Ladies and Gentleman, how’s your Ramendan feeling?

4 Nov

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Ramendan 2013: Day One

3 Nov

Behold, the new display at my local supermarket:

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It promises the ever-eager German consumer “delicious treats from the land of boundless possibilities.” That’s right, dear reader, I now have easy access to all my favorite much-missed almost-food items. Swiss Miss hot chocolate, just in time for winter. Microwave popcorn that I will keep in my canvas bag at the ready in case I ever meet someone in Berlin with a microwave. Yellow mustard, because the mustard here isn’t yellow enough. Any kind of Jim Beam brand barbecue sauce I could possibly want (Spoiler alert (do people still say that?): I don’t want any kind). Campbell’s tomato soup, because the shitty canned tomato soup here isn’t shitty enough. Betty Crocker baked goods mixes, several varieties of “American peanut butter” all made in Great Britain, cheez whiz, Newman’s own salad dressing, and arguably my favorite — off-brand macaroni & cheese for €2.49 per box. That’s only three American dollars!

But none of that will do me any good for the next 31 days as I navigate the waning daylight hours with only one possible foodstuff in mind — ramen. Yes, it’s the start of Ramendan here ate Superkuhlwunderblog, and that other stolidly American nutrition source is conspicuously absent from these supermarket shelves. Ramendan, of course, is that anticipated and slightly dreaded time where Jason and I can only eat ramen products from sunrise to sundown, so it’s discomfiting that I can’t find any on the American treats endcap. How will I stay sated all day? Perhaps I will manage to cope by sleeping until the sun goes down, which becomes an easier task as the month goes on, but Jason over there in Denver, Colorado, does not live so far north as me. Fortunately he is a creative, experimental chef and has spent the last weeks brainstorming all manner of recipes to keep ramen fresh, which he plans to share with you via a series of entertaining video blogs.

Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, yeah, but why can they only eat ramen during the daylight hours from November 3rd to December 3rd? Well, it comes out of the mists of time and uh… well, Jason told me “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which seems like a foolproof policy.

The Roadless Traveled

26 Sep

The crazy lady who lives below us has taken to greeting me with non sequiturs — “schönes wochenende” on a weekday, or “guten morgen” when I’m coming back from the späti with a midnight beer. The former statement I had to think about for a bit; the latter was pretty obviously wrong even to me. Is she as oblivious to the days of the week as I am? Is she testing my grasp of the German language?

Anyway, I’m usually rushing back up the stairs to escape the rain that starts every time I go outside, and only have time for a mumbled reply. Yes, autumn is here, and this year it’s really just a pre-winter. It feels so good, dear reader, to discuss such mundane topics on the wunderblog, like a homecoming of sorts. My last post here was… I’m too lazy to look, so we’ll just say a long time ago. I’m in Berlin, still, as usual, and Jason is not, as usual. Where is he? you ask. That’s the same question I’m always trying to answer as I run up the stairs, flinging off my raincoat, rapidly unwrapping my soaked scarf, pointing my internet browser to:

The Bikely Grind

wherein Jason chronicles his bicycle journey from some town in the middle of nowhere called Denver to San Francisco. He says he’s in Austin, Nevada now. I think he accidentally went southeast, found himself in the capital of Texas, and is telling a poorly thought-out lie to save face. Can’t fool me, buddy.

And hey, if you decide to open (another) bike-themed coffee shop in Denver, you’ve already got the name chosen.

Mysteries of Europe Episode 1

26 May

In the first episode of Mysteries of Europe, come along as host Steven Lee Lawson builds a cheeseball to save for later.

On Eliane Radigue’s PSI 847

30 Mar

I was at a bookstore today flipping through Leaving the Atocha Station, a new book by Ben Lerner that I’d heard from the internet was supposed to be good. As the novel begins, the narrator/protagonist, a young American poet living in Spain on an academic fellowship, describes his routine on a typical day, which involves imbibing a hippie speedball and going to the Prado to spend some time sitting in front of a particular painting by van der Weyden or some other Flemish master. One day, he arrives to find another man sitting in his usual seat. The man begins crying. The narrator is surprised — did the man bring these intense feelings in with him, or was he having a profoundly emotional response to the painting? This leads to a self-examination of his responses to art over time. I myself, he tells the reader, do not have such strong reactions, in fact I distrust people who say that this or that song or book “changed my life” — I knew them before and after the supposed life-changing experience and they don’t seem to have changed.

I know where the narrator is coming from. Sometimes I look at (listen to/read/whatever) a work of art and feel like i’m having an authentic aesthetic experience. Other times I view the same work and, while I still recognize that I like it, don’t feel that… feeling from before. What has changed? Was my deep experience false? Has my relationship to the work shifted? Was it mostly my state of mind that caused the deep feelings, and the work merely a lens or mirror or inkblot?

But anyway, so what? To feel that my life has changed, it doesn’t have to appear different from the outside. This isn’t a movie. My life, my attitude towards it and myself in it and the world around me and the people I know, is constantly changing. A week ago I went with some friends to hear Eliane Radigue’s PSI 847 in concert. The piece is an 80-some minute electronic work created on an ARP synthesizer and played back from tapes that were recorded in the early 1970s. Like most of her music, it develops slowly over time. Because things happen so slowly, the listener is free to hear and explore different aspects of the sounds. The level of detail at any one time is astonishing. Within what sometimes, on the surface, resembles the sounds of idling household machinery, can be heard a world of elements working in subtly but constantly changing relationships. Perhaps halfway through the piece, something resembling a very slow melody appears, and you just don’t know what to do with it. But these are all cliches of writing about Radigue’s music, and the actual content and experience exists in that place that writers are afraid to deal with, a place outside of words.


After the concert I felt very strange. The consensus among my friends was that we felt high, but as with one’s first time being high on something (marijuana, alcohol, coffee, love), we couldn’t place these strong feelings. On a somewhat regular basis I come away from a concert feeling ecstatic, excited. This was different. I was turned inward. I thought about things about myself. I couldn’t put words to these thoughts, except to say that the music had deeply moved me. A quote from C.S. Lewis that I read in a Zizek book seems apposite: “Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me.”

If you look at an object from two different angles, it’s still the same object. Maybe the different vantage point strongly changes your opinions on the object because you see some aspect that you couldn’t see from the first angle. Or maybe it looks almost the same, but either way it’s still different. Your relationship to the object has changed. I’m convinced these feelings were “real,” brought about by listening to the piece of music. If I heard it again, would I feel the same way? Hard to say and, really, probably not. But I did learn something about myself from going to this concert.

[I wrote most of this a year ago. It has languished in my fireproof file cabinet until now. PSI 847 just came out as a 2CD set on Oral Records. One CD is a digital transfer of the tapes, the other is a recording of the described concert. You should buy it; I will too as soon as I have money again.]

Cut a Vital Section

26 Feb

So what if it never resolves itself?
It should stay there forever, unresolved,
Looming as a cloud looms,
There.

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…since social relations are always ambiguous…

26 Sep

Zimmermann’s Coffeehouse, Leipzig

I was waiting for a train connection in Leipzig. There wasn’t enough time to wander far, so after a short stroll around the train station, I sat on the steps out front drinking a cup of coffee. Some 300 years before, a coffee craze swept the city as the dark elixir had become affordable to everyone. J.S. Bach had a band that played at Zimmerman’s Coffeehouse every Friday just a few blocks away, performing his newest secular hits. Around 1732 they played his Coffee Cantata, which begins with the narrator telling the chatty, caffeine-addled audience to shut up and pay attention to what’s happening. Mr. Stickinthemud is really upset that his daughter Lieschen has succumbed to the fad; she’s so addicted that if she doesn’t fix three times a day, “then in my torment I will shrivel up like a piece of roast goat.”

Lieschen doesn’t see the problem. Coffee brings her so much joy. “Mm! how sweet the coffee tastes,” she sings, “more delicious than a thousand kisses, mellower than muscatel wine.” I hear ya, girl. The rich aroma, the beauty and ritual of the coffee-making process, the sublime feeling as it courses through your veins, sharpening your senses and and and… but my feelings on coffee are well documented.

Anyway, Mr. S is worried about Lieschen. He suggests every kind of punishment to get her to kick — threatening to ground her, to not buy her that hip new whalebone skirt she’s been eyeing, to prevent her even from people watching out the window! — all to no avail. The girl is a determined coffee drinker.

My own addiction was getting out of hand, as it does from time to time, especially when i have things to do. Almost two years in to my expatriation to Germany, the permanent vacation feeling had started to dissipate. I’m not just floating around anymore, I thought, I have a life, a job, friends, commitments, and the accompanying, oft-lamented stresses of modern life. When did that happen?

But since social relations are always ambiguous, since thought divides as much as it unites, since words unite or isolate by what they express or omit, since an immense gulf separates my subjective awareness from the objective truth I represent for others, … since every event transforms my daily life, since…

since I cannot escape crushing objectivity or isolating subjectivity,

a nice juxtaposition from Mr. Godard…

It’s interesting to feel the desire for coffee pass from joy, enjoyment, to need. The vivid anticipation upon smelling the freshly ground beans, already sparking the sleep-muzzled mind, becoming a dull repetition, spoon moving from coffee can to coffee pot and back, every morning, every day. Beauty can turn stale through familiarity, but anyway, I had some extra time in a strange town and as Casey Kasem would say, “these guys are from England and who gives a shit?