Friday, September 26, 2008

What to do Today?

Some may wonder how I fill my day. Each day, I wonder the same thing.

I really like doing whatever I want, when I want to do it. However, often that means that I do nothing. But I am very much OK with that.

The first week I was in Hamburg, I was very sick. I filled my day with sleeping. Last week was the first week of activity. I filled it with shopping. Asmus was a fabulous bachelor. He had plates, flatware and just about nothing else. One day, I bought a pitcher. I decided to create a theme night. He has a weakness for Cuba Libres and I had some ripe avocados, so last Thursday we had Fiesta Latina. I believe that variety is the spice of life, so I made sangria. My plans were almost thwarted by a lack of pitcher. On my way to buy, oh yes, groceries, I stopped off at a department store called Galleria Kaufhof. Fortunately, the housewares department is a few feet away from Rewe store. I bought the cutest pitcher for 4.50 euros. While I was there, I also picked up two black pot holders. I was tired of burning my hands while pulling a pizza out of the oven.

The evening we had steak for dinner, I bought four steak knives and a bread knife.

During my first trips to the grocery store, we bought vinegar, garlic powder, mayonnaise and mustard.

When I made hamburgers on Monday, I purchased ketchup.

We expect guests next weekend, so I am planning a trip to Ikea to buy six wine glasses and six drinking glasses.
Here is the barware that Asmus owns.

I am not much better than Asmus. I just received my beloved glasses.

This single girl has two of each style. I have several styles but not more than two of each [A good friend gave me a set of four glasses.]. Suddenly I am hosting more than one friend at a time. I must upgrade!

Shopping only takes up two hours or so. The biggest chunk of my day is devoted to Howard Stern. Through the magic of the Internet, I listen to the entire show and the Wrap-Up Show daily. Because of the time difference and my lack of obligation to anything, I can listen without breaks. Officially the Howard Stern Show starts at 6 am on the East Coast and 6 am on the West Coast. The show starts at noon and ends at 5 pm here [the Wrap-Up Show, in which they dissect the show that just ended, is actually more interesting than the name suggests. That starts as soon as the Howard Stern Show ends and lasts about an hour.] The parts that I missed when I was at the store can be heard when the Howard Stern Show starts over again immediately after the Wrap-Up Show on the East Coast or during the West Coast Feed. Joining in the West Coast Feed requires a little bit of math [If I stopped listening at 2 pm, that is 8 am on the East Coast, so that means the show had been on for two hours. If I get back in at 6 pm, then that means that it is noon on the East Coast and 9 am on the West Coast. The show is about to start all over again on the East Coast and it has been on for three hours on the West Coast. I choose the West Coast.

[My computer’s clock is tuned to East Coast time. It makes things easier when trying to call people at home or planning things with them.]

I listen to Howard while I lie in bed, get dressed, cook dinner, do laundry, eat lunch. He and the Gang keep me company throughout the day. I get to hear English spoken throughout the day and that makes me feel happy.

Before I devoted my afternoon to Howard, I would watch American sitcoms dubbed into German. I have watched Home Improvement, Roseanne, The Real World, Scrubs, Malcolm in the Middle, According to Jim, The Simpsons and Family Guy im Deutsch. I regularly watched those shows in English, so I can figure out what is going on. I have passed by the Cosby Show, Private Practice, a flavor of Law & Order, Judging Amy, The Hills, Camp Rock, and My Wife and Kids in German.

More evidence of the power of television. On Tuesday, I met a salesman at the Fossil store on Möckenbergstraße [ß = ss in German] who said he spent two magical weeks this summer in Orange County, California. He went because of Laguna Beach. He said it was better than he thought it would be.

The Internet has played a larger role in my German life. I start the day by watching the previous day’s Host Chat from Live Regis and Kelly online. Then I stop by Ross the Intern’s site for the latest Talky Blog. Then I read the New York Times, the New York Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, People, TV Guide and The Local [an English-language news site] online.

If the feeling is right, I write. I am not legally allowed to work in Germany until I get a residence card, which is a visa that allows me to live in Germany for two years. However, I can continue my freelance writing career. I pitched an article or two. But a big chunk of my life is emailing people. I am getting much better email since I left the United States of America. I read and reply back-to-back.

I spent most of yesterday with Asmus’ mother. A lovely woman comes every two weeks to clean the apartment, Brigitte. Yesterday was her day to improve our lives. I needed a place to go for three or four hours. As much as I love the mall, I don’t need to be there for that long. Asmus' mother was kind of enough to entertain me. I speak tourist-level German [I would like a beer, please. I don’t speak German. One cookie, please.] and she is a step away from conversational English. We shared the German-English dictionary like the three witches in Macbeth. Despite the communication handicaps, she said she enjoyed my visit. I know so little about his family that I am always open to talking. His father was not feeling well, so he stayed in his study. I earned stars for my thorough job of washing potatoes [kartoffeln] and chopping carrots [karotten]. We went into her large garden and she clipped fresh sage, parsley and mint for the vegetables. She told me where to buy a basket for hauling groceries [I complained about the frequency of shopping and she shared that she shopped Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There will be no shopping on Sundays but I am not sure if she had to go to the market on Monday and Tuesday.]. She told me about her years demonstrating against various causes into her 50s and detailed her various careers. I just ate her food and drank her tea. She seemed to enjoy my enjoyment of her food.

Today, I refuse to go to the grocery store. On Fridays, Howard plays the best clips of the week. I decided to get a pedicure. The search for a reasonably-price pedicure took up way too much of my life. Few German salons have websites, so it took lots of work to find one. Sorta. After a long Internet search, I am going to a place next to the mall I find myself at three times a week. This means that I will have to report about the differences between American pedicure and German pedicure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A New Life in Germany

Welcome to my new life.

I just left the country where I spent my entire life and moved to Germany. I arrived in Hamburg 13 days ago. Things are very different here than they are in New York but I feel like I am at home.

This has been a crazy summer. My former roommate, Tanisha L. Grant, made several agreements to pay off debts to the landlord. She defaulted on every agreement. About 6 minutes after I came home from visiting my boyfriend in Hamburg, Germany in June, Tanisha said she had the worse thing in the world to tell me. I was ready for anything. Or so I thought. I learned that we had until June 30 to give the landlord $2,100, the amount covered by a rubber check, or we would be evicted.

On July 1, Tanisha said everything was “fine” with the rent. She had a subletter to pay for her half of the rent for two months, because she was supposedly at a directing workshop in Los Angeles. I was relieved to be done with Tanisha’s craziness. On August 6, I received an eviction notice. Karen, the woman who sublet for Tanisha, and I had six business days to leave the apartment.

With three vacation days for the year, I decided in June that I would move to Germany in October. With the eviction looming, I had a decision to make. Do I find a place to live for one month, do I move to my childhood home in Philadelphia and commute between there and New York five days a week, or do I just move up my departure date to Germany?

Asmus extended an invitation, so I bought a plane ticket. Despite my purchase, I was not mentally ready to move to Germany. I wanted to visit my friend Mori in Chicago. I wanted to eat two or three more cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. I hoped to hang out with my nephew for a few weekends. I needed to get mentally ready to leave the place that I called home for my entire life.

I moved out of the apartment a day earlier than usual because Tanisha allegedly stole several things from me. I came home two days before the eviction date to find several large items of mine stolen. Karen lost nothing, even though her bedroom was closer to the apartment door than mine. My computer. Gone. A small teapot and two petite tea cups. Gone. A glass cake plate. Gone. An unopened box of pots and pans. Gone. Karen’s laptop computer was not moved an inch but my teapot was stolen. This was not the work of a thief in search of quick money. Plus, the apartment had no forced entry.

When I discovered the robbery, I was immediately ready to move to Deutschland.

While Asmus and I only met 10 months ago, I had no fear about moving in with him. I was worried my reception by the rest of Germany.

I had this feeling that I would be the loudest person in the republic. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that I am.

I have been visiting Germany since 2000, so I know what to expect. But it is one thing to squash your personality for 5 days and another to alter it forever. I considered becoming less. Less emotional. Less loud. Less intense. Just less overall. After several rounds of thought, I decided to maintain my normal personality. If something is funny, I will laugh my normal, over-the-top guffaw. I get some stares but neither sticks nor stones. I live on buses and subway-like trains with people devoid of any emotion on their faces. It creates a weird sensation but I don’t let it stop me from sharing stupid stories and a loud laugh with Asmus.

One of the more startling changes for me is the frequency of grocery shopping. Most American refrigerators can eat up a German refrigerator and have room leftover for a German washing machine [more on that later]. Everything you need cannot fit in the refrigerator at once, so I am dropping by grocery stores about three times a week. In my previous life, I used to hit the local Pathmark about once a month and just replenish the produce once a week or so. Asmus has one of the biggest refrigerators that I have seen here and the freezer section is about 8 inches tall and 12 inches wide. The refrigerator section reaches about 18 inches.

Hamburg grocery stores are much smaller than their American cousins. The average German store covers 10,800 square feet and the typical American store is about 47,000 square feet. At the best store I have found here, I get to choose from two types of lettuce, one specie of potatoes, two varieties of steaks and an aisle of beers. I am actually confused by the lack of diversity of poultry. I have only seen chicken breasts in the butcher section. I really want to know where thighs, legs and wings that were once attached to the breasts are. I have not even seen a whole chicken. Asmus has a theory that all the wings are shipped to the United States and American poultry farmers are sending all the breasts here.

Some things about grocery stores are mysteries to me. None of the salad dressing flavors are familiar to me. I am afraid to try American dressing for fear that it is simply a combination of sugar and bacon fat. I gathered up my courage and bought French dressing. It is not awful but it does not have that familiar “French dressing” taste. It is creamy but filled with dill.

Rewe, my favorite store, has this American Sector. I found Hershey’s chocolate bars, Parade brand macaroni & cheese in a box, Heinz relish [Didn’t know that relish was American? Neither did I. Asmus and his friends had never heard of it before I questioned them.] and Paul Newman’s salad dressing. I think I will treat myself to some Paul Newman’s for Thanksgiving. Products in the American Sector are quite expensive. Paul Newman’s potion costs about 5.50 euros. I am not worthy of expensive dressing without an occasion.

Despite these small wacky things, I am enjoying my time here. Thanks to the Allied Forces destruction of Germany during World War II much of this country’s infrastructure is new. I live in a cozy apartment in northern Hamburg that was built about four decades ago and renovated in 1998.

After life in Brooklyn, it is nice not to live with roaches and mice. The smell of urine does not waft up from the stairway to the basement. There are no outdoor trash cans overflowing with household trash. I haven’t bumped into a homeless man throwing around items put out for recycling in a search for aluminum cans. Not one of my neighbors blast music from Friday night until Sunday afternoon.

Before the Walddörfer corporation installed houses, schools and shopping centers here, there were only trees and grass. With scalpel-like precision, the company placed buildings around wilderness. While there is an excellent mall about 3 miles and a little shopping area 1 mile away, I am surrounded by wilderness in the Bergstedt section of Hamburg.

I do not like to go outside much but I do like being engulfed by trees and grass. I look out the window and I see all kinds of colorful birds. It is crazy to see birds with electric green crests while sitting at my computer typing.

I ain’t in New York anymore.

OK, no one smiles here but no one is assaulting me with their fists or reggaeton.