Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Oktoberfest

Nearly 195 years ago the citizens of Munich gathered in front of the city gates to celebrate the nuptuals of Crown Prinz Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxon-Hildburgshausen. The event was marked with horse races, feast and drink. It became the very first Oktoberfest. Today, the Munich Oktoberfest (so named, because it traditionally begins on the third weekend in September and ends the first Sunday in October) is boasted (at least by M√ľnchener) to be the largest festival in the world.

Some seven days ago, I went to the Oktoberfest sponsored by Portland's German American Society. It was tellingly held in the club's headquarters in the old Altenheim (a retirement home that used to be run by the society) on Division. Excepting four or five early college aged students, who must have been there as part of their language program, I was the youngest person by a good twenty years. In fact, some of the guests looked like they might have been in attendance at the original celebration. I suppose that adds to the air of authenticity. Besides, age in no way kept anyone from having a good time, but that wasn't until later.

When we first walked in, I have to say that I was not exactly feeling the love. We were seated at a table with a group of geriatric strangers who did not seem too impressed with our addition to their little group. My initial thought was along the lines of "I really hope my mom does not want to stay long. Let's just choke down some sausage and get the hell out of here."

But then, another pair of new people were seated across from us, and people actually started to talk. After a drink or two, even the original squatters at the table were amiable. I think the ice was broken when what looked like the patriarch of their group was looking for butter, and I shared ours with him. After that, he kept calling me dear and winking at me. Our friendship cemented, he marked each new song by turning to our side of the table to say "I used to dance to that!" By the time the Schunkeln started, everyone was feeling friendly, which just goes to show that my natural instincts for how welcome I am are pretty much crap.

The event was held in a room that I thought must have been the dining hall when the Altenheim was still in operation. My mother, who worked there when she first came to the U.S. in the 60's quickly informed me, however, that it was not. At any rate, the room had long, low bench tables redolent (that was for you, Jen) of a public elementary school cafeteria, but instead of hair nets, polyester and large facial moles, the lunch ladies wore Dirndl dresses. In fact, many people were dressed in Trachten.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about Trachten is how many there are. (To see what I mean, go to http://volkstanz.at/Trachten/Trachteneinteilung.htm, click on an area of any of the maps that come up, then pick one of the "Tafel" links, which will take you to pictures of costumes for that region.) To put it in perspective, it's like Portland having a different traditional dress from Hood River.

Although it is probably a betrayal of my Germanic origins, I must confess to amusement at how silly some of the costumes look. The Dirndls are not really that bad. Some of them are actually quite pretty. It's the menswear that often leaves me scratching my head. There was, for example, one gentleman at Oldtoberfest, who was wearing a cap that had what looked like a shaving brush mounted on top of it. Another wore a well used pair of Lederhosen, very short socks and what looked like leg warmers. I can only think that the showing of skin between the top of his anklets and the bottom of his calf tubes was meant originally meant to be provocative, like an advertisement for an Alpine peep show.

But it wasn't only the Trachten that were authentic. There menu consisted of real German Wurst (not just some glorified American hot dog) and beer. The band from Munich by way of Mt. Angel's Oktoberfest and there was plenty of schunkeln. One of our non-German newcomer neighbors was delighted by schunkeln and kept consulting us on the schunkelability of various songs played by the band. I think it took him a while to realize that people mostly just do the linking arms and swaying thing to slow waltzes. Especially in a room of old people, where someone could get hurt by trying to swing back and forth too wildly.

That is not to say that the geezers aren't aren't a hearty lot. Frankly, I was amazed as I watched some of them totter out onto the dance floor. There were people who looked like they had a hard time walking, who suddenly transformed into light-footed 20 year olds when they started dancing. It really was a treat to watch, especially because it reminded me of my Oma, who loved to dance.

One of my favorite memories is of her standing in the living room of her apartment, wearing an apron and humming a folk song while she did a little dance. Suddenly, this old woman who had leg problems that had caused her to walk stiffly for as long as I could remember lost 50 years and I could see the 19 year old who loved to dance. This is how it was with these people too. It gives some poignancy to my neighbor's wistful outcries of "I used to dance to that!"

Of course, they weren't all frail. There was one older, but obviously healthy couple, who were incredible dancers. They looked like they could have done it professionally. Who knows, maybe they did. They guy had some tricky, fancy footwork, but the woman was obviously well schooled in her Strictly Ballroom - "Where the man goes, the lady must follow."

Now one person who didn't ascribe to the Strictly Ballroom aesthetic was the wife of the man who had too much to drink and tried numerous times to climb on top of the table at which they were seated. She ascribed to the aesthetic of alternately looking embarassed while trying to pull him down and pretending not to know him. Ultimately, though, I think she (along with the rest of their table mates) was just amused by his antics.

Really, the whole event was pretty fun. Usually, I find plenty of mockable things about Bavarian oompah music. I'm not going to lie and say they that I didn't find anything to amuse me (the old people formed a conga line, for Pete's sake!), but I can say that any amusement I felt was not cruel in spirit. It was a good time, and I am glad that I went. I would even go again.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Fall's First Day


DSCN1105
Originally uploaded by Martina.

Autumn has officially begun! In Oregon, the early fall is a lovely time of year. The air is crisp in the mornings, but the days are generally sunny and breezy - perfect weather for going for walks (as we all know is my newly rediscovered past-time).

While I am looking forward to watching the leaves change color, celebrating Halloween and pulling out all my favorite cool weather recipes, I will miss the long, sunny days. It was a good summer, one that passed all too quickly. Looking back, I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. So, before I forget, I want to look back at some of the high points.

1) (Re-)Discovering that I live within 20 minutes of one of the most gorgeous sunset views ever.

2) Seeing Pink Martini at the zoo

3) Getting a new camera (technically, it wasn't really summer yet, but the weather was summer-y, when it wasn't cold and raining and I did use the camera a LOT over the summer!)

4) Seeing a friend I hadn't seen in nearly 10 years and realizing that I've actually changed a lot more during the ensuing years than I thought

5) Being reminded what good (if weird) friends I have. Not everyone has friends who give them free airline tickets and introduce them to everyone as "my best friend Martina" or who would travel 4 hours just to go to a 2 hour picnic.

6) While I'm not exactly conductor of the Be-Born-Again-to-Our-Way-or-Get-a-Free-Pass-for-the-Eternal-Exursion-to-Hell train and will always have a pretty open view about following diferent spiritual paths, this summer taught me that not all organized religion is as scornful as I'd previously decided. Sure, pockets of scornworthiness exist. Can anyone say Pat Robertson? And don't even get me started on the unfeeling evangelist who informed me just before my father's funeral that I was doomed to never see him again because it would interfere with God's plans for me (and all other heathens who don't embrace said evangelists beliefs) to rot in hell. You probably don't want to get me going on the pastor across the street who stopped talking to me after I refused to sign his anti same sex marriage petition either. Anyway, my point is that it was nice to be reminded that there are insitutions out there that genuinely try to do what is good and right and are decidedly worthwhile.

7) Realizing that I haven't lost all musical ability, even though it's been years since I've done anything with it formally

8) Discovering the Decemberists, seeing them at The Bite (a major disappointment of an evening through no fault of theirs), but STILL leaving really liking them

9) Learning that while I have no formal dance training, being half German apparently has gifted me with genetic memory of how to polka. Thank God I went to the Oktoberfest last night (the final night of summer), or I'd never have discovered this!

10) Finding that my hair has just about grown out of its awkward stage just in time for fall

As for the first 22 hours of autumn, so far so good...

Linky Magic Test

READ ME

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Night Draws Near

It is not uncommon for OPB to be playing on my car radio. What is uncommon is for me to be listening to it during my lunch break. As luck would have it, my Lean Cuisine looked utterly unappealing by the time mid-day rolled around, so I decided to run out and get a caesar salad instead. I left the parking lot just in time to hear most of the Fresh Air interview with Pulitzer Prize winner, Anthony Shadid, who was talking about his book, Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War. If the book is half as interesting as the interview, which can be found here, it definitely demands to be read.

Shadid, who is the Baghdad correspondant for The Washington Post, has a ready store of anecdotes about the Iraqi people and what our war has meant for them. Some of the stories are enlightening and are just horrifying and sad. People do and endure some ugly things during times of war. It's difficult to imagine what it is really like to live in such situations.

I've heard some pretty similar stories about Nazi Germany (and later communist East Germany) from my mother and grandparents. Their neighbors actually turned them in to the Stasi, but I'll have to write about that another time. This time my focus is simply on pointing out that the interview can be heard at OPB's website and that the book definitely sounds worth looking into.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

These boots are made for walking


DSCN0955
Originally uploaded by Martina.
Having just returned from a glorious hour and a half long walk in the hills near my house, one thought dominates my mind. Why do I not do it more often? It felt so good to wander along windy paths through orchards and meadows. Now, even a couple hours later, it STILL feels good.

Why must it be so difficult to motivate myself to just get off my ass and do it? NEVER have I come home for a walk (or, as much as my couch potato soul hates to admit it, exercise of any kind) and thought "Man, that was SUCH a bad idea! I should never have gone for this walk!" Just the opposite. I always return thinking "That was refreshing! I feel great! I should do this more often!"

I know that the dogs would love me, if I did. The original plan had been to just take Baxter along, because he is the smallest and easiest to maneuver. In the end, thanks to Ruby and her idea of pilfering my mom's fanny pack and then a leash and carrying them outside to the gate while the other two excitedly cheered her on, all three of them got to come along. How do you say no to something that cute?

I will admit, however, that my "yes" was gruding at best. Past experience with our trio of miscreants has left me dubious about group walks. As a result, I was concerned about being dragged around Powell Butte by a gang of ill mannered canines, but it actually turned out to be quite a nice walk. No one pulled or misbehaved nor did I find myself being dragged downhill on my ass as has happened so many times before.

The boys were perfect gentleman, and aside from the incident wherein she decided to stand on the picnic table, Ruby was quite a lady. Now they (being as out of shape as I am) are all sacked out at various points in- and outside the house.

If I can just hold onto this good feeling and use it to motivate myself, we will be going for another walk very soon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mt. St. Helens


Mt. St. Helens
Originally uploaded by Martina.
Driving home from work tonight, Mt. St. Helens was visibly smoking in the distance. Although it doesn't seem like it, it's been just over 25 years since it erupted. Frankly, it's bizarre to me to think that I have a clear memory of anything that happened 25 years ago, but I do.

I remember the dusting of ash that made it all the way to where we lived in Portland. That was that spring that my ash allergy became apparent. I remember my mom and her friend buying masks for me and the friend's son, Randy, because both of us were sneezing so badly from it.

Having run out of the normal white ones, the store only had oddly shaped green ones left in stock. Never one to make trouble, Randy good naturedly accepted his bemasked fate, whereas I refused to wear mine on the grounds that it made me look like a frog. I suppose that alive and amphibious is better than incessant sneezing (let alone dead and coated in lava), but even at 11, I had a keen fashion aesthetic that did not include emulating Grandmother Toad. It is a rule of couture that continues to served me well.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

I'm back!

It seems like something should be written to commemorate the loss, reappearance, loss again and re-reappearance of my blog. The problem is that I do not find myself overly inspired to do so, even though I'm delighted at the display of accidental technical prowess that lead to its restoration. After writing Blogger and not hearing back from them within three minutes of clicking "send", I grew impatient and began to experiment at fixing the weblog myself.

This endeavor was akin to the act of opening up the hood when my car breaks down. Do I know what I am looking at? No. Do I sometimes manage to accidentally fix something while futzing around and slamming the hood back down? Yes. That is exactly what happened here. I looked at code. I saved. I closed the window opened it, and saved again all to no avail. Then, a shaft of light shone down from the heavens, and I actually noticed that some of the code was missing.

This lead me to the idea of selecting a new template. The first time, the text of my blog came back, but the menu was still gone. So, I resaved my last post (don't ask me why, it just felt right) and selected yet another. Suddenly everything was coming up Millhouse and my blog was back. While I suspect it was the last post that was the problem, I like to think that all of my steps (including the intermittent whining and cursing) were necessary to the solution.

While some may say troubleshooting strategy is as disorganized as a FEMA response to a natural disaster, I say that I am clearly a technical genius.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Books! Books! Books!

As I was putzing around on the net the other day, I ran across a book survey on someone's blog. Feeling as I do about books, it piqued my interest. It had some interesting questions, but was too short, so I started looking around for similar surveys and making up questions of my own in order to create my own Frankensurvey. I think all of my friends should take it, thereby providing me with inspirations for new reading material.

What are you reading now?
The Baudy Basket by Edward Marston and an anthology of gothic stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I'm just about to start The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Also a book on the history of Halloween, but that is for research, so it doesn't really count.

What is the last book that you bought?
Silver Ravenwolf's Halloween

What are your favorite books?
This is a tough question. There are so many that I love, so I'm going to go with a few that I've found myself coming back to again and again over the years - Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Paolo Coehlo's The Alchemist, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, also Stardust. Presently I'm also very enamored with Wesley Stace's book, Misfortune.

Who are your favorite authors?
In no particular order (and definitely not an exhaustive list): Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Mann, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (esp. his poetry), Italo Calvino, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, Neil Gaiman, A.S. Byatt, Rainer Maria Rilke. If you asked me tomorrow, I'm sure the list would include some others too.

Which genres are your favorites?
Ghost stories, mysteries, poetry, fiction, biography, historical fiction, satire

What books did you think you would hate but loved?
Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement, Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, Heinlein, the comic books that Carlton has loaned to me.

What kind of books do you dislike most?
Westerns, horror

Do you mostly read contemporary work, older works or both?
Both. All time periods have something to offer, why exclude any of them?

What are some of the funniest books you've ever read?
Voltaire's Candide, John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, Mark Acito's How I Paid for College, John Stewart's America, a book called Puttin' on the Ritz and its sequel Blue Heaven...I can't remember the author's name at the moment, but both had me laughing out loud a lot.

What are the most suspenseful books you've ever read?
Barbara Michaels' mysteries; The Turn of the Screw. I really like reading supernaturally tinged mysteries when I'm just looking for something fun.

Which books were so good that you read them in one sitting?
Anything by Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters. The Da Vinci Code, which I hate to admit, because it was so trendy. The Baron in the Trees, the first time I read it. I think The Club Dumas as well.

Which books have impacted you most?
The biography of Charlotte Stieglitz, JM Coetzee's Foe, because of the time I spent writing on them. Also, The Hobbit and The Boxcar Children, because those books really cemented my love of reading as a kid.

Which books/authors do you consider the most overrated?
Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire

Which good, but little known book or author would you rescue from obscurity? Katinka. It's an impressionist novel written by Herman Bang. I don't think he's really known in the U.S.

How many books do you generally read at a time? One, possibly two if I am also reading a non-fiction book.

What ration of fiction to non-fiction do you read?
3 fiction to 1 non-fiction

When (if) you read non-fiction, what are your favorite subjects?
Politics, culture, music, women's studies, history, psychology, social sciences. I'm trying to get myself more interested in reading about science, becuase I'm not very well rounded, but it's a struggle.

Which book that you haven't gotten around to yet do you want to read?
Boccaccio's Decamarone; Dante's Inferno. Every time I hear them mentioned, I think "I really should read that."

What is your earliest memory involving books?
The library. I remember my mom taking me there on weekends to pick out books and also my Opa taking me when I was a little girl.

Later, when I was just starting to read on my own, I also remember that our school librarian would put together these packs on different subjects that we could check out specially. She'd put them in these big, cardboard suitcases with a plastic handle that we could reserve and go pick up when school got out for the day. I remember dragging home such boxes many times.

My other strong book memory is how excited I would get when they distributed those tissuey Scholastic book catalogues at school during reading time. By the time I got home, I always had half the catalogue circled and then we'd have to do a reckoning. For some reason, even though they encouraged my interest in reading, my parents didn't seem to think I needed ALL the books.

What were your favorite books as a child?
Fairy Tales (esp. The Snow Queen, which is still my favorite), The Boxcar Children series, Nancy Drew (but not The Hardy Boys - I only like the Hardy Boys television series), The Hobbit, and the Judy Blume Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing books, Where the Wild things Are.

Which children's books do you like now?
Nicely illustrated fairy tale volumes, like the ones that K.Y. Craft does with various authors. Also, the Harry Potter books and Lemony Snicket's books.

What frequently recommended book have you been unable to finish?
Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose, which really frustrates me, because I find Eco fascinating.

If someone were to ask you for a book recommendation right now, what would it be?
Probably Misfortune or maybe James Reese's Book of Shadows, which was good, spooky fun. If they were looking for something light and funny, Marc Acito's How I Paid for College would be good.

So, now that I've shared some of my thoughts and suggestions, maybe you'd like to share some of yours.

ADDENDUM - JENQUESTIONS

a) what book did you think you would love but didn't (to go along with the hate/love question)
Hmmm...The only thing I can think of off the top of my head is The Name of the Rose. It's a difficult one for me to not love, because I really do like Umberto Eco and keep hoping that I just picked it up at the wrong time. It's been a few years, so maybe I will try again.

The other book that springs to mind is Interview with the Vampire. At the time it was recommended to me, I was doing a lot of research on vampirism and folklore. Because I was pretty enmeshed in the subject at the time, I had high hopes for enjoying the book, but really didn't at all. The whole thing struck me as a bunch of unoriginal blah blah blah kill someone suck some blood blah blah blah kill someone suck some blood etc.

b) do you have to finish a book if you start
It is difficult for me to not finish once I've begun reading something. I used to be a lot more strict about this than I am now, but, unless they are just unbearably awful, as a general rule, I still finish most things that I start.. A lot of it dpends on the type of book it is. It's easier, for example, for me to put down a boring non-fiction book than it is a classic..

c) how do you find new authors
Good question. I think most of my new finds come to me in the following ways: 1) browsing bookstores/libraries/people's bookshelves (probably my favorite); 2) recommendations from friends; 3) bibliographies; 4) interviews, articles in literary journals, book reviews, etc. Basically, books can pretty much come from any source except for Oprah's Book Club. I have an irrational and unnatural hatred for Oprah's Book Club to go along with my extreme dislike for Oprah herself. I know, she's basically good in theory (at least that's what people tell me, but there's something about the woman that just bugs me. That causes me to wonder, do I hate Dr. Phil by association? Or is he loathesome on his own merits? I think probably on his own, but this is a topic best saved for a survey on unnatural aggression and not books.