Thursday, July 31, 2008

the real east enders

if you liked White Teeth by Zadie Smith or The Namesake by Jumpa Lahiri, have i got a book for you!

Brick Lane by Monica Ali was another one of those books i had picked up on numerous occassions but finally purchased on one of my recent visits to heathrow airport.

the story of a bengladeshi woman, nazneen, who moves to a country where she can't speak the language (england) and then sets about making her own nest resonated with me with each turn of the page. i could completely relate with how she gets to know herself, her husband, and her new home throughout the course of the story.

sometimes books just come into your life at the right time.

i love stories where the setting is a character of itself and this is one of them. it depicts a london that i have never known and that i couldn't know as an outsider. but this book, by refusing to apologise for its characters or their beliefs, lets you into the brick lane bangladeshi community.

and finally, i read a book where i liked the main character! my opinions of many of the other characters in the book, including nazneen's husband and children, changed as the story progressed, a testament to the depth of the characters and writing.

i just hope the movie does the book justice.

snippity snip

my hair is short! like tickle my neck, too short to put up in a pony tail (and apparently the word for bangs translates to 'pony' in english which caused great confusion during the hair cut). hold on, i have a photo.

the stylist was very sweet and tried her very best to speak english, which i really appreciated. the hair washing (which left a little to be desired and is on my favourite part of the hair cut) happened in the basement of this very old building with vaulted brick ceilings and that made me feel all european.

the rest of my day yesterday was spent sorting the last bits of the great eastern european (+ paris) adventure and i will be flying on an airline called wizzair. which sort of makes me giggle everytime i hear it.

travel planning is hard, also harder than i expected. but the sin is getting easier, so that is a plus.

the itinerary is the following - train to berlin, spend 3 days in berlin, train to prague, spend 3 days in prague, train to ceske budejovice (which i had to get the friendly czech rail guy to pronounce for me and i still don't know how to say it), spend 2 days in ceske, train to budapest, spend 3 days in budapest, fly to paris, spend 5 days in paris, fly to hannover, train home. or something like that. but that is a lot of trains, planes, and hotels to coordinate!

but also a lot to get excited for and we leave on saturday!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


- it was 38 degrees when i woke up and cooled down to 36 by noon

- i handwashed a lot of clothes and realised i get a little obsessed with clothes drying when they are on the line (or in my sunroom and throughout my kitchen when there is no line) and check them regularly to see if they are dry yet. that's what you call a touch of the ocd.

- i used the automatic stamp producing machine to post some things today. i have never seen this system before but it is brilliant. trust the germans to come up with such efficiency. the true test was if i used it probably and that mail arrives at its intended destination...

- i made a hair appointment for tomorrow with the stylist who speaks the best english in the shop. wish me luck!

- i bought a hat (not necessarily in anticipation of the hair cut, but it doesn't hurt) and a blue handbag, which i needed just slightly more than a hole in the head. but i figure that if the soldier always asks me to carry his wallet around, i should have a tool that is fit for the job.

- while caught in an afternoon shower as i walked home, i pondered how i have a teensy fear of umbrellas. and not in the way that i think they will attack me when i am sleeping but in that i fear a finger getting caught when you take it down. i realise this is totally irrational and i am blaming some adult in my childhood who probably warned me against getting my finger stuck and i have it ingrained in my head that you should be careful around umbrellas. the same way i also feel you should take care around escalators. i don't think the kids in this town get that lesson as they regularly play on the escalators and cause me great grief as they ride them up and down and up and down in BAREFEET. that is like asking to loose a toe.

- the friendly postie delivered my first piece of mail addressed to me as frau. (it was our train tickets to prague for next week, yippee!)

Monday, July 28, 2008

living in sin

is tough, tougher than i thought.

i don't tend to do things half-way and this was no different. i gave up my job, gave up my lovely little nest in nairobi, and moved to a country i had never been, where i did not speak the language, to be with someone i had not lived in the same country with since november 2007.

sounds a bit romatic when i say it like that.

the whole cross continental move was made tougher by the fact that when arrived our flat was not ready (or the outgoing tenant's new flat was not ready so somehow that meant we had to stay at a hotel and wait an extra 5 days and pay for a hotel in EUROPE for 5 nights, grrr....) and then once we moved into our new (love) nest, the soldier left for 11 days to play bang, bang, you're dead somewhere in a field in germany. to practice for a war that he will not fight in because he has already given the queen the finger-under-chin-flick and left the army (and for which i am eternally grateful).

so i wandered around the streets, price compared, purchased the necessities for a 3 month stint, read a lot of books, listened to a lot of music, saved birds, and wondered if this was perhaps the worst decision i had ever made.

then he got home, was filthy, showered, and the fighting, arguing, and bickering began. it sucked. who cooks (me), who cleans (me), who makes coffee better (me), who makes the bed (neither of us), who picks up their clothes (pfft, where would they go, back in the suitcases/boxes?), and who works (him) and is generally exhausted monday - friday (him).

but i think the worst of the adjustment is over. it ended when we decided to sit outside in the 36 degree heat on saturday afternoon and have a beer and a bite to eat. those beers are just so delicious on such a hot day that we had 3. did i also mention they are big?

the shops here close on sundays and as i had neglected my housegirlfriend tasks late last week, we were thin on the ground in the food department - we had to go for a shop.

and there is nothing like healing a relationship like going grocery shopping together. drunk. if we were not living in germany, i would have been mortified by my breath reeking of beer instead of just mildly uncomfortable as it were.

now i feel things are on the mend. due, in large part, to having the www at home (also my job and more tear enducing as the rest once german call centres were factored in). and this monday morning i was up at 6:30am seeing the soldier off to work (paintballing is considered work, thank you british tax payers) and feel pretty good about the future.

i am melting again and feel that perhaps a very large, very cold german beer is in order. it's sort of become a hobby.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

isolation, no more!

i just want to say to the internet, i am back and that i am SO happy that i am no longer feeling isolated from the world without internet at home.

i am not sure if that is a sad example of our inability to be 'alone in the world' or a demonstration of the connective powers of the www, but i am back and couldn't be happier to have lucille up and running on the internet (and for free for the time being courtesy of a little deutsche telekom mix up).

podcasts, email, job applications, travel planning, blogs, amazon, facebook - here i come.

Friday, July 25, 2008

reading machine

(july 18, 2008)

with extra time on my hands, i have been doing a lot of reading and am happy to report i have two big thumbs-up recommendations.

the first is a book that i had heard a lot about, but was always turned off because of its title, is Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. it is a book that answers a lot of questions i have always had about why countries like canada were colonised but countries in europe were the colonisers and why certain technological advancements have never taken hold in sub-saharan africa. it is a non-academic academic book that tells the scientific story of how guns, germs, and steel (and other fascinating things like plant and animal domestication)dictated who colonised who and explains the current power distribution in the world.

if i had a critique, it would be that the book is too much about papau new guinea and the author’s own experiences and that it drags in places, especially where he goes over concepts he has already covered. but his day job is a uni professor, so i guess that is to be expected. i loved the first half of the book about plant and animal domestication (and now i know why no one bothered to domesticate zebras, which are EVERYWHERE in africa doing little else than eating and herding together) and how our fruit and vegetables became edible. a good read.

the second book on recommendation, although a quarter of the size of the first, is as difficult to read due to the setting and topic of the book. i had had this book on my To Read list for ages and finally found it on (thanks to my ma!) and brought it with me to germany. titled A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali and written by canadian author Gil Courtemarche and translated into english from its original french, it is a fictional account based on a journalist’s experience of the situation at the famed Hotel Milles Collines (Hotel Rwanda) during the genocide in 1994.

if i had to find a word to describe the feel of the writing it would be raw. but i think that it is warranted and as hard as parts are to read and as the author says in the preamble, the story is not wholly fabricated.

interestingly, the book also chronicles canadian involvement in rwanda before and during the genocide, Romeo Dallaire’s role in the conflict, and the lifestyle of the humanitarian aid workers in kigali. i always enjoy these accounts as they are close to home for me and my recent experience. this book deserves to be read.

my book pile is running low and soon i will have to dig into the soldier’s conspiracy theory books (...), does anyone have any reading recommendations? not having english book stores to peruse makes it tough to remember books i wanted to read to look up on amazon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

riparian entertainments

(july 14, 2008)

i had made a plan to go for a riverside picnic for our first proper german sunday together, had bought a picnic basket, and prepared the menu. but when we woke up on sunday morning from a night of drinking german beer in all of the soldier’s old haunts (and our new neighbourhood pub), we had to postpone the picnicking until we both went back to bed to rid ourselves of our 12% hangovers.

we did manage to make the picnic a reality even though i had to sneak by our new neighbourhood pub wrenched with guilt from having stolen fruit from their bartop fruit bowl 12 hours prior (maybe it was there for their customer’s enjoyment??) and it was my idea to stop to get a coke from the shop nearby. and the last time that i remember voluntarily choosing to drink coke was over a year ago when i was hot as balls at the egyptian pyramids. i really don’t like coke, but at times it is a healer.

our picnic got underway, my soldier graciously carried the picnic basket although i don’t think he realised it was about a 3km walk, and we arrived to find our picnic table free and got more than a few ‘bon appetites’ from passing germans (who knew that phrase was so universal?) as we laid out our spread. bakery bread, brie and tilster, raspberry salad, fresh tomato and basil, french wine (bought at the grocery store for a few euro – love that!), and milka chocolate.

a wander back to our flat and en evening spent watching the second pirates of the Caribbean while drinking tea (me) and milk with canadian imported oreos (him) rounded out a day that hadn’t started out exactly as planned, but turned out perfectly in the end.

and thankfully there was no bird involved in this german sunday.

sourcing the news

(july 9, 2008)

i don’t get much news when i can only steal wireless periodically and there are no english language newspapers around these parts. i depend on the cbc podcasts to get my fill of current events.

with the news comes opinions and here are mine.

i am one of the two thirds of canadians that supports the awarding of the order of canada to dr Henry Morgentaler, one of the pioneers of the pro-choice movement. but that shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

Phillip Gourevitch has written another book, this one about the stories behind the photos at abu ghraib prison in iraq. i never had much of an interest in the photos or what is going on in iraq (i know, i know, i feel as though i should considering i’ve been a student of international relations and am involved with someone whose employer spearheaded the invasion), but now that Gourevitch has written a book, i am going to look it up. the man did a phenomenal job with his book about rwanda and i am interested in what he has to say.

alberta’s government has been to the uk to recruit 50,000 workers and the dude in charge at the legislature is selling the prospect by saying that you can enjoy the winter delights of alberta, including curling. and who wouldn’t move to northern alberta so that they can spend their free time at the fort mcmurray rink learning the great sport of curling while their snot freezes and people growl at them to hurry hard! no wonder people think we are such nerds.

canada was not a vocal participant in getting the cluster munitions treaty passed in dublin recently. we were there, we signed, but we advocated to dilute the treaty. now, if you are fighting alongside an ally who has not signed the treaty (america, america, america...) you are free to use them too. when is canada ever going to be in a position to demonstrate that it is against the use of such weapons if we are constantly beside the us in all armed warfare? here’s hoping obama jumps on the dublin bandwagon that had over 100 states sign.

why do so many people think that the un can save zimbabwe, including Morgen Tsvangeri? the un will not save zimbabwe and cannot act in a country without that country’s permission. it is as ludicrous as saying that the un should have sent peacekeepers into kenya – peacekeepers are not deployed as world police, they are positioned to maintain peace between two belligerent sides of a conflict. and my thinking on this is that few countries are keen on deploying their soldiers anywhere to undertake peacekeeping at the moment, including and especially canada. and we invented peacekeeping.

Maxime Bernier seems like a bit of a doofus, if you ask me. good riddance.

canada and scandanavia are the areas that stand to gain from climate change. not that there is much of an upside to the whole global warming phenomenon, but if there were, that’d be it.

courtesy call

(july 9, 2008)

when i don’t need to wake to an alarm and roll out of bed to throw on the least wrinkly clothes to get to work on time (as much as i love mornings, i am beginning to think that i am not a morning person), i like to leisurely take my time after i wake up, have a cup of tea, listen to a cbc podcast, read my book, do the previous night’s dishes, and stay in my pyjamas until i am good and ready to get moving on the nesting that has to be done.

last week, on a few mornings between 9 and 10 my doorbell would ring and i wasn’t sure if it was the downstairs bell ringing or the one immediately outside my door. as my front door has foggy glass so you cannot see through it but can see movements, i would have a minor panic attack and would try not to move so as not to make The Squeakiest Floor Ever squeak and to draw attention to the fact that i was inside my flat but just not answering the door.

as my german is at best abysmal and i did not want to meet my neighbours with bed head, a cup of tea, and my striped pyjamas, i would sit still and patiently wait for enough to time to pass to assume that if anyone was outside of my door they would figure i was not in. sort of like how they count to 5 on LOST.

late last week i poked my head out of my giant front window and saw the mailman riding his bike away shortly after the bell rang. what a nice courtesy to ring my bell when i have mail! no more need for me to creep quietly around in the mornings to conceal the fact that i am taking my lady of leisuredom seriously.

and how about that mailman on a bike?!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

get your own damn nest

i knew something was amiss when i woke up with a start this morning and was instantly alert. on a normal morning, it takes me awhile to convince my eyelids to stay open and i am useless at conversation or significant thoughts.

but today at 7:30am, i shot straight up and knew that there was a foreign sound coming from inside my flat that should not be there.

i waited a moment and heard it again, a sound like scurrying or stirring coming from my kitchen. it was the type of noise that would come from a small animal and my worst fears were confirmed as i crept along The Squeakiest Floor Ever to peak into the kitchen to find a small black bird bustling around our breakfast nook, repeatedly flying into the window to join its bird family that lives in the nest above our flat.

i wasn’t sure what to do to get that bird out of my home and it took every last ounce of my courage to even get near the thing as birds are my least favourite animal, second only to bats. but thank goodness for all that LOST watching lately, because i channelled some survival-on-a-deserted-island strength, put on my rubber gloves (it seemed sensible) and grabbed a cotton shopping bag (it was either that or my new tea towels).

but as soon as i got near it, all that deserted island strength disappeared and i just threw the shopping bag on top of the bird, that by now was terrified and stunned. i took off my gloves and considered what i would have to do if the bird died in my flat and figured that that would be just as bad and i would not be able to just leave it there for 5 days until my favourite soldier gets home. and i was having a conflict of conscious of not helping the poor animal when i knew that i could.

i considered opening the window wide so that the next time it tried to break free, it could join its family that was swirling around, chirping as if they knew someone was missing, but then i had a Hitchcock like image of more coming in and taking over my newly nested kitchen. (i think it had erroneously squeezed in through a tiny crack at the top of the window, thinking it was its nest, silly thing)

i had no choice but to put the gloves back on and grabbed a piece of cardboard that i figured i would use to scoop up the bird. but when i finally close enough to the bird and in a burst of adrenaline, used the shopping bag to wrap the bird and twisted it up, opened the window when no other birds were nearby, and put it down on our 3rd floor ledge.

as i quickly closed the window it realised it was free and flapped its wings and flew away. i was still afraid that it might be disoriented and fall off the ledge, thus still making it my problem, but lo and behold, the bird flew away. which i guess i should have suspected because that is what birds do, even injured ones.

so much for those lovely, open german style windows!

Friday, July 04, 2008

a friday night in a german town

happy birthday america! at least i think that today is your birthday, independence = birthday, right?

i just had a greek salad for dinner thanks to an afternoon of grocery shopping and am sitting on my nest’s floor due to lack of furniture (we have a couch but i am sick of the couch) and a sore back, listening to the british forces radio station that i just discovered, and eating ritter sport.

my german friend told me that ritter means knight. sadly, this german friend is in kenya at the moment and can’t help me with other translations. like the damn atm! i finally gave up with the german bank card and used the british bank card, so the machine would speak english to me.

not knowing the language of the local population is a rather humbling experience, to say the least.

nesting is a lot of work and i usually look at the time around 5pm and wonder what happened to the day. i think it is all the thinking that is needed when you are in a new place, it makes time move faster. the nest is getting nestier, but i have suffered a setback when the suction cup holder for the bathroom will not suction. perhaps the wall needs a good scrub before it will stick.

i anticipate a lot of washing and cleaning in my future. i have kaiboshed the idea to buy a washing machine because it just seems like a lot of hassle and lot of money when uniforms can be washed at the army and i can handwash the rest of it. besides, there is a drycleaner around the corner and they can do sheets and towels, right?!

we will see what comes of this set-up, but i did spend yesterday morning washing things in my tub and it reminded me of my sunday morning ritual of washing my ‘little things’ when i lived in south africa a few years ago. sundays in the town of bredasdorp, rsa are a lot like sundays in the town of hameln, germany – not much is open and people are having picnics, walking in the parks, or otherwise entertaining themselves without buying stuff. we have decided to institute ‘german sundays’ when we eventually get back to canada.

the music choice of the british forces radio is a bit too young-lads-heading-out-on-the-piss for my tastes, but i am holding out for the news. it will be interesting to hear what they focus on when the audience is the armed forces.

and that is my friday night. less than a week of this darn army exercise and then i can ditch the radio for real conversation.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


with a lot of extra time on my hands comes reviews of books, movies, and tv shows. in true form of the me, me, me format of blogs – here is what i think about the following.

a little book called Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? by Thomas Kohnstamm caught my eye at chapters because it is an autobiographical account of lonely planet writer’s first assignment. i am glad that i read it, but not glad that my other purchase that day was a lonely planet guide! it digs into the seedy world of backpackers and hostels and in that sometimes disgusting process, also talks about the way in which those lp writers get their information (and the women along the way). the writer is fantastic and has a sharp wit and cynicism that is just my style and his story is pretty interesting.

a little movie that i had heard of on the dark continent but had no concept of was 3:10 to Yuma, which also came recommended by my little big brother. perhaps you have heard you have heard roper and ebert or whoever is on that show now, i didn’t recognise that new guy who is neither roper nor ebert (probably because at least 1 of them is dead) review this movie. but i liked it. quite a bit. more than i thought i would for a movie with so much shooting and killing and guns.

my favourite parts were the sounds of the horses and wagons, the music, and the limited dialogue that seems to be a showcase of any shortstory adapted to the big screen (think Brokeback Mountain). i am not sure about the ending, but i think that is what makes this a good story and not just a hollywood shoot ‘em up western. go peter fonda!

another little blockbuster that is new to me is Lost. it is on my boyfriend’s laptop and since he is not around to play scrabble with these days, i have taken up Lost episode watching. i have started at the first season and made my way through 8 episodes.

i am not convinced that i would still be watching it if i had other options, but i will continue to admire the actress who plays the canadian girl’s, whose name i feel as though i should know, arms. those pipes are envy worthy.

just 9 more days of entertaining myself. stupid army.

the importance of goals

it is the early hours of the morning (well, for me at 9:00am – who needs to adjust to jetlag?) and i was just woken up by a car accident outside my flat. it is not a very busy road, but from my calculations, the black car clipped the yellow car as they were headed in the same direction. and that is just too much excitement for me not to get up and charge up the old ipod so i can go for my first run in the new town.

along with going for a run, my goals today are to fill my fridge with groceries (or as much as i can carry with 2 trips to the supermarket), watch a few more episodes of lost (which is sort of like a glorified survivor episode, but my options are limited so i will take it), and sort out our coffee maker so i can get back on the caffeine train.

and that, ladies and gentlemen, is what my life consists of these days. it would involve a lot more trip planning and communicating if i had the old www in flat. or could find out whose wireless network is called fritz! and see if they would be so kind as to give me their password...

my warmest regards

(july 1, 2008)

happy birthday canada! you don’t look a day over 125.

yes, i am still alive and haven’t been eaten by the germans.

it has been a whirlwind week where we unexpectedly had to stay in a hotel, got into our flat late, and punched each other in the wiener about a hundred times. that is why i affectionately refer to the Love Nest as the Wiener Punching Nest, but i am sure that will change soon. or whenever we get the internet working in our flat, whichever happens last.

here are my first observations of the little german town that i now call home:

the buildings are very pretty and very old. and are just like a fairy tale. according to my reading on the subject, this makes perfect sense as the brothers grimm were german and gathered up all the folk stories and combined them into what we now know as fairy tales. hameln, is the home of the pied piper, the creepy story of the man who drove all the rats out of the town then used his little creepy pipe to entice the children to chase him out of the town as well. pervert.

i love my new nest. love it. want to import the whole of it to canada in september (which is where i intend to live at the end of this little european adventure, if i have not mentioned it before). our third floor flat has got to have the squeakiest floor i have ever laid foot on and a little breakfast nook that i like to call Heaven (ok, no i don’t because that would be as creepy as the piper himself) – it is where i intend on eating lots of healthy breakfasts (once we find a table and chairs) of produce bought from the bitsy streetside markets. our bathroom is adorable (apart from the gross german style toilet) and i love the windows in european houses. who needs a screen?! just open the whole thing up and let the fresh air in.

there are some rather dark complexioned germans. i suppose that anyone who had been here would know that, but i was surprised. i still wished i looked less european in this setting, however, because then i could be forgiven for NOT HAVING A CLUE what anyone ever says to me. apart from giving directions to the german man in overalls (it begs to be mentioned) to the potato house restaurant when he asked me on the street.

boyfriends in camouflage uniforms are delightful, even if they live in gross and stinky army blocks with other gross and stinky soldiers. but that should all change once he is delicately plucked from the grips of that damned army. just need to get over this dumb army exercise that he is on for the next 9 days, playing soldiers.

beer is sort of like a food group of its own and it is also what i live to call Heaven. it is so delicious and all the kinds are so equally delicious that you just order a beer and it is always delicious. please remember the poor (german? greek?) server who spilled an entire delicious beer all over me in your prayers. the poor dear felt so bad, he brought us shots of ouzo then more beer and didn’t charge us for any of it. little did he know that i was just so happy to live in my new nest that day, you could have spilled the entire bottle of ouzo on me and i wouldn’t have minded.

although our little town is little, i love that there is a bakery around the corner, two pubs within spitting distance, and you can walk to get groceries (walking back is the tricky part, so i do things in shifts – i got nothing but time). i am not so in love with the church choir that is singing on a tuesday evening, but i am drowning them out with my new itunes playlist summering in europe tunes. rumour has it that there is an ikea down the road that has my name written all over (rumour about my name, not the existence of the ikea), so that should make my afternoons of housegirlfriend-dom a titch more exciting.

there are about a million and two other things that i could report, but i will leave you here and get back to entertaining myself sans soldier in these most delicious late sun evenings of summer that i have been missing in my former equatorial home.