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In Germany the Christ Child comes on Christmas with gifts, Santa comes on St. Nikolaus Day, December 6. After all these years I still remember the last time he came to visit.
My Aunt was doing Santa that year. Cousin Walter had overheard the planning and told everyone, after swearing us to eternal silence of course. We weren't about to ruin things by letting on we knew as we're sitting there on the bench by the kitchen table enjoying my favorite Eierkuechelchen, with apple sauce as I recall, while going over the story of the Bishop who gave away his riches and was martyred for his kindness, and his assistant Belzebub with chains and a black bag to take away bad kids. My friend Fritz heard they actually dragged off a neighbor's boy in a huge bag, but then let him go on the street.
We wait an awfully long time, even the grown-ups get impatient. Suddenly, downstairs, the house door slams. Dead silence. Not a sound in the kitchen either. There is a lone step on the stairs. Great-Grandma stares at the door, hands clasped over her mouth, eyes wide open. Another ominous step is followed by a thundering crash of chains. I get goose-pimply all over and feel my hair rising. Walter starts sobbing.
By the time Belzebub crashes through door the three of us are huddled at the far end of the bench with our arms around each other, bawling. He jumps into the room, contorted, a chimney sweep black with soot, dragging a huge bag and heavy chains, heading straight for us. A deep, resonant "Zurueck!" orders him back. It's St. Nikolaus, heavenly, awe-inspiring, with flowing white robes, a tall Bishop's miter and golden staff. He is very much aware of all my bad deeds, some good ones as well. They're right there in his huge book! Belzebub argues over each entry, they check with the grown-ups on some, but by the time they're done, none of us will have to be dragged off. Belzebub is clearly disappointed. Now and then he even tries to grab us when St. Nikolaus isn't looking, our screams save us every time.
St. Nikolaus gives us Lebenkuchen and cookies, though later we discover there is nothing but coal in Walter's package. He warns us that next year we won't be so lucky unless we behave, then heads down the stairs shooing a reluctant Belzebub in front of him.
That was Santa's last visit. The following year they knew we knew, so the visit was called off.
It's getting dark and very cold by five early in December but it's warm and cozy in the back of the car taking us through the city woods. We slow for a boar leisurely rooting acorns on the side of the road, I shrink back into my seat. I'm alone in the forest, years ago, frozen, not moving a muscle, as 'ein Keiler mit seiner Frau und drei Kinder vorbei kommt.' 'What's a Keiler?' says Sister. Werner, behind the wheel, translates for me: 'A wild boar' he chuckles '... comes by with his wife and three kids.' Those beasts can get mean; I still see his very white tusks, those beady red eyes, daring me to even just look at his piglets.
We cross the river on a high bridge, heading into Frankfurt, right below us glitters the Weihnachts Markt, the Chrismas Fair where everyone is heading. I get impatient in the traffic jam but Werner zips around some corners and pulls into an underground garage where there happens to be just one open parking space, right next to a small staircase leading up. He bounds ahead, pushes open a door and stops in his tracks while my Sister and I stand stunned.
There is the Roemer, fullly restored from hits taken by Allied bombings in WWII. Lights illuminate the building where the Holy Roman Emperors where proclaimed. An overwhelming scent of every Christmas ever celebrated rushes in. First there's the smell of anise, followed by cookies, cakes, mulled wine, sausages and hams. The square teems with people, booths selling tree ornaments, I want just one of those huge gingermen. There is a slowly spinning powder-sugar-white, gold and red carousel, three stories high, with staircases! and people sitting at tables!
On cue the bells of St Paul's Church start ringing, as they did hundreds of years ago when the emperors were crowned right there.
Colorful signs in Chinatown, I don't know what they say, and then there is the food. Restaurants up the stairs, down in the basements and up elevators. Pork Bun vendors on the streets, open stalls sell unfamiliar vegetables, roots, the scent of dried herbs mingles with the smell of dried fish, dried octopus! There are endless fillets cooling on ice or, if you prefer, live fish flopping in buckets, occasionally spilling onto the sidewalk where they scare the tourists.
Snails! Look they have snails. Ok ... why not? I'll give it a try! I recall having them simmered in a stew. Some nice thick stew for a cold evening, with leeks, potatoes, carrots and peas, lots of garlic. That should work.
Back home with my haul I'm greeted by a hissing radiator in the vestibule. We have hot water! which has been iffy lately; there even is a note letting people know that the intercom is working again ... but the buzzer to let people in is still out.
I figure the first thing to do would be to wash the snails, they all look to be sealed with some waxy membrane. I pile them into a colander under the faucet and drizzle lukewarm water over them. Just then the door bell rings. It's Bobbie dropping by for a visit. I hurry downstairs to let her in, slamming the apartment door shut behind me. Big mistake! I didn't take the keys! Well, it's not that big of a problem, Roomie should be home any minute. Bobbie and I catch up on the latest, sitting on the stairs until Roomie shows up in just under 10 minutes and lets us in.
There are the snails, waving their eyestalks at us, crawling all over the sink and counter top, making a dash for freedom away from the water. We decide to have a nice garlicky vegetarian stew with leeks, potatoes, carrots, peas and thick slices of bread.
Afterwards we take the snails to our friendly neighborhood pet shop.
Did you know snakes love snails?
rightwing idiologs v leftwing ideology
solstice ... about this time 22 years ago
Reporting for Duty as ordered, Sir!
I have no idea what duty I'm reporting for at the Public Affairs Office, my orders didn't give a hint. I was expecting a Forward Combat Control Unit.
The Captain hands me off to a Lieutenant. "Oh, good, you're the Engineer!" (Huh?) He leads me to a backroom with a rattling AC, filled with reams of paperwork stacked on dusty file cabinets. On top of a wobbly table are headphones, a microphone and a simple record player connected to an ancient apparatus not much bigger than a breadbox with huge dials on the front and just one on/off light, dating from some previous war? Wires snake between the file cabinets, a heavy cable disappears up through the ceiling. "Watch the wires! There's feedback and we'll be knocked off the air."
Seems DJs, reporters, are due to arrive soon and engineers are set to built a new radio station in a couple of weeks. In the meantime Public Affairs staff and I rotate, spinning freshly pressed records and radio programs flown in daily by the Armed Forces Network. We patch in live news from Saigon several times a day and rearrange wires frequently whenever feedback jams the airways. I try tuning the apparatus but the manual is of no help.
The real engineers arrive and produce a cinder block air conditioned palace in seemingly days, the coolest place on Base, two offices, two small recording studios, a main control room with bays of built-in state of art tape decks, audio controls and of course a huge transmitter. With many lights to blink when something's not right. A tall antenna rises outside. We wire everything together, they hook up the last power cable, pack up their tools and shake my hand as they leave. "It's all yours." Since it's all new equipment I expect few problems, I should be able to handle this. A built-in tape deck goes up in smoke almost immediately. I trace the problem to a transformer and manage to replace it with backups without having to rewire everything..
a few fading photos:
In the meantime the talent flies in, young troops, freshly minted Armed Forces Broadcasting School graduates. They take over spinning the records and entertaining the troops, greatly influenced by '60s counterculture tapes of WBAI's Bob Fass, sounds and thoughts I never heard of. A Sergeant records local color for the Network, but makes few appearances after two pilots in a row go MIA right after he interviews them.
The world is spinning apart ever faster every year:
It's cold in the city today, too cold to do much running around, but I did find this nice bit of East Village holiday spirit on a wall around the corner.
we live in interesting times ...
Yet ... Still ...
I that rather held it better men should perish one by one,
Than that earth should stand at gaze like Joshua's moon in Ajalon!
Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.
Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.
Tennyson: Locksley Hall
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Carousing on a visit down to Mexico I watch the bartender mix my Batanga, a tall glass half full with ice, a squeeze of lime over the ice followed by a generous portion of tequila and topped with coke, stirred with the knife used to cut the lime. Slice of the lime. No salt, please.
What to have for dinner? I notice a sizzling, scrumptious looking platter being served at the next table. Not only did it look good, the smell was wonderful. Tempted, I ask the waiter what it was he served. The waiter compliments me, "Ah Señor, you have excellent taste! Those are testicles from the bull fight this morning. A delicacy!" Aha! The local version of Rocky Mountain Oysters and y'all know I'm a sucker for local dishes. "Let me have an order!"
The waiter apologizes. "I am so sorry Señor. There is only one serving per day because there is only one bull fight each morning. If you come early tomorrow and place your order, we will be sure to reserve this delicacy for you!"
Appetite piqued, I return the next morning and place my order in time. That evening I am lucky to be served the one and only special delicacy of the day. It is delicious. The texture is perfect, a bit like tender squid, with just a hint of barnyard. After a few bites I hail the waiter. "These are delicious, but they are so much smaller than the ones I saw you serve yesterday?"
The waiter shrugs his shoulders, "Si, Señor. Sometimes the bull wins."