Monday, February 11, 2008

Germany - Day 11: 2/10 (The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Mole Baby)

I was determined to get caught up with sleep this morning, but when Balu the dog decided to kamikaze into the bed with me, that pretty much ended it at 8:45 A.M. Its somewhat funny, Balu spends more time with me when I am here than anywhere else. He is now sleeping every night a the foot of my bed (on the floor). I know that he is Hannah's dog, but maybe he sleeps down here with Esther usually and is just missing being down here with her. Maybe he just feels bade because his German is better than mine.

I sat in bed, editing pictures and typing up my notes into a full fledged blog for the morning. At about 11:30, I pulled myself together, cleaned my room and did some laundry. On a side note, Beatrrix feels that her housekeeper, Jana, can do my laundry and told me to just throw my things in with the rest of the family’s. I felt funny about having someone else do my laundry, so I reverted to what I did in China: washing it by hand and then hanging it to dry. That might sound funny to some people, but my room has a really cool feature to it. In my bathroom there is something that is connected to the radiator that looks like a clothes drying rack. It is intended to dry your towel more quickly, I think, but it has enough bars to hold like ten towels. Instead of hanging ten towels, I have just been using it to dry my clothes. Some of the bigger items, I think I am going to have to relent and let Jana take care of, like my button down shirts, and slacks. But for items like t-shorts, shorts, and my towel, my hand wash method looks like it will work just as well as it did when I was in China. Weird, I know, but then again, look whose blog you are reading!

I thought Frau Lohoff and her husband were picking me up at noon, so at about 11:55, I parked myself outside. I had no idea what we were planning on doing today, so I was wearing my hiking boots, and cargo pants with a polo because Frau Canavan and I were having dinner at a restaurant afterwards, courtesy of Herr Fabricius and his wife, Katherine.

I must have misunderstood, because at 12:15, there was still no car, so I started walking around the neighborhood and taking some pictures. The neighbors must of thought that I was nuts because I was walking really slowly (compared to someone who is actually going somewhere) and just checking out the architecture of the houses on the street. After about 15 minutes of that, I went back inside and did some odds and ends like returning e-mails and reading the Times Union Online. I still don’t have minutes on my phone, so I couldn’t call Frau Canavan to even see what the deal was and I panicked a little that I missed them and that they had come to my place first at 11:30 and had planned to be at Canavan’s at noon. At 12:45 my ride arrived, with Canavan in the back, and the explanation that she had to find her meds before she left and caused a slight delay.

We were off to a castle that had been 70% destroyed during World War II. It is called Wesseburg Anholt Castle and is also an art museum, hotel, and restaurant. It sounded interesting and Canavan and I had the chance to chit chat with Frau Lohoff and her husband as we rolled through scenic rural Germany and enjoyed an up close look at many windmills, including a more traditional, old fashioned one (sorry, Kim).

We arrived at the Castle and found that you could only tour the outside, and not even much of that, without going on the formal tour, which, of course was in German. I took some pictures of the outside of the Castle, which has been rebuilt in the past fifty years. Its design as a defensive structure was evident, although I agreed with Canavan that I was more partial to castles of the medieval time period, as compared to this one, which was from the late Renaissance, early Baroque period. I just think the older ones are cooler, but I don’t really have much evidence as to why I think so. They just look less Victorian on the inside, which is a time period that I am not particularly fond of, I guess.

Once inside I could read enough in German to tell that pictures were not allowed, which was really unfortunate because it takes away from how the story played out. We had been politely asked to try to stay with the group for safety reasons (which was totally bogus, I think they did it for security reasons so tourists did not run away with ancient books or pieces of art or 16th and 17th Century Chinese and Japanese porcelain. Almost immediately, Frau Canavan and I were scolded because we hung back so she could translate for me and not interrupt the tour guide, who was a bit “Old Schul”. We were told to stay with the group, and our guide was not to pleasant about it from what I could read in his body language.

We toured the castle which had some of the cooler looking personal libraries that I have seen. Being a bibliophile, I was in my element and immediately began reading spines of books. People rarely understand this about me. I am interested in what people own in terms of books because I think it can tell me a lot about them. It is why I mentioned some of the titles that are in my host family’s home in a previous blog. TANGENT WARNING: I remember once in college, I was visiting the summer home of one of my rugby team mates and his family owned this mansion on Lake Champlain in Vermont. I mean that the servant’s quarters were bigger than any house that I had ever lived in! He was talking about how his family had owned it for years and he took me to his great-grandfather’s study (he was known simply as “The Duke”). Thousands of books were on the wall and I began looking through them when a particularly old version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter caught my eye. Now, as many high schoolers do, I hated most of the book and found it dry and boring (not knowing that I would have to read it four more timed before I finished school and by the last time I would actually like it), but I took it off the shelf anyway. As I opened up the front cover, I noted that it was a FIRST EDITION printing. A FIRST EDITION PRINTING OF HAWTHORNE’S THE SCARLET LETTER WAS JUST SITTING ON THE SHELF!!! I know most of you will say, “so what”. Hopefully some of you will understand that even at 19, I thought that was unbelievable.

Obviously, I was at a loss to what the tour guide was saying and since he was pretty mean looking and was asking the group questions, I decided to avoid eye contact with him so he wouldn’t ask me anything and I wouldn’t have to feel like an idiot, more than I already do on a daily basis here because of my lack of German. It did, however, give me a really great chance to look at the art works, which were mostly portraits, with a completely singular focus, unlike Canavan, who had to try to tune out our guide while looking around.

We entered an amazing looking hall where it was obvious that formal occasions, perhaps dances, were held. There were at least fifty portraits on the walls of various members of the family. I had noticed from earlier portraits that the family was not particularly good looking or had lacked the services of a quality painter. But when we entered the great hall, it was a whole new level of physical misfortune. Each painting had the same disturbing face with a different body and hair cut. And somehow, with each passing portrait, the paintings showed people more hideous than the last. I immediately nicknamed the place “The Hall of Hideous” in my mind and made a mental note to share this with Canavan as soon as the opportunity presented itself. In all fifty or so portraits, there was only one in which I would say the person was physically attractive, with the rest having 49 variations of the same disturbing likeness. Much to no ones surprise, Canavan told me that the room was displayed with portraits of the family, which fell in with the often common royal tradition of cousins marrying cousins. Inbreeding. It all started to make sense.

The next room was an actually art gallery and I had a chance to look on an original Rembrandt for the first time (and no, J-Fogg, not the toothpaste, the painter). It was a really good opportunity and although my art appreciation skills are lacking, I could at least appreciate what I was looking at in terms of its value to the greater art community. Had it been Renaissance Art, I could have given you more of an explanation, because I am somewhat more knowledgeable of that period, particularly of the Italian Renaissance.

One item that Frau Canavan and I did take note of did involve a curious scene. It showed a naked woman, holding a little cherub by the wing, and smacking his naked bottom with a handful of roses. Okay. Even I didn’t get what was going on with this one. Canavan and I were already chuckling about Hideous Hall, and this just about sent us over the top until she translated the placard to say that it was the goddess Venus scolding her son, Cupid.

Two rooms later is where it all fell apart. We entered the royal bedroom. On the wall opposite the bed was a 15 foot tall painting of a regal man, looking very serious and reserved. I noted to Frau Canavan how awkward it would be to have that staring at you while you were sleeping or if the royal husband and wife who resided in the bedroom had wanted to share some romance, such as holding hands or plutonic cuddling. This managed to get her giggling. At that point the tour guide suggested that we turn to look at the portrait of the most beautiful Anna Maria, daughter of Mr. 15 Foot Painting. It was right behind Canavan and I, who were in the back, and as we turned to gave upon the large painting of baby Anna Maria, I took in the scariest looking baby that I have ever laid eyes on. It looked half-human and half mole-man. I mean, this was a baby that was so ugly that a parent of this time period might have been tempted to just throw it in a well and start over. Canavan immediately let out a snort of stifled laughter and it was all over. I was shaking from trying not to laugh, which just set her off even worse, which in turn made me have to chew on my lip not to explode in laughter while our guide threw us the German Stink Eye of disapproval. We tried hard to compose ourselves, but it was impossible. Frau Lohoff looked at us trying to figure out what was so funny, but her curious looks only made it worse and the best that Canavan could do was point at Anna Maria.

I told her to get away from me because every time I heard her, I started all over again, but even as she walked into the other room, I could hear her trying to swallow down her laughter, tears rolling down her cheeks, and the sound of a tea pot coming from her every time a split second of laughter escaped her lips. I found the woodworking particularly interesting, trying to give a reason why I had my back to the tour guide so I could hide the tears now running down my face. Frau Lohoff called us over to another painting and explained that it was Anna Maria as an adult and that “at least she got less ugly.” Merciless! I was practically punching myself in the chest and internally castigating myself for acting so immature, but I couldn’t stop myself at this point. Thinking of J-Fogg and Erin collapsing on the floor in laughter only made it worse. Finally, Frau Canavan went to the other end of the room and thankfully, after going down the main staircase, where I found the painting on the ceiling to be of particular interest, the guided tour, and the incident involving the mole baby was over. At least until we started bringing it up and spinning it in as many interesting and amusing ways as we could: Mole Baby, Creature of the Castle Moat. It did feel good to laugh like that. It had been a while.

That evening, Herr Fabricius and his wife, Katherine, who is from Springfield, M.A., took us to dinner at a fairly high society restaurant (not that we really deserved it after our antics at the museum). The best part of it was the concept of urban renewal. The restaurant was in an old factory that had been scrubbed and redone, but was kept in much of the same formation as it had been. Overheard were pipes and duct work so you knew where you were. It was amazing. Classical music played while wait staff, who were dressed formally in black and white formal apparel (not exactly tuxes, but close), waited on us hand and foot. We enjoyed some great conversation and I found out further details about Herr Fabricius’s nephew, who is currently a sophomore at my alma mater, Union College. We touched on all sorts of topics, but mostly related to education and socioeconomics, and often of how these applied to the P.E.A.C.E. Exchange. It was also nice to have an intellectual conversation in English again, and it gave me a chance to take a break from measuring every sentence and every word I say in English, which I hadn’t really realized that I had been doing. The dinner lasted about 3.5 hours, but to me it felt like 30 minutes. When it was done, Herr Fabricius dropped me off at Kamp-Lintfort at about 11:00 PM or so and I called it a night.


Kelly said...

I would just like to say that even reading this 2.5 years later, I still crack up as if we were still standing in that castle. :)

This is still my number one mood booster!

Pete Mody said...

Good times, Good times!