Monthly Archives: November 2011

Busy, Then Nothing

Was fairly busy the past few days, but it all passed already.

The Weihnachtsmarkt started up on Friday, which I’m very happy about. I can’t spend too much time there as the main highlights of it are, of course, food. None of it healthy, but that’s the point of holiday food anyhow. We went Saturday night and had some Schmalzkuchen. While it literally means “lard cake,” it’s just little fried dough bits with powdered sugar. They used to be fried in lard, but not anymore. But oh, are they delicious. Especially fresh out of the fryer.

My biggest weakness is the candied almonds. Good God are they amazing, and smell so good when fresh. They’re always still warm and sticky when you buy them, and clump together. Nothing like high-fat nuts covered in sugar!

I’d like to try more things this year then I did last year. There are plenty of crepes stands, but I’ve never had one. I’ve never tried eggnog or anything like that. Many things to try besides bratwurst, schmalzkuchen, and gluhwein.

On Monday we were in Hannover and checked out their very large Weihnachtsmarkt. They had yet even more amazing smelling/looking food that we didn’t try (didn’t want to spoil Chris’ Pizza Hut dinner). We did buy some little pastry things, not sure what they were, but they were incredibly sweet and tasty. Chris was actually interested in the Spanish Potatoes, and there were some other things I wanted to try. Maybe we’ll go back, maybe not. Hard to say. Cost is an issue of course.

The Weihnachtsmarkts aren’t as magical without snow, and we’re still in the middle of a drought with no rain/snow in the forecast for another 2 weeks at least. As much as I dread getting around in the snow, it’ll be nice to have again. If only for a while. It’ll wear out its welcome by March for sure.

We were actually in Hannover because I was invited to yet another interview with Berlitz. I’ve interviewed twice at the Kassel location, with two different people, and supposedly came close to a job offer both times. It went well, and the guy I interviewed with was really nice. Like the last two interviews, he sounded very positive about me coming on board, and it sounds lovely. But it’s complicated and stressing me out a bit.

The pros would be, naturally, more money, more experience, and something to do with my time. The cons are that it may not actually be that much more money, I could lose money sometimes, it wouldn’t be until February at the earliest, a lot of travel to get to/from work, and I’m still not entirely sure I enjoy teaching English that much. Not enough to do it full time.

It pays fine, and they always say they can conceivably give me enough hours to be full-time. But there’s a large window of income where it’s not wise to take a job. If I earn less than 400 a month, which I do now, then I don’t need separate health insurance or to pay taxes. And, this location doesn’t reimburse for travel. Considering I would be teaching out of Hannover and/or Hildesheim and the train tickets are between 250 and 300 euro a month depending on which kind of train I’d take. And if I have to do it nearly every day, the fast train would probably be sorely needed (30 minutes vs. 70+ minutes each way). So you minus the train tickets, the health insurance (something between 150 and 300 a month), and the taxes (hard to figure out for sure, but between 35% and 55%) and I’m ending up with a few hundred more per month over what I get now. Which doesn’t seem like a fair trade off considering the difference in time involved. And that’s only based on full time. Anything less  doesn’t change the health insurance or train tickets. So my gut tells me no, but Chris is signaling that I should just shut up and do it for sake of saving some money before we leave. And who knows when we leave, I could teach there for a year, or five months or so. Who knows? Ugh.

Yesterday I joined Shinyee for a pottery class at a community center type place she found. Though it could be fun. It’s only a buck-fifty for the class, and the price of the clay you want to use. I’ve never done pottery or ceramics or anything, and it’s a fun diversion once a week. We’ll see what happens. Don’t need to end up with a bunch of ceramic things to have to ship home.

Andrew is making a last-minute trip over to Germany to visit his friend in Berlin who was gone when he was here last. He’ll swing by here before he leaves next week for an afternoon/evening. Should be fun.

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Melancholia

I like Lars Von Trier, I really do. Granted, I haven’t seen all of his work, but I appreciate what he does and how he does it.  But man, MELANCHOLIA was pretty insufferable.

It’s about the end of the world, but not really about the end of the world. The crux of it all, the whole point, is him examining the idea that people who are depressed handle high stress situations better than others. Because, well, they’re already expecting the worst. And what’s more high stress than the impending doom of the entire planet? Judging by the first half of the film, I’d say an elaborate wedding is, but still.

I have serious problems getting into films with asshole and/or very selfish characters. And boy, is Kirsten Dunst’s character Justine weirdly selfish. The first hour of the film is her wedding, and she wafts around ignoring it all. She disappears, she delays, she tells people off, she takes a nap. Why? It’s never really clear what the bug up her ass is, but that kind of behavior is hard to make relatable, understandable, or excusable. Honestly. “We’re going to cut the cake soon.” “OK, I’m just going to go take a LENGTHY BATH.”  The thought process just doesn’t jive with reality.

The logistics seem weird too, although it’s a minor and moot point. But, for instance, they announce that they’re going to cut the cake at 11:30pm. Which she’s ultimately late for. Then, even later, they walk out to the golf course to launch paper lanterns and stuff. And then, later still, she tells off her boss while they eat soup, also out on the golf course. It’s got to be at least 3 in the morning at this point, if not later. What kind of wedding serves soup, on a golf course, at 3 in the morning? What kind of wedding attendees would put up with countless lengthy delays, and still be down for some pre-dawn lawn soup? Who, I ask?

I digress. That’s all the first half. Part 1. Part 2 follows her sister a few weeks later. Justine is depressed as shit and comes to her sister’s to wallow. Then the world ends. And it took a little while, but afterwards I realized that the first part didn’t seem to have much point at all. It didn’t really tell a story. It didn’t set any mood for the second half. And the second half is only marginally interesting and suffers from some other logical conundrums. Kiefer Sutherland’s ultimate decision at the end, for example. That doesn’t fit with anything else at all.

MELANCHOLIA does have some, OK, a lot of beautiful images. The prelude of the world ending is gorgeous and hynoptic and lyrical. The music, mostly the overture from Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde, is stirring and all that. The opening is a lot like the opening of Trier’s last film ANTICHRIST (which, to my surprise, I did enjoy) style-wise. Just no hardcore sex and child deaths.

Can’t say I really recommend it. People really seem to be digging it though, so maybe I missed something.

But can we please stop pretending Kirsten Dunst somehow deserves an Oscar nomination for this? Because, let’s be honest. She’s nothing spectacular here at all.

C-

Dankbarzeit

Last Thanksgiving Chris’ boss threw a little shindig that we went to and were able to have all the necessary components. This year, not so much.  Still, we decided to do our own little miniature version of it for ourselves. Got some turkey breast to cook up (no oven, and no real culinary skills, so no full turkey), some dehydrated mashed potatoes, and some Pillsbury “Sunday biscuits.” No stuffing, no sweet potato, no cranberry, etc. But it’s just the two of us, so let’s not get crazy.

I did go into town and search every store that came to mind for something pie related. I knew finding pumpkin pie would be impossible, but I still thought I’d try. Germans don’t seem to believe in pie as a viable dessert option. They don’t even have a word for it.

The two nice bakeries in town had some good lucking stuff, but it wasn’t quite right.  All the other chain bakeries were a bust, as well as the supermarkets. Luckily, World Coffee (a Starbucks knockoff) just changed their pastries supplier last week and they now carry apple pie sometimes. So we’re lucky for that. Picked up 3 slices, and some ice cream, and that was that.

So it was nice (though the pile of dirty dishes are eyeing me) and all, but Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie just seems wrong. I had 4 students yesterday, so I tried to talk about it with all of them. They’re all vaguely aware of the holiday’s existence, but not sure why we do it. To be fair, they’re not sure why we do a lot of things. vThe most common question I seem to get is “why do you ask me that” after I say “how are you?” at the beginning of our conversation. They don’t like being disingenuous, which that question often is, so why ask it?

The film festival started last night. They’re not showing nearly as many English language or subtitled movies as last year, and three of them were last night (I missed them all), but there are a few I plan on checking out later in the week. None of them feel that compelling, but then again, they are movies, so I may as well go.

I finished the first draft of that screenplay on Tuesday. Just waiting on feedback now before I struggle with rewrites and tweaks.  Because it needs it.

Monday I’m going to Hannover as the Berlitz there contacted me for an interview. This will be my third interview with Berlitz in a year. Can’t say I feel very optimistic about it, but maybe third time’s a charm? Regardless, I was planning on a day trip to Hannover to check out their large Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas Market).

Speaking of the Weinachtsmarkt, it just opened in town yesterday. I must say, I LOVE the Weinachtsmarkt.  I foresee gorging on some candied almonds and gluhwein and bratwurst and such over the next month. It’s just such a fun thing, I really wish America would try it out, but we’re just set up so differently.  And like most Christmas things, it’ll get more magical once the snow comes.

By this time last year it had snowed already. Not much, but it had. Germany is going through a drought right now. We haven’t had rain or anything in many weeks. Apparently it’s disrupting much of the shipping in the north as the rivers are so shallow most boats can’t sail. On the one hand, snow is a hassle. On the other hand, it’ll be nice to have some.

So long kummerspeck

So, my first weight loss goal was 5o pounds. Did that, don’t remember how long it took.

Second weight loss goal was 100 pounds within 12 months, did that in 10 months. That was nice.

My third weight loss goal was to make it under 200 pounds, which I did last week. And this week I passed the 120 pound mark, roughly 14 months after I started. So that’s good.

I can’t remember the last time I weighed under 200 pounds. Partly because it’s been a long time (probably 15 years or so), and partly because I never habitually weighed myself before, so I never kept track of it really.

This brings my BMI down to about 29 (starting was 47), which is the highest number of the overweight category. So, I’m no longer obese, just really, really fat. Huzzah!

Still, I’ve dropped at least 14-16 inches off my waist, and I can buy just a large in the stores instead of the XX-XXXXLs I was buying before we left. So, you know, that’s a plus.

Next weight loss goal? Don’t really have one. According to the BMI the normal range for my height would be somewhere between 128 and 162, which is just laughable. I don’t foresee that happening. I’m still a big guy in general, and always probably will be. Maybe 175 is a good target?

I’m not really sure I even care anymore. I’d like to lose enough so that my stomach can at least fake looking flat. Beyond that, as long I don’t gain anything back ever again I’ll be fine with it. I do foresee moving back home as being a major challenge though. But we’ll see.

Time to focus, focus, focus and -SQUIRREL!

I actually haven’t been watching anything this past week, other than the usual TV shows, so I haven’t felt compelled to review recently.

Two reasons, really.

First, video games have distracted me again.  After finally finishing Just Cause 2, and all the necessary achievement whoring that goes with it, Chris and I started a new game.  Dungeon Defenders is a fun tower defense game we can actually play together.  It’s surprisingly deep, though it would take us some time to get too far into it.  And then Battlefield 3 arrived, which Andrew mailed to me as a Smundsday gift (long story). I already beat the single player on that (in hard mode, thank you very much), so now it’s time for multiplayer.  Considering I logged nearly 6 days of multiplayer time alone on its predecessor, that means I’ve got oodles of time to play in the new one.  And I shall.

Other then that, I spend my daylight hours (what little there are anymore) actually trying to be productive.  I’m plodding ahead on my screenplay.  Bit by bit.  I’ve finally wrapped up act one, and we’re 38 pages in.  So, as expected, it’s already too long.  But so be it, for now.  But with teaching, the gym, errands, and general internet, that gives me a few hours a day to try and write.  And, as always, it’s like pulling teeth for some reason.  Part of me wants to rent a hotel room or something in some small, boring town so I’ll have nothing else to do.  But  I know I’d find some way to distract myself regardless.

Also, I think today is the first day where the temperature hasn’t gotten too high above zero.  It’s f-ing cold up in here.  The heaters don’t seem to be effective, and I remember them working too well last year.  So methinks I need to go buy some more winter wear soon.  Maybe not a snow jacket as I thought, but some sweaters, gloves, slippers, and sleep pants.  Can’t seem to find nice flannel-type pajama pants here.  It’s like they’re against comfy warmth or something.

This entry, by the way, was a distraction for the other writing.  In case you couldn’t tell.  I suppose I should get back to that before my next two classes.  Then tonight we were invited to see a Canadian improv comedy troupe.  So there’s that too. Can’t believe it’s the weekend already.

Not a whole lot going on lately.  Since Hal left I’ve settled back into the daily routine.  Get up, eat mini-wheats, watch something or go to the gym, lunch, dick around on the internet, try to write, teach English on the phone, more internet, dinner, TV, more internet, and maybe some Xbox.

So not a whole lot of variation going on.  Some Mondays we can go to the movies, and I usually meet Shinyee for lunch in town once a week.  But other then that, just nothing happening.  Battlefield 3 will arrive in the mail soon, so I’m sure I’ll spend a lot of time playing that and yelling furiously at the TV.  My usage of the word “bullshit” increases a good 1,100% while playing Battlefield.  Chris hates it.

Shinyee just left for Taipei to visit her mother and family for a few weeks, but she started taking a pottery class and has invited me to join her.  Only a buck fifty plus material, and clay is cheap.  So that’ll be fun to do once or twice a week.  Of course, I’ll end up with a lot of pottery I don’t know what to do with.  Who needs ashtrays?!

Only three more weeks or so until the Weinachtsmarkt comes back into town, and I can’t wait.  I love it.  Maybe it’s just the candied almonds, but the rest is good too.  We may try and visit Hannover or some other local town for a day trip.  It’s an idea.

Chris also just got news we may be able to go to Prague sometime in March as his lab is attending a conference of some sort.  I’ve long joked that we should visit Prague, as I’ve heard it’s cheap, so it would fun to see if that’s true or not (I’ve recently been told I’m wrong).

I’ve also given thought to going to the Berlin Film Festival again, should some fiscally feasible option present itself.  It doesn’t seem likely or practical, but it would be something to do.

My mom offered another trip home for Xmas or otherwise.  I wouldn’t go home for Xmas as I’d never leave Chris alone at home.  And the weather that time of year always makes time sensitive travel questionable.  I still think about it, but just doesn’t feel right.  Me going home twice, Chris not leaving once.  Then again, if he went home for a visit he might never come back.

But other then that, it looks to be the routine on repeat for the foreseeable future.  I’d like to think the end of our time here is on the horizon, but it’ just so impossible to even guess anymore.  There’s a general window of time where it seems possible, but it’s pointless to even try and pin something down.  It will happen when it’ll happen.  And when it does, it will most likely feel pretty sudden.

The Adventures of Tintin

Being American I, of course, knew next to nothing about Tintin.  Other than it was hugely popular in Europe, but something no one cared about in America.  Like Asterix, or Nutella.  For starters, I thought the dog was named Tintin.  But I had probably confused that with the dog Rin Tin Tin (something I also know nothing about).  I also thought Tintin (the human, that is) was a kid who solved mysteries.  A teenager maybe, something like the Hardy Boys.  So I was also surprised to see he was an adult.  Guns, I was also surprised by the presence of guns.

Anyways, I was still vaguely excited about THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (or, as it’s known here in Germany, Tim und Struppi).  It looked fun.  And it is fun.  It’s so old-fashioned in its authenticity.  It sticks to its guns following a story of grand adventure and mystery and intrigue.  Sure, the mystery isn’t that interesting, but it’s not convoluted or stupid.  No hokey pablum or pandering here.  It certainly doesn’t feel like a Hollywood family adventure film.  It’s almost too mature for that.

There’s even plenty of real danger.  Gunshots and sword fights with people dying and everything.  Sure, the violence is clearly as sanitized as possible to ensure it stays family friendly.  But it is commendable to actually include such things again.  Surprising as Spielberg is the guy who famously replaced guns with walkie-talkies in E.T.

This is probably the first time motion capture animation has almost surpassed the dead-behind-the-eyes problem like so many of its predecessors.  And I’m glad I didn’t see it in 3D as there’s a lot of action going on, and a  lot of fast movement, which is the enemy of 3D in my opinion.  Spielberg also uses a few too many of the “things poking into the frame” thing that is always annoying.

The action is a lot of fun, with a few really great sequences.  Tintin trying to slip among a bunch of sleeping crew members to steal keys is especially amusing.  But the big set piece, a chase scene in a Moroccan seaside down, done in one continuous “shot,” is the real show stopper.  Really fun.

If anything it seems a bit weak though because Tintin just isn’t that interesting a character.  They try and frame Captain Haddock as the more interesting person while Tintin is just a resourceful guy who asks himself a lot of questions out loud (if it wasn’t for his dog, he’d look like a crazy person).  He just doesn’t have much personality at all.  But the quirky side characters may be the charm of the comics, I have no idea.

But I don’t expect Tintin mania to be sweeping America any time soon.  I think it’ll be a popular movie, and sequels will be welcomed, but it’s still just not that exciting a property.

B