Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Gift of Being Here

The view outside of our kitchen window this morning demanded that we take a walk this afternoon.  Bright snow crunched under our feet as we headed into an open field and turned up to a hill top.  The clean, dry air felt good on my face --- and all other parts were bundled tight in layers of warm clothes.  Neighbors ride their horses on this path and we followed their footprints.  At least 8 inches of snow has fallen and the snow capped Alps serve as a sparkling crown to this landscape.

There is so much that I love about where I am right now.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Gift of Adopted Families

Emma and Martina joined us for the weekend just a few hours after we dropped Matt off at the Salzburg airport.  These two sisters from South Tyrol are Neas' daughters and their lives are deeply entwined with ours.  Neas' mother is the woman who "took in" Peter and his brother during WWII.  Neas and her sisters were like older sisters or aunts to Peter until their mother died - then Neas stepped in as the farm mother for Peter.  Martina is Peter's goddaughter;  Emma is my age and was already married, mother of one with one on the way, and in charge of the farm when Peter and I lived there (Afers, Italy) in 1982.  We will spend our Christmas with this family - their children, grandchildren, friends, and lovers.

In December 1945, Neas and her sister rode the horse that pulled a sleigh from Afers to Brixen.  This is a distance of about 15 kilometers and a drop from 1500 meters above sea level to 500 meters above sea level.  It was bitter cold and Peter's four year old brother, Klaus, was wrapped in a tight bundle to protect him from the icy night air.  He was dying from dyptheria and by the time they reached Peter's mother in Brixen, he was dead.  The war continued to take lives even after it was over.

Neas - she died in July 2009

Friday, November 26, 2010

Das Erste Adventswochenende

This Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent.  Preparing for this has filled me with emotion, especially as it touches Thanksgiving at home and ushers in Christmas for us.  These reflective holidays, coupled with the very special gift of exquisite table linens from the Ya Yas and a beautiful snowfall that arrived this morning, have rendered me a little tender today.  So rather than try to put my thoughts into words, I will leave you with pictures of some of my favorite things.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Covering Familiar Ground with Friends

Matt arrived on Sunday, November 21st and we have been on the road ever since.  Dachau was frozen-breath cold;  gray and desolate.  We felt the weight of human cruelty.  This was followed by one of Joni's intuitive drives through Munich that led us to lunch at one of our favorite German restaurants. Matt went with the full mixed grill of German sausage and meats - an Atkins Diet favorite.  Then we spent the rest of the day exploring the excessive expanse of Nymphenburg Palace - the beginning of our tutelage of Matt regarding the Wittelsbach family.

Monday was Chiemsee and the Herrenschloss.  Ludwig II delighted us as ever.  Tuesday, a detoured train ride to Munich (love the Bavarian ticket) with Frauenkirche, Michaelskirche, Theatinerkirche, kiss the pig, lunch with Sabina (best pizza in the city), Mauer's light store, the treasury and Residenz (continued tutelage of the Wittelsbachs), Hofbrauhaus, and uneventful train ride back home. Wednesday, Matt and Joni took Salzburg - its Christmas market, Hohensalzburg Festungs, Italian lunch, Collegiumkirche, and the Bishop's church. 

Today is the last full day before Matt flies to London... what will it bring?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Salzburg Christmas Market

And our Bavarian Christmas holiday has begun!  The Salzburg Weihnachtsmarkt opened last night and since we had nothing on our calendar today (love retirement), we drove to Austria after breakfast.  Naturally, the first thing we did was have a warm glass of Prosecco punch.  Now this is how to take the edge off of holiday shopping.  Everyone around us was in a festive mood (they drank the Kool Aid too) and it seemed that this day was made especially for such an activity.  It was cold enough to feel like a winter holiday and sunny enough to be comfortable outdoors.  The smells of roasting chestnuts, grilling bratwursts, and simmering gluhwein filled the air while we moved from stall to stall filled with "pretty shiny things."  This is the first of many Christkind/Weihnachts/Advents markets that we will visit in the coming weeks and certainly by December 24th, I will protest if the opportunity to go one last time is presented.  But - for now... let the magic surround us!
Joni holding a lucky horseshoe.
Unlucky horses.
Pretty, shiny things!  I feel like a magpie!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sunshine, Blue Skies

Weather sets the mood and Peter decided we needed to thwart the blues today.  Last weekend's Indian Summer (?) was followed by three days of cool, gray, foggy rain.  When we got up this morning and saw a similar outlook, Peter took action.  We got in the car and headed to Austria and to the other side of the mountain and sure enough ... that silly old sun was hanging out there!  The road to Kössen was familiar - we had traveled it many times with Micky.  Kössen is an old border town and hikes up the Wild Kaiser are approached from here.  A few kilometers away from downtown Kössen is the Hotel Peternhof - an all-inclusive golf and beauty resort.  http://peternhof.com/  It was an old farm that underwent this amazing transformation.  The walks around the place are pretty spectacular.  After a delicious lunch (Peter had yummy Speck Knodel, Kraut and Potatoes and I had a delicious Lentil Soup), we drove back to Germany ...

... and that silly old sun followed us all the way home.
Restaurant in Kössen (not our car)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Boone is a place to work and live... but dying?

Not that we are obsessed with dying (although the Ya Yas would say that I have been worried about this for a long time anyway) but have you ever considered that the place you live may not be the place to die? Boone has provided us with the best work possible (at Appalachian State University) , in the finest company one could wish for (shout out to all of my LAP, General Studies, Enrollment Management, and College Access Program buddies), but for the life of me, I can't figure out where we should end up.   And I mean this in the most complete sense.  It is not only that we need to choose where we want to grow old but where we will put our ashes or bodies or whatever is left.  These are the tough questions.  We don't have a church in Boone - not because we wouldn't be welcomed but because we have chosen not to join one.  We joined the University and kept our church memberships "at home" - Peter in Afers, Italy and me in Wilson, NC.  But... I want to be with Peter and as much as I love Afers, "those aren't my people" and the same goes for Peter with Wilson.  So how do we figure this out?  Any comments are welcome on this subject.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Living on Church Time

Hardly a day goes by without the church bells ringing more than just the quarter, half, three-quarter, and full hours of the day - which "for many would be a plenty."  Since we have lived in European villages and towns before and because Peter was an altar boy and studied at a monastery, we recognize that the most common reason for the "non-hourly" bells is a mass being said on behalf of a dead person.  The 6 am EVERY Saturday morning "call to mass" bells are especially noteworthy.  But there are times that we look at each other and wonder if a war has broken out or just ended somewhere - we are totally clueless as to the insistent ringing.

Then too, there are the church holidays that catch us off guard.  On any number of occasions, we have totally missed that an important Saints Day was about to occur - which means schools and stores will be closed.  Unless you know about these things, you are likely to have nothing in the kitchen to cook and must go to a restaurant for your meal, unless it is the "Ruhetag" (rest day) or "Freizeit" (vacation week) for the restaurant.

It is not a bad thing to live on church time - just a surprise for someone used to a secular calendar.  There is no pretense of separation of church and state -- rather a cluck-clucking distain for the efforts to secularize the society (Josef II in 1780s; Napoleon in 1803/1804; Hitler in 1930/40s).  Nor is there an expectation for people to live a life of "hyper-spirituality" or exhibit "holier than thou" behaviors.  No one is competing for my soul on behalf of a religion - not even the priest.
So - we have made every effort to download an annual Saints Day calendar, attended church so that we can pick up the weekly pamphlet that announces the scheduled "masses for the dead," and joined our landlords for celebrations that everyone else knew were happening but we had no idea.

And somehow, it is all okay.

Sanctuary of the church at the Cloister Seeon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Connections - around the world

The idea of a global community is simultaneously insane and real.  Bauer Sucht Frau - a reality television show that is rooted in the belief that every farmer needs a wife for the farm to survive makes sense only in a country where independent farms are highly valued - Germany and Austria are two such countries.  This phenomenon does not translate in American culture and suggests that there are no universal communities.  Yet, contact with friends and family throughout the world is available and after phone calls, emails, facebook, and skype with Micki, Nikki, Susan, Al and Cindy the distance between Bavaria and Boone becomes invisible.   Mason in Nashville, TN, Dad in Wilmington, NC, Maria in Charleston SC, Kay in Hong Kong --- we have all communicated about topics or questions on our minds - thousands of miles apart.  And then, there is the transportation that brings us together in other places --- Hank, John, Nancy, Diane, and soon to be Matt, Emma, and Martina.  I marvel at the time in which I live.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

You don't get out of life alive!

Today's adventures included working on the grave, photographing the church in Grabenstätt, entertaining surprise visitors from South Tyrol after lunch, and walking around the Tüttensee.  A great Saturday all around.

About the grave.  Graves are private little gardens that are to be tended.  There is weeding to do, flowers to plant, and candles to light on a regular basis.  Germans in this area are also a little competitive in their grave keeping and somewhat judgmental about the upkeep (or lack thereof).  We pay one of the villagers 100 Euros each year to check in on the grave and keep ours from becoming the most unsightly grave in the cemetery.  She manages to put about 99 cents worth of dirt on it about 2 times a year and occasionally sticks a plant in the middle.  Marianne is the one who lights a candle on feast days and birthdays and puts flowers in the ground.

The gravesites are leased on a 10 year basis.  If no one renews the lease, the gravesite is reclaimed for another user.  That is one reason that old graves are so unusual -- the church or the community constantly reclaims the gravesites.  We were caught off guard when we were in South Tyrol recently and learned that the gravesite of Peter's brother had been reclaimed by the priest because no one from the Egarter Hof lived in the village any longer.  This is the prerogative of the priest.  So there.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

To give rather than to receive

Katarina with her processional lantern

Church pagent about St. Martin
Today is St. Martin's Day and we went to church in Grabenstätt at 5 pm.  The place was full of children and it was so exciting.  A pagent was performed that told the story of Martin who was a solider who did good things for others.  Eventually, he became a bishop and continued his good work.  (This is the condensed version of the story.)  All of the children brought lanterns that were lit as we left the church and we walked from the church through the town, through the old age home, by the cemetery, and then to the school where there was a huge bonfire and food for all.  The main purpose is to remind us to share and take care of one another.  This is especially true for the children - so that as we enter the Christmas season, we focus on the giving rather than the getting.  A nice way to begin this season.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Retraining Muscles

So - the suitcase was too heavy.  I was told before we boarded Amtrak to New York to catch QM2.  I had to take 10 pounds out and put into my "carry on" - the lovely red handbag that matched my swirling 4 wheeled monster.  My Dad gave them to me and I always feel so apparent when I use them.

The end result... deltoid strain/tear.  After 2 cortisone shots and a week's worth of pain relievers, I am now in rehab.  It is awesome.  The bottom line is that Julia (my therapist) wants to re-train my muscles.  The deltoid injury has caused my trapedius muscle to seize up and create incredible strain in my neck which has led to unbelievable pain in my left arm.  What intrigues me is that the pain to retrain the muscles will make it better.  And today - there was immense pain but already, after a rush of blood and feeling into my hand, it is better.

I have never been one to associate pain with healing.  The "no pain, no gain" campaign has not been something I understood.  Yet now, the notion that new strength can come from painful re-training make sense to me.  Another cliche becomes a true metaphor in life.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Can you believe it?  The Canucks beat us to the punch!  There is a Canadian film company that has already bought the rights and plan to produce the film this year!!!!  And no where is Angela Lansbury!  Way to go "Oh Canada."

About the readings...

At some point, I promised to share my thinking about the books that I have read thus far....

Freedom: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen
In the end, Forrest Gump came to mind.  Could one family’s life and its most immediate network be touched by so many (if not all) of the twenty-first century crises facing the world, including the story’s setting of the United States? Dysfunctional families, self-sufficiency, existential depression, chemical depression, teenage sex, 9/11, Bush-Cheney-Obama, corrupt multinational military contracts, Middle East conflict, elected officials,  Zionism, appointed philanthropists, old money, new money, illicit affairs, divorce, illegitimate children, college athletics, gay rights, the arts, the Appalachian region, mountain top removal (MTR),  coal versus oil, wildlife conservancy, entrepreneurism, carbon footprints, stock market collapse, housing market losses, overpopulation and the Catholic Church, struggling musicians who would have written serious music “if not for the accident of success,” underground Battle of the Bands in West Virginia, drugs, alcohol, peripheral internet porn, Blackberrys, texting, global outreach, anger on the fringes, access to everything and nothing simultaneously, “the beating wing of a single butterfly,” deep abiding love and loyalty – other topics blended into the story told through different people even when Patty kept the center.  The sharp and developed social criticism that emerged shaped my view of global engagement.  The author’s energetic, kinetic, and frantic syntax filled my head and one night, my dreams were narrated by his writing voice.

Freedom serves as the compelling commonality – as a choice, an outcome, a right, a by-product, a motivator, or an expectation – of each individual’s experience.  And the author is almost, but not quite, guilty of trying to balance too much of too much when he finishes the novel through a classical American storybook ending.

A Dog’s Purpose by R. Bruce Cameron

This is the story of our lives.  Give this book to people you love.  Tell this story to your family.  We have all known this to be true.  Simple, complex, heart-breaking, and affirming.  One of my new favorite books ever (The Story of Little Tree, The Shipping News, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Moveable Feast)

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

What is fear?  Where do we find security?  How big is the world and how much of it do we need to know to be safe?  How much do we need to know to function?  This is a brilliant book.   I can’t imagine being able to write it but I can certainly imagine thinking about such things. It is dark and chilling for it’s beginning and it jabbed my soul.   Nothing is better than evil being brought to the light through a child’s eyes.

Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent

Dad gave me this one.  Cajun country Louisiana, black/white difference and discovery, doing the right thing and “shit happens” anyway.  It is a beautiful story even with the “uh, oh” moments of “good to be a Christian” tendencies that made me wonder if I would finish reading it before I was witnessed to in a book.  I finished it and didn’t feel like I had to been subjected to a Baptist born-again revival so I recommend that you stick with it until the end.  The writing is excellent, the humor is laugh right out loud, and the tears are genuine.  This is a true story.  Be prepared to see yourself in the mirror.

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva

The premise seemed promising; stolen art, murder, and discovery of horrible secrets along the way.   But a tale of universal interest is lost in the author’s true storyline that is painted poorly with huge brushstrokes – bad Nazis, good Zionists, pro-Israel global citizens and small-minded provincial anti-Semitics.  

The Millenium Triology  (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked Over the Hornet’s Nest) by Stieg Larsson.

I liked the first book the best.  I understood the characters and their motivations.  It was exciting to read about a place that I did not know.  It made me want to bring a map and chart the streets, the “gates,” and paths taken.  I was especially intrigued by Kalle Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander – great characters, well developed.  Early on, I thought that Lisbeth was the main character but now I wonder if it is Kalle.  Excellent work.  The last installment…. I think was a compilation of all that had been discussed and said before.  I don’t think it is a lie but I do think it all occurred after Larsson died.  Whoever completed that work told the truth – the entire book reflects the intent of the author but not the author’s work.  A read worth the time. 

Call Me Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber.

Okay - it will be THE Hallmark movie of the 2010 or 2011 holiday season and everyone will feel good about giving it to their aunt or grandmother for Christmas.  Like all of the Jan Karon books, no one will be embarrassed to recommend it.  Jessica Lansbury will be asked to play Mrs. Miracle. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

And what did they see?

And the veterans and military led the march into church this morning with standards high and trachten all around.  Throughout Europe and in America, this is the week that fallen soldiers are honored.  As I sat in our village church and looked at the Baroque altar and stages of the cross, I thought about how many people were wearing eyeglasses.  This made me wonder, what did people see before they had spectacles?  Did the colors look different?  Were the images scary?  How did these magnificent, opulent altars look to someone who could not see clearly?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Heiligkreuz and Baumburg Klosterkirche

Peter suggested an adventure this morning - "Let's drive to the Gothic church of Heiligkreuz and then to the cloister of Bamburg."  So off we drove in the old but cushy, dark blue/green Mercedes sedan that we have leased for our time here.  Sometimes we both feel like we are driving a tank.  So many of the cars on the road are tiny and peppy! 

Heiligkreuz reflects a "country Gothic" style.  Unlike the famous towering cathedrals of Salisbury and Cologne, it is much more modest with the unusual feature of columns down the center aisle to support a double apse.  Additionally, there are frescoes on the church walls from the end of the 15th to the beginning of the 16th centuries.  The colors are almost pastel like and have been complimented by a very recent (2005/2006) renovation of the chancel.  New frescoes are on the walls using the same pastel shades of orange, blue and yellow but these are decidedly more abstract and modern.

As we walked in the church, we were both aware of a distinct buzzing that turned out to be a HUGE beehive above the alter.  YIKES!  Dying bees lay on the floor but plenty were flying all around.

Next was the Klosterkirche (see above and below) which we have seen several times from the road but never visited.  A full-blown Baroque church, with a Rococo renovation, that was the center of an Augustinian monastery that was active until 1803;  Napoleon closed it down.  And so was our Saturday morning!

Friday, November 5, 2010

White Blank Walls

The apartment is full of white blank walls.  Hardly a break in their infinite emptiness.  It has been incredibly restful to see their expanse and not be distracted by the images and thoughts of others.  This makes me incredibly aware of how our homes are filled with important memories and mementos - which indicate our love for and approval of others.  I realize that serving as a care taker of so many "things" keeps us from taking care of ourselves.  It has happened before - this recognition that too much stuff is in our lives - too many things clutter our steps and our minds.  So I am diving deep in the simplicity of this apartment and allowing the emptiness to fill me up with ideas and energy.  Who knows whether I can take this back home - I have never been successful in the past and probably don't need to be.  For now - this is peace.