Saturday, March 28, 2009

in the near future

I'd like to see a lot more of this:

the eternal battle for dominance

sure, grey squirrels are bigger, stronger, fatter, maybe even smarter, who knows - but red squirrels are a hell of a lot cuter.

This one lives in my backyard.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I feel that the mythical world is seeping into mine.

I think it's generally agreed upon by the participants that in the U.S., Christmas is a wildly commercial but generally cheerful and chocolaty time. Despite the warning to misbehavers of no presents and coal in their stockings, the threat is assumed by all to be idle. Santa Claus is a gentle man, willing to forgive your sins and transgressions. Sort of an older, fatter, jollier Jesus. In parts of Germany, however, there are still links to a wilder and weirder time. Santa Claus has henchmen, and not your usual toy-making elves, tiny and non-threatening in curly-toed shoes. In the Bavarian Alps, children are threatened with the Krampus.

The Krampus is Santa's helper. He metes out the punishment that jolly old S.C. just can't bring himself to inflict. In the Alpine towns, usually around the 5th or 6th of December, the young men dress as the Krampus, and walk through the street, chasing children and occasionally young women. They look scary (imagine if you were about four or five years old, and this happened in your house, or if you were walking to school one morning, and you saw this coming down the road towards you). Long-toothed terrifying demons with long horns, clanking bells and waving sticks!

I think if I had been a child in such a town, this would have given me nightmares for life.

(a thousand thanks to Maxi, without whom I never would have dreamt of any of this.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pergamon p.s.

According to the good people at the Pergamon, the Sirrush (Der Muschchuschu, or "splendor serpent") " the symbolic animal of the Babylonian patron deity Marduk.* The three-dimensional relief portrayal of the dragon is to be found on the gate of Ishtar of Babylon which was erected in the early 6th century by King Nebuchadnezzar the II.

The mythical creature is composed of a reptile's body, the head of a horned viper, the front paws of lion, the hind leg of an eagle and the tail sting of a scorpion."

Sorry chimera, I think I have a new favorite mythical animal.

*wikipedia notes that his specialties included "water, vegetation, judgement, and magic." Useful sort of fellow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Open Letter

Dear Mr. Thomas Mann,

It is with a heart neither particularly heavy nor particularly light that I bid farewell to your hero, a Mr. Hans Castorp. He was a tranquil if somewhat hypochondriacal chap, unlucky in love and life in general, and overly fond of cigars.

I would, however, like to offer you my sincere gratitude for the following:

"You have never spent any time in theatrical circles, have you? So you do not know those thespian faces that can embody the features of a Julius Caesar, a Goethe, and a Beethoven all in one, but whose owners, the moment they open their mouths, prove to be the most miserable ninnies under the sun." (translated from the German by John E. Woods)

That certainly produced a chuckle.

Also, words cannot convey the depth of my indebtedness to you for having introduced me to that marvelous word and concept, philopena.

a custom, presumably of German origin, in which two persons share the kernels of a nut and determine that one shall receive a forfeit from the other at a later time upon the saying of a certain word or the performance of a certain action. (

I can think of but few things I like more.

With my warmest regards, etc.

Not Ausgang

Ah, Berlin: city of culture, of hipness, of music, of whimsy. An extremely high number of people in Germany speak decent to fantastic English. Many of them live in the country's dashing, cosmopolitan Haupstadt. Which makes the lamentable translations found all around the Pergamon, a truly extraordinary museum, all the more inexplicable:

This is pure camp. Summer camp. Bonfire and s'mores.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Deutsch als Fremdsprache

I had my first Deutschkurs today. There are about fourteen students, and we're from: Romania, Rwanda, Vietnam, Poland, Greece, Brazil, Hungary, Nigeria, Kosovo, Italy, Iraq, Ghana, and the U.S (just me). Our teacher is a Romanian who speaks German, English (and Romanian, of course), and understands Spanish and Italian. I've already realized that I have difficulty understanding the German of some of my fellow students because they have an accent that is (understandably) different than mine or that of the Bavarians I'm accustomed to listening to. I'm below the average age of the class, but the youngest by far is the 19-year-old Italian guy who blushed to the roots of his hair when the teacher talked to him. He claims to understand no German whatsoever, which made me volunteer my terribly faded and tattered Italian in a more or less successful attempt at assistance once or twice. Not everyone speaks English. Currently, we have no lingua franca. We'll see how this develops over the next two and a half months.

While I'm still in immeasurable awe of people who are fluent in more than one language, it has been my sad conclusion of late that, in contrast to an idea I once cherished, such fluency does not confer upon the speaker True Genius. Some people who are bi- or trilingual are capable of perfect idiocy in multiple languages. This is depressing.
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