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Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

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I am in the process of unpacking a box filled with dishes from my old house in Kent, Ohio. The box was packed by my mother in the summer of 2000, before we moved from Kent to Amherst, Mass. We moved mid-August that year. Fifteen years.

I know the dishes were packed by my mom—systematic, careful, each china plate and each china cup wrapped in a plastic bag and, in turn, wrapped in newspaper. The newspaper, before 9/11. Summer 2000. Nobody knows. We are safe in our beds, we are asleep. We dream of our stock portfolios and our trips across oceans. Everything is normal and we are naive, babies. One more year and we’ll be in the shit forever.

But I want to write about the box.  As I get deeper into the box, pulling up the wrapped cups and saucers, I find droppings, shredded paper, acorn tops, seeds: evidence of mice.

The funniest thing to me, the most amazing, is that the mice had gathered up 6 or 7 pieces of a toy brick building kit from the same basement cupboard where the dishes had been stored.

Paul and I bought the brick house kit in Bavaria in 1992 on our honeymoon trip to Europe. We didn’t have kids yet, but knew we wanted a family. We loved the German toys: solid; well-made; beautiful in form, color, and design. The box was wooden with a lid that slid into the bottom, cleverly designed. The bricks were real and the kit came with mortar that you’d mix to make the structure permanent.

We never made the house out of the bricks, but one of my daughters would sometimes pull out the box and build up the little house as best she could. It was surprisingly more complicated than one would think (it does make a real structure after all) and the instructions were in German. Finally this year, I gave the toy away. Little did I know that several pieces were missing.

How did a little mouse carry a brick into its home? Do they drag these things with their mousey teethessess? These bricks do look as if they could be made into a mouse house, the scale would be appropriate, brick to mouse, bricks to mouse house.

In any case, I don’t like mice nesting in my house. They smell and they are abundant and secretive. They are cute as hell, the mice. I don’t think we have any any more, but when we bought the house, the entire house smelled of old mice nests and for good reason. The former owners apparently never cleaned and weren’t bothered by the old and musty odor emanating from the basement. It being a ranch house, this wasn’t far from kitchen and living quarters. Eww.

Paul pulled out the insulation from the basement rafters way back then and it was full of nests; hundreds of mice, no doubt.

Still, I think mice are amazing and adorable. Over the years, we had mice in spite of the fact that we always had cats and yet the mice thrived (throved?). Stupid cats.

The words German and brick inevitably make me think of the ovens of the Holocaust. I’m searching for photos on google images and even the little photos of German brick toy kits are too reminiscent of all things German for me.

My German mother and my German blood, my Jewish father and my Jewish blood. The brick ovens. It never stops, does it?

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It’s been a while since I’ve put up a poem. As usual, it’s pretty rough. I like a lot about it and I think I can make it work.

I’m almost done with my manuscript, but struggling to make a couple of poems tighter. AND I HATE writing cover letters. Oh, help!

Vinegar and Sugar
(the German word for please is bitte)

In my mother’s brain,
the area responsible for taste
has interchanged
with the area responsible
for memory

She does not ask me for “Vinegar sugar soup, bitte

But when I make lentils
for dinner,
she slyly opens the pantry door
(as if her desire to have a secret makes her invisible),
takes out the bottle of white vinegar,
and pours it into the soup

Mom, it already has vinegar in it

I like a lot, she says

She moves on to sneak the sugar bowl from the cupboard
and dances teaspoon after teaspoon
into her vinegar soup

All my Oma really wanted to eat
when she reached her 90s
was Schokolade

She stashed it in drawers
and behind books,
wrapped it in cloth and kerchiefs
in her little room
where they put her
with her little window
high up on the hill
at the top of the small
German town where she lived
most of her life
and died her only death

Now my mother
wants only sweet and sour
around her

She forgets
that she hates soup
and soup with beans
and that all they had to eat during the war
was soup
and beans
and her father’s rabbits and rooster

So,
sour or sweet,

who am I to stop her, bitte?

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I have been to Prague once, in December of 2008. Paul had a conference, not a mandatory thing, but we decided, due to decades of stories of Prague’s beauty, to seize the opportunity and go. The kids seemed old enough to leave for a week with my mother; it wasn’t Winter Break yet, the kids would be occupied, my mother would still have the middle of the day to herself.

Indeed, as much as me and jet lag don’t get along, the city proved to be worth dragging my ass a ways ’round the globe for.

Although Christmas Markets in Europe tend to be in Germanic countries, Prague, with its proximity and on-going trade with Germany, also has a one in its huge town square. I have mixed feelings about angels and for the most part find the concept to be overly saccharine and alternately creepy. But this one was truly enchanting. I use it as my Facebook photo sometimes around the holidays:

I went to a Christmas Market in Germany once, a small one, near where my cousins and aunt live in the Rhine Valley. It gave me the creeps. When I think of the Glühwein and the pretty decorations, the lights, singing, and trees, I think of my drunken grandfather, of rape, and of the Nazis. Friends sing the praises of the German advent season, but I want to scream. I am not trying for this, but growing up with a German mother who herself grew up in Nazi Germany, and having had an aunt who was a survivor of Auschwitz, I come by it honestly.

Prague, however, was different. Because I was not in the country or culture of my mother’s birth, I was able to “take what I liked and leave the rest.”

Certainly, our favorite thing was trdlo or trdelnik (from the treadle onto which they were traditionally rolled). We spent every next 3 or 4 bucks on one every time we got more money. They are ridiculously delicious, piping hot and smoky, rolled in ground nuts, cinnamon, and sugar:

Not all of the booths had live coals; some of the trdlo (we affectionately referred to them as “turd-lo,” because who puts t-r-d in a row without a vowel? Damn Slavic languages!) were cooked over electric coils. They were all the same damn delectable though.

Here are some more photos from our visit to Prague in 2008. If you have a chance to go, do. Everywhere you look is beauty.

There are 4 quarters in Prague, if memory serves. The following photos are from the Castle Quarter and the Old Quarter:

details, baby, details:

who doesn’t succumb to the temptation of a little golden serpent once in a while?

wealth:

wealth, in detail:

Crazy Euro-Christmas shit, in case you think Americans are the only ones with a tacky sense of the season. This was outside the huge castle on the big hill overlooking the whole of Prague, an entire straw nativity scene. Dig Mary’s crazy straw boobs:

No no no, my pets, the beauty doesn’t end there:

The penitent are all over Prague. I never saw a woman doing this, but plenty of men, real ones, not the cast-in-bronze kind:

A blind accordion player on the Charles Bridge

Crazy medieval Death, right on the wall of a church, where Death should be:

Prague is not averse to modern cool. Dig Frank Gehry’s Ginger and Fred:

And the last beauty of Prague? Yours truly, complete with ugly green down coat, on one of the bridges spanning the Vltava (again with the Slavic consonants!):

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Electricity was restored to our house last night at 1 am. Such relief I feel, oy! Can I get an “AMEN?”

Going commando update:

I realize that my attempt at fitting things into the category of going commando was fraught with false turns. It began to sound more like a Thankful Thursday than a post about underwear and nakedness. But it reminded me of a great story my mother tells from her childhood.

My mother grew up in Germany during the war. Her father had some relative–an aunt, a grandmother, a sister–I don’t really know and have never gotten the detail right on this–who had a farm away from the little Medieval town where my mother lived with her parents. They would send my mother to get fattened up because they had no food during the war. Rationing and what not.

My mother was particularly impressed with the woman at the farm. This woman, my mother says, was the hardest-working person she has ever met or seen. My mother has a memory of the woman working in the fields and lifting her skirt, squatting to pee and going back to her work. Lifting her skirt, no pulling down of any undergarments, squatting, peeing, and moving on. Almost like the women who work in the fields, squat to birth a baby, wrap it up, and keep working, the rhythm uninterrupted. How do they cut the cord? Where does the placenta go? Probably just hack it with a scythe and let it fall to fertilize the soil. Totally commando. Wow.

Two Peasant Women in the Peat Fields, Vincent Van Gogh, 1883

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