Thursday, December 28, 2006

Frankfurt am Main

Tower at Night, Frankfurt a/MMy European life and sensibilities have always to some extent orbited around Frankfurt am Main. On my first trip to Europe in 1991, I had a layover at the airport before heading further east. While waiting for my flight, I called my friend Sascha whom I knew from our East Texas community college band days and who was from this city on the Main River. I'll write more about Sascha later.

Old Town Half-Timber Bldg., Frankfurt a/MWhen I actually moved to Europe to conduct research for my thesis in 1995, I flew to Frankfurt to begin my six-month excursion. Sascha was working in Köln at the time, so I was entirely lost on my own in this strange city that reminded me so much of my own Dallas--boxy glass skyscrapers and all--but remained totally alien to me. The armed guards at the airport I expected from my first time there. And after getting into the city by train carrying a huge backpack, a duffle bag full of books, and a couple of smaller bags, I walked across the street from the main train station--Hauptbahnhof would become one of the first words of German I learned--and checked into the first hotel that looked acceptable. It was run by some Russians who seemed quite confused that I intended to spend the night. The entire night. My experience at the front desk made much more sense after the sun set: the entire neighborhood literally turned on red lights that because of jetlag I ended up staring at all night; that is, when I wasn't watching the guys on the street below get high. The next day I checked into a youth hostel. After a few days of visiting the museums that dotted the south bank of the river, the zoo, and Jonathan Borofsky's Hammering Man in what seemed to be the business district, I left Frankfurt and took the day train on to Prague.

Christmas on Ziel Street, Frankfurt a/MThe following March I retraced my journey back to Frankfurt, hoping that I would get to see Sascha this time. I finally got a hold of him. He invited me to crash at his place for the night, and we went to the Frankfurt Music Fair because he had passes because of his job. I really can't remember now if I spent one or two nights hanging out with him and his girlfriend Ilka, and he doesn't remember either. Regardless, I do remember that he introduced me to Vietnamese food, and he even taught me how to use chopsticks. It became a bit of a joke later when I would come home to Texas while I was teaching in Japan and people would ask me about eating with chopsticks. Replying that I learned to use them in Germany always threw them off.

Christmas at Old Town, Frankfurt a/MWhen my contract in Japan ended in 1999, I intended to move indefinitely to Europe. My friend Ezawa-sensei, whom I was helping translate some English short stories into Japanese, insisted on helping me make my travel arrangements to leave Japan. I asked him to reserve me a ticket to anywhere in Europe--the cheapest ticket--and I would train to Poland from there (I was going to spend about six weeks in Lublin before making more definite plans). My one-way ticket was to Frankfurt. This time, I knew exactly how to get into the city from the airport and where to find a decent hotel that didn't have hourly rates. I felt entirely spoiled sleeping in a human-sized bed and bathing in a human-sized shower after leaving Japan! I spent a few glorious and relaxing days rediscovering the city before heading out east. It was really my first summer in Western Europe and one of the few times I had a pocket full of freshly converted yen.

On this last trip, we went into Frankfurt a couple of times. We trekked along the shops of Ziel Street and spent a few crowded hours checking out the winter market in the Old Town. We also spent a few hours in the bizarrely constructed Museum of Modern Art.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Chagall Windows, St. Stephen's ChurchThe first time I visited Mainz was early March 1996. My guidebook mentioned the Chagall windows at the St. Stephen's Church--some of his last works--so I left my usual base of Frankfurt, deciding to spend an afternoon and night out there. The main train station at Frankfurt, in its strange ability to immobilize me for hours, trapped me in indecision, so I arrived late in the afternoon. After checking into the hostel, I walked about the city of Mainz in search of a church I had no idea how to get to. Assuming that all important churches are in or very near the city center, I headed that way. But I never found the stained-glass windows. Instead, I bought a few postcards with the images for my collection. (I've been collecting postcards since I was ten years old when my best friend Mitzi sent me my first postcard while she was on a family vacation in Mexico.) Vowing to return eventually to see the windows, I returned to Frankfurt the following morning, planning to head to Luxembourg later that day.

St. Augustine's Church, MainzOn our first full day in Germany, we headed to Mainz to finally see the windows I had sought out more than ten years ago. We had no problem finding the church with the navigation system in Chris's car. We also visited St. Augustine's Church, an ancient Roman gate in ruins, and the winter market.

St. Augustine's Church (Detail)Roman Gate in Ruins (Detail)Mainz Public ArtGutenberg Engraving Plates (Detail)

Friday, December 22, 2006


The first Sunday we drove about 90 minutes south to Heidelberg to walk through its old town market and climb the hill to the castle. Heidelberg is known for its university--the oldest in Germany--and the roster of important thinkers associated with it: Hegel, Gadamer, Habermas, Jaspers, and Apel. We also saw the site where Hannah Arendt once lived. It's a bit weird, I think, for tourists to use these philosophers as points of interest. I can name a handful of colleagues from my university who would visit this town solely because Hegel walked these streets. I just went to see what I could see, not to do the pretentious "walk of fame" circuit. I swear. We didn't even stop at the university to search for the lecturn where Hegel preached dialectics. (Why do I feel like I need to defend myself...?)

Castle from BelowCastle TurretLion Gate at the CastleCastle StepsOld Town ArchitectureView from the Castle

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hildegard von Bingen

View from BingenVisionary, herbalist, composer, adviser to popes and kings, scholar, theologian, artist, and saint--Hildegard was an early twelfth century nun who spent her life in the villages on both sides of the Rhine River.

We visited a Benedictine abbey in Rüdesheim am Rhein where some of Hildegard's relics are kept and where the sisters still make products according to her specifications. We also purchased a couple of bottles of wine from their Rheingau vineyard: a 2001 Riesling Spatlese Halbtrocken and a 2005 Spätburgunder Trocken.

IN HONOREM DOMUS DIVINAE SOLI INVICTO MITRAELater we made it to Bingen itself at the junction of the Rhine and Nahe Rivers to see the historical museum's Hildegard exhibit. Bingen--and really the entire region--was several centuries ago a thriving Roman settlement, so the museum also had a complete set of surgical instruments from those times. There was also a memorial plaque to the "Invincible Sun" Mithra from the ruins--the first one I've seen in person.

Monday, December 18, 2006


We return home Monday. I'll post an update later this week with some photos.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Where we've been so far ...

We're having a great time playing tourists to all the nearby cities. Here's a map in progress of some of the highlights of our trip so far. I'll upload some photos when I get back.

Click map to enlarge.

Thursday, December 7, 2006


The only chore I was given to do before 10:30 this morning was to make the bed. That's almost impossible, I now realize, when one sleeps until almost 10:00. And now I have to wrangle three 12-year-olds out of the bedroom--my geriatric cats--before the Taskmaster returns. Pray I get some extra sleep while on vacation.

Click on the map to enlarge.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Ketchup 12/05

Last Wednesday I sat at home sweating profusely with the windows and doors thrown wide open in hopes of a breeze blowing my way. Last Thursday the heat finally broke, and Dallas was privy to one of the most beautiful and glorious snow flurries in years. Such is the weather in these parts. Needless to say, I’ve been fighting a sore throat for the past week.

I have finally completed all my papers and final projects and have graded all my final exams. This term about killed me, but mostly because I make my work much more difficult than I need to by doing far too much research and writing too much. The hardest part of completing my assignments is to cut and edit everything down to a manageable (and acceptable) size. I’m hoping to take it a bit easier in the spring semester by taking one independent study and choosing my third class among those that don’t require a lot of busy work. I wish I could just skip over all the course requirements and get to writing the damn dissertation already!

A collection of statements I wrote on my course evaluations this semester—and I meant every word:
The role the professor has played in my education and development as a scholar is immeasurable. The only criticism I have at all is toward the university’s—and more specifically, the program’s—policy of open enrollment. You would think that a basic requirement to be a graduate student would be a developed vocabulary and acceptable use of English grammar, especially if English is one’s native language. That is simply not the case here. The quality of my classmates’ work is appallingly bad. Paris Hilton shows more intellect and insight than these losers! And I’m only referring to the one’s who actually stay awake throughout the entire class period and try to participate in the conversations the professor and I have. The idiots who fall asleep on either side of me every Thursday afternoon need to be kicked out not just of the classroom, but off campus, and out of the program altogether. It is time to raise—if not to initiate—standards of work and behavior; otherwise, my degree from this university is worthless.
I’ve barely had time to look forward to leaving the country Thursday: we’re off to Wiesbaden, Germany, for about ten days. I'll post from the trip, if time allows.