Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Books - May 2006

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Armin
Politics among women haven't changed much over the years; humor remains intact as well. And, fortunately, so has the dreamy beauty of the Italian countryside.

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
A breezy read for anyone who loves Ms. Austen.

Shopaholic Abroad by Sophie Kinsella
A Bridget Jones knockoff that I picked up in desperation at one bookstore's lackluster English-language section. Unfortunately, by the end, I was in agreement with the heroine's detractors who saw her as an irresponsible airhead.

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler
A soothing story about one woman's musings on the life that could have been.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
I'm not sure why I manage to forget how funny this book is, but each time I re-read it I am surprised by how many times I laugh out loud. Also, more lovely Italian and English scenery.

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry
This is the best portrayal of a down-and-out small town in the American west that I've ever read. Read it and see why Larry McMurtry can get away with wearing jeans to the Oscars.

Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh
This nonfiction account of three high-power women and their struggles to balance competing life goals rings just as true as it did when it was published ten years ago. It's especially interesting to read the section on Meredith Vieira, written post-60 Minutes disgrace and pre-The View, Millionaire and Today success.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I re-read this smart page-turner every couple of years and am reminded why it's still one of my favorite books, even though I know the answer to the mystery. Creepy and cool.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
A behind the scenes look at the career of the New York Times food critic and woman of many faces. Recipes included.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Der Links

I will be away from the computer for the next week or so. For your enjoyment until I return (after breaking out in hives from lack of DSL access), I leave you with the following musings of my fellow German transplant bloggers:

Jen at Heisse Scheisse describes the German fascination with, um, bodily functions, and the toilet they've designed to satisfy their curiosity.

I feel Hamish's pain as he adjusts to watching favorite American films and sitcoms, dubbed in German.

Over at Ich bin die Ananas, we see a (fairly extreme) example of how, in Deutschland, no one is a stranger.

For proof that I'm not the only one around here who has a parking spot that resembles a theme park ride, see Eurotrippen.

And if you were excited to hear that David Hasselhoff is still alive and well and rocking in Europe, check out Megan's discovery of another megastar you had probably forgotten about.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

But can they play the guitar with their tongues?

If you've been caught up in the American Idol hoopla, you might have missed the results of this year's Eurovision song contest. Eurovision, a contest famous mainly for the long-term obscurity of its winners, its complex voting procedures, and ABBA, was won this past weekend by Finnish band Lordi. Their song, Hard Rock Hallelujah, harkens back to hair metal at its best, and the band members are known for their elaborate monster costumes, without which they refuse to be photographed. Lordi's victory was somewhat controversial, seen by many (especially the second-place Russians) as a protest against the traditionally pop-oriented tenor of most Eurovision songs.

I'm sharing this information with you mainly because I believe it's high time for the emergence of an heir to KISS. And because I wanted an excuse to link to the band's website, which includes a warning that it contains "strong monster violence and gore."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Home is where the nuclear power plant is

I watched a nuclear cooling tower explode this morning.

Thanks to CNN video, I learned that one of the landmarks of my former home stands no more. The plant was closed thirteen years ago, and the destruction of the tower is just another step in the decomissioning process. I'm not sad to see it go, but I felt indignant when I saw the news online, like I was out of the loop. Shouldn't someone have informed me about this major development?

And then, I remembered. I don't live there anymore.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Everything's coming up Spargel

It's spargel season in southern Germany, which means that perky vegetable stands have popped up at every curve of every road, and each restaurant menu features a special slate of spargel dishes. Spargel is a special species of asparagus grown in our area for just a few weeks each year. They are covered with soil and deprived of sun during their growing season so that they emerge chubby and healthy yet completely without color. Albino asparagus, I guess.

I enjoy a dose of asparagus now and then but I haven't yet developed a taste for these naked-looking specimens. I do appreciate the idea of eating vegetables when they are actually in season, but apparently I haven't totally integrated yet because I didn't order the spargel pad thai at our local Thai restaurant last night.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In case you care

-Chris, my predicted American Idol champion, was voted off the island last week. Shocking, yes, but his departure (along with Elliott's not-unexpected exit) turned the final competition into more of a horserace. Will we have Kelly Clarkson II? Or is America ready for a Ray Charles/Joe Cocker/Doobie Brothers hybrid? I like them both, but I do have a hard time seeing a Taylor Hicks single at the top of the Pop charts. Adult Contemporary, perhaps.

-I can't believe I have to repeat myself, but I'd like to make another request to the gossip media to lay off Katie (um, Kate) Holmes for five seconds. Did I really read somewhere that she's being accused of faking stretch marks for the cameras? And subtly revealing them when the breeze blows her blouse aside?

-It's hard not to feel a little sorry for Dan Brown. I guess that's what you get for writing a book everyone in the world wants to read - sued and booed. Reviewing his bank accounts probably cheers him right up, though.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fu╬▓ball spielen

Jeff asked me to alert you that the UEFA Champions League final will be played today - FC Barcelona versus Arsenal FC - and now that we live in a civilized country, he will be able to watch it from our couch instead of sneaking peeks online at the office. He also asked if I wanted to install a countdown to the World Cup ticker on my blog, but I tactfully declined.

Monday, May 15, 2006

My Old Kentucky Home

When I used to travel outside the USA a tourist, I felt that eating at McDonald's was some kind of cultural betrayal. Why eat Le Big Mac in Paris when the crepes were plentiful, cheap and unavailable in the average American strip mall? I have always been more of a Wendy's gal anyway, (notwithstanding the the best fast food in the universe), so a trip to the golden arches was rarely on my vacation agenda.

During our first months in Germany, however, McDonald's beckoned me. I resisted its advances, saving it until the day I knew would come, when I just couldn't find the energy to decipher a German menu or enter a bakery and point hopefully at something I believed to be a lunchtime item. I knew, at the House of Ronald, that I could place an order and be understood, and that the food would taste as expected. It was like eating at my grandma's house - not very fancy and probably full of bad carbs and cholestorol, but the predictability was unparalleled.

I eventually became more comfortable reading menus and ordering food auf Deutsch, and my visits to the McNugget Palace diminished. I went there mainly during times of desperation - I needed something fast and Mickey D's was the only real fast food/drive thru/get outta there with a sack of fries and a Coke option we had discovered. This past Saturday, we zipped through while running some errands (our other option was eating in the IKEA cafeteria and while it also appeals to my lazy point-and-nod ordering style, I wasn't in the mood for Swedish meatballs). Perfectly practical and defensible.

Then, yesterday, we took a drive through an as-yet-unexplored part of Furth. Jeff was trying to show me the local football stadium, but I was distracted by a glittering mirage - a shiny red building topped by a white belltower and the smiling face of none other than Colonel Sanders. We swung immediately into the parking lot and headed for the entrance without a word to each other. After ordering combo meals (they serve fries instead of mashed potatoes, but the coleslaw is exactly the same) and perching on those familiar plastic banquettes to enjoy our grease, we sheepishly agreed that neither of us could remember the last time we'd eaten at KFC. In fact, we both specifically avoided it, citing urband legends of questionable entities emerging from the Colonel's deep fat fryers.

Then why were we there, in the middle of an impressively packed fast food joint, eating greasy chicken off unfamiliar glass plates (it's that sustainability thing the Germans have going, it really ruins the paper-plate and plastic-cutlery American vibe)? It was either the longing for a chicken dinner on a warm Sunday in May, or those hormones that all Americans are injected with along with the measles vaccine, causing us to develop a homing instinct for the nearest free-standing cinderblock building housing a bank of French fry warmers, teenagers wearing visors, and a drive-up window. There's just no escaping fate.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Current soundtrack

Waiting for my Real Life to Begin - Colin Hay
I found this song through Mandy Moore's celebrity iTunes playlist. Zach Braff's good taste in music must be rubbing off on her.

SOS - Rhianna
I thought sampling Tainted Love was sacrilege until I heard this song.

Tainted Love - Softcell
But the original is even better

I'll Believe in Anything - Wolf Parade
Dooce has good taste in music. I'm sure Wolf Parade was delighted to see their downloads soar the day she posted about them.

In the Waiting Line - Zero 7
Really, anything on the Garden State soundtrack works for me.

Black Horse and the Cherry Tree - KT Tunstall
See? American Idol is good for something besides giving me an outlet for my inner critic.

Crash - The Primitives
One of those songs from the 80's I'd forgotten about. Fortunately, when I rediscovered it, it sounded just as great as I'd remembered. Unlike, say, The Final Countdown.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tuscan Bread Salad

Tuscan Bread Salad
I love it when the weather gets warm enough that it's OK to have salad for dinner, but not hot enough that you must have salad for dinner because you can't bear to turn on the oven or even the barbecue grill. We ate this salad for dinner last night. The recipe is from Tom Douglas's Seattle Kitchen, a cookbook that I read on the afternoons when I long for Pacific Northwest cuisine. Like yesterday.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Lord of the Dance

This video is billed as the history of dance, though it's really the history of dance in music videos. Either way, it's genius, including clever shout-outs to the Brady Bunch and that silly N Sync video with the marionettes. Note how the audience continues to sing along with Ice Ice Baby even after the dancer has moved on. Still catchy, after all these years. (via Kottke)

And! A late-breaking link to CNN's Entertainment page - see the top video link to an interview with the Facts of Life girls. They're looking pretty good, especially comparied to, oh, the Diff'rent Strokes cast.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Tom Tom Club

We saw Mission Impossible III. The Salon review reflects many of my thoughts, but here are a few observations from moi (don't worry, no spoilers):
-Apparently, if you're Ethan Hunt's fiance, your hospital scrubs are stylish and form-fitting.
-Someone figured out that much of the viewing public no longer finds Tom Cruise sexy. Fortunately, that void is filled with Jonathan Rhys Meyers hotness.
-Action plots have become so familiar that we no longer actually need to know why the bad guy is bad, or what exactly is The Very Important and Dangerous Thing our hero is trying to retrieve.
-Welcome back Felicity! And now you're wielding a gun!
-I appreciated JJ Abram's shout-outs to past Tom Cruise movies. There's a Maverick moment (motorcycle, sunset, leather jacket) and a Born on the Fourth of July moment (scruffy makeup, bad headwear). There's even a Hannibal Lecter moment which, at one time in Tom's career would have been so ridiculous as to seem humorous. Now, it doesn't seem quite so silly.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hitting the trail

There are times when I reject my role as trailing spouse. Waking up in the morning and realizing that my main objective for the day is to acclimate to a culture where I don't have any formal niche is strange. Taking language lessons, deciphering the recycling system, unlocking the mysteries of our washer and dryer, all because my husband was offered a job in a foreign country. It's an odd existence.

Last week, though, I trailed quite happily to France. Jeff had business there, and since I didn't have a job or a meeting or even a television show I really wanted to watch, I tagged along. We stayed in Strasbourg, a charming town just across the border. It incorporates aspects I like about Germany (comprehensive grocery stores and organized public transportation) with the lovely French language, tasty and meticulously considered food, and snotty waiters. We lingered over dinner (seafood three meals in a row, mmmm...), strolled around the cobblestone island at the city center, and slept late on Saturday. I read two books, bought a sun hat, and soaked up the eighty-degree weather.

As long as Jeff continues to feed me well, I think I'll happily trail along for a while more.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Idolatry

There are several advantages to watching American Idol via British satellite television. One, the performance show and the results show are aired back-to-back, so I am immediately able to see the consequences of the Idols' "pitchiness." Two, the shows are aired on Fridays, long after I've learned who was sent packing, removing any impulse I might have to actually vote. So, less humiliating re-dialing and feeling like a fourteen-year-old girl. Three, the British network cuts the shows to fit into 90 minutes or, now that there are only four contestants left, 60 minutes, so I am forced to endure fewer commercials and no freaky infomercial (I was really sorry to miss Kevin's head sticking out of the sand but I'll live). At first, I was concerned that reading recaps of the shows and knowing in advance who was voted out and how bad their silver capri pants looked (oops, I've found an alternate route to being a fourteen-year-old), would diminish my viewing pleasure. Not so, apparently.

I'll agree with Randy, Simon, and Paula, that this season's singers are better than ever. The competition between the top three (Chris, Katherine, and Taylor - sorry Elliott but I'm pretty sure you're headed for the door on Wednesday) is too close to call. Chris and Taylor will both have recording careers whether they win or lose - people love them and their identities are clear. Katherine (like last year's Carrie) needs to win in order to carve out a niche for her pretty voice. Bear with me while I make a parallel between Taylor and Bo Bice. They both seemed a little strange when we first saw them flailing around the stage, but they've both proved that they are already pros, Idol or no Idol. And if they put Chris's Styx cover on the American Idol album, I don't care if I seem like a fourteen-year-old, I'm buying it.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Costume Drama

If I could conjure an invitation to any glittery social event, easy money is on the Oscars.

Hold your bets, though, because I cultivate a secret obsession for another, pull-out-all-the-fashion-stops party. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit gala comes around each spring, and every year I run straight to the fashion pages of the interet and obsessively hit refresh until I develop surfer's finger. I love the clothes, I hate the clothes, I mock John Galliano because that's what he's there for, and click my heels together three times and wish that, next year, someone will send me an invitation, along with a direct line to my fairy godmother's seamstress. My fairy godmother, by the way, is Narciso Rodriguez.

I'll leave you with links to the gals at Go Fug Yourself and the Saving Face snarkiness. I'll keep my commentary brief: I'm pretending Sarah Jessica Parker actually wore Victoria Beckham's dress, just so I can sleep at night. I think Alexander McQueen showed up with the Highland Fling gown an hour before the event and she had no other options. That's the only explanation that works for me.

Next May, look for me in the photos, because I'm wishing really hard for an invitation. I wished really hard for frosted strawberry Pop Tarts and, yesterday, that wish came true, so I'm optimistic.

Monday, May 01, 2006

New editorial policy

Kendra & Florent in Rothenburg
Friends and family who visit us will be featured prominently in this blog, consequently rising to fame and fortune. See photo to the right.

Jeff's sister and her boyfriend spent the weekend with us. We acted like tourists, visiting the medieval town of Rothenburg and climbing up to the castle in Nurnberg.

I know summer is almost here because I bought a banana cream Frappuccino at Starbucks yesterday.