The weekend before last, I made an excursion to Louisville to see my fellow New Jerseyans, Titus Andronicus. I was recently introduced to this band through a gift of their The Airing of Grievances (2008), and I’d been digging the album (especially My Time Outside the Womb, Titus Andronicus, and No Future Part Two: The Days After No Future), so I was looking forward quite a bit to the show.
Shameless placeholding post
Well, Phase 2 of The Great Adventure is drawing to a close: I am sitting in the Hannover airport waiting to head home. I've been trying for two days to write something that would (a) serve as some kind of thoughtful reflection on this experience and (b) break my latest unplanned blogging hiatus before I actually left the country. It's obvious now that I won't be coming up with (a) any time soon, so I am settling for just (b). Voila! Hiatus broken! (Thoughtful reflections possibly to follow once I am back in the US of A.)
Il mondo cambia
Almost a week later, the significance of this year’s election is slowly starting to dawn on me. My initial reaction was a feeling of anticlimax. I was in Rome on election day with only the most tenuous of Internet connections, and in any case polls had not even closed on the east coast by the time I went to bed, so I missed out on the actual deciding moment and had to wait until Wednesday morning to get confirmation of Barack Obama’s victory. And while the training I’ve had as a supporter of the Phillies and other lost causes has taught me that failure is always a possibility, the tea leaves and entrails had been pointing pretty decisively toward the result for the past month, so I wasn’t exactly at the edge of my seat. Mostly, I felt relief that the whole thing was finally over.
But I a...
Of two minds
Phase 2 of The Great Adventure is now in full swing. I've managed to get into something like a routine in my new career as a telecommuter, and it is going surprisingly well. Indeed, the thing that I thought would be hardest—simply disciplining myself to ‘go to work’—has actually been quite easy. School/daycare for the kids, as well as other domestic obligations, provide a built-in structure to the day and working just becomes part of that, much as it was back home. I also have the advantage of being able to hole up in Sylvia's university office on her non-teaching days, which helps with focus. And of course, I am quite aware of the fact that I've been given something of a gift by my employer being able to do this, so I'm all the more motivated to prove to them it was not ill-advised.
The great adventure: Phase 1 complete (Thank God)
So, the first phase of the Great Adventure wrapped up 10 days ago, when I again made the trek from Kentucky through New Jersey and thence to Germany and rejoined the family in Germany. While Phase 2 carries with it its own set of challenges (notably my adjustment to telecommuting and learning to function in Germany at something above an advanced tourist level), my feeling is that this is going to be a piece of cake compared to the previous two months, which were, in the final analysis, pretty sucky....
Adventures in wi-fi poaching
Day 7 without internet, and panic is starting to kick in. Yesterday, I made a solo expedition down the Lister Meile, a long shopping street extending, spoke-like, from the Hannover Hauptbahnhof out to the edge of List (our neighborhood), ostensibly for the purpose of obtaining a couple useful things (money and a subway map), but really an attempt to track down an Internet café or otherwise get myself online. After a couple hours of marching past closed shopfronts (it was a Sunday after all), I finally managed to land in a restaurant that, while not exactly advertising itself as an Internet cafe, did offer free wireless access. For the price of a cappuccino and having to endure an episode of MTV's That's Amore! with German subtitles, I was able to connect long enough to do some emergency email maintenance and download some new podcast episodes (which should make my return flight a little more bearable). I did not get around to uploading blog entries, however. Ah well.
It is Day 4 of the Great Adventure. We are still working on establishing Base Camp, but we’ve succeeded in unpacking, and actually finding places for the heaps of things we brought with us from the US. (We’ve also already started the list of critical things we forgot to bring.) We have also successfully used all of the major appliances in the apartment at least once (admittedly, the oven was only used to make toast; we haven't actually cooked a proper meal yet). We don't have Internet yet—except for the irregular interludes when we can mooch off some neighbor's unprotected wireless signal—and it won’t be set up until after I leave (which means that if you are reading this I have already returned or I discovered an Internet café somewhere nearby). Since the Adventure has not exactly generated much of a narrative yet, I'll fall back on making a few random observations at this juncture.
I have c...
Beginning of a great adventure
I am writing from Hannover, Germany, at the outset of what will be a year-long adventure for our family. Like any real adventure, it involves a foray into unknown territory and an element of danger but also the promise of great rewards. Summarized, it is simply this: Sylvia is on sabbatical this coming year and she is spending that year as a visiting professor at the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität here. Stated that way, it hardly seems like Indiana Jones material, but the repercussions of that one decision are what bring in the element of adventure. Dante and Licia are also spending the year in Germany: Licia will complete first grade in a German school, while Dante will enter a German Kinderladen. I am only here for a couple weeks (my annual vacation allowance) while everyone gets settled; then it’s back to Kentucky and work for me. However, I've negotiated a six-month work-from-home arrangement with my dean that will allow me to come back in September and be here for all of Sylvia's first semester of teaching (we are choosing to interpret ‘home’ very liberally in this arrangement). So, there are challenges for everyone. Sylvia has to be a single parent for two months now and four more next summer while teaching new classes in an unfamiliar university environment. The kids get all the usual trauma of moving—new home, new environment, new school, new friends—plus the added challenge of being thrown into the deep end with the German language. As for myself, I’ll be splitting time between two existences, both rather different than my current one: country bachelor while I am in Kentucky and globe-trotting telecommuter while I am here. I’m not sure which one of those scares me more. Both will require degrees of discipline I am not sure I possess.
New Jersey with palm trees
That was my first impression of Anaheim, and nothing I saw in the subsequent five-days did much to revise that initial judgment. Granted, I saw only a narrow slice of the area (basically, a two-mile stretch of Harbor Blvd.), but what I did see looked eerily similar (except for the foliage) to the suburban hell in which I grew up and from which I spent my twenties trying to escape. ...
I am in California (Anaheim or to be really precise, Garden Grove) for the Association for Educational Communication and Technology conference. There's an odd disjunction (mentioned by Stephen Downes in his opening keynote Wednesday night) between the sedate academic atmosphere of the conference and the natural disaster taking place all around us. While Anaheim proper has not been hit by the wildfires, you can smell and often see the smoke from them when you are outside. The view flying into John Wayne Airport was even more striking. It's strange to have that kind of destruction hovering just at the edge of your consciousness while sitting in a presentation on, for example, knowledge life-cycles....
The ancestral lands
I am just back from an all-too-brief trip to the New Jersey shore (my people simply call it "the shore") for a multitude of birthdays: daughter's, father's, niece's and nephew's are all within a few days of each other. Besides the family time, the trip was a whirlwind tour of beloved foods that, if they exist at all outside of New Jersey/the Delaware Valley, do so only as pale shadows of their true essence: paper-thin slices of Nirvana from Mack and Manco's and a brimming tub of caramel decadence from Johnson's on the Ocean City boardwalk; a perfect turkey hoagie (no cheese, no mayo, just a dash of oil and vinegar) from Brady's Hoagie Dock; a trio of Philly soft pretzels from a stand in the airport. ...
Oops. Looks like I slept through the month of June without blogging. And I can't blame ill health either. For one reason or another, I got off to a slow start the first couple weeks, and then was on my vacation in Paris (poor me) with just limited enough Internet access to justify blowing off the month entirely. I am back home now, though, and have every intention of buckling down and getting back to my previous standard of erratic posting. ...
Last week was our spring break, which we spent in Germany visiting relatives. It was one of those trips I deride others for making—we spent almost as much time on planes and in airports as we did actually visiting—but we were fulfilling family obligations and were working within a limited window. We did manage to take a little side-trip by train to Hannover to visit an old friend of Sylvia's, and I was struck yet again by the difference between Germany's rail network and our own. In Germany, one feels that one can get almost anywhere by train, stations are central and easy to access, and tickets are relatively inexpensive (we used the Niedersachsen-Ticket for our trip: 26€ [approx. $35] for the entire family any distance within Lower Saxony, including Hamburg and Bremen). America is big and things are spread out, but even in a dense commuter corridor like the northeast, I've found trains to be inconvenient and severely limited. Getting to Manhattan from where my parents live in South Jersey necessitates driving into downtown Philadelphia (to catch Amtrak) or driving almost halfway to New York and catching a commuter train from an outer suburb like New Brunswick. Of course, there's more to this issue than just the rails. Trains thrive on concentrated urban centers, which have been diluted or even excised from many of our cities and towns by half a century or more of automobiles' primacy in America. I don't think we could adopt a public transport approach in many places even if we wanted to. And of course, outside of pinko tree-huggers like myself, we don't want to. So we'll keep our cars and drive off into a sunset of traffic jams, suburban sprawl, and lifeless downtowns.
I am in the midst of a holiday visit to my ancestral homeland, which involved a 12-hour car ride. When driving long distances, I find the choice of places to stop to be a crucial one. While any old gas station may address the basic physical needs of traveling, spots that can provide a bit of mental relief from the tedium of driving are less common. That goes double when traveling with small children. A couple trips ago, we discovered the Queen City Creamery in Cumberland, MD, an old-fashioned soda fountain cum coffee bar and deli that has become a must-stop break point for our periodic Kentucky-New Jersey pilgrimages. It's very conveniently located just off I-68 in downtown Cumberland and provides an oasis of actual atmosphere in the desert of fast food chains and travel plazas one usually finds on the Interstate Highway System.
Earlier this week, I was in Austin for a brief business trip, I took the obligatory trip downtown to 6th Street and had a lovely dinner at the Old Pecan Street Cafe. The blackened redfish in étouffe sauce was very good—flaky without being and well-spiced without being punishingly hot—but the Crêpes Pecan—basically a pecan pie wrapped up in a crepe and topped with (real) whipped cream was superlative.
I am on vacation at the moment in Montréal, and aside from the nagging of my prematurely arthritic knees, I'm having a great time. We've rented an apartment in the Plateau Mont-Royal—a large residential district north of the downtown and student quarter and east of the actual 'mountain' for which the city is named—and the location is terrific. We look out on a pleasant little square and are around the corner from a pedestrian street full of ethnic restaurants and cafes, just a couple blocks from a metro stop. From here, we've been able to make forays in many directions: we've taken the kids out to the Biodôme at the Olympic Park, gone shopping at the food market in Little Italy, scoped out Chinatown, and strolled the old city and Vieux-Port. The tourist stuff is nice, but probably the biggest pleasure for us is just the urban fix. Living in rural Kentucky gives one a new appreciation for small amenities like being able to buy good bread just around the corner.
Pornos & Sebastian
By a curious sequence of serendipities—being sent to a conference I'd had no plans to attend, overhearing a stranger's conversation about his evening plans, and arriving at the ticket window just after a number of reserved seats went back on sale—last Thursday evening I found myself smack in the middle of Row F of the Brown Theatre in Louisville for the New Pornographers/Belle & Sebastian show. I was, in a word, well chuffed.
I am in Atlanta for the SITE conference. I don't like being away from my family, and I shudder to think how much work is going to be waiting for me when I get home, but there's at least one advantage of being here: the hotel has Cartoon Network on cable. I've been rediscovering the hilarity of Futurama (it's as funny as The Simpsons; I don't know why it has never caught on in the same way), and staying up later than is really healthy to watch the Adult Swim lineup of Witch Hunter Robin, Big O, and Cowboy Bebop (Inuyasha is in the lineup too, but it doesn't do much for me). I knew Cowboy Bebop from before, having previously spent a while staying up later than was healthy to watch its combination of sci-fi, hard-boiled detective, and humor. The other two are new to me, but intriguing. Witch Hunter Robin is a noirish supernatural detective series. An in-house promo describes it, I think, as X-Files meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Carrie thrown in. Accurate enough. Big O is just plain weird. Based on the grand tradition of Japanese Giant Robot cartoons, the series throws in a piano-playing android maid, a one-eyed butler/robot mechanic, and a bizarre plot of stolen memories. Anyway, it's probably good that I won't be able to watch when I get home. I need my sleep.