Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pull Harmonicas and Mouth Harmonicas -- A Public Service Announcement

I needed a haircut today, so I sneaked off at three to travel to my favorite barber in Bornheim and didn't make it back until seven.  After my haircut, I headed back to the subway station, paused, and kept on walking up the Berger Strasse until I found a news stand.  I purchased Die Zeit, Germany's leading weekly newspaper that comes out on Thursdays.  I then wandered down the Berger Strasse until I reached the Cafe Mirador (Picture from Website below).

 Sitting out on a Mild Evening at Cafe Mirador in Bornheim

The weather was cool and drizzly, so I sat indoors.  The place was fairly empty.  I ordered a glass of red wine and the "Mirador Plate", a small tapas plate with slices of chorizo, serrano ham, manchego cheese and a few olives, slices of tomato, and cucumber.  (I like the design and variety of the Mirador Menu.)  It is a great place to sit outside on a sunny day for a late breakfast or to wrap up an evening with a drink and a snack.  I've never eaten a full meal here, so I cannot vouch for the kitchen.  The average client age is probably around thirty, but no one cares if there are a few old farts mixed in, as long as they don't get the upper hand.  I read the newspaper while listening to my Shuffle and keeping an eye on the young crowd.
Where was I?  Oh yes, there was an article in Die Zeit (er, in der Zeit) about the 10th International World Music Festival 2010 in Innsbruck, Austria that took place from May 13 through 16.  I linked to the Facebook Page, because I was having trouble finding the official page.  The entire city was booked out for the event that only takes place every three years.  Here is an excerpt from the 2010 Program:
Welcome to the 10th International World Music Festival 2010! In the year 1983, Arnold Kutzli brought the Festival for the first time to Innsbruck, at that time titled as “International Accordion-Festival with Harp-Gathering”.

Since that time the festival has not only developed to an epitome in the world of music, the supporting program has developed as well in its variety and was accepted with pleasure by all music friends from many countries all over the world. In Innsbruck the friends of harmonica instruments meet from all over the world, furthermore the festival represents the convincing reflection of today’s accordion orchestra.  I am sure: the 10th World Music Festival will be an unforgettable event for all participants, happening in the beautiful and fantastic region of Innsbruck. Many new impressions, open minded people and playing music together will contribute at the best to a great success.

I am looking forward to your participation and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your success.

Hedy Stark-Fussnegger

We've finally come to the title of my post.  An accordion in German is often referred to as a Ziehharmonika (literally, a "pull harmonica"), although Akkordeon may be the more appropriate term. What we Americans refer to as a harmonica is called a Mundharmonika (literally "mouth harmonica").  The 10th International World Music Festival is, indeed, limited to "competitive and non-competitive performance for harmonica instruments in orchestras and ensembles." (harmonicas and accordions)

Now, I've gotten used to listening to solo accordion or an accordion playing in a band at one of my favorite blogs, but the thought of listening to an entire orchestra made up of accordions ... well, I'm not there yet.  Chamber Music with accordion?  Not ready.  The final competition with awards ceremony takes place in the Olympic Stadium with the Alps in the background.  If that doesn't make you want to yodel, nothing will.  So, Mr. A., put on your Lederhosen and get over here for the 2013 competition.  FYI, there is a special category of "senior hobby accordion orchestras and ensembles".  I don't know whether Canada was represented this year.  Someone should look into this.  A warning, though, from Hedy Stark-Fussnegger for those lightheaded enough to think they can just come in and polka waltz away with a prize:  "The jury is composed out of international acknowledged and experienced specialists. Their decisions are final and incontestable."

Crank it up a Notch

"Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity
made flesh.  It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like
silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now. As I
slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures!" -- Alex DeLarge, Clockwork Orange
(listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony)

I'll lighten up this serious post with one of my favorite sayings:  "A gentleman is someone who knows how to play the accordion, but doesn't."  You can find similar jokes for your favorite accordion player at this website.  Use them sparingly so that you don't offend him or her.  You might regret it some day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What is Wild Asparagus?

I've been puzzling over the difference between what we ate in Alsace that was called wild asparagus and what was sold to me at the Kleinmarkthalle and called wild asparagus, and I think I've found the answer.

On Saturday, the wild asparagus were very similar to the green asparagus that I bought.  As I have written before, the wild asparagus that we ate in Alsace was more like a wild grass.

I Meant the Grassy Stuff up Front

The grassy stuff that I have been referring to as wild asparagus is not really asparagus at all.  From my Wiki research,  "Ornithogalum pyrenaicum, also called Prussian Asparagus, wild asparagus, Bath Asparagus, Pyrenees Star of Bethlehem or Spiked Star of Bethlehem, is a plant whose young flower shoots may be eaten as a vegetable, similar to asparagus."  The French Wiki entry for Ornithogale des Pyrénées also includes more common terms such as "asperge des bois" or "aspergette".  There is also the term "asperges sauvages", and I have seen pictures of both types of green asparagus shown with that term when I googled it.  I have trouble imagining that what was being sold at the Kleinmarkthalle was really wild.  I suspect that it was feral at best.  In any event, although all three types belong to the same order, Asparagales, the family, genus and species are different.  I bet even vegetable dealers get this confused.  The added bonus is the nexus with the Pyrénées.  Keep your eyes out on your hikes next early Spring, Margaret. I hear the asperges des bois have an early season.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spontaneity with a Side Order of Asparagus

Yesterday was one of those rare days when spontaneity ruled, producing a rich blend of interaction with friends and a great movie experience. I went into town to return an overdue book and to buy asparagus at the Kleinmarkthalle, hoping to get to the bottom of what I now refer to as The Great Asparagus Debate. Afterwards, I treated myself to a Cappuccino and the newest issue of The Economist at one of my favorite cafes. I was deep into The Economist, thinking about ordering a second Cappuccino, when a couple of friends sneaked up and snapped a picture of me with my head buried in the magazine, and then joined me for coffee. They were showing a young guest from France around town and wanted to go to the Kleinmarkthalle, too. I reminded them of our plans to drink a glass of wine upstairs on a Saturday, and they agreed that it would be a great idea, so off we went. After looking around on the ground floor and introducing them to my favorite Frikadellenbude (unfortunately, the Frikadellen were a bit dry this time) we headed upstairs and ordered three glasses of red wine and went out to the balcony to enjoy the wine and the lively atmosphere. After a second round we were planning to go our separate ways when Frau Bloggerboy called and asked me if I wanted to go see the film Sin nombre. And so, I took our friends, who also like films, and the three sorts of asparagus to the movies.

Sin nombre is quite a good film. Written and directed by Cary Fukunaga, an American born of a Japanese father and Swedish mother, Sin nombre is Fukunaga’s first full-length film, and it is hard to believe that Fukunaga is only 32 years old given the polished film. Fukunaga allegedly was inspired to make the film after reading about an incident in which numerous illegal aliens died in a container trying to cross the border. I think many Americans only think of the border between the US and Mexico as the focus of the immigration controversy. Fukunaga shows us an underground railroad that stretches down through Mexico to the rest of Latin and South America. He gives us a compelling portrait of what life in the bottom echelons of Latin American society – gangland – might be like, providing one explanation for the pressure cooker that pushes people north to seek a better life. The music by Brazilian pianist and composer Marcelo Zarvos is hypnotizing and sad, adding to the film's melancholy. There are landscape shots of great beauty. What arises as the film unfolds is an image of a sea of quiet discontent, its tide rising to wash untold numbers of hispanics northward. No time is spent blaming the gringos for the problems, and no time is spent showing the inequities in the systems south of the border that lead people to risk their lives to make it to America and others to seek the shelter of a brutal gang system. In the simplest terms Fukunaga shows people of dignity struggling to get away and others trying to profit from their vulnerability. The alternative for the two gang members who are the film’s protagonists is between victimizing the travelers (submitting to the gang’s order) and fleeing for one’s life (betraying the gang). One character chooses to flee, the other to remain, and the latter swears vengeance against the former to redeem himself in his fellow gangmembers' eyes. The film is quite violent, but the violence is quick and predictable and not overly sensuous – masterful and effective in keeping us attentive. We see a child brutally initiated into the gang. We see a young man fall in love with a woman outside the gang, which sets him on a path of confrontation with the gang.

The great meeting and mixing of cultures -- I intentionally do not use the word clash -- that is going on in the Western Hemisphere is fascinating. The film reminds me most of Cormac McCarthy’s great Border Trilogy and the more recent No Country for Old Men. If you are interested in this theme, I urge you to see this film. Thinking about the film this morning I was reminded of one of the closing scenes in Cities of the Plain, when Eduardo, the Mexican says to John Grady Cole, the American: “Your kind cannot bear that the world be ordinary. That it contain nothing save what stands before one. But the Mexican world is a world of adornment only and underneath it is very plain indeed. While your world … totters upon an unspoken labyrinth of questions. And we will devour you , my friend. You and all your pale empire. (p. 253)” McCarthy gives voice to the deepest fear that fuels the immigration debate in the US. Fukunaga shows us the very plain world underneath the debate and the basic dignity of the people in that world who want something better.

After the film, I invited my friends to join us for asparagus, as I had bought too much anyway and was enjoying the company. They agreed, heading home to drop off their shopping bags and freshen up. I had intended to make hollandaise sauce to go with the asparagus, but my improvised double boiler (a large cooking pot of water with a Pyrex bowl on top) proved defective when the Pyrex bowl slipped into the pot, mixing the egg yolks with hot water. So, the melted butter that I had on hand for the sauce ended up being the only extra ingredient added to the asparagus and potatoes. Additionally, we had both cooked and air-cured ham and two bottles of lively chardonnay. The wild asparagus was larger than the blades of grass that I had in Alsace. I had purchased top-quality white asparagus at ca. EUR 9 per kilo and a similarly-priced bunch of green asparagus, larger than the wild sort, for the comparison. We agreed that the wild asparagus tasted the best. I really liked the flavor of the white asparagus, but the green was quite good, too. I can understand why some folks prefer the green variety. I may even stick to the wild variety in the future.

We sat around and chatted until after midnight, when our friends headed home on their bicycles. It only takes a few days like this one to make the year somehow seem memorable. Nothing, aside from the asparagus, was planned, and everything, except the hollandaise, turned out fantastic.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Eisheiligen / Ice Saints / Saints de Glace

May is a strange weather month in Northern Europe.  The past few Aprils in Frankfurt have had a high number of quite warm and sunny days, even if they start out with cool temperatures in the mornings.  As May began, however, the temperatures have headed south, er, gone down.  We have the heat running, and the wind and rain have had an extra cold bite whenever I leave the house.  This has a long tradition in Europe, and it has a name.  The "Eisheiligen" refers to a period in May when, according to popular farmers' lore, the weather is still too unstable to plant crops because of the danger of frost.  There are five saints (Mamertus, Pancras, Servatius, Bonifatius, and Sophie) whose feast days fall from the 11th to the 15th of May.  Under the Julian calendar, that period was associated with late frosts.  If adjusted to the Gregorian calendar, the period would be later in May, but global warming probably would have pushed the date forward.  Scientists have been unable to determine that there really is a higher chance of frost in May, but anytime the weather dips from warm to cool in May, Germans start talking about the Ice Saints.  The last of the Ice Saints is Sophia of Rome, who is thought to have lived sometime in the 2nd or 3rd Century, and who was referred to by farmers invoking her protection as "Cold Sophie".

St. Sophia of Rome with her Three
Daughters:  Faith, Hope and Love