Thursday, March 27, 2008


Es ist alles eitel...

Oh, Madame Konstanz with your coy smile,
What does go on behind those steely eyes
You stand guard in the harbour
Looking out across Bodensee,
Flaunting your sex for one and all to see
A noble stance, for a mere courtesan
As you raise your hands with pride,
Naked prince in right and pope in left
Such raw display of sweet dominion over power.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


You have caught me in a rather domestic moment. Sometimes, when we get older, all we want is the comforts of our childhood, and no comfort is greater than food. Food can instantaneously transport us back to so many places with a mere wisp of an aroma or the tiniest nibble. Well, today the calls from ghosts of the past were strong. Growing up, one of my favorite things about Easter was that Grandma would make Paska, a traditional German Mennonite sweet bread made only at this time of year, although occasionally she would cheat and make it at other times of the year as she knew I liked it so much.

Now the recipe is as old as the grandmother made this, and her mother before her and so on right down the line, so there's no telling where this all began. That's also quite obvious with the recipe as so much of the cooking / baking we do is simply by feel...the feeling is a bit tough when you've never made the recipe before, but you simply have to trust your senses and run with it. You'll notice that the recipe doesn't mention any quantities for flour...not even a rough estimate. Partially that's because they believed that the quantities changed depending where you were living, the wheat that was grown there, the humidity etc. So just so you know, even though it's not mentioned, there is a lot of flour. Also, this makes quite a lot of loaves (as all those old recipes made large quantities), so be prepared to either freeze some or give some away. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.


3 C sweet cream
3 C white sugar
10 eggs
2 pkg dry yeast
1 C potato water
1 1/2 C butter
Rind of 2 oranges
Rind of 1 lemon
Lemon juice from half a lemon
1 tsp vanilla
raisins if desired

Prepare yeast and 1 Tbsp sugar in potato water. Scald cream and 1 C of sugar. Cool and add beaten egg yolks then the beaten egg whites, prepared yeast and enough flour to make sponge like. Let rise until light (3/4 of an hour). Add remaining 2 cups of sugar, butter (melted), rind (finely chopped), lemon juice and vanilla and more flour. Keep adding flour and kneading to make a soft dough. Let rise until double in bulk. Grease round tins (traditionally these are cooked in cylindrical cans, like a coffee can...but as you can see, I had none, so baked mine in regular loaf pans). Let rise until double (about 45 minutes). Bake at 275 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Prepare regular butter icing to spread on top of the bread while still warm.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fantastical Menagerie

This wonderful collection of someone's bizarre imaginings was found on a peaceful street in Konstanz. Each piece was so expressive as if it came with its own history and stories. I would have loved to have known what they were, but despite my long repose under the comforting shade of the nearby trees, not a one was willing to part with his secrets. Not this time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

It's All in the Name

I have a colleague who shares my name. That in and of itself is interesting as there are not many around here who have my name, and in fact, I have not run into many at all anywhere I’ve gone. I’ve often wondered if names impart certain personalities on the people who carry them. Many teachers, it would seem, think so. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard to never name a boy one of the dreaded "J" names. Apparently John or James is safe, but almost all the others are a teacher’s worst nightmare: Jason, Jordan, Jeremy, etc…all bad news: hard to manage, hyperactive, and the sort that “stir” up trouble. Of course I have no solid evidence on any of this, but it would make for an interesting study. But back to the story of my namesake.

Carla has a bubbly personality and a smile that would melt the coldest chunk of ice. Like me, she seems to attract interesting, bizarre situations which, if nothing else, make for wonderful stories. One day, she shared the following with me: She had just been in Vancouver and one of the afternoons she was there, she was walking down Robson Street when she sees this guy she is sure she recognizes. She thinks, “Hey, there is one of the Trail Italian boys my brother used to hang out with.

(As a side note, Trail is known for its large Italian population…for years, and we are just talking Canada here, it had the largest percentage of Italians per capita outside of Toronto. Also, in this area, it is very common to identify people with their ethnic / cultural heritage even if they were born in Canada. I could probably tell you the ethnic identity of every single person who was in my kindergarten class. Back then, we just called it nationality, but of course semantics have changed since then.)

In any case, Carla can’t remember this guy’s name, but in typical Carla fashion, she waltzes right up to him with a huge grin and says, “Hi, how are you?”

He smiles and politely replies, “I’m fine, how are you?”

She continues on, “Great. Wow! It’s been ages since I’ve seen you. What have you been up to? What are you doing these days?”

He says, “Well, I’m in the movie business. I’ve just finished making film.”

Carla’s thinking, “Whoa, that’s pretty good for a Trail boy,” and blurts out, “Wow! Who would have thought? You making movies? That’s fantastic! You must be pretty proud of yourself.”

The stranger smiles, in fact almost blushes, then says, “You have no idea who I am, do you?”

Carla takes a good hard look at his face and suddenly the penny drops. “OMG, you’re John Travolta, aren’t you?” Yes, indeed. She said that he was extremely personable, gracious and polite. And she got to walk away with a good story.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


When one gets to certain age, there are particular sorts of situations that amuse one immensely. Last week, I had one such incident. Many of you will remember my story a couple weeks ago about some of my students trying to guess my age. Although I found my students highly entertaining, I didn’t give much credence to the situation. What do twelve, thirteen and fourteen year olds really know about the fine art of determining one’s age? But nonetheless, it made for a humorous anecdote which provided an easy segway into conversation amidst peals of laughter.

Well, in a completely different class, there is a young fellow, R, who I met for the first time a couple weeks ago. He is presently working with one of my students as a TA (teacher’s assistant). Our initial exchange was short, as there’s really not much time to delve into deep conversation in the midst of teaching a class. After that, I didn’t see R for about a week. Then one day, I walked into the staff room during break, and there he was. He looks at me with a big grin and effusively greets me with a robust, “Hi! How are you?” Only, I misheard him. I flash him an equally wide smile and reply back with a cocky, “Hi,” and then continue on, playful lilt in my voice, with, “I’m twenty-eight… how old are you?” (It really was a blonde moment.)

Now before you all go on about what an absolute ditz I am, hear me out. All this put on was not all for R. Two of my friends, T and S were standing there. It just so happened that they had heard the previous story, so I knew they would “get” it immediately. Oh yes, aren’t I clever one? But there stood poor R, somewhat confused by my response. And then it suddenly dawned on me that he hadn’t actually asked me my age. Oh dear, what could he possibly be thinking? Now, totally overcome by giddiness whilst trying to pull my foot out of my mouth, or perhaps shoving it in further, I start explaining to R the story which engendered my bizarre response (all this, while my lovely friends listened with mounting snickers) . The thing is, the more I explained, the more baffled his expression became…it was a sort of, “and why are you telling me this,” sort of look. Finally, he quizzically says, “So you’re not twenty-eight?” I simply reply, “No, not even close.” To which he slowly inquires, “Then how old are you? Because I’m thirty-one, and I was convinced that you were younger than me.” Oh yes, it was a great day.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Paint my Silence with Music

Music expresses what words cannot. I fear that if I speak, I shall break the spell. There is something magical in the air. This one reminds me of the pied piper. Indeed, I think I would follow, run with full force, the wind at my back, right off the cliff for that intangible thing called hope planted deep within the hollows of my heart.

If you have time, and enjoyed that last song, you might wish to watch the full film “Heima,” or Homeland, Sigur Rós' first ever film (loose documentary). It was filmed during the summer of 2006 when the band decided to perform a series of free, unannounced concerts all over Iceland. The results of this generous gift are beautiful and inspirational in the way that it brought people of all ages and walks of life together. The images, along with the music are hauntingly beautiful.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Widow

The world was full of happy widows. He had seen them go mad with grief at the sight of their husband's corpse, pleading to be buried alive in the same coffin so they would not have to face the future without him, but as they grew reconciled to the reality of their new condition he had seen them rise up from the ashes with renewed vitality. They began by living like parasites of gloom in their big empty houses, they became the confidantes of their servants, lovers of their pillows, with nothing to do after so many years of sterile captivity. They wasted their overabundant hours doing what they had not had time for before, sewing the buttons on the dead man's clothes, ironing and reironing the shirts with stiff collar and cuffs so that they would always be in perfect condition. They continued to put his soap in the bathroom, his monogrammed pillowcase on the bed; his place was always set at the table, in case he returned from the dead without warning, as he tended to do in life. But in those solitary Masses they began to be aware that once again they were mistresses of their fate, after having renounced not only their family name but their own identity in exchange for a security that was no more than another of a bride's many illusions.

In the restorative idleness of solitude, on the other hand, the widows discovered that the honorable way to live was at the body's bidding, eating only when one was hungry, loving without lies, sleeping without having to feign sleep in order to escape the indecency of official love, possessed at last of the right to an entire bed to themselves, where no one fought them for half of the sheet, half of the air they breathed, half of their night, until their bodies were satisfied with dreaming their own dreams, and they woke alone.

~Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Love in the Time of Cholera

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is
still dark.
- Scandinavian Saying

When I was growing up, my Mutti had a cleaning lady, Wilma, who came once a week. She was a good Dutch woman and an impeccable cleaner, probably the only one who has ever cleaned to my mother’s standards. This woman could make absolutely anything sparkle and shine and I am sure dust quivered in her shadow, we certainly did. She was just that kind of woman.

Thursday evenings were an inevitable stress for us kids as we had to “tidy” before Wilma came to clean, because you see, Wilma only cleaned. She was not there to pick up after us. She was very strict about that. Those were her rules. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was to get in the way of her cleaning.

The tension on Thursday nights was such that at one juncture one of my sisters, in the midst of a meltdown, took a purple wax crayon and in her scrawly grade one printing wrote, “Wilma, I just can’t take it anymore,” on the inside door panel of my mother’s antique washstand. Those were sentiments that I am sure we had all shared at one point or another, but luckily for us, my mother found this message of distress before Wilma ever happened upon it. If she would have, I am not quite sure what would have happened, but I am sure it wouldn’t have been good. We probably would have been down one good irreplaceable cleaning lady and sentenced to numerous years of cleaning penitence. But that’s not really what this story is about. You see, when Wilma started, she made it very clear to my mother that this was not a long term affair. She would only clean for my mother until her husband returned. He had left her some years previous, but she was adamant that at some point he would come to his senses, change his mind and they would be reunited. Well, weeks turned into months and months into years, but just the same, as if it were her mantra, she would say, “You know, I won’t be here for long. My husband is going to come back to me and when he does I will quit. I’m only cleaning until my husband returns.”

I know many of you are probably now thinking that this is a story of some highly delusional and probably obsessive compulsive woman, and it certainly might seem that way. Wilma was our faithful housecleaner for a good ten years or more, just as faithful to us as she was to her mantra. Then one day, just like that, out of the blue, she phoned my mother and said, “I won’t be cleaning for you any more, my husband has just come home.”

Apparently it only takes the faith of a mustard seed to move a mountain. At present, I’m working on trying to move molehills while attempting to remember that thoughts become things.