Last Week

One of the goals I had for this year was to spend 10 minutes each day writing about whatever came into my head. I missed last Wednesday, but here I’d like to share what I wrote on Thursday evening.

…….

January 7th, 2021, 11:50pm.

Well, less than a week in and I already missed a day. I thought I’d have plenty of time. We had a perfectly nice of evening on a nice, quiet public holiday. Ate a small dinner, made a magnificent batch of popcorn, watched the season premiere of the first Black Bachelor… all lovely. Then we stopped. BV headed for the office, I looked at my phone and… oh shit.

Crazed Trump protestors* storming the Capitol. A meager police force overwhelmed, or maybe allowing them to push through. Some yes, more concerned with getting the Senators, House Reps, and other staff to safety, which they did, but so many questions remain.

Watching it all unfold live was surreal. They went where they wanted, posed gleefully for pictures, defaced property, stole. And then, slowly, slowly, back up forces arrived, pushed them out, and for most of them, off they went. Video footage today showed a full luxury hotel lobby packed with them last night. Drinking, laughing, considering themselves the winners. And why wouldn’t they? The President, in a pre-taped video told them to go home but barely. The emphasis on his stolen election was stronger. His sentiment that he loved them, and that they are very special people, was stronger. Of course they feel victorious. The number of arrests is pathetic, and it seems from the mixed reporting today, that most of those came after curfew at 6pm. By then many of all were already out of the building and bragging about their exploits. Four people have now died; one woman having been shot inside.

They found pipe bombs, and a truck loaded with weaponry. The authorities are asking for tips and the internet is on top of ID-ing many, but why, why is it necessary? Once they were inside, how were they allowed to walk out? It’s unfathomable.

The news cycle today was a mess of who’s responsible, what now, and speculation. This is exactly what so many thought would happen and yet again it seems that the people who have the power to do something, will not. He’s got 13 days left and could certainly do a lot more damage in that time. But do the people who matter have the conviction to do anything? They haven’t so far. I’ve often felt over the last four years, and 2020 was by far the worst bit, that I was watching my home country burn in real time. Yesterday topped it all.

*what they were called at the beginning of the day

…….

It’s now Monday night/Tuesday morning. In the days since, the pictures, videos, and first-hand accounts have continued to horrify. As of now, there have been five deaths, two of them Capitol Police. Many of the insurrectionists involved have been identified by friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, you know name it. Mug shots of many have been released as they’ve been arrested. Others found themselves suddenly on the no-fly list, trapped in D.C., loudly protesting all of the injustices against them as they stormed around airport gates maskless. The injustices against them. Unreal.

The variety of people who showed up for this event is vast. Yes, they were little old ladies and suburban couples, and others that did not appear to be an immediate threat. But there were also a huge number of them who were armed, maybe not with firearms on their person, but with anything else they could find that would do harm. Tactical gear, bear spray, zip ties ready for what? Taking lawmakers hostage until they could march them out to the gallows, A GALLOWS, that was erected outside the building? News crews had their equipment smashed and destroyed, but their cables were stolen and twisted into nooses.

Rioters flying the Thin Blue Line flag were right there as a policeman was beaten with a flagpole attached to an American flag. So the police are on your side? Not today? When exactly?

All of it was unreal to see. It’s unreal to think that it happened, so predictably and seemingly so easily.

And the question of what happens now is still up in the air. Articles of impeachment seem to be ready to go, but do they have the votes? Pence isn’t ruling out the 25th Amendment, but he is? Many lawmakers, mostly on the right, calling for unity, that moving ahead with any of this won’t repair the country.

The man should have been removed during the first impeachment. After last week, let’s not fool ourselves that throwing him out of office even a week ahead of schedule couldn’t stop him from doing more irreparable damage.

Four years ago I could not believe that Donald Trump, the slimy host of The Apprentice, the man with the golden tower, possibly got elected to the highest office in the land. I thought Americans were smarter. I did not understand how the Republican party, the party of fiscal conservatism could get behind such a incredibly bad businessman, who ran nearly every business he was in into the ground. What about the Republican party, the party of family values? So they elect someone thrice-divorced (okay, hey, not everyone gets it right the first time. Or the second.), but then the Access Hollywood tape hit. Beyond that, there was an endless parade of women saying he’d done this, said that, touched them. But that was okay too. I wondered how many Trump-supporting parents of young daughters on my FB feed would react if their girls came home from school saying a boy had done something to them. How could they defend his representing those family values?

When he put out a call to march on the Capitol, thousands showed up. Armed, willing to beat police officers to death with the same flags that represent them. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, people who have been screaming that their guns were being taken away for years and yet they still have guns. Are those the ones anyone wants to align themselves with? Trump enabled and emboldened all of these types to crawl out from the dark underbelly of the internet and feel comfortable and confident enough to step into the light. You might think your lawyer is slightly right-wing but seeing him in camo banging on the doors of the Capitol building should be a wake-up call. If you are marching at a protest and see that the guy next to you has a Nazi tattoo, wouldn’t you think… hmm… maybe this is not a place I should be? These are not the people I should be marching alongside?

It makes no sense. It’s a cult of personality at this point. They are now the party of Trump and it is a train run wild that could destroy the entire country. They spent the last four-plus years putting him forward as the face of something that the party is not, though a lot of Republicans hold their nose and pretend. The myth of the party, if you will.

The only conclusion that I can come to is that anyone saying that the Republican party is still whatever ideal of the Republican party existed in the past, small government, fiscal conservatism, all those things we talked about in A.P. History a thousand years ago, is dead and gone. Now it’s propping up business and failing the worker, stomping for one religion over all others, quashing the hard-won rights of people who look different, love differently, or worship differently than you do. Asking for unity after a Confederate flag walked through the Capitol building.

No. You look and see what you’ve done. You reap what you’ve sown, since the Bible is so important.

Now I’m no expert, but this is what I know. Over the years it has twisted into propping up huge business and that whole trickle-down effect that Reagan promised… never happened. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with working hard and building a successful business. I am, however, saying that the wealth gap is bigger than ever. Jeff Bezos has more money than he could literally ever spend, but his warehouse workers break their backs for peanuts. Drivers are often contracted out, with little to no oversight, they have no security, no insurance, they pee in bottles during their shifts just to make their routes. And the same things happens at countless companies, Amazon is just one example. The days of getting a job at the local factory that had benefits and paid well enough for a small house and a family are long gone but the myth of their existence still lingers. The cost of living has only gone up with the minimum wage far behind in the dust.

Extreme religious conservatives have taken further and further hold, putting every gain women have made over the years into more and more danger, along with other minority groups. And somehow, Donald Trump came along and conned the vast majority of them into going along with him. Donald Trump, a man so religious that he tear-gassed peaceful protestors in order to wave a Bible (a book he’s most assuredly never read as the man DOES NOT READ BOOKS) awkwardly in front of a church. Even those conservatives that may have disagreed were, and are mostly even now, too afraid of his rabid fan base to go against him. And those that agree? I don’t know how they could agree after literally fleeing an angry mob last week, but some still hold out. Good thing so many of their staffers grew up doing active shooter drills in school and knew how to hide effectively.

It’s nauseating. It’s infuriating. It’s been said before but I’ll say it again. Trump is not the entire problem, but he’s a symptom. He’s the face of the problem, he’s incredibly dangerous, and should never have gotten within 100 feet of the Oval Office to begin with. He needs to go, and he needs to never happen again. Nor should any member of his family get within any close number of votes or hope of winning another election.

Normally this is not the sort of post I want to write here. I’ve had a lot of these thoughts over the last four years. I had a lot of thoughts over the summer, what with the global pandemic and the BLM protests sweeping across the country. But no one needs to hear a middle-class white millenial’s take on that. I focused on supporting where I could afford to, educating myself as best I could with various media, and spent a lot of time thinking back on how I was raised. Comments, asides, things that I now wonder about, things that I might now question if they came up again.

When I was 7, we moved from Milwaukee out to the rural suburbs of what is now one of the most strongly Republican counties of the state. Google tells me the distance is 45.3 miles on the route we usually took, so let’s say 45-60 minutes depending on traffic. In the city, I had attended a private, Lutheran school. When we moved, I switched to public. I distinctly remember being asked by my new classmates if I knew Black people. I also remember being 1) incredibly confused by the question… don’t you know Black people? No, some of them had never seen one (at least that they could remember at 7 years old) and 2) where were all of them? My previous school had been a mix of kids from different backgrounds. Here, everyone was White. There wouldn’t be a single minority until we hit middle school, when there was one in my class. Again, the difference is 45 miles. Milwaukee was not the moon, but it may as well have been to some of those kids. To say that the new environment was insular is an understatement. And despite going to the same school, with mostly those same kids, from grades 2-12, I never felt like I fit in.

I got my first job when I was 15, as most of those kids did. Living out in the boonies, learning to drive was a necessity and if you ever wanted a prayer of getting a car, you’d better get to work. I remember my indignation at seeing how much came out in taxes from my first paycheck. I’d covered myself in milkshake for two weeks, wearing horrible white pants that were immediately filthy and sliding on grease on the floor for minimum wage ($5.15/hour at that time) and this was all that was left? Pretty sure my dad laughed at me and told me to thank the Democratic administration that was in power. I was incredibly annoyed at the loss of that money, but I was also 15 years old and working my very first, very sticky, part-time job.

Since then I’ve had lots of different jobs, and some of those in different countries even. And you know what? I grew up a bit, too. Now I understand that taxes… can pay for things! Roads! Infrastructure! Schools! All sorts of fun stuff! And when people pay more into that, the entire society benefits. Fun fact: of all the visitors I’ve had over the years, both here and during my time in Prague, nearly all of them have commented on the same three things.

  1. Wow, there are a lot less crappy cars here!
  2. Wow, the cities are so clean!
  3. Wow, the roads are in such smooth and nice condition! (They’re visitors, they don’t get annoyed at getting stuck at the same construction site constantly for years on end)

Numbers two and three are pretty clear benefits of higher taxes, and number one is down to higher regulation of the cars you are allowed to drive and their environmental impact, as well as their potential for harm to yourself/others. Considering I was once in an old Dodge Dart going downhill with a train track and a stop sign at the bottom of it when the brakes decided not to work, I’m on board with them checking on the cars here every few years.

I don’t look too often anymore to see how much I paid in taxes. It is what it is, and I’m okay with that. I choose to live here, and I choose to pay that price. But there are a lot of people, many of those who were running burgers beside me, or operating presses around me, or slinging laundry, who may never have had that realization. Maybe never will. May never put together that more money in their pocket, or that the tax return they look forward to every year means that Domino’s Pizza stepped in to fix the roads in the community. Yes, that happened. Great publicity for Domino’s, but shouldn’t it be a sign that there’s something wrong? Just like those “heartwarming” stories of teachers pooling their sick days to donate to a co-worker undergoing cancer treatment who has run out of her own. That’s not heartwarming, that’s dystopian. But healthcare is another long rambling post for another day.

Like many, I had former military members in my family and it was something to be proud of. We wore red, white and blue on the 4th, we were rich in ‘Americana’ decor. We were taught that the U.S. was the greatest country on Earth and I never questioned that for a long time. Is it great? Yes. Is it the greatest? No, but I don’t think any country is. They all have problems. Every country, like every person, is fallible. The U.S., like Germany, like every other country on Earth, has things that they do well, and they they do poorly.

It will always be my birth country, whether or not I ever live there again. But I do not recognize it today as we were taught it was. I don’t know if it was ever that way, or if that was all part of the myth… the one that people still try to keep alive. White picket fences (where my parents live, you can’t even build a fence unless you get a special permit and know someone on city council), those steady factory jobs (already covered that), mom in an apron getting dinner on the table by the time dad comes in at 5 (how many of those moms had drinking problems or addictions to questionable ’50s-era drugs for the nerves and how many of those dads stopped at the bar on the way home and maybe whacked her around once in a while, or the kids for that matter). And at some point, the Black family moved in and everyone else moved out.

I can’t say I see the appeal. Maybe it looked good in magazines, we’ve all seen Mad Men, but the underbelly was there. The rose-colored glasses, the nostalgia, the myth, they forget that part.

There is potential to come back from all of this. There is potential for people to learn, to grow, to accept the reality of the country as it is, vibrant, inventive, ingenious as ever, but that myth has to die. There can be a better country, but it has to be better for everyone. Partisan entrenchment can only hurt, can only drive the divisions deeper. I just hope enough people can grow, can learn, can think outside of what they know now, to see what could be.

…..

So that got really long and kind of weird but as I said, I’ve had a lot of these thoughts over the last four years and I just really needed to get them out.

If anyone read all of that, I salute you. I’m sorry it might not make a lot of sense. It’s 5:30am and it had to get out of my head if I have any chance of sleep.

Quelle Surprise!

Who doesn’t love a good surprise when traveling?

Most of our visit to the Auvergne region of France was fairly surprising, mostly down to the fact that I’m not a huge pre-trip planner in general, plus my crazy new work schedule last spring that left little to no spare brain space to plan for our trip anyways. I’m sure at some point this laissez-faire approach will bite me in the butt, but so far, I’ve done okay. Auvergne worked out fairly well for us, with a fantastic variety of activities, and an extremely helpful host at the holiday apartment that we chose for our five days in the region.

On our first full day, he advised us to head towards a few villages that were about an hour away from our location, and so off we went. However, on the way there, we saw something that made us say “WHAT IS THAT?” and a few minutes later we pulled the car over into a helpfully placed viewpoint parking lot.

So what did we see? Click on for details…

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Sunday Snapshots: Hills on Hills

Ireland, 2016

On this day two years ago we visited the Hill of Tara, once the seat of the High Kings of Ireland. The little hills and ridges are the remains of ancient earthen structures, and it feels like the sort of place where you shouldn’t be allowed to tramp all over it… but you are. The 360 degree views of the surrounding Irish countryside are spectacular, even on a gray and windy late-December day like we had. We don’t often take bus tours (as evidenced by this post), but we did on this occasion and it was worth it for the color commentary of our fellow travelers alone. Maybe that’s a story for another day…

Norway Road Trip 2017: Vikøyri

The second stop of our Norwegian trip was a short but sweet night in and around Vikøyri, a village on Sognefjorden. The main reason for our visit was sheer logistics, as my original plan to drive to Bergen went out the window when we saw that the short distance on the map would take us nearly nine hours. Instead, we opted for a projected four and a half hour drive from Sæbø, which ended up being closer to eight in reality.

Why so long? Because driving in Norway is winding, twisting, up, down, and SO RIDICULOUSLY PRETTY THAT YOU WILL STOP FOR PHOTOS CONSTANTLY.

Don’t believe me? Click on to continue the tour!

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Sunday Snapshots: Museum Love

Pergamon, Berlin 2012

Pergamon, Berlin 2012

If you are in Berlin, I cannot recommend the Pergamon Museum enough.  However, it’s best to try planning a visit for 2019 at the earliest because if you go before then, you won’t be able to see/climb/experience the fantastic altar pictured above. Due to renovations, major parts of the museum are being redone in pieces over the next many, many, many years (or so it seems). But luckily for me, back when I got there in 2012 we could still see nearly all of the highlights. If you have any interest whatsoever in art or history, it is an absolute must-see in Berlin. Extraordinary.

Sunday Snapshots: Cathedral Details

20march

Detail in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin 2010

Like last week, today’s picture comes courtesy of A.’s visit a few years ago. During our whirlwind weekend in Dublin, we tried (keyword: tried) to ingest a bit of culture along with all of the delicious, delicious Irish beer. Thus, we stopped into Christ Church Cathedral in the heart of Dublin.

This was another instance of being in a place that nearly overwhelms with the amount of history that it has seen. There was an incredibly helpful, and characteristically chatty Irish gentleman at the door that was eager to share the story of the church, and after a history lesson with him, we wandered the aisles and marveled at everything from the floors to the rafters.

Since this was six years ago, I honestly have idea what this picture is of, exactly, but there is something about it that I love. It’s slightly creepy, but so vivid in detail that it almost seems like it might come to life and bite right through the rope (or branch? or arm? What do you think that is?)

Sunday Snapshots: Roman Layers and Lines

28rome

The forecast for the next few days in Germany looks snowier than our entire winter put together, so I thought it would be appropriate to see a bit more sun. My visit to Rome was pretty action-packed, and even in February it was warm enough to enjoy walking the city without a winter jacket. The bundled-up Romans might have disagreed with me, but coming from Germany it felt like a tropical vacation!

Weather aside, I love this photo because it represents so much of what I felt about Rome. It’s old, it’s new, it’s layers upon layers of history and thousands of stories. The people-watching is a sport unto itself, and you can hardly turn a corner without seeing something interesting. Or a cat. There are cats everywhere. And really, isn’t that what we all want?

Est. Before America

I recently posted about my 7-year anniversary of living in Europe and after so long, sometimes I worry that I’m getting jaded. Yes, I routinely see castles and cathedrals and small children dressed in Tracht on Sunday afternoons, and I do try to appreciate those things when I’m not running late or fighting through people on my morning commute. Sometimes though, it really is the little things that remind me of how cool this whole thing is.

For example: last night BV and I celebrated the end of our vegetarian month by going out in Nürnberg for some burgers and Biers. Before we could get to that though, I had to make a quick stop at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. We were on the way to the city just before 7 o’clock and so I did a quick Google on the train to make sure that I could find an open pharmacy. (Remember, this is Bavaria and things are open until 8pm, if you are lucky.) Google assured me that a big pharmacy that was on the way to burgers would be open, and so we headed that way.

Pharmacies are all over the place, but this one is located right on a corner of Lorenzer Platz; prime real estate in Nürnberg. Thus it was no surprise that even at the “late” hour, it was pretty busy. There were two lines (I use the term loosely), and several other people milling about. We tried to join a line that got us out of the automatic door range, and waited our turn.

While pondering just how much apparently-magical skin cream that some tourists in the next line were planning to buy (answer: a LOT) and wondering what they knew that I clearly don’t, I was distracted by a small detail of the pharmacy’s logo on the wall behind the counter…

It’s a bit small, but the date? Yep… this pharmacy has existed since 1442. This year it may be selling brightly packaged skin care products to over-excited tourists already laden with shopping bags, but think of all the crazy things that have already passed over those counters. I immediately started picturing powdered snakeskin in glass vials and medieval plague doctors passing through the (non-automatic) doors in their creepy masks.

Like so many cities in Germany, Nürnberg has around a thousand years of history, but that’s easy to forget in the day to day. Even when we’re literally staring at the castle on the way to eat a burger, sometimes it takes a pharmacy logo to remind me that I’m surrounded by History Channel fodder that is real life, and that’s pretty damn cool.