“We’ve got a ticket to ride”

Moving around in one of the biggest cities in the world may be difficult and challenging. The everyday traffic is heavy and disorganized. It’s like the jungle, where the strongest and boldest will be the first. Maybe not the first to reach the waterhole, but the first to reach the other side of the crossing. That’s one of the reason why on the weekends, I enjoy taking the Metro to go downtown.

In one of my posts I told you about taking a cab (“Where to, señorita” in January 2015), and also mentioned the subway system in Mexico City.

This time, we took the Metro and got our senses full with sounds, colors and smells, that are not always nice…  It was early for our Mexican Saturday morning and therefore the booths with all kind of supplies in the Metro hallways and corridors were either closed or opening. Some of these hallways are on street level and can be very long with stairs going up and down, some electrical. This makes me wonder how older people or people with a handicap use the metro, the cheapest way to travel… And I really admire them the most.  We took the first train in a quiet station and had to make the first connection. We started walking one of the corridors and we noticed different offers on the sides of the corridors: coffee and ‘no name’ donuts, some “tortas” and “licuados”. Tortas are white bread buns filled with ham or cheese, avocado, tomato, salad, cream and jalapeño peppers. Licuados are milk shakes with fresh fruit.  We also saw some mini stores selling everything for making ourselves beautiful while on the train: mirrors, eyelash curlers, eyeliners, curlers, hair slides. Another shop was selling every gadget on earth for cellphones, but mostly ‘no name’ items and very cheap. For those who love pizza for breakfast, there were pizza slices from Domino’s close to the stairs. After a good walk we reached the next train and jumped in because there is almost no time to get in or out of the wagon.

We found two seats side by side and so we could enjoy the ride… if you are not very sensitive or picky. The cars and seats are not very clean, and as some are from the seventies and are a little bit shabby…

A Metro wagon

I remember the elegant U-Bahn (subway) in Munich and forgetting the colors and the elegant materials of the German counterpart, I personally find our version more practical. The wagons in the new Munich subway are like a long worm with almost no possibility of support. The only support rings are high up hanging down from the ceiling… This keeping in mind that the medium height for a German woman is 1.71 cm!  Some of the seats in the worm’s belly are light in a kind of triply wood in a long row (not in the picture), so that when the U-Bahn stops  the last person in the row starts sliding to the front of the car and remember, there is no halt. It’s a little bit like taking a ride in the fair. Sometime the rides are not nice, and I have to mention the bad smell of some U-Bahn (= Metro) users.  in Winter because they haven’t take a shower or washed their coats and in Summer because … I imagine you know what I mean.

ubahn- muc

The new U-Bahn in Munich

However, as I have mentioned before, Mexico is a very colorful country, and the Metro itself is orange with green, or blue seats while the station pictograms go from pink to dark brown. It’s a very good system with attractive designs and colors so that one can easily follow the lines. I imagine this is also very practical for people who cannot read. One of my favorite names of a Metro station is “Indios verdes” or Green indians… The native American folks were a lot more world and environment friendly, but I guess this is not the reason to name this station this way. Is it may be because some Indians turned green with the smell and the filth in the wagon? No, well, it’s because of the two sculptures depicting two Tlatoani or high political leaders in the Aztec empire standing in a big avenue in the Northern part of the city.

In Mexico the political situation, the economy and everything, according to Mexicans, is very bad… However, we don’t lose the good humor. I really had to laugh seeing the sign for the toilets in the Metro Station “Taxqueña”:

Public toilets in the Metro station

Continuing our trip, in the wagon, the first thing that caught my attention, was someone shouting “Fresas con creeeemaaaa” and then “con creeeeema las fresas”. I asked myself how can he manage to sell strawberries with cream in the subway?, and exchanged a surprise look with my daughter. When he got closer I understood, he was selling popsicles!  My daughter and I didn’t think that someone could possibly buy such a thing at 9:30 in the morning in the subway, but we were shown wrong. Two young ladies sitting in front of us bought one “strawberry and cream” and an “arroz con leche” ( rice pudding) one. Well, there are no rules for breakfast in Mexico…

During weekdays you can find all types of people using the subway, elegant businessmen or businesswomen, school children, students, policemen, doctors, nurses, tourists and more, all  representing many of the social classes in our city. Every single time I take the Subway to get to Palacio Nacional in the heart of our capital, I see women making themselves pretty for work. I’ve seen girls using their mascaras and eyeliners with perfection while being rocked and shaken by the Metro. I have never seen one getting down of the wagon like a Panda bear! They are really good at it. This last week I saw a mature women sitting in front of me, who took out a make up bag out of her purse between “Chabacano” and “San Antonio Abad”, two of the stations. With one finger she sustained the bag, with the other two she took out a make up brush and used it to brush creamy make up to her face. I was almost in awe at the procedure. I had to get out on the next station so I couldn’t see the last result, but I imagine it was flawless. Maybe next time I’ll take note of some beauty tips, without forgetting the young girl with the metal teaspoon curling her eyelashes!

In every trip you may jump at the opportunity to buy sweets, peanuts, combs, scissors, tools, books, even anatomy books and creepy legends of the city, maps, hairpins, ball-pens, colors and really everything you may need in your daily life… and maybe even more!  The merchants are also very flexible and sometimes with one hand they sell one thing and if no one is interested, they switch to another thing that they have hiding in their plastic bags or in their backpacks with the other hand.  There are other people who give everyone something, for example a bag of soft candy and a paper that explains why they want you to buy and contribute to their cause. Others simply sing to do something for a coin or two.

Reaching our goal, we got out of the subway system at the Zocalo, or Main Square in the Historical Center of the city. As usual, the wideness of the area and the monumental buildings surrounding it, amazed me. It’s quite a sight: the magnificent Cathedral, the Sagrario Metropolitano, that is the small church adjoining the cathedral, the Palacio Nacional and the huge Mexican flag in the middle of the square.  On one side of the Main Square or Zócalo, you see a very long Colonial building, The National Palace is the seat of the federal executive in Mexico.

We crossed the Zocalo to get to the Gran Hotel de la Ciudad the México to have breakfast on the terrace with one of the nicest views in downtown Mexico City and to exchange our impressions of this entertaining ride.

Zocalo y Palacio Nacional

The “Zócalo” or Main Square with the National Palace in the background

I hope you enjoyed the ride!

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Refugees and populism

This time I’m writing on a hot topic. Not hot because of its popularity, but hot because it causes controversies, pain and even war.

People tend to classify everything they get in contact with: colors, numbers, food, things and even people. How many classifications of the human race have there ever existed? If I remember the history book on Colonial New Spain, there were quite a lot. Now, how many wars have included racial definitions, belief or other human definitions as reasons to fight for?  What is race? What is religion?

We have all been following the press reporting on the US presidential campaign, either, if we are interested or not,  A radical and racist guy, we know who, is running a campaign to be elected President of one of the most influential countries in our times. In Europe, it’s not that clear because there are usually more than two parties running for elections. However, in France a party of the extreme right has been elected and has won in many of the French regions or départements. Germany has had a history of racism that caused millions of deaths is having again a problem that may have to do with the definition of ‘race’ believed by some people, maybe too many.   There is now a new party, the AfD or ‘Alternative für Deutschland’ a right-wing populist political party founded in 2013 that has won 7.1% of the votes and 7 out of 96 German seats in the 2014 European Parliament.  Some years ago, the Green Party was the third in the country and now?

In my opinion this party supports those old views and and is even worst than the New Nazis party. The New Nazis were mostly supported by young men with little chances in society, many unemployed or with bad paid jobs, with very little education. This has changed in the past years and the new extreme right is now supported by educated people and more women have been participating actively and have even got higher positions in this new party. If we look at the traditional way of life and the way families are organized, women are the ones responsible for passing their values to their kids, that is, to the next generation. These women and men are well educated…

(If you speak German, watch the documentation: Die Anti Asyl Front , http://goo.gl/KxgogV on German TV)

We my come to the conclusion that in Europe this phenomenon may be caused by the millions of refugees that have got there last year and the thousands who have tried it by sea in the last years crossing the Mediterranean and dying in the intent. This may be the case in Europe, but where are the millions of war refugees trying to get to the US? Isn’t ‘America’ an immigrant country or better an immigrant continent? I really dislike the idea of calling the US by ‘America’.  Since the 16th century people have been arriving there. Who were at that time the refugees?

I used before the word ‘race’, how do you define it? We are in the 21st Century, haven’t they heard about genetics? About the origins of the homo sapiens? about phenotypes? I have just read an article in the German paper talking about the Neanderthal genes that we all have.  Even in the same family, one child maybe blond and another have dark hair, one can be short another tall, one can have blue eyes, the other brown. What does this have to do with race and more, what does this have to do with nationality?  I wonder…

What is now happening in Europe, more precisely in Germany, where I lived for more than 20 years, is really shocking. On the one hand the arrival of more than a million of people with nothing would collapse any country and forgetting that not all are good souls, it simply gives me the creeps. Imagine that you invite two or three friends to dinner and they arrive with their families, friends and even their neighbors…  Oh, and they would stay indefinitely. I imagine that you wouldn’t be that pleased.

Germany, well, Angela Merkel, was the one who offered to welcome the refugees and to help them and the country started receiving refugees not only from the Middle East, mostly from the bombed Syria. However, Germany is already very crowded in a small space and the land doesn’t have enough space or schools or hospitals or homes for the people already living there. I don’t want say Germans because exactly using that term is what causes so much tension. Are only Germans entitled to live there? Who are those Germans? By nationality because they live and are registered there or because of their ‘blood’?  The ones living there, working, paying taxes, with children in school, or the ones whose families were there for generations and they may look a little bit alike? Are the first ones less ‘German’?

The current situation with a rise of populists parties all around Europe is not only a result of not liking foreign or different looking people, but it has also to do with the fact that people in the middle of the society fear loosing their status and their work gained position in society. This fear is exactly what those populists do, agitate people using their fears against those who are different or foreign.

I really would like to know where all this is going, but I prefer not to think and not to imagine… The scenarios may be horrible.

To understand a little bit more, you may read the following article: https://goo.gl/s8W0he

Saturday morning in “la Roma”

How is life in Mexico City, the D.F., as Mexicans know their capital? People living in other countries have heard or read about the atrocities committed every day in this huge metropolis. To our luck not everything in this city is horrible. There are dangerous areas and neighborhoods where you’d never dare to walk or drive through either by day or night…

In spite of the millions living here, the rhythm of this city is different compared to big, not huge, cities in Europe, such as Frankfurt or even the small Munich. Does it have something to do with the patience of the Mexican character and the impatience of German citizens? Let’s see what to do on a Saturday morning.

In Bavaria life starts very early, even earlier on Saturdays. In some country sides, such as the “Allgäu”, Saturdays are the days to repair anything there is to repair: your house or car or bike or… It is also the day to go an get your car washed and to go shopping, either groceries or home appliances or cars. Shops open rather early and by noon you’ll be ready to go home and cook lunch or to go have lunch in a restaurant that will only open from 11:30 to 14:30 or 15:00, if you’re lucky.

And on a Saturday morning in one the biggest cities in the world? Well, it will depend on the neighborhood you live in and on your wallet. Nevertheless, life won’t start very early. At around 10 o’clock you can go and have breakfast in some nice coffee shop or “antojitos” booth or restaurant.  Mexicans love to eat and they enjoy eating out with family and friends. At around 11 o’clock you’ll find all those places very crowded.

Last week we decided to start our day with breakfast in the nicely decorated “Mercado Roma”, close to where we live. We took a taxi to avoid having to look for a parking lot in that area, that is usually very crowded. The driver left us in front of the Mercado and we strolled through the narrow corridors full of smells, sounds and colors.

Mercado

Mercado Roma

As you can appreciate in the picture above, before 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning you won’t have trouble finding where to sit. There are booths selling Mexican specialties, such as enchiladas, sopes and tacos. Other merchants sell excellent olive oil, different kinds of vinegar,  cheese and other specialties. There is a delicious bakery specialized in maccarones in several flavors and there are a couple of tapas bars. On that morning we felt like having some churros with cinnamon and sugar, some hot chocolate and a cup of coffee. They were delicious! We enjoyed the view to the inner backyard full of plants.

The market is called “Roma” because it’s in the neighborhood called “La Roma” or colonia Roma, with its South and North parts. The well sounding name reminds us of the beautiful Italian capital, Rome. If you see some of the mansions built here at the beginning of the XX century you may think that it is because of it’s beauty that it is called that way.  I also thought that way, but I was wrong. As I said before the colonia Roma started extending itself very close to downtown, el Centro with its Colonial buildings and Aztec ruins. The better situated citizens started moving out of the “Centro” and founded the new neighborhood.  At the beginning there used to be some “Romerías” or Spanish styled markets and “fiestas” of pilgrims dedicated to some catholic virgin or saint. The pilgrims used to walk all the way to Rome… So maybe, Rome is really in the name!  People started calling this neighborhood the “Romerita” or small romería, and the very short form “Romita” stayed and changed to “Roma”. (Info taken mainly from ” Time Out, Mexico Magazine, July)

After our stop at the “Mercado Roma” we walked the street called “Tonalá” where we stopped several times to admire nicely renovated houses. We also passed in front of the Institute Goethe with cultural activities and German courses… However, if you live in Mexico city and want to or need to learn German just give me a call 🙂

I told my daughter that my mother was born in this neighborhood and that my alma mater was located in the street called Puebla. We decided to go and visit the place. We continued on the “Tonalá” street till we got to the Avenida Insurgentes, that crosses the city from South to North and is 28,8 Km long. I really didn’t want to continue walking on this main road so I suggested a smaller street to get to “Puebla”. We passed by many different shops and even a Vegan coffee shop. One of the shops drew our attention when they finished opening their doors. Its a disguise store that has all kind of disguises in all sizes. You’ll find the traditional clowns, next to pirates, sexy ladies, Darth Vader, Batman and Wonder Woman and some aliens I couldn’t identify. They gave us their visit card and we left laughing and imagining how we would dress for our next event!

Our next interesting view was the church “Parroquia de la Sagrada Familia” or something like the “parish of the Holy Family” that was built during the critical period of the Mexican Revolution. It was one of the first churches in the neighborhood.

IMG_2571

Church in La Roma

We continued walking and I started wondering if this was the right street. When we got to the next big avenue, Avenida Cuahutemoc, I knew it. We had been walking in the wrong direction. I apologized and I suggested we should cross Avenida Chapultepec and go back in the right direction walking through the Zona Rosa. This neighborhood is known by is known for its shopping, nightlife, gay community, restaurants and bars. There is also a pedestrian area with beautiful sculptures and trees. In the 80´s the Pink Zone lost its flair and started changing color to a deep red with all its bad sides. Nowadays local business are trying to change it again making it safer and not that “red”. Let’s see, if they can. I hope so.

After some hours walking in the sun we decided to take a break and have something to drink. We started looking for a coffee shop and decided to take a sit in a place called “La Casa de los Abuelos”, or grandparent’s home. We got in thinking that it was a small place with its own bakery, but what a surprise when the lady at the entrance assigned us a table in the main hall. A big area decorated with big candlelights and pictures giving the place an air of  “old” or “like our grandparents saloon”. The fruit juices we ordered were very refreshing and we thought of going back to have breakfast some other Saturday morning.

After this well earned break we continued to “Puebla” street, but this time in the right direction. We got to the “Universidad de las Américas” and to my surprise the nice façade has been changed into a red wall. It used to be a very nice façade with a Mayan design that let you see a small inner garden and some of the classrooms. Very nostalgic I told my daughter that I had studied there and had taught English and Spanish here, parked my car in this street, had some Corn Dogs in the old TomBoy in the corner, which doesn’t exist anymore,  and that I had had a great time. However, everything changes, and I’m now getting to know my city again.

Have a nice time!

 

Where to, señorita?

One of the most challenging events in a huge city is to go from A to B. In the Mexico City Metropolitan Area you can take the bus, the subway, the tram, take a so called microbus, a minivan, called ‘pesera’ because they used to charge one peso for the ride, you can take a taxi or if you like strong emotions and are very brave you may even drive.

Mexico City

Mexico City from the plane

 

During my last stay in Mexico City, I noticed many changes in the streets. The main changes started in the eighties with the re-planning of streets and avenues. The so called ‘Ejes viales’ (something like traffic axis or road) were created by renaming, numbering and modifying the direction. The Ejes include the names of the old avenues and streets and for the not so young they are still called that way. In the modern DF, how the city is also called, there are also elevated roads which can be used by paying a fee. These elevated roads connect the south with the north and offer a faster way to move. The common people take the road below, at street level, and end up in a big traffic jam during the rush hour.

An easy way to get around is to use the subway system that was first built in 1969 and has been continuously expanded.

http://www.metrosdelmundo.com.ar/americadelnorte/mexico/metro-mexico-df.php

Although the ‘Metro’ is the cheapest and fastest way to move, it is also extremely crowded. If we remember that there are about 20 million people living in the Metropolitan Mexico City area, you can imagine how crowded the Metro will be between 7 and 9 in the morning, or even earlier.

In my last visit I decided to avoid the metro and to use the always available taxis. There are different types of taxis. The most common ones and the cheapest ones are painted in gold and dark red (bordeaux, not masala ;-)) They are all over the place and can be stopped everywhere just by raising your hand. A trip in one of these taxis is recommendable, if you more or less know where you are going, you speak at least a little Spanish and you are not dressed in light colors or elegant garments. I assure you that this can be a very colorful experience and you shouldn’t miss it, if you visit the city.

Taxi

Taxi!

 

I took several of these rides, being the shortest one of only 100 m long… I raised my hand, a taxi stopped, I got in and the driver asked me where I was going… I couldn’t even finish telling the driver the address because he suddenly stopped and told me: ‘Lo siento, seño, no es mi rumbo. Ya estoy terminando, mejor bájese.’ Something like, ‘Sorry, mam, it’s not my way. I’m finishing, so you better get down’ He was not unfriendly, but very clear. I took my handbag, got off the car and waited on the street side for the next one. This time I was lucky and the driver took me to my destination, in about 15 minutes.

Taxi drivers in the city are mostly men, if I dare say, I have never seen a woman. They are from a very young age… I didn’t ask the youngest one I got how old he was because I was afraid he might have said sixteen… Ooops! The oldest one was sixty five and was planning on retiring soon and enjoying family life, with his wife, children and grandchildren. However, he was not very sure, if he could afford leaving the job. I didn’t ask him, what kind of retirement plan he had because not everyone has one.

In one of my other trips I was asked very kindly where I was going: ‘Damita, ¿para dónde va?’ Or something like ‘Little lady, where are you going?’ As I have been living many years in other countries I was surprised by the word choice of my driver and on first thought I imagined that he was referring to my being short… ‘Little lady’ I thought, very funny. However, I noticed that some of the taxi drivers use that term to refer to us, women. I simply didn’t like it and didn’t get used to it.

I had to take a plane to travel to Cancún and called one of the other popular taxi services, the so called ‘taxi de sitio’ or official taxi stands. These are usually safer because they register your name and pick up address and give you the number of the taxi and sometimes the car brand of the car that is going to pick you up. These taxis should be in better conditions and the drivers are also a little bit better… But this is a rule with exceptions. I once got a car that was almost losing parts during the trip…

On my way back home from the airport, I took a taxi from the official services in the airport. They are more expensive, but better. This time I had a newer car and a friendly driver who asked me ‘¿a dónde la llevo, señorita? More or less, ‘where shall I take you, miss?’ I noticed that he wasn’t the only one calling me miss or señorita… I got suspicious and thought that it was maybe the same way we used to call our older, unmarried teachers in school… I’m now single again or for Mexican taxi drivers, maybe simply unmarried, and of course I am a teacher… I have to give this more thoughts 😉 The courteous driver showed me his new tablet attached to the front part of the car and started playing some Mexican music videos from the seventies, asking me if I remembered this and that. I was returning from a very relaxing short trip in the beach, but started doubting of the relaxing effect. I must look really old because he then asked me about my grandchildren! And I’m not a grandma yet. Time doesn’t make us younger 😉

Another one of my trips took me about an hour because it was Friday and a longer trip. Fridays in the city are usually chaotic, and the worst ones are every 2 weeks, when people get paid. Most people get their salary or money twice a month, on the first and on the fifteen with the previously mentioned consequences in the streets.

mexico streets

From A to B in Mexico City

This driver was also friendly and chatty. He started talking about his teenage daughter who wanted to get a piercing asking me my opinion, and if I had children. He then changed the subject to his problems at home, his wife had left him and asked me if I was married. I was too slow or maybe too honest and answered that I wasn’t married anymore. He then wanted to have all kind of advice on how to cope with loneliness and asked me if I thought he should ask his wife to go back for the third time… It was like a telenovela! The nice thing about this trip was that I almost forgot the traffic jam.

Two other trips were unforgettable, the one with the almost completely broken and dirty taxi with a dirty driver who reminded me of Charlie Brown and Snoopy and their friend who walks with a dust cloud on top… Yuk! To my disgrace I was in a hurry and had to get on time to an appointment and this was the only taxi available. The two other ‘exciting’ trips were one from the airport with a driver who thought he had a Formula 1 car and had me jumping form one side of the back seat to the other with every curve he took. Of course, the belts in the back almost never worked! The other one was with a driver who was really mad about everything: other drivers, other cars, people, buses, the country and especially the politicians! I remembered some of the bad words and curses that I hadn’t heard in a loooong time.

In the many trips I took I also noticed that Mexican taxi drivers love either tropical and lively cumbias or dramatic rancheras where everyone has lost the love of his or her life and has decided to get drunk with mezcal to forget the pain…

After some of those trips I also thought of getting some tequila or mezcal to recover from the shock. However, I managed and can recommend taking a taxi to get to know some of the real Mexico.

Bye, have a nice ride home!

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!

(http://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/183279/umfrage/durchschnittsalter-der-fernsehzuschauer-nach-sender/)

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

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.

 

Reloaded or Version 2.0?

What does reloaded really mean? Is it a remake? A new interpretation of something? Where does it come from? Another way of saying that something is a new version of something is to add 2.0. to its name. These are very new terms that have become so popular the they are even combined with classical themes.

Lats Friday I was at the premiere of Swan Lake Reloaded, an encounter of street dance and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. I hadn’t read any kind of critique or description before because I wanted to be surprised. I praise myself of being open-minded and what came really was something different.

http://www.swan-lake-reloaded.de

The show is Fredrik Rydman’s Swedish techno remix of the Tchaikovsky’s classic. Not only the music was remixed, the story was ‘modernized’, if you can call it that way. The play is full of coarse elements and the motto ‘sex sells’ applies ideally to this reloaded version. The story is loaded with “funny banana” allusions to the masculine organ while the swans have dedicated themselves to ‘the oldest profession in the world’. Rothbart is a drug dealing pimp and the prince is a softy guy. You have to know the original story to be able to follow this 2.0 version. Does reloaded have to be equal to coarse?

The music has a strong electro beat and is loud. Not every piece in the show is from the original ballet, they’ve included songs with interesting texts and sung by a nice woman’s voice.  The songs reminded me of alternative rock music.

To the visuals in the show, the choreography was very bright, lots of light effects, and a great visual simulation with lights and smoke at the beginning to set the time to our modern age. This very new age world with is street scenes almost always in black and white is in opposition with a scenery that reminded me of Paris, Toulouse Lautrec and the cancan. In this case, the music matched the era and it was bright and funny. The dancers were in big red “business” suits and they were performing with elements of street dance. Some of these scenes were also like a circus performance with circus humor.

During the show I had one or two good laughs. One was with ‘La Cucaracha’ reloaded, not the music, but the visuals. I don’t want to tell you more in case you watch the show… Another one was with the way the swans were dressed and especially with their white wigs… I made a note in my mind not to buy cheap hairdryers or I would end up looking like “a crazy swan”.

Image from Swan Lake Reloaded.de

A white Swan from Swan Lake Reloaded

All in all, this remake of the Swan Lake made me think of the Swan Lake Ballet in a psychiatric clinic, more or less… The play uses successfully the element of surprise presenting what you don’t expect to see or to listen to. It’s a big show, but neither the story reloaded nor the dancing left me an unforgettable impression.  I found the technical elements very impressive same as the price of the ticket, really impressive, too. ^^

One of the modern interpretations of the Swan Lake that I prefer is the talented interpretation by the “Taller Coreográfico de la UNAM” (National University in Mexico City) of Gloria Contreras and her creative and sensitive choreographies.

TCUNAM Swan Lake

Swan Lake by Gloria Contreras

http://www.tcunam.org/bienvenida.cfm

However, after the show we went to have a glass of wine and something to eat at the restaurant next to the theatre. The theatre is called “Prinzregenten” and it is one of the biggest theater houses in Munich.

http://www.prinzregententheater.de/de/willkommen.html

The restaurant was the best surprise of the evening. It is beautifully decorated and was almost empty although it was a Friday evening. In other places in Munich it is impossible to get ‘spontaneously’, with no previous reservation, a table for five.

Restaurant Prinzipal

Restaurant Prinzipal, Prinzregententheater

http://www.schuhbeck.de/gastronomie/prinzipal/theatercafe-gartensaal/

Now again to the ‘reloaded’ part.You may find the term attached to computer games, films and other entertainment media. I’m not very sure, but it may come from the science fiction film “The Matrix Reloaded”, 2003. The story continues six months after the first Matrix. As for the 2.0, the versioning my be from software development with its releases and complete new version of a software package.

I’ve found that many of the remakes of either theatre pieces or films try to be extremely innovative and I imagine that they want to challenge the spectators. They include lots of violence and sexual elements in their performances. However, I don’t find them original or daring as all of them have more or less the same look. Am I misinterpreting something?  I used to go to the theatre and some of the plays I saw abused of these elements I’m mentioning. I remember having seen “The bitter tears of Petra von Kant” , a film of R.W. Fassbinder, 1972. In this “reloaded” version the scenery was scarce in black, grey and some pale pink, and everyone was wearing dark and S&M outfits. Is this original?? In one of the crucial scenes, the personal secretary of Petra hangs herself in a corset… Mmmm… I imagined Rihanna singing her S&M.  Another play 2.0 I watched was “Reigen”. This is a theater play from Arthur Schnitzler that was first performed in 1920 and it was a scandal in the conservative European society because of its theme. In the original play the dialogues always suggest sexual themes, but whether show or talk openly about it. In the reloaded version, the scenes were “shocking” because of the violence shown on stage. The colors were, of course black!, almost neon green and white flashes. In our 21st century, we are continuously in contact with all this, even in TV shows. Reading or writing about sex has become “in”, so I suppose that to be “original” the shock has to be visual or acoustic and everything has to be more shocking than before.

Back to the term reloaded or with second versions sticking only to the re-creating, re-designing, re-inventing something, not intended to shock. How is it with people? Have you had a makeover? Are you reloaded or V. 2.0? In my case I have started with Tona Reloaded, full of new ideas and plans that will radically change my life the way I’ve lived it in the past years… And I hope for good and without shocking 😉 When I finish with the process I will be then Tona 2.0

How about you?

Wish you a creative week!

Do you wanna network?

The word network has been developing at a very fast pace. If we look at the beginnings, a network was a compound of threads used to catch fish…

fisher net

Fisher net

Some decades ago the term started shifting to a technical meaning. At that time we started to get connected by cables, literally. We were part of a LAN or a W-LAN at work and we used the existing telephone cables to reach our service providers and access the Internet. With our modern technology we are now able to access the Internet wireless. In many cities we find free wi-fi access in many public places. We are able to be connected to the world every time and the “world” can reach us every day, every time.

Networking is not only physical. A network is formed by people that are in some kind related to us. Belonging to our network we consider our family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, ex-peers, ex… whatever. The network exists by itself, but if we want, we can dedicate time and care and we can tend it as if it were a garden.

Is this a phenomenon of our modern way of life? Of course not, but the weight we give to the different relationships has shifted. Our main network used to be the family, in some countries it still is and all close or not so close relatives are included. Friends are the next in row and depending of where you live, a big anonymous city or a small town, the community and neighbors are part of the network. We usually ask family members, friends or neighbors, if the know of someone who could fix our tap or paint the walls. Some of us prefer to rely on the knowledge of others and ask more often for “help”. Others tend do exaggerate their independence and almost never ask. Good and bad networkers? What does it require to be a good networker?  A network is interconnected, the information or impulses flow from one knot to the next, if there is a hole or a lot of knots are obstructing the flow, then its not stable. How is it then with a human network?

As I was mentioning before, there are good and not so effective networkers… Do you have to be outgoing to be a good networker? No, not really.  Does it have to do with openness and communication? To be able to get the most out of your network you need to open and share. That doesn’t mean going to the next party and telling the funniest jokes aloud. However, being a good networker means to share knowledge and help to connect two or more members who would profit from this connection. Some of you may feel that they are using people, if they ask for a favor or help, while others may be feeling used, if they are always being asked for favors and get no retribution. This is also one of the main points, the networking relation has to be reciprocal, not exactly always returning or almost dying in the intent of returning a favor someone did. Reciprocal means that you sometimes give while other times you take.

Can we simply trust everyone we know? Can I trust everyone I will encounter on my way and? No, of course not.  You will have to learn to use your antenna and trust your inner voice while trying to get to know the person.  How about people I meet online? Are they to be trusted? Same as in the real world, start to communicate and you will be able to decide… (Hopefully…)

I personally think that networking has never been easier. We can reactivate our old schoolmates via Facebook or even find international contacts for our businesses via LinkedIn. And remember, the point is to network, not to make friends 😉 like those 1000 or more “friends” that some people have in Facebook.

There are other ways of networking… Other ideas to enlarge your network would be to join groups with similar interests as your own, for example for those library rats among us, you could join a book club or even organize one, online or in real, as you prefer.  If you prefer sports, then you could join the Saturday Bike Club or the Alpine Club (ironically there are only real Alps in some countries of this wide world…)

Do I start networking everywhere and with everyone? If you feel alone, this may be the way, but usually it is easier, if you have a defined goal while addressing your contacts. If you don’t have a defined goal you can just keep in touch saying ‘hi’ or wishing Merry Christmas once in a while.

If we remember the way people in smaller towns used to live. It wasn’t that easy to communicate without seeing the person physically. However, towns or neighborhood were some kind of network. You went to the hairdresser and you heard the latest savory gossip of the village (sorry, hairdresser friends, for using this classical example making you think that all hairdressers like to gossip 😉 )

sims small talking

Small talk, Sims 3

You went to the market place in your neighborhood and you would also be informed of what was going on. Walmart or the supermarket saves us time because we don’t have to go to several different shops, but we cannot have a small chat with the grocer’s. And our haircut maybe done in one of those fast impersonal chains once here once there. We can spend hours and hours online watching videos or playing games, but without really communicating with others.

Are there cultural differences in the way we network? Are there gender differences? Are men better networkers because there are many men who are more self-confident?

I’ve noticed that it is easier to start a small talk in some cultures than in others.  This doesn’t mean that all Americans are this way and all Germans are the other… However, it is very helpful to know what topics may be more accepted or easier to small talk with a Korean. Would you be afraid to start the talking? I think this is a big issue for many people… How can I start talking to a stranger? What will he or she think about me? I think that is the main point. Some of us are very aware and afraid of what others think of us or may think of us. We don’t want to be criticized, if we ask something dumb or if we make a mistake while speaking another language. However, this impediments are almost only in our heads… in our view… There may be a lot of judgy people, but they’ll judge anyway, and maybe they are just that way because they are also afraid of ‘losing their face’. This point has also very deep roots in some cultures. Others take it more lightly.

If you need inspiration fro networking, take a look at a practical and funny article on http://www.wikihow.com/Network.

So, let’s network and make some comments!

 

Another country, another home?

Some of us like to travel more than others. New places, the sound of other languages, the smell of exotic food, the colors of other skies may have an intense attraction on our senses. But it is another thing to leave the country you were born or the place you grew up, pack your things and move to a foreign country.

Kalimero

Kalimero

Maybe many of you have had the opportunity of studying abroad and have experienced what it is to be confronted everyday with another culture, another way of life. The shock is even bigger, if you move to a country where you first have to learn to speak the language or where you know that you’ll never learn it.

 

What could be the reasons for such a big step?

The one I mentioned above is a very common one, though studying abroad is not really emigrating. Most of the students living somewhere else have the idea of going back to their countries when they finish their studies. I’m sure that we all know somebody who stayed abroad and without planning it from the beginning, they ended up moving to a third country.

The film “L’auberge espagnol”, a French comedy on the life of an Erasmus student living in Barcelona for a year is worth watching.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283900/?ref_=nv_sr_1

A very frequent and romantic reason to emigrate is: love. You move to another country because your sweetheart (… maybe not always that sweet ;-)) is a “foreigner”. Are you willing to become a “foreigner” because of love? In my case, you may know the answer: yes, I was. Although I was already very familiar with the German culture, I experienced some cultural shocks, some bigger some smaller, but read the word again: …shock…    I think one of the things I disliked the most were the opening hours. Everything, from a big supermarket to the small stationary store around the corner closed weekdays at six o’clock and on Saturdays at 12:00 o’clock! Coming from a big city such as Mexico City and being used to the USA, where you could find everything anytime, I was shocked and had to plan ahead what I could need past six o’clock or at the weekend. Staying with the topic of “opening hours” the funniest and weirdest thing I found was the newspaper stand at the U-Bahn station (underground train) that closed from 12 – 13:30 for lunch. The funny thing is that they also had sandwiches and beverages, but not at noon. We have now everything open till eight o’clock.

Another shocking, really shocking thing was the first time I went to a lake in Summer. In the smaller ones there were no changing cabins. Most of the people used to change into their bathing suits using a towel to cover their bodies. However, others were not that shy and changed their bathing trunks (mostly men) just in front of you, which left you just… speechless!  Even during a nice walk through the English Garden, the biggest park in the middle of Munich, you could find some sunbathers who weren’t shy… Some couples were like Adam and Eve without the leaf… or many of the female sunbathers were topless. If you come from a culture, where nakedness is not for all audiences, well, then you really have to get used to it. Nowadays, there aren’t as many “FKK” or “Freie Körper Kultur” = nudist fans as there were then, and “sadly” the ones left are not the youngest…

As you may imagine, I could go on and on telling you about my experiences here, but that is not my intention, don’t worry.

Let me get back on track…

Emigrating to another country looking for a better job and consequently a better life is a reason that has motivated millions of people to move or emigrate all along history. If we think of our ancestors, in the very early history, they firstly migrated from the African continent to spread almost all over the world. We also know that there were others later on in time with that special restless gene who crossed the icy and frozen Bering Sea to conquer an empty continent.

All along history there have been many many groups who have conquered their neighbors and have got very far away from their original homes. I can think of the Mongols, the Romans, the Arabic-speaking peoples, the Vikings…    And as one of my favorite teachers of Spanish Literature and Language used to say: “ where the sword goes, goes the tongue” (en español with a nice Castilian accent, because she was from Spain,“a donde va la espada, va la lengua”) .  This phenomenon is of interest because of the influence of one language to the other, for example in vocabulary and phonetics.

Mentioning all of the huge human movements in history would be an impossible task. If you’re interested in taking a look at the first raids of the vikings in Britain you can watch “Vikings” a very well documented and realistic TV show on the beginnings of their expansion.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2306299/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Hägar

Hägar the Horrible

 

Coming back to our era, some people decide to emigrate hoping for a better future.

Some may have to move because of their companies. Their positions have been moved to another subsidiary and, in this case either you move or you lose your job.

This makes me think of the film, “Outsourced” about an American salesman moving to India to train the customer service department. It’s a hilarious movie with a little bit of a love story.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425326/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

Other employees move to work in another country for a limited period of time, let’s say for two or three years. They are considered expats. Some are expats their whole life not having really accepted the culture of the country they moved to.

I experienced what it is to live as an expat somewhere else. For me it was a different feeling, than when I moved to Germany, because I knew it was for a certain amount of time. It was a highly interesting experience and I learned not only about a different culture and another language. I had the opportunity to get to know very nice people in Sāo Paulo. I really like Brazil and love their people!

In our modern world, lots of people move some where else for economic or life threatening reasons. Most of them do not move with comfort and welfare. They leave their precarious lives with the little possessions they have and hope to get financial help in the countries they move to. Sometimes they are war refugees and sometimes they have to enter the target country illegally.

About this topics you may have watched a lot of films or read books that deal with this topic. I remember one that is in a sense cruel, but one that tells the story of a Mexican wetback couple with irony and humor. If you’re interested, it’s “The Tortilla Curtain” a novel by T.C. Boyle.

As I prefer to point out the humorous side of life I’ll finish this post with the film I watched last weekend. It’s called “Casse-Tête chinois” or Chinese puzzle and it’s about the the French student Xavier, the one in L’Auberge espagnol, who 20 years later decides to move to New York to follow his children.  The film shows in a very naive way this guy emigrating to the US and his French view of life in Manhattan. I didn’t find it as good as the first one, but I laughed a couple of times 🙂

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1937118/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Till next week from abroad!

 

 

 

 

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.