Ulysses and coming home

I feel like the female Ulysses, may be Odyssey would sound more feminine. Yes, after a very long trip that lasted 27 years I am now heading home… Is it really home? To a certain extent yes, but I’m really also leaving home behind…

Do I have someone like Penelope who has been waiting for me all that time and who has been faithful all those years? I’m pretty sure that no, nobody has been waiting for me all that long spending time and weaving. However, many old friends, acquaintances and my family are vey happy, or so they say…, of having me around. It’s been a very long time and I’ve lost many names on the way, names of friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors, but I’m sure that new names are waiting for me in the new old shore in the New World… Leaving Old Europe is difficult, all the culture and cultural differences so close and easy to reach… provided time and money are there to enjoy it.

Going back to Ulysses. On his travel he encountered giants, cyclops, witches, sirens, females who tried to spellbound him… Have I encountered those creatures? making some analogies and if you imagine me of a very small size trying to compete with German men for the only free space in the subway, I would say yes! I’ve encountered giants, cyclops and strong amazons, too. Those women who reach to the sky and look healthier and stronger than an olympic athlete. They have been part of my reality for a long time.

Sometimes when I have to fill in official forms asking me about my country of birth, believe me, I’ve been very tempted to write: Lilliput… Some other times I’ve had to control myself to avoid writing the name of some capital in one of the countries of the Mediterranean or in the Middle East… So, imagine me living in this side of the world where the ‘natives’ are almost always fairer and much taller than myself… I’ve got mostly used to it. However, I have been very scared once or twice with the aggressive behavior of the cyclops trying to crush me… Don’t worry, I survived and the experience made me even stronger ;-).

A giant

Help! A giant!

(Image from: http://pdp-meghanhill.blogspot.de/2012/12/research-for-guess-who-giants.html)

The very first time that I lived in Munich was in the ’80s and the physical appearance of the city hasn’t changed that much. Although one the first things that caught my eye was the colors used in this part of Germany to paint the exterior of houses and buildings. They were what we could call ‘autumn or fall’ colors. They had all shades of brown, ochre, and especially that green that reminded me of the trees in the fall changing from green to brown. Many of the official buildings were decorated in ‘Moosgrün’ or mossy green and dark brown and lots of wood, preferably oak, not shiny but in an honey shade. Everything looked very sober and sad, at least to my eyes used to the extremely colorful Mexico… Sometimes too colorful. This has changed and you can now find warm yellow and the traditional white with red or brown tiles on the roof as being the most used colors for buildings and houses.

I remember that the most exotic place you could eat was the Chinese restaurant in one of the main streets close to the university. I don’t remember any other Asian food, no Indian, no Thai, no Vietnamese, no Sushi and of course no take away food. If you didn’t want to eat Bavarian food you’d have to choose the Italian or the Greek restaurant nearby. However, Italian restaurants were not the fancy and expensive restaurants that you can find now on every corner in downtown Munich. They compete against each other in exclusivity and price, swearing to be the most authentic one. Germans have always admired the Italian culture, we all have, but with such a fervor, only the Germans in Munich and surroundings. They even call Munich the most Italian city north of the Alps. As for the German love for Italy you may be interested in Goethe’s Italian journey. You can find a précis here: (http://www.nytimes.com/1986/09/21/travel/goethe-s-italian-journey.html)

I think you now understand better what I mean. I also love the Italian culture, the food, the art, the cities, everything, but… in Italy! I love my Italians friends, not because they are Italians, but because I like them and we understand each other. The best thing of all is when I go to ‘eat Italian’ (This is the expression you use in German) in Munich with an Italian friend. She usually speaks German to the waiters, who always greet you warmly with a “Buona sera, signora”. One day I asked her why, and she explained that most of them are not Italians and don’t speak Italian. I laughed and said that I knew what she was talking about because it also happened to me in some so called ‘Mexican’ and ‘Spanish’ restaurants. So we both stick to German. That to authenticity. As for that, yes, some of those places have a very good selection of dishes and very good wines, but the prices have reached such heights that I don’t find it affordable anymore… Let’s better save some money and enjoy some authentic Italian meals in Italy.

Munich… ‘Weltstadt mit Herz’ or City of the World with a heart… (Image from: http://www.amazon.de/Magnet-mit-Motiv-MÜNCHEN-Weltstadt/dp/B00H19QP0M)

münchen weltstadt mit herz

Weltstadt mit Herz

Going back to the eighties, Munich was not really an international city, as I was mentioning. There were, and still are, only two or so cinemas where you could watch movies in English or in the original language. On TV there were only the ARD, the ZDF and the BR … what are those? The official channels, the first, second and third German television programs and, if you were lucky and lived close to one of the borders you could maybe receive one of the foreign channels. Living in Munich we could also watch the Austrian official channels. What does that mean? First of all, we had to pay a TV tax that was calculated according to the number of TVs and the number of adults living in your place. Ah, and also the number of radios you had… and the radio in your car was counted extra… Yes, quite an amount to be able to watch 3 TV programs that promised you a very high quality and no advertisments! … Well, only some allowed commercials from 19:59 to 20:00 when it was time for the news.

By the end of the Eighties I moved to Munich from my “Third World” country and was shocked to not being able to watch my well known TV series and the end of some of the very popular shows at that time, such as Dallas! People here were very proud of having no commercials, we know, almost none, on TV… I always thought: Guys, you don’t have TV!  Change got here, too. We finally got some ‘private’ TV chains, the bad guys, with lots of commercials and American series… very bad for children… Nowadays, the official channels are struggling to keep their audiences and they are really worried because the average age of their viewers is about 65 years old… Imagine!


Durchschnittsalter der Zuschauer 2011

Age average of TV viewers 2011

We now have a lot of channels, which doesn’t mean that the quality has increased and we still pay TV taxes. You have to pay even if you don’t have a TV… The first cable TV was “Kabeldeutschland” and if I remember right, it was also “official”, which means they were monopolized, no alternatives. Currently we have also “Sky” and the Internet provider “Netflix” has just arrived.

I was mentioning the cinemas. There was a very big cinema called that way, Cinema, that showed films in English. It still exist and has enjoyed a popular comeback after and extensive face lifting. One or two art cinemas showed films in French or sometimes even Spanish or Italian. I was used to watching films in English with subtitles and got a little bit frustrated having to wait longer to watch brilliant films till ‘the actors learned German’, that is till they were doubled into German. It was also a shock listening to the German voices of my favorite actors… it still is and I still prefer to watch films in English… sigh… Going to the cinema was very expensive and that hasn’t changed. Although Germany is one of the countries that develops the best technology in cameras and other devices, they don’t like to change their old ways. If you go to the cinemas that show films in original versions you will feel like transported to the early eighties. The screens are better, but the rest is really retro, not pretending to be retro, they really are…

I don’t want you to think that I didn’t like living in Munich. No, I did enjoy it. Munich has a lot of good sides and attractions. I was only mentioning the difficulties, the difficult tasks to compare it a little bit to the Odyssey of Ulysses… And I am still looking for the female form of the name, I hope I find it before I leave Munich 😉

p.s. I found it in English, it’s Ulyssa!





Madame Mallory and bureaucracy

Imagine a nice village in the South of France. The smell of herbs, lavender, thyme, rosemary… The quietness of a house out of the village with a marvelous sight and a restaurant with the best French cuisine ever. Does this sound attractive enough? To vary your meals you may want to eat at the other restaurant in town, an Indian specialty restaurant. In the middle of nowhere?

Sometimes we have dreams that seem risky or impossible to achieve. Other times destiny or life, as you may want to call it, puts us on a difficult path and we have to throw away our initial plans or way of life. This happened to a numerous Indian family living in Mumbai who have to leave their country and get to Europe to try to rebuild their lives. However, their first choice turns out to be cold, wet and with vegetables and fruits that have no soul. Therefore, they move again searching for a nicer place. “Destiny’ takes them to France where after some initial difficulties they can finally open an Indian restaurant.

The film “The Hundred-Foot Journey” with Helen Mirren is being shown in German cinemas as “Madame Mallory and the smell of Curry’.

Mme Mallory and Hasan

Madame Mallory cooking

(Image from http://www.badische-zeitung.de/kino-11/36-komoedien-dramen-und-dokus-aus-aller-welt–87671108.html)

The difficulties in the film are sometimes funny and sometimes rough or cruel and they involve love, hate, jealousy, talent, friendship and family… Would it be so easy in real life to move to a foreign country, let’s say in Western Europe, and simply open a restaurant? I sincerely doubt it…

In the case of the film, this part was obviously skipped because if not it would have turned into a paper war against the ministries and the immigration offices 😉

At the beginning of the film while entering the Continent the family members are asked some questions about their profession, time they plan to stay in the country, etc. This shows a little bit of it…

Some countries are more willing to receive foreigners and to let them live in their territory, others not really. All around Europe radical groups have been spreading and attacking in word and some times even in actions ‘foreign’ looking people. Who is foreign in a country? Is a person who got there as a youngster, has lived there for years, worked and paid taxes still a foreigner? France adopts immigrants more easily than other countries and helps them to settle. Some nationals believe that immigrants get too much and that they are entitled to too many social benefits while French aren’t. This leads to outbreaks of radical groups and foreigner hate.

Germany would love to receive more and more immigrants… Really? Only those young, highly educated, with lots of experience in their professions and willing to work under conditions that not many Germans would accept. In this case even bureaucracy would work smoothly and they would get the necessary help for their paperwork.

Back to our example in the film, what kind of bureaucracy, that is government administration, would the family have to deal with? I imagine at the very first, they would have had to get the visas and then the residence permits. Afterwards, the working permits, then the license to open a business and especially a business in the food area would require lots and lots of permits and fees… I don’t know, if they could have open their place in the first year. It is of course not impossible…

Now, the children… I never saw them going to school, writing their homework and learning French! This last task would take longer. I don’t really know how it works in France with children and schooling. In Germany all children have to go to school and there are only the official schools in the neighborhood. So, imagine the children who have to go to Elementary school and who don’t speak German =:-o

Bureaucracy… What does it really mean? The word bureau or office is hidden in there and office has to do with paper… Paperwork! Some countries love paperwork more than others, I suppose. In Brazil, for example, everything has to be officially recognized or you cannot even buy a cell phone. You need to have a residence permit with the necessary ID card and number and you have to have a Tax number to show that you ARE paying taxes. I still remember the very crowded offices where you have to get your documents and where you have to get your signature registered and approved. Without these steps, as I told you before, you can’t live as a person… After accomplishing all this and while living there, if you pay in the supermarket with your bank card you always have to say your tax number and sometimes your ID number, too. To get into any building because for example you have an appointment at the doctor’s or are going to a business meeting you also have to register at the entrance and give all your numbers. By the way you should know them by heart. If you don’t do so, you become immediately a suspect… of what? Of anything.

Another item that points out to my mind when dealing with anything official and bureaucracy. I don’t know why, but you’re always looked as a suspect… You don’t really feel comfortable, as if we all had something wrong to hide. Is this part of the bureaucrats school? I imagine the teachers in the bureaucrats academy: “make them feel guilty, because for sure they are. Make them suffer and don’t let them leave here fast. They have to remember us and talk about us”

In Germany bureaucracy consists of many different special forms, strict and spare opening hours, lots of rules and dont’s, but at least it works. Once you’ve read all the papers and have understood the complicated bureaucrat’s German language, then it will work. Another good thing is that they usually give you an approximate time when you will be able to get your paperwork done, and things will be ready usually on time or even before the mentioned date. That I love!

I believe that the German government loves bureaucracy and I was amazed when I found out (well, taken from Wikipedia) that “The German sociologist Max Weber argued that bureaucracy constitutes the most efficient and rational way in which human activity can be organized, and that systematic processes and organized hierarchies were necessary to maintain order, maximize efficiency and eliminate favoritism. But even Weber saw unfettered bureaucracy as a threat to individual freedom, in which an increase in the bureaucratization of human life can trap individuals in an “iron cage” of rule-based, rational control.” I also now know why a place and an Underground Station in Munich is called Max Weber. And believe it or not I always lose my way or take the wrong train in precisely that station!


Max-Weber-Platz with Underground station in Munich

(Image from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/23093419)

In other countries it doesn’t work this way and I know that I am going to miss German bureaucracy (to a certain extent ;-))

And last but not least, after watching the nice movie we enjoyed an Indian dinner and I didn’t think, not even for a tiny moment, about paperwork. Enjoy the film and your food and till next time.


A modern family

Family, a nice and warm word in every language and in every culture.Who do you consider as being part of your family? Does a family have to be based on blood bonds? How much does culture and the country we live in affect our view of family? If you’re married or live with a partner, do your “in-laws” have become your family? Questions and more questions…

Some families are traditional and include mother, father and children. Depending on the culture you may include the grandparents or even a wider circle, the so called extended family. The traditional role of the father being the head of the family was found in the pater familias in the Roman society. He was the oldest male in the family and he was responsible for everyone under his roof. When he died, the oldest next male would inherit the role.

Image from classicsalaromana.blogspot.com


 (Image from: classicsalaromana.blogspot.com)

How has this changed in our modern society? Parents and children still living at home are considered to be the basic unit or the nuclear family. I think you all know a lot of examples of this constellation in your own families or with your close friends. Traditional ways have changed and couples don’t always marry and have children. There are lots of families consisting only of mother and child or children. Others, not so many, with only father and children. In our society we have now a mosaic of constellations and many different combinations, some of them known as patchwork families. The number of children that a couple has has also changed considerably. In the seventies three female friends of my mum had 7 children each, which meant, 21 little persons!  I also had friends in school who had five, six, seven or more siblings and who looked strangely at my brother and me for being only two. Imagine the compassionate sights that someone who was an only child would get… It wasn’t very well seen if couples decided to remain childless. Everyone in the family would like to intervene and give good advice on how to solve that nuisance.

I spent my childhood with my younger brother surrounded by cousins, aunts, uncles and other friends of the family that we used to call “aunt” or “uncle. However, the first change in this relationships was when my parents divorced. I was in my early teens and at that time it was not very wise to tell everyone that you were a child of a divorced marriage… So we had to learn to keep our profile low 😉 and not to tell everyone about it. It was a difficult time and the fact of “hiding” something as heavy as that caused us for sure unseen trouble…

In the 21 century I sometimes wonder at the couples that are still married…  I’m not saying that staying married is the best way of living. No, I think that when a relationship doesn’t work anymore, it is the best to speak things out and to look for the best solution. If the best solution is to go apart, then do it. I remember some of my relatives who kept their marriages and were scattering bitterness and unhappy feeling all around. I believe in trying to talk and communicate to look for the best solution, and if needed, looking for external qualified help would be a way to improve a damaged relationship.

In my family there are a lot of couples older and younger ones that have split. The reasons are as varied as you can imagine. However, this is only a supposition, when my parents were young they had no time to get to know each other, there was no way of being alone with your partner and of course, living together without being married was impossible. Nowadays this has changed, but…  In spite of this, we still have a high rate of divorce. The couples that are not married “simply” split, without counting in the statistics of divorces… What is the the best way? Getting or not getting married? I leave it up to you and to your beliefs that will have a big influence in your decisions.

Image from  http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/File:Family_Christmas_portrait.jpg

The Simpsons

(Image from: http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/File:Family_Christmas_portrait.jpg)

Families, large, small, traditional. modern, patchwork… Some of us have been living for a long time in another place far away from the close family. Some of us were accepted by the in-laws as part of the family and we have tried to integrate in a family with other traditions and ways of doing things very different to ours… Can you imagine? Right, it requires a lot of effort, patience and good will on both sides. If you are not married or live in a partnership, who is then your family?  Sometimes we find a new family in a group of dear friends that to a certain amount share our condition. And can you count your pets as family? Sure, why not, if you don’t expect help to carry the groceries, of course you can. They give you love and comfort without asking for much.

In my case, my mother and brother formed a nuclear family and we included our grandfather, my mother’s father, as the pater familias for certain things. Nevertheless, my mother was a very independent woman who worked and was successful in her job.

My father always tried to keep contact. Although at the beginning our relationship was tense, I continued seeing him and I am very glad that he always insisted on seeing us. The shock of my parents divorced was followed by a very positive event in my life. My father formed a second family and I now have five more siblings. We didn’t grow up together, but we are now very close. When I say how many siblings I have, I now get the sight the other way around, people staring at me and asking: “Really? Do you have six siblings?” Especially, people in Germany where a lot of singles decide to stay that way and have no children.

As I was mentioning before, families with lots of children were quite common in the seventies. There were many TV-shows featuring big families such as “The Brady Bunch”, “The Partridge Family” among others. I also remember an old movie (1968) with Lucille Ball, “Yours, Mine and Ours”, about a patch work family. “http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063829/

In our modern television we now find a reflection of family life in many shows. A very popular one, “Modern family” with the divorced mature father, who is marred to a young and sex wife with a single child. His children are adults and have their own families. The daughter married very young and has now two daughters and a son. His son is gay, has a partner and they both want to adopt a baby. It’s a very funny American comedy show to have a light time and a good laugh.

There are other current shows that include all family members in the stories and are very successful, cops, mafiosi, etc… Even vampire TV shows rely on families to keep the audience interested.

Image from  http://www.impawards.com/tv/modern_family_ver3_xlg.html

Modern Family

(Image from:http://www.impawards.com/tv/modern_family_ver3_xlg.html)

In our family we also have dark secrets, lighter stories, sad endings, happy outcomes, and everything that keeps us together. I would love to tell you more about every single one of my siblings and relatives, but if I do so, I may end up with a single cat as my family. That’s why I prefer not to reveal so much, but, if you continue reading my blog, you may know a little bit more… I promise 😉