Berlin

Sometime this last spring, my friend R. messaged me that she was going to be in Germany this summer. I know R. from Dortmund–she was one of our exchange lecturers one year, and we bonded over study sessions at Starbucks. After we both left Dortmund, we’ve stayed in touch, but I hadn’t seen her since July 2013. So we planned a reunion in Berlin, and I hopped on a train last Friday, only to get off seven hours later, ready to explore. On Tuesday I took the train back. These were our adventures:

The New Jewish Synagogue down the street from our hostel. (The hostel boasted a resident DJ, something we did not know about until the music wouldn’t stop on Friday night. Fun times.)

The famous TV tower near Alexanderplatz

Viewing the Brandenburger Tor from the back side, since barriers blocked the way from the other side. After this, we had a picnic lunch in the Tiergarten and people watched for a while. (Berlin has a lot of interesting people.)

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The blocks seem to invite a certain amount of jumping and running around, despite the purpose of the memorial, so a couple security guards walk around and tell people (mostly kids) not to.

We also saw the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism in the Tiergarten. A third memorial (To the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime) also exists. They’re all maintained by one foundation. If you click on the link, you can see how big the Jewish memorial is–an aerial view really brings it home.

   

A double row of cobblestones runs through the city, marking the location of the wall.

A double row of cobblestones runs through the city, marking the location of the wall.

Checkpoint Charlie, where tourism overtakes history. For a fee, you could have your picture taken with the soldier-reenactors. In light of what Checkpoint Charlie represents, this really felt weird to me. But I suppose it goes along with the McDonald’s and souvenir shops that make up the rest of the area…

The Jewish Museum. I wrote my MA thesis on Jewish masculinity, R. is doing her dissertation on Holocaust narratives, so this was definitely on the list of things we wanted to do.

The Jewish Museum. I wrote my MA thesis on Jewish masculinity, R. is doing her dissertation on Holocaust narratives, so this was definitely on the list of things we wanted to do.

As the museum website says, ” The modern architectural elements of the Libeskind building comprise the zinc façade, the Garden of Exile, the three Axes of the German-Jewish experience, and the Voids. Together these pieces form a visual and spatial language rich with history and symbolism. They not only house the museum with its exhibits, but they also provide visitors with their own unique experience as they walk through the spaces.” This is the axis of the Holocaust, leading to the stark and empty Holocaust Tower. (There are objects on display on the opposite wall.)

The Garden of Exile. This was very nicely done: sheltered in the summer by the olive trees, the floor slopes weirdly, kind of representing the exile experience in that immigration and especially expulsion/exile are very disorienting experiences and tend to keep you off-balance: “The whole garden is on a 12° gradient and disorients visitors, giving them a sense of the total instability and lack of orientation experienced by those driven out of Germany. Russian willow oak grows on top of the pillars symbolizing hope.”

R. had reserved a tour of the Reichstag (parliament) for us, but when we got there, the college kid in charge kept telling us, “You’re not on the list,” in a very polite yet very German way. Turns out he was both right and wrong: we were on the list, but for an hour later. So we went and got something to drink, and then an hour later, we took our (audio)tour up to the dome and enjoyed the view.

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The Topography of Terror. This was a very dense and information rich, but well-curated exhibit on the former grounds of the SS and Gestapo. We got there just in time: by the time we had worked our way through the exhibits, it became super busy. We then met a friend of R. for lunch (Japanese! Was delicious and cheap, two very good attributes) and wandered over to the Berlin Galerie. It was very modern, and I was a bit museum-ed out afterwards, but coffee and a seat out of the sun soon put that to rights.

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One of the many sites that commemorate the Holocaust. This was at the Old Jewish Cemetery. Moses Mendelssohn had been buried there. The grounds were used as a holding place for Jews prior to deportation, the cemetery itself disturbed and destroyed (the grounds turned into air raid shelters and later mass graves for civilians and soldiers). We happened upon it by accident, and it really underscores the oddity of visiting Berlin, where mass graves and restaurants co-exist.

And of course, food: from the courtyard where we had dinner one night, to a vegan scone for breakfast, to a hummus restaurant (Hummus and Friends, with the tagline: make hummus, not walls), to schnitzel, and potato salad, and the aforementioned Japanese restaurant. We ate well.

Not pictured: the book store (where we spent an hour on Saturday morning and I really had to restrain myself), the German Historical Museum (really an excellent museum. It might have been my favorite), and a good amount of coffee!

what I read in June

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1. The Martian, by Andy Weir. I picked this one up for a dollar at the library book store, and it was a fun read. Basic plot: astronaut team on Mars is forced to evacuate, leaving one of their crew members behind (he was separated from the group and presumed dead). But against all odds, Mark Watney wakes up and has to survive on Mars. The book is split between his perspective, and that of the people on earth trying to save him.

I can’t really speak to the science included in the book (fake science is about as plausible as real science to me), but I really enjoyed the way this book was set up, part scientific log, part diary, and the way the book moved between perspectives of the astronauts, NASA, etc. I look forward to seeing the movie.

2. The Psycopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson. Ronson explores the “madness industry” and the many ways we talk about and treat mental illness (specifically psychopathy), from insane asylums to Wall Street. This is actually the second time I’ve read this (it was a book club pick) and it’s low key and fairly delightful. Plus, Ronson is so anxious and neurotic he makes me feel normal, an added perk.

3. The Master Magician and 4. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. I wrote about these last time too. I have a hard time really recommending them, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. It’s just that I picked them up thinking they were fantasy, and each story shifted more and more away from fantasy towards romance. But, you know, I did read all three, so clearly Holmberg did something right there.  See my full review here (linked because of massive spoilers).

5. The Maharani’s Pearls, by Charles Todd. This was a short story/novella for fans of the Bess Crawford literary cozy mystery series, set in Bess’ childhood home of India. Good for fans and those who might want to be one, but nothing very new.

The rest of the month was Brandon Sanderson themed, with

6. The Alloy of Law. This book is set in Elendel and picks up twenty years after the Mistborn trilogy ends, but involves different characters and I’m pretty sure could be a stand-alone novel. It involves a former rough-and-tumble lawmaker (now reformed and respectable(ish) lord) who has to draw on his old skills when a new threat hits the city. Good stuff.

7. Steelheart, 8. Mitosis and 9. Firefight. I couldn’t put these down. This series deals with a world in which somehow, humans receive superhuman powers, but instead of turning into a justice-seeking Superman, Spider Man, or Wonder Woman, the Epics become tyrants and rule over their respective cities with an iron fist. It’s an adventure series that in the best Brandon Sanderson style takes on questions of morality and responsibility as well, and I loved every minute of it.

book list May 2015

Screenshot 2015-06-11 10.22.05Now that June is almost over, let me get to May.

1. The Bishop’s Wife, by Mette Ivie Harrison. Linda lives in Utah County, is married to the bishop (lay leader) of her local Mormon congregation, and through him becomes privy to a disturbing situation in the ward that might even include a murder. Goodreads describes it as a “both a fascinating look at the lives of modern Mormons as well as a grim and cunningly twisted mystery.” It was an enjoyable read, though more psychological thriller than true mystery, I think. I’m planning to read the second installment when it comes out, but I do think you need major familiarity with Mormonism in order to get the most out of the book. In some ways, though, it’s just nice to read something that’s based on a true crime story, involves Mormons, yet doesn’t rely on 19th century tropes. You’d be surprised at how rare that is.

2. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, by Denise Kiernan. This book deals with the women who worked at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a ‘secret city’ associated with the Manhatten Project. None of these women knew what they were working on, only that it was vital to the war effort, and Kiernan describes both the camaraderie that developed in this put-up town and the secrets that enveloped every worker there. Kiernan describes them as heroes, and perhaps in deference to her subjects’ feelings, doesn’t spend much time on the complicated legacy of the Manhatten Project. But all in all it’s not a bad book, even if the first half is much stronger than the second.

3. Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers, by Alexander McCall Smith. Another delightful installment in McCall Smith’s serial 44 Scotland Street series–and this time, Bertie gets some freedom from his overbearing, helicopter, tiger mom.

4. Mr. Churchill’s Secretary,
5. Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, and
6. His Majesty’s Hope, by Susan Elia MacNeal. This is the Maggie Hope series, featuring a brilliant British-American mathematician that is enlisted to spy for the British during WWII. I don’t think they’re quite up to par with the Bess Crawford or Maisie Dobbs series (both dealing more with WWI) but if you like historical cozy mysteries with a literary bent, they’re worth picking up.

7. Children of the Jacaranda Tree, by Sahar Delijani. This was a book club read, and it provoked an interesting discussion. It deals with the Iranian Revolution, as seen through a variety of children-turned-adults that are left to deal with the aftermath. It’s a poignant book, but also very scattered. Definitely one to read with attention, and if your copy includes a family tree, bookmark it for easy access.

8. The Paper Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg. Ceony is a magician’s apprentice, who is learning her trade (paper magic, or folding, which is much cooler than it sounds), but also forced to battle supreme evil. The books (there are three of them so far) are set in a parallel world that’s meant to mimic early 20th century England, I think. Though Holmberg creates quite a satisfying magical universe, ultimately, these books veered too much towards romance for me to be able to recommend them whole-heartedly. But I did read all three of them, so take that for what it’s worth.

9. Lizzy and Jane, by Katherine Reay. This isn’t a Pride and Prejudice parody/homage, at least not a straight-up one. Lizzy is a head chef in her own restaurant, yet struggling to find her purpose. Jane is a marketing specialist and battling cancer. The two haven’t really been true sisters since their mother died, and when Lizzy comes to visit, tensions flare up all over again. I quibbled with the elaborate foreshadowing in the book, since that meant I knew exactly how the story would play out, but I loved Reay’s food descriptions and enjoyed the book anyway. Perfect plane reading.

10. Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil, by James Runcie. I’ve talked about these books before: this one deals with serial killers, art theft, and baby kidnapping.

11. A Song for Issy Bradley, by Carys Bray. This is another Mormon novel, set in England, and dealing with a perfect Mormon family that isn’t quite as perfect after all. Well written, well executed, with a sensitivity that helped carry a sad plot without being overwhelming or too weepy. Recommended.

for your listening pleasure

via. Josie listens with me, but isn't nearly as engaged as this bulldog.

via. Josie listens with me, but isn’t nearly as engaged as this bulldog. I’m pretty sure Mara sleeps though it all.

I listen to a lot of podcasts: while cleaning, or cooking, or walking the dog, or just while getting ready in the morning. This week’s highlights:

On KUER Radiowest:

Bad Faith. Dr. Paul Offit talks about the relationship between faith and medicine in America, delving into legal issues, but also theological ones (arguing that neglecting to get your child medical help is actually anti-Christian, not just unethical).

The Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. I took a class from Dr. Paul Reeve at the University of Utah and it was highly enjoyable experience. This serves as an introduction to his new book and comes highly recommended for anyone interested in Mormonism and/or American racial norms.

On This American Life:

Game Face. The whole episode was interesting, but especially act four on chronic blushing. I don’t blush as much anymore (teaching beat that out of me, frankly), but ask me a personal question in a group of people and all bets are off.

I also have such an overload of empathy that watching TV is an ordeal: when something embarrassing happens to a character, I get an almost unbearable load of second-hand embarrassment. I’ve taken to watching TV with the remote close by, and can find the mute button with my eyes closed, or in a white-hot panic, as it may be. Luckily L. doesn’t mind watching with closed captioning, and some shows I just let him watch by himself because I’d have to mute 3/4s.

Other favorites include Planet Money, Backstory, Ask Me Another, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and Stuffed You Missed in History Class.

my dissertation process, in ten steps

1. enthuasiastic, willy-nilly start on chapter
2. realization that damn it, I should have written an outline like all the writing experts tell you to
3. struggle with said outline for way too long
4. complain a lot about the chapter and how terrible it is. Throw outline away and write a new one (repeat steps 3&4 at least three times)
5. re-start writing, now with 80% less enthusiasm
6. feel like it’s never going to be done
7. keep slogging until I suddenly realize I have a first draft and the end is in sight (hallelujah!)
8. cut out half my footnotes (sob!)
9. turn it in to my advisor, ignore nagging fear that it’s mediocre work
10. start new chapter with step 1.

I turned in four chapters to my advisor yesterday, and am now facing the final one. (Chapter three, on diversity in Meet the Mormons and “I’m a Mormon” ads.) Wish me luck.

(alternative images for this post can be found here, here, and here.)
(good advice on dissertation writing can be found here and here.)

so, this happened

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L. asked me to marry him on a Saturday in the pouring rain. It wasn’t a surprise–we’ve been talking about it for a while, and even picked out rings beforehand–but L. made it perfect anyway. He proposed in the same spot he kissed me for the very first time, and it was sweet, and simple, and followed by Ikea-as-usual intertwined with goofy romance (and a cinnamon roll, because surely being newly-engaged warrants a cinnamon roll).

My rings are beautiful, and not at all like I was expecting I would want. We went to a jewelry store to see what the options were, and although I thought I would be coming home with something super small and simple, the look on my face when I tried these on convinced L. that these were the ones I was supposed to have. Diamonds, y’all. Who ever thought I would have diamonds? And L. has a ring too (because why should I be the only one who gets one?), and I smile every time I see it on him.

I’m a little overwhelmed with this idea of planning a wedding–turns out that even super simple and low-key weddings still require a lot of planning, who knew?–but I feel happy every day when I put on my rings and think about what they stand for. Not the start of a life together–we already have that–but the continuation, and hope for even better things to come.

S&L, coming to you legally bound in May 2016.

March, part 2

(I know, I know, it’s May already. Ssshh!)

In March, my dad came to visit me, by way of two conferences (one in Munich, the other in Denver). On our schedule were coffee houses (of course), crosswords to complete (of course), and a trip to Escalante National Monument. (And work, but I’m ignoring that, as it does not make for a fun blog recap.)

Dad has been to every national and state park within driving distance of California, pretty much, and he had been to Escalante before. We booked a room at a pretty little B&B, selected some hikes, and I prepared to get sunburned once again. (Yep.) First up was a six-mile hike to a waterfall:

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Then, a couple slot canyons, which we only made it through thanks to the hospitality of an experience guide, who let us tag along with his group and got us through the sticky parts.

 

And lastly, a hike through Willis Creek: muddy and delightful.

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The dinosaur was there too, of course.

The dinosaur was there too, of course.

On dad’s last day, we went out for Japanese food at Kyoto’s, where dad made us pose, because that’s what dads do.

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This is my happy face. Don’t judge.

Though I’m sure dad would much rather have me living in California, so he’d have yet another excuse to visit often, I’m also pretty sure Utah’s beauty makes up for a lot. Thanks for visiting, dad. It meant a lot to me.