“Pride and Prejudice”

Which book would you take with you if you were exiled to a deserted island? For me, it would be “The Complete Novels” of Jane Austen. I love her ‘stories’, I love her style of writing, I love the way she puts a finger on the sore spots of love and life in the Regency Period. I love her finely sarcastic and witty way of critiquing and expose idiosyncrasies, no matter what the social standing.

During a trip to England a few years ago, we visited the house where Jane Austen wrote most of her novels and where she also died. It is now the Jane Austen Museum, run by a “Jane Fan Club”. I met and talked to several of the women who volunteer at the museum. They spoke of Jane Austen as if she were still alive. Several times I had the feeling she might just come around the corner and enter the room.

Jane Austen was born as the seventh child to her parents George and Cassandra Austen on December 16, 1775. Sadly, she died when she was only forty-one years old. She left quite a number of notebooks filled with unfinished stories. Jane Austen completed only six, now famous, novels. One, I think it was “Sense and Sensibilities”, was published without revealing her true identity when she was thirty-six years old. It was, at that time, socially unacceptable for a lady to be a writer. It was published anonymously. One publisher had exclaimed ‘this could never have been written by a woman’ after reading one of her novels. One of her brothers represented her. He has published her other works posthumously and every one of the books became a great success. He finally revealed the true author’s name. Jane’s books are translated into many languages, are read by and have millions of fans worldwide. Many movies have been made over the years and even more TV mini-series of all her novels. Sales of the Jane Austen books have forever been going up. Her critical view and witty observations of life and love of the landed gentry have become the base of romantic novels to this day. Jane Austen is one of the best known English writers.

At Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, we came across a film crew busy filming a new and more modern version of “Pride and Prejudice”. I was captivated by some scenes taken just outside the great entrance. Oh, would I have loved going inside to see this beautiful place! I looked forward to seeing the new movie starring Keira Knightly and Matthew McFadden. I did several months later – and was disappointed. Not that the movie was bad but I was in love with an old one, the 1995 version starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. I have seen it several times, and I wish I could do so again and again. I will never forget the scene in the great-room of Darcy’s friend when the eyes of Darcy and Elisabeth Bennet met in an incredibly intimate way.  I had seen it once before I even saw the movie: when my cousin Siegfried came back from a weeklong trip and looked at his wife Annemarie. The way they looked at each other went deep into my soul. I was embarrassed to witness it. The scene is part of my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That”. I remember the phrase “marriage is made in heaven” came to my mind. Theirs was.

I saw “Pride and Prejudice” again, this time on the stage at the wonderful little theatre in Chemainus on Vancouver Island, Canada. We asked ourselves, how can they ever do justice to this complicated story on stage? They did. They picked relevant scenes played by talented actors who truly captured the audience of a sold out house. It was an enjoyable performance which left me smiling all the way home. Chemainus is an intimate theatre with only a small stage but the designers have a knack to come up with ideas that let you forget where you are. It was not the first time that we marveled about their innovation. And to give credit where credit is due, every one of the actors played their part in a believable way. Several actors even portrayed two characters. We hardly noticed, and most people probably didn’t. This story was written about 200 years ago. How much has changed? Not much. We still find the same problems in love, relationships, and life – and maybe some of us recognized a familiar character or two in our own social setting.

Well done, Chemainus Theatre!

 

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Morocco – Part 2

Last week you read about the beginning of our Morocco tour! The food was good, plentiful and tasty. Next morning, we toured the city of Marrakesh, an oasis and royal city founded by Berbers over a thousand years ago. Blue blooming trees lined the street into the city. I loved it! I was surprised by an old Jewish quarter. It was very clean in comparison and their flag with the ‘Star of David’ was almost the same as the flag of the country since it also had the same star. I did not know that. The visit of a Berber Market was frightening. Hundreds of entertainers, magicians, snake charmers, monkeys, begging children and thieves tried to get the purses. They would take your camera if you tried to shoot a photo since they believed you would steal their soul. If you paid – the soul was saved! We quickly retreated, found a terrace café on a roof, had a cola and shot pictures long distance. We encountered a woman nursing her child when walking along a small path back to the bus. The baby was approximately eight months old and kept suckling but looked at me when I stopped. It stretched the little hand out to beg. They learn early. A boy, ten years old, told us he makes more money on a day than his working dad does in a month. Asked to leave us, he said, “no, don’t pay, talk, I to learn English”.

Next was Casablanca, a very modern city with wide streets and a large, beautiful Mosque. We were allowed to see part of it and our tour guide pointed out the incredible tile work. We drove by the bar where “Sam” had played the piano… Casablanca is the largest and an important harbour city on the Atlantic. We visited one of the souks in the old part and were warned again to hold on to our purses. Imagine narrow dirty pathways, loaded donkeys and their owners yelling “Baluk – attention”, begging women, pickpocketing kids, “shlepper” offering to save you from getting lost; people pulling at you from all sides, hundreds of small stalls but overflowing with wares. With help of the tour guide I bought a silver necklace with the “Hand of Fatima” for good luck. To gain respect you have to bargain, it is part of their custom. I enjoyed the smells of spices, was intrigued by the colorful silks, and couldn’t resist buying a few meters for a dress. To get it made at home cost more than the material. The seamstress told me it was ‘fake silk’- but at least it was washable. Famous brands, from t-shirts to purses were cheap, everything was fake!

The longest day trip with 380 kilometers was along the coast to the capital city of Rabat. The brief city tour next day was almost overwhelming. We saw the Royal palace, the Hassan Tower built during the twelfth century with an incredible view of the big wall around the Medina (city center) with the narrow lanes and typical Moroccan shops. We had no time to linger and after the next two hundred kilometers we were in Fes, one of the four Royal Cities. I liked Fes best. Three parts of the city were built during different epochs. The famous ‘Blue Gate’, the great walls and many Mosques in and around the old parts were fascinating. Of special interest were the paint pots in one particular area. Workers were busy to tint all kinds of products. I later fell for the beauty of a heavy brass platter with inlaid little flowers on enamel and the star of the Moroccan flag in the center. I didn’t even realize it was the Star of David until Margo pointed it out. It was done by the famous artist who had fashioned the wonderful golden gate for the king’s summer palace.

Our last stop was in Meknes, a city of two parts: the old and the new city. Meknes was the former residence of the kings. Thick high walls surround the old town with the ‘Great Mosque’, the narrow bazaar alleys, and the wonderful ‘Bab Mansour’ leading into the Kasbah and the Imperial city of Sultan Moulay Ismail. It is a monumental gate, completely tiled in green and gold. It was finished by the Sultan’s son Moulay Abdallah in 1732.  An inscription (translated) on top reads:

“I am the most beautiful Gate in Morocco. I’m like the Moon in the Sky. Property and Wealth are written on my front.”      

 

 

 

Morocco – Dreams of Mosques, Souks and Camels

Ever since I saw the movie “Casablanca” I wanted to go to Morocco. A few years before I realized that dream, I had been in Tunisia. The main memory of it now is a visit to a “Camel Market”. People would buy and sell live chickens, goats, dogs, cats, and wonderful hand knitted rugs plus unbelievable junk. When I asked why the chickens were “live” they said because they don’t have fridges. They keep them until they want to eat them. I was surprised by a huge mountain of buttons. Yes, buttons of all kinds, small ones, big ones, colourful and plain ones. The seller said, “I found them all…”

Do you want to buy a camel? “Don’t come too close,” warned the owner of an extraordinary white one, “it may spit at you.” We asked, “How much is this white one?” The ordinary camels cost about 220 Dirhams. “Oh”, was the answer, “the white camel cost as much as a good wife” – and he pointed to me.

A good wife? Yes! Young men had a tough time to get a wife, especially if they had set their mind on a particular one. The girl’s parents would lose a worker and they needed to be compensated – handsomely!

Casablanca! “Play it again, Sam…” Remember? My dream to visit Morocco came true. I joined an organised eight-day bus tour. We flew from Munich to Agadir, a place with wonderful beaches and lots of hotels and RV grounds for European holidaymakers. Our group was picked up at the airport by a tour leader and a comfortable bus. We were briefed and told some horror stories about masses of children attacking a man with a rental car. We were not to open our purse when children were begging, no matter what. We drove 250 kilometers towards the High Atlas Mountains. Suddenly, someone spotted several camels. Everybody started yelling “stop” to the driver because we wanted to take photographs. With “come right back” he opened the door. We ran towards the camels when a few children popped up. Most of us snapped a picture and returned to the bus, followed by the camels. One unlucky woman was attacked by more than a dozen children since she had tried to give them money. They were trying to take the purse, the camera, and her clothing. The native bus driver, the tour leader, and all men from the tour hurried towards her and in no time the children were gone. We had no idea where they were hiding. There were no bushes! The woman had lost her purse with some money and her camera, luckily not her passport. We had learned a valuable lesson. She was badly shaken.

Approaching a hotel in the middle of nowhere, we expected a comfortable stay because the big sign had five stars next to its name. It took quite long to sort out the rooms. Finally, we were given a key and told to be on time for supper in a special dining room at eight PM. We had almost 1½ hours to get settled. Waiting that long for food when you are hungry? More than enough time to shower, get changed and relax a bit.

I shared a room with Margo. We found it on the second floor. It was furnished with two beds, crisp white bedding, a telephone on a night table, a chest of drawers, and a TV in a corner. The view was directly into the garbage collection area. The glass-less window was open but had wooden shutters set to let the light, the flies, and at night the mosquitos come in. While my companion used the bathroom, I checked out the telephone. No dial tone?  I pulled on the cord to find the plug. There was no plug at the end. O.k., I thought, we don’t really need a phone. Next, I tried to switch the television on. Dead? Again, I checked the cord and found the same result. No plug. That moment, Margo called “Giselle, I can’t flush the toilet. There is no water…” I rushed in; she was embarrassed because she had a smelly job to flush away. I figured the water was switched off – turned the screw under the tank and, viola, there was water! We closed the lid and let it run. She had undressed for a shower. I gave her privacy. Then, another scream:
“Giselle! There is no towel!” Only a thin, ironed cotton square you actually would use as a mat was all there was. I told her to use it. I ran downstairs to the reception. They gave me another of the same kind. Oh my God, what a hotel! Opening the door on my return, water came running out. The shag carpet in the little hallway was soaked and squished under my feet. The water had also run into the bedroom that sported the same kind of shag carpet. Margo stayed in the shower while I shut off the water running over the rim of the toilet. Since the telephone was just an ornament, I ran downstairs again. Frantically, I told them about the flood and asked for help. It took a while until a girl came with a pail and rags and tried to dry the bathroom floor. We had to make do with the squishing carpet for the night. The toilet tank had to be shut off after each use. When we finally got dressed again to go down for dinner, I went to the reception desk. The people were very friendly and now not busy. I asked them,

“Who gave you the five stars for your hotel?” Surprised, and with considerable pride, the man in charge said, “Well, we did!”

Figures! More to come next week…

 

Love Hawaii? A Lovely Love Story…

Ocean Girl shrubs

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl living close to the ocean. One day she met a handsome but somewhat rugged looking boy who had kept his eyes on her a bit longer than was considered appropriate. A hot shock went through her body and she just knows:

“He is the one I have been waiting for. How do I get to know him?” She shouldn’t have worried because, well, he felt the same way. Encouraged by her unwavering eyes, he approached her, took both of her hands into his rather rough ones, looked at her and told her:

“I’ll be back. Wait for me. After seeing you, my beautiful Moana (ocean) girl, I know I cannot live without seeing you.”

But, there was a problem. She belonged to the Ali’i, the ruling class, while he was just a simple Kama’aina, a local resident. She sat at the ocean day after day, thinking about him. She picked fragrant flowers and fashioned a beautiful Lei which she kept around her neck. On the third day, he appeared like a mirage. He extended his hand to pull her up. They looked deep into each other’s eyes when she lifted her arms, took the Lei off herself and slowly put it over his head to sit on his shoulders. He knew it was her declaration of love. Both started laughing, then, after dancing a few hula steps they were running along the beach, in and out of the oncoming waves. It was a very happy day for both of them. They had many of those happy days – and the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. Their love grew deeper every day.

On a stormy afternoon, one of her brothers came looking for her and saw what they had been hiding for a long time. He demanded they both come with him to see the Ali’i, the Chief, who happened to be her father. The young couple declared their love and begged to be allowed to get married. The father called for his wife, her mother, and both denied the request.

“You are a princess, you are promised to another Alli’i and you cannot marry a fisherman.”

The young girl, with a breaking heart, told her parents she would never, ever marry anyone else. The Kupuna, her grandmother, put a spell on both, the young girl and the unhappy young man.

“You, Keikimahine, be the ocean shrub, growing deep roots and never be able to leave the sands on the beaches. You will bring forth a simple small white flower, one hardly visible. And you, young man, you will become the same type of shrub but you can only grow in the mountains, far away from the beaches. You may develop the same flower and it will remind you of your forbidden love. You cannot ever again get close to the ocean girl. You will be forever the mountain boy. You may say Aloha to each other with a parting word.”

Ocean girl's half flower***************Two hearts were breaking as the young couple was released to go. They promised undying love to each other and forever display it in their flowers. The ocean girl’s flower shows only the lower half of the petals while the mountain boy’s flower only grows the upper petals. Both halves will make a perfect flower with petals all around as it was meant to be.

There was no release from the spell. There was no frog to kiss or a prince who could kiss the sleeping beauty. The way I see it, the half flowers are a reminder to all lovers to appreciate finding their “second half”.

Ocean girl shrubs at beach

Ocean girl shrubs at beach

Sorry, dear readers, I have never been able to go into the mountains to find “the second half” of the flower with the upper petals, the half of the mountain boy. But, I have been told by Malihini, my Hawaiian friend, that it does exist. Someone said to me “just turn two of the same halves around, wouldn’t it make a whole one?” It’s not that simple. It wouldn’t fit because of the way it grows. Let’s enjoy a romantic fairy tale that can be told in different ways. This one, I told ‘my way’, the way I remember hearing it told during a “plant walk along the beach”. That tiny little half flower pulls at my heart strings.

“Madame Pele – the Fire Goddess”

hawaii-volcano-1 The recent video of a tremendous fiery lava flow into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii was making the rounds on many social media sites. (also on my Facebook sites) It’s no secret the lava is flowing all the time anyway. Cruise ships, leaving from Kona, would make sure of sailing past at night to treat their guests to an unforgettable sight. At one time, I was on one of the ships. This new SUPER flow started just after New Year’s 2017. It went on for several weeks until a huge part of the cliff broke off and closed the exit. The massive flow of the boiling, liquid lava found a few new outlets – but nothing to compare with the fireworks of the previous weeks. I wonder what happened that made “Pele” so terribly angry!

You don’t know her? Pele’s mysterious story intrigues me. Naturally, there are several versions but I’ll tell you my take on it. Pele was born and grew up on Tahiti with brothers and sisters and parents who were “gods” of some kind. She had her share of family problems because of her fiery temperament. As a teenager, she seduced her older sister’s husband. Enough was enough and her father threw her out. Her brother gave her a canoe and she found a way to a small group of islands. With her “Pa’oa”, a divining rod, she tried but couldn’t make a “fire pit”. So she went on and lived on Kauai for a short time. Her furious sister, the ocean goddess Namakaokahai, had followed, found and attacked her, and left her for dead.

1024px-diamond_headPele recovered. She went on to Oahu. Here she dug several fire pits. The ocean goddess, her sister Namakaokahai, flooded them to drive Pele away. One of Peles Oahu craters is the well known “Diamond Head” in Honolulu. After a brief sojourn on Molokai, she fled to Maui. We are still in awe of the huge Haleakala crater she built on this island, extinct now for many years but famous for tourists who drive up in the middle of the night to experience an unforgettable sunrise. Tip: Dress warmly! Baby, it’s cold up there…

Namakaokahai, her sister, did not give up. She came to do battle. She killed Pele near Hana where a small hill is supposed to be her grave. Pele’s spirit, now a Goddess, made a home on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Loa had thirty-three eruptions since

Awesome! The Earth is boiling!

Awesome! The Earth is boiling!

1843, the last one in 1984, is quiet right now but not to be trusted, and Mauna Kea, measured from the ocean floor higher than Everest, often covered with snow, are distinctive volcanic mountains. Pele made Mauna Kea her home and built her final fire pit, high enough that no ocean waves could reach it: the Halema’uma’u crater on the summit of Kilauea mountain. Kilauea volcano is one of the most active volcanos in the world; millions of visitors visit Pele’s last home year after year. The area of many square miles with several calderas, containing boiling lava, occasionally unbelievable fireworks, and constant fumes of sulfurous smoke, is now a National Park.

The Hawaiians still believe in Pele. To show respect, they talk about her as “Madame Pele”. There are stories about how High Chieftess Kapi’o lani, converted to Christianity in the 18th century, tried to prove that her new God is stronger than Pele. She threw something into the caldera – and was not killed as everybody expected. Missionaries ate the red berries “kapu” (forbidden) for humans and nothing happened. They proved a point and slowly Christianity was accepted. But – Pele is still very much ‘alive’ in the minds of Hawaiians. Some claim they have seen her, either as a tall, beautiful woman or as an old lady with a white dog, begging. If you do not share with her, you are severely punished. For years and years, volcanic eruptions were common and since 1983 a never-ending flow of lava pours into the sea.So far, Pele has added 220 hectares of land to the Big Island of Hawaii. Not only that, a new island is growing under the ocean, and the scientists have revealed that it is already close to showing itself above the waves.

I am fascinated by the lava. There are two distinctive types: the a’a lava, dense, crusty, up to ten meters thick, slow-flowing and the pahoe-hoe lava, fast flowing over the a’a, winding, twisting and finally, when cooling, looking like ropes. Caves and tunnels are created and the most famous tunnel, one even tall people can walk through, is located hawaii-volcano-2on the Kilauea summit. People have built a small community on this mountain: you can stay in an hotel, spend hours in a museum, buy and write postcards and post them right there in a small post office to get the special stamp. Living in harmony with Madame Pele? Hmm, I don’t know.The Hawaiians warn you about ill health or other serious problems if you take any pieces of lava or even black sand from some beaches on the island. I talked to the lady in the post office about it. She got quite passionate and, to convince me, she opened a door to a room full of unopened parcels, shelves full of letters from all over the world. Tourists, who didn’t heed the warnings, had sent back what they took away. I was able to read some of the letters, letters from people who regained their health after having sent Pele’s goods back. A huge pile of lava pieces next to the post office was lava sent back in already unpacked parcels.

Jack's house was spared - he still lives there

Jack’s house was spared – he still lives there

There used to be a road to drive around the whole volcano area. We did that drive once – but a year later, when we came back, the road was gone and meters of lava covered it. A whole small village was covered with lava, but one stubborn man, Jack, refused to leave his house on the hill. Incredibly, the flow of lava divided, surrounded his house and the house remained untouched. A green spot on a mountain of black! The same happened to a kind of spiritual circle. No wonder that superstition is ripe. We used a narrow path from the summit to the crater and were warned not to step off to either side. Sulfuric little puffs came out of the earth and, being curious, touching the ground, noticed it was hot. At one time, a teen had tried to run and pass other walkers on the path, sank into the ground and nobody could help. Depending on the daily forecast, this path and the road to the crater is often closed.

The last time I visited Pele’s home was in 2011. This time, flying over it instead of driving up to it, gave me a new perspective. The Big Island is made up of hundreds of square kilometers of lava flows. It is incredible how people have built villages and even dsc01934cities on this volatile ground, created many farms, beautiful gardens, airports and many new roads. The lava provides a fertile ground once men with their big machines have a go at it. The birds do their thing with droppings containing seeds and one can only wonder about the power of nature: create, destroy, then recreate. But the might of the volcano can not be harnessed. Looking into the crater from above, it’s a boiling gray soup. And, when Pele gets mad, beware!

If you like to see more, click: http://www.picturesandplanetickets.com/2017/02/08/chasin-lavafalls-hawaiian-lava-boat-tours/

Our latest ‘Travel Story.’

Green Turtle

It’s almost funny. Maybe it is funny! Depending on how you look at it. Happy to be able to fly to Maui, our favorite Hawaiian island on short notice, we had a few hours to wait in Vancouver. We were at the right departure gate – but suddenly we heard an announcement the gate had been changed. The departure time was close, we had to hurry. When arriving at the new gate, quite a distance away from where we had waited, we noticed that it was the departure gate for a different airline going to the same place: Kahului Airport. Can you believe that we just made it back for boarding to our original gate? It really tickled my funny bone and I was in a good mood throughout the flight.

Lisa, one of our flight attendants, had a profile like an actress playing “Sarah” in the TV series “A Place called Home”, the Australian equivalent of “Downton Abby”. I couldn’t wait to talk to her. My chance came after I used the loo and stayed in the service area. I was surprised nobody else had ever mentioned this to her. She didn’t even know of the show. We chatted; I told her about being an author, naturally mentioned my books and when she heard of my genre she told me that her grandfather had written a similar book to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That” – his about the history of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. I had seen the title online, “Prague Winter” by Nikolaus Martin. I found it on Amazon.com and read it. There is another book with the same title by Madeleine Albright. I’ll read that another time.

KBH groundsThe three weeks at our ‘home away from home’, the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, were sunny and, like always, wonderful. I learned more of the Hawaiian mysterious stories of sudden winds lasting only seconds and wrote about it on my Author Facebook ‘We Don’t Talk About That’. The beach was very wide, and by the time we had to depart, only one-third of it was left. The ocean gives, the ocean takes… During our time there, three weddings were celebrated on our grounds. All were glamorous. The couple in one was absolutely beautiful with the Hawaiian flower leis and their gorgeous outfits. He in a white suit, she in a gown that would take half of my closet to store. I couldn’t understand that at neither one the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” was played. To me, that song touches not only the heart but reaches the soul.

2/3 of beach gone

2/3 of beach gone

All good things come to an end. We left our hotel at 7.30 PM and arrived at the Kahului Airport about an hour later. I had trouble walking, so at check-in, they waited with a wheelchair. The nice person pushing me brought us through security and into the departure lounge. It was a very long way but we were early for our departure at 11.35 PM.

The following announcement from the staff at the departure desk shocked us shortly past 10.30 PM: “A message just popped up on our screen that AC 1828 is not leaving until 3.00 AM. We cannot believe it ourselves but we’ll keep you informed.” Lots of people went to the desk but no news other than ‘we don’t know ourselves, we’ll keep you informed. Please be patient.’

Many people had tried to avoid the charge for check-in luggage, so everybody had lots of carry-on cases. A new announcement asked: “Please check in more of your carry-on luggage since the plane is fully booked. There is not enough storage space. We will not charge you, this service is FREE.”  Now people lined up and in a short time, they had piles of suitcases standing next to the gangway door. The plane arrived early, shortly past nine PM. Not long after 10.00 PM the new crew boarded. We hoped the 3.00 AM departure would not happen since the plane was early and the crew on board!

After about half an hour another announcement came: “The departure will be delayed because of a mechanical problem.”

Several more such announcements were made but they never told us what the problem was. At one point they said the needed piece for the repair was not found on Maui but in Honolulu. A plane to bring it to Maui was on the way. Impressive! It was after midnight and the departure lounge by this time looked like a refugee camp, people sleeping on the floor everywhere. One couldn’t buy any food because all the shops had closed at 12.00 AM. I was pretty hungry having relied on food in Premier Class. One kind lady gave me a cookie. Also, we had nothing to drink. When I was ready to faint I was guided to a water fountain, it helped, and at least I could take a painkiller pill for my troubled legs.

Around 2.00 AM they started bringing the collected suitcases down the gangway. It was like a shot in the arm. People woke up, they stirred and new hope was flooding our veins. The next announcement was “The mechanics were able to fix the problem. We’ll start boarding as soon as the tests are completed.”

We were among the first to be called for boarding. We asked the person checking our boarding cards and passports what the problem was. “Oh”, she said, “It was a split wheel. There was none on Maui but luckily in Honolulu. The AC flight from Honolulu to Toronto diverted their flight to bring us the wheel.”

Wow! How happy the people in THAT plane must have been! We got some water and/or orange juice once seated, and roasted almonds. Once airborne, they offered chips, more roasted almonds, and chocolate. That was all the food till breakfast 1 1/2 hour before landing in Vancouver about 10.00 AM. My stomach was in knots and I could not even eat, not the breakfast in the plane or the food in the Vancouver lounge.

Naturally, arriving three hours late in Vancouver, our plane to Nanaimo at 10.20 AM was gone. We were listed for one at 3.25 PM. Our neighbour, who was at the Nanaimo Airport at 11 AM to pick us up, had driven home again after being told we had arrived late in YVR. We had no way to contacting her until noon from the lounge. She was kind enough to drive all the way out again to pick us up around 4.30 PM. This trip lasted almost 24 hours from leaving the Maui hotel and arriving home.

my birthday flowers 2017

Glad to be home again, even sick with the flu that had been with me in Maui for 10 days already. The first thing I did, I phoned for a doctor appointment next morning, which was my 83. birthday.

Books published or read in 2016

Oct 28, 2016

Looking back on 2016 I am amazed how much I actually got done. I have been busy. My collection of short stories, “Forget Me Not – A Bouquet of Stories, Thoughts, and Memories” was published in January 2016. It is a memorial to special people who have crossed my path – either in person or through their achievements. I dare to say that every single story carries some kind of message to the reader. At the very least it will make the reader think and maybe he/she feels like sharing his/her thoughts about the story with family or friends. It is about aging, adoption, blended families, babies, changing seasons, superstition, cancer, dogs, horses and other critters, escape, earthquake, flying, internet dating, island living, love and rape, roses, travels, war, and many other topics. It finishes with a beautiful fairy tale “The Weeping Angel” – for which, at one point, I received the First Prize in the form of another book: “Computers for Dummies.” Throughout the book, you find poems and pictures. A delightful book – perfect to give as a gift to YOUR special people, reminding THEM not to forget YOU. The easiest way to obtain this book is Amazon.ca.

The books I chose to read during 2016 have added greatly to my knowledge about history. Some of them upset me, robbed me of sleep since it was hard to believe people can be so blinded by promises, ultimately leading to a horrible war. One recurring thought was ‘do people never learn from the past?’ At the same time, I was crying over the fate of some people and keeping my fingers crossed for others to survive. As you can see, I prefer to read mostly “true” stories or history based on truth since that is what I write as well. The following are the books I read and since there are so many I will refrain from telling you about them. All are worth reading.

“All The Light I Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. Pulitzer Prize, New York Bestseller list.
“The Witch of Napoli” by Michael Schmicker was a fun read.
“Goering” – The Rise and Fall of the notorious Nazi leader. By Roger Mansell. Incredible.
“The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls. A classic I had never read, but it is a ‘must read’.
“Moonrise” by Ann Victoria Roberts. This author has touched my emotions in many ways.
“The Rise of Nazi Germany” by Charles River Editors. I wanted to know more history.
The GiftAwakening”, by J.P. McLean. Contemporary Fantasy, a new genre for me

  1. The Gift “Revelation”
  2. The Gift “Redemption”
  3. The Gift “Penance”
  4. The Gift “Betrayal

“POW # 74324” – Triumph through Adversity by Robert Stermscheg.
“Daffodils” by Alex Martin. An English love story set within WWI.
“The History of Germany From The Earliest Times by Bayard Taylor. Tough read!
“The Spy in Hitler’s Inner Circle” by Paul Pailole. The risks people took, unbelievable.
“Lunch with Charlotte” by Leon Berger. Unexpected happenings, finally talking WWII.
“How the (Bleep) Did I Get This Old” by Laverne H. Bardy. Need a good laugh? Get it!
“An Adventure on Two Continents” by Heinz H.G. Berger. A West Vancouver story.
“Journey of a Lifetime” by Trevor D. Cradduck. Not available for the general public.

There were a few other books. I remember the stories but I should have written down the titles. Plus, I read four substantial books in Germany in October (German language) and was fascinated by the content. I read several nights since I couldn’t sleep anyway. The time difference of nine hours is hard to overcome – your body is not fooled by the clock. The trouble is – when I got home to the North American Continent the same happened – in reverse! It’s said that for every ten years of your life it takes a day to re-adjust your body clock. C’est la vie!

New Year 2017

image4The end of one year and the beginning of a new one is always a time of reflection. We think back to what has been and what has happened during the last 365 days. What was good? What was bad? What did we achieve, if anything? Did we reach our goals or did we forget we even made a resolution at the beginning of the year? In most cases, we probably did forget or gave up. Why? Because life isn’t like that! You cannot rely on a blueprint, written in stone. You can’t wish for deviations and you can’t know about the things that might, or will, happen to throw you off course. Why did nobody ever think of selling us insurance for a good year? We try our best to make it so! More of us think of exercising more and eating less. Others have a bucket list with travel dreams and they vow to make at least one wish come true. Some even wish to be nicer to their parents, relatives, friends, or neighbours. This one only works if it comes from both sides – unless all is hunky-dory anyway – which, in most cases, is not so. Since I have listened to many people tell me their stories this topic has become quite disheartening for me.

However, we celebrate the beginning of a brand new year and hope for new beginnings. It’s like having a book with 365 empty pages. We intend to fill these pages with good stories and, before we know it, we write “The End” and look back on another year and wonder where the time has gone. I am reminded that life is like a toilet roll – it goes faster the close one comes to the end! So it goes, year after year.

I remember my teenage years when friends and I would peel an apple without breaking the peel. The peel had to be in one piece. We would close our eyes and throw the peel over our head. We looked for a letter in the way it fell. Rather like reading teacups that letter was the first initial of our future husband. The name of every boy we met meant a lot and we would always hope to find the one with that particular initial. Did it work out that way in my life? NO! If you dreamed you were dancing the waltz with someone, that someone would become your husband. When finally old enough to go to parties we would be dancing into the New Year. I usually went to the dance with a bunch of other girls and we all hoped for a good dance partner. If you didn’t like him you rushed to the bathroom shortly before midnight to avoid having to give him a kiss. Things were so different in my youth! There were lots of public balls and parties, now the celebration is mainly private.

When I was married and living in Canada I learned a new way of celebrating the New Year. It did not matter if you were at a dance in a club or at a basement party room in one of your friend’s houses. The midnight kissing was a big part of it. It wasn’t just your husband you kissed. Everybody kissed everybody and I hated it. It was so unhygienic and some men had so much saliva around their lips. Okay, go ahead and laugh, I don’t think I missed too much by avoiding it after the first year! I just couldn’t do it. I usually disappeared until it was over. I remember quite a few years when I shivered outside while looking for a falling star to make a wish. I wished to see a falling star and when it happened it was so fast that I forget to wish for something. Life can be so unfair!

image101I remember one New Year’s party in the exquisite Fort Gary Hotel in Winnipeg. I think it was the first time ever I was tipsy. I was coerced to drink too much champagne. I felt on top of the world in a wonderful ball gown and dancing every single dance. I was so happy, it must have been contagious because it seemed every man in the room wanted to have a dance with me. I didn’t feel tipsy at all, but when we went outside (it was -32° Celsius) and stood on the steep stairway waiting for a taxi, I had to hold onto my husband. I was terribly dizzy. I remember him laughing! He thought it was funny and found it even funnier during the night when I fought the effects of a horrible stomach flu! “Stomach flu?” He teased me and didn’t feel a bit compassionate – the miserable old bugger. I don’t like champagne anymore.

Waiting for the bubble to burst

Waiting for the bubble to burst

Another party, my best New Year’s party ever, was the Millennium Party of 2000! Friends, who are members of the prestigious Vancouver Club, had secured a table for twelve couples and we all had a whale of a time. I think we had to ‘endure’ a twelve-course dinner. The entertainment and the music were second to none and I tried to get as much dancing in as possible. I would rather dance than eat or drink champagne! When the band played a ‘Cha Cha Cha’ I was showing my partner the steps and in no time we were joined by eight or ten others who also wanted to learn this fun dance. The plan was to attend the next New Year’s Party in Vienna but it didn’t work out that way. It wasn’t in the ‘blueprint’ for 2001. That Millennium Party was the last real New Year’s party I attended.

image102The years have come and gone since that wonderful Millennium Party without making an impact or adding to unforgettable memories. Now, the New Year’s night is just another night and even trying to stay awake and watch the countdown in New York doesn’t always work. It’s part of aging. It must be. But the memories haven’t faded nor have the dreams of dancing into another New Year stopped.

Welcome and cheers to 2017!

Old-fashioned Christmas in Germany

The Christmas star

The Christmas star

Really? You want to know how Christmas was celebrated in the ‘good old days…’ in Germany? Let me go back about seventy-five years. And when I tell you how my family celebrated it, be assured it was the same way with all the families I knew. We lived in Pomerania and since Germany had many different parts or provinces it may have been a bit different in East Prussia, or Bavaria, or Holstein, or the Rhineland! Believe it or not, the people in Bavaria didn’t even think the northern Germans were Germans at all – and vice versa. The spoken dialect was (and still is) different and therefore the traditions with Christmas might also have been different. I wasn’t aware of it as a small child as my world was also small.

The exciting time started with an ‘Advents Kalender’ – a calendar with little windows for each day. Each window was marked with the date. We were allowed to open one window each morning and enjoyed looking at the picture behind the little window blind. It was hard not to open more windows to find the one gift we hoped to get at Christmas. You couldn’t open more windows because it was then damaged. On Santa’s list, it counted as being a ‘bad girl or boy’. We received this special calendar from one of our grandmas on the first Sunday of Advent.

Advent

Advent

The four Sundays before Christmas were special. Different Christmas cookies were baked each day and the house smelled wonderful. A few days before the First Advent, Grandma would take us to the forest. We would look for small pine branches to take home and make an ‘Advents Wreath’. The wreath was decorated with pine cones and four red candles, one for each Sunday before Christmas. The wreath would be hung with red ribbons over the main table or placed directly on the table. On the First Advent, only one candle would be lit, on the Second Advent, two, then three until, on the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles would be lit. By now, they were all a different length! Each Sunday we would sit around the warm tiled oven at dusk with our cats in our laps and listen to our grandma telling stories from her childhood or rekindling memories of our own Christmases past.

Shoe shineAnother part of the pre-Christmas time was St. Nicolas night celebrated with cleaning all our shoes, including Mom and Dad’s, on the evening of the 5th of December. St. Nicolas would come when we were sleeping, check the shoes and put some sweets into the shiniest pair. During the war we were told just to put one pair out to save St. Nicolas precious time. Most kids didn’t even have more than one pair of shoes anyway.

Christmas in the stores didn’t start before December. Christmas trees were sold just a week or so before Christmas. To look for and pick our perfect tree took some time. The tree was usually kept in a cold barn or shed. We children would never see it again until Christmas Eve. The parents (oh no, oops, I mean Santa!) would decorate it just the night before Christmas Eve. Even then, we still had to wait until late afternoon on Christmas Eve after the church service with the singing of the wonderful old songs, and the school children acting out the Nativity. The worst was that we also had to eat dinner with that, by now, knotted feeling in our stomach before we could even see our decorated Christmas tree. Dinner on Christmas Eve was always potato salad and wieners, or fried fish. Each family had their own special way of decorating their tree. Ours was always full of angel hair, tinsel, cookies with colorful sprinkles on them and twelve white candles. The tree was always placed on Dad’s desk. Our cousin’s tree also had tinsel but lots of colorful, different size shiny ornaments and different colour candles. No electrical lights – just real candles! They were lit with long matches and the parents always kept a close eye on the tree. There were times when Santa was too busy, so he had dropped off the gifts and they were all under the tree. Before we could touch anything we each had to sing a song or recite a poem we had learned for this occasion. It was so difficult for us children to finally arrive at the Christmas celebration.

Christmas Eve was the real Christmas for us and we could stay up past our bedtime. We would all sleep in on Christmas morning, even our dad. Poor Mother had to get up and look after the farm animals. She would also heat up the stove and the ovens to make sure it wasn’t so terribly cold when we got up. Pails full of water from the pump were kept in the kitchen and sometimes there were thin layers of ice on them. We were allowed to play with our new toys before we got dressed. We always received something for the body (socks or sweaters we needed anyway!) and something for the soul, toys or books.

On Christmas Day, we would either have relatives visiting for a noon dinner consisting of either carp with white parsley gravy or goose and red cabbage. If the relatives didn’t come to us, we would go to their house. Either the visitors or we would stay for coffee and cake, munch on home baked special Christmas cookies or crack nuts. Each child also received a “Bunter Teller” for Christmas. That was a colourful plate with cookies, candies, nuts, apples and oranges which we could eat without asking if we could.

My signature tree

My signature tree

Boxing Day was what we would now call “open house”. It was a day when friends and relatives just dropped in for afternoon coffee. Since all our Christmases were white, we children would be out with the sleighs to pull them up the mill hill to race down screaming “Bahn frei” – warning kids coming uphill to keep clear.

I don’t think kids nowadays would be happy with this kind of life. Do you blame me if I kept to some of the traditions during my adult life and am still dreaming of ‘my kind of a white Christmas?’.

 

A Brand New Life in Canada

My 'Max"

My ‘Max”

It was the 5th of October 1955. My father had helped me to make an irreversible decision. Without even saying ‘goodbye’ to my mother after our last meal I left what had been my home for the last ten of my twenty-one years. My heart was filled with anxiety but also sadness for all I was leaving behind – my parents, my sisters, my friends at my kayak club, my boat “Max” (the great love of my life), and my new sky-blue bike. All I took along was a very small suitcase containing one set of bedding sheets; a couple of towels and an evening gown a friend had just made for me. This was very unlikely luggage for someone escaping from a politically oppressive life into a totally unknown new one – and that was just from one Germany into another Germany. That ‘other’ Germany was known as “The Golden West”. Freedom! Chocolate and bananas and oranges and nice clothing were available if you worked hard and earned money. And I planned to do just that. I won’t even go into the “trials and tribulations” I had to endure. (Most of you read about them in my memoir anyway.) Those troubles finally drove me over the edge and I wanted to “escape” once again. This time, my luggage was a shipping container full of my accumulated goods of almost ten years, except for furniture and my beloved car. It all went across the ocean to another continent. The container later became part of a Volkswagen garage for a neighbour in Canada.

Every year, when the 14th of December comes around, I remember that day in 1963. I remember my feelings. I can see myself, see the way my hair was, the way I was dressed. I was floating in a vacuum. I couldn’t cry and I couldn’t laugh. I can still see my new in-laws and their faces as we said goodbye. Was it forever? I emigrated because of image1-002the little Canadian girl I had fallen in love with and right now she was tightly holding onto my hand. She was shaking. She was leaving her grandparents after a couple of months she had spent with them. I was taking her home to her daddy in Vancouver, Canada. I had married him after five months of lovely correspondence and hoped I would learn to love him after I had my heart set to be a mother to his little girl. She had picked my picture out of about three hundred replies to an ad he had placed in the German magazine “Constance”, and declared: “I want her to be my new mommy.”

image9

Language did not matter between us.

This year on December 14th it will be fifty-three years since I set foot on Canadian soil. I hardly spoke any English; the little girl became my first teacher. The YWCA in Vancouver offered language courses for newcomers; I booked and paid for several courses in a row. Did we receive help in any way from anybody? No. Immigrants were on their own. If you had a job, you might make about $50.00 a week. My husband had started with ‘White Spot’ in 1956 and had not even earned $20.00. When he ended up in the hospital needing a stomach operation, the doctor, who discharged him, had asked:

“What’s your address?” Since he didn’t have one, the doctor invited him to live in a cottage on his property. In payment, he did handyman’s work. But that is another story.

You worked hard, you did not care what the work was, and you just did what was needed to make ends meet. There was a time when I worked in an office, did bookkeeping at night and cleaned toilets on that business property on Sundays. Those were the tough years.  Now, fifty-three years since I first came to Canada and comfortable after a successful business life, I think back and try to figure out “What am I?” Am I still considered an immigrant (Which most Canadians are anyway unless they are indigenous) or am I really the Canadian woman I think I am? I have written four books in English, one of them is translated into three other languages.  I have now lived in Canada for two-thirds of my life. It’s a very long time, but looking back, the fifty-three years passed one another like sand running through my fingers. Life is like a toilet roll – it goes faster the closer you come to the end!

As I am writing the sequel to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That”, more and more memories are flooding my head about my life in Canada, this enormous and beautiful country. One day, in about a year (?), you will be able to read about the new and different “trials and tribulations” I faced on this continent during those fifty-three years. While writing some of the chapters I can’t help but smile – while others give me writer’s block. Ce’st la vie!