The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Friday, March 27, 2009

Edward The Kitty

Edward belongs to a friend of a friend of mine. He swallowed a string that got all tangled in his intestines. He is recovering from major surgery now but the vet bill is huge and Carie, his owner, needs help.

Reviving The Dream

As much as I have enjoyed my time in Germany, as you all know, my goal is and always has been to get to Scotland. I quit my job in Tucson a year and a half ago, sold my house and applied to study Scottish history at The University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness. They accepted me for the fall of '08 and I planned to use my inheritance to pay for my 4 years of schooling and living in Scotland. But we were unable to sell my dad's house and close the estate in time for me to go last fall. Plan B.... get a deferment from the university and go to Germany for the interim.

It was definitely a good decision to come to Germany. I have connected with cherished memories of living here before, gotten my certification as an English language teacher and started working, and have basked in the sheer joy of being close to Nikki again after missing her for so many months. All of the good things about being here, though, have been tempered by my disappointment in not yet getting to Scotland. I have consciously tried to mentally lock away my dream of a life in the Scottish Highlands and concentrate instead on the unexpected gift of getting to live in Germany for a second time.

Most of the time I do fine but every so often I will find myself listening to Celtic music, or in a conversation with someone from Scotland, or surfing the net and landing on some site or another having to do with Scotland and suddenly I'm just sad. I don't know any other way to explain it other than to say that my heart hurts. My yearning has not faded with time or been lessened by diversion. But I believe that everything happens for reason and I continually remind myself that when the time is right it will happen. Don't waste the gift of today by looking only for what will come tomorrow. It works most of the time.

Then....I got an email from my aunt and uncle the other day. My Aunt Carmen is handling my dad's estate which includes the sale of his house. After 16 months on the market the house has finally sold and the estate will be finalized next week.

I think it has taken me a few days to actually absorb the news. Suddenly my dream is within reach. I can go to Scotland this year! I can move to the Highlands and immerse myself in the study of Scottish history for the next 4 years. I can go hiking in The Great Glen; I can hang out at that cool little pub in Inverness; I can visit the Orkney Islands and go hiking on Hoy anytime I want to; I can go to the Edinburgh International Festival and I'll be in Inverness for the Highland Games this year...and next year and the year after that and the year after that! I'll eat haggis and drink single malt whisky (I'm not even sure what single malt is but I'm gonna drink it!) I'll celebrate Burns Day and learn to speak English in a way that my friends and family won't understand. I can go back to the memorial at Culloden Moor and see my stone on the Visitor's Center Walk. I'll learn all the words (not just the chorus) to my favorite traditional Scottish songs and sing along with the band, and when asked, I'll be able to say, "No, I'm not a tourist. I live here."!

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Great Weekend

I just had the loveliest weekend.

This was the final weekend of the Six Nations Rugby Tournament. The last three games were played back to back on Saturday so Nikki and I went to Murphy's Law Irish Pub to watch the first game with some friends, all of whom belong to the same expat group. After the first match we all hopped the train to watch the second and third matches at another pub in Heidelberg. I only just started watching rugby a few weeks ago but I've discovered that I really like it. The final game on Saturday was between Ireland and Wales to determine the league champions. Ireland won by a hair. It was a very exciting match.

Saturday night was also what is called Long Night at the Museum. The museums in Heidelberg, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen were all open until about 2am with special exhibits and pricing. It's quite festive and very popular. So after the rugby match about seven of us headed off to see the Body Worlds exhibition. I missed it in Phoenix and again in Pittsburgh so I'm glad I finally got to see it in Heidelberg. It was pretty cool. From there we took the train back to Mannheim to see an exhibition on the 1914 Shackleton expedition to Antarctica. By the time we emerged it was 12:30. The festivities were still in full swing and there was a lot more we could have seen but at this point we decided to call it a night. Bert was on a weekend hiking trip with a couple of friends so Nikki decided to sleep at my place. We tumbled into bed about 1:30 am.

On Sunday we met up with Clemens, Linda and Chrissie in a little town called Forst for a very unique celebration of Spring. Here is the official description:

Forst Hanselfingerhut

Forster Hansel Fingerhut
Forster Hansel Fingerhut

The village of Forst, well-known for its excellent wineries, is located on the German Wine Route on the slopes of the Haardt. On every Mid-Lent Sunday, this beautiful setting is used for the “Hanselfingerhut Spiel”, a special summer play to cheerfully drive out the winter.

The play has been performed since more than 200 years as historical documents mention it as early as 1721. Originating from immigrants from Switzerland and Upper Germany, the dramatic play has mixed with the local rituals to drive out the winter. The most lively and famous of the plays is performed in the wine village of Forst. Although the play looks far from extravagant to the outsider, it is still profound. In a literal sense, it truly is a people’s play that is spiced up with humor and originality. The play is based on the old Germanic idea of summer battling the winter.

The play is divided into four scenes and features six roles. The village road serves as the stage on which the play takes place. The first scene shows the fight between summer and winter for which purpose both actors are in small conical houses made from slats and poles. While the house of the winter is clothed in straw and crowned with a straw cross, the house of the Summer is covered with ivy and decorated with a little blue-and-white flags. Both houses have a peephole at head height so that the ‘warriors’ inside the houses are able to fight properly with their wooden sabers. After both warriors have carried their small houses down the village road and presented their respective advantages, the fight eventually starts and summer emerges as the winner.

In the second scene, the Henrich-Fähnrich appears, who resembles an officer cadet of the former landsknechts and who has the judicial authority. Henrich-Fähnrich decides on who has won the fight between summer and winter.

The main character of the summer play, the Hanselfingerhut, enters in the third scene. With ragged clothes and a sooty, oily face, he is holding a bale of soot in his hand. His look is meant to represent a vagabond who has squandered everything he owned. Nevertheless, he always feels like playing merry tricks on people and teasing young, beautiful girls. While he sings his small piece, he walks back and forth within the 5m distance between the two houses of Winter and Summer. At the end of his piece, he tries to catch one of the girls in the crowd, to press his black brand on her face with a kiss.

In the fourth scene, the Hanselfingerhut, who has become very weary in the meantime, is shaved by the barber and given inner relief by bloodletting from the toe. However, as the treatment is too strong, the Hanselfingerhut faints. While all the other characters surround him and lament, he eventually wakes up again after the Henrich-Fähnrich tickles his ribs with his saber. Nudelgret comes running and revives him with fresh pretzels.

So what happens is that these two guys, one wearing a winter cone (kind of like a portable teepee) and the other wearing a summer cone take turns taunting each other for about 5 minutes and eventually poke out their little wooden swords from their peepholes and fight. The 'judge' decides the winner (always summer). Then the Hanselfingerhut shows up ( he's the guy in the above photo who is dressed in rags and covered in black oily paint) for his part in the play which takes place in the street between the two 'Seasons'.

When the play is finished the entire production, including the crowd of onlookers, proceeds down the street and the play is performed all over again. They do this about four times. Part of the fun, though, is that 'Nudelgret', who is supposed to be a pretty girl, is a man dressed in silly 'pretty maid' clothes complete with bloomers, comical face makeup and braids. She sells her pretzels to people in the crowd when she's not performing. The Hanselfingerhut is also very busy in between his performances. He spends his 'off-stage' time running around kissing all the women. So by the end of the festivities all of the women and girls in the crowd have big black kiss marks on their cheeks.

The afternoon culminates with food and drink and the setting on fire and burning of another conical representation of winter in the town square. It's all great fun and, as Nikki pointed out, very pagen. A fabulous way to bid farewell to Winter and welcome the return of Spring!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wake Up Little Blog...

I've been home from Berlin for 4 and a half weeks and my poor blog has been more dormant during this past month than it was while I was gone! What have I been doing? I was only without an internet connection for about 5 days so that's not an excuse!

Well, I've been putting together a CV and rounding up work. So far I have 2 contracts. I'm teaching a class of 7 intermediate learners at BASF. They all work in one of the logistics offices and want to improve their English so they can echange emails and conduct phone conversations more effectively with their English speaking customers. We meet once a week on Thursday afternoons.

My other contract is with a family who is moving to the States in June. They have two boys (ages 10 and 12) and want the boys to have some tutoring before they go. I'm going to spend an hour and a half with them on Wednesday afternoons, starting tomorrow.

So right now I only have 2 and a half hours of work each week but I have a few other leads. Hopefully I'll have more contracts soon.

I'm loving my little apartment. There are 3 apts in the house. I have the top floor apt just below the attic so all of my outside walls slant inward. It feels like a little hobbit house. But it's got plenty of room for Lucy and me. She has settled in nicely. Poor old thing, I've moved her 3 times in the last year. She's 18 and a half years old now. I'll be lucky if she makes it to 19. Her last checkup a few weeks ago showed that her kidneys are starting to go. But her blood glucose level is fine so the kidney thing is not due to her diabetes. It's just old age. She can't get up on the bed or the couch by herself anymore, either. Her legs aren't strong enough to jump. So she "mreep"s at me and I have to reach down and help her up. We do this about 20 times a day. I even have to wipe her face after she eats! Not to mention having to put down puppy pee pads in front of her litter box because she doesn't always get her ass all the way in. And I worry about her when I'm gone for too many hours. It's kind of like taking care of an old person, I guess. But I don't mind. As long as she is comfortable and not in any pain I'll do what needs to be done.

Well, this post hasn't exactly been a glowing example of creative writing but it's late and I just wanted to check in with y'all.

BTW....Happy St Paddy's Day everyone!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

No Internet!

I feel like my right arm has been amputated. I lost my internet connection last Thursday evening. Peter and Barbara (the house owners) have a wireless router downstairs that, up until a few days ago, worked flawlessly for me. Now, for some reason, it's on the fritz. Peter says he thinks he might have to buy a new one. So I just have to wait. In the meantime, I'm going crazy!

I brought my laptop to Nikki's place this morning so I could get online. I'm trying to remember everything I wanted to do or send or check on but I know as soon as I get home I'll think of something I forgot.

I remember the days when we had no internet or cell phones or home printers; we all did just fine. Now, though, I'm absolutely lost without any one of them...