Friday, April 28, 2006

Books - April 2006

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
Essential reading if you're planning to visit Florence or Rome.

Barcelona Lonely Planet Guide
Follow their directions to Parc Guell; you'll ride open-air escalators instead of trudging up the hill with the sweaty masses.

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
Maybe you've heard of this one? It's dedicated to me, you know. Check the flyleaf.

Half in Love by Maile Meloy
Short stories about people I feel like I've met before. And the author is a young woman who was raised in Montana. And her brother fronts a hip band.

HTML for the World Wide Web by Elizabeth Castro
I told you I am a geek.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
It has some of the eerie futuristic elements of The Handmaid's Tale without feeling like science fiction. I was reluctant to jump on the bandwagon (I've been cranky about hype ever since I slammed shut The Corrections midway through and had it immediately removed from my home) but now I'm riding it right along with the book reviewers of the world.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Live Strong

Earlier this week, I hauled my bicycle out of the storage room and took a spin. Before you start getting all impressed, keep in mind that this bike is a four-speed cruiser with a basket. If I had a banana seat, an orange flag, and some plastic flowers I would hit the pinnacle of hipness. For now, I just have a nerdy bike helmet that makes me look like Mike Myers in the SNL skit where he played the hyperactive boy on a leash.

I bought the bike before we moved, from a craigslist advertiser in a fit of European dreaminess, picturing myself puttering along the cobblestones with a baguette in the basket. I had actually forgotten about the whole contraption until Jeff suggested I dust it off now that riding it wouldn't require all-weather-tires. So I pulled it out of the Fahrradraum (the special bicycle storage room near the Parking Space of Death, those Germans are so organized) and hopped aboard.

After my experience with German driving regulations, I shouldn't have been surprised to experience the supreme orderliness with which my fellow bikers and walkers share paths and roadways. I was used to seeing marked bike paths on busy streets, having come from The Most Bikeable City in America. But I also noticed (finally, after walking past them umpteen times before) the signs designating the bikers' side of the concrete paths through our nearby park versus the walkers' side. This is a good example of aspects of the German culture that I appreciate and ridicule simultaneously. Couldn't the walkers probably figure out that they should step aside when a bicyclist comes along, and shouldn't the bicyclists gently weave around the walkers on their own? Do we really need a sign to tell us what to do in this situation? However, isn't it nice not to have to look out for slow and apparently deaf walkers who won't get out of the way when I ring my cute little handlebar bell (a basket AND a bell!)? And isn't it nice when I'm walking along not to be nearly mown down by those reckless bicyclists?

By the way, please don't inform the German authorities of my Lance Armstrong moment, because I think there's another test I'm supposed to take to legally ride my bicycle through the park, and I'm just not mentally prepared for that kind of stress.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Blue and Green

Blue and Green
Remember all that complaining about the weather I did? I think it's time to shut up now.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Adaptation

Jason Kottke recently posted that it's easier to watch movies than read books along with an annotated version of The Guardian newspaper's list of best book-to-film adaptations.

His premise depends on how easy it is to sit through a bad film adaptation versus reading a good book (see: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). It took more time to read the book, yes, but the two hours I spent watching the movie weren't exactly easy. Even Clint Eastwood and John Cusack couldn't save it for me.

However, I digress. Here's my list (F = I've seen a film version, B = I've read the book).

1. 1984
2. [FB] Alice in Wonderland
3. American Psycho
4. [FB] Breakfast at Tiffany's
5. Brighton Rock
6. Catch 22
7. [FB] Charlie & the Chocolate Factory
8. A Clockwork Orange
9. [F] Close Range (inc Brokeback Mountain)
10. The Day of the Triffids
11. [F] Devil in a Blue Dress
12. [F] Different Seasons (inc The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Apt Pupil)
13. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (aka Bladerunner)
14. Doctor Zhivago
15. Empire of the Sun
16. [FB] The English Patient
17. [FB] Fight Club
18. [B] The French Lieutenant's Woman
19. [F] Get Shorty
20. [FB] The Godfather
21. [FB] Goldfinger
22. Goodfellas
23. Heart of Darkness (aka Apocalypse Now)
24. The Hound of the Baskervilles
25. [F]Jaws
26. The Jungle Book
27. A Kestrel for a Knave (aka Kes)
28. [F] LA Confidential
29. [FB] Les Liaisons Dangereuses
30. [B] Lolita
31. [B] Lord of the Flies
32. The Maltese Falcon
33. [B] Oliver Twist
34. [B] One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
35. Orlando
36. [FB] The Outsiders
37. [FB] Pride and Prejudice
38. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
39. The Railway Children
40. Rebecca
41. The Remains of the Day
42. [F] Schindler's Ark (aka Schindler's List)
43. [F] Sin City
44. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
45. [FB] The Talented Mr Ripley
46. [F] Tess of the D'Urbervilles
47. Through a Glass Darkly
48. [FB] To Kill a Mockingbird
49. Trainspotting
50. The Vanishing
51. Watership Down

A few glaring omissions spring to mind (A River Runs Through It, The Hours, and as Kottke observed, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy), but reading this list reminded me that, in the right hands, a good book really can become a great movie. Books like The DaVinci Code seem custom-made for the big screen, but even more subtle, literary stores can be adapted well. Now where's that mysterious film version of The Secret History I keep hearing about?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Elsewhere

A piece I wrote was recently published on Expatica.com, a site for English-speaking expatriates.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Faith

La Sagrada Familia
Photos of La Sagrada Familia have always frightened me. The spires are too tall, the stone is too dense, the sculptures drip down from their oblong niches like the faces of the villains in Raiders of the Lost Ark who stared too directly at the Holy Spirit. I was as excited as I was terrified to see the real thing for myself.

Late on Easter morning, we emerged from Barcelona's metro system into the first sunny day we had enjoyed during our short visit. I knew the cathedral must be behind me, because the tourists ahead of me stopped short at the top of the metro stairs and craned their necks upward, shouting, "There it is." So I turned and tipped my head back. And there, among construction cranes and throngs of student tour groups and blue Catalan skies, it was.

I've visited my fair share of European churches. At some point during the admiration of monstrous stained glass windows and hulking marble columns, someone, maybe me, says, "This took hundreds of years to build. Can you imagine, there are generations of people who only saw it partially completed. It is so ambitious and expensive and immense, something like this could never be built today. The religious fervor and the money just isn't there anymore." And then I would go on to the crypt and see the graves of the priests and the architects and one or two famous writers and artists who were buried there and who never saw the beauty of the finished product that I am enjoying.

Sagrada Familia is as gigantic an undertaking as I have ever seen. It incorporates hundreds of sculptures, tons and tons of stone, modern and ancient architecture, and years and years of labor. And it's only half-finished. Only eight of the twelve spires are complete. One entire facade was erected within the past twenty years. Its unenclosed interior is filled with scaffolding, and its windows are sparkly and new. It is untraditional and modern; its interior columns look like trees, their branches supporting egg-shaped spires with words and mosaics adorning them. The story of its construction is dramatic, involving political battles, financial struggle, war, and the tragic death of its visionary architect in a tram accident before the first towers were erected. It may not be completed within my lifetime.

I searched the crypt museum for a model of the completed church; I wanted to know what it would look like as a whole, and I was troubled when I realized that I will never know. Then it occurred to me, how many people get to experience the birth of art? And what more proof do I need that faith and ambition are alive than to see the construction cranes rising above these spires, poised to build an even higher central tower and dome? It is a frightening and glorious place, and I understood why so many faithful were still working to complete Gaudi's vision, to lift a giant hand to the heavens. If the Holy Spirit is anywhere, I realized, it's in there.

And then I made my way out of the church just in time, before my face began to melt right off.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Espana

Enjoy these photos from our trip to Barcelona. It was a refreshing and magical weekend. I'll write more about it later, after my siesta. What a civilized way to live.

I had a delightful birthday thanks to good wishes that came from every corner of my life (including the Interweb corner; thanks for your messages). And, I discovered that I share a birthday with Buffy and Farmer Ted.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

35

35
I have never been one to fret about getting older. I spend most birthdays basking in My Day, knowing that I am allowed to pick where we eat for dinner and that I'll be obliged to consume my favorite yellow cake with fudgy frosting afterward. Milestone birthdays are different only because they remind me to think about where I was five, or ten, or twenty years ago and where I might land five or twenty years from now.
Five years ago, I celebrated on a sunny Saturday with a professional manicure and pedicure, good weather, and drinks followed by a heavenly dinner at my favorite restaurant with close friends. I had cleaned my house the day before, so I had that feeling of surveying my world in the state in which it was intended. I spent my afternoon reading a book on the couch. I took a nap. I opened birthday cards and packages from friends and family. My husband and my mother both came through with fancy jewelry. I partied a few days later with another cake and a family dinner. Thirty didn't scare me. I was right where I had imagined I might be when I reached this milestone. I'd married the right person, found an interesting and challenging career, lived in a cozy home in a city I loved, and had the means to pay someone else to polish my nails.

Thirty-five has arrived and I am in a place I never imagined. I am alone much of the time, in a city that hasn't yet sparked a connection. I struggle to communicate. I left a job where I felt useful to embark on the path to becoming a writer, an artistic career steeped in rejection. I wake up each morning and question every decision - should I try to go out and get some exercise? Or should I sit down and meet my page-a-day goal? Am I doing my part in taking care of our everyday needs - clean house, hot food, lightbulbs changed, since that's my main contribution our livelihood these days? Shouldn't I make some German flashcards?

I never imagined that, at thirty-five, I would be bold enough to call myself a writer. I live in a new culture and every time I am brave enough to open my mouth and speak it is a small victory. I've visited three different countries in the past three months, and I'll see at least three more by summertime. I have time to enjoy visits from family and friends, to act as interpreter and tourguide. I am making my way through all the recipes I clipped from magazines and marked in cookbooks but never before had the energy to attempt. I am creating a story that I am proud of. Tomorrow, I will celebrate my birthday by flying to a city that I've never visited before, with my husband, the person who makes me laugh harder than anyone else, and who also loves me whatever my age.

This weekend, the western world celebrates Easter, and this month the northern hemisphere celebrates spring. New life, new plants, new sunshine, new baby chicks. Every year, every five years, every decade brings something new my way.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My Easter gift to you

Bun-O-Vision
I especially recommend "The Shining." (REDRUM REDRUM)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hippity Hoppity

We celebrated Easter a week early with tasty hot waffles, chocolate bunnies, and live sheep, all within a half block of our apartment building. The big Oster (Easter) market in Nurnberg drags on for two weeks, but our local Furth version was just three days long. It might lack the guy at the Nurnberg market who sells plastic kitchen utensils (how festive!), but it offers locally-produced art and tasty sausage rolls cooked before your eyes. Click on the photo above to see more.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Life in Europe

Window
I am writing this entry from the banks of the Pegnitz River, at the edge of the Hauptmarkt in the center of Nurnberg. I am gazing at a centuries-old bridge; well, it was centuries-old until it was destroyed sixty or so years ago during the bombing that flattened most of central Nurnberg. It was then rebuilt with reclaimed stone, during the rebirth of a decimated city. Within eyeshot are Tudor buildings, stone statues, and some significant architectural treasures.

I'm also drinking a decaf white chocolate mocha. At Starbucks. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Special Delivery

Back when I used to go to summer camp (I wish I could still go to summer camp, but that's a topic for another post), I lived for mail call. My camp was only a week long, so I think my mom actually had to mail stuff to me before I even left home, but she always came through with at least one care package. She would fill it will all kinds of goodies like Pop Tarts and Twizzlers and mini candy bars that she knew were my favorite things. Besides the killer sugar high that I am sure drove my camp counselor up the wall, the package gave me a reminder that someone, somewhere, was thinking of me.

Yesterday, when the parcel delivery guy buzzed my doorbell, I assumed he was contacting me because he wanted me to sign for a neighbor's package. I couldn't tell for sure, of course, because I still haven't learned enough German to speak to people without hand gestures, and he was talking to me through my building's intercom system. When I met him in the stairwell, he handed over a package addressed to me! Hooray! And when I ripped it open, I found this adorable purse, knitted by my frighteningly talented friend, Sandi. Aren't you jealous? It's even personalized. I was also lucky enough to receive a package full of Peeps from my awesome friend Daniela last week. I wish I could post a photo of them, but they are long gone. My mother-in-law came through with some Girl Scout cookies a couple of weeks ago, and my mom has been sending envelopes full of American gossip magazines.

As much as I love the internet, I won't give up on snail mail. I have the feeling some frosted strawberry Pop Tarts might be on their way.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Geek to Me

I'm learning to embrace my inner geek.

Some readers may have sensed The Geek's presence long ago when I begged for an Atari because the boys in the neighborhood all had them. And my former coworkers got tired of hearing about how every good idea is in search of its own web page. And I did give up cable television in favor of spending our family's entertainment dollars on high-speed internet service. But I always thought of myself as more of a geek-appreciator.

Don't get me wrong, I have not suddenly become fluent in twelve programming languages. However, I've recently found the time(!) and the bandwidth to do a bunch of exploration into the further reaches of the Web. I guess you could call me an amateur geek. And I've found a bunch of groovy stuff I am dying to share.

If you're geekier than I am (hard to imagine, I know), you already know about this stuff, so just surf on past. If not, here are some of my favorite sites and services that you might not have had the time to learn about yet. They're all free of charge, useful to geeks and non-geeks alike, and pretty easy to use.

Keep on clickin! (Yeah, that's the Inner Geek's motto. Humor her.)

del.icio.us
If you ever use more than one computer - work and home, for example - this one's for you. It saves all your bookmarks and allows you to easily tag and categorize newly-discovered sites. So, when you are using the computer in your NYC hotel's business center and can't remember the url for your favorite Big Apple restaurant review site, just log on to your del.icio.us. For those of us who can't even remember our own phone numbers (who? me?), let alone some long url, it's the best thing since speed dial. Also, it has cool sharing capabilities, so you can check out the most popular sites tagged by users, or share your tagged sites with your buddies.

Pandora
When I'm sick of my iTunes shuffle feature (I love those Ricky Gervais podcasts but they really break my rhythm when following a good New Order tune), I head to Pandora. It asks you for your favorite music, then plays a bunch of songs for you that it deems similar. What a great way to get turned on to some new music! And, no downloading or uploading or extra software required.

Flickr
So I've already told you about Flickr, and there's a big link to my Flickr photos on the sidebar. But it's such a great way to share photos in an interactive way - comments! notes! - and to spend (waste?) time enjoying others' photos. Click on the "most interesting" link to see the pix that users deemed most, well, interesting.

My Pyramid
I eat popcorn as a meal at least twice a week. With butter. My eating habits aren't always the best, and I find myself sitting on the couch with my vanilla Coke wondering why I'm both hungry and bloated at the same time. My Pyramid tracker helps me pay attention to whether or not I am getting a vaguely balanced diet, and how it's stacking up to my physical activity. The site is a little clunky, but I like it because it's not a "diet" site, it just helps me pay closer attention to what I eat.

Kayak
Another travel site to add to your favorites. The special thing about this one is that it searches a bunch of other travel sites and finds the best deals. It's the first one I've found that doesn't drive me crazy by popping up too many extra windows or sending me through a maze just to find the fare it allegedly located.

Blogger
Duh. Even if you don't want to write long boring stories about taking your driver's test, a blog can be a good way to keep in touch with friends and family, market your business, or, if you're a writer, keep your resolution to write every day.

I'm always on the lookout for cool new stuff on the web, so if you find a good site you like, send it along (or - better yet - post a comment below). Thanks for supporting your local geek-in-training.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Here I Am

To: The numerous people who found this blog by Googling "Rock Me Like A Hurricane."

You Rock. The Scorpions kick a%@. And you can probably find what you're looking for here. Though if you were the one who searched "rock me mama like a hurricane" you might be looking for something else?

I hope the person who found me by searching "hair band downloads" will let me know if they found some.

And if you are the one who was looking for "David Hasselhoff video with dachshund," I hope you enjoyed my link. I'm always happy to be of service.