From aboard this train

I’m on a train speeding through a snow storm, the first I’m witnessing this season, and everything is white and the train, for once, is warm and quiet and cozy and comfortable, and I’m reading some beautiful writing by a dear friend, and I’m on my way home, to my mom who will be picking me up from the station. What more could a person ever really ask for?


Gray day

I read “Fall of Giants” until 4am last night. I finished it. The First World War is not an easy subject matter for those early morning hours but I couldn’t put it down. And I really wanted to get started on “Gone Girl”. I’ve been eyeing it, just sitting there on my nightstand. Now I can finally dig in – after wrapping up this post.

The roommate is home sick with a very unkind stomach bug that I’m really, really hoping I won’t catch. It’s been quiet and gloomy around here, each of us holed up in our bedrooms. Not really eating or talking.

So I went for a long walk in the afternoon, to the city park about 5 minutes from our apartment. It’s one of the city’s major recreational areas. Unfortunately, it’s located between two major Autobahnen (Germany’s speedways). The A3 and A4 intersect right at the north-west corner of the city park. And incoming flights to Cologne-Bonn Airport approach landing right above. I love seeing the planes fly so low right above me but- This so-called recreational area is not exactly quiet and idyllic, or really very recreational at all. The air was crisp (albeit polluted, one can safely assume) and dry and there were none of the usual freaks at the park, though, so I was glad I went. Oh, except for the middle-aged dude with the beer belly who jumped up onto tree branches and attempted to do pull-ups. Like: WHAT are you doing, sir? He was a little weird.

And at once I knew I was not magnificent

Wow, you guys sure do like photos of baked goods, don’t you? Heh. A hearty welcome to everyone who felt inspired to follow this blog after yesterday’s post! I’m back in Cologne – back in the daily rut of unemployment, back to a roommate who likes to annoy me, back to not knowing just what the hell my life is supposed to be right now – and I’m not thrilled to be here. Although not exactly a life saver, it always boosts my mood to know that some of you out there enjoy my photos and my words. So thank you.

I spent the 2.5 hour train ride back to Cologne reading “Fall of Giants” which I mentioned a couple posts ago I’ve really been getting into. I forgot just how interesting and confusing and messed up the First World War was. The second book in the trilogy deals with WW2 and the third with the Cold War, and I feel like by the end of it my head will have exploded because, good god, TOO MANY TERRIBLE DECISIONS MADE BY EGOCENTRIC, POWER-HUNGRY MEN. I mean- obviously. But it somehow becomes even more clear when packaged into a novel, rather than taught as plain facts in history class.

The appointment for which I came back to Cologne was canceled while I was on the train back here (I was STOKED) (not) and the new appointment is next Monday so I could’ve stayed at my parents’ for another week, had I known this two hours earlier. Just the kind of thing you’d expect from a damn Monday but still frustrating.

Once back in Cologne, I went for a walk to the closest city park (see photo), thinking I should really pick up running again, admiring the beautiful sky, hating the traffic noises that you can’t see in the photo, recalling what Living And Working In Cologne was like last November, wondering what the fuck happened between then and today. Twenty-twelve should’ve been the year, you know. Things should’ve finally come together and instead they fell apart.

Sometimes it feels so much more dramatic than it really is, and today is such a day. (Using a largely unrelated Bon Iver quote in the title is always a strong indicator of unjustified whining to come.) Back to happier things tomorrow.

Too many words on grapes

Apparently, according to my dad, grapes are in season in Germany right now so we’ve been eating them like crazy. Breakfast wasn’t quite enough? Let’s have some grapes. Wouldn’t mind a small dessert after lunch? OH I’LL JUST EAT THESE GRAPES LIKE A BOSS. (I don’t know how to use “like a boss”. It’s awkward every time I do.) And how about something to snack on while we enjoy this football game on TV? Well, are there any grapes left? (We continue to have grapes left. We bought ALL OF THEM.) Seriously. These grapes, you guys. I always thought grapes are just about as bland as cucumbers because usually they are. It turns out, if you buy stuff the time of year it’s grown locally instead of being flown in from Morocco, it tastes NICE. Like- these grapes- they’re all big and plump and a light purple/blue-ish color (GO AWAY WITH YOUR INNUENDOS, CHILDREN) and so sweet. So sweet. With just the right amount of tartness. I didn’t eat anything but grapes until 8pm today, at which point my body was like “Are you kidding with this? STOP WITH THE GRAPES.” But no. There can never be enough grapes. There can be enough words on grapes, though. So: moving on.

I’m reading Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants” which follows five interrelated families through the dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage. It is fantastic, you guys. It is a difficult read, yes, mostly because I tend to read at times when history and politics are somewhat indigestible to me (like right before bed or when my eyes are too tired to stare at Pinterest pins anymore) and when I started it, I felt the same way I felt about “War & Peace” which is: too many characters, too many similar names, too many places I don’t know, too many parallel story lines, JUST STOP. But of course “Fall of Giants” isn’t quite as challenging as the Tolstoy classic and I’m actually really enjoying it now that I’m past the first 100 pages. The book is part of a trilogy, the second part of which was released this fall and I’m already impatient about the paperback coming out.

What else. I mentioned eating grapes (DID I?) while watching football. Football is important in this house, especially international matches – even if they’re friendly matches that don’t technically matter in any way. Germany played Holland last night and we watched it and it was terrible, just absolutely terrible, and it ended 0:0 and JFC wasn’t that a waste of an evening. BUT Sweden played England at the same time and THEY DELIVERED. My glorious Swedes, you guys. All royal-like and handsome and cool/collected and KILLING THE BRITS. Heh. I followed live match updates on a Swedish newspaper’s website while my dad refused to change the channel to what was clearly a better game than Germany vs. Holland, and only understood a quarter of what was being said, except GOAL over and over and over again. Long story short: they turned a 1:2 into a 4:2 – the fourth goal, scored in overtime, being especially delicious. To top it off, this was the very first match in Stockholm’s brand new sports arena, which made the Swedish win even more meaningful.

So, grapes and Swedish football and WW1 novels. That’s all I got. I don’t know. What do you usually do on Wednesdays?

I finished “In My Father’s Country” by Saima Wahab tonight. Highly recommended, you guys.

It reminded me of how much I missed reading non-fiction. When I was working full-time it was easier to follow entertaining fiction, rather than serious accounts of things that interest me – war, conflict, journalism, media, military, politics. I can’t deal with that in tiny 3-page chunks after a long day at work. I need to be awake and eager to learn and understand.

I’m unemployed right now so I do have the time but not the money to buy original English hard-covers. I did splurge on two classics, though, that are completely different from what I just described: Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” and Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”. Let’s see if I make it through these two. I shall give myself a pat on the back and hold a small celebration if I do.

I’m typing this on my balcony. It’s almost dark out. I can’t see the sunset from here but I can tell by the dark blue of the cloudless sky that it’s just slipped past the horizon. I had to wrap myself in a cozy cardigan because even though it is August, this summer just hasn’t been kind: it was 8°C (46F) last night. It is chilly and dark out here but I can’t seem to move.

I put my book aside only moments ago; I read until my eyes couldn’t find the letters on the darkened pages anymore. There are no bugs or mosquitoes here, even by the light of my laptop screen; an unexpected convenience of city life.

I hear crickets and wind rustling in the trees, but mostly traffic noises – from the two big national highways and the railroad line that, together, form an almost perfect triangle around where I live. And yet, it’s a peaceful Saturday night. To me, now, right here, it is a quiet night. The traffic noises are so much part of this place, I forget what real quiet is; how deadly silent a night out in the country can be.

I hear the planes. I can see them, too. The airport is but 12 minutes away by car. When they cross the sky above my home, they are already flying low, approaching for landing, zeroing in on the runway lights. They’re mostly commercial planes – Germanwings, easyJet, AirBerlin – transporting people around Germany, Europe and Northern Africa. Sometimes I spot cargo planes; their body and wings look different, FedEx is printed on the side in giant letters. After sunset I follow their blinking lights across the infinite indigo; bright white in front and back, a red one on each side. I can see the planes long before I hear them but it’s the sound of the engines, so distinct and powerful, that gets me every time. I love living so close to an airport more than I can say. Each plane sparks my imagination and my passion for travel.

The book about Afghanistan is really good, by the way. It has, among other things, made me want to write again, and write better.

Hey, guess what. I decided rather than steadily kill off my own brain cells while browsing the truly awful and addicting seedy underbelly of the internet that is Tumblr, I should probably do some actual thinking every once in a while. So I bought a book. A BOOK!, I hear you cry. Why yes, remember those?

It’s been a few months since I’ve read anything offline. Something that wasn’t fiction, or forced upon me in huge fonts at a newsstand. And when I saw author Saima Wahab on The Daily Show the other day, I was reminded of how many books similar to hers I used to read that actually influenced my view of the world; books on current events and American politics and humanitarian crises in the Middle East, on war and journalism and places I will likely never see in person. I would’ve never bought this book at a store but I blindly trust Jon Stewart when it comes to book recommendations and the interview really got my interested.

So yeah. Let’s see if I’m actually going to read the book then, or just talk about it on the internet.

[ “In My Father’s Country” by Saima Wahab – Crown (2012) – 346 pages – $25 ]