Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Most people with the faculties of reason, or at least a primative central nervous system, would have to agree, at least occasionally, that the world is a messed up place.

Take the Death Penalty for instance: it's an amazingly depressing topic of conversation, no matter how you cut it, or what your opinions are concerning it. Yet EVEN HERE, there is opportunity to wonder at the apparently maniacal joy the Universe takes in creating situations where several parts coexist in the same Space-Time Continuum, even though everyone from Issac Newton to the speaking brain Steven Hawkens tells us they shouldn't.

I took some time out of remarkably unbusy day yesterday to watch the CNN coverage of Stanley Williams' execution. It was average for the most part, complete with the prerequisite set of characters: the red-faced, rage engourged death penalty advocate who takes a little too much pleasure in death to be taken seriously, the well-meaning and righteous mother of another murder victim radiating equal parts rage and forgiveness like an emotional quasar, and the nun, there to make you feel like a spiritual amoeba.

The Nun and Death Penalty Advocate invariably fight, which is to say, the Death Penalty Advocate spits furiously as the Nun proclaims that she loves both the victim and killer. There are commerical breaks in between, of course, so they can mop of the studio and cut a few eye brows before the next round, and it is here that I realized how wonderful the world is:

Before cutting to commerical, CNN broadcasted a still photo of policemen standing in front of San Quentin's gates, across which hung the banner: "This is a non-smoking area." Well thank God!

That second handsmoke will kill you. And that's just wrong.

I love this world.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"Children are our future." Ah, how true it is. They have been everything from the embodiment of joy and innocence in popular culture to the representation of spiritual purity in the New Testament. They make us happy; being stupid and making ridiculous noises around a baby is a universal imperative, an unbreakable law alongside "The Law of Discontinued Perfection," whose existence is alive and well.

The jerks stopped carrying my favorite brand of orange juice in the grocery store! What? Why? They didn't even ASK first. Now, I'm forced to consume sub-par, acidic juice for my Vitamin C. Unexceptable. But that's not the point of this post.

Without these laws, the universe would cease to function. It's a fact. No, don't read a book; you won't find it there, just search your feelings, Luke. Let the force flow through you. Yes, good, good. You have come a long way, Young One.

But children are have their own rules, a role to play in the continuity of the universe, which, in this case, is being really, really blunt. Example:

I went over to Andreas' house yesterday to play a game with his daughters Pauline (2 yrs), Emilie (5 yrs), and Svenia (7 yrs) because I had promised to a week earlier at his birthday party, but didn't. I could say it was because I was busy or tired, but to be honest, I just didn't feel like it. Anyway, a fulfilled my promise yesterday.

We played Flohmarkt (Flea Market), Aquarium, and Geistertreppe (Ghost Stairs), pleasant board games that conjoured up memories of Mister Rogers marathons, apple juice, Animal Crackers and fear of Sesame Street's Count. Aside from some flailing and screaming when someone "wasn't ever allowed to go first" it was fun, one of those activities that reminds you of the glories of early childhood, while at the same time makes you thank God you're past it. Yet somewhere in all these games and pediatric gymnastic displays, Svenia found time to comment on my laugh and pronouce with the subtlety of a jackhammer:

"Du hast riesige Zähne. Du siehst wie ein Hase aus. (You have huge teeth. You look like a rabbit.)"

Thanks, Svenia. I almost forgot.

Children are our future.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I've actually had most of this one written for about a week, but have forgotten to publish with shocking regularity. Enjoy.

Last weekend, I took my "Mini-Norddeutschland Trip" of Lübeck and Hamburg. I wish I could say that it was really to see the sights, but let's be honest here: Hamburg had Harry Potter in English. But I'll get to that later.

The outdoor Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) is one of those German traditions that everyone in the United States seems to know about, the Holy Trinity of popular German cultural references along with Heidelberg and Munich, but it really isn't possible to grasp unless you've been there. First, I should say that EVERYONE goes to the Lübecker Weihnachtsmarkt. Everyone. Or at least the entire population of the Germanic speaking world north of Hannover; the bubbly, backwards, and gutteral sounds of Danish syllables, or lack there of, were just about as common in the crowd as German.

And a person doesn't walk through the Weihnachtsmarkt so much as slides or spins, darting through holes in the crowd and around corners of booths. Normally, this kind of thing is really hard to do in the United States; people are kind of touchy and apologize profusely if you step on them, bump them too hard, or suddenly cut in front in a crowd, but not in Germany. Oh no, Human Pinball isn't only tolerated, it's encouraged.

Being me, I would bump into or step on someone pretty regularly while trying to keep my exit in sight. My over-exercised "American Apology Gland" would start pumping out "Good Will-o-Dorphens," and I'd say I was sorry. I can't help it, it's just one of those cultural things that's seared in my head, like the separation of Church and State, or the right to be protected from illegal search and seizure, but Germans just mutter: "Es macht nichts (It doesn't matter)," and keep going. Cool.

Crowd congestion is at its most impressive around the five billion Glühwein stands that (let's be honest) really MAKE the Weihnachtsmarkt what it is: a big outdoor market filled with neat stuff to buy with some rides, powered by warm mulled wine handed out in really neat commemorative mugs. OK, so the word "commemorative" is used loosely here. Technically, you buy the wine along with a 1,20 € Pfand (return refund) on the mug, but, uh, that never happened. I have two "Lübecker Weihnachtsmarkt" mugs on my desk in front of my computer right now. Yeah, that's right, I took them, and without ASKING first. Take that, System! The Man ain't got nothin'!

Everytime I see something like this in Germany, I'm stuck by a profound sense of jealousy; the United States only has these giant indoor commercial malls, and never a giant outdoor commercial market that is, dare we say it, social. My God, not that! Why don't we, as Americans, or "Amer'cans" if you take your lead from the Commander and....(OK, I just wanted to see if I could call him that without laughing. No dice), have outdoor markets that support themselves with steaming mugs of alchohol? Maybe if we made them Drive Thru McMarkets with 350 horsepower engines that hug the road with chrome-rimmed wheels. But I could be wrong.

Long and short of it is: the Weihnachtsmarkt was awesome. You should go. Right now. Come on. It's only a 4,500 mile trip, stop whining. OK, OK, next year. But I'll be counting.

While I'm on this awesome wave, I'll just say one thing: Harry Potter! Jesus Humphrey Christ, is it good! Ahhhhh! Damn you, Newell for perfectly adapting JK Rowling's annoyingly addictive fantasy series! Not many people know this, but the Harry Potter books are actually derived from the Coca plant, so if you ever finish a Potter novel and suddenly find yourself overpowered by the impulse to clean your house and cut the grass at three in the morning, you're not alone.

Seriously, though, it was a great movie! It never lets up, is appropriately dark, and manages to cut out everything that doesn't need to be there while still keeping the central theme of the book alive and well. Kudos. I could say more, but it would eventually degenerate into me repeating myself until it the post transforms into an overly intellectually discussion of Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, or Star Trek. I will say no more.

On a seperate note: I said earlier that Germans dub everything on TV, but I was wrong. The dub ALMOST everything, with the exception of Bob Ross' Painting show. You know the guy: "Let's put a happy little tree over there. It doesn't matter, it's your world, you can put him wherever you want." Yeah, that guy. They don't dub him or add subtitles. He just is. He is eternal and peaceful, like the Buddha, only with a Fro and thiry years of oil painting experience that makes painting look deceptively easy.