Thursday, May 17, 2007

17 May: Home Again

This will be my last post before signing off for our week-long trip to Michigan.

Postcript from the Nürburgring: John’s friend Gert had a great time and definitely plans to return with his Mini. He also said, “I didn’t know women could drive like that.” It’s always nice to be able to poke a hole in the stereotype that all women are bad drivers!

This has been a busy week – on Monday I cleaned house in preparation for hosting the IWC book club on Tuesday morning. In the afternoon I walked Cody down to the vet for his annual vaccinations. Dr. Röschke once again complimented me on my German. Cody was very well-behaved while he got his shots and Dr. Röschke gave him a treat when he was done. I told Dr. Röschke that this might be my last visit because my husband works for Chrysler, but then I remembered that we will have to come back to get the pets’ travel paperwork signed. It started to rain while we were at the vet but fortunately I had brought an umbrella, so we took a nice stroll through the woods on our way home. (It’s been cold and rainy all week, by the way – in stark contrast to April’s balmy weather!) I decided to bake a blueberry coffee cake for the book club at the last minute and was up until 11 pm on Monday night waiting for it to finish!

We had eight people at the book club again – me, Debbie, Heather, Brenda, Katrina, Beth, Jane, and Ula (our first German participant!) – which I think is a good size; any larger and we wouldn’t be able to fit in my living room! We had a lovely time discussing Buddenbrooks. Debbie brought along a huge book about Thomas Mann and showed us pictures of the author and his family – upon whom the characters in the book are based – as well as the Buddenbrooks house and various landmarks in Lübeck, Mann’s hometown and the unnamed setting of most of the Buddenbrooks story. We had a fun time discussing the characters and Mann’s wonderfully descriptive, surprisingly humorous writing style. We had another successful book swap and I managed to come away with a whole stack of interesting new reading, just in time for our long flight home! We hemmed and hawed for a while about what book to read next. We all agreed that we wanted something more uplifting and modern. Heather remembered that I had mentioned that I was reading North to the Night by Alvah Simon at Shannon’s house last week. It is an incredible story about a man and his wife who sailed north of the Arctic Circle and spent the winter of 1994-95 frozen in the ice. After I described the book to the group, we decided it would be a good choice.

After the book club I had to take Scotty down to the vet for his vaccinations. (I’ve decided it is much easier to take the pets one at a time!) Scotty accepted his fate with the shots but when it came time for the nose drops (which is how they administer the feline leukemia vaccination here), he went into attack mode and seriously mauled several of my fingers. I asked Dr. Röschke for a towel so I could protect myself and when we were finally done he swabbed my fingers with iodine. This is the second time I have required first aid at Dr. Röschke’s office so he suggested that next time we get the towel out before we start!

Evelyne has wanted to show me some of her old home movies for some time now, so I went over to her house in the afternoon to see them. Oda came home from school while I was there and joined us. Evelyne has all these great silent 9-mm films of trips she took in her youth. One was from her 1976 trip to New York, which was primarily footage from a boat ride they took around the city, set to German marching music. But what she really wanted to show me was her 1979 tour to California and Nevada with her family. They visited Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and various places in between, along with a scenic flight over the Grand Canyon, over a period of ten days. She had footage from flying into San Francisco and I was able to identify the Dumbarton Bridge for her and point out roughly where we lived on the Peninsula. The films are somewhat grainy and overexposed, but they convey the atmosphere of the places and times quite well, and it was really fun to see all of these familiar California landmarks through the eyes of a 20-year-old German woman. After that we watched some hilarious videos of Oda and Birk as babies – including a visit from St. Nikolas (actually their uncle dressed up as St. Nikolas), who reads out of a great big book, telling the children what naughty and nice things they have done over the past year. Oda, who was watching all of the videos quite gleefully, started laughing so hard at herself and her brother that she had to leave the room. Finally Evelyne showed me her very oldest film, taken by her father in 1956, when she and her twin sister were just about a year old. They were wearing little white dresses and hats, having a picnic in a sunny meadow with their mother and aunt. The film was silent of course, but someone had added some hauntingly beautiful piano music that suited the idyllic scene perfectly.

After my visit with Evelyne and Oda, I had to rush home to walk Cody and get ready for the IWC’s monthly dinner. This time we went to a place in Stuttgart-West called Weinstube Trollinger. I was already running late and I had to take the U-Bahn downtown and then get on the S-Bahn, which is the larger, faster train network in Stuttgart that runs out to some of the farther-flung suburbs. Fortunately virtually all of the S-Bahn lines run from the Hauptbahnhof, where I got off the U-Bahn, through the stop I wanted, so I only had to wait a couple of minutes for the next train to come. I hadn’t been on the S-Bahn in nearly a year and a half – the only time I have had to take it was to get to a couple of German classes in Esslingen before I had a car. Ironically, as soon as I got on the train, a guy came around checking tickets. This was only the second time I have ever had my ticket checked on any Stuttgart train – the other time being my very first S-Bahn ride with Rocco back in October 2005. Fortunately I knew what to expect – once again the guy wasn’t wearing a uniform, but at least I understood what he was asking for!

I got off at the Feuersee stop and found myself directly across the street from the restaurant. It was a small group of ten or so this time but I was glad I decided to go because my friend Monique was there (she’s the one who loaned me North to the Night last summer) and I hadn’t seen her in months, so we had a good time catching up. The restaurant is famous for its meal-sized baked potatoes, so I ordered the Ofenkartofel Klassic – actually two baked potatoes smothered with sour cream, fried onions, and crispy bacon bits. I don’t even want to know how many calories I consumed. After dinner I walked to the U-Bahn with Eliza (who also lives in Botnang) and we rode home together. It turns out that there is a U-Bahn station about four blocks away so I could have avoided the S-Bahn altogether!

On Wednesday morning I had to take Cody and Scotty to the Tierhotel because Thursday is a holiday (Christi Himmelfahrt) and the Tierhotel is not open on holidays, in order to respect the peace and quiet of the neighborhood. Herr Ratibor was there to greet me and he told me once again that they always look forward to Cody’s visits because he is such a “special dog.” I told him that Cody is very well-known in our neighborhood because he is so friendly with everyone and all dogs. Herr Ratibor said, “Oh, so it is not just me? I will try not to be jealous.” I talked a bit with Herr Ratibor about the Chrysler situation; he said he was very disappointed to see things end this way. He and his wife had just looked at the Jeep Commander but they determined that the cargo area just wasn’t big enough for a Leonberger (the breed of dogs that they raise at the castle)! As I was leaving I got to see them take the dogs out for their group walk at noon, and the image of Cody bounding along joyously with his fluffy rear end bouncing in the air was priceless. Herr Ratibor walked me to the gate, as his two daughters were just arriving home from school. He saw our E-Class and wanted to check it out. I told him we had just driven it on the Nürburgring and he was quite impressed!

Today (Thursday) is a holiday so John is home and we are planning to spend the afternoon going through our clothes and picking out a bunch of stuff to take home and leave in Michigan. We have no weight limit on the corporate plane so we can take as much as we can fit into two bags. If we get all of our packing done in time, I will hopefully be going to the Chick Flick night at Emily’s house this evening.

As a parting thought, I realized this week that John will be able to say that he was the first and only Chrysler designer ever to do an exchange at Mercedes. He will be meeting with his bosses at Chrysler on Monday; after that we will have a better idea about how long we will stay in Germany.

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