To protect the innocent, I have spared you many of the uglier moments of our trip. Suffice to say, we are still married and Child Protection hasn't come for us yet. But if anyone is contemplating travel in Europe with small children, especially three-year-olds, you can see my advice on the matter at Rick Steve's Graffiti Wall.
Those of you who know Will and I know that we can be, um, a bit absent-minded. Add two small children and lots of travel to the mix, and you get a long list of lost and found. I promise not to write forevermore about the sabbatical nearly past, but here's the final tally of gains and losses:
Gains and losses:
Lost and regained: Johannes’ beloved blankie, left in
the cab on the way to the airport.
Icelandic sweaters at the second-hand store (what a deal!) in Reykjavik;Three Norwegian sweaters; One Norwegian wool hat bought at the Fish Market in Bergen in the driving
rain. Salesperson: “Do you need a bag?” Will: “Heck no, I’m going to wear it!”
Russian novels; You’d think I would have had time to read these on sabbatical.
Lost: One big pretzel, dropped in the Bächle in Freiburg (see below); One plastic boat, washed down the
rain in the same.
Broken: Our favorite point-and-shoot digital camera,
a model they don’t make anymore, damaged irreparably when Johannes decided to
be “helpful” and knocked it off the fridge in Freiburg.
Lost and replaced: Katie’s blue bandana, an
indispensably flexible play item used variously as a sling, a baby carrier, a
blanket, or a do-rag.
Removed: One tick from Johannes’ side (see below).
Broken: One Alsatian beer glass, purchased in Strasbourg, shattered
when it fell off the table on the train.
Gained: Five English children’s paperbacks, given to Katie by
American friends living in Paris.
Purchased,Left behind and later replaced:
Johann’s Alles Über die Eisenbahn book, the only book he had along on
the trip, left on the train to Lubeck.
Left behind: Katie’s pink rain jacket, left on the
train from Myrdal to Flom, Norway..
Lost: Will’s good binoculars, left on the bench
outside the grocery store in Aurland, Norway
Forgotten: One giant bag of organic groceries,
purchased in Munich
and left in the back ofa train station
Completely worn out: Two sets of children’s shoes
Gained: One German dictionary and one Russian
phrasebook, not ours,mysteriously
appeared in the DHL box we shipped home from Freiburg.
Lost: Two calendars, mysteriously vanished from above
Confiscated: One piece of Black Forest ham, two Swiss
apples, and two half-eaten sandwiches, tossed in the burn bag by USDA officials
upon our return to Minneapolis (fortunately, they did not fine us $1000, as
they threatened to do when we forgot about the apples and failed to declare
Gained: A sense
of distance from the American political fray, a slower pace, a new perspective,
a happy acceptance of $4 gas and a determination to allow some of the
simplicity of these 12 weeks to remain in our lives at home.
We like to think that work is the reason we are miserable. If only we had less of it, perhaps, we would be satisfied. We romanticize the places we visit and imagine that life there is slower, more peaceful.
For a month we’ve been on sabbatical (well, I have – Will has continued to work) at Weingut Landmann, a family-run winery and farm. As far back as anyone has been able to trace, both sides of this family have produced wine, in this corner of Baden. Twelve years ago, the two sons of the family took over the business, one serving as the oenologist and the other as the business manager. They run a farm stand seven days a week during asparagus season (April – June), rent out five vacation apartments, offer wine tastings with food on arrangement, and produce 100,000 bottles of wine a year.
The irony for us is that this sabbatical on the farm in fact puts us right in the middle of a lot of very hard working people. With Spargel (asparagus) season in full swing, the tractors and work crews start heading out by at least 7 a.m. every morning, the farm stand is open by 8 and people do not shut down until sundown, which is 9p.m. or later. Frequently there are people in the office, which is just outside our front door, until 10 or later. We are surrounded by people working very, very long hours, and mostly we feel its our dutyto stay out of their way. The lush green landscape that for us is a picture of peace and tranquility must look very different through their eyes, where a good portion of the year’s profit must be removed from the ground and gotten into saleable form in a relatively short time.
Is the rural life more peaceful? Certainly one couldn’t say that if you count work hours,noise levels, or the numbers of people and vehicles coming and going. There is a sense, though, that life here is more integrated than the equivalent life would be for us back at home. When we work 60 hour weeks at home, we are away, in the office, and if at home, often barking at the children to keep their fingers off the computer. Here, three generations are all engaged in the common work, except when the children are in school.The oldest child in the family is drafted into service washing and peeling asparagus. The youngest ones may not be working, but they are very much about the place as their parents work. Three generations plus a lot of neighbors and helpers are part of the effort, from dawn until dusk. Long days, no doubt, but days in which they are together -- or at least together in a common endeavor.
David Wood of the Fund for Theological Education has argued that the pastoral life (the ministerial kind) also offers some of that same integration, though it is limited to the degree that we operate the church like a business. My children have no idea what Will does for a living (even I have difficulty understanding it sometimes), even when he’s working from home, because the projects are abstract and the communities he serves are miles away. My work, at least a good part of it, is tangible and visible. My kids see me lead, preach, sing, preside. Katie insists on going with me at 7 every Sunday morning to church and knows many members of our community by name – and nearly everyone knows their names. I do not take them to the office much, because they would be as disruptive there as in any office setting, but the public element of my ministry and its communal nature offers them an access point that few children have to the work world in urban places. Every Sunday is Take Your Children to Work Day for me. That’s a gift.
This afternoon we had a little glimpse of the German medical system. As we stuck Johann in the bath we discovered a tick had crawled into his side right under the waistband. Having seen signs in the local pharmacies about Lyme disease and other scary things, we were of course eager to get it out, and we even had our very special scary-sharp tweezers along for the job. But this little bugger was definitely burrowed in, and after some work at it (and a lot of resistance from J) we gave up and did a little more research. Asking around to our hosts, our German relatives and our clinic at home confirmed the notion that we should see a doctor to get the thing properly removed.
So, off to the hospital --of course the only thing open on a Sunday evening anyway. Our hosts graciously gave us a ride and seemed not to think that this was an extreme reaction for a tick. When we arrived we were directed to the medical clinic, where two women at the desk informed us that usually they only treat adults there – but, since it was just a matter of a tick, why not ask? They did, and we were soon ushered into an exam room. There was 30 seconds of screaming bloody murder while the doctor did the job, and then we were out again with reassurances that things would probably be fine from here, but if he develops the telltale ring to come back for antibiotics.
Then, we paid. They did ask about insurance at the beginning of the whole affair, but of course our U.S coverage meant nothing to them. Our efforts to determine our insurance coverage or get any pre-approval came to naught, because the 800 numbers supposedly provided for that purpose don’t work from here.
“Hmm. .. “ the woman at the desk said. “You’ll have to pay cash, and because it’s Sunday it will be more expensive.”
“Like, how expensive?” we asked timorously, thinking of the bills that have come our way from J’s previous trips to the ER for stitches.
“Maybe fifty euros!” she answered.
I’m thinking, that’s a bargain!
In the end, the total was 34 euros. . .about $50 U.S., which is probably what our co-pay alone would have been at home. Toto, we’re not in American health care system anymore.
The other big difference in the whole affair was something we didn’t have to do – sign things. In the hurry I completely forgot to bring any ID, and, let me add, the Germans are usually quite fond of asking for passports for such minor offenses as renting a bicycle. But no one asked for ID. No one even had us fill out a form. Will gave his name, Johann’s name, and a local address to the woman at the desk. We signed nothing – not one single piece of paper. No waivers, no release of medical information, no lengthy medical histories, no authorization to treat, nothing.
Imagine that, a health care system in which the focus is on getting people treated, rather than making sure it’s paid for, or preventing lawsuits!
So much about Germany makes a lot of sense. Don't get me wrong: we love it. But there are a few things that are just plain mysteries to me.
First: Local hot water heaters: it’s often said that in heaven, the Germans will be the engineers. That certainly is true when you behold the rail system, but it makes less sense in the household. Every bathroom has its own little local heater, and usually you spend the entire time under the water trying to find that happy medium between scalding and freezing. In our case, when two adults shower in succession, the second is sure to be cold by the time it’s over.
Second: “Fuzzy” water. Germans love carbonation, which has become something of an issue for our children. Even when we find them “stilles Wasser,” they inspect it carefully for bubbles before they will take a sip. The festival we visited last Sunday literally had no non-carbonated drinks on the menu except for wine, so we had to beg for tap water. They looked at us quite strangely, but humored us.
I know there is good historical reason for this: the saying goes “in wine there is wisdom, in beer there is strength, in water, there are bacteria.” Nevertheless, it’s amazing that in this land of very high environmental awareness, no one has pointed out that all that bottled water is both unnecessary and a bit wasteful. (Yes, they do recycle – a lot more than at home – but picking up large crates of Getra”nke is probably the single most common use of an automobile around here).
That being said, in general Europeans are less rabid about hydration than Americans are. You won’t see them walking around sucking on water bottles all the time as if a couple hours separated from water would be the death of them. Drinks are something you sit down for and enjoy, slowly. It may also explain why public restrooms are less plentiful.
Finally: Spargel. Don’t get me wrong. I like asparagus as much as the next person, but it really is an obsession here. There are entire restaurant menus – expensive ones – devoted to asparagus dishes. Like fish, the stores will only tell you they are selling it “market price” for the day. Downstairs the pricing system alone was enough to keep me from buying any for a week here. First, it’s sorted by color: white, violet and, rarely, green. Then by diameter, the thick stuff being more prized. Add to that the weight conversion and the Euro conversion, and my head begins to spin. It's good, but not, to my mind, 9 dollars-a-pound good.
When we decided to spend the bulk of our time in Freiburg on this sabbatical, a lot of folks – particularly our Ko”lnische relations – asked, “Why there?” Other than its proximity to France and Switzerland, I couldn’t give a lot of reasons. Mostly I had two strong pleasant memories of summer afternoons in Freiburg: one from my student days when I visited from Tu”bingen, and one on our honeymoon. I hadn’t spent tons of time here, so in some ways I think we just got lucky. But here are good reasons to love Baden (the southern half of the state of Baden-Wu”rtemberg, not Baden-Baden, the city).
It is cyclists’ heaven. There are plenty of sport cyclists around decked out in neon colors, but there are also plenty of people just out doing their shopping, taking their kids to kindergarten, or going to work on sturdy touring bikes. And lots of Omas wearing sensible shoes and semi-formal clothing just out doing their errands.
Clean energy everywhere! Since this is the sunniest corner of Germany, they are taking advantage and using solar power wherever possible. There are also wind turbines on the mountains and, of course, lots of hydropower. Hotels advertise that they are carbon neutral and the streetcars boast on their walls that they are "prima fuer das Klima"
Flammkuchen. I think this dish is the primary source of my positive memory 20 years ago: a local specialty cooks good cheese, ham and, yes, sour cream on a thin pizza-like crust. It's one of those dishes that reminds you how close to France you are.
The Schwaben will never admit it, but I think the Spaetzle is actually better here.
German beer AND wine. As our hosts here say, the area “breathes French air,” and the wines are good. One of the local Freiburg beers does nothing for me, but there are other Schwarzwald beers that are quite drinkable.
What’s true in the U.S is also true here: in general, the South is more hospitable. They also have more tourist traps, but we generally know how to avoid those.
The Ba”chle (see yesterday’s post), and, in addition, fountains everywhere. Because digging deep wells in the city was impractical, Freiburg early on developed a large system of fountains to deliver drinking water all over the city, and the Ba"chle were engineered to deliver water for washing and other uses. We have three little public fountains within just a couple minutes walk from our place here in a very small village. Running water to mess with outside = happy kids.
Considering that we are traveling with two small children, we've done pretty well keeping track of all our belongings, but, of course, a few things have gone missing:
Johannes’ blankie: this, fortunately, has been recovered, though not yet returned to us in Germany. Of course, the one irreplaceable item was lost in the cab on the way to the airport!
One copy of Anna Karenina, left in the Reykjavik Youth Hostel: if you can’t read the Russian novels on sabbatical, when can you? Turns out, so far, I can’t now either.
Expensive Icelandic groceries mistakenly left in the fridge of our first night’s lodging. Everything in Iceland, it seems, costs at least $12 US.
One huge pretzel, dropped in the Baechle in Freiburg: The kids, of course, can’t resist playing in the streams that run throughout Freiburg’s city center. Since the 1300’s these fast-flowing small water ways have provided natural air conditioning to the city that is known for being Germany’s sunniest corner. Legend has it if you fall in them, you’re destined to marry a Freiburger or Frieburgerin. We’ve warned Katie and she is being quite careful. For Johann, naturally, it’s already too late.
One little boat, washed down the drain in the Baechle. Our first day out we saw some children floating little wooden boats in one of the slower moving Baechle. Seemed like a great idea, so we went in search of boats of our own. What we didn’t know – and what probably explains why every child in townisn’t putting boats in – is that in many places the Ba”chle suddenly go down a drain.
Tonight marks the end of three weeks of sabbatical. It's longer than I've ever taken for plain old vacation, and yet I still feel like I'm just beginning this experience of time away from the daily grind. We haven't been travelling long yet, and the preparations for the travels meant a lot of to-do lists back at home, so in that sense we haven't settled in to a new rhythm yet as a family. Also, Will hasn't finished his work yet -- but he's getting there.
Things did not get off to an auspicious start, because I left the one irreplaceable item in the cab on the way to the airport: our son's beloved blankie. So far he's been mostly too distracted to grieve it for long, but bedtimes would be a lot easier with it, that's for sure. It's taken me several days to forgive myself for the mistake.
In fact, there have been plenty of reminders that this whole experience, as unique and wondrous as it is, is not meant to be an exercise in perfection. There has been illness (our nanny's and, to a lesser extent, mine), lost items, a couple temper tantrums, sibling spats, a cut finger and an all-too-close encounter with stinging nettles. Family life and all its dynamics continue as usual, only in closer quarters and unfamiliar places.
I'm not getting much writing done yet (lack of blogging has not translated into lots of other writing, for all the above reasons), but life itself is taking center stage -- eating, sleeping, family and exploring the world. That's plenty for now.
Kelly Fryer has a nice piece on schmoozing on her blog this week. It’s stunning how easily church members focus on our own comfort – such as the fear of having to ask someone’s name – rather than the obvious discomfort a visitor experiences in a new place. I've learned the hard way that you just have to ask people's names until you get it right, and not not ask for fear of embarrassment.
Since I've been on the other side of the visitor/ member divide the last couple Sundays, I second Fryer's remarks even more. That being said, I will add this – whether a church is welcoming tends to have no relation at all to its formality in worship. I’ve been in places with nosebleed-high liturgical practice where the community is warm and inviting -- especially toward children -- and I’ve been to churches that are very chatty, informal, and simultaneously quite exclusive toward anyone who is new. Bottom line: while some people find it easier to reach out than others, the most welcoming communities are those who actually expect visitors, plan for them and intentionally provide ways for the newcomer to get connected. (Fewer chairs at coffee hour isn’t a bad start.)