You may be away but you’re never that far away …

We leave for Dresden tomorrow morning.  I’ve been chomping at the bit for the last ten days.  While I love rural landscapes; cows, birds, gardens – my bottom line requires a bit more remote stimulation that a largish town or small city can provide.  I’m glad we’re leaving – for a more recent and challenging reason.

The house we’ve been living in has a small apartment downstairs in which an American couple – around our age (M and N)  – have been staying.  We’ve done a few things with them.  They have a rental car and are a bit more flexible in their schedule than we are.  It’s been pleasant.  R and M (the male of the couple) have gone some rounds over liberalism, global warming and well, a few other things.  But nothing requiring stitches.  I stay mum mostly and talk with N about hobbies, the cost of food – chat, in other words.

They’ve been gone for a week or more- their style is to take car trips where ever the fancy takes them.  A few weeks ago when they e-mailed me that they were in Sweden I thought they were joking.  They weren’t.  Tonight we went down stairs to say we were off to Dresden.  M opened the door.  Heard our chipper statement.  Told us to “have a nice trip” and closed the door in our faces.  I was astonished.

I can’t imagine what it is we might have done.  We’ve paid for coffee, cake, lunch when possible as a thank you for the car availability.  I think when they left for their last trip we were on good terms.  Hmmmmm.

The social see saw that has always screwed with my sense of balance is clearly on tilt-o-mode.  And I thought – wait – this is what social media is about … something happens, you are too far away to call a friend and “process”, so you blog about it.

While I haven’t left high school as far behind as I had hoped I have leapt into the 21st century and see yet another way to “stay in touch”.

I’m really looking forward to Dresden.  Really.

 

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Garmisch

The Zusptize or a sister

The Zugspitze or a sister mountain

Garmisch-Partenkirchen sits at the base of Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze.  It feels as if you’re being held in a wide bottomed bowl as you look up at the massive peaks above your head.  My brother was born here some 63 (or so) years ago.  Garmisch for me, has the air of a folk tale.  My mother talked of skating here, having coffee on Marienplatz, of giving birth to my 13 pound brother.  I have some photographs of them shortly after he was born – he looks like a one year old.

 

My brother and me in N.Y.

My brother and me in N.Y.

Some of the facts of our lives have always felt shrouded in mist, much as the peak of the Zugspitze. I know it’s there but I can’t quite see it.  It is a mystery conjured by my mother who more often than not felt that children should be seen (nicely dressed) and not heard and that one should eat everything not know everything.  Though as I got a little older she would tell me stories about herself when she was younger.  They were tinged with not nostalgia so much as a sense that there was a life lived before and one after.  Somewhere inside me there was always a hope that my mother would decide to move back to Europe – I of course would go with her and fulfill my destiny to be exotic and live “abroad”.

 

My mom in Berlin, post war

My mom in Berlin, post war

I have no doubt that that idea was mine and mine alone.  My mother took great pride in her Americaness.  When someone would ask her, because of her accent – a life long difficulty with th’s, w’s and f’s what nationality she was, she’d fix them with a very blue eye and say, “American”.  She was proud too, of the fact that I was born in the states, though I lied for many years and said Paris was my birthplace.  We spoke English at home until I took French and German in school and only then did we institute one day a week foreign language use.  I could bring her to tears speaking French with a pretended southern accent.

There is another reason I wanted to go to Garmisch.  I’ve had trouble sleeping most of my adult life.  Some years ago on one of those frustrating and painful nights, in a fit of restless insomnia I whined to Robert to tell me a story.  Early on we had discovered that his voice could lull me to sleep but if he read he’d needed a light which would add to my insomnia.  Thus only a story, told in the dark in a soothing voice would do.  He began weaving together a series of stories about a little girl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, her family, a very special dog and world events that became a creative cycle that took on a life of its own.

Putting my feet on the cobblestones of Garmisch, looking at views and landscapes, store fronts and pubs that had been woven into the stories is like my dream of Disneyland.   We’ve continued to tell the stories back and forth, suggesting details, correcting misconceptions that one of the other of us has formed.  It’s an ongoing creative project that darts and weaves throughout our lives.  That it has some relationship to my own life in actuality makes it all the sweeter.

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The hills are alive …

with the sound of panting … it’s me.  Trying to make it up the long, steepish hills around here on my bicycle.  But yesterday – May Day – Willi, our host finished repairing an electrical assist bike and I’M IN LOVE.  This bicycle is so sweet!  You still have to peddle but it’s like having someone hand you the end of a rope tow – up you go – barely breaking a sweat.  It’s been raining a lot here the last two weeks and there is promise of more, much more, to come but I’m thinking I can hold an umbrella over my head or just buy a raincoat already.  This thing is too much fun to miss.Garden1

I walked down to the market this morning, about 5 kms there and back, just to prove that now that I had access to battery power I wouldn’t become lazy.  Anyway, if I bike I miss looking at all the schneken along the path.  I’ve got this theory that slugs are homeless snails and that the yellowish snails are hippies and the largish beigeish ones are staid and practical snails, just trying to get along here.  On the way back from shopping I stopped and talked to the woman who made this garden. She was outside with a barn coat, gloves and a tin can, walking around the vegetable patch picking off the caterpillars. They eat her vegetables but she didn’t want to harm them because they would eventually turn into butterflies.  And yes, the whole conversation was in German.  I may have missed some of the particulars but I got the gist.  My German is getting better though once I answer a single question correctly the native speakers take off and I have to ask them to slow down. The Germans are extremely tolerant of non-native speakers which makes it easier to bump along and practice.

We’re in a little studio apartment – a bedroom with a separate bath and kitchen.  While we are doing fine the rainy cold weather is complicating things as the two of us in one room all day – well, let’s just say it’s a bit touch and go.

Our room is right above those first barn doors from the left.

Our room is right above those first barn doors from the left.

We make small excursions – places we can get to by bus.  Today though, we may bike down to Willhelmsdorf (if the rain stops long enough) just to go out of the house.  And to replace the exploded cutting board.  But that’s another story for another time.  Maybe.

 

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April 21

We left Rovinj

Rovinj shore line

on Wednesday at 5:15 in the morning.  Dark, cool, with the sound of the ocean in the background.  Our host, Millevoj gave us  a lift to Porec to catch the bus to Ljbjlana. As we crossed the border my stomach began to hurt and my palms got a little sweaty.  We were waved through at both borders by simply semaphoring from the back of the bus with our passports.  So much for our fine.

The  main square

Two days in Ljbjlana was perfect.  Walking, exploring, enjoying the beautiful city

 

And as usual there was wine enjoyed.

And as usual there was wine to enjoy.

And an incredible, painterly view from the train

And an incredible, painterly view from the train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now we are in Illmensee, in southern Germany.  It’s a beautiful little town – once more at the back of beyond but this time there is transportation and lots and lots of green.  We set feet to the ground and began working the visa issue right away – and that is yet another story in the making.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comforted

If you’re feeling sad, blue, sorry for yourself – go to Ljubljana (the spelling is under discussion) but it’s in Slovenia – go downtown across the river find  and sit at an outside table at a place called Jaznu na plac.  If it’s raining feel even more sorry for yourself – but still sit outside.  Smoke cigarettes (Gauloise, Players, some foul European brand that smells like burning horse hair) order wine – I say red, R says white.  Order two glasses.  Then order the pasta with cheese or the vegetable stew.  Become giddy as you eat (you’ll wait a bit before it arrives) because it is like being in Nona’s arms.  Both dishes are creamy and rich without being cloying – they seem to be what macaroni and cheese and potato soup were before they became as we know them at home.  And then eat the little piece of cake they give you – just because you stopped to eat at their restaurant.  Order another glass of wine.  Sit there – in the rain, in the wind, in the cold.  But sit there.  It is beyond comfort moving into the world of bliss.

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Vacation

We’ve been getting ready to leave Rovinj.  R, in a burst of nostalgia for our first week took us on a bicycle route five miles around the city to get to a place that is ten minutes away.  But once there (traffic dangers and gravel roads aside) we found olive groves and vineyards, abandoned churches from the 11th century, wobbly big bumble bees looking for spring flowers and the loveliest quiet.  Well worth the trip.

I know it must seem as if we’ve been on vacation all along but we have been living frugally. Mostly eating at home, being careful about the day to day expenses.  And since it seemed we had both lost our concentration a bit after The Border Affair we decided to be tourists for this last week.  We took a ferry ride around the islands getting to see Rovinj from a different perspective.  No matter which way you look at it  – its a beautiful place.

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A lighthouse that we could only see from the ferry

There’s been a Red Bull Fly In going on since yesterday afternoon.  The air is filled with the buzzing sounds of small planes.  The wharf now has food carts strung along its edge and all of the restaurants on the square are open; waiters standing at the ready, encouraging people to step in for lunch, dinner, dessert, coffee – you get the picture.  There were supposed to be 80,000 – 100,000 people here for the event – hotel rooms filled, streets packed.  There’s a band stand set up on the square.  We’ve promised ourselves to take a walk down tonight and see what’s up though we could just faintly hear it from the new apartment on Centener.

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The rocky shore – though the sea has been mostly calm.

We’ve worked out how to get to Germany from here – with a two day stop in Ljbijana followed by a train ride to Ravensburg.  I’m looking forward to the trip and to a little more ease with the language.  I’m afraid the only Croatian I’ve managed are the very basic of basics, rather like a two year old.  Dog, good, bad, please, thank you, a continental shrug of the shoulders which means I don’t understand and lastly, a fairly good imitation of an owl like bird called a Cuk.

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One of many beautiful sunsets

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Fined, but fine

I’m not in jail.  Neither is R.  We were fined – a whopping $800.00.  Our credit card didn’t go through the first time.  I began to plan where I would sleep at the police station because I’d already decided that I wasn’t leaving town without my passport.  Second pass, whoosh, from our pocket to theirs.  I let out a cheer and the young male officer (who once I realized reminded me of Joey Howell, a police officer in Kentucky, R’s oldest grandson and also a very, very, sweet and funny young man) I became less nervous.  Got him to crack a smile with my pleasure at increasing the GNP of Croatia.  Ivana, the 18 year veteran who was helping us out got a kick out of it as well.  I thanked them all with a dozen doughnuts, chocolate bunnies and handshakes (some of which is true).

We’ve got an extended visa – good for 20 more days. Since our plan and our tickets to Germany are for the 16th I think we’ll be okay as long as we stay out of bar fights, don’t indulge in public drunkenness, avoid littering, pay our cafe bill with small change and continue to impress the natives with our scintillating wit (such as it may be).

By the way, I loved the advice from all of you.  True to type some was practical, some was heartfelt offerings of support and some pointed out what a bunch of nitwits we can be.  Thanks.

Our weekend in Slovenia is the most expensive non-trip I think I’ve ever taken.  But we are ticking the lessons learned.  Don’t trust anecdotal information about government related rules, in other words – read for yourself twice, pay once.  Stay calm, be curious rather than defensive.  Assume you are correct and be surprised that anyone would think otherwise.  Be polite.  Enjoy yourself – it’s the only possible way to get through it without making yourself and others sick.

So, once again, thank your for your advice, thoughts and caring.  I didn’t realize quite how dire the earlier blog might sound to some of you – while it was  a little nerve wracking – it was okay.

 

 

 

 

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So, you know when you get an e-mail that says, “I’m your grandson and I’m in trouble overseas?”

I’m sure you’ve gotten those e-mails that attempt to wring money out of you with a sob story about appendicitis, stolen passports, lost luggage.  And I bet that you took a moment to run through your memory to see if your  child/nephew/niece/any relative had a scheduled trip to foreign shores and I bet you thought, “What if this is real?”

Well, this isn’t one of those.  We aren’t in a Slovenian or Croatian prison.  We haven’t been deported … yet.  We have enough money and a place to sleep, but oof!  My worst nightmare.  We had a scheduled trip to Ljbjiana this weekend.  At the border (after my usual nervousness about approaching border patrol) we hand in our passports and … we wait.  Then we wait some more.  Then we are asked to pull over to the side.  Then I’m glad I didn’t eat too much at breakfast.  And we wait some more.

After two hours or so it is determined that we are illegal.  Our passports are confiscated and we are given orders to return to the police station in  Buje tomorrow morning at 8:30 at which point we will be told our status.  Lots of conversation ensued on the way back to Rovinj (without our passports, which I’ve got to say caused me some difficulty) about Plan A, Plan B and who could we call for help.

I’ve been packing for our move to the other apartment for the last two weeks of our stay anyway so we were 90% packed.  I’ve ditched all I can,  just in case they make me walk across the border and I have sewing thread and a needle if I have to keep my liquid assets safe while being questioned.   I’ve already  arranged for the rental car to be picked up in Buje in case we don’t come back.  I can’t think what else I could do.  Beyond that I’ll let you know.

Oh, and while you think about passport control – think also about what happens to the Rovinj cats in the summer.  More to come.

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Spring

It’s like mushrooms are growing around here.  Every morning we take inventory of how many cafes, restaurants or gellato stands have opened since the day before.  First the chairs and tables appear then the umbrellas, followed soon by people occupying the seats.  The streets are more crowded and we now have to order our rotisserie chicken the day before – a fair inconvenience to us but you know, The Season.

The Season is getting a kick start this year from what I understand.  On April 12th and 13th there’s going to be a Red Bull fly in.  One hundred thousand people are expected. Cafe owners, landlords, shop keepers are all working frantically to bring their places up to snuff a month earlier than normal.  We offered to move to another apartment that is outside of old town so that our landlord can rent this one for that weekend.  It isn’t only altruism that motivates us.  It’s going to be noisy down here.  And crowded.  And oh, did I mention noisy?  So when we get back from Lubijana on Monday we will throw our stuff into the rental car and haul it up the hill.

We’ve heard some practice planes flying the course already.  They sound like big angry bees.  Big bees.  If one were the nervous type one might expect nasty things to fall from their insides if one didn’t know better.  I’m trying not to graphically imagine people flying these little bombers after a couple of cans of Red Bull.  I’m hoping to view the race from a bit further away than the ideal.

We are beginning to make plans for Germany.  We really have chosen to be in the back of beyond so leaving here requires either two bus rides and a train ride to Munich followed by another trade ride to Ravensbug, or a bus ride to Slovenia followed by another bus ride, a train ride and then, well you get the picture.  But the back of beyond is a lovely place to be … once  you’re there

right outside our front door

right outside our front door

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3/11/14

I knew something was up last Saturday when I saw people carrying single roses and carnations wrapped in cellophane – kind of like those cheesy gas station check out flowers, but prettier.  It was a beautiful day – sunny, no clouds.   Lots of people on the square, lots of women having coffee, dads with their kids.  Lovely. But I didn’t know what the celebration was about.  I kept trying to figure it out with my very limited knowledge of the Catholic calendar.  Not Easter, not Good Friday, maybe Lent? The secret was revealed Saturday night.

We go to the movies pretty regularly.  I’ve seen new U.S. releases sub-titled in Croatian (the down side being that if there is a second language spoken in the film, like Elvish or Russian – it’s subtitled in Croatian, too – meaning I miss some important clues).  The movie theatre – Gandusio Cinema – is an old opera house that seats about 300.  There’s a balcony that becomes blisteringly hot during a film and it’s the best place to sit because the main floor can be cold  and drafty.  I think the only time I saw more than a handful of people there was for The Hobbit – and that was lots of naughty little boys in the balcony becoming bored and tearing around the theatre.  It was kind of fun.

On Saturday we saw Philomena with Judy Dench who could be changing her shoes and I’d watch.  As we made our way up the stairs there was a lovely young woman dressed formally with a black cape and carrying a basket.  She was accompanied by two young girls, also dressed Sunday best, who stood shyly with her. The basket was filled with little origami pods that had quotes from movies pertaining to women in Croatian and English sticking out on slim pieces of white paper, like a fortune cookie.  She told us, in lovely English, that it was International Women’s Day and this was part of the celebration.  Aha! The cellophane wrapped flowers.

The elegant basket wielder introduced the movie and said something that the other audience members reacted to with smiles and applause.  The young girls sweetly handed out white envelopes with two free tickets to the cinema – and charmingly told us in excellent English what was going on.  I don’t know why I was so touched by this – perhaps the young girls getting experience at being graceful in new situations, or the sheer sweetness of their using English with us, or realizing the effort that went into the folding of all those ribbon pods and typed quotes – so many more than there were movie goers – but it did touch me in the way that unexpected kindnesses do and of which there seems to have been so many on this adventure.

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