Archive for June, 2008

Fourth of Four Cities: Berlin

On our way to Berlin from Prague, we stopped for lunch of wurst and beer in Dresden. As in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” “so it goes.” Much of the reconstruction of the city, once called the most beautiful in Germany, has been completed. The original architectural plans, some dating from the twelfth-century, had been moved for safekeeping in 1943 and were used in the reconstruction that’s been going on now for almost sixty years. Some of what’s been accomplished  is mind-numbing in its beauty. But wait, let me describe that divine sausage and beer lunch we had from an outdoor vendor.

It was dark when we reached Berlin. It must be hard to get bad food in much of Europe. Going out blindly on a Sunday night, we stumbled upon a café-restaurant, that proved more than adequate. My wife however, ordered a pork knuckle, something that turned out to be as unappetizing to her as it was challenging to manipulate. The red pickled cabbage that accompanied my excellent schnitzel will remain forever in my memory.

Despite having served in Germany as a draftee in the mid fifties, I remained trapped in the wartime mentality of my childhood. I never met a German that I didn’t begin doing the arithmetic, calculating the person’s age and zeroing in on the unasked question; where had this person been and what had they done, 1933 -1945?  This trip, going into the Germany of 2007, has largely banished those fading ghosts. The WW II generation, our “Greatest,” however their’s is remembered, is quickly disappearing. On any German street, I was among the more senior passers-by. The people I encountered had no more to do with what happened then than I did or young people anywhere. It is vital to maintain an honest historical consciousness, and not forget what happened, but also to let the rest of it go. An aside, Hitler, it was reported, disliked Berlin, believing the city and its people insufficiently zealous in their embrace of him and the regime. Continue reading ‘Fourth of Four Cities: Berlin’

Ten Songs That Reward Close Attention

A current Top Ten of my late night listening:

Is That You                                 Buddy Miller

Sam Stone                                   John Prine

Emaline                                       Benny Goodman

Hot Blood                                    Lucinda Williams

Sun Touches Down                     The Twin Atlas

Start A War                                  The National

Days Have Gone By…                  Andrew Stanglen

Mam’selle                                    The Four Freshman

Bye Bye Bad Man                         The Stone Roses

Missing                                        Everything But The Girl

Hey Kids! Hot wheels!

If you are anything like me, and can’t quite remember the last time you had your car washed, you may have found yourself stopped at a traffic light next to a vehicle not only larger than yours, but one that is sparklingly clean, shining and flashing as H. L. Mencken might have put it, “like the gates of hell itself.” 

You look at it and realize that it’s not an SUV; it’s a pickup truck. But it’s a pickup truck that looks nothing like a working truck. In truth, it looks much more like one of those Tonka toy trucks you might have bought for one of your kids years ago. And maybe like me, you begin to think, hey what’s going on here? 

Then you start noticing them everywhere – Pickup trucks, new, shiny, pimped out in lots of expensive chrome after-market goodies. Many of them sporting assertive stickers on their back-windows and bumpers; NFL and NHL teams logos, Harley-Davidson logos, almost always, high-testosterone markers. And worse, those aggressively patriotic messages, the ones that imply that if you don’t entirely share their support for whatever war is in progress you are probably some limp-wristed, commie Jane Fonda lover.

But the most common indicator of a toy truck, of a vehicle the existence of which seems to serve solely to enhance the macho, if delusional self-image of its owner, is its cleanliness. These pampered iron horses look to have never seen a hard day’s work, or for that matter any form of real work that might, heaven forbid, dirty the bed, mar the finish or even get the tires muddy. If it’s a truck, but never does the work of a truck, what then other than ego gratification could be the purpose of its existence?

I look at the guys in the cabs and I wonder; wannbe tough guys, real tough guys but insecure, or is it maybe like the Pete Townsend observation about guys preening; it’s usually for other guys, because women are rarely impressed by this kind of posturing.

Remember to keep your eyes on the road. Check it out for yourself. Count the big, high-end pickup trucks, waxed and shining, cleaner than clean. Then just imagine yourself at the wheel of one of these babies, in the command position, high above those effete guys in sedans, coupes or even SUVs. Imagine how you might be able to drop your voice a couple of octaves, how you could add a swagger to your gait when dismounting. Maybe you’d even be a bit taller. Maybe somebody might mistake you for a real cowboy.  

Third of Four Cities: Prague

Our hotel in Prague, The Diplomat, though very good, was located far from the center of town, but just steps from a subway station. Nothing like riding public transportation to give you a sense of place. Coming to Prague from Vienna, there had been a lunch stop at a highway service area just inside the Czech border, and a fine lunch it was, complete with a large draft of Pilsner Urquelle, the national beer of the Republic. As in Hungary, we were no longer on the Euro, but both Hungary and the Czech Republic are scheduled to join the Euro zone.

We had signed up for a group dinner and a night at the opera; there are neither Marx Brothers nor Marxists left in Prague. Back on the bus through heavy traffic for dinner at the Opera Restaurant, and then a few steps to the Prague State Opera House for a performance of Bizet’s Carmen. The sets were dramatic and ingenious, and the orchestra and company seemed, to my untrained ear, more than up to the task. There were three of us seated in a box for six, all quite upscale in an old worldly way. Unfortunately during the Habanera, I suffered a violent leg cramp and began knocking over empty chairs in my efforts to escape the pain in my calf.

The first morning in Prague, like the first mornings in each of the cities on our trip, was given over to a guided tour, which we did the first day in each city, a good way for first-time visitors to get bearings in a strange town. Prague Castle, another contribution to my sense of architectural overload, is the center of government and is protected by unsmiling, but unserious-looking Czech soldiers in baby blue, comic opera uniforms. Continue reading ‘Third of Four Cities: Prague’