Saturday, May 21, 2011

LMAO - Rapture Day - May 21 2011

The latest internet / Twitter phenomenon and fun ride in the last couple of days was ... rapture.

Nobody seems to really know who came up with it, but it looks like it is some strange Christian myth and the result of weird calculations that the world ends today. That it is judgment day.

I heard the craziest stuff ... if you are allowed to go to heaven you keep your body, but all artificial things like tooth fillings and tattoos are left behind. Seriously? 1) OUCH 2) What is if I would like to keep my tattoos??? They are pretty and were expensive.

Some heard that people with tattoos are bad anyway - all of them, yes - and will have to stay here.

Some had to find out that no animals would go to heaven and decided that they would prefer to stay with their pets instead of going on a magic journey alone.

Hmmmm - so people who love puppies and / or have nice tattoos stay here. Okay, then I do not mind staying, too  - sounds like a fun crowd to me.

But the perfect comment on the whole topic came from Calvin & Hobbes (h/t Virginia Montanez - AGAIN):

LMAO ... honestly .... that sounds like a good thing (although that might be not what the comic meant to say ;)

PS:  Rapture was supposed to start at 6pm, but nothing happened. No free ride to Pittsburgh :(

PPS: Let's look what John Steinbeck has to say about the rapture topic:

"But it is also true that if the last judgment were announced, the first and proper thought of all ladies would be "What shall I wear?" And while the archangles are preparing the courtroom and the blessed tune their harps and certain others lie hunching under their fires, the ladies will be dashing hysterically in and out of fitting rooms." 

(John Steinbeck: "L'Envoi" from "America & Americans")

I admit - that could be true ... for us ladies - and for  Rupper ;) (Mike Rupp of the Pittsburgh Penguins).

PPPS: (h/t Marie Popichak)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Living in a River City 2 + 3 - Water pollution

Riverlife PGH has two more of their extreeeeeeemly cute animated videos from its series "Living in a River City" up on youtube.

Dick - and elder gentlemen - tells the story how he went swimming in the Monongahela River when he was young although the water was highly polluted. It was common sense NOT to put the head under water to avoid to contact the dirty, poisenous water with the face.

His story reminds me a lot of my early childhood (the 2nd half of the 70ies). I grew up in a small city at the river Rhine - only a few kilometers from the German rust belt "Ruhrgebiet" placed on the shore of Rhine and Ruhr.

For us kids it was totally forbidden to go anywhere close to the water. One reason was of course that the river is huge and fast and dangerous to swim, but the other reason was that the water was too dirty.
The sewages of the smokestack industries had more or less killed the river. Almost all fishes were gone and the few survivors full of heavy metals.
I even remember that my grandpa working on the boat of his landlord one day accidently fell into the water. It was awful - we had to throw away all his clothes. Cleaning was not possible and he had serious problems with his skin after the accident.

Today things look better as well for Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio River as for Rhine and Ruhr. Lots of the heavy industry is gone and the programs to increase the water quality and to renature the rivers and shores have positive results, but it is the job of all of us to keep the positive development up and little Louise reminds us in her video what we can do to protect our rivers.

If you watch the video look out for the super cute animation of the world record kayak flotilla at the Point!!

If you are interested in more information about Pittsburgh's three rivers and how to protect them, check out this video about the Three Rivers Waterkeeper and learn more about the organization and how to support it on the website.
Just in case you have any doubt how important their work is, read this article about what happened to Ned Mulcahy of the Three Rivers Waterkeeper in spring 2010.

On a lighter note: The Pens soooo need to make it deep into the play offs next year. I would like to come to Pittsburgh as late in spring / as close to the summer as possible, because I soooo want to kayak to the Point like the flotilla in the video!  LET'S GO PENS!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The L Question

Writing a blog has a lot of things to do with learning - I am learning a lot about myself, people I am interested in, things and places I am interested in, about writing, creative processes and so much more.

A special adventure I chose is not to write in my native language German but in English. One reason is that the friends I can motivate to read my output at least from time to time are spread all over the world and English is the language everybody can read. The second reason is - I like it. I love the English language and it is something challenging in a positive way to deep dive into it with this blog.
It's a journey and - like you can see from all my mistakes, sometimes weird phonetic spelling bugs (my brain loves to adapt to the Croatian phonetic system of "writing as you speak" and it ruined my spelling) and for sure often unwillingly funny, German style expressions - I am no way near the end.

Since a while I am also reading a lot of English books. Great stuff by amazing writers like Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Philip Roth, John Updike or Aleksandar Hemon (a second language writer himself) and as you can imagine I learn day by day a LOT about the English language - the American English Language - from this reading experience.

The thing is ... kids in Germany - at least when I went to school  - learn British English. There were some lessons about the differences between British and US Englisch and we also read some American literature, but the basic knowledge, the first steps, the rules of spelling I learned first - British English.

On the other hand I am working for a long time now for US companies and all my English at work is American, the language I listen to at movies, TV shows and music is mostly American English, friends and colleagues are in a majority (but not exclusively because I work with great folks in London) American, my longer stays in English speaking countries in the last couple of years were all in the US and like mentioned I read a lot of American literature. As a result of all these influences I consider my English .... let's say heavily US influenced.

BUT ... it's really amazing how deep things you learned as a kid are sitting in your brain. You could have for example woke me at night to have me spelling traveling and I would have spelled "TRAVELLING".  Just lately I decided to clarify what was confusing me so much about this word, because I had read traveling with one l everywhere, but could swear it is spelled ll. I did some research because it was really bothering me. I use this word so much - especially here - and had to find out what is right.
The answer is - both is correct, BUT travelling is British and traveling is American English.

Ugh - so what to do know. It looks like I have to make a decision about this word and for this blog and my writing in general and so I did. I will go for as pure as possible American English. I corrected my archive tag for the blog from travelling to traveling and if I should be really, really bored one day I might correct in all my old postings (do not see this happen though ...). I am also planning to do more research and to look into the differences between both versions of the English language and see if there is more exclusively British spelling in my writing.

Like I said - it is all about learning and running into even more things that are worth to do research about and learn even more.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My books in April 2011

Last month I had quite some work with John Updike. I really liked "Seek My Face" and I am still a bit unhappy that I did not use half of the notes I made about it. I could write a seperate essay alone about the artworks mentioned in the book, their background and in lots of cases my personal connection to the them.

After this intense experience I was longing for some easier reads and decided to go for Steven Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower". The story takes place in Pittsburgh and this month the filming of the related movie starts in the The Burgh, which is a good reason to pick up the book - at least for me.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" was btw the first book ever I read completely on my new Kindle. Although I still LOVE printed books (just like I also still like collecting CDs) I have to say the reading experience is really comfortable and relaxing for the eye. I am spending lots and lost of hours every day with staring on a notebook screen and my eyes are often very tired. This is why an eye-relaxing reading technology is very welcome. It is also definitely a pro that the little machine weights almost nothing. Finally I love the fact that purchasing a book is so easy and fast. A few buttons pressed and *zooom* - it's there. Very dangerous :)

The 2nd book was also a short and quick and relaxing read - which does not mean it was not impressing ... not all. The first time I read "The Great Gatsby" about 20 years ago - in German. When I found the paperback of the English original around Christmas for the super cheap price of 3.50 EUR I thought it would be a very good idea to read it again - in the original version - and now I finally found the time to do it.

But before I get too detailed already in the introduction ... let's get started.

Steve Chbosky - The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The novel tells the story of one year in the life of Charlie - 16-year-old boy from Pittsburgh. It is about the first serious love, friendship and the long journey of finding out who you are and how to learn to live with it.

It's a book about a teenager and I would say also directed to a teenage audience. That means I am about almost 20 years out of target group, but the story dates back to 1991 / 1992. Charlie celebrates his 16th birthday on December 24 1991. I celebrated my 18th birthday on December 25 1991. So I DO relate ...

Charlie is a bit of a shy guy, an outsider, but this year he will step out and finally find friends, will feel the joy and pain of a first deep love, gain some confidence in his talents and fight down an old trauma. A BIG YEAR for Charlie and he tells about it from his very own perspective in the form of letters he writes to an anonymous recipient.

Like you know already from older posts I put together my random thoughts about the book:

  • FORT PITT TUNNEL: I JUST wrote about it here. The famous entrance to Downtown Pittsburgh is the stage for a some of the key scenes in the book. I am glad that they do the film at the real location. The story in general could take place almost everywhere, but these scenes really, really need to be done right there in the tunnel and on Fort Pitt Bridge.
  • The music: Charlie loves The Smiths. When I was his age and an awkward, kind of dorky teenager I loved The Smiths as well. I still do. Morrissey will celebrate his 55th birthday at May 22. TIME is something very scary and I sometimes feel old.
  • The music II: I do miss tapes. I love all the modern techie stuff ... fancy phones, tiny MP3 players, small computers of all kinds, ebook readers - the full range of things, but I do miss tapes. I don't know why, but putting together a MP3 collection for a special person is not half as charming and emotional than doing a mix tape with your favorite songs carefully compiled, perfectly timed - meaningfull tone by tone.
  • The books: Charlie finds in his teacher Bill a friend who suppports his writing talent and interest in literature with giving him a special collection of books to read in addition to the normal curriculum. There are lots of great books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee (I LOVE this book!), "The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald" (see below), "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac (which I will always remember by the perfect German summary once made by my sister "Kiffen, f***en, weiterfahren".) or "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare.
    I wish more kids would have some guidance by chosing their books at this age and - even more important - would care about books at all. I was lucky - I read almost all the books mentioned and mostly I did when I was around Charlie's age.
  • Christmas kids: Charlie and I are Christmas kids ... almost. In the US Christmas is celebrated December 25 - his birthday is the 24th. In Germany Christmas is celebrated December 24 - my birthday is the 25th. That means although our families tried their best most people have other things to do when we get a year older. You get used to it.
     Charlie and I have much more in common than just the birthday scenario. I can deeply relate to the way he feels about things, like he tries to express his feelings and sometimes does not and the way he lives parts of his life very much inside himself.
Lots of things I like and lots of deep thoughts for such a small novel. You may wonder why I just chose "I LIKE" and not "I LOVE" like I usually do, when I am ethusiastic about a book.
The reason is the final storyline. The trauma that Charlie is suffering from. Chbosky uses this storyline to tie his novel together. That is where it starts and ends, butI think this storyline is redundant. Charlie is special even without this extra drama. There is no need to put up this additional pound. In my eyes it even weakens the whole plot. The story would be stronger and clearer without it ... sometimes less is more. Old learning, but still true.
Nevertheless I loved reading it and if you are 16 (not very likely) or have been around 16 in the early 90ies (much more likely ;) and if you like music and literature I can recommend "The Perks of Being a Wallflower".

F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby


This won't be a review. It definitely does not need a 30-something German blogger to review one of the most important, most famous, most popular classic American novels ever. But I will add some of my thoughts around the book here.

The storyline - If you really do not know ... here is the summary.
  • The movie(s): I usually do not like it too much when books are turned into movies, because the movie in my head is usually much better than the real one and I hate to kill my phantasy with the one of somebodyelse, but of course there are exceptions. Let's take for example Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" - a fantastic book, but also a great movie with Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche.
    Jay Gatsby will always have for me the face of a young Robert Redford (could be worse) from the related movie with Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston directed by the Francis Ford Coppola.

    Baz Luhrmann is doing a remake this summer with Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan. Honestly ... I could not be less interested. I am not a fan of this cast and the space in my brain is already taken by my own inner movie and the Coppola one. No need for a new version ... at least for me.
  • Long Island: I am hanging around Long Island a lot lately ... virtually. I mean - Sag Harbor, where John Steinbeck lived and started and ended his "Travely with Charley", is on Long Island, big parts of the story told in "Seek My Face" is taking place of Long Island and with "The Great Gatsby" were are back to Long Island again. I wasn't out there when I was in NYC this time, but when I was there 10 years ago my local friend lived there and I had the pleasure to stay with her directly at the beach. I loved it. This wild landscape of sand, ocean, salt, horizon and wind is only minutes drives away from New York City - what a very powerful combination.
  • Emotions: The scene when Gatsby waits to meet Daisy, when years of waiting, years of loving her only from a far distance and more in his heart and head and phantasy than for real get close to the resolution, when he goes through all kind of emotions and almost cannot stand it, is one of my favorite scenes in a book ever.
  • The summer: Remember the Gatsby reference in "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" when Michael Chabon mentions in his notes that the concept of using the time period of one single summer as framework for his novel was borrowed from "The Great Gatsby"? Here is the original ... based one one feverish summer heading for the tragic end right in the night when suddenly from one moment to the next the heat of the late August day makes place for a coolish fall night and ends the summer irretrievably.
  • Writing: If you ever considered writing a novel and wondered how to structure a story, how to create an arc of suspense, how to introduce and draw strong characters. Read this one - you can learn a lot.
This book might be physically a small one (my paperback has a little more than 180 pages), but it is a giant.

Monday, May 2, 2011

There is light at the end of the tunnel - lots of light

When I came to Pittsburgh everybody's first question was: "How did you arrive? Did you come through Fort Pitt Tunnel?"
I just smiled and said: "Oh yes."

It is hard to describe to somebody who never was there why this is so special, but let me try:
I would call it the most spectacular entrance to a city I have ever seen.

The thing is that the airport in Pittsburgh is quite far outside the city in the countryside and the drive towards downtown is ... let's call it unspectacular. And just when you think "Where the hell is this Pittsburgh? There are not even suburbs along this road." you see the sign "FORT PITT TUNNEL" ... it sucks you in and after a couple of seconds you see some light and then the tunnel spits you out like BOOM!

One second - boring countryside. 
Some more seconds - tunnel darkness.
Next second - you are out on Fort Pitt Bridge, around you a lot more yellow steel bridges, lots of water (three rivers), lots of light (if the weather is not a total disaster ... like too often in PGH), a huge skyline. If you are not frozen like I was and manage to look around quickly enough you can see Heinz Field, too.

Coming out of Fort Pitt Tunnel is FAMOUS and it is for a reason. It's gorgeous.

On youtube you find a lot of videos about the tunnel with people filming out of their cars and some of them are really good although watching it on video is of course only a bad substitute of the real experience.

Funny enough the video that covers the impression best .... is animated. It is the super cute love story about Pittsburgh you find below.
I hope Riverlife PGH will do more of these videos. I love it a lot!

Thanks AGAIN to the one and only Virginia Montanez for posting it on her fantastic Pittsburgh Blog "That's Church"!