Tourist Info Desk

Welcome to Fernweh, a blog concerning the (mis)adventures of one Fulbrighter during a year spent in Europe teaching English.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Guess I Owe Y'all An Update

Right, so, last you'd heard, I was maybe going to have an operation on Tuesday the 10th. As you can surmise, that didn't happen. So, let me catch y'all up a bit.

On Thursday the 5th, I got to go home, and that meant I got to spend the weekend celebrating my birthday. On Sunday, Bethany, Stefanie, Victoria and I drove to Zella-Mehlis, a town deep in the Thüringer Wald, for the express purpose of visiting the aquarium there. We also met Alison there, and spent a few hours wandering among eerily blue-lit tanks and peering into the grotesque faces of their inhabitants. We watched the alligators being fed and made faces at the tiger sharks (well, I did) and talked to fish of all shapes and sizes. I can't help it; I love aquariums. (Aquaria?) Lucky for me, it was my birthday, so my ever-patient friends had to put of up with it.

Reemerging into the warm afternoon sunshine, we drove back to Jena to meet two more friends for dinner. First, though, we dug into the delightful chocolate buttercream cake that Stefanie had made for me, then we went off to find a cafe. We ended up at this silly bio-obsessed place, but thankfully I wasn't too hungry anyway because of the cake, so we just stayed and chatted and ate our all-organic sandwiches. Alison had to leave after dinner to get her train, and the rest of us decided to see a movie. Nothing was on at the cinema, so it was off to Anja and Claudia's flat.

Anja is the kind fellow Spanish student who had brought me to the English conversation group the first time. Her and her sister have a lovely flat in a quiet corner of Jena, and in honor of the day at the aquarium, we watched "Finding Nemo" in German.

After Bienenkunde the next day, I returned to Anja and Claudia's flat for a movie night--namely, Rapunzel. I cannot explain to you why I love this movie so much, especially in German, but it is so wonderfully adorably and preposterously cheesy I just can't help giggling madly when I watch it, even though I've seen it at least 10 times now. After that, we played SingStar until I realized that I was about to miss the last train, so we went flying through late-night Jena and I bolted on the train just in time.

Finally, the dreaded Tuesday morning rolled around, and Frau Woehlbier called the hospital to see what the verdict was. They said that they wanted to first do a biopsy to determine the exact nature of the growth, then a second operation to remove it altogether. They also wanted to bring in a renowned neurosurgeon to take part in the surgery, so it wouldn't be happening any time soon. That was good, because not only did I have two classes to teach that day, I was also coming down with a cold.

I snuffled and moaned through Wednesday but managed to recover by Thursday, which was very good because that Thursday was the Scottish Dance Night. Professor Liston (alias "Chunky", for no discernible reason; he looks like a slender, Scottish twin of Aaron Eckhard) of the Anglistik department is from Edinburgh, and 60 people crammed into one classroom to hear him, now be-kilted, play the bagpipes and learn some Scottish dances from him. Eventually, it got too loud and too packed, so we spilled out into the square in front of the university buildings to dance in more space. As much as I hate club and one-on-one dancing, I love group dances; there's a wonderful pattern and logic to them, and there's no pressure to be any more graceful or clever than the rhythm and sequence of the dance demands. When every member of the group pays attention and does their part right, there's a delightful sense of harmony that comes from every person working together to form and enjoy something beautiful. Also, Scotland is love.

On Friday, after a double guitar lesson (I'm learning a song involving lots of bar chords, which means the going is torturous and slow), I put on a skirt (no clean jeans left!) and went to see Thor in Jena with Bethany. Got to admit, for a Marvel movie about a Greek god, it was surprisingly interesting and well-done. Also, it was visually stunning, not only because of the 3D (which seems to be generally pointless and distracting) but simply the colors, effects, and images. Anyway, there are worse ways to spend a Friday evening.

Saturday was spent with a classmate, Maria, in the library working on a presentation for that wonderful Tolkien class I mentioned before. After three hours of Tolkienness, we broke off for coffee and cake (a German institution) at a flat belonging to a friend of Maria's. It was very kind of them to invite me, but the friend also had two young boys (one and three years old), which put me out of my element. I excused myself after a bit and went shopping, arriving home just in time for the start of the Eurovision competition.

Now, I'd heard quite a bit about Eurovision from "My English Friend" Stephen, who watches it religiously. For those Americans who have never heard of it, it's basically a Europe-wide singing Olympics. Each country sends a band, group, or singer to represent them; through the semi-finals, the number of entrants is whittled down to 25, and on finals night, each act performs before a screaming, flag-waving international crowd. Just like any other obnoxious reality performance show, the audience can then vote for their favorite; after the voting closes, the hosts video-call representatives from each country, who announce the points they have awarded. At the end of the night, the country with the most points wins a victory for their national pride, a hideous trophy, and the dubious and expensive honor of hosting next year's competition.

There are two things that struck me as a first-time Eurovision spectator. The first was the unbelievable quantities of tackiness, boyband-level cheesiness, and general glitzy and glamorous ridiculousness, all taken with completely straight-faced earnestness. The competition began with a cute kid from Finland who looked about 15 singing a ballad about world peace; Ireland was represented by Jedward, twins with hilarious red-sequined jackets and gravity-defying hair who can't sing to save their lives but bounced around the stage like hyperactive chipmunks on pogo sticks; the Moldovans were dressed in enormous cone-shaped hats and yodeled into their microphones as a girl with a trumpet circled them on a unicycle; and it was completely impossible to pay attention to Ukraine's rather good song, since behind her was a Ukraine's Got Talent (is that a thing?) winner drawing shapes in sand on a lightboard. Personally, I voted for Greece, who had a split act: an absolutely terrible rapper and a gorgeous young bloke singing in Greek amid jets of flame. I have to admit that I'm glad Eurovision isn't broadcast or even well-known in America; if it was, tourism into Europe would plummet as Americans realized with horror just how insane the Europeans really are.

The second thing that struck me was the oft-bemoaned (among people who care) fact that voting in the countries has little to nothing to do with the actual quality of the offerings and everything to do with the political and historical relationships between countries. Britain and Ireland voted for each other, as did Portugal and Spain, and Germany and Austria. But the main problem is that apparently, all the Eastern Bloc countries vote for each other, which is how we ended up with Azerbaijan as the winner. Really, now, how many people actually know where Azerbaijan is? I didn't--it's south of Georgia, bordering on the north of Iran, and if you just said, "Is that even technically Europe?" well, that's what I was wondering too, and since Israel also took part (what?!) I guess the definition of "Europe" is pretty loose at this point.

Anyway, if nothing else, it was highly amusing to watch--like a train wreck between an ICE carrying the sparkly costumes and sound equipment for Europe's Got Talent and a truck full of pyrotechnics. It was a cultural experience, at least.

Sunday was a trip to Gera with Victoria and Joe; we visited the Otto Dix house (some very odd paintings), played in a playground, then took the train back to Jena to meet Alison for a show at the planetarium. Going to the Jena Planetarium has been on my to-do list all year, and it didn't disappoint, although it wasn't anything I haven't seen in other planetaria before...except, of course, all the pinwheeling stars and beautiful galactic clouds were explained in German. Afterwards, we chatted over waffles at the Milchmix cafe about grammar, and I was thoroughly contented with my life.

This was unfortunately short-lived. After the first honey harvest on Monday and a class to teach on Tuesday, I headed to the English Stammtisch in Jena, which is the highlight of my week. But before I even got there, my left eye was starting to itch, and was seriously hurting by the time I finally gave up and headed home earlier than normal. This was so disappointing, since I had also been sick for last week's Stammi, and chatting with fellow language-lovers is one of the things I get the most joy out of.

By Wednesday morning, I could only open my left eye with stabbing pains and significant effort, but our Tolkien presentation was due so I packed up and shuffled off to Jena anyway, mostly blind. I made it through the presentation, but barely; it's extremely difficult to sound credible talking about heroic couplets and iambic pentameter with constantly watering eyes and a runny nose. After class, I found a doctor who prescribed me some antibacterial drops; I picked those up and headed to the train station, only to find the trains half an hour delayed. By the time I finally staggered back to my room in Stadtroda, I was exhausted and went straight to bed, having to miss entirely the goodbye barbecue party that the Stadtroda Stammtisch was throwing for Bethany.

Today, due to rest and medicine, my eye is better, but I can't help being a little irritated that I have managed to be sick with a different illness every week so far this month. The first week was the throat infection and tumor; the second was a cold; and the third is this cursed eye infection. I was perfectly healthy all winter, so my body seems to be taking revenge by making my life miserable now that the weather's nice.

Speaking of the tumor, here's the latest news. The surgery is tentatively planned for the 15th of June. My mother will be arriving here in Germany on the 9th of June so she can be there both before and after the surgery. The good news from today is that the insurance has confirmed that they will pay all costs, which I'm sure will be in the thousands of euro range. With the surgery still a month off, I have time to get over all the weird illnesses I'm suddenly susceptible to, and hopefully I'll recover quickly so as not to disturb my summer travel plans.

Now you know!

1 comment:

  1. glad your mom will be with you for the surgery and glad you got the insurance to cover it. Funny thing is, it will probably be thousands of $$ less here in Germany than if you'd done it in the US. Of course, German hospitals aren't as posh as US ones, so you know, whee. I'm just continually amazed at how our medical bills here are so low in comparison to what the same procedure in the US costs. craziness.