Saturday, 17 February 2018

Old and New

On average, I spend about one day a month at my client in Marbach, the Deutsche Literaturarchiv (German Literature Archive). I have showed you pictures of this fascinating place before; for instance here or more recently in my January Summary.

I was back there again on the 7th of this month, to give my annual in-house data protection training to the employees. Between the morning and afternoon session, I had almost 2 hours to myself, and I used them well: First for a meal at the nearby restaurant "Schillerhöhe", and afterwards for a nice long walk.

Here are the pictures I took that day with my mobile.

The room where this year's training took place. The portrait is of Alexander Humboldt.

Walkway along the LiMo (Literaturmuseum der Moderne) - this is the "New" I hinted at in this post's title - and the Schiller Nationalmuseum, the "Old":

View from LiMo's terrace across the river Neckar valley:

 The train that takes me to and from Marbach comes across this viaduct:

I did not venture very far, but came across a footbridge I'd never been to before. Of course I had to walk on it and look at what I could see from there.

As you can see, the weather was better than at my last visit! The sun was welcome, and there were birds everywhere; in the gardens I walked past, snowdrops, crocus and aconites adorned the ground, and winter jasmine added even more yellow.

Can you tell I do like my Marbach days?

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Cats and Pancakes

Some of you will know that today is/was Shrove Tuesday in the UK, and that it is celebrated as "Pancake Day" in some areas, last but not least in Ripon. I learned about this and the traditional pancake race only last year from my friend George Pickles, former long-time Hornblower of Ripon, and told you about it in this post.

Admittedly, there was nothing happening in my life today that reminded me of Shrove Tuesday until I came home from work about an hour ago and did some ironing. Huh, I hear you say, what has ironing to do with Shrove Tuesday, or pancakes, for that matter? Nothing at all. But it has become my habit to listen to BBC Radio Four or BBC Radio York via the internet while ironing, and just as I was giving my beloved petrol green/blue Monsoon dress its hot steamy treatment, there was a short piece about Ripon's pancake race, held today. The Dean of Ripon's Cathedral was briefly interviewed, and here he is - photographed on Shrove Tuesday in 2016, the picture finding its way to me via George.

I hope everyone who was there to race or watch had fun! Three young members of the Chathedral's choir were also interviewed, and one very young sounding boy said that "it isn't a competition, but it's all about the community". I wonder whether he came up with that himself. When I was a little girl, I certainly would never had thought or said anything like it - when there was a competition of any kind, I would only feel like joining in when I was at least half way sure to win (and I could run real fast as a kid).

Speaking of me as a little girl, and it being the last day of Carnival in Germany today, here is the reason why "Cats" appear in the headline of this post.

As children, my sister and I used to love dressing up in carnival costumes this time of year, like all the children in our neighbourhood. Usually, there were carnival parties for children at schools, kindergardens and village or town halls. Our parents let us choose what we wanted to be, and you can imagine that Princess, Indian Squaw or Gypsy Lady were popular costumes for little girls.
When I was three and my sister four years old, I was determined I wanted to be Gestiefelter Kater (Puss-in-Boots), a character I knew from the fairytale books my parents read to us. A hat with cats' ears, a tail, a pair of black trousers, black top and little vest, all made to look like the stuff Puss was wearing in the books, was acquired. I wore my red wellies and felt absolutely great, like The Real Thing.

...yes, until I saw my sister's costume! She had opted for Sleeping Beauty, and our Grandma had made her the most beautiful princess dress I had ever seen in my life, out of glittery gold-pink fabric. She had a little crown, and a golden ribbon around her waist with tiny pink plastic roses tied in.

I am sure my jaw dropped when I saw it, and then of course, I wanted to look like her, be like her! Immediately!! Gone was my thrill at looking and feeling like a cat - now I wanted to be a princess, too.
Alas, there was only the one dress; we had made our choices, after all, and our costumes had been provided according to that.

I pulled all the stops, doing what a three-year-old can do so well: Throw a tantrum. Tantrum with a capital T! I cried, I refused to go out, I was nasty and angry and unpleasant and thoroughly horrible until...
...until my Mum unearthed an old, shabby petticoat from her wardrobe, one I am sure she had not been wearing since the late 1950s herself. It had tulle (even though it was REALLY shabby) - I saw the tulle, and pulled the old petticoat over my black pants. For a three-year-old, it came at floor length, and so it became my princess dress! I stopped crying, the cats' ears hat was taken off, the tail followed suit, and peace reigned again.

Seconds before The Tantrum
47 years later, I chose to be a cat again. This time, it was for the Costume Prize Ball at O.K.'s village. We went there last year, too, and it was my first carnival event in decades - carnival isn't a big thing in my part of the country, but it is MASSIVE where O.K. lives.
Last year, the motto was Fun Fair. This year, it was Walpurgis Night - so all things to do with witches and witchcraft were in order.

O.K. and I decided to go as Warlock and his Black Cat. I chose a very, very stylish and cool green satin robe for him, and he wore a pointed black hat and black clothes. My cat costume consisted of my usual black running pants, a black long-sleeved t-shirt I often wear, black fluffy knee socks and black shoes. I wore a black wig, black cats' ears and a black tail (which could have been longer, I think).

We had a lot of fun at the dance, and I never lost an ear or my tail - and I did NOT throw  a tantrum :-) But it was really very hot underneath the wig, especially when dancing. Now Carnival is as good as over, and I honestly won't miss it.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Sun, Windmills and a Castle

On the 14th of January, we had a rare Sunday deserving its name. I was at O.K.'s for the weekend, and we decided to finally take a walk to some of the newly erected windmills we can see from many of the paths near the village where we often walk or run.

The slopes and ridges of the Black Forest are great for windfarming, and I think it is a good thing that at least some of our energy comes from renewable and clean sources. On some of the blogs I regularly read, I have seen many a comment about the perceived "eye-sores" and how the windmills "blight" otherwise beautiful countryside. Well, in my opinion, they have their very own beauty, last but not least because I know we truly need them if we want to keep consuming energy at the rate we are doing these days. 

Have you ever stood real close to one? If you listen to the swooshing sound the blades make, you can almost imagine you were by the sea, and you hear the waves leisurely moving up the beach, then retreating back into the vastness of the ocean only to return the next moment at their own incessant rhythm - a calming, soothing sound, and really not noisy. Road traffic is much, much louder!

Maybe the odd bird gets too close occasionally, but - without being able to cite statistics - I do believe the number of animals killed by the roadside of our way too many cars is much higher. And generally, there is no decline in wildlife in those areas of the Black Forest where windmills are. Of course animals retreat while the building is going on, but once the heavy machinery and people have left, things return to normal.

According to information I found on the internet and on boards at the wind farm, the masts are 149 m high. Each rotor blade is 56 m long and weighs 26 tons! 

Anyway - to get there, we walked for quite a while, taking in the sights as we got nearer. There were other places of interest along the way, such as the "pioneer stone", a memorial erected by the troops who, a long time ago, built the road in this part of the forest, or the small devotional dedicated to Mary in the year 1797.

We chose a different path back to the village of Diersburg, where we had parked the car, and O.K. showed me the ruins of castle Diersburg. 

Altogether, we had probably walked somewhere around 3 or 4 hours, and enjoyed it very much. Many weekends have been grey and wet this winter, so we were glad to get the chance for good long walk.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

January Summary

Already the 1st of February - didn't we only just celebrate New Year's Eve? That first month of the year seems to be the least favourite for many people, according to what I have been reading on some blogs. I don't know why that is so; if one thinks long and hard enough, I suppose one can find something not to like about every month, but also enough to like.

For me, January meant four birthday parties within my circle of friends and family. It also meant going back to work after the Christmas/New Year break. Weather-wise, it meant mostly grey and often wet days with some storms thrown in for good measure, but no snow. 

Last but not least, it meant my first proper red-nose cold in a long time - I even stayed home from work for two days, something that happens only every few years.

For one glorious sunny Sunday, O.K. and I were out on a long walk (or hike) in the Black Forest. That is worth its own post.

The pictures here were taken throughout the month, all with my phone.

January 9th, my second day back at work. By the time I left the office, that brilliant blue sky was long gone:

Marbach, my place of work on the 17th of January. The view across the Neckar valley may not be exactly spectacular, but I like it. It was VERY windy that day:

Morning sky as seen from my kitchen window on the 30th:

What was January like for you?

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Something About Blue Light; and Reading Habits

Not long ago, fellow blogger Nan wrote here about reading from a kindle (or other e-reader) vs. from a printed book, and about how she feels she takes up less information from the former than from the latter.

I read that post while I was away from home and did not have the opportunity to comment then. Also, there is rather a lot I want to say about the subject, more than what would have been appropriate in a comment.

One point in Nan's post was (not her own point, but quoted from a book) that
"if we use an e-reader or a laptop before going to sleep, our brains are affected so that we are more likely to sleep badly. It is something to do with blue light." 

Before you read on, let me emphasise that the following are first and foremost my own thoughts and my own opinion, based on my personal experience. I am not a neuro-biologist and have never been to university. But I have read a few books and many articles about neurobiology and how our brain works (as far as scientists understand it), and am paraphrasing that information.

My thoughts on the topic:

What does bother our brains is not so much the blue light as the frequency with which a lit-up screen is refreshed (the refresh rate; see wikipedia for more info). If you look at the settings of your desktop PC, you will probably find where you can adjust the refresh rate (measured in Hz). Few people feel the need to change the default setting, but the option is usually there for every screen.

The same is true for any other screen with back lights, such as smartphones, tablets, and the new generation e-readers. Even though you can not consciously see the "flickering" that comes from those lights (and refreshing), your optical nerves register it and send it to your brain. This makes your mind tire a lot more quickly as if you were reading from an "immobile", static source such as a sheet of paper. Then, it is your eyes that do the moving, not the reading material itself.

Another point that makes it easier to store and remember information from a physical book is the multi-sensorial effect. You do not only read the words inside the book with your eyes. You also touch the book with your hands, you smell it, and even when you are not reading it, you see it on the table, with the cover picture and the title printed on it. That makes for additional input; your brain connects all sensorial input to what you have been reading, rooting it more firmly in your memory than if you only read the words on a screen, i.e. your brain would deal with just the one info, not backing it up with other input.

My kindle is still the first generation. It has no back light, but uses a technology called e-ink. A layer of molecules is behind the magic - imagine those molecules as tiny balls, with one half painted white and the other black (or dark grey). When you "open" a page on your kindle, the letters you see are the black halves of the tiny balls of e-"ink", and the spaces in between the letters are the white halves showing.

simplified representation of e-ink; picture from wikipedia
Whenever you press the buttons to change "pages" on your kindle, the clever little computer chip inside tells the tiny balls to roll around (on their same position) and either show their white or their black half.

That is an extremely energy-efficient way of transmitting information to a screen, which is why the battery on a first-generation kindle lasts for a very long time before you need to recharge it.

This e-ink technology also means the reading experience for your eyes is very close to the one you get from paper. With one big difference: You can also read in bright sunlight without being blinded by the whiteness of paper. (There is plenty more about e-ink here on wikipedia.)

For me, my kindle has become indispensable. I still very much love reading printed books; they will never be entirely replaced, but my kindle is the best addition I can imagine. Nearly every day, I am on trains to and from work, and take longer train trips most weekends. I much prefer the lightweight kindle to a heavy book for those trips; also, a book can bend and get smudged so easily when you are travelling, something that does not happen with the kindle. Plus I can read on my kindle while waiting on windswept cold platforms, wearing gloves; that is very difficult with a physical book.

When I am home, I usually touch my kindle only to recharge it, and read newspapers and printed books. 

Monday, 22 January 2018

Read in 2018 - 2: The Visitor

The Visitor
by Chris Simpson

Like my first read in 2018, this book was a Christmas gift from my sister. It was a real Christmas read, too - never mind I read it now, almost a month after the holiday! It is very much a winter story and therefore still fitting for January.

Jos and Emily are an elderly couple living on a farm in the Yorkshire Dales. Farming has always been their life; Jos' family has been on the same land for centuries, and the two of them are deeply rooted in a way of life that is slowly disappearing.

Emily is ill, very ill. Jos is afraid she won't bear up much longer, and then what will become of him? He worries that he won't want to stay on the farm on his own, and then what will become of his cattle and his sheep, of his fields and woods, and last but not least, of Walter and Laura, who work the farm and the house with and for him?

Then his nephew, who he has never met since his sister emigrated to South Africa decades ago, writes to announce his visit just in time for Christmas.
Jos and Emily are excited at the prospect of finally meeting their young relative. Little do they know that the visitor arriving at their door step in the middle of heavy snowfall will bring about a change in their lives they could never have foreseen.

I loved everything about this book - its small size, beautiful cover design, good writing style, setting of the story and the general atmosphere. Similar to "Elmet" (the book I read before this one), the reader can guess something decisive will happen, but it is not leading to something terrible. When I finished the book, I wanted to know more about the people I'd "met" within its pages, even though our acquaintance was brief (it is not a very long story).

The author is another „first“ for me. According to the book cover, Chris Simpson was born in Harrogate and lives on a narrowboat with his wife on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. He is a musician (his acoustic group Magna Carta has released 23 albums and sold over 8 million records) and travels a lot. Occasionally, he also works as a lecturer, speaker and radio presenter.

Let me quote from the back of the cover what two famous readers have said about the book:
„The Visitor is a moving, evocative story that touches on the many aspects of my own experience, those childhood memories of Christmas at my home in the West Riding of Yorkshire.“ (Patrick Stewart, actor)
„Chris Simpson is a master storyteller from the heartlands of the Dales. This tale will take you there and will touch your heart.“ (James Herriot, author)

Thank you, sister, for giving me two very good reads to start the year with!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

An Eames Celebration

For me, the working year has begun on the 8th of January. Both O.K. and I had the first week of this year off, and spent it together at his place.
On the Thursday, we drove a bit further South to the city of Weil am Rhein, where we visited the exhibition "An Eames Celebration". I had read about it months ago in my weekly paper.

Exhibition poster

The whole area of the Vitra Desgin Museum is worth seeing, even if you would not go into any exhibition - the architecture is unusual, quirky but functional at the same time, and in between the buildings along the connecting paths are sculptures and other works of art.

When we were there, though, we had limited time until the exhibition would close for the day, and the weather was not really in favour of a stroll across the area.

The exhibition was split into several parts, stretching across various buildings, the main part being about the life and work (actually inseperable) of Charles and Ray Eames.

So far, I had had the Eames' down mainly as designers of furniture. Everybody knows the famous Eames Lounge Chair, right? Also, most of their other chairs are well known and still very much in use all over the world.

I had had no idea, though, that the Eames' did so much more than design chairs: They built houses (for instance, their own house, which was very much a home filled with life, not a piece of architectural exhibition), made over a 100 films, designed toys, painted pictures and put together something called The Information Machine for IBM at the World Exhibition in New York in the 1960s. They worked with the government of India on educational projects and designed an exhibition about Nehru; they made covers of magazines and were good friends with Billy Wilder and his wife.

Ray and Charles Eames at home

In their approach to any of their many varied projects, they come across as open-minded, fun-loving and hard-working people; intensely interested in everything around them. I was truly impressed by the fullness of their lives and how much they foretook how we handle information nowadays, decades before the internet became reality.

Visiting the exhibition made me read up about the Eames', and I am definitely going to watch a few of their short films on youtube (the exhibition showed some, but we did not watch them all - not enough time!).

When I came across their "House of Cards" (a game designed for children and adults alike, with no winners and losers) in one of the rooms, I had a mini flashback; I am pretty sure that I saw those cards at some stage during my childhood. We probably did not have the game at home, but I might have seen it at someone else's home and maybe played with the cards there. Maybe my Mum knows? 

It was a mind-opening afternoon for me, and I am glad O.K. and I went there. You can read more about the exhibition(s) (in English) and see pictures here.