Monthly Archives: February 2014

Dignity in the details

kaffee zum hier trinken

Image courtesy of Cafe Arkona in Berlin

Last night as I fell asleep the image of a coffee cup came to mind. In this moment the coffee itself was beside the point; it was the feel of the smooth white ceramic in my hands, the matching saucer that would surely come with it, a cookie or two on the side. It could come from any café in Berlin at all. It’s just the way things are done here; coffee is served with dignity.

In one of our first weeks here I learned the phrase zum mitnehmen, which felt like a personal triumph because it’s such a drawn-out way to ask for your order “to go,” but over the months I’ve come to appreciate zum hier trinken. I’d like the cup-and-saucer treatment, please.   Continue reading

Verdi doesn’t believe in happiness

Aida

Aida and Radamès in the Staatsoper performance of Aida. Image courtesy of the Staatsoper.

I went to the opera with M on Saturday night. My job, it seems, was to stay awake. Jetlag from my recent trip to Australia sent me to bed most nights before 8 p.m. for the past week, and every night I’d try to stay up just a little later, working my way toward Saturday’s three-hour performance of Aida at the Staatsoper im Schiller Theater. Continue reading

Orient me

Grosser Tiergarten

Großer Tiergarten. Image courtesy of stadtentwicklung.berlin.de

We left the girls alone in the apartment since their groans told us they had no interest in joining us for a walk through the Tiergarten. M and I headed out midday under sunny Sunday skies, with the temps in the 40s. We took Eisenacherstraße north through our neighborhood, farther than I’d ever followed it, to the point where it changes names. I made an effort to lodge the name Courbièrestraße somewhere in my brain so I could find it again later. From there we turned right and emerged on a main thoroughfare, and I took a moment to turn around and observe the small opening, filing it away for future reference. Continue reading

Communications interrupted

dell laptopThere’s no getting around it; my laptop is dying. I’ll be working along, minding my own business, and all of a sudden the screen will go black and my work will disappear behind a dark, impenetrable screen. Every tenth time or so I’ll get the Blue Screen of Death. It’s rather tiresome and it’s happening all too often, but it’s better than the alternative. No laptop at all.

If I had an employer I’d ask them to kindly replace it. There has always been an employer; a staff member savvy in IT who can pump another year of life out of the device, or be the one to give the official word that you’ve earned a replacement. You’ve killed the sucker. Continue reading

Now that’s what I call music

ImageThe flight from Bangkok to Frankfurt was half-full, and I had three seats to myself, room to stretch out, in theory. Yet even when the seats are empty, they are so rigid that it’s hard to relax and succumb to sleep.

In the row ahead of me was an older German couple. They both had white hair, and though I couldn’t hear most of their words, I could hear them each say “Bitte?” frequently. They sat with an open seat between them, her by the window, him in the aisle seat, and with the loud noise of the engine they could barely hear each other and had to keep repeating their words. I love the word bitte for its many uses—“please,” “you’re welcome,” and the way they were using it, more like “Pardon me?” or “Come again?” They sounded kind and respectful when they said it; they never devolved into an annoyed “Was?!” Continue reading

A trip to the sea

Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road along the southern coast of Australia. Photo courtesy of Melbourne.visitorsbureau.com.au

We set out for the coast later than planned. Deb and I arrived at the car rental place in downtown Melbourne at 10 a.m., as requested, but the line for the second-floor office went all the way down the stairs to the street. Ned showed up with his backpack and rolled a cigarette and stood outside with me in the strong sun until Deb emerged over a half hour later with the keys to our blue Holden Cruze with New South Wales plates. Continue reading

Unmoored

ImageWe landed within hours of one another at Melbourne Airport, arriving from opposite ends of the earth. My sister was returning from Denver, her other home, having been called back to handle a work crisis only she could solve. She flew west through California, crossed the Pacific, the equator, and the international dateline to return to her apartment.

Meanwhile I flew east, stopping in Bangkok, one 10-hour flight after another, heading east and then south to join her in the steamy mid-summer of Melbourne.

We were each exhausted in different ways, droopy eyes blinking in the blinding sun. She trundled in to work that first Friday, pushing past lack of sleep to greet her colleagues, bring them news of the ailing project back home.

“I’ve left some bags of clothes I’m going to donate,” she said before she left. “Feel free to take anything you want.” Continue reading