Archive for May, 2011

…Ich too much immer ist
May 26, 2011

I blogged about this yesterday, but I’m going to go ahead and repeat myself since the post was in German and therefore probably missed/ignored/hated by most of you.

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned, but I’ve been blogging in German in order to practice writing in a language whose syntax I don’t understand (as opposed to French, whose syntax I merely ignore).

Here’s my German blog: https://schwierigesprache.wordpress.com/. It’s called Deutsche Sprache, Schwierige Sprache (German language, difficult language).

So I’ve finally discovered how I’m going to master the German language, and it’s all thanks to Heidi Klum, who first popularised the Auf Wiedersehen! on Project Runway.  It’s with old Germany’s Next Top Model episodes on YouTube that I plan to finally start understanding what people are saying. I’ve already learned ten ways to say: That’s awesome! For example,

Das war voll Génial!
Das war richtig Geil!
Total Cool!
Das ist ech gut!

Super!

It’s the perfect pedagogical tool because:

1-    Let’s face it, the vocabulary is not so complex. The contestants generally stick to simple sentences like: “Das ist total Cool” or “Sie so fake ist”.

2-   They use a lot of English words, which keep me from getting lost too much. See the “She’s so fake” above. For example: “Wie machen eine Photoshooting und ein Catwalk” (We’re doing a photo shoot and a runway walk). Then there’s the stock bitch girl, who says things like “…Das Ich too much immer ist” (I’m just too much all the time)

3-   Visual and audio aids. When a girl lies (lugen) to the judges there are lots of cues that allow me to follow, like black and white flashbacks to when she admitted something different earlier on camera.

4-   Simple plot. An 18 year old yelling “Nein nein nein” as Heidi Klum approaches her with the scissors means she probably isn’t excited about her new makeover. Okay, sometimes the plot get’s a little more complex, like when Paulina accused Rebecca of lying about her natural curls: “Sie sagt ihr Haar ist natural lockig aber…” (Trans: that bitch claims she has natural curls but…”

In conclusion, I am totally ready for a German Vorstellungsgespräch (job interview).

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Hot Pants on Wheels: Roller Derby Explained
May 23, 2011

I think it was on the third lap, watching the girls skate round and round in hot pants, elbowing and shoving each other, that I decided roller derby is my favourite sport. “Size matters” in roller derby, or at least that’s what was proclaimed from the back on one of the bigger girl’s hot pants. As far as I could understand, two teams of 6 girls skate around in circles. One “Jammer” from each team starts behind the rest of the pack and tries to get through and pass the other team’s members in order to score points. The bigger girls try to block while a tiny “Jammer” girl tries to squeeze her way through the mass. These girls were fast, tough, and half naked. They were cheered on by a mob of supporters who looked more like Harley Davidson owners than your typical Sunday morning hockey crowd, which may explain the totally reasonable price of beer.  So goes local life in Florida.

After dashing madly about the continent this last month I decided to spend the weekend in Jacksonville à la local Floridian. Luckily there was beach festival on Saturday, along with a 5k marathon called “Never Quit,” sponsored by the US Navy. Turns out the US Navy kicks serious military ass. First, a group on them began the run by parachuting out of a helicopter along with a giant American flag. There are times I find American patriotism overbearing and somewhat menacing.  This was not one of those times. Standing on a gorgeous, hot beach, this was one of those times that I love America for all its over-the-top jumping out of planes cheesy fries awesomeness.

Of course the military side was never far away, since a banner over the event’s stage read: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of all who threaten it.” Luckily I had visited a local Arts Market that morning where I bought a couple of left-wing buttons. So I showed up to the Navy event with: “Vegetarianism, Peace for all who live” stuck to my floral sundress. I did however leave my “Peace is Patriotic” button at home.

In other exciting news I got a Kindle this weekend. Max claims to have bought it for me as a reward for all my hard work learning German, but it might have more to do with all the times I’ve made him carry backpacks full of books on vacation. More on that when I’ve had some time to try it.

Pictures of this weekend’s fun (including the snake we found in the parking lot) are on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.899469539481.2410267.81010863&l=ae8b3036c8

What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time*
May 18, 2011

Goading my sick self through the streets of downtown Chicago, forcing one foot in front of the other at a sluggish pace (not to be confused with my usual healthy dawdle), it occurred to me that I should perhaps just find a park to relax for the afternoon. I wasn’t too disappointed either. While ambling through Chicago’s tulip lined avenues was fun, sitting in a park and reading is one of my favourite things to do (second only to sitting in a park reading while also drinking beer). The problem was that, having planned or a second day of sightseeing and picture taking, I hadn’t brought a book.

I wandered around for over an hour searching for a book store; the El-train screeched overhead, somehow I walked right past Garret’s delicious popcorn shop, some pimple-faced teenager gave me a free coffee mug, and one Fedora-capped man commented (quite rightly) on the stunning nature of my gorgeous eyes. Compliment in hand, I still hadn’t found a bookshop. About to give up and just nap in Millennium Park, I finally found a used bookstore hidden behind 98 storeys of Trump Tower.

It was a difficult shopping experience, one of those bookstore visits where you feel the only books worth reading are the ones you’ve already read. Deciding to get something Chicago themed, I eventually settled on Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. Unfortunately I got distracted on my way to the register and ended up also getting Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Both Midwestern boys who have lived in Chicago, Vonnegut and Obama were great choices for an afternoon in downtown Chicago. At the same time, their writing couldn’t be more different. Obama’s book, anticipating his presidential bid, is all about hopes, dreams and American patriotism. Vonnegut’s novel, inspired by his own experiences as a POW in Germany during WWII, is straight satire, a dark and funny look at war that does not celebrates men’s bravery but instead insists that soldiers are nothing more than babies sent out as canon fodder. I’ve included some of my favourite quotes from both books.

See if you can guess which comes from which author.

1- “We have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done”

2- “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”

3- “The role of victim [is] too readily embraced as a means of shredding responsibility, of asserting entitlement, or claiming moral superiority over those not so victimized.”

4- “Follow most of our foreign policy debates, and you might believe we have only two choices – belligerence or isolationism”

5- “What he meant of course is that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too”

*The title comes from Vonnegut’s book, which I prefer if only because he actually mentions Canada. Unlike one would be leader of the Free world. Vonnegut-Twain 2012!!

Chicago's famous bean-shaped mirror

There's a lovely bookshop behind Trump towers, if you can find it.

Why Canadians shouldn’t get their health care from the South Side of Chicago
May 13, 2011

For those of you unfortunate enough to be blessed with good health while travelling in the United States, you’ve been missing one of the most fascinating aspects of American culture. Luckily I’ve been plagued with a host of infirmities/ diseases/ infections over the last two months that have allowed me to explore the inner workings of the American health care system for you. Sparing the most gruesome of details, I had my wisdom teeth removed over two months ago (in Berlin), which led to a sinus infection, which led to a chest infection, which has now led to an inflammation of my lymph nodes, which has led to endless whining about my health problems, whimper, moan, whinge, lament, cough cough, sniffle.

Price list: Jacksonville Baptist Clinic

Feeling more pathetic than usual since my arrival in Chicago days ago, I got permission form my Canadian travel health insurance to visit an urgent care doctor in the city. They even provided the address of a clinic on the south side of Chicago, near my friend Amanda’s home where I was staying. Unlike other doctors, this clinic would accept my Canadian insurance and I wouldn’t even have to worry about paying out of pocket.

Thrilled to be seeing a doctor, Amanda and I jumped in her car, ready to drive over. When I told Amanda (Chicago, born and bred) the address of the clinic, less than 10 blocks away, she looked somewhat dubious. Hoping not to crush my sick little heart’s hopes of seeing a doctor, she put the clinic’s address into the GPS. Then, blatantly disregarding my sick little heart (and lungs), Amanda refused to take me into that neighborhood. I sat, quiet except for the occasional snivel or whimper, as she tried desperately to explain why I wouldn’t be going to the clinic:

“It’s not that I don’t want you to see a doctor… it’s just that I don’t want to get car jacked… or shot….I know it will save you two hundred dollars… wait, I’ll just give you two hundred dollars. Can I just give you the two hundred dollars?… I guess I could ask my dad to take us. No wait, he would just say no. No. We could keep the windows rolled up I guess… and park really close. But this is a brand new car and… I don’t want you to think I’m racist… or that there are places I won’t go in my own city… Ya, but, we’re not going there…”

Health clinic gift card, for the one you love

And so we drove 60 blocks to another clinic, with the windows rolled up, past liquor shops, storefront churches, tax centres, checks cashed and finally, Oprah’s studio. Much like visiting a garage, a price list was mounted on the doctor’s wall: $100 for a basic tune-up to $250 for a “complex” procedure. After all that I was diagnosed with a lack of antibiotics in my system an ordered to take some more immediately (hadn’t I just finished a round in Canada for my sinus infection? Best not ask too many questions and start moving into the “complex tune-up” zone). I accepted the prescription gratefully, and sniffled my way home.

Chicago, outside of its medical practices, turned out to be a fascinating city. It made me realise how privileged I am to be a tourist with health insurance just passing through. For most of us, Chicago is a beautiful (and safe) place. Just be careful never to get on the red line El-train heading south.

Adventures in US-Canadian Citizenship
May 4, 2011

My apologies for not having written in a while, the problem being that Emily is no longer in America, but arrived two weeks ago in Canadaland (located somewhere between the North Pole and Cleveland, Canadaland is not unlike Candyland, minus the fun). I usually write about crazy America or Germany. They’re interesting because they’re foreign and weird and love revolutions (Germany apparently had a quasi-revolution in 1848, so says the book I stole from their embassy yesterday). Both countries provide an interesting point of comparison to anti-revolution, stability-loving Canada.

This is not to say Canada is in anyway boring. Since I’ve been here we’ve watched with too little ambivalence as our future king married. Then to add a nail to our political system coffin, we (shockingly) elected a majority conservative government (Point well taken, things seem to run better around here when I’m not in the country).

To add a little American content to my week I attended a series of lectures yesterday on Canada-US relations. Four hundred high school students from across Canuckland attended the talks at Carleton University. I was then given a group of 20 of the cutest Frenchest ones for a half hour to discuss the topic further.

“Full disclosure: I’ve barely lived in Canada in the last 4 years and I currently live in Florida,” I began, having finally found my classroom after roaming the halls far too long. “Let’s make a list of the words you think of when you hear USA,” I asked them in my most teacherly voice. I should have known better.

“Fat, obesity, fast food, money, anger, exceptionalism, superiority complex, proud, property, guns, capitalism, crime, patriotism, stupid…” they yelled at me, some upset because the words they had chosen had already been used (guns came up at least three times).

I wanted to unpack a lot of what they had said. I pointed out that while Canada’s obesity rate isn’t quite as high as America’s (30% vs. 40%), we hardly have anything to brag about. Twenty minutes into our talk I was really impressed by what these 17 and 18 year-olds had to say (I certainly didn’t throw around words like exceptionalism at their age). But I was also worried about their blatant and misinformed anti-Americanism, which too often leads to a false sense of Canadian moral superiority.

During his lecture Professor Norman Hillmer noted how Canadians like to think of themselves as a moral superpower, while the US is some other kind of superpower (military no doubt, but he left it to our imaginations). The inferiority complex we’ve harboured so long is actually just a cover up for our (moral) superiority complex, he said. I can’t help but agree with him. Making ourselves out to be the silly little neighbo(u)r, the Ned Flanders to their Homer Simpson, allows us to imagine we are morally and intellectually superior, even if we aren’t the star of the show.

I wanted to really drive this point home with my kids. I had even prepared a witty Simpsons metaphor I was sure they’d understand. But we were already out of time.

I need my kids back. Forty minutes wasn’t enough. There’s so much more they need to know. “Be wary of nationalism,” I warned them as they were already out the door, on their way to Tim Horton’s or Roots, no doubt.