(Silent) Home (Horror) Movies

 

I have been getting some of our VCR tapes digitalized before they start decomposing and/or give up the ghost completely. One of those tapes was home movies from my childhood and I stayed up till about 3 am a few nights ago watching them.

Some of the films were classics – like one of our childhood Christmas shows, my ballet performance with dramatic final pose, or the King of the Raft battles during one of our many summer trips up north. Other films were only vaguely familiar to me – maybe those were the ones that tended to be left out on the occasions when my dad hauled out the projector and turned our living room into a movie theater. As we five kids tossed pillows on the floor and jockeyed for a comfortable spot with a good view, Dad stuck a reel of film on one of the arms of the projector, threaded the tape through the machine and on to the empty receiving reel. The lights were dimmed and then came that clackety-clack sound of the projector in motion, the humming of its fan, the initial ornery and dusty smell of an appliance that has not been used in a while being forced back into deployment.

As the youngest of five kids, I had to sit through a whole lot of scenes starring my elder siblings before I was born. It did not escape me that the number of films (or photographs) of each child was inversely proportional to the order of his/her birth (Child One has the most, Child Five the least.) But, to make up for this disadvantage, I also noticed that, in contrast to the black and white childhood of my brothers and sisters, at least mine was in color!  The films were also all silent, which turned out to be another advantage. We kids were free to talk and comment and reminisce and argue as the images danced in front of and past us. In that way, I was initiated into all the chapters of our family legend that pre-dated my membership.

 

While watching all these old movies again a few days ago, I started pausing and making screenshots of memorable moments. The resulting pictures turned out to have such an eerie quality to them – I guess because the images had been reincarnated over and over again. From camera to developed film reel, from film to video cassette (Thanks, Mom!), from video cassette to digital video, from digital video to image file . . .

And now . . . some of those images are about to be launched into the internetsphere with a mere click of a “Publish” button. They will blast off in a gazillion different directions, but only very few will eventually collide with physical entity capable of decoding them. Your laptop or computer screen, for instance. (Yes, Reader, I am talking to you!)

So here they are – a few captured specters of the binarily transcribed, inversely imprinted, silent visual reproductions of moments that have become – via this long insane string of coincidences – some of my earliest memories. It really is no wonder that they seem so ghostly!

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Schwarzfahren

 

Riding home on the train yesterday, I had a new experience. It was the first time – I think in my whole life (!) – that I rode a train without a ticket. It wasn’t really my fault – neither the machine at the station nor in the train worked, so I had to wait till the fifth stop and its longer stay to get out and buy a ticket. That meant that for those five stops both on the way to the city and the way home again, I was . . . just a . . . hobo hopping trains. Riding the rails. Boxcar Betty. Queen of the Road. A tramp . . .

German speakers call this “Schwarzfahren”. Literally translated, that would be “black riding”. You can find signs in every train car, streetcar or bus warning against it. The most recent campaign imitates warning labels on cigarette packs, listing all the negative health benefits of “Schwarzfahren” – it leads to mood swings and muscle tension, high blood pressure and headaches:

I confess I didn’t suffer any of these consequences, which probably says something less than admirable about me. What is worse, though, is that my daughter accompanied me on my second crime spree. (She has her piano lessons in the city at the same time as my course and we take the train home together.) We met up at the station after our respective gigs and headed toward the train. As we were boarding, an elderly man asked us if we, too, were going to the town in Hungary that was the train’s final destination. I figured he was worried about being on the right one. We all got on, the man turned left, my daughter and I turned right and we took our usual seats.

A few minutes later, the elderly man popped up again. “We seem to be the only people on this train!” he said and then took a seat across the aisle from us. I assured him that we were very early boarders and that more would be coming.

This man was in his 70s I guess and he seemed friendly enough. He took my assurances as an invitation to chat, so in the next 10 minutes we learned all about him. He had been at an art exhibition, but had to leave early to catch this train. It was the last one that would still allow him to catch his connecting train home. He lived in Hungary part time and otherwise in Vienna – where he had many Nigerian friends.  His nationality was Austrian.

He paused while trying to figure out how to formulate his question.

We let him know that I was American and that my daughter had dual citizenship – Austrian American.

“Oh!” he said, clearly surprised. Then followed that up with “That Donald Trump . . . he’s a crazy guy, isn’t he?”

We rolled our eyes and I said “No. No no. We are not going to talk about that man.” And we all sort of half-smiled. There was a short silence as the man looked at my daughter.

He mentioned his Nigerian friends for a second time and was clearly trying to find out the – let’s say “ancestry” – of my brown-skinned daughter. One of us put him out of his misery and said “Ethiopian.”

“I had an Ethiopian girlfriend!” he blurted out excitedly. “For about three years. She was married off very young to a man that her father chose. That’s what those people do. She wanted to stay with me, but eventually she had to go back to her husband.”

I mentioned that Ethiopian customs differed a lot all over the country and then asked a few polite questions to figure out what kind of character we were dealing with here. The “romance” had happened years earlier when he was 57 and she was 25.  And, yes, he had wanted to marry her.

There was a lull in the conversation. He watched my daughter dig around in her backpack for her headphones. He started talking again:

“I saw a documentary once on Ethiopian TV about a young girl who left her family and went to work in a shoe factory. She lived in a tiny, dirty little house and earned just enough to feed herself. I thought, if I knew who she was, I would go save her. She could come live with me. Do some housework. Have a better life. . .”

My daughter piped up: “You know it often seems to us like all poorer people are miserable. But a lot of them know very little about how we live. They don’t have much, but neither do their friends and neighbors. They can still be happy. They don’t want to be saved.”

“Well,” replied the man, “I guess there wouldn’t be enough room here for all of them anyway.”

My daughter and I exchanged glances and then both chose that moment to insert our headphones and start the music (or in my case, podcast). I sat there marveling at my daughter’s grace and composure. She managed to stick up for herself and others confidently without being rude or provoking. She had shut the man down and was now shutting him out.

A new understanding rushed over me of how . . .  simply being in this world must feel to her at times. And then I thought of all those signs again, warning that “Schwarzfahren” can lead to headaches and high blood pressure and mood swings. It occurred to me that the word could also be translated as “Riding While Black” . . .  and the signs would still be true.

Sh**thole American

 

Although I sometimes feel like one, I should explain upfront that the title of this blog post does not refer to me personally . . . .

. . . yet.

 

As the mother of two African children who became proud American citizens just six months ago today, I scream out to that whole continent:

“I am sorry!”

 

To the one Haitian American I know, a wonderful woman named Nancy, who just happens to be a judge in my hometown now and who invited us to watch an incredibly moving naturalization ceremony (an experience I consider a privilege to have had to  this day), I yell out:

“I am sorry!”

 

I am ashamed of our president.

It remains to be seen if I become ashamed of my country.

2017 in the Rear-view Mirror

I’m not sure I ever confessed this before, but I am one of those people who writes a year-in-review Christmas letter and mails it off to about 50 different people strewn across the globe.  Theoretically, I assume that none of the recipients groans on receiving it – though I can’t be entirely sure about that. I do get the sporadic positive feedback. The best part is that each year one or two of the readers are inspired to respond in kind. I get all sorts of news and pictures and updates from people I haven’t heard from in way too long.  That, alone, makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

A second perk of this year’s efforts was that – once I was done – I had to admit that 2017 did NOT suck as much as I had thought it would at the start. It was not all exhausting postandpresenttrumptraumamalaise after all! There were wonderful travels and reunions and moments in teaching. There were new (learning) experiences and moments of parental vicarious glory while listening to my children sing or perform.  My (originally African) daughters became dual citizens of Europe and the USA.  I rediscovered ice cubes and developed a taste for cooking. I got a boat named after me! . . .

Ok, ok, in that last one I am fudging a bit. It is not a yacht or anything. It’s a tiny remote-controlled bait boat. And it wasn’t actually my husband’s idea to name it after me, but his fishing buddy’s. And he only used it once before it broke down. But, still – I got a boat named after me! How many people out there can say that??

 . . . What else? . . . I hoed a hedgehog! I protested! I became a Chicken Whisperer! And right at the end of 2017, I discovered yet another new hobby.

It began at a Christmas market that I went to with my husband and my dear friend Lyart who was visiting. We stopped at a stand full of lovely, handmade birdhouses and Ly immediately bought us one.  A few mulled wines later, my husband disappeared and returned with a second, bigger birdhouse. In the following days, I excitedly purchased all sorts of birdfeed and then pressured the hubby to put up/hang up the houses in our yard. We filled them with seeds and then withdrew back into the house to watch.

            

The birds started arriving almost immediately. Mostly little white and blue ones. “What are those?” I asked my husband and he informed me that they were “Kohlmeise”. I looked that name up and found out that, unfortunately, these birds are called “great tits” in English. Then another bird appeared and caused a lot of excitement. “What is it?” I asked. My husband replied that it was a “Specht”. I google-translated that name and the word “pecker” popped up on my screen. I didn’t like where this was going . . .

 

 

I’m not sure I ever confessed this before, but I am something of a prude. I don’t run around the house in my underwear. I DO advise my teenage daughters to take their time and not rush into serious relationships. I don’t get racy jokes. I don’t use swearwords or “dirty” words and rarely hear them in my own household.

. . . What can I say? I still fully intend to continue this new hobby of bird-watching (though, I don’t intend on talking about it much). I’m hoping it will help me cope with whatever 2018 brings, the way chicken keeping did in 2017.

And speaking of 2018 – I’ll take this chance to wish all of you out there reading this a

Very Happy New Year!

 

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

 

The husband dragged me to a “Small Animal Show” to look at chickens last weekend. Okay, okay, I wasn’t completely against the idea. But his confession of wanting to purchase two more Wyandottes there . . . and one of them a rooster!  . . . AND with the idea of starting to breed them!! – well, that was too much. I had to go along if for no other reason than to stop this insanity.

The first thing we saw on arrival was an absolutely gorgeous Wyandotte couple – and so obviously in love! And a big blue ribbon was hanging on their cages. Suddenly I was half on board with the whole breeding idea. I wanted those chickens! But, alas, these particular two were not for sale. The ones we could have were clearly inferior. I was less on board. We needed a little time to come to a decision.

We walked around and looked at the other animals for a while – more chickens and other sundry, questionable species. Here is a sampling of the lovely specimens we saw.

 

And then came the moment when I saw her – the perfect chicken.

Beautiful form and coloring. According to the information by the cage, she was also a good layer of eggs AND a good meat breed (not that we’d ever eat one of our own chickens.) Sturdy. Uncomplicated. There was only one tiny problem: the name.

This was a “Deutsches Reichshuhn”. Translation: a “German Reich’s Chicken”.

There was no way my Austrian husband was going to welcome a German Reich’s Chicken into our flock.

 

How can I explain this?

. . . hhhmmm . . . ?

Have you seen the film “The Sound of Music”? (Of course you have!)  So, tell me, in what scenario would Captain von Trapp welcome a German Reich’s person into his beloved homeland? None!!  Never!! Think of my Austrian husband as Captain von T. Now . . . were I anything like Maria von Trapp – in the film, anyway – I would have understood my husband – maybe even admired and supported his stance . . .

There were a few problems though.

First – that German Reich’s hen really was an attractive chicken. Secondly, those Wyandotte’s were so obviously substandard. Thirdly, let’s face it – I am nothing like Maria von Trapp – at least the film version of her.

I do happen to know, though, that the real MvT was also nothing like Julie, because I actually read her book. It was . . . disappointing to say the least Only “The Thornbirds” supersedes it on the “Worst Book Ever” list. It did, however, give me a new insight into the real Maria – who didn’t want to be married off to a rich widower with seven snotty kids. She wanted to be a nun. She was coerced into the marriage gig by her Order and subsequently went through life with the martyr’s mantra “God’s Will Hath No Why”. She was certainly no part of any resistance.

So . . . I channeled her, meaning the true, non-julie-andrews, Maria von Trapp and argued with my husband about our poultry decision.

I said, or actually, I sort of . . . barked in a gruff 1930s German accent:

“I sink zis German Reich’s chicken is EXACTLY what our sorry flock needs! She will finally bring some ORDER to our chaos! JA WOHL!  Zere will be a new attitude! Our chickens, zhey will get back to work! Zhey will tear out all zose pesky Edelweiss weeds by zhe roots! Egg production will increase! Zhe neighbors will learn to respect us again!”

 

For some inexplicable reason, my arguments didn’t work.

 

We took the sorry, second class Wyandotte pair home with us. The rooster became Gustav’s special friend fairly quickly. The hen refuses to enter the stall at night. She sneaks under the fence and then waits there, in front of the hen house(or under it), for me to come down, pick her up, open the door and stuff her in. She clearly likes the special attention.

Egg production, in general, has not increased.

 

And then there were nine.

Country Mouse, City Mouse

or:

“Four Recent (Mostly Unrelated) Run-ins with Nature.”

 

For some reason (which might have something to do with the return of the Nemesis to my household) I have had this sense of Mother Nature stealthily inserting her tentacles into my daily routine and life like the roots of a staghorn sumac. All I know is that I keep having these various encounters with Greenworld. It’s all very odd.

Encounter Number One of course deals with chickens.

Thanks for all the support you all gave me for my frequent chicken posting, by the way. Alison added that I shouldn’t neglect the Gingerbread Man in the process, so . . . go ahead and blame her for this first part of the post. On her urging, GB Man (finally!) met the chickens. It was . . . well, let’s have him tell the story . . .

“It went okay, basically. They were standoffish, mostly. Kind of clique-y. I spent most of the time alone at the feed trough. One chicken finally joined me, but didn’t say anything. Another one was all hectic and liked to call attention to herself. She had a haircut just like that guy I always see on my Person’s laptop. That was kind of creepy. I didn’t find any eggs. I’m not sure what all the hullaballoo is about.”

 

 

Encounter Number Two happened during my daily dog walks.

The autumn colors are spectacular this year. In the past two days there has also been an interesting assortment of clouds and a very thin haze, so it felt the whole time like I was walking through an impressionist painting. I remembered telling a student about Claude Monet and how he would paint the same scene over and over again at different times of the day and in different lighting. I tried the same thing, except with my camera. Here’s an example:

 

Encounter Three

My upstairs bathroom has officially been declared a natural habitat of the rodents, by the rodents and for the rodents. We had known there was a mouse – maybe two – in there for a while and we finally set a trap about five days ago. Within 10 minutes we heard a loud snap and had our first captive. The husband took it outside, walked quite a ways from the house, and set it free. He then reset the trap. By the end of the evening we had caught 5 mice.

Three days later we were up to Number 22 – here he is:

Since there is no way that 22 mice were living in our small upstairs bathroom without us noticing it, we decided that we were simply catching the same two or three mice over and over again. Somehow they were finding their way and sneaking back in.

The husband made a makeshift carrier for the next two mice and then took them to work with him the next morning (in a city 10 miles away). Here is Mouse 25 who is slated for relocation tomorrow. Note the useless Devil Cat posing nonchalantly next to him. No sense of shame there whatsoever.

Encounter Four required a road trip.

Now that the chicken project has lost its shiny new luster, the husband is on the lookout for a new project. He discovered a livestock breeder who had not only chickens, but also little dwarf goats and sheep. He asked me if I wanted to go along with him to look at them and for some reason, I actually said yes.

         

I’ve considered myself a city person who merely ended up in the country by accident 30 years ago and will probably keep living here for up to 30 more. But that doesn’t make me a rural person, no matter how many chickens I keep, walks in the countryside I take, or mice I relocate. I just don’t see myself as the keeper of miniature goats.

Although . . . they were pretty cute.

And I would find room for that donkey in a heartbeat.

 

 

A Barn Yarn

 

“I’m stuck!” I told my sister on the phone. “No one wants to read about my morbid obsession with the American pwesident or my current workplace  . . . curiosities. I can’t write about anything in my private life because it is all OPS. And I can’t just keep writing about chickens.”
“Keep writing about chickens! Do!” she answered.  “I love it when you write about chickens.”
Thanks, Sis. Once again.

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I jumped on the chicken bandwagon a bit too late.

Had I been in on our poultry project from the start, I would have encouraged the husband to build our hen house in the style of a traditional Wisconsin barn. The kind I passed on weekends as we drove to Grandma and Grandpa’s house each Sunday. Or the ones we saw on our way Up North for vacation each summer – those yearly six or seven hour drives, first through the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin farmland and then into the Big Woods with its 15.000 little lakes. A cottage on shores of one of these was our usual destination – our own temporary “Little House”. Within an hour of arrival, I was in the water and basically stayed there for most of the day, every day. Any time not in the water was spent on nature hikes and/or steeped in fantasies of being Wisconsin’s most famous pioneer girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I devoured her books (repeatedly!) as a child. She was my link to the 19th century version of myself.

My husband has his own link to his 19th century self and it is much more impressive. His great great grandfather was a famous writer and poet who grew up modestly in a remote mountainous region of Styria. The childhood home of this man, Peter Rosegger, is now a museum. My husband visited this place many times in his childhood and I imagine he also fantasized there about being a 19th century “Forest Farmer Boy”. In any case, he clearly had some other image in his mind as he built our chicken coop. Something more Austrian.

 

Last week he announced that he was going to paint our hen house and started suggesting colors. It was at this point, that I finally got involved in the construction project. Blue?? Who’s ever heard of a BLUE barn?!? Honestly! Anyway, here is the result:

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P.S. Thanks Sis, too, for the compliments on the coop via WhatsApp. As for your curiosity about what it looks like on the inside, I have to disappoint. Chickens are crappy decorators. Literally.