Going Home

Right after I first fell in love with the German man I married, my mother died. (No, the shock didn’t kill her.) Something I recognize but don’t dwell on is that my decision to move to Europe is tied to her death. Somehow the most important link to my life in America suddenly vanished. When I left the States I had a full if overly busy life with two jobs, one which gave me health care and retirement benefits, and close friends. But as I’ve written elsewhere [1], the siren call of a European man and European life style (make that Life and Style) won my heart.

I was surprised – and deeply moved – to discover that my friendships and attachment to places I love stayed alive, even with one or two years or even longer between visits. When I was a kid, my family had moved every few years thanks to my dad’s job with the Forest Service. I know how to make new friendships, and how to keep old ones. The international stuff is harder, but it’s do-able.

My annual visit to the US this year is bathed in wistfulness and memories. This is my first flight back without seeing my father Bobbo. For twenty-five years I believed that losing Mom broke the golden thread connecting me to my old life. Turns out, a less obvious thread – but one equally as golden – tied me to Bobbo. He became my main reason to return. With both parents gone now, my sisters have become guardians. They, and I, are the keepers of the memories.

I write down anecdotes, wanting to get the details right. I fret over the little stuff. Did we really never lock our doors living in Cazenovia? What year was the big snowstorm of our childhoods in Connecticut? I remember Mom sent Bobbo out to meet us  (my sisters and I trudging in rubber snowboots through drifts chest deep, on our way home from my friend Doris’s house). But how old were we? Was it all three of us? And what year was it? Mom and Bobbo would have known these details. My sisters and I have to puzzle them out, placing our recollections together in a common picture.

The particulars are fading. They curl like the edges of old family photographs.

But these pictures make up earlier lives. It’s why we treasure old camera footage, precious cassette tapes of voices long silent. When asked what you would take first if your home was about to go up in flames, people almost always say, the family photographs. Because gazing into the eyes of an old photo is really looking back into what we looked like, and what life felt like.

It’s a way of going home.

NOTES: [1] Go to my post J’aime la Vie to learn why I stayed in Europe! © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

In Search of Inspiration

If you troll blogs and the Web, there are untold numbers of suggestions on how to find the inspiration to write. Here are my ideas for how to get inspired… all tried, tested, and true. [1]

#1. Lock yourself in a room. More importantly, lock everyone else out.
#2. Leave the room only when the whining of the family dog takes on that frantic the-puddle-that-is-about-to-hit-the-floor-is-going-to-be-your-fault whimper. If the writing is going well, you’ll be dragged out of your writerly trance. If you’re slowly dying in front of a screen that remains blank, this is rescue from your flailing “I am such a loser” writer’s misery.
#3. In either scenario, head outdoors and think about writing while you’re walking. I walk in our village’s Schrebegartens [2] when I need to think through a plot knot or to stretch my legs. Or to get some fresh air finally! Usually I pass people with actual dogs, but if I’m lucky I have the dirt path through the gardens and orchards to myself. A loop takes me about 40 minutes to walk. One very cold grey winter morning, I first heard and then watched a pair of green woodpeckers. They flew from tree bole to tree bole. I stood enchanted and didn’t move.
#4. Find people who actually write. A group that sits and talks about writing and books and movies and culture is good. My group saves those acts till 5:00 p.m. when the drinks are ordered. And then the second round. And then….

#5. Wait, where was I? Oh – find people who write. The clackety clack of a friend’s fickle fingers of fate as they fly over her laptop keys will force you to bitch-shame yourself. Soon you will be outlining, typing, scribbling, anything that makes it look like you’re composing art.
#6. Do the Vampire Energy Suck. This is the same scenario as #5, but now position yourself across the table from your annoyingly prolific writer friend (and did you ever really like him?) Stare as he writes on, oblivious. Imagine an energy transfer taking place across the table, from his creative cloud to yours.
#7. Find someplace impossibly, wildly, improbably inspiring. Find that place – and GO there. While you’re there, WRITE. I’m president of a monthly writers’ group; we meet regularly in a turreted building. I climb up three flights of winding stone steps in a tower. One day a week I go to a café in the medieval square of a nearby town.

The café’s interior has exposed timber beams and archives date the building all the way back to 1566. I want to pinch myself when I am in both spots: I write here! How lucky can I get? Other days I’m more severe: If I can’t get inspired by views and surroundings like these, I’d better hand in my writer’s badge now.

the bells in the clock tower ring every 15 minutes

#8. At least the rounds of drinks always taste right….

… as does the Flammkuchen we always order (thin crust pizza with onion, créme fraisch and bacon)

NOTES: [1] Results from writer to writer may vary. [2] German Schrebegartens are areas designated for gardens and orchards. You can own or rent, and may have a garden house complete with a cellar. But you can’t have electricity or live in the hut. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Jadi Campbell. To  see some of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Death by Yawning

Open-air museums are inappropriately named. For many people, Museum + History = Death by Excessive Yawning. Not me! A good open-air museum can transport me into other cultures and the past. I think a better name for such a site is ‘living museum’.

Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

In southern Laos, we spent an afternoon at a spot with traditional tribes’ homes. My favorite was the thatched home on stilts. In the middle of the night, a courting youth has to climb a ladder and wait for a signal through a strategically located hole in the wall. The young woman has to approve his advances. Only then can he climb in the window…

Olde Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts was a hands’ down childhood favorite. The site still knocks me out. Paid artisans and trained volunteers dress in period clothing and demonstrate everything from making horse shoes to ginning cotton. Olde Sturbridge contains “the best collection of early 19th-century rural New England artifacts in the world”. [1]

Another favorite open-air museum is Neuhausen ob Eck (amusingly named ‘New Home on the Eck’), located not far from Tuttlingen and Konstanz in southern Germany. In the bee keeper’s house, I learned all about the world of bees. The German language holds bees in special regard. In German, the word for animals is Bestie or Tiere, beasts. But Germans speak of the Bienenvolk, a hive or literally ‘the bee people’, granting them a status with humans. In the Middle Ages, if the bee keeper died in the night someone was sent to the hives to whisper the news to the bees.

The bee keeper enjoyed a special status. Thanks to his bee family he produced wax candles for light, honey for food, and pollen products for medicine. [2]

Fishing nets, Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

Outdoor museums can teach with their simplicity. On our recent trip to Estonia and Latvia, we spent a day at Latvia’s Ethnographic Open-Air Museum on the shore of Lake Jugla. [3] The spot is incredibly atmospheric.

It’s an easy bus ride from the capitol Riga to the museum. (Go to my recent post Food as Art and salivate over the delicious foods you can order in Baltic restaurants.)

What I learned is that as recently as 100 years ago life here was a different story.

Existence was harsh and hard, like the overcast skies much of the day we visited. [4] Along with simple huts, the site includes windmills.

A store building is filled with dowry chests and traces of Latvia’s long history serving in the Hanseatic League.

My takeaway: How truly thin the veneer of prosperity is. Our sense of progress and the advance of civilization is so recent, and so young. I left grateful for the things I take for granted in my everyday life. In too many places in the world people still live without electricity, running water, or centralized heat.

NOTES: [1] https://www.osv.org/ Go to my earlier posts Old Sturbridge Village Part 1 and 2 for photos and the story of our visit. [2] Honey-based products never rot. I purchased a propolis salve at Neuhausen a decade ago; it’s still good. The bee keeper told me the salve can be used on everything from wounds and burns to arthritis and herpes. Neuhausen-ob-Eck [3] Latvia Ethnographic Museum  [4] For Game of Thrones fans, I kept thinking of the Iron Islands and how craggy-rocks bitter life is there. These Latvian houses would fit the scenes perfectly, except for the fact that Game of Thrones is a fantasy world. Real people lived in the huts as recently as the start of the 20th Century.

© Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Art of Food

Two weeks ago, I posted about crispy fried big black hairy spiders. I admit it…. I had fun thinking about grossing you out.

Believe me, when I saw the size of those buggers that day at the rest stop, I wasn’t just grossed out. I was really, really happy that they were behind glass.

I felt bad (okay, only slightly) for scaring the small children and grown men in my reading audience. So this week, I’m bringing you another food post, but in the opposite direction: Food as Art.

Uwe and I just made our first trip to two of the Baltic states. We spent a couple days each exploring Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia. Along with sparking a brand-new curiosity in the Hanseatic League [1], these cities introduced me to the northern European food scene.

Oh. My. God. We ate incredible meals every night. What made those meals so special is an insistence on local products and a reverence for tradition, but with a modern spin. The chefs did delicious things with grains like kasha, and groats and millet, and barley. For years I have firmly insisted that German bread is the best on the planet, closely followed by breads baked fresh in India [2]. Now there’s a new guy on the (bread) block: the pumpernickel and dark breads of the Baltics.

A starter with local smoked salmon

We ordered dishes with elk, deer, fresh and smoked fish,

A different restaurant’s smoked salmon with trout cavier, accompanied by rolled slices of cucumber
… and a third restaurant’s smoked salmon appetizer. Art on a plate
Traditional beet borscht soup, updated with yellow lentils and pieces of elk meat that melted in my mouth

local cheeses and beers. For the first time in my life I ate (and loved!) kippered herrings. Everything was decorated with edible flowers and herbs, and served up with intense purees of once uninteresting and now fascinating root vegetables. Everything was presented as a work of art. This is food to die for….

First course of wild mushrooms sauteéd and served in spinach blini purses

Without further ado, here are some of the plates from our feasts. Every night we forgot to photograph at least one course. We were too busy enjoying our food!

Lamb marinated in juniper berries served with yellow beetroot cream, cranberries and barley
Fresh fish with beet root puree and kale (out of all the meals we ate, the kale was the one item that was not perfect)
Venison stew with roasted onion halves
Beef with sweet pepper-eggplant-onion millet squares, oyster mushrooms, water cress and johnny-jump-ups

A shout out to the amazing restaurants Von Krahi Aed and Rataskaevu 16 in Tallinn, as well as Peter Gailis and Melna Bite in Riga. Labu apetīti and jätku leiba! [3]

Hibiscus poached pear, pumpkin seeds in apple syrup, and raspberry sorbet

NOTES: [1] The Hanseatic League controlled all shipping and commerce across the Baltic Sea and northern Europe to Russia. Riga and Tallinn (then known as Reval) were member cities. [2] Go to my earlier post My Mother-in-Law’s Cookies for more on bread. [3] Latvian and Estonian for bon appetít. As always, I receive no favors for mentioning these establishments. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann 2017. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

The Animal Kingdom: A Cluster

One of the exotic foods I have (NOT!) eaten is a Cambodian treat of crispy fried big black hairy spiders. Sold at a roadside stop when the bus from Phnom Penh thoughtfully stopped for a bathroom break.

Crispy Fried Big Black Hairy Spiders .. who doesn't love 'em?
Crispy Fried Big Black Hairy Spiders .. who doesn’t love ’em?

Actually, this post belongs to my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals. Here I give you: a cluster of spiders. Realize that these are (were) each about the size of my closed fist, and you will understand why I lost my appetite.

The spider in the next photo was as large as the span of my whole hand….

Really, you don’t even wanna imagine a cluster of these guys in Northern Laos
How about a cluster of these spiders – also gigantic – from Japan?

I can’t imagine eating these spiders. Or the scorpions, or larvae, or bugs fried up at various markets we’ve visited…. But they are a source of protein. “Over 1,000 species of insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the world’s nations. The total number of ethnic groups recorded to practice entomophagy is around 3,000. …Today insect eating is rare in the developed world, but insects remain a popular food in many regions of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. …FAO has registered some 1900 edible insect species and estimates there were in 2005 some 2 billion insect consumers worldwide.” [1]

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. Fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com. Go to this Wikipedia page: /List of endangered spiders. [1] The practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy Wikipedia: Entomophagy

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books  and me.

The Animal Kingdom: 9

Yes. It’s time for another post on animals for your reading amusement: installment #9 from my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.

  1. The gulp gulped down fish.
  2. A puddle needs more water than just a puddle.
  3. Late season is packed with packs.
  4. A blessing blesses all my dreams.
  5. The kennel was so happy to be out of the kennel!
  6. The hover hovered just under the surface.
Kennel, Montréal Canada

Answers:

  1. Gulp of cormorants [1]
  2. Puddle of platypussi [2]
  3. Late season of grouse (in late season) [3]
  4. Blessing of unicorns
  5. Kennel of dogs
  6. Hover of trout
Gulp

 NOTES: [1] At last, I can list some good news for a species: cormorants, once seriously threatened by DDT, rebounded after the chemical was outlawed and are now being culled. https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/ [2] Platypussi are listed as “common but  vulnerable”. Steve’s Endangered Species Project Site [3] The greater sage grouse is perhaps Canada’s most endangered species. https://albertawilderness.ca © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.  Fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Animal Kingdom: 8

Here for your reading amusement is installment #8 from my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.

  1. The roll rolled up tight.
  2. The flight took flight.
  3. You don’t want this wake at a wake.
  4. We spotted three stands standing on the beach.
  5. The parliament looked parliamentary and regal indeed.
  6. The risk risks being turned into dinner.
Parliament, Madeira

Answers:

  1. Roll of armadillos [1]
  2. Flight of butterflies [2]
  3. Wake of buzzards
  4. Stand of plovers (on land)
  5. Parliament of owls
  6. Risk of lobster [3]
Flight, back trails Cranberry Lake, Adirondacks USA

NOTES: [1] Giant armadillos are listed as endangered and may go extinct. The nine banded armadillo is the only species that is recorded as increasing. animalquestions.org [2] “Bumblebees, beetles and butterflies are at greater risk of extinction than lions and tigers, according to a global study by the Zoological Society of London.” www.telegraph.co.uk [3] On September 28, 2016, Food&Wine Magazine wrote that Maine lobster are in trouble thanks to global warming. www.foodandwine.com © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.  Fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.