Five Years In Them Mi’rs

1 Oct

Jason went home after months in Berlin

I’m back

Back in America

Coming home

Here I am

Welcome home

He felt like a stranger in a family photo

Goodbye, goodbye

“Do I look sad all the time?” Quickly, yes

Late for our grandma’s 3rd funeral, looks like

Don’t buy into the bad feelings

The dog, Jack, I wondered if he weighed as much

As the Thanksgiving Turkey

Family Photograph

Dog years, dog years, dog ears, dog dears, dog life

Memorial in the lobby

Blessings and forks

Bubbie afraid of a fish on the wall

So tell me more, about your world

Where a fish lives on the wall

To not not, for five years

My parents’ generation has a slower touch

When handing down death

Don’t hope for the same

Slow touch when we

Retire your spirits to a flash drive



Seven Ways to Tell You’re Reading This

20 Nov

It’s a fact – reading words isn’t what it once was. Algorithms, data, paragraphs, and pictures are all computer things now, and aren’t computers and reading different? If you’re not sure, read on to find out how you might be.

And then I saw the words

Man, Understanding

Number One – You can see words

We wrote this article with words, so it’s important to figure out if you’re looking at words or if you’re looking at something else. Keep in mind, the internet has a lot of words, but we only wrote some of them.

Number Two – You’re not doing “something else”

Normally defined as “other stuff,” something else might prevent you from reading this.

Number Three – You’re not looking out a window

This (what you’re reading), is right here, not out the window.

Number Four – Numberwang

That’s wangernumb.

Number Five – You’re becoming aware

If you started reading this in the first place, it’s because you weren’t sure you knew if you were reading this. You should now begin to notice an awareness of reading this.

Number Six – You’ve lost attention

It’s normal to forget what you’re doing, such as reading this.

Number SevenIt’s what you’re doing right now

The thought crosses your mind that if someone were to ask you what you’re doing right now, you would reply, honestly, that you’re reading this. You also might consider that if someone asks you later what you were doing earlier, you would reply that you had been reading this. That’s a way, however, to recognize that you ARE reading this now.


Now that you’ve read this, tell us: how did you know?

Thistle or artichoke?

17 Sep Schloss Oranienburg - photo by Freddie

During Freddie’s recent visit to Berlin, we spent a night at my friend Margareth’s garden house to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. The small house is on a plot of land in a kleingarten community in Oranienburg, a town on the outskirts of Berlin accessible by a short train ride. Walking from the train station, we passed the Schloss Oranienburg, the oldest example of a Baroque palace in the district of Brandenburg, according to my hasty spoken translation of the sign for Freddie’s benefit.

Schloss Oranienburg - photo by Freddie Chillin' out back - photo by Freddie

It was built in the Dutch style by Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, from 1650-52 as a gift to his wife, Countess Louise Henrietta of Orange-Nassau (or Oranien-Nassau in German), who apparently loved the region. I suppose the utter flatness of the landscape reminded her of her Dutch homeland. Having grown up in Denver, Colorado, forever watched over by the mountains to the west, I can’t get next to that, but different strokes. Freddie (the Elector of Brandenburg, not my girlfriend) named the castle Oranienburg, something like Orange Castle, in the Countess’ honor, and changed the name of the town too not long after.

It was lovely, the garden home. We cooked some food, went for a walk or three, read books, tried to get the television to work to watch some presumably bad German TV. Mostly we relaxed. Life is slower out there, in the garden.

photo by Freddie photo by Freddie

Sometimes we wandered through the extensive garden itself, pointing out this or that plant. “What is this plant, Ian?” “It’s a, um, I’ve heard the German word before, but I can’t think of it right now. Hagebutte maybe? I don’t even know if there is an English word.” “Isn’t it rose hips?” “Oh, right.”

I pointed out what I thought was a thistle, which Freddie identified as an artichoke plant. “Really? I had no idea artichokes grow like that.” Turns out we were both right! Wikipedia says that “[t]he globe artichoke … is a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as a food.” I won’t link to the article because it could change at any moment.

by me

Thistle or artichoke? This file photo shows neither.

Thinking of thistles got me thinking of history, and the connection between history and the present. In a couple weeks, I thought at the time, Scotland, a nation which has long used the thistle as a symbol, will vote on whether it would like independence from England. The roots of the two countries’ entanglement go back centuries, with decades of relative peace broken by many episodes of anger, unrest, war, changes in the balance of power.

Around the time Freddie (the Elector) was having the Oranienburg castle built, he and the Countess Louise got a new nephew, born in her hometown, the Hague. Almost 40 years later this nephew, William of Orange, assumed the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland. In what some people called the Bloodless Revolution (many Scots would disagree), the English Parliament invited Billy to invade their country because they didn’t like the king, a Scot named James (II or VII, depending on who you asked) of the house of Stuart. It was essentially a religious disagreement, as most political conflicts are. James was Catholic with French ties, Parliament and England were largely Anglican, which was essentially the same thing so who gives a fuck? A lot of people. Both sides said the other was intolerant, everyone tried to stir up public support by appealing to their own side, and James did not manage to play this game so well.

James escaped to France where he raised a couple generations of entitled royals sans land or people. Bored with court life, they longed for their rightful place on the throne of Scotland, welcomed by all Scots as the true Stuart king. Meanwhile Billy, or William III as he was more properly known, got to work trying to rule England. There were all sorts of dealings with Parliament, acts of official religious tolerance and of exclusion, and a lot more stuff that’s complicated and I don’t really understand. It was tough dealing with a large legislative body in a largely foreign country with many conflicting interests. Perhaps, as Mark E. Smith said, “[he] used to think [he] could do what [he] wanted to,” but was instead in the “wrong place, right time.”

“Can’t dance can’t sing / Cursed forever is William of Oranj”

A couple monarchical reigns later, Great Britain was ruled by a series of Georges of Hanover. A lot of Scots were still not happy with this foreign rule and were suffering under perceived hardships — taxation and lack of access to food, according to songs written by the still extant followers of James, known as Jacobites. In “Welcome Royal Cherlie,” we hear:

We daurnae brew a peck o’ maut

Or German Geordie finds a faut

And for our kail we’ve scarce got saut

I’m no expert on the Scots dialect, but I think it means something like, “We dare not brew even a small amount of malt, or German George will find a fault with us. And we hardly have any salt for our kale.” This song was written on the occasion of the second (or third, or fourth, depending on how you count it) Jacobite rebellion since James II/VII was forced out some 50 years before, leaving “a dighty German” to “rule us all.” In 1745 his grandson Bonnie Prince Charlie, affectionately known to followers as Cherlie, left his comfortable digs in France to attempt a takeover of the British crown.

Support of the Jacobite cause was not so monolithic as the songs make it out to be. Quite a few Highland clans were with Cherlie and he had early successes in battle, but as he marched south towards lower Scotland and England it became harder to muster troops and supplies. It probably didn’t help that he was essentially holding cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow against the will of much of the population, demanding food and provisions under threat of force. My own ancestors, the lowland Clan Douglas, who some 400 years earlier gained massive pro-Scotland cred by fighting against the English alongside King Robert the Bruce and then carrying his heart to the Holy Land, by this time had risen a bit in the British aristocratic ranks and were quite comfortable, thank you very much. Cherlie’s troops burned Castle Douglas on their way somewhere.

Long story short, the bonnie prince didn’t make it. Not enough local support, allies in France and England didn’t make good on promises for more troops, and Cherlie had to sneak away dressed as a maiden, as immortalized in the “Skye Boat Song,” written over 100 years later. That was that! Who knows what kind of king the man would have been, anyway. He had no more connection to the land than the German-born ruler he sought to depose, and no experience with running a country.

But the songs from the Jacobite uprisings are great. The lyrics are nasty and specific in their anti-Englishness, proud in their proclamation of Scottish self-rule. “Johnnie Cope” tells of the cowardice of the titular English commander, who apparently, when confronted by the “din” of the highland bagpipes, would run away.

I wondered who was writing these songs. Most are called “traditional,” so it’s hard to say. Did they issue from the pens of proletariat rabble-rousers? From former aristocrats left without land and title for supporting the wrong side in a previous debacle, vying now for popular support for relatively selfish reasons? Anyway, there were more plants to look at in the garden, including several varieties of mint and lots of chard.

He’s still hungry

21 Apr

Here at superkuhlwunderblog we like to mark the changing of the seasons. As spring blossoms into summer, signaling a return from the moribund depths of winter and a renewed itching of the eyes, so too shall we spring back into action.

Our last blog post found your intrepid Berliner Ian starring in a YouTube film where he struggled to make instant ramen in a doomed attempt to fend off the twin forces of malnutrition and poor kitchen skills.

Thanks to the miracles of technology, YouTube has produced an automated transcription of the spoken text. As a part-time transcription professional I can say with some authority that it’s surprisingly accurate. For those of you who don’t have time to watch me fumble with noodles for 5 minutes, now you can read it at your own pace. Maybe run it through that new speed reading app, Spritz, so it demands even less of your time and attention.


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who wronged was feeling really low

miss hired I’m guy

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because your trash instant noodle she


kardasian up as a typical

his here I am so dollar

supplies you make from

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water something to turn on the live show

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who is another there also

there greater so got my water

certain boy over here star

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water and it is by the book is so

best hi this

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tried also for Trisha

land-use dread there

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He’s Hungry

5 Dec

We made it through Ramendan, but just barely. This video is two days late and a few dollars short of a happy meal, but it will have to do.


Meta-Review: “Ramendan” (2013) — Duration as Subject

10 Nov

Film Review: Ramendan

directed by Jason Fox

starring: Steven Lee Lawson

rating: **(*)

With an ASL (average shot length) of 4 minutes, extensive use of improvisation from his actors, and implementation of once-cutting edge editing techniques (sped-up film, intrusive overlaid text), the short film “Ramendan” shows director Jason Fox’s indebtedness to the obscure nouvelle vague auteur Jacques Rivette‘s working methods.

The film opens with a breathtakingly virtuosic 7 minute take wherein Steven Lee Lawson, a clearly non-professional actor, struggles to concoct an edible dish out of several unlikely ingredients provided for him by the director. Many filmmakers in the fledgling genre often called “YouTube video” would edit down or script such a performance for the sake of coherence, but Fox is unafraid to alienate the viewer in his search for a kind of verity and intimacy rarely seen outside of such contemporary masterpieces as “Bowl of Gravy” (2012).

As in Rivette’s 13 hour masterwork “Out 1” (1971), the long take here allows the viewer to grow bored with the actors, to become annoyed by them. Working with this kind of length, the actors can really put across their neuroses. Even with Lawson’s break of character late in the film, Fox mercilessly keeps the camera rolling and allows the viewer to share the awkwardness so common in daily life.

still from “Ramendan” (2013)

The director’s own innovation is his direct intervention in the film in an “intermission” 10 minutes in, and again with a kind of postscript. Introducing himself by name, Fox speaks directly to the camera in a kind of mimicry of an infomercial for an unspecified product in the form of the titular concocted fasting holiday.

Questions remain. Who is the third character, referred to variously as Jesus or Koshan? What does he mean by such remarks as, “this is what you guys do on weekends?”? What is the relationship between commerce and the preparation of unpalatable foodstuffs? Fox keeps these questions open, preferring to give the viewer something to chew on for a long time and then spit out.

Ramendan Challenge

7 Nov

Ramendan Challenge with celebrity chef Steve Lawson