Category Archives: Fun

Sirmione – Garda Lake, Italy

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It was almost a case of force majeure.  We had to find a destination.  The hallowed Italian seaside around Venice had failed us this time, with dark rain pouring down for days on end. We had a choice between staying and facing the deluge at Lido di Jesolo or quickly finding a destination within a practicable distance where we could still enjoy a mild sunburn.

(By the way, if you want to witness monster truck races in their natural environment, as well as Brownian overtaking maneuvers only seconds before impact, a busy Italian highway is the place to go.)

So we unfolded our (digital) maps, put our finger down on a place, buckled up the kids and off we went. Luckily, the place on the map was breezy Sirmione, on the southern shore of Garda Lake. Only a Shakespeare sonnet away from Verona, where Juliet’s polished boob shines in the midday sun like some kind of sacred grapefruit rubbed by too many.

Take a walk along the quay...

Take a walk along the quay…

... or enter the castle...

… or enter the castle…

... stop to think...

… stop to think…

... or take a boat ride...

… or take a boat ride…

... check out the dungeons...

… check out the dungeons…

... or shop for souvenirs...

… or shop for souvenirs…

... wrap your mind around the beauty...

… wrap your mind around the beauty…

... or let yourself be wrapped in it...

… or let yourself get wrapped in it…

... relish the mountains far away...

… relish the mountains far away…

... or be moved by the flute of a 55-year-old jobless man...

… or be moved by the flute of a 55-year-old jobless man…

... have a frugal bruschette picknick by the water front...

… have a frugal bruschette picnic by the water front…

... or whiz through the waves...

… or whiz through the waves…

... take in the scenery from the promontory...

… take in the scenery from the promontory…

... or get sun soaked like a stranded colony of seals...

… or get sun soaked like a stranded colony of seals…

 

Copyright photos: Andreea Sepi & Armand Csordas 2014.

A few things that get on my nerves

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1. Excessive proliferation of technology.

Do you know that old engineer joke? 😉 What do engineers and dogs have in common? They both have intelligent eyes but can’t express themselves… And what’s more, they’re trying to change the whole world in their image. Applications, gadgets, the “Internet of things”, remotely operated toilet paper rolls…

They simply can’t rein themselves in. They simply won’t give up until they make every single human on the planet (including themselves) superfluous.

They should have stopped after the fridge and the washing machine.

2. What is the deal with this inflation of titles and positions?

Heck, everybody’s a CEO of some kind, everybody’s a specialist, an expert, a consultant. Every shitty job has a pompous title these days. The housewife selling insurance policies is a “Financial Consultant”, the student bringing coffee and operating the Xerox machine in an advertising agency is some kind of a “Junior Support Officer”, somebody writing content for the website is “Online Business Development Manager”.

How do simple shop assistants even get out of the house anymore without feeling embarrassed? Or cashiers? Or drivers? Don’t they want to be called “Chief Combustion Officer” or something? Or at least “Mechanical Motion Responsible”? What about plumbers and constructions workers? They sure got the short end of the stick.

I look forward to the days when the baker will be called “Senior Dough-Kneading Specialist”, the hairdresser will become “Chief Hair Officer” and the toddler will be “Junior Fart Dispenser and Dictator-in-Chief of the Stuffed Animals”… Gee!

All things German

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Well, maybe not all of them. But a few. What on Earth is the deal with this weather in July? To paraphrase an old Romanian joke, of the 4 seasons typical of this latitude, Germany only has 3: rain and… more rain. 🙂

I realize this is subjective. From my window, I can see people in T-shirts as busy as a beaver in the pouring rain. Let me explain my problem. We don’t do squat in the rain. Where I come from, a south-western Romanian city with a rather Mediterranean weather pattern, the winters are short and wet (with the occasional bout of ass-freezing temperatures, -15 Centigrade and so on), but the summers are long and dry and sun-soaked. July is called “the month of the oven” – that’s how unbearably hot it can get. When it rains, people just stay inside, bundle up, and wait for it to go away. Unless it’s the usual bubbling summer rain that lasts for 20 minutes… That’s why I could never grasp the concept of “dauergrau” and why I was so confused by the institution of the “Matsch-Hose” and the “Gummistiefel”. Why would anybody need those? What?! You mean you want to take my kids out in this weather?!…

Whenever it rains, my Timisoara gene kicks in and I cannot get myself to do anything that involves going outside. Not to mention that I do not take off my winter jacket until it’s at least 25 degrees Celsius. To the horror of small children playing barefoot in 18 degree weather. I no longer buy any dresses, it’s too cold for me to wear them. To my dismay, I discovered that I no longer own any sandals, either. I only wear them when I travel south (or south-east) and it simply does not pay off to keep closet space occupied. 🙂

So, people, if you’re reading this, could we, maybe, please, make some kind of unanimous mental effort to dispel the clouds? Otherwise I am going to keep writing blogs, tweets and Facebook posts until the rain lets up. That’s a threat! 🙂

But now, in all fairness to Germany, my lovely second home, I would like to end with another Romanian joke my father used to tell me when I was a child:

“Soccer is a game played by two teams of 11 players each, for a period of 90 or 120 minutes, and in which Germany always wins.”

Go, go Germany, on Friday, against France! I bet you have nice weather in Bahia, where you are. Which is probably why you’re not completely focused on the ball, either ;-). Tststs… Where would this country be if it had nice weather and warm sand beaches all year round? Who on Earth would still be working?

Awestruck – My evening with the Cirque du Soleil

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The sleet hit my face, dabbing a zillion tiny wet spots on my winter coat as soon as I stepped out of the underground station at Theresienwiese. The tent was white, rather tall and easy to identify. The only one there, this time of the year. I located the entrance and made my way around and sometimes through the puddles that were beginning to form on the asphalt. If I was walking fast, it was because of the cold. I had no idea what time it was. I don’t wear a watch and my smart phone was turned off, in my purse, because it was Sunday. I didn’t see any crowds. If anything, I thought I was too early.

So when I entered and the lady at Door 3 kind of blocked my path saying, ‘they are having a dark phase now, a phase where it has to be dark, please, you need to wait 5 minutes’, I smiled, completely relaxed. I loitered around their lobby and checked my e-mails as men and women were sweeping the floor. Not once did I check the time. I didn’t buy any popcorn. Not for this kind of show. Other people came. A few were still buying tickets. I heard devilish shrieks from inside, music and drums, yet suspected nothing. They’re probably still rehearsing, I thought.

And then I was allowed to walk to Door 3. Climb the stairs. A thick, dark curtain slit open for a second, with a young lady in black clothes beckoning me inside, through the darkness. And suddenly, there I was: explosion! Of sound, of light, of color. Things were happening on the stage that I never would have imagined. Contorted bodies in refined, glittering fabrics, throbbing and moving to the mesmerizing music of mermaids. It was surreal. I had entered a dream.

People, lots of them, sitting down, wide-eyed in the dark, and me, standing alone in the aisle, close to the stage, still not figuring out what had happened. I slide into my seat and think to myself this was deliberate. They do this for their guests, to add to the mystery. They let you in at different stages, depending on how expensive your ticket was. To confuse you. To shake you. To sweep you off your feet and take you on their journey.

Kooza, Cirque du Soleil’s latest tent production, is an exuberant journey where you will see flying men on stilts, bikes on a tight rope and acrobats with wild manes. Where blood-curdling fiends stare death in the face and 1001 oriental fantasies lash your senses, all exquisitely choreographed, to a background lyrical story. Where time and reality are suspended, where kings turn to fools and fools are crowned kings, where fairy tales exist for grown-ups too, and where the child inside you just received a new pair of wings.

It was only after I settled into my seat that I furtively opened my purse and glanced at my phone. It was a quarter past 5. I had arrived late…

Kooza by Cirque du Soleil – and the magic lives!

Kooza

 Source: deviantart.net

 PS. If you have a serious heart condition, or if you don’t want to be dragged on stage as a volunteer by two shamelessly horny clowns ;-), I suggest buying a ticket further back. Some of the acrobatic performances are really scary – and they sure know how to add drama and glamour to them. But if you don’t mind your palms getting sweaty at times only to experience the artists’ sweat-laden breath upon you as they tumble through the air, as they twitch and bend and twirl, then the first five rows next to the stage are great for that extra closeness and intensity. I was in row E, central area, and I loved it! In Munich, where Kooza is currently touring until March 2nd, tickets are still available (either through eventim.de or directly on cirquedusoleil.com, or even at the Abendkasse, if you’re lucky). However, these are dispersed tickets, you won’t find two next to each other. Prices around €80 – 90 apiece. Well worth it. Great gift idea.

Laughing stock

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My daughter (2yrs. 7 months) just chose a profession.

I was putting nose drops into her nostrils, an action which – as was to be expected – led to a certain amount of hysterical yelling and rivers of tears rolling down her cheeks.

Me:

“Lady, you sure have a nice pack of loudspeakers on you! People can hear you all the way to the stadium… I think you’ll be a soprano when you grow up.”

Her (quick at repartee):

“Nooooo.”

Me:

“Oh, really, then what are you going to be?”

Her (as if, ‘duuh, mom, that is soooo obvious‘):

“A clown!”

I think she is well on her way.

PS:

Oh, and my son, who dreads blood but wants to be a veterinarian, was quite concerned yesterday when I complained about feeling lonely. He got so emotional, he actually allowed me to play with his stuffed elephant while he’s in school. Like, ‘Geez, mom, use your brain! You’ve got all these toys to keep you company…’

You see, I already live in a circus. Right there, just off the rails, in the mothers’ compound…

PINING FOR A PINT? The romanticized history of Oktoberfest

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Lederhosen und Dirndl erwünscht!“, reads the big sign in my son’s kindergarten. It is a mild but grey autumn morning and the children are celebrating “Wiesn Breakfast”, one of those many strange offshoots of Oktoberfest which testifies to its local appeal and international success. Little blond and dark-haired children of German, Russian, Turkish or Balkan origin all dressed up in Bavarian folk dresses and leather shorts eating heart-shaped gingerbread with gaudy sugar coating. This is Munich 2013, after another weekend that has seen 1,000,000 visitors and 1,000,000 beer mugs sold on Theresienwiese –  the real Wiesn, that is.

Bavaria is no stranger to folk festivals. In fact, some variety of it, whether it be the church anniversary, parish fair or the annual meeting of the local marksmen’s club is present in all but the smallest villages. Most of these events take place in autumn, traditionally the harvest season, when the brewers need an excuse to empty their kegs of last year’s production and make place for new beer. Oktoberfest is special because, in its 200-year history, it has muted from sporty wedding festivities to the largest folk festival on Earth. With beer at its core. Its number one attraction. After all, an alcohol-free Oktoberfest seems barely plausible.

And yet.

The year is 1810. Europe is in turmoil. The French Empire has reached it peak, Russia is battling Persia, Spain is occupied by Napoleon. Only three years earlier, the relatively small principality of Bavaria had become a kingdom in its own right. And against the backdrop of a restless international stage, on October 12, 1810, in Munich, its Crown Prince Ludwig marries Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Among his subjects, an ambitious banker and cavalry major, Andreas Michael Dall’Armi, who well knows His Royal Highness’s taste for ancient Greece and Olympia-style contests. The wedding celebrations last for five whole days. On the last one, October 17, 1810, Dall’Armi throws his monarch a party that Munich had never seen before. He organizes a horse race on a field then still outside city limits. Immediately, the field is named in honour of the Prince’s bride and becomes Theresienwiese. It is the birthday of today’s world-famous Wiesn. Ludwig and the citizens are delighted. He suggests repeating the celebration the subsequent year, a suggestion accepted with some enthusiasm at the time. And so the tradition begins.  And no, there is no hint of beer.

In 1812, France attacks Russia, and by 1813 Bavaria is too involved in the Napoleonic Wars to feel much like celebrating, so that autumn the Oktoberfest is cancelled altogether. It carries on, however, the following years and it keeps getting bigger. Jungle gyms, bowling alleys and swings are added to the horse race track. 1818 sees the inauguration of the first merry-go-round. The city’s poor inhabitants get drawn into the festivities – but not by beer. Lot booths and raffles offering prizes in china and silver are the real attraction. In 1819 Oktoberfest becomes a fixture and its organisation is taken over by the Munich City Fathers. In 1824, in recognition of his extraordinary contribution, Dall’Armi, now 59, receives the very first Gold Medal for Civic Merit issued by the City of Munich. And all of this, without any (yet) drop of beer for the public.

But times are changing. Despite being now guarded by a gigantic bronze statue (the Bavaria, erected in 1850), the festival has some inauspicious years.  In 1854 and 1873 it is the cholera epidemic, in 1866 and 1870 war that dampens the mood. The frigid October weather doesn’t really help either. Gradually, the festival advances into the last weeks of September, known for milder temperatures. In 1880, Prince George of Bavaria, the favourite grandson of the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, is born in Munich. In the same year, Carl von Thieme establishes the Munich Reinsurance Company, or Munich RE, later made famous by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. And lo and behold, that autumn at the Oktoberfest, the Munich city administration allows the sale of bier for the first time! By next year, beer shacks and barracks have turned into enormous beer halls and electric light illuminates over 400 booths and tents. Sobriety is defeated and inebriation becomes the rule.

Fast forward to 2013. Theresienwiese is now a 42-hectar paved estate in the heart of Munich. The city has grown and engulfed it. There is no more horse racing, but if you want to make your heart race, there are plenty of roller coasters that will do that. 6 million visitors spend about 1 billion Euros in Munich each year for the Oktoberfest. 1800 toilets take care of the 60.000 hectolitres of beer imbibed. And in kindergartens around Munich, blond and dark-haired Germans and immigrants alike nibble on heart-shaped gingerbread with gaudy sugar coating, prancing around in Bavarian leather shorts and pastel folk dresses.

Of tools and men

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Seriously, what is the deal with men and their tools? What is the bond of virility that connects them? Give a man a (preferably loud and useless) tool, and it’s like a shot of Viagra. Oftentimes have I wished I were a big red button, a pair of pliers or a screwdriver – these babies get a lot of action.  Not to mention how much care men take of their precious tools. My husband never once offered to drive me to the beauty salon or the hairdresser’s, but if as much as a petal falls on his beloved car, he obsesses for weeks and just HAS to have it washed.

Men.

Take today for instance. The first sunny day with temperatures above freezing of what has so wrongfully been dubbed “summer” this year, and no shortage of men hard at work with their demonic instruments. After two of the most deplorable, bleak weeks of May ever recorded (I’m pretty sure the razor blade industry had a small boom this year – and it wasn’t for shaving, if you know what I mean), you’d think people would be desperate to just soak up as much light and warmth as they can (the prognosis for the following days isn’t great either). There’s always time to cut the grass, right? Wrong. It just HAS to be cut during the most beautiful lunch hour. I am having soup, but it feels like I’m constantly swallowing larger-than-life meatballs. The frigging noise. Sounds like they’re tearing down the building across the street. Oh, no, wait,  it’s just the lawn-mower!

You’re trying to have a pleasant healthy stroll with your children for the first time in weeks, or play nicely outside to give your skin the chance to remember what it was created for, and the garden crew from hell arrives. Every square meter of hedge has to be trimmed with engines that could easily propel a Boeing 747, patches of grass no larger than your comforter are being run over by lawn-mowers the size of a small tractor. The louder the better. Oh, and let’s not forget the futility of all futilities: the leaf-blower. I just love that machine. Good results, too, last for about 3 minutes, until the next gust of wind. But, it’s probably procedure. No way around it. No way. I used to think the Germans work so hard because there’s nothing else fun to do, with it raining the whole time and all. But now it appears they can’t enjoy a sunny day either. Duty calls.  If tomorrow were the end of the world, most of the Germans would be toiling fervently away to leave everything preppy behind them. And it takes heavy machinery. A man’s job, you see, is to let engines work for him.

Has anyone even heard of good old sweeping anymore? I am pretty sure I can handle a broom faster than that guy pulls the cable on his leaf-blower.  And ride one, too! 😉

PS. I tip my hat to the Ukrainian construction worker who still has time to bawl Italian operas up high on my neighbor’s roof. At least he is still taking it slowly and enjoying himself.

Barcelona humbled in the Allianz Arena

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I haven’t lived in Munich for long, but I am already a big FC Bayern fan. There simply is no way around it. I live 200 m from their headquarters. I see them drive in and out of training as I walk my kids to the kindergarten. So obviously I watched the game (on TV; tickets were going for €599…). Obvioulsy I believed in their abilities. What I didn’t expect, however, was to see the end of an era heralded in the Allianz Arena last night, with Europe’s premium football club FC Barcelona shattered by an impressive FC Bayern four nil win.

Although Barça’s ball possession was superior to the Bavarians, their defence was not.

A handball by Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué could have awarded the Germans a penalty kick, but it went unnoticed by Hungarian referee Kassai.

Bayern took the lead in the 25th minute with a header by Thomas Müller after Dante’s pass.

For the remainder of the first half, the scoreboard remained unchanged at 1:0. Early in the second half, Bayern forward Mario Gomez tapped a corner ball from Robben, via Müller, into Victor Valdéz’s goal for 2:0. Although slightly offside, the goal was allowed.

Barça awoke but briefly with an inexperienced shot from defender Marc Bartra, no match for German goalie Neuer.

The Catalan midfielders remained uninspired and Barcelona’s golden boy, Lionel Messi, was efficiently neutralised by the Germans throughout the match.

FC Bayern revved its engines twice more towards the end of the match. An ambitious Arjen Robben scored his team’s third goal after a counterattack, with the assistance of Müller’s uncensored body-check on Barcelona defender Jordi Alba.

It was the same Müller who closed the deal in the 82nd minute with goal number four. (A result that would prompt an upsurge in visitors to the FC Bayern headquarters and official store in Harlaching, where I live, during the next day. 🙂 )

Bayern is now one giant step closer to the Champions League Final at Wembley, while Barcelona must find the strength to recover from a bad case of wounded ego. (Either way, further excitement in my neighborhood is guaranteed. I can watch them train for free…)

 

My Dad’s gone digital

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How the technology we take for granted can leave our parents clueless.

It was always a mystery to me how my Dad managed to be the CEO of a  large construction company right up to the turn of the 21st century while being completely computer-illiterate. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t just impartial to computers or indifferent to their “charms”.  He had an outright aversion to the stuff.

Truth be told, he did buy me a computer when I turned 21. He brought in his chief IT consultant and installed in my room this new and expensive PC which, besides being the devil’s contraption, also took up a hell of a lot of space. (We used to live in this communist-era apartment building and my room was a meager 10 square meters. But at least it was square, you know what I mean? I had friends whose rooms were downright trapezoidal…) Anyway, I was a real poet at the time and swore to myself I would never end up writing on that thing, that profane, inhuman device, where words became numbers. (Fast-forward to 2013… and boy, did I betray my own ideals!) But even though that computer has been there, in my room, for like 15 years, my father has never touched it. Until recently.

What’s happened? He’s retired, that’s what’s happened. Not only that, but he has an enlarged prostate, and he likes to make himself crazy reading apocalyptic scenarios on the web, which invariably end with the word “cancer”. He still adheres to the no-emails policy, and, until recently, he had my mother look up pages for him. But he is definitely branching out into new areas and conquering territory. Last evening, his car fan broke down, so now he’s frantic to get his hands on a new one, and he’s heard there are some to be found on the Internet.

My dad entering the age of pixels

My dad entering the age of pixels

So this 63-year-old tough guy with an incredibly well-rounded classical education, who knows all of Verdi’s operas by heart and who read the entire European canon of literature in his teenage years, calls me up to get instructions on how to “ask” Google for the object of his desire. This old-school connoisseur of communication etiquette and himself a writer of finesse then asks the sweetest, most genuine question any pair of postmodern ears has heard in a decade:

“… So, when I type my search, DO I ALSO HAVE TO PUT A QUESTION MARK?”

🙂