle Ages. In its final weekend, I decided to visit. I learned all about the Lombards, Franks, Huns, Saxons, Angles, and Vandals as they assimilated Roman culture while seasoning it with a healthy dose of Celtic traditions.

The boss of a Lombard shield. You can see the art of the Dark Ages taking form. The Lombards started in Northern Germany, but eventually migrated to Norther Italy where they were eventually conquered by Charlemagne. What, did you think we would get through a post without mentioning Chuck?

At the exhibition I saw a professor and a post-doc that I met through the Institute. One was with his wife, the other, I presume, was with his girlfriend. They constitute about 10% of the people I know in Bonn. I was right on track with each pair, often listening to my audioguide within a conversational distance. I tried to catch an eye, not wanting to seem rude if they wanted to say “Hi.” They didn’t. I don’t know if they saw me. If they did, they ignored me. Perhaps they didn’t recognize me out of context? Or maybe you don’t acknowledge work buddies when you’re out of the office? Or maybe they just didn’t remember by name and didn’t want an awkward introduction to the significant other. I was a little confused and was a bit distracted as I tried to seem approachable, but not creepy.

A beautifully preserved battle helmet. The centerpiece of the exhibit. It was found in Southern Germany in a bog with other pieces of armor and weaponry. Archaeologists think the bog was sacred to the god of war and you would pledge your equipment to the bog if you were victorious as a way of saying "Danke!"

3) Snow. Bonn was blanketed in snow for about three weeks. There is still a remnant of a massive snow man melting in the park behind the Institute. I wanted to snap some photos of the gorgeous event, so I started by taking this:

As I stepped back onto the sidewalk, I heard a car slow down to the curb. I was thinking about lunch and didn’t notice someone say something from the car. Then the person yelled. I turned and saw the grey car on the left side of the picture stopped near me with a large blond woman yelling at me. I couldn’t understand anything except “Polizei!” “Police!” Was she going to call the cops for my photograph? My confusion was clear. She then said, in English, “Are you a Police controller? Are you taking that picture to the Police? “ This was new to me. Do officers dress in civilian clothes taking pictures of cars breaking the law? I think my bewilderment and stuttering German response (“Nein, Ich mache Fotos von den Schnee.” “No, I’m taking pictures of the snow.”) assured her I was not an authority figure.

Lesson, always be careful where you point your lens in Germany. You may be mistaken for The Man.

Views down Poppelsdorfer Allee to the Poppelsdorfer Schloss, one of the Zoology buildings. I wish my office was in there, but they had to move us out a while ago to make room for the mineral collections and dead animals. Oh well.

4) Run. I’ve gotten back in the swing of running. I had a few Christmas pounds to work off. The prospect of running outside became significantly more agreeable after receiving my Christmas gift from my Grandparents: running pants.

Up to this point I had been running in shorts through along the frigid Rhein. While the cold provides an incentive to keep moving and to keep the blood flowing, its pretty hard to convince yourself to hit the trail when it’s -15 degrees Celsius. Or at least it’s hard for me to convince myself. Maybe you’re a more dedicated athlete than I am.

One notable run was under a full moon up to the Kreuzberg a hill near the Institute that overlooks Bonn. At the top of the hill is a Baroque church with a life-size reconstruction of Christ being condemned by Pontius Pilot as Barabbas looks relieved. The scene is on a balcony over the entrance and is lit at night. Around the church is a park with overlooks and a dense forest. On this particular night, the snow was still layered over the forest, trails, and benches, reflecting the light of the moon. I could see perfectly and there wasn’t a sound besides my shoes crunching the snow and my rhythmic breathing. If you’re ever in search for a purely poetic moment, find a quiet hill surrounded by the twinkling lights of a sleepy town, apply snow liberally, and flip on the moon. Then run.

Kreuzbergkirche with the first station of the cross on the balcony. I don't run with my camera, so I took this from their website.


Detsch Wort des Tages (German Word of the Day): Doppelschlappe (f.) – noun. Double setback

Heute ist die Deutsche Welle Überschrift, “Doppelschlappe für Obama.”

Today’s Deutsche Welle (The BBC of Germany) headline is “Double setback for Obama.”

Of course, the article is about Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer bowing out of the confirmation process. When I first read the headline I thought “Doppelschlappe” meant “Double Slap” making the title read “Double Slap for Obama.” I thought that might be putting the events a bit severely, until I looked up “Schlappe.” Then it all made sense. Oh, false cognates.

1 comment:

Tim said...

How's FORTRAN working out for you??