Mit wärmeren Worten = With Warmer Words

Translated by yours truly for a translation class. It's "spring" break!

Up and Down

A year ago Monday was Munich, snow-covered, gearing up for Fasching. It was a day for hot chocolate and cream-filled donuts and visiting the summer palace. This photo is part of the I Will Remember This As the Winter Palace series. Today resembled a year ago: the snow stretched into the distance, seemingly without end. Instead of a palace, there was a history classroom. A year ago today, I was on vacation.
Friday was a bust-out-your-nice-shoes-you-protect-from-inclement-weather sort of day, but a walk-in-the-street-because-these-puddles-are-too-deep one as well. It was a day to stop by the Pastry Peddler and buy pain au chocolat or a cinnamon roll and walk down the street with your coat open. A day to stop across the street from your destination, even though you're running late, and take a picture of the sunlight reflecting on the buildings, even if it does look a little Eastern Bloc.
Saturday was opening the barking front door to a peeling paint, brick house, to be greeted by sniffs and licks and the perennial smile of the puppy you picked out at the zoo almost eight years ago. The queen of the house slept on the kitchen table in a little sun-pond, while the aloe and African violets lay uncomfortably on their sides. Saturday was opening the back door of the house onto a greenhouse of old wood, tools, a table used for candlelit summer dinners and an aging cat chirruping his hello from his sunny perch. Driving along the lake; next to the joggers and the walkers, the snow was melting on the lawns. The water was calm, but there were still piles of jagged ice along the shore.
Sunday was shopping malls and empty storefronts. Bumpy roads, glare on expressway exit signs. Racing the unbeatable lights back to the expressway past dirty old houses, cars, grass. Friendly people. Later, new snow.

Monday was slipping to school. My boots have flat soles. Slip, slip, slip. Why bother. Monday night, the crows surrounded our house. Again.

Treppenhaus = Stairwell = One Reason I Like the B-School

The business school's new building is something I think about almost every day. Or maybe five days a week—the five days I have class, always starting in the same building. I trudge up East U., turn onto Tappan and rush along past this building and the edge of the Law Quad and the historical library and under the Grad Library and then finally, I arrive at Mason Hall and curse the stairs I have to climb and the teachers that like to start one to two minutes ahead of time. I'm usually on time, but they don't seem to realize it. At the end of most days, I take the same path home again.
I think construction started when I still lived in East Quad, so I lived only one street away. The first time I remember really looking at the building, it was already clearly a building, and maybe tall already, and it was partially covered in this:
It was a stretch, but I hoped those orange tiles (described perhaps more accurately, and certainly more forgivingly, as 'terra cotta' on the website of those I hold accountable) were somehow a layer that would end up below the surface. Some weird insulation? Something. Not that there's anything automatically bad about them. I just don't like them.
I knew it was too much to hope the same for the thin-looking tan stone that seemed so superficial and icky.
I don't know if it was the same day, but one day walking along Hill, Cooper and I considered the height of the glass stairwell. He thought maybe he should test his fear of heights up there. I remembered the trees that stretch out in from of you when you look out the windows on the upper floors of the Grad Library in autumn, or out from my cosmology classroom at the top of the USB freshman year, and figured it would be a pretty nice view.
 When I came home from Germany, the building was long finished. My instinctive dislike for it remained, but after a year filled with visits to the old towns of Europa, I had discovered a new appreciation for newer buildings, even the boring ones, as long as they weren't offensive. When we emerged from the U-Bahn tunnels at Potsdamer Platz last January on my first night in Berlin (which, by the way, was spent watching Twilight in the original English, because that's what big cities are for), an unexpected excitement poured into me when I saw skyscrapers. Real skyscrapers. Shiny and lit up and sparkly. There was one building that can be described as nothing other than pointy. (PriceWaterhouse Coopers on Potsdamer Platz, I guess.) I just couldn't get over its pointyness. Anyway. It was exciting.
So, too, is the newest home of the U-M Ross School of Business. It has some weird shapes going on. And the glass! There's so much of it. I haven't ventured inside, but those classrooms must be full of natural light. Also full of over-the-top fancy equipment, I hear, but I guess that's what happens when you're funded by alumni who actually try to make money? When I see the glass, sometimes I flash to the distant future, with Ann Arbor in ruins. How does glass hold up to the test of time? Will there be jagged mountain ranges where pristine cyan prisms stand today? Will the building's glass limbs, the parts that make it what it is, even be there, or will it be a hulking orange beast gutted by some inexplicable disaster? (Human greed and nuclear war are usually the culprit in these scenarios, but who knows.) There's a part of me that knows the glass used in building is incredibly strong, but I can't help but think that it will break, or else slowly, over the course of millennia, ooze down to the ground and somehow disappear. If this is true, our ruins will have much larger conceptual holes than those of, say, Ireland. You can see how the stone churches dotting the Irish countryside would have worked. A glassless glass building would make no sense.
To avoid the tirade I'm about to go off on about how so many German buildings aren't really as old as they say they are and my parents' house is older than that building from the "fourteenth" century, or thinking about old buildings in general, I will leave you with my favorite parts of the B-School, the reasons I realized it was kind of nice after all. First, the stairs in the glass stairwell make a great design against the sky. You can even see people walking up and down them.
They look even better at dusk, as does the whole building. The interior becomes a warm yellow when the lights go on inside. Viewed against the darkening sky and through the glass, which keeps its greenish tinge, this cold, angular building becomes welcoming. It's definitely the best part of the walk home.

A Collage of Information of Varying Levels of Usefulness

You should know that as I write this, I am enjoying a baguette with butter and with gouda. Yes, today is the day that I finally broke down and bought the Trader Joe's double cream gouda, even though it feels all too squishy every time I longingly pick it up as I peruse the cheese section, and think of the delicious mittelalt Gouda—middle-aged, I guess, although I don't generally like to think of my cheeses as having life trajectories or anything—that I ate in Germany. Anyway, my suspicions were valid. This cheese is just so squishy and pretty much spreadable and I've got to go somewhere more expensive to get me some perfect gouda. It does taste like gouda though, which is good, and it has the pretty goldy wax instead of boring red. And the bread and butter I'm eating is perfect. The kitten can sense this: he keeps springing up onto the coffee table and whining.

Last week, Alex quoted me passing judgment on the claims of both "science" and "the internet" on his Tumblr*, Hunting for Ghosts. It's insightful, I promise. I guess I'm one step closer to internet fame? Unlikely. He also provides evidence that Germany equals China. (He studied in Qingdao in Shangdong, which was a German colony, he told me. Also, it has the largest brewery in Asia, of course.)

*I guess I have to stop saying I don't get Tumblr, because I do, that really just a noun you can use, like blog? And Twitter? I hate Twitter. Do we have to keep capitalizing them? How do you have a Tumblr (without "account" or something attached)? Confusing.

Now for news item number two. On Thursday evening, I was taking what was intended to be a mini-nap in the middle of reading about the iconoclast crisis in Byzantine history, when suddenly, a loud beep awoke me from my slumber. Or maybe it was my phone vibrating...that was around when my volume wasn't working because I spilled a glass of water all over the coffee table.  Anyway, I got a text message, and it read: OBAMA IS DELIVERING THE COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS. Embarrassingly enough, this was too complicated a formulation for me in my sleepdrunk state and my first response was "What's the commencement address?" I tried to think of what Obama would be saying on television now, and why it would be a surprise/exciting that he was doing what must be a president's job, and whaa—and then it hit me. Somehow, somehow, the possibility we had thrown about was happening. Someone once said he wouldn't go to the big graduation unless Obama was the speaker. No one else would make sitting through it worth it. I pretty much agreed.

A lot of people are going to graduation this year. Myself included.

When I called my mom to tell her about Obama speaking at my graduation, she told me that she had almost called me the day before because our no-longer-fat, darling orange cat Mr. Pepys hadn't made an appearance to gratingly meow for food in a long time. My parents' conclusion was that he'd crawled somewhere to die or had escaped into the snowy cold and then died. (Such cheerful people, right?) They looked everywhere, even my uninhabited bedroom, and my dad took the dog out to look for frozen cat bodies, but (luckily) had no luck. But when he opened a can of cat food in the kitchen, he heard the faint meows of greedy Peepers in the distance. Thank god. Pepys had been under my bed by the best heat vent in the house, but my dad hadn't checked there because under the bed? That's where the trundle bed belongs, not cats! Oops. The trundle bed's mattress currently resides in Ann Arbor with me.

This weekend, the horrible feeling of ineedtogetout, ineedtobegone crept in again. Damn you, February. But then I went to a fancy cocktail party and got to wear the jumper Emma and I made a few weekends ago for the first time. (It's the middle one, don't worry, and for the party, I wore it as a dress without a shirt under it.) Today I read about how the Texas school board is horrible—"How Christian Were the Founders?." Apparently the rest of the world did, too, seeing as it's the most emailed article right now on the New York Times. Then I read some mystical Turkish poetry. Now I think I'll do some yoga and go to sleep. Or maybe just go to sleep. Why is it 2:00 am? Someone is playing "Tearin' Up My Heart" in the other room.

Here we go again...

And the snow's only getting thicker. Back to the oversized snow boots for me.

There's Something About February

I have a theory about Februarys. (Novembers too, but that's another story.*) The theory is that Februarys become a problem from which one needs to escape. I guess there's the obvious reason: it's been cold for a while. It's been really cold for over a month. When it's sunny, it usually means it's painfully cold. Last week it was actually easily bearable, but that didn't mean I wanted to walk all the way to campus and climb several flights of stairs and talk about winter and Melancholie in der deutsch(sprachig)en Literatur und Kultur—hey look, my class is on topic. I especially did not want to do this on five hours of sleep. Last week kind of spiraled out of control; everything took longer than anticipated, even when I was working diligently. I'd be working working working and then look up at the corner of my computer screen and yell, "Goddammit!" pointlessly to myself when I realized how much time I'd spent scanning in the original text of a translation I'm working on, for example. And converting files. And trying to combine several PDFs into one for free online. It's not easy. I gave up.
This is what February is like: trekking across a never-ending sheet of ice. (View out the Reichstag in Berlin, Jan. 2009) 

Even if the cold has stretched farther into our lives by February (and we're only a week in, people—the oppression will continue), so has daytime. As January passed, I marveled at the sunlight that was still around in the evenings. Maybe the problem with February is that everything has become normal. The snow is old in Ann Arbor, and probably nonexistent in Wayne County, or if in a given February it's there, it's probably dirty from the roads. The sun has been working on its return for over a month, so it's less of a surprise. Midterms are already happening for those of us unfortunate enough to have the two-plus-midterms-and-a-final schedule, and then the normal ones come at the end of the month before "spring" break. (On Thursday I had to spell out Huitzilopochtli on my exam on the archaeology of the Aztecs, and it was not fun. Seeing as that was the hardest part of the test, though, I can't really complain.) It's still the beginning of the new year, but the charm has worn off, and in the context of a university year, by February we've been walking these same streets to do the same things and not sleep at the right times for the same reasons for over five months.
Traveling somewhere that is somewhat closer to spring than Michigan is a good plan. (Justizpalast, Munich, Feb. 2008)

Let's get on with life. Let's go. To the wide open west! To the (somewhat) warmer south! To the I don't have an adjective right now besides snooty and cultured east! To the wilds of the north! The secret is that it's not that warm anywhere nearby, and life here isn't so bad when you're not applying to things constantly and then realizing the devious kitten is sleeping on your computer in the hope that the rickety screen will finally get pushed all the way off so that you have to buy a new computer and can never afford to travel anywhere ever again.

The last few weekends have been really pleasant, even if they were in wintry Michigan and I can no longer remember the weekdays, just the blur of homework and drooping eyelids. I've watched movies: one night all Emma and I could think of that was appealing then was the German film Downfall and Ten Things I Hate About You (neither of which we had seen in full), but wanted something in between. Somehow we ended up checking out Breakfast At Tiffany's. It's in between chronologically, so they dress nicely and are closer to Nazi Germany, but it's not too comedic or really romantic, just crazy. So crazy. I saw Avatar with my brother and parents one weekend for my dad's birthday, then went to Polish Village in Hamtramck for delicious pork, pork, pork and potatoes and that lovely Central European woodbeams-and-white-walls-and-tall-glasses-of-beer atmosphere. It was still January back then.
The dust caught the light so well, but later I cleaned these stairs and vacuumed more than I have ever vacuumed in my life.

My mom visited me and my brother in Ann Arbor so she could take the car I drive home for repairs, and I visited ex-housemates/best friends that have moved out of our daily lives, and they visited us. We ate cookies, ice cream, Chinese food, chocolate lava cakes made in my new red ramekins. I went to East Quad and saw the last Evening of Scenes I will probably ever see, and watched World War II and Werner Herzog movies. I never went to bed at the right time on Sunday nights. Also, I read. I didn't read enough, but I tried, and once Thursdays came and all my due dates had passed, I curled up in the possibly moldy but always cozy yellow armchair, angled it to catch the most light, and read the History of the Byzantine State for as long as I could without falling asleep. One time, I wore my sunglasses because the light reflecting off the book's pages was too bright. Sometimes, like Table Cat, I would just shut my eyes and enjoy the sun.
Ostrogorsky rarely cites English sources. He wrote his history of Byzantium in German, which remains most clear in the footnotes ('Der Streit über den Titel des ökumenischen Patriarchen, z.B.). There are also sources from languages I can't read—Slavic ones, Greek, Latin, Italian. But most of them are in German and French, and I get excited thinking that for once, my combination of foreign languages is most useful. I read "L'Organisation militaire de l'Égypte byzantine, Fin du monde antique, les Études de papyrologie" and I think I want to be studying French again. Sometimes, in the early afternoons when I have the house to myself, I read the titles out loud to the dozing, indifferent cats and try take my accent as far as it can go.

I spent one Sunday going through my photos from last year to build a free photo book on Shutterfly, and then to pick which ones to order prints of to bring my total cost up to free-shipping level. It took all day, and by the end, all I wanted was to ride the Straßenbahn into town, or eat another piece of that Parisian quiche I have a photo of, or at the very least, get out my trusty travel backpack and return to the straightforward existence of the traveler for a week or two. All week long, I'd find myself thinking of other places I could be. It's not that I was overwhelmed, not like other Februarys. Somehow, I still got drawn into this wanderlust (I didn't realize that was a German loanword but it makes sense!). I would love to be around in this house for more golden sunsets like the one below, but I would also love to leave. There's something about February that just makes you want to be somewhere—maybe anywhere—else.
 *Oh, and November? That's the actual cruellest month. Also, I probably should stop talking about sunlight so much; I have a post from last year called Sonnenlicht = Sunlight. And the first two of the last photos are through the front door; the last is the fairy statue on the porch without anything but air between it and the camera.