Monthly Archives: November 2012

REQUIEM FOR NOVEMBER – a month for remembering


It’s the last day of what I consider the gloomiest month of the year, at least for us in northern Europe where fog, rain and damp characterize these thirty days. It’s a month that seduces one to thoughts of death as the year approaches its own. It’s a period of mourning before people in many places across various hemispheres mentally start gearing up for Christmas and the preparations for that annual festival of lights and giving, and ringing cash registers (well, in the old days they used to ring).

November's gloom

In several countries November 11 is Remembrance Day (in Britain) or Veterans Day (in the US).  As most of you know, the date harks back to the armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I. But now it is observed as a day to remember those who have served their country and made the ultimate sacrifice in the course of all wars that have been fought.

In contrast, for Germans November 11 is the beginning of the annual Carnival/Fasching/Fastnacht celebrations – the fifth season of the year which doesn’t reach its frenzied zenith until Rosenmontag and Faschings Tuesday (Mardi Gras), in the week of Ash Wednesday.  The “season of fools” running between November and Lent is littered with all sorts of entertaining variety show type productions that are held in villages, towns and cities, mainly in communities situated along the River Rhine. They specialize in local social and political satire and men dressing up in ballet tutus to perform dance routines. The formal address of “Sie” is dropped and you are allowed to say the familiar “du” to everyone. A lot of alcohol is required to stimulate all this joviality and it culminates in dozens of parades in the final days of the festival. On Ash Wednesday all good Christians (with their heads in slings) then proceed to church to get an ash cross drawn on their foreheads. Lent begins and those who chose to do so start fasting in some form or other.

The manner in which November 11 is observed appears a huge contradiction – some countries honor the fallen of terrible conflicts, while in Germany, considered to be the instigator of both World Wars, the party season begins. But it’s necessary to take a closer look at the calendar.

You’ll find two Sundays that are dedicated to honoring the dead. The Volkstrauertag (people’s day of mourning) is a public holiday in Germany on the second from last Sunday before the first day of the Advent season. It commemorates all those who died in armed conflicts or as the victims of violent oppression. It was first observed in its modern form in 1952, although it was initially observed in 1922 and underwent various incarnations during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich.  The fourth Sunday of November is Totensonntag, a day for families to visit cemeteries and remember deceased loved ones. Thus the Germans do bow their heads to remember; only the dates differ.

A further incongruity in Germany’s November calendar is the ninth. In 1989 an event occurred on that date that many had yearned for, even fought for, but never expected to see happen in their lifetimes. I remember it so well, watching developments as they unfolded in the DDR (German Democratic Republic) on television, and not believing our ears and eyes when the Berlin Wall was declared open. Although we had no relatives in the east, no vested interest in the events that ensued, the days that followed were truly dream-like with people hacking away at the wall and making it physical come down. Berliners climbed atop it, danced and drank Sekt. They couldn’t believe what was happening – and they were there! We watched from our living room, mesmerized by the images. We knew we were experiencing history with a capital H. It was a revolution without a single shot being fired.

Strangely, that same day in 1938 signaled the beginning of what would become the worst pogroms against the Jews in modern times. In the Reichskristalnacht, the night of broken glass, SA paramilitary forces and civilians attacked Jewish property while the German authorities looked on without intervening, without sending in police or firefighters. The attacks left the streets littered with broken glass from the windows of Jewish-owned stores and buildings. Synagogues were looted and burned.

On one and the same day in November, Germany celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall which led to the reunion of its east and west halves. But it does not neglect remembering the victims of the pogroms and the insanity that followed. We must never forget or history will repeat itself.

Evening has closed in hard on the last day of November.




Filed under Seasonal Reflections

M.I.A. – the Traveler returns

What? Did I not announce I was leaving town? Shame on me. I think I didn’t want to broadcast that I was heading for sand & sunshine, yummy food and an ancient civilization, for fear of making my loyal readers hate me. So rather than sharing lots of photos of Pamukkale, Hieropolis and Aspendos, I will just show you the sun setting on the Med. Okay, so I can’t resist adding a shot of a couple of cats at Aspendos. I sat and watched them for a while and enjoyed their society. In fact, the “wild” cats and dogs we saw wherever we visited were in remarkably good health, very tame, and looked well-fed and cared-for. The dogs had tags attached to their ears which signified they’d been inoculated and neutered. Both cats and dogs were amazingly friendly to the tourists, showing no apprehension if you tried to approach and stroke them. I even cuddled the odd kitten here and there. How tempting to abscond with one of those tri-colors (as pictured below), the most beautiful cats I know!


All good things come to an end. One returns home to November’s gloom and the impending demise of 2012, only slowed – or expedited – by the looming Christmas holidays.  But that trip only lasted a week and the second journey began almost immediately. Our son Steven has finally had his knee fixed in Straubing (Bavaria) – only 22 months after the accident that tore all the ligaments in his left knee. He’s home now and getting on par for the course but will be an invalid for the coming 6 weeks. At least the operation has finally happened and seems to be successful.
I’ll leave for today with my thoughts on November.



Like lovers bedded ’neath night’s cloak,

The mist caresses the earth,

Till crows heralding dawn,

Cry with startling mirth.


They screech, they circle,

Black dots in the haze,

They light on the oak,

Bare and wizened with age.


Their conclave is brief,

Suddenly they scatter.

A lone duck quacks,

Settling the matter.


Fog fragments rise from folded hills.

Like remnants of a dream,

They disappear when daylight breaks.

They’re seldom what they seem.


Wind whispers through nearby woods.

A scarlet leaf breaks free.

It mounts and hovers, it pirouettes.

A gust carries it off to sea.


My lungs are filled with limpid air.

What scents do I perceive?

Dank leaves embracing forest floor?

Roses hoar-frost filigreed?


Orchard strewn with o’er ripe apples,

Their gifts to Mother Earth?

Crushed chestnuts tread along the path,

Not knowing their own worth?


What weighs upon my heart so heavy?

I breathe deep and recognize.

Tis mortality’s heady scent,

That nothing can disguise.


But maybe you’ve seen it on my website? At any rate there’s more (and some in German) at:



Filed under Fiction and Other Truths

All Over But the Shouting

I must admit to getting out of bed more quickly than usual this morning. Nor is turning on the TV first thing a part of my usual schedule. But today being the day after, it had to be.  CNN offered the sought-after relief:  Obama was the man!

I know I live far away from the reality of everyday American life so some may say I don’t know what I’m talking about. Hell, some may say I don’t even have a right to an opinion. But sometimes distance from problems, from situations, offers perspective.

And this is my perspective: Four years ago the US population elected a vibrant, brilliant Afro-American to the presidency. As people are wont to do, they idolized him. And they gave him a list of Herculean tasks to perform while hurling obstacles across the paths that led to solving these problems. When this demigod turned out to be human after all, their disappointment was bitter. By some miracle – no, I take it back: by lots of hard work, Obama has prevailed and can continue what he started. He has in reality already achieved so much, but success seems short-lived while failures never seem to go away. At least he has four years without needing to worry about re-election. May he create a legacy that benefits all Americans.


Filed under Politics

US ELECTION 2012 – Universal Suffrage for All!

Tomorrow the world will watch as US voters go to the polls. The campaign process, which takes up a good two years of a four-year term of office, has once again driven Americans to distraction with the non-stop ads on TV, press and radio. Millions of dollars have been spent on this process – and I risk changing that verb from “spent” to “wasted” – without the cause of democracy being served. Then there is the time and energy the sitting president had to devote to getting re-elect rather than to surviving the country. What a wast of resources. Wouldn’t it be possible to limit the length of the campaigns?

 In the end the Electoral College will vote for the President and the popular vote will be overridden by this vestige of an 18th century system developed to ensure that an agrarian and illiterate society would not make the wrong choices. In previous elections we have experienced just how unfair that can pan out. Yet there seems to be no movement towards changing or abolishing this outmoded system. Probably because it did manage to serve the guy who made it to the Oval Office without the benefit of winning the popular vote. But that is just one bugaboo I intend to address today.

 The US is a global leader, whether it really likes it or not. Somehow I think it does relish this position although the leaders can find it to be a nuisance. However, the country is so big that many of its citizens barely register that the world beyond their shores exists, much less that it is greatly affected economically and politically by the policies pursued in Washington.

 When visiting the US I am always struck by how little news seeps in about what is going on in the outside world. Yet Europe – and unfortunately I can only speak of my experience in Europe – watches the US carefully, waiting for what it will do next, hoping that the US economy won’t catch a cold or – horror! – come down with something even more grievous and contagious. For every policy implemented in Washington affects the entire global community.

And folks, here it comes, my solution to this untenable situation: voting rights for the US presidency and Congress should be extended to every man and woman across the globe. I can’t help but be reminded of the angry American Colonists in the 1770s when they were taxed by a British king and his Parliament without their having representation in that forum. If I’m not mistaken, it led to a war of independence. And now in the 21st century with globalization being the watchword, we are all dependent on what happens in Washington, without the right to influence it.

 Thus, while the populations of the rest of the world watch the outcome of the US election with bated breath, many Americans stay away from the polls and relinquish their right and their duty to themselves and the rest of humanity. Rather than electing a president who is capable of leading the whole world and not just prepared to serve an elite constituency, the non-voters of America disenfranchise themselves.

So let’s hear it for universal global suffrage! I certainly know who the Germans would elect – hands down – if given the opportunity to vote. And it wouldn’t be the R & R ticket.



Filed under Politics