"Life is too important to be taken seriously."

-Oscar Wilde

Monday, June 30, 2008

How it all came to pass...

One of the key factors that struck me when I moved to Germany - was just how dog-friendly it was. (And still is.)

Coming from a country that has slowly over the years adopted an attitude that man's-best friend is best left at home, and preferably even there muzzled and restrained, I find it delightful how here - your dog is welcomed on the streets, can accompany you shopping, or out to dinner, and is even covered by your ticket on public transport.

Initially fighting homesickness, and spending way too much time alone, I became convinced that a dog would greatly enhance our lives. At the start of my second year here I desired a canine friend with fierce longing.

(A cat was out of the question. My beloved feline creature was still in Oz with my mum, too old and set in his garden-loving ways to ever adapt to inner-city German life. To casually acquire a second seemed callously disloyal.)

The Ger-Man was way more skeptical. But not completely opposed. We endlessly discussed the pros and cons. "We travel too much," said the Ger-Man. "We live on the fourth floor without a lift," he continued. "We like to sleep in," he said.

Eventually, he concluded: "A dog is an enormous commitment. It would completely change our lives. I really don't think we're ready for that much responsibility. How about we have a child instead?"

Yep, I kid you not... those were pretty much his exact words.

About 10 months later the Caspi-Man joined us and all thoughts of a dog were somewhat succeeded.

Over recent months, however, we've been revisiting the pet idea.

The Caspi-Man has always been extremely respectful of all animals, endlessly interested, and has now reached the age where (hopefully) a mutually beneficial relationship could develop. And as my beloved antipodean feline passed away a few years ago, the possibility of a kitten arose. (Unfortunately, as we still live on the fourth floor without a lift- a camel, the Caspi-Man's pet of choice, is somewhat out of the question. Besides which, I'm not sure there'd be room on the couch- let alone the bed- for the four of us.)

So, last Saturday, the newest member joined our family. He is small, gorgeous, cheeky, adorable, and I suspect by Wednesday, will be totally ruling our household.

And so it came to pass...

Mental note to self:

It is probably not the wisest of ideas to tell the Ger-Man how well his country men cope with defeat and to suggest that it is perhaps a well-developed cultural feature. (I am nothing if not subtle.)

Yes, it was quite a subdued crowd making their way home from football watching events last night, and I was incredibly touched watching the after-game coverage on TV.

The German team were so dignified, resolved and stoic. None of that howling, bawling and grass thumping seen by some other teams. Honestly, Herr Ballack showed all the resolute, sombre, contained suffering of a Jane Austin-created character. The only detraction was the dubious facial hair sported by a few of his fellow team-members. (Well, that and the constant spitting. What is it with footballers and public spitting?)

The only consolation (as weak as it is) is that at least we weren't kept awake all night by ecstatic revelers...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nothing like it since 2006...

Your national team has just won the semi-finals of the European Championship.

What are you most likely to be doing?

Well, if you're anything like the people that inhabit my town - you're gonna be heading for the streets to euphorically chant and sing and blow whistles and wave flags.

Or, you'll be jumping in your car (preferably with 8 or more of your closest friends) and joining the growing convoy of like-minded revelers, to drive laps round town while chanting and singing and hanging out the window waving flags - all the while- blaring your horn.

This being Germany, the home of 'Ordnung', you'd imagine the police'd be doing something about it. But, from what I've just viewed out my front window, they seem to be joining in!

It is impossible to describe the noise here right now... And all this on a 'school night'!

(I'm not really bah-humbug though, it is all very exciting. And we did actually have a couple of Friends over to watch the game. I even utilised the German-flag-soccer ball napkins AND the soccer toilet paper that the Schwierig-mutter brought over last Friday. Reckon I've just got enough of both left over to see us right for next Sunday!)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Another (not so) random question I'm pondering:

Apparently, one should never 'clean' a teapot. Beyond just rinsing it out with water. And there's that whole thing about never washing a wok. To do so would compromise on future flavour, so it is said.

So - does there exist any culinary school of thought that advocates the merits of an unclean oven?

Just randomly wondering...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

5 things we learnt in Morroco.

1. The Caspi-Man likes camels.

In this, he takes after his great-grandfather who also had a thing for camels. In fact, it is widely believed that one actually shared my grandfather's backyard (in a suburb of inner Sydney) for a while. I've been told (since early childhood) that sand was regularly bought to keep this camel happy.

During our time in Morocco, the Caspi-Man developed a special fondness for one camel in particular. This camel goes by the name of Masoot. Masoot also liked the Caspi-Man. Especially after the Caspi-Man shared his bread roll with him.

So strong was the Caspi-Man's natural camel riding ability - that Masoot's owner said the Caspi-Man has the potential to be a great camel jockey. Perhaps he could even become a "camel whisperer"...? So now I'm adding that to the list of his potential future career options. Along with fireman, pilot, street beggar, master chef and supreme dictator. (Yeah, don't ask.)

2. A holiday must be clearly defined.

The Caspi-Man strongly believes that the term "holiday" only applies to the things he finds fun. So any engaging in non-beach / non-swimming /non-camel riding activities (for example: strolling through the Souks of Marrakesh, or meandering in the Tombs of the Sultans) will have him loudly asking - "can we please go back to holidays, now?".

3. There are very few foods that cannot be enhanced by clever addition of cinnamon.

OK, I admit that this is more a preference rather than a 'learning' (as such). And it is an opinion not necessarily shared by all. Including the Ger-Man. Which is a shame. (In my opinion.)

We also discovered that it is a wise idea, when buying spices (or indeed any food stuff) from Moroccan Souks, to indicate how much you want by price. As in: "I want 20 dirhams of Cinnamon / lamb / mint / olives / etc, please". Any other approach will find you astounded by how much it is possible to spend / buy.

4. It is rather expensive to call Morocco from Australia.

My mother discovered this by dialing our hotel with a cheap calling card and learning that $10au credit would buy her 18 seconds talk time. (She quickly hung up and sent a text instead.) My sister, meanwhile, is dreading her next phone bill after calling direct and babbling with the Caspi-Man for half an hour.

5. That:

  • All 3 of us like to laze on the beach. (Ok, 1 of the 3 of us prefers to splash in the sea.)
  • All 3 of us like to laze by swimming pools. (Ok, 1 of the 3 of us prefers to splash in the pool.)
  • 2 of the 3 of us like to make random attacks with water pistols.
  • 2 of the 3 of us like to enhance our lazing with trashy paperbacks.
  • 2 of the 3 of us find cinnamon in foods extremely yummy.
  • 1 of the 3 of us really likes camels. (Had I already mentioned that?)
  • All 3 of us had a truly brilliant and unforgettable time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Mission:

To book a family holiday.

OK then, let's discuss the criteria... we'll start with the essentials. What is most important?

The Ger-Man:
-At least a full week. Warm. Sunny. Beach. Relaxation.

The Caspi-Man:
-Lollies. And a big plane. A big plane with TVs on it. (The Caspi-Man always feels the need to clarify that when he says "big plane" he means the "big planes that have TVs on them".)

- Some cultural diversity would be nice. And yummy food.

Ah-ah. That narrows it down. Not. How about we move on to "desireables"?

The Ger-Man:
- Maybe somewhere we haven't been before? A bargain package deal for a 5 star hotel with half-pension? Directly on the beach - would be nice.

The Caspi-Man:
-Lollies. And on a big plane. With TVs on it.
-But that's the same as what you said before. What else?
-More lollies?

- Maybe some exotic markets to stroll through. Historic significance would also be good.

Six weeks - and countless internet searches later:

It has white beaches, it's mostly warm and sunny, planes fly there, (can't guarantee they'll have TVs on them - but when you're three and a half- you're already used to the fact that everything is always a compromise), Hotel - 4 and ½ stars (not bad) - directly on the "strand", famous markets, and all in a country (continent even!) that we haven't been to, and is fabled for having the most diverse range of food in the world. (Suspect it even has lollies.)

We'll Take it!

So -while it's true that we may not "always have Casablanca" - by this time next week there's an incredibly strong possibility we might always have Marrakesh...

Mission Accomplished!

We leave for Morocco on Friday!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Brilliant things about Germany no.20


As in: Blowing Bubbles.

Yes, I know the act of blowing bubbles is not exclusive to Deutschland, but it was here that I personally rediscovered it. (And here there are so many beautiful parks in which to do it.)

It is a truly brilliant thing to do. Magical even. And the therapeutic qualities are so easily overlooked. There is no way - after a mere five or so minutes of bubble blowing - that one can help feeling less stressed, more optimistic, and subjected to a greater sense of well being. (I reckon this is an activity that could easily be exploited by facilitators of executive stress management courses.)

And a small container of bubbles can be had for as little as 89 cents. Brilliant! I'm urging everybody to try it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

my 'No Bake but Lots of Bash' cheesecake:

This recipe is for a cheesecake that I actually created. All by myself.

It was inspired by my mum. (Hi mum!)

To be honest - more than inspired by - it was necessitated by my mum - as she wasn't home when I called - urgently requiring her cheesecake recipe. So I had to improvise.

But this recipe is dedicated to my gorgeous, wise and inspirational friend, Nicole, for whose birthday it was ultimately refined and recorded.

It is rich and indulgent and in no way delicate... just what one would wish for in a cheesecake.

250g (approx) plain biscuits. (In Germany Leibniz Butterkeks work well and I reckon Arnotts milk arrow-roots would do the trick in Oz.)
½ cup brown sugar.
250g butter (melted).
100g melted chocolate.
600g Philadelphia cream cheese.
300ml cream.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
⅓ cup castor sugar.
Shaved chocolate for decorating.

Place biscuits in a strong bag (I find a freezer bag works best) and bash with a mallet, wooden rolling-pin, or miniature cricket bat until finely crumbed. (Toddlers find this great fun.)

In a large bowl combine crumbs, melted butter and brown sugar.

Use a glass or mug to firmly press crumb mixture into a 26cm spring base cake-form - compacting up the sides to form a high crust.

Dribble melted chocolate over cake base and then chill well in the fridge.

In a large bowl (again) beat together the cream, vanilla and castor sugar until thick (but not stiff). Add the cream cheese and continue to beat until smooth an well combined.

Pour cheese mixture into the prepared base and chill till set.

Remove spring-form carefully (as it is inevitable that the sides will crumble a little) and decorate cake before serving with the chocolate shavings.

Happy Birthday Nicole!
May your day be filled with joy, laughter, wonderful surprises and moments of wanton abandon.
(that's not too much to ask for from a birthday now, is it?)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Nature vs Nurture

Before the Caspi-Man came along, I always had a bit of a leaning towards the "nurture" side of this debate. Yes, it may have been un-informed and reactionary, but since when has not being informed ever stopped one from forming an opinion?

Now, however, (post Caspi-Man) I am well and truly, absolutely, completely, without doubt, firmly taking a prominent stand on the "nature" side.

Latest empirical evidence?

The toilet seat.

Up until recently, the toilet seat has never been an issue in our household. The Ger-Man (during the long years of our co-habitation) has always been remarkably good and considerate. So remarkably good, in fact, that it has never needed to be remarked on. (I'm quite sure, that until recently, I'd ever even thought about it. Not even to abstractly ponder that the Schwierig-mutter might have done some "nurturing" to invoke this un-remarkability.That's how much of 'not an issue' it has been.)

Now, however, the Caspi-Man seems to be exerting his "nature".

The toilet seat is ALWAYS up.

And I can guarantee you, that both the Ger-Man and myself have in no way "nurtured" this behaviour. In fact, to the contrary, we have "nurtured" the complete opposite. Our "nurturing" is getting us nowhere.

After once again in the middle of last night being jolted to full consciousness during a routine sleepwalk to the bathroom - I'm feeling the need to nuture some remarks...

Friday, June 6, 2008

A work in progress...

There is a new UBahn (Underground) line being built here in Düsseldorf. It is called (or rather - will be called) the Wehrhahn-Line.

Actually, we've been aware of it for some time - as work commenced at the end of last year and we live pretty much in the middle of its construction zone. Notices appear periodically in our building's foyer advising of when the most disruptive activities will take place.

One weekend, a few months ago, I was convinced the actually tunnel was being bored. All through the night/s were constant reverberations that shook our building's foundations. They came in waves. It was not unlike sleeping on a ship with the constant, low, soul-vibrating Brrr Brrr Brrr of huge engines. (Quite lulling, really).

The Caspi-Man has been in 7th heaven as there has been no end of workers, buggers, cranes and tip-trucks to observe. I am often frustrated as this means we get absolutely no-where fast.

A few days ago I had a few moments to spare and decided to pop into the "information center" (a specially converted shipping container situated at the end of Koenigsallee) to learn more about 'Die Wehrhahn-Linie'. Or more aptly - find out when it's bloody well gonna be finished. (There really are only so many hours/days/weeks of my life I'm prepared to devote to idly watching random construction works. A bit here or there is fine -but really - month after month it gets a bit much. And anyway, the Caspi-Man has a collection of "Bob the Builder" DVDs that should rightly be fulfilling this role.)

The information staff were really incredibly friendly and helpful. (I don't think that many people come in with the specific intention of finding out about "Die Wehrhahn-Linie". I suspect they've been spending the majority of their work time recently just giving directions - mainly to the Altstatd for thirsty visiting drupassangers.)

I left with booklets, diagrams, technical information and the revelation that - if all goes to plan -Die WehrHahn-Linie will be complete and operational by sometime in 2014. yep. TWO THOUSAND AND FOURTEEN!

A work of quality and masterful German engineering it may well be, but, excuse me, didn't the Greeks manage to create/reform their ENTIRE underground system (plus their motorways AND airport) in a mere 4 or so years before their Olympics? And I suspect that even the Brits will manage to do something major with the tube by (latest) 2012.

Seven years seems an awful lot for a mere 3.4 kilometres of Underground. (Without even any rivers or mountains to contend with.) And they like to consider themselves timely and efficient????

Well, I suppose I'm gonna have to adjust and learn to live with this on-going construction gazing....

Thursday, June 5, 2008

We've morphed.

According to a multitude of signs, flags, billboards and stickers around town, Düsseldorf is now "drupacity". Or more acurately - drupacity.

There are signs in most shop & restaurant windows advising they are drupartners. The local "Kunst"(art) galleries are even featuring drupart.

Yesterday, I decided it was time to actually suss out what this drupa thing's all about. (I already knew from some of the signs it would be here till June 11th).

I discovered that it is actually just a trade fair. For the print/media industries. (Hence the plethora of signs, flags, billboards and stickers.) I picked up a printed guide from one of the hundreds of info stands that have sprouted up here in drupacity.

It appears that drupa is no less than the Olympics of the print/media industries- occurring just once every four years. And apparently more than half a million visitors are expected. I reckon they're all already here and that at least half of them are on each and every tram I want to take. (& the other half keep stopping me on the street and asking for directions to the Altstadt.)

The Aldstadt is completely packed. It would seem, if you're a true representative of the print/media industry visiting Düsseldorf for drupa, what you really need to be doing - your main imperative here - is to be drinking lots of beer in the Altstadt.

But it is rather impressive how completely a trade fair can take over a city.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Germany - a quick spot quiz!

Just for fun....

1. Your son goes to a German kindergarten. He will need:
a) a pair of wet weather pants.
b) gum boots.
c) house shoes.

d) a small packet of tissues on his person.
e) All of the above.

2. You are planning a BBQ at your home. What piece of equipment is considered most essential for this event?

a) a pair of tongs.
b) a hairdryer.
c) a bucket of water.
d) kitchen scales.

3. Pumpkin soup is generally considered:
a) very exotic.
b) with great skepticism.
c) nutritious and life affirming.

4. Most illnesses, if not actually caused by, are sure to be greatly aggravated by:
a) not washing one’s hands thoroughly.
b) having cold feet.
c) using public transport.
d) All of the above.

5. A woman knocks you over as you’re alighting from a tram she’s wanting to board. You can expect her to:
a) apologize profusely.
b) ignore you completely.
c) shoot you a highly indignant look.
d) help you up, assist with picking up your scattered bags, and offer to buy you a stiff drink.
e) B or C.

And that's just for starters!
2. b.
It's used to help get the fire started. There's even a song about this. (No locals could understand my amazement when I first witnessed it.)
3. b.
Pumpkins are considered (by most) to be primarily Halloween decorations or for feeding livestock. This assumption is not helped by the fact that it is still somewhat difficult to find the yummy (not stringy) varieties.
4. b.
So, that should help explain the stereo-typical German fondness for socks with sandals.
5. e.
(a & d will NEVER happen. And if they ever do – you can be sure that the woman is not German or has spent considerable years living elsewhere.)

Your score explained:

0: Oh, dear.

Where to start? Um.... Germany. It is a very large country in the middle of Europe. It spent much of the earlier part of the 20th Century trying to get bigger by invading its neighbours. (It believes its 21st Century approach [the EU] is working much better.) You can read all about it here.

1-3: Obviously you’ve read/heard a lot about Deutschland. Maybe you’ve even visited.

4: So I guess you live (have lived?) here, huh?

5: Sie sind ein Deutscher? Oder?


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