KuKuK-Interviews and more
For almost forty years now, I’ve lived in Germany. I have had many opportunities to travel through Europe, more than in my home country USA, where I basically visited some eastern states and California in the West. I’ve visited quite a bit of Germany. But my favorite vacation destinations are France and Italy.
As I was writing my interview for the KuKuK website, I thought about my favorite place for quite a while. I couldn’t pick one particular spot, so I ended up listing Wettenberg, Paris, Sebec Lake in Maine, Tuscany, Dordogne and Brittany. I feel as if I have left a part of my soul in all of these places. But I had to ask myself why.
I’ll start with Sebec Lake, which is situated in the middle of Maine and isn’t particularly in comparison to many others in the States. When I was about twelve years old, my paternal grandparents bought a summer house on the lake. It was like a homecoming for my grandmother to return to Bowerbank, where she taught a few years in a one-room schoolhouse (in the middle of the second decade of the twentieth century). The house, or the „camp“ as it was always lovingly called, stands on the north shore of the middle part of the lake, with a fantastic view to the West.
I spent many summer school vacations there (about two and a half months). Later, several family get-togethers were celebrated there. After I moved to Germany, almost every visit home included a stay at „Wilderness Aloha“ – the camp’s name. Following my marriage to Dieterich, we too spent a lot of vacation there. Dieterich often said that it was almost paradise, except for the biting insects. Dieterich has painted several pictures, a few of which I am showing here.
Already as a child, I dreamt of going to France, especially Paris. I always had pictures, posters and puzzles with French themes. After all these years, that hasn’t changed. In 2015, I was able to make an old wish of mine come true, even if only in a smaller way. I took a month’s course at the Sorbonne. Every morning, I walked from the Marais district to Montparnasse. There was a week in between when we rented a houseboat right near the Eiffel Tour Fabulous!
I am always amazed at how diverse France is. I haven’t been able to see everything on my list yet. I have definitely lost my heart to the Dordogne region. The outdoor markets alone are worth a trip there, not to mention the myriad of historic and natural sights. A few years ago, we were able to rent a in Lalinde for one of our cooking classes. As we approached the chateau, the sight of the roofs over the wall already had captivated me. I felt as if I were coming home.
Two years ago, I was in western Brittany for the first time. We did „Gamping“ (camping im private gardens). The spot is really unique. Despite the fact that the sanitary facilities are a bit rustic, we want to go back there. Last year, we couldn’t and it doesn’t look very good for this June. Dieterich painted a view looking out from our tent.
Italy is also country filled with special sites. For over twenty years, we have tried to go as often as possible to l’Agresto, a country house in Casole d’Elsa, Tuscany. In the meanwhile, we have a very nice friendship with the owners. When my father was alive, he always wanted to go there and for good reasons. One of my favorite memories there took place a couple of years ago. We were invited to take part in a family pizza party. Sitting outside under an almost full moon, we were served the best pizza we have every eaten. Unfortunately, we don't have any pictures of that wonderful evening.
Each time we had been to Tuscany, I always avoided taking a daytrip to Florence with the rest of the group. It’s not as if I didn’t like the renaissance city. Quite the opposite, actually. With all of its sites, even not including all of the museums, I was completely overwhelmed. I often said that someday I would rent an apartment on the middle of the historic center for a week. To do it really right, you need to stay for many months. Even though we couldn’t stay months, in 2017 we rented the perfect apartment in „Torre dei Donati“, one of the oldesst medieval towers left in the city. einer der ältesten mittelalterlichen Türme. (My next installment will be about our adventure trying to find the apartment.) To get to the apartment, we had to go up about one hundred steps, which was definitely worth every step and also allowed us daily to eat a delicious ice cream without a guilty conscience.
The apartment is on three floors. Even though we had seen pictures of it online, we were not prepared when the owner showed us around. I burst into tears when we got to the living room on the top floor with its breathtaking views of the Duomo cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio (medieval town hall) and much of the Florence skyline.
We have a Hungarian sister town, Zsámbék, where I was had the privilege of singing in a concert int the old church ruin. The atmosphere at night was magical. I really enjoy going to all of our sister towns. We have several friends in Zsámbék und Tök and love being greeted by people when we are walking around town. Unfortunately, our good friends Colette and Jean from Sorgues in the Provence past away a few years ago. In Grigny, our newest twinned town near Lyons, we were treated like royalty. We certainly hope that our cultural exchanges will soon be able to resume. In order to commemorate the traditional exchange over the weekend of Christ’s Ascension here in Wettenberg, which once again is being cancelled due to Covid, KuKuK will be presenting online art exhibits from artists in our Hungarian towns. (We also hope that we will receive some pictures from Sorgues and Grigny.)
Germany is also a country with a lot to offer. But there is no doubt that my favorite place here is Wettenberg, and not just because of its castle. Dieterich and I have been able to become quite integrated here. We know a lot of fantastic people, who inspire us to be involved in town activities. We love to travel but are always so happy to get a glimpse of „our“ castle from a distance when we return home.
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As I already mentioned in a previous article, I lived in southern California for about four years before coming to Europe. Most people can’t understand me when I say that I didn’t really like it there. It was too crowded for me and I missed the four seasons. It just wasn’t meant for me.
I was in my mid-twenties and wanted to make a new start with my life. I decided to go on a European adventure, seeing that French and Spanish had been my major subjects in college. I had about a year and a half to prepare for the trip. I didn’t have much money, so I worked to save up enough to cover my travel, accomodation and food expenses.
During that time, I completely relished the planning: how to travel and find accomodations that were not expensive; where I wanted to go (the walls of my room were covered in maps of all kinds); what I needed to take.
My original destinations were Great Britain, France, Italy and Austria. If I would have enough time and funds left, then I also wanted to go to Spain. That meant five countries, each with its own language. I wouldn’t have room for four dictionaries in my solitary piece of luggage, an old army backpack given to me by my brother Geoff. I suddenly had a flash of inspiration to make my own dictionary in five languages. And this long before there were computers everywhere!
I have to confess that prior to starting this project, I was a TV junkie, and not very choosy, at that. This idea fascinated me so much that I lost interest in almost everything else. But how was I supposed to begin this huge undertaking?
The first step was buying an array of supplies: lots of paper, pens with eraseable ink, Tipp-X, small ring binders with the appropriate paper, adhesive labels and German and Italian dictionaries. I already had ones in French and Spanish.
I spent many hours writing down English words, which I considered to be necessary. That task alone was a lot of fun. The next step was even better. I wrote the English words on the paper so that I had room to add the equivalents in the other four languages.
The more I worked on this task, the more the words captivated me. The beauty and the brilliance of these languages overwhelmed me. It was mesmerizing to comprehend the patterns of the three Latin languages. After a while, I made a game of figuring out the Spanish and Italian version of a word I already had jotted down in French.
As far as German was concerned, I was staggered how sometimes many words were combined to make one word. I new next ot nothing about the pronunciation of these words, let alone anything about grammar or syntax. Despite those deficiencies, I developed a feel for this marvelous language. I often have a good laugh when I look through my notations from back then and find an incorrect word because I lacked almost all proficiency in the language. There was an added advantage to this linguistic research: I realized that English is strongly influenced by German – totally enthralling!
I admit it. I’m a geek as far as languages are concerned. I even enjoy learning grammar, something most people absolutely can’t fathom. I love the exceptions to the rules. Irregular verbs are a puzzle to me and I can only guess that the changes occurred due to a more melliflous sound. Sometimes the irregularities don’t seem to have rhyme or reason. I decided long ago that it is best not only to accept these deviations, but to embrace them. It’s such lingual peculiarities that make a language vibrant.
In addition to two small ring binders ca. 5x7 inches big for the dictionary, I also made two 4x5-inch ones for a systematic listing of verb conjugations in the four languages. The entire endeavor took about a year to complete, but changed my life forever. I love dictionaries. The website I use the most is WordReference with virtual dictionaries in numerous languages. Even when I write in English, I sometimes spend up to a half hour looking for a precise word. I love the challenge. I know. That’s weird.
Here are a few pictures of my creation – everything written by hand. Even though these booklets are hopelessly outdated, I just can’t part with them. It’s the same with the old backpack. They still give me so much pleasure and have an irreplaceable sentimental value.
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Dieterich and I love to travel. France and Italy are our favorite destinations, which are still out of reach due to Corona. A few years ago, I discovered my interest in photography while in Paris. Before that trip, I took lots of pictures but mostly of landscapes and large motifs, nothing special.
Then one day in Paris, I started looking up and realized that my entire life I had missed a lot of interesting details. Chimneys, gables, statues, roofs, windows, paintings and more. I hadn’t really seen all of that before. Since then, I search for small intriguing objects, little peculiarities, which I try to capture from unsual perspectives.
That time in Paris, Notre Dame (long before the fire) was one of my favorite subjects. In Florence, I spent close to two hours snapping one picture after another of the Duomo cathedral because of the thousands of small details. I took about two hundred pictures and that was mostly only the sunny side. The stoneworkers‘ creativity and skill with inlay work is tremendous, as one can see from the „small“ selection of photos I am including.
Once you start looking more carefully, you find all kinds of little marvels, whether made of stone, wood or any other material (like mosaics or twisted church towers, about which I wrote on March 10th and 17th consecutively and soon to be translated), mostly created by little known artists.
To get through this pandemic better, every so often we go on little outings here in our area of Hesse. We drive to small but noteworthy towns (where there aren’t many people about so we have no trouble adhering to the restrictions). Often, we’ll find a good spot in the countryside to go Nordic Walking. Hesse is really diverse and offers numerous places of interest.
Within about a forty mile radius from Wettenberg, there are the towns of Lich, Alsfeld, Grünberg, Hungen, Wetzlar, Marburg, Bad Nauheim, Friedberg, Limburg, Weilburg etc., etc., etc. So far, we have avoided bigger towns such as Marburg or Wetzlar. When the Corona restrictions finally are lifted, we will be sure to go there as well. We also want to take the walks described in a new book „Gießen zu Fuß“ (Giessen By Foot), which was co-written by KuKuK member Norbert Schmidt).
There are an innumerable amount of motifs in the towns and villages we have visited so far. I have already presented many photos in the various virtual art exhibits on the KuKuK website, quite a few in my series „Life Is In The Little Details“.
The variety of wood carvings alone is huge. I really like the metal decorations on roofs and towers. Then there are always the store signs often made of wrought iron. Doors can also be a good source for photos.
I also love the outdoors. Last week, we went to Grünberg, which has a wonderful historical center. We didn’t have time to eat breakfast before taking off, so we decided to stop somewhere in the countryside just before arriving in Grünberg. We were duly an d unexpectedly rewarded. Dieterich drove onto a small field track, where we ate our breakfast sitting on the tailgate. All of sudden, I saw something move in our direction. It was six deer which ended up coming less than 100 feet away from us. It was fabulous!
We are so lucky that we have time to take these little trips and have so many marvelous photo opportunities on offer. We still have several towns on our list. We don’t know when or where our next excursion will take us, but I am already looking forward to it – in my Hesse.
For about five months now, I have been filling the Wednesday page of the KuKuK-Website mostly with personal stories. „Interviews und mehr“ (Interviews and more) resulted from the fact that I ran out of interviews of KuKuK members. Seeing as I wanted there to be something on Wednesdays, I started writing about anything that interested me. I’m pretty well-known for wearing my heart on my sleeve and am proud of it. Here is a tribute to some of the people who helped me find my own way in life. I am eternally grateful.
In the last few months, I have often thought of those people who made a huge impact on me. I have been extremely lucky to have met countless wonderful people over the years. I am very aware of the fact that I have lived and am still living a very rich life.
I come from a fairly modest background and grew up in a relatively small town in Massachusetts. Even after over 39 years of living in Germany, I am still amazed by that fact. Some days, I wake up and am totally in awe that I live in an old half-timbered house in the beautiful town of Wettenberg and speak fluent German.
This certainly wasn’t planned. I am convinced that my education played a huge role in the evolution of my life. At school, I had some outstanding teachers, who broadened my horizons. There were three particular language teachers– Nancy Sweeney and Christine Cervizzi, both French teachers and Bernice Plante, my Latin teacher. Ronald DeOrsey was a terrific faculty member with whom I had English Literature. Their enthusiasm and dedication made me want to learn more.
In college, there were two professors who had a profound influence on me - William Dennis for French (my major) and Ken Manzer, a fabulous human being and incredibly talented pianist, for Music (one of my other passions).
There are two family members who played a huge role in my choice of career. My stepmother, Wilma Yeo, was a violinist before her first marriage. She studied at one of the most prestigious conservatories in the US, the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
Unfortunately, she had to give up her music career because she became a single mother after her first husband passed away. Shortly before my tenth birthday, she married my father. From that point on, she and I were almost inseparable until her premature death in 1976. Because of her, my love of music was born, and would eventually become my profession.
One of my several brothers awakened my interest in foreign languages. My brother Jay, who is 3 ½ years older than I, learned French and Spanish at school. He and I were paired up to do the evening dishes, during which he taught me his French lessons. Already at the age of about ten, I started dreaming of coming to Europe. My brother went on to study Spanish at a university in Puerto Rico and lived in Caracas, Venezuela for many years. For about two months now, Dieterich and I have been learning Spanish with him via video conference. Our language lessons have come full circle.
Of course, there have been other family members who had a large impact on my development. My father, Rensforth Yeo, was extraordinarily important not only to me but to all of my brothers and sisters. I have two sisters, Donna und Debbie, with whom I can talk to about everything. Donna had to suddenly take over the role of mother to me and four other syblings because our mother no longer lived with us. What an incredible accomplishment and, at the same time, a tremendous responsibility for someone so young.
I also have to mention my brother-in-law, Dave. I lived in southern California for almost four years. I never really felt at home there and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. For a few months, I was unemployed. One day, Dave stated seriously that I should pull myself together and do something besides just sitting around vegetating. Because of that talk, I was roused out of my lethargy and the idea of a European trip took shape.
Here in Europe, I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds of fabulous people from around the world. There are so many here in Wettenberg alone. Just the knowledge that I am friends with a lot of them brings me great comfort when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the often depressing state of the world.
Since 2008, there are two other people, whom I have never met and never will, who have greatly inspired me to become more involved and volunteer in Wettenberg – President and First Lady Obama. President Obama’s election was like a miracle to me and both remain role models for me. In the eight years of his presidency, they constantly spoke of how those of us, who were given so much support and help along the way, should pass that on to others. That is an attitude I took to heart and have been living ever since. Even though they have been out of the White House for over four years, they still are very active in helping other, especially young people. They continue to spur me on.
Last but not least: of course, my husband Dieterich is at the top of the list. My childhood wasn’t exactly what you would call easy. Back then, I would never have been able to imagine that I would have such a fulfilling, harmonious marriage or a husband, who is always there for me. That is the most precious gift of my life.
March 24, 2021: One of my favorites of Dieterich’s artwork" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
My husband is truly multi-talented. My father used to call him a „Renaissance Man“ and that is not an exaggeration. He uses several different mediums for his artwork. He is a terrific cook and is very proficient in manual skills such as woodworking. He’s a gardener and generally is interested in almost everything. He thinks that I am overstating, but I don’t. So I’m writing this anyway.
Several years ago, we discovered a fairly unknown film with some very well-known actors, which takes place in Tuscany. Harvey Keitel, Claire Forlani and Joshua Jackson are in leading roles, with John Rhys-Davies and Giancarlo Giannini in smaller parts. The film is called „Shadows in the Sun“. The German title is really horrible - „Liebe lieber italienisch“ which approximately means „Love the Italian Way“. We watch this movie at least four times a year not only because of the story, but also the gorgeous scenery. There are a few weird scenes (okay, the ending is really corny), but for the most part, the movie is really life-affirming. It’s about a young book editor who goes to Tuscany to convince a well-known author, who hasn‘t written in years due to a personal crisis, to start writing again. At the same time, the young man learns what he really wants in life.
The area of Val d’Orcia in Tuscany, in which the film was made, is truly magnificent. The scenery in the movie inspired us to go there. We stayed in the town and went hiking in the area. It was fantastic and we highly recommend it.
Now about Dieterich’s painting, which is a portrait. Dieterich has done several portraits over the years. There’s one of my father that is so well done that he was even able capture my father’s frisky spirit in his eyes.
The portrait inspired by the film is of Weldon Parish, one of the leading roles played by Harvey Keitel. He plays the author, who tries to write again and starts crying because he can’t overcome his fear. In this particular portrait, Dieterich was able to
show „Weldon Parish’s“ torment in his facial expressions with great ability.
Portraits are probably the most difficult to paint. Often you might recognize the subject of the picture, but something just isn’t quite right. The eyes alone are a real challenge, not to mention the nose and the mouth. Getting a portrait right is quite an accomplishment.
Below are a few more of Dieterich’s portrait paintings. Dieterich will be the first to tell you how exacting I can be, which often gets on his nerves. So, when I write that these portraits are a true likeness to the subjects, you can believe it.
March 17, 2021: Twisted Church Towers in Europe" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
In May 2016, Dieterich and I gave a cooking class in the Loire Valley. We rented a small chateau near the town Le Vieil-Baugé. We noticed that the church tower in that town looked odd, twisted.
We also visited the small, charming village of Mouliherne with its church dominating everything. There too was a twisted tower and also in the town of Jarzé, although its tower wasn’t that crooked.
After becoming aware of this phenomenon, we were happy to find a brochure about it. Already in 1901, a society was founded to protect these special examples of architecture in Europe and make them better known. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much information in the brochure to explain how and why these towers are twisted.
We were surprised to read that there are over 100 of the towers, 24 of them in Germany. The fact that one of them is located very near us in the town of Münzenberg (about 20 miles) was even more astounding. Shortly after returning from our trip, we went there not only to marvel at the twisted tower, but also a wooden crucifix from 1431. There is another tower here in Hesse in Breidenbach near Marburg.
I wasn’t able to find much information about these rare towers. They are situated mostly in small, modest towns. Supposedly, some of them weren’t built that way on purpose, but developed over the years. One unsubstantiated explanation is that the wood used was either too dry, rotten or not dried enough before using. Weight from the roof tiles or a protective layer of lead, weather conditions or even earzhquakes may have played a role. It still remains a mystery.
For more information:
Website in English:
Website in French with lots of pictures:
March 10, 2021: Italian Mosaic Artists in France during the Belle Epoque" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
About three months ago, I did an interview with KuKuK member Sabine Schlaefke, who specializes in mosaics. She has already exhibited her work in the art circle hall and if we are lucky and Covid doesn’t mess things up, she will be taking part in an actual exhibit this spring. Many of her works have been shown on the KuKuK website in our virtual exhibits. I’m including a few below.
I alwas liked mosaics. Since the interview with Sabine, my interest has increased. For that reason, while Dieterich and I were watching a documentary in Youtube about Brittany, France, I was really delighted that there was a 10 minute segment about mosaics in Rennes, Brittany’s capital. It interested me so much, that I decided to do a little research.
In the 1870’s, many Italian mosaic artists, mostly from the Friuli region in northeastern Italy, went to Paris to work on the Paris Opera Garnier. After the opera’s mosaics were finished, the craftsmen agreed amongst themselves to spread out across France so that they wouldn’t be competing against each other. Thanks to the Opera artwork, there was a great demand for mosaics.
Mosaics became an important component for art objects and even consumer articles during the Belle Époque and in connection with the new art movement Art Nouveau. After World War I, the appreciation for mosaics continued with the Art Deco movement.
Some artists settled in Paris, Nevers and Limoges. The Patrizio family opened an atelier in Marseille in 1903, which is now run by the third generation.
Rennes became a bastion for mosaics in France due to the Odorico brothers, who relocated there in 1882. After World War I, Isidore Odorico (the Younger) created many masterpieces, not only in Rennes, but also in Angers, Nantes, Dinard and other places. The company closed in the 1970’s and until a few years ago, almost faded into complete obscurity.
In the meantime, the Odorico family’s creations in Rennes are under protection and truly prized. The city offers guided tours, which is a very reason for us to stop in Rennes on our next trip to Brittany.
Here are a couple of links:
The documentary (in French): the segment about the mosaics begins at minute 24. Even if you don’t understand French, it’s worth it just to see the pictures.
An article about the Odorico family in Rennes in English:
The following links are also in French. But if you scroll down, you’ll see several pictures of mosaics.
Here is a link for a 360°view of the Opéra Garnier mosaics:
And finally, here is a small selection of Sabine Schlaefke‘s works: