Friday, June 30, 2006

Books - June 2006

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
A memoir that reminds us we can love our parents without turning into them.

Feel by Chris Heath
A biography of Robbie Williams that accomplishes three things: tells an honest and original story about fame; shares useless but fascinating gossip about Robbie; and by its reading, cements my status as adopted European.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Its only flaw is that Michael doesn't ever say "Fredo, Fredo, Fredo." But the horse's head is there.

The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland
The fictionalized diary of Napoleon's wife, before she was Napoleon's wife. Good stuff about the French revolution. Also, fashion and sex.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Incognito

I've briefly come out of hiding to file my own stalking suit, against Michael Jackson. Apparently, he is following me.

In case you're wondering why anyone even cares about MJ at all, this will remind you. Once upon a time, back when he had facial expressions, there was nobody like him.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Laying low

I've been discovered. Don't be alarmed if I don't post for a while. It might take me a week or two to get out of this.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Take this cheesteak and shove it

When I was in Montana over the holidays, I heard the local morning radio goofballs bantering about a trip they had taken to southern California. They were ruminating on the reasons that most public signage there was printed in both English and Spanish. This isn't a topic I had spent much time considering, and in the past I could see both sides of the argument - on one hand, English is the language I've always heard spoken around me in the USA and I could see why the appearance of Spanish might be unexpected and deemed excessive. On the other hand, it was no skin off my nose if Spanish signage made it easier for someone else to get around. The DJs played the roles of down-home hicks from the sticks, glad to be back in the land where everybody spoke their language (though I could have shared a few stories about trying to explain a rodeo to some of my college classmates freshman year, all in our supposedly shared mother tongue).

I had just spent three months attempting to navigate life in a country where I could not read a menu, ask for directions, or find health care on my own. Each time I happened upon a directional sign or a set of instructions printed in English, it raised my spirits during a time when I experienced some tough days. When I realized I could switch my mobile phone language to English, it meant I could actually communicate with my family, and they could leave messages that I could actually retrieve. To me, the issue had less to do with immigration or race, and more to do with making human beings comfortable. And if we're just too busy to make each other more comfortable, we should consider the time and resources saved when we don't have to follow a car whose driver can't figure out where he is going, or the food saved at a restaurant when a customer doesn't accidentally order a dish she is allergic to.

I was reminded of these thoughts a couple of weeks ago when I read about this insensitive restrauteur in Philadelphia. I can still understand his basic sentiment, but after the past nine months, it is hard for me to imagine that it's OK for his policy to stand. I know there is plenty of debate about immigration and language in the USA right now, and though I don't feel well enough informed to make an intelligent comment on the larger picture, I can tell my story. I am still trying to learn German, but it's slow going, and though I can read a menu now, I am not adept enough to decipher the instructions to my German washing machine. I've definitely received the cold shoulder from a (very) few service providers here, and I've fielded pointed questions regarding why I haven't learned German yet, so I know what it feels like to be reminded that I'm an outsider. Language acquisiton isn't instantaneous, but that shouldn't prevent us from traveling, from considering the adventure of living abroad, and from welcoming those who are courageous enough to try it.

Don't be looking for me around Joey Vento's cheesteak joint anytime soon. Instead, I'll be at my local Turkish kebab house, where they are more than happy to walk me through the menu.

Friday, June 23, 2006

You were expecting another Britney post?

USA team photo
Italy did their job on Thursday night, but the USA couldn't manage the victory. Unfortunate, because we had pretty good seats. The match was played here in Nurnberg, so it was nice to cheer on our home team in our new hometown. Too bad about the result. In the end, it was hard not to be a little excited for Ghana - they deserved to win, and their fans were exultant.

Now, we're down to the business of rooting for England.

And, no, I'm not going to make any further commentary on Britney, her new dye job, or how much she "like(s) money."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Guest post: Jeff breaks down USA vs. Italy

All right, I am going to temporarily take over 'The Blythe Spirit' with a little soccer info....it was terrific to be at the WC. The game itself was a bit ugly but the result was important for the U.S. and the atmosphere was terrific. It was an emotional roller coaster for both U.S. and Italians, goal, own goal, goal disallowed (Italy), red card, red card, red card, goal disallowed (U.S.)...very exciting.

I have to say I have always thought Claudio Reyna was the best all-around player on the team but in the back of my mind always wondered a little if there was truth in "he stifles the team" theory. Having seen the game in person, I can safely say Reyna was the only player who had the quality to be on the pitch with Italy for 90 minutes. Other players had their moments, but Reyna does play at a level much closer to the best Europeans. Donovan was so over-matched it was not even funny. I am afraid people might say he had a good match because he made a couple of direct runs at the Italians and set up McBride, but other than that, his possession and defense (esp when the U.S. went down to 8 men) sucked. With all that said, the U.S. makes up for their lack of creativity (and talent if truth be told) with hard work and tenacity and on that front they taught the Italians a thing or two. McBride worked hard as usual but in the second half he had no one to hold the ball up for, should have been substituted for EJ. The ref did ruin the game and I did not see him once seriously warn the Italians about diving, but at the same time (in seeing the replays on TV) he was right on with the de Rossi red card, the red for Pablo (although could have been a yellow), the two yellows (red) for Eddie P and the offsides call on the U.S. goal. As for the U.S. cards, when you are up a man against a world power, you can't give the ref any excuses to even things up, the U.S. needed to be more disciplined. Lastly (for now until I need to vent some more) I have to question Bruce's subs, why not use all three, why not bring McBride off in the last 20 minutes and go with defense or bring fresh legs on in EJ or even Ching, and lastly Donovan should have come off (for the reasons mentioned above).

More venting......
One additional point - OFFSIDES - we had 0 against Czech and 1 against Italy (ironically disallowing Beasley's goal). Obviously the lack of goals and lack of shots on target show the ineptitude of our offense, but our lack of offsides I think is even more representative. This is not the result of the superior timing of U.S. runs but instead the result of a lack of U.S. runs. I realize the offense is predicated more on possession, pushing it wide and service into McBride and less on
through balls, but I think I would rather have more "going forward" and 6-7 offsides a game than our inability to even challenge our opponents back line. Eurosport.com has interesting and detailed data on each player's performance for each game. Don't know how accurate it is but, as I suspected it seems to me CR did about twice as much work as LD.

With all that said, the U.S. still has life...as Blythe said, we now have to root the U.S. on to victory on Thursday right here in Nurnberg and then (despite any comments I made on Saturday) we are now big fans of Italy as long as they beat the Czech Republic (if not, we are back to hating them). Viva la Copa Mundial!

P.S.
I want to share a few songs sung during and after the game. If you are familiar with soccer songs, these aren't new but they are still amusing. It is hard to convey the right feeling with just the lyrics as so much comes from the way they are sung but
you will get the idea...

(sung to the tune of "She'll be Coming Round the Mountain")
You can buy a referee in Italeeeeee,
You can buy a referee in Italeeeeee,
You can buy a referee, you buy a referee, you can buy a referee in Italeeeeeeeee.

The next one is amusing because it was being chanted by drunk English fans, who will take any opportunity to take a shot at other European rivals; also because the Italian soccer world has been consumed by scandal in the last several months (even more than usual) with allegations of players gambling, teams wiretapping
phones, and club officials 'arranging' referee selections for games.

Just like I - TIE, always cheating, (I - TIE, English fan colloquillism for Italian footballers)
Just like I - TIE, always cheating

Monday, June 19, 2006

Go USA

Big USA fan
Please excuse The Blythe Spirit's temporary identity crisis. It's starting to look like a football blog, but that's not a permanent condition. I promise a return to regular programming soon. But this World Cup stuff is just too much fun to ignore.

Jeff and I were in the stands during the USA vs. Italy match on Saturday evening. It was an exciting night, not least because Jeff has been a football fan since he was a little kid, and has watched this event on TV for years and years. It was a thrill for him to be there, and a thrill for me to experience it with him. I've asked him to write a rundown of the match; I'll post it when it's ready. Today, I'll share my impressions of everything outside the competition, since my football expertise only recently came to include an understanding of the difference between a yellow card and a red card (crucial intelligence in Saturday's match).

We arrived wearing our red, white and blue two hours before the scheduled start time, and the stadium was packed. Blue jerseys from Italy dotted the stands, along with plenty of stars and stripes sprinkled among them. We sat in a section populated by both Italians and Americans, all of whom were friendly and completely engrossed in the match. See the photos for a visual sample of 46,000 screaming football fans. I thought Jeff might need a tranquilizer by the end of the game, which finally closed in a 1-1 tie and included several tense calls. But I'll let him fill you in on those details later. I was squished next to April Heinrichs, former USA women's coach, in the park-n-ride shuttle after the match. We (accidentally) followed the USA team bus, along with its giant security escort, down the Autobahn on the way back to our hotel. And now we're looking forward to Thursday's Ghana vs. USA contest with more anticipation than we'd expected to have. Cross your fingers and look for us in the stands (and say a little prayer that Italy beats Czech Republic too).

Friday, June 16, 2006

You'll never walk alone

England fan
We couldn't resist the pull of English energy coming from downtown Nurnberg yesterday, so we ventured to the heart of the city to watch England play Trinidad & Tobago. According to TV commentators, 70,000 English converged on the city yesterday. Most of them didn't hold tickets to the match, so they watched on outdoor TV screens in various gathering places. We found a spot at a bar where a group of blokes from Lancashire had planted themselves for the afternoon. They were spending their nights in the Czech Republic, stocking up on cheap Czech beverages(their ringleader carried a gym bag that contained one clean shirt, a can of deodorant, and an endless supply of beer), and riding the trains at least five hours each way to watch the England matches in host cities.

There's a reason that English football fans are revered and feared throughout Europe. Sometimes their enthusiasm gets the best of them, and then tend toward the destructive. But we saw simply infectious joy, gallons of face paint, and a few more bare chests than we'd bargained for. The match was a nailbiter, with England, heavy favorites, finally pulling out a win in the last few minutes.

Let's go England!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Are you ready for some football?

In case you (like the American Forces Network reporter I heard on the radio yesterday, who told the soccer commentator that most Americans wouldn't really understand what he was talking about) hadn't noticed, Germany is currently hosting the biggest international sporting event in the world. That means our city buses are flying Deutsch flags, every town square in the country is full of picnic tables, beer steins and huge TV screens, and the English are having a hard time crossing the borders. In other words, not much different that normal. Ba-dum-bum.

My new favorite team, Trinidad & Tobago, held Sweden to a tie, and they're set to play England here in Nurnberg tomorrow. I saw a bunch of England fans walking around downtown this morning and they were all very well-behaved though we will probably stay out of the pubs for the next 48 hours as a precaution. My ancestors, the Croatians, lost to Brazil yesterday, though they fought hard and played well. I was comforted that Brazil's only goal was scored by the adorable Kaka, who makes up for his ludicrous name with dashing good looks. The USA is poised for its expected early exit thanks to a sad match on Monday evening. I noticed that, midway through the second half, Jeff had flipped the channel and was watching a "Friends" rerun. He said it was just too frustrating to keep watching the game. This despite frequent camera shots of female fans clad in stars-and-strips bikinis. I'm so proud to be an American. But, as the Germans would say, at least I'm not Dutch.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

When country wasn't cool

Dear Britney,

I've been a fan for years. I listen to your albums and I respect your mad dancing skills. You don't have to fake those moves like so many of your teen-pop colleagues. I hung with you during the restaurant-mogul debacle, the hideous bondage/newsboy outfit, and the Justin breakup. I get why you might have wanted to fool around with that cute choreographer who was once "close" with Michael Jackson. I tolerate Federcreep in the same way that my high school friends and I tolerated each others' unwise romantic choices.

I sympathize with your plight as media lightning rod, and I think you're learning your lesson that notoriety has its price. I imagine that back when Lou Pearlman was advising you to wear a Wonderbra and smile big for the flashbulbs, you had no idea that it would result in your baby boy being shoved around by slimy guys with cameras and in Child Protective Services showing up at your house. Being a mom isn't an easy job, especially when the world is watching your every move.

But in your latest TV interview with Matt Lauer (who must be paying off celebrity publicists to send their clients to the slaughter in front of his cameras - just ask Tom Cruise) you took it one step too far. You tried to blame bad decisions on being "country." And that's like a knife to my heart.

Britney, I was country once too. I rollerskated around the neighborhood for hours unsupervised. I fished for trout with my grandpa. I picked wildflowers and scratched my mosquito bites. And, yes, I sat on my dad's lap and "drove" the pickup, just like you did. But let's be honest. Neither of us grew up in Los Angeles, and we both know that a dirt road is different than a freeway or a parking garage, and that we weren't pretending to steer the pickup at less than one year old. I'd say that you panicked, that you wanted to get the heck away from those aggressive photographers and you made a bad decision. It happens to the best of us.

But don't try to blame it on being country. You left the country behind when you married your wannabe hip-hop backup dancer, launched your own perfume line, and hired a staff. It's time to be an adult, stop weeping on national television, and take some time away from the cameras. Maybe, dare I suggest it, go back to being a little more country. Spend some time in Louisiana (or possibly Namibia) and enjoy your kid(s). Because country doesn't mean stupid.

We, your fans, promise to welcome you back when you are ready.

Sincerely, your fan,
Blythe

Monday, June 12, 2006

Excuses, excuses

I resolve to try to curb my sporadic posting habits of the last couple of weeks. I do have a few excuses:
-Visit from one adorable niece, accompanied by her two minions/parents. They were on their way home to France from a jaunt to Hungary and we enjoyed our week playing with them, despite weather that reminded us of our days in the Pacific Northwest.
-Visit from Scott and Kerri and subsequent sightseeing, sausage-eating, and general merriment.
-Beginning of a certain major worldwide sporting event that everyone in the world is watching. Except in the USA because sports like American football and baseball are so much more exciting. Um, right.

Jeff scored World Cup tickets through tenacious participation in two different lotteries, so we will enthusiastically cheer on the USA next Saturday versus Italy and the following Thursday versus Ghana. Watch for us if you've got cable.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Meme me up

I love filling out questionnaires, which means I love memes. Since I never seem to get tagged for these things, I've taken to stealing them from others. This one comes from Mena Trott, tech royalty.

Name your top 10 most played bands on iTunes:
1. Dandy Warhols
2. Anna Nalick
3. Nena
4. Coldplay
5. Jeff Buckley
6. Fettes Brot
7. Kelly Clarkson
8. INXS
9. Travis
10. Yo-Yo Ma


What was the first song you ever heard by 6 (Fettes Brot)?
Emanuela, the one I have on my iPod. I saw it on MTV Europe during our initial visit to Germany, and I couldn't get it (or its goofy marching band video) out of my head.

What is your favorite album of 2 (Anna Nalick)?
Since she's only got one...Wreck of the Day.

What is your favorite lyric that 5 (Jeff Buckley) has sung?
I know that there's a god above/but all I've ever learned from love/is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya

How many times have you seen 4 (Coldplay) live?
Never. CURSES.

What is your favorite song by 7 (Kelly Clarkson)?
I think this officially makes me uncool, but I really like "Since You've Been Gone." And I'll even admit to having a soft spot for "A Moment LIke This."

What is a good memory you have involving the music of 10 (Yo-Yo Ma)?
I downloaded this because I heard it on an outstanding episode of The West Wing, where Josh suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Hearing it makes me nostalgic for the heady days of Aaron Sorkin-led TWW.

Is there a song of 3 (Nena) that makes you sad?
99 Luftballoons, only because it reminds me of all the bad clothes/hair/behavior of junior high school.

What was the first song you heard by 8 (INXS)?
The One Thing, on MTV, along with the sexy video involving food and slinky cats.

What is your favorite lyric that 2 (Anna Nalick) has sung?
There's no turning back/we're like cars on a cable/and life's like an hourglass/glued to the table

How did you get into 3 (Nena)?
Well, there's that whole 99 Luftballoons thing, but I rediscovered Nena when I moved to Germany and saw her cool Lass Mich video on TV.

What was the first song you heard by 1 (Dandy Warhols)?
Bohemian Like You. Yeah, I know, I lived in Portland and I didn't hear them before they hit the mainstream. What of it?

What is your favorite song by 4 (Coldplay)?
Fix You

How many times have you seen 9 (Travis) live?
Never. Actually I only listen to one Travis song and don't know anything else about them, but clearly I listen to this one song a lot.

What is a good memory you have involving 2 (Anna Nalick)?
I first heard her on my favorite radio station of all time, KINK FM 102 in Portland. (Don't go to kink.com, you'll get something else entirely.)

Is there a song of 8 (INXS) that makes you sad?
Mystify. Because it's just such a great song, and I'll never hear Michael Hutchence sing it again.

What is your favorite cover by 9 (Travis)?
Hit Me Baby One More Time, which is actually the only song by Travis that I listen to. But it's a doozy.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bee Mine

Let us raise our yellow pencils and pink erasers high to Katharine Close, who won the 79th annual national spelling bee last week. She correctly spelled "ursprache" after the runner-up misspelled "weltschmerz." I immediately noted that both words were of German origin; all those weeks of German class apparently didn't go to waste.

As a word geek, I've been following the pop culture rise of spelling bees in the past few years. From local celebrity bees to Broadway musicals to hit documentaries and feature films, spelling is the new skateboarding. This year's bee was the first ever to be televised in prime time, possibly counteracting all those hours of King of Queens and Two and a Half Men that have been eating America's brains for the past few years. For a little spelling fun of your own, check out the national bee's practice word list.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Rome if you want to

Coliseum sunshine
Our visit to Roma was full of sunshine, gelato, pasta, and old stuff. Really old. I've never before visited a city where ancient ruins and buildings stood in such harmony with surrounding modernness.

Click on the photo to see more pics from our trip.