Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas in Cologne


I realized after the three-hour flight from Istanbul to Cologne that I used to spend that much time traveling by bus every day, so I added my new world-traveling trouble-free lifestyle to my infinite list of things to be thankful for. I’m especially thankful that I got to spend Christmas this year in Germany. I just read my Kindle for three hours, looked up when the plane touched down, and I was there.

My friends and I stayed at a hotel next to the Cologne Cathedral. That beautiful gothic cathedral was something to behold, both inside and out, containing treasures that date back to the tenth century. When I saw a man walk past the front, moving his cane from side to side, I thought of the Raymond Carver story, Cathedral, and how difficult it would be to describe this breathtaking sight to someone. My friend Kelley and I walked along the Rhine and over Hohenzollern Bridge at night and noted how different Cologne looks in the moonlight versus the daytime.

We felt right at home in Cologne and spent a great deal of time sightseeing and window shopping. The Christmas Market and most of the shops were closed, something we couldn’t wrap our capitalistic, American brains around. The town was full of consumers . . . er . . . people and there were very few businesses open. Luckily for us, the restaurants were open. The servers were congenial and drank freely on the job, a variation of customer service that came as a surprise.

I ate like a queen, and every bite I confessed to My Fitness Pal, an online calorie counter. Congratulatory messages popped up anyway, commending me on my willpower. No wonder I’m pals with my fitness pal. I can never go wrong, even after consuming a pork chop, a stein of kolsch, and a piece of cherry cake, which were all to die for. I also ate one green bean before remembering that I hate green beans, and that I did not come to Germany to eat green beans.

Ice skating was more difficult than I remembered and I ended up with bruises on my arms from slamming into the wall encompassing the skating rink. Atop the wall was a ledge where spectators outside the rink rested their glasses of beer and apple punch spiked with rum. I had counted on grabbing the ledge for support but that was impossible without perhaps crashing into all their glassware. 

Years ago, one of my friends observed that I made a sound like Urkel from the show Family Matters when a restaurant menu gave me a paper cut. I realized I made the same Urkel noise while crashing into the wall. I wondered if anyone has looked for Urkel-Merkel similarities, then decided I didn’t mind being compared to Urkel, and Angela Merkel shouldn’t either.

Slamming into these jolly people while making my Urkel noise seemed like a good way to make friends, or maybe even to discover that there is a gentleman who likes my style and doesn’t mind me crashing into him. He would have at least liked my scent. I was wearing actual mandarin and cardamon cologne I had just purchased at the 4711 store, where the original Cologne is sold.

Some people on the ice took to it so easily. I was impressed by the number of parents who could skate backward while helping their kids skate forward, or hold onto their kids’ hands while they flailed around. Ice skating isn’t for me, but that was just one lesson I learned while traveling.

I think next year, I will go somewhere in Europe the weekend before Christmas, so I can walk around a Christmas market when it’s actually open. That was the most important lesson I learned, but Cologne was still fun, even in hibernation mode. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Lady with the braid

My students gave me some kind of eye ailment for Christmas. I've been assured it's not pink eye, but I stayed home and drew a self-portrait today, not really wanting to go out. Notice I did not include the swollen, gunk-filled eye in my drawing. I took some artistic license with that, as well as the Princess Leia hairstyle. Amid all the Star Wars hype and women braiding their long hair in anticipation of the movie, I'm feeling something like the hair envy I felt in elementary school, back when I sat behind a girl and admired her perfectly straight, glossy black hair. Now I'm wishing my hair were long enough to braid into a crown. There wasn't much I could do with my short hair this morning, except make a small braid and hold it up with a barrette. 

I've been singing the song, "Lady with the Braid," a lot lately. I love the subtext of this woman coyly propositioning a man and over-accommodating him because she obviously loves him. The person who created this video seems to have a crush on Jon Hamm, but then again, who doesn't? I think if anyone sang this song to Don Draper, he would respond in a cool voice, "You're selling too hard." For me, the selling too hard is what makes the song endearing. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Near Death Experience

My heart is still beating fast. I’m drinking a glass of wine, wishing I had a shot of whiskey because tonight I experienced a near car crash while racing down an Istanbul street at a little before midnight. It’s half past one now. The driver, someone from my school, was able to dodge a city bus swerving into our lane by speeding up to avoid a collision. His car was between the bus and a wall and I’m pretty sure we would have gone splat, or crunch, or whatever onomatopoeia you care to imagine, if he had been a less capable driver. I screamed, “Jesus Christ!” which I consider to be interesting would-be last words for me, given that I’m not a religious person. But apparently, it’s something I scream when I’m really really scared.

This all happened because I locked myself out of my apartment. 

I realized I forgot my keys on the coffee table at home, but assumed the security guards on the campus of my school’s sister school had a spare. They had a lot of spare keys, none of which belonged to my apartment. As it turned out, I had to get in a car and travel way the hell out to “English teacher master key headquarters,” which is where I learned that almost being killed by a bus is not as romantic as Morrissey makes it sound.

For the past few days, I’d been feeling artistically stultified. I morbidly told a couple colleagues, “The artist inside of me has died.” I’m reflecting on my choice of words now that the non-artist rest of me almost died too. Life is what you choose to make it, so I’m choosing to see this experience as a wakeup call. I’m 32 years old and I’ve accomplished very little, as I see it. I’m well-educated, well-read, well-traveled, and well-loved by friends and family, but I haven’t accomplished my dream of writing and illustrating children’s books, composing the short stories and novels inside my head, crossing the Gobi desert by camel and riding horses over meadows in Mongolia. I need to grasp the reins, not to mention a writing utensil. For both writing and riding horses, I love going fast. As long as I’m not being driven around Istanbul surrounded by a bunch of crazy, reckless drivers, I take pleasure in speed.

From now on, I will not say, “The artist inside of me has died.” I will say, “The artist inside of me needs nurturing.” And I vow to do exactly that.