Sunday, November 26, 2006

Travels in Germany: Badenland-- Frieburg is as like Home as I can imagine.
Austin is in a unique corner of the world, especially of Texas, an exceptional cultural and environmental crossroads, with the best of everything at everyone's fingertips. University town, people come for their education, fall in love and want to stay.

Unfortunately, as in my hometown, this leads to the foundational entities in the town taking their residents for granted and diminishing their returns for their work to the point that they cannot afford any more than poor emigrants quarters in the town they love. Certainly the market bears what it will, and those choosing to deal with it pay, but certainly there is a point of diminishing returns.

So in this beautiful rolling country, the toenails of the Vogesians (Vosges), urban sprawl interdigitates with plowed fields and terraced vinyards. Our friends live a few minutes walk from something called the Tuniberg, a cute little hill covered, at the moment, in slightly tired grapevines with individual fat, slightly dried clusters of dark Spatlese grapes. My friend Eva and I took turns nibbling these sticky, juicy, sweet and sour treats right off the vines. Our other friends don't quite regard the outdoors as the big snack bar that we do. I tend to wander around nibbling everything that looks vaguely edible, provided it isn't actively trying to get away from me at the time. Rose hips, leftover berries, half-frozen schlehen/sloes, mints, oregano, edible flowers and trees are all part of the buffet. In harvest season, apples always line my pockets, earlier, I always have a bag or basket for berries and mushrooms. The world is so rich, why let any of Mamma Natura's cooking go to waste? I feel that she gets her feelings hurt, when we do. Having grown up in such a ferocious environment, Texas, I find this soft bountiful bosom of Middle Europe positively intoxicating.

What also reminded me of home was that it was scarcely cold at all. I hadn't brought anything cool enough, and was sweating in my light silk turtleneck and jeans! Andy, of course, Northerner that he is, wore his usual black T-shirt and jeans. I think he would wear this in Alaska on a midwinter's day, and sweat through the icicles on his beard. Meanwhile, back in the Oberpfalz, we are still hovering within 5 degrees Centigrade of freezing most of the time.

Baden is warm, inviting, bounteous, and crowded. The nature of the land and the people has a deep French influence, and there, where German and French interdigitate is also hard to discern. Okay, the bathrooms are cleaner on the German side, and the food is better on the French side. Go to the French side for red wine and cheese, and the German side for meats and white wine. The Badischer white wine is just wicked good, and they tend not to export the goodies. The French are the same way. All I can say for wine is, buy it where it comes from. No one exports their *really* good stuff, and it's always worth the travel, to go to the source.

I love Badenland, but so does everyone else.

Monday, November 20, 2006

What's different about being here?
Besides the doorknobs (usually a horizontal lever instead), everything closed on Sunday and the bewildering array of toilet methodologies?
There's no way to address the culture without addressing its trappings.
First of all, Germans are always prepared. They all learn first aid in high school, and are required to keep first aid kits in their cars and render aid on the highways.
In keeping with local culture, I saved a little bit of sidewalk salt from last year, or maybe I just had it left over... An early snow made me glad I had! We came back from a mostly sunny Halloween trip to Cesky Krumlov through fairly thick, wet snow. No need to shovel, but the salt was a Good Thing.
Most of our neighbors have built up stacks of wood a beaver would envy. As in the US, Christmas schlock is already up. Formally, the winter festival here does not begin until the beginning of Advent. I can't explain Advent to you because I was never Catholic, and it's a Catholic thing.
I've settled into German culture comfortably enough to know to greet my elders first and respectfully, carry my own basket and/or bags to the grocery, and how to complain when the price rings up incorrectly. Sometimes I even keep my front walk swept, but honestly we are not interested in trying to compete with German standards of house and/or yard keeping. It is the law that anyone living on a property must clear a path to their door so that anyone who may need to come to the house may do so without injury. This can be a chore in snow season, but we've learned to keep after it.
In Germany, you can't put mail in your box for the postman to pick up. You can GET mail in your box, and tons of adverts from kids who make a little money from stuffing boxes with them. But you have to go to the box to get your mail sent anywhere. Don't try to go to the post office. It won't be open. Not on Wednesday afternoons, not over lunch (11-2) and CERTAINLY not after 4pm. It makes me wonder who actually works on the mail? Even the Germans can't be that "fleissig" (industrious).
Incidentally, "fleissig" is a great compliment, but to call someone "faul", or lazy, is a deadly insult. I recently taught the Germans who work at the gym the word "malingerer" and they love it.
On our way into the Czech Republic for cheap shopping thrills, a Nuremburger tried to slam into the border crossing line ahead of us. I told my hubbie to roll down the window and tell them it cost 25 Euro for that place in line. It resulted in the usual conversation about how they made a mistake and didn't see that the line was single file, bla, bla, bla. I used the word "unfreundlich" loud enough to let them know I thought they were rude. They quit trying for a new paint job, and horned in on someone else.
This may well be my shodan in German culture. It made the whole thing funnier, cut the tension, and made our young American newbie (okay, 2 years here) friends collapse laughing in the back seat.
"More civilized than Thou" leads the charge here, in a big way.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A few weeks ago, I said some thing I came to regret, online. Not because they weren't true. Perhaps because they were. The person I aimed them at is someone I think should be an icon, but has instead become a kind of liability. The details don't matter. I was miserable about my own gracelessness and lack of tact, though people have told me I was perfectly tactful. I think it is my Jekyll/Hyde problem, that I have cultivated a fluffy bunny skin to keep my dragon's teeth in.

My sensei observes that, in and out of kata, my entire body language changes. I take little lady steps in, great ferocious strides within the irimi, the practical part of the kata, and little lady steps out. It's an interesting interface between socialization, training, and nature.

I found a deep well of ferocity and rage, when I thought my teacher or my old dojomates might be hurt. I didn't care what others thought, I was going to defend my family. The fangs and claws and "dragon breath" came out, and I lost control and let it go. I lost control because of some bodywork which tore down some of the careful architecture of my limitations, I lost control because of some Spanish red wine and I lost control because I am so devoted to my old dojo family. I let that message fly, and fried in my own sweat and regret all night. I was ashamed at my lack of control. This was the central issue. I was terrified at this lashing out at the same person, again, over issues I can never change, issues my "family" can and will deal with. Issues this teacher knows about, and wrestles with on a very personal level. I know it's his fight, and I know he's trying to do the right thing. It just didn't work for me, and I couldn't communicate why, so I did what an INFJ does. I left. It's an awkward theme for me. I can't explain it because it would hurt too many feelings, and I leave. It explained my ex-marriage as well.

My old teacher said "I believe our training is not only to end conflict, but not to begin it. I hope your ire will cool but never your fierce heart."

I came out, apologized, and rededicated myself to my training.
I have done so on an unprecedented level. Every time I face the dragon, I change.

This place is very deep and very soft. This place, I just try to do what's good for me, and listen to other people about what I should do. My sense of self is well-developed enough for me to have an automatic filter. But in terms of the true basics: how to exercise, what to eat, what to drink, how to train-- I've had enough of my own advice. Certainly there are things that work for me, such as staying away from sugar and wheat and getting lots of "walkies". I've enlisted a personal trainer, and sworn off my own old black belt, on the mat. I try to see everything as for the first time. Lordy, I'm trying not to say "I" so often. I want to hear what other people are saying. I can listen to myself anytime. I have picked up the brush and the pencil again, and that's a miracle in and of itself. That, and the complete redesign of my web site, will keep me amused all winter. There is nothing like trying for complete compliance with what you see, to make you calm and whole.
I am trying to walk into the world assuming nothing.
Don't assume, however, that this has anything to do with conformity. Just listening, and doing my best to learn.