Friday, May 28, 2010

Don't Explain

So things have been going great with that Brazilian guitarist I wrote about here maybe six weeks or so ago (and yes, he does look a little like Django Rheinhardt only younger and with glasses and all of his fingers. ;) ) The only bad news is that he will probably only be in Berlin until next April because his wife is here on a scholarship (she's writing her PhD. in Microbiology) and when it is done they will most likely go back to Brazil. Still, the best to do will be to enjoy it while it lasts.

So far we have worked on arrangements for Black Coffee, One Note Samba and Cry Me a River that we are both really happy with. Sway was added to the list today and I plan to sing part of it in Spanish too, oh my! When we have enough songs I'm sure we'll try to perform somewhere and, when we do, I want to get a dress like the one Nina Simone is wearing below. Damn! She looks incredibly hot!

Speaking of Nina Simone, Here she is singing one of the songs we are working on, Don't Explain. The lyrics aren't exactly p.c. (in fact, they are every feminist's worst nightmare...) but I find the song so heartbreaking, so tragic and yet beautifully vulnerable. Enough said. Listen and enjoy.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Behind the Scenes At Karneval der Kulturen

Ever since I can remember I've loved flea markets and garage sales. When I was growing up in Tucson I would often "borrow" a handful of quarters out of the pocket of my dad's jeans as he took his Saturday late morning nap. I would then hit all of the garage sales in the neighborhood. For some reason, there were always a lot of them, often run by the same people, several of them giving me a massive discount for being such a great customer. Because of my inborn love I pretty much assumed I would also love the Strassenfeste (street fairs) they have here in Berlin in the spring and summer. It took me a few years of denial before I realized that, actually, I don't like them one bit.

Why? Because they are a cheap, greasy, outdoor equivalent of a mall. You might see the fancy, shiny sandstone bricks of some new mall and think "Geez, I'd like to go there." But when you do you find all of the same chain stores you find in every other mall in any other town. Strassenfeste are the same: though they might have a fancy name or theme, they are always basically stand after stand of people selling overpriced import/export jewelry, dried fruit and rastafarian wigs. Imbiss after imbiss busy themselves with dishing out greasy China Pfanne or Bratwurst or Crepes. The actual theme of the fair doesn't seem to matter one bit. Karneval der Kulturen is one of these Strassenfeste and is (literally) around the corner from our apartment.

A festival that is supposed to celebrate world cultures and how multi-cultural Berlin is, Karneval der Kulturen is basically an excuse for the yokels and hillbillies from the neighboring German states to come in by droves on the train so that they can get drunk on cheap Capirinihas while stumbling down the streets of Berlin. Every year, at the street festival and the big parade held on Sunday, they try to give us the feeling we are living in Rio with Bali just around the corner. The largest non-German ethnic groups in Berlin are Turks, Arabs, Russians, Poles and (in the East) Vietnamese. And yet I've never noticed any of these cultures being particularly celebrated at this supposed multi-cultural fest....Still, I did have fun strolling through Blücherstrasse (a street that is usually filled with speedy traffic) with Baby Li while the set up for the festival yesterday. No one was really there and not much was open for business yet, so it was truly a behind the scenes glimpse.

"And who knows?" I thought. "Maybe I'll take a quick stroll there tomorrow and pick up some Quarkbällchen."

I have a bit of a weakness for Quarkbällchen which are basically deep fried donut holes covered in powder sugar that are made of, you guessed it, Quark (Quark being a dairy product with an oddly science fiction-esque name that is like a thick sour cream/Greek yogurt and is used in casseroles, as a sauce, for dessert and cake, sometimes even for building. Quark. God bless ye...)

Or I could get some Dutch French Fries with spicy satay sauce. My ex-boyfriend was Dutch Indonesian. Once, he even talked me into eating Pommes Frites Orlog (French Fry War) which is French fries with satay sauce and mayonnaise. And I am NOT a mayonnaise person, not even on sandwiches really. But my first marriage had just ended badly and I was crazy in love and he probably could have even talked me into chopping off my little finger if he had wanted to (I was even going to move to New Jersey with him, of all places, because he wanted to go to grad school there...Thank god that didn't work out!) Anyway, our relationship didn't really end badly, it just sort of fizzled out after a couple of years. Still, I will never, ever eat mayonnaise on French fries again, even with satay sauce (though I do have to admit it wasn't as bad as I had thought it would be...).

I did take a quick stroll through KdK today but I left very quickly sans fried French or quark because, well, it was a total trashfest just as I knew it would be. But it was cool to take the little series of photos when it was still so new and unsoiled. And I won't be forgetting it soon....

...because they sprayed painted the names of the various vendors and stands in hot pink paint right on the asphalt of Blücherstrasse....

Friday, May 21, 2010

You Scream, I Scream....

So spring finally arrived in Berlin today which was a great excuse for us to eat lots o' ice cream. Ha! Like the three of us needed another excuse to eat this cold creamy wonder (I say three because Jasper, being obviously crazy, doesn't really like ice cream. But think twice before leaving him alone with a bag of gummi bears if you want them to stay around for long!!) Happy belated spring Berlin. And, just in case you are thinking of cheating us out of a well deserved summer (and I've lived here long enough to know that you probably are...), don't you dare. If you do, there is at least one California/Arizona babe here who will seriously kick your butt and borrow some Bauarbeiter's double re-enforced steel toed boots before she does it. Ouch! Not worth the risk, if I do say so myself! ;)

Friday, May 14, 2010

The (In)efficiency of Germans

Anyone who holds the typical belief that Germans are an efficient group of folks will be in for a surprise if they ever spend a significant amount of time in Berlin. In fact, in my experience Germans (or at least Berliners...) tend to make most things waayy more complicated and convoluted than they actually should be. Case in point: My attempt to buy a year's membership card today at Berlin Zoological Garten.

I recently found out that the yearly membership only costs 55 Euros and, since I like zoos and will have both the babies on my hands in August when their pre-school is closed, spending a lot of time there will be the perfect solution.

No playground mommy-dom boredom. No look-outs for kamikaze bicyclists. And all an easy twenty minute bus ride away. Anyway, when I got to the zoo I told the woman at the ticket stand that I wanted to buy the membership. "Oh no. You don't buy that from me," she said then went into this complicated spiel about how I had to go to such and such a Platz where the Info Center was. I managed to grumble a somewhat polite "Huh?" and finally she told me to just pay the 12 Euro entrance fee and walk to the left. Once I got to the Info Center they would credit this amount to my membership. I walked...and walked...and walked. No Info Center. Finally I was at the entrance at the other side of the zoo. "Oh yeah, the Info Center," the woman who I asked said. "It's back that way (the way I had just come). The entrance is really hard to find, but it's there." Toll....(great...) I did eventually get there and, after showing my I.D. (very official membership application. Indeed, I thought they might even ask for a blood sample...) I got my own bonafide Zoo Card complete with picture. Then we started finally having fun.

We watched this somewhat haggard looking elephant take the most awe-inspiring pee I've ever seen in my life (not that I've watched a lot of pee action, but still. It was very impressive...)

And I took lots of pictures, much to the apparent amusement of the Dutch tourists standing behind us.

When the babie
s are at Kita (pre-school) I'll probably still go to zoo sometimes on my own. It's only a half hour ride through lovely Tiergarten and the great beer garden Schleusenkrug is really close where they also have great (and cheap) grilled food. The zoo would also be a cool place to write and, of course, take photographs of animals that are actually alive. See you at the zoo, my friends! Bis bald. ;)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Getting Inspired at the Naturkunde Museum

Because Miss Mia and Baby Li love it and it's only a quick U-Bahn ride away (and it only costs 6 Euros to get in), I've been spending a lot of time in the Museum für Naturkunde these days (The Museum of Natural History.) The museum is in an amazingly colossal, somewhat creepy Victorian building (but then I find most Victorian things kind of creepy...) and beautifully done, so I always liked it well enough. But still, the place also seems kind of, well, dated; I mean, I could be wrong, but I just don't think taxidermy is the wave of the future. After the fourth visit or so, however, I realized what amazing photographs you could take there. There are so many intense subjects mainly in front of neutral backgrounds. The only problem is you would need a tripod for most of them because the light is so poor. I asked one of the security ladies if I could take photographs with a tripod and she told only if I had a special pass. But photography in general is allowed. Today Jasper and I went there with the babies and I brought my camera along just to see what I could do. Like I already imagined, many of the photographs were too blurry, but some of them did turn out. Here are a few of the ones I like:

Still, I definitely don't feel like I'm done with the place inspiration-wise. I think I will find out what it takes to get this "special permission" pass to use a tripod. Maybe it's just a formality and not anything that costs any or much money. We'll see...

Monday, May 10, 2010

A New Addition to the Family

No mom, I'm not pregnant. Although I still do get a little weak in the knees any time I see a teeny tiny baby, Jasper and I are both sure we don't want another one. Frankly, I don't think I have it in me to go through babydom another time. Granted, I love my babes but still, the day I no longer have to change diapers or push a baby buggy in front of me is going to be the day I throw a bigggg party...The new addition I'm talking about is this adorable little goat here who has joined the Schaufenster/Curious Knopf family.

But first a little background information: I am a total and complete compulsive eBay shopper. A lot of people say there are no deals to be found on eBay but personally I just think it takes a certain kind of person. A very patient and very obsessive person. Like, for instance, myself. I, my friends, am a true eBay warrior. Two tips about eBay shopping: take people by surprise and really bid in the last twenty seconds. Otherwise you will only drive up the price and then still have the item stolen out from under your nose by a warrior like me. Tip number two: keep a cool head. Decide before hand how much you are really willing to spend and don't allow yourself to go over it. If joe schmoe really wants to pay 36 bucks for that Bakelite pencil sharpener then more power to him...

Every once in a while I'll stay up late (not unusual for a night owl like me) and have a couple of glasses of wine (ahem...also not unusual) and then bid one Euro on a series of random things just to see what will happen. The problem is I sometimes end up actually buying more of them than I wanted. This little billy goat was one of my one Euro treasures. But when I saw that the shipping was a little bit pricey I got kind of cranky. "Crap," I thought. "Well, I can probably try and sell him on Schaufenster." Imagine my surprise when I opened the package a week or so later only to find just about the COOLEST THING EVER! (and something I wasn't at all expecting because the pictures on eBay weren't that great.)

Entirely (and skillfully) handmade and hand-painted, this little goat balances on his hind legs on a stand coated in gold paint. Bad billy also seems to be a little bit randy (as you can see in the pictures, it's pre-tty obvious he's a boy!) I guess a sweet looking she-goat must have just sauntered by....Needless to say, I won't be selling him in Schaufenster. He weighs almost 2 kilos which means shipping would cost 35 Euros (42 dollars), but that's not the real reason. The real reason is I'm totally in love with him and, yes, Jasper is a little jealous. ;)

Beside, he does display jewelry oh-so-wonderfully. I'm sure he'll also someday make his appearance in Schaufenster.

Friday, May 7, 2010

5 Ways To Sing 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover

One of the things I love about a truly great song is how open it is to interpretation. At any time some new musician could come and breathe new life into it. Like Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Whether or not you actually like Paul Simon, I think most people would agree it's a great song. Great lyrics, great groove, great chorus. On a recent jaunt through YouTube land I found five different versions including the original that I liked (there were at least five other ones as well, but these were my favorites.) Let's start with Mr. Simon himself.

Although I wouldn't exactly call myself a big Paul Simon fan, I do definitely have respect for him. Whereas most old school pop singers keep on doing the same thing again and again until it almost seems pathetic, he has always constantly reinvented himself and tried new things. Of course, it also helps that he surrounds himself with the best musicians. Like the drummer Steve Gadd who came up with the drum groove solo at the beginning of the song. I don't know squat about drumming, but apparently this beat is very difficult to play and he always does it so lightly and with such feeling. Truly a master.

The drummer here doesn't have the touch Steve Gadd does, but Rosemary Clooney is a better singer than Paul Simon. This interpretation is my absolute favorite, but then I am a big Rosemary Clooney fan. She had such an unusual voice and such a great sense of rhythm.

Cadence gets out of having to compete with Steve Gadd by turning the drum solo into a beat box. Nice use of playback too.

I had never heard of the Platinum Pied Pipers, but by their picture I figured they would perform hard-edged jazz or maybe R&B. Quite a surprise that they have such a lounge-y, soft groove.

Playgroup even does a Reggae version. And it works. Mr. Simon, thanks for writing such a great song.

My vote still goes out to Rosemary. Do you have a favorite?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Girly Nature Or Girly Nurture?

People often argue about gender roles and if they are learned or if they are inherent. If you give a boy flowers instead of guns will he grow up to be more gentle? I don't really have much to say about boys since I don't have any, but I do know that Miss Mia is definitely Girly-by-Nature.

I myself was "girly" as a child in that I loved pink pleated dresses and patent leather mary janes and continued to wear them long after most other girls had already switched over to Jordache Jeans. At the same time I also loved to dig in the mud, climb trees and collect worms. I didn't see why there was any reason I couldn't do this all decked out in Gunne Sax lace.

But I was definitely encouraged to be girly by my grandmother. If either my sister or I had been tomboys she would have been extremely disappointed. As for Miss Mia, I haven't encouraged her to be that way, she just always has been. I'll never forget when she dragged me into a shoe store when she could barely talk (let alone walk) and insisted we get a pair of gold glitter ballerina flats or she wouldn't leave the store.

I haven't encouraged her, but I certainly do have fun with it. I got a vintage 1950s Bakelite nail set and we regularly give each other manicures. She also seems to have a good eye: when we went thrifting together in San Francisco a couple of months ago I wanted to get her this boring-ass teddy bear sweater but she said: "No, mama. This." and pulled off the rack this adorable vintage white and blue polka dot little number that looks like a 1960s tennis dress. No lie.

It was no real surprise then that she LOVED these hair clips my sister sent her, no doubt bought in some little Mexican store in the Mission. When we opened the box Mia said, "Oh my goodness (don't know where she got that one, because I swear like a sailor ;) ) Mama, it's princess crowns." We then put all of them in her hair and she spent several minutes admiring herself in the mirror. As you can see, I also added a few to my hair, albeit more moderately.
Only Baby Li wasn't particularly interested. So far she doesn't seem to be as interested in the girly stuff, though she is obsessed with shoes. But white tennis shoes with purple stripes not pink unicorn ballerina slippers. Parenting. What never ending fun. ;)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Truth Is More Surreal Than Fiction

Jasper and I went to the Walton Ford exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof yesterday and now he is definitely one of our favorite artists. For those of your who have never heard of him, he is an artist who does large scale animal watercolors in the style of Audubon (he even paints on spots of what looks like mildew onto many of the paintings which I thought was a nice touch.) Whereas a lot of animal illustration and paintings (especially watercolors) can end up being a little too much on the cute side, his work is really powerful and often pretty violent as is, indeed, the animal world.

But what I love most of all is that, no matter how surreal or gruesome the paintings may be, each one is based on a real anecdotes from natural history texts and documents or sometimes from a poem or short story.

This one, for example, is based on a quote about the aggressive Starling, a species non-native to the United States that was brought there by a man who wanted to establish colonies of all the birds ever mentioned in Shakespeare.

Or this one, from a diary of a man who saw a buffalo on the great plains put up a fight to the bitter end when attacked by a pack of white wolves.

Or this one about a 19th century fight between two tigers and a lion in the Tower of London.

Or this one, based on the description of Sir Richard Burton's (the Naturalist, not the actor) favorite monkey which he fed on a high chair next to his seat at the dining room table.

Walking around the room looking at these painting was an eerie, almost magical experience. No one was talking. Even our footsteps seemed to echo, like we were in some old cathedral filled with the various body parts and bones of different saints. The paintings were based on true stories, but like stories themselves, they had also risen the level of metaphor. Jasper and I bought several prints we plan to have framed for our bedroom. If you are in Berlin, you should definitely go and see the exhibition, but hurry. It ends on May 24th.

For an interesting peek into his studio, take a look at this little video:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Trigger Happy On A Saturday

There's not much in life that makes me feel happier than going for a long walk with my family when the weather is nice and my camera is around my neck. Photography is the perfect way to capture moments in a thousandth of a second; in this case, simple moments from everyday life that made me happy. Here are a few of them I captured today:

Urban macro shots. I take these obsessively. Rusted locks, broken down doors, crumbling walls....I don't really know why, but somehow they always speak to me.

I love that Miss Mia and Little Li got to blow their first dandelion seeds into the air today and that Miss Mia called them blow flowers (a direct translation of the German word, Pustenblumen). I also love that, up close, dandelions look almost like some eerie sea creature.

I loved running in an inevitable construction site because it reminded me that, in Berlin, das Leben ist immer eine Baustelle. Jasper and I tried, but for the life of us we could not remember what once stood there.

I love the fresh green of the leaves and these delicate white blossoms because spring is a time to bloom and burst from that long, lethargic winter slumber.

I love the retro Alpine Kitsch of the Almdudler logo. Almdudler is an herbal soft drink from Austria which is refreshing and delicious. For a long time you could only buy it at Austrian restaurants, but this billboard seems to promise that soon it might catch on other places.

I loved stumbling across the Max Taut Bau and peeking in the windows because he is one of my favorite architects hands down.

I loved that it's always still so great to come home. Schönes Wochenende. :)


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