Good times

It's another four-day week-end in Potsdam.  Times have been good.  See the new link to photos, read the story here, later, after I write it here, later.


My Philosophy of Photography

You may have thought I was kidding.  Who would have guessed that I had a philosophy of photography?  In fact, what is a person like me, completely lacking in artistic sensibility, even doing with a philosophy of photography?

The first time I was in Germany, my pictures were terrible.  Really awful.  I had four disposable cameras, and I may have taken 10 decent photographs.  The problem, you see, was that I lacked any sort of philosophy of photography, and thus did not recognise the shots that would have been worth capturing.  Before I left for Germany this time round, I developed this loose set of criteria for what might make a slightly interesting photograph:

1. Juxtaposition.  This can be juxtaposition of oneself and a landmark, or juxtaposition of two interesting items.  For instance, picture of a church steeple: not terribly interesting.  You can find better pictures taken with better cameras by better photographers inside the internet at any time of the day or night, without even having to visit the location.  Picture of a church steeple with a S-Bahn train in motion, and a police van underneath: conceivably interesting, although this particular photograph didn't really turn out to be anything very great.  I use it as an example only because I was thinking while taking it "Ah, juxtaposition!"  The better example is here, with personal and thingal juxtaposition, although for some reason I look like I've been photoshopped in.  Also I didn't take this one.

2. Ephemerality.  Anything that won't be there in a week, or in a month, is a reasonable subject for a photograph.  This is why I end up taking so many pictures of flowers.  Once the flowers are gone, I will never again have a chance to take pictures of the flowers.  The first time I took this picture, five years ago, there was a scaffolding, and a giant advertisement for "Your personal bank."  The first one was a better picture.  This one is boring, I just took it to contrast with the other one, which is in a drawer at my house.  

3. An interesting angle.  If you do not have the limitation of film, you may as well try to take pictures of things from interesting angles.  It pretty much never works for me, but it can justify taking pictures of non-juxtaposed non-ephemeralities.

4. Things that are intrinsically interesting, but non-tourist.  I hate being a tourist.  This category includes any and all Engrish, and any photo that can illuminate some aspect of the local culture, such as an alcoholic laundromat.

Obviously, I don't follow my own guidelines with any sort of regularity.  It's just nice to know that the guidelines are there, I think.


Flowers, Photographs

In the last few days, the wild poppies have been out in full force in the fields around my home.  I have been taking morning walks to attempt to get my internal clock to recognise when morning is, so I have seen a lot of these poppies, and also a goodly number of cornflowers.  It's quite wonderful.  What isn't wonderful is the extent to which I am allergic to the out-of-doors.  Yesterday, after my morning walk, my eye itched a little, so I rubbed it a little, and it swelled almost shut.    I didn't get a picture of this, but imagine something about half-way between Dustin and Scary Monster.  This morning, my eye is not all the way better.  I still look like I got punched maybe last week.  I am going to get some anti-histamines at the earliest opportunity.

Anyway, though, I took a grillion pictures of flowers (the yellow ones are from an earlier time).  You can see them here.

All these pictures of flowers might lead one to pose the question: why all these pictures of flowers?  This will be covered in my next post: My Philosophy of Photography.  No joke.


La Tienda Mexicana

I found the Mexican store yesterday, and, as always, forgot my camera.  Here are the things that one can buy at the Mexican store, and nowhere else: tortillas, tortilla chips that are not barbecue flavoured, shredded cheese, cheese that is orange, Oreos (Las galletas preferidas de leche).  I bought all of these things, and my wallet has still not recovered.  A bag of home-made tortilla chips, for instance, costs 3,80€, which is about $5.  That particular foodstuff will not be coming to the Burritoabend that I am planning, but will instead be for my own private consumption.  The deliciousness of tortilla chips is not something that I can expect Germans to appreciate.  Maybe I will pick up a bag of doritos...

But anyway, I am much closer to Burritoabend than I was two days ago.  And I have five linguists who have promised to attend if their schedules permit.

Now I have to find some cilantro; the internet's advice is "grow it," which isn't really so much an option, but apparently it can also be found in Asian stores.  Another option, I guess, is that old German mainstay: "no cilantro."  



To-night there was a Grillabend in Golm, hosted by the ERASMUS programme.  A friend took pictures, which she promised to send to me.  I have so far never had any luck in getting people to send pictures to me, but perhaps this time things will be different.  Come to think of it, I'm going to send some pleading/threatening e-mails to people who owe me pictures...done.

Although the Grillabend was hosted by ERASMUS, it was also in some way associated with the linguistics programme.  So not only was my pan-European crowd there, but so was everyone I know from my classes.  This sounds pretty great, but they staked out positions at opposite corners of the courtyard, and seating was entirely insufficient for the purpose of bringing them together.  So I spent some amount of time with one group, and the rest with the other, which I thought was a pretty excellent solution.  Thommy, who is a pretty cool guy, was good enough to come by and hang with the linguists for a while, but by the time the rest of the ERASMUS people followed, almost all of the linguistics crowd had gone to catch a train.  Actually, I'm not sure what benefit I would get from these two groups of people interacting (not that it would be harmful), so I'm pretty okay with how everything turned out.

Entertainment for the Grillabend was provided by a Big Band from Sweden, playing America's greatest hits of 1930-1975.  It was pretty hilarious, American in the same way that Lederhosen and accordion music are German.  It made me realise what a bizarre thing it is to hear music and understand the lyrics; most Europeans go through life hearing English-language music and being completely oblivious to its meaning.

There will be some new photos up in approximately five minutes.



Reading period at Harvard is a time to complete final papers and projects.  I know it better as the time to procrastinate to the detriment of my grades, health, mood, and general well-being, and my predicament is not uncommon.  Since most of my friends just got out of reading period, I have been doing a lot of thinking about procrastination.  So I found this article.  I went through and highlighted the stuff I thought was important or ridiculously self-evident (helpfully, both in the same colour).  If you have 5 minutes to kill, you might consider looking at what I've highlighted.

To answer the inevitable question: no, I did not do this while procrastinating.  I have no urgent deadline to meet right now, and this research is something I've been meaning to get to for a long time.


More things that Germans don't have

-The concept of a cult.  I tried to explain the notion of a cult to this German by talking about Jim Jones and then about the Branch Davidians, but he could think of no translation.

-Delicious peanut butter.  I tried the peanut butter that I bought, and it is certified non-delicious.  Anner, what is the Dutch brand that is delicious?  I'll be going to Nederland eventually, and I will be wanting to buy some of that.

-Delicious coffee.  Just kidding, coffee is always delicious.  I had some this morning.  Mannnnn.

-Cheap clothes-drying options.  My clothes are drying all over my room right now, and I don't have any non-damp socks.  The dryer costs as much as the washer, which is 1,50€, and the equivalent of $4 is more than I want to spend to wash and dry a small load of laundry.

-Sensible phone design.  My phone, being a non-flip phone, has a key combination that locks it, so that the buttons that get pressed in my pocket do not call anyone.  If I leave the phone locked overnight, and I get a text message while I am asleep, a funny thing happens.  My alarm becomes un-turn-off-able.  My alarm has the really neat feature of getting louder the longer it plays.  What this means is that this morning I had to listen to almost the entire Friends theme at about 140 decibels.  Pretty sweet.  Thanks for the 8 am text message, Thomas.

To-day I got the baking soda that I ordered from the on-line pharmacy!  So this week-end, cookies.



There is a website called StickK.com, founded by a Yale economics professor and some others, that uses my aversion to losing money to help me improve my life.  Here's how it works: I make some sort of a pledge, and I attach some monetary value to that pledge.  If I fail to achieve my pledge, I pay this money.  Pledges can be one-time deals, or weekly commitments.  I choose the recipient of the cash; it doesn't go to the website.  Right now, I have three pledges going.

First pledge: to write something 6 days a week, for 6 weeks.  I have attached $30 a week to this pledge, with the money going to the George W. Bush Presidential Library.  This pledge is going very well.

Second pledge: to wake up every morning when my alarm tells me to.  I have attached $15 a week to this pledge for 4 weeks, with the money going to "charity," i. e. the Salvation Army, Red Cross, or whatever.  I have already failed the pledge for this week, but I have high hopes for next week.

Third pledge: I am not listening to any music on my compuker or iPod for a week.  It is too distracting.  I attached $20 to this pledge, to go to charity.  So far, so good, although I am really missing music.  I got an ambient noise programme, but it really is not the same at all.

In conclusion: if you feel you cannot control your own life very well, you should consider StickK.


How can anyone live in this country?

They don't have chocolate chips; the things called "choclait chips" are made to be sort of like potato chips, only sweet and chocolatey.  They have two brands of peanut butter, the cheaper of which is twice as expensive as Teddie.  They don't have pecans.  Period.  They don't have navy beans.   They don't have vanilla in any of the places that a rational human being would look for vanilla in.  Baking soda is basically unheard of, and those who have discovered it hail it on the internet as a miracle ingredient.  If you can't guess, I was thinking about baking some cookies.  And a making soup.  Bad day at the supermarket.

Also the light in my room has burnt out, and I don't have another.  Therefore, as soon as it gets dark, the only thing I can still see to do is waste time on my compuker.



People are always asking me for some stereotypes that Americans have of Germans, or of Europeans in general.  Then, if I come up with one, they like to laugh at how stupid it is.  Unfortunately, I am not very good at coming up with stereotypes.  Is anyone better at it?  Please everyone tell me what sorts of stereotypes you believe are widely (or narrowly?) held about Germans or Europeans.

When I mentioned that Americans believe that Germans are averse to shaving, it was revealed to me that it is considered perfectly acceptable for German men to shave their armpits.  So that stereotype, for instance, is wildly off the mark.  Wildly.  The stereotype that states that Germans love bureaucracy, however, is still valid.