Friday, 26 September 2014

London, Internet, and Buskers (a busy week)

Another busy week! Last weekend I made a quick trip to London and Oxford to meet our neighbor Claudia (on a business trip), visit Sasha and David (running the Hendrix in London program), and see Francis Warner in Oxford.  I took the train, mainly because it's less hassle than flying. It's more hassle than I expected, however, as the security for the Eurostar (the train that uses the tunnel under the English Channel) is tight. The U.K. border guards are also tough - they wanted to see my German residency permit, which I don't have yet. I was a little worried they wouldn't let me through. I always take border security very seriously - you just never know, and they can deny you entry for any reason. On the Eurostar nearing the English Channel I wondered for a minute if there was a prison nearby, until I realized that the tall fences and razor wire are to keep people out of the tunnel. The U.K. may be connected by rail to the rest of Europe now, but they are still an island and don't want you to forget it!

In London I had good Indian food (a primary purpose of the trip, I'll admit) and was lucky enough to hit "Open House" weekend when one can tour buildings not normally open to the public. We didn't have a lot of time on Saturday, but visited the Guild Hall. Claudia and I also went to Evensong at St. Paul's and walked all over a good part of London. For sentimental reasons I went by Gail's school she attended for a few months in 2007. She was unimpressed that I had done so.

On Sunday Claudia and I went to Oxford and had lunch with Francis Warner. He then took us on a walking tour of Oxford and we went to Evensong at his church. They were singing one of Bach's cantatas, in German, and it was gorgeous. They served a cream tea afterwards, which was a nice opportunity to talk with some of the church members. Then it was dinner with the Hendrix-in-Oxford students at, and many of you will appreciate this, a restaurant called "Beefeaters." It was fun to talk to the students about their experiences so far and to hear their excitement.

On Monday I made the long trek back to Mainz via London, Brussels, and Frankfurt, stopping in London for some essential groceries: chocolate digestive biscuits and jalapenos (not to be eaten together).

The exciting news on Monday was that the Deutsche Telekom guy came to install our Internet and phone service, after a 3 1/2 week wait. Hooray! But not hooray - they hadn't sent us the super secret codes needed to activate the service. No one could give them to us - not the help line, not the people in the Telekom shop, nobody. Evidently there was some sort of computer problem that they couldn't generate the codes again. At one point, a person told Wayne that we should just wait and hope that a letter with the super secret codes arrived. Seriously. One of my classmates in my German class is from Bulgaria. She's also having problems and she told me: "In Bulgaria things can be hard. But not the Internet! Everyone in Bulgaria has Internet!" Finally on Wednesday we got a text with a secret code. We could then use that secret code to open a document sent by email containing three more secret codes (but only by ignoring their instructions and doing things a different way). And, voila, we have phone and Internet, only four weeks after moving into our apartment.

I had been feeling a little isolated, so am happy to be able to use the Internet freely and to call. On my first trips overseas, many years ago, having a phone and Internet wasn't even a possibility. I still remember, in 1988, a CNN cameraman I befriended on Red Square calling my family to tell them I was alive and well in Moscow. That was the only contact I had with them. And for two years I lived in a town in Poland with no international phone lines (and no phone in my apartment, anyway). To call out of the country I had to go to the post office, book a call, wait an hour or two, and pay exorbitant rates. I was thrilled to see a month-old Newsweek or International Herald Tribune. So why does it drive me crazy now to lack the amenities? 

On another note, ahem, we have noticed in Mainz that the quality of busking (public performances for donations) is really good. The other day we stopped to listen to a tenor singing Nessun Dorma on the cathedral square, last night there was a woman doing this amazing bubble art show, and, believe it or not, there was a great duet with accordion and cello the other day. That's not something I would have sought out, I must say, but it was good.

Gail continues to do well in school and it continues to be difficult. Her bravery was praised by her history teacher for volunteering to give (and giving!) an oral presentation in class. She has another classmate who speaks English and they have been excused from regular English classes to create lesson plans on special days for the other kids, so they are plotting out a Halloween-themed lesson. She had her first violin lesson here yesterday and she liked the teacher. Her first clarinet lesson will be next week. We've definitely not been enforcing the usual practice time with everything else that's been going on.

This weekend I'm missing the Texas A&M/Arkansas game. Gig 'em! Too bad it's not shown on German TV. I'm sure I could find a bar near one of the American bases here showing the game, but I don't think I'm quite that brave, especially given the hour of the game! 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Settling in

Gail has now survived the first two weeks of school. She reports that it's been hard.  Not only is the German class one for native speakers, but every other class is conducted in German as well, meaning that she's writing up physics papers in German and learning French in German. She takes the city bus to school. She catches it near our apartment, changes after a couple of stops, and then continues on to a stop near her school. In the mornings and afternoons the buses are full of school kids. The other day I noticed kids about six years old taking the city bus home by themselves. No one bats an eye at that here.

This week I started my intensive German class. It's 15 hours per week and I really like it. My classmates are from all over the world. Several young men came from Syria and I'm sure they have stories to tell. I can't help but feel a little sad for them as I doubt they're here entirely by choice. Other students are from Pakistan, South Korea, China, Kenya, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Slovakia, France, Russia, Brazil, and Equador. The nice thing about this class is that we all speak enough German that we can actually talk to each other during breaks. It's the fourth class in the series of intensive German classes offered at the adult education center. Almost everyone in the class is in their early 20s. The Brazilian woman and I are the only ones of a certain age!

So we are settling in to our life here. We're gradually adding furniture. I found a desk for Wayne on the street earlier this week J.

A few random thoughts:
The weather has been incredible, and the sidewalk cafes are full. Germans do not let nice days in September go to waste! One of my favorite things here is to sit at a café and people watch.

I'm always amused to see the number of people standing around the Saturday morning market drinking wine and beer. In my continued exploration of the market I've been very pleased to find a spice merchant, so finally I can buy cumin and fresh cilantro, and other necessities of life. The stores now sell tortillas, which I don't remember being as easy to find seven years ago. The market is open on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with Saturdays being, by far, the biggest.

The radio station we keep on most of the time must be the only station on earth that has "Achy Breaky Heart" in regular rotation. Most of the music is American oldies, which I like, and they do the news slowly enough that I can get the gist of it, but that song may push me down the dial.

We just bought a book of 111 things to see in Mainz. Potential visitors be warned.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A Netherlands weekend!

Diane here. I will leave you in suspense about Gail's school experience so far except to say that she did not actually die on the first day of school. Or the second or third. Jury's still out on the 4th.

Last week we were a little ahead of things - all moved into our apartment and five free days before school started. So we did what any rational family would do - we went to the Netherlands for a long weekend! Amsterdam is such a gorgeous city - just walking around is a pleasure (at least when I don't have plantar fasciitis)!  It's also a city of SERIOUS bicyclists. Crossing the street requires attention to the car lanes, the tram lanes and the bike lanes. The bikes move quickly!

After we arrived on Wednesday afternoon we went to the Van Gogh museum, which I love. There aren't many museums where you can see an artist's progression through his entire career, which in Van Gogh's case was only ten years.  

From there we walked to the Anne Frank house. The lines there are always long, but we got in after a 30 minute wait. Gail had just read the diary in school last year. The first time I visited, as a Girl Scout, I found it inconceivable that anyone could live in such a small space. As an adult, the space doesn't bother me nearly as much as the thought of living without natural light for years.

On Thursday we went to the Rijkstag, the national art museum which has been extensively remodeled. It was also amazing. "Nightwatch" is the most famous painting there, but we also loved lots of other things, including a fanciful chess set (picture attached), incredibly carved furniture, and a piece of modern art that was a grandfather clock with the image of a person in it. Every minute the person would erase the hands and redraw them in the new correct time.

Then it was a quiet lunch at a sidewalk café, a quick visit to the Oude Kerk (the Old Church), and a train to Leeuvarden to visit our friends Peter and Leonie and their son Pieter who was home for the weekend. We were sad to miss their daughter Krystal (though perhaps she's avoiding me after I inadvertently attempted to poison her with nut-laden pesto in Italy a few years ago).  In Leeuvarden we rented an electric boat and took a tour of the city's canals. It was beautiful. We avoided all museums in deference to our heathen daughter who thought that two all-day art museums in two days was too much for a human to bear. I mean, really! The nerve. (That was Gail's addition to the blog.)

From Leeuvarden we headed down to Voorburg to visit Hester and her family. Their town is also beautiful, and her parents and her home are gezellig.  (Gezellig is a virtually untranslatable Dutch word that means cozy, welcoming, comfortable).

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Visit to my new school

                I must admit, I winced a little when I read that Mom expected me to write about the visit to the Theresianum. "Couldn't you write it?" I asked plaintively, conceding the point only when she pointed out that it was my new school, not hers, and my impressions of it would thus be far more important than hers.
                 Part of the reason that I didn't want to write about it, I suspect, was that I was too petrified  to really notice anything about it. Once I got over my first impression (oh my gosh it's actually a real school with actual real people I'm going to die), I was amazed by how nice everything was. Everything looked amazing, from the chemistry lab to the pottery and woodworking rooms. I did get lost about three seconds after I walked in, but with any luck, I'll probably learn how to find my way around by about Easter. And the library, oh my gosh, the library was utterly amazing; think greenhouse meets the Starship Enterprise. It was the best part of the whole school, in my opinion. Too bad I don't know how to read any of the books.
                The people were another matter. I mean, don't get me wrong, they all seemed very nice, from the five or so words I understood. Unfortunately, they also served to remind me that this was not just a huge and amazingly empty building we were touring, but a place that I'll walk into Monday morning for the first day of school. In a foreign language. With no one I know. It kind of cast a shadow over the whole visit.

                That was a little less than a week ago. Tomorrow morning is the first day of school. I would ask you to wish me luck, but by the time we get internet and Mom publishes this and you wake up from the time difference and check the computer and hey look Gail wrote something and so on and so forth, it'll probably be sometime around October. So don't worry about me. For me, there's something comforting in this fact: by the time you read this, it'll all be over.  

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

To market, to market

This morning I made my first trip to the local market, which is only a couple of blocks away and is next to the Cathedral. The market happens three days a week and it's gorgeous. I didn't buy a lot today, but I think I'm going to have to make fresh flowers a habit! In addition to vegetables and flowers you can also buy cheese, meat, bread, honey, jam, coffee, etc.

We also visited Gail's school today. I will let her update the blog on that! 

Yesterday we did a walking tour of Mainz. It was very good, and I took notes so I can share fun facts with anyone who visits. Spoiler alert: Gutenberg features prominently. Here are a couple of views of the cathedral.

The buildings of central Mainz were heavily damaged in the war - something like 80% of the central city, so much of it is rebuilt. The cathedral was damaged but not destroyed. We learned that the neighborhood we live in was built on fill when the Rhine River was dredged to make it navigable for shipping. Another fun fact - relics of Roman ships from the 4th century were found nearby.