Thursday, August 23, 2007

Euro-Franz Say Auf Wiedersehen

Euro-Franz isn't one to cherish or even approve of long goodbyes. Perhaps he's said goodbye too many times. When he lived in Japan all those years ago, he was even known to pop in and out of town without a word. Somehow he was always able to book tickets for flights either too early or too late for others to care about showing up at the airport. Or to even know. He's left too many countries to name without so much as an acknowledgment that he was on his way out. Perhaps the best goodbyes are the ones unspoken that leave no residual emotional messiness. No remains for those who after all remain where one has left.

Which is why yesterday's orgazmo of farewells was particularly unwelcome. I didn't mind saying goodbye to my professors, but when I was forced to interrupt classes to announce to people I barely knew that I was leaving, a line had been crossed. It's nothing personal because I don't even know them. They certainly do not know me. We passed each other a few times in hallways; I perhaps noticed them in required gatherings. But there was never any real chance of a connection. We are far too different, and I am considerably more different than they, than Thou. Making such announcements made me want to cover my head and duck into a dark corner, abandon my bags and jump on the next train pulling away from the station, stick out my thumb and accept the next stranger's offer of a ride. Life is far too short to attempt or move toward something lasting. Like breath: you aren't doing it correctly if you only inhale. At least one half of the process is letting it all go. Escape. Release. Goodbye.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Cologne CathedralJust a week-and-a-half ago I spent a blissful couple of days in Köln by myself visiting museums and enjoying the culture of one of Germany's largest and oldest cities. Click on the image to see some of the highlights of that excursion.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Repeat after Euro-Franz: Don't fear the fauxhawk. The fauxhawk is your friend.

One thing I will miss about being in Europe: having considerably less social pressure about how I style my hair in the morning. Not that that ever stopped me before....

One thing I will not miss about being in Europe: mandatory smoking. Oh sure, there are "non-smoking sections," but each one I've seen still has ashtrays ... right below the non-smoking sign. I've suffered through enough secondhand smoke these past five weeks to equal at least one week of firsthand chain-smoking.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Documenta 12

Poppies at Documenta, KasselLast Wednesday Chris and I spent several hours walking through a huge chunk of the Documenta exhibit in Kassel. Here are some of my photos. I tried to mostly document the experience of seeing the art within this context, but I was also interested in watching others have their own experience. For the most part, I was disappointed in the works, but there were a couple that I actually took the time to note the artist and the title. Click on the image to open the thumbnail page.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pieces of Me

If it’s not the hunger and lack of interest in any of the food I find on the streets here—I mean there’s only so many cheese pizzas, cheese sandwiches, tomato salads, falafel pitas, and gummy, cheesy pasta dishes with limp vegetables I can stomach—that will kill me, then it will be the utter inexplicability of my inability to sleep throughout the night. Last night I went to bed at a reasonable hour (11:30), but I was wide awake (again) by 12:45, and I couldn’t get back to sleep until almost 3:00. In the meantime—and I mean this in its meanest and most unreasonable sense—I began reading another life-changing essay by Derrida about Gadamer and the poetics of Paul Celan. And then I took out my iPod and listened to some tracks from my Lazy Sunday Afternoon playlist, just allowing my mind to drift and reflect in a letting-be (perhaps—as if—a move toward Gelassenheit). Perhaps it will be the anticipation of the arriving/letting-go that will finally do me in.

“There are pieces of me you’ve never seen. Maybe she’s just pieces of me you’ve never seen.” These lyrics by Tori Amos continually float through my head. Knowing that people—and ultimately all things, including the great to be (it)self—are ultimately unknowable, I know that I don’t even really know myself. So, how can anyone else know this me that I don’t even know, this no-ing, unknowable I that reverts to a me when faced with the face of the radically alter in its (own/un-owning/un-(kn)ownness) radical alterity? A good question to reflect upon and face at two-fucking-thirty AM. Kids: don’t try this at home without adult supervision. I am a trained professional, and it still hurts when I do it.

I like the subtle subversion of irreplaceability these lyrics hint at: as if to say, you don’t need to replace me with her because we are the same. Do you not see that which draws you to her is also present here in me? Do you not see that the continual/continuing race toward the (metaphysics of the) new is just as questionable as the issue of knowledge of self and other (it)self? We are ultimately reflections of one another, each other: “The killer in you is the killer in me.” (Lyrics by Smashing Pumpkins. Maybe I should just stop listening to music altogether.)

I like how da in German can mean both there as well as here. I like how nach can mean both to(ward) as well as after. This is a great language in which to lose oneself, especially when the first person-pronoun is never capitalized (except, of course, as the first word of a sentence) and the second-person polite Sie is always capital(ized). But true Gesprach takes place only between (ein(e)) ich und (ein(e)) du....

Speak my language.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ich bin ein Amerikaner

That's right: I'm a donought! After eyeing the Amerikaners over the past couple of weeks, I decided yesterday to take the plunge and actually purchase one just to see what it tasted like.Kinda bland: vanilla cake with vanilla frosting. It could've used a spritz of lemon or some other flavor. Now I wonder what the Berliners taste like....

Spent yesterday afternoon at the super luxerious bath here in Wiesbaden, but as with everything that's supposed to be relaxing, it came with an equal measure of stress. The naked people didn't bother me. In fact, it is always refreshing to be one of the most fit and most attractive people in a room full of naked people. And I was definitely lowering the average age of the bathers. But knowing neither the specialized vocabulary of public baths nor how anything really worked, I ended up going back and forth from the Russian suana to the cold pool. I couldn't remember the order of the recommended bath experience: was it 5-10 minutes in the 45 degree room with 25% humidity before or after the pool of 22 degree water for 20 minutes? And where did the hot foot bath fit in? It wasn't that I was shy and couldn't bring myself to ask questions; I just couldn't find any attendants who knew the answers. And after my severe farmer tan from the bicycle tour of Barcelona, I wanted to spend a few minutes in the solarium soaking in some UVA and UVB rays. But I stayed there only about 3 minutes because the bed turned off and I couldn't figure out how to add more time. Oh, and the most stressful: slipping on the wet floor in bare feet about 2 feet from the top of the marble staircase. I wonder where my body would've ended up: here's this dead naked guy with a farmer's tan and no forms of identification. I'm sure the Germans have a recycling bin out back for that as well. (But don't forget to segregate the bones from the flesh; and gristle goes in a different bin!)

This afternoon I head to Koln for a much needed stay in a large city with some culture and nightlife.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Unfit for Life

Learning German is making me even more unfit as a human being. As if having studied Spanish, Russian, Polish, Czech, Japanese, Ukrainian, and Latin have made me either marketable or more lovable! But German is becoming a special case: I’m not learning to communicate (i.e., how to buy falafel from the Turks) but rather to sit in a dark room alone with several dictionaries in order to decode, decipher, un-encrypt—to translate, carry over—semantic meaning from the Devil’s tongue to the language of angels. And I’m learning this “skill” from an angry Romanian woman whose smell I’ve grown accustomed to already.

So, I won’t be making friends in German. That’s involves a specialized vocabulary that my skill set can not at the present time manage. My morning language course, too, can attest to the fact that in German I will be (in the most absolute sense) all by myself: I’m not only alone in my endeavor to take the advanced reading/translation course alone but I’m also enduring, surviving the more remedial—actually the most remedial—course in the program. I’m surprised each morning when the short bus does not appear outside my dorm to carry me off to class with the (other) retards. (But at least I actually brung myself a real wordbook from Amerika to helps me with the studying.)

Yesterday afternoon I spent about four hours translating selections of Kandinsky’s aesthetic theory, and now I have a few pages of Walter Benjamin to tackle, conquer, capitulate to by my next class Monday. Benjamin and Celan are the main reasons I’m here in the first place learning the unlearnable with the unlearned, but I guess I’m not the first to blame my misery on G-d’s chosen.

Now I have five days all to myself. The others—those people—are heading off to the great Benelux conundrum, but I, because of UNRESOLVED ISSUES stemming from the GREAT UNPLEASANTNESS cannot fathom venturing near that part of the planet at this time. Instead, I’ll be visiting some of the cities nearby, exploring the offerings of Dokumenta in Kassel, the sculpture exhibit in Münster, and the great Civilized City of Köln. To further prove just how useless my German is, I will be tackling each new city purely in my native tongue. Halleluja! Hosanna hosanna! Pray that the train union strikes do not keep me in Marburg….

Friday, August 3, 2007


… or the post where Euro-Franz offends absolutely everyone. (By the way, here "euro" is pronounced "oy-Roh," pretty much how a Jew would address Rosie O'Donnell.)

Sitting at Café Angst yesterday afternoon, I asked myself the following question: is it racist for me to call my professor a smelly Romanian? She is indeed from Romania, and my nose can attest to her smelliness especially after sitting rather a bit too closely to her these past couple of days during our one-on-one sessions. And the next question: why am I in Germany studying German with a smelly Romanian? (I guess maybe a better next question would’ve been: why is this particular Romanian smelly? But my advanced education and intellect preclude obvious segues.)

Then I remembered: my morning language instructor is from Hungary. Quick: what’s German for “What the fuck?!?!” So I am sitting miserably at Café Angst—and no, that’s not the real name of this place, but Café Angst is such a better, more appropriate name for the basement of the Mensa, which is Roman-Germanic for "Student Union Building (SUB)"—slowly realizing that I’m here (heute Deutschland) studying German with a bunch of foreigners (“New Europeans,” I believe is the official term used by the US State Dept.; Morgen die Welt! no doubt.)

I refuse to believe that these so-called new Europeans are somehow better or even similar to the old ones. When are the old Europeans going to export their superior "bathroom technologies" to the east? Will there come a day of no smelly Romanians? Hell, why doesn’t Herr Professor Dingleberry just outsource the whole fucking program to the Chinese? That way, my solid German education would be just as good as poisoned dog food without the messy analogy.

Herr Professor Dingleberry, you must know, is the quintessential oompa-loompa kind of German who has a surreal lilt to his perfect cartoon caricature voice. I suspect he secretly wears lederhosen and plays the tuba.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to accept “feedback” on my German from teachers who misspeak and mispronounce almost every word in English. If I can understand their comments in not only broken but completely butchered English, then certainly any poor slob on the streets here won’t bat an eye when I use the “soft” pronunciation of the German ch instead of the “hard” one. But as the Nigerian woman who sits next to me attested, there are still a few old Hitlerites who appear out of nowhere (history? the bushes?) to scold foreigners for speaking English and/or bad German. Funny how it takes an 80-year-old German fuck to protect the language from a young African and Asian woman who came all this way to study the devil's language and who are simply waiting at a bus stop.

Oh, and you thought the Nigerian woman was going to get off easy: I refer to her (in my mind) as the Nigerian communist because what is mine is hers. One day this past week she, throughout the course of the class meeting, had "borrowed" my dictionary, pencil, pen, and notebook. A question I had never really considered asking before: Can I borrow my dictionary again?

Funny how speaking Polish last night after the concert with Kasja was the most normal I’ve felt since arriving in Germany. Looking back at just last week, speaking Spanish (with a lisping Castillian inflection--I sounded like a gay Puerto Rican--redundant?) was pure bliss, being able to express what I wanted and being able to understand the replies. The people I share English with here are not worth the pixels on your computer screens. Besides, there’s no way I could capture their insipid conversations and “observations.” (Case in point: we see a fabric store, and one says, “There’s a fabric store. I like fabric stores.” Gee, thanks for sharing. Why don’t you save that to blog later and just be quiet for now?)

Widow's Peaks GaloreAss-er!-by-JohnnyThe cute Azerbaijani boy asked me rather rudely in German on the way to the concert last night, “You don’t speak anything other than English?” I replied in Russian that I understood pretty much everything he was saying to the people he had just been speaking Russian to, and then in German I filled out my resume: Polnisch. Spanisch. Japonisch. Suckmydickbisch. I didn’t take it too personally, though, because he’s probably the prettiest eye candy around. When he wasn’t looking, I snapped a few photos of him. What the hell is going on with my fetish for widow’s peaks?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Hillbilly, go home!

It was raining this morning when I left the dorm, so I didn't bring the laptop today. So this will have to be quick. Last night--another sleeping fiasco. I think I'm giving up afternoon coffee altogether. Both times I had one, I didn't sleep but 3-4 hrs. I guess the Germans mix heroin in their coffeebeans. Too bad I can't get an afternoon coffee in the morning before classes.

Tonight is a violin recital by a world-class musician, and the buzz in class this morning included the ever-so-American question, 'Do I have to dress up for the concert?' Fuck yes! you're not on a farm, goddamnit! I thought stupid sorority girls liked to shop and buy pretty things. I guess they all left their fancy dresses in the hope chest at their parents' house. Trash trash trash. Thanks for not even trying to make an effort, now Hillbilly, go home! And burn your passport when you get there.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Euro-Franz gets a new handy

One of the many (mis)adventures yesterday was signing up for a new cell phone. I can now be reached at +49.1520.647-9009 while in Deutschland, Euroland (AKA the United States of Europe). To receive SMS is always free, so let your thumbs do the walking! (For those of you in (Fortress) Amerika, be sure to use the international dialing code 011 first.)

I am especially interested in receiving well wishes for 16 years of moderately good behavior. Perhaps I really did deserve the muffin I had with my afternoon coffee. And now that I (finally) have access to wireless, I should be in contact/touch more frequently despite the fact that this language program is kicking me in the head. (But I'll save the bitchy blog posts for later.) For now, bis bald.