Link to Profile Semperoper, Dresden Sieg (auf dem Siegesäule), Berlin Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

More than 65 years have passed, and oil still comes to the surface from the USS Arizona, a poignant tribute to the 1,100+ Sailors and Marines entombed in her on 7 December 1941. So many years later, the poignancy is slipping away ... I heard a younger voice ask a parent if the oil leak would harm the environment.

Visitors are nowadays briefed by a National Park Service film at the visitor's center .... the film gives a somewhat balanced view of the events leading up to the attack and why it happened, a somewhat tasteful portrayal of the history. The visitor's center, unfortunately, is falling apart and is in desperate need of support. The Partnerin was surprised no admission was charged and didn't think twice about dropping $20 into the collection box to aid the maintenance of the center.

I didn't plan on visiting the memorial, having already been there a few times before ... The Partnerin suggested we see it. I first saw it in the mid-1970's with my Grandmother and a boat load of that generation that lived through the war. It was a much more personal story to them. The crowd nowadays is still for the most part respectful, but you can really sense much more detachment ... when I was young it was already a lifetime away. For many it is three generations past and now less than a quarter page in a high-school history text.

There are still a few Pearl Harbor survivors working as volunteers at the Visitor's Center, telling their stories and those of their long lost friends to the still-listening crowds. Many of these old guys still feel guilty to have survived. Some were on leave, others on shore, and a few were simply lucky. Survivors always feel like they cheated death, but it is only fleeting, and their numbers are fewer every year.

Since then, the USS Missouri has been moved to the site, but it apparently created controversy, with many worrying that such a grand Battleship would detract from the significance of the Arizona. The compromise was to distance the Mo and to face her bow to the Arizona, as if to say she is watching over her and those who found their last resting place in her.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The (Two) Hundred Euro Grill Platter

Yes, on a happier note I finally managed to eat at the restaurant at Koblenz-Winningen airport, and it was pretty good. I had the Grill teller, which looks innocent enough from this perspective, but there really is a lot of meat in this thing. I had to ask for the Tzaziki (or however you spell it), and it was loaded with garlic. Good stuff. If you are in the neighborhood, drop in. I actually paid roughly EUR 16 with the Coke and a small tip, if you ignore the cost of getting there ... hey, isn't the journey what life is all about?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Aint Got No Soul

Quitters don't win, but they do get to play golf.

By the end of today, I will either be unemployed again or I will be completely miserable because I refused once again ... I say this figuratively, so don't go panicking because I am an American and we are all alleged to own guns ... to "pull the trigger."

I finished the probationary period at the end of March. Up to that point I had heard very few complaints about my work. So we get to the last two hours of the last day of my Probezeit, and the Boss finally calls me in for the obligatory review. And the floodgates open. For nearly two hours I get an earful of everything I've done wrong for the last six months. I also hear for the first time that several pieces of work product I generated in those months were unusable (though they somehow did get used).

I was pissed off, because if I had heard this earlier in the day I would have drafted the resignation and ended our mutual suffering then and there. But Bozo does something that completely astounds me ... he slides my goals and objectives for the rest of the year across the table and asks me to agree to them.

If I had just had that kind of review with someone in America, it would have been accompanied with a check and best wishes for the next job. So I looked at him and slid the goals back and said, "Gee, it sounds like you've really had a bad experience with me for the past six months, and that really is a shame. If it's really been so bad, why are we still having this conversation? Why would you want to continue to put yourself through so much pain?"

This floors him. He was totally unprepared for that. He sheepishly replies that it hasn't been all negative and that this is a typical German approach to these reviews. This is a first for me, because I have had German bosses before. They were dark and moody sometimes, but they did try to keep a review somewhat balanced.

So I take it up the next business day with his boss. I didn't expect the review to change, but having now slipped into the day after the review I wanted to meke a point ... "If things are really this bad, wouldn't it be better for both of us if I were to go?"

"Oh no, nobody is talking about you leaving," he replies.

"Well I am. Life is short, and I'm getting older!"

He turned visibly white with that comment. He is less than one year older than I, but he easily looks 15 years older. He's not working for a lot more than I make now, and actually less than I made in my last company. To hear me say that I want to walk away from what he thinks is a good thing at such a late age in a german career really shocks him. But he continues, "No, you Americans take these things too literally if you get anything less than outstanding ratings. We simply want to point out places where you can grow."

Funnier still, I discreetly share lunch with a few colleagues and learn that this is the norm for the company's review process.


But just to recap and extend my remarks ... My boss has been non-approachable and on a few occastions hostile. My colleagues run around like scared rabbits and have been working from 8am to 9pm every night for the entire nine months I've been there, again doing what seems to be a lot of work for servicing the documentation assigned to them.

And I got 37 minutes of somewhat out of line dumping-on on Wednesday, followed with a demand for 33 more graphs that would take at least a day to produce accompanied with the highly inspirational, "I expect to have results by the end of the day, but I really don't expect that to happen." This is no Zig Ziglar I am working for.

But the cancellation of my bridge day on Friday cemented the issue. I may be looking at the moment for my self-respect (note to self, where did I last see it?), but these people ain't got no soul because they haven't taken one bridge day since I've known them ... what kind of self-respecting Europeans don't take bridge days?

That's when I decided it was time to go back to enjoying life.

The problem before me now is that my notice period is three momths to the end of the quarter, meaning that if I quit today I am technically on the hook until the end of September, and when ueber-Boss and I discussed the prospect of me leaving, he made it clear that they would expect me to fulfill the notice period if I left. Which is highly undesirable. I want to sleep in, play golf, and do some flying on sunny days, and in typically American fashion, I want it all now!

I realize this might seem like a real oddity for someone in Europe, but does anybody know any good labor lawyers to help someone get out of a job?

Everybody Must Get Sconed

At the risk of giving away my age, I couldn't resist the play on an old Dylan song. Woke up at a little before noon ... Gott sei Dank for holidays in the middle of the week, and the Partnerin asked me to bake scones. What the heck. Cinnamon-raisin sounded good, and we had all of the ingredients except for allspice ... can you even find that in Germany? Gotta ask Mausi ... she knows everything about these things.

Anyway, these didn't look so pretty, but they were lovely to eat.

2½ Cups of all purpose flour (type 405 weizenmehl seems to work)
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder (Backpulver)
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon (plus a little more 'cos I love the stuff)
¼ Teaspoon ground cloves (Nelken)
¼ Teaspoon allspice, if you have the stuff
½ Teaspoon salt
8 oz. of butter (about half a brick of the stuff they sell here), cold!!!
¼ Cup of granulated sugar
½ Cup of raisins
⅔ ... oops, that doesn't work ... 2/3 Cup of Milk

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit ... about 190° Celsius if I did the math right. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add in chunks of the butter. You can then use two table knives to cut the stuff in, but it would probably be better to use your hands to rub the powder together with the butter until it looks rather flaky (if you do it right, it gets the look of oat flakes).

Toss in the raisins, then use a fork to mix in the milk. After it all comes together in a nice gooey ball, you can dump it out onto a lightly floured board, or if you are too lazy to clean another board you can still use the bowl, use your hands to knead it a few times through ... 10 to 15 if you don't mind sticky hands (after one, do the next 9 to 14 times really matter ???).

Divide into 8 chunks of dough, and put those on an ungreased cookie sheet (non-stick if you've got it ...if you don't, then what decade are you from?). 8 chunks will give you rather large scones ... if you are feeling miserly, you should probably rethink your priorities since stretching scones in a not-for-profit kitchen is a bit over the top, but to each his own and you can certainly get more scone-count out of this recipe if that is what floats your boat.

Bake for roughly 10 to 15 minutes, unless you set your oven too slow like I did today in which case 17 minutes seemed in order, but in any case until they are lightly browned on top. Let them cool on a wire rack for a few minutes while your partner(in) runs to the gas station to buy butter since you used it all up making the scones ... buying butter at a gas station is a german thing ... you'd know if you lived here.

Have with tea, or diet coke if you are a sick American type like me. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

With a Garlic Aroma That Could Level Tacoma

I love that line (among many others) from the certainly politically incorrect song "Jewish Princess" on Frank Zappa's album "Sheik Yerbouti" (1979). We left Hawaii the week before last, but not before visiting Giovanni's Original White Shrimp Truck, which you will find on the North Shore of Oahu, somewhere just beyond the Turtle Bay Resort. I guess I could give better directions than that, but there's really only one road that follows the shore and so you can't miss it. It's a little harder to get there these days with the road being partly blocked at Waiamea Bay due to a rock slide, though you can come via the eastern route.

There are more than a few of these little stands or trucks parked along the road, and they've been feeding surfers, bikers, and hippies for years. Cheap eats? Not really. The cost per plate was $12 (less than EUR 9, so I guess it isn't so bad!). In a remarkable sign of pricing power, the wait was quite long. Add $2 for the can of diet coke, please ... lunch for two, $28. Ouch. I wish I could say you were paying for the real estate, but the view is essentially a parking lot and a couple of surrounding mobile homes or run down houses. But they did offer cover in the form of awnings or tents, so you at least had some respite from the sun while being attacked by the bees and yellow-jackets that were also interested in your lunch.

The schtick of this place is that people sign their names, poems, whatever to the side of the truck. There weren't too many German-looking names or inscriptions, and we didn't change that state of affairs since it seemed a bit cliche. At what point is it cool to be cliche or not be cliche? I've left my mark at dozen's of these places around the world, so I guess I've lost my appetite for it. Schade! I guess I'm getting old. But if you ever visit the Cafe Acores you can see what I looked like at a younger age and in a flight suit.

But I didn't lose my appetite for lunch. I had the scampi, which they promised would have "lots of garlic," and it did not disappoint. That lunch revisited me for three days in more ways than I care to share on a public blog. The Partnerin had the more sensible Lemon & Oil shrimp. Both were served with a generous helping of rice. I didn't count the shrimp ... I thought it might be a dozen, but from the photo it seems more like 8 to 10 per portion. It seems a bit steep for a place with essentially no overhead and high volume, but then again Hawaii has a social and tax infrastructure to rival that of Germany, so staff costs and the logistic costs of bringing stuff in and taking garbage out are probably considerable. I don't think the owner is getting rich, as like many of the other businesses on that side of the island it seems to be something of a lifestyle business.

I will say that when I was eating the shrimp I thought that the garlifc was rather tame ... as mentioned before, it didn't manifest itself for a few hours and how! As for the rice ... well, lets just say that I wouldn't go out of my way to find this place for itself, but if you are out for the waves on the North Shore it (or the others) is not the worst way you could spend a lunch-hour.