The Other Senses

In elementary school and before that, we learn about our five senses.  We use them since the day we were born. We remember the sound of a song we used to listen to in our early childhood. When we smell something nice, for example, cinnamon and oranges, we think of Christmas. When we open the fridge and close the door because of the pungent smell like a blow to the nose, we suddenly remember the cheese we bought some weeks ago and we had forgotten because it was hiding, on purpose,  behind the big bottle…

In literature we find several references and associations to our senses as we come across metaphors. Some of these literary constructs may help us to read with more than one sense while others help us to get the whole picture, e.g. He (or she) is the black sheep in the family.

If you want to read about bad metaphors, and speak Spanish, you may want to read at the blog post “Malas metáforas” (http://boeneker.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/las-malas-metaforas-la-bici-lxix/) of a friend of mine, Heiner Boeneker.   For examples of sublime metaphors you can read the poetry of Ernesto Cisneros, also in Spanish. http://ernestocisnerosrivera.wordpress.com/page/2/

My topic is not metaphors or literature, but our senses, especially the other ones. The first sense that came to my mind was common sense. What does it mean? Why is it called common when it is so difficult to find? Is it true that some of us have more of it while others almost lack of it?

Does common sense have to do with safety, precaution or even fear?  Does it have to do with intelligence or education?   Here the definition: “Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.”  Mmmm, all people?  Do we learn it, are we born with it, can we acquire it?  What if we don’t have enough of it? And in our modern times we could ask, can I buy it?  or can I find it in the Internet?

You may laugh at the idea and wonder, but the answer is yes.  http://www.wikihow.com/Develop-Common-Sense.  There is another web-page full with common sense http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/common_sense.html

It’s maybe easier than I thought. However, I’m not sure if this would be the right way to get some common sense.

Another sense that comes to my mind is the so called sixth sense. With this concept I start with the first definition that I found in the all knowing Internet 😉 Sixth sense: a supposed intuitive faculty giving awareness, not explicable in terms of normal perception. As this doesn’t really clarify the term I found another definition in the Merriam-Webster: a special ability to know something that cannot be learned by using the five senses (such as sight or hearing). This one is much better. However, what do they mean with special ability?  Do we all have it? Can we learn it? Are we born with it?  Sixth sense, it is a special sight? Have you ever had premonitions? Are prophecies true? Have you ever had your future told either by a card reading, a coffee reading or maybe runes or bones reading? Well, I have, which doesn’t mean I believe in all that the psychic person told me. It was however very revealing…

There are many films based on many of these psychic abilities. I think of the Sixth Sense (1999) with Bruce Willis. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167404/?ref_=nv_sr_1   Another example is Carrie with telekinetic abilities, the first version from 1976, a horror classic of the seventies,  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074285/?ref_=nv_sr_4  which has been recently redone (2013).

The horror movie genre usually uses the idea of a sixth sense and “special abilities” in their plots to achieve fear and suspense.

Let’s leave the imaginary horrors and come back to reality 😉

Another sense I can think of is the sense of humor. I start from the premise that we all have one, good or bad, that depends on our definition.  A good sense of humor, how can we define what that is?  A person who makes a lot of jokes is a person with a good sense of humor? In my opinion, it’s not that simple and I would say no. Does it mean you laugh a lot or do you make a lot of “good jokes” or are your jokes cruel or sarcastic? Do you laugh at the expense of others?  Do you never laugh or almost never laugh?   Mmmm, this is getting more complex…

Is a good sense of humor defined by our house and family? By our nationality or rather the culture we grew up in? Have people who grew up in contact with many cultures a good sense of humor or is it really a personal matter?

Let’s take a look at the things that are considered funny in some cultures. What do we laugh about in Mexico or Germany or the USA?

If we take a look at comedies in TV or cinema, we find out that the most popular ones usually come from English speaking countries. I find it difficult to have access to comedies form other countries, even if I live in the so called “European Community”. What everyone can watch in free TV is American or, if we are lucky, British comedies. Among the newest American comedies we find “The Big Bang Theory”, “Two and a half men”, “Two broke girls”, “Modern family”, “Family Guy” or “South Park”. The brits have “Mr. Bean” and I cannot think of other examples.  Of the Golden Era we all know and enjoy “Laurel and Hardy”.  Are they international, can we all laugh at their jokes? I personally think that yes, indeed, some more, some less.  While living in Sao Paulo I was amazed to learn that a Mexican comedy was so popular there, “El Chavo del Ocho” and “El Chapulín Colorado”.  However, this show never made it across the ocean.

El Chavo del Ocho

El Chavo

Here in Germany there are some popular comedians, and by that I mean popular, which means “almost” everybody laughs with them. Some of the films are “Lissi and the Wild Emperor”, a parody of Sissi and Franz-Joseph which could be internationally understood. Another comedy of Bully Herbig is “Traumschiff Surprise” a parody of Star Trek. The humor is plain and sometimes funny, if you know the originals.

Lissi and the Emperor

Lissi and Franzl

 

Germans in general are not well known for their good or light sense of humor. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like to laugh or that they don’t laugh at all. However, to laugh with them you have to have a pretty deep knowledge of the culture and of the language 😉

German humor is heavy and they sometimes don’t know the limits. That is maybe why they are what in other cultures would be considered as rude.

Although I have been living here for more than 20 years I had to look away from the “humor” in one of the posters hanging these days in the streets. These are part of the political campaign to elect the Representatives for the European Parliament.

Radical poster

Controversial Poster of the right

Does humor have to do with taste? Good or bad?  I imagine that you will agree with me that this goes too far…  This party, a radical party of the far right, is asking “What a… are you going to vote for in September?” With this image they’re referring to representatives of the bigger political parties: the CDU/CSU the conservative right or the Black party, the Green Party, the social democrats SPD in red and the liberal democrats in yellow.

This radical party has not got the majority and is not representative of the country. However, it amazed me that such an offending poster could be used publicly all around the city! Have we lost our senses?

Good or bad taste? Good or bad humor? This last example is not an example of German humor, but only of one small group of people with narrow minds. They want to use hate and fear, if you see other posters in German cities,  claiming that the Islam and their mosques should be in Istanbul and not here in Germany.  Very populistic!

I’m sure that common sense will prevail in the elections so that we can continue with our good humor in this country.

 

Flammekueche or tarte flambée?

On Friday morning, my daughter and I started our Easter holidays short trip to France. We took the S-Bahn to the Munich Main Train Station and from there the ICE train to Stuttgart, our first stop. We were a little bit nervous because the time we had to change to the next train, the TGV, was exactly 8 minutes… The TGV was leaving at 12:55, sharp!  I can almost see your smile, if you are not used to the German (or French) time concept. But, yes, the train leaves at exactly that time. On the train they even warned us that the TGV closes its doors two minutes before departure… Oh, 8 minus 2… only 6 minutes to find the right platform and jump into the right train.

As you may see looking at the picture below, we made it! We got on time 🙂 and found our hotel at a walking distance from the Main Train Station. The city we visited was a fortress or a fortified settlement by the road or at the crossing of the roads. This beautiful city is very close to the river Rhine and is situated on the Ill river.

It’s been part of the European heritage since the beginning of human occupation and celts, romans, huns, francs and allemani lived in the region leaving not only their genes, but a big influence in the language.

medieval towers

Medieval towers, entrance to “Petite France”

During the last centuries Strasbourg ( as you may have already guessed…) has changed sides very often; it has been French, than German, than French again, etc.  It’s the main city of the Alsace, it’s the capital of the Bas-Rhine department and is the seat of many European institutions.

Our hotel was in the middle of the Medieval neighborhood, called “Petite France” which is surrounded by water. Walking through the Medieval streets you can really imagine the towns in the Dark Ages.  During our visit the weather was also kind of dark, cold, and windy. Brrr!

Some streets in the Petite France have very old traditional names dedicated to medieval occupations such as the Rue des Dentelles (= lace, fabric), Rue des Tonneliers (cooper), Rue des Charpentiers (= carpenters) or Rue des Serruriers (locksmiths) and other townsmen like Rue des Juifs (= judes), Rue des Frères (= brothers).  Another funny name that caught our attention was the Place of the Suckling Pigs’ Market?!, where you can find many traditional restaurants, gourmet shops and a weekly market.

One of the main attractions on the “Grand Ile”, as downtown is called, is the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  Why are so many churches called that way? Indeed, they are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady.  The construction of the cathedral began in the 12 century, was completed in 1439 and became one of the World’s Tallest Buildings.

A good reading to get an idea of what it took to build such a magnificent building is “Pillars of Earth” by Ken Follet. Another historical novel on that topic is  “La Catedral y el Mar” by Ildefonso Falcones. The former was filmed as a coproduction of German, French, Canada and other film studios.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1453159/?ref_=fn_al_tt_7

Although the cathedral is very impressive, we found another excellent example of Gothic art, the church of “Saint-Pierre-Le-jeune” or the Young Saint Peter. This smaller church is now a protestant church which shows that Strasbourg is one of the cities where you can find catholic and protestant churches hand in hand.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune_Protestant_Church

gothic church

Saint-Pierre-Le-jeune

The church is located in a small quiet street with a tiny garden in front of it and it’s only open in the afternoons. We went into the building and were captivated by the quiet atmosphere, the colored  light penetrating the stained glass windows and, very special, the paintings on the walls. The oldest part of the church was built in the 7th century!

 

wall paintings

Murals all over the walls

The organ is dividing the nave and is beautifully carved. It is placed in the middle of the church and is decorated in blue and red as are most of the walls.

At the end of the nave, there are two chapels, one with the baptismal font and wooden figures and the other one with a wooden angel with wide dark wings. The floor in both chapels is authentic and beautiful.

We went out to the cloister with a water well in the center and a very old stone cross.

stone cross

Old cross

It was getting dark outside, distant gregorian chants were playing and almost all visitors had left. In spite of being in a church, we were almost creeped out, so we decided to leave and have a nice dinner with live music.   No, no brass bands or Oktoberfest songs, we decided to go the Irish pub that is close to the cathedral, on the “Street of the Old Fish Market”.  Thank god, it didn’t smell of old fish 😉

On our last day we visited the cathedral and listened for a while to the Sunday Mass  (sorry we didn’t stay longer…) Afterwards we went to the Historical Museum of the City on the same street as the Irish pub.  The museum is located in Strasbourg’s former slaughterhouse built in 1588, in an area town butchers had occupied since the end of the 13th century… it sounds creepier as it was 😉

http://www.musees.strasbourg.eu/index.php?page=histoire-historique-en

It was a very interesting visit, especially considering the divided story of Strasbourg and the Alsace. The museum is interactive and you can touch, listen, watch and read. We had big fun trying on knight helmets and trying to carry a stone bomb.  We also got a good grasp of the history of the 19th and 20th centuries with its World Wars and their effect on the region.

Leaving the museum, we took a long walk along the river and decided to try a typical menu in the evening. Walking through the narrow streets we came across a small restaurant quite hidden from the tourists. It is called “Au sanglier”. Can you guess the name of the street?  Yes, right, Rue du sanglier (= wild boar). Exactly, this time like Asterix and Obelix.  However, as alsacienne specialties are not known for being light, we decided to skip the wild pig 😉

We made a reservation for 7 p.m. and got there on time… We first had a Kir as an apero. We chose different salads from the salad bar for the first course and a Flammekueche with crispy, thin sliced bacon, onions and sour cream on a very thin flat crust, almost like pizza, for the main course. I had a cold, fruity, but not sweet glass of white wine, called “gentil” with my meal. The name “gentil” or kind and gentle really matched the wine, which was excellent.

As a dessert, included in the menu, (Really, I promise 😉 ) we had a compote of rhubarb with some vanilla ice. I usually don’t like that vegetable in any combination, but I was delighted and enjoyed it very much.

The restaurant “To the wild boar ” is decorated in a traditional style that reminded us of typical German restaurants in Bavaria. It was a little bit macabre because of the wild boar’s head hanging on one of the wall and looking at us. The oddest part of it was, as it was during Easter time,  that some Easter eggs were hanging of nice colored ribbons from its tusks…

We felt transported to the Middle Ages, but we could finish our meal.

The next morning we had a late breakfast and waited for our train to leave this nice city at 13:47 😉

I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour and the reading as much as we enjoyed our trip.

 

 

Rabbit or hare?

I decided to go hunting… At the beginning I really didn’t mean to. I thought that finding an explanation to the “Easter Bunny” would be easier. However, I’ve come across the most interesting things.

Easter Bunny close to Bamberg, Germany

Easter Bunny close to Bamberg, Germany

The first thing that caught my attention is the fact that sometimes rabbits were used to symbolize “Christ” in early Christian times. This convention was continued and was even used in the decoration of some churches, e.g. the three hare window in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Paderborn, Germany, where three rabbits or hares are united in a triangle with only one ear of each showing. They are meant to symbolize the Trinity.

http://www.american-buddha.com/cult.hieronymusbosch.plate9.htm

If you’re interested in this topic you may want to take a look at The three hares project of Chris Chapman. He shows different versions of the motive and its depiction in Medieval Europe basing its origins in Asia.

http://www.chrischapmanphotography.co.uk/hares/index.html

In the late 15th century and beginnings of the 16th some famous painters included rabbits or hares in their religious painting, such as Albrecht Dürer on his woodcut The Holy Family.

Albrecht Dürer's The Holy Family

Albrecht Dürer’s The Holy Family

He also created the most detailed painting of a hare, his famous Young Hare (German: Feldhase) in 1502 in watercolors.

A very informative page is http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=28531 where you can read a very interesting, however personal view of Easter and its symbols.

 

Going back to the “Easter rabbit”, that by the way was a hare, like Bugs Bunny and not a sweet fluffy rabbit, it is usually seen as a symbol for fertility.  Hares and rabbits are very prolific and can give birth to several litters a year. They are very early sexually mature and can conceive the second litter while still pregnant with the first!

 

In the early 19th century, Jakob Grimm, tried to explain the myth of Easter, the eggs and the bunny. The idea of the German goddess Ostara became popular with his version. She wasn’t really well known or popular before that. Grimm based his version in some medieval writings, some from the British Isles, and word semantics from German and other northern languages. However, up to now nothing has been scientifically proven.

Another interesting fact I found in my hunt was this image:

Ixchel_Rabbit_maya

Ixchel with rabbit husband

It has been sometimes used to portrait the goddess Ostara and his mate, the rabbit or hare!  If you look very carefully, especially for those of you acquainted with Mesoamerican art, you will recognize some facial traits… Yes, indeed! This is a Mayan sculpture representing the Mayan goddess of fertility, Ix-Chel. She was the goddess of fertility, motherhood, the moon and the menstrual cycle. She was mother of all. In other representations she holds a rabbit in her hand as a symbol of fertility while sitting on the crescent moon.  On this image she is standing with the rabbit at her side to symbolize fertility.

As you now know, this image has nothing to do with Ostara, the Old German goddess!

The Aztecs, another Mezoamerican culture,  used the rabbit for the name of a day: “tochtli”. http://www.azteccalendar.com/day/Tochtli.html

 

Are there any other rabbit or bunny versions? Many for sure…

In conclusion,  the version of Easter as we know it,  with colored eggs and bunnies, is the one transmitted from German and Swedish cultures to other European countries and brought to the US of America in the 18th century mostly by German immigrants, many of them Lutherans.  This tradition has now extended to many parts of the world without really knowing what it stands for.

Does it really matter? Enjoy your chocolate eggs and rabbits… though I prefer chocolate hares as they have longer ears 😉

Happy Easter! 

red egg

The Egg

Spring has arrived with its milder weather, birds tweeting (twittering? that word has now got another meaning… should I better say chirping to avoid confusion?) and flowers blooming. Yes, its my favorite season!

Everywhere you can find splendid flower arrangements, rabbits, birds nests and eggs!

Eggs are a symbol of fertility and new life.  We can find them all around and in all forms and colors. The real ones, boiled and painted, chocolate ones in foil paper, fondant ones in the classical ovoid form or as sunny side up eggs, nicely painted wooden ones, plastic eggs, and, and…

The tradition of decorating eggs and eggshells is ancient and has been practiced all along history by many cultures. I’ve just found out that the Egyptians used to put them in their tombs. The early christians used to paint them red to remember the blood of Christ.

In East European Countries like Romania, Russia, Ukraine they decorate them with filigree patterns creating small masterpieces.

In Greece, they bake a rich yeast bread usually with a red egg in it, it’s called tsoureki. Other countries like Hungary have a similar bread with eggs for Easter.

pangriego1

Greek Easter bread

What came then first the egg or the hen? It’s a never ending discussion. It depends on the starting point of the discussion and of the participants…

egg or chicken

Who came first?

 

 

 

 

 

The egg has been inspirational for many ideas, not only coking. There is a famous nursery rime “Humpty Dumpty” by Mother Goose. If you want to have a look at the writer ;-), you can check it here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/mother-goose

Does it have a meaning or is it a simple a word game?

Humpty Dumpty was a colloquial term used in fifteenth century England describing someone who was obese. The image of Humpty Dumpty was made famous by the illustrations included in the ‘Alice through the looking glass’ novel by Lewis Carroll. However, Humpty Dumpty was not a person.

(http://www.rhymes.org.uk/humpty_dumpty.htm)

In nature there are thousands of different types of eggs. We usually think of the ones we know like chicken, duck, goose and maybe quail among others. There are beautiful colored ones from little birds like the blue ones of a finch.   But not only birds lay eggs, fish also produce them. We enjoy them ( or rather not… yuk…) as the famous caviar. The most expensive one is the Beluga caviar form the beluga sturgeon in the Caspian See.  Other types of fish caviar are also enjoyable, for example those of salmon or trout.

Moving up in the zoological scale we find humans on top. Although a woman’s ovary has about 1 million oocytes or eggs at birth, only about 500 (about 0.05%) of these ovulate while the rest are wasted. If we imagine that a healthy young man with a typical ejaculate usually produces 300-500 million spermatozoa, that would create a lot of children!  However, we know that it is not that easy… Only a couple hundred spermatozoa survive in the acidic environment of the vagina to be candidates for successful fertilization.

This reminded me of Woody Allen with his always funny to watch “Everything you always wanted to know about sex…” (1972)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068555/?ref_=nm_flmg_wr_50

Continuing with fertility, sperm cells cannot divide and have a limited life span. After the fusion with egg cells during fertilization a new organism begins developing, starting as a zygote.  Funny name for a baby 😉

Where does everything begin where does it end?  Great thinkers like Aristotle and Plutarch proposed their own ideas on the puzzle. According to Stephen Hawking and Popular Science (the magazine), the egg came first as it evolved prior to birds.

Coming back to the egg and the hen I visualize the symbol of eternity:. A world egg or cosmic egg is a creation myth of many cultures and civilizations linking the egg to birth. It embodies the idea of a silent universe, all at one bursting into activity and chaos. There is no “first” in a cyclical view of time characteristic of many cultures and religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as other Dharmic religions. The belief of the wheel of time which regards time as cyclical and with repeating ages is also found in other cultures such as Mesoamerican (Aztecs, Mayan) and some native American Indians.

Let`s  continue enjoying the egg in all its forms, especially in mouth watering recipes for Easter.  How about…

…some eggs bendedict?

http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Eggs-Benedict-The-Pioneer-Woman-287104?columns=4&position=1%2F45

… some asparagus with sauce hollandaise?

http://www.yummly.com/recipe/external/Best-Basic-Hollandaise-Sauce-511714

… a tasty tortilla española

http://spanishfood.about.com/od/tapas/r/tortilla.htm

… Or an italian frittata?

http://www.incredibleegg.org/recipes/recipe/simple-frittata

Decide for yourselves, invite some friends, cook together and enjoy 🙂

Oh, dear! I almost forgot “the bunny”!  Don’t worry, you may read about “him” next week.