Monday 28 March 2016

Closer To Home

After my excursion into unknown territory last weekend, the return visit took place this weekend. Saturday was the warmest and sunniest day we've had all of March (I believe), and of course we made the most of it and went walking for somewhere around 5-6 hours, including a break on a bench where we ate our sandwiches and drank our water (you hear me, YP?).

I only took a handful of pictures, and you've seen the places all before. But I still think these photos convey something of how wonderful the day was.

Before we took off, we enjoyed a luxurious breakfast of apple and plum cakes my guest had brought:

We walked to and around the lake (some would say it is only a pond) near my hometown, Monrepos; I have only just realized that I've not yet posted properly about that pretty part of the area, in spite of me being there rather often.

From there, it is a more or less straight line towards Asperg, the actual goal of our walk. You've seen Asperg before on my blog, at different times of day (and night), for instance here and here.

Click here for a night shot of this same gate.

Now for some panoramic views, looking east and south from the top of the hill towards Ludwigsburg: 

The arrow on the left points to the "rocket" you saw in this post first. The arrow on the right points more or less to where I live; you can't see my house from this angle.

Nearly the same view, just without the tree.

In this picture, the arrow points to the water reservoir you can see close up here.

This tower is called Schubartturm, "Schubart's tower". Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart was a poet, composer and journalist who lived from 1739 to 1791. More than once, he got into trouble for writing critically about religious and political institutions of his time. In the end, he was arrested and spent 10 years imprisoned in this tower. He made good use of the time there, studying and composing music and poetry. (If you want to know more about Schubart, wikipedia has an entry in English.)

The tower is not open to the public, but I think special guided tours are offered every now and then.

We spent some time exploring the place (not new to me, but to my guest) and then walked back. By the time we arrived home, the sandwiches were but a distant memory, and we were very much ready for our dinner. All that fresh air and walking makes one tired in a good way, I find.

On Sunday, my guest left after breakfast and I sat down to finish my translation assignment.
Today, there'll be a small family gathering for Easter with coffee and cake at my parents'. I am looking forward to that, and hope you are having a good Easter Monday, no matter what you are doing and whether or not you celebrate Easter.

Friday 25 March 2016

Walking On New Grounds

Last weekend was spent in an area around 150 km from my home town, south from here in the Baden part of Baden-Wuerttemberg*.

We went walking in the beautiful countryside around the village where I was staying. It was sunny, but a cold wind was blowing. That did not stop me from getting my camera out and taking some pictures during our walk:

Coming out of the woods to beautiful - if slightly hazy - views of the surrounding area, including a castle which name I'm afraid I've forgotten:

Vineyards are everywhere here, it is a region well known for good food and wine:

On the way back towards the village:

It was a very pleasant weekend, feeling like a mini holiday, and I am sure many more will follow.
The mini holiday is doubly welcome as I am going to spend about half of the Easter weekend working on a translation assignment I only received last night and will have to deliver early next week. Don't worry, though - I will still allow for enough time to get some rest, eat well and spend time with the family.

Happy Easter to you!

* For those of you who want to know: Germany consists of 16 member states (hence the official full name "Federal Republic of Germany"). The state I live in is Baden-Wuerttemberg. Up until the First World War, most of these states had kings or at least dukes and counts as their heads. Baden-Wuerttemberg did not yet exist - there were two sepearate states, Baden and Wuerttemberg. When and how the dukedom of Wuertemberg became a kingdom I have briefly explained here.
The two states were merged into one only in 1952, and many people still emphasize the differences (not in a negative sense) between Baden and Wuerttemberg, when it comes to character, landscape, language, cuisine and traditions.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

What I Did Last Night

If, after reading this post's title, you are expecting something kinky or at least saucy, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. Because what I did last night was what I have been doing every 22nd of March for the past few years: throwing a cocktail party.
In 2015, I posted about my party here. That post contains clickable links to the party posts from 2012, 2013 and 2014 - just in case you want to compare pictures and look for what has changed and what has remained the same.

What has remained pretty much the same is the way my living room looks usually:

I had the day off and so plenty of time to do everything that needed doing without even the slightest hint of stress. 
Some cards and a present had already been arriving for the past few days:

The above flowers were delivered around lunch time, sent from one of my sisters-in-law from Yorkshire. My sister helped me do some last-minute shopping - stuff I can't get before, because it has to be fresh - and brought me these flowers in my favourite colours:

The blue flowers are called "Bauernbüble", literally "farmer's boys", because in times gone by farmers here often wore linen working shirts dyed this same shade of blue.

Preparations went smoothly as usual, with only a few phone calls to take. Nowadays, most of the people who can not be there for my birthday will either send cards, emails or text messages; there are only a handful left who will ring.

As usual, most of the party food was going to be made by my Mum and my sister. My only contributions to the buffet, as always set up in the Third Room, were these. By now, it was 5.00 pm - time to change into my brand new dress!

Actually, I had intended to wear heels, but the only shoes I could find matching the silver belt were flat ones. My downstairs neighbours were probably grateful!
You can't really see it in the picture, but the fabric of this dress is very tiny light blue squares on white. Something else you can not see is that I am wearing a silver ring with a light blue stone, and a silver necklace with a light blue stone. Of course (!) I was wearing light blue eye shadow, and a scent called Cuir Blanc (white leather). I really love this new dress and am sure I'll wear it often as soon as it gets warm enough outside.
Maybe the pictures I have nicked from the fashion label's website (comma) give you a better idea.

As every year, once my guests started to arrive, there was no way I could have (or would have) taken any pictures. But rest assured that it was a great evening; there were 18 humans and 1 dog, an amazing pile of presents (all of them great and much appreciated), lots of laughter, plenty to drink and hopefully enough to eat (after all, it was a cocktail party and not a dinner invitation).

Most of my guests had to work today, so the party didn't last quite as long as it would have on a weekend. By 1:00 am, I had finished clearing up what I did not want to leave until the morning. Today, I have another day off and spent the morning putting everything back in order. I did it all at a nice leisurely pace, with enough time to take pictures of my gifts table and the wonderful flowers:  

This blog post will keep reminding me of my wonderful 48th birthday, but I hope the flowers are going to be a reminder for at least a week, too.

Friday 18 March 2016

At the Bank

This afternoon, I went to the bank to pick up some cash from one of the machines in the foyer. A few people were queuing for the clerks where the foyer leads into the bank's main floor. At the end of the queue was an African woman, rather small, headscarf, mismatched outfit with long skirt and roomy cardigan - instantly recognizable as one of the 1 million refugees that have come to Germany during the year 2015.
She turned round a few times and looked at me and the others  who, like me, were using the cash machines. After one more look at me - I had finished by now and was about to leave - she approached me, a bank card in her outstretched hand, and asked in broken German "Bitte helfen?" ("Please help?").

In a mix of English and German, we established that she wanted to draw cash from her account and didn't know how to operate the machines, and so I showed her what to do.
When the choice of amount to withdraw came up, the smallest sum on the menu was 25 €. She pressed that button, and a message popped up, saying that there weren't enough funds on the account; the maximum amount possible was 20 €.
I told her what the message said, and she nodded and pressed "confirm" in order to get the 20 €. She smiled and nodded some more and repeated "Danke, dankeschön!" a few times. I smiled back and left.

And began to feel uneasy. An inner voice told me to turn round again and give the poor woman some of the cash I had just withdrawn. A second inner voice warned me that I had no idea how she would react - would she be offended, because she had so clearly not been begging for money, only for help with the machine?
I must admit that cowardice won, and I left the building without doing anything more for the woman.

Walking home, I reflected at how different our lives were - certainly not only in terms of money, but probably under every aspect imaginable.

When I had been getting cash from the machine minutes before her, of course I had been offered the same choice of amounts to take out. My decision was only based on my general dislike of carrying much cash around, not on limited funds.
I had been buying stuff in town without thinking much about their price - she most likely had to be very careful with those 20 €, to make them stretch as far as possible.

I am not rich, but I am not poor, either. It is safe to say that I am working middle-class; I have a job that I like and which pays reasonably well. Nearly half of what I earn goes off as taxes and to "the State" in its various functions. I live in my own flat (still largely owned by the bank, of course, but eventually, it will be properly mine). When I feel like it, I can buy myself stuff that I don't really need, simply because I like it. And as for the things I need, such as food, electricity and heating, I can pay for them without having to sacrifice anything else. If I were so inclined, I could travel more than the one Yorkshire holiday I go on every year. Yes, I am comfortably well-off - it hasn't always been so, and I feel very grateful for not living as precariously close to the limits of my personal finances anymore.
So, a 20-€-note would not have hurt me. Would it have hurt her? Proably not. I am a coward sometimes.

Read in 2016 - 7: The Stokesley Secret

For the second time, I've read a book by Charlotte Mary Yonge. The review for the first one, as well as some info about the author, is here.

"The Stokesley Secret" was originally published in 1861; my copy was (you guessed it!) a free ebook from Amazon's Kindle shop.

While it is clearly meant as a children's book, adult readers can enjoy this book all the same - provided they don't mind the sometimes rather strong emphasis on Christian morals that used to rule in the nurseries of most English families during the Victorian era.

In short, the book tells the story of a large family (eight children!) who live in genteel poverty on an estate in Stokesley (a place in England that really exists). The father is a Marine Officer who is only home between assignments, his most recent one having been in the Crimean War. The mother worried herself sick over her husband while he was away, and became so weak that she has to be transferred to London to receive proper medical treatment. It is unsure whether she'll live or die, and the children are left at Stokesley in the care of a nurse (who is portrayed as a very unpleasant character, unduly spoiling the children and always taking sides with the wrong ones) and a governess.

That governess is the principal figure in the story. She is young (only 19!), and her main job is to teach the younger children. The two oldest boys attend classes in the village, but her schoolroom is still very lively with the others.

On top of school lessons, she is also to teach them manners, make sure they are punctual at their meals, say their prayers, go to church every Sunday and do not quarrel too much among themselves.

She does have a level head on her shoulders and can be strict when necessary, but also joins in the fun at playtime, which endears her to the children a great deal. Her "modern London ways" do not go down well with Nurse and some of the other staff at the house, but her main responsibility are the children, and there she succeeds really well...
...until one of the boys allows himself to be led astray by some up-to-no-good boys in the neighbourhood.

A secret plan (hence the title) the children have been hatching goes wrong because of his mischief, and sets the siblings against each other, much to the governess' grief.

Finally, the father returns from London, and is soon able to get to the bottom of things. I can safely say that all ends well; it's not spoiling the book for any of you as I doubt you'll want to read it anyway.

In places, it is overly sweet and moralising, whereas there are some really funny bits, and it makes me believe that the author was able to relate to children (and to how she felt when she was little) rather well. It's not a very long book and kept me nice, old-fashioned company for several train trips to and from work.