KuKuK-Interviews and more
July 21, 2021: "Movies Under The Stars" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
Corona definitely isn’t over yet and has been a huge source of difficulty for innumerable people. We have been confronted with challenges, the likes of which we have never seen. Dieterich and I have been very lucky, because we haven’t had such a challenging time. Despite all of the restrictions, which mostly allowed us only contact outdoors or via videoconferences, we were never bored, staying at home for the most part.
Last year, we decided to take short day trips because of the starkly curtailed travel possibilities, to get to know our own area better. Then again, we weren’t on the go all that much and it was always just the two of us.
Last year in August, we came up with an idea to be able to see friends but still adhere to the Corona rules. We had all of the necessary equipment to show a movie outdoors: a beamer, loudspeakers, a DVD-player. The first time, we watched the Oscar winning film „The Artist“ in our back garden. The weather was perfect and with homemade popcorn American style (German style is usually made with sugar) and the necessary distancing, it was a great success. After the film was over, we were already being asked when we could watch another movie. A couple of weeks later, „Amadeus“ was chosen and our neighbors Simone and Uwe, who share our front yard, suggested we watch it there. Projecting the picture on the side of their house was even better than in the garden. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any more chances to show another movie, because the summer very quickly came to a close.
Already in May this year, friends were asking when we would be hosting our first movie night. Due to the rainy, cool June weather, we were forced to wait until the beginning of July to present „When Harry met Sally“.
The next date was set very shortly after that, in the hopes that the weather would improve. This past Saturday, we were not disappointed, as the meteorological gods granted us a a clear sky and a fairly warm temperature for German standards. Seeing that the evening’s theme was „Italy“, Simone and Uwe decorated accordingly and a buffet served before the screening helped us keep up our strength to watch a film version of the opera „La Bohème“ – all in all a terrific evening!
Even though life under Covid has become more flexible and some public events are allowed, we will continue to view our outdoor movies. If we are lucky, there will be several more editions of these marvelous evenings before the summer ends. We are already looking forward to the next movie night under the stars.
July 14, 2021: "Thank You, Jacqueline!" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
The last two years, our friend Jacqueline has organized an Advent Calender exchange, in which I have taken part both times. (I know. It’s only July and I am writing about Christmas!) Her idea is that 24 people are assigned one of the 24 days of Advent, make 24 gifts and then wrap and mark them with their designated date. The participants meet shortly before the first of Advent to collect all 24 gifts, so they have something to open each day leading up to Christmas. We hang our collective goodies on a string that Dieterich spans over our living room table, taking turns opening them until Christmas Eve. Normally, there is a good variety of items, mostly homemade. Some are really nice, others maybe not so much, but it’s the idea that brings the most pleasure.
One particular present delighted me more than all the others combined, a very small sewn pouch with 7 buttons and a short story inside. The following is a free rendition of the original narrative.
Two friends were meeting for the first time in a long while in a cafe. Due to the long interval since their last get-together, they needed a couple of hours to catch up on all their news. After about an hour, one woman noticed that her friend had taken something out of one pocket and put it in the other, but didn’t think anything of it at first. By the time they were ready to leave, the friend had repeated this movement a few more times. Just before parting, the woman’s curiousity got the better of her, so that she had to ask her friend what she was doing.
The friend smiled and said that she puts 7 buttons in her pocket every morning. Each time something pleasurable happens, she shifts one button to the other pocket. Before going to bed, she takes out all of the buttons and contemplates the individual occasions causing the transfer of the buttons. In this way, she gets to enjoy those outstanding moments twice and think back on the day with considerable gratitude.
This anecdote never ceases to touch me deeply and has helped me through many unpleasant incidents. If I would place 7 buttons in my pocket every morning, it wouldn’t take very long for all 7 to end up in the other pocket. That would be the case for almost every day. When I get upset or sad about something, I think of the buttons and automatically feel much better. The small quantity of negative episodes that I have to deal with are nothing in comparison to what countless people have to cope with constantly. I make a conscience effort to think of that, so that I don’t waste my precious time with nonsense. I might not always be successful, but time and again. That’s why I frequently say to myself, „Thank you, Jacqueline“.
July 7, 2021: "Europe or Bust!" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
Over the years, I have thought a great deal about my journey in life. The road was seldom straight and certainly never boring. I can confidently declare that I have found „my thing“. If fate truly exists, mine was to live in Europe.
Massachusetts was home until I was 21. Already as a child, I discovered my interest for foreign languages and was thrilled, when my high school class was the first ever in my school to take a trip outside of the the US, with France as the destination. We visited Paris, Mont-St.-Michel and the Loire valley, staying in cheap hotels. I didn’t care one iota, because I finally made it to France.
If I remember correctly, the hotel in Paris was in 19th arrondissement, far from the city center. My first mission upon arrival in the early morning was to find a cheese shop and a bakery to buy two of France’s most famous delicacies - camembert and a baguette. I was unable to immediately enjoy these wonders of French gastronomy because our extensive sightseeing schedule had already begun. It would be many hours before I could return to the hotel to relish my purchases. There was just one problem with my plan – my ignorance of camembert cheese. By the time I got back to my hotel room, where I had left the cheese sitting at room temperature, it had not only spread across the table but also filled the room with a pungent odor. My roommates were not amused.
I was heartbroken when it was time to leave because I definitely wasn’t ready to go. I would have to wait another four years for my college semester in Dijon to return to France. I already wrote about that particularly dismaying sojourn, which I had to cut short, seeing that my beloved stepmother was terminally ill.
At 21, I moved to southern California, but never warmed to the lifestyle. It was crowded and a bit boring, especially with the lack of the four seasons. I realized fairly quickly that I definitely did not want to spend the rest of my life there. I decided to give Europe another chance and spent well over a year preparing for my adventurous undertaking. Despite the fact that a friend backed out of this trip, I was bound and determined to follow through with my plans, even if on my own. A simple trip turned into an exchange program in Cologne, Germany, which led to a full-time job in Frankfurt, where I worked for many years.
I had two months of travel-time to „do“ Europe before I had to report to the exchange program in Germany. Equipped with a backpack and both a Britrail and a Eurailpass, I set off from New York for London to see as many countries „across the pond“ as possible. As might be expected, this venture was a constant source of interesting experiences.
On my very first day in London, I had a flash of enlightenment, which has strongly influenced my outlook on life ever since. The long flight and the considerable hike to the hotel had tired me so much, I made the mistake of lying down for a quick nap, which turned out to be much too long. Feeling thoroughly disoriented upon waking up, I stepped into the corridor to ask some other guests what day and time it was. When I reentered my room, which was more like a glorified closet with a cot, I was suddenly overcome by a panic such as I had never experienced in my entire life. I sat on the bed sobbing and shaking like a leaf, asking myself what possessed me to give up everything I knew to plunge into a completely uncertain future. After about 10 minutes, a thought hit me like lightening. Why did I leave my family, my country and life behind me in the first place? In no time at all, I started remembering exactly why I wanted to have a new start in a new place. Not once since that day have I ever doubted this decision to look for my place in the world in Europe.
I haven’t looked back since that all-important realization. Obviously, I continue to have a strong connection with my home country, where I still have lots of family. Although I shall soon be receiving German citizenship in addition to my American one, I consider myself a world citizen thanks to my tremenously rewarding life in here Wettenberg.
June 30, 2021: "France beckons" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
The border to France isn’t far from Wettenberg, with Strasbourg in the Alsace just a three hour drive. After eighteen months of not being able to travel, Dieterich and I decided take a short trip to France, but not to the Alsace, which once belonged to Germany. We wanted to get a further inland from the German border to be more deeply immersed into a fully French atmosphere and were willing to drive over 350 miles to achieve this. We needed to get a different kind of „shot“ other than the one against Corona – an injection of the French way of life.
As always, I had the task of finding a place to stay that would live up to our expectations. I readily admit that I am quite picky, often searching for hours on the internet until I come across what I am looking for. Of course, there is always the chance of being disappointed, but luckily this has seldom happened over the years and certainly wasn’t the case this weekend.
I found exactly what we were wanted in the middle of Burgundy, not far from Dijon, a city I have very mixed feelings about. During my last year at college, I spent a mostly unpleasant semester in Dijon. The people were rude, unfriendly and obviously didn’t appreciate my collegiate French. However, that wasn’t the worst part of my time there. Several weeks before I was supposed to return to the United States, I learned that my beloved stepmother Wilma was dying of cancer. Even though I made it back before she passed away, she didn’t want me to see her in the advanced stages of that horrible disease, so I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. Obviously, Dijon was not at fault, but I still associate that particularly difficult period in my life with that city.
France has changed greatly since the 70s. The French are much more hospitable and in the meantime, many also speak English. It was time for me to settle up with Burgundy and I couldn’t have found a better place to accomplish that.
According to the internet description, we would be staying in a hamlet of 17 permanent residents about 25 miles northwest of Dijon in the former communal baking house, a common structure in almost every European town for baking bread. Some were were built hundreds of years ago and were in constant use until the mid-twentieth century. After packing the car, including our vaccine passports, we left very early on Saturday morning. Once over the border into France, we intended on stopping somewhere to buy some basic necessities of French food: cheese, pâté, bread, wine, and a grilled chicken, one of our personal favorites. We stopped in the city of Toul, which regardless of a huge gothic cathedral and an illustrious past going as far back as the Romans, is not especially attractive. I had read about a farmer’s market, which ended up only having 4 or 5 stalls. Despite that, we were able to buy very delicious products, and in our case, nourishment not just for the body but also the soul.
The owners of our vacation rental were expecting us to arrive about 5pm. Since we were way ahead of schedule, we made a slight detour to the town of Châteauneuf, officially classified as one of the most beautiful towns in France. With France‘s vast heritage of stunning sites literally everywhere you turn, that is a difficult title to attain. A medieval castle perched on a hillside and encircled by a small village makes Châteauneuf a very imposing sight from both near and far.
Châteauneuf lies about 15 miles from our destination of Barain, which consists of approximately 20 buildings, most made of stone and one being the 15th century church. The very friendly and cordial residents welcomed us into their world without hesitation.
The baking house was totally renovated about 15 years ago and in such a tastefully cozy manner, that we immediately felt at home. It might not be everyone’s ideal vacation rental due to its tiny size, but it was perfect for us. Pictures of the recontruction, a true labor of love, were sobering, as the structure was in very poor condition. Many original materials were reincorporated and the remaining necessary supplies were procured locally.
The groundfloor area is small but inviting, split into the kitchen/main room area and the bathroom. The original baking oven has been preserved and repurposed as a fireplace. A stone sink, unlike any I have ever seen, graces the wall adjacent to the tiny kitchen equipped with all of the essentials. The bathroom has a terrific shower and is also asthetically decorated. The most clever addition is a loft for the bed, which is reached via an oak stairway, especially designed to fit the specifications of the building. The materials utilized for the curtains, cushions, bedspread and pillow cases fittingly include the color burgundy and are so attractive, I would love to buy some.
We were invited to join a family celebration, which included a church service to honor Saints Peter and Paul, followed by a very short procession to the house chosen to be blessed this year.
Such an event cannot be observed without food. There was an aperitif large enough to be considered a meal with homemade pâtés, cheese, baked goods and such. Everyone contributed to the buffet, including Dieterich with his fabulous almond biscotti. After a short break, the actual meal was presented, including meats and various salads in large amounts. Naturally, the wines were also plentiful. No French meal is complete without a cheese course and we were treated to an amazing selection. After that, dessert was served, a collection of French tartes, crème brûlée and fruit.
We were so stuffed, we waddled the few hundred feet back to the house. After a short nap and time to digest, we decided to walk off some of the feast. The hamlet is located in a valley, seemingly many miles from civilisation and surrounded by rolling hills with woods and fields. This was the perfect conclusion to the festive afternoon.
Before returning to Germany, we spent our last day exploring the area, going to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, a must especially for fans of the film „Chocolat“. It too has been designated as one France‘s most beautiful towns and is located about 10 miles from Barain. We soaked in the beautiful countryside and visited some other picturesque towns.
Even though I moved to Europe almost 40 years ago, I still have frequent moments when I am overwhelmed by that fact. Innumerous encounters with people from around the world have enriched my life beyond measure. I can hardly believe that this girl from a small town in Massachusetts has had such enormous good fortune. My love of languages has made this possible. I lead a wonderful life, for which I am truly grateful!
June 23, 2021: "Langeness" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
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We had never heard of Langeness until we needed to find a place without fireworks to spend New Year’s Eve. As I wrote in my previous article, our dog Ruffy was petrified of fireworks, which are not only shot off on December 31st, but several days before and after. It broke our hearts every time to see him so frightened. We were very relieved to find a refuge on the island of Langeness.
Langeness is one of ten marsh islands called "Halligs" in the North Sea off the coast of Germany and Denmark. These islands lie just a few feet above sea level without any protective dikes and are often partially under water, particularly in the winter during flood tides. Seven are inhabited with the houses perched on man-made hills called "Warften" in German. After the extremely violent and destructive storm tides in 1962, the Warften were built even higher to insure that buildings were secure from future storms.
The first time we traveled to Langeness, we decided to take public transportation for that 350 mile trip up north and started our train odyssey in Giessen, just a few miles from our home. The first leg of the trip was to get to the small city of Husum in northern Germany, where we stayed overnight in order to get the ferry to the island the next day. The journey by train alone was an adventure, considering we had two train changes with a considerable amount of luggage and Ruffy. He pitched in by carrying his dog food in a special doggie backpack.
Getting from Husum to the ferry proved to be another challenge. We missed the bus, but didn't realize that until after it left. Unfortunately, the destination sign on the front of the bus was mislabeled. We ended up hiring a taxi for the realtively expensive 20 mile ride and made it in the nick of time to catch the ferry.
Langeness is visible from the ferry port and would seem to be a 45 minute baot ride, but in reality it takes at least 2 hours. Due to the extensive mudflats that extend far out into the sea, the ferry has to make a substantial detour in order to remain in the very narrow navigable water lane.
Very often, the ferry ride was an interesting experience. One return trip to the mainland was memorable due to an extremely strong easterly wind pushing the water out to sea, so that the boat had to wait until the tide was higher.
However, that was nothing compared to the time the North Sea was frozen so much that the ferry couldn't run at all. There is a 5.5 mile dike with a single track railway which runs from the mainland through Hallig Oland to the eastern tip of Langeness, so that the residents have another possibility to get to the mainland without having to rely on the ferry. Every resident family on both islands have a motorized train car, some comfortably enclosed and others very primitive with full exposure to the elements.
Tourists are a major source of income for these islands, even in the winter. Therefore, all of the available cars were rounded up to make one long train to transport roughly 40 people to Langeness. One large open wagon was designated for the mountains of luggage and 10 other wagons for the passengers. Most of us were in covered wagons due to the cold (about 20°F). Dieterich sat up front on an open car with Ruffy and another man, who was traveling with a his large dog. Despite the bitter cold, Dieterich said that the 45 minute ride was definitely worth it. He didn't suffer from hypothermia thanks to some schnapps, an absolute must to survive such an excursion, and having Ruffy in his lap. Despite the lofty height of the dam, the ice floes pushed right up near the tracks, an absolutely breathtaking sight. Unfortunately, we have no pictures of that as Dieterich's fingers wouldn't have been able to withstand the freezing temperature. I was in one of the enclosed cars and regrettably didn't get to see much of anything.
The following link includes photos of the dam and some of the very pecular-looking vehicles. There is also a video link of our return trip via ferry the year of the big freeze, which fully displays the impressive ice floes.
The colloquial word for flood tides in German is „Land unter“ (land under), a phenomenon we experienced the first time we stayed on the island. We rented an apartment on the Honkenswarf belonging to Doris and Nanning, a very hospitable couple. Nanning, who was born on the island, is used to the isolation. I think Doris, who originally comes from Berlin, loves having guests to talk to. We hit it off with both of them right away and they took a strong liking to Ruffy.
"Land unter" occurred two days before we had to leave. Doris and Nanning's house lies at the end of the island farthest from the ferry landing. Because parts of the one-lane island road are below sea level, we weren't able to get to the ferry we had booked and consequently had to wait two extra days until the road became passable. Doris and Nanning very generously refused payment for the extra nights and even invited us to dinner.
It really is a strange feeling when the fairly small Warften are surrounded by the sea, not frightening or threatening, but of being even more isolated. The Warft becomes a miniture island from which you can't leave until the flood tides fully recede. Ruffy was definitely confused that first time, when we weren't able to go for one of our normal walks of about 2 - 3 miles.
One year, we had "Land unter" on New Year's Eve, when we were invited once again to a typical north German dinner of sausage and kale. That particular year, Doris suggested that we go over to another Warft about a mile away, where there was a bar run by Erich, a man in his mid 80's. The road was still partially flooded, so we wore our rubber boots. We carefully followed Doris and Nanning because the deep ditches on either side of the road were not visible due to the tidewaters. A full moon made the late night stroll even more magical. Erich, thrilled to have some guests, sang and accompanied himself on his accordion.
We often walked to the little mom-and-pop store about a mile from the house, either along the road or over the fields and the often slippery stone walls at the water's edge. Surprisingly, we were able to find everything we needed. A longer outing consisted of leaving in the late morning and hiking to the ferry landing about 4.5 miles away, having lunch at the lone restaurant and then trekking all the way back, by which time it was starting to get dark. In the winter, there are only 8 hours of daylight that far north.
One of our most frightening experiences occurred during a walk along the dike from Langeness to Oland. In spite of us both taking great care, I sank into the sand up to my knees. Dieterich had to lie down on his stomach so as not to get caught in the quicksand as well. Miraculously, he somehow managed to pull me out. He then succeeded in pulling out my rubber boots, which had remained stuck in the sand, so that I could safely walk back to the Honkenswarf. This was yet another example of Ruffy's accute awareness of a critical situation, as he remained completely quiet during the entire emergency.
While there isn't much to do on Langeness during the winter besides sleeping, eating and going for walks, it was exactly what we needed to recharge our batteries for a new year crammed with activity. For years now, we have been talking of returning there during the bird migrations, which must surely be spectacular. We haven't been back since Ruffy was no longer able to make the trip. Writing this article has inspired me to contact Doris and see when we can book again. Enough talk already! Carpe diem!
June 16, 2021: "Hommage to Ruffy" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
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A few days ago, a friend suggested that I write on the topic of people’s love for their pets. For those who have never had one, it might be difficult to understand the strong bond that can develop between a human and their pet. The word pet doesn’t begin to describe what a vital role these animals play in the lives of their so-called owners/pet parents. Dieterich and I had the privilege of sharing 14 years with Ruffy, a gorgeous Golden/Labrador Retriever mix.
Ruffy was just a puppy when he came to live with us. We specifically wanted the same mix my father's dog Sam had been. Sam looked much different than Ruffy but was such a wonderful dog, that for the first time in his life , Dieterich decided that he wanted to have a dog.
Ruffy was a few weeks old the first time we saw him and was already showing his penchant for getting his own way, a characteric he would keep his entire life. Our Ruffy was named after a collie that my family had when I was a tot. He was born into a fairly large litter and showed no mercy to his brothers and sisters as he crawled over them to get to his mother to nurse.
The first few years weren't always easy because he rarely wanted to do what we tried to teach him. We even went to dog training school. In retrospect, I am certain that we made several mistakes in his upbringing, but because he was inherently such a sweet dog, we didn't mess him up too much.
Ruffy was beloved by all who knew him. To this day, I am not sure if some of my singing students came not so much for the lessons, but rather because of our dog. He was so wonderful that even our next door neighbor, who shares the front yard with us and was terrified of dogs when she moved in, grew to love Ruffy.
The Ruffster, as one friend called him, was responsible for many new contacts that we made over the years. Often, you would remember the other dog's name but not necessarily the person's.
Going for a walk with Ruffy often included a delightful encounter. One time, we were in Perugia (Italy), which is so hilly in parts that there are stairways instead of streets. As we were making our way down one of those flights of stairs, we suddenly heard a female voice yell "Che bello!" (How beautiful!). Since we were the only ones on the stairs, we assumed that this call was meant for us. We looked around to see where the voice was coming from. The voice shouted again and we saw a woman hanging out of her window threeor four stories above in a house situated on the stairway. She enthused for several minutes about Ruffy. What a great pleasure it was to have that conversation with a total stranger.
Another source of joy Ruffy gave us was his popularity with children. As soon as he heard children playing, his entire demeanor would change to one of anticipatory excitement. He knew from experience that there would be a very good chance of him getting lots of petting. He sacrificed himself willingly. No matter where we were, there was invariably someone, big or small, who wanted to stroke his thick, soft fur.
Dogs often like to have a small protected area to retreat to, usually under a table or something similar. We decided to build Ruffy a doghouse in our entryway. Even though that was his realm, one time,he allowed our grandson to crawl in there with him. He didn’t seem to mind at all.
Ruffy went on every car trip we took. He knew days ahead of our departure that we were getting ready to take off on another adventure. I'm not sure that he was as enthusiastic as we were, but at least he had his own dog house in the back of our van in which he felt protected. Once we arrived, he enjoyed the surroundings to the fullest. We spent several vacations with him in Tuscany at l'Agresto, which I mentioned in a previous article. As soon as we arrived, he would run to a particular spot on the vast grounds and snatch himself a huge pine cone. Every time we visit l’Agresto, we collect some of those pine cones to put in his favorite corner in our front yard – Ruffy’s Place.
However, Ruffy's first visit there didn't go particularly smoothly at all. He was about one year old at the time. I was conducting a singing workshop. One evening, I knew that there would be fireworks in the nearby town and went to look for him to bring him into the house. Some friends had taken him for a walk with the leash, but the hook hadn’t been attached properly. I was almost in the house with him when the fireworks started. Ruffy panicked, broke the ring to which the hook was attached and disappeared into the bush. I called him frantically but he didn't come back. Dieterich and I remained outdoors, whistling and shouting his name all night long. We spent the next day searching for him, hanging flyers around the entire area. To make matters worse, there was a terrible thunderstorm that night. The following morning while I was trying as best I could to continue my workshop and Dieterich was getting ready to go grocery shopping, the police arrived to say they had a golden retriever at their headquarters in town. Dieterich immediately followed them and thankfully it was Ruffy. He had a special way of curling to one side with his rear end stuck in the air, in the hope of getting scratched on that most sensitive spot. When he struck this pose, Dieterich knew for sure it was Ruffy. He was found by some German tourists several miles away. We never got a chance to thank them for their kindness. After that traumatic experience, Ruffy was petrified of both fireworks and thunderstorms for the rest of his life.
Ruffy‘s aversion to earsplitting noise oddly became the catalyst for finding a new travel destination which all three of us loved. Right after Christmas, here in Germany fireworks are sold for New Year's Eve celebrations. For about a week, there are unexpected explosive sounds during the day and night. The culmination, of course, is on December 31st, an absolute nightmare for most animals. Ruffy was a wreck for the entire week, which really bothered us as well. We could hardly get him to go out for his walks. We even tried sedatives, which didn't help one iota. Then someone suggested that we go to a place in northern Germany, where fireworks are not allowed due to the countless straw roofs, which are a huge fire hazard. We ended up finding a place on Langeness, an island in the North Sea. For eight years, from December 26 until after New Year's, we spent about two weeks on Langeness, a memorable experience in itself about which I will write next time. We three benefited from those breaks, turning a negative experience into a positive one, all because Ruffy couldn’t tolerate fireworks. We certainly didn’t miss them either.
Dogs can immediately sense if something is wrong. Years ago, we did a canal trip in southern France with my father, my sister Donna and her husband Dave. Ruffy proved just how sensitive he was to what was going on around him. One day, as we were leaving a mooring, for some inexplicable reason my father, who was at the helm, started driving the boat away, despite the fact that Dave and Dieterich were still on the embankment untying the boat. Dieterich managed to jump in at the last possible second, but it was too late for Dave to get in. Since my father continued to move the boat further away, Dave decided to try to throw the rope to Dieterich. Unfortunately, the very thick rope fell into the water and got stuck in the propeller, which quickly was no longer able to turn. The boat was stranded in the middle of the canal and couldn't be easily navigated. You can doubtlessly imagine the very tense mood on the boat. We were able to get Dave back onboard, not an easy task, considering that he was up on the embankment about four or five feet above us. The next step was removing the melted and now hardened nylon rope from around the propeller, which took a couple of hours with Dave and Dieterich taking turns cutting through it with a bread knife. Normally, whenever the boat slowed down, Ruffy couldn't wait to jump into the water. During this difficult situation however, he stayed totally out of the way in the remotest corner of the boat and didn't move until the crisis was over - a very smart decision.
So many heartwarming memories of Ruffy remain, even though he has been gone for over seven years. We still miss him so much. One of the worst days in my life was when he had to be put down. I willl never really get over that, in spite of knowing that it was for the best, as we didn't want him to suffer. We are so grateful for the years we shared with him. He lives on within us, even though he is no longer physically present.
After Ruffy's passing, friends gave us a card with an extremely befitting sentiment, which I am using to conclude this hommage to our beloved Ruffy. Anyone who has every had a great dog will definitely be able to relate.
"A good dog never dies, he always stays. He walks beside you on crisp autumn days, his head is within reach in his old way. " (Mary Carolyn Davies)
June 9, 2021: "Finding the Brighter Side of Life" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
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This past weekend, we zoomed with some of my family in the US. They mentioned how worried and frightened they are of the current state of affairs: daily shootings, racism, belligerence, an endangered environment, the willful spreading of lies, disrespect, the blatant strategy to dismantle democracy, etc., etc., etc.
Over the last few decades, the fiber of the American ethos, with which I was raised, has gradually but steadily been under massive attack and disintegrating before our very eyes. Somehow, “Freedom of Speech“ has become the right to say whatever you want at all times, with absolutely no regard to negative effect on others. Flagrant lying is now acceptable because it is an expression of that so-called „Freedom“. The previous president opened the floodgates to disparaging, hurtful behaviour and far too many people seem to have fully embraced it. He and his friends obviously never read Article 1 of the German constitution: „Human dignity is inviolable“, a sentiment sorely missing in the US constitution.
The current mood in the States is not especially hopeful and I continue to ask myself how this has happened. I refuse to believe that the majority of Americans are evil and nasty. If you don’t actively look for good news, you will easily fall into that mindset. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there is an infinite amount of fabulous people and untold positive stories.
In 2011 and 2012, I wrote a sort of email-blog with 26 different uplifting stories, which I called „Positivity“. Maybe it’s time to bring it out of mothballs. Without closing my eyes to an often disturbing reality, I’ve decided to concentrate on more cheerful topics. I googled „good news“ and supposedly there are over 24.600.000 articles online pertaining to this subject. I’m going to reduce my daily intake of mainstream news and look for the inspirational, optimistic reports.
A „Good News“ website is not just an American phenomenon. You can find numerous websites from around the world. I’m listing just two websites, which I intend to read much more often. For example, Good News Network has been around for over 20 years and dedicates itself to bring life-affirming narratives.
One headline, that caught my eye immediately, states “7 in 10 Americans Agree That 2020 Made Them a Better Person“. This is in stark contrast to the onslaught
of negativity with which we are incessantly bombarded. Already, I feel better.
The website https://goodnews.eu/en/ has „Your daily dose of optimism“ as its motto. Scanning the headlines is almost enough to make you giddy:
„Scientists turns plastics into jet fuel in record time“, „Ethiopia to plant 6 billion trees by 2022“, „Court orders Shell to cut CO2 emissions“, „Scientists upcycle food scraps into materials stronger than concrete“.
I can hardly wait to read them all. With this article, I want to urge others to join my „Good News Challenge“. Turn off your TV’s more often! Unsubscribe some of your newsfeeds! Decrease the amount of „normal“ news you consume! Look around you for the wonderful things in life and you will be amply rewarded.
June 2, 2021: "Dagmar Abresch - Flowerpounding and Eco-Print
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Born in northern Hesse in 1965, married with a grown daughter
Profession: part-time civil servant, certified nature and wild plant educator; resilience trainer, co-author of the magazine „Holunderelfe“ (Elderberry Elf)
My goals and how art found me...
I rediscovered my love of nature because of our dog, a rescued stray from Spain. When she arrived here in 2012, she was extremely timid and very distrustful. While walking and roaming through fields and the woods, I was reminded ... of earlier times, of afternoons spent outdoors that seemed never to end. I played with other children or by myself, oblivious to the world around me, making mud sandwiches, building little huts with branches, grass and moss, and crafting beds for imaginary elves and gnome families.
We braided bands of straw to make bouquets or wreaths. I still have recollections of fields white with daisies, eating apples from August until November – the first being unripe, green and sour and those later in the season soft and sweet. Blackberries left stains on children’s hands and a few sweaters. Our base camp was in a hedge of lilacs, hawthorn and hazelnut. We were safe there and nothing or nobody could do us harm – protected, the world around us seeming miles away .. it was snug and cozy .. making us feel safe and sound.
I had forgotten all of these feelings and impressions for a long time and could hardly believe that so many wonderful memories were returning little by little. From that point on, I wanted to „know“ and learn more about the things that fascinated and delighted me as a child.
I attended several classes at the Nature and Herbal School in Lumdatal over the last few years. Now, I want to share my knowledge of things which bring me so much gratification... and to impart that knowledge of nature to others, to guide them in learning new methods, to give inspiration and leave them enough room ... to find serenity and to gain new perspectives ... to discover their own creativity, to develop fresh ideas and to convey my joy for creatiing and designing.
Due to my study of art and nature, I learned about the techniques of "Eco-Print" and "Flowerpounding", which are relatively unknown here in Germany... from the very beginning I was captivated and can’t stop „printing“ and „hammering“ - but see for yourself....
With the Eco-Print method, stained natural materials are first covered with suitable flowers, leaves or other fresh or dried parts of plants. A piece prepared in this way is folded or rolled and tied tightly and is steamed in hot water vapor for about 2 hours. As a result of this process, plant color and the smallest fiber particles dissolve and permanently bond with the stained fabric. The "printed" fabrics have detailed impressions of the applied flowers and leaves and together with the plant colors, resulting in wonderful patterns and images with a fragile-looking design and marvelous color progressions.
Es gibt zahllose Weiterverarbeitungsmöglichkeiten für die angefertigten Werkstücke, egal ob für Decken, Kissen oder Beutel, Bienenwachstücher oder zum Nähen von Kleidung - und jedes Stück ein Unikat. Möglich ist auch, neue oder gebauchte helle Kleidung ohne ausgeprägtes Muster aus Baumwolle oder Mischgewebe, Leinen, Seide oder Wolle so zu "veredeln" - das Ergebnis wird auf jeden Fall ein "Hingucker".
There are countless uses for the finished materials: blankets, pillows, bags, beeswax towels or clothing - and each piece is unique. It is also possible to "enhance" new or used delicately colored clothes, which do not have a distinct pattern, made of cotton, blended fabric, linen, silk or wool - the result will definitely be an "eye-catcher".
"Flower Pounding" - is a very simple idea and you almost wonder why you didn‘t come up with it yourself while working with natural materials. Soemtimes, the method is also called "hammered flowers " - both terms refer to the same procedure: flowers, leaves, stems or other plant parts (for example, fine roots) are arranged on paper or fabric and then carefully hammered. This requires some skill, which comes with practice. The liquids from the flowers and leaves are gently "tapped" out and "imprinted" onto the chosen material. Art takes form: plant art. I am enraptured by the velvety detailed prints of pansies and horned violets. Many flowers and plant components give colorful and vibrant prints - but it takes a little experience and plenty of time to experiment. Not all flowers are suited for this process - because, as in life: "Beauty can be fleeting."
May 26, 2021: "Voice Lessons – Life Lessons" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
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Being a voice teacher, I’d like to write about my work and what it means to me.
Giving voice lessons is more than just teaching someone good vocal technique. Many aspects of truly learning to sing well can have life-altering effects on a person’s way of looking at themselves.
Over the years, I have found that most people have an incorrect evaluation of singing, especially their own. I should know, seeing that I used to be one of them. Yes, almost all of us have the ability to sing well, but it depends greatly on whether or not we get good training. Some are born with obvious talent, which sometimes can be more of a hindrance than an advantage. Such people tend to depend on this natural talent and not learn to use the entire body correctly. If the singing voice is frequently in use, at some point in time, there will be a vocal crisis, which normally can be corrected with a great deal of dedication and patience on the part of the student and the correct assistance. It is difficult, but not impossible, to unlearn bad habits.
When I start working with a new student, I always say that teaching singing is a challenge because things, that mostly can’t be seen or touched, need to be described in such a way that the student can understand. I follow up that comment by saying that taking voice lessons is also a demanding task. It’s as if the teacher is speaking a foreign language which takes a while to be fully understood. In order to learn to sing properly, a feeling for the entire body must be developed to the point where those sensations can be verbalized and/or visualized.
Another aspect for students to understand is that, while they are trying to master control of their voices and bodies, their singing sometimes might be good and sometimes, not so good. This is part of the process and should not be cause for embarassment. Some exercises sound downright ugly. Also, there is no such thing as a stupid question.
I always explain that singing is made up of two components: sport (bodily control from head to toe) and art (interpretation - a complex topic on it's own). Vocal training concentrates more on the bodily control as opposed to voice lessons, which continue the training and add interpretation.
Students usually want instant gratification with very little effort on their part. Which is human nature. It takes hard work to be able to sing well and maintain the voice for many years, whether or not a singing career is the goal. Unfortunately, due to the aging process over which a person has no real control, there is no guarantee that a person at an advanced age will still be able to sing well.
Good vocal technique isn’t just going to suddenly appear. Dedication and determination are a must to gain good vocal control. No one just wakes up one morning as a professional sportsperson nor suddenly fluent in a foreign language. Why should it be any different for singing at a skillful level? Even after attaining the necessary singing technique, it has to be constantly reinforced. A serious singer has to be fully committed, yet without overdoing it.
There are numerous factors to comprehend and execute correctly in order to sing well. The most and equally important aspects are good posture, proper inhalation, correct exhalation, the optimum use of all muscles in the body, good text pronunciation, a feeling that the created sound can be effortlessly projected toward the audience and, of course, interpretation.
No matter what aspect of singing is being practiced, it is important to know that they are all interconnected. I describe it as a puzzle. Each piece has to be understood and then gradually brought together with the other pieces to make a complete picture. Finding a „happy medium“ is also important for each facet of singing being practiced. As with most things, too much or too little of anything isn’t going to work out well in the long run.
As a voice teacher, it is a privilege to observe the process of someone figuring out who they are and what their capabilities can be through developing a self-awareness – both mentally and physically. Helping someone to find their full potential is the most rewarding aspect of voice teaching.
May 19, 2021: "The True Pleasures In Life" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
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One of my favorite authors is Christian Signol, who comes from the Quercy region in southern France. He has written many fiction and non-fiction books about this area. I am currently reading „Les Vrais Bonheurs“ (True Pleasures), a book for the soul. Signol describes natural phenomenon and ordinary things, which most people never notice: trees, the quality of light in winter, dawn, snow, the different smells throughout the year, etc.
As I am reading this book for the third time, I find myself wondering what natural elements I consider worth writing about. I am convinced that many people develop a more profound appreciation for the small wonders of nature as they get older. I vividly remember, as a teenager, thinking that my grandmother was silly to rave about a cardinal. I could not understand her exuberance about a bird. Having reached the age that she was at that time, I can now fully comprehend her enthusiasm. There are so many natural wonders that deeply move me, various bird species in particular.
Last Sunday brought the first summerlike day of this year. Dieterich and I decided to take advange of the fabulous weather and go on a little outing early in the morning. While packing the car, I suddenly heard one of my favorite sounds - the screeching of swifts. Every year, there is a swift nest under the roof of the neighbor’s house at the end of the driveway. So far, there are just 2 or 3 birds, but before they migrate south in a couple of months, there will be many more. This species is really fascinating.
Loosely translated from the German Wikipedia page:
„Swifts spend most of their life in the air. Except during the hatching period, they are aloft with almost no interruption for about 10 months. These birds with
their strident call are very conspicuous during the summer months, whizzing by overhead. They can reach a speed of up 125 mph when executing a nosedive.“
Unbelievable! Both of us are always deeply stirred when they boisterously zoom by.
Swifts aren’t the only birds that captivate me. We also relish the song of the blackbirds. Many people who don’t appreciate blackbirds because they start their singing at dawn, which here in Wettenberg can be as early as 4:30am. However, there is nothing that pleases me more than to be awakened by the blackbird‘s warbling, no matter the time!
The last couple of years, we have had an interesting and amusing phenomenon take place in our courtyard. The jackdaw population in town has increased and they often meet in the huge walnut tree in back of our house. In spring, there are a lot of walnuts from the previous fall still lying on the ground. These little pilferers grab the nuts in their beak and fly onto the roof of our neighbors‘ house, which also faces onto our front yard. They repeatedly bang the nuts against the roof in the hopes of breaking them open. If they are unsuccessful, they then let the nuts roll down the roof, taking advantage of the impact with the ground to finally crack open the shells. After a short while, there are countless empty shells lying about. We step on them quite often, creating a loud crunch and have to sweep them up every so often. We don’t consider this a nuisance at all. It’s worth the delight of having the jackdaws here.
One of the most exquisite birds in the world is the loon, which we know so well from all of our summers spent at Sebec Lake, Maine. The loon’s call is moving
and haunting at the same time, and often overwhelmingly so. Their song is naturally amplified by the water. We had a family reunion at the lake several years ago and it seemed as if the loons
were giving a private concert just for our family. Coupled with a full moon hanging in a clear sky, it was an unforgettable experience.
Here is a link to hear the call of the loon.
We are thrilled with every bird we are privileged to see, be it the noisy sparrow nesting in the wooden beam supporting our top floor; the storks, which always look awkward when taking off; the elegant kite or buzzard soundlessly swirling through the air; Falco the falcon (as our friend Manu calls him), who often seems to accompany us on our walks; the wood pigeons cooing in a syncopated 4/4 time. Each bird in its own season gives us enormous delight with its presence.
It seems very fitting to conclude with one very special bird, the grey crane. Twice a year, cranes pass over our area, migrating either to Russia in late winter, early spring or to northern Africa or Spain in the late fall. They make more noise in the fall than the spring and one can hear them coming long before they are in sight, absolutely magnificent! Thousands of them fly directly over our house. This past spring, a huge flock was circling above our house for about ten minutes in order to take advantage of a better thermic activity. Dieterich and I are moved to tears whenever they pass through, it’s so utterly breathtaking. Each time, I ask myself how many more times in my life will I be granted the great fortune to experience this and other marvels of nature. I am deeply grateful for every single moment that nature bestows upon me.
Below is our homemade video of the cranes as they passed over our house.
May 12, 2021: "Nana Cap" (Barbara Yeo-Emde)
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Most people are probably asking themselves what „Nana Cap“ means. For me and my brothers and sisters who were born into the „original“ family, these are two very significant, magical words. Our parents were married a few times each, so we also have step- and halfbrothers and sisters. The „original“ family is the one from our father Rensforth and our mother Arlene.
For those of us, including myself, who are from northeastern part of the US, Nana is another word for grandmother. I never realized that it means something else in other parts of the States. In the Gulf States it means godmother and nanny in southeastern United States. You learn something new every day.
Nana Cap is a nickname we grandchildren gave our maternal grandmother, Amy Caporale. When I was still quite young, I spent many vacations with my older sister Debbie at my grandparents‘ house on Hadden Street in Revere, Massachusetts. Our grandfather, Jerry Caporale, was lovingly called „Gigi“. Both grandparents spoiled us rotten and we absolutely loved going there. They helped us weather many a bad storm.
No matter what time of the year, we couldn’t wait for school vacations to start. One Christmas is particularly vivid in my recollection, but most of the best memories are of summer vacations. There were so many small pleasures that, when added up, made us happy beyond measure. All of my syblings who spent time on Hadden Street will wholeheartedly agree.
It can get really hot and humid during Massachusetts summer. Hardly anyone had a private swimming pool back then. We had something just as great, a garden sprinkler in the shape of a ring. We would put our bathing suits, set up the sprinkler in the backyard and run through the water, screeching and squealing with delight. Revere is located on the Atlantic coast and sometimes we would go to the beach, where there were also some amusement rides. Those were truly special days!
My grandfather worked for the city of Revere and often brought us ice cream called Hoodsies from the Department of Parks and Recreation. There was vanilla and chocolate ice cream in little paper containers with miniature wooden spoons. I still get goosebumps thinking of the wooden spoon rubbing against my teeth and tongue. There were a lot of other treats. One of my favorites was paper dolls. I still have a foible for them or anything made out of paper that can be assembled. Another prized possession was a tiny plastic tea service. That explains my love of miniatures.
I also have many recollections of Nana and Gigi’s cellar. Debbie and I often played down there on hot summer days. We would listen to the radio and were crazy about the Beatles. Debbie liked the color red because that was Ringo’s favorite. I was in love with Paul, not just because he was handsome and talented, but because he is lefthanded like me. We would also would practice singing and dancing so that we could go on a local TV talent show called „Community Auditions.“ Every once in a while, we would perform whatever we were rehearsing for my grandmother, who always told us that we had to keep working on our routine just a little bit more. We were never completely ready. What a loss for that TV show! Unfortunately, Nana didn’t live long enough to know that I became a professional singer.
One of the summer highlights on Hadden Street was the annual street fair. People in the neighborhood organized different activities and a flea market. We sure did get some wonderful, totally useless bargains.
Our grandparents were always there for us. One summer in my home town of Whitinsville, I got a horrible case of poison ivy, covered from head to toe with a horrible itchy rash. For anyone who doesn’t know what it is like to get this plant allergy, consider yourself extremely lucky. My eyes were swollen shut and I had a constant urge to scratch myself. The worst was between the fingers and toes. My father wrapped me up in a sheet to protect me from the sun, which makes it worse, and took me to Nana‘s. She bathed me twice daily for a week in salted water to dry out the blisters of poison and then rubbed me down with calamine lotion until it went away. I can still smell that pink lotion! Nana never got upset with me, although I often cried. She was able to soothed both my skin and my frazzled state of mind. I was relieved to find that there isn’t any poison ivy here in Germany.
Many people have someone special like that in their families. I know that for Dieterich and his brother and sister, it was their Aunt Liesl. What would we kids have done without these special relatives? At some point, Nana and Gigi moved to California to be closer to their daughter, my mother. That was the end of those cherished school holidays on the East Coast, but we still carry those marvelous memories close to our hearts. What a precious gift!
In every country there are peopIe with different political opinions, from moderate to the extreme left or the extreme right. Hopefully, the last two categories remain a minority. If not, then there are even more problems to contend with. Unfortunately, this has been the case in the States for quite a while now, something that often robs me of sleep. Even though I have lived in Germany for almost 40 years, I still have a very strong attachment to the land of my birth.
When you look at the present situation in my home country, it's impossible not to be horrified. I can't remember the country ever being this divided as it has been these last five years. On the one hand, the Republicans are leaving no stone unturned in order to dismantle American democracy. That coupled with a belligerent and violent mindset is very alarming.
On the other hand, there is the Biden Administration. Seldom has a president been so productive, which is quite a statement coming from me as I greatly admire President Obama and his achievements. President Obama was handed a country in dire straits when he took office. In the meantime, his challenges seem almost simple in comparison to the situation President Biden inherited.
As one can tell from my previous political writings, I am a member of the Democratic Party. That doesn't mean I would never vote for a Republican. As a matter of fact, I did in 2018 when Charlie Baker ran for Governor of Massachusetts, my home state. He is a good man and I felt that he deserved my vote.
Even though the Democratic platform has always been more to my taste, I always felt a certain respect for many Republican politicians in the past. Unfortunately, I can no longer claim that. This party seems to be interested only in its wealthy members and to have totally lost its moral compass. Here are just a few examples.
After the previous occupant of the White House (whose name is the worst swear word of all times to me and to whom I will refer as *** from now on) claimed that the 2020 election was stolen from him, he worked his political base into a frenzy and convinced them to attack the Capitol. On top of that, in the states that Republicans control, they feel empowered to make voting as difficult as possible. Georgia, for example, has recently passed a law that makes voting significantly more difficult. Here are the three worst details of that law: mail-in voting will be drastically restricted; the number of polling stations will be reduced, as will be their opening hours, which will be from 9am to 5pm, causing great difficulty for working people; it is now against the law to give someone something to eat or drink even if they have been waiting in line for several hours to vote. The Republicans are trying to or already have passed similar laws in over 40 states. It is blatantly obvious that these restrictive laws are aimed at disadvantaged voters, mostly people of color, who usually vote Democrat.
Another classic example of this party's depravity is the tragedy taking place in Arizona. As in other states, the Republicans there still insist that *** won the election, even though the Republican governor declared it fair and lawful on November 20, 2020. Using taxpayer money, a company called Cyber Ninjas has been hired by the Arizona government to do a recount of over 2 million original ballots in Maricopa County. The CEO of this company is a *** supporter and asserts that the calculation in November was illegitimate. What great prospects for a legitimate recount!! The company, which has never been involved or certified to deal with counting votes, wanted to keep their methods a secret (a battle they lost in court on April 29). That isn't even the worst of it. For many days, there weren't any impartial observers allowed to watch over the recount and there is a still ban on the media. One journalist was able to observe for one day, but wasn't allowed to bring anything inside with her, such as a mobile phone or pencil and paper. During a break, she was allowed to go outside and get into her purse. She started tweeting what she had seen to that point, when her phone was confiscated. The Democratic party in Arizona went to court to try to stop the recount, but would have had to pay $1 million to make up for the company's probable loss of income. The last I heard (on April 30th) was that official observers are being sent per court order. Let's hope it isn't too late!
In Florida, a law was passed a couple of weeks ago giving drivers immunity from any legal action should they purposely try to run down protesters who are blocking a street.
I could go on for quite a while, but I want to finally write about something positive. There's quite a bit to report in that vein. President Biden has accomplished a great deal in his first 100 days. According to the Associated Press, of the 61 campaign promises he made for his first few months in office, he has fully implemented 26, has partially started dealing with 33 and only has 3 he has yet to beging to tackle. More than 100 million people have been fully vaccinated against Covid and there is finally a light at the end of that tunnel. He was able to get his relief package passed, which has helped innumerable people. He and his administration are working around the clock to take on all the other huge challenges facing the country: Immigration, justice for non-whites and people of various sexual orientations, the economy, the environment, health reform, police reform, gun reform, infrastructure, more jobs. For anyone who saw his speech on April 28, it was amazing to see how many different and highly complicated problems he is capably dealing with. From my point of view, he is not only carrying out all of this with determination, but with heart and sound judgment. Of course, it will be next to impossible to fully accomplish everything he is attempting, but many Americans know that he will do his very best. Many of his policies are tremendously popular with a vast majority of Americans, which is definitely a thorn in the sides of most Republican politicians, who seem to have no plan whatsoever to grapple with the gigantic crises plaguing the nation. For the first time in five years, there is a feeling that the USA is starting to move onward and upward.
For countless people, not just in the States, it is a blessing to no longer have to wake up every morning worrying about some possible catastrophe created by the government, particularly by the former White House occupant. Another reassuring factor is that America's standing is improving worldwide.
It's almost impossible to believe that all of these subjects mentioned here are happening in the same country at the same time. The situation in the US has gotten so far out of control that I am able to maintain with great conviction that the country is truly schizophrenic. My most heartfelt wish is that a majority of the American people, including conservatives, will embrace President Biden's agenda and that by the end of this year we will see a significant change in the attitude of the population. I am absolutely certain that President Biden will give it his all.
Last week, I wrote about us renting an apartment a few years ago in a medieval tower in the center of Florence, Italy. When I look for a place to stay on the internet, it can take days before I find what I want. Persistent, picky and very critical. I’m all that. But I can also be very patient if need be.
When I first saw the ad for the tower apartment, I thought I was dreaming. It looked fantastic. Was it possible that the pictures weren’t realistic? The rent wasn’t exactly inexpensive, but I wanted to risk it. I got the go-ahead from my sister Donna and my brother-in-law Dave, who would be spending the week there with us.
Before we left for Italy, I had some email contact with the owner, Lorenzo. He seemed very nice. He said that I should contact him a few days before we were due to arrive in Florence. We would already be in Tuscany. What we didn‘t plan on was having to find a place with a good internet connection. I didn’t have the owner‘s telephone number or an address.
I was convinced that I knew exactly where the tower was located. We left Casole d’Elsa with one destination in mind. As you‘ve probably already figured out from this last sentence, things didn’t go according to plan.
While preparing our route to the tower, I saw that it was located next to Hotel Brunelleschi in the middle of the historical center. I remembered the owner saying that we could drive fairly close to it. So off we went on a Saturday afternoon in Spetember.
The center, a pedestrian zone, was brimming with people. As I was driving, I knew I shouldn't be there but didn’t know how to get out. I was getting yelled at by pedestrians in typical Italian theatrical fashion. There really wasn’t any room for a car to be driving through there. By the time we found Hotel Brunelleschi and La Torre dei Donati, I was a total wreck. The car was bursting with our luggage, so we decided that Donna and Dave should stay at the tower with our mountain of belongings until Dieterich and I found a parking spot.
The next big challenge was finding a way to get out of the pedestrian zone. I drove very slowly through the crowd, fighting back a sea of tears. No matter where I drove, there where either only one-way streets or posts that blocked any escape route. Florence is full of one-way streets. I don’t know exactly how long I was driving around, but it seemed like an eternity to me.
I even drove through Piazza della Repubblica (Republic Square) – an absolute no-no. I couldn‘t find a way out of there either and wasn’t able to hold back the tears any longer.
I was not in a condition to continue driving and luckily Dieterich took over. Within a couple of minutes, he found a street leading away from the center of town. Where was this street while I was driving?!?! Suddenly, we saw a parking garage. We didn’t waste one second to think it over. As we were waiting, we read a sign that said: „If you got to this point with your car, you definitely drove illegally through the city. If you park here, you won’t get a ticket.“ (The pedestrian zone has lots of surveillance cameras to catch unauthorized cars like ours.) Exactly what we needed.
So the parking problem was solved. Now, we had to get back to the tower. Poor Donna and Dave. They had waited so long for us and had also had some interesting experiences of their own in the meantime. In old medieval city centers, the buildings are usually packed in very close. Florence was no exception. It certainly wasn’t easy to ignore a huge pile of luggage, boxes with food, pillows, various bags and backpacks.
A hotel worker had gone over to them both, asking if they had a reservation. „No, no! We’re renting an apartment in the tower!“ „That’s impossible. This tower has been abandoned for at least twenty years.“ Taking a closer look at the building only confirmed that statement. The building really looked worse for wear. The hotel employee was helpful and even offered a drink. He suggested that Dieterich and I come into the hotel as soon as we returned.
You can probably imagine how I felt upon hearing this news. The reception manager was extremely kind when I went inside. He noticed that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He gave me the hotel’s internet code so that I could check to see if I had any emails from Lorenzo. Eureka! He had sent his private address and said I should come there as soon as possible. I wrote back that we were at the hotel and I would start off straight away.
The numbering of houses in the Florentine city center is rather special. The buildings are assigned a color code according to the type of building it is. That means that there can be two buildings with the same number but different colors. Somehow I found the building I was looking for and was told that Lorenzo had decided to go to the hotel to look for us. We probably walked right past one another on the narrow streets. His wife invited me into the house, an incredible privilege. The house has been in the family for centuries. While waiting for further information from Lorenzo, I was able to have a very interesting conversation with his wife and her best friend. At some point, Lorenzo called. He had ordered a taxi for all of our stuff. Donna and Dave would go by taxi and he and Dieterich would walk.
There are two Torre dei Donati in Florence!!! The Donati family was one of the richest, most powerful in medieval Florence. THE tower was located just a stone’s throw from Lorenzo’s house. Now, we had to drag everything up to the fourth floor. There is no elevator. Seeing the incredible amount of gear we had, Lorenzo immediately started helping us maneuver up the sometimes very narrow stairs. As I have already written, it was worth every step. We spent an unforgettable week in Florence and „our“ tower. For months after getting back home, we were afraid that we would get a huge ticket from the city of Florence. The authorities have about a year to issue them. But as the garage promised, we were spared and I was able to keep my license.
Many thanks to my brother-in-law Dave for some of the pictures!
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 only visited some eastern states and California in the West. I’ve seen 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 large 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 had 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 each year). 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 Tower - 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 chateau in Lalinde for one of our cooking classes. As we approached it, the sight of the roofs over the wall instantly 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 camping spot in Trégunc, near Concarneau, 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 either. 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 day trip 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, not even 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 oldest medieval towers left in the city. (My next installment will be about our adventure trying to find the apartment.) To get to the apartment, we had to climb 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 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 passed 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 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 sister 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 have met a lot of fantastic people, who inspire us to be involved in our town's 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 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 had 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, Wite Out, small ring binders with the appropriately sized paper, adhesive labels and German and Italian dictionaries. I already had them 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 knew next to 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 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, 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 help get through this pandemic, 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 is 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, also 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 and 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. Six deer came within 100 feet of us. It was fabulous!
We are so lucky that we have time to take these little trips and have so many marvelous photo opportunities to 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 still 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 to them.
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 after college. 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 my role models. 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, where 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 true likenesses 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 and 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 earthquakes 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 always 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 in 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 good 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: