Sunday, September 15, 2013

Proposals

Something that I've noticed about having a husband-to-be that I find sort of funny/perplexing is that people always want to know how he proposed. The first time someone asked this, I was unprepared for it, so feeling self-conscious, I made up an elaborate and completely untrue story about him having gotten down on one knee after we drove home one romantic evening, and there were fancy cupcakes and champagne and stars in the sky that he had personally planted there, or something. Since then, I've been mulling over how to tell the real story without making it sound like I have really low expectations and/or my h-t-b is a sot.

The real story is that our decision to marry was a result of many discussions. Once we had decided, we started telling people. I said (insisted) I had always wanted a ring, so he got me one and gave it to me. Under what I would describe as relatively pedestrian circumstances, except our parents' conversation about something else had to be interrupted so we could show it to them. BTW this happened after they already knew of our marriage plans.

Now what I want to know is, are the stories that other girls are constantly telling really true, or are they sort of full of shit? Like could it really be possible that you had absolutely no idea whatsoever that your boyfriend wanted to get married, until he suddenly arranged an elaborate scavenger hunt in the country that you willingly did without asking any qs or getting pouty about having to play a really dumb childish game, and then at the end, you found a diamond ring hidden in the bottom of a massive pen of stuffed animals? A diamond ring which he had gone out and spent a lot of money on just like that, without being told by you that it was mandatory or even any coaxing from anyone? And you bizarrely agreed to get married even though this was a complete and total surprise and getting married was not at all on your radar screen until that very second? And is this actually the same guy who won't move fantasy baseball to a slightly lower point on his priority list and had to be hassled to fix the epic plumbing fail in the bathroom yesterday?

To be clear, I don't think a mutual decision to get married is unromantic. In fact, quite the opposite. What I do wonder is how someone could decide they were ready to get married if the proposal really came as a complete surprise, and if it wasn't a surprise and the couple had fully discussed their plans for marriage, why there is a need for anything else, particularly when something so carefully planned is so out of character for the person doing it. It just seems like placing the importance on the wrong thing. So what gives?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

10 things I like about living in Germany

Despite yesterday's burst of negativity, there are some things I like about living in Germany. They are unfortunately not that funny, but anyway, here they are:


1) People like to send postcards when they go on vacation. This is always a nice little surprise.

2) People like to bring each other little gifts when they go on vacation. See above.

3) There are a lot of rules, and they tend to be followed. At first I thought this was a bad thing, and I can still envision many situations where it could go wrong. However, it makes the bureaucracy relatively transparent, and individual bureaucrats have less discretion than they often do in other countries to act on their personal feelings or views. Thus, in today's world, I think it is by and large a good thing.

4) Husbands sometimes take their wives' last names after marriage. I don't think this is an extremely widespread practice, but in my two years here, I have met three people who have done it. This leads me to believe it is significantly more widespread than it is in the English-speaking world, where I have met zero people who have done it despite having lived there the entire rest of my life. For couples who would both like to have the same last name as their children or would like to take on a family name to signify a new stage of life, I think it is great to decide together and with an open mind whose name is nicer/less common/easier to spell/preserves a cultural identity/whatever is important to them, and it seems like in Germany, they are moving in that direction.

5) Yes, German food is disgusting. However, the Germans do seem to have a great fondness for Italian food, which is a big improvement.

6) They have very efficient and reliable public transportation, including in small cities.

7) Every supermarket, no matter how small, has a bakery at the front. Good idea!

8) Among the various skills everyone seems to have are direction-giving skills. I, of all people, basically never get lost for more than five minutes.

9) They love museums and don't really care what the subject of the museum is. For example, there is a museum in my neighbourhood about potatoes.

10) Even though they are practically the only part of Europe that isn't going to economic hell, they never work late and are really into work-life balance. So I guess they must have figured something out!

Monday, September 2, 2013

10 things I hate about living in Germany

For those with whom I haven't been in close contact over the past two years, let me tell you what happened: I went to Germany for a 10-month period, which now that I think about it, I'm not really sure what I was thinking with that one, but anyway, that's what I did. Soon after arriving, I met my husband-to-be, and now it appears that I'm still here. While I do like him, living in Germany has had its, er, challenges.

So in light of that, here is a list of 10 things I hate about living in Germany:

1) Everyone I meet seems like a weirdo. Like they go on and on about how hilarious Scary Move 3 is, and how delicious these seriously nasty looking greasy sausages are, and how cool it would be if they could figure out how to make a car that was even harder to drive than a manual, or spaces to parallel park in that are for sure smaller than your car. OK, they might not being going on about any of these things. But I can tell they're thinking them.

2) Everyone speaks German. This means that my tolerance for talking to anyone is approximately five minutes long, at which point I tune out and start fantasizing about decent Pad Thai. Just when the fantasy is getting really good someone tries to be polite and ask for my opinion, which of course I don't have because I wasn't listening, and even if I was listening, I probably don't have because they were talking about like robocopters or something.

3) No one I ever actually see is particularly likely to read my blog or even knows what a blog is. Thus, I feel far less motivated to write it.

4) You know how in New York there are all these people who are apparently really successful at like making YouTube vids about animated pairs of shoes or something, and they live in nice apartments without roommates and have really nice designer clothes, and you're like - are you effing serious? And I went and became a lawyer? The hell was I thinking? Well, Germany is the opposite of that. In Germany, I think it's like illegal to make YouTube vids about animated pairs of shoes if you don't have a degree from the Bundesschule for YouTube vids. As a result, literally everyone in the entire country is either a housewife or an engineer.

5) They think their food is good. This pisses me off sort of on principle.

6) Everyone has all these skills. Like bike riding skills. And skiing skills. And parallel parking skills.

7) Imagine the following scene: you go to one of those parties for your office where there are all sorts of really boring and stupid games, like climbing up a wall without using your hands or seeing how long you can balance a glass of water on your head. You might think that this was a family party where people were supposed to bring their kids. You might think that. Unless you lived in Germany.

8) Nobody has ever heard of screens. You know those things you have in your window so that bugs don't come in? Oh really, you thought there was literally nothing you could do to stop bugs from coming into your house? That's so weird, because I thought you were an engineer.

9) Nobody has ever heard of either air conditioning or fans. Like they think suffering builds character or something.

10) I'm going to come right out and say it: despite what every German will tell you, there is NOTHING SPECIAL about a beer garden. If you really, really wanted to drink beer outside, you could just open your screenless window.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fifty Shades of Grey

This book has outsold Harry Potter on Amazon. It has outsold The Da Vinci Code altogether. It has probably made its author, E.L. James, as wealthy as her title character. So when everyone told me that this book sucks, I didn't really believe it. I mean, I didn't think it was going to be a masterwork of literary eloquence or anything, but neither is practically any popular fiction. I did think it would be fast-paced and engaging, because that is the sort of thing that tends to become popular. Right?

Wrong.

This book is literally the absolute worst crap I've ever read. Isn't it supposed to be kind of hard to get a book published? Isn't that why most people haven't gotten a book published? A cat could write a better book than Fifty Shades of Grey. My cat could. Actually I don't have a cat.

I'll admit I read only the first instalment and not the whole trilogy, and to preserve my sanity, I intend to keep it that way. But for those who have seen it, the first book is very similar in storyline to the Steve Martin movie Shopgirl. A chance encounter occurs between a man of significant wealth and status and an innocent girl who doesn't have much money. He stalkerishly discovers her address and sends her very expensive and inappropriate gifts. Presumably because she is so innocent, she doesn't call the cops on this nutcase but rather concludes he must be extremely mysterious and fascinating. Their ensuing relationship, if it can be called that, of course occurs entirely on his terms, and her self-esteem sinks lower and lower until she finally realizes he is not actually going to change and give her what she wants, at which point she ends it, utterly devastated.

I am sure I am nowhere near the first person to suggest this, but I am near certain that E.L. James did not have an editor. I was led to this conclusion not only by phrases such as "my inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils" and "he's my very own Christian Grey flavoured popsicle," but also by several seemingly minor but nonetheless terribly noticeable failures of plot.

For example, the heroine is soooooooooo innocent that she has actually never heard of Christian Grey until their chance meeting despite the fact that he is a 27-year-old self-made billionaire, which would make him both as young and as successful as Mark Zuckerberg. Hey you there! You look innocent. Have you heard of Mark Zuckerberg?

Also, the chance meeting with Grey occurs because the heroine's roommate, a very ambitious aspiring journalist, arranged an interview with him for the university magazine months before but then got the flu on the day of. The interview was extremely important because Christian Grey is extremely important. So naturally, the aspiring journalist, whom we are supposed to believe is pretty intelligent, sent her clueless roommate rather than someone else who worked on the school magazine who would have actually interviewed someone/heard of Christian Grey before. I mean, I have brain farts sometimes too, but this is more like brain diarrhea.

And then there's the fact that the author is British, but wrote a book that takes place in the United States. This would have been fine if she had been aware that in the United States, "fancy" is known as "like" or "want," "I've not" is "I haven't," and people do not generally call each other mister or miss under any circumstances, particularly in large coastal cities like Seattle. Or it would have been fine if she had HAD AN EDITOR.

Oh, I could go on about stuff like that, but let's talk more about our heroine, the erotically-named Anastasia Steele, a girl so boring she is pretty much a porno waiting to happen. She likes to read 18th-century literature and has neither been sexually attracted to anyone nor masturbated ever before. (I think she is supposed to be 21.) After meeting Christian Grey, she does sort of notice his scarily predatorial tendency to show up wherever she is even if it is literally on the other side of the country, but is prepared to forget about it for the sake of their mind-blowing sexual encounters, even if they do frequently include some overly aggressive butt-slapping.

And never mind the fact that when she finds out he was abused as a child, she uses this as an excuse to meditate on how he must have been really hurt and stuff and that's why he has scary sexual tastes and is an emotionally unavailable narcissist. She is both mystified and fascinated by his narcissistic tendencies and how he may have come to acquire them, a curiosity that he obligingly feeds with statements such as "a crack whore brought me into this world, Ana."

Which brings me to my biggest problem with this idiotic book: contrary to what it would have you believe, being a narcissist simply means that you do not care about anyone apart from yourself. It is actually neither mysterious nor fascinating to be a narcissist. Even if you are Christian Grey.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Great Gatsby

I wasn't really sure what I thought of this movie, which I saw last night. That said, I also think making a movie version of a book that is as well-loved as The Great Gatsby was potentially an impossible task. No one was going to be completely happy with it no matter how good it was, since everyone has read and is bound to prefer the book.

In any case, the good: Leonardo DiCaprio. I remember when reading the book many years ago in high school not being able to picture what the title character looked like, but I was very dubious prior to seeing this that I would be able to accept he looked like Leonardo. However, it turns out I was able to accept it, more or less. So good on him.

The bad: It's a movie. Show don't tell, y'know? In the book we actually need Nick Carraway to tell us that Gatsby stretched his hand desperately toward the light (or whatever) because we can't see it happening. But in a movie, we don't need Nick to tell us, because we can. If it's adequately portrayed in the movie, that is. Which much of the time, it wasn't.

Also, having Nick narrate (or even worse, actually write) the story from a sanitorium was in my opinion a bit of a mistake. And having actual text appear on the screen? Disaster. (Although I did note that Nick must be a pretty special talent to come up with The Great Gatsby in one draft without revising at all. Incredible.)

More bad: The special effects were completely out of control and not needed to tell the story. I do quite like the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet (you know, the Leonardo DiCaprio one where the characters are all reciting Shakespearean English while wielding handguns), which is a more archaic and from our modern perspective possibly boring story that I think lent itself better to a highly stylized interpretation. Here, under Baz Luhrmann's overly imaginative direction, we have a story set in the 1920s complete with period costumes and hairstyles, combined somewhat haphazardly with rap music and wild computer-generated effects that feel totally out of sync with the setting.

In short, The Great Gatsby is a story that tells itself, and would have perhaps been better suited to a director that actually wants a story to tell itself, not a story to embellish and style up and essentially make his own, when it really just wants to stay the way it is.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Harry Potter

I know I am seven long years behind the times, but I just finished reading HP now, and I'm going to post my really out of date review right here. If you're somehow even more behind the times than I and are still planning to read the things, then please note SPOILER ALERT.

I really quite liked the first six HPs. I've heard people observe that the characters aren't that complex and the writing style isn't that elegant/lyrical/etc., but I think it's a bit dumb to complain about those things as they were clearly never strengths of the series and were probably never intended to be. In my view, the strengths of the series were a) the detail-oriented and well-paced storyline, and b) the atmosphere: JK R did a great job creating a really vivid and compelling magical environment. 

However, these strengths pretty much went to pot in the seventh HP, which is the one that ultimately revealed whether JK had really thought the whole shebang through and knew where it was going, or was simply making shit up as she went along and hoping it would all somehow *magically* come together. And I am sorry to say that the latter appears to be true. Here are a few of the many problems I found with HP 7:

1) The really long camping trip takes up the entire first half of the book yet never goes anywhere.

2) Practically all the key plot points, like finding Hufflepuff's (or Ravenclaw's? I forget) diadem and finding a way to destroy the remaining Horcruxes are introduced and then very quickly resolved right near the end.

3) Ron is suddenly able to imitate Parseltongue well enough to get into the chamber of secrets even though everything in the entire series up to that point suggests that Parseltongue is not a normal language that can be learned or imitated.

4) If HP's invisibility cloak is a completely one of a kind thing the likes of which has never been seen in the magical world before, and if it's so powerful that even Death can't see through it, then how in the hell can Mad-Eye Moody see through it?

5) The whole business with the super-powerful wand and its progressive ownership was sort of poorly explained and didn't entirely make sense to me, and I swear to goodness I'm not a TOTAL moron.

6) A ton of new material was introduced when it probably would have been more effective to resolve things using only what we knew already.

7) The Snape twist wasn't as big of a deal as it seemed like it was going to be, and it didn't actually make him any less creepy which I got the feeling it was supposed to.

8) WHY would anyone want to follow Voldemort? This is neither explained nor explored. I mean, we know from the very first book that Voldy's not going to reward loyalty (Quirrell) and we know at least from the sixth book that no one's family is going to be safe just because they followed him (Draco Malfoy). In fact, it is pretty much completely clear the entire time that following him will result in a faster death than not following him. So why would anyone follow him? I know Voldy's supposed to be based on Hitler and I likewise don't know why anyone followed Hitler, although I think it's because there was an economic crisis, people were looking for a scapegoat, and he gave them one. None of which seems to have occurred in HP.

9) Is all of England seriously being taken over by like 10 people?

10) Snape being a double agent plays no part in bringing down Voldemort, so the all-knowing grand schemer Dumbledore had him commit a murder and ostracize himself from the Order of the Phoenix for no reason.

11) HP and friends losing Gryffindor's sword to the goblin is kind of pointless and plays no role in the plot, since Neville pulls the thing out of the sorting hat at the critical moment anyway and before that they don't really need the thing.

12) The final scene where HP and Voldemort circle each other for like 5 mins while HP gives him a lecture about the meaning of friendship is kinda like wtf.

13) The epilogue? Never should have happened. Or if it had to happen, at least tell us what became of Luna Lovegood, who was at least as important a character as Neville. And I know we don't like them, but probably also shoulda told us what happened to the Dursleys.

13) Xenophilius Lovegood and that weird ass horn he had in his house? I feel like that needed some sort of a follow-up or tie-in that never happened.

14) Um is Hagrid immortal? If he was classmates with Tom Riddle that means he has to be at least in his mid-60s when Harry STARTS Hogwarts. Then 19 years after Harry FINISHES Hogwarts, he's apparently still there.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Asparagus


Asparagus season has arrived in Deutschland - oh boy! And what we are talking about is not just any asparagus but white asparagus. White asparagus is the absolute ultimate in German cuisine. Its appearance marks the only time of year when Germans will genuinely try and fight your assertion that their food sucks. Any other time, you're good. They'll be like "Really hard bread! Bland greasy meat!" and you can feel perfectly confident in shaking your head, knowing they will soon cave and be forced to agree with you, at the absolute latest when you pass by the window of a bakery and they say they just don't exactly feel like any really hard bread at the moment and you then feel perfectly justified in giving them a raised eyebrow and wan smile, which is a move to which no German has yet come up with a satisfactory response.


White asparagus comes in a variety of sizes. Here is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of white asparagus:



During asparagus season, the restaurants will all pull out their extra-special asparagus menu. This asparagus menu typically looks something like the following:

Boiled asparagus                                               EUR 22
Boiled asparagus with a bit of butter                 EUR 32
Boiled asparagus with a bit of hollandaise        EUR 37
Boiled asparagus with a slice of bread              EUR 40

Well, it looks like that except the prices all line up. We are talking about Germany, after all.

Moving on. Not wanting to pay 22 Euros for boiled asparagus, and nursing my personal opinion that boiled asparagus sounds like a decaf coffee short of a wellness breakfast (that's an expression I invented - it'll catch on), I decided to make some asparagus a different way, namely in the oven. And I must say that it came out delightfully well. Here is what you need:

Some white asparagus (or green asparagus, if you are located both a) not in Germany and b) in a country (other than Germany) that does not realize asparagus can be imported or grown in greenhouses)

Some olive oil

A lemon

Some parm

Salt and pepper

Potatoes

White asparagus differs from its green cousin in one key way: you must peel white asparagus with a veg peeler. This is rather hard because the peel of a white asparagus looks veeeeeeery similar to the part under the peel, as follows:

It looked more similar when I was doing it
Once you have have successfully peeled asparagus (or given up and used green asparagus), preheat oven to 250 C (or 480 F). Put asparagus in a bowl with potatoes (washed and quartered) and pour a few glugs of olive oil over. Add generous few pinches each salt and pepper, then grate the lemon rind over everything. I know this sounds like a pain in the ass but I swear it adds a lovely tang. It's also not that big of a pain in the ass, you just need a cheese grater. Oh come on, just get one you effing lazy shit.

Mix well with your hands (at least wash them after if not before), then lay asparagus and potato pieces on a baking sheet so they're not touching each other. Leave in oven for around 30 to 40 mins, depending on whether the asparagus you've got is Arnold Schwarzenegger asparagus or more like Kate Middleton asparagus (pre-pregnancy - although even pregnant she still looks really skinny, whats up with that?). Then sprinkle a bit of grated parm over everything and put it back in the oven just until melted which will be in like 2 seconds. Squeeze the lemon you zested over and enjoy.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I must repeat this was rather a nice meal, and I daresay that save for the peeling, any dumbass could make it. (Last I checked, there was no law that said dumbasses can't own cheese graters.)

I ate the potatoes that should have been in that big space.