Friday, February 29, 2008

Neurotic tendencies revisited

As time goes by and I hear nothing from any of the tasteful editors who have submissions from me loitering in their in-boxes I become more and more convinced it was all crap anyway. I mean how can you judge your own writing? It’s like looking at your children. The rose-colored filters of mother’s love descend to tint your vision every time you glance at them. After all you made them and, if you’re anything like me, you’ve got a huge investment in the little darlings.

For writers, stories are like that, you create them, you slave over them, you invest in them. But be objective about them? Forget about it. Still hope lingers, even in the face of months of waiting for an editorial response.

I read another writer’s blog, who proclaimed himself too nervous to do anything else until he got a response on the package he’d submitted. I read his words over a couple of times, wondering if he’s naïve or he’s in a whole different class of writers than me. That fortunate, here to for unsuspected, group of talented folks who get quick responses (under a month).

I figured there were writers, whose editors call them begging for something new. But I figured that was pretty select group, who no doubt have agents, managers, and people to shield their delicate creative spirits from any contact with reality.

Knowing that responses never come fast enough to suit me, I keep writing and submitting. What else? Of particular appeal are contests where there’s a guaranteed deadline for editorial response. I’ve entered two of those this year. As the date of the first of the two contests' winners’ announcement grows closer, it occurs to me there’s something worse than waiting for a response.

There’s rejection.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Travelogue continued

Munich--day two

In deference to my still weary toes we bundled into a waiting cab for the ride to the train station. The day was crisp with a smart little breeze from the north but the sun shined cheerily and I drank in more architectural detail on the way to the tour office. Bridges, arches, doorways were continually surprising and engaging, rich with sculpted detail. The kind of elaborate stonework I’d previously only associated with mythical castles or intimidating cathedrals was everywhere.

The train station itself was an elaborate work of art of vast proportions. Inside steps led to small kiosks, which as we progressed further into the building, opened up into a cavernous space where sleek life-sized Lionel train sets hummed and hissed in menacing and impatient fashion. Centrally located electronic signs, along with a disembodied voice, announced arrivals and departures. An orderly flow of well-coordinated movement surged around us. Streams of people arrive or depart all of them moving at a pace just short of stampeding.

We followed the directions on daughter’s printout to the tour office successfully. She confirmed our reservation, and then we joined a subdued group of waiting tourists. After a few minutes, our British tour guide appeared and instructed us, needlessly, to follow him. Immediately, he bounced down a stairwell and we all galloped along in his wake. He took a visual head count after herding us into a small circle at a whole other, unsuspected train stain, which existed underneath the first. A local trail pulled in, and as instructed, we piled on. A few stops later, we arrived in the hamlet of Dachau and boarded a bus to the edge of town.

An attractive park entrance beckoned and wooden sign announced we had arrived at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. Here’s the link for those wanting more details.

A wide crushed gravel path led us further from the town and into the memorial site. A site designated to mark incomprehensible cruelty, suffering, and countless deaths seems strange and little barbaric. But this location is also a vast unmarked grave for only vaguely numbered thousands. I reminded myself that grave sites aren’t for the dead, they are for the living. Dutifully, I trudge along my eyes already burning with tears before our guide had begun his explanations. An enthusiastic student of World War Two history, our guide gave us a reporters detached view of the events. Stopping before we’d gained sight of main gate he paused and explained how the camp had come to exist.

One of the most horrific facets of the entire experience is the bureaucracy and hence surrealistic normalcy which was applied to handling of those passing through the camp. The buildings which remain have been enhanced with photographs, video displays, plaques, and statuary--mark a quiet haunting testimony to pain beyond imagining.

The trip back passed in a blur as I tried and failed to process what we’d seen.

Within a few hours we once again presented ourselves at the same office. This time for a beer and food tour. A fresh guide led us unto a bus and we whooshed off to a beer museum. The building was like the Disney version of a Bavarian cottage expanded to unexpected heights. Rough white stucco walls wereoutlined and braced with dark wood. Our slightly rowdy group was made up of Scots, Aussies, Norwegians, and us. The stairways are sturdy but narrow and the doorways low. Not a barrier to enjoyment for the short and sober but a head-banging experience for some of the guys in the group as the evening grew longer and number of beers sampled grew larger.

Our jovial host shared a potpourri of beer trivia along with lots of beer history. Eventually, we made our way to a local beer house where we were served a generous sample of Bavarian culinary delights along with, of course, more beer. Once the steins had been drained and the food reduced to greasy smears, we ventured off to world eminent Hauf brau House. Picture a couple of grade school gymnasiums lined with picnic tables and benches all full of drinkers swilling down liters of various ales and lagers. There you have it. It’s Saturday night and the place is packed. After a brisk walk through, daughter and I departed and piled into one of the taxis waiting to serve the departing patrons.

Sunday was our final day in Munich. Much to daughter’s disappointment none of the shops we’d passed the night before are open for business on Sundays. In the late afternoon we sallied forth and indulged in window shopping and searched for a restaurant, which had been recommended the night before. Amazingly enough we found the establishment and were ushered inside and handed over to a bubbly multi-lingual waiter. The menus included alternatives to traditional fatty, meaty, Germanic delights and I ordered trout with a green salad and hand-made ice cream topped with warm fresh raspberries. The meal was lovely, revising my estimation of local cuisine upward several points.

Then it was back to our rooms to pack, checkout, and return to the, now familiar, train station to catch the night train back to Paris.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Travelogue continued

Leaving Paris in the dead dark of pre-dawn--

Previously, we’d validated our euro-rail passes, reserved space on the TGV (high-speed train), and paid the premiums charged for our routes. Fortunately the taxi drivers settled their strike after a few hours of protests and negotiations the evening before. Thus saving us from the trauma of hefting our luggage through the metro system to get to the train station. We arrived by cab with plenty of time to spare and waited for our votre (gate) to be announced. Once we knew where to go, we marched smartly through the milling crowd for our boarding locale. The train arrived on time and we struggled aboard.

If I had it to do over, I would ruthlessly pare the packing and arrive with one reasonably lightweight case. The days of helpful porters are long past and everyone boarding the train is weighed down with their own baggage. I was able to handle my own luggage--but just barely. Ascending and descending steep grated train steps, while weighed down with suitcases, quickly was scary. Once safely inside the proper car there were still narrow aisles and overhead shelves for storing one’s baggage to be negotiated.

The windows were large and the seats more spacious than the airplanes. It was still dark and there was little to see as we rumbled away from the station. Within an hour the winter sun rose sulkily over the eastern horizon, illuminating the frosty hills of farm country interspersed with warehouses and industrial sections as we approached each stop. The stops were announced in German. Three plus hours later, we arrived in Stuttgart with less than ten minutes to locate and board the next train.

The mad dash through the station succeeded and we arrived huffing but intact in our new seats. This train from Stuttgart to Munich was a slower moving local, which made many stops. However, it’s a lovely sunny crisp winter day and the scenery is endlessly engaging as I drank in architectural details of the busy industrial neighborhoods. Aside from the rural farm houses, the cities appeared to be denser and more centralized than in the Pacific Northwest--tall apartment houses, with smaller than common here abouts, edged the town centers. Motorcycles were much more prevalent in Paris and Munich as a primary means of transportation. Mass transit, in both cities, was also much easier to negotiate, even for green tourists. The local trams, and metro stations merged with the train’s station so locals moved smoothly from one rapid transport to the next.

There was a moment of oh-my-god-what-now? when we both caught the tail end of the conductor’s announcement and heard--Munich. Hastily, we removed our bags and hustled toward the exit but the doors slammed shut and the train accelerated past the stop, rapidly picking up speed for parts unknown.

Luckily, there were at least two stops for Munich. We departed at the next one, which turned out to be the correct one and rolled toward the waiting line of taxis loitering outside the station.

Sore and tired and, in my case, dizzy from the long train journey--we arrived in Munich. Daughter soon freshened and changed and left the hotel, which was in a residential district on the outskirts of the city, to explore the neighborhood. I propped my feet and called room service. They arrived ahead of the estimated time bearing a lovely sandwich and ice water. I sat by the window, read a good book and thoroughly enjoyed the hours respite.

The hotel room was much larger and sunnier than our Paris lodgings, sans Eiffel tower view, of course. But the big comfy queen-sized beds, one each, generous padded armchairs and luxurious bathroom were all very appreciated and went a long way toward compensating for the missing bustle of Paris.

The fashion show was over, the German women were attractive but dressed for comfort or business or pleasure with practicality--not with the sheer joy of style. The food was tasty, nourishing, and well-prepared but not an art form. Munich, tries but fails as a fashion or culinary or cultural mecca--they remained the beer capitol of the world.

After the generous late in the afternoon lunch, courtesy of the hotel’s efficient staff, I wasn't interested in dinner. Meanwhile, daughter had located a nearby café and was also full. So we postponed further adventures in favor of workout for mein kinder and a dip in the pool for me. We met later in the hot tub for a relaxing soak. The sports facilities were clean, attractive, supremely functional, and completely deserted. Except for very fit and enthusiastic attendants and us. Back in our room, we settled down to watch a spot of BBC and dozed off.

The next morning, room service arrived promptly with a linen covered table arrayed with our breakfast selections and a welcome pot of delicious coffee. Not French but close enough. I lingered over coffee while daughter ran off to workout. Sometime during the night, the room stopped moving with that disagreeable too-many-rides-at-the-amusement-park effect, which was a by-product of train travel. By late morning my lazy self was dressed and sensibly shod in a pair of daughter’s sneakers and as ready as I’d ever get to tour.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


The women in Paris were tres chic. Even out walking the dog, or picking up a loaf of bread, they were dressed in style. Four inch heels, artful scarfs, wool coats, great hair. They bothered. I never saw a pair of baggy pants or sneakers on an adult woman in Paris. Boots and shoes alike had high heels and pointy toes. The women were put together and polished although wearing a what-this-old-thing? casual attitude.

I loved watching the constant fashion show. I did see lots of jeans on younger women, very fitted and worn with high-fashion boots. The under thirty crowd favored very short sweater dresses with tights and boots, the younger the woman--the lower her heels. The other trend I noticed was shorts. Either walking shorts, or banded legs, in wool worn with tights and, of course, the ultra-chic boots.

The men too were dressed much more formally and more stylishly than I see around here, even in leather jackets, jeans, and sporting two or three day beards they were impossibly sexy and smoldering. Plus they like women. Is there anything more attractive than frank male interest?

The men who were paired up did not indulge in flirting, even more attractive. Everywhere, couples strolled hand in hand, with much soulful gazing into each other's eyes. Paris deserves its reputation as a romance capitol.

I've told you the Parisians are tres chic and romantic. The women are also trim. It must be all that walking everywhere in heels because the food was amazing.

Oh I must mention, the French have not heard about the dangers of smoking. There was no smoking in restaurants or public buildings. So one was safe from the dangers of second hand smoke in the museum and hotel lobby and metro (subway) but the streets were littered with cigarette butts and the air thickened with smoke.

I never wore the heels I packed because I wore my suede boots, which were not designed for nearly as much walking as we did. I wound up with blisters tout suite, rendering the heels out of the question. Still don't know if I had the chance to redo if I would pack my walking shoes. Yes, they are better for comfort but they are not even marginally acceptable as suitable city foot wear. This was the downside of vain and shallow--by day two I had blisters and aching feet.

Daughter wore sneakers, no blisters but instant identity as a tourist. However, she's young and beautiful and fit so she can wear what she pleases including her running gear and still garner attention.

Don't bother trying to reason with me, there's no rational point to my foolish behavior. I'm not slim or young or fashionable. Yet, I chose to wear what I deemed acceptable shoes rather than sturdy sensible ones in the fashion capitol of the world.

The French people were more than courteous, they were helpful, and gracious time and again. Not everyone speaks English, though the odds are excellent if one sticks to major attractions and guided tours. Of course we didn't. Where would be the fun in that? Despite my poor command of the language I managed to communicate and gave quite a few Parisians a good chuckle. In turn, as long as they spoke slowly and simply, I was able to understand the gist of the conversation. The concierge was fluent in English and provided a virtual fountain of helpful information.

Our hotel room had a view of the Eiffel Tower. At night, the tower puts on a light show every hour, it never got boring. Since daughter has been before, and I'd already seen most of the Louvre's treasures during various tours, we skipped that attraction other than to marvel at the sculpture court and the sheer size of the place.

Instead, we headed for the Musee d'Orsay, which houses a remarkable impressionist collection and drank in wonderful art for hours and hours, in my case, forgetting my feet were tired as I gazed covetously at Monet's Blue Water lilies, a canvas I'd never seen. In addition to all the paintings, they have a wonderful sculpture collection, which was an unexpected treat. for anyone wishing to know more about the collections and exhibits.

We rode the metro around the city getting lost only occasionally. We marveled at the Arc d'Triomphe and strolled along the Champs Elysee gawking at the fashion houses and venturing inside a few of the icons. The women at the House of Guerlain were incredibly kind, stuffing my modest purchased bag with samples. Pashina scarves were one of the few bargains we found. We both bought some. The long, light-weight scarfs are deriguer in Paris. Unable to resist the pretty accessories I added to my collection throughout the trip.

Daughter photographed our food at several meals and we generally acted like tourists. Drifting down the seine in a night tour was lovely and romantic but we were both exhausted and unable to stay focused for the whole thing, which lasted several hours.

Before I leave Paris to regale you with new adventures, I have to tell you about the food.

The first french meal I had was at a small patisserie (bakery) I selected a sandwich by pointing and asking about the meat involved, settling on chicken. The white meat had a mild curry flavor, slices of potato, fresh mozzarella, lettuce, and tomato were all arranged inside a small whole wheat baguette, fantastic! Each bite a surprise and delight for the mouth. I shared my sandwich with daughter, who in turn granted me bites of her glazed grape tart--a small round of puff pastry beaded with plump green grapes held in place with a grape liqueur enhanced glaze.

In addition to the taste delights for sale, the bakery offered stools and small round table next to a window. Perfect for watching the fashion parade passing on the busy street.

That evening daughter had grilled lamb and I had a fish cake drizzled with a lovely sauce of fish stock, wine, and butter. The bistro we stopped at was a modest neighborhood bar kind of place, and yet, the food was exquisite and beautifully plated.

The next day, Wednesday morning, I skipped breakfast for the luxury of sleeping in--daughter assured me it was a delightful Sunday brunch kind of experience. I had a cafe au lait at a small cafe in the mall we passed on our way to the subway. Great coffee, foamy milk, and two of those tiny paper spills of brown sugar.

Much later, after miles of gawking, we paused for more food I ordered a salad Nicoisse--it came with a mound of rice of no green beans but wore a drizzle of dressing I'd love to have the recipe for--a very light ranch style (meaning much thinner) with a hint of sweetness to counteract the salty olives and anchovies. Strawberry tart for dessert and I wasn't disappointed. The small pastry arrived looking like a valentine present on white square plate--the strawberries had been bathed in liqueur spiked syrup before being arranged on their circle of puff pastry. Not only was the food melt-in-your-mouth-delicious, but the service was speedy and impeccable. Again, we'd selected a small neighborhood bistro a few blocks from the museum at random.

Miles more walking, shopping, and sight seeing later, we garnered directions to a restaurant daughter remember from her prior trip to France. Unfortunately, their menu had changed. The tomato bisque she recalled so fondly was no longer on offer. She ordered small steak dinner and I had a Tandori salad, which of course was wonderful--much nicer than her steak and came with lovely rolls. I shared. Too tired to stick to our original plan to have coffee and dessert at a different cafe, we stumbled back to the hotel and into bed.

The following morning, I got up in time to enjoy breakfast at the hotel. Everything one could want for breakfast and several things I'd never considered were available--I ate entirely too much--buttery sautéed potato slices, slipped onto my plate of creamy scrambled eggs, and just a little of the perfectly cooked thick sweet bacon. Tiny squiggled of puff pastry with bits of apple imbedded seemed modest enough, a whole pot of the amazing coffee and a small pitcher of hot milk kept refilling my cup. Some kiwi's, a piece of dried pear, a slice of cheese (just to see if it was as good as I thought it would be) a slice of the lox with just a dab of cream cheese on a crisp bread. . . Astonishingly, I pushed away from the table and rolled down the hall without stuffing my pockets with pastry, butter, and jam on the way out of the buffet.

We skipped lunch and went straight into tourist mode. Five hours later, we were ready to eat again. Cafe Lorraine beckoned and we sauntered inside, ordering a light snack of quiche plus green salad. The spinach and tomato quiche was incredibly rich and sinfully silky. While the mixed field greens were much better than they had any right to be.

Another four hours passed and we were back at the hotel, dressing for dinner. Perusing the menu thoughtfully, we opted for the buffet. I'm morally opposed to buffets (you already know what happened at breakfast) but we were in Paris and the chance to sample so many different dishes was too much to resist. The buffet was arranged in three main stations--salads and entrees, hot main dishes, and then dessert.

The entree selection was elaborate and endlessly tempting. Yet, I managed to arrange a small plate with discreet bites and stagger back to the table without spraining my wrist. After consuming my choices, marinated palm hearts and tasty little grape leave wrapped bundles linger in my memory, I headed for the main courses. A lovely bit of firm white fish was graced by a drizzle of creamy dill sauce, a tiny portion of cooked squash, which in turn accompanied the merest spoonful of green beans. The unassuming legumes had been prepared with bits of bacon and some kind of love potion sauce. I resisted the siren call of noodles, parsley dusted new potatoes, or rice. Feeling quite virtuous over my restraint so far, I made my way to the dessert aisle with a clear conscience. There in lay temptation beyond resistance. Five kinds of cheesecake each more wicked than the one before beckoned, pasteries shone from glass shelves like small works of art, further on tiny, beautiful, and impossible to ignore--mousses, flans, and custards gleamed seductively in individual serving dishes--most no larger than a shot glass. Surely there was no harm in one or two.

Fortunately, we left Paris at six the following morning with nothing more than a sip or two of an energy drink to sustain us on our journey north.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Writing Life

One of the things I really like about first times is the lack of expectations. At least this is how it works for me. Perception is about as personal as anything in life. I noticed early on that other people's impression of an event had little to do with how the same occurrence felt to me.

As a result of this early insight I'm strongly anti-expectations. Yes, there's a whole school of thought that says expectations rule outcome. Great for them. I'm sticking with what works for me. Goals, dreams, and hopes are fine. Working hard, striving to get better, and continuing education are all good things as long as I remember to let go of any particular end result.

This is not easy to practice, but here's why I think it's worth every effort. If I work toward some milestone and allow myself to have positive expectations about its achievement then the best possible result would be the fulfillment of the dream. Anything less registers as disappointment. If I had negative expectations about the experience then even a happy end result was marred by worry and dread. Whereas if I work just as hard but keep expectations out of the picture then any positive result is a delight and negative or neutral experiences are dealt with, minus the emotional trauma of disappointment.

Tomorrow I'm off to Europe on a research mission and trying hard to keep specific expectations out of the picture.
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