A Sunday Walk in Odenwald Forest

One thing that has taken some getting used to since moving to Germany is that everything shuts down on Sundays here.  All shops and malls, including grocery stores and little corner shops that sell essentials, close their doors for the day.  (I had a panicky moment the other week where I was terrified we would run out of toilet paper on Sunday and not be able to buy more– if nothing else, it’s a lesson in planning ahead!)  Literally everything but the occasional bakery or restaurant is closed, leaving the question: what do we do with ourselves?

Yesterday my husband and I decided to get outdoors for a bit.  One thing I really like about Germany is how easy it is to get some fresh air; there are walking and biking paths everywhere, through neighborhoods and random fields and alongside every major road.  Where we live is also surrounded by forests, so we did some Googling and headed out to Odenwald, found a random parking lot beside a twisty mountain road, and set off.

(This is where I feel like I have to mention that “wald” means forest in German, so saying Odenwald Forest is a bit redundant, like saying PIN number.  But, sometimes clarification is nice.)

The parking lot had five different trails branching off from it.  We didn’t have a map– and there were none around that we could see– and four of the trails went pretty steeply downhill over wet rocks; at six months pregnant, I decided I’d rather go for the fifth path that was wide, flat, and gently sloped uphill.

The scenery was stunning.  When we first started walking, the weather was a bit wet and misty but the path was clear, with fog hanging out in the trees on each side, and the woods were quiet.  The trees were so dense and dark that we both wondered out loud if we were in the Black Forest.  We looked it up when we got home and we weren’t, but the Black Forest is very close by, and I can see where the name most likely comes from.

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Start of the hike

While walking, we passed many other people of all ages out doing the same thing, as well as many mountain bikers and– wait for it– mountain unicyclers.  Yes, you read that right.  We saw multiple people riding unicycles through the woods.  I can’t remember the last time I was that simultaneously amused and impressed, and all of my hobbies suddenly seem incredibly boring in comparison.

Also, we discovered that Germans are bit more interactive in the woods than in regular life.  The lack of eye contact/interaction with strangers is something that both of us are adjusting to, but towards the beginning of the hike, we passed a group of twentysomething guys on mountain bikes waiting beside the path, and they smiled and said hello to us.  This kind of thing never happens normally– when I use the walking paths in my neighborhood, the people who pass each other literally pretend the other one doesn’t exist– so we thought, “Huh, maybe this is a thing when hiking.”  I know in the US that it’s customary to greet other hikers in the woods, so we decided to at least make eye contact and nod or smile for the rest of the hike, and there was about a 75% success rate of people nodding or saying hello back.  Not too bad!

As mentioned, we didn’t have a map on us and didn’t know where the path led, so we walked uphill for maybe a mile before turning back.  The higher in elevation we got, the denser the fog became until it eventually shrouded the path.

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Odenwald: a neighbor to the Black Forest.  You can see the condensation on the trees at this elevation.

At that elevation, dew was sticking to everything; even my husband’s mustache and beard suddenly had visible drops of condensation on them.  The occasional wind gusts that came through the treetops sounded like cars on a highway.  It truly felt like we were in another world.

We weren’t out for that long but it was a nice first foray into a local forest, and we will definitely go back.  In some ways, everything being closed on Sundays is nice because it forces you to take a breather and make some time for yourself, and hiking is a really nice way to do that.  It’s hard to beat the combination of fresh air and endorphins.

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All in all, a really great Sunday, and I’m looking forward to the next one, hopefully this time with a map.

 

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Turkey vs. Germany: Initial Impressions

An outsider’s perspective after 3.5 years in Istanbul and 1.5 weeks in southwestern Germany.

Interacting with cashiers

Turkey: Ah yes, here is an obviously foreign person, I shall talk to her with minimum expectations of her knowing Turkish.  Oh, she speaks some Turkish!  What a pleasant and unexpected surprise.  I will laugh gleefully in her face at how cute it is that she’s trying.

Germany: Here is a normal German person, I shall speak German to her… wait, what is she saying?  Is she trying to speak German?  Are the words coming out of her mouth a known human language? *narrows eyes* Is she foreign, or perhaps just very, very stupid?

Hard liquor in grocery stores

Turkey: There is one tiny shelf behind the cash register, please request what you want and then provide your life savings, dignity, and firstborn child’s soul as tender.

Germany: Feel free to peruse our aisles of booze at your leisure, or if you are pressed for time, grab one of the many travel-sized bottles located near the cash register for your convenience, that will be €1.79, enjoy 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Weather

Turkey: 45°F (7°C) and rainy

Germany: 45°F (7°C) and rainy

Passing strangers in the aisles of stores

Turkey: You in my space, BITCH?  YOU WANT SOME OF THIS? *takes off gloves, throws them on the ground, prepares for sparring and body checks*

Germany: No eye contact, ever

Saying goodbye

Turkey: Many Turkish phrases repeated several times, multitudes of cheek kissing and waving at the door

Germany: Awkward eye contact

Green spaces

Turkey: Oh, you want to keep your forests undeveloped?  Bwahahahahahaha!  You’re HILARIOUS.

Germany: YOU get a forest! And YOU get a forest!  EVERYBODY gets a forest!!!!

Windows in apartments

Turkey: Silky, draping, sumptuous curtains; fantastic for adding ambiance and elegance to your home

Germany: Very functional, industrial-style electronic blackout shades; fantastic for pretending you live in a cave

Language

Turkey: Tuna Can and Ufuk are TOTALLY legit and normal names; also, let’s make the words for “bread” and “man” almost identical so foreigners can embarrass themselves by asking for fresh, hot men at the bakery

Germany: Let’s just go ahead and put the word “fahrt” on all our traffic and pedestrian signs

 

 

 

 

 

I Love Reading About Failure

One of my favorite books is In Other Words/In Altre Parole by Jhumpa Lahiri, a dual-language book about her journey– and often, struggle– to learn Italian.  There are many reasons why I love this book.  Part of it is Lahiri’s always-beautiful writing, and part of it is that I love Italy and the Italian language, and being able to read it in Italian (with the English translation right beside it, in case I ran into words I didn’t know) was a fun throwback to my university days.

But probably the main reason I like it is because the book describes, in detail, just how difficult the process of learning a new language was for her.  It took her about twenty years to get to a place where she was happy with her Italian skills, and in those twenty years, she stumbled, was frustrated, was embarrassed, and felt pessimistic about her own abilities.  She doesn’t sugarcoat how difficult it was for her.

And I loved reading about it, because Lahiri is absolutely brilliant and incredibly talented.  She has so many advanced degrees that I’ve lost count and she won a Pulitzer for her very first book.

I love reading about successful people struggling, and sometimes failing, because it gives me hope– because I feel like I’m struggling and failing all the time.

I love reading about Hemingway living in Paris as a young man, a penniless writer who couldn’t even afford heat or food sometimes.

I love reading about Ta-Nehisi Coates being bad at learning French.  I love, especially, that he describes the “humiliations piling up like lumber.”

Recently I read this column by Roxane Gay, about when is too old to pursue your dreams, and she talks about how she struggled to become a writer throughout her twenties and thirties before selling two books to publishers at age 38– one of them the collection of essays Bad Feminist— which suddenly launched her career.

Same thing with Cheryl Strayed– she was in her mid-forties when she published Wild, the incredibly successful memoir of her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail that was turned into a movie directed by and starring Reese Witherspoon.

About a year ago, I read a nonfiction book, The Art of Waiting, written by a former colleague of mine.  The book is about infertility, but the part that stuck with me the most was when she describes how her first book was published.  She was 32– the same age I am now– and working at a teaching job she didn’t like, had been ghosted by her literary agent, and was just starting her struggle with infertility.  She had a short story collection manuscript and her husband sent it into a contest at a small publishing house for her, and it won.  I didn’t meet Belle until maybe four or five years later, at which point she already had a solid, respectable reputation as a writer, and for some reason I assumed that it had been easy and effortless for her.  I was in my mid-twenties at the time, fresh out of grad school, and I remember looking at her as someone whose career I admired and hoped I could achieve something similar one day.  (I still feel that way.)  Reading that it wasn’t so easy or automatic for her, that she had bumps along the way too, made me feel like perhaps it’s still attainable.

I attempt a lot of things that are ripe for failure.  Moving to Turkey and attempting to learn Turkish was a long haul of difficulties, humiliations, stumbling blocks, and self-doubt; it did eventually get easier, but even after three years, I am so far from fluent and still speak fairly sufficient but bad Turkish– the kind that usually does the trick but is riddled with errors and awkward phrasing.  (I take comfort in Lahiri’s twenty-year journey to learn Italian; in comparison, three years doesn’t seem like all that long.)

Now I’m in Germany and starting the process over again.  I’ve only been here for a handful of days and so far it’s just me and my Duolingo app, slowly repeating phrases like “The man has a spider” and “The woman drinks water” over and over.  (I am still waiting on the app to teach me something useful, like numbers or how to ask where something is in the grocery store.)  I feel absolutely ridiculous trying to mimic a German accent, and it feels so far off that I will ever be able to speak this language, yet I know that one day, just like with Italian and Turkish, this too will get easier.

I finished two book manuscripts in 2017.  One is a collection of short stories and the other is a novel.  The novel is currently out with a couple of agents who have expressed interest, and the collection is out at a couple of small publishing houses.  They’ve both already been rejected a few times, and it’s completely possible– probable, even– that the agents and publishers that currently have the manuscripts will reject them, too, at which point I will send them out again to other agents and publishing houses.  Although the response time for the small presses is around a year so it will be quite a while before I know one way or the other on the short stories.

I need to read about smart people struggling to learn foreign languages, because it makes me feel less alone when I struggle with it.

I need to hear tales about talented, successful writers who take years, or decades, to publish their first book, who face rejection after rejection.  I mean, yes, it’s common knowledge that writing (like any creative endeavor) involves a lot of rejection, but hearing specific experiences with it helps immensely, allows me the hope and fortitude to keep writing when part of me wonders if I’m crazy for even attempting this.

I need to hear stories about people who fail the first time, the first five times, the first ten times they try something, only to succeed the fifteenth time.  I need to hear stories about best-selling authors whose first books were rejected 80 times before finding a publisher.  (Perhaps my favorite story is when JK Rowling sent her first Robert Galbraith book out, without revealing who she was, and one publisher wrote back that Rowling should take a course to learn how to write.)

I need these stories, as a reminder that successful people are only human, and even as a mere human, perhaps there is still time for me to achieve my goals, too.

[Translation of cover photo: “Why do I write? To investigate the mystery of existence. To tolerate myself. To get closer to everything that is outside of me.

If I want to understand what moves me, what confuses me, what pains me–everything that makes me react, in short– I have to put it into words. Writing is my only way of absorbing and organizing life. Otherwise it would terrify me.” -Jhumpa Lahiri, In Other Words/In Altre Parole]