Archive for July, 2011

We planned to celebrate 14 juillet by attending the German-French friendship fest. All began well: bumper cars! bungee jumping! mini-airplanes! roasted, sugared almonds! the Tiger feeling horrid on one of those “Himalaya”-style rides (or so they were called in my childhood) that consist of speed, minor up-and-down bumps, and a disco-ball plus smoke machine.  (He loved it last year. I take some pride in still enjoying it at 47. I could hardly toss him overboard, could I?)

At 10 p.m. sharp, all the rides, games, and drink stands started to roll down their blinds, much to our puzzlement. Why, we hadn’t even ridden the giant ferris wheel, the one point of consensus in my little family of four! (Evidently some pickle-hearted neighbor – unbothered by the noise of the adjacent airport?!? – had complained after some forty years.) The gal at the whisky stands gave us a generous pour, and then the fireworks began. First the Tiger objected that we were going to miss them. Then he wailed that they were too close. It is not easy to be a small tiger.

And so, since I have no footage of our fireworks, and since any such hypothetical video would be marred by heartrending cries of  “make it stop, Mama, this is SKEERY,” I offer instead the happy patriotic kitten that David Futrelle posted a couple of weeks ago:

By the way, if the images in the clip come from Uzu, as seems to be the case, this program has also been cheap entertainment for my own kittens this summer. Sometimes a light show is best at a safe remove. Ditto for cat claws. I’ll hold my tongue on the complex relation between state power military might, and liberty, since this day is supposed to be one of celebration, after all.

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I’ve been following the Women’s World Cup from my perch here in Germany. Herewith my random observations:

As long as the German team was still in the running, there was a fair amount of public excitement. Of course it was only a fraction of the fever that erupts for the men’s team. In both 2006 (when the men’s World Cup was in Germany) and in 2010 (South Africa), the street connecting the Brandenburg Gate and the Siegessäule was blocked off for the “Fan Mile” – the massive outdoor viewing area with giant screens where people could drink beer and watch the game. This year, the area near the Gate was again closed down … for the Mercedes-Benz sponsored Fashion Week. EEEK!

Still, our corner pub, Walhalla, was packed for the German matches, and it has still been reasonably full for other quarter-finals. The crowd was more female than usual. The stadiums, too, have generally been sold out. My sister-in-law attended a couple of matches in person and reported that the vibe was much more mellow than the usual men’s game – more family-oriented and without a trace of hooliganism. (To be fair, hools are not nearly the problem in Germany that they are in England.)

The whole family was disappointed when Germany lost to Japan. You will note that the scorer’s name is Karina Maruyama. Yes, MARUyama. She is clearly related to the world’s greatest feline athlete, Maru. No wonder Japan won! Well, they did kick one goal more than the Germans, too, as German coach Sylvia Neid ruefully noted. I told the kids that Japan has had a crappy year of earthquakes and tsunamis, and perhaps this victory will lift a few spirits. We all felt better about Germany being eliminated when we thought of it from this angle.

The quality of play has been pretty high – certainly good enough to please any serious soccer fan – though I’d like to see more scoring from the field. Partly the lack of such goals can be chalked up to some admirable defensive work, as in the Germany-Japan game, which could easily have gone into a penalty shootout at 0-0 (were it not for MARUyama). But it may also be that apart from Brazil, which excelled in ball control in general and dribbling in particular, the teams’ offenses are just a bit underdeveloped.

Brazil totally deserved their defeat at the hands of the Americans. (Here’s a lively summary, if you missed the game.) Yes, they were the better goal scorers. But the Americans won through tenacity and character. They soldiered on with only ten players after a (justified) red card and an unjust repeat of the penalty that goalkeeper/goddess Hope Solo had originally stopped. Brazil’s magical striker, Marta, squandered all of the audience’s sympathy (both in the stadium and in the pubs) with her whining and complaining. She was only outdone by her teammate Erika, who in the waning moments of overtime flung herself onto the ground about a half minute after her last contact with another player, insisted on being carried off the field, and seconds later (time having been copiously wasted) sprung up miraculously from her stretcher!

I think Hope Solo must be the younger sister of Han Solo. Our other hero from the Brazil game – Abby Wambach, who scored in time extended for Erika’s time-wasting theatrics – is in the process of being renamed “Happy Wombat,” because that’s how her name often sounds when pronounced by the German TV commentators. I’m not sure she has any relation to actual wombats (she’s too slender and graceful for that) but she sure made us happy.

Even though Sweden beat the U.S. team, I like them, and so do my kids. We like the little dance they do when they kick a goal. We are amused by their Ikea uniforms.

In general, the uniforms are uglier than they need to be. The home uniforms for the U.S. are dreadful, with their too-tight shoulders and see-through, shoddy-looking fabric. Those of us watching the U.S.-Sweden game thought that the jerseys alone may be to blame for the loss. The French have a similarly snug fit. Maybe they’ve taken a page from some of the men in 2010, where the African teams, in particular, wore very body-conscious jerseys. But those tight shoulders look dysfunctional. Yuck. In general, jerseys should be loose enough to move and not so sloppy that they prove a hindrance. And what was up with the weird angled necklines on the German team?

The purple goalkeeper jerseys worn by Hope Solo and England’s Karen Bardsley are electric, though, and I’d love to see the men ape them!

It has also been fascinating to see how different squads perform femininity. Many of the German women seem to opt out of conventional femininity altogether (with a few notable exceptions), while the Americans mostly sport the classic ponytail look and a few markedly cute short cuts (like Megan Rapinoe’s). The Nordic women go for elaborate braided contraptions, which look elegant and time-consuming. I first chalked the braids up to the imperative to look feminine, but it occurs to me that they are probably great for keeping wisps out of one’s face, eliminating the need for a hairband on top of a ponytail. Obviously, there’s no “right” way to “do femininity” on the field. I suspect that different countries just have different women’s sporting cultures. In Germany, for instance, soccer is still considered very much a man’s game, so women might deliberately avoid looking girly.

Must run off to Walhalla now, hoping for more Happy Wombats!

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Technically, there are not any cats in the old Al Stewart song, “Year of the Cat,” but its lyrics are evocative and elusive, so maybe there’s feline element to it after all. Even though I’m now old and jaded enough to roll my eyes a bit at its “mysterious exotic woman” trope, I still love this song, which I listened to incessantly back in 1976/77. (You can thank Al Stewart for jolting me out of my Barry Manilow phase.)

Since my vinyl is packed away in a box, I hadn’t heard the song in years and only rediscovered it through the magic of Facebook. This live version is heavy on crowd noise, thanks to a boisterous German audience (it aired on Musikladen, similar to Wolfman Jack’s “Midnight Special”) but its long virtuoso piano intro more than makes up for the noise.

We’re actually in the Year of the Cat right now, according to the Vietnamese calendar, which swaps out the cat for the rabbit. Nothing against the rabbit, but since it’s “my” year, I prefer to have been born in the Year of the Cat. Lucky me!

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I’ll say right now that I think Dominique Strauss-Kahn most likely did sexually assault the maid at the Sofitel who accused him of rape. The prosecution originally claimed to have compelling, virtually conclusive physical evidence. That evidence hasn’t evaporated along with the alleged victim’s credibility.

But I can understand why prosecutors may have to drop the case anyway. Predisposed though I am to believe the accuser, her history of lying specifically about rape in her asylum application – while fully understandable as a survival lie – does raise the question of whether she has lied about the alleged assault. (I’m much less troubled by inconsistencies in her accounts of her behavior right after the incident, which can be put down to shock.) The preponderance of evidence may still weigh in favor of the maid, but that’s not the legal standard for conviction; proof has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. The alternative is that we’ll send many innocents to prison. And so, as Amp also concluded, if I were a juror I might well have to vote to acquit.

However, DSK is hardly in the clear. French writer Tristane Banon has filed a criminal complaint, alleging attempted rape. According to the AP:

Banon says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in an empty apartment during an interview for a book project, struggling with her on the floor as he tried to tear off her clothes. His lawyers describe the account as “imaginary” and say they plan to file a complaint accusing Banon of slander.

Banon’s complaint faces a series of difficult tests in the French justice system and could be dismissed long before reaching trial. Prosecutors must decide first if her allegations would support a charge of attempted rape rather than the less serious crime of sexual aggression, an attack that does not involve an attempt to penetrate the victim.

While it’s a damn shame that DSK’s first alleged victim may never get her day in court (and it’s hard not to view that as partly a triumph of DSK’s racial and economic power relative to to his accuser’s), a conviction by French courts would in many ways be an ideal outcome, even if it too is a long shot. I just had a visit from an old friend who is spending the year in Geneva, immersed in the French media and surrounded by her French-Swiss in-laws. She says that the French news has been all DSK, all the time. While some French women have indeed spoken out against DSK, the French media mostly just blame the Americans. Conspiracy theories abound. DSK’s allies are jockeying to alter the laws to still permit him to run against Sarkozy for the presidency.

If DSK were convicted in New York, the French could just shrug it off. If he’s found guilty in France, his career will be over. Banon faces a tough fight, as she’s fully aware. While she enjoys far more social power than the Sofitel maid (she’s white, prosperous, pretty, and politically connected), the case lacks physical evidence. It’s basically a he-said-she-said scenario. Still, one can hope. Perhaps Banon’s courage in filing charges will encourage other victims of DSK’s predatory behavior to go public, too.

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Well, I don’t know if she’s truly the best, since by definition I’m unfamiliar with the other composers I’ve never heard of. But Marion Bauer is pretty amazing, and it’s a damn shame she’s nearly forgotten. This post is my little contribution to publicizing a piece of newly recovered music history.

I encountered Marion Bauer via one of my students, who discovered Bauer through her research. She went on to rewrite the Wikipedia entry on her, which had previously been a mere stub. (If Wikipedia’s articles were always this good, no one would ever disparage it.) In short, Bauer made a life for herself through composing and teaching music at a time when women were absolute outsiders.

My student also featured Bauer’s work at her senior recital. She had to seek out the sheet music through interlibrary loan, since it’s out of print. Recordings of Bauer’s music remain scarce, so these YouTube clips of her “Fantasia quasi una Sonata” (Opus 18) are a step toward restoring Bauer to history. Plus, I thought my student and her accompanist presented a stirring performance. Put on your headphones and enjoy!

I. Moderato romantico

II. Ben ritmico e vivace

III. Lento espressivo-allegro con moto

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I leave my adopted state, Ohio, for my annual summer sojourn in Germany, and this is what happens! Nothing but lunacy!

Ohio’s Governor Kasich just signed a bill allowing bars to allow people to carry concealed firearms into bars. As Slate puts it: “Because nothing goes better than guns and crowded places …”

Ha! I know an even better combo: guns + crowds + booze + students + beer pong + flashpoints of overt racism. That’ll be the new scene on Court Street, the main drag where my students congregate to imbibe, socialize, and – all too often – get into fights.

Last fall, 0ne of my former students was racially targeted and physically assaulted on Court Street. His tormenters managed to frame him on assault and menacing charges. This Athens News article ably describes the beginning of his saga and hints at the weakness of the case against my student. All charges were ultimately dropped as evidence mounted that he’d been the victim, not the perp. Ultimately he was exonerated. While I avoided writing about his case because I didn’t want to disqualify myself as a character witness, I posted a thinly fictionalized account of how the local jail radically isolates inmates, especially newbies, from the outside world. My student was in that hellhole for a week before he even saw a lawyer (the hardcore folks of course have their attorney’s number memorized), facing racism from fellow inmates, fearing for his freedom.

I now try to re-imagine the whole ugly story with a gun in play. The likely outcome? My student bleeds out on Court Street. An alternative scenario: My student seizes the gun from his tormenter and finds he’s up against high-grade felony charges, even after allowing for self-defense.

Another student, recently returned from Iraq in 2006, was gravely injured (on his head, I believe) by a bouncer at a Court Street establishment. He had to be airlifted to Columbus for treatment. I don’t know yet how his story ends. While writing this post, I did my best to locate him in the Facebookgoogleplex, and I think I might have found him. I’m now so hopeful that he might be living a good life. (I’ll be sure to update if I learn more.)

But again, what if that bouncer had had a gun? What if my thoroughly traumatized student had been carrying, his wits sharp but his nerves frayed from facing down death in Iraq? Two men could have died that night.

What about the goofy, good-natured football player who showed up with his arm in a cast? “Training injury?” I asked brightly. “Um, no, a bar fight.” Gotta admire these students’ honestly. His athletic career continued – in no small part because he hadn’t been riddled with gunshot wounds.

What about a female student (way back in 2003) who took a certain pride in holding her own in “girl fights”? Will her successors all morph into clones of Bree Vanderkar (or Sarah Palin)? Hey, chicks can shoot as straight as any dude! Their flesh can absorb just about as much lead as a man’s can, too.

I realize why this bill passed. The NRA has legislators at the point of, well, a gun. My Democratic and generally progressive rep in the State House said she had to respect her consituents’ overwhelming support for the guns ‘n’ bars bill. Even an abstention (for me, the least-bad path) might have allowed the Repubs to vote her out in the next cycle. And it’s true that bar owners can post “no guns” signs on their doors, which are just as valid there as in any other public space.

But as for myself, I’ll be avoiding the Court Street bar scene, especially past 7 or so in the evening, until it becomes clear whether full body-armor has become the new trend, replacing the standard-issue shorty-short skirts and towering heels.

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