Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

if only I were elizabeth bennet...


The town square is filled with over-sized, comfy black cushions; double wide, red and yellow striped hammocks lazily strung on sleek, wooden frames; large market umbrellas looming overhead; and shelves and shelves of books.  It’s Stadtlesen (city reads) this weekend in Ingelheim on the Rhein and I think it’s ultra cool.  Well, actually it’s ultra hot.  38 degrees hot.  But, since I love books and I love the idea of getting more people into reading (just got great guy hooked on the great Margaret Lawrence!), I’m here, swaying in one of the ultra comfortable hammocks, and I’m reading.  And doing a little people-watching.  

A hot couple is snuggled up, sharing a book;  a small boy is nestled into his mother, listening intently to the story she’s reading to him; a few individuals are browsing the shelves of new books available, at no-cost to peruse for the afternoon; and a group of twenty-somethings are lounging in a cushiony circle, one reading aloud first, then after some discussion the book is passed to the next, and the reading and discussion continues.  The whole thing feels public, maybe a bit bohemian, but with a Parisian, salon atmosphere to it.

It suits perfectly that I am reading a decadent new novel, Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.  It’s a mysterious, almost campy, continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  The latter is one of my favourite stories, by one of my fave authors, and I wouldn’t have touched an attempted ‘sequel’ with a ten-foot pole except for the fact that it’s written by another excellent storyteller.  So, I’m giving it a go, and am already very impressed and intrigued.  The beloved characters, so familiar, are alive and well, dancing around in my head.  Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are a few years settled into their happy marriage and have two small children.  It is the eve of the annual ball at Pemberley; everyone we know is invited, and then there’s a murder (dun dun da).

I’m a fan of Elizabeth’s.  I think I would’ve liked her had I lived in 19th century England and had she not been a fictional character.  She is strong, yet feels deeply; she knows who she is and what she believes in; she is optimistic, positive, utmost loyal and stoic.  She is kind, confident and fragile, and absolutely unapologetic about where she comes from, nor where she is now.  She also just so happens to have fallen for exactly the kind of man who I would fall for….capable and generous; an incredibly loyal friend; strong-willed, yet a speaker of few words; clever and silly; confident and yet not really; sensitive and moody; and of course sexy as hell.  Come to think of it, I have fallen for such a man, once or twice...I think one happens to be at home right now. 

Elizabeth handles stress with a calm, pull-up-your-bootstraps attitude.  She receives worrisome news and gets to work bringing the house in order.  She adds logs to the fire so the room is warm and enveloping, and calls for tea and cake.  (Now why didn’t I think of that a few days ago when I received worrying news from back home?  I should’ve just eaten cake.)  She is unflappable, yet speaks her mind.  She is proud but treats others with respect and fairness, demanding the same in return.  She is so cool.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been devouring stories, movies and articles about strong, yet sensitive, positive women (Coco Chanel-brilliant and fascinating, Romy Schneider-beautiful and dark, Queen Elizabeth-just surprising, Ann Romney-totally unexpected and in no way is this a Romney endorsement!) and the power of positive-thinking and unwavering faith, to influence your life, your health and your relationships.

As I lie in the hammock reading under the blazing sun, I can picture Elizabeth reading too, out on the great lawn amid the rolling English countryside.  Perhaps she holds a white parasol in one hand and a book of poetry in the other.  Mr. Darcy comes striding purposefully to her side, plants a gentle kiss on her cheek and sits down next her.  She starts reading aloud to him as he listens contently.  And, as long as there are no more murders, I think they will live happily ever after.
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

thistles and lilies

On Thursday afternoon, I accepted an invitation to accompany an American woman as she checked items off of her wedding planning to-do list.  We met in Mainz, a city on the Rhein with an incredible Altstadt.  I love wandering through this historically, beautiful part of the city, with its cobbled lanes and tall houses.   The tiny businesses, each unique and interesting, which line the small gassen (streets) house florists, clothing boutiques, cafés, and…a chocolaterie. 

The Schokoladenhaus.  I had to go in.  The shop was maybe 10 square meters in total, but so elegant and quaint.  The shelves were filled with pralinen, truffels, and chocolate boxes of all sizes.  Behind the small, glass enclosed case filled with nougat confections with flavours such as; ginger, almond mousse, riesling, grappa and coconut, sat a white-haired lady who looked a little-bit like a done-up Betty White.  She warmly asked me questions about where I come from and what it’s like there, as I picked out a couple of treats for Erin and me.  And, on my way out, she sweetly wished me only good things for my time in Germany.  What a treat.

As I returned to the florist, who we had come across an hour before, I found Erin busily ordering her wedding blooms.  This narrow shop, lined inside with  rustic, wooden counters was filled with buckets of happy sunflowers, white roses the size of saucers, violet flowers looking freshly field-picked (which upon asking I found was oregano!), pots of mini, fire-red peppers, and terrific, bright orange carthamus thistles.  These, Erin picked for her Tiger lily to nestle amongst in her bridal bouquet.  Personally, I think thistles and lilies are the perfect metaphor for marriage…combining to make something beautiful, and yet a little dangerous.

And, as I later sat on the train on my way home, I couldn’t stop thinking about a new song I had heard just hours before.  A guy in my business English class started singing it as he regaled us with his weekend plans of hitting the Rhein in his new boat.  I laughed and asked him for the name of the song, as the chorus has just a hint of familiarity.  Here is a snippet…hmmm…could great guy be a Matrose?  I have no idea what that is, but I’m pretty sure this could be his theme song:

Das ist die Liebe der Matrosen!
Auf die Dauer, lieber Schatz,
ist mein Herz kein Ankerplaz.
Es blühn an allen Küsten Rosen,
und fur jede gibt es tausendfach Ersatz!
Liebe der Matrosen!

(sorry, English-speaking folks, it’ll sound too harsh if I translate it..and I’m only mostly kidding...but for you I have another favourite sea-song, just don't mind the language, Captain Jack Sparrow)

For my new, positive out-look on life, here is a beautiful quote from Ms. Stobbe which I might hang on my bathroom mirror.  Accept everything about yourself - I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end -- no apologies, no regrets. — Henry Kissinger

P.S. Happy, happy birthday to the mother of my perfect nephew!
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Friday, July 13, 2012

train stop

This morning, I got off the train at the second stop.  I had never been here before, but in my quest to experience something new each week, I decided to venture out and see a new town.  My first impressions, looking through the window as the train comes to a stop, lots of grafitti (not uncommon) and a completely deserted platform (uncommon).  I step down from the train, look around and see the train station to my left…all boarded up, dilapidated and immediately I fight the urge to turn around, start running and to fling myself back onto the train as it’s pulling away...like I've seen people in movies do a million times.  No luck, the train is gone, and I am here to stay, at least until the next one comes.  Ok, no problem, I'm sure this place isn't that bad.  Let's explore.  

I head out onto the street, past the once-upon-a-time train station and looking up and down I see just rows of dull, faded houses.  In search of a main street I start walking. I really need a coffee and something to eat.  The yogurt I ate about five hours ago, before my business English class in the city seems like a distant memory.   I walk and walk, turning corners, seeing more and more houses.  Man, where is a bakery when you desperately need one?  Normally, there are about 5 on each block, in every little German town.  But, not here.  I haven't even seen a person...I think only houses live here.  I see street names like 'Klosterstrasse' and 'Goethestrasse' and, forgetting my grumbling stomach, am filled with hope that getting off here wasn't a huge waste of time.  I walk and walk, but not a convent or statue or cathedral or park in sight.  Nothing.  Just houses.  I'm beginning to think that I should've at least told someone of my plan to get off here.  They probably would've said, “You’re going where? Budenheim?”

I keep walking.  There has got to be a post office or store or bank here somewhere. I turn another grey corner and across the street, in front of me, is a massive chemical plant.  Super.  Why isn't this in my guidebook?  If I actually had a guidebook, it would most likely say, 'do not stop in Budenheim, unless you unfortunately have to work at the big, fume-spewing chemical plant with thousands of other poor souls".  But, I will say that the grounds surrounding the plant are very clean and manicured...I am still in Germany of course.

Then I feel the first raindrop.  Thinking that I should find the umbrella which is somewhere in my giant bag, the heavens open up and it starts to pour.  I quickly struggle to open my cheap umbrella which I have learned to carry with me now that I live in Germany.  I don't even think I owned an umbrella when I lived in Canada.  I had a sleeping bag, a flashlight, a bottle of water and some granola bars in my car at all times, in case I got stuck in a snowstorm, but an umbrella?  We usually just waited five minutes and the weather would change…to snow.

(Writer's interruption:  a train just flew by the platform, going so fast my heart almost stopped.  I'm writing this, while sitting on a beaten-up, old bench on the station platform and apparently so few people want to get off here that it’s a rare train which makes the effort to stop.  So, I wait and I write.  Luckily, I have nowhere important to be at the moment.  Great guy and the romanian are working day and night on the baustelle, trying to get the last flat in the big haus finished by August.  I have the good fortune of seeing them only when I call them in for supper, which also happens to be when I feel most like Caroline Ingalls...especially if I happen to be wearing my apron and bonnet.)

After passing the chemical plant I see a small hill and decide to go high and get a lay of the land.  I stubbornly think that there must be something redeeming about this town and I'm hoping that from above I will finally see all the pretty, cultural things.  All of a sudden, the wind picks up and tries to rip the umbrella out of my hands.  The spokes flip up and as I struggle to get them back down I'm pelted with rain.  Now I'm drenched.  I think I'm close to giving up.  At the top of the hill, all I see is a distant church tower, the fuming chimneys of the plant, and houses.  I can't even see the Rhein from here, and I thought this was a river town.

Oh, thank the good lord, a train just stopped.  I'm getting on it and I don't even care where it's going.  This was 25 minutes of my life which I'm never getting back, but at least I did what I set out to do...see something new.  Why, again, did I want to do that?
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Thursday, July 5, 2012

got fired, saved a life

It is unofficially the start of summer.  School is out, families are hitting the road, and here in southern Spain where great guy and I are spending a few beautiful, sun-kissed days, the tourists and teenagers are hitting the beaches in full force.

This morning we woke too early, yet again, to the heat of the Levante wind and the crowing of the neighbour’s insanely, irritating rooster.  Most of the folks here, who live out on the land either have a donkey or a rooster along with about 18 dogs.  The bauer (farmer) who farms his small plot of land across the narrow street from us tries fervently each day to communicate with great guy.  I can’t help but chuckle as I hear the bauer’s thick Andalusian accent and great guy’s choppy Spanish…two people who do not understand a single thing the other is saying, but each smiling hugely and gesturing wildly.  The bauer brings us to his abundant garden, where he pulls off plump, red tomatoes.  ‘Tomat, tomat’, yes tomatoes, we understand that!  But, we’re flying home tomorrow we try to explain to him, with arms spread out, flapping our ‘wings’.  He thinks we’re crazy.  Great guy and I just look at each other and laugh, and think we really need to learn a couple of Spanish words…relevant words!

After we finish our coffee outside on the front terrace of the Father’s and maid marion’s winter home, we head out to explore the beaches, finding new places to beat the heat and play in the waves.  We drive along dry fields and dilapidated houses, a horse here and there standing in the blazing sun, resigned to being hot.  The low, stone walls hiding dry gardens, are overflowing with blooming azaleas and bougainvillea in all colours of the rainbow.  We like this place, filled with Spaniards and not so many tourists, and totally enjoy this alone-time together on the Atlantic coast.  We have spent each day, hitting the sandy, wave-crashing, cliffy beaches where we read, lie, play and wave jump.  Then, to the various harbours, up and down the coast, watching weathered, leathered fishermen coasting into dock with their festive-looking fisher boats, all bright with balloon-like fenders hanging out from all sides.  We are brown, relaxed, happy (after watching jubilant Spaniards win the Europa Cup!) and thankful for the familiar and new experiences of this get-away.

A quote:

 Live life to the full. All around you people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But, dear children and grandchildren, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don't tiptoe.
-from an anonymous old guy (who I think is really cool)

Using this as inspiration, and as it is summertime now, I want to challenge myself and you all (if you’re up for it) to experience something new each week.  A new place, a new thing, a new friend, a new story about someone you know or wish you did, or just a new way home from work.  I will share with you, and please feel free to share with me.  I would love that!

To get things started, two new experiences from the past week, which impacted me in more ways that I care to admit. 

1)      I got fired.  Yup, that’s new, has never happened to me before.  Honestly, I am still surprised and still don’t understand why.  But, oh well, I’m going looking forward and be excited.  Now, is my chance to have only one job; a good job working for Ms. Potter who just wants to give me more and more work, with people who are positive and creative and fun!  Maybe, I’ll even write more now.

2)      I saved a life.  Well, I noticed the woman who was in great distress, crashing about in the waves and getting swept out to sea, and yelled at great guy who was closer and was wearing flippers, to help her.  He then, did the actual saving, but man oh man was it difficult.  I nearly started to panic as I realized that I wasn’t getting closer to shore either.  But, then I said to myself, ‘calm down, you’re strong, just swim!’  The three of us made it to shore, exhausted and thankful with the realization that it could have very quickly turned out differently.

Life is fast and strange and confusing sometimes, but all you can do is go with it, and go for it, and try to be kind along the way.

Here’s another quote, which just makes me laugh.  Happy summer…hope to hear from you!!

I sometimes wish you were a mermaid
I could raise you in the tub at home
We could take a swim together
On weekly day trips to the bay
-Milow, You and me
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