Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The things I thought about after posting my last blog post (including clarifications, and the night before the flight, and yesterday) - Carver

We haven't posted any posts about London or Budapest. I don't know why no one did. But Syarra is writing about London now. But my post stays focused on Berlin, for some reason this excites me far more than Budapest and London. The night before the flight is in London. But otherwise, I will leave London to Syarra.

Clarifications: Curry Baud was a little building built on a building that you could buy tickets at and that went down to the U-Bahn. There were no inside seats so we sat outside. Syarra got a Bratwurst. That is pronounced bratvurst because w makes a v sound in German. I got a schnitzel. My Dad got a Currywurst Special and my Mom got a Kartoffelpuffer mit Apfelmus. That is basically a potato pancake with applesauce. But the potato pancakes taste different than the ones I eat at Hanukkah every year. I liked Syarra's the most. I loved Curry Baud and if anyone is visiting Berlin, I recommend Curry Baud. The online maps of the U and S - Bahn aren't very good. So I was happy to find that there is a physical map on the wall in our apartment. We have a park nearby. So close that when we have gone out before, Syarra and I have gone there and my parents would finish getting ready and find us at the park.

The night before the flight: Somehow, we ended up with a two person room. So my Dad and I slept on the floor with the blanket under us so that the carpet didn't annoy us. There was no sheet on the bed other than the fitted sheet. I learned that when you aren't standing up and walking, without blankets it gets cold, even in a hotel room. But I suppose everyone was just as cold. We woke up, badly rested, at 5:30 to go to Light Breakfast (a breakfast without cooked food but that starts at 4:00.), get packed, and get to the shuttle that took us to the airport at 6:00. But we were flexible and handled the night. We enjoyed a good game of Pitch that evening.

Yesterday: We didn't have a pass for the transportation past 3:00 that morning. The pass works for all of the day you buy it and then until 3:00 the next morning. So we explored the local areas. We went to Gesundbrunnen Center to shop, then went to a place down the street. Soon we came back home.

I'm not going to cover today because I am stealing all of the fun and someone else will want to cover it. Besides, if Syarra finishes, you win have 3 blog posts to read and you won't want more.

First Day of a Jelly Donut - Carver

Did you know that a hamburger is not named that for being a burger with ham? No, it is named for Hamburg, Germany. A hot dog, called a frankfurter, is named for Frankfurt, Germany. And a jelly donut is called a berliner, named for Berlin, Germany. So, my title would have been First Day of a Berliner, because I am in Berlin. So I changed it to Jelly Donut. And jelly donuts are good, just pointing that out.

We arrived two days ago from Stansted Airport, London, England, UK, Europe, Earth into Berlin-Schönefeld Airport, Berlin, Berlin, Germany, Europe, Earth. We came into Bornholmer Straße, an S-Bahn station. For lunch, we went to Curry Baud, at the Gesundbrunnen Center, a big mall where there is a major S and U -Bahn stop. That day, we saw the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag and, with the Berlin transport ticket that we bought to get from the airport to Bornholmer Straße, we rode the bus to one endpoint and then back to the other endpoint. Then we went home.

But also, in Germany, I am enjoying all of the German around. After all I only get 10 days of a German speaking place and Syarra got months of French. So she will be better at French than I will be at German. But I can use these 10 days to learn as much as possible.

Extra things to say before the post is over: Gesundbrunnen is a far bigger stop and maybe even closer than Bornholmer Straße so we use that one instead. Straße means street. Bahn means train. The U-Bahn is pronounced like OO-Bahn. And the ß makes the s sound.

Us at the Brandenburg Gate:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I ♥ NY for When I'm not in NY – Erich

My title may lead one to a false conclusion. So to be clear, I love New York City when I'm there too. But my post today is about how living in New York City and its environs has made me a better traveler. Or perhaps saying I am better overstates the matter. Let's say it has made me a more confident traveler.

Travel days are the worst. Times are thrown off. Meals are thrown off. You have to make it to the airport two or maybe three hours ahead. When you land, you have to figure out how to get to the place you are staying, often in a place with an unfamiliar language. And then you have to hope that whoever you are meeting to get the keys to the place is there. It's stressful!

I know, I could just take a taxi in each new city. Sometimes, that is necessary, but rarely is it the most cost effective. We do not object to public transportation, but you do have to learn the system.

I'm getting to my point. When we arrived in Rome, we had to get tickets for a bus to take us from the airport to a metro station. It was nerve wracking at first. We didn't know where we were. Would we find the right bus? The right train? But once on the bus, it was just riding on a bus. And when we were descending the escalator into the metro station, I was totally at home. I was in a subway!

We arrived in Athens. It was hard to figure out how do I get here? How do I get there? Finding information was a challenge because of the different languages. But once we saw the bus routes and the subway routes, it was easy! Their public transportation is well laid out and comprehensive. And again, compared to New York, it was easy to navigate.

Now we are in Budapest. Again, we had to take a bus to a metro which we took to a different metro line to get near our apartment. And once I looked over their maps, it was no trouble. They have four metro lines that connect in only a few places. Four lines! Each line has only two unique endpoints, so you don't have to worry about which train to catch. It's not like, well, at these hours the F train goes to this location, but in other hours the F train goes to some other location. And weekends, fuhgeddaboutit.

And it's not just subways and buses. I walk through the streets, and no, I don't know how they all connect. But I'm there, surrounded by big buildings, just like in New York. There are public parks that take up an entire city block, just like in New York. Many places where multiple streets come together, that's called a square (or a ter or a piazza or a πλατεία,) just like in New York.

And that familiarity helps me. I don't think it makes me overconfident, though I could be wrong. I still remember there is crime. I keep myself aware of who is near me and when some alley clearly is not a place to go.

Instead, I think the familiarity makes me just the right level of confident. And because I don't feel so nervous, I can better navigate, make decisions, or deal with things when they go wrong. Or if none of those benefit materialize, at least I'm not getting ulcers at every new step of my journey.

Soon, London is coming. And that will have a lot more than four subway lines and a plethora of buses. The good news there is that I've been to London before. I don't remember it, but I think that will also give me some of the confidence I need. Plus, I will have the additional benefit of the signage all being in my language. Other than spelling on a few words.

So, coming back to my thesis, as my high school English teachers would desperately want me to do, I'm glad I lived and worked in a big city for awhile. I hope my kids will have that chance one day too. And really anyone who dreams of travel, it doesn't hurt to have made yourself familiar with the ways of a big city in your home country. Because once you have, those big cities are a little bit littler.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

With a capital The – Erich

“The” is a word which we often take for granted. We use it in many sentences and never even realize that we did so. It's just there to serve a function which is to indicate some noun.

But there are some uses of “the” in which it is no longer a minor piece of a noun puzzle. It is as powerful any mighty adjective. And when this occurs, it is usually one of two possible meanings.

First, there are some elements of society, geography, or nature that are so unique, so dominant, and so apparently set apart from all other elements of that sort, that they obtain a “the” which is to say “the one” or “the incomparable”. As an example, when I lived in New Jersey, people would often refer to “the city.” In every context in which this occurred, it was apparent to all exactly which city was indicated. Because New York City surpassed all others in size, cultural opportunities, diversity, and economics. Only one city could be “the city”, at least in that area. I'm not saying that NYC's “the-ness” is a global phenomenon. I would imagine that in France “le ville” indicates Paris far more than New York, in England “the city” would likely be London, and in Lichtenstein saying “the city” would just be pretentious.

Second, we can use “the” to indicate not one specific shining example, but something more widespread. It has great breadth, not height. It touches on many, many lives, but cannot be isolated. An example: “the man”. You have probably heard people say they must stand up to “the man” or earn their pay by working for “the man” or complain about being held back by “the man.”

Side story: Once, when my wife and I were going into “the city” as mentioned above with another couple, it was agreed that we should see a movie that was not made by “the man.” My friend suggested “The Man Who Wasn't There” because with that kind of title, how it could it fail to satisfy a prohibition on “the man?” But his wife declined that suggestion. We ended up seeing Amélie (which was a new movie then, so you get an idea of when this occurred) which I loved but my three companions all found unpalatable.

Back to my point. When we use “the” in this context, we aren't talking about one specific man, nor one exemplary man. We are talking about a pervasive and, in this case, nefarious element of society. Though nefariousness or nefariosity is not required. What is required is that broadness, that being present at multiple levels of existence.

I now wish to use “the” to fuse both of those meanings together at once. I want to talk about “the theater.”

“The theater” is normally a usage implying pervasiveness without specificity. It refers to an art form that is thousands of years old. It refers to a community of actors, writers, directors, technicians, designers, producers, crew, and generally innovative people who keep this ever dying art form alive. I am proud to be a part of “the theater” in several of those roles. It is a powerful form of communication that benefits from being live, from connecting audiences to words, actions, and stories.

But a few days ago, I, along with my family, went to “the theater.” And here, I mean “the theater” as one specific, overarching, incomparable, paragon to which all that comes after is trying to match theater. We visited “the theater” of Dionysus, or the Dionysia.
No longer are shows being produced here. It is not a bigger theater than all others, nor would I imagine its stone seats surpass other theaters in levels of comfort. (Though I have been in a few theaters in my time that convince me that these stone seats provide more comfort than some.) It doesn't have stage machinery to dazzle one's senses. It doesn't even have lights. But it is “the theater.”
Because here, in Athens, is where this infant art form thrived and blossomed at least through its toddler and school years. Comedy and tragedy came about as part of an annual tradition/competition called The Lenaia. This festival was a worship of Dionysus Lenaios, God of Wine. Though in its earliest days it probably took place in another location, by around 450 BCE already its performances had moved to The Dionysia.
Being there inspired awe. Western culture as we know it spawned in Athens. This place, this festival, this was primordial, and our television shows, movies, plays, ballets, operas, musicals, and popular songs are all children of The Lenaia.

While I sat, thinking that my butt might be on a marble slab that Aristophanes' butt once graced, I felt connected to a sweeping movement. We are so shaped by stories we hear. We are so influenced by art we consume. And we can trace so much of it back to this one place.
I don't want to overgeneralize. There are many stories from other cultures that did not come from the Dionysia. I do not mean to dismiss any of these either. But without “the theater,” that movement that began in this particular “the theater” I wonder what our society's art would look like today. It would be fun to write a story about such a world, but how could I do so without being influenced in my telling of it by Dionysus and story telling that spawned in his theater and that I have been fed all my life?
Though if I ever find a way to write that tale, I will be sure to write it as a play. Because this is a type of story that belongs in “the theater.”