Don't you just love the additional online security questions that banks and other institutions ask after you enter your password?
"What was your grandmother's first name?" Which grandmother? I had two. Do you think I can remember which one I entered three years ago?
The question that really gets me is "What was the name of your elementary school?" It goes straight to one of the most sensitive places in my tender psyche. You see, from grades one through six I attended a total of six elementary schools. It wasn't THAT bad. A couple of them were temporary pending completion of new schools. Every time that question pops up on my login screen I pause. My mind runs over each of the schools, usually starting with the last one, the one I spent the most time attending. I don’t know what prompted me to pick the first elementary school that I attended as the answer. I guess I was afraid that I would forget the choice if I picked one of the other schools. And it worked. I always get the answer right. But by the time I’m finally logged in, I’m exhausted.
If you've been following the 2010 Tour de France, you know that Lance Armstrong has practically no chance of winning the Tour. At 38, Armstrong claims that this will be his last Tour. I watched part of the mountain stage that finished Lance off, the 8th stage. He was involved in a total of three crashes, one of which left him with bleeding elbows, a bleeding knee, and a bruised hip. For the most part, the crashes were not Armstrong's fault, so I feel a bit sorry for him. I don't think that he could have won the Tour this year, but he deserved to go out with a fighting chance. To add insult to injury, after his worst crash, the other riders did not slow down to allow him to catch up, a questionable breach of one of the unwritten rules of etiquette in the race. Of course, Armstrong was not in the lead or near the lead at the point that he crashed, but the continuation of the high pace resulted in him ending the stage so far behind in the overall race that he could not realistically catch up. Now comes the test of Armstrong’s character. I’m curious to see what approach Team Radio Shack takes to the rest of the race. Will they try to keep the next-best rider, Levi Leipheimer, near the top of the chart? Will they try to win the overall team competition? Will they try to take numerous stages and showcase new talent? I hope to see Armstrong pulling his weight in the team and allowing others to share the limelight. He’s had an incredible string of victories and luck. Sooner or later the luck runs out, as it did for Lance. The Tour de Lance is over. Long live the Tour.
I don't think we've broken any records yet, but this has been one of the lengthier hot stretches that I can remember in Frankfurt. It is 10:30 a.m. as I write, and the temperature in my room is at 88 degrees Fahrenheit or just over 31 Celsius. It is expected to go up to 35 C today, or 95 F. Please remember that most Germans, including the Bloggerboy family, do not have air conditioning. I grew up in the Southern United States, but we had AC in our homes, cars and offices. One summer, I lived in a southern college dorm without AC and felt that I had finally become a true southerner, able to compare notes with someone who had experienced the South before the days of AC. Based on my experience, I can confirm that it is HOT and uncomfortable. I still handle the heat better than most Germans, but it isn't fun.
Saturday and Sunday were the worst days, breaking 100 degrees F or roughly 38 C. One thermometer in town showed 44 C, or 111 F in the sun on Saturday. We sat in our living room yesterday with the curtains drawn and a fan going. The air was humid. There was no wind. Even at 10 p.m. last night the air outside was hotter than in our apartment, so we could not open up for fresh air. I slept downstairs to take advantage of the three of four degree Fahrenheit temperature difference. My room temperature had dropped to a “comfortable" 28 C or 82 F this morning with doors and windows open. Upstairs it was still 30 C or 86 F. The weather finally is supposed to break tomorrow, as it inevitably does in Northern Europe, but whew boy, this was a hefty stretch of hot weather, and it is supposed to get hot again after tomorrow's short weather break. My work productivity has dropped dramatically. I’m basically staggering to the finish line in two weeks when I shut down for a two-week vacation near water. By mid-August, the worst of the summer heat is usually over and, with a regularity by which you could set your watch, the last days of August usually include a whiff of fall in the air. I'm trying to enjoy summer while it lasts.
It could be worse. I could have been on a high-speed train this weekend. As Deutsche Welle reported: “On Saturday, Germany recorded the warmest day in the year with temperatures over 38 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) in some places including the capital Berlin. And authorities say there's no cool-down in sight for the rest of the weekend. The high temperatures on Sunday forced Germany's rail operator Deutsche Bahn to evacuate three high-speed trains whose air conditioning systems had broken down, the company said. News agency DAPD quoted Hans-Dieter Muehlenberg, chief of a local rescue squad, as saying temperatures inside the trains had reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and that nine people were hospitalized.”
A few weeks ago we went to see the Kirchner Retrospective at the Staedel Museum. With 170 works on display, it is a fairly large exhibit covering his entire productive period and the different styles of work and media. It is the first major retrospective in Germany in thirty years. Kirchner was a founding member of Die Brücke, one of the artist groups at the turn of the 20th century that developed the subjective painting style known as expressionism. He was born in 1880 in Aschaffenberg, Bavaria, not far from Frankfurt. He was one of the major victims of the nazi attacks on "degenerate" art. His works were confiscated and removed from museums, including the Staedel. Kirchner had left Germany for Davos in 1917, suffering from panic attacks and depression during his brief stint in the military. He did not fight in WWI. Kirchner committed suicide in 1938, shortly after Germany had annexed Austria and before World War II started.
Kirchner was a bit tricky about the sources of his influences. He vocally denied being influenced by certain painters or movements, even going as far as backdating some of his works. Standing in front of the paintings, his influences, particularly in his early and late works, are obvious. Walking through rooms full of Kirchner paintings involves taking a bath in rich colors and strong lines. The emotions are cool to nightmarish, sensual to neurotic. I really liked his engravings and World War I works with their dark moods. His street scenes of Berlin are perhaps his most famous works, as are the works showing the young girls who lived near the artist colony where Kirchner lived and the nude portraits of Kirchner's and his colleagues's partners. In spite of his impressive body of work, there is something vaguely dissatisfying about his work as a whole, something missed, left out or surpressed. Nevertheless, many of his works are worth visiting repeatedly, and an exhibit of this size was an exceptional treat. The Staedel website linked above also has English content (click "en" in the upper right of the screen). In particular, there is a lengthy, informative video with English subtitles that you can watch. Max Hollein, the Staedel's director who also appears in the video, has been a dynamic force in Frankfurt for top-notch exhibits, and the Staedel has an excellent collection of Kirchner's work.
Yesterday's Tour de France stage ended in Reims*. I watched the end of the race. Many of the hay and grain fields outside of town were already brown, interspersed with lusher green fields. The grain fields reminded me of my first trip to Reims many summers ago and the "aha" moment I had when I first saw the cathedral. We were exploring the back roads on our way from Frankfurt to Brittany in high summer. If you spend time in France, drive the back roads if you have the time. There is so little traffic and so much beauty that it would be foolish not to. It was a hot, hazy day. We approached Reims from the east along a narrow two-lane country road running through endless fields and small towns. As I got to the top of a long, rising slope, I suddenly saw the cathedral on the horizon. From my perspective it looked as if it was rising out of a golden-brown field. Nothing else was visible. I pulled the car over to the side of the road and admired the view. Immediately, I understood the effect that such a building must have had on a medieval pilgrim, rising improbably on the horizon, the tallest structure to be seen. The pictures are from a more recent trip when we stopped off in Reims with the kids on our way to Paris for a weekend visit. The cathedral's exterior was and is undergoing a lengthy renovation. I noticed scaffolding at the cathedral on TV as well. I think I'll have a pastis this evening.
The Germans have a phrase to describe a married person who temporarily is away from his or her spouse: Strohwitwer (male) or Strohwitwe (female). The origins of the term are not clear. One theory suggests that the word straw refers to the straw in the mattresses of old. That makes sense. I guess nowadays you'd have "down widowers" and "down widows" following the logic. Never mind.
Allegedly there is an English term "Grass Widow" that has similar meanings. The linked website speculates on the origins of the term, which are as obscure as with the German term. "Another theory is that it’s slang from the British Raj for wives sent away during the hot summer to the cooler (and greener) hill stations while their husbands remained on duty in the plains. We can trace this theory back to the famous Anglo-Indian dictionary Hobson-Jobson of 1886. It says that the term is applied 'with a shade of malignancy', a tantalisingly opaque comment."
In any event, I am a straw widower this week. I guess that means that Mrs. Bloggerboy is a grass straw widow. She definitely is in a cooler (and greener) hill station with Fräulein Bloggerboy. Bloggerboy Junior is off to more southerly places. The place is quiet. I have lots of work to do. I think once a year or so this kind of interruption in our hectic lives is healthy. Of course, I already have been warned by my father to behave myself. Don't worry, as long as the World Cup is running, I'm not going to stray too far from my TV.
Of course, if you're French, you're probably trying to forget about this year's World Cup. What better occasion than the Tour de France to drink of the River Lethe and forget your former life as a football superpower. Cylcling. France is a great cycling country.
I was pleased to see that the Tour start took place in the Netherlands this year and will also go through Belgium.
You may have guessed by now that I have been following the World Cup matches closely. Somewhere along the way I got hooked on watching the World Cup. America has dropped by the wayside, too early in my opinion given their talents. Today is the big game between Germany and Argentina. The weather has been quite hot by German standards, breaking 35 degrees Celsius the last couple of days and headed there again today. That's 95 degrees Fahrenheit by my metric calculator WITH NO AIR CONDITIONING. Needless to say, I'm not going to public viewing today. A couple of friends are coming over for coffee, cake and soccer viewing.