I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother recently here in Stuttgart. I arrived early and sat awhile in the silent cemetery chapel. First, I lit a slim yellow taper in the entrance to the church.
The family is Greek Orthodox. I’ve lit candles in lots of Orthodox churches throughout Greece, and once went to a church service in a tiny church in Thessaloniki that stands on a spot where the Apostle Paul preached.
I’d never been to an Orthodox funeral. Huge wreathes of white flowers bought by the families of her children were arrayed to the left of the altar. Candles in red glasses flickered around a framed photograph of Olga on a small stand; a cake in a white box and a bottle each of wine and olive oil were placed beside the photo.
The priest prayed and sang in Greek; he lifted the icon set on the casket and kissed it. Believers in the chapel crossed themselves at the right places in the text. Later, it was time to bury Olga.
A man played horn music, the priest chanted as the coffin was lowered into the ground. He opened the bottle of wine and poured it, in the shape of a cross, in the grave. Next (after wrapping his long black robes between his knees to keep them from getting soiled) he poured olive oil in the shape of the cross. He took the white box of cake that my friend had carried out of the church with her and, cutting it, spooned some of the cake into the grave as well.
We approached the grave one by one. When it was my turn, I tossed in a blooming flower and then a spade of dirt onto the casket.
The musician started playing Amazing Grace, which almost put me in tears. Some pieces of music transcend time, and continents, and cultures. In any language, for any generation, they bring solace and peace.
Then we went to a restaurant for the Makaria, the “Meal of Mercy” that follows an Orthodox funeral. This one was a German/Greek hybrid of coffee, Butterbrezel (large buttered pretzels), cakes and Greek pastries. My friend went around the long table and spooned out some of that traditional funeral cake onto each of our plates. “My mother used to make this dish herself,” she said. “Koliva. It’s traditional; every Greek family has a recipe. I didn’t have time to make it myself, so I bought one at a Greek bakery.”
I ate the Koliva, a mix of sesame seeds, almonds, oats, ground walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, and anise amongst other ingredients…
NOTE: I first published this post 5 years ago. I reprint it as a prayer for our world. —Jadi
The anniversary of 9/11 is just a few days away.
I was back in the States when the attack occurred. When I returned to Germany a few weeks later, I was in turmoil. I felt all the contradictions of my life. I’m a resident alien on another continent. I’ve been the target of instant hate when someone found out I’m American. This only has to happen once to convince you that prejudice is awful. What the hell was I doing so far away from my own country? What was going on in the world, and could anywhere feel safe? It seemed like everything was getting sucked into a swirling vortex. My identity as a US citizen, as a foreigner, as a human being, came crashing down.
A few months later my epidemiologist friend Elena came to Europe for a conference. I took an unplanned trip to Amsterdam with her. Maybe 2 days away would give me a break from how heavy life felt. Below is the account from those 2 days and how they affected me:
“I people-watch as we travel to Holland. On a German train near the border, the train car is full of local residents heading home. An African couple talk over their baby. Another young couple sit by me with their own child. The wife’s exquisite black scarf frames her face. Her husband reads from a small leather bound Koran. Both of them keep an eye on the baby carriage. The rest of the car is full with the usual students, professionals, commuters.
An old man goes into the WC. Later the door slides open without his realizing it. He stands helpless, then fumbles at the door. We all see the prosthetic leg strapped to his upper thigh. Everyone looks away. The door slides open again and he looks up, stricken. I rise and go to the door and close it. When the door inevitably opens again a few minutes later, the man with the Koran closes it for him.
A cell phone rings. The African man pulls out his phone and answers, then switches to English. I realize they’ve understood every word of the conversations Elena and I have been having about global health issues, world politics, and travel.
The woman in the headscarf looks at me steadily. When she finally catches my eye she holds me in a gaze of tenderness and our connectedness as human beings. We see one another for a few minutes, and then the train stops and they detrain.
The train reaches Amsterdam. I’ve been here before and always feel as if I’m coming home to an old friend. We walk along the canal streets, and brick building facades reflect in the Amstel as it flows under the bridges. The Egyptian bellhop at the hotel asks where we’re from. “I love this city! You meet people from all over the world,” he declares.
In 2 days Elena flies back to the US. Later that morning I stand waiting to catch the tram from our hotel. A dark-haired woman at the street bus stop carries a backpack. I offer her my tram pass; I won’t need it beyond the central train station. She thanks me, but says she’s heading home. She’s an Israeli airline stewardess, in Amsterdam for a few days’ holiday.
“I live in Tel Aviv, and I’m afraid to go out of my house,” she tells me. “Everyone is scared of more terrorist attacks there. The situation is out of control.” I listen to her and say, “The rest of the world says, ‘just make peace!’ If only it were so easy.”
Once I’m on board my train I read a Newsweek, then dive back into a novel. The quiet man next to me asks in English if this train stops at the Frankfurt airport. I offer him the magazine. We begin to talk: he is Iranian, in Germany for an international banking and finance conference. He lectures at the University of Cardiff. His wife is a dentist, he tells me. They live in Britain and go back to Iran, to their home in the northeast by the mountains at the Afghani border, each summer for vacation.
He lifts the suitcase at his feet and sets it on his lap. Opening it, he pulls out framed photographs of 2 smiling boys. “These are my children.” We discuss their names, their ages, their personalities. At the airport station he leaves for his flight, and I wish him a safe trip home.
The woman sitting across from us changes trains with me in Mannheim. We stand shivering in the evening air on the platform. She is a Dutch physical therapist, doing an apprenticeship in Munich. She asks what I think of Holland. We talk about the coffee shops. I mention the small scale that guides decision-making in her country. I give her my leftover Dutch coins and she buys the tram pass from me.
Late that night I finally arrive home. In the space of 48 hours I touched on what seemed to be the entire planet. And I didn’t learn the names of any of the people who talked to me.
Travel isn’t just seeing and exploring other countries and cultures or the threads that weave those peoples’ histories with the present. Travel is the journey we make every day into other people, other lives, other ways of being and thinking and feeling.
Travel is about the interconnectedness of us all. Each person with whom we interact leaves behind traces that can change the world. Travel is about holding onto hope.
A part of me remains in every place I’ve ever stood. My image was impressed in a snow angel I made up in the Arctic Circle, which vanished years ago. But who can say if some part of my spirit still wavers there like the Northern Lights? Or in my interactions with all those people on the trains between Stuttgart and Amsterdam? I don’t know…. but we should live as if every act matters, as if choosing to love and be open to the rest of the world and each other can transform us.”
It’s that time again: the World Cup. In honor of the season, I give you 3 posts that (along with a motley bunch of other stuff) mention Fußball, Pink Floyd, a hotel from hell, bar none the largest and greatest party I’ve ever been to, and one damned good pizza.
I’m honored to post this advertisement for The Vagina Monologues as presented by NEAT (New English American Theater) in Stuttgart. For two years I appeared on stage with real actresses and actors, women and men engaged and passionate about ending violence against women and children. This year I’m Stage Manager in order to remain involved in any way I can to support this important cause.
Wherever you are in our world, please support and pass the word about V-Day activities! —Jadi
NEAT is proud to be presenting Eve Ensler’s iconic The Vagina Monologues. All proceeds benefit local women’s crisis centers in the Stuttgart area. Please see descriptions of our beneficiaries on their Facebook page!
Funny, moving, and most of all, thought-provoking, The Vagina Monologues is a play that has been breaking down walls for the last 25 years. The monologues are a wonderful mix of well written human experiences and local stories of survival in today’s world. This year’s theme, resistance, is punctuated in the daily headlines we read.
Please see our two other performance dates- on February 15 at Theater am Olgaeck, and February 25 at Kulturwerk Ost-all in Stuttgart!
It’s time again for the Weihnachtsmärkte. Stuttgart’s Christmas Market runs from 29 November to 23 December. Uwe and I always go to drink a glühwein with friends. You should, too!
The Christmas Market began as a short winter market.  Europe has held seasonal markets for centuries. Vienna, Austria’s Dezembermarkt dates all the way back to 1294/1296. But a Weihnachtsmarkt is special, and signals the beginning of the Advent season leading up to Christmas. This tradition is found in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Alsace region of France. 
Medieval guilds tightly controlled who could produce or sell wares, so each city market was unique and had a distinct, regional flavor. This remains true today. At a German Christmas Market, you’ll find these items for sale at open-air booths:
Tin, blown glass, wooden, and straw ornaments
Round wooden presses or molds for cookies known as Springele
Gebrannte Mandeln (candied toasted almonds)
Magenbrot and Lebkuchen gingerbread (Lebkuchen is often sold in beautiful and reusable decorative tins)
Clothes, including hand knit hats and gloves and scarves
Hot sausages and
Glühwein: a magical drink of mulled wine served from huge brass vats, with a shot of liquor added if you want to get extra-warm 
Our city of Stuttgart’s Weihnachtsmarkt is famous for its decorated booth roofs.
The market attracts more than 3,000,000 visitors each year! Tour busses pull up and unload shoppers from all over Europe. The Weihnachtsmarkt takes over several piazzas downtown; the 3x weekly Wochenmarkt for fresh produce and flowers moves to the Königstraße, the main pedestrian street.
I try to go a couple times each year. I head for the weekly market for fruits and vegetables and then meet a friend for a Bratwurst and a Glühwein. Or I arrange to meet Uwe after work.
We wend our way through rows of booths, enjoying hearing so many different languages along with the local Schwäbisch dialect.
NOTES on NOTES:  ….and nothing is better than a starry winter night, a hot mug of Glühwein, snow gently falling as you stand with your sweetie, the sounds of talk and laughter of other Weihnachtsmarkt visitors all around you as carolers sing in the courtyard of the 16th century castle across the plaza. Prosit, und Fröhe Weihnachten!
The sun occasionally shines. But the air has a nip today, the wind gusts, and clouds traverse watery blue skies. (In my head the entire cast of A Game of Thrones mutters, “Winter is coming ….”)
Summer’s about to end. I still hear crickets at night outside our windows, but how much longer? When their voices (legs?) go silent, it’s the final signal that autumn is taking over.
Autumn is a beautiful time of year. We went to the Stuttgarter Weindorf last weekend, the annual Wine Village. My meal included sauerkraut (a food I’ve come to love only since living in Germany) and homemade spätzle, the egg noodles that are a specialty of Baden-Württemberg. For dessert I ordered a plum tart, Zwetschgenkuchen. Uwe agreed with me: the Weindorf version tasted like Mama’s. My mother-in-law baked it often, with plums from the fruit trees in their yard. And there it was, a sense of nostalgia.
I’m listening to Radio Paradise as I write this post. They play Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, from his 1974 album Late for the Sky. Lyrics and melody from long ago weave into this afternoon.
One of my last acts before returning to Germany from the USA two weeks ago was to harvest coins from the money plants in a friend’s garden. I love this description of money plants: “Also known as Honesty, of the genus Lunaria, silver dollar plants are named for their fruit, with pods dry to flat silverish discs about the size of — you guessed it! — silver dollars. They hail from Europe and were one of the first flowers grown in the dooryard gardens of the New World for their pods and edible roots.”  I’m harvesting fruit from American plants that were originally European flowers. I myself am a strange kind of transplant, with roots in both places now.
The coins of the flowers are tissue-thin, each containing several dark seeds. I’ll plant them in pots for my balcony, come springtime. What will grow? Will their seeds take root? But I like the uncertainty. These are the seeds of summer, and even as summer dies (don’t forget: “Winter is coming!…”) in them is a chance to grow something new. Numerous chances, actually.
As we enjoy summer’s bounty, reaping what was sown, it’s comforting to know they’ll carry over into seasons to come.