Le Bon Homme, Alsace region of France
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Le Bon Homme, Alsace region of France
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Traunsee in Austria (all lakes are called see)
THE REAL SOUP NAZI
Admit it. Most of you watch “Seinfeld” reruns. We shamefully know most of the dialogue of those shows. They run two episodes a day on local channels. Occasionally I feel guilty because my values and theirs are not always the same. Most of the time we just laugh. When we were in Germany we hoped to catch a dubbed version but that didn’t happen. The show we did find and we enjoyed was the old “Cosby Show” with a 1980s Bill Cosby muttering a guttural lesson to his children with the occasional understandable “Theo” or “Rudy”. It was funny.
Midway in our travels we decided to drive to the Austrian lakes district called the Salzkummergut for relaxation. Who could resist a place called Salzkummergut? We arrived in the evening as it was getting dark. The area is crowded in the summer. Since this was mid October we begin to think we had made a mistake when we saw many of the hotels were dark. An appeal to the Lord for inspriration brought us to a nice hotel on the water with a vacancy or “zimmer frei”sign. This was a four star hotel and feeling a little rumpled after a day’s drive I felt like a two star traveler. The lobby was elegant and I tried to hide my white Reebok sneakers from view. My hair was a mess. The off season rates were affordable and we got a nice room with a big balcony and a view of the mountains and lake.
The first thing we did was shower and clean up for dinner. When we checked in, the dining room only had a few people eating. It was now 7:45 and well passed our usual dinner hour. Early bird specials were invented for people like us. We were seated and the waiter took our order. After eating pork and German food for almost two weeks we were delighted to see a menu with a broader selection. I ordered an herbed grilled chicken and Jon requested another poultry dish with a cream of chicken soup for a starter. We were famished. The tall blond waiter whom we named Gunther brought our mineralwasser. He then proceeded to wait on everyone else who came in after us. We did not get a bread basket. We watched with envy as the men at the table across from us got Schnitzel and spaghetti. A lady and her companion got up and came back with a salad. I didn’t see spaghetti on the menu. I did not see a salad bar on the menu. After eating Schnitzel nine different ways for two weeks spaghetti looked great. Every other table had a bread basket. All we had was about 7.00 euros worth of mineralwasser! We were hungry. Was it something we said? Did they see me when we arrived? Didn’t Gunther like us? More and more people who came in after us were served. We felt ignored. Jon wished he would at least bring the soup. Finally, I leaned over and softly said to him, “No soup for you”. The real soup Nazi is alive and well in Austria. This got us both giggling and possibly snorting and did not improve our chances of being served. Then we got it. We had seen a tour bus in the parking lot when we arrived. This was nothing personal between Gunther and us; they were being served the pre-ordered meal at 8:00 pm as arranged. Shortly afterwards our dinners were served. Jon asked, “What about my soup?” The embarrassed waiter reached for our plates saying he would bring the food back to the kitchen and get his soup first. I intervened. I guess I was right. No soup for you.
Monday, November 27, 2006
I will turn 62 in late February. There is only one advantage I can think of for being this age. The Social Security Administration will send you a check every month. I can even get free cookies at our local food market and bank the first few days of the month. I guess there are two advantages to being 62. My husband has been getting reduced admission at the movie theatre for the last year. I, claiming to take the high road and not cheat, have paid the full fair. I thought one needed to be 65 to get the bargain price. Today, when we wanted to see a matinee, I checked online for movie times. I also noticed they give a senior citizen discount to anyone 60 or more. Ouch. I did go for the discount but it did not improve my mood.
This morning since I am officially three months from my magic birthday I decided to start the application for "early" retirement. That should make me feel better. I am an early retiree. Not so old as some I guess. Okay, I remember what the pastor said. Lord have mercy! I found the 800 phone number online for SS. When I called I got the usual list of options from the recording. After wading through them and voicing "apply for benefits", the recorded voice said they were very busy and hung up on me. The next voice I heard was the AT&T operator offering to help redial the number for 95cents. I tried again with the same outcome. Then, following the phone advice I decided to do it online. I began the application only to have the program kick me off telling me I had taken too much time. NOT. I did it again. At the completion I was told I had made two errors. After I went back to correct the errors, it closed the program saying you could not go back in this program. Arggg. The only logical thing to do now was whine. My husband, the fixer, came to the rescue. I don't know how he did it but he reached a human and handed me the phone. Now we were making progress. I took the oath that I was giving correct information. They probably tape the conversation. I wonder what they will think if they ever play the tape back and hear me start to laugh. One of the list of questions she asked me was: "Have you ever taken a religious vow of poverty." HONESTLY. I started to laugh. I said, "Do you mean if I had you would not send me the money?" I never got a straight answer on that one but it made my day. I think when we were young my sister swore she would never be poor, but I never swore I would be.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
We found the house and knocked on the door. It was having exterior stucco work done and looked deserted. After knocking a few times a woman in the house next door came out and spoke to us. She did not speak English but gestured for us to stay put. She walked to the nearby school and returned with another teenage girl, her granddaughter Leah who spoke English. When the woman, Rita, found out we were looking for Jon's "Ur,Ur,grossvater's" house she grabbed us and invited us in for kaffee. She told us the history of the house. It was sold by Jon's relative when he emigrated to America to her gr.gr.grandfather. She grew up in the house and after her mother recently died she began renovating it to rent as a vacation home. The house was 400 to 500 hundred years old and is still named after our family. That will never change.
She also told us of a local man who had written a history of the village and its families. Our family no longer has relatives here but there was information on the ones who lived here years ago. She made a call to the writer and arranged for us to meet him the next day. She also called a local woman Hedwig who was related by marriage to the last of the family who lived here. We would go with Rita the next am to meet her. We were overwhelmed with her hospitality.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Ed was a small town businessman who was on the board of directors of the local bank. He was loved and respected by his family. After college Mary's first job was as a Pan Am stewardess in the 60's when those jobs were only available to the thin, beautiful and young. Today is different. One of my retired classmates is now a flight attendant so she and her husband can travel free. A friend of my sister-in-law recently retired at 55 after a lifetime at NWA. She said the flight attendant with the most seniority is 84!
When one of Mary's first paychecks arrived she went shopping. She bought three hats. With her dad as a captive audience she modelled each one for him, telling him how they were on sale and how much money she saved. He complimented her and then quietly remarked, "Mary, you cannot save money by spending money." Sage advice from a man with small town values. Today when I was tempted to buy things that were on sale that I did not need, I remembered that advice. The humorous part is I slept late today. My husband the early riser was as Comp USA buying their early bird special of recordable DVDs. Son Dave arrived a short time after I got up and went to Menards. Andy made it for the AM sales to buy his girlfriend her birthday gift on sale. Something strange is going on here.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
An English guided tour took us close to the altar where the relics of the bones of the Three Magi are encased in gold. The Magi are the biblical Three Kings who came to worship the infant Jesus. History says St. Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, brought these from the Holy Land in the third century. They were in a church in Milan but taken by a conquering army to this Cathedral. Tradition tells us the names of the kings were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. In Catholic homes in Bavaria on the Feast of Epiphany, the priest inscribes the date and initials of the kings over the doorpost of the faithful. We noticed this on a trip here three years ago. I think Europeans had more emphasis on the feast of the three kings than American Catholics.
My husband's great, great, grandfather lived in a nearby town. It was moving to think that generations ago his relatives probably walked through this church on pilgrimage.
Our next stop was Uedelhoven, the hometown of the family patriarch. A friendly villager there told us of the towns' history and said our last name was derived from one of the names of the three Magi. My husband Jon's eyes lit up. "Imagine", he said, "royal blood!" The next day he related this to another woman from the village who asked, "Wasn't he the black one?" I think the royal blood is in question and laughed at her response. Perhaps the name was derived from his name but our family are not descendents. When Jon told this story to our son, he related we were descended from one of the wise men. I think "wiseguys" is more appropriate. Hopefully there are no blood ties with the Three Stooges.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
While traveling in Europe we often stayed overnight at town’s I had never heard of. One of these was a middle sized town called St. Die, France. Our hotel was on a street of shops across from the medieval Cathedral. This was the only hotel we stayed where the desk clerk did not show us the room before we registered. I think we were so overjoyed the room was on the main level—no lugging suitcases up flights of stairs—that we booked sight unseen. When we opened the door to the hotel room we were greeted by an unpleasant musty smell. I think we were tired and thought what the heck. After opening two large French windows it aired out nicely.
One day later we both had a nasty cough. My sinuses were clogged. I didn’t feel like I had a cold but definitely had something. We blamed it on the room. Perhaps some funky mold problem. It took over a month to recover. I would wake up at night with spasms of coughing. I sounded like Felix Unger in the Odd Couple clearing out my sinuses in the am. Poor Jon. He was not as rude. Since we had acquired this nasty bug in France, we began to refer to it as our French Legionnaires Disease. If you are not familiar with Legionnaires disease, it is spread through contaminated ductwork. The name comes from an original outbreak of this at a Philadelphia hotel that was hosting an American Legion convention about thirty years ago. I have seen a patient with this and it is deadly. We did not think we really had this but I think if you feel lousy you might as well have something noteworthy to talk about. Maybe it was the name of the hotel and town—St. Die that struck us. We were going to die from the bug from St. Die. Actually it is not pronounced like you would say it in English. It is “San Dee-ae”. I actually learned this from a waiter in a French café who looked like La Beau from Hogan’s Heroes. He didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak French but we managed pretty well.
After coughing and hacking and snorting our way across a couple more countries we ended up in Venice. At the entrance to the bridge over to the island of Venice we saw a billboard advertising the Holiday Inn in Venice. Who would think it. It fleetingly crossed our minds that we would get an American breakfast and English speakers at this place but we never found the hotel. Anyway that is like eating at McDonalds while abroad. The next day I was sitting in a piazza drinking a cup of coffee when Jon returned with a newspaper in Italian. By this time I had become quite bold in interpreting all foreign languages. The headline said something like “Emergenzia Legionella a Holiday Inn”. Of course I told Jon they had Legionnaires disease here too. He did not believe me. This morning I remembered and googled it. Yup, they did have an outbreak of Legionnaires disease at this Venetian hotel. The web site of the world health organization was warning people who may have stayed to seek medical help to contact their doctor. Maybe I should talk to the WHO about St. Die and every place we stayed after that!
Turkey will be on the dinner table of most of Americans. My sister will serve leg of lamb. I think I like her thinking. No gravy to make, to stuffing to stuff, to monster leftovers to fit in the refrigerator. The rest of us will savor the turkey. I am not the cook this year. Our newlywed daughter and husband are doing the bird. Thank you Mike and Mary. I tried to be helpful and forwarded a new recipe I got in my email yesterday. It directs you to stuff the bird with equal amounts of bread stuffing and unpopped popcorn. You know the turkey is cooked when the oven door blows off.
All this turkey talk reminded me of a funny event that happened to Jon and I a few years ago. Now I use the word "few" loosely. It happened when we still had a maroon Ford station wagon and we got rid of that in 1986. If you were my age you would understand. The years fly by. Anyway, we were driving on a back road outside of Osceola, WI. Jon stopped the car abruptly when he spotted two wild turkeys in the ditch. It was a rare siting at that time. Now we often see large groups of wild turkeys in western Wisconsin. He then rolled down the car window and gobbled. The hen turkey came to his call and hopped on top of the station wagon. The tom pursued and begin to run around the vehicle in circles. He ruffled his feathers and strutted his stuff circling over and over. We thought this was funny. Jon, always curious and still making gobbling noises, opened the door and tried to get out of the car. He was charged by the large male turkey. We watched for a while captive in our car and then very slowly pulled away while being chased by the large tom. The hen hung on for a while and then flew off the car. Now I ask you, who was that turkey chasing? Jon or the hen? He is a regular Dr. Doolittle when it comes to talking to the animals. I'm not sure if he does the calls accurately or is just that cute, but don't ask about the horse or the St. Bernard. This could develop into a second career. There probably are some duck and pheasant hunters who would like him to come with them.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
In mid October my husband and I ate lunch at one of the prettiest places I have ever been. We were at Eibensee near the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain. Eibensee is a crystal clear alpine lake nestled at the foot of snow covered peaks. Everything about this day was perfect from the clear blue sky to the gradually warming late morning. The autumn sun heating the stone patio left us feeling like two languid cold blooded creatures stretched out and envigorated by the sunshine. We toyed with the idea of just staying here—indefinitely. The food was good, the service friendly, and the ambiance terrific.
When I am in a beautiful place I often remember the verse , “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor man imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” I had my idea of paradise laid out before my eyes and yet it says there is more than we can imagine. Awesome thought.
Friday, November 17, 2006
I believe that in your twenties you reckon with your upbringing and the mistakes your parents or teachers may have made. Realization sets in that people are flawed and human. You are flawed and human. You need to forgive, accept and move on. Don’t get stuck in a groove of bitterness or fixated on things that you think could have been done differently. I think I did that.
I am now in my sixth decade. Observing other people my age who are “baby boomers” or nearly that, I surmise we are at the age of introspection about our lives. I recently read everyone was writing a memoir. Ouch. I thought I was unique. My daughter remarked that writing is an attempt to make sense of one’s life. What I find amusing is I have not been one to disclose personal details to others in my adult life. I have morphed from that Norwegian desire for privacy to compulsively blah-blah-blogging to anyone who will listen.
Many overweight and divorced persons do not go to class reunions. If they get to their 50th reunion they attend not caring if they win the prize for biggest waistline or least hair. They are over “self”-consciousness and just glad to be alive and to renew old acquaintances. I recently hit the 40th mark and that is where I am. I could not attend my 40th but sent a letter telling everyone I missed them and I was still a plus size with gray hair under the Lady Clairol. Maybe I have accepted myself.
Nora Ephron says she hates her neck now that she is in her sixties. She jests about how her friends wear turtle necks and Mandarin collars. I hate my picture. In the past three decades very few pictures of me exist. I have not wanted my photo taken since I passed 125 pounds. I took the pictures or was the one in the back row with only my head visible in group shots. I would sort through an envelope of newly developed pictures and throw out the ones of me. Logically, I should have been more concerned with the body than the picture. Did I think I could meet and greet people with extra pounds but if they saw my picture they would be shocked? Now I can accept the body, but I still have some trepidation about the picture thing.
Remember the promo pictures of Katie Couric released before she started doing the evening news? Viola! Technology has an answer for the problem. My husband can Photoshop it! At our daughter’s wedding I wore an amethyst dressy mother-of-the-bride type dress. It photographed shiny and reflective of light probably adding more volume. You may have seen the original picture. Here is the new improved picture. I like it better. I hope it does not look like a Halloween costume to someone from central Europe where violet is worn for October 31st parties. Even if I do look like their version of “scary” I realize I need to get over me and focus the lens on everyone else. It is part of growing up.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
COMPUTED, REBOOTED, CONTENT AND OVERSPENT.
LIFE IN THE MIDDLE LANE WHERE IT’S NOT ALWAYS SANE
BUT I CAN’T COMPLAIN IT IS NEVER TOO FAST AND I MIGHT GET PASSED,
BUT MERGERS ON THE RIGHT DON’T CAUSE ME FRIGHT
IN THE MIDDLE LANE
More than once I have heard my husband say, “I love being retired!” Sometimes he says it on a day when I am wondering if I am still relevant. Mostly I agree with him. He has managed to frame his life with people, projects, and the daily tasks of maintenance on a house, yard, vehicles, wife and grown children. His curiosity pushes him to buy new software, learn new programs and still produce interesting videos. He loves to travel but is content at home. He stays in touch with friends made over a lifetime and is interested in meeting new people. He is just a nice person. He keeps regular “office hours”. He has a home office with two desks and two computers that some would find enviable.
If my computer is working well I am in a state of wellbeing. I do not have to make upgrades. Leave well enough alone is my motto. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Jon, always the optimist, regularly adds upgrades, installs new programs and usually asks for trouble. Today and yesterday he has been in communication with IT support. The first people he talked to were from India. He could not understand their directions and was referred to IT support coming from Nova Scotia. The outcome of that detective work was that the fonts he imported from Windows to his Avid Liquid editing software caused his computer problems. He is now enduring all the reinstallations to remedy the situation.
Yesterday at 3:50pm when he announced, “Oprah will be on in ten minutes I had to laugh”. The work day was almost over. I am willing to bet he is not the only retired guy who occasionally watches Oprah. I do not freely admit I watch, but someone is responsible for her ratings and her status as most influential woman in the US. Sometimes a person has to have diversion from life’s problems at the office even if it means watching someone else’s’ problems on Oprah. I think Oprah is aware of that need and will never be retired, retred or refired, but even Oprah struggles with the overfed part.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
I am descended from French-Canadians. France has gotten bad press in recent decades and I have believed the media. Travelling in France changed my mind. Don't get caught up in stereotypes. No one was rude to us in France, not even the waiters. Our language skills were limited to Bon Jour and Merci and that did not trigger rejection. We found the people to be warm and helpful. Lord have Merci ! I have been judgemental.
We spent one day touring the area around Verdun. It is the site of WW1 battlesites where Frenchmen fought valiantly defending their homeland from invasion of the Prussian Kaiser. Millions lost their lives holding the line over a year and a 1/2 standoff. Trench warfare, hand to hand combat with bayonets and poison mustard gas took their toll. The area was shelled so heavily with artillery @ a ton / sq.meter that the land is still pock-marked. These memorials to the fallen cover a large region. Towns were wiped out and not rebuilt. The land itself was contaminated from the poison gas. Nothing grew here until the 1960's.
In WW2 the country fell quickly into the hands of the Nazis. The Underground French Resistance also struggled with courage to defeat the enemy. They rescued downed allied pilots and sabotaged the enemy. They did this at risk of their own lives. Some ended up in the camps. Some were killed. Many were brave.
It is not hard to understand why this is a country weary from and wary of war. Many wars were fought on this soil, not just the two world wars. This is the area where Joan of Arc answered her call. Christiains fought religious wars with other Christians. I hope we can understand their reluctance to support our choices and they can remember their heritage to know when to fight and when to wage peace.