Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Customer grouch

With beer sales up, Germans said Proust! more often in 2014.

On annihilation, raise your hands over your head.

Things to do in Hilarious, Germany

China will never follow the path of western colonists, the foreign mystery said.

Swiss tourism faces tongue challenge after bank abandons currency peg.

The couple bought a 4-story townhouse where they’re ravishing their twins.

Profitability will be hit by an investment in customer grouch.

Jesus Charlie.
(Je suis).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Visiting America I decide to reconsider my disdain of scented candles

Blue Lavender
I’ve spent years overdosing on lavender in the form of soaps, sachets and lotions but this candle came with a wooden wick that promised to crackle. Open mind, I told myself, not every scented candle wants to strangle you with apple cinnamon. And unlike the ubiquitous pumpkin clogging the American esophagus, this was the scent of cottonballs and vaporous souffl├ęs, of swans and a pale lilac sunset that glows for approximately 33 hours.
Mystery Collage by Valerie Roybal

This wore a distinct masculine cast. Black wax and black glass, it purported to be aromatherapy and gullible woman that I was I bought it. It sat knobby in its chamber; the flame elicited beads of moisture, exuding an unctuous smell, like a mix of 1) burning tires and 2) sweat in a smoky, upholstered club that hasn’t been vacuumed since Adam. Womanly goodwill aside, I didn’t want such an atmosphere roasting my clothes and, dear reader, I tossed it. 

Wild Bluebells & Jasmine
When I had to whittle the cargo down for the sake of my suitcase this is the bouquet I almost manned overboard. Wild bluebells and jasmine, I said, how ridiculous. Do bluebells even smell? Is it just girlish, poetic marketing? But the candle was small, the color a robin’s egg blue, so I tucked it inside a sock in a side pocket. And in truth it became my favorite, because it said snow-capped mountains to me. It said bells of alpine goats who’ve been freshly shampooed. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

In the room the women come and go, talking

Two stand-out experiences I had on my trip to America had to do with public interaction, and how much friendlier, open and trusting it is than in Germany.

The first took place in a ladies’ fitting room. I came out to look in a larger mirror and found - not unexpectedly - strangers commenting on each other’s outfits in a way unimaginable in Germany. Friendly and helpful and possibly not altogether honest comments. I asked the fitting room attendant if she thought I had the right size, but it didn’t matter whether I needed advice - it was just refreshing not to feel you must stay closed up inside yourself, to make contact with people, even in a banal retail setting. In Germany in contrast, privacy starts with avoiding strangers.

In the second case, my mother and I had just seen a movie we had differing opinions on (Whiplash). We stopped at the ladies’ room, where there was the usual backlog of ladies. But everyone in line was talking to the others about the film, whether they liked it, how intense it was, what a fantastic jerk one of the characters was. Except for my mother and me, the ladies were strangers to each other as far as I could tell. You’d never strike up a conversation with a stranger standing on line in Germany, much less engage in a large, inclusive conversation, superficial as it may be.

I can’t lie and say I don’t miss that. I miss it all the time. It makes life more pleasant; you feel less isolated, less invisible. You are invited to participate in an exchange. This can also go too far sometimes, as with the well-off American man in front of me on the plane, who needed to interact with the duty-free team for over a half an hour about which watch looked best on him, then which one to buy for his wife as well. Blabbity-bla.  

And of course I returned to Germany this morning to news of a road-rage murder in Nevada, a 16 year-old executing his family then being killed in a shoot-out with police in Kentucky, and another deadly shooting at a Walmart in Mississippi. You can’t have it all.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Unhappy landings

On the morning of my departure I took the dog out to spare my husband at least one walking, since for some days he’d be sole proprietor. My good intentions only went so far, however. I was in a hurry. On the front stoop I put the long rubber boots on slapdashedly, my left heel lodged just ¾ of the way down. Sure enough I stumbled on the cement steps near my house. It was a long descent. On the way down, I had ample time to rue my haste and plan my landing.

I braced the fall with the outer edge of my left hand – luckily without involving the dog – next, my left shoulder slammed the sidewalk (though I only surmise this from the pain I felt later), then my left cheek touched down, impressively far from where the fall began. I smashed my pinky and it bled, my index finger, too, and the knuckle of my right thumb. It was still dark so I did without witnesses. No one heard me moaning; I had time to assess the damage and recuperate my wits. I decided my hand wasn’t broken, so I rose to continue my walk, tears or no tears, because someone still had to do it.

A day later I woke up a continent away with a vice-like headache and nausea that followed through. My mother said I probably had a concussion. All I wanted to do was walk the dog with the least amount of bother, then get on a plane, and a day in bed with the sun shining on the snow outside was my lecture on laziness.

Sunday, February 01, 2015


Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge, about a housewife suffering vague existential unease, begins with a Walt Whitman quote:  But where is what I started for so long ago? / And why is it yet unfound?

A Matisse illustration for Charles d'Orleans
The companion novel Mr. Bridge begins with a quote from Wallace Stevens’s “Tea At the Palaz of Hoon:”
I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

Dorothy Allison’s autobiographical novel Bastard Out of Carolina begins with an epigraph from James Baldwin: “People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead.”

I love the Thomas de Quincey quote Billy Collins chose for Nine Horses: “See, then, that bronze equestrian statue. The cruel rider has kept the bit in the horse’s mouth for two centuries. Unbridle him for a minute, if you please, and wash his mouth with water.”

The epigraph to Collins’s Horoscopes for the Dead is also terrific - from Alan Bennet’s The Uncommon Reader: “It was the kind of library he had only read about in books.” 

Roberto Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas starts with an epigraph from short story writer Augusto Monterroso: “If the flow is slow enough and you have a good bicycle, or a horse, it is possible to bathe twice (or even three times, should your personal hygiene so require) in the same river.”

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq uses an epigraph from medieval poet and duke Charles d’Orleans, who wrote most of his poems while a prisoner:
“The world is weary of me, / And I am weary of it.”

The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel about the German poet Novalis, starts with a quote from Novalis himself: “Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history.” 

Edna O’Brien’s Down By the River starts with an epigraph from James Joyce’s Ulysses that makes me think I need to take another crack at Ulysses:
Darkness is our souls do you not think?
Flutier. Our souls, shame-wounded by our sins.

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