Art or Adventure? Which shall I choose?

Art or Adventure? Which shall I choose?

Sometimes things don’t play out the way you imagine. Take, for instance, my life in Europe. Soon after I accepted my expat assignment in Germany, I started to think about how I would live in Europe, I assumed I would go to A LOT of museums. The Louvre was on the top of my list.

A few months later, I landed in Germany, got settled into my apartment and began to plan weekend trips. My first big trip was to Paris in November. I had all intentions to spend a day in the Louvre. But, the weather was lovely, the trees were a thousands shades of orange and yellow. The city itself was a work of art. How could I choose being inside looking at art on canvas when I was walking through a living canvas. The winter weather continued to be mild and thus began my pattern of choosing adventure over art. I began to feel like spending a beautiful day inside admiring art would be a shame.

Months passed in this way and soon I’d been in Europe for 9 months without ever entering a museum! One day I began to realize that my time in Europe would come to an end and I wondered if I would miss visiting museums. I decided that yes, I would look back and regret it if I never made it to the Louvre. So, I decided to go, and it was amazing.

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A few months before I entered the hallowed halls of the Louvre, crowded with tourists as they are, I made my first step into a museum in a place I never would have predicted… I hosted a US colleague who is originally from China. When we planned a trip to Trier he expressed strong interest to visit the home of Karl Marx. Fortunately, it was raining, so I decided to spend a few hours in the museum with no reservations. I found it to be extremely educational. In a few short hours I glimpsed the beginnings of his life, progressed through his first writings and ultimately observed the devastating impact of his ideologies being adopted in countries around the world. I left the museum a bit stunned by the power of a single individual to change the trajectory of millions of human lives.

My next stop was at the Picasso museum in Barcelona. I found this place tremendously interesting when I admired Picasso’s earliest works which were traditional and rendered with such skill at the tender age of 13! The museum progressed through his career and demonstrated the sudden shift into Impressionism and ultimately Cubanism. I also made some wonderful discoveries such as his love of pottery and a beautiful painting collection on the theme of a dove cove. A deep part of me was satisfied to know that a renowned artist could, and did, evolve through his career.every gallery held a new surprise. The pieces at the end of his life were decidedly different and disturbing. I walked away in awe at the breadth of his work.

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My next museum adventure was during a trip to Prague with my aunt and uncle. A friend recommended that we visit the Mucha museum. I’ll admit that although I’d admired Mucha’s art my entire life I had no idea who had created the beautiful Art Deco paintings of women. One rainy day, we made our way to the Mucha museum, a nice little place that walks you through the life of Mucha. I was enchanted to learn about his ability to balance the creation of art with making a living in advertising. Further, I was moved by his expression of patriotism when he dedicated the last part of his life to creating a series of huge masterpieces that share the story of the Czech people. Overall I liked the size of the museum and the way his life and interests were brought into intimate focus.

 

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After a few successful museum visits, I started to see that it could be time well-spent. I also notice me that a behavioral pattern had begun to emerge. Outside of the Louvre, nearly all my museum visits were to museums dedicated to a single artist: Picasso, Mucha, Rodin. In particular, if it was rainy outside I had discovered that a museum was a fantastic way to pass a few hours and learn about an artist. Further, in the beginning I thought a few hours in a museum was cheaper than popping into boutique shops, until I discovered the ubiquitous museum store! So much for that theory…

Now, I find that when I begin to plan a weekend adventure I like to identify one museum to visit. It definitely helps if the weather is forecasted to be crummy for a few hours. The “museum forecast”: rainy and cold (as I’ve now begun to think about it) was favorable for a trip to Amsterdam last weekend. I asked a friend from the Netherlands for a recommendation on a neighborhood in Amsterdam, booked a hotel in Ouid Pijp and started to plan the weekend.

The Van Gogh was a must do. Depending on the forecast, we also considered a visit to the Rijksmuseum which displays many of the Dutch masters. Van Gogh was incredible, but I found my head was frankly spinning after a few hours. As a counter-balancing contrast, the next day we walked through the Rijksmuseum and admired Vermeer and Rembrandt pieces. I felt transported into the scene as I gazed at “the milk maid”. After a few hours roaming the galleries, I was surprised to find myself calm and refreshed. A totally different feeling than after studying Van Gogh’s work. I pondered what caused this difference in reaction. Perhaps the brain power required to decipher what was happening in the Van Gogh paintings was a bit tiring? Who knows, it was an interesting to experience.

Our final stop was an exhibit I saw advertised as we strolled along a canal at sunrise. The Moco had a Banksy and Dali exhibit on display. How often would I have a chance to see that combination?! Fortunately, my travel buddy, Tilghman, was up for it and we went from admiring Vermeer to political street art and fantastical renderings of a self-diagnosed manic genius. The small museum, housed in a craftsman style house, was full of young people with a few token folks closer to our age roaming the rooms. I found the exhibit to be timely in the midst of the political unrest and protests in America. While I don’t agree with most of Banksy’s political sentiments (especially his opinion of police), I find his images to be startling, stark and fresh. The ability to render an emotion with a stenciled image in one, or, at most, two shades of color is a remarkable gift.

The basement level contained a collection of Dali images that were equal parts inspiring and disturbing. Although the best part of this exhibit was the incredible collection of Dali quotes on the wall. Such a big thinker and bold individual.

Now we return to the question of the day: art or adventure? I would say that in good weather, my inclination is to chose outdoor adventure. Although, if the museum forecast is favorable, I’ve come to realize that a peaceful few hours in a museum can be a refreshing and thoughtful (occasionally a bit exhausting) way to spend a weekend. As I begin to plan my next adventure, I find myself wishing, just a teensy little bit, for a few hours of rain. But, just a few hours ok, because more than that I cannot handle!

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Kater Vermisst

Kater Vermisst

I woke a bit late on Saturday still struggling with the jet lag which takes me about a week to shed. I brewed my coffee and opened the window onto a typical winter day in Germany – cold and gray with the threat of snow, rain, or a mix of both. My Tony cat joyfully leaped out the window and went on his morning stroll through the neighborhood. A couple of hours later, he hadn’t returned and this is when I started to worry that my Kater was vermisst (missing).

First German culture lesson in this post: all the stores are closed on Sunday. If you want to know why just google it and you’ll find a bunch of theories. Whatever the reason, Saturday is the shopping day. I put a bowl of food and water outside and went about my weekly errands. A bit of shopping at the pharmacy, book store and a grocery store. I stopped in to the apartment to drop off my purchases and still no Tony. I roamed the neighborhood streets calling for Tony with no luck. I checked his local haunts and no Tony.

A friend called to invite me to dinner with some friends, so I went for a quick 5k run before Krav Maga technique training. I like to earn my dinner. I came home from my run and Still no Tony. I fretted about going to dinner or staying home to wait for him to return. My husband said, go and he’ll come back. So, I went to dinner and returned. Still no Tony. With difficulty I went to sleep and again in the morning…still no Tony.

Now I was really worried. Where could he be? Why didn’t he return? Theories began to build in my brain. Had someone taken him into their apartment because it was cold outside? Was he outside in the cold all night? I kicked myself for not having a collar on him which I had decided was too risky because he’s an avid tree climber. Now, granted I assumed people would recognize that a big, healthy cat belonged to someone. What had changed in his pattern and was keeping him from returning home?

I began to question my choice in letting him outside at all which was not my intention when I adopted Tony last March. I thought a nice rescue cat would contentedly sit inside with me, happy and warm and play-ful. Well, that is not the cat I adopted! This one wants to roam and have adventures in the world, much like his mother, I suppose…

A couple of weeks after I adopted Tony I walked up to my apartment in the evening and found him waiting in the ivy next to the door. I was relieved that he hadn’t run away, but immediately puzzled at how he had escaped. I had left an upper window tipped open in the bathroom and that was the only way to exit the apartment. The window is about 8 feet off the ground. How on earth did he manage to slip out? A few days later I heard a bit of banging in the bathroom and discovered Tony launching himself from the window ledge, to the top of the door and then slipping out the window! Mystery solved.

This escape was undeniable evidence that Tony wanted to go outside. Which led me to a dilemma, how could I give him some outside time without worrying about him running away?

This is when I did what I thought was a crazy, eccentric thing: I bought a cat leash. A cat leash you say, is that really a thing?That’s what I thought before I saw the entire wall section at the pet store displaying a wide variety of sizes and colors and styles of cat leashes. The first time I took Tony out for a walk in the courtyard I took pictures and posted them on Facebook because I found it completely hilarious. Boy was I surprised when many of my friends responded by also sharing pictures of their cat on a leash! It turned out to not so eccentric, or perhaps my friends are unique?

The window escape story leads me to another cultural fact about Germany. In Germany, there are no screens and pretty much no sliding windows (unless it’s a full door, which is rare). Little known fact, screens were invented in the US to prevent the transmission of fly-borne diseases and mosquito-borne diseases. In Germany, as in most of Europe, there are almost no flies or mosquitoes so, no screens. The windows open by tipping at an angle or swinging open like a door. Which means, sneaky cats can go absolutely batty trying to escape.

I thought it would be safe to tip the window since the opening is many feet off the ground, but one day I heard a series of yowls and found poor Tony with his foot caught in the wedge at the bottom of the tipped window. I carefully lifted him out and decided I’d learn to live with him roaming in and out of the apartment through the open windows. Because now it was becoming summer and while summer is not anywhere near Hot in Germany, it can become stuffy and it’s not an option to keep the place closed up with no central heat and air. It’s not very livable.

This is when Tony and I began a routine. Every morning my iPhone alarm would go off at 6 and Tony would follow me down the hall to boil water for my French press coffee. Don’t get the impression I’m drinking French press coffee because I’m a coffee aficionado, it’s because I’m cheap and I didn’t want to buy a coffee maker in Germany. But I digress, back to Tony…In the morning I would open the living room window and he’d happily hop out into the courtyard roaming the grounds. I was relieved that he didn’t leave the gate to enter our little street. He climbed the trees and brought me mice and cockroaches and one day a very large earthworm. Which, yes, was hilarious! During the warm summer months I would join him and have my breakfast and coffee in the courtyard during the long days. Yes, it was a very idyllic scene. I suspected it would not last.

Over time I noticed him looking curiously down the walkway toward the gate and I knew eventually he would leave to explore the neighborhood. Sure enough one day he was gone and when I went to call for him he came running. Eventually, we just set a pattern where I’d open the window in the morning and evening and he’d roam for an hour or so and return. I had no idea where he went until I began to occasionally go out and call for his return and I noticed he always appeared out of a neighboring courtyard.

So, when he disappeared and didn’t return my first theory was that he was in one of the apartments in the neighboring building. It seemed simple enough to figure this out. Just walk over and ask. But, in a city, where many people speak English, but everyone speaks German, this was a challenge. I also had no idea which buzzer to ring.

As I said, I awoke Sunday morning and Tony was still gone. I had made plans to go with a friend to a German spa on Sunday (the spa will the topic of another post). She also knows Tony well and agreed that going to the spa was nuts, all I would do is worry about Tony. Now was the time to search. I waited until 9 and went upstairs to see if my neighbors could help try to inquire about Tony at the neighboring building. He also loves Tony and quickly bundled up in a coat before we walked next door. We rang the buzzer of a doctor fellow and my lovely neighbor spoke a string of German about his “American neighbor who lost a cat and had he seen it?”?. He had not.

We returned to our apartments and decided we needed lost cat signs to locate Tony. I decided to make one and use their printer to make copies. Well, the sign needed to be in German. Funny enough my neighbor simultaneously had this realization and came to offer that his son could help us write signs. I could provide a picture.

I sat next to my neighbor’s son who also, by the way, is a good friend of Tony’s, composed a Kater Vermisst sign. I scrolled through my iPhone for a good picture of Tony. The experience suddenly overwhelmed me a bit and I realized he could really be gone. I focused on the task at hand and we decided on a picture that showed his face – he’s missing an eye so it’s a rather distinctive face. We printed the signs and I began to distribute them I’m the neighborhood.

As I began down my street my friend walked up to help. We posted signs at all the buildings on my block, in the square nearby and spoke with the people we saw walking about in German. I was surprised at the genuine concern many people
Expressed about Tony and how they earnestly wished me luck in finding him. During the brief exchanges, I was quite surprised at how much I could speak and understand. After a couple of hours the signs were all posted and we had no leads, so we went to my place and I made some chicken soup to warm up.

We tried to distract ourselves with a movie and this is when it really hit me that it had been 24 hours and Tony might really be gone. I had a hard time thinking of life without him in Germany. He’s my constant companion in the apartment. The thought was unsettling.

A few hours passed and the phone rang. It was a neighbor who lived, you guessed it, in the building next door. My theory was correct! Tony stopped by for his normal visit. It was cold, she thought he might be a feral cat and called the Tierheim (pound) to take him somewhere warm. So, they picked him up and I was so incredibly relieved to know he was safe at the Tierheim.

On Monday I drove to the Tierheim to bail out Tony. Happily we were reunited! I recognized the lady at the Tierheim as the same lady who first introduced me to Tony last spring when I adopted him. She remembered me too. I guess not many Americans stop in to adopt a one-eyed cat.

I brought Tony home and then ran back to work for meetings. In the evening I stopped at the pet store to buy a collar and some cat toys for entertainment. The cat collar didn’t last 12 hours, but the toy is still going strong.

Interestingly Tony isn’t quite as obsessed with getting outside, at least for now. He’s on lock down! Although, We shall see. As the says grow warmer, he might get his freedom again. This time I’ll warn the neighbor she might have a friendly visitor. Part of me wants to keep him locked up and safe, but if I did, so many people would miss out on having the chance to love Tony. When he was lost I was touched by how many people cared enough to help me locate Tony. Even far away from my home in North Carolina I’m grateful for the true friendships I have formed in Germany. People who will walk with me up to perfect strangers in the bitter cold to find my cat.

The irony of it is that if I would have kept Tony safe in the apartment my connection with many of my neighbors would be very different. By letting him roam he built a bridge that crossed language and culture. A connection with young and old that can so easily be forged by a furry creature with a gleaming golden eye. I expect that once again I’ll take the risk and share his joy with our little community. For now we’re safe and warm and huddled up for the winter together. All is right in my world. I’m grateful that Meine kater is nicht Vermisst!

The Gift of Being Present

The Gift of Being Present

It’s just past midnight and I’m sitting here in my yellow wingback chair from Ikea trying to convince my brain that it’s time to sleep. Of course, I know the source of confusion. Just 24 hours ago, midnight was 6 pm. Ah, the two country life.

Fortunately, my Tony cat is on German time – curled up in my lap, purring and trying to convince me to sleep.

As I learned over and over again last year, great good can come out of difficult experiences. In this case, sleeplessness creates the space to write.

You’ll notice I was quiet again for the last few weeks. I assure you, there was a very good reason. I was fully immersed in holiday celebrations with my husband, our dog and hens, family and friends. I decided to give myself the present of being fully present in the moment. My gift rewarded me many times over.

It was a lovely holiday. When I went to the airport I left with a touch of sadness but fortunately no tears. In the place of tears was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my life and the people who count me as their own.

This is how I passed the holidays at our home in North Carolina. Lazy wake up, make coffee, take the dog for walks bundled up in pajama pants, my husbands Carhart barn jacket, beanie hat, scarf, gloves and a thick pair of hiking socks wrapped up in my sturdy German hiking boots. It was cold and I did not care one bit because when I looked up the sky was brilliant blue! Blue I tell you, a color I often long for in Germany. We covered many miles in the woods near our house and at nearby parks and trails. The Piedmont area of NC has wonderful hiking.

We enjoyed three lovely days of temperatures warm enough to slip on a helmet, riding boots and mechanics gloves and take our Harley’s out for a spin in the countryside. The wind, the scenery, the rumble – it never gets old. I coursed around corners with easy confidence in spite of not riding for four months. It amazes me how the riding technique just stays with me – it’s part of my DNA.

We decked our house out for the holidays with nearly the last tree at the local Home Depot. Decorated with ornaments going back to our childhoods and a few new additions from 2016 that I bought at a Weinachtmarkt in Bonn. We lit the candles on a beautiful handmade German Pyramid that I purchased at the same market. Our faces glowed in the candlelight as we watched the tiny wooden nativity scene twirling at surprising speeds. When we took it all down a couple days after New Year we left up the lights on the stairway bannister because they make such a beautiful glow!

They say whatever you do on New Year’s Day you will do the rest of the year, and I hope that is the case! We rang in the New Year with home made tacos with family on New Year’s Eve and then devoured a traditional New Year’s Day meal with friends: black eyes peas and collard greens for wealth and pulled pork for happiness.

To work up an appetite before the New Years feast, we woke early, brewed a pot of coffee, bought some donuts and headed to a trail. Surprisingly the donut shop had no lines! I declared my New Years resolution to the bakers: “eat delicious foods”. Properly fueled, we embarked on a First Day hike which is becoming a tradition in our little family. We like silent woods and were a bit taken-aback to find so many other hikers out in spite of cold weather and a threat of rain. After we escaped the crowds of happy hikers, I admit I was a teensy bit pleased to see so many other folks starting their year immersed in nature. Everyone we met was happy and passed along a friendly greeting for the New Year. I left the forest feeling hopeful and lucky, especially as the first rain drops fell as we left the parking lot.

Then the news began to fill with anticipation of a forecasted snow storm. Snow storms are always big news in North Carolina because the place isn’t equipped to deal with snow. As a result, everything sort of shuts down and I admit it is pretty fun! Especially when you’ve got a 4-wheel drive truck to drive around on the empty streets. We waited up half the night for the snow, and when it finally came it was not nearly as much as forecasted, but it was enough to enjoy some magical snow walks through the woods. Our new dog also experienced the snow for the first time and she was in love! To top it off we hopped on our mountain bikes and took a snow ride to share a few home made beers and a meal with friends a few mikes up the bike path from us. We chased the last rays of sun as we pushed our bikes the final 100 yards to the house.

In between it all we went to the grocery store I don’t know how many times. I’ve clearly adopted the frequent, small shopping patterns of Germans. We cooked and filled the dishwasher and hit repeat. Lentil soup, red lentil casserole, bacon, steaks, more bacon. Washed down with good old-fashioned American beer.

Life was simple and unplanned and wonderful. I returned to the office in Germany today and colleagues commented that I looked rested and refreshed. Between meetings in the washroom, I looked in the mirror and saw it was true. The weeks of freedom and calm were good for my soul.

I hope you are just as restored and prepared for an amazing 2017. Now it’s time to start planning my weekend adventures. First stop, Poland. Any travel advice from my globe-trotting followers?