Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Der Hamburger Rathausmarkt

My first weekend in Hamburg was spent moving into our apartment (and being jetlagged, of course); I got in on a Thursday afternoon and we spent that first night at Lars and Lena's place. Hannes had timed moving in almost perfectly to coincide with my arrival, which was a pretty good trick considering how obscenely hard it apparently is to even get an apartment in any of Germany's three biggest cities.
His parents came that Sunday, too, with a huge carload of stuff that we had alternately left here, had shipped to them, etc. over the past three years, and Anke made sure to bring plenty of little household necessities to top it off. Marco helped Hannes power all the heavy shit up the five flights of stairs and installed some minor lighting fixtures. And lo, for it was good.

The following weekend we went to the main Christmas Market or Weihnachtsmarkt here, in the shadow of the Hamburg City Hall or Rathaus. Have I mentioned before how great I think it is that the seat of local politics is called the "Rat House" in German? I probably have.
("Rat" actually means advice or counsel, or also a senior official. So, still funny.)

It's a pretty audacious, towering Renaissance Revival structure, constructed between 1886 and 1897, after the first one burned down. 
You might remember this style of architecture, so impressive to the eyes of those unaccustomed to seeing it, from the floating castle that houses Mecklenburg-Vorpommern's parliament in Hannes' home state next door. That's in Schwerin. Nico and Andrea took us on a day trip there the first time I was here, and we went again when my mom was here for Christmas last year.

Levels of charming easily at over 9000 right out of the gate


Wow, bookplates! These have been trying to come back in vogue for a few years now, 
but honestly, I don't think enough people read paper books anymore for that to happen.

Doesn't mean they're not awesome, though. Once I actually have my books here 
I can totally see myself stamping them..

Oooh, French-milled soap. How pleasant the texture of these stacked-up ones looks. 
I ended up going back and getting a regular-sized bar of the Provence lavender variety for Rejon.

Of course, the main point of a Christmas market is the glühwein.

Perfectly and picturesquely and somewhat annoyingly because it was windy and super cold, it started to snow. A few little flakes got on the lens when I went to take a picture of my mug, but I love the effect they created with the lights.

Great, right? The resolution of these and the other ones of the sleigh in front of the building 
is super high, if you want to enlarge them for detail.

It was also super fucking crowded. Even for a large Christmas market. 
It was about the same when I went back the following Sunday.

Hrrrrngggg yes I want to have a warm cozy Nordic woodland fairy house full of handcrafted utilitarian goods such as these, please and thank you. Just think of it: filling a cloth bag with freshly picked blueberries and raspberries from the nearby woods and depositing them into one of those wonky baskets, placed atop your rustic wooden table, when you get home. 
So good, so pure, much lifestyle, wow

Oh boy, gingerbread

Love this one

Om nom (it's a coconut macaroon)

They look legit glorious with those shiny gold bows.

Okay, time to eat some real food, ideally something hot.

Kartoffelpuffer! Fried potato cakes. 
I got mine with a delightful salty cheese sauce that I don't think is particularly common. Usually you eat them with applesauce, or just sugar on top.

"Here, see?" 
(He always moves or pulls a face when I take a picture, or both)

I really like this one, too.

At 6 P.M. a real live Santa gets into that sleigh and a weirdly creepy, deep-voiced (It was like, "Heh heh.. heeey, kids..") recording played while he was there in the middle, before going the rest of the way across on that line. Everyone stopped to watch and listen, though he didn't say anything himself or throw down little candy canes or anything like that.

Yeah sorry cute Asian girl working the glühwein stand, I creeped on you 
and your cute raccoon skin-capped uniform a little bit, so sry

"Hah, because nothing says 'Merry Christmas' like 'Absinth'..."
Little did I know.

So lovely. See that 'Kalinka Hütte' there? 
That's supposed to be a Russian-style drink and snack stand.

And it was SO CUTE.
It looks like Hannes' grandma's apartment! 

This is the third one I really like.

I thought at first that this was some kind of post box, but it's just a trash bin lol
Either way, somebody built a tiny snowman on top :B

Pretty neat, huh? I don't know what the deal is with this Egyptian-looking monolith in the middle; maybe someone will explain it to me after seeing this.

We're drunk enough and tired of the crowd and can't feel our fingers or toes; 
that means it's time to go.

Hannes got us a little bag of those delightful cookies; 
this is a dark chocolate-covered gingerbread one.

Ooh man, look at that texture! It's a winter wonderland.

A charming street corner near our place. 
And that's how December in Germany goes :3

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Well, here it is: the conclusion to this series of posts about my two months back in Arizona.

Here, have another 90's nostalgia bomb. 
Obviously I'm keeping these vintage Thanksgiving greeting cards I unearthed, like, forever

When I found out that my cousin Ryan, his wife Mariya, and their baby Aubrey would be coming for Thanksgiving along with his parents, my aunt Deborah and uncle Gary, I decided I'd stick around for it. Hannes decided on the spot when he met Gary on Christmas two years ago that he was great, and I've always tended to think the same. Unfortunately Hannes didn't get to meet Ryan and Mariya that time, because she was too pregnant to travel, and she's been adorably regretful of the timing ever since.

Originally I thought I'd just stay 6 weeks or so, but once again, the storage unit and unexpected stress ended up being such massive things that there was no way I would have finished by then; I barely got it done by the end of November as it was. So, the plan worked out nicely in that respect. 

Somewhat more importantly, though, my entire family hasn't been together for Thanksgiving since I surprised everyone by flying home from Korea in 2013 (apparently I didn't put the moment I walked into my grandparents' house on YouTube? or removed it, and I still haven't used my external HD because of that unresolved disk error, so... maybe I'll post it here later), which was before I met Hannes, and it doesn't seem especially likely that we'll all be together for it again. Plus, I have a small family Stateside and Aubrey is the first baby since me. Witness the demographic trend all developed countries now face, in miniature.
I have three younger girl cousins in England, but don't have any contact with my dad's family. 
Fun fact: Garrett, Ryan, and I were all born within 2 1/2 years of each other, and we'll all be married within the same time period, too. 
But the kids thing, that's definitely not falling within the magic 2 1/2 year window, guaranteed.

So, anyway, point is, it meant something to everybody that I made the effort to be there for Thanksgiving, even if I'm that one difficult, super-left relative who doesn't eat meat or bread and considers it a day of genocide and lost cultural heritage, and you know what?

It was a really, really good day. It was better than, I think, anyone expected.

That moppy thing is Garrett's very gentle and non-borky dog, Mr. Bean.

"Hey, Gary."
(-this face-)
"Yep, that's exactly what I wanted, thanks."

Aubrey is one of those alert, observant babbies/toddlies who studies and scrutinises everything, taking her time before making a decision. This decision was how she felt about Mr. Bean.

Okay, Lindsey (Garrett's wife, a kindergarten teacher and church youth coordinator) is reassuring, but.. -pulls hand away- Still not sure about the licker and the snuffly snoot..

I know this one is blurry, but it was hard to get Ryan laughing or smiling. 
He's not super cereal or anything, just much better at looking incredulous.

And that's what happens when you ask the baby to smile, lol
She goes full grandma crinkle-face.

She was interested in my camera and that was totally cool because she's careful, gentle, and a good listener. She loves looking at photos and videos on any device. You can also see her saying, "Oooh," which is kind of one of her trademarks. I can't imagine having grown up with smartphones and Google and hope I don't have to compete for jobs with kids who casually used tablets from birth in like 25 years. (#whatpeoplewhoworryallthetimethinkabout)

(-that slurpy sound cranberry sauce makes when you shake it out of the can-)

The look my mother has given me my entire life; 
I'm sure pretty much everyone can relate.

If you look closely, my grandpa is the only one who realised I was taking a picture lol

Such a nice one of Mariya.
See what I mean about the incredulity though?

This one is really nice, too. 
Garrett's dad's health has been a massive strain on my family for the past few years, but things have finally improved now that Garrett's stepped up to deal with it.

If you're wondering wtf I ate: I made a cheesy quinoa bake with green chiles and bell peppers (that everyone liked) and also a coconut-based, root vegetable and fruit curry, thinking I could share with Gary, because he's been on a special diet for health reasons. He of course cheats a bit on very special occasions like this, where the whole point is to eat yourself into a coma, but he's not meant to have any grains, dairy, sugar, etc.; naturally, his health has improved, his weight has dropped, and Deborah has concocted all kinds of interesting coconut flour breads and whatnot to compensate. She's always been a really good cook.

Anyway, the curry had a sweet potato, an acorn squash, an apple, half a pineapple, and some other stuff in it but, quelle surprise, nobody else felt like having curry on Turkey Day. I guess most people would have reckoned that immediately. But, it's okay.. at least I didn't try to foist a Tofurkey™ on anyone. Here's what I made several years ago, the last time I was still living in the States during this holiday. I've definitely become a much better cook since then.

Gary's the funny uncle. He always makes my mom laugh until she cries and makes little squeaky wheezy sounds at the table.

See, she's probably crying slightly right here

Some people just listen with rapt attention and awe and good hair

Sorry Mariya, I know you're all like "Omfg I am so tired right now" but look, 
a rare combination of smiling and incredulity

So. Much. Food.

Yeah fuck it, I'll eat the inside of a slice of pumpkin pie and some stray candied pecans.
We live, we pie, we live again

Lindsey brought these. Aren't they pretty?

You can't do the washing up without washing up liquid!
(Maybe NiQui gets this reference, idk, probably no one does)

Ryan and Mariya went out for a couple of hours and because Aubrey had decided I was her new favourite person, she was left to me. Yeah I like kids and am good with kids, but I had literally never held a baby until that day. And she turned two in January, so she's not really even a baby anymore. I made faces like this a few times because this new fan situation did nothing to quell the frequent remarks and inevitable questions about whether or not Hannes and I are going to have kids soon. As I creep up on 30, I'm still labouring under the delusion that it's possible to have some kind of career.
At any rate, Aubrey really likes rocks (she insisted guiding me and Ryan on a tour of the most interesting rocks of the backyard, which is 100% rocks, and at one point farted when she bent down to poke one and said "Ew!" lol), books (when they have little windows to open or slide, anyway), and dancing in circles on the bed while going "Doodoo doot dedoot!". She sounds a lot like Boo from Monsters, Inc. Mariya says I'm not the first one to point that out.

"Huh? Smile?"

"Like this?"

She also really likes showing you every single thing she has in her travel bag.

Oh and, good grief, this became the comedy routine of the decade. 
She stuck these fake flowers in my face so I could smell them, and I did a little fake sneeze thing like hedgehogs do, and she thought it was absolutely hysterical. And because she's a baby, of course, she never got tired of it.

"No? Come on. Do it again. Do it again."

Finally she agreed to come chill on the couch, and thankfully, she's also really good at coze.

Yes, this is a good baby, I approve of this baby.

The relatives were of course in Phoenix for the entire weekend, staying at my grandparents' spacious house, and somewhat preoccupied with shopping. Idk, that's what they do when they come. As someone who doesn't shop, the allure eludes me. 
That time I was home four years ago my cousins and I went to the mall just to witness the Black Friday crowds with our own eyes, and we stood at a second-floor railing shaking our heads, watching the mall fill when the doors opened at midnight with hundreds of people who were somehow actually completely serious about getting deals on shit. 
If as a non-American you really don't get why people punch and trample each other for a bunch of hollow Chinese-made consumerist trash they don't need and often can't even afford right after professing their thanks for what they already have, then rest assured that I'm at least as baffled as you are.

Funny thing is, though, Ryan, who is the physical embodiment of chill, usually thinks he can just casually head to Best Buy or wherever to see if they still have any of those crazy cheap -insert name of electronic product here-. This time it was a really nice TV from Wal-Mart. I think they were selling 41" ones for $150. At some point in the evening on either Thanksgiving or Black Friday itself, not sure which, he was like,
"Hmm, I think I'm gonna go see if they still have any of those."
We tried to tell him that people had been wait-camping all night to get one and that he was hours too late, and like, he does know how it works and everything, but they went to look anyway. When he got back predictably empty-handed, his perpetual chill remained, but he said perfectly calmly,
"That was awful. I don't know why anyone does that."

My mom and I spent Black Friday staying away from people. I was still re-packing boxes and whatnot, between the food and the quality time. 
Ryan and Mariya came over because Mariya had only had one cooking pan for a while, like a crazy person, so I said, er, there's this really nice, very lightly-used set my mom bought me as a teenager that you can have? She's so grateful for anything and everything you do for her or give her that she was like, "Oh my god, really?!"

Aubrey was also super excited about meeting my mom's birbs.
She has two zebra finches that aren't hand-tamed, but the one she adopted has a fucky wing and can't really fly, so she's pretty low-key and easy enough to catch. Once you do catch her she doesn't seem to mind being in your hand much and just hangs out there without struggling or anything.

This isn't the face of course, but when Mariya reminded Aubrey if the birdies, she snapped to attention and went "Ooh." very definitively, pointing Mariya toward the cage. It's pretty hilarious how she just commands people to convey her to her destination of choice, which is usually outside or along an aimless circuit.

Yep, told her to smile again because it's funny

She knows what "Be very gentle" and "soft" mean, but her wee babby motor skills had her tiny chubby hands wobbling excitedly as she very carefully and slowly reached over to touch the little bird.

Finally she decided on using just one finger, having better control that way, and very very gently stroked Crêpes Suzette's head. (The other bird is Madeleine. My mom asked me to name them and French pastries are something she really likes, so there you go.) 
Cuteness level easily 9000+

Here she is again enjoying photos and videos of herself from the day before :3

That night we had some more glorious traditional white people Mexican food

Christmas Yoda was in the other window, lol. 
Maybe decorations like these are what people trample each other over? Idk, seems legit.

"Ohh, shit."
Balloon lady.

-amazement intensifies-

I think it was Gary who decided? that she should have a shark.
When you think about it, sharks are actually really pointy, and balloons are really not.

I thought this was a pretty good effort, hahah.

There was also a game of "Where's your belly?" tickles, which she easily likes just as much as "Smell the fake flowers and sneeze".

There we go, that's the winner.

We went back to my grandparents' house to hang out for a bit, and obviously, to eat more.
This is the special-diet pumpkin pie Deborah brought. The crust was made mostly of coconut flour, I think, and was pretty salty, but good. It's a nice change of pace from cheap refined sugar and other crap like that.

She offered me a slice of this moist, tasty walnut raisin bread, too, also coconut flour-based. It was super good; I wouldn't mind having it for breakfast on a regular basis.

Ah but wait, that wasn't the end; there was one more night of feasting before the relatives had to drive back to California on Sunday. Ryan and Mariya left earlier than they had originally planned because they realised they weren't sure that their cats and fish had enough food to last comfortably until late Sunday night.

Tasty, tasty Chinese food.

Side note, here are some of Hannes' mom's adorable handmade ceramic birds and fish 
on display in my grandparents' living room.

Don't you just love these things? They're so cute and funny.

Thanksgiving was my "time's up" point, but I was organising stuff, putting stuff away, re-packing stuff to keep, getting rid of items to donate and that I was selling and giving away via OfferUp, etc., for the remainder of the week after the holiday. The entirety of my last day was spent cleaning up and vacuuming my mom's place and packing my luggage, into which I did not fit nearly everything I wanted. I left all kinds of stuff, from art books and my old sketchbooks to my Galileo thermometer to my nail file, in snowdrift-like piles in spaces I had previously emptied or cleared out in my mom's room.

My grandparents came over to say goodbye, but I didn't have time to go out to dinner again or anything. 

I hid my mom's Christmas presents - slowly accumulated as always over the course of months and across various countries - in her closet before going to bed the night before my flight, and I think partly because it was less cluttered in there, she found them before Christmas and asked whose they were.

I was glad to leave.

Not getting along with my mom, who I've been very close to all my life, was complete shit. Mostly it's my fault I guess, for being super stressed out and upset and for not being more patient and understanding, but her health has been in decline for the past three years and she's not quite the same anymore. She knows that, too, and it only makes sense after all she's gone through. I think it's part of the human condition that we take the status quo for granted and then are shaken and saddened when it suddenly changes one day, like everything does. There's also this aspect of having no control over certain things, which some people handle better than others. I have a need to be in control and feel like I'm failing if something I care about is going badly and there's nothing I can do to help or fix it. 

Beyond this egocentric aspect of it, though, I just straight-up wish there was more I could do for my mom. For a while I was thinking I could figure out a way to relocate her to Germany, but having learned more about the list of visas available - which don't exactly vary along a broad or generous spectrum - it doesn't seem like a realistic possibility, especially considering her very expensive healthcare needs. At this point we're pretty sure that the only way to retire abroad is to be independently wealthy and to get some kind of special stay permission arrangement by demonstrating that fact and/or by paying off officials in positions of power. 
The days when people could buy a house, send their kids to college, own a car, and then retire comfortably are super fucking dead (I doubt I'm the only one who has often felt that communicating with the grandparents about things like school and work is like taking to humans from another planet), and I'm sure a lot of American Boomers can't even begin to hope for the barely-adequate coverage my mom has been enjoying, which needed to be fought and argued for on an almost daily basis for the first couple of years she had it. Just maintaining it was like having another full-time job, after it had been decided that my she couldn't work any longer, because it's plenty of other peoples' full-time job to find shitty underhanded ways and technicalities that allow them boot people off the healthcare and disability coverage they've been paying into for years, and that they unfortunately come to depend on to stay alive in some cases. Shame on those people. May they never enjoy a proper night's sleep.

In small towns and desolate, culturally dead places like Phoenix, everything is always the same: endless rows of beige boxes and franchises and cookie-cutter houses with beige accents on a beige background, ever expanding into a desert with ever less water to support that kind of unchecked growth and ever-more sun-baked people who can't afford a car to drive everywhere, with no discernible seasonal changes except for the brief monsoon, and fire. 
It's like a continuous flat line, running somewhere noticeably below the level of quality of life that a developed country should have. Some people make it work and build lives there, but clearly I don't get how, having this kind of viewpoint. It's easy to become convinced that nothing ever changes in an environment like that - and indeed most things never will until the day the emergency water restrictions start, the way they just have in Cape Town - but therefore especially upsetting when things do change, for the worse, and continue along a slow and steady decline. 
I'm flexible and adaptable, but I wasn't prepared for that. And I didn't handle it well. I will try harder the next time I see my mom, because she's great and one of the nicest and most generous people ever. 10/10 friends, family members, and former coworkers agree. I don't want to focus on things being bad, but rather on being better and doing what I can to make things better. That's all any of us can do, I think.

Despite all of this, Thanksgiving was a high point and a happy ending to a weird time period that was more of a long-dreaded mission than a visit. Ryan and Mariya are seriously considering coming for our yet-to-be-planned wedding garden party this summer, and I really hope they do. Neither of them has ever been out of the U.S. before.

I didn't get a picture out the airplane window of the sunset over Puget Sound, but it was glorious. Whimsical, folksy Icelandic pop was playing in the background, and I finally got a little bit emotional, because the fact that I was quitting America for good finally hit me. 
All I ever wanted to do was leave. Five years and three countries later, quite literally penniless but satisfied with most of my choices, I was on my way to a place where the trees are often taller than the buildings, and where I had a new family waiting for me. In the pretty, fair-haired children around me, excited to be flying and in some cases already dressed for the holidays, I glimpsed the future.

Again, thank you for everything, and goodbye.