I’m over the moon that New English American Theater festival is presenting two of my plays. This is a brand-new form for me as a writer and I had a blast trying my hand at comic drama. If you find yourself in the Stuttgart area for any reason, come on out to the show! David Burmedi, Director of the One Page Play Festival, explains how the festival came to life.
Click to see more. If you make it the show, don’t forget to cast your votes! Signing off from somewhere over Cloud 9,
This week’s post is about one of the more remarkable roads I’ve ever strolled. The street is in Xi’an, home of one of the world’s best preserved, still-intact, walled cities. We’re big fans of places listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Xi’an is on Chinese and international lists as a cultural treasure.
It’s an old capital city located at the end of the Silk Road. The rampart walls were built in the 14th century by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang as part of his military defenses and enclose 8.7 square miles, or roughly 14 square kilometers. 
The walls were made first with tamped earth (and, according to Travel China Guide, ‘with the base layer including also lime and glutinous rice extract’).  A century later they were reinforced with blue bricks. The original walls used to include a moat and drawbridges. These walls are so thick that in WWII, Xi’an’s residents built a thousand bunkers inside the base to protect them from the bombs of Japanese air raids!
They are a breathtaking 12 meters or 39 feet high. It takes four hours to walk them. Actually, it takes longer than that if you’re Uwe and Jadi, because you never know what’s down the road. On our visit (foolishly booked during China’s Golden Week when all 1.3 billion Chinese citizens were also on vacation) we discovered a festival performance taking place inside one of the courtyards.
We heard it before we saw it. Drums, lots of drums…
And men in costume. Enter, Stage Left.
Or was that Enter, Stage Right?
What tickles me most about the walls is that once you’re on them, you could be on a wide boulevard anywhere in the world. Except that this is China, and this isn’t a boulevard…. It’s a wide street located on top of Xi’an’s city walls. Travel doesn’t get any better than this.
Every time Uwe and I went on a long trip, my mother-in-law’s last words were always, “The main thing is, you come back healthy!” She also said those words any time Uwe and I went on a short trip. Actually, she said this anytime either of us went anywhere.
“Cripes Uwe,” I would complain, “why the hell can’t she just tell us to have a good time?”
And then I got older and we did an extended trip and I did not come back healthy. I developed a herniated disk when we returned home.
Take it from me… Mothers are always, always right.
I should be on the other side of the world right now, meeting up with my sisters and their husbands to help celebrate a birthday. But I had a sinus infection since New Year’s Eve, and the space between my ears felt like it was stuffed with wet cotton. For weeks, I weighed the three plane flights needed for a trip of twenty hours against the likely reality of popped eardrums.
And suddenly, through the dampers in my eustachian tubes, I heard Mama Hartmann’s voice speaking that cautionary phrase with a new twist: “The main thing is, you leave healthy.”
I listened to my mother-in-law. I cancelled the flights at the last minute, and made a third appointment with a second ENT doc, an ear nose throat specialist. (Otolaryngologist. My new word for the day. Yippee for me.)
In You’ll Be Sorry! I gave you Schifferstadt’s Walk of Shame for medieval and Renaissance miscreants. And shame on you for enjoying my Tale of Schadenfreude.
Today I give you the city of Speyer…. Speyer is a mere 5 miles /8 kilometers from Schifferstadt. Coincidentally (?) both cities are known for their Walks of Shame.
Speyer was the heart of the Holy Roman Empire. Five German kings and eight Holy Roman Emperors are buried here, and the Speyer Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The city is beautiful. Speyer is on the River Rhine, and cool beer gardens and restaurants decorate the shore. The streets are filled with bicycles of students from the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer. From 1084 to 1349 an important Jewish community flourished in the region. You can still visit the medieval mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath house, first mentioned in 1126. 
Speyer’s main street is lined with gorgeous old buildings like the Unicorn Apothecary from 1703.
As you leave the Speyer Cathedral, you walk past a huge basin known as the Cathedral Bowl. In a custom that began in the Middle Ages, the bowl is filled with wine on special religious occasions! Everyone gets to partake, citizens and visitors alike. [2, 3]
One last fact matters most to this post. According to the website Speyer.de, “[s]ince its construction in the 14th century, it played a significant role in the execution of a prison sentence: whoever had broken a state law and fled to the cathedral bowl was protected from prosecution.” Reread this sentence, because it takes on ominous importance with the next factoid….
At the other end of the main street stands the Altpoertal, the Old City Gate. Building began in 1230 and the Old City Gate marked the terminus of a road pompously called Via Triumphalis, extending from the Cathedral to the city walls. The Holy Roman Emperor and his retinue paraded from the Gate to the Cathedral on major religious days. However, the Altpoertal tower also served as the town prison, and the road in the opposite direction, leading from Cathedral to prison, was the scene of Walks of Shame.
Some guilty women were forced to parade down the street naked, with a stone tied around the neck. Males were allowed to keep their clothes on. If he had enough money, a man could pay a hefty sum and avoid the Walk of Shame.  Reaching the gate to begin a prison sentence might have been a relief. It would have been a looong walk from the Cathedral to the Altpoertal.
The top of the Altpoertal tower provides a great view of the route taken by the humiliated. But I want to know more about that Cathedral Bowl and how it provided sanctuary!
NOTES:  While Crusaders busily slaughtered Jews in the Rhineland, a Speyer law stated that anyone who harmed a Jew would have his hands cut off. Wikipedia/Speyer But then the Black Death struck Speyer in 1349 and Jews were blamed for the plague, proving that stupidity has a long history.  The bowl was filled in 2011 for the Cathedral’s 950th dedication anniversary. It holds more than 1500 liters of wine!  The Church knows how to throw a party  Sexism and the ogling of female bodies, along with wealthy men buying their way out of trouble have long histories too. Go to these sites for more on Speyer: Speyer Tourism; Speyer.de
The rest of us will be enjoying Schadenfreude, the fine art of taking pleasure in someone else’s humiliation.
Anyone who follows Game of Thrones (if you haven’t heard of it, you live in a cave somewhere) knows about the infamous Walk of Shame. Cersei was forced to parade naked through the streets while the locals –always happy to take part in a public spectacle – threw hard objects and body fluids at her.  We watched in horrified fascination!
I thought that was a great scene and a nicely creative bit of Schadenfreude script writing. It seemed like a new version of the old tradition of locking up criminals in stocks for public shaming. Until, in the space of 24 hours, I visited not one but two places where the Walk of Shame really did occur as official ‘justice’…
In the Pfalz region of Germany, history is writ large for the little town of Schifferstadt. Let’s start with the Bronze Age. In 1835, the amazing 3,400-year-old Golden Hat of Schifferstadt was found by a farmer named Josef Eckrich. 
This Golden Hat is the oldest Bronze Age magical headdress ever found and was worn around 1400-1300 BC. Only four Golden Hats are known to exist, and this one was deliberately buried.
Schifferstadt’s local church St. Jacobus is over a thousand years old, dating back to 1101. It’s an imposing Romanesque sandstone edifice with a lovely wooden ceiling.
It contains an unusual crucifix, displaying three figures rather than only Christ, and includes a woman in the depiction.
Schifferstadt’s Town Hall is sweet, charming and historic. It was built in 1558 and is one of the oldest and most beautiful Rathäuser in the Rheinpfalz region.
But don’t let the beauty fool you. The Town Hall could be the site of gruesome cruelty. It served as the court of justice and trials took place upstairs. Conveniently, the building also contained a prison; a pillory and working dungeon were utilized under the stairs.
Outside, the corner of this charming building was put to use for punishments of a more public nature. Once found guilty of a crime, you were paraded in disgrace through the streets. When you arrived at the Rathaus, you perched on the stone pediment/platform (ingeniously constructed right on the building) to endure the jeers and abuse of your fellow townspeople.
In my next post I’ll tell you about another glorious spot known for its Walk of Shame. God, I love history….
NOTES:  Body fluids. Yuck.  Josef Eckrich sold the Golden Hat for 570 Gulden. 120 of these Gulden were paid in a reward from König Ludwig I, who wanted it for his Staatssammlung (collection). For more information on these astonishing magical hats go to Jaunting Jen, Ancient History Et Cetera, or Wikipedia: Golden Hat
November 11th, or 11/11, is an odd German holiday known as St. Martin’s Day (Martinstag). St. Martin of Tours (316 – 297 CE) is a saint associated with modesty and altruism (aren’t they all?). Legend has it that St. Martin slashed his cloak in half to save a homeless person from freezing. His holiday used to be followed by a fast that lasted a long, hungry period of weeks, stretching out to Christmas. 
But St. Martin’s Day is celebrated here in southern Germany by eating a special dish of duck or goose (Martinsgans), accompanied by red cabbage cooked with apple, and homemade dumplings known as knödel.
When it gets dark, nighttime glows with candles from lantern processions (Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge). The streets fill with adults, accompanying children who carry hand-made lanterns. In our village the procession is led by an actor dressed up as the saint. In some areas the parade follows behind an actor dressed up as a Roman soldier on horseback. 
The tradition to eat a goose (today usually replaced by a duck) on St. Martin’s Day is believed to go back the medieval tax system. November 11th was one of the days when medieval vassals had to pay taxes, and peasants often paid with a goose.  Another popular story is that a gaggle of honking geese betrayed Martin’s hiding place: he hid in a goose pen from the people of Tours when they wanted to make him a bishop. 
All the local restaurants and beer gardens have duck and goose dishes on their menus. Reserve your table now! they cajole.
In all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never ordered or willingly ate duck. Bizarrely shiny, glistening, reddish shellacked duck carcasses hang on meat hooks in the front windows of Chinese restaurants throughout the city. And hang. And hang. And hang. Just the idea of the oldness and congealed fat covered with flies of this ‘special dish’ turned my stomach. Strongly flavored meat that’s been aging for probably as long as the restaurant’s been in business? Yuck! I’ll take a pass…
But I recall with glee the Peking duck Uwe and I ate in Beijing. The restaurant specialized in only Peking duck, along with all the pomp and circumstance such a dish demands.
Our Chinese friend Weiyu orders for us, but every single table wants the same meal. Waiters are formally dressed, complete with chefs’ toques, mouth masks and protective gloves. By the end of the evening they carve hundreds of plates of duck.
May November 11th bring you flights of fancy and a visit from the Bluebird of Happiness. By now the ducks and geese, indeed, all migrating birds have already left for warmer climates. Despite the record-breaking warm days here in Germany, winter is coming (yes, we hear you John Snow).
On our last trip to Laos we headed south to the quiet little city of Pakse in the Chapasak province. We wanted to see old ruins – and really spectacular waterfalls!
For the latter we booked a guide to reach the Bolaven Plateau. Hiking in to some of the waterfalls was a gloriously steep, wet walk.
Later, with the same guide (and boats) we were carried to 4,000 Islands (Si Phan Don). I was beyond amused to notice the signs on some of the guesthouses in 4,000 Islands, announcing that special, magical pancakes were available for breakfast…. My German husband missed the inference and asked why I was laughing. “Guests can get their pancakes laced with the noble herb,” I informed him.  Sure enough, plenty of tourists in the 4,000 Islands region spent all their time literally hanging out in hammocks. They were all way too relaxed – or something – to be ambitious. They were in no hurry to explore.
The Mekong River splits into branches at this end of Laos and tumbles over boulders and channels cut through rock.
When the French colonized Laos they came up with a bold (and ultimately quixotic) plan to build a railway through the region. They wanted to go around the waterfalls and create a faster, easier way to travel and ship goods either to the north, or to the southern Vietnam port of Saigon. The result is what a CNN article wryly refered to as “Laos’ first railway: 14 km of rust” .
The Mekong defeated the engineers, and 4,000 Islands is a beautiful sleepy area.
But the waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau. We hiked in to as many as our young guide was willing to take us to.